Monday, September 20, 2010

ROBERT E. LEE AND THE $500 BILL.

"THE TONIGHT SHOW," starring Johnny Carson was a hit late night TV talk show from 1962-1992, (4,531 episodes). The format combined guest performances and interviews. To fill in timing gaps, the show produced its own comic segments. My favorite of these routines was, "CARNAC THE MAGNIFICENT."

Johnny portrayed the mystic, Carnac. His sidekick Ed McMahon, would introduce him while holding sealed envelopes for the audience to see. Accompanied by exaggerated applause, Carnac came on stage dressed in a flowing black robe and turban with a rakish plume. McMahon would then hand the envelopes to the clairvoyant and say, "Carnac, these envelopes have been hermetically sealed and left in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls porch since noon today. Nobody knows the contents of these envelopes. But you, in your infinite wisdom will ascertain the answers to these questions without hearing the question first." Johnny's wry response would be something like, "That's right bean-bag breath."
CARNAC WOULD HOLD THE ENVELOPE TO HIS TEMPLE AND CONCENTRATE ON DIVINING AN OUTRAGEOUS PUN FOR AN ANSWER. I THINK THE BEST EXAMPLE WAS, "INFIDEL." ED McMAHON WOULD TYPICALLY REPEAT THE ANSWER AND CAUSE A SARCASTIC REMARK FROM CARNAC. THEN CARNAC WOULD SAY IT AGAIN, "INFIDEL." AFTER HE OPENED THE ENVELOPE, HE'D READ THE NOTE INSIDE AND ANNOUNCE, "WHERE'S CASTRO'S LIVER?"

I can't count how many dozen Carnac skits I saw in my youth but I was in college when finally looked-up; hermetically, in the dictionary. It means; airtight. In practical terms to assure that something is airtight, you might want to use a sealant like hot wax. Other than Carnac, this hermetic sealing concept has only popped-up one other time in my life.

It all came back to me, yesterday, when my wife Sue and I attended a meet-n-greet with my son Andrew's new teachers. Three of them were strictly business. They discussed their personal teaching credentials and bored us (me) with in depth discussions about their grading system. His fourth teacher was the light at the end of the tunnel. He was the one that my boy claimed had a Kermit the Frog voice.

LIFE ISN'T EASY WHEN YOU'RE GREEN AND ITS NO JOYRIDE EITHER WHEN YOU SOUND LIKE KERMIT THE FROG.

Andrew was right ! While the parents were settling in, every time this gentleman spoke, I burst-out laughing. Sue thought it was funny too but she controlled herself. A pattern developed when he listened to someone, I calmed down. Then when he said something, I'd crack-up all over again. My antics were pissing Sue off. I considered walking-out but he began his full-blown teacher spiel. I buried my face in the desk and muffled the giggles enough to avoid being a distraction.

The other stand-out was his Anatomy teacher. She was so cool because she never mentioned her name or grading system...she just listed every class activity and made them sound exciting and fun. She was even cut-off by the bell so she could only point-out, in the farthest corner of the room, the big crescendo, year-end project. While looking back there, I noticed a closet of skeletons.

SKELETONS IN ONE'S CLOSET IS A PHRASE USED TO DESCRIBE; HAVING PAST SECRETS THAT YOU PREFER NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT.

Those skeletons spurred my memory of Robert Edward Lee. He was my friend and fellow craps dealer in my Vegas years. Nobody had more skeletons in their closet than him. But, in my 32 years in the gaming industry--hell, in my entire life--he (Bob) was the most universally beloved person I ever met. Few people can satisfy rabid casino customers, fellow dealers and bi-polar management stooges like Bob.

Bob seemed to always be happy, funny, smart and generous. Because of that greatness, I have dedicated one of my short stories; "A TALE OF THREE CITIES," to him and in another story, "MEN IN WHITE," he was a prominent character.BOB LEE WAS BORN IN RURAL TENNESSEE. HE WASN'T RELATED TO THE FAMOUS CONFEDERATE GENERAL, BUT HE WAS NAMED AFTER HIM. MUCH OF BOB'S RICH PERSONALITY WAS INFLUENCED BY HIS MASTERY OF SOUTHERN CHARM AND HOSPITALITY.

On rare occasions, Bob Lee like all of us, had his less than perky moments. Once I got to know him, it was surprising that he could be such an extreme contradiction. There were times that he was miserable, dead serious, dumb as a sink and selfish. For instance, he was a health food nut but no stranger to barbiturates and so worldly, yet ignorant to the feelings and needs of his wife and son. More importantly, at age forty-eight, despite a smallish frame, graying kinky hair and a wrinkled, leathery face, he was an incredible and successful babe-hound. With that in mind, even the sensitivity for maintaining his most peculiar, carnal skeletons in his closet, he freely made common knowledge.

EDITOR'S NOTE - (None of Bob Lee sex-ploits are in this blog. If that's all your interested in, contact me and I'll send you one of HIS short stories).

I was twenty-five years younger than Bob when we met. He took a liking to me and in a short time, he became my mentor. He was giving with his time and energy and taught me about the stock market, gardening, real estate, do-it-yourself home and auto repairs and so much more. Even though we chummy, I still thought it was strange that he confided in me, a need to hide the bulk of his tip earnings from his wife.

One night at work, Bob tried to turn me onto a penny stock. Lereck Oil was selling at twelve cents a share. On less than five hours sleep later that morning, he was going downtown to see his broker. Based strictly on being somewhere other than in my bed at 9AM, I balked at the opportunity.

A week later, Bob came by my condo to show off the white, 1963, split window coupe Corvette he just bought for cash with the sale of his Lereck Oil stock. We wandered into the backyard that he had helped me cultivate. The former cement-like flower beds were now flourishing as a vegetable garden. I remember the first time he chopped through the crusty earth and how surprised I was to see the moist the soil, inches below the cement-like desert surface.

Bob held up a stout zucchini and made sexual jokes about its length. Suddenly he snapped, "After paying for the car, when I added what was left from my stock money to the stash I was telling you about, I counted $30,000.00 laying around the house...now I really have to hide it from my wife." I said, "How much did you invest?" He ignored me, clawed at my soft, fertile soil and said, "You just gave me a great idea. I gotta go."

Two months went by. While we were at work, I was trying to think of a way to ask Bob if he reached a solution to his hidden money dilemma. Those thoughts were interrupted when a player tried to buy-in on our craps game with a $500.00 dollar bill.THE $500.00 BILL FEATURES THE PORTRAIT OF OUR 25th PRESIDENT, WILLIAM McKINLEY. IN 1934, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, TO REDUCE THE RISK OF COUNTERFEITING AND SMUGGLING, STOPPED PRODUCING ALL BANKNOTES OVER $100.00. BIG BILLS ARE SO RARE TODAY, THAT THE ONE I SAW THAT NIGHT IS ONLY ONE I EVER SAW IN CIRCULATION.

Before the player was given his chips, my immediate supervisors stopped the game to examine the bill. I don't know what they were looking for, but they resembled a forensic team searching for traces of plague. We were still standing around until the pit-boss came by. He was perplexed too. The casino manager was paged. The big boss took a scant glance and said, "Drop it and get a f*****g roll." Bob called out, "Wait!" The casino manager said, "Now what?" Bob said, "Can I buy the bill off the game right now?" The big boss motioned for the bill to be plunged into the drop box and said, "Yeah but not here." Bob said, "But?" And the manager continued, "If you want it that bad, meet me at the casino cage with the money at 8:AM sharp! If you're ten seconds late, I know plenty of mugs who collect that kind of shit."

The next night when I asked Bob if he got the $500.00 bill he said, "Yeah and its the best thing that ever happened to me." I asked, "Why?" "Because like an idiot, I buried that thirty grand under my rutabaga patch." I said, "So?" "You know when Carson does Carnac, right? Well, I buried the whole business in a mayonnaise jar." I said, "Okay." "Well I decided to dig it up and put the 500 bill in with the other money. To my surprise, a lot of the bills were in real bad shape. They were getting greenish-black from mold and the edges were disintegrating." I said, "Geez." Bob continued, "Remember in the Carnac routine when Ed McMahon said the envelopes have been hermetically sealed...well that's what you have to do when burying paper. If you don't, when moisture seeps in, BAM, in no time, it fritters away to nothing." I said, "You are lucky." He said, "Its a good thing Vegas has a million casinos." I said, "Why?" "Because, I didn't want to explain to a bank why I buried undeclared income in my garden. But money grubbing whore casinos take anything, no questions asked...even if you wiped your butt with every bill you brought in with." I smiled, "You're right." Bob finished by saying, "Now, all I have to do is "launder" at least half of those hundreds...one at a time."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this Robert E. Lee blog. You went with three different major ideas but managed to pull them all together. --- WTW

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading, "Robert E. Lee and the $500.00 Bill." He must be 80 by now. Do you know if he's still alive?

Great open school night memories, the teachers never realize how much of a show they put on. --- SLW

Anonymous said...

That was clever, the negative lottery, I never thought of it that way. I bet everyone would sacrifice the chance of hitting the lottery if it guaranteed that they wouldn't get hit by lightning etc.

Robert E. Lee must have been a fascinating friend. I'm pretty sure that years ago, Tom and I read your short story about him, "A TALE OF THREE CITIES."

And let's not forget how great Carnak was and when Carson did Art Fern too. --- M of M&T

Anonymous said...

You took the scenic route through Carnac, open school night and your friend Robert E. Lee. But I liked it, once I read it a second time and saw how you put it all together. --- THE DONALD