Monday, January 28, 2013

THE COLD-HEARTED TRUTH ABOUT OLD FRIENDS

My son Andrew just started his second college semester. During the winter break, he experienced the reality check that he and his high school friends have reached a crossroads and are heading, in different directions. 

Andrew wanted concrete answers.  But because there were no fights or arguments, all that was left was their subtle, ever-growing wedge of philosophical differences.  Once he understood that it's a natural and healthy growth process to have new people in your life, a wider range of interests and be exposed to diverse viewpoints, that he realized, old friendships are special...on a lesser level...but will always remain with him. All I can say is...been there, done that...over and over. 

Yes, the immediacy of the emotional baggage is still unsettling, but that's because nobody expects the idea of old friendships withering and dying, to happen to them. 

In February 1973, I was in Brooklyn College...one month. I was clinging to the past with two hands and reaching into the future with another.  In times like that we realize that we just ran out of hands, so you have to let go of something or you'll lose everything.

My rock solid (one year older) friends were LMART and MOBY.  In their travels, they became friendly with BS.  BS, the same age as my friends, was okay but in a short time, it was obvious that he and I would never be close.  I liked his spontaneity so much that when he would shout out, "Road trip!"  I was the first person to say, "Yeah let's go..." even before I knew where.  But ultimately, his wild ways were too advanced for me.

In the beginning, those mystery rides were confined to oddball eateries all over New York's five boroughs, marathon chats on the beach till sunrise or joy rides on the Staten Island ferry.  Soon, expanded excursions turned out to be excuses to visit racetracks, (Roosevelt, Yonkers and Monticello). I was still seventeen, broke and pure of both mind and spirit.  So once we arrived at these dens of inequity, I was forced to map out an uncomfortable strategy, to conserve my twelve or so dollars as the others started betting and drinking. 

LMART and MOBY were enamored by BS and saw him as a conduit to adulthood. I saw his influence changing my BFF's and causing the rift between us to grow.  Then several days before the big George Washington Birthday weekend, while I was considering dumping my buddies, BS made a huge announcement, "Our next road trip will be epic!"  I had gotten use to him blowing nonsense out of proportion, so I adjusted and desensitized myself to BS's BS...but in his short description that followed, I was suckered in...willingly!

You know what they say about, the best LAID plans...

BS, over the last few weeks, had repeatedly bragged about his sexual encounters with a dishwasher during his New Year's Eve trip to Hotel Gilbert, in South Fallsburg New York.
THE GILBERT (lounge above)  WAS LOCATED IN THE CATSKILL MOUNTAINS (THE JEWISH ALPS), NINETY MILES NORTHWEST OF NEW YORK CITY.  IT WAS PART OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF BORSCHT BELT HOTELS, (1920's-1970's).  NOW MOSTLY DEFUNCT, THOSE RESORTS LIKE; BROWN'S, CONCORD, GROSSINGER'S, THE GRANIT, IRVINGTON, KUTSCHER'S AND NEVELE WERE A MECCA FOR VACATIONING MIDDLE-CLASS JEWS.  THE NUMBER OF COMEDIANS AND OTHER ENTERTAINERS WHO GOT THEIR BIG BREAK UP THERE ARE TOO MANY TO LIST.
I was familiar with the Catskills.  My maternal grandparents stayed in a bungalow colony (1950's-70's) and my parents took me for a week at the Irvington,when I was four.
SUMMER - 1959 AT THE IRVINGTON.  YES, YOU CAN TELL BY THE KNOBBY KNEES, THAT'S ME.  PROBABLY THAT SAME DAY OR THE NEXT, I SNUCK AWAY FROM MY FOLKS AFTER THE POOL WAS CLOSED.  I WANTED TO PLAY WITH AN INFLATABLE SEAL IN THE POOL...AND FELL IN.  LUCKILY, A PASSERBY, SAW IT HAPPEN AND FISHED ME OUT...
I also worked as a counselor at a summer camp owned by Kutschers and I used to drive my paternal grandparents to the Rubin's Hotel, in Ellenville.
MAY 1973 - MY SECOND SOJOURN UP TO RUBIN'S.  MOM WAS MY NAVIGATOR AND WE NEVER GOT CAUGHT IN THE SPEED TRAPS IN TUXEDO NEW YORK OR THE EQUALLY DIABOLICAL, SLOATSBURG.

BS told us, we were going to the Gilbert. He said that his dishwasher chick had three girlfriends who also worked late and were starved for entertainment.  That meant, all we had to do was, bring a fifth of scotch, some wine and beer...and we would be both literally and figuratively, in!

By 6:00PM, on the night of our departure, the weather had turned hellaciously cold. Rosie-cheeked BS and LMART arrived at MOBY's house shortly after me.  They were still shivering when I realized they had brought nothing but a toothbrush in their back pocket.  Then they had the audacity to mock me because I had thrown a change of clothes and a copy of the NEW YORK POST into a Waldbaum's brown paper bag.  Then we laughed at MOBY when he came downstairs with a heavy, oversized valise.
BS's BRAND NEW CHEVY CAPRICE WAS IN THE SHOP SO MOBY'S CAR, A BEAT-UP, 1964 OLDSMOBILE F-85 DELUXE WAS PRESSED INTO SERVICE.

We were all seated in MOBY's frigid, nine-year old clunker when he reminded us that his car only starts in neutral.  Then a few blocks from the Belt Parkway entrance, while looking for a parking spot at Canarsie Liquors he added, "Oh yeah, if we get a flat we're screwed, my jack is frozen to the wall of my trunk." 

So, if you believe in omens...

We stopped to eat at the traditional halfway point to the Catskills, the Red Apple.  Unfortunately, we wished we never left the warmth of the car.  Our northern exposure brought fierce winds that almost snapped my car door off its hinges and the temperature dropped under ten.
LOCATED ON ROUTE-17,  IN THE SOUTHFIELDS SECTION OF TUXEDO NEW YORK, THIS CAFETERIA-STYLE RESTAURANT OPENED IN 1931.  A MAJOR ROADSIDE ATTRACTION, IT HAD BEEN IMMORTALIZED IN THE MEMORIES OF COUNTLESS TRAVELERS AND APPEARED IN A HANDFUL OF FILMS.  THE DOORS FINALLY CLOSED IN 2006 AND THE BUILDING WAS CONDEMNED, THE FOLLOWING YEAR. 

The Red Apple's cashier said, "It might get down to zero overnight and the back roads will still be slick from last week's snowstorm." Against a strong gale, we trudged like Eskimos, back to MOBY's Olds. Inside, he blasted the heater as LMART complained about not having gloves and my ears felt like they would shatter and fall off.  Plus, as bundled up as BS and MOBY were, they felt just as frost-bitten.

We got to the hotel an hour before the girls were to get off work.  We got feeling back in all our extremities as we lounged around the lobby and loudly joked about our Arctic experience. The Gilbert had seriously declined as a respected resort but because we were dressed like slobs, it didn't take long for someone to realize that we didn't belong.

A side door behind the front desk opened.  A burly old-timer (about fifty) in a wrinkled suit came out and approached.  He smiled and in a local yokel accent asked, "What room are you fellas staying in?"  We ignored his phoniness and the stench of booze and tobacco as BS said, "We're waiting for some friends."  "Oh," the man said, "what room are they staying in?"  BS said, "Our friends work here." The man shrugged, "Okay.  No problem, but you have to wait outside."  MOBY said, "Outside?"  The man flashed a badge from inside his lapel and said, "Yeah, I'm the house dick, (House dick?  I thought that was only in movies).  When we didn't snap to attention he added, "And if you trespassers come back in, I'll have you arrested."

BS had MOBY drive around back to the kitchen.  The girls would be out in ten minutes and then it would be party time.  Twenty minutes later, after nobody had come out, BS decided to investigate.  I was quietly doubting the whole set up when he came out with his arm around the waist of a giggly cutie.  She told us in a heavy Irish brogue, "Sorry, the heating pipes in our trailers burst and my friends had to make other arrangements..."  She saw the look of disbelief on our faces and said, "Follow me."  Behind some barracks-like hotel rooms were rows of staff trailers.  She brushed aside some icicles hanging over the entrance and unlocked her door.  She said, "Being in there is like being out here."  She motioned us in and showed us that frost had formed on the counter tops and the toilet water was frozen solid.

Back at the car, BS took the Dewar's, one bottle of wine and a six-pack of Rheingold.  He said, "See you tomorrow."  We were still in shock five minutes after the horny couple disappeared inside.
FROM 1883 UNTIL THE MID-1970's, RHEINGOLD WAS MARKETED AS A WORKING MAN'S BEER.  IN ADDITION TO BEING THE PRIMARY NEW YORK METS SPONSOR AND USING JOHN WAYNE, JACKIE ROBINSON AND THE MARX BROTHERS IN THEIR TV ADS,  IT APPEALED TO ME AND MY FRIENDS BECAUSE IT WAS THE LAST OF THE 99c SIX-PACKS.

MOBY wanted to find a motel but LMART and I were delusional.  We thought, we needed to conserve our money so we would have a shot with the girls the next night.  So by a vote of two-to-one the descesion in our ranks was quelled.

We stupidly drove for an hour through the icy, empty countryside hoping for some inspiration...that never came. Even if we had decided on a motel, most were closed for the season and the few that were open had no vacancies, due to the holiday.  

Our bickering escalated.  LMART commented, "If we properly invested our time, we could have been almost home by now... and could have still come back tomorrow."  On the far side of Ellenville, our teeth-chattering whining was still worsening until we skidded sideways off the road, inches from a fallen tree and into a ditch.  Before getting out to check for damage, we looked at each other in astonishment.  Nobody said anything but I'm sure we were all thinking; we're freezing our asses off, laying our lives on the line while BS is snug as a bug in a rug and getting laid.

Luckily, we all survived and after a couple of minutes of pushing, we got the car back on level ground.  I told MOBY, "Some day, we'll look back on all this and laugh."  He rolled his eyes as he cautiously accelerated back onto the road.

Our next stop was the hotel parking lot.  The three of us took turns cursing BS as we tried to sleep in the car.  MOBY cried, "We could actually freeze to death." I suggested stuffing my newspaper under our coats...but I guess that only works in the movies.  We were trembling with our eyes closed for about an hour when MOBY had a great idea, "Let's go to the Ellenville police station.  We'll tell them our situation..."  LMART interrupted, "And we'll tell them we won't need anything...just a place to lie down for a few hours."  And I added, "It's four degrees, how could they possibly say no."  We went...and of course they did say, "No!"

Back behind the Gilbert, near the steps that led to the kitchen LMART said, "I can't feel my fingers."  Then one at a time, men (some dressed in white, presumably cooks and others in street clothes), parked or were dropped off.  The first hint of dawn was nowhere to be seen when I said, "Let's follow those guys up there and find a place to hide."  LMART moaned, "My hands really hurt."  MOBY said, "But if we get caught, we'll get thrown in real jail."  I said, "Screw that, LMART is hurting...hell, we're all hurting."

We got behind a chef and went up into the kitchen. In the bustle of activity, nobody questioned us as we walked through to the dining room and into the quiet, empty lounge (the photo above).  In the corridor, I saw a door labeled "CASINO" and led my friends in.  In the semi-darkness there was a sea of card tables in the center of the room and sofas lining the walls.  In a hidden alcove, we each dropped dead on couches and crashed.

A little after 7:00AM, I was awakened by a couple of biddies.  They came in, turned on the lights and played canasta.  Soon the others woke up.  We yawned and stretched before stumbling towards the door.  The women paid us no mind as we left the card room and entered the lounge.  We plopped down on a sofa that overlooked the dining room and tried to form a plan. LMART said, "The smells are making me hungry."  MOBY said, "What I wouldn't do for some bacon and eggs..."  When LMART and I gave him the stink-eye he added, "What?"  Then the *second best miracle I could have imagined...happened. 

A hotel guest (DORF), the mom of an old friend from my neighborhood recognized me.  I explained our predicament and she zoomed to the buffet line.  Her motherly instincts took over and she smeared cream cheese on bagels, added lox, tomato and onion.  DORF wrapped them in napkins, dropped the cache into her big, faux-rattan handbag and smuggled them out to us.

*The only way this miracle could have been better would have been if the dishwasher chicks were bringing our breakfast.

DORF went back in and brought us seconds and a carafe of coffee.  We thanked her and she left.  Then a giggly female, in an Irish brogue announced over the PA system, "MOBY, please report to your car."

BS and the girl were at the backdoor of the kitchen when we got to the car.  BS kissed her hard and squeezed her bottom before bounding down the steps.  He had that freshly laid look on his face as he proclaimed, "We can go home now!" 

We wanted to stay and take a shot with the other girls the next night.  But BS said, "They slept with busboys, in regular rooms...they aren't going to give that up."  MOBY said, "Well, tell them to let us use their shower..."  BS said, "You're out of your mind...let's go."

On my depressing ride home both LMART and MOBY listened with admiration to every word BS said.  He even cut them off every time they tried to tell him what we went through. I believed his triumph but saw him only as a self-absorbed braggart.  I never hung-out with BS or LMART again.  But they stood the test of time and are still tight friends and business partners today. 

I saw a lot less of MOBYand within two years, our friendship had dissolved too.  Over the years, at mutual friend's functions I bumped into him three times.  Our conversations were short and he never wanted to rehash the Gilbert Hotel story even when I said, "Remember when I said...someday we'll laugh about that night?" Even with social media, we never pursued rekindling a computer relationship.

In October 1978, I drove past DORF's house and saw my old friend, (her son), MIKF.  I stopped because MIKF and I hadn't seen each other in eight years.  We had been bosom buddies in junior high but due to philosophical differences when we reached high school, we split.  I told MIKF the circumstances of his mom rescuing me and my friend's at the Gilbert.  He didn't seem to care.  Then his younger brother GLEF came out and MIKF went inside.  GLEF and I were on the same wave length but we never became friends because I was moving to Nevada.

I still have a warm spot in my heart for my old friends but we all must evolve.  That was proven when I went back to Las Vegas three years ago and introduced my family to "CIRO the HERO."  Nobody was ever more in tune with me than Ciro...but the twenty-five year gap took its toll.  I was never so embarrassed to say that someone was once my friend.  But at least I got to illustrate to my son Andrew how people, our interests and viewpoints change because I feel justified, to now refer to my ex-friend as, "CIRO the ZERO."  But that's another story.

Monday, January 21, 2013

MORTY THE CAT

My dad had an emergency (spring 1977) and needed me to go into Manhattan to pick up merchandise for his juvenile furniture store.  These trips were rare but I knew the ropes because I had been a part of similar runs to the Mercantile Building (in the east 30's), since I was nine. 

Most people, even New Yorkers don't relish driving into the city.  But only the most stout-hearted, could get into the Mercantile Building's loading dock, in a "civilian" vehicle, park for an undetermined amount of time, load up (or drop off) and get out alive. 

Like a Navy Seal black ops mission, the difficulty and true measure of success in these ventures was based on slithering through a sea of tractor trailers, to the safe haven of one of the two, creative parking spots.  This trick was not for the squeamish because this territory was the exclusive bailiwick of eighteen-wheelers.  And nothing was more irksome to professional teamsters, whose time was money...than to have a piss-ant like me who didn't belong there, give the impression that they were going to take up space, at one of their five bays.
A TEAMSTER IS ANYONE WHO HAULS GOODS.  THE ROOT WORD "TEAM" REFERS TO WHEN LOADS WERE DRIVEN BY GROUPS OF OXEN, HORSES ETC. UNLIKE THE PHOTO ABOVE, THE MERCANTILE BUILDING'S OPEN-ENDED LOADING AREA WAS ENORMOUS.  THIS ENTIRE TRUCK COULD FIT "INSIDE."  AT THE FAR LEFT, PLEASE NOTE THE SPACE AGAINST THE WALL...TWO SIMILAR PARKING SPOTS WERE AVAILABLE FOR THE FEARLESS, ON EACH SIDE  OF MY TARGET'S LOADING DOCK...INSIDE.

When I was a kid, it always amazed me that from inside my dad's Ford Econoline van, my unintimidating, short, fat  *uncle would have acutely profane shouting matches...complete with death threats...with cutthroat truckers defending their turf. 
"THE WAGON," A 1967 ECONOLINE, DOUBLED AS OUR FAMILY CAR FOR TEN YEARS.   
My mother's opportunistic brother, like a desperate mouse, darted between the semis as if a heavily guarded Ritz Cracker with a chunk of cheddar cheese on it was at stake. While in this Demolition Derby mode, I'd get the crap scared out of me as my uncle narrowly avoided collisions, by damning the torpedoes and maneuvering the van between the titans of the open road.  I couldn't even breathe until he squeezed into the unobtrusive space, at one of the two spots on the outside of the bays...where he wasn't in anyone's way.

* I never saw or heard that my foul-mouthed uncle got his ass kicked. I guess nobody cursed better than my him because the truckers always backed down.  Then, nothing was funnier than when he hopped out of our wagon...the look on the hostiles's faces was priceless when they realized that they were scared-off by a little meatball with stubby, toothpick legs.

In my early years, I was primarily brought along to sit in the van and tell anyone who came along that my uncle would be right back. But as a young adult, I was sent on my own to these jousting contests, with my mother riding shotgun.  Even though mom was no stranger to vile obscenities, unlike her brother, I used diplomacy with the big-rig operators to get what I wanted...and if that didn't work, I just got sneaky.

That last time, (spring 1977) was my smoothest trip.  On our way back, mom and I were gloating how easy our potentially lethal task was as I slowed down for a red light at Second Avenue.  Hordes of pedestrians crossed our path.  But when the light turned green only a single straggler with freaky coke bottle glasses delayed my right turn.  He stopped for a second, squinted at us with an impulsive yet awkward expression of recognition as I veered around him.  That's when my mother said, "Hey, that was Benji Forster!"

Mom smiled as I accelerated and said, "Do you know the Morty the cat story?"  I was familiar with my dad's version so I was glad I let mom give all the gory details (a woman's prospective) during the rest of our ride back to Brooklyn.

In the early 50's, back in the old neighborhood, (Brownsville Brooklyn), my parents were close friends with Benji and his wife Geraldine, (today, I'm sure they would have been called, Ben and Gerrie).  Both couples lived in an apartment building on Hopkinson Avenue.  Like my mom and dad, the Forster's yearned to start a family and move to a better area.   Unfortunately for the Forster's, by the time I was born (my sister was two years older), they found out that Benji could not father children. 

Somewhere along the line, (to compensate?) the Forster's got a cat, (way before it was popular to treat an animal like a family member, they spoke about their Siamese house pet as if it was their kid).

Benji Forster (a.k.a. Magoo), got that nickname because of his poor vision.  His greatest connection with my father was that they were both musicians.  Benji's specialty was violin and keyboard instruments. 
MR. (QUINCY) MAGOO WAS A NEARSIGHTED CARTOON CHARACTER WHOSE HI-JINX WAS COMPOUNDED BY DENYING HIS VISION PROBLEMS.  IN 2002, MAGOO (ORIGINATED IN 1949 AND VOICED BY JIM BACKUS), WAS NAMED TV GUIDE'S  #29  ALL-TIME, GREATEST CARTOON CHARACTER.  IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THE STEREOTYPICAL PRESENTATION OF HIS ASIAN HOUSEBOY CHARLIE (CHOLLY) DREW CRITICISM FOR ITS POLITICAL INCORRECTNESS.  AND THE 1997 LIVE-ACTION MOVIE STARRING LESLIE NIELSEN, RECEIVED FLAK FROM FOUNDATIONS FOR THE BLIND BECAUSE OF ITS INACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF THE VISUALLY CHALLENGED.

When Benji's sight suddenly got worse, he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease.  However, to avoid the strong possibility of blindness there was an expensive operation...that the Forster's couldn't afford.

Soon, Magoo could no longer do his job as a machinist at a tool and dye factory.  To eke out a living, he began giving piano lessons. His favorite pupil lived several blocks away, in a ground floor garden apartment, on Herkimer Street.  This student was a sullen, unattractive, teenage bride who married an equally unattractive man, fifteen years her senior.  She took to the piano so naturally that in a few short months, Benji began bringing his violin and felt like he was getting paid, to play duets with her.

My mom sidetracked the story to explain that the girl's husband severely neglected her.  So despite her filling their apartment with beautiful music, he didn't notice. Even when she wasn't playing the piano, her withdrawn personality had blossomed without recognition, as she regularly smiled, sang or hummed new tunes.

One of the disadvantages of living in an apartment house was getting embroiled in gossip especially when the juicy tidbits involve you.  Some busybody thought he was doing the husband a favor when he misinterpreted the girl's newly inspired joy, as an affair with the piano teacher.  So he saw it fit to tell the husband. 

During the next lesson, the suddenly jealous husband came home from work early.  In the street, he angrily paced to the beat of the wrongly accused infidels playing, "CARO NOME," (Gilda's theme), from "RIGOLETTO."
"RIGOLETTO," IS A THREE ACT OPERA BY GIUSEPPE VERDI (above).  IT WAS  FIRST PERFORMED IN VENICE ITALY ON MARCH 11, 1851.  IN IT, THE FEMALE LEAD, GILDA, SACRIFICES HER LIFE TO SAVE HER LOVE FROM HER FATHER'S ASSASSINS.
CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO HEAR A 4:05 VIDEO OF, "CARO NOME." http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&ved=0CEkQtwIwAg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dw00u8aUM1Js&ei=4Or6UOOBFOPV0gHGhICwAQ&usg=AFQjCNGNZ6p1YwWndIKtQRul-z5rvX1VbQ&bvm=bv.41248874,d.dmQ

When the tragic music stopped and was replaced with laughter, the agitated moron scaled his terrace wall.  He brandished a switchblade, burst into his apartment and found the innocent pair at the piano, reviewing their next tune while sipping wine...which turned out to be grape juice.

At the trial, Benji's testimony directly led to the husband's murder conviction.  The girl's family, in appreciation of nearly destitute Benji's evidence, provided him with a cash reward.  He used the money to save his vision, move onto Long Island and buy a newsstand near the Mercantile Building.

The operation allowed Benji to keep his vision but he was considered legally blind.  In certain dark light, he needed a magnifying glass, in addition to this thick glasses, to read.  On sunny days, his eyes were so sensitive to the intense light that it was painful to be outside without special sunglasses.

In 1956, my parents moved to Canarsie at about the same time as the Forsters bought their modest rancher in upscale Glen Cove, on Long Island's north shore.  And despite long, hard hours, exposed to all kinds of weather, Benji's business, next to a busy subway entrance, did well. 

Through the 50's and into the mid-60's, the friendship between the Forsters and my parents dwindled.  Then one January when New York City was digging out of a blizzard, Geraldine called my mom.  When both women realized that the husbands were taking a snow day, Geraldine suggested that if my folks could brave the single-digit temperature and icy elements that it would be a great opportunity to socialize.

Two months earlier, dad's old car was too expensive to repair and a new one was financially out of the question.  Luckily, one of my father's cousins gave dad his 1955, two-tone (blue on blue) Dodge Royal.
DAD'S ELEVEN YEAR-OLD GIFT LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE THE PICTURE ABOVE...WHEN IT WAS NEW. BUT OUR RUSTED-OUT BLESSING IN DISGUISE WAS NOTHING BUT TROUBLE.  IT HEMORRHAGED MORE OIL THAN IT USED GAS, STALLED WHEN THE UNDER-CARRIAGE GOT WET AND  PARTS SEEMED TO FALL OFF EVERY TIME HE HIT A BUMP IN THE ROAD.
To prepare for their frosty excursion, mom left my sister and I with friends on our block as dad went out to scrape the ice off the windshield.  While the Blue-Bomber warmed up, dad checked the hoses and belts and filed crud off the battery terminals.  His last preparation was to check the temperature inside the car. Mom hated being cold, so make her feel ipsey-pipsey (pampered) during their trek on that sunny, Arctic morning, he didn't bring her out until everything was just right.

Through the bitter winds, my folks embarked at slow speed, on the frozen tundra of our street.  Once they got onto main arteries, the roads were better and they had clear sailing on the highway, the rest of the way.

Glen Cove had plenty of snow on the ground but the streets were clear and dry.  My folks parked in front of the Forster's house and happily scurried the last few feet, through the bitterness.  A frantic Geraldine was already at the door.  She didn't even invite mom and dad in as she bundled up to go outside and exclaimed, "Morty got out!" 

Morty, their beloved, current Siamese house cat had escaped and was nowhere to be found.  Geraldine said, "It's too bright for Benji to be outside, so you have to help me search."

Mom and dad were not thrilled by this turn of events yet they did their best for twenty minutes.  Dad recognized the futility and hinted that they should go back by saying, "I doubt the cat would have strayed too far.  Did you check for paw prints (in the snow) in the backyard?" Geraldine huffed, "My cat's name is Morty," and kept walking.  They were two streets further along when the last of mom's meager pioneer spirit evaporated.  When dad got her vibe, in a roundabout way, he again suggested that they return home.  But Geraldine droned on about missing her baby.  Dad added, "It's eight degrees..."  Geraldine growled, "It's fourteen, I just checked!"  Mom was a little more direct. Geraldine took great offense and cried, "Around the next corner, there's a park in the forest with starving hawks and other animals that could eat Morty!"  After a short pause she added, "And I heard that there might be wolves there too." 

My mother took a less strident approach out of respect for her friend's sensitivity but Geraldine wouldn't compromise.  Through chattering teeth mom gave it one last try and said, "If your Morty's smart, he's probably scratching at your door right now."  When Geraldine pointed to the wilderness ahead and insisted on continuing, mom wished her well and told my father, "Let's go home."

Geraldine did not follow them.  When my folks were about to get into the Blue-Bomber, Benji came out wearing giant sunglasses that reminded dad of the original scientists who witnessed the above ground nuclear tests, in the deserts of New Mexico.  Everyone was shivering as dad got Benji up to speed.  Magoo shook his head and said, "Morty is all Geraldine has...but I understand your situation...plus it's friggin' freezing out here."  The two men shook hands and my mom wished them well.

Benji was standing on his porch, shading his eyes with his hand, as dad turned the ignition.  The engine made a queer thud that was accompanied by a short, unmistakably sick sound of a tortured, shrieking meow.  The motor got freed-up and ran full force for three seconds.  Dad turned the car off and ran to open the hood.

The Forster's could not have possibly blamed my folks for Morty seeking the warmth of their engine block.  But despite apologies given and accepted, the cat's accidental, yet gruesome radiator fan death, signaled the end of their long-fading friendship. This was proven two years later when the Forsters were invited to my Bar Mitzvah and never responded.
OUCH !  CARELESS PEOPLE HAVE LOST HANDS IN RADIATOR FANS.  SO FOR SAFETY SAKE, A CAGE-EFFECT WAS SOON FEATURED...BUT TOO LATE FOR POOR MORTY. 

Mom finished the Morty the cat story as we pulled up to my father's store.  Dad saw us.  I thought he came out to help me schlep his goods into the store...but first he said, "Damnedest thing, I just got a call from Magoo..."  Mom cut him off, "Yeah we just saw Benji crossing the street..."  Dad interrupted, "But he called to warn me that you looked like you were getting cozy with a young fella."  Mom said, "What?"  Dad said, "That's right, the genius assumed Steve was your boyfriend."  Mom mused, "I guess revenge is a dish best served cold." Her pun went over my head as she added, "So you straightened him out...right?"  Dad said, "No.  I thanked and told him that I would severely deal with you the next time I saw you.  Then I said, 'Benji, she was with my son.  And I'd think you'd know better after all you've been through than to spread stories.'  When he didn't say anything, I said, 'Magoo, you've done it again.'"

Monday, January 14, 2013

TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tetraphobia is the fear of the number four.  It might seem funny in our culture but the word for four in some Chinese dialects, sounds like their word for death.  Over time, the phenomena of associating unluckiness to the number became a superstition and spread into many other Asian countries.

Here's a tongue twister for you, hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.  It is the fear of 666, aka, the sign of the beast, (devil).
IN THE 1976 MOVIE, "THE OMEN," THE SIGN OF THE BEAST, "666" WAS EMBEDDED INTO DAMIEN'S SCALP.
The next one is so good, paraskevidekatriaphobia that it has a synonym, friggatriskaidekaphobia.  They are both, the fear of Friday the thirteenth.

But today, in acknowledgment of it being Sunday, January 13, 2013, we are going to concern ourselves with just triskaidekaphobia...the fear of the number thirteen.

Some Christian traditionalists believe that the earliest "evidence" of thirteen being unlucky goes back to the Last Supper, when the disciple Judas (who betrayed Jesus) was the thirteenth to sit at the table.  Even though bible scholars can not find any mention of such a seating sequence in the holy book...the idea of the thirteenth guest to arrive (or anything relating to thirteen) has gained momentum down through the centuries as an unlucky number.

Last year, 2012 was an unlucky year.  The economy collapsed, there were more harsh natural disasters than usual and even predictions of the world ending had people jones-ing to start new.  But alas, the triskaidekaphobians look out onto the horizon of '13 and fear that our civilization is about to take an even worse hit...but not me.

The first time I heard about this unlucky thirteen superstition, I was seven years old, (1962).  My paternal grandmother took my sister and I, on an outing to Downtown Brooklyn that included seeing, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA," in the Fox Theater, at 10 Flatbush Avenue.
THE  OPULENT 4088-SEAT FOX THEATER OPENED IN 1931.  DESPITE ITS POPULARITY AND LANDMARK CREDENTIALS, IT WAS TORN DOWN IN 1971.
Due to the length and adult subject matter of this epic film...I lost interest fast.  In the darkness of this palatial theater, my mind wandered.  The one thing that really caught my interest was the ornate, stained glass affect of the numbered exit signs.  Granny encouraged me to stop fidgeting but the allure of tracing the numerical order of the exits was intoxicating.  This joyride of curiosity came to a sudden halt when I found that after exit twelve...was exit fourteen.

I was twisting in my seat, turning around and even scanning the balcony but exit thirteen could not be found.  When Granny told me to be still I said, "But I can't find exit thirteen."  Other people were shushing me as Granny told me to be quiet and she'll explain it to me later.  When she did...even at my tender young age...I thought it was silly.  Fifteen years later, I met a man who not only thought fearing thirteen was stupid but thought the number was lucky.

It all started after New York City's two-day blackout began on July 13, 1977.  My dad lost his store in the looting and was out of work. I had just graduated Brooklyn College and was doing my best to do nothing when the ensuing family crisis, forced me into the ranks of the employed.

My friend's father headed a branch of the City University of New York (CUNY) accounting department. 
CUNY logo - blue cube.jpg
ESTABLISHED IN 1847, THE CITY UNIVERSITY SYSTEM IS COMPRISED OF 24 INSTITUTIONS THAT INCLUDE, 11 SENIOR COLLEGES AND 7 COMMUNITY COLLEGES.  WITH A CURRENT BUDGET OF 2.3 BILLION DOLLARS, MORE THAN 540,000 STUDENTS ARE PRESENTLY ENROLLED.
When my friend's dad learned about my family's travails, he juiced me into a fairly decent job analyzing encumbrances (purchases) made by the various CUNY schools.   In a huge open space that resembled a well-lit prison mess hall, together with a diverse conglomeration of twenty others, I made hundreds of weekly determinations for such things as; white rats for Queens College, cafeteria trays for Hunter College, turpentine for Medgar Evers College etc.

At work, I was embraced by the small contingent of people around my age.  They called themselves the "Do-Nothing-Squad," for obvious reason.  I was trained to use a simple keypunch but the newest technology was computers.  So to gain computer literacy (to fit in with the clique), I disguised a lot of my work time, to "observe" older members of the do-nothings playing games, on the new, hi-tech toy.

During one of our unapproved long lunches in Central Park, I made a romantic play at the hottest of the do-nothings, Gabrielle "Gabby" Gennett, (rhymes with Bennett).  She turned me down in a nice way and I was relegated to "friend" status.  It turned out okay because I soon found out that she was a tramp and no stranger to a wide variety of drugs. 

One Friday afternoon when we were especially doing nothing, I overheard Gabby tell the equally unmotivated office manager that from now on, she wants her last name to be pronounced Genn-NAY...so she can be at one with her French roots. Then, loud enough for the world to hear, she went into nauseating detail, describing the symptoms of her (yet another) yeast infection.  Whatever embers of a torch I might have still carried for her, were hence, forever extinguished.  And just in case that wasn't enough, later, minutes before we were going home, she encouraged me into the ladies room, to "toot Pam." 
PAM IS A CANOLA OIL BASED AEROSOL SPRAY THAT PREVENTS FOOD FROM STICKING TO POTS AND PANS.  IT WAS INTRODUCED IN 1961 AND ITS NAME IS AN ACRONYM FOR A "PRODUCT OF ARTHUR MEYERHOFF."

I was so out of touch that Gabby had to explain that she was going to get high off that stuff. According to her later description, you take the core from paper towels, dampen a sheet and insert it into the cylinder.  Then spray some Pam into the tube and from the opposite, you suck the gas into your mouth for a cheap, temporary, tingly rush, all over your body, (I'm guessing in the last thirty-five years, they changed to a less toxic chemical composition so their product doesn't liquidate every brain cell it comes in contact with). 

One afternoon at the end of the week Gabby said, "My father is picking me up, you want a ride into Brooklyn?" Anything was better than the subway so I said, "Okay."

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, her dad (Gabe) was friendly and even more of a motormouth than her.  I saw his suit jacket was on a hangar as he warmly greeted me in a shirt, tie and a Pittsburgh Pirate cap.  He soon made a Brooklyn joke that I was familiar with, "We live on East 13th Street, between M and N...that means I have to walk two blocks to P."  I laughed, "Me too, I live on 103rd between M and N."  He said, "I'll drop you off on Coney Island Avenue.  You can take the B6 bus right into Canarsie."

While his daughter crashed he asked me about baseball.  When he heard I was a Mets fan he said, "Good because if you were a *Junkees fan, I'd have to throw you out of my car." 

*That was the first time I ever heard them called the Junkees and I have stolen that line a million times since.

He said, "When the Dodges left Brooklyn, I was heart broken."  Rather than correct his mispronunciation I just said, "My dad was pissed off when the Dod-GERZ went to L. A. too"  Mr. G. laughed, "I know they are the Dodgers...the name comes from being trolley car dodgers...but when I was a kid, I thought they were named after the car". 
DODGE BEGAN SELLING CARS IN 1915.  IN 1928, THEY BECAME A DIVISION OF CHRYSLER AND STILL ARE TODAY.  IN 1973, MY FIRST CAR (above) WAS MY DAD'S OLD, 1968 DODGE POLARA.
Gabby's father continued, "So I purposely say Dodges, even now.  Anyhoo, after dem bums moved out west, (dem bums is another nickname of the Brooklyn Dodgers),  all I was left with were the Junkees or nothing...so I took the nothing.  That is, until good luck shined down on me and I became a Pittsburgh Pirate fan."

Before I can get a word in Gabe continued, "It was October 13, 1960.  My wife had had a traumatic pregnancy with Gabby's kid sister and we were afraid that my wife, the baby or both wouldn't survive.  That morning and well into the afternoon, twelve other expectant fathers came in to that waiting room got their prize and left during the thirteen hours I sat and worried.  In the end, I was the only man left and the only thing that kept me distracted enough to keep me going was watching the seventh game of the World Series."

The 1960 World Series featured the heavily favored Goliaths from New York against the surprising David-like Pirates.  The teams split the first six games with the Yanks winning with three slaughters (16-3, 10-0 and 12-0) and the Pirates squeaking by with three tight victories, (6-4, 3-2 and 5-2).

The seventh game was an incredible affair complete with odd twists of fate, many lead changes and the unlikely Pirate 10-9 win, sealed by Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer.
Thumbnail
BILL MAZEROSKI'S HEROICS WAS THE FIRST WALK-OFF WORLD SERIES ENDER IN BASEBALL HISTORY.
Gabby's father said, "Seconds after the game, I was in such shock by the Junkees losing to that crappy team that I didn't realize that the smiling nurse was telling me that I had a little girl and that she and her mom were well.  I followed the nurse up to the maternity ward.  In the elevator, she pressed the fourteenth floor button.  I noticed that there wasn't a button for the thirteenth floor as I made her repeat herself about the condition of my family.  But she assured me that although my wife was sedated that she was fine and in no danger...and that the baby had a jaundice complexion because her lungs weren't fully developed, so she might require a few extra days in the hospital."

The proud papa gaped at his daughter through glass until another nurse guided him to a desk to complete her paperwork.  When Mr. G. was asked what the baby's name was, the date (October 13th) flashed through his mind, then the length of his wife's thirteen-hour labor, the number of men (thirteen) in the waiting room, the fact that the fourteenth floor was really the thirteenth and finally the amount of letters in Bill Mazeroski's name.  The nurse perceived him to be in a trance and said, "Sir, are you all right?"  He perplexed her by saying, "I wanted my first girl to be a boy so I named her after me...so I was going to let my wife name this baby...but under the circumstances, she not available..."  The nurse said, "So..."  Mr. Gennett smiled, "I want her whole name to have thirteen letters.  How can I spell Mazzy that it has six letters?"  The nurse shrugged, "M-A-Z-Z-I-E?"

We had just gotten off the Manhattan Bridge when I managed to tell Mr. G., "That's an amazing story."  He said, "I'm not afraid of a stupid number.  I love number thirteen. There's even a club called the "THIRTEEN CLUB" and they make fun of all superstitions."  
THE 13 CLUB (NOT THEIR LOGO ABOVE) WAS ORIGINATED IN THE 1880's TO DEBUNK SUPERSTITIONS, PRIMARILY THE UNLUCKINESS OF SERVING THIRTEEN PEOPLE AT THE SAME TABLE.  OVER TIME, FIVE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS BECAME HONORARY MEMBERS, CHESTER ARTHUR, GROVER CLEVELAND, BENJAMIN HARRISON, WILLIAM McKINLEY AND THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

Gabby's dad continued, "I never joined the club but hell, I put my money where my mouth was.  The year after Mazzie was born, I moved us into a bigger house.  We narrowed our choices down to three that were about the same price...but I chose the one on the thirteen hundred block of East 13th Street."

A couple of weeks later at CUNY, my juice was fired.  He was replaced by the austere Bill Telford.  As a result of his presence, within days, our lazy office manager suddenly became strict.  She was busting tons of people in my department (mainly the do-nothings) for goofing off, coming late and eating at their desk. I paid it no mind until the rumors started swirling that thirteen people were getting axed. 

On a monstrous Monday morning, someone had just nicknamed Telford, "William Tell" when his new secretary tapped our unsuspecting office manager's shoulder while she played computer solitaire. Fifteen minutes later, she was dabbing tears from her eyes as she cleared out her belongings and was escorted out.

The morale of the staff was jittery as we pantomimed activity as each succeeding victim was led to their execution.  I made it until two-thirty.  Telford greeted me and after some understated pleasantries, he started to read my old employment application.  Aloud he said, "Ah, you're a Kingsman from good old Brooklyn College. I see here you were a Communications major."  I said, "Yes sir."  "Did you minor in accounting?"  "Um, uh...no.  I minored in Psychology."  "Oh Psychology, good, good.  Then how many accounting credits did you take?"  I was in no position to lie so I said, "None."  He said, "Okay. I see...and how many credits did you take in economics?"  I said, "None...in college."  His stern face had long lost any trace of graciousness when I added, "But in my sophomore year in high school, I took a requisite economics class...and got an 85."

I was falsely encouraged when William Tell didn't smite me by smashing his hatchet of doom into my back.  He told me to report to the secretary in his outer office.  It was she who told me I was unqualified for the job when I got my walking papers. 

On my way out, I saw Gabby in the mail room. She, the greatest of the do-nothings, said she was hiding because she desperately needed the job.  We gave each other a hug and exchanged phone numbers.  Then I took a sheet of computer paper and said, "Let me leave you with a souvenir."  I placed the blank paper on stack of manila envelopes and traced my hand with an exposed middle finger.  Then I scribbled, "UP YOURS WILLIAM TELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

A few days later, Gabby called me, "I survived William Tell's reign of terror but when you look at it...it's a dead end job.  So for a lot more money, I'm taking a job interview for a waitressing job at 'Good Time Charley's.'"  I wished her well. Then she added, "The real reason I called was to tell you that you permanently left your mark at work." I smiled, "Really?"  She said, "Really. You're a friggin' hero, a legend, a martyr..."  I said, "Me?"  She said, "Let me ask you, because my dad told you that he thought the number thirteen was lucky, did you purposely use thirteen exclamation points when you wrote, 'UP YOURS WILLIAM TELL !!!!!!!!!!!!!'"  I said, "No."  "Well, a couple of days after you left" she continued, "the manila envelope you leaned on had a bunch of handouts that Bill Telford was going to use when he chaired one of his new efficiency meetings.  Then he accidentally used a sheet that had carbon paper on top of it.  So when he loaded his on the overhead projector, everyone at the meeting saw your good-bye message and started to laugh."

Gabrielle Gennett (Genn-NAY) didn't know much but she had enough wisdom to recognize a dead end job when she saw it.  Had I gotten stuck working for CUNY...I can't possible see how my life would have been better.  So thank you William Tell. And thank you too Mr.  Gabriel Gennett (rhymes with Bennett) wherever you may be, for guiding me through the nonsense of triskaidekaphobia as I hope to lead my readers through a *lucky, peaceful and love-filled...2013.

* See that you're lucky already...you can now show off to your family and friends that I taught you a twenty-nine letter word...hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia !!!!!!!!!!!!!  And yes, the thirteen exclamation points were intentional.

Monday, January 7, 2013

THE IDIOT SAVANT GOALIE

Just when it looked like this NHL hockey season was melting into oblivion, the lockout ended last night.  So if you need a dose of pucks to get you through the tedium till opening day or you just like a funny story, let's lace 'em up and skate back to 1975-1977.

"THE INTERBORO ICELESS HOCKEY LEAGUE"(IIHL), was a street hockey association that existed through the mid-70's, into the early 80's.  The "I" as we affectionately called it, was a group of (on-foot) hockey teams from all over New York City.  Our lone playing venue was in the alcove of an H-shaped elementary school, (East 22nd Street, off Brooklyn's Kings Highway). The "I" had enough prominence that our league president was interviewed several times, by Marv Albert, (on radio) between periods of New York Ranger games.

The majority of the players were in the 17-25 range.  However there was a handful of younger kids, even a fourteen-year old, as well as larger amount of older men, into their 50's.  I got into the league towards the end of the 1975 season, played the full year in 1976 and missed a lot of time in '77 due to work obligations. 

The teams were mostly from Brooklyn but true to the "interboro" allure of the league, there was, at one time or another, a club from Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.  My team the MP's, were a conglomeration of friends as well as friends of friends, from Brooklyn College. Before I joined, the MP's, they were the perennial second place finishers to the white-shirted, Raccoons.  During my years, those tendencies never changed.

The MP's, donned in dark blue hockey sweaters had the biggest core of skilled athletes.  But because of personal responsibilities, we infrequently suited-up our A-Team.  Even worse, several times, we barely scraped up enough players to cover the eight-man minimum, (as specified in the I's bylaws).

HK was one of our casual players.  He was only encouraged to come and fill-out the roster when the captain (player/coach) feared a forfeit because of a small turnout.  HK was a beer-bellied nice guy with zero athleticism.  He probably followed sports his whole life but never participated.  Other teams thought this tough-looking, six-foot-four behemoth was an ax murderer but amongst his "friends," HK's on-ice, non-combative nature earned him the nickname, Sonja.

SONJA HENIE (1912-1969) WAS A NORWEGIAN, THREE-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL FIGURE SKATER, (1928, 1932 AND 1936).  THAT RECORD AND HER TEN WORLD TITLES REMAIN UNEQUALLED. LATER, SHE USED HER EXPERTISE ON ICE, TO BECOME A FILM ACTRESS.

Once during pre-game warm-ups, a gold charm fell off Sonja's necklace.  He told me that his girlfriend got it for him so I offered to help find it.  He shrugged off the idea of a search, called it a "trinket" and continued practicing. 

HK was an insignificant person in my life but because I had no girlfriend at the time and no girl had ever bought me such an impressive bauble, I voluntarily got face-down on the pavement and scanned the area with my eye almost touching the ground...until I found it.

Our opponent that day was a powder blue shirted team from the Bronx, called the Francos.  Their captain and team originator was a six-foot-five, street-tough who not only looked like the Pittsburgh Steeler's Franco Harris but wore #32, too.


FRANCO HARRIS (1950-PRESENT) IS A HALL-OF-FAMER AND SUPER BOWL CHAMPION BEST KNOW FOR HIS "IMMACULATE RECEPTION," IN 1972.

The Francos infrequently won.  Their best player (Franco) actually had little hockey talent and he seemed to justify his team's existence by beating-up enemy players who got in his way, (even the six-dollar a game referees were afraid of him). One of my teammates once joked, "You're better off letting Franco kick the shit out of you because if you made him look bad in a fight, you'd probably get knifed after the game."

In the opening moments of that game, Franco had a confrontation with HK. HK who was more apt to kick-back in his car and smoke pot between periods shockingly did not back down.  My instincts compelled me to step between them before the fisticuffs resulted in the gentle-giant hippie getting hospitalized. 

In the process of saving HK, Franco grabbed me under my elbows, lifted me up as if my 200 pounds were nothing and flung me to the ground.  Oddly, Franco and Sonja were only given roughing penalizes but I was given a five-minute fighting penalty, a ten-minute misconduct penalty and was ejected from the game for being the "third-man-in" (to a fight...that never happened because of me). 

It pissed me off that my teammates teased me about acting as a peacemaker and being tossed aside like a rag doll. I was doubly angry because I had given up a day's pay from my bimmie job...only to be banished to the sidelines by the moronic ref who I incidentally saved from getting scuffed up.

The next time we played the Francos, our captain again feared that we wouldn't have enough players.  He phoned HK but he was in full-blown "Sonja" mode and chose to announce his retirement, rather than tempt fate by facing Franco's wrath again.

In that game, because of our small turnout, I was forced to play on our top line.  My regular position was defenseman, so it was rare that I played forward except as a penalty-killer.  I was happy to get this opportunity.  I had scored a mere handful of goals in my IIHL career so being on the talent-rich first line, against the worst team, gave me a big chance to pad my stats.

We won that game 10-0.  I was "on-ice" for seven of our goals and incredibly, I neither scored a goal or had an assist.

Our big rivals were the ever-repeating champs, the Raccoons.

THE MP's DETESTED EVERYTHING ABOUT THE RACCOONS...BUT I SECRETLY APPRECIATED THE CLEVERNESS OF THEIR TEAM NAME.  IT WAS A HOMAGE TO CLASSIC TV's "THE HONEYMOONERS" AND THEIR FICTITIOUS FRATERNAL LODGE, THE RACCOONS.

When we had all our players, the games against the Raccoons were competitive and we won more than we lost.  But we usually had between eight and twelve players and didn't always field our best squad so we were relegated to second bananas.

The Raccoons had four things that we lacked.  An impartial coach (he didn't play), a legion of Spartan warriors at every game, an intimidating fifty-year old enforcer (Scotty) and a seemingly mentally challenged goalie whose entire existence centered on stopping pucks, (the "I" used hockey balls).

One of our part-timers was a goon named Pete.  Nobody was more vocal in their hatred of the Raccoons and Scotty than him. Pete's father owned a diner on the other side of Brooklyn and several of the MP's were taken there for free meals after our games.  I couldn't stand Pete.  He was so clueless about hockey that it was entertaining to watch him try...to play.  I guess you could call him our enforcer because he looked at his hockey stick as a weapon.   Pete's infamous history included spitting in a referee's face, being accused of slashing one of Scotty's tires and getting kicked out of most games he showed up to.  He especially liked to cheap-shot skilled players and then fight (dirty fight) whoever came to his prey's aid.

With the newly retired HK (Sonja) looking on in street clothes, we were under-manned while playing the Raccoons.  After HK balked at the chance to play, our captain made an emergency phone call to Pete. Fresh from working at the diner, he showed up wearing oxford shoes, black slacks and a white dress shirt under his team jersey.  Our captain whispered to him that we were losing 3-0 and that Scotty (in a league without body checking) had crushed our golden boy (highest scorer) against the brick wall by shoving his stick (cross-check) into the poor bastard's lower back.

During a timeout, Pete's eyes glowed an evil crimson as he gathered all the MP's and put a "hit" out on Scotty.  Most of us didn't respond.  When Pete noticed his pep-talk wasn't met with the enthusiasm he was looking for, he upped the ante by putting a bounty out on Scotty, (a team dinner at his restaurant if we knocked the target out of the game).  Everyone went into a rah-rah delirium...except me. 

Pete, between threats and a barrage of cursing, called me selfish and not a team player.  I knew he was a schmuck so I was neither bothered nor swayed to join the mob.  What did irk me was that weasel Sonja, in our bench, sneering at me and cheering the Messiah-like instigator on. I guess his misty memory of me recovering his gold charm and saving him from getting brutalized by Franco couldn't compare to free, upper crust munchies, like a Romanian steak dinner...especially if double cottage fries and cheesecake were at on the line.

Pete started screaming, "We're ALL coming after you Scotty.  Get ready to get the shit kicked out of you."  This taunting (bench-jockeying) was common.  Scotty laughed it off, removed his glove and nonchalantly gave Pete the finger.

I was on the bench as play resumed. The plan was an all-out Donnybrook aimed at Scotty.  When the whistle blew to start the action, all the MP's on ice remained in their normal positions and followed the puck, except Pete.  I remember how comical it was to see him run in those black shoes and white socks until he cocked his stick in the air, in the style of a Samurai swordsman.  Pete wasn't halfway to Scotty when the referee yelled out the (ignored) ejection notice.

Pete with a Ruthian swat, slashed at Scotty's head and missed.  Then nobody interfered as the two pugilistic Titans tore at each other.  When they were mutually too exhausted to continue, bloodied Scotty and Pete were kicked out of the game.  But Pete's criminality got him permanently banned from the "I."

The final score was 5-0. In the waning seconds of the game, the Raccoon's impenetrable, thirty-year old, oddball goalie, Mike Brock started his traditional annoying chant of, "Shutout, shutout, shutout."  When the game was over, rather than rejoice with his teammates, he went outside the fence to hug Hildy (his weirdo girlfriend).  Then to our dismay, she, with her devilish, toothless laugh and cackling voice joined Brock in taunting us, by glorifying another one of his coveted shutouts, (against us), the highest scoring team in the league.

Mentally, Brock was not all there.  While it was true he drove, worked at the post office and had Hildy, he was also extremely dopey, had misshapen facial features and was developmentally childish.  Most people tried to get under his skin by calling him an idiot savant, (French for a learned idiot).  Which meant that this ugly duckling had exceptional brilliance as an agile, acrobatic goalie but an exceeding narrow ability to shine at anything else, (he even walked awkwardly).  As messed-up as Mike Brock seemed, nobody (except Pete) ever called him retarded. 

The MP's thought it was an insult when someone nicknamed him,  "Mee-Shell 'Bunny' La Brock," after NHL goalie Michel "Bunny" Larocque.  But it backfired because Brock liked it so well that Hildy sewed "BUNNY" on the back of his #1, Raccoon jersey.
 

MICHEL "BUNNY" LAROCQUE (1952-1992) WAS THE LONG TIME BACK-UP GOALIE FOR THE MONTREAL CANADIANS.  HE WAS A FOUR-TIME STANLEY CUP CHAMP (76-79) AND SHARED IN FOUR VEZINA TROPHIES AS THE BEST TEAM GOALIES.  IN HIS ELEVEN NHL SEASONS, HE ALSO PLAYED IN TORONTO AND BRIEFLY FOR PHILADELPHIA AND ST. LOUIS. 

"Bunny La Brock" took a lot of verbal abuse because he wore, even in hot weather, a tattered, good-luck-charm Raccoon's scarf that Hildy, his 50+ year old, cougar girlfriend had knitted.  Nearly all the rest of our hostilities were aimed at their relationship because few spectators came to our games. She was easy to spot because she wore her own #1 Raccoons jersey, as she watched every game from the street, outside the chain link fence that was behind the net, at the open end of the schoolyard.

Hildy was in charge of caring for (and carrying) her man's equipment bags.  She held his coat on the coldest days and kept an extra-large, McDonald plaid thermos of hot chocolate that she pumped in the air when her Bunny started to chant, "Shutout, shutout, shutout..."  Hildy also conferred with her hero between periods.  Maybe it was superstition, his own strangeness or the fact that he was a loner, but Brock never joined with his mates...instead, (over hot chocolate) he used his photographic memory to rehash (with Hildy) his big saves that day and discuss upcoming strategy.

In my last year (1977), we finished second again.  Despite not having all of our top guns, we swept the third seed in the playoffs and the Raccoons swept the fourth seed.  As was the apparent IIHL standard operating procedure, we were to face-off with the hated Raccoons in the finals...again.

Unfortunately for us, we were under-manned for the first two games and lost both in closely contested contests, (4-3 and 3-2).

Our captain got out the word for game three and our entire roster showed up.  Even Pete was there to cheer us on.  But the league president who attended all the finals, delayed the start of the game.  He reminded both coaches and the referee that Pete's lifetime ban prohibited him from attending any IIHL function, even as a spectator.  When Pete refused to leave, the president said, "I already filed a restraining order on you."  Our captain complained after Pete left but the president shrugged, "Sometimes life is like a cheap detective novel, if your 'friend' ever returns to the scene of the crime, I will have him arrested."

When the game finally started, Michel "Bunny" La Brock put up a brick wall and shut us out 7-0.  We walked off with our heads hung low, to the vexing, two-person chorus of, "Shutout, shutout, shutout."

Down three games to none, we were facing elimination in game four.  The festivities attracted more spectators than the meager nine players the MP's could muster. Like men on a mission, the few of us who showed up were so inspired to keep our season alive that we threw everything we had at Brock.  But like an octopus, he dove, kicked or caught every great shot we took.  And when it looked like our frustration was finally over, our rockets clanked off the post and harmlessly ricocheted to the corner.

Midway through the third period, we still had hope, trailing 1-0.  Then our hearts were broken when Scotty scored his first goal of the entire season when his soft, cupcake shot caromed off one of our guy's heel and teasingly rolled into our net.  The Raccoons soon added two more tallies. 

As the final seconds ticked away, Mike Brock whipped his scarf around his neck and turned around to Hildy during each stoppage.  Together they chanted, "Shutout, shutout, shutout."  She was pumping that stupid thermos and chanting on her own when there was a face off to Bunny's right with twenty-two seconds to go.  I crept up from my defense position hoping for a last chance to ruin the idiot savant's greedy shutout pleasure.  But, we lost the face off and I instinctively retreated to my defensive zone.

Scotty had the puck safely in front of Brock.  He advanced a couple of steps and with the boundless rush of victorious adrenalin coursing through his veins, he wound up and took a wicked slap shot.  I was twenty feet in front of my goalie as his Herculean missile came towards me. Half-heartedly, I stuck out my stick.  The puck solidly hit my stick and died.  In defeat with no ulterior motive, I hoisted the puck as high in the air as I could.  At the far end of the rink, with the clock dwindling down to single digit seconds, Brock had his mask off and his back turned to the action as he prematurely celebrated with Hildy.  There was a tiny space over his left shoulder and my lofted volley miraculously found it with seven seconds left.

While the Raccoons exalted their 4-1 victory and another championship at center ice, all that could be found of their sulking MVP was his scarf, in front of his abandoned net. I crossed paths with the tortured soul as he quickly exited and skulked back towards his car.  He looked like he might have been in shock, so I resisted the temptation to go into my own mock chant of; shutout, shutout, shutout.  Instead, I went with a (what can I say) grin and he ignored me.  I then watched him plop into his passenger seat with all his pads still on as Hildy angrily slammed his equipment bag into his trunk.

Once this year's NHL season officially gets underway, most fans will forget about losing the first three months of season.  Similarly, I'm certain everyone forgot how the IIHL's final playoff game ended in 1977...except three people.