Monday, December 26, 2011

A FEW GOOD REINDEER

CONSPIRACY THEORIST ALERT !

Suppose I was to tell you that one of the great truths...not only of your lifetime but going back a thousand years...was a lie.

What if I was to tell you that this calculated misrepresentation can be traced back to the actual Santa Claus!

Perhaps the idea would become clear if I also told you...that according to the Farmers Almanac; there hasn't been a foggy Christmas eve at the North Pole, in ten centuries.

Yes, the true story...not the common belief...of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, comes-off like a thousand-to-one shot, ala Rocky versus Apollo Creed...except Rudolph loses.


THE PLOT OF THE 1976 MOVIE, "ROCKY," CENTERED ON A FORGOTTEN NOBODY OF BOXING, ROCKY BALBOA, DEFEATING THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, APOLLO CREED.

We all know what we've been told but Rudolph's real name was Sunny. In his rookie sleigh-pulling season, he joined what we now call "Santa's Team." But he didn't fit in. Sunny was repeatedly disciplined with oral and written reprimands for not respecting the North Pole Toy Shop's chain of command.


When Sunny didn't conform, management aimed their wrath at the other reindeer. The rank and file was expected to apply peer pressure to deal with Sunny's shortcomings. Sunny didn't respond and the other reindeer started to receive an escalating series of punishments, (like having their pine cone sauce eliminated from the food line and their time starts drastically changed).

The overall conditions severely deteriorated. Childishly, Sunny's now exhausted fellow sleigh-pullers, blamed him for the increasingly hostile work environment. The anxiety caused the reindeer to turn on the elves, the elves argued with the snowmen and the snowmen refused to work with the narwhals. Eventually the entire staff ostracized Sunny primarily due to the trouble he caused them, his lack of teamwork and his diversity, (he was Latvian...from the other side of the proverbial forest). Sunny also had a meek personality and possessed physical differences like; an alien accent, being slow and awkward, as well as his famous shiny nose.

Sunny's superiors took their negative report all the way to Klaus von Bowser. Bowser, the sole proprietor and lone deliveryman of the North Pole Toy Shop, was infuriated that such a weak foreigner might jeopardize his personal reputation as well as the fiscal solvency of his esteemed organization. To be on the safe side, Bowser had his underlings follow the designated company protocol but Rudolph remained contemptuous.

The busiest time of year was looming. Bowser felt pressured by the calendar as the ides of December approached. To snap the oddball into line, he ordered a violent, extrajudicial punishment...which in regard to Sunny was euphemistically called, "a Code Red."


TOM CRUISE, JACK NICHOLSON, AND DEMI MOORE STARRED IN THE 1992 COURTROOM DRAMA, "A FEW GOOD MEN, " WHICH POORLY PLAGIARIZED
THE SUNNY INCIDENT.


There were two fatal errors made in administering the code red. First, the two, honor reindeer selected to scare Sunny straight, had a history of masochism. Previously, during a hazing, the over zealousness of these "black ops" reindeer, (Harold and Louden), got out of hand and nearly caused the suffocation death of a woodland sprite, training to be an elf.

The second fail safe that wasn't checked was Sunny's medical dossier. In it, his diabetes and bronchial problems were clearly identified.

Harold and Louden attacked Sunny while he was in bed. Their form of humiliation, torture and torment included shoving a rag down the victim's throat. Sunny began to gasp. Cold sweat poured out of him, his eyes rolled up into his head and he started shaking. After the gag was taken from his mouth, Sunny had a seizure. Harold panicked. He found a syringe in the bed stand and blindly jabbed insulin into Sunny's arm.

Harold and Louden faced the reindeer death penalty when they were charged with murder. At the trail, they implicated their supervisors and ultimately, the megalomaniac at the top. Klaus von Bowser was finally called as a witness. He was accused of tampering with the coroner's report that now called Sunny's death, an accidental insulin overdose.


On the witness stand, during their the fiery exchange Bowser said to the opposing lawyer, "At the North Pole, I save lives all over the world. You want me there because you aren't man enough to haul your ass down a chimney yourself." The lawyer said, "No! What I want is the truth." Bowser yelled, "You can't handle the truth!"

The circumstantial evidence against Harold and Louden didn't hold up in court. However, they were dismissed from the honor sleigh service and demoted to the rank of; reindeer first class...which meant, they were reduced to pulling the sleigh on Christmas.

Bowser was proven innocent and his shriveled soul went unscathed. He even survived two subsequent trails on related charges and was never convicted.

Highlights of the trails, showing Bowser in a positive light were leaked to the press. The actual testimony was covered-up and never made it into the newspaper. But through his publicist and a team of expensive attorneys, Bowser's heroic spin was foisted upon the public. He was hailed throughout Christendom as the savior of Christmas. When those undeserved accolades blossomed in the form of Sainthood, Bowser changed his name to Santa Claus.
YOU'LL NOTICE THAT THERE IS NO SHINY NOSE ON THE LEAD REINDEER IN CONTEMPORARY SANTA PHOTOS.


To hide their shame, Harold and Louden changed their names too, to Donder and Blitzen. And to make the story easier to take, we were told that Sunny was not killed. Instead, he was selected as the lead reindeer, because his beacon-like sniffer helped Santa navigate through the (non-existent), fog. And to make the whole contrivance cuter and more acceptable, Sunny's ordeal was turned into the fairy tale we all now love...and his name was changed to, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

ROUND-UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS

In my Las Vegas years, (1979-1984), the dark, claustrophobic and Victorian-themed, Binion's Horseshoe Casino was the most popular meeting place for downtown casino workers. Binion's ambiance reminded me of, "RICK'S CAFE AMERICAIN," from the 1942 movie, "CASABLANCA." Especially because so many hustlers, low-lifes and even regular guys, conducted shady business in every nook, cranny and remote outpost of the joint.CASABLANCA STARRED HUMPHREY BOGART AS RICK BLAINE. HIS DIRTY PRE-WWII DEALINGS, (INCLUDING GUN RUNNING), LEFT HIM EXPATRIATED FROM AMERICA.


In my craps dealing days at the Golden Nugget Casino, (September 1982-January 1984), it was common for groups of us to go across the street to the "Shoe," for a drink after work. The Horseshoe's marketing plan was genius. They'd offer all-day parking for fifty cents...with validation. Of course that meant getting your ticket stamped after your shift, inside their casino.

Once they weaseled you inside, you had to run the gauntlet of the saloon-like, main bar. It was strategically placed in the heart of the table games area and all drinks were fifty-cents. Of those who couldn't resist the cheap liquor, a high percentage were loosened up by the omnipresent gambling and were subliminally encouraged to join in.

If that tactic didn't get you to the blackjack and dice games, the next temptation came in the form of ubiquitous and scantily-clad keno runners. Keno is a simple, bingo-like game that can played anywhere in the casino. Back then for a 40c bet, you could win $25,000.00. Even better, keno at the bar, entitled you to free drink chits.

Another inventive device to keep you and your money in the Horseshoe was inexpensive food specials. For nine bucks, I made a meal out of both, the four-dollar steak and the five-dollar lobster tail...together, on many occasions.
THE MILLION DOLLAR DISPLAY, (100 TEN-THOUSAND DOLLAR BILLS), WAS A BIG GIMMICK TOO. FOR "FREE," THEY'D TAKE A POSTCARD QUALITY PICTURE OF YOU IN FRONT OF IT. THEN YOU'D HAVE TO HANG AROUND AT LEAST NINETY MINUTES, FOR IT TO DEVELOP.

Still another lure, combined the Shoe's wild west atmosphere with a certain level of hip electricity. To some, this excitement translated into an element of cool, danger. It was in that regard that I was reminded of Rick's...you never knew who you were standing next to...a celebrity, mega-high-roller, a criminal or a "narc."
THE HORSESHOE, WITHOUT OFFERING ENTERTAINMENT, DREW GREAT CROWDS AROUND THE CLOCK...EVEN BEYOND 4:00AM.

While I was at the Nugget, my ex-roommate, Ciro was dealing at the Four Queens. When our schedules meshed, we sometimes met after work for cocktails, at the Shoe.
THE HUB OF DOWNTOWN VEGAS...WHERE THE HORSESHOE, GOLDEN NUGGET, FREMONT AND FOUR QUEENS SHARE THE SAME CORNER,(FREMONT AND SECOND STREET).

Ciro and I first met at the New York School of Gambling. When we relocated to Vegas, on three separate occasions, we roomed together. In the early part of my thirty-four year association with him, his good natured disposition earned him the nickname "Ciro the Hero," (however his recent poor decision making caused his nickname to be permanently changed to "Ciro the Zero."

At one of our Horseshoe meetings, he brought along a dealer from his craps crew. Jay Gatling was short and despite blond hair and blue eyes...was an ordinary looking guy. Before we ordered our drinks, Ciro disappeared. I knew he was a wheeler-dealer, so I assumed he was chasing down someone who owed him money.

One-on-one, Jay didn't have much to say. However, once we started swilling beer, I did learn that he was twenty-one, living with his twin sister and that they were brought up Broken Arrow Oklahoma. When someone buzzed by and called him J. J., he confided in me, "My name is Jean Jamal. I was born in Morocco. My dad was French and my mom Lebanese."

Ciro returned. With an array of profanity he said, "That deadbeat Pete Watson, gave me the slip in the Fremont." While ranting, he flagged down Ossie the bartender. Without a word being spoken, the Spaniard delivered Jay and I another Budweiser and a Grolsch, (from a hidden stash), for Ciro.

Ciro's relationship with the barman impressed me. Then I was overwhelmed when Ossie said, "A girl with a Scottish accent was looking for you." Ciro said, "Did she tell you her name?" The bartender was scooping ice as he said, "No." Ciro said, "And it was definitely a Scottish accent?" Ossie was taking a biker's order as he looked back and added, "Yeah. And she wasn't wearing a casino uniform."

When Ciro tossed Ossie a five, for our dollar and a half tab I said, "I didn't know they served Grolsch. And what's up with you and the bartender?" Ciro said, "The 'O-Man,' is on my payroll." I didn't understand and changed the subject, "I thought things were going well with your new girlfriend....so, who's this Scottish chick?" He whispered, "It's a code, Ossie needs four lids (of pot), the day after tomorrow, same time, same place." Suddenly, Ciro sprang to attention and said, "Here comes trouble, let's get out of here."

The trouble was Agnes Carmichael. She was a knucklehead who liked Ciro. She was dating a mutual friend of ours, so for many reasons including her chipped tooth, being heavy, pimply-faced, big-mouthed and off-the-wall, he avoided her. Ciro grabbed Jay's elbow and said, "C'mon Dimi, let's get out of this toilet." (Ciro's nickname for me was, "Dimi." It comes from the line in the, "EXORCIST;" Dimi, vy you do dis to me)?

We decided to leave. On the way up to our cars, we were alone in the garage elevator when Jay pulled a small pistol from a leg holster, (above his ankle), and said, "BING, BING! Two to the back of the bitch's head and your problem is solved." Instead of being shocked Ciro said, "Is that the twenty-two you bought off Red?"
MOMENTS BEFORE THE FAMOUS, "RICK, RICK HIDE ME," GUN BATTLE SCENE...UGARTE, (PETER LORRE'S CASABLANCA CHARACTER), TRIED TO IMPRESS RICK WITH HIS TALE OF ACQUIRING INVALUABLE, "IRREVOCABLE LETTERS OF TRANSIT." TO GET THEM, HE IMPLIED THAT HE ASSASSINATED TWO NAZI COURIERS. THE HORSESHOE HAD ITS SHARE OF SHOOTINGS TOO. SO JAY'S BOASTFUL MOMENT CEMENTED HIM AS ONE OF THE "FEW OF THE MANY" ASSHOLES...CARRYING CONCEALED WEAPONS.

Ciro saw the shocked look on my face and said, "Jay, put that pea-shooter away...no one's killing Agnes." Jay joked, "Just for shits and giggles, a shotgun blast couldn't hurt her face." Ciro smiled, "You know Dimi, Jay has a frickin' arsenal." Jay said, "My sister is working, so if you want to see my gun collection, you can stop by now." I had no interest but to be social, I didn't see any harm.

Jay's west side apartment was about three miles from my place. In dawn's earliest light, his adobe-themed complex looked natural at the edge of the desert. When he opened the door of the second floor unit he whispered, "Shit! My sister is here. She must've blown-off work. We gotta be quiet or she'll murder all of us."

In his room, Jay pulled rifles and shotguns from under his bed. In his closet, hidden under piles of laundry, several plastic storage bins contained handguns. Ciro grabbed a rifle and said, "This is my favorite." He handed it to me and added, "See that Seven-Eleven on Sahara?"

Out the window, through the semi-darkness and across a block-long vacant lot, I saw the store. He said, "Adjust the scope and aim at the door's key hole." When the lock cylinder was in my cross-hairs, it was so close-up...it was scary to think what a sniper could do. They thought I would be excited by this, instead I was turned-off.

We heard stirring in the other bedroom. Jay groaned in a loud whisper, "Shit, you guys gotta get out. Now!" Jay was hustling us through the kitchen to the front door when his sister came out of her room. She was an unbelievably beautiful, petite blond. She was holding her arms around the waist of her incredibly short, terry robe. My hope for pleasant introductions was dashed when she started scolding Jay for waking her up. Through her hostile rage, I became transfixed on her robe's fuzzy, red hemline. Jay was flustered. But it looked like he was having a heart attack when a six-foot-five, Polynesian Adonis, wearing only a towel and scowl, obliterated whatever light was coming out of her bedroom.

The Atlas was twirling the white sash from the girl's robe as he stared-down Jay. He handed her the sash as he advanced towards us. Jay was humiliated as the giant's chiseled forearm shoved him aside. The Polynesian opened the refrigerator without interrupting his harsh glare. He took out the orange juice, (his eyes still fixed on Jay) and defiantly drank from the container. Jay was mortified. His sister broke the silence, "J. J., get these assholes out of here."

A month passed. I was asleep at seven in the morning, and there was a loud pounding on my condo's front door. I was only asleep about two hours. In a daze, I looked down from the bedroom window but didn't recognize the hyped-up man, banging on my door.

I opened the door a crack, it was Jay. He tried to burst in but I shut the door. I used the chain and talked to him through the slit. In a flurry of obscenities, he accused me of stealing his gun collection.  (In last week's blog you may recall, that in 1970, I was accused of stealing Lee Richardson's dad's $50,000.00, gold coin collection).

I told Jay he was out of his mind. He said, "If you're innocent, then you have nothing to worry about when I search your place." Jay was angry enough to have pulled a gun on me so I figured his whole collection was robbed. When I was sure he wasn't armed, I showered him with some choice words before saying, "You're not coming in!" He lowered his shoulder and rammed the door. I said something along the lines that I had said to Lee Richardson, "Are you telling me, I'm the ONLY person you showed your shit to?" Jay dropped several F-Bombs as he yelled, "Just let me in!" I said, "Wait right there for ten minutes. I'm calling the cops. We'll let them straighten this out."

After loitering for a minute, Jay left. I assumed he went to round up the usual suspects.

Immediately I called, Ciro, the newly dubbed Zero. He was pissed that I woke him up. After I told him what happened I said, "I'll put two in the back of your head, the next time you give a prick like that my address."  That incident with Jay was the beginning of the end...of my beautiful friendship with Ciro.

Monday, December 12, 2011

THE PINOCCHIO FACTOR, AT THE CORNER OF SKIDMARK AND SYRINGE

Gold! What a concept. They knew it was precious in ancient times and today, it maintains every ounce of its luster and allure.

I started collecting coins when I was eight. Due to economic restraints, my hobby was restricted to mostly common pennies, some worn-out nickels, a small amount of silver and zero gold.

My fellow, prepubescent collector friends were choked by similar financial shackles, so I learned at an early age that they didn't want to see my most treasured items and I didn't want to see theirs....unless there was something special...of which I had none. More importantly, people outside the hobby...definitely, didn't want to see my collection.AS BEAUTIFUL AS MY BEST PIECES WERE...IN THE TRUEST SENSE OF THE WORD, THEY WERE ORDINARY.
This general disinterest in my collection stayed constant in my teens even when I injected a trifle more money into it. And since my hobby has laid dormant ever since, I'm positive that no one would be impressed by it now.


WHETHER IT'S PAINTINGS, HUMMELS OR OIL CANS, FEW PEOPLE WANT TO SEE YOUR STUFF...EVEN IF YOU HAVE STRECKER'S HYBRID "RUBIDUS." SO, UNLESS YOU ARE AN AFICIONADO, WHAT YOU SEE (above), IS JUST A BUTTERFLY.

In my sophomore year of high school, I befriended blond, blue-eyed Lee Richardson...who had just moved into Canarsie. In addition to an upbeat and funny personality, he told wild, entertaining stories. Some of them included his father being a detective sergeant who retired after being shot in the chest. He also said that his dad hooked him up as the New York Knickerbockers ball boy. But of all the stories, the one that really fired me up was his collection of gold coins...worth over fifty-thousand dollars.

Midway through that term, we were settling into our algebra class. Lee, (a hyper-skinny kid), lost a lot of credibility when he got into an argument with Ty, a stout, athletic kid from his old neighborhood. Apparently they participated in their "Y's" youth basketball league. Interlaced with high levels of profanity, they argued whether Ty's team, (the Renegades) or another team, (the Skyhawks), were their seventh grade champs. When the muscular kid called him a moron, living in a fantasy world, diminutive Lee pushed the big fellow over.

Ty scraped his head on a desk on the way down and was rushed to the nurse's office. I was blinded by loyalty. Before I knew that the victim was okay...I defended my friend. The other witnesses harshly criticized me for calling Lee's tactics, "fair." However, the court of public opinion swayed me when I was reminded that Ty was hobbled by a broken leg and cast from his toes to his crotch.

Later, some other friends told me that in addition to Lee being a coward for toppling a handicapped guy, he was a compulsive liar too. They told me that Lee's father was an active policeman and his rank was as a regular patrolman. And as for being a ball boy for the Knicks...his detractors demonstrated its implausibility and showered the concept with a chorus of derisive laughter.

These revelations made me shy away from Lee. A week later, he cornered me in the cafeteria and asked, "Why are you avoiding me." I said, "Pushing down Ty was uncool." He said, "The dean tried to suspend me but once my dad got in his face, everyone realized it was no big deal. Jeez, the weasel didn't even get hurt." I nodded but didn't believe him. Then Lee grinned, "Dad had them sweep the whole mess under the rug."

Weeks passed. Lee approached me in the library. He wanted to do something after school. He sensed my reluctance and said, "You still worried about Ty? Well don't be. We patched up our differences and I invited him to see my gold coin collection next week." I didn't believe him. He continued, "C'mon let's get a slice of pizza later." That's when I got an idea and said, "Yeah, we could do that...and after, I can come back to your house and see your gold coins." Lee let out a loud, "Whoa, whoa, whoa!"
IF LEE'S NOSE GREW WHEN HE FIBBED, IT WOULD HAVE SAVED ME A LOT OF GUESSWORK.

Just as I was thinking that Lee was indeed a pathetic phony he added, "I have to make a confession. The gold isn't mine, it's my father's...and he'll kill me if I showed it to anyone." I said, "You're so full of shit, your eyes just turned brown." "No really," he whined, "my dad is really strict..." I interrupted, "Two seconds ago you said Ty was coming over next week." He said, "Yeah but..." I cut him off, "I'm not interested." Lee said, "Okay, we'll get a slice at Dominic's and then we'll go to my house."

Lee lived in the Canarsie Park section of Canarsie. This area is small, tucked away behind the park and up against the Belt Parkway. Therefore most Canarsians never heard of it. I was only there twice, this visit to Lee's house in 1970 and a wake in 1978. Beyond that, the only other time I remember a reference to it, was my crime novelist friend Charlie Stella setting a sexual liaison scene back there in his book, "EDDIE'S WORLD."

After the pizza, we walked four blocks to Skidmore Avenue.
A CONTEMPORARY PICTURE FACING NORTH ON ROCKAWAY PARKWAY, AT THE CORNER OF SKIDMORE AVENUE.

From the opposite direction, Skidmore Avenue is the second street off the highway. Sometimes people hear my accent and ask, "What part of Brooklyn are you from?" I say, "Canarsie." When they ask, "Where in Canarsie?" To be funny, I steal a line from comedian Sam Kinnison and say, "The corner of Skidmark and Syringe." Nearly every time I use that line, people mistakenly relate Skidmark to Skidmore Avenue and say something like, "Oh yeah, my cousin (or whatever), used to live there."
IF YOU SQUINT, THAT'S THE WORLD TRADE CENTER IN THE DISTANCE. IN THE FOREGROUND, SKIDMORE RUNS IN ONLY ONE DIRECTION, WEST (LEFT) BETWEEN THE STRIP MALLS.

Despite Skidmore Avenue's highly visible sign on Rockaway Parkway, it is short, inconsequential and almost uninhabited. On the way to Lee's, he led me behind a church and quipped, "They call it St. Felons on bingo night because they have a two tattoo minimum to get in."
(OCTOBER - 1970). CANARSIE PARK WAS MY HIGH SCHOOL'S JV FOOTBALL HOME FIELD. THAT'S ME, #72 IN YOUR PROGRAM BUT #1 IN YOUR HEART. ALTHOUGH THAT LADY WAS PENALIZED FOR CLIPPING, I STILL GOT IN ON THE TACKLE. PLEASE NOTE, THE "CANARSIE PARK," SECTION OF MY NEIGHBORHOOD, IS IN THE BACKGROUND.

In Lee's kitchen, he used a step stool to retrieve a key from a sugar bowl on the top shelf. He handed me the stool and said, "Follow me." He stopped at the hall closet and took a wire hanger. On the way to the basement, Lee straightened out the hanger as he swore me to secrecy.

We went towards the utility room. To camouflage the door, it had the same walnut paneling as the walls. As I passed through, I noticed that the width of the door was battleship gray, incredibly thick and made of metal. When I put my hand on its girth Lee said, "It's fireproof."

Next to the washing machine, Lee stood on the stool and used the key to unlock a high-tech hatch at the top of the door. He looked down into the hallowed-out chamber and dropped the hook end of the hanger down. He fished around for a few seconds before pulling up a thin, black attache case. Then another and then a third.

Lee set them on the dryer and unlocked each one. I gasped. The golden sparkle was such an incredible sight that my fifteen-year old imagination lit up like a Christmas tree.
EVEN WITH HIS MIDAS TOUCH, AURIC GOLDFINGER WOULD HAVE BEEN GREEN WITH ENVY AND DAZZLED BY THOSE BABIES.

Lee said, "The best are these two, fifty-dollar commemoratives, from 1915. And this batch is twenty-dollar double eagles." I was marveling at the opulence when his elbow nudged my ribs as he said, "The one from 1856 is also worth a fortune." He then sighed, "The rest are just ten-dollar eagles."

The museum-quality show was over fast. I never had a chance to even touch one of the individual, clear plastic storage cases. Lee reminded me of my oath, hastily returned the whole shebang to its proper place and led me upstairs. He put the key back in the sugar bowl, condensed the hanger with a series of folds and put it in a brown supermarket bag. He looked at the time and said, "I hope you believe me now." When I nodded, he handed me the bag and said, "You gotta go now. And throw this in the garbage somewhere off my street." I agreed. At the door, he reminded me to never tell anyone about the gold.

Our friendship blossomed for a few weeks. In that time, I asked him about being the Knicks ball boy. He went into descriptive explanation of his duties, pay and relationship with the players. When he added specifics about the tokens some of the players gave him, I said, "I'd love to see his autographed ball, Willis Reed's sneakers and Phil Jackson's jersey." He said, "I can't bring people to my house." He then whispered, "You know."

I told my other friends about Lee's Knicks souvenirs without saying anything about the gold. They all agreed that he was a bullshit artist because he was sheltered by the fact that WOR, (Channel-9), didn't televise home games. So his nonsense couldn't be confirmed unless one of us went to a game. I waffled and figured that sometimes he was a liar.

A few weeks later, Lee accosted me in the hall at school and started cursing me. He frantically accused me of breaking into his house and stealing his dad's gold. I said, "You're crazy!" He said, "Well, if you didn't, then who did you tell?" I recalled how routinely he folded the hanger to fit in the bag as if he'd done it before and lashed out, "No one!" Lee became flustered and I continued, "Didn't you show them to Ty?" He said, "No! He's an asshole, I hate him!" Then I chimed in, "So you're saying, I'm the only person you EVER showed them to?" Lee came to some realization and ran off. I never spoke to him again.

In February, I became friends with a girl whose dad was a cop. When I met her father, I name dropped officer Richardson. He said, "Actually, he's a detective sergeant. They're trying to phase him back into restricted duty because he was out for a long time after getting shot during a liquor store hold up."

A month after that the NBA playoffs started. All the games were nationally televised which meant that the home games weren't blacked-out. And guess who scrambled out on the court to wipe the sweat off the floor with a towel after some players fell to the ground while wrestling for a loose ball?
IF LEE HELD ON TO THAT PHIL JACKSON JERSEY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, I BET IT WOULD FETCH A PRETTY PENNY TOO.

That summer before my junior year, Lee moved away. For a while, I thought I owed him an apology until Ty showed me a tiny, crumpled item from a 1968, East New York community newspaper that congratulated Ty and his Renegade teammates on their championship season.

Forthrightness! What a concept. They knew it was precious in ancient times and today, it maintains every ounce of its luster and allure.

Monday, December 5, 2011

THEY USED TO CALL ME MUDCAT

The range of topics that come up while standing dead on a craps table are limitless. One night in 1991, our game was open with no players and the subject was nicknames. One of the dealers, Julio, had been a professional boxer. He was lamenting that he might have had more success, if he had an intimidating nickname.

(STOCK PHOTO) JULIO'S FACIAL SCARS AND PUFFY EYES WERE A CONSTANT, GRIM REMINDER THAT AN ADDED GIMMICK, LIKE A FEROCIOUS NICKNAME COULD ONLY HAVE HELPED HIS PRIZEFIGHTING CAREER.


Our floor supervisor, Jacqueline Kennelly not only listened intently to Julio, but she gave off a vibe that she was attracted to him. At forty, Dublin-born Jacquie was about five years older than the rest of us. Due to her casino rank and boisterous manner, she was frequently open about the joy of being single and her sexual exploits. So when she heard Julio complain about the need for a nickname she said, "When I was a teenager, I was called the 'mouth-piece' so much that my mother thought I wanted to be a lawyer."


Joe Table (another dealer) and I laughed. The boxman Jaime and Julio didn't. They were both Peruvian-Americans who spoke English well but hadn't mastered the subtleties of their adopted language.


Joe was Hispanic too...his real name was Jose Mesa. He was of Puerto Rican descent but his paternal grandparents were third generation Americans and his mom's folks were born in Hammonton New Jersey. Therefore the only Spanish he knew, was whatever he retained from high school or learned from living in community with a high percentage of Latinos.


He said, "My Joe Table nickname is obvious. It started when I was about twelve while picking blueberries," He made a gesture like it was raining by wiggling all his fingers and repeatedly bringing his hands down. To improve our visualization, he added a tinny sound-effect that mimicked berries falling into an empty bucket. "In the field," he continued, "some kid from school who barely spoke English thought he was hurting my feelings when he said to the other Latinos nearby, 'Jose Mesa translated to English means joe table,'...and the name stuck."


Jaime then asked me, "What is your nickname?" I said, "I don't really have one but for a short time in Las Vegas, some people called me Mudcat. It started when I went with a group of Stardust craps dealers, to a catfish restaurant called MUDCAT'S.


We got soused at the bar before getting seated. So when I got the menu that featured Southern specialties, I ordered the same thing that LTJEFF got; fried catfish and stewed okra. Plus, every entree came with a side-order of hush puppies.
IF MEMORY SERVES, CATFISH AREN'T KOSHER BECAUSE THEY ARE, "BOTTOM-FEEDERS." I SAY, IF THEY GET AS BIG AS THE ONE IN THIS PHOTO, THEN THEY CAN EAT ANYWHERE THEY WANT.


Drunk or not, I thought the catfish sucked! If I was sober or had half a brain, I should have ordered shrimp creole, red beans and rice or jambalaya.
JAMBALAYA IS A CAJUN DISH SIMILAR TO PAELLA. IT COMBINES, CHICKEN, SMOKED SAUSAGE AND VARIOUS SEAFOOD WITH CELERY, PEPPERS, ONIONS, RICE, VEGETABLES AND TOMATOES. THE WHOLE POT IS BOILED, SIMMERED AND FINALLY BAKED.

I ordered another Budweiser, ate the hush puppies, suffered through the okra and pushed aside the catfish. My friends scoffed at my lack of "sophistication" and hurled playful insults at me. Then they exaggerated the facts and spread my misfortune around at work. Soon, a narrow band of coworkers called me Mudcat.


At first I thought Mudcat was stupid. But I grew to like it because the name gave me a separate identity from the two other Steve's. Plus it was same nickname of one of my favorite baseball players, Jim Grant.
THE PRIDE OF LACOOCHIE FLORIDA, JIM "MUDCAT' GRANT, (NOW 76 YEARS-OLD), WAS A 14-YEAR MAJOR LEAGUER, (1958-1971), AND A TWO-TIME ALL-STAR. IN 1965, HE WAS THE PITCHING ACE OF THE MINNESOTA TWINS AND LED THEM TO THE WORLD SERIES. ALTHOUGH THE TWINS LOST 4 GAMES TO 3, GRANT WON TWO GAMES, (LOST ONCE) AND EVEN HIT A HOME RUN.

Jacquie Kennelly interrupted my Mudcat story and said, "Now that you mention it, my moniker was 'Jacqueline Kennedy' for a while...it felt like royalty compared to being called a tramp...I loved it." She then stared into Julio's eyes and said, "When you get back into boxing, I know a great nickname that will strike fear into all your opponents." Julio said, "I'm too old to get back into fighting." Jacquie smiled, batted her eyes and said, "That's okay, I like your face just as it is. But how do you say the vulture in Spanish?" When Jaime saw Julio's blank expression he said to him in Spanish that; it's a bird, like a condor. Then Jaime said to us, "the vulture is, el buitre." DIFFERENT CLASSIFICATIONS OF VULTURES ARE FOUND IN THE SOUTHWEST USA, THROUGHOUT LATIN-AMERICA, AFRICA AND IN EUROPE. THE ULTIMATE FLYING SCAVENGER, THEY ARE BEST KNOWN FOR FEASTING ON DEAD CARCASSES.

Joe Table said, "Yeah the word 'wee-tray' sounds like it starts with a 'W.' But it's spelled with a 'B.'" The Hispanicos, Julio, and Jaime cautiously nodded.

Jacquie cut in, "Hey Julio, from now on, I'm going to call you 'The Vulture.'" Julio shrugged, "Why? I'm not getting back in the ring" She said, "Because I want to play the vulture game with you?" "Vulture game?" he said, "What's the vulture game?" Jacquie said, "It's fun and easy...I play dead and you drag me back to your man-cave...and eat me."

Julio's nickname instantly became "Wee-Tray" or "The Vulture." It remained in our clique long after both he and Jacquie left the casino, (separately) for better jobs. Even now, whenever we refer to Julio, we call him, "The Vulture."

The vulture incident also created a new nickname for me. Those Latinos sarcastically played-off my nonexistent, cat-like reflexes as a craps dealer and shortened Mudcat to, "The Cat." Then, they translated it into Spanish. So to this day, (twenty years later), Joe Table, Jaime as well as BADLANDS and JS, still call me, "El Gato,"...and I love it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

MY GRATITUDE ATTITUDE

Ouchies, where does the time go?

Yes, it's hard to believe but true, my thirty-third anniversary as a casino dealer is right around the corner. Unfortunately, it's easy to point out that the gaming industry provides dead-end jobs or to grouse about the harsh hours, lack of dignity from serving the agitated public, the dangerous and unsanitary working conditions or the shallow, but ever-eroding pool of employee benefits. Still, I choose to see my longevity as an accomplishment. Especially when you consider my field has a burn-out rate under five years, due to the reasons above.

Much of my success is due to the countless hordes of players (customers), whose generosity, (tips, a.k.a., tokes), have supported my approximately, 8,250-shift career. Now at Thanksgiving, it is appropriate to voice my appreciation to all those nice people. However, I would also like to pay homage to another countless horde...the disgusting low-lifes, devious knuckleheads and tedious wackos who through the difficulty caused by their eccentricities, short-sightedness and selfishness, have entertained me enough to provide a bounty of fodder to lampoon...and share with my readership.


MY FIRST CRAPS DEALING JOB WAS THE SLOTS-A-FUN CASINO, IN LAS VEGAS. DON'T LET THIS CONTEMPORARY PHOTO FOOL YOU, MY NINETY SHIFTS AT THAT DUMP, (JANUARY-APRIL 1979), WERE PURE TORTURE. BUT LUCKY FOR ME, ONCE I WAS OUT, I COULD LOOK BACK AT IT AND LAUGH.

For some mislead reason, I chose to withhold the overwhelming majority of my odd-ball casino experiences from my father. Even from the safety of retrospect coupled with humorous embellishment, I feared that he would be disappointed that I exposed myself to seedy situations and associated with dubious people.

I couldn't have been more wrong. My stories have a great entertainment value and therefore, dad was short-changed. I am now certain that he would have looked back and laughed with me. When I realized that heinous mistake, I became motivated to chronicle those events for all to read.

I got this revelation from my mother. She read my work and although she may not have loved them all, mom made it clear that my dad would have been my number-one fan. On the positive side, my twenty stories, two screenplays, novel and this, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," blog will be etched into the stone of cyber-space and be an eternal part of my legacy. Plus, my blitherings encouraged my son Andrew to write...much more better than me.

Mom not only encouraged me to write but she was also a springboard to bounce ideas off. She and I had shared a lot of one-on-one time after dad passed away in 1995. Despite the hardships of being a widow, she made it a point to talk about my interests.

These conversations occurred during our little outings. And like my casino career, our adventures seemed to attract low-lifes, knuckleheads and wackos. The three incidents that mom and I liked best were:

"THE BARFLY IN McSORLEY'S." One of the times that mom and I played tourist in Greenwich Village, her body's internal alarm clock alerted her that it was time for her three o'clock coffee. We were fairly close to McSorley's Old Ale House, (15 East 7th Street), so I playfully suggested that we go for a beer. Mom's daily regiment was precise...so her need for a mid-day fix of java was as reliable as the hourly geyser in Yellowstone Park. That is why it was shocking that mom sited the bar's historical significance, mentioned that she hadn't been there since she was a girl and agreed to go.McSORLEY'S HAS BEEN A FIXTURE IN THE EAST VILLAGE SINCE 1854. MY SEPTEMBER 22, 2008 BLOG ABOUT IT, MENTIONED MY GOING-AWAY PARTY BEFORE I MOVED TO LAS VEGAS, (FIRST WEEK OF JANUARY 1979). ALSO INCLUDED WAS, BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THE PUB AND THE BARFLY INCIDENT.

The second mom and I entered the saw-dust-joint, we discovered that the businessmen who frequent McSorley's don't get there until after five. Through the stinky, thick, bluish veil of cigarette smoke, the rabble we found were the dregs of society. Still we felt safe and without hurrying, enjoyed a draught each. I used the unisex restroom before leaving. On our way out, mom discreetly pointed out a drunken low-life on the verge of passing out. This fat slob motorcycle gang wannabe, looked extra funny because the wad of spittle in his red beard looked like three-week old mashed potatoes.

In the fresh air outside mom said, "That Hell's Angel guy came over to me while you were in the men's room and asked, 'Is that dude coming back?'" Down through the years, I always reminded mom that if she didn't mind paying, she would have had a much better time, if she let him pick her up.

"NEXT STOP, ALBANY." Another one of our jaunts took us to Randazzo's Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn.RANDAZZO'S ON EMMONS AVENUE, HAS BEEN IN BUSINESS FOR OVER 75 YEARS. IT WAS NO LUNDY'S. (THE ORIGINAL LUNDY'S WAS OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANT...A COUPLE BLOCKS AWAY, BUT CLOSED IN 1979). RANDAZZO'S AS A SECOND CHOICE, WAS STILL GREAT. MOM AND I TYPICALLY ORDERED; MANHATTAN CLAM CHOWDER, STEAMERS AND EITHER CALAMARI OR SCUNGILLI, OVER LINGUINI FRA DIABLO.

On one occasion, before mom and I returned to my car, we were approached by a man about my age. His camel-colored corduroy sports jacket with the elbow patches was a little raggedy but he seemed okay. In a pleasant and polite manner he asked, "Could you give me a lift to Albany?" I said, "We're heading to Canarsie, Albany Avenue is way out of our way." In the most genuine way he said, "No, not Albany Avenue...the city of Albany." Suddenly, it became clear that I was dealing with a knucklehead. So in a courteous tone, I turned him down without mentioning that I couldn't spare the extra nine hours to run him up there.

"'GRANDPA' AL LEWIS SHOULD HIDE IN THE KITCHEN." Our favorite wacko story stemmed from another excursion to Greenwich Village. Mom and I were doing some power window shopping when we decided to find a place to eat. At the last storefront on the street, we mulled the idea of getting matching, mother and son tattoos. But that was forgotten when we turned the corner and saw, "GRAMPA'S BELLA GENTE," restaurant.A COUPLE OF YEARS EARLIER, I PASSED-UP AN OPPORTUNITY TO MEET AL LEWIS. THAT STORY IS INCLUDED IN MY FEBRUARY 1, 2010 BLOG, "SIDE BY SIDE WITH SINATRA."

Grandpa's opened in 1988. Mom said she read that it had a decent reputation so we gave it a try. Our lunch was far from wonderful but better than average. However our visit became memorable while we were waiting for the check. That's when Mr. Lewis and an associate came in and sat at the farthest table, next to the kitchen.

I wasn't star-struck but I thought it would be cool for mom and I to drop by and introduce our self. Mom wasn't interested so I forged ahead without her. I wanted to tell Mr. Lewis how we once almost crossed paths and congratulate him on his career, ( TV's, "CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU," as well as his much more famous role in the, "MUNSTERS)."
DURING THE 60-EPISODE RUN, (1961-1963), OF "CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?" AL LEWIS PLAYED OFFICER LEO SCHNAUSER.


A discrepancy in Grandpa Al's birth certificate prevents the authorities from determining a true age, at the time of his 2006 death, (82 or 95). Up close in the mid-1990's, with all due respect to the man, I thought he took his Dracula persona too far...he looked like a zombie. Regardless of his actual age, (he still had another ten years in him), to me, he looked unhealthy and awful. By the time you add-in his stale, medicine "scent," to his pasty complexion and abnormally long, yellowish fingernails, he was both scary and nauseating.

So while I was excited to make his acquaintance, I changed my mind and cut my audience short when I shook his cold, damp, dead-fish hand. On the way out mom said, "That was fast." I said, "I'm glad I didn't meet him before we ate. When you look like that, you should hide in the kitchen."

Hopefully when the current economic uncertainty turns around, we'll all look back at the terrible situations we face today and appreciate our perseverance...and have a good laugh when it's over. It's the same in the casino environment. Survival is just a matter of understanding the true nature of the job and enduring the tyrannical managers, malignant players and villainous coworkers. If you remain strong and remember that the negativity is temporary, you'll be confident in the knowledge that the agony will fade and be replaced with a lifetime of comic relief.

My point was reinforced over the summer when a foreign man with little command of our language came to my roulette table. Like a pressure cooker, I quietly watched him for fifteen minutes as he bottle-up his increasing wrath while hemorrhaging $800.00. He bought another hundred dollars in chips. Rather than his usual ten number spread, he made two bets. One for sixty and the other for forty dollars.

He hit the $40.00 bet, (and won $1,400.00). As if he lost everything he owned in the world, he aimed his ire at me and emptied a brutal book of profanity, laced insults at me...in suddenly perfect English. Even General Patton would have blushed after hearing it.

His reaction didn't make sense (he won) but I didn't fight back. I caught eye contact with him as I slid his payoff forward. During a pause in his ravings I shrugged, "Everyday can't be Christmas." He arched one eyebrow and said in his heavy accent, "Everyday CAN be Christmas?" I smiled, "No. Every day CAN'T be Christmas." I could see him processing the information. During an awkward lull, I guessed that he was translating my statement into his language and formulating a response back in English. Finally, he smiled and said, "It CAN'T be Christmas every day...that is very funny. Get me a pen and paper, I want to write it down." And he did. More importantly he kept the rest of his insults to himself.

So whether your finances are bothering you, things are tough at work or strange things get in your way when gallivanting with your mother...don't over react and appreciate the fact that maybe not at that second or that week...but some day, you'll laugh at your strife.

Happy Thanksgiving! And don't wait to appreciate the cornucopia of life once a year. Adopt my gratitude attitude and you'll get through just about anything.

Monday, November 21, 2011

IT'S UNLUCKY TO BE SUPERSTITIOUS

Fiduciary is an odd word.

While helping my son Andrew with his SAT's, we came upon it. It shares the same F-I-D root as fidelity and therefore means, faith or trust...usually in regard to banks, investment firms, insurance companies etc. So when people name their dog, Fido...it implies that the pup is a faithful, trusty companion.

To break up the monotony, Andrew and I saw it fit to lampoon the contrast between fiduciary's moralistic definition and the funny sound of the word. A few days later, I was reflecting on that well-spent time with my boy. Then my mind wandered to two circumstances when "fiduciary" fit into my earlier life.

The first was in 1981, during my brief (okay, very brief), career as a Nevada life insurance salesman. Part of the training reinforced the requirement to act in a fiduciary manner. So much so that the licensing process included an oath, to maintain the best interests of my clients and respect their privacy, (in my case, client...singular...I told you it was a brief career).

The other (far more interesting) circumstance happened in 1976 when MPW (according to the, "Guinness Book of Records," she's currently the only professional on earth without a computer), got me an unusual gift for my twenty-first birthday...tarot cards.


DOWN THROUGH THE EONS, HUMAN NATURE HAS COMPELLED COUNTLESS PEOPLE TO TRY TO ASCERTAIN THEIR DESTINY. THAT'S WHY PSYCHIC ADVISERS, HOROSCOPES, PALM, TEA LEAF AND TAROT CARDS READINGS ARE AS POPULAR AS EVER.

The tarot is a pack of playing cards, (the volume of cards range between 22 and 78). It has many European regional influences. Therefore depending on where you are, it might be called; trionfi, tarocchi, tarock...or something else. Some people also speculate that perhaps the tarot has Egyptian roots.



In the case of a 78-card deck, there are four, fourteen-card suits, numbered from one to ten, plus a king, queen, cavalier and a jack. The names of the suits, (swords, staves, cups and coins), may vary. This section of the deck is referred to as the minor arcane. However, there is a fifth, trump (triumph) suit. The trumps consist of 21-cards. This overpowering suit, plus a single card known as the fool, make up the major arcane.

An early, trump ranking of Italy's Tarocco Piemontese deck:





  • 20) Angel





  • 21) *World (This is the only exception). The world card has the highest number but has the second highest power.





  • 19) Sun





  • 18) Moon





  • 17) Star





  • 16) Tower





  • 15) Devil





  • 14) Temperance





  • 13) Death





  • 12) Hanged Man





  • 11) Strength





  • 10) Wheel of Fortune





  • 9) Hermit





  • 8) Justice





  • 7) Chariot





  • 6) Lovers





  • 5) Pope





  • 4) Emperor





  • 3) Empress





  • 2) Popess





  • 1) Bagatto
THE LAST ELEMENT OF THE MAJOR ARCANE IS THE FOOL, (DEPENDING ON THE GAME), IT CAN BE USED AS THE MOST OR LEAST VALUABLE.

Tarot's original definition, from Arabic to French is; to reject. Starting in the fifteenth century, the cards were used in normal games. Over the years, the use of the tarot cards evolved. By the late eighteenth century, mystics and occultists started using them to divine mental or spiritual pathways.



CONTEMPORARY TAROT CARDS AS WELL AS THE INDIVIDUALLY HAND-PAINTED ONE'S FROM BEFORE THE INVENTION OF THE PRINTING PRESS, UTILIZE ALLEGORICAL ILLUSTRATIONS TO REPRESENT A WIDE RANGE OF PERSONALITY TRAITS.



A "well-trained" fortuneteller can reveal the secrets to a client's future. They accomplish this by understanding the value of each card...with an upside down card having the opposite meaning. The depth of the reading is enhanced by understanding the change in a card's value, in relation to those previously dealt.



ALTHOUGH TAROT CARDS HAVE NEVER RECEIVED MAINSTREAM SCIENCE'S ACCEPTANCE, WORLD RENOWN SWISS PSYCHIATRIST CARL JUNG (July 26, 1875-June 6, 1961) SAID THAT THE ARCHETYPES OF PERSONALITIES AND SITUATIONS REPRESENTED IN TAROT CARDS, ARE EMBEDDED IN THE COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUS OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS.

When MPW gave me my tarot cards, we went through the instruction booklet together. On my own, I read-up on more of the basics. Soon I had a slight memory of the names of the cards, what they represent and a superficial knowledge of their relationship to each other.

For practice, I tried out my new-found talent on my parents. They knew I was blithering, but it was a lot of fun. When my confidence improved, I brought my deck to one of MPW's get-togethers, in the hope that this nonsense would help me pick-up one of her girlfriends.

The cards never helped with the ladies but I kept carrying them...just in case. At Brooklyn College's Boylan Hall cafeteria, I gave a reading to my friend Brent. He knew it was bullshit but he was entertained and wanted me to come to his apartment to do one for his new bride.



Brent's misses was smarter than both of us put together. But she recognized it as silliness and we had plenty of laughs. My tarot deck was still on the kitchen table when there was a knock on the door. It was her dad.

Her father, (Gene) was a hard-working stiff...and not particularly bright. Although he lived in one of the shantytowns along Jamaica Bay in Queens, he spoke in a harsh and stereotypical Brooklyn accent.

I met Gene once before, at the wedding. I knew little about him except for Brent's juicy gossip nuggets that centered on his father-in-law's lack of common-sense. For one, Gene may have been the first mature adult ever kicked out of culinary school, due to a lack of ability. He also lost a chunk of his life savings by investing in a worm farm in Maine and his most recent embarrassing experience, involved a flat tire during a blizzard.

In the 70's without cell-phones, Gene's flat tire forced him to trek on foot through the frozen tundra of the Bronx. He found a pay phone in a bodega. Instead of freezing, he waited inside for AAA to pick him up and take him back to his car. When they arrived, his 1975 Ford Elite was on blocks. All four tires had been stolen, a vent window was smashed and the inside was ransacked.

Another hour passed until the police came. He cursed-out the officer so badly that Gene was ticketed for blocking the intersection. He recognized the cop's spite, so in the name of principle, (not money), he fought the summons, lost and was buried by additional court fees.

You might give Gene the benefit of the doubt and call him a victim of circumstance (or as he would have said, victim of soy-cumstance). But the week before, Gene proved his status as a dimwit by mailing his daughter a St. Patrick's Day card for a nephew. Except all the St. Patrick's Day and nephew references were magic-markered-out...and replaced with a scribbled HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAUGHTER message.



BRENT'S WIFE WAS MORE DISAPPOINTED THAN INSULTED. BUT SHE WOULD HAVE KILLED HUBBY IF SHE KNEW THAT HE SHOWED ME THE CARD..

Gene's eye, as if driven by divine intervention, gravitated to my tarot deck. When he asked some questions about them, his daughter giggled. Brent said, "He just gave us great news about our dream house." His wife said, "Daddy, this is way better than our old Ouija board in the basement."



The smile drained out of his face as he said, "Yesterday, I paid some gypsy twenty-five bucks on Woodhaven Boulevard to look into her crystal ball...and all she said was, 'Come back next week, yuh inna toymoil is cloudin' da ball.'" His daughter said, "As a favor to us, Steve won't charge you." Nervously he added, "I got nuttin' to worry about, right? I ain't got no inna toymoil...do I?"

While shuffling I said, "Please remember, I am not a master." Gene nodded and began fondling his crucifix and the beads around his neck. He took from his pockets, a rabbit's foot key chain, a tattered placard of Our Lady of Fatima, an old half dollar with a golden horseshoe soldered onto the back and a plastic three-leaf clover. In my thirty-three year casino career, I never saw someone with that many lucky charms.



Gene was carefully arranging his hardware in an arc when he looked up and said, "C'mon, use yuh mojo kid. Dese are suma da tings I need tah know; am I comin' intuh a windfall? Yuh see my Aunt Marguerite is on her death bed and I wanna know, is dere gonna be any money left after my vulture cousins get deirs?" When I shrugged he said, "Will my shepherd's pie recipe make me famous?" His daughter rolled her eyes. But her expression turned to shock and she blushed when he asked, "Will I screw Nadine Rourke again?"

A wave of dread hit me when Gene grabbed the salt shaker and threw some salt over his shoulder. He then muttered a prayer and crossed his fingers. The word fiduciary wasn't in my vocabulary yet, but I realized that I wielded an unwanted power over this man and his superstitions. I decided it was my responsibility to not lead him on.



I ignored his questions and said, "A tarot card reading is only for entertainment." He responded to my disclaimer with a blank stare. I decided to rush through and be as non-committal as possible.



It was uncanny that the cards getting turned up were nearly all from the less interesting and less studied, minor arcane. I literally knew nothing of each one. Perhaps if Gene was more worldly, my charade would have been as obvious to him as it was to my friends. My guilt weighed me down. He noticed the drop off in my enthusiasm and blurted, "Is it bad news?" I hated the position I put myself in and didn't respond. Instead, I made my statements even shorter, more general, simplistic and highly positive. Even though I repeated myself a lot and didn't make much sense, Gene was bewitched and rapt on every word.

When I was done telling him nothing, he asked tons of questions. I avoided specifics and bailed out by saying, "It's up to you to decipher the reading...anything else I would say, would only be a guess."



That night, the tarot cards were banished into the farthest corner of my desk's junk drawer and forgotten. Two years ago, (thirty-three years later), I came across them and was reminded of the incident with Gene. This time around, I didn't hesitate to trash them. You might say I was being irrational or apprehensive but not me, I just think it's unlucky to be superstitious.

Monday, November 14, 2011

ELEVEN - ELEVEN - ELEVEN

On Veteran's Day, we take time to acknowledge the men and women who preserve peace, freedom and American way of life. This holiday was approved in 1919, to respect the end of hostilities in World War I, (on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of 1918).
COURTESY OF DEBBEE, THE PHOTO SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.

At first it was called Armistice Day. On May 13, 1938, an act of congress declared it a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day." In 1954, the holiday incorporated all our military personnel and was renamed, Veteran's Day.

Veteran's Day is usually observed with community parades, events and ceremonies that honor those who have fallen in battle as well as all who served. One of the great tributes to the service and sacrifice of our military, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also known as, "The Tomb of the Unknowns."
THE ORIGINAL MARBLE SARCOPHAGUS INTERS THE REMAINS OF AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER FROM WWI. THE THREE SLABS IN FRONT CONTAIN THE REMAINS OF A SOLDIER FROM WWII, KOREA AND VIETNAM. THE INSCRIPTION READS, "HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD."

The tomb is located in Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington DC, in Virginia. Around the clock, every day of the year, this esteemed grave is guarded. It is the highest honor to be serve as a ceremonial sentinel. These select few volunteers are trained in a strict ritual with each gesture being of symbolic significance. Depending on the season or time of day and regardless of the elements, the changing of the guard occurs every thirty minutes, one hour or two hours...and is open to the public.


The Vietnam Memorial in Washington, is another venerated landmark that celebrates contributions made by the vets who fought in Southeast Asia. This aesthetic masterpiece, designed by a Yale University student Maya Lin, combines beauty with emotional power. It's three sections include, a "Three Soldiers Statue" a women's memorial and the best known part, the wall.

The wall is made of a reflective stone. Etched into it, are the 58,195 names of those killed or missing in action. The walls are sunk into the ground. The gentle ramp-effect made me feel like I was walking into an open grave. It is hard not to be touched by this feature nor is it easy to overlook the deliberate, reflective quality of stone which allows the visitor a simultaneous view of them self and the engraved names of the fallen...thus forcing them self to look deeply into them self while linking the past with the present.DEDICATED IN 1982, THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL IS NEAR THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL GARDENS, ADJACENT TO THE NATIONAL MALL.


Perhaps the most famous of all tributes to our armed forces is the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Statue. Located outside the gate at Arlington National Cemetery, this massive sculpture by Felix de Weldon was based the, "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," photograph by Joe Rosenthal.

Iwo Jima was the first WWII battle that look place on a Japanese home island. From February 19, 1945 to March 26, 1945 some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place. Despite the Americans eventual, decisive victory, a bloody price was paid. On the fifth day of the thirty-five day conflict, the momentum swung the Americans way when the highest peak, Mount Suribachi was taken.


UNVEILED ON NOVEMBER 11, 1954, THIS MEMORIAL HONORS ALL THE MARINES WHO DIED IN DEFENSE OF OUR COUNTRY SINCE 1775. BUT IT'S GENERALLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE AMERICANS WHO STORMED IWO JIMA'S MOUNT SURIBACHI AND INCURRED INCREDIBLE LOSSES.


Ninety percentage of the men who charged up, were cut down. Of the small band of survivors, five Marines and a sailor hoisted the first American flag on Japanese soil. They were; Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, PFC Franklin Sousely, PFC Rene Gagnon, Cpl. Ira Hayes and PM2 John Bradley.


Those men, with the help of Rosenthal's photo were immortalized, declared heroes and rushed stateside. To support morale on the home front, they barnstormed the country and participated in war bond drives and made personal appearances.

Unfortunately, this new-found fame was too much for one of the men, Ira Hayes, to handle. He would be arrested fifty-two times for public intoxication. At a public appearance when asked about it he once said, "I was sick. I guess I was about to crack up thinking about all my good buddies that were better men than me...and they're not coming back. Much less the White House, like me." After President Eisenhower lauded him in a 1954 speech, a reporter asked Hayes, "How do you like all the pomp and circumstance?" Hayes said, "I don't!"





IRA HAYES, (JANUARY 12, 1923-JANUARY 24, 1955), THE REAR-MOST SOLDIER IN THE STATUE WAS A PIMA TRIBE, NATIVE AMERICAN, FROM ARIZONA .

Hayes deserves special recognition because sometimes our heroes return from combat with invisible scarring whether they were physically wounded or not.





Back then the science of mental illness or even simple awareness of it, wasn't what it is today. So I guess it was easy for someone like Ira Hayes to slip through the cracks. Few people if any realized the great toll his war experience left on him. Then once the anguish took over, all that was left was the escapism of whiskey.





Nevertheless, in the midst of his downfall, he portrayed himself in the 1949 John Wayne movie, "THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA." But nobody understood why he shunned his heroic status and avoided the spotlight. No reached out and nobody understood. He was just labeled an oddball. His deep rooted psychological problems went undiagnosed and worsened. Ira Hayes descended to alcoholism and died at age 32, as a result of it.





Since his death, Hayes has also been depicted in art and film. "THE OUTSIDER," starring Tony Curtis in 1961 and "THE FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS," with Adam Beach, in 2006. In it, director Clint Eastwood suggested that Ira Hayes suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Also the song, "THE BALLAD OF IRA HAYES," was written by Peter La Farge. It's most memorable cover was by Johnny Cash who took it to #3 on the country western charts, in 1964.
BELOW IS AN EXCERPT FROM GEORGE CARLIN'S, "SHELL-SHOCK," ROUTINE. IT'S A GREAT ANTI-WAR STATEMENT AND SUPPORTIVE OF VETERANS.





In World War I, the term "shell shock" was used to describe battle-related mental difficulties. It was simple, honest and in two syllables, direct.





During WWII, the condition was changed to "battle fatigue." Hidden by four syllables, I guess they thought fatigue was a nicer word than shock.





In 1950, the Korean War went Madison Avenue. They squeezed out all the humanity, went totally sterile and buried the malady in eight syllables with, "operational exhaustion."

Thanks to a lot of lies and deceit, the Vietnam-era saw the very same condition renamed, "post-traumatic stress disorder." Still eight syllables but they added a hyphen to help bury the individuals pain, under the jargon.





I'll bet, if we still called it shell shock, some veterans would have gotten more help.





So on this uniquely numbered day of 11-11-11, when we pay homage to what Veteran's Day has become as well as its origin that marked the end of WWI, (on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of 1918).





The bigger picture is, we shouldn't have to wait for holidays to appreciate all the Americans who were ever killed, listed as missing in action or served. However, while we can see the disfigurements and paralysis that our servicemen and women come home with, please help, honor and respect those who suffer mentally and emotionally too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

PAT PAULSEN FOR PRESIDENT...IN ABSENTIA

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), would be proud to know that every time Election Day rolls around, my mouth waters and the Smothers Brothers come to mind.

The Tom and Dick Smothers were singing comedians. Both were born on Governors Island, in New York City's Harbor, (Tom in 1937, Dick in 1939). They grew-up in California. Their first professional performance was in 1959. They also made several successful record albums before appearing on TV's, "JACK PAAR SHOW," (January 28, 1961). In 1964, they debuted in a dramatic (comedic) role as hoarders on, "BURKE'S LAW."

THEIR SCHTICK MIXED FOLK MUSIC WITH COMEDY. TOM (left) ON ACOUSTIC GUITAR, TOOK ON A SLOW-WITTED PERSONA. DICK (right) ON STRING BASS, WAS THE SMART, STRAIGHT MAN. THEIR PERFORMANCE WAS TYPICALLY INTERRUPTED BY AN ARGUMENT AND ENDED WITH TOM'S SIGNATURE STATEMENT, "MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST." THEY WERE SUCH GOOD ACTORS BECAUSE, I ONLY RECENTLY LEARNED THAT IN ACTUALITY, TOM (the older one) WAS CLEARLY THE LEADER, HAD SHREWD BUSINESS SENSE AND POSSESSED MORE ARTISTIC CREATIVITY.
In 1965-1966, they got their own TV program, "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW." To their dissatisfaction, their strong point (music) was never included. Instead Tom portrayed an angel who came to earth to oversee (interfere with) his brother, a swinging bachelor.

Despite that situation-comedy's short life, CBS in 1967, gave them another opportunity with the, "SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR." It started out as a hip version of the popular variety shows of its day. Headed by a team of comedy writers that included; Steve Martin, Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello, Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein and his brother Albert Brooks, Leigh French and Pat Paulsen...the show had a skyrocketing appeal to the younger (15-25), generation.

Soon, the CBS censors placed restrictions on the humor when sponsors deemed some of the material to be controversial and not in their best interests. However, satirizing race, the president and the war in Vietnam was the show's defining content.

Similar pressure limited the lyrics and themes of their musical guests like; George Harrison, Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield, Donovan, Janis Ian, Peter, Paul & Mary, Steppenwolf, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel and Pete Seeger.

To protect their financial interests, CBS insisted that all scripts must be reviewed ten days prior to air. Depending who your source is, the show either worked in earnest to fit their art into the network's professional integrity standards or they were outright rebellious...and only wanted to see how far they could push the envelope. Therefore, words, concepts and entire songs were eliminated by CBS. This scrutiny also happened to comedy skits. The network even put the kibosh on a whole episode.

To baffle the censors, the writers were forced underground. To the delight of their target demographic who felt that the encrypted double-entendre punchlines (mainly from the hippie/drug culture) were for them only...and better yet, went over their parents' heads. I was too young and never picked-up on any of the coded jokes...to me, the Smothers Brothers were just funny.

EDITOR'S NOTE - For more in depth information about how the Smothers Brothers became folk heroes and their struggles for free speech, check-out the documentary, "SMOTHERED."
LEIGH FRENCH (center) HAD A MAJOR ROLE IN THE HIDDEN COUNTERCULTURE WORD PLAY. SHE PLAYED SPACED-OUT, GOLDIE O'KEEFE AND SOLOED IN A SKIT CALLED, "SHARE A LITTLE TEA WITH GOLDIE." IN THE PSYCHEDELIC 60's, THE TERM, "SHARING TEA" WAS A EUPHEMISM FOR SMOKING POT. EVEN HER NAMES, "GOLDIE" AND "KEIF," WERE NICKNAMES FOR MARIJUANA. FREQUENTLY, SHE OFFERED HOUSEHOLD HINTS LACED WITH INSIDER SEX AND DRUG REFERENCES LIKE; THE BEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH YOUR, "ROACHES."

One of the other writers, Pat Paulsen also became a common on-screen character. He was discovered and given his big break into show business when Tom and Dick spotted him performing in a San Francisco nightclub. They hired him because he sold his songs cheap and agreed to run errands.


Paulsen, (July 6, 1927-April 24, 1997), was first cast as an editorialist due to his deadpan expression and skill when delivering double-talk, on contemporary issues. The logical next step was to have him do a mock presidential election campaign. In 1968, this recurring skit injected him into national consciousness.
LIKE A PAVLOVIAN CUE, EVERY ELECTION DAY, I SALIVATE AND THINK OF THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS AND PAT PAULSEN. EVEN AFTER THE SHOW ENDED, HE "RAN" FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN IN, '72, '80, '92 AND '96. IN EACH ELECTION, HE RECEIVED A SURPRISING AMOUNT OF PROTEST VOTES.
Paulsen's anti-establishment platform was purely comedic. But over the course of twenty-five years his sarcastic zingers against mainstream politicos and relevant social problems got voters to think in new ways. Although his comments and criticisms were based on seriousness, it was obvious that his clowning was exaggerations, lies and tongue-in-cheek raillery. Some of my favorite Paulsen-isms are:


  • A good many people feel our present draft laws are unjust. These people are called soldiers.



  • (Campaign chant) We can't stand pat!


  • I'm neither left wing or right wing. I'm middle of the bird.




  • If either the left wing or the right wing gained control of the USA, we'd fly in circles.


I will never lose my appreciation for Pat Paulsen, the Smothers Brothers or their writers. But I feel that the whole concept of him running for president was stolen from, "MAD MAGAZINE."
"MAD MAGAZINE," STARTED THEIR, "ALFRED E. NEUMAN FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN," IN 1960. HE NEVER RECEIVED THE VOLUME OF PROTEST VOTES THAT PAULSEN GOT BUT TO ME, HE'LL ALWAYS BE THE ORIGINAL AND BEST FAKE CANDIDATE... OOPS, I LIKED RONALD REAGAN TOO.


Ironically, the same humor that played a role in, "THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR," getting cancelled is still considered politically incorrect, (they were actually fired after only 72 episodes, on April 4, 1969). This was proven when this "poster show for the first amendment," was re-run with plenty of bleeps, in 1993, on the E-CHANNEL.

When you consider that the Smothers Brothers and "Mad," both scoffed at the same things, I think if Paulsen and Neuman were on next year's ballot, I'd vote for Alfred E. Neuman. My reason is, "MAD" has been going strong since 1952 and because they don't cave-in to their sponsors, (they don't allow advertisements), I doubt Mr. Neuman was ever censored. But far more importantly, even though Pat Paulsen has not been with us for fourteen years...he's a perennial...which means he left a lasting impression on many people.

I'm sure Pavlov would again be proud to know, next November at election time, the mere thought of Paulsen's name will result in some disgruntled Americans having their mouth water...as they cast a write-in vote for him. And I bet its a landslide compared to what Neuman gets.

Monday, October 31, 2011

THE MOUNT SCARY LODGE

Can anything be more frightening than the disintegration of things we like?







In late October 1991, my wife Sue and I went to a Halloween-themed, adult, couples-weekend, at the Mount Airy Lodge, in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.


The accommodations, food, decor and hospitality were state-of-the-art. Plus, the added dimension of organized, spooky events made our stay...a hoot!


The Mount Airy Lodge sat on a beautiful 1000-acre tract of land.
IN 1898, THE LODGE OPENED WITH EIGHT ROOMS. IN THE 1950's THEY EXPANDED AND BECAME THE LARGEST RESORT IN THE POCONOS. THE 890 ROOM FACILITY PEAKED IN THE 1960's AND 70's.


After checking-in, we saw a piece of the lodge's storied tradition as an entertainment mecca of Northeast Pennsylvania. The wall space around the Crystal Theater entrance showcased photos of past headliners like; Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Connie Francis, Red Buttons, Tony Bennett, Nipsey Russell and Paul Anka.


We then visited the friendly concierge. She informed of the meal schedule as well as the impressive daily social agenda. Sue was handed pamphlets describing the pools, skiing, golf, snowmobiling, ice-skating, hiking, biking, archery, tennis and twenty more activities, facilities and services.


On Friday night, we participated in several Mount "Eerie" Lodge social events. Hosted by three cute and perky female employees in costume, (Mary the witch, Meg the skeleton and Maureen the sexy devil...complete with an extra short skirt and a purposely exposed, plastic derriere).


The "Ghastly Golf Putting Contest" and "Berserk Bingo," seemed farty. But because our hostesses inter-spliced a wine tasting session (from a local vineyard), between the events, we not only went with the flow but had a good time...especially watching the less sophisticated fellow-guests quickly get soused and lose their inhibitions.
STOCK PHOTO. I'M NOT A WINE DRINKER BUT I STILL SAMPLED THE CHABLIS AND ROSE. WHEN MARY SAW THE CONTORTED FACES I WAS MAKING, SHE UNCORKED A BOTTLE OF PINK CATAWBA AND SAID, "THIS WITCHY BREW IS A DELIGHTFUL SPARKLING WINE...THAT MEANS IT'S THE SAME THING AS CHAMPAGNE, BUT NOT FROM FRANCE." I THOUGHT IT SUCKED TOO.

That night's highlight was the horror movie/TV show trivia contest. Mary was the moderator, Meg played mood music cassettes with rock-n-roll songs like; "WEREWOLVES OF LONDON," "TUBULAR BELLS" and "PSYCHO KILLERS." She also had a tape with a collage of sound effects that included; macabre harpsichord music, crackling thunder, sinister laughs, screeches, screams and shrieks as well as chains being dragged and a howling wolf.


Maureen operated a movie projector and mingled with the contestants. She also served spiked gummy worms, Jack-O-Lantern candy and other ghoulish treats from coffin-shaped trays . However, she didn't appreciate several drunks, including a couple of women, pawing her exposed, plastic butt.
WHEN I GAVE-UP ON THE WINE, I STILL MANAGED TO MAKE A MEAL ON CHEESE, CRACKERS AND OTHER HALLOWEEN TIDBITS.


Mary announced that the trivia winner would receive a bottle of Chablis but if someone got all ten questions right, the special prize was Pink Catawba. Meg was quick to add, "But I put in a 'hundred buster!' If you know that extra hard answer and get all the others right too, then you deserve the bonus."

We watched a montage of horror movies snippets during the quiz. I needed to make a calculated guess on a, "DARK SHADOWS," question but the rest were easy like; Eddie Munsters' middle name, the city that "PSYCHO," opens up in and the actress that played the bride of Frankenstein.


Meg interrupted the proceedings after the ninth question, to ask the one she carefully researched. What a pleasant coincidence it was when she asked us the title of, "ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS," theme song. Just a few days earlier at work, FRANKIERIO had told me that factoid."ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS," WAS A *HALF-HOUR, TV ANTHOLOGY OF DRAMAS, THRILLERS AND MYSTERIES. CONSIDERED ONE OF THE TOP HUNDRED SHOWS OF ALL-TIME, IT'S 363-EPISODE RUN LASTED TEN SEASONS, (1955-1965). *THE LAST THREE YEARS FEATURED HOUR-LONG PRODUCTIONS. THE TWO INDELIBLE TRADEMARKS OF THE SHOW WERE, HITCHCOCK IN SILHOUETTE WALKING TO, AND FITTING INTO A SKETCH OF HIMSELF AND THE OPENING THEME, "FUNERAL MARCH OF A MARIONETTE,"
COMPOSED BY CHARLES GOUNOD, IN 1873.


Many of us got the first nine questions right. But I won because I knew the hundred-buster. Maureen presented Sue and I with our major award, (I'm guessing that all the ass-grabbing and fondling had gotten tedious because she had changed into jeans).


EDITOR'S NOTE: Somewhere in the clutter of the most remote alcove of my garage, I'm certain that that unopened bottle of Pink Catawba crap is still in my possession.


On Saturday night, we missed the horse-drawn hearse, "HAUNTED HAYRIDE." But we came down in time for the big scavenger hunt. They divided us into five groups, our three-couple team was called the, "HOUNDS OF THE BASKERVILLES."


Mary gave us added incentive by declaring that each couple from the winning squad would receive a $25.00 certificate, good for hotel services. At that moment none of us took into account that we were all checking-out in the morning. So the "generosity" of the payoff was not only superfluous but unusable, (unless you came back in the next six months).

AN ORDINARY HOTEL MIGHT HAVE STOPPED WITH VIRTUALLY USELESS GIFT CERTIFICATES...BUT NOT MT. AIRY. THEY LAVISHED THE WINNERS AND SECOND PLACE FINISHERS WITH REAL "KEEPERS"... SOUVENIR RIBBONS.


Mary, Meg and Maureen gave the same clues, in different sequences, to each team. I'm guessing it was because I was the only sober man that a redneck from Roscoe New York anointed me captain.


My team found the "raven" in the bird cage at the duck pond and "Igor's Lavatory," wound up being the men's room door, next to the arcade. Towards the end, we were stumped trying to find the, "39-STEPS." On a hunch, I led the team to the indoor tennis pavilion and started counting the stairs. The Roscoeman's girlfriend LuAnn was singing the, "MONSTER MASH," when he belched, "Shush, El Capitan is counting!" Somehow, I was able to maintain my concentration and find the final, winning clue...just ahead of the, "PHANTOMS OF THE OPERA."


In the morning, after a big breakfast, we packed and came down to check-out. We met the Roscoe couple on line. We agreed that the whole weekend was great. I said, "It's too bad the scavenger hunt prize was such useless bullshit." The man said, "LuAnn hoped to get a facial out it but we can't wait around till after noon." She pointed down the corridor towards the bowling alley and said, "But we got full use out of our certificate." He said, "On the way back from the beauty salon, we weren't thinking of food when we passed the snack bar." LuAnn said, "But I took a shot and asked if they take those stupid certificates...and they do." He said, "We have a long drive home. We got four sandwiches...to go. Plus, four sodas and some fruit...we'll have a picnic lunch in the car." Sue and I followed suit and felt like we actually won something.


We liked the Mount Airy Lodge so well that we returned two years later. The hotel was pretty boring because we had already done everything. Or what we wanted to do, like use the Jacuzzi, steam room or sauna, was no longer available. The only thing new was outside the theater, a "Starving Artist Sale." Even the concierge desk was gone. It was replaced with a "help yourself," rack of brochures for other local destinations. That's what inspired us to horseback ride and spend the next afternoon at the outlet center.EVEN STILL, OUR SECOND MOUNT AIRY GET-AWAY WAS GOOD. PERHAPS MORE SO FOR SUE...DUE TO THE 102 STORES OF THE "CROSSINGS OUTLET MALL," 1000 ROUTE 611, IN TANNERSVILLE.


I never thought I'd see the Mount Airy Lodge again but in March 1997, they advertised such an inexpensive deal that we thought it would be fun to give my three-year old a change of scenery.INDIRECTLY, THIS VISIT TO MOUNT AIRY HAD A HALLOWEEN THEME. THE HOTEL WAS SO EMPTY, IT REMINDED ME OF THE, "SHINING." EVERYTHING HAD GONE DOWNHILL. THERE WERE VIRTUALLY NO SERVICES. THE HEALTH CLUB WAS CLOSED, THERE WERE NO LIFEGUARDS AT THE POOL, THE HIGHLY PUBLICIZED INNER-TUBING MOUNTAIN WASN'T MAINTAINED WITH ARTIFICIAL SNOW...AND IT WASN'T EVEN STAFFED. FAR WORSE, ON SATURDAY, OUR ROOM WAS NEVER MADE-UP. THE HEIGHT OF OUR WEEKEND WAS TRYING TO FIGURE-OUT HOW TO USE THE BIDET...OH WAIT, THAT WASN'T WORKING EITHER.


This time around there were no headliners, the cute social directors and the holiday themes vanished and they fired the all the masseuses. The only added "amenity" was a fund-raiser bazaar for the Mount Pocono volunteer fire department, in the theater. To encourage customers to come, area businesses gave away key-chains, water bottles, pads, pencils and other chintzy advertising. We lasted ten minutes, (fourteen years later we still use our Cumberland County Bank jar opener).


Later, a gossipy woman told us that the Mount Airy Lodge had been cited for several health code violations...including an infestation of bed bugs, fire hazards from exposed wiring and failed kitchen inspections, (Kind of makes you wonder why she came). Then in an annoying nasal whine she concluded, "Even if you find someone to complain to, they all act like zombies."


The hotel was plummeting fast but wouldn't hit rock bottom for a couple more years. The escalating popularity of cruise ships and Caribbean tourism had a lot to to with their demise. But the final dagger in the heart was the new national fixation...gambling. So the allure of Las Vegas and Atlantic City made the less than sexy lodge, (still clinging to the memories of Bob Hope, Nipsey Russell and Connie Francis), teeter on obsolescence.


We got lucky because I'm not as tough as I seem. If I had seen nauseating creepy crawlies in our bed like that woman suggested, I would have gone bonkers. I would have been put in a straight-jacket and hauled off to an insane asylum. Instead, we were only exposed to cracked tiles in pool, horrible buffet-style dining and an acute lack of premium hotel activities and facilities.


After 1997, people all but stopped coming to the Mount Airy Lodge. The quality of the food was significantly cut. The chambermaid staff was greatly reduced and groundskeepers were almost eliminated. Then more terrible rumors about the lodge's safety and cleanliness surfaced. Finally in 1999, the Mount Airy Lodge closed it doors and went into foreclosure.


It's terrible to see the things we like die. But like a phoenix who rises from its own ashes, the self-imploded Mount Airy Lodge was demolished...and a new hotel/casino was built in its place. That might sound interesting but for a guy like me with thirty-two years of gaming experience...the new casino...is enough to scare me away.

Monday, October 24, 2011

THE STONEHENGE OF BRIGANTINE

One of our family traditions is taking our dog Roxy to Brigantine Beach. Before and after the summer, it's a thrill to take off her leash and watch her thrash around in the surf.

Two weeks ago we had a stray eighty degree day and once again, my puppy had the time of her life. What was even better was, she was attentive to when I called her. So we never stressed about her annoying strangers and we didn't have to chase her.
IF YOU ARE A TRUE ROXY LOVER, YOU'LL NOTICE THAT THIS PICTURE IS OVER FIVE-YEARS OLD. BUT THE DEEPER POINT IS, I NEEDED TO BRING MY CAMERA THIS TIME...BUT DIDN'T.

During our jaunt, I bumped into my long time friend JS. We walked together along the water's edge and he told us about a recent trip to his homeland, Peru. OUR CONVERSATION WAS DOMINATED BY WHAT HE CALLED, THE THREE TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN PERU.

This was an important trip for JS because it marked his lifetime goal of visiting Machu Picchu.
SET HIGH IN THE PERUVIAN ANDES, (7970 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL), MACHU PICCHU IS ONE OF THE NEW, "SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD," ALSO KNOWN AS, "THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS," THIS PRE-COLOMBIAN SITE IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN BUILT FOR EMPEROR PICHACUTI, (1438-1472).



JS boasted, "No single picture could tell you its beauty. And you'd have to actually be there to appreciate its inspirational power...and in my case, the pride in my ancestors."


He also mentioned that Machu Picchu was so remote that the Spanish Conquistadors couldn't plunder it because they never found it. Once the Incas abandoned it, it was forgotten until native descendants led archaeologists to the ruins in 1911.


Roxy roamed over a dune as JS changed the subject to another tourist destination, Lake Titicaca. She was sniffing at a bunch of forgotten beach toys that were nearly buried by the sand. I called her name and she returned to my side.


JS said he had been to Titicaca many times as a kid.


JS SAID AS A TEENAGER HE JOKED, "THE VIEW OF TITICACA IS PRETTIER FROM THE BOLIVIAN SHORE BECAUSE YOU SEE TITI ON THE DISTANT PERUVIAN SIDE...WHILE STANDING IN CACA."

I lost my concentration on his description of the lake when I saw a second, fuller set of pails, shovels and other novelties that were left behind. These toys were carefully set, perhaps measured, in an intentional arc facing the sea. Something about the two plastic boats that spanned across the top of pails gnawed at me for the rest of the day.


ONLY NOW THAT I AM WRITING THIS COLUMN DO I REGRET NOT PHOTOGRAPHING THOSE ABANDONED BEACH TOYS. BECAUSE IT WASN'T UNTIL THE RIDE HOME THAT I CAME UP WITH MY BIG CONCLUSION.


Before we went our separate ways, JS told me that he's never visited Peru's third most popular tourist attraction, the Nazca Lines.

RE- DISCOVERED IN THE EARLY 1930's BY ANONYMOUS FLIERS IN AN AIRPLANE, NAZCA LINES ARE GEOGLYPHS THAT WERE ETCHED INTO THE SOUTHERN PERUVIAN DESERT FLOOR (440 A.D. -650 A.D.). THEY INCLUDE HUNDREDS OF INDIVIDUAL FIGURES, (MOSTLY ANIMALS), LIKE THE CONDOR ABOVE, (SOME ARE AS LARGE AS 660 FEET WIDE). MOST SCHOLARS ATTRIBUTE A RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE TO THEM, (i.e. RITUALS TO SUMMON WATER OR FOR FERTILITY).

JS said, "The Nazca Lines can not be appreciated from the ground." Therefore, the bigger controversy is how did the native people dig-out such intricate artwork without the perspective of seeing their accuracy from above. Although my research found that mainstream scientists using the same primitive techniques could indeed re-create these wonders...many truly believe that extraterrestrial influence was needed.

When JS referred to Eric von Daniken, (1968 best selling author of, "CHARIOTS OF THE GODS?" ...62 million copies sold plus other, less popular books on the subject), he said that the Nazca Lines were ancient runways for alien spacecraft. When JS saw my surprised reaction he said, "The mystery of Nazca makes it the Stonehenge of South America."
WORLD RENOWN STONEHENGE, IS A PREHISTORIC MONUMENT IN ENGLAND'S WILTSHIRE COUNTY. IN THE MIDDLE, EARTHWORKS ARE SURROUNDED BY A CIRCULAR SET OF LARGE STANDING STONES, (see above).


More enigmatic than Nazca, archaeologists estimate that it took 500 years to build and complete Stonehenge, around 2500 B.C. The site apparently served as an astronomy observatory, a religious site and as a burial ground. The monument was produced by a culture that didn't have a written language therefore its mode of construction is highly debatable.


Unlikely as it might seem, scholars believe that humans with the technology of that period could devise the idea, find the materials, engineer a way to import them to the proper area and position those enormous and heavy pieces...even across the top of others...into celestial accurate spots. Others like Eric von Daniken propose that those ancient people could not have possibly imagined, developed or constructed such an incredible project without supernatural intervention.


On our car ride back from Brigantine, Roxy calmly laid on the floor while my wife Sue texted the world about our outing. Alone with my thoughts, I couldn't get the shape of the beach toys left in the sand out of my head. That's when I remembered what JS said about Stonehenge.


My mind wandered to all the scientific speculation of Stonehenge's specifications. I bet that place has been measured millions of times and the data has been fed into computers tens of thousands of times...and the inconclusive results...reveal a gazillion possibilities.


My mind wandered even deeper when I imagined spacemen, (in flying saucers made of rock), so advanced that they quarried the Stonehenge stones. Then delivered them to the construction zone and assembled them in such a sturdy way...on top of each other...that they stood the test of time and the barrage of two millenniums of weather, to remain what we see today.


Then my mind latched onto next year's end of the world prophecies. My thoughts wandered far deeper than ever before. I considered, what would happen if the earth indeed was destroyed by such a cataclysm that it took twenty-thousand years for civilization to rebound to our current level of sophistication?


My mind's eye took me back to Brigantine Beach. I envisioned a future generation of archaeologists rummaging through the desert wastelands of the former, ocean front property. Suddenly a college intern gasped. Buried in the cement-like sand, a tiny bit of a bigger, smooth, fluorescent amber object glistens in the sunshine.


Workers chisel around the area, toss aside clumps of earth and brush away finer particles. When the dimensions were clear, an ancient representation of a smiling sun, forged from a baffling foreign material is fully visible. Experts are certain that this bauble is the personification of a beneficent God. But the greater enlightenment is that this detailed artisan's rendering proves that an advanced culture once inhabited the Earth. Within months, this five by five foot area will be fully excavated.


Scientists will win awards by linking this find to the evolution of mankind. But a lifetime of intense research won't give them a definitive answer of how the toys got there or their purpose.


Astronomers plot the formation and find similarities with the constellations in the night sky. Archaeologists refer to the earthworks as being surrounded by a semi-circular set of blue, red and green beveled pillars, (fatter at the bottom that taper to a flat top). In two places, facsimiles of boats straddle the top of the pillars. Other odd-shaped objects suggest to anthropologists a spiritual overtone. These questions will be studied for another hundred years without a meaningful conclusion made.


Meanwhile, this Stonehenge of Brigantine will be measured, the data fed into computers and no satisfactory explanation for the non-biodegradable, shiny, smooth material dubbed, "plastique" will be reached. It will never be found again in nature or artificially replicated in a laboratory. However a small faction of kooks, believe the descendant of Eric von Doniken. To hype-up his latest book...he theorizes that extraterrestrials manufactured this substance on their planet when in 2012, they wiped-out 99.9% of all earthlings, eons ago.