Monday, January 30, 2012

PAMPERED, IN DISNEY WORLD

In May 1974, on our way home from Brooklyn College, RBOY and I went to Grabstein's Delicatessen in Canarsie.  I don't remember what he ate but I got a hot dog and a Dr. Brown's CEL-RAY.  But we didn't go there to eat, our true purpose was to get change for the phone.
THREE STEPS UP FROM THE MAIN DINING ROOM, BETWEEN THE TWO RESTROOMS, GRABSTEIN'S HAD ONE PAY PHONE.  THAT'S WHERE RBOY CALLED THE DISNEY WORLD EMPLOYMENT OFFICE.
We thought it would be cool to have a working vacation in Florida.  So when we found out jobs were plentiful, (they made no offer over the phone), we were inspired to take a chance and head down in June.

It should be noted that previous blogs like March 15, 2010's, "TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE TO HARTFORD HALL," dealt with getting the Disney job or what happened afterwards.  Today's column is different because it's about the job itself.

RBOY and I were straggly from our twenty-four hour trip when we stepped off a Greyhound in front of the Disney World employment center. In the nearly full waiting room, every applicant, as well as the staff, fixed on us because our dirty, hippie-like garb didn't constitute dressing for success.  The male candidates were wearing jackets and ties while the females were in dresses.  Only two people weren't in their Sunday best and those two people (us) stood out even more because we were dragging luggage.

Once we worked out some complications involving reliable transportation and a place to stay, we were hired.  Our choice was, flipping burgers or sweeping the floor.  In a unanimous vote, we became sweepers, at $2.40 an hour, (minimum wage was $2.25).  However, we were offered an additional five cents an hour to follow the horses after each parade...again in a unanimous vote, we turned down the nickel.

A big part of Disney's orientation/propaganda was to instill the concept that it was a privilege to work for such a pristine company that was emblematic of truth, justice and the American way.  Our New York street smarts didn't help us...we were just as "swept-up" in the excitement as our fellow, (mostly local Floridian), new employees.  Our idealism was so strong that we had no preconceived notions about the actual job and were prepared to work hard.

RBOY was assigned to Frontierland.  He had the added responsibility (for no extra pay), of refilling the men's room paper supply as well as reporting toilet back-ups.

Together with a cute blond from orientation, I reported to our supervisor in Fantasyland.  He turned out to be such a malingerer that I only saw him three other times in an official capacity, during the month I worked there.  His lack of dedication shot-down so much of the orientation spewage that had concentrated on the Protestant work ethic, (it should also be noted that my blond cohort was promoted to a merchandising supervisor after three days...we were told that NOBODY could even apply for a transfer before being on the job for ninety days. So an actual promotion was supposedly, completely out of the question).

On my first day, way before I comprehended the Disney hypocrisy, I absorbed all my responsibilities.
THE PARK HAD A GAZILLION UMBRELLA TABLES.  ALMOST DAILY, IN THE LATE AFTERNOON, CENTRAL FLORIDA HAD A SHORT, WINDY CLOUDBURST.  THE SWEEPERS HAD TO CLOSE THE UMBRELLAS DURING THESE STORMS, REOPEN THEM LATER AND DRY THE TABLES.

Just before five on my first day, the wind picked up, swarms of gray clouds eliminated the blue sky and it started to pour.  Me and Blondie, like lunatics, ran around closing the endless sea of umbrellas.  Somewhere along the line, I wasn't careful and the lowering mechanism gouged the side of my hand, took a chunk of skin and made me bleed.


IT ONLY TOOK ONE DOSE OF THE DISNEY KOOL-AID FOR RBOY AND I TO GET SO CAUGHT UP IN THE HOOPLA THAT DURING OUR FIRST WEEK, WE SHOWED UP EARLY AND PLAYED TOURIST.

A few days later, on our lunch hour (unpaid, forty-five minutes), RBOY and I sat with other sweepers.  At first, they were seriously telling us that Walt Disney was frozen alive.  Then until science discovers a cure for his disease, he's being stored in a liquid nitrogen, cryogenic chamber, in the upper most spire of Cinderella's Castle.

Someone made fun of the "ugly" employees who oversaw Mr. Disney's body.  RBOY and I didn't know what they were talking about.  Until it was pointed out that all the workers with obvious flaws, in either looks or personality were forced to work "underground," so as to not be seen by the public.  Another sweeper said, "When you work for 'The Rat,' (Mickey Mouse), even if you only have a hickey on your neck, you better hide it or you'll never see the light of day till it clears up." I thought it was terrible way to treat people but changed the subject.

To stay somewhat on topic, I complained about Blondie's mysterious disappearance from my section, (and that she wasn't replaced).  It was shocking that all these guys knew her and told us about her meteoric rise to lower management.  I said, "I thought there were no promotions for ninety days?" One of the others scoffed, "There's one surefire method..."  He saw my blank expression of naivete and added, "Special consideration for sexual favors." I was disappointed in the system and moaned, "All that AND I have to close all those damned umbrellas alone?"  Someone else said, "You don't really close those idiotic contraptions?"  "Well yeah," I said, "that's a big part of the job."  Then I showed him the giant band-aid that extended into my palm and said, "Those things are dangerous, I got nipped the first day."  He leaned in close and whispered, "As soon as the wind picks up, whether there's thunder or lightning or not, they close the 'SWISS SKY RIDE.'"  RBOY said, "So?"  Another kid jumped in, "That's where the sweepers goof-off until the rain stops and the wind dies down."
DURING MY FIRST RAINY DAY VISIT TO THE FANTASYLAND SKY RIDE LANDING, I FOUND TEN GOLD-BRICKING SWEEPERS UP THERE.  THEY SAT ON THE FLOOR TO AVOID BEING SEEN FROM BELOW AND SMOKED CIGARETTES WHILE LUXURIATING FROM THE WATER COOLER AS IF IT WAS WINE.  IT WOULD BECOME A RARITY FOR ME TO MISS THIS EXTRA FORTY-MINUTE BREAK UP THERE.

The center of my territory was the, "CAROUSEL."  In front of it, I swept through, "CINDERELLA'S CASTLE," including both ramps on the other side.   To the left of the merry-go-round, I was responsible beyond, "MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE," to the "SWISS SKY RIDE."  To the right, my area stretched past, "TWENTY-THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA," to the "GRAND PRIX," race cars.

While on duty, it was a necessity to get out of the sun.  Therefore, to fight the monotony within the legal boundaries of my job description, I found it both refreshing and rewarding to sweep the air-conditioned shops. Overwhelmingly, the stores were run by girls.  I began a flirtatious relationship with "C" from the stroller rental service, "D" from the perfumery and "M" from the camera shop.

"M" TOOK THIS PICTURE WITH ONE OF THE POLAROIDS THAT SHE SOLD, (DEMONSTRATED).  I BELIEVE THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I HAD A 32-INCH WAIST.

Of the three girls, I liked "M" the best.  But she lived thirty miles from me and we both didn't have a car.  Soon, I was dating "C."  She also lived far away but had a car. In the end, the distance and scheduling clashes broke us up. However, "D" lived in my apartment complex, so we spent a lot of quality time together over the course of two weeks...before going our separate ways.

At work, I also gravitated to the shady spots that the ride operators worked in.  The two big exceptions were, the Carousel because its repetitive, loud tune drove me crazy and "IT'S A SMALL WORLD," because its music was a hundred times worse.

When my friendship with ticket takers at the other rides blossomed, I became insulted that many of them made me work harder, by throwing the stubs on the floor. The problem ended when I went to sweep up the litter and was asked not to.  Then I noticed that they weren't ripping them in two...and when no one was looking, they scooped "the unused tickets," off the ground, for their own use.

THE RIDES WERE PRICED IN FIVE CATEGORIES, (A, B, C, D and E).  AN "E" RIDE WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE, NINETY CENTS.

To the dismay of the ticket takers, I made it a habit of keeping their area extra tidy, (more so on the expensive rides).  Soon, I took "C," (the girl from the stroller rental), to the park on our day off.  The next day, I realized that I still had a surplus of "free" tickets that I could never use up.  When I mentioned that to "C" and her girlfriend from the gift shop, the friend said, "Give them to me.  Then come in (to her store) without your uniform and I'll give you a gigantic discount."  When my face soured "C" said, "In the 'Tragic Kingdom,' what goes around, comes around.  Jeez, when I was dating Johnny from the 'lost and found,'  a lot of times, he called his brother or sister to come in on his break and make claims on jewelry, wallets and expensive souvenirs."

The next morning, RBOY and I came into her gift shop.  She didn't flinch when I said I brought a friend and said, "Whatever you guys get, make sure you pick a bumper sticker too."  She stopped speaking suddenly as her supervisor (Blondie), appeared from out of the storeroom.  I couldn't believe my ears when this innocent looking girl added, "When that fucking, psycho-bitch whore leaves, I'll wink when the coast is clear." 

I was afraid that Blondie would recognize me.  Plus, I was too inhibited to really go nuts.  So I hid behind display racks and only picked one tee-shirt, a Happy, (from the Seven Dwarfs), figurine and a bumper sticker.  RBOY did about the same. When Blondie left with a much older man in a suit, our connection winked.  We could have bought-out the store because she treated us like regular customers...and only rang up the fifty-cent bumper sticker.

At my apartment complex in Kissimmee, at about the same time, I befriended "B" and "R" from rural South Carolina.  Disney hired them after RBOY and I. The only jobs left for them was as after hours, power-washers.  Like us, they came down for a working vacation with an emphasis on socializing.  When people hired after them got regular jobs with normal hours, they were pissed-off by Disney's double-dealings.  They quit and got better jobs, (waiters at the nearby, RED LOBSTER).

From their complaints, I began seeing my job in a different light.  It annoyed me that I worked Fantasyland alone. This was proven when a kid vomited and they sent for me during my break as if I was the only person on the planet who could handle such a delicate situation, (the sawdust-like product I used was called ZIP-ZORB.  It was effective in masking the smell and drying the mess so it could be swept...but until it kicked in...yuck)!  On another occasion, I almost needed ZIP-ZORB for myself when the malodorous machine, (AVAC), that used a vacuum system to flush trash away, got backed-up.

If that wasn't bad enough, on the Fourth of July, I was sent to my supervisor's supervisor.  "G" was a stranger to me.  He was pale, hyper-skinny and about twenty-three.  When he stood to shake my hand, I could see he was a gawky, six-foot six with a face full of acne and a pronounced Adam's apple.  Through his strong Southern accent, he spoke so slow that he came-off as dopey.  While I agonized over every syllable he managed to utter, I imagined that he had to have worked exclusively in the bowels of underground Disney, before rising to this position...and even now, like a leper, he was restricted to,"backstage."

His main point was that this was the busiest day of the season and that he received a report that I wasn't smiling enough.  I said something about the natural curvature of my face.  He interrupted, "Son."  Son? He lost me immediately.  "This is not a written reprimand.  Let's just say I have some constructive criticism to help you thrive here in Disney and to help you with whatever future endeavors you might have."

I left angry.  Back at my apartment, I spoke with "B" and "R."  They made Red Lobster seem like a paradise, (ten minutes of travel,  to a 5 1/2 hour day...Disney with travel was an eleven hour day.  Waiters made about $50.00 a day...my Disney take home was $78.38, a week). I went to Red Lobster and was hired on the spot.

I went in to see "G" the next day.  I politely said I had a better job.  He said, "You shouldn't burn down your bridges." Then he urged me to give two days notice.  I wasn't starting the new job till the weekend, so I agreed.  During that next to last shift, I told my work friends the situation.  In the photo shop "M" was surprised by my decision but was supportive. She said, "Let's make sure we have lunch together tomorrow."

I was really having trouble getting through the last few hours and was dreading coming back for another day.  In my last twenty minutes, at the "DUMBO" ride, somebody left a white plastic bag on a bench.  It was too big for my dust bin so I picked it up with my hand. I couldn't figure out what it was except that it was squishy, warm and felt kind of nice.  Then a group of women crossed my path. One lady stopped, pointed at me and started laughing, "You know you're squeezing...Pampers?"  Soon all of them were laughing and more people came over to see why.  I shrugged, "What's a Pamper?"  The woman broke out into hysterics, "It's a disposable diaper, stupid!"

I was mortified.  I cleared out my locker and didn't show-up for my last day.
"B," "R" AND ME. THE KISSIMMEE RED LOBSTER WAS GOOD TO ME.  I WORKED A LOT LESS, OPENED A SAVINGS ACCOUNT AND BROUGHT A HUNK OF MONEY BACK UP NORTH, IN SEPTEMBER.

On the downside, friends from New York visited during Labor Day weekend.  I still had a ton of free tickets so we went as group to Disney.  At the same gift shop, I was prepared to be much bolder. When I saw the girl, I offered her a bribe with all my remaining tickets.  I said, "I should make sure we all get bumper stickers, right?"  She shook her, "Sorry.  My new supervisor is a real hard-ass."  Then she said, "What happened to you?"  I said, "What do you mean?"  She said, "'M' made a going away party for you...she really liked you...and you didn't show up."  I felt awful and said, "Is she here today?"  "No she went back to school.  She was so pissed at you.  She brought in a cake and about five of us got you gag gifts and..."

I started to tell her the gory details of how I got "pampered" but she turned away in disgust, to help a customer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

TELEPHONE CALL FOR DR. FREUD, DR. SIGMUND FREUD, TELEPHONE.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt that my father's band was coming off stage.  I ran up the aisle to greet him as he came down the steps.  Dad was pumping his saxophone triumphantly in the air as he turned to me.  When we got eye contact, his face blossomed into a warm smile and he "high-fived" me as he went by.  I woke up immediately.  It was the best dream I've had in a long time.

I'm thrilled that I remembered that dream because so few make it into the old memory bank.  But when I do, I have enjoyed some doozies.  My all-time favorite dream was incredibly vivid and detailed.  It happened when I was at Brooklyn College, (1974-1977).

For the sake of clarification, a "revenuer" is a government tax agent.  My only knowledge of the term comes the revenuers who hunt down illegal moonshine stills.
ASSOCIATED, BUT NOT LIMITED TO APPALACHIAN HILLBILLIES, "MOONSHINE,"(aka, WHITE LIGHTNING, MOUNTAIN DEW, HOOCH OR TENNESSEE WHITE WHISKEY),  IS LIQUOR, (MADE BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON) THAT IS NEITHER TESTED FOR QUALITY STANDARDS NOR TAXED.

Still operators paid big money to daredevils who were willing to transport the moonshine from the back woods to market.  A real go-getter, squeezed in more than one "run" a night and at least doubled his payoff.

IN ADDITION TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES, THE RUNNERS HAD TO DODGE THE GOVERNMENT REVENUERS.
In order to increase their profit, the runners began to customize their cars.  One way was to gut the car's interior, to maximize their cargo space.

SOMETIMES ONLY THE DRIVER'S SEAT WAS LEFT INTACT.
Then to assure a faster ride, the car engines were modified to maximize speed.  The speed helped to make multiple trips possible but were also important because...in the early days...their cars could outrun anything the police were driving.  An off-shoot of all this racing around (almost exclusively down south) gave rise to NASCAR.

MANY EARLY RACERS MADE THEM SELF EASY TARGETS BECAUSE THEY USED THE SAME CAR ON THE TRACK AS THEY USED FOR HAULING "SHINE."

Like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde or Robin Hood, some high-profile race car drivers were known criminals. To the delight and respect of their family, friends and fans, these speed demons flaunted their avocation despite the risk of imprisonment.

PERHAPS THE MOST FAMOUS MOONSHINE RUNNER WHO SERVED HIS TIME AND BECAME A PIONEER OF NASCAR, WAS JUNIOR JOHNSON.
Now, get ready to dial-up Dr. Freud, because in my favorite dream, I was a revenuer...but for illegal films. 

The nighttime scene opens with me walking (alone), towards a palatial theater.  It has all the glitz and glamor of a Hollywood premiere. On each side of the marquee, two giant floodlights, mounted on flatbed trucks, scan the heavens. 

In sneakers, jeans and a flannel shirt, I pass the box office and enter the fancy vestibule. Bejeweled women in slinky evening gowns and men in tuxedos interrupt their discussion to watch me go by.  At the entrance, a uniformed usher smiles as I go through without him asking me for my ticket.

I find a seat in the nearly full balcony. The chatter of the audience dies down as the lights dim.  The last vestige of conversation behind me ends as the curtain opens to unveil the blank screen.  Slowly, an extreme close-up of a single, bright, yellow banana materializes, (in addition to being an obvious phallic symbol, bananas are my least favorite food...the mere smell nauseates me).

Ever so slightly, the camera pans back.  Soon, a second banana attached to the first is revealed.  The process repeats itself to include five, nine, twelve bananas.  Eventually an entire bunch is visible.  The camera continues to broaden its shot as a second bunch, attached to the first, comes into focus.  Then a third, fourth etc.  A collective gasp of astonishment is heard in the theater as the viewers perceive that the collective banana bunches now form an upper case, "N." 

The composition on the screen is still widening as an upper case, "A," also made of banana bunches appears to the right of the "N."  Whispering grips the audience as a banana cluster shaped like a "Z," comes into view.  Finally, the letter, "I" is seen and the word, "NAZI," constructed of bananas, fills the entire movie screen.  Within seconds, the image fades to black and the tiny word "finis," appears.  Then the house lights come up.

The exiting audience is a buzz.  When I get outside it is daytime.  A rush of my fellow film revenuers charge forward to ask my opinion.  After a short exchange with them, they invite me to a diner. I said, "No.  It's time to get to work." I flag down an old fashion, yellow, Marathon taxi and get in. 

For quite some time, the cabbie zooms through residential streets and screeches each sharp turn. At a narrow alley, the cab makes a left.  The roadway is so tight that I sense that could touch the tall, blank, brick walls on each side.  After several minutes, the dark, claustrophobic street comes to a dead end.  The driver calmly puts the cab in reverse and floors the accelerator.  The backwards thrill-ride comes to an end when he backs into the normal street.  The cabbie puts the car in drive and passes the street we went down.  At the next left, he squeezes into an identical alley.

When the driver gets to this dead end, I get out and walk up a short stairway.  At the head of the steps, I find myself at the corner of Kings Highway and Nostrand Avenue, in Brooklyn.  I turn left and walk past the Nostrand Theater.  On the corner, I go into a pet shop.  In addition to caged puppies, kittens and birds...miniature elephants, (all of them were baby blue except one yellow one), freely walk about the store.

An Asian man behind a Plexiglas window signals me.  The yellow elephant rubs its face against my knee as the man, without speaking, slides a Manila envelope through the transom.  Back on the street, I summon a boxy, yellow Mercedes-Benz taxicab. Before telling the driver where to go, I look inside the envelope and find my assignment.

In the countryside, we are soon traveling parallel with a babbling brook. I see an old, galvanized metal trashcan bobbing along in the current. Then I notice another one behind it.  I look ahead and in the distance, I see more.  I get out of the taxi and go down the incline, to the water's edge.  I need to put one foot into the stream, in order to grab a garbage can.  I lift the lid and discover, a pile of fluorescent, amber-colored, movie theater-sized film spools.

I want the cabbie to drive me further but the taxi has been abandoned.  I take one step up the embankment but the cab makes a U-Turn on its own and leaves me behind.  I walk beside the small river for a long time.  On the horizon, I see a medieval castle with the stream forming a moat around it.  I walk-up one side of the twin earthen paths that rise up towards the entrance. A heavy wooden gate which doubles as a door when up, acts like a drawbridge. I fear that I will fall into the waters below and gingerly tip-toe across, into the castle.

From the shadows, I look straight ahead into the sunlight and see a Feudal-era fair...but there are no people and no sounds.  To my left and right, a circular tunnel-like area rims the castle grounds.  To my left, I hear a faint moan. I walk through the semi-darkness towards the sound.  The right wall has evidence that it was once a horse paddock.  Every ten feet, the left wall has vertical slits in the masonry with a well-worn stone platform beneath each one.  I picture defending archers shooting their arrows at attacking marauders from these stations.

The sound is clear to me as the sun rays sift through the archers slits.  My pace picks up around the next bend when I understand that I am hearing tortured groaning.  In one of the horse stalls, I see a slight, barely clothed old man with a long white beard, chained upside down, by one ankle, to the wall.  At the same time, I am too startled to speak as I think I hear a young girl's laughter.

The prisoner then murmured, "They are coming back. Run, run for your life."  At the opposite wall, I stood up on a stone platform and looked through a slit.  Five, blond, hippie girls in flowing white sundresses and a much shorter dark haired man approach. When they got a little closer, I recognized the man, Charles Manson.

The prisoner's hoarse voice crackled, "Don't be a fool.  Save yourself." I couldn't leave him there. I squatted next to him and leaned close to his face.  Before I could offer him help, he spit on me and yelled, "Go!"  I ran.  Through the darkness, I hurried towards the entrance.  Outside, I flew down the ramp.  I was almost at the bottom when a female blared, "There he is.  Get him!"

I ran to an enormous pasture.  I saw about a hundred golden haystacks and thought if I could make it there, I could hide.  I passed by ten piles before angling to the right and stopping.  I was huffing and puffing as Manson and the girls neared the first haystack.  I watched them sing and dance during their malevolent search for me. When they weren't looking, I scurried to a farther stack.

Behind me was another huge field and on the far side of it was a big hotel.  I scrambled back to the last hay pile.  I decided to wait until I caught my breath before making a mad, half mile dash to sanctuary.  It was then that a little nerdy boy appeared from behind the next hay bale.  He reminded me of Poindexter from the, "FELIX THE CAT," cartoon.  He was wearing a black and yellow beanie that suggested he attended an English Prep School as well as black Bermuda shorts and long black socks that revealed only his knees.

WHEN POINDEXTER STARTED GIGGLING, I SAW THROUGH HIS COKE-BOTTLE GLASSES, THAT HE HAD AN EVIL EYE.

I put my index finger to my lips as a signal to be quiet...he nodded.  Then I peeked around my hay and saw Charlie and his girls twenty feet away.  Two of the girls were bored and wanted to leave.  Charlie whined, "C'mon, we need fresh blood, it'll be so cool..."  Then one of the girls grabbed Manson around the waist and led him back towards the castle.  That's when laughing Poindexter jumped into the open, pointed at me and yelled, "There he is!"

In retrospect, I bet you thought one of Charlie's girls was going to stab me to death with a banana...didn't you? Either way, don't call Freud or size me up for a straight jacket or order me a padded cell. Please, please, please believe me, I liked my dream of my dad playing his saxophone much better.

IN 1946 ITALY AFTER WWII, IT WAS SAID OF MY DAD'S SOULFUL RENDITION OF, "THE STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER," THAT GENERAL GEORGE PATTON WAS MOVED TO TEARS, EACH TIME HE HEARD IT.
More importantly, the next time I dream about my dad, somebody please remind me to ask questions.  There's tons of stuff I'm dying to know.

Monday, January 16, 2012

ONE FLEW OVER CUCKOO WRIGLEY FIELD

1976 was a kinder, gentler time.  Fourteen years before that, the times were even more blissful...to the point of innocence.

The novel, "ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST," was published in 1962.  At its root, the story is about subtle and coercive methods of oppression, censorship and forced conformity.  To make his vision more palatable, author Ken Kesey set the scene within the walls of a hospital's mentally unstable ward.  His insights suggest that this is modern society's toxic path...unless a catalyst can trigger our instinctual need, for a free human spirit.

Kesey's title came from a nursery rhyme. 

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest

The book's narrator was one of the patients, (Chief Bromden).  He mentioned that as a child, his grandmother sang that nursery rhyme to him.  On a broader scale, a cuckoo's nest is a playful name for a mental institution.  And one interpretation of "flying over," is a patient going too far, (getting in trouble).
IN THE 1975 FILM, JACK NICHOLSON PORTRAYS R. P. McMURPHY. HE REPRESENTS INDEPENDENCE AND THE HUMAN  INSTINCT FOR FREEDOM.  HE FAKED MENTAL PROBLEMS TO AVOID PRISON AND IS INSTITUTIONALIZED WITH UNSTABLE MEN, (ACUTES).  McMURPHY IDENTIFIES THE SUPPRESSION CAUSED BY NURSE RATCHED AND RALLIES THE MEN'S DEADENED INDIVIDUALITY. UNTIL, HE FINDS OUT THE HARD WAY THAT THE ACUTES HAVE VOLUNTARILY COMMITTED THEM SELVES AND CAN LEAVE ANY TIME THEY WISH...BUT HE CAN'T.
In 1976, the movie's message was fresh in my mind when I had my solo, cross-country trip. During my sixty-eight days on the road, I fully exercised my independence.  But on a deeper and more interesting level, I also had the freedom to temporarily become dependent or conform to a given situation.

My modes of transportation were Greyhounds and hitchhiking.  In bus depots, the open road, youth hostels, seedy motels, camp grounds, colleges and tourist destinations, I was thrown together with a wide range of derelicts, knuckleheads, freaks, eccentrics, good people and the elite.  While some of the extreme cases might've needed psychological help, at no point was I ever in real danger or "acutely" uncomfortable.  Instead, many of these folks took me into their hearts, cars, homes and confidence...while sharing travel information, food and our most private thoughts.
ONE OF THE FEW TIMES THAT I FELT UNHAPPY OR LONELY WAS THE NIGHT MY GREYHOUND PULLED INTO SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.  I WAS UNDER THE WEATHER.  AND EVEN THOUGH THE ALAMO WAS ONLY TWO BLOCKS AWAY, I CHOSE TO GUT IT OUT AND SLEEP ON THE BUS ALL THE WAY TO EL PASO.
A month later, towards the end of my journey, (Monday, August 23rd), I reached Chicago.  It was in the "Windy City" when I felt loneliness again. 
THE WILLIS TOWER...WHATCHU TALKIN' ABOUT?  THE SEARS TOWER, WILL ALWAYS BE THE SEARS TOWER. LOCATED AT 233 SOUTH WACKER DRIVE, IT IS THE FOCAL POINT OF THE CHICAGO SKYLINE.  ITS 108 STORIES MAKE IT THE TALLEST BUILDING IN THE USA...AND THE SEVENTH HIGHEST FREE-STANDING STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD.
Unlike most places I visited, I had no pre-planned Chicago itinerary.  I had no direction, no "must-see" points of interest and I even had trouble finding a cheap place to stay.  Luckily, the terminal's gift shop lady suggested the Ohio East Hotel.  It was in walking distance, on the other side of the Chicago River.
STOCK PHOTO OF THE CORRECT STREET.  BUT THIS HOTEL LOOKS LIKE THE RITZ COMPARED TO MY $4.50 PER NIGHT RAT TRAP.
I was led to the section of East Ohio Avenue that was their version of Skid Row. Weeks earlier, I had slept at a similar, "retired gentleman's" hotel in San Francisco's Mission District, for half the price...and by comparison, it felt like I was in the lap of luxury. The Ohio East was more like a welfare, flop-house.  It didn't even have a lobby. 

From the street, I walked up the interior, unlit wooden staircase. At the rickety landing, I pushed through a heavy metal door and was greeted by a makeshift, "front desk." It looked unnatural, like it was built in an hour and jammed into the second floor hall. Behind the clerk, the dusty room key slots had oddball items in them like, a Bayer aspirin bottle, a bent screwdriver, silverware and a Donald Duck comic book. 

The impatient, sixty-ish desk clerk spoke in a sporadic cadence, like he was tripping.  The only thing he made clear was; NO loud noise after ten, NO cooking in the room and NO female company.  Then he gaped at my wallet as he dangled a fourth floor key, until I paid. 

The Ohio East had no elevator, so with the one towel I was given, I trudged up two more flights, to the "penthouse." The first old-timer (guest), I saw on my floor was singing "scat," annoyingly loud.  The next few residents I passed were silent.  Their facial emptiness made me think that they had already had lobotomies.  Who knows, maybe they were real-life, "chronics" from, "Cuckoo's Nest."

My closet-sized room had a moldy, ammonia stink and there were enough water bugs to carry off the bed. I vowed to stay only one night.  Then I went downstairs, left the building and headed to the "Loop."  It was odd, while wandering around downtown, I didn't see any fellow backpackers.  I even went back to the bus station in search of companionship but found none. 

At rush hour, amid the hustle and bustle of commuters pouring out of the modern office buildings, I saw a sign, "EARLY BIRD SPECIAL, ALL THE SMELTS YOU CAN EAT, 99c."  I didn't even know what a smelt was...but for that kind of money, I was willing to gamble, especially because it would be a treat to sit in a real restaurant.

This hash house looked better from the outside.  I stood alone, inside the doorway and looked across the dark dining room's the sea of empty tables.  I had just noticed a strip of fly paper (fully occupied), above the cash register when a man poked his head out from the kitchen and said in an Eastern European accent, "Sit anywhere."

A minute later, he came to my table, set down a glass of water and tried handing me a menu.  I refused the menu and said, "I'll have, the all you can eat smelts."  His neutral expression sagged to a frown as he checked his watch, (it was 5:15 so there was still forty-five minutes left on the special).  Then he snarled, "And to drink?"  I held up the water and said, "I'm good for now."
SMELTS AVERAGE ABOUT SIX INCHES IN LENGTH AND LOOK LIKE SMALL SALMON.  THEY ARE USUALLY EATEN WHOLE.
My big basket of smelts were deep fried.  The crisp breading was all I could taste, so they weren't too bad.  My second order was much smaller and the third only had about ten.  When I signaled the waiter again there were four other tables occupied.  Before I could ask for more, he slapped down the check and said, "You've had enough."

Maybe I should have made a statement over the, "all you can eat," clause and caused a ruckus, but I didn't.  I rationalized that I was full, that smelts weren't that good and if I pushed too hard, they might spit in a forced refill.  When I got outside, there was still three hours of daylight. I soloed around the business district but on a limited budget, it got old fast.

I resisted going back to my dungeon as long as I could.  But when I found a copy of that day's Chicago Tribune, I headed back.  It was twilight when I returned to the hotel.  At the desk, a different clerk was on the phone.  He was jealous that the person on the other end was going to the Cubs baseball game, the next afternoon.  I thought that was a great idea since I was striking out with everything else.  I lingered to ask him directions to Wrigley Field but his intimidating, harsh glare, sent me on my way.

Upstairs, I laid on the thin mattress, read the paper and did the crossword.  Before retiring, I walked the length of the corridor to the rest room.  On the way back, I crossed paths with a normal-looking kid about my age.  My opinion of his normalcy changed when his eyes bugged out as he told me that he had a bullet in his room.  I was polite in turning down his invitation to see it.  He then followed me back towards my room. I was fumbling with the key when he said, "I'm in 411, if you change your mind...I'll be awake all night."

I made several guesses what "a bullet" might have been a euphemism for, as I tried to barricade the door with the chest of drawers.  But it was bolted to the floor.

In the morning, I grabbed my towel and headed back to the toilet. An elderly wino in a tattered, silk smoking jacket and presumably nothing else, was ranting about his missed court appearance, at the pay phone outside 411. I was dreading bullet-boy being disturbed and coming out as I scurried by. 

In the bathroom, I double-tested the door's lock.  I hesitated for a while until I decided to go through with my shower.  Before undressing, I waited outside the shower stall long enough for the water bugs to scatter.  After I stripped down, to be certain that the first gush of water wasn't rusty, I waited again. Considering that the water pressure and temperature were decent, that was the shortest shower of my life.

A third different clerk was on duty when I surrendered my key.  He barely looked past his Popular Science Magazine as he chomped on a nauseating cigar. 

In the clean morning air, I headed towards the Greyhound station.  I wanted to stow my belongings and find out that night's schedule, going east to Windsor Ontario.  Just before the small bridge over the river, I spotted a letter carrier.  I appreciated his smile as he recommended a city bus route to Lincoln Park and then to Wrigley Field.  I came away from our meeting thinking that not everyone in Chicago was crazy.
"THE FRIENDLY CONFINES," LOCATED AT 1060 WEST ADDISON STREET, IS BETTER KNOWN AS WRIGLEY FIELD.  IT HAS BEEN THE CHICAGO CUBS HOME SINCE 1916.  ODDLY, THEY HAVE NEVER WON THE WORLD SERIES THERE, (1908 WAS THEIR LAST CHAMPIONSHIP WHILE PLAYING AT A DIFFERENT STADIUM).
I got to the game early and bought a general admission ticket. During batting practice, to get more in the mood, I bought a Cubs tee-shirt.  I toured the iconic ballpark and appreciated the old-school charm of the hand turned scoreboard, the ivy-covered outfield walls and the fact that they didn't have lights, (it wouldn't be until twelve years later that night games were played in Wrigley).

The Cubs were a crappy team that year.  So with the dog-days of August almost coming to an end, less than 11,000 people showed up for the festivities. The lack of fans enabled me to get a great seat, about twenty rows back, on field level, between home and first base but closer to home.

When the National Anthem was over, my entire row, ten seats to my right and left remained empty.  In the second inning, a regular guy, (dressed neater than me...and I was wearing a brand new Cubs shirt), sat several seats to my right.  I still had bullet-boy from the night before on my mind, so when I figured that this man could have sat anywhere, even the four-seat buffer between us, didn't seem like enough.

The Cubs opponent was the Houston Astros.  It marked the first time I was at a game that didn't involve my adored Mets or against the hated Junkees. So in addition to having no rooting interest, both teams being bad and neither squad having a big star to marvel at, I was sitting alone at the predictably dull, non-event.

In the middle innings, the man to my right and I shared short comments about the game.  In time, I realized that he was a knowledgeable fan and a pleasant person.  So when he switched to the seat next to me...it was neither weird nor a threat to my personal space.

While the game dragged on, he said it was still great to get out on such a beautiful day.  Our conversation strayed from baseball as I told him anecdotes of my trip. When I told him about my loneliness in Chicago and that I was leaving later that night he said, "To get a feel for the true Chicagoan, you need to be around people."  Then he pointed towards the left field wall and said, "McCluskey's is a great bar on Waveland Avenue.  Its a tradition to go there after the game. They serve free hot dogs with chopped-up tomatoes on them, the 'THREE STOOGES,' are on the TV till seven and they have Heileman's Old Style on tap."
BACK IN CANARSIE, MY FRIEND SLW WAS A FAN OF OLD STYLE BEER.  HE HAD IT ON A TRIP TO THE MIDWEST AND USED TO LOVE MAKING FUN OF ITS BREWING PROCESS CALLED, "KRAEUSENING."
The hot-dogs didn't sell me and overwhelmingly, beer whether its kraeusened or not, is just beer.  What truly gravitated me to McCluskey's was the Stooges because the show, due to its violence, had been banned in New York.  Of course partying with my new friend was important too.

The Cubs rallied for two runs in the ninth, but lost 4-3.  On our way out I said, "I can't wait to buy the first round of Old Style."  He said, "I can't go."  I said, "Why?"  He said, "They know exactly when the games end. I have to get back to the institute."  Our chat had concentrated on baseball and my travels so I felt bad when I realized that he didn't get much of a chance to speak about himself.

We were leaving the darkness under the grandstand and back into the warm sunlight as I said, "Are you a doctor?"  He advanced to an adult tricycle that was chained to a light pole and laughed, "Doctor?  I'm a patient.  They let me out a couple afternoons a month."  I was stunned as he unchained his ride. 

The crowd around us flew east,
I flew west 
and he pedaled back to the cuckoo's nest.
THE "CUCKOO'S NEST" BOATING SCENE, DEMONSTRATED THE POWER OF PERCEPTION, WHEN THE PATIENTS, OUTSIDE THE WARD, ARE PASSED-OFF AS DOCTORS.
I did venture over to McCluskey's and it was everything he said it was.  But I was still alone in a crowd.  At least it gave me the chance to assess the world around me.  While scarfing-down free hot-dogs, I realized that chopped-up tomatoes sucked as a topping, the old memory of the Stooges was better than the real thing and even though I was twenty-one years old, that I was still quite naive.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"BABY OTT," MAN OF A THOUSAND NICKNAMES

When I was fourteen, Ivan Cure, a sixteen-year old in my neighborhood was so driven to become a doctor that he insisted on being called, "I. Cure."

In 1970, Canarsie High had so many students that a split session was necessary.  That meant that swarms of incoming sophomores like me, started class at 1:00PM.

A friend of mine, Stewart "Otter" Ott, and I had a routine where he came to my house at 12:30 and we walked the ten blocks to school together. The previous June, Otter and I became friends at the John Wilson Junior High ninth grade trip, (ninety miles away, at the Peekskill Dude Ranch).

Soon Stew started dropping by my house at noon, so we could watch, "JEOPARDY." To spice up the festivities, we developed a system to keep score and compete against each other.
CREATED BY MERV GRIFFIN, "JEOPARDY," HAS AIRED OVER 9,000 EPISODES SINCE ITS DEBUT IN MARCH 1964.
My mother didn't like Stewart.  She was an excellent judge of character and didn't think the Otter nickname fit him.  So behind his back, she called him the "Piss-Ant."  Mom's instinct was pretty amazing because she had no way of knowing about the angst caused by Otter's hated, authoritative and cheap father.

Otter's austere dad was a hunched-over IRS examiner who wore his suit pants and dress shirt in the house until he went to bed.  He was probably under fifty, looked sixty and acted seventy. While I was at their house, the man never acknowledged me. On the other hand, Stewart's friendly mom, in her signature beehive hairdo, was attractive, bubbly, and in her mid-thirties. Today, we would call her, a trophy wife. 

Mrs. Ott was supportive of Stew.  But when dad was around, her hip, butterfly attitude reverted to that of an ugly, irritable caterpillar, as her face contorted to an unnatural, neutral indifference.  Even worse, she obediently agreed with everything Mr. Ott said, especially when pressuring Stew to live up to his potential to become a doctor.

My mom was usually in the kitchen (the adjoining room), during Stew's TV visits. So she had a fly on the wall perspective during our conversations.  But Otter never brought up his dysfunctional family.  My mom saw only the effect, not the cause...so her negativity was based on him being a jerk after he (almost always), beat me in Jeopardy. 

He and I never mentioned, "I. Cure's," nickname or Otter's need to lampoon his father, to my mom.  So after beating me in Jeopardy again, he bragged about his wealth of knowledge and intellectual mastery over me. On our way out, he informed my mom of his latest victory and proclaimed that he now preferred being called, "Doctor Ott."  Mom in turn called him, "Baby Ott." 

Otter was short and good-looking so, he took mom's nickname as a compliment.  A lot of people called him, "Flea," so I'm guessing he liked mom's name because he perceived a certain level of cuteness from it.  But his cuteness only took him so far.  When it came to meeting girls, his brash personality usually got him his foot in the door but he was unable to follow through because like his dad, he was insensitive, sarcastic and abrasive.  My mom recognized these traits and called him Baby Ott because she thought he was infantile.

When I realized mom was right again,  I reflected back a few months to the dude ranch.  Otter had said that his mom had lied to his dad...and gave him, her squirreled away "mad" money, so he could go. To rationalize his absence, she told Mr. Ott that Stew was visiting old friends in Nanuet (NY).  Unfortunately, this arrangement left him no pocket money on our trip.  So like moths attracted to a floodlight, to make a few dollars, Stew gathered a bunch of schoolmates behind our bunkhouse and drank Aqua Velva...for money.
AQUA VELVA WAS INTRODUCED AS AN ALCOHOL-BASED MOUTHWASH IN 1929.  IN 1970, IT WAS A POPULAR AFTERSHAVE.  TODAY, AN AQUA VELVA COCKTAIL COMBINES, VODKA, GIN AND BLUE CURACAO.  IT IS TOPPED WITH SPRITE AND ICE AND GARNISHED WITH AN ORANGE SLICE OR MINT.  PLEASE NOTE, ACTUAL AQUA VELVA IS NOT AN INGREDIENT.
At the dude ranch, the horse back riding, archery and native American craft sessions went unappreciated. The real action was our unchaperoned carousal after dark.  Other kids were smoking pot, breaking windows with a cricket bat and having pantie raids...so I didn't think Stew's antics were that much out of the ordinary.  That is until we got back and I heard kids call him, "Stewed," "S. Ott," "Idi-Ott" and  "Aqua Velva Man."

He lived up to those names during one of our walks to school.  He told me that his Waspy, Nanuet friends got him into drinking mint gin. Then like a commercial he said, "Plus, it's only two bucks, tastes great and makes you feel good."  A few days later, at a moment of weakness and curiosity, I let myself get lured into the web of stupidity by his spider-like, multi-example rationale, (in retrospect, I think he only needed me, for my dollar). 

Like bedbugs waiting to jump onto a victim, we staked-out the liquor store next to the Bamboo Lounge, (on Avenue N at Locust).
IN THE MOVIE, "GOODFELLAS," THE BAMBOO LOUNGE'S FACADE WAS USED  DURING THE NIGHT CLUB FIRE BOMBING SCENE.  THE LIQUOR STORE THAT WAS TO PURVEY OUR GIN, IS OFF-CAMERA, TWO DOORS DOWN FROM THE TUXEDO STORE.

Otter finally approached a man wearing a Beetles tee-shirt and asked him to buy us the pint.  When he agreed, Stew handed over my dollar bill and his fist full of change, (including pennies).

I'm guessing the man wanted to teach us lesson.  He said they were out of mint gin so he got us "almost the same thing," lemon gin.  I never had Castor oil but lemon gin was worse than any all-purpose, icky-tasting medicine I ever had forced down my throat...but I swilled it anyway.

At about 2:00AM, we were wasted, sitting on the steps in front of the Charcoal Chef Restaurant by the Seaview Theater.  A neighbor spotted me, dragged me home and woke my folks.

Like a hornet's nest in my head, the next day's hangover, vomiting session and lingering dry heaves were nothing compared to my parent's tongue lashing. I never got that messed-up, EVER again!...till many years later.

Otter was now off limits.  Like a pesky gnat, he followed me around school and begged my forgiveness. Eventually, I let down my guard. I defied my parents and allowed him back into my trust...even after he lit up a roach on our first walk home. Soon, I found out that mom was still right about Otter. 

At the same time, I was dating a girl who confided in me that she once used a handful of sleeping pills to attempt suicide.  They rushed her to the hospital and saved her life by pumping her stomach.  I told Otter.  "Mosquito Stew," stung me again.  Whether it was out of jealousy, ignorance or disbelief...I'll never know...but he found her and asked her about it.  She was insulted that someone in her circle had betrayed her trust.  She demanded to know how he knew. I'm certain she didn't have to resort to Chinese water torture when Otter broke down and fingered me.  I liked her a lot so it killed me to be called a termite when she cut me loose. I asked, "Why?"  She said, "Ask 'Mr. Booze-Breath.'"

When he confessed, I went off on him and permanently ended our relationship. 

Forty years later, (the other day), a Facebook friend brought up Otter's name. The thing I found most curious was that Otter fulfilled his father's, "Dr. Ott" wish.   Apparently, Stewart Ott obtained a doctorate in entomology and has been studying insects...forever. He travels all over the world and at some point in 2011, he was on a polar expedition near the South Pole.  It wouldn't shock me to find out that the good doctor was cruel to his trophy wife and makes her bore the holes into the Antarctic's frozen tundra.

Too much time has passed and even from a distance, I'm not interested in tracking Otter down.  But if I ever found myself confronted by him, in respect to my mom, I'd have to call him, "Dr. Baby Ott."  However, in a strange twist of fate, I researched every derivative of Ivan Cure...and it looks like, he never reached his self-proclaimed, "I. Cure," prophesy to be a doctor, dentist or even an exterminator.

Monday, January 2, 2012

JANUS, GOD OF NEW BEGINNINGS

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Yes another year has slipped by. So it's a good time to stop and give pause to what we have learned from the past and use that knowledge to best prepare for the future.

We should take a cue from the ancient Romans who prayed to the god of new beginnings, Janus. Janus is uniquely depicted in statues as having two faces; one looking forward to the future and another looking back into the past.

THIS STATUE OF JANUS IS ON DISPLAY AT THE VATICAN. THE MONTH JANUARY IS NAMED FOR HIM.

A worshiper of Janus would have seen the key to a brighter future as the understanding of fellow human beings and the willingness to embrace their diversity. Through honesty, hard work and respect, we could make the necessary changes to make our ever-evolving existence better.

I believe, down through the years, Janus has been watching and testing me. Because the series of funny events that I am about to share with you, has helped my personal growth, made me stronger and able to deal with the human condition. Oddly, these experiences all seem to happen in January.

In January 1974, "THE EXORCIST," was the hottest new movie. While still in its limited engagement, theaters clambered to show it as often as possible. One frosty, foggy Wednesday night, two friends and I got an impulse to drop the "nothing" we were doing and head into Manhattan to see it."THE EXORCIST," GROSSED $441 MILLION. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR TEN OSCARS AND WON TWO. "THE STING," BEAT IT OUT FOR BEST PICTURE. I SAY, IF THE DIRECTOR LEFT IN THE SPIDER-WALK SCENE, IT WOULD HAVE WON THAT OSCAR TOO.

We drove past the tri-plex at 10:30PM. Through the eerie mistiness, the line of people waiting to get in, stretched down the block and around the corner. It reminded me of a wake for a prominent person. One friend jumped out of the car and found out that the 11:00PM showing was sold-out. He also discovered that the line we were looking at, was for the midnight show. He volunteered to wait for tickets on our behalf while we parked.

Joe Vanilla was not one of my friends in the car. But soon our inside joke of praying to the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces, (Joe Vanilla) was invoked. Of course, without him at the wheel of his hot pink El Dorado, our prayers were obviously not answered. We cruised the east twenties in vain. We finally settled for a spot so far away that if a taxi went by, we would have taken it.

At 11:15, we got back to the theater. Only ten others were behind my shivering friend on line. He pointed out an employee, (wearing a parka), stationed at the back and said, "That usher is telling new people coming up that the last showing is sold-out too. He also said to us that it would be difficult for groups, even couples to find seats together."

The usher was right, the three of us were forced to sit separately. I think sitting next to strangers made the movie spookier. Whatever you might think of the Exorcist...even if you never saw it, you have to believe my audience was captivated...while we got the crap scared out of us.

The throng of people exited the theater in a combination of excited chatter or in a mild form of catatonia. I left through the main entrance and lost my friends in the shuffle. Under the safety of the bright marquee, I looked to the left in anticipation that my friends had gone out through the side doors. When they didn't appear, I began to feel abandoned. A shuddering twinge of fear bolted through my body when the stream of exiters evaporated.

I looked back into the vestibule and saw a solitary, sobbing girl wandering back inside. At the same time that I guessed that she was lost too, I got a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned...and it was not either of my buddies...it was a ragged beggar. I was reminded of the movie's subway scene when a panhandler tried to bum loose change from Father Karras. I was so startled that to this day, I blame the death of my hair follicles on him and his satanic, toothless smirk. Luckily, seconds later while my thumping heart was still in overdrive, my friends whisked me away.

The next day, I proclaimed the Exorcist the greatest movie ever made, (I still put it in my top three). On my recommendation, Joe Vanilla and his girlfriend double-dated with another friend of mine (Woodrow "Woody" Konigsberg) and his sexy, witch-like, bipolar girlfriend, (Pessie Burkalter).

Joe and Woody were my first two friends that were sexually active. Joe was a true to life Fonzie. He was just as cool with girls as he was in finding perfect parking spaces.

Woody despite being a good-looking guy was extremely hen-pecked or as we used to say in mixed company, "Pessie-Whipped."

Joe drove to the same theater on the much busier Friday night. He lived up to his legendary status and pulled his "Eldo," right into a spot, three storefronts down from the theater. They still waited an hour on line but Joe and his girl managed to sit together, in the middle, towards the back. Woody and Pess also sat together but against the wall, about ten rows from the screen.

When I reflect on Woody's relationship with Pess, I'm forced to think that they both had something special to offer in bed. But Pessie had the upper hand. Frequently while we were hanging out, Woody would announce that he was having such a good time with us that if Pess (insert profanity here), called, he wouldn't leave. She knew all our phone numbers and during so many inopportune moments, the phone ringer of doom would toll for Woody.

Once, we were at Canarsie's, Frolic Tavern debating where to watch the Superbowl, when the bartender called out, "Is there anyone here named Woody?" He took the call and argued a strong case to stay with us...but he lost. Woody was ashamed as he left with his head hung low.

In public, she was the ultimate high-maintenance girlfriend. Her demands were constant, difficult and/or expensive to fulfill. She treated him like dirt and would swear on her mother's grave to hold-out sex from him, if he didn't chauffeur her around or perform any other doggie trick she wanted.

This situation didn't change while they watched the Exorcist movie. As told to me by Joe Vanilla, his audience was just as rapt as mine. During the scene when the mom discovered that her daughter was possessed, the dead quiet was broken by Pessie's familiar nasal whine. From more than twenty aisles away Joe heard, "Woody...I want popcorn!" A tsunami of angry shushing pulsated from that section of the theater. After a few seconds of peace Joe clearly heard, "Woody! I don't give a flying f***! I want popcorn...now! Or else!"

Joe guessed that her barbed ultimatum was impaled by the typical carnal lure as he watched Woody slither up the aisle. Soon he accelerated because strangers loudly whispered insults to his manhood as he went by. Woody couldn't hide and ran the last few feet to sanctuary. When he returned, despite opening the door a minimal crack, many entranced viewers were disturbed again. Then even if they weren't certain it was him, his popcorn bucket served as a beacon to identify Woody, so he was targeted with another dose of verbal abuse.

Later in the film, the audience was riveted on the first head-to-head meeting between the devil and Father Marrin. Then the utter stillness was broken by another demand by Pess, "Woody, I'm thirsty!" Like a trained seal, Woody shot straight up. He excused him self as he squeezed through the row of pissed off neighbors and scurried towards the lobby, on his latest mission, amid a barrage of catcalls and obscenities.

In the next five years there would be a lot of changes. For me, I relocated to Las Vegas in January 1979. On the other hand, Pessie and Woody's tumultuous relationship stopped and re-started enough to qualify for the world's most break-ups in, The Guinness Book of Records. They were still together when I moved out west.

In January 1980, I had an apartment behind the Aladdin Casino on Harmon Avenue, (near the present day Hard Rock Casino). On a night off, I was shocked to get a phone call from Janice Burkalter...Pessie's fraternal twin sister. Janice didn't resemble Pessie in looks or personality. She was pleasant but not pretty...someone (not me), once said that she looked like Telly Savalas... with hair.

WHO LOVES YA, BABY. ARISTOTELIS "TELLY" SAVALAS, (JANUARY 21, 1922 - JANUARY 22, 1994), WAS A PROMINENT CHARACTER ACTOR IN MOVIES. HOWEVER, HE IS PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS TV's, "KOJAK."

I was surprised that Janice wanted to meet me for a drink. I didn't see the harm. Plus, she was only a mile away at the Flamingo, so I agreed to meet her. But Janice conveniently omitted that she was with Pessie. Pess and I were enemies. For as long as I knew her, (since I was thirteen), I recognized that she was evil. I'm sure, we never spoke or even acknowledged each other. However, people mature and during this meeting, she was surprisingly civil as she and her sister quizzed me about where the best discos were and other non-gambling places to go.

In a short time, the conversation dried up. Pessie took me aside. In a mean spirited tone she blurted, "Do you think Woody is gay?" I was shocked! How preposterous! I figured he must have given her, her permanent walking papers and her vanity couldn't handle the finality of a real rejection. She was impatient waiting for my answer. I said, "You came all the way out here to ask me that?" Like the bitch I always knew her to be she said, "Just answer the effing question...is he or isn't he?" I said, "I gotta go."

Change is usually not easy to adjust to. When I left Las Vegas, I returned to New York City in January 1984. Most of my friends had moved away but Woody was still there, living in Manhattan. During our phone calls, I never brought up Pessie's assertion because he made it clear that he was dating.

In January 2009, I joined Facebook. When I reacquainted myself with one of my other old cronies, I was informed that Woody had dabbled in bi-sexuality but was now strictly a homosexual. I joked, "Pessie must have drained the last essence of heterosexuality out of him."

I was surprised but I was neither disappointed nor angry. His sexual orientation was none of my business. Like what the god Janus stands for, we must accept change as we look towards the future.

Last year around this time, Woody became my Facebook friend. I found his overall attitude to be bitter, sarcastic, opinionated and ill-tempered...I didn't enjoy his company any more. I just came to the realization that our friendship had run its course.

Woody will always be a part of my wonderful past but as I look towards the future, I think Janus himself would validate my choice to make Woody, my first Facebook "unfriending" of 2012.