Monday, October 31, 2011

THE MOUNT SCARY LODGE

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







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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, October 24, 2011

THE STONEHENGE OF BRIGANTINE

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, October 17, 2011

THE NINE LIVES OF WILLIE POTATO

At the Atlantis Casino, (1986), in Atlantic City, Willard Francis Potaki, a.k.a., "Willie Potato,"was punished for poor judgement and brought to my shift (nights). My first impressions of him were, that he consistently spoke too loud, reeked of tobacco and came off as dopey. Still, up against everyone else in the casino environment, he was a decent enough fellow.

During his first week, he was overseeing my craps crew when we were severely brutalized, for hours, by a pair of out-of-line low-lifes. In appreciation of our team effort under acutely harsh conditions, the pit boss wrote "comps" for two free drinks for us and our supervisors.

At the bar, I wound up sitting next to Willie. Immediately, he was chain-smoking, as he chased two, double Jack Daniels with two Heinekens (twice the free allotment)...while I was still nursing my first screwdriver.
WILLIE PULLED A 1956 BILLY MARTIN BASEBALL CARD FROM THE BREAST POCKET OF HIS DRESS SHIRT. HE HAD BOUGHT IT AT A SPORTS MEMORABILIA SHOW THAT AFTERNOON. THE PRICE SEEMED EXPENSIVE FOR A CARD THAT WAS BADLY BENT. HE SAID, "IT MUST'VE GOT MESSED-UP IN MY POCKET. BUT THE GUY THREW IN THIS OTHER CARD FOR FREE." I SAID, "HE 'BILL HALL' LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU." WILLIE THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY.




Willie slipped the bartender a bribe, hidden in a matchbook and ordered himself more free drinks. Then...not because he was intoxicated but because he was an anti-Einstein... he mispronounced and used the wrong words while telling me that a female pit boss on day shift recently went to the adjacent casino on her break and won $20,000.00 on a slot machine.


This was a time when Atlantic City casino workers weren't permitted to gamble in town. So when she had to show identification, she confessed her illegal situation. Despite her efforts to circumvent the law, the slot department representative offered her the courtesy of two choices. The first was to accept money and run the high risk of losing both her job and state gaming license or decline the winnings.


To the joy of the casino, she turned down the jackpot and returned to work. Willie then made a stale Polish joke at her expense. I said, "Potaki, isn't your name Polish?" His response was, "No! My people were European!"


I told that story a few days ago. Five friends of mine from that now defunct casino, had what turned out to be, an impromptu meeting of the Thirty-Year Gaming Veterans Club. Once we sat down, it was brought to my attention that Willie was already dead ten years. Then similar to the 1984 movie, "BROADWAY DANNY ROSE," we had a round table discussion about the old days but Willie Potato dominated the conversation.
THE OPENING OF THE MOVIE WAS SET IN THE CARNEGIE DELI WITH COMEDIANS REMINISCING. EVENTUALLY, THEY STICK TO ONE TOPIC, THE WORST THEATRICAL AGENT EVER...BROADWAY DANNY ROSE.

Everyone in our forum agreed that Willie Potato was legendary for "lighting a candle on both ends," and for having an odd fascination with baseball player/manager Billy Martin. However Willie's high octane lifestyle eclipsed his idol and brought about a far too early death. Upon deeper examination, Willie Potato was lucky to have lasted as long as he did.

Willie's downward spiral and ultimate downfall included chain smoking more than two packs of Pall Mall a day, alcoholism, regular use of recreational drugs, a gambling problem and a load of psychological complexes such as; persecution and Napoleonic.

Before understanding the party animal Willie Potato, we must first understand Billy Martin.

Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin Jr., (of Portuguese and Italian ancestry), was born in Berkeley California on May 16, 1928. Despite being small in stature, his aggressiveness helped him to become a major leaguer with the Yankees, in 1950. During his seven so-so seasons in New York, he was dwarfed by stars, all-stars and future Hall-of Famers. However, he forever etched his way onto the team's all-time icons list, by performing well (.333 batting average), in his 28 World Series games and being named the 1953 World Series MVP.

In 1957, Martin's undoing in New York was his 29th birthday celebration at the Copacabana Night Club. He was already on ownership's version of "double secret probation" due to his excessive drinking and rowdy behavior when teammates, (most notably Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra...and their wives) became embroiled in a highly publicized brawl.


Some drunkards were hurling racial insults at the headlining entertainer that night, Sammy Davis Jr. When the offensive gentlemen refused Hank Bauer's request to tone it down, the ensuing fight resulted in plenty of embarrassment to the Yankee front office.


THE MAJORITY OF THE PRINCIPALS PRIOR TO THE COPACABANA FIGHT.


The reports I read on the Copa incident agree that Billy Martin had no role in instigating the melee. Nevertheless despite being manager Casey Stengel's, "boy," Martin was scapegoated. He was deemed a bad influence on stars like Mantle and Whitey Ford and was immediately traded to Kansas City.

A Yankee at heart, Martin never achieved much success with other teams. In 1961 he retired with a .257 career batting average and was an all-star once, in 1956. Eventually he became a successful manager. However, whatever coaching greatness he attained was blighted by the same detrimental behavior that scarred his playing career, fighting.
FURTHER EVIDENCE OF HIS DYSFUNCTIONAL MENTALITY, THE HOT BLOODED MEDITERRANEAN ACTED IN COLD BLOOD WHEN HE EXTENDED HIS LEFT, MIDDLE FINGER WHILE POSING FOR THE 1972, TOPPS, #33 BASEBALL CARD.

Martin's polarizing personality resulted in the absurdity of managing the Yankees on five separate occasions, (that means he was also fired five times). I saw my favorite Martin-ism live on TV when he removed Reggie Jackson from a game in mid-inning. Tempers erupted and the face-to-face verbal clash which nearly came to blows is a classic.


During the ceremony when his number (1) was retired Martin said, "I may not have been the greatest New York Yankee to put on the uniform but I am the proudest." That statement also appears on his tombstone.

In a Johnson City New York hospital, on December 25, 1989, Billy Martin died from injuries that occurred in a slow-speed, one-car accident. Despite much speculation, a forensic examination of the tragedy proved that although Martin was drinking, he was the passenger. It was his friend who skidded on ice and crashed outside Martin's home in Port Crane New York.


For some reason, Willie Potato decided to not only emulate Billy Martin's shortcomings but to surpass them.


In 1952, Willie was born in Weehawken New Jersey. He was ashamed of both sides of his Portuguese and Polish ancestry and worked hard to avoid the subject of his lineage.

Willie dropped-out of high school but rose up through the casino ranks and crested as a craps floor supervisor.


Like Billy Martin, Willie was short.
WILLIE WAS 5 FOOT 2. HE WORE MOTORCYCLE BOOTS WITH A LARGE HEEL AND WAS RUMORED TO ALSO USE "LEG LIFTS." DURING OUR ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION WILLIE'S CLOSEST FRIEND, "B," REMINDED US THAT TO "HONOR" HIM, THEY USED TO CALL THE CHILDREN'S URINAL AT WORK, THE "POTAKI."

Willie was forced to compensate and frequently demeaned underlings and undesirable customers. While he took himself serious, most of his colleagues viewed him as a clown or an ass.


The reason he was sent to my shift was because after two burly security guards wrestled an irate patron to the ground, Willie jumped into the fray and got in a few sucker punches after the accused perpetrator was subdued.

Everyone at my table agreed that it was hilarious that Willie misused big words especially when unsuccessfully hitting-on unapproachable women.
IN AN UNCOMPLIMENTARY WAY, WILLIE WAS COMPARED TO COMIC-ACTOR LEO GORCEY, (1917-1969). GORCEY WAS ONE OF THE BUSIEST MEN IN HOLLYWOOD FROM 1937-1956. IN THAT TIME, HE APPEARED IN 69 FILMS AS THE DIMINUTIVE, PUGNACIOUS, MALAPROPISM SPEWING LEADER OF, "THE DEAD END KIDS," "THE EASTSIDE KIDS," AND "THE BOWERY BOYS." HIS PROTOTYPICAL YOUNG PUNK CHARACTER WAS PORTRAYED UNDER SEVERAL DIFFERENT NAMES LIKE; ETHELBERT "MUGGS" McGINNIS AND TERENCE ALOYSIUS "SLIP" MAHONEY.


Willie routinely stood out to all hours. At night, he drank until he passed-out and after a few hours of sleep, used amphetamines to get ready for work.


Another former coworker "W," said that Willie regularly gambled on his breaks. He'd leave his suit jacket at the hotel's front desk, remove his tie and put on a Yankee cap and sunglasses. Then he'd go next door for twenty minutes and play a few hands of blackjack while swilling as much alcohol as he could. To prove his stupidity, despite his high-tech attempt to mask his identity, he risked his livelihood much like the female pit boss that he spoke so condescendingly about.


I could understand why he felt tortured by Polish jokes when he was young. But as an adult, it was obvious that he wasn't bright enough to see that he'd become the personification of that type of humor.

Everyone was laughing when "B" said, "Losing his casino license would have been nothing to a guy like Willie. It's like he had a death wish or something because I think he used up more lives than a cat." "T" cut him off, "Remember his boating accident? He and his neighbor were all drunked-up when they saw bad weather coming fast. The casino skyline seemed so close so they didn't head back. In no time, the wind and waves picked up. The storm made them lose control. Even if Willie was sober, he was still an inexperienced boatsman. They smashed into a buoy, the boat took on water and overturned. The two drunks panicked. If a random fisherman didn't happen by and save their butts, they both would have drown."
STOCK PHOTO. WILLIE'S BOAT, "THE BILLY MARTIN #1," CAPSIZED IN THE BAY, A HALF-MILE OFF BRIGANTINE.


"R" blurted, "In the 90's, he was always broke and sponging money." "A" interrupted and said, "Being broke was why his ex ran him down with their car. It's hard to believe that he only broke his collar bone...because she really tried to kill him." "That's right," "W" said. "Their relationship was so messed-up because they were so co-dependent on each other...that he didn't even file charges. They divorced a year later but that was because she cheated on him." "T" said, "As soon as she moved out west, he became more of a dead-beat loser by never paying that whore any more alimony."

We were were all smiles when "B" reminded us, "The dude survived brain cancer." We had a spontaneous moment of silence. I was imagining him having a golf ball-sized tumor cut out of his head when "T" changed the mood, "Don't forget the gang-bang with Nadine, the pit clerk. Remember, he was with her when the husband burst in the bedroom. Willie led a charmed life because that moron would have murdered him for sure. But Willie only sprained his ankle when he jumped from the second floor balcony."

"T" said, "Don't forget the riot Willie started in the casino softball league. He was pitching batting practice to the other team and a couple of shots came close to hitting him. He always thought everyone was out to get him so he MFed the batter and accused them all of a conspiracy against him. The umpire actually had to break-up the cursing match before it became a free-for-all."

"A," said, "The tension mounted when the other team got under Willie's skin by giggling and pointing at him from their dugout. A few pitches later, Willie took a line drive off his chest. All hell broke-out and I remember Willie on the bottom of the pile getting his head stepped on with spikes."ONE YEAR WHEN THE ONLY SMALL-SIZED TEAM SHIRT CAME IN WITH #20 ON IT, (INSTEAD OF THE BILLY MARTIN INSPIRED #1), WILLIE GOT SO ENRAGED THAT HE CUT-UP THE #19 SHIRT. HE SLOPPILY SEWED A BLANK PIECE OF MATERIAL OVER THE NUMBER AND THEN SEWED A THIRD LAYER WITH THE #1 FROM THE 19 ON TOP.

We all laughed as "R" said, "Once everything calmed down, the umpire said if there's one more problem, he'll declare a double-forfeit. It shouldn't have mattered to us, we always lost. But I'll never forget Willie pitching that game with a bandanna under his Yankee cap with blood oozing through it."

"B" changed the subject, "I think when he lost his job...it killed him." He had been caught smoking pot on the property and was fired. Willie hopped from one part-time dealer job to another. He hated being the low man on the totem pole and got into many arguments...and like Billy Martin, kept getting fired.

"B" continued, "He convinced a bank to lend him some money and bought a small, one-man operation business on the cheap." "A" said, "But he didn't know his ass from a hole in the wall. All he knew was casino work." "B" said, "That's right. He was such a schmuck. He was drunk or high most of the time and couldn't be bothered by his own customers." "R" said, "I heard he used business money to score coke." "B" said, "Yeah. Then he couldn't handle the pressure of creditors in his face every day. Maybe dying from a heart attack was the easy way out."

We all left the table shaking our heads. It was hard to believe that the likes of Billy Martin lasted till 61 and Willie Potato only made it to 49...

Monday, October 10, 2011

IT'S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA...THE REAL PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH...TREAT

On Thursday evening, April 24, 1991, I experienced quite a coincidence.

A friend of my wife Sue gave us primo New York Mets tickets, for a game at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. A few days earlier, a former employee of mine, DENG, got tickets to the same game from a client. To complete this oddity, another friend, KURUDAVE had tickets left to him at the will-call window, by one of players.

In addition to the later coincidence, I thought this was funny because KURU wasn't a sports fan. Even though he had his benefactor's name written down at home, he couldn't remember the ticket-bearer's name. Even funnier, he had no idea which team the player was on. To be on the safe side, I reminded him that he was taking a big chance of being embarrassed in front of his new girlfriend, if after the long ride, the guy was a bullshitting impostor.

The true coincidence may have never happened because the sky that afternoon was shrouded by thick gray clouds. During our hour-long drive to Philadelphia, the floodgates opened. At five o'clock, while crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge, the storm forced me to use my hyper-speed windshield-wipers. Although the ballgame was jeopardized by a rain out, Sue and I clung to our original dinner plans and headed to Philly Cheese Steak-Heaven.AN AUTHENTIC CHEESE STEAK CONTAINS; FRIZZLED BEEF, GRILLED ONIONS AND MELTED CHEESE, ON A LONG ROLL. BUILT TO SUIT, VARIED INGREDIENTS GIVE THIS DELECTABLE COUNTLESS VARIATIONS. I LIKE MINE WITH PROVOLONE, SAUTEED MUSHROOMS AND TOO MUCH KETCHUP.


In South Philadelphia, not far from the Italian Market, on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, two giants of the cheese steak world are situated across the street from each other. The person who gave me the directions picked one over the other solely on the basis that they invented the sandwich, in the early 1930's. However, he was quick to point out that they had pretty much evolved into the same thing...he wouldn't know just how right he was.

At our destination, it was still drizzling. Sue and I stood in the street, under a portico surrounded by empty, litter-filled picnic tables. We were intoxicated by the aroma of grilled onions as we advanced to the transom to place our order. I was holding a twenty-dollar bill as I glanced up at the menu and asked the clerk, "Where's the bathroom?" He pointed behind me at a fenced in, open field and said, "Go in the park!" I wasn't peeing outside and was insulted by the idea. Sue and I took our business across the street. You'd think it would be impossible for the same attitude to be duplicated but we got the exact same, "Go in the park," treatment.
THERE'S ONLY ONE WORTHWHILE CRACK IN THE "CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE." SO I DIDN'T NEED TO HEAR ANY MORE FROM THESE TWO GENIUSES.

A little further up the street, we found an unheralded and less independent purveyor of cheese steaks, (I wish I remembered their name because they deserve the free advertisement). Despite cleaning his ear hole with his pinkie while we spoke, the representative behind the counter had people skills that were light years beyond the other two dimwits. This place also had a welcome mat in front of their restroom and clean, indoor seating. Our outlook brightened. We enjoyed our meal and were further pleased to learn that the rain had stopped.

At the stadium, the chilly, damp weather combined with the game's early season unimportance and the Phils inferior squad, to minimize the crowd. I joked that with so few fans, they could save time if the players came into the stands and individually introduced themselves to everyone. Later, they posted a paid attendance of 15,214, but I'm sure most were no-shows.

Luckily, we never needed our umbrella. But Sue and I snuggled in our sweatshirts, on field level, directly behind home plate, in seat one and two of row "J." The big coincidence occurred when we spotted DENG amid the sea of vacant seats.  He was a few sections away, up the right field line.

While the Phillies were batting in the second inning, KURUDAVE and his date were ushered to their seats behind third base. I was able to yell out his name and got his attention. Through a series of gestures, he was able to pantomime that Mets pitcher Wally Whitehurst had given him his tickets.

In the fourth inning, there was a public address announcement of a contest. To this day, it is unclear what the prize was. But we perked up when we heard that the winning seats were on our level. We actually got interested when the search was narrowed down to our section. When they said row "J," Sue and I reflexively looked to our left. The entire row was empty except for the last two seats. Then the announcement for seat 22 and 23 was made.

The final crescendo from, "STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER," blared on the sound system as ushers, a couple of men in suits and cute girls in Phillie windbreakers, carrying maroon and white balloons, hustled down the concrete steps. After some fanfare, the smiling lucky stiffs waved bye-bye and the entourage whisked them away. They never returned to their seats.

Even though we watched the second half of the game from the first row behind home plate, the Mets won and I saw my friends at the game, I still had the taste of sour grapes in my mouth as we started the second half of our journey.

Instead of going home, we continued west for an over night in Lancaster County...a.k.a., Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH, REFERS TO DESCENDANTS OF IMMIGRANTS FROM SWITZERLAND AND GERMANY WHO SETTLED IN FARMLANDS AROUND PRESENT DAY LANCASTER COUNTY. TOURISTS ARE DRAWN BY THE OLD WORLD CHARM OF THE AMISH AND MENNONITE PEOPLE WHOSE CUSTOMS HAVE CHANGED LITTLE DOWN THROUGH THE YEARS. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE WORD "DUTCH" IS DERIVED FROM DEUTSCH, THE GERMAN WORD FOR GERMAN...FOLKS FROM THE NETHERLANDS, AREN'T PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH.


At midnight we got a room in Souderburg, on the Lincoln Highway (Route-30). The next morning was beautiful. While getting back in the car, it was so nice that even though our motel was surrounded by pastures...and the noxious methane odor associated with cows, we loved it.

On the road, we saw the famous horse drawn buggies. I had visited this area a few times in my youth but it was Sue's first time. I took her to a restored village where they show how the Amish live while teaching visitors of their beliefs.

Our next stop was the Strasburg Railroad. Along the way, we thought it was funny that in an area known for being conservative, many of the tiny municipalities had sexually suggestive names, like; Intercourse, Blue Ball, Mount Joy, Lititz, Bareville, Bird-in-Hand and Paradise, (I'm guessing these erotic names are a coincidence too, because even Google didn't have a definitive answer).

Since 1832, the town of Strasburg has boasted the longest continually run railroad in the USA.THAT'S EIGHT-YEAR OLD ME IN THE MIDDLE. SOMETHING TELLS ME THAT SINCE 1963, THEY'VE HAD ENOUGH LAWSUITS THAT THEY NO LONGER ALLOW THEIR LOCOMOTIVES TO BE USED AS JUNGLE GYMS.

Sue enjoyed the train excursion through the countryside.YEARS LATER, ON MAY 23, 1997 , WE TOOK MY SON ANDREW AND GRANDMA ON THE SAME TRAIN RIDE. BY THAT TIME, THE CARTOON "THOMAS THE TRAIN," WAS MEGA. SO IN THE SHADOWS OF THE STRASBURG DEPOT, AN INGENIOUS ENTREPRENEUR OPENED A HUMONGOUS "THOMAS" STORE.

We still had two stops left before going home. The first was Intercourse...just to say we were there, take pictures and buy souvenirs. Then for more of my own personal nostalgia, we returned to 2811 East Lincoln Highway, to the town of Ronks, for dinner.

Miller's Smorgasbord (buffet), opened in 1929. My parents made it a point to take us there every time we visited. I still have a few seconds of poor quality, 8mm home movies (they have been transferred to the equally obsolete VHS format), taken inside Miller's dining room in 1960. Unfortunately, there are no photos.

Miller's prided them self on everything being home made and delicious. And that night twenty years ago would be no exception. I bellied-up to the steam tables and gorged myself.

While trolling for more entrees, I breezed past the deserts. A little sign that read, Chocolate Pecan Pie caught my eye. I was still concentrating on my dinner so I set aside this enticement, took stock of the five portions there and ate more braised beef and fried chicken.

When I returned to the scene of the crime, the cupboard was bare. I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face because a young hostess dressed in a pinafore dress and an Amish-like bonnet asked, "Are you okay?" I was embarrassed because I had opened my belt and must have looked like a glutton as I said, "Are they bringing out any more chocolate pecan pie?" She smiled, "I'll get you some." A few seconds later she returned empty-handed. She said, "They don't have any more in the kitchen but if you give me a minute, I'll go across the street to our bakery and bring back a bunch."

I watched her through the window. In the dark, I could see the epitome of another coincidence. The bakery was in a building surrounded by a fenced in open field. When she came back with the best pecan pie I ever ate, I couldn't help but be reminded that this Pennsylvania Dutch treat would NEVER happen in South Philly, unless I got it myself.

Monday, October 3, 2011

THIS LION WILL ALWAYS BE KING

Reading Pennsylvania is the former, "Outlet Capital of the World." Before discount meccas became widespread, Reading was regal. Fifteen years ago while it still maintained its title, the city boasted an incredible amount of inexpensive stores in a condensed district. So with the economy solid and decent gas prices, it was worthwhile to drive two and a half hours, get a motel and have a mini-vacation, (one of my wife Sue's employee perks got us half-off at the nearby Hampton Inn).




We were lured to Reading by the Vanity Fair Factory Outlet Store. Their two, colossal five-floor warehouses (the red building and blue building) were the focal point of a huge discount complex, on Hill Avenue.THE FACE OF THE RECTANGULAR BLUE BUILDING (above) SHOWS THE SHORT SIDE OF THE STORE. THE MIRROR-IMAGED RED BUILDING RUNS PARALLEL TO THE LONG SIDE. AN INTERIOR BRIDGE CONNECTS BOTH SO SHOPPERS DON'T HAVE TO BRAVE THE ELEMENTS TO SWITCH BUILDINGS. BETWEEN THEM OUTSIDE, A PRETTY, TREE AND BENCH-LINED COMMON AREA, PROVIDES A PARK-LIKE ATMOSPHERE.


We'd get into Vanity Fair around noon. Sometimes we wouldn't leave the store all day and only give a minimum of time to other places. VF specialized in all aspects of clothing but other vendors are also there. Our chief concern was to build-up my son Andrew's toddler wardrobe. But I was assured at least a bag of socks while my wife Sue, power-shopped for herself and hunted down gifts.

I liked the basement best because they had a few more shops and hosted a vast food court. While its true that I looked forward to lunchtime, my day was usually crowned with a nice dinner. The first time around, before we were savvy enough to research old world Italian restaurants or more upscale eateries in neighboring towns like Wyomissing and Shillington, we wound up, two blocks away, at the Penn Diner, (on Penn Avenue). Please take heed, it was one of our worst eating experiences of all-time. So just in case that crap-eteria is still there, DON'T go !

In October of 1995, Andrew was only walking for two months. So while Sue enjoyed some private mommy-time and intensely browsed on her own, I was left with entertainment duty. Regardless of how clever I might have been, my twenty-month old eager beaver, didn't cotton to idle conversation. Nor did he want to be strapped into our pack mule-like stroller. He wanted to run free through the never-ending children's department's maze of racks, aisles and displays.

I was chasing him for quite some time until something caught Andrew's attention just inside the main entrance's vestibule. He sat on the floor, started shouting with excitement and pointing to the ground. I had heard from Sue that Andrew had this new talent but I was witnessing it for the first time.

Assembled into the floor, incoming shoppers were greeted with a mosaic rendering of the Vanity Fair logo. This insignia featured a prominent "V" and "F." At a time when Andrew couldn't speak well, he was impressing the passersby with his crystal-clear knowledge of these two letters. I soon found out that he knew the whole alphabet. I exploded with parental pride as I placed Andrew back into the stroller. I wanted to find his mom and report my findings.

Along the way, I was distracted by a television with an unfamiliar cartoon on. We stopped and both watched. I soon noticed that all the merchandise in that section included characters from the Disney mega-hit movie from the year before, "THE LION KING."

We had missed seeing that movie because my boy was too young. So this glimpse of it was our first exposure. I was immediately immersed by the cute animals, state-of-the-art visuals, the familiar resonance of James Earl Jones leading an all-star voice-over cast and the terrific sound track. When the scene shifted, I was caught off guard. The king lion was betrayed by his brother and set-up for an "accidental" murder. The dastardly deed went over Andrew's head but negatively affected me in two ways. My dad's death (seven months earlier), was still fresh in my mind. Plus, I stressed about the possibility of my own demise and worried about not always being there for my son.

My sensitivities were touched by that short scene in a way that I didn't care for. I had a tear in my eye, a lump in my throat and a prejudice against the film that would last for three years as I pushed the stroller towards the lingerie department.

Andrew was five when a friend suggested that I put the past behind me and rent the movie. When we saw the whole fast-paced, humorous package of deception, disgrace and redemption, I declared the, "THE LION KING," the best children's movie ever made. In addition to catering to our entertainment needs, the tale reassures its audience, without getting too complicated or juvenile, to have faith in our loved ones and the value true friends. Since then, I've seen the technology for producing kiddie films improve...and I saw some other great flicks...but my opinion of number-one, never wavered.THE SECRET OF MAKING THIS LION, KING AT THE BOX OFFICE, WAS MAKING THE ENTERTAINMENT SOMETHING THAT COULD BE SHARED BY CHILDREN AND ADULTS. FOR INSTANCE, BY WORKING ON SO MANY LEVELS, THE DEPTH OF ITS COMEDY TOUCHES EVERYONE IN DIFFERENT WAYS. PLUS, ITS THEME OF A UNIVERSAL SOLIDARITY PACKS A POWERFUL MORALITY PUNCH THAT IS EASILY UNDERSTOOD.

Once our VCR became obsolete, all our VHS tapes, including, "The Lion King," went into storage. While its true that I still quote from it, the movie itself was forgotten. In support of this notion, Andrew's taste had grown too sophisticated to go backwards so I was never spurred enough to find a DVD and force it on him.

In 2006 when Andrew was in sixth grade, he was the Reeds Road School's, first orchestra flute. When I heard about the last piece of the school's spring concert, my thirst for, "The Lion King," was resurrected.

Weeks earlier, my guy was handed a pan flute and was honored with the opportunity to play it in the show. Some of the subsequent important information didn't filter down to me because when he failed to master this instrument, I thought the mission was scrubbed. So when I was sent in to videotape the production, a pleasant surprise fell in my lap.

The show went well. Then they made the announcement that the grand finale was, "The Circle of Life," from "The Lion King." The emcee added that rather than using a professional recording to accompany the fifth grade songstress, the school imported two teachers from the middle school. After they were introduced, I was shocked to hear that my son was the flute soloist.

The woman from the middle school stood at an upright microphone and a set of chimes. The man positioned himself behind fancy bongos. When the audience quieted, the teachers did a great job capturing the essence of the famed instrumental intro, complete with African chants. Then the girl brought down the house. When she paused, Andrew stood alone with his grandfather's flute and soulfully accentuated the performance. Then the rest of school's orchestra joined the girl and Andrew for the last stanza.

Maybe it's because he's my son or maybe it's because wonderful memories of my dad were stirred. But that performance, especially Andrew's two-minutes, made me so proud that just thinking about "The Circle of Life," is guaranteed to make me smile and hearing our recording of it, is guaranteed to make my eyes well-up. In any event, afterwards, I didn't seek out the "Lion King," movie.

Two years ago, we vacationed in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Sue found out that the Mandolay Bay Casino was selling-out the theatrical, "Lion King" in their showroom, (we were lucky to get last minute seats). While the costumes, music and dancing were awe inspiring...I guess I didn't love it as well as Sue and Andrew.MAYBE THERE'S STILL SOME ADOLESCENCE BURIED IN ME, I PREFERRED THE CARTOON...IT WAS FUNNIER.

When we got home, I still didn't run out to the video store to see the original. The movie and I would remain separated until last month when kismet was on my side. I saw a TV commercial, advertising a limited engagement (two weeks in mid-September), of a 3-D version of the "Lion King."

Sue and I jumped on it. We were delighted by the pure eye-candy, 3-D aspect and loved the movie all over again. We recommended it to Andrew. The next day, he went with his crowd and they all loved it too. Apparently the public liked it too. The Disney marketing strategy worked perfectly because, in the fourteen days that it was shown, the film grossed $60 million.

If you missed it, the 3-D DVD is coming out next month. So don't drive up to Reading and expect to find it in the five-dollar bin at Vanity Fair. That means before you exclaim, "Life...isn't fair," or have a bunch of hyenas laughing at you for missing it again, make sure...whether you've seen it already or not... that you check-out, the king of children's movies.