Monday, May 30, 2011

EDELBLUM MYSTERY THEATER: THROW THE COFFEE POT OUT THE WINDOW !

The nicest woman used to play on my roulette game. For a three-year period, this delightful, tiny lady would drop in every few months. Helped by a series of grunts and gestures, together with a tad of broken English, her aura of positivism stayed consistent despite our language barrier. I'd estimate that four out of five visits, regardless of the outcome, she remained pleasant, friendly and generous. But every now and then, she'd be the personification of evil.

What causes such a train wreck in one's nature? These days it's trendy to throw around the concept of Bipolar Disorder. Somehow, I never felt that way about her. Instead, I leaned towards the politically incorrect catchall for women's radical personality shifts... periodic discomfort.

I supported my flimsy case by doing the math. It seemed that during twenty percent of her visits; she was aloof as if she didn't remember our previous connection, was belligerent to her fellow players and verbally abusive to me in her native tongue when she lost. Plus, she never tipped...even when everything was going her way.

To reduce my chance of embarrassment, I taught myself to wait and see if she was Jekyll or Hyde before rolling out the red carpet. Then one night, she politely took the last seat on my busy table. I was relieved to see that she was in a good spirits as she, as always, surrounded the 23, (her lucky birthday number), with the most bets.

Silently, with big smiles, we caught eye-contact as I called out, "No more bets." Suddenly, a small, faceless person crashed into the backs of the existing players. This rude person's jostling created just enough room for a petite, milky white hand to thrust through the bodies and chunk forty-dollars onto the already over-loaded 23.

While this was happening, the centrifugal force that held the ball in the track gave way to gravity. During its descent, the ball clanked and crashed into the canoes and bounced off a fret before taking three big jumps. A collective gasp filled the air. It looked like any number could win until the ball and number twenty-three seemed to align, destined to meet.

The ball hit in the twenty-three as if guided by a magnet...but its speed and the opposite momentum of the wheel caused the ball to rattle inside the compartment. At the last second, it popped up just enough to climb over the fret and into the next number, four.
CANOES ARE DIAMOND-SHAPED METAL INSERTS BUILT INTO THE WALL OF A ROULETTE WHEEL AND FRETS ARE THE TALL METAL WALLS THAT SEPARATE THE NUMBERS. BOTH ARE DESIGNED TO DEFLECT THE BALL AND ASSURE A FAIR SPIN. WHEN THE BALL LANDS IN THE WINNING NUMBER, A CRYSTAL MARKER IS PLACED ON THE LAYOUT'S CORRESPONDING NUMBER. THE OFFICIAL NAME FOR THIS MARKER IS, "THE MARKER." IN NEW JERSEY, THE CRYSTAL MARKER IS MADE OF PLASTIC. DUE TO THE RECENT ECONOMIC UPHEAVAL, ATLANTIC CITY CASINOS NOW USE IMITATION PLASTIC.

My classy lady didn't vent her frustration over narrowly missing out on a windfall. On the other hand, the voice that belonged to the faceless late bettor, cursed me so badly in a mixture of her foreign language and English that even a longshoreman would have blushed. When everyone turned to look at this vile woman, I realized that for years, I had been dealing to identical twins.

It's funny, standing side-by-side, they were quite different. I couldn't believe that I never picked up on the obvious differences in two.

The same can be said for all identical twins, they aren't exactly the same. Once you get to know them, you can key on some aspect of their face, body or personality to make the separation. Then, even when the aren't together, you can tell who's who and treat them as individuals.

One set of twins I knew growing up were easy to distinguish because one had a clear complexion, was much better in sports and had a carefree disposition. Another pair were much harder to differentiate until I noticed that the studious one had a small beauty mark along side his right eyebrow. And twin girls from middle school made it a snap to tell them apart because one was a tomboy and never adorned herself like her high-maintenance sister who wore make-up, had fancy hairdos and wore skirts even after school.

Of course not all twins are people. Twins can also be inanimate objects. I recently had trouble figuring out what I thought were twins and it almost led to me throwing my Keurig coffee maker out the window.

Before the curse of sleep apnea invaded me, I had about five cups of coffee a week. While the whole world was enthralled with Starbucks and the like, I was able to get by with one cup before each shift at work...and because I'm not much of a breakfast person...maybe another five times a year with a morning meal.

Effing sleep apnea has changed all that. For the last two years whether I get my usual five or three and a half or eight or even ten hours of sleep, every morning I am lured to the kitchen and my Keurig.
THIS KEURIG INTERNET PHOTO IS SIMILAR TO MY SET-UP.

In two minutes, a Keurig serves up a perfect, single cup of coffee. The procedure is simple, beyond the typical extras like sugar and cream, all you need is a mug, tap water and a K-Cup, (a specially designed coffee grounds capsule). K-Cups can be bought everywhere and come in over a hundred flavors, (both decaffeinated and regular). If you shop around, when bought in bulk, they run less than fifty-cents each.

My current morning routine includes me brewing a cup of Emeril's Big Easy Bold and taking it onto my backyard deck with a Sudoku puzzle, (I feel that I have succeeded in a timely manner if the coffee is still warm when I'm done). Unfortunately, my happy habit has been continually disturbed over the last month. The stupid Keurig stopped working properly.
AN (18) COUNT BOX OF EMERIL'S BIG EASY BOLD K-CUPS. SOME OF MY OTHER FAVORITES ARE, SUMATRAN RESERVE, KONA, DONUT SHOP AND DARK ROAST.
If you're an old-school fart like me, you expect things to work, forever! And if something "made-to-break" goes down, it's still shocking to me that they are economically unfeasible to repair. Therefore, it upsets me that today's consumers, in the name of their own convenience, vanity or social status, not only accept this disposable goods mentality but frequently take pride in trashing perfectly useful (sometimes high-end) items...because peer pressure tells them it is obsolete.IF THIS TREND GETS ANY WORSE, PEOPLE WILL BE ABANDONING THEIR NEW CARS, THE FIRST TIME THEY RUN OUT OF GAS.

I do not think my attitude makes me uncool, forcibly loyal, lazy or cheap. Nor I am being overly conservative or unreasonable to think that something that isn't receiving a heavy-duty work load or being bounced around, (like a coffee maker), shouldn't last for more than two years.

The root of my problem is two-fold. On day-one, the Keurig did not make the coffee hot enough for my taste. By the time I added half-n-half, it was barely lukewarm. However, I showed my flexibility and decided to use the microwave after my wife Sue told me that the temperature was just right for her. Now, two years later, problem number-two crops up, every day...I'm only getting, a half cup of coffee.

At first, I figured this to be a self-correcting mistake. Even though everything is measured to be precisely the same each time, there is also a set procedure to operate the unit. If you vary from this, sometimes the machine won't work or will stop prematurely. Most of these problems are human error...in my case that's easily explained because of sleep deprivation. But this half-filled cup was happening every day.

As you may recall, I am a charter member of the Junior Sherlock Holmes Club so after a couple of weeks, I finally whined to my wife, "Does the Keurig make you a full cup of coffee?" When she said, "Yes," I was spurred to investigate further.


There are few variables because the whole Keurig system is so simple. It was elementary to skip the K-Cup because they are uniform and factory-sealed. The choice of mugs couldn't be the problem because Sue and I randomly use the same ones; the one with snow flakes, the happy face, the head honcho or New York Mets, (that coffee cup has been banished to the farthest abyss of that cabinet...even behind the Mickey Mouse mugs).

The only possibility left was the water supply. Sue has a small plastic container with a pointed spout. Until we got this coffee maker, she used it to fill her iron. When she realized that a coffee mug was too cumbersome to fill the small water tank opening, she discovered that this device when filled to a notch near the top, fills the Keurig's reservoir perfectly.

I don't own a deerstalking cap or smoke a pipe, so when I do detective work around the house, I enlist the help of my dog Roxy and call her, "Watson." I was telling Watson that it was a good idea to wait until the Keurig was cold before examining the tank. I told her to expect an excess of water but there wasn't. My next step was filling a happy face mug with the right amount of water and pouring it into the machine. I told Watson to fetch my glasses so I could confirm that the height of the water matched the suggested level inside the tank...and it did?

Watson's ears went straight up in shock when I cried, "I'm going to throw the whole business (coffee maker), out the window!" I took a deep cleansing breath and relaxed. Then, as I dried the happy face coffee cup, I began to gather my thoughts for a letter of complaint to the Keurig company. Then I received my Sherlock Holmes moment of epiphany and poured water into the measuring device and then into the mug. Eureka! The mug was about half full. There MUST be two measuring devices.

Genius, right? Well, not exactly. A minute later, when I opened the cabinet to put the mug away, I discovered a second, identical, yet slightly smaller measuring device sitting on the shelf the whole time. Yes I solved the mystery but Roxy made it clear that she never wants to play Watson, ever again!

Monday, May 23, 2011

LOIS GENNETT INSISTED THAT HER NAME BE PRONOUNCED, LOYCE GENN-NAY

Today's blog is based on excerpts from my short story, "EMPTINESSES."

Yesterday, my son Andrew asked for the car keys. As he bolted to the front door, I asked him what's what? He said his friend was throwing a corn dog party. I scratched my head, watched him leave and calculated that the only hot dog I recall him eating was thirteen years ago.JUNE 1998 AT THE TEE-BALL AWARDS "BANQUET," WE SAT ON THE INFIELD GRASS AS A WOMAN PASSED OUT FRANKS, CHIPS AND A SODA TO ALL THE PLAYERS. ANDREW REFUSED THE HOT DOG. WHEN THE LADY ASKED, "WHY?" THE FRUIT OF MY LOIN SAID, "I DON'T MIND THE HOT...BUT I DON'T WANT TO EAT A DOG." WHEN FACED WITH NO ALTERNATIVE, YOU CAN SEE HE ATE THE DOG...BUT WOULDN'T EAT ANOTHER FOR OVER A DECADE.

Naturally, hearing him rush out the door, albeit for a corn dog was shocking.

Behold the humble corn dog...so tasty yet so unhealthy. A popular walk-as-you-eat fast food, this fried, sugar and salt laden delectable, is a gastric F-BOMB of empty calories.
INVENTED IN 1947, THE CORN DOG IS A FRANKFURTER, DEEP FRIED IN CORNMEAL BATTER AND SERVED ON A STICK.


Trust me, I'm not trying to top Andrew's boycott but I haven't had a corn dog in forty-five years. In my youth, they weren't especially appetizing to me but when certain events unfolded in 1980...as discussed in my short story, "EMPTINESSES," I swore to never eat a corn dog again.

The symbolism behind the Emptinesses title stems from my Vegas years when I moved in with a married couple, the Frobel's, Stu and Toby. In addition to being roommates, they both...in their own way... became my friend.


Through the intimacy of cohabitation, I learned that frumpy, 5 foot 2, 140 pound Toby suffered from the emptiness of an unfilled womb. At the same time, it became obvious that sloppy fat Stu, 6 foot 5, 285 pounds, had a void where his brain should have been.


I use a circle theme in that story to epitomize the recurring errors in their relationship. To illustrate this point Stu once removed his wedding ring and held it up to his eye. He looked through it at Toby and said; when you take off a wedding ring, sometimes all you see is a hole. However, this blog has little to do with their dysfunction because it concentrates on my lack of fulfillment.


I encourage you to read the whole Emptinesses story but we start this blog a few months before Toby left Stu.


At a dinner party thrown by Peter-Party, in our apartment complex, I was smitten by another neighbor named Lois Gennet. Lois was from Slidell Louisiana. She was proud of her French heritage and was quick to remind people who read her name that her surname was pronounced Genn-NAY and her first rhymed with Joyce.


Toby thought Lois was high-strung and pretentious as well as obnoxious to be so insistent over her name. I didn't see her point. Maybe Toby was jealous that Lois was tall, slender and confident. Either way, I liked her and I knew she liked me.



Lois lived with a female roommate, across our courtyard, two flights up. She was a receptionist for an optometrist and attended business school at night. Despite our immediate connection, our schedules conflicted so badly that if she hadn't ditched that night's class, it would have been a miracle for us to ever be in the same place, at the same time.



Before eleven at Peter's party, as dessert was being served, Lois excused herself to go home and study. I kicked myself for letting her go without even asking for her phone number.



In the months that followed, a lot happened. Peter-Party died suddenly, Thursdays for Toby Stu and I, became our casino night at the El Cortez, (until Toby became a blackjack dealer there on graveyard shift) and depressed Stu began drinking more than ever. This change in his personality included becoming verbally abusive to his wife. During that period, the one thing that never happened was...me seeing Lois. Until one late Sunday afternoon, I was walking by the laundry room and there she was. Lois was her bubbly self and I enjoyed keeping her company as she waited for the dryer to finish the job.



I wanted to ask her out. I tried to project when we could see each other and all I came up with was a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. When she finished folding her clothes, I offered to carry the basket up to her apartment.



On the way up, she told me that she got a raise and was now doing the billing at work plus taking on other responsibilities. She added that the office manager was retiring next year and that she was being highly considered for the position. I said, "That's great." She said, "Yes, but now I'm working Saturdays...that's a fifty-six hour week. With my night classes, I have no time for a social life."



When she said "time," I glanced at my watch. "Oops, I gotta run, I'm going to be late for work." I hustled down the two flights of steps and crossed the courtyard. Lois called down, "Say hi to Stu and Toby." I remembered Toby's new job. I did an about face and ran back up to Lois. While trying to catch my breath I said, "Would like to come out to the El Cortez on Thursday with me and Stu?" When her smiled drained away I added, "We could make it an early night, it wouldn't be like a date...we'd just be hangin' out...you know, a chance to get to know each other better." She was so apologetic in turning me down.



When I lost my smile she added, "Friday mornings are crazy busy at work. I get in before eight and because the possibility of a promotion is so strong, I have to always be at my best. I hope you understand, I'm trying to leave an impression." I nodded as she continued in her sweet southern accent, "But when we do get together, it would better if it was a date." I took her number and floated back to earth on cloud nine.



I knew I was cutting it close so I had no time to shower or shave. I found Stu passed out in his reclining chair with an empty pint of blackberry brandy at his feet, a box of generic, frozen corn dogs on the counter and a skillet on the stove.



Five minutes later, dressed in my Stardust uniform, I rushed out of my room. Stu was still passed-out but this time I saw Toby's note on the coffee table, "I have too much respect for you to sneak around behind your back, so I'm leaving you..." I didn't have time to read any more and left. When I got home after work, other than Stu turning his chair to face the front door, everything was exactly how I left it.



Lois and I got together at two of her church's outings. Despite being in a big group, our platonic time was so well spent that I wanted her more. At work, I applied to transfer to day shift. Unfortunately, the wait time was estimated at ten months. So even though Lois and I were never "together" in any sense of the word, it felt like a break-up when I realized that we were destined to be just friends.



One afternoon I got a call from Lois. She was excited and said, "Dr. Tyler is flying to Dallas next Thursday. That Friday will be a clerical day and I don't have to be in till noon." I said, "Cool." Lois said, "Is that offer to come out with you and Stu to the casino still good?" I said, "After all this time, trust me I'm taking you out royally and Stu will not be joining us." She said, "I can't wait but I have to get back to work." I said, "Bye," and unintentionally added a kiss into the phone. She thrilled me by adding a smoochie of her own.



On my way out to work, between swigs of brandy, Stu told me that Toby was on her way to pick up the rest of her stuff. He then confessed exaggerating to Toby, his sexual encounters with three of her girlfriends before they were married. A couple of tears flowed down his cheeks as he took the corn dogs from the freezer and sobbed, "I just wanted to piss her off. Actually it was all lies, I never touched her friends." When he took the skillet out of the cabinet, I saw his stash of five, pint bottles of blackberry brandy. He was crying and calling himself names as I left.



At 4:00AM, I opened my apartment door and was hit in the face by the stink of smoke. I covered my mouth and went in. The living room was shrouded by a gray haze. I switched on the lamp. I was horrified to see the stove top was a scorched mess. The wall behind it and the adjoining cabinets were charred. In the disaster area of a sink, the blackened fry pan had the fused remnants of corn dogs stuck to it. Suddenly, I heard Stu choking. I went into his room. Other than snoring and laying in a pool of his own vomit, he seemed okay. After, I turned on the exhaust fan and opened every window, I went to bed.



The next Sunday, I met Lois at her church's picnic at Bonney Springs Ranch. Before I left, I told her that I made dinner reservations at the ski lodge on Mt. Charleston.
45 MINUTES FROM THE GLITZ AND GLAMOR OF LAS VEGAS, THE SKI LODGE ON MT. CHARLESTON IS A GREAT ROMANTIC GETAWAY.


When Thursday came, drunken Stu was already staggering around while I was getting ready for my date. I thought his close brush with burning down the apartment and perhaps his own death would have wised him up. Instead, he was worse. In addition to continually whining over losing Toby, he began missing days at work, had trouble remembering things and because he stopped taking care of himself, his body odor was worse than our stinky kitchen.



I was about to leave when he said, "Wait for me." I said, "I told you, I'm taking Lois out." "But Thursday's our night." "Remember I told you, I've been waiting for this a long time." He said, "That's okay, we can all go to the 'Tez' together..." Stu looked like a lost puppy when I left.



It was a comfortable March night when Lois and I went on our way. But the lodge was 7,000 feet up and above the snowline. Before going in the restaurant, we walked out on its observation deck. Countless twinkling stars and a full moon lit up the valley below. When we got too cold, our mood was rekindled inside, at the circular fireplace...over cocktails. After a gourmet dinner, we had a romantic stroll through the icy woods. We then caressed in the car long after the heater took effect, before driving back to civilization.



In an awkward moment in front of her apartment she said, "I'd love to invite you in but I'll have hell to pay if we wake up my roommate." I made an uneven face. Then Lois said, "Let's go to your place." I was apprehensive. It didn't matter if Stu was there because we'd go to my room. What worried me was the awful burnt odor ruining our mood. I reminded Lois of the situation and she said, "Take me."



We necked a long time outside my apartment before going in. When I opened the door, the smell of the grease fire was still strong. Lois wrinkled her nose but smiled. When I turned on the light she screamed. Stu was passed-out, naked, with his recliner facing the door. Lois overreacted. She snapped, "Nobody treats me like this," and ran off. When I caught up with her she said, "This is outrageous, I don't know what to think right now...I'll call you."



I set my alarm and called her in the morning. I tried to make things right but I got a sense that she thought I arranged the whole thing. Before I could deny it she ranted, "It's over! I don't want to see you any more!" My heart was deflated.



I never slept in the Frobel's apartment again and moved out a few days later.



So please remember, it wasn't Stu's grease fire that made me swear to never eat another corn dog. I'm certain if I would have connected with Lois, the accident would have been so insignificant that I would have forgotten about it. It's only because I came up empty that everything about Stu is evil. So since 1980, every time I think of corn dogs, I think of Stu...and I don't like it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

POOH STICKS BRIDGE AT BIRCH GROVE PARK

It's funny how some of our best ideas come out of nowhere when you least expect it, in the strangest places.

For several years, dating back to when my son Andrew was a toddler, he and I went on errands together. To help make these excursions into adventures, we treated department store's toys as our temporary playthings. Of course, I endured many harsh glares from store associates as well as those of my fellow customers but we made sure that everything taken from the shelves was returned to its rightful place, (big bouncy balls and Beanie Babies were his favorites).





My other main entertainment tactic was walking through pet shops as if they were zoos. Aside from petting dogs, watching various rodents and hearing macaw's squawk, I'd guess our greatest memory was when an aquarium worker put a newt, (or as Andrew put it, a flat frog), into my boy's hand.

AT THE GRAND OPENING OF THE MAYS LANDING NEW JERSEY PETSMART, JULY 11, 1998, ANDREW POSED WITH "FRECKLES," THE CANINE STAR OF THE MOVIE, "101 DALMATIANS."

Our new inspiration for weekend amusement skyrocketed into prominence on Saturday, October 26, 1996. Oddly, this unforeseen and long lasting great idea originated at Denny's, in Absecon New Jersey.

WHILE MY WIFE SUE WAS WORKING, I TRIED TO COME UP WITH FRESH IDEAS. WHEN MY LITTLE BUDDY WAS ABOUT TWO AND A HALF, WE TRIED GOING ONE-ON-ONE, TO A RESTAURANT FOR THE FIRST TIME, (PLEASE NOTE HE'S HAVING A GRAND SLAM AND I'M HAVING A GRAND SLAM JUNIOR). WHEN I TOOK A COUPLE OF PHOTOS TO COMMEMORATE THE DAY, THE KIND WAITER, (FRANK), VOLUNTEERED TO SNAP THIS ONE.


While this picture is a tremendous souvenir of the day, Frank's suggestion would remain a strong and valued gift for years. He sent us a couple of towns away, to Birch Grove Park, in Northfield. In addition to the water fowl filled lake, the contemporary playground and small zoo, the park had a gazillion nature trails through the woods. Of particular interest, Frank thought my scion would like to walk through the route of the haunted hayride.

BEYOND THE HAYRIDE ROAD, OUR MISSION WAS TO USE BIRCH GROVE PARK AS THE FINAL FRONTIER. EXPLORE ITS STRANGE NEW WORLD'S, SEEK OUT NEW LIFE AND COOL CIVILIZATIONS...AND TO BOLDLY GO WHERE FEW FATHER AND SONS HAVE GONE BEFORE.


The park became a regular part of our weekend routine. Each visit, we hiked different sections of the forest. Andrew liked seeing animals in the wild and running up and down the hilly paths. After a while, we gravitated to the same circuit which he proclaimed, "The Jungle."


In the early stages, the thing that proved to be so alluring to him was the jungle's countless, tiny, rickety wooden bridges. On one specific bridge, he liked to throw twigs down into the stream below and watch them float away. He named this spot, "Pooh Sticks Bridge." This name came from a sequence in Disney's "WINNIE THE POOH," cartoon series.


Winnie the Pooh was adapted from author A. A. Milne's series of stories about Christopher Robin and the imaginary adventures he had with stuffed animals, (primarily his bear, Winnie the Pooh).


CHARACTER ACTOR STERLING HALLOWAY, (1905-1992), APPEARED IN OVER 150 FILMS AND TV SHOWS FROM, 1926-1977. TO ME, HE IS MOST REMEMBERED AS THE ORIGINAL VOICE OF, "WINNIE THE POOH."


Andrew liked naming things. He was influenced by the an illustration of Winnie the Pooh's old tramping grounds, the Hundred Acre Wood.


IN A SHORT TIME, ANDREW BEGAN NAMING THE HOT SPOTS OF THE JUNGLE, IN THE MANNER OF THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD PHOTO ABOVE.


Some of his areas were called; "Swirly Mountain," "Bird Town," "The King's Throne," "Waddles Canal," and "The Palace Gate." MARCH 1997, ANDREW'S LANDMARK, "THE GREAT UP-DOWN," IS DONE IN REVERSE.


On one trip, I brought a notebook and listed the distinguishable locales that Andrew dubbed. When we got home, together, we drew a rough map similar to the one from the Winnie the Pooh book, (this map could not be found by press time...I hope it wasn't...gulp...trashed).


We were so proud of the jungle that down through the years, Sue, my mother and many of Andrew's friends came along with us to share the fun. One of his friend's mom even suggested that she make her own artistic rendering of our crude map...but unfortunately it never happened.WINNIE THE POOH HELPED DEFINE MY SON'S GENERATION OF TV ENTERTAINMENT. SO WHEN BORDER'S BOOK STORE HAD A PARTY CELEBRATING POOH'S BIRTHDAY, ANDREW THREW FASHIONABILITY TO WIND AND WAS THE FIRST ARRIVAL.


May 2, 1997, was a chilly, windswept, cloudy day. It also marked the first time we took my wife Sue to the jungle. Even though she didn't wear the right shoes, didn't like walking through cobwebs, brier patches and thorny vines or have the same appreciation for discovering peacock poop on Turtle Island, she still liked it. She was most impressed with Pooh Sticks Bridge and joined in by throwing some in herself.


The King's Throne marked the end of the jungle. After Andrew demonstrated the secret passage behind it, we continued to the last wooden bridge that led back to civilization, the lake, the small zoo and the playground.


On this last bridge, Sue and I discussed the beauty of the park and the power it would have on any kid's imagination. At the same time, Andrew gathered small branches and flung them into the water. I'm guessing that he was dissatisfied by their lack of movement on the still lake. So he advanced to the edge of the bridge for a better look, (he was just the right size to fit under the single cross-bar railing). He must have leaned over too far and fell, face first, into the murk. Like Clark Kent, I didn't waste any time putting on my Uberman costume and jumped into the one-foot deep lake.


Andrew's back was still dry but the poor boy was freaking out. He was screaming the whole way back to the car, (ironic how I remember being glad that my wife was with me to share the blame). A wave of fear gripped me when I thought he might be in shock. Then I got an epiphany and told my brave warrior that if he stopped crying, I would take him to Dunkin' Donuts. He might have been shivering from being wet and cold but the thought of a French cruller indeed stopped his crying.


A week or so later, Andrew and I returned to the jungle. When we got to that bridge, I looked down and saw that he fell into a tight space between a submerged, pointed wooden spike and some jagged chicken-wire. I thanked my lucky stars that he wasn't impaled or cut-up on the rusty wire.


Down through the years, it's amazing how infrequently that day comes to mind. Last week it did when Sue and I met at Birch Grove Park on her lunch hour. At the lake, we were feeding ducks when I was reminded that the fourteenth anniversary of this near tragic event had just passed.


I estimate that its been twelve years since I've been there. In that time, they have enlarged the playground, eliminated the small zoo and most importantly re-built all the little bridges...complete with a second, lower, cross-beam, to minimize the chance of kids falling in the lake.


It's funny how fate comes from out of nowhere when you least expect it and in the strangest places.


If Winnie the Pooh's friend Tigger was here, he'd have two things to say. First; A wonderful thing is a Tigger; a Tigger is a wonderful thing. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of spring. They're bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is...I'm the only one...I'm, the only one.


TIGGER WAS PROBABLY MORE BELOVED THAN POOH. HIS ORIGINAL CARTOON VOICE WAS VENTRILOQUIST AND COMIC ACTOR PAUL WINCHELL.


The other thing Tigger would say is, "T.T.F.N...Ta, ta for now."

Monday, May 9, 2011

THE COLLYER BROTHERS RE-VISITED

Yesterday, we honored our mom's with the celebration of Mother's Day. Today I would like to keep the warm afterglow going by relating one of my mother's strongest points.

My mom was a spring of knowledge. Had she lived in another era or under better circumstances, I'm certain her raw wisdom combined with a college education would have catapulted her into a great career. Of course, if she did, I may not be sharing this story now.


FOR QUESTIONS, MOM WAS THE APPROACHABLE PARENT. ANYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW, SHE WAS THERE FOR ME. EXCEPT WHEN I WAS TWELVE, SHE HAD DAD GIVE ME THE, "BIRDS AND THE BEES," SPEECH. IN RETROSPECT, SHE SHOULD HAVE HANDLED THAT TOO !

Since I was a teenager, I have been a big fan of the 1950's TV sit-com, "THE HONEYMOONERS." The show featured two blue-collar stiffs, struggling in Brooklyn to provide for their families. The characters were portrayed by Jackie Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as sewer worker Ed Norton. I HAVE BEEN LOVING THE ORIGINAL 39 EPISODES OF THE HONEYMOONERS FOR 44+ YEARS. SO WHILE I WAS IN NEW YORK CITY ON JUNE 26, 2010, I WENT OUT OF MY WAY TO CHECK-OFF A BUCKET LIST ITEM BY POSING WITH THE RALPH KRAMDEN STATUE, (8th AVENUE AT WEST 43rd).

When I was thirteen, in one Honeymooners episode, Norton poked fun of Kramden's cheapness by comparing him to the Collyer brothers. When the live audience erupted in laughter, I didn't understand the joke. So I sought out my mom.


Mom told me, the Collyer brothers (Langley and Homer), were wealthy eccentrics. They lived from 1925 until 1947, in a big brownstone on 5th Avenue at 128th Street, in the Harlem section of Manhattan. In the late 20's, something snapped and these Columbia University graduates shut them self off to the outside world. Although the hermits had plenty of money, when Homer's health began to fail due to rheumatism, Langley ventured out only under the cloak of darkness, to forage for food.

This nocturnal foraging included going through dumpsters at restaurants, grocery stores and butcher shops. At the same time, Langley also started picking trash. Over the course of decades, he obsessively brought home incredible volumes of abandoned junk. This worthlessness was an eclectic mixture of newspapers, books, lamps, baby carriages etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

Due to the recluses "need" for thrift, they stopped paying for utilities. One by one, the phone, water, electricity and gas were all cut-off. Due to the poor living conditions, malnutrition and lack of proper medical assistance, Homer lost his eye sight in 1932 and soon became paralyzed.


The long story comes to a sad end in March 1947. Neighbors complained about the stench coming from the Collyer's house. Upon a police investigation, it is believed that a mass of the hoarded material, (piled to the high ceiling), toppled onto Langley and killed him. Homer soon starved, waiting to be fed. To illustrate how much debris was accumulated, after the authorities discovered Homer's body, it took several more days, (which included a manhunt as far as Atlantic City New Jersey), to find Langley...whose far worse decomposing, stinking, rat eaten corpse was only ten feet from his brother's. When the house was gutted, an estimated 130 tons of stuff (95% garbage) was carted away by the Sanitation Department.


TODAY'S CABLE TV SHOW "HOARDERS" HAS NOTHING ON THE COLLYER BROTHERS. HIDDEN BEHIND THEIR TRASH TONNAGE, THE BOY'S BROWNSTONE WAS ROTTING...AND, VERMIN RULED THE ROOST.


According to mom, the Collyer brothers were such a laughing stock that ten years after their death, the humor was still topical enough for a big laugh on the "Honeymooners."

In September of 1973, the Collyer brothers came to mind again.


Gaetano (Gae), (the Italian immigrant buddy of my friend GRAMPS), arranged a job interview for me at, "COZEN'S ANTIQUES." (Gae and Gramps were featured in my June 7, 2010 blog, "SODA, SODA, EVERYWHERE BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK)."

I mentioned Cozen's to my mom. She said, "I don't know about now but the store had a great reputation dating back to the depression." When I took the interview, it was conducted simultaneously by the twin, mid-50's brothers, (Seymour and Dudley), who inherited the store from their father. We agreed on an eighteen-hour schedule, (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), that fit perfectly around my classes at Brooklyn College. My pay was a dime an hour under minimum wage, "off the books."

Over the years, four-storied Cozen's absorbed the three stores attached to it. In a bygone era, the mega-store was Brooklyn's king of upscale antiques. When I started, the once formidable staff was reduced to the twins, one full-time worker, one part-timer and a bunch of kids like me who worked when I wasn't there.

I met the part-timer Hildy, she was about 50. Due to a clash in our schedules, I didn't see this saleswoman too often but when I did, her clever wisecracking aimed at the cheapness of the brothers was a pleasure to listen to.


The full-timer, Rufus, (also about 50), was a jack-of-all-trades from Barbados. He was there long enough to have worked for the father. A delicate craftsman, Rufus specialized in fixing broken furniture and as an upholsterer.


On my first day, at three o'clock, I was summoned into the office. Hildy had set-out five Styrofoam cups and was making a pot of coffee as she told me it was break time. Dudley handed me two, one-dollar bills. I was sent to the donut shop across the street, to get five pieces of apple cake. I didn't want coffee or apple cake. So I bought, four pieces of apple cake, a French cruller and a chocolate milk.


I came back and gave the change to Dudley. "Hey," he said, "you're twenty cents short." I was taking out the apple cake and said, "I got myself a doughnut and a container of milk." Seymour got angry, "Out of the goodness of our hearts, we supply apple cake and coffee. You should have never taken advantage of us." After Hildy made a sarcastic, "Ahem," sound, Dudley added, "It's okay this time but it will NEVER happen again...will it." And it didn't because whenever I wanted a snack, I paid for it with my own money.


This early rift never healed. In my second week, the frugal businessmen docked me a quarter hour for being ten minutes late. When I challenged this decision, Mr. Moneybags said, "Ten minutes? A quarter hour? What are we talking about fourteen cents? At your age, you shouldn't be so petty." Needless to say, I hated being there every minute of my six months there.


If I wasn't vacuuming, dusting or the like, I spent most of my time (hiding) with Rufus. In the privacy of his workshop, he told me that after nineteen years, Daddy Warbucks and Diamond Jim Brady (as he liked to call them), were only paying him $3.85 an hour. Even though it was also "off the books," it was such a small wage that he occasionally trolled the streets at night looking for discarded furniture that he could refurbish into an saleable antique. He laughed, "When I do, I still only get a pittance of what they get for the finished product. If I complain they say, 'You fix it on our time with our material.' When I say, I invest my own time to bring it in, they say, 'If you don't like the arrangement, don't do it.'"


Rufus said, "My financials are so bad because I support four children, a girlfriend, two ex-wives and three bartenders. My situation is so tough that for fifteen years, I work a second, full-time job as a graveyard shift elevator operator in a hospital. I'm stuck, those tight-ass Cozens don't offer no health insurance or benefits of any kind."


Once he and I were making a delivery and Rufus said, "The Cozens could squeeze a nickel so hard that the Indian would be riding the buffalo. To prove it, in all my time with them...other than that friggin' apple cake and shitty-ass coffee, I never got a penny over and above my regular salary. Nothing extra at Christmas, no bonuses of any kind...EVER!" He scratched his chin stubble and said, "Well, except once. One of them was too ill to go to a Mets World Series game in 1969. Those misers are so interchangeable, I'm not sure which one got sick and which one I went with. After a short pause he grinned, "Yeah, yeah, I went with Daddy Warbucks and he smuggled in his own sandwich into the game. Later, he used the water fountain when he was thirsty."


When I doubted him, he added, "Did you notice they bought the identical cars? Believe it or not, it's a little cheaper that way."


The first time I did a solo delivery in the Cozen's Antiques step-van, I broke one of the tail-lights when I parked. COZEN'S STEP-VAN LOOKED A LOT LIKE THIS EXCEPT WITH THE NAME ON IT.
One of the brothers accused me of breaking it. I denied it and suggested that it could have been vandalism. That Friday, I held my breath because I was expecting the price of replacing it to be deducted from my pay. Even though it wasn't, the hassle made me hate them more.


It was worse when Rufus wasn't there because I was exposed to Itchy and Scratchy all day. On one of those days I heard the metallic rattle of the loading dock door going up. The interior side was next to the freight elevator, a regular elevator and an extra wide staircase. I was feather-dusting on the second floor showroom when one of the brothers called me down. A wooden crate stuffed with straw (like from the 1940's), had been delivered. The taller Mr. Cozen used a crowbar to open it. Inside were cut-glass, lamp globes wrapped in Asian newspaper. I was told to be careful and bring all twenty-four to the fourth floor.


To elongate my time away from the brothers while exercising, I decided to carry this precious cargo, two at a time, up the steps. I had never gone higher than the second floor so the storage space on the top two levels were like being in a museum. After considerable dawdling, I found several large pieces of furniture meticulously wrapped in brown paper and labeled, SOLD - McSPICE.


My lamp globe mission was about half complete when I got busted. Mr. Boss Man barked, "What's taking you so long?" I came down and played dumb. He said, "You've been at it over thirty minutes and the crate is still here." That's when I said, "You said be careful...I didn't want to risk having to pay if I broke such an expensive antique...so I was walking them up, two at a time." Big Mr. Cozen was flabbergasted. He controlled his anger but a trace of white gauze oozed from the corner of his mouth as he said, "These aren't antique!" I said, "But they're imported from Japan..." "No," he whined, "they were made last month in China...they get attached to antiques."


That night I groused to my mom. She said, "You're a big boy now. It's up to you. If you don't like the treatment quit or shut up." I knew she was right but I couldn't decide what to do so I changed the subject, "Is the name McSpice common?" Mom said, "I never heard that name in my life. Why?" "Well that was the name of my elementary school librarian...sometimes she would be a substitute teacher." She said, "So?" I said, "Well upstairs at Cozen's, there's a big bunch of furniture marked sold, with the name McSpice on it."


Mom got the phone book and said, "There's only two listings in Brooklyn for McSpice and both just use the first initial, 'H.' I bet it's the same person and they own two houses. They must be rich because one address is on Falmouth Street. The only Falmouth I know is in Manhattan Beach. And the other is on Beverly Road and that part of Flatbush is a ritzy too."


The kids at my grammar school hated Mrs. McSpice. She was probably sixty but looked older. And because of her pancake make-up, she resembled Bette Davis from, "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE." Far worse was her condescending attitude towards children. I can still remember he phony, sugary-sweet voice saying, "I hope you are as well-behaved as the class that just left."


Aside from not being kid-friendly, Mrs. McSpice was old, deeply wrinkled and scary looking. Even worse, every bone and tendon in her neck was permanently visible, (if you ask me, I can imitate that look by exaggerating a frown).


My next day at work, I asked Rufus about McSpice. "Ah, Miss Hortense. The brothers call that snob Horty...she thinks she's the Aristocracy...me, I call her; an old bitch of a whore." When I laughed, he continued by describing her. I said, "It sounds like the same woman from my school." He then added, "All the McSpice merchandise is in. The Cozens have been putting this sale together for two years...and now we're going to delivery it to Stamford Connecticut next Monday." I said, "It would be weird to see her...I doubt she'd remember me." Rufus said, "This is the biggest sale since I've been here...over $20,000.00. Miss Hortense comes in all the time to check her furniture, add more shit and make installment payments. I bet she comes in this week, to pay off the balance."


The Friday before the big McSpice delivery was a cold, windswept, misty day. It was March first and even though it was thirty-seven degrees and completely raw and miserable outside, I was glad to put the winter (January and February), behind me.


Due to the weather, the store was unusually quiet. I'm guessing that with the big delivery on the horizon, the brothers were extra tense. Rufus was out of the store and Hildy was coming in after I left, so I was at the brother's nitpicking mercy. They were ordering me around worse than ever and being hyper-critical of my work. I was still shivering after buying two pieces of apple cake for the brothers grim when Dudley told me to go outside with a squeegee and water bucket, to wash the windows.


I said, "I don't want to do that." He said, "You have no choice." I said, "It's raining. Nobody washes windows on a rainy day." Dudley sneered, "Just do your job! I will not tolerate insubordination. " "Do my job?" I said. "You should hire a professional. Window washing is not the nature of my job..." He interrupted, "The nature of your job is to do what I tell you to do." Seymour butted in, "I'll find him something else to do." He lead me to a storage closet next to the restroom and told me to scrub the sink, floor and toilet.


I did a slow burn until he came back at ten to five and handed me my $38.70 pay envelope. Every Friday, it struck me funny that they chose frugality over convenience and didn't round my pay up to an even $39.00.


That Monday was a beautiful pre-spring day. I came home after college instead of going to work. My mother didn't notice me puttering around the house until the phone rang. It was Hildy. After mom and I argued about me taking the call she cupped the receiver and said, "Work wants to know why you aren't there." I said, "Tell them I'm out." Mom said, "They know you're here." I said, "Just tell them I quit." Mom said, "Oh no you don't. You're an adult, it's your responsibility...Wait." Mom said, "Someone in the background is telling her what to say. No, no, no...there's two people telling her."


Mom eased up on me and listened as Hildy pleaded for her to encourage me to come in. Mom said, "This lady says this is the biggest delivery in their history...that they have to put on a good show for their best customer...plus that Rufus guy can't put all that heavy stuff on and off the the truck himself." "Tell her they should hire more people today or tell McSpice she'll have to wait till Tuesday." When mom smirked I added, "And tell 'em to give Rufus a big raise." Mom ignored me and said, "This lady...or your bosses in the background can ALMOST guarantee a twenty dollar tip." I said, "Rufus'll understand, I don't care." She said, "They'll come pick you up and bring to the place." I said, " Tell her, to tell the Collyer brothers that after I finish this piece of apple cake, I have to do something more important...I'm going to the park to shoot hoops." Before I walked out, mom told Hildy, "He quit," and hung up. I told you my mom was smart.


Mom thanks for always being there for me, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY !


AND HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY TO ALL MY READERS AND THEIR MOMS.

Monday, May 2, 2011

MY BOTTOM TEN BRUSHES WITH INSECTS

I was taught as a child, that the praying mantis is the Cadillac of bugs. In reality there is a split decision whether they are pests or beneficial garden guardians. Down through the years, I decided to keep my idealistic notions and maintain their nobility.





THERE'S 2000 SPECIES OF PRAYING MANTIS. KNOWN FOR THEIR TRIANGULAR HEADS, THEY RANGE IN LENGTH FROM A HALF INCH TO SIX INCHES.


In my hometown (Canarsie), praying mantis sightings were an extreme rarity. So when one was spotted, word spread and we kids would be entertained...till the ice cream man came or something more unusual and spectacular happened, like a sewer dredging.


One time when I was nine, a mantis was spotted scaling the face of the second floor of my house. This became a great honor. I achieved rock star status because well beyond my peeps, all the kids on the street gravitated to my house. It was so cool to be the talk of the town. Days later, my name was still on everyone's lips.



If I had a little of the P. T. Barnum spirit in me or at least some entrepreneurial foresight, I could have made that event into a carnival and made a fortune selling tickets, lemonade, souvenirs etc.



In retrospect, I imagine the A-Listers could have stood inside my hedges and had the best view, from the lawn...FREE! Others would've had to pay. I could have gotten a velvet rope and split the driveway. Up front, the loge would have had a premium price. Behind the rope, the mezzanine would have been less expensive. Beyond the hedge, on the sidewalk, the general admission, nose-bleed section would have been the cheapest.



That wheeler-dealer fantasy didn't happen. Instead, surrounded by my friends, I was an ordinary, crushed spectator watching the elegant varmint inch higher, towards my parent's bedroom window. At the height of the show, I over heard someone say, "A praying mantis is rare and because they eat cooties, they are good-guy bugs." A girl added, "Yeah, that's why the cops arrest people for killing them."



My friends and I heard that exchange and had a Pavlovian response. We turned in unison, sifted our vision through the crowd and stared at the neighborhood sociopath, (I checked to see if he was holding any rocks). He was only ten but we already knew (and were proved to be correct by the time he was fourteen) that he would be a career criminal. However, on that day, the mantis was safe because even the devil's advocate recognized this beast's majesty.



Lately, I don't know why but it seems I have had insects on my mind a lot. Of course, it is springtime. But it also might be because of my spotty knowledge of the Bible's ten plagues placed on Egypt, to encourage the Pharaoh into releasing the Jews from slavery.EDWARD G. ROBINSON, IN ONE OF THE WORST CASES OF BEING MISCAST, PLAYS THE ROLE OF DATHAN IN THE MOVIE, "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS." ALL HE WAS MISSING WAS A BIG CIGAR BECAUSE HE PLAYED THE ROLE AS 1930's GANGSTER, LITTLE CAESAR WHEN HE SAID THIS FAMOUS QUOTE, "WHERE'S YOUR MOSES, NOW?"



The good book's ten plagues included; boils, frogs and the death of first borns. Unfortunately, I see no wiggle room for glibness there. Therefore, I will concentrate today's blitherings on, "MY BOTTOM TEN BRUSHES WITH INSECTS."


NUMBER TEN - TERMITES. Termites are disgusting vermin of the highest degree. In 1988, they ate through the joists that supported the floor of my dealer school. We brought in two teams of workmen who ripped, tore and restored around the clock during a three-day weekend, to avoid forcing us to cancel Monday classes.



In a much worse instance, I woke up one Sunday morning ten years ago and saw gazillions of airborne termites on a wall inside my house. The situation intensified because my son Andrew and I fled the scene in search of the proper spray...but it was Easter Sunday. The supermarkets were closed and so were most hardware stores. After a long but fruitful search, we came back to poison those bastards. They died for their cause but got the last laugh because it was costly to fix the structural damage.



NUMBER NINE - SILVERFISH. What the hell is a silverfish? A mild nuisance, silverfish are common nocturnal, household bugs. They are small, silver (gray) and wingless. Most prefer living in bathrooms because of the humidity but can be found anywhere. Their primary sustenance is protein. They especially like to eat starch, adhesives, paper, sugar, hair and carpet.
SILVERFISH, ARE ALSO CALLED FISHMOTHS, CARPET SHARKS OR PARAMITES. ODDLY, THEIR LIFE SPAN IS TWO TO EIGHT YEARS. EVEN STRANGER, THEY CAN SURVIVE WITHOUT EATING FOR A YEAR.



I was twenty when I saw my first silverfish, at my flea market partner's apartment. He informed me that they are destructive but do not transmit disease. The only time I experienced the wrath of silverfish was I lived in Las Vegas. That's when I found my prized, 1981 San Francisco Forty-Niner yearbook destroyed, chewed up around the edges.



NUMBER EIGHT - GREEN LADY BUGS. Yuck! During a spring cleaning a long time ago here in the garden state, I discovered twenty or so green-colored lady bugs...dead, on one window sill. Right-up Alfred Hitchcock's alley, no one has ever been able to rationalize to me why they were green? How so many got in my house? Or why they all chose to die in the same place? Freaky!



NUMBER SEVEN - SLUGS. Worms can not possibly compete with slugs in terms of sliminess. They are common enough that most of us should be familiar with them. If not, slugs can best be described as snails without a shell. Nevertheless, this gastropod molusc is different. While it's true most varieties have no shell, some have small ones or internal shells. If you've never seen one, you don't have to be a detective to know where they have been. Because, they leave behind a mucus trail that rubs off as they slither across the pavement or on walls.ONE TYPE IS THE BANANA SLUG. THESE BABIES REPRESENT TO ME A DOUBLE WHAMMY; MY LEAST FAVORITE FOOD AND A DISGUSTING MEMBER OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM. PLUS, IN ADDITION TO THE YELLOW COLOR, SOME GET BROWN AND RESEMBLE AN OVER-RIPE VERSION OF THE FRUIT. AS IF WE NEED MORE OF THEM, THESE HORNY BUGGERS (above) ARE ABOUT TO GET "IT" ON!



A week ago, I touched a slug for the first time. It must have attached itself to someone's shoe because it was in the foyer of my house. At the exact second that I dropped the slippery imp into the potty, the phone rang. It was about an hour later that I remembered to come back and flush him to Hades. But alas, the sly, satanic slitherer had escaped.



In and around the toilet, I didn't see any chains, ropes or grappling hooks, so I guess this clever rascal had an accomplice. First, the local police put out an all points bulletin (APB). When that didn't work, the National Guard, US Marshall's and some bounty hunters were called in to widened the dragnet. It's been seven days now. Even though the slug is unarmed, it remains at large and is considered desperate and dangerous.



NUMBER SIX - FLEAS. Fleas are particularly nasty. Luckily with today's technology, there are products that protect our pets from such infestations. With that in mind, I am happy to announce that my dog Roxy, as itchy as she might get, has never had a flea problem.



My own shoot-out with fleas goes back twenty-five years. On that occasion while I won the war, I did lose a pair of socks and twenty minutes of my life in the battle.



In 1986, on a warm spring day at dusk, I drove to the recycling center. This waste management area had separate, elongated, metal containers for paper, glass, plastic etc. The set-up required recyclers to get out of their car and discard the reusable items into the proper bin.



Later when I got out of the car at home, I saw dozens of black dots on my white socks. When I noticed them move, I realized that I must have walked through a flea nest while recycling. I took off my socks and dropped them in a plastic bag along with the clinging bloodsuckers. I sealed their fate by tying an air-tight knot. Then I drove to the nearest convenience store and deposited the whole kit-n-caboodle in the trash can, (less than a mile away, that's why they're called convenience stores).



NUMBER FIVE - SPIDERS. One of my old poker buddies didn't have screens and kept his windows open. During a card game, it wasn't unusual for the entire insect universe to come in and visit. The only time it really was a distraction was when moths the size of 747's fluttered around the over head light. What I thought was most unusual was that our host would personally escort wayward spiders outside and delicately release them.



At my house, I smoosh spiders. I understand that they feed on other bugs but I can't stand them and their dirty webs. We get many species, in a wide variety of sizes and in strange colors too. I don't discriminate, I exterminate them all. My wife is funny because she'll scream when she sees one. Then I play the role of arachnoid hit man. After the daddy long legs in question gets liquidated, she gets upset that I executed a helpless being. That's when I mention my poker buddy and add, "If you want your spiders captured and rehabilitated, you should move in with Nature Boy."



NUMBER FOUR - CARPENTER ANTS. Similar to termites, these "ants on steroids" gnaw through wood. However, they don't eat it, they just like tunneling, to have paths to different parts of the colony.



I saw a bunch of these geniuses in my all-wood shed and got traps and insecticide. I still saw them for a while but soon forgot about them. The following spring when I used the lawn mower for the first time, the shed's floor was littered with hundreds of carpenter ant carcases...how refreshing it is to know that the products work!



NUMBER THREE - TICS. Just thinking about tics makes my skin crawl. Here in South Jersey, tics come in two main flavors, little nymphal red ones and adult deer tics, (larger black). These parasites attach to a host and burrow into their skin.



My family and I routinely pull a few tics off every year. When we find one on the dog, it become a priority to wrench it off even if it takes a long time...complete with everyone involved crying. So far we have been lucky because we have been spared a tic's most dangerous weapon...transmission of tricky Lyme disease. SOME TICS ARE THE SIZE OF A POPPY SEED. IN ADDITION TO THEIR MINUTENESS, THEY SEEK WARM BODILY CREVICES WHICH MAKES THEM HARDER TO FIND.



The classic early symptoms of Lyme disease are: fever, headache, fatigue, depression and a bulls eye-shaped rash. If left untreated by antibiotics, the victim might suffer damage to their joints, heart and central nervous system. If treatment starts late, the healing process can be painful and lingering.



NUMBER TWO - LOCUSTS. Locusts, (grasshoppers) were one of the biblical plagues. When they swarm, they can eat their own weight every day. Locusts generally destroy crops and natural foliage but some even eat leather. NO SINGLE PHOTO CAN DO JUSTICE TO THE UBIQUITOUS PRESENCE OF LOCUSTS. A SWARM CAN COVER A HUNDRED SQUARE MILES AND INCLUDE BILLIONS OF THESE BADDIES.



When I bought my townhouse in Las Vegas, LTJEFF helped me roll an empty cable spool over the cinder block wall of my tiny backyard. On that patio, I raised peppers, tomatoes and squash and projected using the spool as a table.



On the TV news, just before the Easter Sunday weather report, we heard that locust infestations occur in seven-year cycles and this was the seventh year. The report said that parts of the valley, especially where there were gardens were being overrun. Being a cynical New Yorker, I gave the story no validity.



Later, I looked down at the yard and couldn't believe my eyes, the concrete slab and the flower beds were completely obscured by locusts. Even the top of the cable spool table was halfway covered with grasshoppers. I went down stairs to get a better look. But before I got to my sliding screen door, I saw that the shag carpet of my living room had been infiltrated with about thirty of them. I noticed more squeezing through a crack between the door's bent frame and the wall. I was so revolted that I thought I would lose my lunch. A can of Raid later, the interior of my condo was secure. But I NEVER sat on the floor of my living room again.



NUMBER ONE - TOMATO WORMS. What an accomplishment it was for a city boy to overcome the plague of freakin' locusts and have a flourishing garden in the desert. Well, to tell the truth, my bell peppers never got bigger than a fifty-cent piece and tasted sour. However, I grew huge delicious squash. The crop was so abundant that we ate it every possible way, every day, until we got tired of it. We gave tons to friends, neighbors and coworkers and still threw a lot away or used them as toys.



My garden's bugaboo (pun intended) was the beef steak tomatoes.

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT, NOTICE HOW LUSH MY GARDEN WAS. IF IT HAD PRODUCED HEALTHY TOMATOES IT WOULD HAVE MADE IT ON THE HIGHLIGHT REEL OF MY LIFE. ALSO, PLEASE DON'T THINK THAT I'M EXPRESSING SOUR GRAPES WHEN I SAY, I STILL HAD PLENTY OF FUN IN MY GARDEN.



My tomatoes were plentiful, big and ripened to a perfect color. The few that were actually harvested were delicious but more than 90% had thick, ugly worms inside. My tomato crop was the focal point of the garden but the worms made the whole project a disaster. I couldn't understand how in the middle of the desert, this particular strain of worm knew to come to my house. Later, I learned that the plants I bought were already infected with them. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't make me feel better.



At one point, I was so frustrated that I pulled fifteen of these weasels off my wholly tomatoes and piled them in my hibachi. Then I got lighter fluid and a match. Burn baby burn, a tomato worm inferno! Whatever slim degree of joy I got was lost when I was overcome by the stink. Burnt tomato worms had to be the worst smell ever! Even a sumo wrestler taking a dump on a burning tire would have smelled like roses compared to this.



My bottom ten brushes with insects isn't really comprehensive because I left out my many bee stories. I purposely omitted them because they have already been included in previous blogs.



More importantly, when you consider the bigger insect-world picture, you'll now have a deeper respect for the Cadillac of bugs, the praying mantis.