Monday, April 25, 2011


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Our family search has begun for a suitable institution of higher education for my son Andrew. Through my wife Sue's research, we found several computer apps, like With this program, an applicant's statistics are fed in and calculated with specific needs and concerns like; distance, cost, educational specialties etc., to find the most appropriate choices.

Once the possibilities are narrowed down, Sue bought a tome called the, "Princeton Review."

This voluminous 825+ page volume, is chock-full of information on the top 373 USA colleges. It'll help you see minute differences so you can make a more informed decision between the likes of the Mighty Ground Squirrels of Watzamatta U. and the Maroon Space Cases of Whippy Tippy U.

The next step after eliminating 95% of schools, is to start visiting campuses of potential candidates. That is where we are now. We went to Ardmore Pennsylvania yesterday, to see Haverford College and the week before to Pennington New Jersey, to scout-out the College of New Jersey, (TCNJ), formerly Trenton State. SINCE 1833, THE ONLY WELCOMING ICON AT ULTRA-SNOOTY HAVERFORD IS THE DUCK POND.

At TCNJ's open house, our hectic morning started by parking behind Loser Hall. They say you only have one chance to make a first impression. So I thought that whoever endowed the university with enough money to get an entire building named after them, should have at least bypassed their actual name and used a nickname.

Loser Hall? I mean, really. What's next on the quadrangle, the D'Minus Gymnasium or the McPhail Observatory? Think about it, if they had named that building anything, say Snooki Hall, it would have provided mega-tons more positivism, even if only on a subliminal level...than leaving a "losing" taste in your mouth.

From the parking lot, like lemmings, we followed an endless caravan of others into the student union building. A thousand aimless people, representing high school juniors and their families were penned-up there. Until, a horde of happy, helpful student ambassadors clad in broad-banded blue and white rugby shirts came out of the woodwork to assist.

Together with about a hundred people, we joined a walking tour of the grounds. Our rotund guide was well versed in everything TCNJ. When someone asked about the origins of the name Loser Hall, I only felt slightly better when she roared with full Lion's pride, "The name is pronounced to rhyme with Hoosier."

The area of expertise that our guide really excelled in was, her in depth knowledge of the dining hall's offerings, (that night was one of her favorites, fried scallops). Like a computer, she also rattled-off nearby restaurants and supermarkets, plus, the most reliable pizza and Chinese food delivery services. If that wasn't enough, she knew the exact dates of the ethnic food festivals as well as the location of each campus convenience store and vending machine. She capped off her portion of our visit by dropping us off at a huge auditorium.

On the stage, a series of gifted speakers assisted by PowerPoint presentations and other visual aids, discussed and promoted various aspects of TCNJ life. A question and answer period followed that was led by three student ambassadors. These hand selected representatives weren't gifted public speakers. I was in the sixth row and barely heard any of them. Trust me, if they were alerting us to a fire, I wouldn't be writing this now.

The last stop Andrew, Sue and I made was to a classroom, to participate in a "workshop" on, "Selecting a Major." Workshop? I know a lecture when I hear one. I can prove it, because within fifteen minutes of this inspiration, I was magically transported back in time. That means, I nodded off. Yes, the more things change... Ironically, in my brief dream, I saw myself back in college.

In January 1973, I made a near fatal mistake by finishing high school six months early and starting college immediately.


The way I arranged things meant, I graduated Canarsie High on a Friday. After a brief celebratory weekend, I started Brooklyn College that Monday. Therefore, I fell into the four and a half-year syndrome known as, Thirteenth Grade.

My early collegiate days produced lots of C's, so my scholastic highlights were well-spaced. I started as a sociology major but it didn't pan out. I realized that I had enough trouble getting out of bed every morning. Even showering, brushing my teeth and combing my hair...yes I still had use for a comb back then...were daily challenges. So the concept of dedicating myself to others wasn't a good fit.

When I switched majors to mass media, I put myself in a position to do what I was probably destined to do, (some aspect of television production). Unfortunately for me, this was thirteenth grade and the heat of my personal creativity light bulb was only forty watts. So my clogged pipes of sloth didn't melt in time to display my latent and still questionable talent.

The best part of my college experience was a course called, TV Criticism. It was a requisite for my major and only one person taught it. His name was Professor Eric Donaldson and he had a wacky personality. Today we call folks like that bipolar or at least polarizing. Some students hated him and others swore their ever-lasting allegiance to him. I was one of the latter.

Donaldson was a tall, gaunt Texan. His once blond hair was a dusty white and the deep-set wrinkles on his pasty face made him look much older than fifty. During my initial exposure to him, he announced to the class that he preferred a more intimate group. He mentioned the importance of openness and made several insulting remarks aimed at the superficiality of women. The most memorable of them was; if you are dissatisfied with a grade, ladies, don't parade your tits in my face...I'm a homosexual.

The shock value of admitting an alternative lifestyle back then was gargantuan. But it failed to thin out the herd. Then Donaldson, in the name of openness, stripped down to his boxers; they were thin, vertical, red, white and blue pinstripes, (odd the things our subconscious mind retains).

When he started, there was no response when he kicked off his shoes. However, the inflexible ones started hitting the exit when he removed his shirt. Our nutty professor continued his orientation as he loosened his belt. The exodus was in full regalia by this time and only two stragglers were left to witness his trousers come down.

In all, one third of the class, (all women) had gathered their belongings and left in a huff...thus he got his wish for a smaller group.

Donaldson gave me a B+ (Brooklyn College didn't use a plus, minus system). So, the plus aspect of my final grade was a symbolic compliment that he explained by saying, "I'm giving you the absolute highest grade possible...but you just didn't do quite enough for an A."

Beyond the curriculum and my grade, I developed a more analytical and critical approach to life. My blanket cynicism could no longer allow me to blither...that stinks or that's great. Through his tutelage, I discovered that we all need to support our reasoning...or our opinions become meaningless.

TV Criticism was like reading a self-help book. And the way he taught it, through intimacy and openness, I was also helped to accept my own flaws as well as people who were markedly different than me. Many students shared my appreciation of Donaldson and voted him, Brooklyn College Professor of the Year, (he managed to win without my vote).

To celebrate his victory, he invited all his students to a party at his Greenwich Village apartment. I saw him in his comfort zone and didn't like what I saw. But at least he had imparted in me the ability to accept his right to be different and to understand that his lifestyle had nothing to do with his professional identity and effectiveness as an educator.

I graduated thirteenth grade in June 1977.


I took my college diploma to all three TV networks in Manhattan. I never got beyond the receptionist, there were no interviews, I filled out zero applications, my resume wasn't presented and they wouldn't even take my name or telephone number.

Next, I tried ten small TV production companies and got a Xerox-like negative response...without experience, we can't use you. My last stop was a beat-up warehouse off Twelve Avenue. This was the only time I ever spoke directly with an owner. I followed him back and forth between a messy office, a control room full of employees and a sound stage being disassembled. While talking with me, he was juggling other conversations, giving orders, answering phones, making notations on a clipboard and popping antacids.

He stopped suddenly and said, "You want a piece of this." I said, "Yeah." "Well, I need a PA." A production assistant (PA), is a fancy word for a gofer. He continued, "The pay is $165.00 a week." Even by 1977 standards, that was peanuts. But I took into account that I was living at home and would commute. Then I remembered what Professor Donaldson said about the importance of getting your foot in the door. I paraphrased him by saying, "Sir, I'll be the best damned PA you ever saw...but will you teach me lighting, sound?..." Before I could finish my statement he said, "Kid, I got no time and I make no promises..." He started yelling at a cameraman and I left.

A few weltschmertz-laden months later, I enrolled in the New York School of Gaming and set my sights on becoming a craps dealer in Las Vegas. (Weltschmertz, is the psychological term for the phenomena of a young man who after his schooling, is overwhelmed by his need to find his way in the world).

My short story, "THE HEAT IS ON," opens on January 5, 1978. I'm running from that dealer school with my diploma in hand, down West 32nd Street. For dramatic impact, I used a mixed metaphor to tie the fact that I was hurrying through a frigid, windy nine degrees with my impatience to break the chains of childhood. The true events included me hustling down the subway stairs in search of warmth. Suddenly, I was light-headed. I was sweating profusely and felt feint. My heart was racing as I paid my fare so I took off my coat.

When I got in the train, I still felt uncomfortable and dizzy. When I got off at Fourteenth Street to switch trains, my heart was pounding as I walked down a flight of steps. I was a afraid that I might black-out and stopped twice to rest. I was so preoccupied that I had forgotten to avoid the farthest westerly end of the LL station. In this deserted area, dozens of blackened, metal garbage bins were stored. These burnt cans were filled with trash and hundreds of rats were scavenging all over them. I was repulsed and retreated back up the short stairway to the landing and came back down the easterly fork. I felt a rush of nausea as my train pulled in.


I scurried onto the empty train. Just my luck, it was one of the few old-fashioned trains left, (see photo above). The unheated cars were filthy and smelled like stale urine. The hard seat covers were made of plastic, straw-like strands woven together to look like beads. Most of the seats were torn and it hurt to sit on them. I was willing to sit on the sharpest edge but the bee-hive of rats was only a hundred feet away. So, because the doors remain open until the train was ready to leave, I reluctantly trudged through three cars to the center of the train.

I was breathing hard as I collapsed in the corner seat. A heart attack crossed my mind as I thought I was going to faint. The doors closed for a split second and reopened as another passenger squeezed was Professor Eric Donaldson. My morose mood vanished and my spirit brightened. I staggered over and introduced myself. We hadn't seen each other in a year so Donaldson pretended to be insulted because I thought he had forgotten me.

The early part of our conversation concerned itself with my failure to break into TV, my new career path and impending move to Las Vegas. When I was done, he told me that his life-mate had just committed suicide. In the few minutes of our ensuing conversation, my distress was forgotten. When the train slowed down at First Avenue, he got up and said, "Casinos are a baby of an industry...its like TV in the early 50's. Don't look back, few people make it big in TV. I think you're going to beat the system and do real well." We shook hands and he left.

I felt renewed. Looking back, I bet that's the exact moment I transformed into an adult. I sat back down and relaxed. After the Wilson Avenue station and before Broadway Junction, I stood up and walked to the first car. I was staring out the front window trying to pull my future closer when the train burst out of its black subterranean hole, rose up into the sunshine and became an elevated train.

Wherever Professor Eric Donaldson is now, I hope he reads this because he was right; I did beat the system. Casinos have kept me clothes for over thirty-two years and that's more than most of my contemporaries can say. As for Andrew, I just hope that his reality of; the more things change, the more they stay the same, comes true. Because I sense that he won't experience thirteenth grade, whether he attends Watzamatta U., Whippy Tippy U., TCNJ or a school we haven't checked into yet, like Rutgers. He is on the right track, destined to have a far greater purpose in life than I am capable of imagining.

Monday, April 18, 2011


This blog is based upon excerpts from my short story, "STANDING DEAD."

CHARLIEOPERA, my successful crime novel author friend, once confided in me that he liked eavesdropping on craps dealer conversations. I thought this was odd for such an interesting man to be thrilled by what is overwhelmingly tripe.

Actually, I was disappointed in him because those chats are usually banal blitherings that include: gossip, grousing about the job and comparing medical procedures  Even if he got lucky and heard what he were talking about yesterday...jokes about the health risks associated with casinos and the need to work in full body condoms and bullet-proof vests, I doubt Charlie would have been thrilled.. Even worse, when you consider the bigger picture, I'd guess that these are the same mundane topics that anyone who deals with the public might discuss...sorry Charlie.

Luckily for him, I do recall one gem in the rough. Therefore, this column is dedicated to Charlie because one of my 1980 craps game conversations, when molded properly and shined-up, does make interesting reading.

I had fourteen months craps dealing experience in Las Vegas dives when I got hired at the Stardust Casino. Vegas casinos are divided into two status groups: downtown and the strip. If we overlook the rare exceptions, the simplest way to put it is, downtown is the minor leagues and the strip is the majors. That is why it was quite an accomplishment for me, at twenty-four, to reach such a lofty position...without any connections. ON THE FABULOUS LAS VEGAS STRIP, THE STARDUST WAS OPEN FROM 1958-2006. I WAS SO YOUNG AND DUMB BACK THEN, (MARCH 1980 THROUGH JANUARY 1982), THAT BY MY SECOND DAY OFF, I COULDN'T WAIT TO GET BACK TO WORK.

Within ten days at the Stardust, I was put onto a regular crew. My joy was skewed because my three cohorts ostracized me. Until a newbies proves his worth, an unwritten code requires that they are given the cold-shoulder.

Established big-time dealers recognize that they have a good thing and are over-protective of preserving their job security. The irony is, what makes the job so good is that the Stardust craps dealers went, "table-for-table." That meant that instead of pooling their tokes, (tips), with every dealer in the club, they divided their daily proceeds among the four member crew. It sounds ideal but the bugaboo is, craps players are notorious for getting so involved in their own conquests that the service of the dealer is often overlooked. So, a player's generosity, usually must be prodded.

Table-for-table dealers who want to eat, provide subtle reminders to encourage players to tip. Less polished dealers lack finesse and openly ask, beg or make demands. Either way you look at it, each method is considered hustling. The Stardust (and all table-for-table casinos) have a zero tolerance policy towards hustling so the first offense usually leads to termination. These policies are supposedly upheld by the primary and secondary supervisors, (boxmen and floormen). One of their largest responsibilities is to prevent these solicitations. However, nearly all these men are, "on the take," and accept bribes called lay-offs, to look the other way or actively join in the hustling. HONOR AMONG THIEVES. GOING TABLE-FOR-TABLE IS A CONTINUOUS, HUSTLING FOR TIPS JENGA, SURVIVAL GAME. THEREFORE A CREW, ACTING IN CONCERT WITH THE SUPERVISORS, RISK THEIR LIVELIHOOD BY TIP-TOEING AROUND THE BOOBY-TRAP OF BAD TIMING, POOR CHOICE OF WORDS, ILL-ADVISED GESTURES OR ANY COMBINATION OF THE THREE.

Veteran dealers don't care how well a new face (like me), technically deals the game. Their first concern is, is the newcomer a management stooge? (A planted spy who gathers derogatory inside information for the sole purpose of legitimizing firings). More importantly, the vets want the rookie to prove his toke earning mettle and see an unconditional allegiance to the crew.

On my third day, we were standing dead. That means our table was open for business with no players. During this down time, I hoped to win my crew over but one dealer and the boxman were immersed in their Tuesday afternoon darts league strategies. And the other dealer was explaining to the floorman what made some blond cocktail waitress a whore.

I hated being excluded. But everything changed when Gabe, our third and last dealer, came back from his break. They nicknamed him Dracula because of his ghoulish appearance. He was bone skinny, had thinning, jet black hair, sullen deep-set, blackened eyes and an ashen complexion. Plus, he had a thick, blue vein that ran straight up from his right eyebrow to the arc of his receding hairline.

Dracula, a petty scam artist, flicked the cellophane from an after dinner mint onto the floor, tapped into the game and whined, "I just had a 'cold' hot roast beef sandwich. But it's okay because I discovered that I been wasting money by over-tipping Gregory, (the employee's waiter). You know I trained him to write me a check for an 18c doughnut, instead of my full dinner, right? (The staff paid half price on selected coffee shop items). Then just now, I looked at the actual check and realized how stupid I was to wait on line, to pay an unnumbered check. Duh, why pay that fruitcake to phony-up my bill? I say, let him write-up the full price...and I'll just pocket the whole friggin' thing and walk out."

The others seemed familiar with his rantings and politely pretended to listen until one of the dealers named Don said, "This'll save you a fortune compared to your last million dollar postage stamps."

Dracula ignored him and changed the subject, "There goes that big piece of shit, Mick Savitz." At first, I was amused that a man who personified walking death would call someone else names. Then I seized my opportunity and spoke up, "What makes him so bad?"

What a great question. Suddenly everyone was enthusiastic about telling me different Mick Savitz anecdotes. The boxman said, "Savitz is the king of fleas. He must be part Gypsy because he'll make wild claims on stray nickels (five dollar chips), and I never saw him bet less than a hundred." Jerry another dealer said, "He's no flea...he's an abomination. I've dealt craps for twenty-five years and he's the worst player I ever dealt to. No, wait, he's the worse person I ever met...period!" The floorman said, "Jerry is right, That low-life used to own a string of used car lots throughout the southwest. He'd hire young girls as secretaries for much more than they were worth....and, he didn't care whether they could even type..." I said, "Heh?" The floorman continued, "The girl would be on twenty-four hour call. You get my drift?" When I didn't answer he added, "The only clerical skill required was taking his dictation."

My eyes were wide open when Jerry added, "In the forties, he bought his way out of a murder rap in the Texas panhandle." To follow each info burst, my head spun like a turret. That's when the floorman said, "Kid! You're not interested in ancient history..." Dracula cut him off, "Yeah, we gotta put up with a lot of his shit a couple a times a week...and the cheapskate NEVER tips!" Jerry said, "That's right, I never saw ole Mick give up ten cents." "Forget that," the floorman interjected, "this is what you need to know now...that buzzard don't pay no vig!"

I would find out that Mick Savitz's bet of choice was laying odds against the four or ten. This wager requires a 5% commission payment on the potential winnings, (this vigorish is also called juice). But Savitz refused to pay.

I said, "That makes no sense..." Jerry interrupted, "That old goat has some hold on management. They are completely scared of him. And you should be too. He spits on dealers, starts fights...and never loses. Plus, the weasel curses old women and bullies anyone who gets in his way. So don't be a jackass and NEVER ask him for vig."

I said, "He's playing now? Which one is he?" Dracula craned his pasty neck to scan the craps pit and said, "Dickhead is playing the 'don't come' on table three and table one." I said, "You can't play on more than one table at a time..." In unison they all chimed in, "Yes HE can!"

When the six-foot-six mountain man came into clear view, I thought of John Wayne as a depraved seventy-year old. If not for a slight bit of paunchiness in Savitz's belly, this senior citizen was a physical specimen. He had defiance in his body language and a mean streak in the scowl on his scarred face. Even from the distance, when he looked my way, his evil eye was so intimidating that I diverted my gaze.

Later, he wandered towards my game. I shuddered at my post...hoping he wouldn't play. Then I thought I would crap my pants when he stopped in front of me and lit up a Chesterfield. The cigarette looked like a toothpick in his huge meat-hook hand as he took a long drag. Then as he strode to the table adjacent mine and intentionally blew the smoke into the face of a passerby.

Savitz took out an enormous wad of cash from his pocket. There were so many bills folded in half that this bank roll was a rounded, money wheel. Dracula saw me staring and whispered, "Those are all hundreds, kiddo. Betcha there's over five grand..." Jerry joked, "Gabe would know, he probably tested it out at home with fifty singles." "Dracula shrugged, "What if I did?"

The next night, a new boxman with a Southern accent came to our shift. Probably a hulk as a younger man, he was an unhealthy looking, sloppy fat, old man who immediately was disrespectful to dealers. One of our old-timer boxmen remembered him from the Shy Clown Casino in Sparks and said, "That prick was a bone-breaker when we opened. He's too old to mess people up now and he's not a table games guy so that means, he's probably a headhunter." THE SHY CLOWN CASINO OPENED IN THE TOWN NEXT TO RENO, IN 1974. ACCORDING TO THIS OLD-TIMER, TO MINIMIZE PAYROLL, THEY HIRED GOONS TO HANDLE PROBLEMATIC PLAYERS.

This curmudgeon made it obvious that he was a hatchet man. He just sat there with no real knowledge of what he was doing and croaked out unnecessary orders. His presence also meant that there would be no hustling especially when he told us, "No jibber-jabber with the players. If you test me, I'll take it all the way to the top...and you and your sorry ass will be out of a job."

A couple of wise-guy dealers from other crews thought he was bluffing...and were unemployed in a flash. This bastard created a hostile work environment and was nicknamed Cool-Breeze because he reminded us of a chain-gang boss.

The Stardust was unique to any casino I worked in because Ernie Trohlmann, the lead floorman (relief pit boss) conducted a five minute rah-rah speech outside the pit as a part of the daily muster call. During this time, the dealers would be reminded how great the joint was and were appraised of the entertainment updates, restaurant schedules, special promotions and any changes in casino policy.

Minutes before one of these meetings, Johnny Balmer the Stardust's senior-most dealer gathered us in secret huddle and suggested, "This horse's ass Cool-Breeze is costing us a ton. We gotta come up with something to jackpot him with. But until we do, I got a long shot plan...that even if it doesn't work, will still ruffle his feathers and Mick Savitz's at the same time."

Jerry from my crew nodded, "Yeah, I get it...don't tell Cool-Breeze that Savitz doesn't pay vig." Balmer said, "Right! Even if we don't get rid of him, it'll be fun to see the fur fly off of those to old farts."

That night, we were standing dead and Dracula said, "See in the paper, they robbed that little bank on Swenson? Those jerk-offs got less than two-hundred bucks. When they get caught, that's a federal rap whether they got two-hundred or two hundred-thousand. I say, why take a chance on winding up with chump change. You take an easy mark like Mick Savitz. He's strolling through here flashing at least five-grand all the time. Instead of risking hard time, just follow the fucker out to his car and jump him?"

Dracula's timing would have impressed even Kreskin. Towards the end of our shift, Savitz showed up. We were all watching him approach while he pulled a giant rubber band off his money wheel. Suddenly, a young Latino darted out from behind a row of slot machines, ran up behind Savitz and punched the old man in the back of the head. Savitz went down and he dropped his bankroll. It took the assailant a few seconds to scoop up the cash before running to the main entrance. Savitz was dazed but got up quickly and gave chase. When the thief pulled at the heavy glass front door, Savitz body slammed him and crushed the kid against it. The mugger's face became a punching bag. Then Savitz grabbed the Latino by the back of his shirt and crashed the victim's face against the door, twice.

From the distance, we could see the blood stained door as Savitz acrimoniously picked up his hundred dollar bills that were strewn all about. Savitz trudged to the craps pit and started playing as if nothing had happened.

Security hand-cuffed the would-be robber and ushered him into the back of the house for "rehabilitation," (which might have included falling down a flight or two of concrete steps, a broken leg or the ultimate deterrent, a one-way trip into the desert).

Savitz's self-defense tactics were fresh in my mind the next day when our crew was saddled with Cool-Breeze. In the back of my mind, I was hoping Dracula would make another prediction and put Savitz and Cool-Breeze together in a cock-fight.

For the first two hours, Cool-Breeze succeeded in making my crew miserable. Then the unlikely hero, Mick Savitz mystically appeared, squeezed next to me on my crowded table and rasped, "Two hundred, no ten!" I noticed Johnny Balmer give me the thumbs up signal. Then I saw everyone from the other nine craps tables sneaking peaks of anticipation my way.

That's when Cool-Breeze said the magic words, "Hey buddy, you owe me the five dollar vig." Savitz ignored him. So Cool-Breeze without consulting me or anyone else, set aside five dollars as a table marker and croaked, "I'll just mark the vig up for you." A table marker, like setting up a bar tab, was an accepted casino courtesy in Vegas.

Savitz got on an amazing winning streak. In a short time, a hundred vig dollars were marked up. Cool-Breeze said, "Hey fella, throw me a hundo so I can take this marker down." Cool-Breeze was getting antsy when he was ignored again.

Savitz never lost and kept raising his bets. Soon the commission on one bet was fifty dollars. Cool-Breeze's temper worsened when he was ignored after the marker ballooned to over two-hundred-fifty dollars. He finally gave in and looked for assistance from the floorman. But the floorman who usually watched from the little podium behind the game, remained glued to his other table behind us.

Savitz then counted out all his chips, peeled off a big bunch of hundred-dollar bills and called out, "Four thousand each, no four and ten!" Cool-Breeze counted out all the money and shouted to the invisible floorman, "Table max, no four and ten." He then said to Savitz, "How about it friend, y'all gonna take care of this three-hundred and sixty-five dollar marker?" Savitz again ignored him.

The game continued even when Cool-Breeze stood up to confront the debtor. The next dice roll produced no decision on the big bets. Savitz then shocked everyone by proving that he wasn't Superman and put on a pair of glasses. When he took out his wallet, Cool-Breeze must have thought he got the point of his threat across and sat down.

I finished paying my other bets and peered over at Savitz.  His far-sighted eyes strained as he stuck his nose into his bill-fold until he plucked a filthy, moth-eaten five-dollar bill out.  Savitz stared Cool-Breeze down and snarled, "Five-dollar any seven for the dealers."

Jerry's jaw dropped from the shock of seeing this historic event, Savitz's first-ever attempt at a gratuity. Simultaneously, the dice were in the air as Cool-Breeze sprang back up from his stool and pushed between me and the table.

Don the stickman called out, "Four easy, field roll four." Savitz lost one of his four thousand dollar bets, (the dealers lost too). When I removed his "no four" from the lay-out, Savitz cursed. At the same time, Cool-Breeze got in his face and screamed, "You payin' thissy here marker or what?" Savitz exploded, "Fuck you!" When Cool-Breeze's liver-spotted hand made a grab for Savitz, Savitz slammed his open palm into Cool-Breeze's flabby chest. The massive push knocked Cool-Breeze reeling backwards. He lost his balance, fell and toppled the podium on his way down.

For a few seconds, the game came to an awkward halt. Savitz shocked us back in action by barking, "Take down my no ten." Behind me, laying on the ground Cool-Breeze was dazed and groaning in pain as I handed off the bet.

Savitz looked down at him.  I was sure he was going to spit on the prick but instead announced, "Now you know why I never bet for the fuckin' dealers." Savitz, as if nothing had happened, stuffed his chips into his pockets and sauntered to the furthest craps table at the other side of the pit.

Three security guards were helping Cool-Breeze to his feet as the casino manager arrived on the scene. In whispers, the big boss comforted the wounded soldier.  He was leading him out of the pit when I heard Cool-Breeze squawk, "I'm getting too old for this shit." The plan actually worked, our pariah was never seen again.

An hour later, Savitz was walking fast and bumped into a young, six-foot-six cowboy. The sleeves of his Western shirt were cut-off to show the dude's python-like arms. Savitz snapped, "Out of my way ass hole." A button flew off Savitz's shirt when the cowboy grabbed him and laughed, "Who you calling an ass hole...ass hole?" On that miraculous day, Savitz squeaked, "Sorry," and slunk away.

Down through the years, I have told that story on many dead games. But I've never been satisfied with the whole "STANDING DEAD," short story. That is why none of you have ever read it. Maybe this blog will motivate me to clean it up and finally release it. I know Charlieopera would like it and you will too.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The names of the principals have been changed. Forty-plus years after the fact, I have so little firm information that out of respect for these wonderful people, I don't want any exaggeration, for the sake of entertainment, to be even slightly embarrassing to them or their family.

A recent conversation with a coworker (BB), revealed a surprise. This articulate former New Yorker and graduate of NYU, never saw a Broadway musical until he was fifty-five years old. He was equally surprised when I said, "I not only enjoy the theater but I also like show tunes." Show tunes. Yeah, I like show tunes and I'm proud of it. So much so that each Sunday on my drive into work, I look forward to a twenty minute dose on our local, South Jersey classical music radio station WWFM, (93.9FM). Hosts, Michael Kownacky and Ted Otten, call their show, "THE DRESS CIRCLE." The program features; best of Broadway recordings, historical facts and humorous banter. KOWNACKY (left) AND OTTEN (right). MGTP READER WTW, TURNED ME ON TO, "THE DRESS CIRCLE." RECENTLY, I RECOMMENDED THE SHOW TO BB. I WONDER IF HE CHECKED IT OUT...AND LIKED IT?

This past Sunday Kownacky and Otten played, "JOHNNY ONE NOTE." That song was from a 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical called, "BABES IN ARMS." I was familiar with the enjoyable tune and remember humming it as a kid. But I never knew the lyrics and it was hearing those words last week that sparked a chain reaction of long forgotten facts.


In the mid-60's my dad had a juvenile furniture store in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Together with an uncle, my mom on weekends and two teenage part-timers, they sold cribs, baby carriages, toys etc. One of those part-timers was an up-and-coming boxer named Charley. My father liked Charley and related well to him because they were both musicians. They shared a passion for jazz and during down time, dad gave him saxophone lessons. On several occasions, until Charley enlisted in the army, dad included him in after work activities like meals and visits to the Turkish Bath houses in Coney Island. He in turn got my dad and uncle free tickets when he boxed in the Golden Gloves, (one year he was the heavyweight champion).

When I started working at dad's store, (eight years old), I was poorly whistling some song. My father looked at Charley and said, "Hey, it's Johnny One Note." They had a laugh at my expense. Then for almost fifty years, I never heard that Johnny One Note phrase again until the title of the song was mentioned on, "The Dress Circle." So last Sunday as I put the tune, the lyric and the long lost circumstances together, a flash-flood of other memories sprang up.

The rush started when I remembered the exact moment I last thought of Charley. It was three years ago while visiting my mom. That day, we needed to take a short excursion to Valley Stream. I had encountered awful traffic I on the Belt Parkway on my way in, so I thought it best to, "take the streets." This less than scenic route took us through the East New York section of Brooklyn. My mom felt nostalgic and suggested that as long as we were going so far out of the way that we swing by the house that my dad grew up in, on Van Sicklen Avenue. MY GRANDMOTHER LIVED IN THAT HOUSE UNTIL I WAS TWELVE. ON THE CORNER, THERE WAS AN "EL" TRAIN STATION. WHEN I WAS SIX, SHE BEGAN A CAMPAIGN OF IN DEPTH LECTURES ABOUT THE DANGERS OF CLIMBING THE ROOF OF THE EL'S STAIRWAY, TO BEAT THE 15c FARE. SHE WOULD NAME NAMES OF NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS WHO FELL OFF. TO EMPHASIZE THE SEVERITY OF THE RISK, GRANNY ALWAYS MANAGED TO SQUEEZE IN A KID NAMED PADDY, WHO LUCKILY SURVIVED HIS FALL BUT WAS HIT AND KILLED BY A *BUZZ. *(MY GRANDMOTHER HAD NO ACCENT AND SPOKE PERFECT ENGLISH BUT FOR SOME ODD REASON, THE WORD BUS ALWAYS CAME OUT BUZZ).

From dad's old house, mom and I traveled along Linden Boulevard, parallel to the Belt Parkway. Just before crossing out of Brooklyn into Queens, we passed Eldert Lane. Then in one mass impulse of recollection, each of the four buildings on those corners congered up some of my most obscure memories from 1965-1967.

On the right before Eldert Lane, there was an old high-rise apartment house within a huge, decaying complex. I remembered as an adolescent that an elderly, distant relative lived there. I was with my folks once when we took her home from a wedding. I guess using wheelchairs for people who could barely walk wasn't yet in vogue. Because, I recall dad helping her inch along until she got home.


When I was ten, my folks brought me to TSS to shop. I went to the restroom and a man with wavy, dull, red hair, black horned-rimmed glasses and an unzipped yellow windbreaker asked me, "Who are you with?" I said, "My dad is right outside." When he scurried away, I knew something was wrong. I was spooked but I never told my dad because he always said, "Don't talk to strangers." Later in life when I was less naive, I realized that I had side-stepped a terrible fate. This event left such a profound negative impression on me that I'm positive, even now, I could pick this weirdo and probable molester out of photo array.

Across the street, facing TSS, was Interboro Hospital. My father had an operation there that saved his pinkie toe from amputation. While he was recovering, my sister and I were relegated to waving to him from the parking lot because at a time when anyone, even doctors smoked anywhere they wanted in hospitals, pre-teens weren't permitted inside, to visit their ailing father.

On the fourth corner, diagonally across from TSS, there was a single apartment house. My dad's former worker Charley was an charter tenant in 1967, when he returned from serving in Vietnam.
I went there with my uncle to deliver beds for Charley. He came to the door wearing a dashiki. Inside, a scratchy Charlie "Bird" Parker record was playing as I noticed the walls were adorned with African art. He impressed my uncle by saying he was working for Emerson (a radio company) and was using his G.I. benefits to go to an electronics college. Charley was so cool, he even offered my uncle and me a Rheingold beer, (my uncle drank his and took mine home for later).

We were on our way out when Charley asked me, "Are you teaching Floyd the ropes?" Charley was referring to his younger brother who took his place at dad's store. I idolized Floyd. He was closer in age to me and more easy-going than his brother. A giant, Floyd was 6 foot 3 and a Golden Gloves champion too.
Floyd went on to become a professional boxer and was a contemporary of George Foreman. Foreman remained an amateur in order to participate in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Floyd, due to economic hardship, turned pro on November 10, 1967, after being that year's champion of the Pan-American Games. Immediately, Floyd seemed destined for super-stardom. SPORT MAGAZINE even ran a lengthy article about him in which he indirectly thanked my dad.

In this period, Floyd gave me two pairs of his old boxing gloves which I always cherished. Much more importantly, he saved me twice. Once I was accosted on the street near my father's store and he came out of nowhere to scare-off the two street-toughs. The other time was a chance meeting at Manhattan Beach.

A month before that meeting, towards the end of ninth grade, a fat, former run-away with a scary, scarred eye named Dean Cheatam, called the beauty of a girl at school to my attention. (Cheatam was the shamed, last player when the heavily favored Juvie class lost to the Nerd class in the sixth grade dodge ball tournament). See my February 28, 2011 blog, "DODGE BALL, A METAPHOR FOR THIS CRAZY LIFE."

This delicate flower would be the first girl I ever asked out...and she accepted. That summer we got together at her house five times. Her obese dad was intimidating because when she and I hung out in the yard, he'd stare me down, out the back window.

Her good-looking mom was more liberal. On one occasion, she let me take her precious cargo on three buses to Manhattan Beach. These were times before wearing cover-ups was popular. So my date, wearing only a tiny bikini was continuously ogled the whole trip.

It was great to finally be one-on-one with her at the beach. I was on cloud-nine until we went to the concession stand for lunch. After she downed a second hot-dog, she wanted another bag of fries for the walk back to the blanket. Then every few minutes, she asked me to go back and get her pop corn or a soda or candy.

At first, rather than disappoint her tapeworm, I was a dutiful errand boy. Then it turned into a tolerable annoyance. Towards the end, the gold-digger had put my skimpy bankroll into severe jeopardy. If I followed through with my latest food delivery, it would "eat" into my untouchable car fare home.
In a quandary, I stood outside the concession stand and alternated between staring at the price of Italian ices and at my last meager handful of coins. I didn't realize it at the time but this was the miracle year of 1969. That summer, astronauts would land on the moon, Woodstock would become synonymous with peace and the lowly Mets would win the World Series. Hell, even the true events of the movie, "AWAKENINGS," happened that year.

I needed divine intervention, quick. Then as if by wizardry, a powerful hand slapped my shoulder from behind. It was Floyd. It's one thing to know a celebrity but it's far more cool when they know you...and lend you five bucks.

I'll never forget my gush of pride when I saw the look on Floyd's face when I introduced my hottie to him. Before we left, that pride was washed away when I was left nearly empty-handed all over again by a soft pretzel, some chips, another soda and a visit to the souvenir stand.

Back home, I realized what it felt like to be broke AND in debt. When I considered how much of an allowance I got, I had no choice but to cut my expensive Venus loose.

Unfortunately, Floyd did not achieve the greatness of George Foreman. His lightning bolt to success only lasted a little longer than my first relationship, (a mere twelve fights). During his first loss, Floyd's knee locked-up during a bout with Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner... and was butchered. He continued to box and kept winning but his mobility was minimized. Whether his recovery was hindered by a physical or mental problem, we'll never know. The bottom line was, he never regained his true form. On October 31, 1969, he lost for the second time and never fought again. Far worse, my family never saw or heard from Floyd again.

To research this column, I googled Floyd's name and found nothing personal...only individual fight information and statistics.

The last time I saw the girl was when I was driving a cab to pay for dealer school in 1978. On a lark, I went out of my way to go past her house. I never expected to see her but she was indeed out front walking a tiny foo-foo dog. She was more stunning than ever in a bare midriff blouse, hot pants and stiletto heels. I was embarrassed to have her see me driving a taxi. To duck her, I looked the other way. To further my innocence, I began whistling, poorly. I now wonder if the tune I chose was, "Johnny One Note?"

Monday, April 4, 2011


Frequently, "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," readers comment that I have had an uncanny amount of odd jobs. Just when you thought my supply would run dry, I find yet another to share. Perhaps this supports the notion that at some point in my life, I was indeed a go-getter.

Please note, the opening of this blog only concerns itself with the job interview. Maybe in the future, I will put a story together and fully describe the three months that I set industrial diamonds heads onto heavy-duty cutting tools.

In the spring of 1974, Pat, one of my less significant, blabber-mouth neighbors was a secretary, receptionist and charwoman at a tool factory. This factory specialized in setting industrial diamonds onto cutting tools. She told my mom that they needed someone part-time and got me an interview.

The owner of Triangle Diamond was Mr. Lewis Bling. That makes him the original Mr. Bling. The man's name was never funny to me until trendy slang put the word into our current vocabulary. In retrospect, Mr. Bling was the polar opposite of what bling means today. With quiet indifference, he spoke with an Eastern European accent, (maybe his last name was shortened from something more ethnic). Plus, in his gray-blue lab coat, white dress shirt, 1940's-era bow-tie and tattered, plaid cab drivers cap, he might have been the least cool person I had ever met. JUST IN CASE YOU ARE MORE OUT OF TOUCH THAN I AM, "BLING," FOR THE MOST PART IS GAUDY, OVER THE TOP AND WHOLLY UNNECESSARY JEWELRY.

While Bling read my application and during the interview, one of his idiosyncrasies was eating generic Saltines. The flying crumbs were distracting enough but his annoying eating habit took two, incredibly slow forms. First, he took such small nibbles that he looked like a gnawing rodent doing barbiturates. The other was, he'd bite off a tiny, yet solid section. Then he'd transfer the piece onto his tongue just long enough for me to notice, before slowly chewing it. He took me from the office into his blackened factory.

In its heyday, Triangle Diamond probably employed dozens of workers at a time. Now devoid of staff, the big space remained unlit until we came to individual assembly stations. Bling would then turn on an over head fluorescent lamp and describe the hand-made process.

When the tour was over, he escorted me to the door. He didn't excuse himself when cracker bits flew out of his mouth as he said, "Patricia...will call you after I meet some other candidates." The door was shut behind me for just an instant when he reappeared and called to me, "On one of your references, Llewellyn Images, you didn't include a phone number." Before I could conger up a lie he added, "I'll have Patricia look in the Yellow Pages."

Suddenly, eons before the cell phones, I was racing with time. I had to tell the owner of Llewellyn Images that I used him as a reference. Llewellyn Images was a photography studio being opened by Gary, a friend's older brother. He had just taken over the empty store and was hoping to be operational in a month. On my application with Mr. Bling, I wasn't prepared to give a third reference, so I fudged Llewellyn Images.


Lucky for me, both businesses (Llewellyn and Triangle) were on the same street, a two-mile bus ride apart. Halfway there, I realized I could have called information and warned Gary by telephone. I was in a cold sweat when the bus arrived at my stop. I ran off and crossed the busy intersection by weaving through traffic.

At the place, I found Gary's brother and two of my other friends pitching in to clear out the debris from the former shoe store. While Gary orchestrated, I filled him in on my situation. Ten minutes later, the phone rang, it was Mr. Bling. Right before my eyes, I was given a sparkling recommendation...and soon got the job.

This column is NOT about my job as a diamond setter of industrial tools. This story is about the high risk of taking petty short cuts. And it starts shortly after I started helping my friends that day at Llewellyn Images. Gary developed a strong word-of-mouth business as a wedding and Bar Mitzvah photographer.

He was doing so well that he dropped-out of Kingsborough Community College to devote all his energies to his enterprise. Still, he didn't see a future working just weekends so he decided to expand his horizons by opening a full-time portrait boutique. He was on a limited start-up budget so with the help of family and friends, he was ripping and tearing out the previous tenant's interior himself. He even borrowed a pick-up truck, to cart the refuse away and had a connection to dump the mess for free.

I grabbed a hammer after Gary spoke with Mr. Bling and joined the process of dismantling the unwanted shelves and other fixtures. The five of us were having a lot of fun and in a short time, the store was virtually gutted. I was vacuuming when I noticed in the rear store room that they were struggling with the one last shelf, wedged high in a corner.

Two friends on ladders were pounding at the underside of the board but it wouldn't budge. Gary came over with a bigger hammer and handed it up. The first swing of the miniature sledge freed one side. The sick twisted sound of the other side's nails stubbornly trying to remain in place was coupled with the swift pendulum swing of the dusty wooden plank's free side. Before Gary could react, an exposed nail sliced across the inside crook of his elbow. A spontaneous geyser of blood caused three of the four of us to be frozen stiff by shock and ignorance. While Gary panicked and screamed in pain, nerd of nerds Marty Marvin stepped forward and took charge.

The unlikely hero pulled off his sweatshirt and used it to apply direct pressure to the wound. He then fashioned his belt into a makeshift tourniquet and ushered Gary out to his car and off to an emergency room. Gary could have been in serious difficulty if not for Marvin and recovered.

You would think that this life or death scare would have set a lifetime example for me to avoid cutting corners but it didn't. Just months after this, to save about fifteen dollars, I had a friend in auto mechanic school do a simple tune-up for me. He didn't properly set my timing belt and the result was enough engine problems that forced me into junking my car. BUMMER! I LOVED MY FIRST CAR ('68 DODGE POLARA) AND EVEN THOUGH MY DAD OFFERED TO FOOT THE BILL, I WAS TOO EMBARRASSED TO LET HIM.

I saw this bad mechanic trend continue when I lived in Vegas. To save money, an idiot I worked with had his brakes replaced by a bigger idiot. The bigger idiot didn't fully tighten one set of lug nuts. Then the regular idiot together with his fiance and future mother-in-law, had one of his tires fall off while speeding through the California desert to Los Angeles...somehow they got out with their lives but his restored El Camino was totaled.

Since then, I hate to admit it but I've gotten burned by pettiness a few more times. But a few months ago, when my wife Sue and I decided to remodel our kitchen, I thought it was time to end the cycle of ignorance. My first instinct was to re-face the existing cabinets and put in knock-off granite counter tops. We got estimates from some reputable outfits and couldn't believe the high price. Then we called in handymen. The cut-rate for the full job was tempting but the depth of the work called for; an artistic flair as well as expert knowledge in carpentry, electricity and plumbing. No one seemed to be masters of all the trades. Not to mention they had questionable liability insurance and couldn't make any guarantees.

Then out of the misty fog, HOBOKENKID stepped into the bright spotlight of center stage. She had no idea we were shopping for a kitchen make-over and was bragging about the job she just had done. Even stranger, I knew who did her job...I just had no idea that this Vietnamese gentleman and his three brothers were reknown kitchen re-modelers.

When HOBOKENKID told me how satisfied she was, Sue and decided to pay the boys at L & Z Stone Supply, a visit.

At their showroom/factory, I got reacquainted with Vinnie. I had lost track of him for five years. He was their salesman and possessed the best people skills. Like a patient friend, he guided us through our options and helped us formulate a plan. Another brother, Alex, specialized in the artistic design. He came to our house and made several interesting space saving observations and made other suggestions.

So when the oldest, behind the scene brother formulated a surprisingly affordable estimate and mapped out interest-free financing, our path was clear.

Vinnie said that the work, to temporarily re-locate our appliances, gut our kitchen, re-tile the floor, replace our cabinets, install the counter tops, do the back splash and re-install, and re-connect the appliances would take three to four weeks. Ouch! That's a long time to be washing dishes in the bathroom sink.

I work nights and suffer from sleep deprivation as it is. Sue would be at work so my ferocious dog Roxy served as my alarm clock. Promptly at nine each morning, after I got four hours sleep, my doggie would greet the youngest brother Wes the grunt laborer and his helper with vicious barks until I got my act together well enough to let them in.

Even if I was desperate, I could never take an afternoon snooze through their constant sawing, hammering and power screw-driving. During the first week, they even worked past six and prevented me from taking my necessary, pre-work nap. In no time, I became a zombie.


Luckily, something got lost in the translation. Vinnie's imperfect English said the job would take three or four weeks which meant to me, 15-20 days. However, after seven working days of having no washer and dryer, no microwave, no oven, no dishwasher and our fridge in the dining room, Wes started moving these essentials back into place. More importantly, he announced that they wouldn't be coming back for ten days while their factory used the template they made to measure and cut our granite counter tops. Hallelujah!

During our "vacation," Sue made a list of fourteen concerns. Most were adjustments, nicks in the cabinets or drawers that didn't slide freely. When Wes came back, all the little problems were handled easily and the counter top was installed. The next day (yesterday) they put in the tile back splash. Now they are coming back in five days, (for one last day), to add the back splash grout, install the sink and re-connect all the appliances.

The bottom line is, I'm thrilled that the temptation to cut corners was avoided. We are thoroughly pleased with the meticulous quality of their work and would enthusiastically recommend the whole L & Z Stone team. (609) 813-2323.

Yes, it's true there were a small handful of snafus but as a further testament to the quality of their work, each potential problem was handled gracefully. The worst of these was; not turning the water on and making us think our one year-old washing machine was broken, (LACC, from across the street was our trouble-shooter on that one).

Also, L & Z displayed impeccable interior cleanliness and neatly bagged all their waste. But outside, our backyard and driveway was littered with their personal junk like; candy wrappers, cigarette butts and spit wads. I accepted the cultural difference and policed what I could myself...and once it rained...everything else was washed away.

We will be taking "after" pictures soon and I will add them to this blog. In the mean time, don't be penny wise and dollar foolish. Look at the quarter you put in the parking meter as insurance against a $35.00 ticket and if you want to avoid an ugly IRS audit, don't cheat on your taxes. More importantly, unlike Mr. Lew Bling, if you want to hire top-notch applicants, be sure to eat your generic Saltines in private.