Monday, January 25, 2010

HE CALLS HIS MOM, "DON CORDELEONE."

Please bear with me...I still feel like talking about moms.

From 1986-1990, I owned a casino dealer training academy in Atlantic City. One of the oddball things I had to deal with was a sudden rash of thefts. Some of the problems were harmless pranks. Others involved souvenir hunters and gaming equipment collectors who targeted the school's dice, craps stick and valueless practice chips.

Others chose to steal, a clock off the wall, our coffee percolator, an adding machine, a gold Cross pen and petty stationery supplies.

The bigger thorn in my side was the loss of student property. The easiest mark was our coat rack. It was obscured from plain sight in an alcove, so it didn't take a master criminal to rifle through pockets or walk-off with some of the better jackets.

Security measures were put in place so that the instructors were accountable for their gaming items, office doors were locked when not in use and a large sign above the wardrobe reminded everyone that personal items are left at the owner's risk.

It seemed that the reign of robberies was over when a young, scatter-brained (bleach-blond), named Debbie knocked on my office door.
She angrily said, "I've been robbed!"
In frustration I thought; Oh no, not again.
Debbie made a quick list of three swipings, (as she put it), suffered by other classmates and added, "And now me!"
"What happened?" I huffed.
"I found my coat on the floor and my pocket was empty!"
I sighed, "What was taken?"
She said, "Cash!"
"How much?"
Debbie looked me with disdain, "Five cents."
I let out a cleansing breath, looked the knucklehead in the eye and opened my desk drawer.
"Debbie," I said. "Was it a nickel or five pennies?"
"A nickel!"
I picked a dusty nickel out from under some paper clips and said, "I'm sorry your coat fell on the floor but you're in luck, someone just turned this nickel in."
After she examined it Debbie said, "Thanks," and scampered away like a woodland sprite.
I was patting myself on the back for having side-stepped another disaster when the phone rang.
It was the mom of a 19-year old student whose leather jacket had been stolen right after we hung the warning sign. I tried talking her down. She loudly told me that she didn't care about the instructor's warning or that her son knew the risks. After cutting me off twice, she eloquently said in her harsh Brooklyn accent, "I don't give a f****** rat's ass about your f******sign." At one point, her rant was so intense, I thought she was going to suck my whole head into the telephone. After insulting every member of my ancestry as well as everyone else I ever knew, she shot-out one last "FU!" and slammed down the receiver.

The next day my right ear was still smarting when that student approached me. I started to apologize about his jacket but he stopped me and insisted I accept his apology. He added that his mom is half Portuguese, half Sicilian and 100% emotional.
In appreciation of his humor, I smiled.
"Actually," he added, "what she gave you wasn't so bad. You're lucky you didn't have to see the tongue-lashing I got...AND...that was nothing compared to what I've lived with my whole life."

In 1990, I told my business partner to shove the school up his ass. In a short time, I took on my present position as a casino dealer. Coincidentally, the student who had hs jacket stolen and I became co-workers and eventually close friends.

Ironically, our friendship blossomed at a rival dealer school when we randomly wound-up in the same roulette training class. Despite a 14-year age difference, we were able to relate to each other. I guess that either means, he was mature for his age, or I wasn't.
During that course, we began sharing intimate details of our lives. I told him about the irreconcilable, philosophical differences I had with my business partner and he told me several powerful bipolar, PMS-driven stories about his mom.

Please note, before he told me anything specific, he prefaced everything by saying, "My mother ruled with an iron fist. She was so bad, I nicknamed her Don Cordeleone."
TOSS THE GUN AND TAKE THE CANOLIS. THERE WERE MANY TIMES THAT MY FRIEND THOUGHT THAT SHE WAS GOING TO HAVE HIM SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES.
A single mom with a hot-blooded Mediterranean temper, she combined a warm, loving home with episodes of physical and mental abuse.
Her common catchphrase was, "I love you...you *lousy bum." *But she didn't really say lousy bum.

I'm sure that lifestyle was difficult to grow-up in. But my friend is so well-adjusted as an adult that he has dedicated himself to ending the cycle of negativity that infected his mother when she was growing up.  Far better, my friend is able to twist a humorous spin into every awful incident he was forced to endure.

My favorite Don Cordeleone story involves his family trip to Macy's on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. He's about four, his sister is six and his mom is experiencing the edginess of tunnel-vision while power-shopping.

Any young children would feel bored if they were being dragged through every aisle in the womens-wear department. In what had to feel like an eternity, my friend and his sister began to wander and whine for candy, balloons or whatever else they saw. Everyone would have been better served if mom provided such a simple diversion. Instead, the Don couldn't be bothered. So, to combat or at least minimize the distractions, mom responded with a series of threats, screams and slaps.

My friend needed the restroom but was intimidated to ask for favors. When it became an emergency he sheepishly flinched, "Mommy, I have to go poopy."
Don Cordeleone held a fuchsia blouse against her chest and looked in a mirror. Her four-year old repeated himself. She was too absorbed to hear him as she inspected the same blouse in lavender.
The daughter tugged on mom's elbow and exclaimed, "He has to go poopy!"
The Don glared down and rasped, "I don't care if he shits in the street!"
Mom did a pirouette and checked her posterior in the mirror as the little boy...with his sister right behind him advanced towards the exit.

My friend pushed his way through the heavy brass-framed glass door and stood outside. Amid the din of jack-hammers and honking taxis, he lowered his pants. Disgusted rubber-necking pedestrians on Fifth Avenue gawked in disbelief as he squatted down. Then to the shock of his sister on the other side of the glass, he did his business, (my friend always makes a point to describe the dumbstruck look on his sister's flattened face as she pressed upon the window).
UNFORTUNATELY, YOU CAN'T SEE HIS "MESS" FROM THIS ANGLE BUT IF YOU SQUINT, YOU CAN SEE TWO OF THE "GODFATHER'S" TUFFS IN THE DOORWAY HOLDING THEIR HANDS IN THEIR OVERCOAT POCKETS.

When he came back into Macy's, his sister grabbed his hand and marched him back to mom. The Don, unaware they had gone, had an arm full of clothes and impatiently snapped, "Stop running all over the friggin' store before you get us thrown out!"
Sister said, "But mom..."
With a terroristic snarl Don Cordeleone looked down at her and barked, "Shut up!"
The little girl squeaked, "But he..."
The Don interrupted and roared, "When I tell you to do something..."
She continued raving for over a minute. When the noise was over, the kids knew mom had made the proverbial offer they couldn't refuse.
Mom sighed, "Now, wait right here while I try these on."
The sister went against everything that was holy and reflexively shouted, "BROTHER MADE A POOPY IN THE STREET!"
"WHAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The girl explained the whole story.
When mom was about to explode her daughter added, "But you told him you didn't care if he shit in the street."
The Don screamed so loud that employees came running over. Instinctively, she dropped the clothes onto a display table. She grabbed her packages, shoved sister forward, took the boy by the ear and hustled them out...and all the way home.

It was tough for my friend back in their apartment. But at least his most torturous and boring day was cut short. Plus, he was never brought along when the Don shopped for herself. When my friend looks back at that day he likes to say, "I wish I had told my mother, 'taking a dump on Fifth Avenue wasn't personal...it was business.'"

I guess it's safe to say, "Due to circumstances beyond their control, not all women make good moms...after all, babies don't come with an instruction manual."

Monday, January 18, 2010

SOUNDING FISHY...IS NOT THE PROBLEM

I will soon be celebrating my eleventh year of power-walking. In that time, I have seen many interesting things but the most incredible come from the animal kingdom...more specifically, the animal kingdom's "road-kill" division.

This part of South Jersey has a wide variety of wildlife. So seeing fresh, dead critters on my three neighborhood jaunts each week is almost common.

I think splattered squirrels, field mice, bats and rabbits got what they deserved. Squashed turtles, snakes and chipmunks, as sad as they might be, are no big deal. And raccoons, deer and foxes should have enough brains to avoid jaywalking. However, there has been three circumstances of road-kill that were not only eye-opening but disturbing as well.

About ten years ago, I got the crap scared out of me on Great Creek Road. Ahead, I saw a clump of furriness and upon closer examination became startled when I realized it was an animal, (my first up close look at a possum). At that moment I didn't know what it was but its haunting smiley face and ferocious rows of razor-like teeth seemed poised to rip out a section of my Achilles Tendon.WHEN CAUGHT OFF-GUARD, FLATTENED POSSUMS LOOK A LOT LESS CUTE AND CUDDLY.

More recently on Wrangleboro Road, I saw a pair of long, thin plastic tubes glistening in the distance. As I neared them, I noticed they led to a grayish brown lump in the weeds. My heart then jumped in my throat when I realized that these lines were intestines pulled from a gopher's innards.

This morning, I saw the granddaddy of all unusual dead animals! I was power-walking in a remote corner of the parking lot, in the Garden State Parkway's rest stop when I saw a big, grayish, aquamarine-colored fish. I hustled over and discovered it was a three-foot shark. I can't identify many sea creatures but this was definitely mini-jaws.

My wife Sue on the other hand...could probably tell what species of shark it was. In her youth, she had plenty of fishing experience. She proved her expertise in the mid-80's when we took my parents for a stroll, along the Emmons Avenue marina in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. In the late afternoon, the fisherman set up makeshift booths along the sidewalk and sell their catch. As we went past, Sue named every fish.

I stored her appreciation for fishing away. Five years later, we went to Ocean City Maryland with another couple. They brought rods and reels and were surprised that I didn't bring mine. They couldn't believe I was going to a fisherman's paradise without any intention of fishing. The guy then laughed in my face when I said, "I never fished in my life." They encouraged (badgered) me for quite some time until...I, the ultimate land-lubber...for the sake of my wife, agreed to pull up my land anchor and take the plunge.

We made reservation for the following morning aboard a chartered party boat.

Our hotel had an aquarium attached to a fountain in the lobby. The place's atrium affect gave each room a view of it from the balcony. That night, after we said our good-byes, the other guy phoned my room and asked me to meet him outside the room. I found him in the corridor leaning over the third floor rail, with fishing rod in hand.
I saw the colorful carp swimming below as he stood erect, cast his line and said, "I'm gonna catch me some fish tonight too."
I groaned, "See you in the morning," and turned back towards my room.
I heard strong rolling thunder in the distance as he said, "Wait, I'll let you try after I get one."

At 6AM, the fog was so dense it looked like nighttime. It had stormed during the night and the parking lot was partially flooded. I put on the Weather Channel. They were reporting a clear afternoon and especially rough seas. I called the other couple and told them my findings.
He laughed at me and said, "We're ready for breakfast."

We parked at the western end of Division Street and boarded the boat. Even though you could barely see a hundred feet into the bay, the glass-like water was calm. Our moods were high as our "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND-like," three-hour tour began.

Ten minutes later, we were peacefully chugging out of the bay. I was getting a feel for handling the fishing rod when I started a series a sea-sickness jokes. Soon all four of us were topping each other with clever synonyms for vomit.

We were just getting into the open ocean when an employee wearing a yellow rain slicker delivered the bait. My eye caught a glimpse of the disgusting cut-up fish. It didn't bother me but I made a point to avoid looking down into the bucket again.

Soon, the sun was trying to poke through the haze as the choppy Atlantic intensified. We were still giddy with excitement as the wind's direction changed. In retrospect, I should have moved to avoid the stink, because I wasn't savvy to the affect diesel fumes would have on me.

The "party" boat began a continual series of climbs and crashes in the ten-foot swells. Amid the pukey wisecracks, the bait and the boat's exhaust, I felt my first twinge of stomach discomfort.

At the same time that my laughs and smiles were eroding into a somber melancholy, a senior citizen in a tattered white, naval officer's cap approached. He was collecting money for the, "catching the biggest fish pool." I had my head down trying to find two singles to buck-up with when I got a full facial blast of the old-salt's cheap cigar. In the exact second I gave away our two-dollar entrance fee for the contest...I gave away whatever I had for breakfast.

Within seconds, my mess was being hosed-down as torturous taunts from my sea-faring brethren began. Their sarcastic jeering inspired me to stumble to the railing to give my dinner from the night before...a decent burial at sea.

My wife was supportive as she escorted her fallen warrior into the cabin. She situated me on a wooden bench and left me laying there like a lox. She then went and asked a member of the staff to turn back because I was sick.
He had a good laugh at her "joke" and said, (insert pirate accent here), "Aye, give 'em time, half these people will be chummin' right along side your darlin'."

Simultaneously, my nausea and cold-sweats temporarily subsided. This lull in my suffering allowed me to realize how pissed-off I was for being in my predicament. I thought I would die if this was going to keep up for two more hours. I tried to sleep but the taste of bile in my mouth wouldn't let me relax. My thoughts wandered as I held my belly and stared out the window. The listing ship caused the scenery to a have a regular cadence. In predictable intervals, I saw sky, sky, sky...water, water, water. After four sets of that, the queasiness shot through me again...I made a mad dash to the "head" and gave back the previous day's lunch.

The other couple came by to see how I was and my wife made a couple of non-conjugal visits too. Luckily, I slipped in and out of sleep for the rest of the voyage.

The storm during the night had churned-up the ocean so much that few people caught any fish. That tidbit and the first sighting of land didn't give me any solace as my sea-sickness evolved into the dry-heaves.

Our boat was inching into port as I shakily arose. The fresh air, still-water and bright sun lifted my spirits until I heard my group laughing and talking about going for lunch. As dizzy as I was, I made sure I was first in line to disembark. As soon as we docked, I staggered down the gangway. Back on terrafirma, I got on my hands and knees and kissed the ground.

I swore I'd never go ocean fishing again...and never have.

As for the dead shark in the parking lot...when my son Andrew and his two friends came home from school, I mentioned it to them. They wanted to see the beast, but I warned them it might not still be there, six-plus hours later. Propelled by their curiosity, we took the 5 minute drive. Well, it was not only there but the shark became an iPHONE sensation and the highlight of their day. THE SHARK'S CONDITION DETERIORATED DURING THE DAY. TORN APART BY SEAGULLS, I CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T WRETCH. HOWEVER, THE TEENAGE LUST FOR HIGH ENTERTAINMENT WASN'T HINDERED BY THE VICTIM'S PLUCKED-OUT EYE, DARKENED COLOR, PUTRID STENCH OR SWARM OF FLIES.

If the shark wasn't there, my story would have sounded like an exaggeration or a lie...instead the boys got more than they bargained for...a FISHY fishy.

The only way to top today's fishy shark tale would be if I saw and smelled a dead skunk on my next power-walk. If I do, maybe that will send me back out to sea?

Monday, January 11, 2010

"HUT TO PEEN AND SMOOTH SAILING"

Do you know who Officer Joe Bolton and Captain Jack McCarthy are? If you do, that means you watched a lot of TV as a kid, you're from the New York City area and/or you're very old like me.

Before the idea of Educational TV, "SESAME STREET" or the "TELETUBBIES," Bolton and McCarthy were the face of New York's, matinee programming. From the mid-50's to early 70's, these stalwarts of my youth appeared as hosts for kiddie-shows, exclusively on Channel 11, (WPIX).

Joe Bolton came to WPIX as a weatherman in 1948. In 1955, he began hosting the "LITTLE RASCALS" reruns. Dressed like a patrolman, on a set that was made-up to resemble a police station, Officer Joe would do local commercials between the episodes. Also, using his cop image as a positive role-model, he'd propagandize his viewers with moralistic tidbits like; eat your vegetables, help mom around the house, do your homework, be kind to younger siblings and respect your elders.

Bolton was kept on at WPIX after the station lost the rights to, "Little Rascals," in 1958. His role remained the same when the programming switched to, "THE THREE STOOGES." In 1970, after parents groups cited the violence caused by Moe, Larry and Curly, was effecting children negatively, the show was cancelled. The affable Bolton survived the purge and was invited to host "THE DICK TRACY SHOW" cartoons.

ON AUGUST 13, 1986, JOSEPH REEVES BOLTON III DIED, HE WAS 75.

Jack McCarthy was the host of Channel 11's St. Patrick's Day Parade for 42 years. I didn't know that...until today. What I do know is, his character was a direct result of Joe Bolton's success. Dressed as a naval officer, "Captain" Jack hosted, "POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN," cartoons from 1963-1972.

McCarthy's set looked like a ship's deck. He'd open each show behind an old-fashioned ship's wheel, ring the bell above his head and say with a touch of an Irish brogue, "Its four bells...time for the "POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN SHOW."

Like Bolton, his spiel between cartoons included advertisements and reminders of the golden rules, like; treat others how you'd want to be treated, keep your room ship-shape, be kind to animals and steer clear of bad kids. However, unlike is counterpart, he claimed his performances were unscripted. Plus, he occasionally mixed-in some cute Irish anecdotes and folklore.

The Captain closed each show by ringing the bell and making this signature statement, "Hut to peen." Then in a military way, he'd salute his viewers and add, "And smooth sailing."
"CAPTAIN" JOHN JOSEPH McCARTHY LIKED TO SAY, "I WAS BORN ON 52nd STREET AND FIFTH AVENUE."AFTER PAUSING HE'D ADD, "FIVE BLOCKS OFF, (FIFTH AVENUE)."  NYC'S, "MR. ST. PATRICK'S DAY," DIED ON MAY 26, 1996, HE WAS 81.

Like most little kids, I accepted the use of the phrase; hut to peen and smooth sailing. But by the time I was in college, I became haunted by its origin and true meaning, and sought a solution. The Internet was still eons away way, so I had asked many folks with naval backgrounds...but came-up empty.

The mystery was solved in early 1975. However, the groundwork for this monumental discovery was laid on Sunday, November 10, 1974. A day so special, it remains on the highlight reel of my life.

That weekend, I was visiting ZYMBOT at Fredonia University in western New York, (please wish the Big Kahuna well, he faces heel surgery today). In the wee hours of the morning, I met a pleasant young lady. We spent the next ten hours together and went for lunch, a stroll through the woods and hung-out at the lake.

Back on campus, en route back her dorm, I spotted a TV in a communal lounge. My team, the New York Jets were playing their cross-town rivals, the New York Giants. While they equally stunk, (both teams were 2-7), this was the first time they ever faced each other in the regular season. Thus, this game even though it was being played in the Yale Bowl in New Haven Connecticut, was bally-hooed in the "Big Apple," as if it was the Superbowl.  Or as Captain Jack McCarthy said, "The Big Shamrock."
THE NEW YORK (football) GIANTS, AFTER MOVING FROM THE POLO GROUNDS, PLAYED AT YANKEE STADIUM FROM 1956-1973.  IN 1973 AND 1974 WHILE WAITING TO MOVE INTO THE MEADOWLANDS, THEIR HOME GAMES WERE AT THE YALE BOWL (above).  THEN FOR ONE SEASON, 1975, THEY PLAYED AT SHEA STADIUM.

The Fredonia girl and I sat down and watched the big game.  It was already late in the game and of course my Jets were losing, (20-13). But with legendary QB Joe Namath at the helm, they drove to the three yard line.

At this advanced point of  "Broadway Joe's" ever-cool career, his bad knees made him a cripple. So with the super-bowl of the two shitty New York teams at stake, he sent all his troops right.  He then faked-out the defenders, cameramen, the fans and maybe his own team...because no one dreamt he'd keep the ball. Namath hid the ball on his outside hip, in what is termed a "Naked-Boot-Leg" and walked/limped to the left, untouched for the tying touchdown.

I was so satisfied with that, that the girl and I continued back to her dorm. Later, my great day somehow got better when I found out the Jets won in overtime.

Months later at "THE JOLLY BULL TAVERN," (near Brooklyn College), I was enjoying their world-famous, watered-down draughts with twin brothers, TICKLEMEERIC, (TIC) and IMPORTANCEOFBEINGEARNEST, (IMP).

I told them the story of my special moment in Fredonia and TIC said, "You think that's great? We went to that game."
IMP said, "Yeah, it was in New Haven Connecticut at the Yale Bowl, we took AMTRAK."
I said, "Heh?"
TIC said, "You drunken idiot, we took the train."
"I'm not drunk!"  Between hiccups I added, "I'm as sober as the day is long...or something like it..."
IMP said, "Speaking of drunks, you'll never guess who saw in the club car?"
I said, "Ulysses Grant's wet nurse."
TIC said, "You ARE a drunken idiot."
IMP said, "No really, we saw the immortal, Captain Jack McCarthy...going to the game too."
TIC said, "He even let me buy him a drink...if I promised to stop calling him Captain."
IMP said, "We told him we were big fans of his Popeye show."
TIC said, "He was wasted, we could have said anything."
IMP said, "Anyway we're pulling-in to our stop and I said...'hey Jack I gotta know one thing'..."
TIC interrupted, "Yeah, let us in on the big secret..."
Captain Jack was carefully pouring the remnants of his drink into a hip flask and cut TIC off, 'I know, you wanna know, what hut to peen means.'"
IMP said, "Hell yeah! What does; hut to peen and smooth sailing mean?"
TIC said, "Jack leaned in, burnt my face with scotch breath and said, 'Don't mean nuthin'.' I made it up."
The startled brothers looked at each other and said in unison, "HE MADE IT UP!"
IMP said, "The train door opened and without further clarification, the good captain got lost in the stampede."
TIC lamented, "And he was going to buy the next round..."
I said, "And you thought I was drunken idiot."

Just when it seemed that one of my finest moments (November 10, 1974) seemed to be etched in stone...a couple of months later, IMP and TIC managed to improve it. Unfortunately, to commemorate the occasion properly now, I would need a ship's bell...but don't have one handy.  So maties, imagine you hear one as I say, "Hut to peen," (insert military salute here) and smooth sailing."

Monday, January 4, 2010

IF IT'S TUESDAY, THE EDELBLUMS MUST BE IN BELGIUM.

Whenever I celebrate my mother's rich life, I like to focus on 1968. In that time-frame, she envisioned the number one highlight of my childhood and pulled it off with deft precision.
What she did for me was choreograph an atypical, two-pronged Bar Mitzvah experience for me.
MY BAR MITZVAH. THAT'S ME, CARNATION IN LAPEL, ( MAY 31, 1968).

At a great personal sacrifice, over a year in advance, mom took on a full-time job to help finance my golden moment.

Living on a strict regimen of cottage cheese, black coffee and not much else, mom dedicated herself to dieting. To support her effort, I sometimes held her ankles when she did sit-ups. Even though mom didn't need much...she trimmed down. When my command performance came, she looked dynamite.
MOM AND DAD WITH HIS PARENTS, TWO MONTHS BEFORE MY BIG DAY.

The religious Bar Mitzvah ritual (entering into adulthood), and ensuing festivities, succeeded in making me feel special. But mom's dedication to this crowning achievement didn't only benefit me. Within a sea of general positivism, 1968 became the best and most identifiable era for us as a family. Because my mother's master plan went further than just my lavish party.

Remember the 1969 movie, "IF IT'S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM?" Well it may as well have been written about us. The second prong of mom's brainchild was a 22-day, seven country European vacation.

Our jaunt NEVER landed us in Belgium. However, we enjoyed similar frantic and funny episodes, full of dramatic clashing personalities, international intrigue and sex...which resulted in a lifetime of fond memories.

While I'm certain we would have adored Brussels, we had to settle for; London England, Paris France, Vienna Austria, Rome, the Vatican, Naples, Pompeii and Capri in Italy. Then back to Cannes on the French Riviera, Geneva Switzerland, Madrid Spain and Lisbon Portugal.
MY FOLKS TOOK FULL ADVANTAGE OF PARIS' ROMANTIC NIGHT LIFE. THEY WENT TO A NIGHT CLUB WITH OTHER COUPLES FROM OUR GROUP. ONE OF THE ACTS THEY SAW WAS A YOUNG, SIEGFRIED & ROY.

Along with 30 or so other tourists, our package-deal was dominated by organized motor coach transport to each city's most popular venues. However, there were also down-times. Sometimes we ventured off with smaller groups and on a few occasions, we went off on our own.
My 42-year old European memories are fresh. The list of museums, monuments, palaces, castles, cathedrals and other meccas of sightseeing are lengthy. But the true theme of the trip that I hold most dear was brought to light in Vienna's Stadtpark, (City Park).

TO GIVE MY PARENTS MORE "ALONE TIME," (THEY SAID THEY WERE "PACKING" ), MY SISTER AND I TOOK A TAXI ON OUR OWN TO THE EIFFEL TOWER. CRAZY BY TODAY'S STANDARDS, SHE WAS 15 AND I WAS 13.

One of our family excursions was in Vienna. My dad, a musician, found out from the hotel concierge that the nearby equivalent of New York's Central Park was featuring a waltz concert. When we got there, a band-shell, complete with dance floor was adjacent to an outdoor cafe. My sister and I rolled our eyes at first because the music was so corny. But the pastries and cocoa soothed us enough to eliminate outward complaining.

This event perked-up when local teenagers in vintage Austrian peasant costumes demonstrated different waltz-steps. The show's final crescendo had the dancers mingle with the audience and encourage folks to waltz with them. My dad would have none of that. He stood-up and was so gallant as he asked my mother to dance to Strauss' "THE BLUE DANUBE." With a stupid grin on my face, my eyes remained glued on every elegant and joyful move mom and dad made.

STATUE OF THE WALTZ KING, JOHANN STRAUSS IN VIENNA'S STADTPARK.

At thirteen, the concept of my parents being very much in love was preposterous. So getting educated at that moment by seeing the spontaneity of the lovers, together, so enthusiastic, eyes locked on each other, unrestrained by day-to-day pressure, kids or anything else...has left the most pleasant and profoundly lasting impression on me. So much so that during my son Andrew's Bar Mitzvah, I made certain that the "BLUE DANUBE'S" big finale was used to usher my mom up, during the candle lighting ceremony.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KE7Zk-qaJAs
CLICK ON THIS LINK FOR A 6+ MINUTE PERFORMANCE OF, "THE BLUE DANUBE," BY ANDRE RIEU'S JOHANN STRAUSS ORCHESTRA.

My wonderful mom, Sylvia "Sue" Edelblum passed away on New Year's Day. The last five of her 79 years were spent painfully as she suffered through a prolonged, losing battle with both emphysema and cancer. During those difficult times, her sense of honesty, fair play and dignity never wavered. Without bitterness towards tobacco companies, she maintained her strong-willed presence, remained both real and gracious and never stopped using her wry humor.

I didn't always agree with mom but my appreciation for her motives...specifically; family values, common decency, intelligence and the arts are beyond reproach. I can only hope that I absorbed a fraction of those treasured traits. Therefore, the greatest compliment I can be given is being told; you remind me of your mother.IT DIDN'T MATTER IF IT WAS THE VATICAN'S SISTINE CHAPEL, THE MONA LISA AT THE LOUVRE, GOYA MASTERPIECES IN THE PRADO OR A JUNKYARD DINOSAUR SCULPTURE IN FRONT ROYAL VIRGINIA...MY MOM INTRODUCED MY SISTER AND I, TO A WIDE RANGE OF CULTURE AND ALLOWED OUR OWN TASTE TO DICTATE WHAT WAS GOOD.

In the end, I believe if mom could have gotten one message across it would have been; the human body is beautiful. Let your inside beauty match the outside...don't be mislead by the seemingly cool allure of smoking...never light-up...the end result leads to personal tragedy and much sorrow for those who love you.