Monday, June 25, 2012

THE H-MAN AND THE FOREIGN NAME GAME

One never knows where the humor will come from. 

A bunch of us at work were crowded into the small anteroom outside the dispatcher's headquarters waiting to be assigned.  This log-jam was caused because the usual, in-and-out flow of personnel was disturbed. That night, the lead scheduler and both of his savvy replacements coincidentally all called-out.  That left the office without an experienced router which resulted in, a first-timer (a friend, Arcine) being in charge of such a vital and complicated undertaking.

I was watching the poor girl running around like a chicken without a head when one of the thirty of us in limbo (another friend, Calloway), tapped me on the shoulder and put his index finger to his lips.  He pointed at the substitute dispatcher through the Plexiglas window, retreated to the back of the mob and took out his cell-phone.  Calloway's serious face turned into the mischievous grin of a leprechaun as he dialed into headquarters. 

Calloway's overwhelmed prank target picked up the phone as he said in a crisp Irish brogue, "Me name's Holden, Holden M'Groin, I'm supposed to start tonight but they didn't tell me what time to report."  Arcine picked up the master daily schedule.  We watched her shake her head as she searched for the phony name until she said, "What did you say your name is?"  Calloway fought off his laughter as he turned his back from the window and said, "M'Groin, Holden M'Groin, M-C-G-R-O-I-N.  Is there a problem, dearie?  You see, today's me first day..."  Arcine said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." and put him on hold as she looked around for help...but she was flying solo.  In a panic, she unnecessarily scanned ten lists of employees already accounted for. She was waving her arms in desperation and it looked liked she was screaming obscenities when she slid the window open and yelled into the crowd, "Do any of you know who's Holden M'Groin?"  A few people in the crowd snickered.  Then with all the charm and professionalism of a bag lady with Turrets Arcine roared, "What's so f***ing funny about me f***ing saying; who's f***ing Holden M'Groin?"  Then an older woman said, "If YOU don't know whose holding your groin, how would we know?"  Arcine's upgraded profanity rant would have embarrassed a longshoreman.  But it got still worse when she caught eye-contact with Calloway as he held up his cell phone and burst out laughing.

The point is, names can be sensitive issues.  I'm certain I wouldn't want to eat a food with the name shitaki...and I love mushrooms. And Cheez-Wizz despite being nearly all chemicals, implies that a main ingredient is, wizz...so I say no thank you to that too.
OF COURSE THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, IN MEXICO THEY MARKET "SHIT" CIGARETTES.  THE GIMMICK IS,  IT'S ALL NATURAL AND THEREFORE SMOKING THEM, DOESN'T CAUSE CANCER.

In the case of people names, imagine moving to Norway and finding out that your name meant something strange like; sweaty butt.  Some prime examples of this situation that I have come across include, a Middle-Eastern kid in one of my son Andrew's classes named Anis.  When he understood the negative implication, it didn't take long before he demanded that his name be pronounced, "ANN-iz."  Similarly, a new-hire at my job was named Dung.  He asked his supervisor, "Why do people laugh when they read my name tag?"  His boss wryly said, "Because in English, dung means cow crap."  The next day his name tag read: Tony.  Plus the name Phuc and Phouc seem to come up a lot too and those guys all insist that it's pronounced; Foo.

This foreign name game happened again when I caught the, "TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES" (TCM) tribute to Japanese, late 50's horror movies. Included in this airing were four "classics."  I was familiar with the ones that featured enormous monstrosities like; "GODZILLA," "MOTHRA" and "RODAN." But the one I never heard of was, the one that took a different route.
GODZILLA WAS AN AMPHIBIAN, MOTHRA AN INSECT AND RODAN WAS A BIRD.  THE COMMON THREAD THAT RAN THROUGH ALL THESE CREATURE FILMS WAS THE PUBLIC'S FEAR, OF THE AFFECTS FROM NUCLEAR BOMB TESTING.

The fourth movie, "THE H-MAN," I liked best. It also centered on the side-effects on testing nuclear weapons theme but its antagonist was a murderous ooze that inhabits the Tokyo sewer system.
(Above), THE AMERICAN THEATER POSTER FOR 1958's, "THE H-MAN." THIS MOVIE WAS RARE IN THAT DEPENDING WHO WAS REPORTING ON IT,  THE REVIEWS HAD AN USUALLY WIDE RANGE...FROM, A DECENT TWO-STAR RATING WITH KUDOS FOR ITS SUB-PLOT,  TO A, TOTAL ZERO-STAR PANNING THAT CONCENTRATED ON ITS POOR SPECIAL-EFFECTS AND A SILLY SCRIPT. 

I'm guessing that the Toho Studios' superstar directing, special effects and producing team of, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya and Tomoyuki Tanaka felt that the age of giant monster (kaiju) movies had peaked.  So to get in on the ground floor of something new and more cerebral, they went with a jiggly, flesh-eating, radioactive slime that absorbed its human prey, yet rejected their clothing.  They soon reassessed this attempt at cleverness and realized that they missed their mark.  It's good thing too, because the giant monster genre would remain popular, (even when they ran out of ideas, the same grotesque beasts maintained enough of an audience even if they were poorly recycled versions of the same thing).
LED BY HONDA, WHO COULD FORGET THE TEAM'S 1964 SCI-FI SMASH, "GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER." AS WELL AS THEIR CHEESY, RECYCLED CHARACTERS LIKE, 1962's "KING KONG vs GODZILLA," 1964's, "MOTHRA vs GODZILLA," 1965's, "FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD," 1968's, "DESTROY ALL MONSTERS," AND 1975's, "THE TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA."
I found "The H-Man" to be an unlikely source of humor.  That's why I side with its superior review.  It had enough uniqueness to entertain me.  This notion was reinforced when I shut off Godzilla in mid-stream because the calamities were basically identical.  But I got through the whole H-Man because an unintentional vein of humor kept cropping up and like an addiction to sugar, I wanted more candy...and always got it.

The H-Man appealed to me right away because in the opening credits, a surprisingly pleasant, jazzy sound track set the tone. And while I must confess that it had a less than stunning sub-plot that included drug dealers, hot Japanese girls and a sexy night club singer...IT HAD A SUB PLOT.
THE JAPANESE THEATER POSTER (above) DE-EMPHASIZES THE HORROR ASPECT OF THE MOVIE.  IT IS PROVEN BY THE FILM'S SEXUALLY SUGGESTIVE TITLE BEING TRANSLATED TO, "BEAUTY AND THE LIQUID MEN."  CONSIDERING THE TWO POSTERS AND THE TITLES, I KNOW I WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE INTRIGUED BY THIS ONE.
Like I said, you never know where the humor is going to come from.  In H-Man, I found hilarity in the female lead, who plays the nightclub singer, Shikako.  Even though I was disappointed to see how her name was spelled, I still laughed every time her name was clearly pronounced; Shit Taco.  I'm positive that during the naive 50's that this level of wordplay concerning awful Mexican food did not exist...that's what makes moving to Norway and finding out that your name means something disgusting, or asking people, "Who's holding your groin," all the more humorous.

The moral of my story is, the Honda, Tsubraya and Tanaka film-making team were not really visionaries.  If they were, they would have realized that the true, budding threat to our society in the late-50's wasn't the affects of nuclear bomb testing.  The true menace was, the global epidemic of narcotics abuse and the resulting mutant human beings created by drug cartels that continually...to this day, defeat the so-called, war on drugs.  Therefore, "THE H-MAN," title could have stayed the same, except the "H" wouldn't have stood for hydrogen...it would have stood for heroin.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I SHOULDN'T COMPARE FORREST GUMP TO THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST...TERRELL

A wise man once said; If it wasn't for the sameness, the odd hours, harsh working conditions, the customers and management...casino work wouldn't be so bad.

In less than four years, the casino business got the best of me. I was so burnt-out by 1983 that I put my condo in Las Vegas up for sale with the idea of going back to Brooklyn  At that time, the country was going through a bit of a recession so the bottom of the real estate market had fallen out.  Only two people looked at my place in thirteen months.   Luckily, the second one bought bought my place.  But even better that year delay gave me a chance to experience some great moments.  One could say that my last year out west dealing craps at the Golden Nugget...was golden.

One of my favorite extra memories from that period was craps dealer, Earnest Terrell.  Earnest's charm made him the darling of the players.  Management highly regarded him because his welcoming manner resulted in a gigantic following of returning customers.  The other dealers held him in high esteem because he was entertaining to us while he raked in big tips.

It seems impossible to imagine but in the casino environment, he had no enemies.  Earnest was a shining star and one the best, most interesting and fun people I ever dealt with.  He set himself apart by being so human in a sea of transient opportunists.  Therefore, weaker individuals (like me) gravitated to his qualities of sincerity, respect, tolerance and unconditional love.  We frequently dealt together until he was one of the thirteen people who were unjustly fired, in what became called the, "Nugget's Reign of Terror."  I wrote a short story with that incident in mind called, "A GUMMY CONSPIRACY." (However Earnest had a minimal role in it. So this column, is his story).

Earnest did not like nicknames.  Even something simple like Earnie annoyed him.  So when the movie, "E. T." became popular, he didn't like being called by his initials either.  More importantly, when he heard what we called him behind his back, he most definitely hated being called, "Yum-Yum."

The Yum-Yum name came to be because Earnest was a chick magnet.  He looked like a perfect, twenty-five year old version of actor Gene Wilder.  The only aspect of his looks that trumped his handsome face, wavy blond hair and sky blue eyes was his constant brimming smile.  Female coworkers hit on him all the time.  So did customers but he gently turned them down even when they stopped to gape at him or made aggressive sexual advances.

Earnest was no Puritan.  He was spoken for and earned his "Earnest" name by being completely faithful to Jen, a third generation American girl of Thai heritage.  Those of us who knew him were envious when they saw Earnest and Jen together, because they were the ultimate power couple.  They reminded me of Nick and Nora Charles because they always were on the same page as they happily gallivanted everywhere together.

An outsider might have thought that Earnest had it all but those of us who he confided in, knew he had many psychological and physical flaws.  It was these emotional and hereditary demons that prevented him from marrying Jen, co-habitating with her and most importantly...forced him to avoid pregnancy.

Earnest Terrell was born in rural Michigan.  While he was in kindergarten, he was stricken with a prolonged, life threatening disease.  His folks soon became financially drained.  For several years, his town held fund raisers, to assist in paying the astronomical medical bills. Even when he recovered, he had a difficult time catching up to same-age kids that were three grades ahead.  Matters worsened when his dyslexia went undiagnosed and his small town doctor treated him temporarily as if he had brain damage.
EARNEST WAS NOT ATHLETIC, HE DID NOT SERVE IN THE MILITARY, HE NEVER MET ANY PRESIDENTS OR PROFITED FROM COMING UP WITH CLEVER SAYINGS.  BUT HE DID LOVE A JENNY (JEN).  ON THE OTHER HAND, DESPITE PROVING THAT THE AMERICAN DREAM IS WITHIN EVERYONE'S REACH, HE WOULD PROBABLY KILL ME IF HE KNEW I COMPARED HIM TO FORREST GUMP.

Earnest was afraid to bring a child into the world.  It was sad to hear him say how embarrassing it was that every spring, advertising signs for his annual benefit (with his picture) would pop-up all over town. For that reason, he didn't want to risk his genetic burden on Jen.  But he especially did not want any kid of his to go through what he did and then be branded "the unfortunate charity case from Otsego Street." To his credit, through hard work and determination, Earnest did catch-up scholastically, conquer his dyslexia and later receive a BA from a local community college. 

When he was twenty-one, his feather in the wind destiny started when he bought a used VW micro bus and decided to drive to Tijuana Mexico.  As fate would have it, he never made it when his clunker died on him in Las Vegas.  Earnest felt no need to go home.  He settled in town and became a craps dealer.

Beginning in 1982, he and I dealt together at the Golden Nugget.  I was in a clique that included another friend with heavy-duty casino influence.  This friend used this "juice" to keep our "fantastic four" together as a permanent craps crew.  This arrangement pissed-off nearly everyone else except Earnest because he was always the substitute when one of us missed a day. (It has been said that juice is a terrible, unfair thing...unless it works in your favor.  Please note, I went through the proper channels for six months and failed to get into the Nugget.  Then one day, I stumbled through drunk and a friend had me hired on the spot).
WHILE WE WORKED THERE, THE CASINO WENT THROUGH A METAMORPHOSIS. SEEMINGLY OVER NIGHT, IT WENT FROM A FLEA-BITTEN, GRINDING SAW-DUST JOINT, INTO A WORLDWIDE, JET-SETTER DESTINATION.  MY SHORT STORY, "A GUMMY CONSPIRACY," FOCUSES ON THAT TRANSFORMATION AND THE CRONYISM, FAVORITISM AND EXTORTION WHICH WAS THE HALLMARK OF THE BETTER DEALER JOBS.

Before the Nugget made the big changes, Earnest was working with us one night.  During a lull (standing dead), we got on the topic of the crud that forms on casino chips.  We concluded that these greasy, gummy, black berries were the result of sticky dots of liquor combined with humidity and human perspiration that picked up every kind of filth imaginable.
INTERNET PHOTOS OF CASINO CHIPS ARE FROM COLLECTIONS OR FOR SALE.  SO I COULDN'T  FIND SHOTS OF THEM WITH BLACK FILTH DOTS.

When talking about dirty chips got old, Earnest told us how a Canadian school teacher in a short skirt was stalking him on his first two breaks.  "I tried to be considerate of her feelings," he said, "I told her I had a girlfriend.  But she kept telling me what she wanted to do to me. When I came back from break, she sat on a slot stool and when I looked her way, she exposed herself.  She cornered me when I went on my next break and wouldn't take no for answer.  That's when (fellow dealer) 'Meat-Bone' walked by." 

Mike "Meat-Bone" Fleischbien was an obnoxious womanizer...and because he was a virtual mirror image of Earnest, he was overwhelmingly disliked by his coworkers, (in, "A GUMMY CONSPIRACY,"  he was a major character).  Earnest introduced him to this woman and then ducked into the break room.  Later, Earnest told us that "Meat-Bone" said, "What was with that Floozie, I talked to her for a minute and she ran away."

Earnest was on a roll.  He then told us hilarious stories about the traditions in his WASP upbringing.  Then, mixed into his descriptions of gravy boats full of mayonnaise, overly well-done Thanksgiving roast beef and pitchers of room temperature milk, he also said that he invested in a small apartment complex on Cartier Street in North Las Vegas. He joked that his first million will be earned from being a slumlord.

Six months later, the when the Nugget's rebirth was complete, it was a palace.  It was so beautiful that it was hard to remember how chintzy the old, dark Western motif was, as we worked in the bright, lavish, white and beige Victorian-themed high-roller heaven.  That meant all the old tables and equipment were also replaced. Even better, the dealer's income more than doubled.  But attached to that monetary joy was the ugly head of favoritism.  Then the powers that be, (influence peddlers) terrorized the staff and had blocks of employees (mainly dealers) fired for flimsy or invented reasons so that in exchange for payola, they could hire their own people.

On a night that Earnest didn't work with us, my crew basked in our nouveau-riche attitudes, while his table had no players.  At the Nugget when a craps game is idle, the dice bowl is set on top of the chip bank until it reopens.  Earnest's table stayed open but his crew was sent home an hour early, (with full pay) and replaced by another crew from a different dead game.

When that game started back up.  The boxman (the immediate supervisor who sits between the dealers) noticed something under the dice bowl that was now positioned across the table in front of the stickman.  Everyone laughed because a sticky, hundred-dollar chip from the old regime had strayed back into the bank and was now stuck by the filth berries, to the underside of the bowl.  Then the boxman found the missing spot in the bank where the chip belonged and harmlessly replaced it.

The boxman thought it was so funny that he innocently shared the odd circumstance with the floorman (the next supervisor up, in the chain of command).  These were the days of the reign of terror so the misguided floorman figured that "they" might be testing him.  So in order to be perceived as diligent, he reported this nonsense to the pit boss.  The pit boss in turn made the mistake of telling his superior (the shift boss) who was unfortunately an influence peddler. 

This shift boss seized the opportunity for a big pay day.  He even went through the pretense of drawing up an incident report.  To further cover up his impending impropriety, he ordered an investigation.  He then went through the time, energy and casino's expense, to have the "suspects" individually interviewed and administered lie detector tests.  No one admitted anything and nobody implicated anyone else.  The casino claimed that with the case at a standstill that they were obligated to nip the problem in the bud.  So they fired all eight dealers, two boxman, two floormen and the pit boss...even though nothing was stolen or missing.  One of those dealers was Earnest Terrell.

Out of sight, out of mind. Earnest's feather in the wind destiny blew him so far away that I didn't see him for years.  Later that year, (December 1983), I found out that Earnest was still out of work.  Plus his dream of being a wealthy slumlord wasn't panning out either because his tenants infrequently paid their rent on time or in full and a couple didn't pay at all. So to save money, rather than move in with Jen, he took one of his unoccupied units.

When the holidays rolled around, I got his new address, bought a big box of chocolates and scribbled out a season's greeting card with a supportive note. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I delivered it, in the hope of brightening his day with my surprise visit.  It was a windswept, rainy day in the high forties. He wasn't home. I was afraid I wouldn't have a chance to return so I left my gift inside his storm door.

Two days later, I had the second person come to see my condo and he but in a bid.  Despite the reign of terror being long over, the Nugget being a great job and having a tons of friends, my level of casino burnt-out was red-lining my BILE-O-METER.  Therefore, I agreed to the buyer's outlandish terms and a week later, we went to settlement.
I INVENTED THE CONCEPT OF THE BILE-O-METER AS A SARCASTIC DEVICE THAT MEASURES CASINO BURN-OUT.  ON THE FAR LEFT, THE  BLUE "SAFE"ZONE TAKES UP 10%, THE GREEN "ALERT" SECTION COVERS THE NEXT 25% OF THE DIAL, THE RED "BILE DANGER" AREA, TAKES UP THE LAST 65%.

My last work day at the Nugget was January 9, 1984.  The next morning, I moved back to New York and by December, I was working in Atlantic City.  Seven years later, my wife Sue and I went back to Vegas on vacation.  I saw many of my old friends but nobody knew where Earnest was until I bumped into Mike "Meat-Bone" Fleischbien. He said, "I heard that Yum-Yum just got hired as a boxman at that shit-hole, the Imperial Palace."  Sue and I drove over there.  It shouldn't have been too hard to find him because that cheap clip joint only had two craps tables.

Earnest wasn't there.  We waited for the next break rotation. When we still couldn't find him, I asked the floorman, "Is Earnest Terrell working today?"  Maybe we looked like idiotic tourists but we definitely didn't look like a couple of collectors from the mob.  Still, this floorman sternly stared me down as if I had two heads and said, "If you saw this Terrell, would you recognize him?"  It sounded like a stupid question but I politely shrugged, "Yeah..."  Then the chubby boxman started laughing...it was Earnest.  We had some preliminary chit-chat until the floorman graciously gave Earnest an extra break so we could talk.

Sue and I couldn't believe how much he changed.  In addition to the extra weight, his thinning hair was  much darker and he was less smiley.  At the same time that I noticed his name tag read: EARNIE, Sue pointed to his wedding ring.  Earnest coyly smiled and said, "Oh yeah that.  You know life's a gamble...look what we do. I rolled the dice of life and won...me and Jen are married six years."  Then he took out his wallet and he showed us a photo of Kimmy, his five-year old daughter.  I said, "Adopted?"  He was shaking his head as Sue marvelled at the tyke's Amer-Asian features and said, "She's beautiful..."  Earnest interrupted, "And she's in perfect condition.  I only wish that when the time is right, you enjoy the same fulfillment." I pounded him on the back and Sue kissed him.

We told him about our life in Jersey and then a few minutes later he said, "I gotta get back to work."  Along the way he said, "I wound up making a ton of money off my apartment complex after all.  I was barely hanging onto it when a casino development outfit made me an offer I couldn't refuse."  Then his familiar smile returned to his face when he added, "But first, I had them sweeten the deal...by a lot." 

We were saying our goodbyes when I said, "Speaking of your apartments, did you try calling us after you got our Christmas chocolates? Because two weeks later, we moved."  Earnest laughed, "That was from you?  Me and Jen were visiting her folks in San Francisco.  We didn't get back till after the New Year. I thought it was a prank from an ignorant tenant.  By the time I got it, it was a mess. Everything melted, there were a gazillion ants everywhere and the writing inside the card was all messed up."  We all laughed.  Then I'm almost positive Earnest said, "Life is like a box of chocolates..."

Yes, you never know what you're going to get, Earnest's wish of fulfillment to us came true three years later when our blessing, my son Andrew was born.

So gentlemen, always remember:
  • Count Your Blessings
  • Understand the Importance of Being Earnest
  • And Have a HAPPY FATHER'S DAY !

Monday, June 11, 2012

KAPPA-SKEW - POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE - HAIL AND FAREWELL

I love my son Andrew.  But loving your kid is like doing your homework...you don't get any credit for doing it, you only lose credit if you don't.  So in his case, I not only love him but I admire and respect him as well.

My admiration and respect for him is seeded in the notion that I want more for him, than I had.  On a deeper level, my hope was that he'd turn out to be a better person than me too.  I'm proud to say, he's on the right track. Andrew, through his own doing, has exceeded the limits of what I could ever provide and is destined to greatness.

Andrew always stood out in a crowd.  I appreciate that I had something to do with laying a solid foundation for him.  But as I look to college and beyond, it is clear to me that he will find his own way to success and personal fulfillment. Yes, on the rare occasion I will be there for him, with a swift kick in the ass to keep him focused, but only if my wisdom and experience, trumps his intelligence, sensitivity and generosity.  And even then, I will still trust his judgement to accept or reject all or part of my advice.  That's the essence of why he is unique, will have a better life than me, be a better person and stand out in whatever he does.

These wonderful traits became clear to me when he was young.
AT A FRIEND'S THIRD BIRTHDAY, IT WAS FUNNY TO ME HOW MANY MOM'S TRIED TO ADJUST THIS PARTY HAT.  HE WASN'T BEING VAIN, HE WASN'T BEING OBSTINATE.  HE WAS JUST BEING HIMSELF. 

At pre-school, the teacher's aide told us Andrew had an incredible sense of right and wrong for such a little kid.
WHEN HE GRADUATED PRE-SCHOOL, THE TEACHER KEPT TRYING TO STRAIGHTEN HIS CAP BUT ANDREW'S SENSE OF STYLE WON OUT.

Maybe there's something special to cocking one's hat?  And maybe Andrew should create the KAPPA-SKEW fraternity for individualists.  Because throughout his schooling, Andrew has been a beacon of positive energy that others have gravitated to and prospered from.  Now that he has graduated high school and I have read the voluminous yearbook comments from his peers who have fed off his force-field of confidence, optimism, fair play, humor and creativity, I see how they perceive and appreciate his individuality.

This past Thursday June 7th, the Absegami High School class of 2012 held their commencement exercise on the school football field. During the week, we all held our breath as the WEATHER CHANNEL predicted one beautiful day after another...with one glitch...Thursday June 7th.

All the way until that Wednesday, I encouraged everyone I knew to do a "NO RAIN DANCE." It must have worked because when I woke up for the big day, it was indeed a delightful morning.  Even the weather reports down-graded the rain to a mere 30% for late in the day. Still, it was a long time until 6:PM.

The early afternoon gave way to scattered clouds.  It seemed every time I got pessimistic, the sun would re-emerge for a couple of hours.  My heart then skipped a beat when a single engorged cloud wandered overhead and dumped heavy rain on Galloway.  Three minutes later like turning off a spigot, the cloud vanished.  I then envisioned being good to go, for the rest of day.

At 4:PM, we basked in the moment of a perfect 70 degree day.  We then had a photo shoot in front of our house before walking the ten minutes to the festivities, (to avoid the insane traffic on the way home).
IT'S SHOCKING HOW FAST ANDREW'S PRIMARY SCHOOLING HAS PASSED.
On the way to the school, we walked through the open spaces and saw that the clear horizon looked as promising as Andrew's future.  At the event site, harmless looking clouds appeared in the far distant south.  My wife Sue and I found ideal seats in the aluminum bleachers and took advantage of the social opportunity with the other early arrivals.
DURING THE DOWN TIME, I READ THE PROGRAM AND FOUND OUT THE CLASS OF 2012 HAD NAMED THEMSELVES, "SABBELEU," THE LOCAL NATIVE AMERICAN PHRASE FOR; TO SHINE BRIGHTLY.

Spirits were high as the gathering SRO throng exhausted every seat.  At 5:PM, I whispered to Sue that I wished they could start immediately because the far away gray clouds were gaining momentum.  At the same time, attendees with computers started spreading the word that out-lying towns were getting rained on. Then our worst fear came in the form of rolling thunder and a lightning bolt tearing through the clouds behind the school.
MOMENTS BEFORE THE CEREMONY STARTED, IT BECAME OBVIOUS THAT WE HAD A RACE AGAINST MOTHER NATURE ON OUR HANDS.
The band members began warming up.  Then right on schedule, the 476 grads, in their gold and brown cap and gowns, marched from the school, towards the north end zone. 
IT LOOKED LIKE THE CLASS OF 2012 EARNED THE "SABBELEU" NAME WHEN THE FATE OF GOOD FORTUNE SHINED DOWN WHEN A BURST OF BEAUTIFUL, GOLDEN SUNLIGHT RAYS WELCOMED THEM TO THE FIELD.

Sue and I were giddy as we watched for our son to appear.

ANDREW,  EVEN AS THE WIND PICKED-UP, REMAINED RELAXED, CONFIDENT AND LOVING THE WHOLE SPECTACLE. 

It seemed odd that the band remained mute as the precession of students took their places.
WHO STANDS OUT IN THE CROWD BETTER THAN ANDREW...NOBODY !
When everyone was in place, the principal announced that if it only rains...the program will continue.  For some reason, she didn't dwell on the pending thunderstorms or the need for a Plan-B.  Instead, she asked us to rise as the band played the "NATIONAL ANTHEM."  The musicians followed that with, "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE."  The band never played another note. 

Soon the administrative dignitaries were introduced.  Then the Salutatorian and Valedictorian made their speeches.  In both cases, the audience was distracted by the black clouds that had engulfed the sky as well as claps of thunder and nearing streaks of lightning.

The ceremony started to pick up pace.  Perhaps as an omen to the forbearance, the first person to receive their diploma, the student president of the school had her name butchered.  Andrew was in that first group, so his name was not hurried and announced loud and clear.
WE WERE LUCKY BECAUSE WITHIN MINUTES THE TEMPO OF THE PROCEEDINGS TOOK ON THE CHARACTERISTICS OF DESPERATION.
The time bomb of nasty weather starting to tick down to detonation.
TWENTY MILES AWAY, OCEAN CITY WAS ABOUT TO BE CUT UP BY THE STORM.
The alphabetized graduates waiting for their diplomas were still in the "M's" as the officials called up the grads at hyper-speed.  Most of the crowd waiting for the thrill of hearing their kid's name probably missed the cherished announcement because it was speedily garbled.

Only a small percentage of people saw the stormy writing on the wall...and left.
BY THE TIME THE "T's" WERE CALLED, THE OVERWHELMING BULK OF US, BLINDED BY STUPIDITY AND THE DESIRE TO HONOR EACH AND EVERY GRAD, LIKENED THE LOOMING SITUATION TO A TORNADO OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS.


The timing was perfect as the last "Z" was announced, the first two rain drops fell.


IN CELEBRATION OF THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENT, THE STUDENT BODY TOSSED THEIR POINTY CAPS IN THE AIR AND APPARENTLY RUPTURED THE EDGE OF THE WATER BLOATED CLOUDS.

The proverbial skies opened up.  Torrents fell on the screaming, panicky participants and onlookers.

IT WAS APROPOS THAT THE GIRL'S YELLOW GOWNS LOOKED LIKE RAIN SLICKERS WHILE THEY RAN FOR COVER.  IN THE MEAN TIME, SUE AND I WERE MOMENTARILY TRAPPED AS THE SPECTATORS SLOWLY OOZED FROM THE GRIDLOCKED STANDS.
We were drenched before we were on ground level.  We used the idea of the shortest distance being a straight line and cut across the field.  Luckily, lightning was not a factor. But the horizontal, windswept rain flew past us as biting bits of hail made matters worse.  I spotted a log jam of people at the exit and diverted Sue to the "safety" of the alee side of the field house.
I REGRETTED NOT HAVING MY CAR AS WE SHIVERED FOR TWENTY MINUTES AND ENDURED STINGING DIME-SIZED FALLING ICE.  WHEN THE WIND DIED DOWN, OUR TEMPORARY SHELTER WAS USELESS.
We made a mad dash for the school.  We waded through several ankle deep mini-lakes as two ambulances cut through the confused parking lot.  In the sanctuary of the building's warm lobby, I likened the mob to "Titanic" survivors.  People, soaked to the skin like drowned rats were scared until they were re-united with loved ones.

When the sun came back out, the destroyed spirits slowly perked up. The long awaited graduation was unceremoniously over.  A lot carefully designed outfits and hairdos were ruined.  The joy of lingering and saying bittersweet goodbyes were also washed away. 

While it is true that the sensitive allure of the sacred ceremony was abbreviated or lost, the strange circumstances, for the students, will live forever.

For Sue and I, there was no shortcut through the woods.  To avoid the muddy trails, we chafed during the long walk of shame home.  It was then that we realized that a few folks were hospitalized and the price of forcing in graduation could have been much worse...even fatal.

The next day, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" commentator Brian Williams did a nationally seen item on the severe weather during our graduation.  So did CBS and CNN. Absegami even went international as the BBC also did a piece.
WILLIAMS NARRATED OVER THE OMINOUS CLOUD VIDEO AND THE FLEEING PEOPLE.  HE IMPLIED THAT IN THE MIDWEST, THEY COULD'VE RECOGNIZED THAT IT WASN'T A TWISTER...BUT THIS HAPPENED IN NEW JERSEY.
So for my son Andrew, his friends and the rest of his fellow graduates, in this case, you will always share this unforgettable bond. 
HOURS LATER, THE STREETS OF GALLOWAY RETAINED THE TELLTALE SIGNS OF THE HAIL STORM.

I think, as a sign of their individualism, all the Absegami 2012 graduates should always remember the football field littered with their caps left askew and that even without the full blown pomp and circumstance that they richly deserved, they can proudly say; hail...and I do mean HAIL...and farewell.

Monday, June 4, 2012

LOSER EXTRAORDINAIRE; DICK PAYNLEWSKI

PLEASE BE ADVISED, THIS COLUMN CONTAINS, ETHNIC SLURS, TOILET HUMOR, EXTREME VIOLENCE, RAW SEXUALITY, HARSH LANGUAGE, DRUG USE, FAMILY BETRAYAL AND WHAT MIGHT BE CONSTRUED AS CRUELTY TO ANIMALS.

Everybody loves Las Vegas stories.  Mine are usually sanitized for the enjoyment of the majority but today's has a hardcore spin on many politically incorrect issues.

The casinos in Atlantic City have their share of knuckleheads and oddballs. But in my experience, every other person I worked with in Las Vegas was an eccentric, weirdo or some other kind of character. 

When I worked at the Holiday International Casino, it seemed like the whole staff was off kilter.
"THE HOLIDAY" WAS MY THIRD CRAPS DEALING HOUSE.  IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL, MODERN CASINO THAT WAS DESTINED TO FAIL BECAUSE OF ITS TERRIBLE, NORTH END OF MAIN STREET LOCATION.

My pit boss, Paul Darrow (29) was a free-spirited coke-head. 
IN THE 70's, BEFORE FREE-BASING AND CRACK,  USERS DILUTED THEMSELVES INTO THINKING THAT COCAINE WAS THE CADILLAC OF HARMLESS,  RECREATIONAL DRUGS.   PEOPLE LIKE PAUL DARROW EVEN ADVERTISED HOW "COOL" THEY WERE BY WEARING COKE PARAPHERNALIA AS JEWELRY.  IN HIS CASE, A DOUBLE-EDGE RAZOR TIE CLIP.  
Darrow had dealt high-limit craps in the best casinos in town so the only way he could cushion the boredom of watching twenty-five cent bets, was to get high.  When that wasn't enough, he had a strange appetite for stories concerning vermin.  His worldliness was limited to have only lived in upscale Newport Beach (California) and Las Vegas.  So he took a liking to me because I was a New Yorker who knew stories (exaggerated to his liking), about roaches, water bugs and his favorite, rats.

My four main supervisors under him were characters too.  Jess (24) the Vietnam vet who told tons of graphic sexual stories about the innocent civilians he "met" while in action. Dwayne (26) the pride of Bend Oregon was a ridiculous liar.  If he told me the sky was blue, I wouldn't bet on it. He concentrated on gambling stories but his audience knew what he was saying was nonsense due to his "tell." He always gave himself away by widened his eyes and then leaning in close to the person hearing his whopper. Noah (29) was spacey but the most intelligent of the group.  He made it clear that he missed the hippie lifestyle and as soon as he had a little money, he was moving to a commune in the state of Maine.  But the biggest character of them all was Dick Paynlewski (41).  He was a dopey loser, who drank too much, gambled too much and with the exception of prostitutes, had trouble relating to women.  Oddly, he was only one of the bunch, I ever called a friend.

Dick was a prime character in the short story I wrote called, "AGNES CARMICHAEL, OF THE CARMICHAEL CALIFORNIA CARMICHAELS."  If you think the title is mouthful then you are perceptive person.  Because there was a two-year gap from the time I worked with Paynlewski at the Holiday until I saw him again...that's when Agnes "the Mouthpiece" Carmichael, (in a match made in heaven), became his first ever "real" girlfriend.

When I got fired from the Stardust Casino, the best rebound job I could get was a toilet called the Vegas Club.  To lament my fall from grace, after my first night, I met my old roommate Ciro at Binion's Horseshoe.  After a couple of drinks, at 5:AM, we went across the street to Hotel Fremont to play craps. Another player, a slightly plump woman around thirty with a face full of zits and a low-cut blouse tried to pick-up Ciro.  When he lost his money, she approached.  Up close, her frizzy, disorganized hair and chipped tooth added to her goofy look.

Ciro politely brushed her off.  But as he passed, she stood in front of him, arced her back to show off her stretch-marked ravaged cleavage and said, "What's the rush?  I just want to be friendly."  Ciro got serious fast and said, "Get your fat tits and fat ass out of my face."  She grabbed his arm and said, "My father can make big trouble for you.  He's a big man in Carmichael...everyone in Sacramento knows him."  Ciro said, "Well you ain't him and the last time I looked Dorothy, we ain't in Kansas no more."  She said, "Dad's a big man here too.  He has a forty-thousand dollar credit line at the Landmark alone.  Everyone in Vegas knows the name Cyrus Carmichael.  And when I finish blackjack school, he's gonna juice me into any casino I want."

Ciro faked an apology.  She said, "That's okay, let's go for a drink."  He said, "You're cute but I have a girl and she's the jealous type."  It was a half truth because his girlfriend was a married woman that he was screwing every Thursday afternoon...and she didn't care how he spent the rest of his time.  But coincidentally, this girlfriend was an assistant cage manager at the Landmark.  The next day, Ciro called her at work and she confirmed that Cyrus Carmichael was indeed a big player from Carmichael California.

In the weeks that followed, I did not make the transition well to the lowly Vegas Club.  In addition to making peanuts compared to the Stardust, one of my new supervisors named Ralph Winters, (a Wayne Newton wannabe), kept trying to jackpot me, (get me in trouble).  Winters was such a prick that when a blackjack floorman (Edmund) of Arab descent came to take up a collection for the terminally ill casino manager's surprise birthday party, he scoffed, "Beat it you fuckin' pushy camel jockey."

Khalifa left in a huff. To change the subject Winters bragged to us, "There's a new keno writer, a real train-wreck, who loves to give head."  We were stuck at our craps stations so when he continued there was no place to go.  He then rattled off the names of our coworkers who, "The Mouthpiece" had already serviced on the roof of the Horseshoe parking lot. 

The keno writer was Agnes Carmichael.  Unfortunately, her Mr. Wonderful daddy, didn't make good on his promise to get her a great dealing job.  So "Carmichael" as her name-tag read took her future into her own hands...or in this case, mouth.

Soon her persuasiveness or as she called it, "friendliness" paid-off as she sucked her way to a blackjack dealer job, at the bottom-of-the-barrel Vegas Club. She had a couple of weeks experience when I saw Dick Paynlewski walk in with a local casino hustler, Simon "Coat-Rack" Rhett.  When Rhett left, fate brought Paynlewski to Carmichael's BJ table.

Later that night, Dick spent one of my breaks with me.  Things hadn't changed in two years, he was still at the Holiday, he was drunk and frustrated from gambling away all his money.  Typically, he said some unkind things about female Asian dealers and added, "I don't even know why they let scum like that in our country.  Hell, they ain't even Christians."  I said, "Dick, I'm not Christian."  He burped, "Don't worry buddy, you know you're okay."

He wanted to know about Carmichael but I wanted to know why he was hanging around with that low-life Coat-Rack.  Coat-Rack among his many sidelines was a walking pawn shop.  He loaned down-and-out gamblers money but took disproportionally expensive items as collateral.  Dick said, "I'm buying an attache case of eight track tapes off him tomorrow.  Now what about Carmichael?"  I shrugged, "She's new.  I don't really know..."  Dick interrupted, "She's really funny.  Wanna hear what she said?"  Before I could respond he added, "After I lost my last buck she said, 'After work, I'm having a party in my mouth, wanna come?'''  He saw the look on my face and added, "Get this.  Then she says, 'don't worry about my chipped tooth, I know what I'm doing.'"  I said, "She sounds like a keeper."

We were walking back to my game and Dick said, "I'm tired of all the Pollack jokes...do you think I should change my name?"  I said, "To what...Joe Paynlewski?"  He called me an ass-hole and then said, "Remember the time Paul Darrow was so messed-up on coke that he threw that ferret on our (craps) game.  At that split second, how was I supposed to know he did it.  Shit, I broke my nose trying to catch that weasel." 

How could I forget...that is the single funniest thing I ever saw inside the casino industry...or out.  Dick then stuck his hand in my face to show the scar where the varmint bit him and whined, "I was a victim of circumstance.  That could've happened to anyone but every god damned day, all I hear at work are dumb Pollack jokes......" I cut his rant off, "When did you splurge and get a car and since when do you listen to music?"  He pointed to his temple and said, "My car doesn't have an eight track player, this is an investment, I'm going to resell those babies."  I said, "Don't change your name.  Save you money, that shit is expensive.  Besides, you should be proud of your heritage.  Don't let small minds influence you."  I don't think was listening as he asked, "Could you spot me a twenty till pay-day?"  I said, "Sorry, I'm broke."

Carmichael and Dick soon became a couple.  In him, she got a nurturing mature father figure who provided unconditional acceptance to her many shortcomings.  And he got his first prolonged relationship and a calming stability to his purposeless, helter-skelter lifestyle.  But after a short time, their co-dependency on drinking and gambling accentuated their insecurities.  Still, she came off as happy, go-lucky but when Dick found out that she didn't consider performing oral sex on other guys as sex, he became irritable.

Once in the middle of my Vegas Club shift, I snuck out to take an audition for a better job, (the Horseshoe).  On my way back in the alley behind the Golden Goose Slot Parlor, I saw Dick and Carmichael having a violent argument.  He said, "I heard you took on five guys last night."  She said, "I'm faithful to you.  That isn't sex...I was only being friendly...besides, it was only three guys."  Dick grabbed her face like palming a basketball and shoved her down onto the filthy pavement.  He cried, "Even one guy is cheating!"  Dick was about to kick her in the ribs when I said, "Hey!"  He ran the off and yelled, "Whore!"

Why they stayed together, I'll never know because she never changed. It seemed that whenever I saw them, they were drunk and arguing.  One time Ciro and I took a drive, to a spa on an Indian Reservation, near the Utah state line.
(STOCK PHOTO)  I CAN'T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE SPA. BUT I KNOW THE KIDDIE POOL WAS SHAPED LIKE A TOMAHAWK AND THE ONLY BUILDING HAD A BAR, GIFT SHOP AND SNACK COUNTER.
When we got there, we were surprised to see Carmichael and Dick in the tiny crowd.  She greeted us with an enthusiastically in a one-piece maroon bathing suit.  He was serious and disinterested, in brown trousers, a dress shirt and loafers. 

Later, Ciro and I were walking to the men's locker room and Carmichael followed us in.  She blithered about how great the mineral springs were and unzipped her swimsuit.  She removed one of her shoulder straps and said, "Am I getting a sun burn?"  Before we answered she said, "Maybe its hard to tell."  So she pulled down the other side, to fully expose her chest.  Ciro said, "A lady needs privacy when she gets undressed."  She said, "A gentleman would look the other way."  He walked up to her, guided her into a shower stall and began kissing her breasts.  I scurried out.

Twenty minutes later, I went into the U-shaped bar. I found Dick passed out with his elbow on the bar and his hand propping up his head.  He had half a hamburger, some onion rings and a scotch in front of him.  I went on the opposite side and ordered a beer.  Ciro, looking quite satisfied, came in.  Then Dick suddenly woke-up and bolted out the door.  Ciro and I laughed at his odd behavior.  When Dick returned he gulped down his drink and said, "You can't trust a fart after forty."  Ciro couldn't hold back his hysterics and walked out.  Dick then turned to the bartender, held up his empty glass and used a poor, stereotypical Native American accent to say, "Hey chief, me trade-um wampum for heap more fire-water." 

Outside, Ciro bumped into Carmichael and she led him back into the bar.  Instead of sitting with Dick, she stood between Ciro and I.  She pinched Ciro's nose and said, "I'll be your best friend if you buy me a beer." Soon she was massaging both of our crotches at the same time.  Dick's vision was blocked by the bar as he said, "You better not be giving Ciro a hand job."  Dick was walking out in disgust as Carmichael said, "I wouldn't think of giving Ciro a hand job."  Then she whispered, "I'm giving Ciro AND Steve a hand job."

On the hour-long drive back Ciro gushed, "Carmichael is fuckin' talented.  She puts these exploding Pop Rocks candies in her mouth when...wait!"  He interrupted himself and said, "Check this out.  She said Dick farts in his sleep, farts during sex and once shit in the bed when he came."  I said, "No?"  Ciro said, "Well, even a medium-sized wet fart would be shitting in the bed to me." We laughed all the way back to Vegas.

At the Vegas Club, Carmichael found out from Edmund Khalifa that Ralph Winters complained to the terminally ill casino manager about getting strong armed to donate to his suddenly non-surprise party. Carmichael lost interest in Winters and turned her interest on family man Khalifa.  After a few oral sessions in the back seat of his car, Khalifa implied that he was going to leave his wife for her.  She decided to dump Dick.

Khalifa's next step was to bring Carmichael to one of his brother's unoccupied rental properties...they spent four hours together.  At six-thirty in the morning, he insisted on giving her cab fare.  To save a little time, they waited for her to get picked up outside, on the second floor landing.  Khalifa had become aloof.  He looked at his watch and calculated that he might be able to get home before his wife.  Carmichael didn't appreciate how the festivities were unfolding.  She thought that Dick would never treat her this way.  Then with a deep sigh she realized that nobody ever rocked her world like Edmund.  Her disappointment in Eddie for not taking her back to her car subsided as a new sensation radiated within her.  She smiled grabbed Khalifa's crotch, unzipped his fly and said, "Eddie, you were right, I did like it in the butt.  Let's go back inside and..."  Suddenly the yellow taxi turned the corner and he gave her a ten-dollar bill...and the bum's rush.

Back in her car, the digital clock atop the Mint Casino read, 7:11.  She felt lucky as she headed home because she could cook her twelve-year old daughter, Harlene's breakfast and drive her to school.

Carmichael was going south on Paradise Road as the Gilbert O'Sullivan song  "Alone Again, Naturally," came on the radio.  She was singing along as she entered the Charleston Boulevard intersection.  She smiled lightly as she squirmed from the pleasant feeling in her rectum as a speeding drunk ran the light and plowed into her driver side door.

Carmichael spent the next seventy-two hours in ICU, clinging to life with the help of a respirator.  Harlene telephoned her rich and powerful grandfather but he didn't come to town or call the hospital beyond the first day.  Instead, he adorned the private room he paid for in absentia with three, over-sized bouquets (a new one each morning).

When Harlene called Dick, he was there in fifteen minutes. He bickered with the nurses but because he wasn't family, he wasn't allowed in...until Harlene insisted.  Carmichael had feeder tubes coming out of her abdomen.  She was now breathing on her own but she was still in a coma. Dick's belly shuddered with nerves when he learned that Carmichael had a broken hip and internal bleeding. But he started to cry when he learned that in addition to her innumerable other inquires that Carmichael's spleen and a kidney had already been removed.

Harlene left with her friend's parents at 10:PM. Dick decided to stay the night.  He lovingly rubbed Carmichael's back and whispered words of encouragement.  Hours later, he was washing her bedpan after emptying it as he began rehearsing a marriage proposal. When he returned to her side, he contorted his body so he could clean her bottom. He was giving her one last wipe as she painfully moaned.

Dick sprang up.  He was about to ring for the nurse as Carmichael softly groaned, "Eddie, put it in my butt again..."  Dick couldn't believe his ears.  He snuggled up to her and whispered, "What did you say?"  When there was no answer Dick said, "This is Eddie, what do you want?"  Carmichael was barely audible as she croaked, "You were right Eddie, I did like it in the butt...do it again."

Paynlewski punched the wall.  He started pacing as he tried to figure out what to do.  Then when Carmichael garbled, "E-E-Eddie," he grabbed her throat and choked her.  Luckily, almost instantly, Dick's stomach seized up on him.  He managed to get to avoid the ultimate embarrassment by a few seconds.  When he got out the toilet, he slammed one of the big bouquets against the wall and stormed away.

Dick guessed that Eddie was Carmichael's coworker.  He sped through the sparse traffic downtown.  At 3:AM, he haphazardly parked on Ogden Street and entered the Vegas Club through the rear entrance.  Dick began asking employees, "Is Eddie working tonight?"  His quest made made more difficult because everyone knew Khalifa, only as Edmund. Finally someone said, "There's no Eddie's on this shift...unless you mean Edmund, he's the floorman watching the last BJ table."

Dick was already seething in hatred and bent on revenge.  But when he recognized Edmund's Middle Eastern complexion, he wanted to attack the heathen who reprehensibly penetrated the girl he wanted to marry.  But when Dick saw a nearby security guard, he decided that this was not the time to confront his rival.

Dick ran out and began searching every downtown casino.  Hours passed.  He was so sleep deprived that it looked like he was in a trance, the third time he checked the Golden Gate Casino.  That's when he saw a low-profile hustler and asked, "Have you seen Coat-Rack?"  The flea said, "No, he's probably at home, you know Simon only comes out at night."  Dick said, "Night? What time is it?"  The low-life said, "Half past noon."

Dick demanded, "Where does he live?"  The opportunist extended his right hand and said, "My memory isn't what it used to be."  Paynlewski slammed a five-dollar bill into the hustler's palm and yelled, "Where?" 

Dick ran back to the car.  He ripped a parking ticket off the windshield and drove off. Six blocks away, he saw the dilapidated garage behind 37 Cincinnati Street.  Coat-Pack sipping apricot brandy from a pint bottle was there, sitting on a tree stump, in his green leisure-suit pants, a western shirt and bola tie.

Paynlewski grabbed the seventy-year old's elbow, prodded him inside and said, "Simon, you gotta gun for sale?" Coat-Rack said, "Whoa big fella...before I tell you if I have such an item for sale, you gotta tell me what you need it for."  Dick didn't answer.  Coat-Rack probed Dick's eyes and said, "This ain't another one of your stupid POE-LACK ideas...you know you still owe me five hundred from last week's Poe-Lack bullshit."  Paynlewski silently absorbed the shame.  Coat-Rack shouted,  "C'mon now boy, swear to me that you ain't looking to kill nobody?"  Dick was staring at the ground as he sniffled, "I-I swear."

Coat-Rack's suit jacket was dangling on a hangar from a bureau drawer.  He shuffled through that drawer and pulled out a .25.  The old man began a sermon about keeping the good name of Simon Rhett out of any police reports before he said, "If the shit hits the fan, you found this piece in a dumpster!  If you fuck-up, remember, this pee-shooter might be hot.  Plus you got no license and you ain't getting no paperwork.  Jesus H.  Christ, I don't even know if you know how to use this damned thing."  Dick grabbed for the gun.  Coat-Rack pulled it back and said, "Sixty, in cash, now."

Paynlewski returned to his tiny efficiency apartment. In a juvenile manner he stood in front of the bathroom mirror and practiced drawing the weapon like in the movies.  When he felt like a pro, he concealed the Saturday Night Special in his pants pocket and left for the hospital.

Dick trudged up the corridor towards Carmichael's room like a zombie.  At the nurse's station, he got mobbed and was given the rock star treatment.  The nurses called it a miracle and congratulated his TLC and patience for pulling Agnes out of her coma.

In the room, a fourth bouquet was set next to the reassembled one that he had smashed against the wall.  Dick was then surprised to see Harlene and her friend cheerfully sitting beside lucid Carmichael.  The patient was sipping cranberry juice when Dick asked the two adolescents to give him a little one-on-one time with Carmichael.  The girls were giggling on the way out as Dick confidently gripped the gun in his pocket.  He was swooping in for the kill as Carmichael gasped, "I'm sorry." Dick withdrew his empty hand from his pocket.  She continued, "I was weak, I strayed, please forgive me...I did 'it' with another man."  Tears streamed down her face.  Paynlewski's anger melted and he cried too.

He took her hand. She sobbed, "They told me what you did for me...I almost died."  Dick gingerly kissed all over her face.  She was becoming woozy and weakly grabbed at his groin.  She was on the verge of passing out as she felt the gun's hard barrel and said, "Wow, you are happy to see me."

A nurse barged in, "Five o'clock, visiting hours are over."  The nurse looked at Dick and said, "Looks like this one needs rest too.  Go home, she'll be fine."  Carmichael strained to be heard, "My own fuckin' father never came and neither did any of my friends.."  She started coughing, "Dick, I'm never going to be 'friendly' again....I love you."  Dick's heart was pounding but before he could spit out his marriage proposal, the nurse pulled the curtain and ordered him out.

Dick went home but Edmund's face was indelibly sharp in his psyche.  He was so emotionally over-wrought and physically exhausted that he was still consumed with revenge. He decided to stay awake until eight.  All he could think about was blowing away that sodomizing Arab bastard.  Dick started hallucinating.  To combat the problem, he washed his face and stood out on his tiny terrace.  He stretched and took deep breaths of fresh air but still felt dizzy.  Dick returned to the bathroom and splashed more water on his face. He stared down his reflection and drew his pistol as he mumbled cliches from old westerns.  When he said, "Edmund, this town isn't big enough for the two us," he fumbled his weapon.

The gun went off.  The sound in the tiny bathroom was deafening.  It was followed by his lingering wail from the pain of shooting himself in the foot.

The next day, I was shocked that Dick phoned me.  Then I was more shocked when he told me what happened and still more shocked when he told me he was handcuffed to the hospital bed.  He added, "I told them I found the gun in a dumpster, I was screwing around with it and didn't realize it was loaded.  The cops said they have to investigate, hopefully they won't press charges."

I agreed to visit Carmichael and tell her the candy-coated police version of his story.  I was about to hang up when he said, "Do you think Coat-Rack sells engagement rings?"  "I said, "Wow.  I guess?"  Dick said, "Lookit, I gotta run but one more thing.  I went through with it and legally changed my name."  I said, "Isn't that expensive...I thought you were broke?"  "Yeah, I borrowed $500.00 from Coat-Rack."  I was too stupefied to speak.  He continued, "Anyhoo, you are now speaking with Richard Thomas Payne.  You know, like Revolutionary War patriot, the guy who wrote the 'Common Sense' pamphlet.  From now on, no more Pollack jokes."  I said, "So you want everyone to call you Richard?"  He said, "No, I'll still be Dick."  I said, "Then your name will be Dick Payne...you know, like dick pain and Carmichael will be Mrs. Dick Payne."  Richard Thomas Payne said, "Steve, you're crazy, nobody thinks like you."