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, a craps stick and valueless practice chips. While still 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!"
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 sighed, "What was taken?"
She said, "Cash!"
Debbie looked me with disdain and said, "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?"
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.
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.
"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 when I told my business partner to shove the school up his ass, I took on my present position as a casino dealer. Coincidentally, the student whose jacket was 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.
However, 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."
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 never funny to grow-up in but my friend was so well-adjusted as an adult that he was able to twist a humorous spin into every incident.
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 women's-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).
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!"
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 and 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."