Monday, July 25, 2011


My four and a half years at Brooklyn College...a.k.a., thirteenth grade only served to prolong my childhood. WHILE ATTENDING BC, I HAD MANY ADMIRERS WHO LOOKED UP TO ME. OF COURSE MOST OF THEM USED THEIR GREAT EDUCATION AND WENT ON TO LEAD PRODUCTIVE LIVES.

When I graduated, (June 1977), my protective, zero-responsibility umbrella called schooling, closed up. It is safe to say that the next fifteen months of my weltschmertz-filled life was not a smooth transition into adulthood.

By August 1978, the pressure of dim horizons were crashing in on me. Until a glimmer of hope poked through my gray clouds of uncertainty during a weekend in Atlantic City. While visiting a friend of a friend, I stumbled across a stray casino supervisor's pay stub. When I focused on this boxman's "gross pay" field, the allure of money swayed me.

The gaming industry was a burgeoning infant, on its way to becoming a global giant. Economic forecasts suggested that long-term careers in this suddenly corporate, (respectable), business included, plentiful opportunities, good pay and generous benefits. If that wasn't incentive enough for me, there was also the convenience of a dealer training academy on West 32nd Street, in Manhattan.

I remained non-committal for several weeks. During this period of idling, I noticed what seemed like everybody I knew, either already gone from my neighborhood or leaving. I dreaded being left behind. I consulted a friend, Mr. K., who left Canarsie two years earlier to become a craps dealer in Reno. He painted a rosy picture of casino life and encouraged me to take the plunge.

Even with the support of my local friends, I still wasn't able to pull the trigger. Until destiny exploded in my face between late night episodes of, "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND," and "THE TWILIGHT ZONE." It was a sexy commercial for the, "NEW YORK SCHOOL OF GAMBLING." I was smitten. I visited the facility and without hesitation, signed up.

The school's student body could be lumped into two main categories. Three-quarters were seeking employment in Atlantic City and the rest in Las Vegas, (with a minute faction heading elsewhere).

I hung-out with the Vegas-bound bunch. The personalities in this group was a microcosm of high school. It was easy for me to avoid stoners, criminal wannabes and weirdos. Of course the jet-setters wanted no part of me, so I gravitated to the earthy, regular guys and jocks.

My clique was a solid ten-man group. Slowly, the one's who preceded me, graduated and moved to Las Vegas. Ciro, my closest friend made his move in November. He took my phone number and said he would call when he was settled.

I landed in Las Vegas the first week of January 1979. The school's free, job placement service set me up to work at the same place as Ciro, the Slots-A-Fun Casino. When I contacted him, Ciro invited me to sleep on his floor until I got on my feet.

When I got to his tiny place downtown on South Tenth Street, my first impression, (from outside), was that it was a hovel. While knocking on the door, I guessed that the inside was a pigsty.

Ciro ushered me in. From noon's bright sunshine, I entered his dark, stinking lair. Through a thick gray-blue haze of stale cigarette and marijuana smoke, I saw his frat-house-like two-bedroom apartment. My eye gravitated to the sink full of dirty dishes. Then to a cockroach scurrying across the counter between a crushed Olympia Beer can and a generic scotch bottle laying on its side.

I was there twenty seconds and I already sped-up my mind in reverse to recall reading the Stardust marquee, advertising eighteen-dollar rooms. Ciro interrupted my daydream and said, "You're in luck. The Chief, (his roommate Bob Bailey from school) was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning." When I raised my eyebrows he added, "That means that John Heaverlo can sleep in his bed, LUPY can now take the couch and you can push these two chairs beats the floor."

The school had placed Bob Bailey at the California Club. John Heaverlo started at the El Cortez the day before and LUPY got hooked-up at the Lady Luck, (but he took one look at that dump and struck out on his own...with no success).

Ciro offered me some instant coffee. I refused as he led me to the sofa. He pushed aside an over flowing ashtray and a non-value stack of poker chips before setting his mug on the coffee table, (a slat of wall paneling propped up by two piles of Popular Mechanics Magazines). He told me that even though Slots-A-Fun was on the fabulous Las Vegas "strip," it was still one of the worst jobs in town, (but slightly better than the Lady Luck). He said he took the city bus to work and added that the others walked to their downtown casinos.

John Heaverlo was a little older than the rest of us. He was married and planned on sending back to Poughkeepsie for his wife when he established himself. John was also the only one of us with a car. So Ciro thought it would be a good idea to borrow Heaverlo's 1971 Buick Skylark and give me a guided tour.

John agreed as long as we didn't mess-up the back seat and trunk because even though they were packed solid with his stuff, he knew exactly where to find everything.

Once Ciro got the okay, the first thing he did was leave his apartment in his ratty, light blue, terry-cloth robe wearing black socks. Three minutes later, he came back with two (stolen) newspapers. From each, he ripped out a Silver Nugget Casino coupon, for an eight-ounce beer and a cup of chili for twenty-five cents.


Ciro drove to Slots-A-Fun first. He suggested that I check-in with them...I refused. We drove the length of strip. Along the way, he gave me an estimate on how much the craps dealer made in each place. Caesar's Palace and the MGM were tied at the top...alone at the bottom was Slots-A-Fun.

At Tropicana Avenue, we got on the freeway and returned downtown. Back in the low-rent district, we cruised Fremont Street. Again Ciro told me how much tip income was generated at each casino. He put Binion's Horseshoe at the top, (less than half of Caesar's) and the Nevada Club neck and neck with the Lady Luck at the bottom of the dung heap. Only this time, he added the extra dimension of telling me the who's who of our schoolmates and where they were working.

A few blocks up, Ciro pointed out John Heaverlo's casino, (the El Cortez). He said, "Hal Mair works there too. They average twenty-two dollars a day." At the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard, we turned left. In a few streets, we crossed Bonanza Avenue and entered the next town, North Las Vegas.

The Silver Nugget was a clean and modern casino with a big empty parking lot. Like walking into a cathedral, you could hear a pin drop on the spacious, low-limit casino floor. We did a superficial loop of the property and saw few customers. Ciro encouraged me to take my first shot on their craps table. After I timidly refused, he led me to their southwestern-themed, Wagon Wheel Cafe.

The large restaurant was bright, cheery and completely empty. We waited at the sign that read; PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED. A young, stuttering, redhead with a Kayla, TRAINEE name tag greeted us. When she dropped the lamented menus, a much older hostess named Dixie bolted out of the kitchen.

Dixie's deeply wrinkled face and liver-spotted arms coupled with the most unnaturally dyed blond beehive hairdo made her look like she was a hundred. In a coarse southern accent that suggested that she gargled with lye, Dixie reamed-out Kayla for her lack of eye-contact with us and the angle of her elbow while handling the menus.

Teary-eyed Kayla was humiliated and stormed away. So aloof Dixie escorted us to a table. Ciro asked her to wait as he emptied his pants pockets onto the table. He placed down John Heaverlo's car keys, a box of Marlboros and a book of matches from the Dunes.

Dixie said in a huff, "Well..." Ciro said, "Wait...," as he put his apartment keys, glasses case and wallet down. He looked puzzled until he said, "Oh, I have them here." That's when he took the two coupons out of his shirt pocket and said, "We should show you these first, right?" Dixie looked at him with contempt and rasped, "What else will you gentlemen be having?" Ciro pushed his menu an inch closer to her and said, "That's it."

When she was gone I said, "Boy, what a sourpuss, she was disgusted with us." Ciro said, "Yeah, the Wicked Bitch of the West...I could tell she really hated careful, she might spit in your chili." I gave him an uneven smile and said, "She wouldn't...?"

We watched from thirty feet away as the menus slipped out of Kayla's grip as she greeted three women. Luckily, this time she managed to grab them before they hit the floor. She looked over her shoulder but Dixie was nowhere to be found. Seconds later, Kayla's serious, freckled face smiled when Ciro gave her the thumbs-up sign as she lead her party by us.

A minute later, sobbing Kayla came out of the kitchen with our order. She set down two Silver Nugget, Wagon Wheel Cafe napkins with caricatures of chili peppers in sombreros. Then without spilling a drop, she cautiously put our coffee cups filled with chili on top.


Kayla's voice quivered as she said, "W-w-will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "Are you okay?" She said, "I-I'm supposed to be a hostess but my boss is so mean that the waitress just quit. I don't know what I'm doing and now Eddie the cook saw her go into Mr. Atkinson's office. She's screaming about firing me too. But I don't care...I'll just go back to McDonald's." She took a deep breath, put our short beers on the table and said, "Will there be anything else?" Ciro said, "If it isn't too much trouble, how about some more crackers and some Tabasco sauce too." Her broad smile revealed a mouth full of braces as she said, "You might want to try the chili first."

When she came back Kayla set down our 53c check with the coupons stapled to it. Then she put down a basket of Saltines, the hot sauce and two glasses of water. Kayla said, "If you're fixin' to put more Tabasco in that, you'll need all these." Ciro slipped her two dollars and said, "You'll be okay whatever happens. Trust me, you're very nice." Seconds later Dixie's voice boomed from up front, "How long are you gonna make these good folks wait for a table?"

Ciro and I were done "eating" in a minute. But his mouth was on fire. He gobbled up all the extra crackers and doused the fire in his mouth with the rest of his beer and both of our waters. So it surprised me that the first thing he said was, "Where's that $%#$&! Dixie?" I said, "I don't see her." Ciro said, "Let's dine and dash." I said, "Heh?" He said, "That girl is getting fired anyway, c'mon, let's beat this toilet for the check." I wasn't in Las Vegas twenty-four hours and after refusing many of his other suggestions, I was ready to become a felon. I said, "Okay."

Ciro worked around the piles of spent Saltine wrappers and gathered his possessions as Dixie came in from the casino and went into the kitchen. We could hear her screaming at Kayla as Ciro said, "Let's go, go, go."

Ciro and I walked fast, left the restaurant, crossed the casino and continued outside. We were laughing at John Heaverlo's car as the smile vanished from Ciro's face. He started emptying his pockets on the hood of the Buick. The one thing missing was Heaverlo's keys. Ciro cursed and went back in. He wasn't smiling when he came back and said, "That $%#$&! Dixie was waiting for me. She was twirling Johnny's key ring on her middle finger when she said, 'forget something, low-life?'" I said, "What did you do?" "What could I do? I gave her a five and grabbed the keys."

We were about to pull out when Kayla exited the casino. Ciro called her over and asked, "Did Dixie fire you?" She beamed, "Hell no, I quit!" Ciro said, "That sucks. But hey, give me your phone number and we'll go out and have a good time." Kayla said, "Go out with you? Go to hell, low-life."

Monday, July 18, 2011


OUCH! Who wants to talk about pain? No one does...but we will.

"MR. LUCKY," one of coworkers once said, "Never complain about pain because the guy you're telling...might have it worse."

When my son was born, my wife Sue endured nineteen hours of labor. She went through excruciating pain and at one point begged for the epidural that never came. I have often joked that if I witnessed the end of her experience first, I would have immediately fainted.

Moments after our prize came into the world, Sue's gurney was wheeled out of the birthing room and back to her private suite. In those sparse seconds in the hall, I heard another future mom's interwoven tapestry of profanity, melded perfectly with agonized screams of uterine distress. It was at that precise second, (as if I needed more evidence), that I gained a better insight as to the astronomical hurt level involved in bearing a child...and how that pain is dealt with by different people. Either way, I concede that none of the following examples of pain could possibly come close to the rigors of motherhood.

In the eighties, for three years, my business sponsored a Casino League softball team. I recall only one noteworthy injury.

Unfortunately, it is human nature to laugh at the misfortunes of others. Think about it, slapstick comedy is founded on this principal, (slipping on a banana peel, exploding cigars or the ever-popular knee in the groin, are the ultimate in this type of humor).

So I confess to laughing when our catcher broke his pinkie in a home plate collision. Mind you, this was NOT a compound fracture...nobody will ever compare this incident with the tragedy that ended NFL quarterback Joe Theismann's fact, I was certain my poor little insurance liability only suffered a sprain.

From the way my big and burly catcher sounded, you'd think this galoot had a deep, paper cut under a finger nail from a razor blade. So that's why, I, like many of his teammates found his reaction (hopping around and screaming like a twelve-year old girl), to be funny.

I rushed him to the hospital. On the way, I had to hide my smirk and come-off as supportive as this damaged soul whined and cursed. The situation worsened (for me) in the ER because I was stuck by his side...and had to watch him maintain a vice-grip on his right wrist as he moaned and groaned for an hour.

It was difficult for me ignore his repeated whimpering of, "It's broke, help me, I know it's broke." In the beginning, I thought he was just "screaming" out for attention but after a while, I interrupted his fixation, caved-in and re-examined his finger.

I guess we all have different thresholds of pain. Even though he came off like a tough-guy in the past, you can never understand what someone is feeling internally. I patted his shoulder and conceded, "Yeah, maybe it's broke," when I remembered the paradox of a body-builder from my youth who was afraid of heights.

I went to the receptionist to try to hurry our wait along. When I was returning to my seat, I found our exactly how much intestinal fortitude my disabled buddy had.

Two nice-looking girls in short-shorts came in. When they passed, neither of them looked as if they were in disrepair, so I assumed they were visiting. The taller one was wearing a men's Everlast, boxer tank-top...which was trendy at that time. This fashion statement featured an exaggerated arm hole that was cut low into both sides of the shirt. It also had a more narrow than usual strip of fabric at the breast. What made this "look" more unique was that she wasn't wearing a bra. While the smaller girl filled out forms, Ms. Everlast sat quite comfortably in her modesty, as one, if not both of her boobs were alternately, fully exposed.

This was serious business...there was nothing slapstick about it. That's why my wounded warrior like everyone else in the room, (including me), quietly gawked at her. The next time my catcher griped about his affliction was when the view of the bosomy free-show became blocked by an unprofessional precession of health care employees (both male and female) who came out of the back-of-the-house to parade through the lobby, to check her out.

When the novelty of the girl wore thin, my catcher's dismay returned as a low muttering. If I still had lingering doubts about the legitimacy of his "unbearable" pain, that all ended when two men burst through the ER's doorway. They were dragging in a third man with what looked like a metal spike sticking out of his bloody face.

In the split second they hurried by, my player and I caught a quick, grisly glimpse of the victim. We overheard the men explain to the receptionist that a screwdriver snapped and the broken shaft stuck in this poor bastard's eye. Without filling out paperwork, they were ushered right in...and Mr. Broken Pinkie never uttered another word.

When I dealt craps at Hotel Fremont in Las Vegas (February 1980), my crew was talking about pain while standing dead. A fellow dealer, (Captain Johnny), told us a gut-wrenching story, (he hated being called Johnny and didn't like any references to his army rank. But we called him that because...for someone who saw as much active combat in Vietnam as he claimed, he couldn't make the simplest decision...and far worse, was afraid solicit tips from the players).

We were all expecting to hear of physical or mental tribulation at the hands of the enemy. Instead, he said his platoon was surrounded by the Vietcong and cut off for a week. Supplies were being air-lifted in but instead of clean water, the only drinks were cans of Coca-Cola. He said that after three days, he developed incredible pain in his side. The medic gave him pain killers. But he was still so bad off that he was forced to temporarily relinquish his command because he was reduced to writhing in his foxhole, for the next three days. Then Captain Johnny explained that; like peeing rusty razor blades, he passed a kidney stone...the size of a cigarette filter. When I heard that, with my eyes open, everything went black. If my supervisor wasn't there to prop me up, I would have gone down.

Johnny's experience in no way helped me get through my kidney stones. Seven years ago after an hour of sleep, I woke up with an awful pain in my side. I couldn't lay, sit or stand. For five hours, I tried everything I could think of. My wife wasn't home so I waited until my son woke, to let him know I was going to the hospital.

My three days there were spent waiting for me to pass the stone. Rather than use a laser and annihilate it, the more cost effective policy for the hospital was to wait and see if I naturally passed it.

Even with the pain killers, the image of a stone the size of a cigarette filter getting passed was tormenting. On the second day, the genius doctor told me that the x-rays showed that the kidney stone was obstructed. He said, "Tomorrow, I'm going in."

I was lulled into thinking that I didn't need my meds. At 3:00AM, I woke up in excruciating pain. I called for the night nurse but nobody came. Suddenly, the only two bites of the first solid food I had eaten there erupted up from my stomach. In a panic, I ripped off all my feeder tubes but my mad dash for the restroom came up short. The orderlies were scrubbing the blood soaked walls and disinfecting the remnants of my tuna sandwich off floor for an hour.

In January 1987, I was demonstrating a craps technique to a casino class. Suddenly like a bolt of lightning, I felt a deep stabbing sensation in my back. My legs felt a numb and I was helped to a chair as the agony increased. There was no sign of relief. I was crying buckets of tears during the comedy of errors when I was loaded into a car.

At the Atlantic City Medical Center, I was told I was lucky to only have a MILD strain of my lower lumbar...and released. My wife alone took me home. This "mild" strain cost me a half hour of my life...just getting out of the car, wobbling a few steps to a staircase, up one flight, down an exterior forty-foot corridor and another twenty feet into our apartment's bedroom.

I was thinking; just kill me, as I struggled to find a comfortable position (on my side). Sue tucked me in bed and ran out to fill the pain management and muscle relaxant prescription. While she was gone there was a knock on the door. I could not get up (maybe, if there was a fire I could). Plus, it was too far to yell; who is it? Ten minutes later the telephone rang. The phone was out of reach...I let it ring. After about thirty rings, I inched out of my comfort zone and re-lived the intense pain. When I picked up, it was Sue, (that was her at the door and she had to drive back to a convenience store to call).

She told me that in the confusion, she took a set of car keys without an apartment key. Without help, I was forced to crawl to open the door. I spent the next nine days in bed. Sue came home to spend her lunch hour with me and empty bed pans.

The first day on my feet, I woke-up to a twenty-four inch blizzard. I wasn't supposed to go out but poor Sue was using a kitchen trash can to scoop away snow from our cars. Stripped of all my testosterone, the feeling of uselessness overpowered me. Until a heroic student from the school (Robert Francis) who lived in our complex, organized the tenants to work as a team...and clear the roads and free-up cars.

To add insult to injury, my first morning back to work was a sunny but frigid ten degrees. The highway was clear but along the way, I got a flat. Few good Samaritans perform their magic when it's that cold. So I hung a white rag on the radio aerial and waited.

Just shivering from the cold was torturing my back but I had to do something. I soon found out that I was "stuck" in more ways than one. First, I was determined to put myself back in the hospital and stupidly decided to fix my own flat. Then I found out that even I couldn't sabotage my lower lumbar because the jack was "stuck," frozen to the wall of my trunk.

Mr. Lucky was right. When I look back at my worst experiences, I think I should consider myself blessed. Of course the pain of the past is a moot point until something new comes up. Yes I got struck again last week with the granddaddy of all toothaches.

It started while I was on vacation last Friday. I figured the pain would go away but it became more acute. During the day I survived on aspirin. That night the jack hammering throb in my tooth expanded up the wall of my outer gum to the roof of my mouth and down throughout my lower jaw. I got practically zero sleep.

On Sunday my cheek was so swollen that I looked like a right-handed squirrel. I bought Ora-Gel. Are you kidding? It did NOTHING! One application useless... ten applications, still nothing! What a waste of hope, time, energy and ten bucks. In the furthest corner of our utility closet, I found the tiniest relief in the form of expired pain killers. They helped give me three hours of choppy sleep.

Oops! In the shuffle, I forgot I had jury duty on Monday. Everyone I spoke to asked if I was sick. I held my jaw for eight-hours, got through that boring ordeal and wasn't picked. I went to bed at midnight full of expired pills and woke up just after 5:00AM. At exactly 9:01AM, I called my dentist. The joke was on me, Tuesdays were the only day of week they didn't open until eleven.

I was diagnosed with an abscessed gum from a disintegrating crown. I was given antibiotics and sent home. I'm okay now. The area will be re-evaluated in August. My dentist said that the infection will return if I don't have it properly treated. Trust me, there's no way I would allow that to happen twice...if I can help it. My two options will be surgery or getting what's left of the tooth yanked. Either way, I'm NOT going through that again.

More importantly, I hope my readers can't relate to any of this. But pain is a reality. So I hope all the future moms in my audience have mild labors and for everyone else...when it seems you can't bear another second of agony, I hope the right person for your taste appears in a most distracting level of undress.

Monday, July 11, 2011



While watching, like radar, the little antennae in my head rose up when the detectives made a point to go to the library for information, to help investigate their case.

Something didn't set right with me. Being a member of the, "JUNIOR SHERLOCK HOLMES CLUB," to satisfy my need to know, I pressed the red, candy-like "SELECT/OK," button on my remote. In a split second, I discovered that the show was produced in 1994. 1994? Wasn't that yesterday? Are you kidding me, New York City detectives didn't have access to the Internet in 1994...astounding!

When you consider the advancements available today, I hate to admit it but I'm still technologically challenged...and intimidated. Why, just last night, the fragments of my poker buddies were hanging out. Somebody mentioned a funny segment from an old TV show I never heard of. While he struggled to put the routine's exact wording together, someone else quietly pulled out their Android. In seconds, we all saw this bit, on his phone. Baffling and amazing...isn't it.

I'm baffled and amazed because in my generation (TV offered channels 2-13 only and the concept of movie rentals was as ridiculous as having Big Foot as a next door neighbor). That meant, if you missed something on TV, your chance to see it when it was still relevant to you, was nearly impossible.

I remember something like that happening to me as a teenager. SLW and some other friends were telling me about the 1939 movie, "THE ROARING TWENTIES." I was jealous how they laughed when quoting Cagney and Bogart. Due to the technology limitations of the time, I felt left out and wouldn't see that classic for years.

The theme of the movie, set against the Prohibition-era of the 1920's, is that life has its ups and downs. This stark point is made clear by Cagney's character, (the former good, bad guy who is now down on his luck). On Christmas Eve, after killing the bad, bad guy (Bogart), he is chased by an insignificant henchman and gunned-down, on a snowy street. At a church, with his last bit of strength, he struggles up a few cement steps. Halfway up, he stumbles down a few steps, collapses and dies.

His unrequited girlfriend and the beat-cop get to the body simultaneously. She says, "He's dead." The cop asks, "Well, who is this guy?" She says, "This is Eddie Bartlett." He says, "Well, how're you hooked up with him?" She says, "I could never figure that out." The cop says, "What was his business?" And the girl says, "He used to be a big shot."

When I look back at my own tumultuous twenties, I see some parallels. Without a care in the world, I graduated Brooklyn College but found no work. In the movie, WWI ended and the heroic main characters returned from the war to find themselves unemployed.

In my mid-twenties, I spent five years in Vegas and tip-toed around all forms of temptation on the road to beating the odds and doing well. In the movie, Cagney and his friends become "Boot-Leggers."

As my twenties were ending, while at the top, with my horizons widening, I gambled by coming back east. I re-united with my family, got married and started a business. In 1929, the stock market crash signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

I felt immortal. My life was going quite swimmingly throughout my thirties. To paraphrase Billy Crystal; It isn't important how you feel, it's how you look...and I looked marvelous. I didn't have a line in my face, I had no gray hair, high blood pressure happened to other people and I didn't need glasses.

Then as if turning off a light switch, when I hit forty, everything changed. This harsh reality became apparent when my wife, infant son and I were on vacation in San Diego, (December 1995). While in paradise, I noticed my complexion become severely dry. The skin on the bottom of my feet cracked and my itchy arms and legs were suddenly hairless. I rationalized the problem stemming from the foreign environment. It was an easy choice to ignore my difficulties because all the little aches and pains I always had in the past, seemed to go-away on their own.

Unfortunately, the home field advantage didn't help. My problems worsened and I developed new, more acute symptoms. I could no longer remain in denial. I didn't research my suffering because I didn't have fingertip access to the information superhighway. So by the time March (1996) rolled around, I realized I was no longer a big shot. In fact, with my father's passing a year earlier, I quietly convinced myself that I too was dying.

At that point, I was living here in New Jersey about twelve years and never had a reason to visit a doctor. So on the recommendation of a coworker, I made an appointment on the blind. This gentleman must have been a good doctor because his waiting room was crammed with men, women and children.

An hour later, I was permitted by the receptionist to rise up out of the waiting room and into the inner sanctum.  When I finally reached Oz, the doctor listened as I told him about my dry skin and hair loss. Then I added that I was too weak to shampoo my hair, brush my teeth or write a check without taking a rest. When I said my speech was affected by large pimples on my tongue, he cut me off. Like a clairvoyant, he rattled off, "Are you experiencing muscle spasms in your fingers, arms and legs? Are you extremely itchy? Are you unusually cold? Then as if if I was responding to faith-healer, I said, "Yes doctor, yes, yes..." He said, "Are you feeling depressed? Are you gaining weight?" "Yes, yes doctor!"

His snap (correct) diagnosis was an under-active thyroid. He painted a rosy picture, that with the proper medication, I could lead a perfectly normal life with my hypothyroidism. His course of action began with a low dosage prescription. It would be followed by bi-weekly blood tests and adjustments in my medication until the right dose was found.

My ensuing visits typically included an hour in the waiting room. Once I was brought in to the examining room, a nurse would take a blood sample and I'd have a brief consultation with the doctor...five minutes, tops!

The doctor and his support staff couldn't have been friendlier, more supportive or knowledgeable. The problem was the wait time. On my third visit, on the way out, I voiced my concern about the wait time to the receptionist. She said, "On Tuesday and Thursday, the doctor sees patients at night. If you're the first appointment at 7:00PM, you should be in and out."

When my Thursday night appointment rolled around, I was faced with postponing because my wife had an emergency away from home. Rather than put it off, I decided to take my twenty-two month old son Andrew with me. He was an unusually calm little guy and I figured I could keep him occupied for a few minutes.

To further assure that I'd be taken right away, I purposely arrived at the doctor's office five minutes early. To my chagrin, there were seven patients ahead of me. To make matters worse, at night I didn't recognize any of the staff's faces. I got a harsh glare from the receptionist when I said, "I have the first appointment." She said, "So does everyone else."

I brought an arsenal of activities to distract my boy. I read his favorite book, sang silly songs and helped him play with his toys. After ten minutes, he started losing interest. He started toddling through the oblong waiting room. Most of the waiters smiled pleasantly but after fifteen more minutes, Andrew became more curious and vocal. We still had three folks ahead of me and people were losing their patience.

When a woman complained, a nurse who was a combination of Nurse Ratched and the Wicked Witch of the West whispered me the riot act. Before I could counter by saying I was a victim of circumstance or that I was told there would be no wait, the bitch put her finger to her lips and and said, "Shush." One of my symptoms was a shorter temper. But due to the situation, I was able to avoid going off on her.

It was forty minutes before that same nurse led Andrew and I into the examining room. I was getting into the blood sample seat when she said in a huffy tone, "What is the nature of this visit?" I was angry but with my son there I didn't lash out; you got my frickin' chart in front of you. Instead I said, "I'm here to give a blood sample." With a spiteful smirk she said, "We don't take blood at night."

I lost it. She screamed. I yelled back and in seconds the doctor came in to finally see well as every member of the staff and several patients. The doctor said, "I'm sorry, but this behavior..." I cut him off, "Don't worry, you'll never see me again!" On our way out, I started to call the nurse some more unkind things when the doctor interrupted. That's when I interjected, "And you, don't know how to run an office!"

I went to another doctor and got straightened out. Sixteen years later, I still take my meds on time and my thyroid is an invisible factor in my life. Yeah, I got lines in my face, my hair is all gray, my blood pressure goes through the roof without my pills and I could never type this without my glasses. But I still look (and feel) marvelous. Maybe I'll get them to etch into my grave stone; HE WAS STILL A BIG SHOT TILL THE END.

More importantly, you don't have to be a brainiac or well-versed in this automated age to know that; life has its ups and downs. That's why when you have a chance to, "go for it," without hurting anyone, you should. Because you never know if you'll have that opportunity again.

Monday, July 4, 2011


In 500 BC, at a Chinese restaurant owner convention in Peking, keynote speaker Confucius said; To attain eternal transcendental bliss, it is far better to fill one's stomach and fulfill one's soul, at a Chinese restaurant...where other Asians eat.

Of course, down through the ages this orthodox stance has gained some flexibility.

Groucho Marx was the host of the, "YOU BET YOUR LIFE SHOW." He asked an Asian contestant, "Where are you from?" In a strong oriental accent the man said, "Jackson Mississippi." "Oh," said Groucho, "what do you do?" The man said, "I own a Chinese restaurant." Groucho looked puzzled and said, "Why would you open a Chinese restaurant in Mississippi?" The man said, "No competition."

The moral of the story is, no matter where you are from, people take going to a Chinese restaurant so seriously that it becomes a religious experience. I believe this to be true...for me, my family and much of the people where I grew up, (Brooklyn).

Like going to most houses of worship, we ate Chinese food on Sundays. In my neighborhood, (Canarsie), there were several places to choose from but Joy Teang on Rockaway Parkway was the one we flocked to.


The problem with Joy Teang was that everyone else flocked there too. Such pilgrimages caused long waits for a table. Therefore an exodus out of the neighborhood, of biblical proportion became typical. It became a search for the holy grail...a great Chinese restaurant with no wait.


In my youth, the preservation of a family's personal, cozy restaurant became as secretive as the Dead Sea Scrolls. When Crusaders found a worthwhile eatery that fit into their parochial parameters, they withheld this information even from friends and secondary relatives, lest the heavenly body would become an overrun hell.

Soon, it was considered an eleventh commandment to NOT spread the name of such a hot new restaurant. Like a pagan ritual, it got so bad that families threatened their kin with excommunication if they divulged the location of their last supper (of the week).

Like a nomadic tribe, my family criss-crossed our borough and auditioned many places. One was across from the WATCHTOWER newspaper building by the Brooklyn Bridge, another next to Prospect Park looked like a monastery and the one in Coney Island had a Hari Krishna waiter.

I must confess some of the restaurants proved to be false idols (food wasn't good), a couple were unwashed deities in need of redemption and still others were seemingly pure but suffered from the sin of long lines.


Around 1970, in the East New York section, (on Linden Boulevard across from Gershwin Junior High), we found spiritual oneness with the universe at a cathedral called, "THE HAPPY INN." Immediately, my Aunt Mary sensed that we found our utopia and asked my dad about it. Pop wasn't about to risk fire and brimstone. He patted her husband on the shoulder, admitted nothing and said, "Am I to be my brother's keeper?"

Until recently, I lit a candle of praise every Sunday, in honor of this pagoda of gastric delights. You see, we had gotten in on the ground floor and soon George the owner/manager became a father figure. Inside the door, he'd greet us at an altar-like rostrum and hand us his good book (the menu). In no time, we memorized each sacred passage and eventually, we were ready to chant our order before settling into our reserved pew.

For about five years, my family dined there 75% of all Sundays. We were such devoted parishioners that we had my sister's sweet sixteen there. George became a customer of my dad and the restaurant placed a quarter page ad in my football team's program. The only reason I converted and stopped eating there was, I got a driver's license.

Once I had my wheels, the sacrament of going anywhere in mass with my parents pretty much ended. That's when road trips with my friends into Manhattan's consecrated land known as Chinatown became enlightening.

At first, we sacrificed our time, energy and waistlines in places like the Pell Street Mandarin Inn, The Kambo Rice Shop, Lin's Garden and #8 Canal Street (I can't remember the name). But once we found Mecca in the form of Wo Hop, (17 Mott Street), breaking a fast in any other chop suey joint became sacrilege.


A few years later in 1979, I moved to Las Vegas. I was shocked and dismayed to find out what they called Chinese food. Along the way to seeing the light, three Chinese restaurant incidents in Vegas stand out.

When I first got to town, my initial baptism under fire was when I dealt at the worst job in town, the Slots-A-Fun Casino. I befriended a much older blackjack dealer named Jesse, (he was thirty-eight). Each night, he got picked up by Eve, his twenty-one year old, incredibly ugly, floozy of a girlfriend.

One day, Jesse didn't show up for work. At the end of my shift, he and Eve appeared at the time office. After he quit our serpent pit, he told me that he got hired at a temple of atonement called the California Club. Jesse was all smiles when he said, "This is the gospel, my tip income is going to quadruple." Then he insisted on taking me to dinner to celebrate.

I didn't need to be prophetic to guess that the shithouse he took me to, (an open-air luncheonette with a Polynesian theme), would have the worst Chinese food. Instead of eating at a table, Jesse had us served at the horseshoe bar. He didn't mind the crappy food because he was sucking down God's blood in the form of double scotches.

Across the bar from us was a single girl about my age. Jesse could barely stand when he rose up and called out to her, "My friend here is alone, are you bi, gay or straight?" The only thing that shielded me from this grossly embarrassing moment was that the girl abandoned her plastic pineapple cocktail and walked out.

The following are excerpts from my short story, "FREDDY THE FINGER."

One year later, I was anointed with the divine privilege of becoming a Vegas Strip craps dealer, at the Stardust Casino. About a year into my service, I gave Freddy Cantor, (my sleeping supervisor), a heads-up. He called me a saint and reacted as though my wake-up call not only saved his job but his soul too. He wanted desperately to repay my kindness. But with different schedules it was difficult to get together especially when we added in his wife and my girlfriend (my wife Sue).

One day Freddy said, "You like lobster?" I said, "Yeah." "Well call your girl, I switched my days off and on Monday, me and Estelle are taking you guys to the Tillerman." He then jabbed one of his nine remaining fingers into my ribs and added, "And for you my savior, the sky's the limit."

An hour before our date with destiny, Freddy called. From his tone, I expected him to renege on our arrangement. I didn't care because he had a reputation as a bullshit artist. If anything, I was shocked that he had carried out the charade this long.

Surprisingly, rather than canceling, he changed the plans by groaning, "Estelle isn't in the mood for seafood. How about we meet for chinks at Jung Jie's?" Before I could speak he added, "They make a lobster Cantonese, to die for."

While getting acquainted at Jung Jie's bar, Sue and I discovered that Estelle, a heavyset six-footer, was an over bearing, obnoxious woman who never stopped yammering on about her self. She was a real estate agent and even wore her gold, Century 21 blazer to prove it. She rattled off some of her celebrity clients, the hefty commissions she had earned and handed us her business card. Then she suggested that we come to her office and see all her awards.

Freddy stared at this female Satan, like she was a Goddess as Sue and I rolled our eyes in despair. But Estelle out did herself by asking us a series of personal questions. Afterwards she said, "Now we can talk turkey. Then I'll put you kids into your dream house." While I choked on my Budweiser, I wanted to scream but big mouth Estelle stole my thunder by calling across the room to Cristian, the maitre d. While he escorted our congregation to a table, Estelle spoke in fluent Mandarin with him.

On the way, even the Buddha statue was annoyed by Estelle. When she passed, I saw it crying tears of blood. After we were seated, we weren't given menus. When Estelle saw the lost look on my face she said, "I took the liberty of ordering for the table." She had no idea that I was a connoisseur of fine Chinese food and that Sue was an advanced aficionado.

I don't think our prayers were answered because the meal she selected for us was the poor plate special. We each got plain won ton soup. The appetizer was a tasteless yet greasy spring roll. Then to cap off this "extravaganza," we were all served roast pork egg fu yung with white rice. I kept quiet through the soup and appetizer but when I saw the cheapest, most common entree on the menu, I had enough of this inquisition and faked stomach cramps.

I made some flimsy excuses and got up. Sue picked up on my lead and said, "He won't 'go' anywhere but in our apartment. He calls it the home field advantage." Estelle said, "You're over wrought with excitement Bubie, you ate too fast. Take a rest, you'll have some dessert..."

We said our good-byes and slithered away. Estelle blared, "I understand, I'm lactose intolerant..." She was still blithering when we were three feet from the door. Then for everyone in the restaurant to hear, she boomed out her name, her company's name, work address and phone number. We were entering the vestibule and I could still hear her say, "Call me next week so we can get together...and don't worry, I got the check."

My last Chinese restaurant incident in Vegas happened when I dealt at the Golden Nugget. The casino had just finished its re-modeling metamorphosis from a saw dust joint to a global destination and every new thing in there was state-of-the-art.

On the opening night for the Chinese restaurant "LILY LANGTRY'S," Sue and my close friend Ciro, met me after work. We planned on going to a movie so I suggested squeezing in the much ballyhooed, Lily Langtry's. Unfortunately the line was long. Even worse, we soon discovered that they were only seating people with reservations. When we approached the coveted head of the line, the hostess escorted the folks ahead of us and left the log book unguarded.

I scanned the names upside down but couldn't find a party of three. I had to think fast as she returned and said, "Do you have reservations?" I said, "Yes, Bishop for four." The hostess said, "Where's the rest of your party?" I motioned towards Ciro and whispered, "His girl is upstairs." Then I wrinkled my nose and added, "The poor little angel's unwell, maybe she'll join us later."

I don't know if the Bishops ever showed up but the hostess stared me down like she wanted me to repent every time she passed. Oh yeah, we made our movie, but we served penance for my transgression, the sanitized food sucked.

The next thing I know, I'm in South Jersey for the next twenty-seven years. In that time, Sue and I experimented with dull sit-down Chinese restaurants, checked into the Chinese buffet fad and even strayed to sushi bars and Japanese hibachi steak houses. But in the end, we settled on, "HOON KING," a local take-out place.

In the early years, I remember the owner's precocious eight-year old daughter, (the only one in the organization who spoke decent English), standing on a stool to take orders while blowing bubble gum bubbles.

That little girl worked there through college and graduate school. Years later, she married and moved away. At that point, the Caucasian delivery driver became their front man. It should be noted that due to my recent reliance on the Atkins Diet, I have shied away from ordering-in Chinese...but my family does, on my days off. To show their dogmatic adherence to ordering from Hoon King, I was once walking my dog in the park and came across the deliveryman. He shocked me by petting Roxy and knowing her name.

Unfortunately, the walls of Jericho came falling down this past winter. That's when I went into Hoon King to pick up my own food. It was like a, "TWILIGHT ZONE," episode. I didn't recognize any of the Asian staff and the counterman was a different Caucasian. The people being different shouldn't have mattered but I had a cross to bear when the plague they called food nearly poisoned us. Thus, we were confronted with a new dilemma, finding a replacement.

In the past few years, a chain of take-out restaurants called, "THE BEST FOOD IN TOWN," has popped up in several nearby communities. The hubris of the name made me automatically discount trying them out. We held out a long time and lived without Chinese food for more than forty days and forty nights.

In March of this year, we were Jones-ing for take-out when our kitchen was being re-modeled. The workmen were Vietnamese and each working day at 1:00PM, they left our Garden of Eden for ninety minutes. At one point Sue asked them where they went and the foreman said, "Lunch." Sue said, "What do you like, pizza, fried chicken, burgers...?" The leader said, "We only go to one place, the best food in town."

I had faith in what Confucius said about getting full and fulfilled in a Chinese restaurant where Asians eat. When we tried The Best Food In Town, it was indeed a miracle and we were all re-born.