Monday, December 26, 2011

A FEW GOOD REINDEER

CONSPIRACY THEORIST ALERT !

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Monday, December 19, 2011

ROUND-UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

THE PINOCCHIO FACTOR, AT THE CORNER OF SKIDMARK AND SYRINGE

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

THEY USED TO CALL ME MUDCAT

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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