Monday, April 29, 2013

EARTH DAY

In January 1979, the most disgusting thing I ever saw happened in the New York City subway.   At the far end of the Canarsie Line's Eighth Avenue passenger platform, I saw hundreds (yes I said hundreds) of filthy, greasy rats rampaging through twenty, uncovered trashcans.

I scampered away from the carnage.  But as appalled as I was, I did not write an angry letter to the Transit Authority, I did not call the Mayor's office or alert my congressman.  I just accepted this horror and remembered to avoid the far end of the station.

Similarly, in the 60's, factories (enabled by loop holes in the law) were seemingly unchecked as their waste fouled our air and water. 
IT WASN'T SO LONG AGO THAT ELIZABETH NEW JERSEY LOOKED LIKE THIS AND STUNK WORSE.

Another major contributor that spewed poisonous emissions into our air was leaded gasoline and poor auto exhaust systems.  I was not blind to these problems but I never thought to complain.
IT IS NOT AN URBAN LEGEND...THE CHICAGO RIVER INDEED CAUGHT FIRE.  IN THE LATE 60's,  FUELED BY THICK, OILY, INDUSTRIAL SLUDGE, THE CUYAHOGA AND BUFFALO RIVERS ALSO CAUGHT FIRE. 
Saving the planet was never taught in my schools. However, in my youth, for reasons other than cleanliness or saving resources, the older boys on my street scoured the neighborhood in search of deposit bottles. I never imagined the cash aspect, two-cents or a nickel at a time, off-set the embarrassment of rummaging through curbside trash. So whether they became future ecologists or ingenious money makers, I left that racket to them.
INTO THE 1970's, STORE'S PAID FOR RETURN BOTTLES.  SOME PLACES GAVE UP VALUABLE STORAGE SPACE TO ACCOMMODATE THE CRATES.  OTHER STORES TOOK THE ADDED PRECAUTION OF KEEPING THE EMPTIES UNDER LOCK AND KEY, TO PREVENT THEFT.
I was dealing craps (1980), to a man about my age at the Stardust Casino. In our conversation, I learned just how much of a commodity high volumes of beer, wine and soda bottles could be. This player's dad ran beverage distributorship and his territory stretched from Chicago Illinois to Milwaukee Wisconsin.


This enterprising lad noticed that one state paid a dime more than the other for deposit bottles. So he used his dad's clout to borrow a semi once a week and to have his father's clients, (in the cheap deposit state's stores, bars etc) exclusively sell their clutter of bottles to him. Then he crossed into the more expensive state and cashed them in for over a thousand dollars profit.

I couldn't help but admire the guy. After all, until that gimmick dried up, he was working one day a week and making fifty grand...clear while indirectly forwarding the cause of a clean environment.

Smokers create a different problem.  They hate being singled out as societal pariahs due to the real and unfortunate effects of second hand smoke. Common sense would lead us to believe that these individuals, (often our family, friends and coworkers) would bend over backwards to avoid being further targeted because of littering.
SOMETIMES I THINK SMOKERS ARE SO DELUSIONAL THAT THEY THINK THEY ARE ENTITLED TO "MARK THEIR TERRITORY." DURING MY THREE TIMES A WEEK POWER WALK, I CAN'T GO FAR WITHOUT BEING INSULTED BY TONS OF TOBACCO RELATED TRASH.

In a related case, in 1976, near Roseburg Oregon, I saw another even worse side-effect of smoking. While driving through a huge burnt out forest, I saw an over-sized sign that read; A CARELESS SMOKER CAUSED THIS FOREST FIRE. 
SMOKERS WERE IDENTIFIED AS THE CULPRITS AS FAR BACK AS THE 1920's.
The overwhelming majority of unnatural forest fires are caused by careless smokers, most notable those who flick lit cigarettes out car windows.
IN 1925, THE FIRST PARK RANGER FIRE TRUCK,  (YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK).

Before I moved to Las Vegas, (1978), there was a notorious landfill, in Staten Island's Arthur Kill section.   For years, the garbage stench was so intense that even on a winter day with the car windows closed, the distant noxious odor was nauseating. It was so bad that when I was in the nearby shopping mall, there was a stinky, unhealthy, gray smog cloud...inside the building.

A few days ago, this subject of ecology came to mind while channel surfing.  That's when I came across director John Ford's 1948 classic, "FORT APACHE."  This classic movie was the first of his cavalry trilogy that also included, 1949's "SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON" AND 1950's, "RIO GRANDE."
Film Still
IN ADDITION TO ITS HEADLINERS, HENRY FONDA (left) AND JOHN WAYNE (right), "FORT APACHE" FEATURED SHIRLEY TEMPLE, VICTOR McLAGLEN AND WARD BOND. 
Fort Apache was loosely based on Custer's last stand at Little Big Horn and therefore was one of the first westerns to be sympathetic towards Native Americans.  John Ford was also famous for his cinematography.  In these movies, his magnificent exterior scenes were filmed on location in Monument Valley, in Utah, near Four Corners, (where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah all meet)).  In so doing, Ford pays homage to Indians by acknowledging their honor, spirituality and respect for the land.

Ford goes out of his way to glorify as many breath-taking angles as possible.
NO SINGLE PHOTO CAN CAPTURE THE TOTAL GRANDEUR OF MONUMENT VALLEY.  IT REMAINS ON MY BUCKET LIST BECAUSE IT KILLS ME THAT I HAD SEVERAL OPPORTUNITIES (EVEN AS RECENTLY AS 2009) TO GO  BUT NEVER MADE IT.

In Fort Apache, it's an incredible paradox that Ford takes us on the awe inspiring photo safari only to let us down. This part of the plot includes John Wayne's character and Pedro Armendariz (as Sergeant Beaufort) trekking far into the wilderness to meet the great Apache Chief, Cochise, to negotiate a truce.  The long journey doubles as a grand photo shoot of the Four Corners region.  This tribute is climaxed when the two stop to admire, "HORSESHOE BEND."
GORGEOUS, (GET IT,  GORGE-US...IT'S A GORGE) HORSESHOE BEND IS A MEANDER IN THE COLORADO RIVER, (DOWNSTREAM, THAT MAJESTIC WATERWAY ERODED-OUT THE NEARBY GRAND CANYON).  HORSESHOE BEND IS LOCATED HALFWAY ACROSS ARIZONA'S NORTHERN-MOST BORDER.  IT IS A MILE DRIVE FROM THE TOWN OF PAGE AND THE OBSERVATION DECK IS AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE , SHORT WALK FROM THE PARKING LOT.
The unfortunate irony is, Wayne and Armendariz are so taken by this view that they have a drink of whiskey to commemorate their experience.  Then Wayne shatters the moment by throwing the bottle, down into the pristine landmark.  I wanted to spit on John Wayne...what was Ford thinking?
THE "KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL" FOUNDATION ORIGINATED IN 1953.  ONE OF THEIR FOUNDERS COINED THE PHRASE, "LITTERBUG" IN 1947.  ONE TV AD CAMPAIGN FROM 1963 INCLUDED THE SLOGAN, "EVERY LITTER BIT HURTS," AS WELL AS THE CHARACTER; SUSAN SPOTLESS.  BUT ON EARTH DAY 1971, THEIR USE OF IRON EYES CODY, ("THE above CRYING INDIAN") BECAME A LASTING SYMBOL FOR ENVIRONMENTALISTS.

In September 1983, (wow, thirty years ago) my wife Sue and I drove from Las Vegas to Yosemite National Park.  We entered from the Nevada side.  From that entrance, it's a seventy mile drive, seemingly straight up!  The twisting mountainside road makes you gasp in amazement as each curve reveals more stunning scenery.  Just when you think that you couldn't possibly see anything more dazzling, you enter the Shangri-la known as Yosemite Valley.
DON'T LET ME GET IN THE WAY OF TRUE BEAUTY!  THAT ROCKY CRAG ON THE LEFT IS THE SIGNATURE ATTRACTION OF THE PARK; EL CAPITAN.  ON THE RIGHT IS THE PICTURESQUE, BRIDALVEIL WATERFALL.
In Yosemite, I had an epiphany and realized how fragile our environment is.  People like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt are heroes for dedicating themselves to the preservation of nature's bounty and establishment of the national park system.
AT THE HALF DOME OBSERVATION DECK, I FELT LIKE I WAS ON TOP OF THE WORLD, (HALF DOME NOT PICTURED).

We spent three days in Yosemite and felt like we should have stayed there a month.  It's inconceivable that today, we still have to explain the necessity of preserving these riches, by maintaining our planet.
IN THE MARIPOSA GROVES, YOU CAN WALK THROUGH THE GIANT SEQUOIA FOREST.  THE PARK RANGERS ARE QUICK TO STOP PEOPLE (ME) FROM TRYING TO TAKE THE COLOSSAL ACORNS HOME AS SOUVENIRS.

At Yosemite's main concession stand, sequestered away from the normal trashcans, I saw separate bins for various recyclables, (I soon learned that it was an early experiment to see if the public would enthusiastically participate).  My first reaction was that it was absurd to think people would seek this place out, lug their crap beyond the convenience of regular garbage cans and then further waste time by categorizing something like bottles by the color of the glass.  That meant that the "tree-huggers," expected the same folks who discarded bottles, cans etc...when they could've gotten paid for them...now expected them to go out of their way...for free...seemed ridiculous.

Happily, I was proven wrong.  The recycling campaign has been accepted for a long time and I feel deep down that it serves a great purpose while reminding us of our responsibility to others and the earth.
Image - Woodsy Owl plant tree with a caption - "give a hoot. don't pollute"
IF WOODSY OWL DOESN'T MOTIVATE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING, I'LL SIC SMOKY THE BEAR ON YOU...RIGHT AFTER HE WAKES UP FROM HIBERNATING.

Since being in Eden-like Yosemite, I have done my best to avoid littering, conserve water and energy, maintain my car's clean emissions and recycle paper, plastic, metal and glass. I must confess that I don't actually "celebrate" Earth Day, (earlier this week April 22nd), but I feel good about my contribution to our precious environment and encourage others to do the same.
EARTH DAY ORIGINATED IN 1970.  TODAY, IT IS OBSERVED IN 192 COUNTRIES WITH COORDINATED EVENTS THAT SUPPORT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION.
I say it's never to late to start recycling, be conscientious, don't litter and in general, respect the planet.  Hopefully you won't need the disgusting image of rats taking over, to entice you to get started.

Monday, April 22, 2013

IMPROVING ON BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S

A stand-up comedian once said, "You don't go to Denny's, you wind up there."  I've wound up at Denny's too many times than I care to admit but my saving grace is, by limiting myself to breakfast, I never got hurt.  So when I pay the hostess and she robotically asks, "How was everything?"   I'm being completely forthright when I reflect on my lack of expectations and unenthusiastically shrug, "Okay."

But why is breakfast in a restaurant so special?  In my case, it was a rare treat growing up, reserved for vacations or far excursions that started early.  My one exception was, a once a year tradition (it lasted four or five years into my mid-teens) after I helped my dad, on his one half-day out of the year.

I was ten the first time and on the way home, as a reward, he stopped at the Cobe Diner (pronounced to rhyme with Moby).  This ultimate truck driver greasy spoon was just beyond Canarsie's border on Remsen Avenue at Avenue D, (it closed in the 70's and a Wendy's took over that spot).

My dad was a work-a-holic, so I cherished these golden moments of one-on-one time. Especially when he said, "Get anything you want." Forty-eight years later, I still remember his response after I said, "Hey dad, these pancakes taste like hamburgers."  He said, "Is that bad?"  "No.  I kinda like it."  He said, "Good because everything cooked on that grill tastes like a hamburger."

I loved that father-son time so much that when my son Andrew was about two and a half, I experimented by taking him to our neighborhood Denny's for breakfast.  I brought an arsenal of toys and other gimmicks to occupy him but shockingly, he took to the restaurant setting well.  I ordered a Grand Slam and got him the junior version.  I'm proud to say, he cleared the table like a hurdler.
I TOOK A FEW PHOTOS TO COMMEMORATE THE OCCASION.  LUCKILY OUR WAITRESS TIFFANY, SUGGESTED THAT SHE TAKE A PICTURE OF US BOTH. 

Breakfast at Denny's became a priceless yet affordable, twice-a-month tradition. Our order would stay the same but in a short time, I was eating the Junior Grand Slam and Andrew was having the adult portion. Even after our favorite waitress stopped working there...I still called our visits, breakfast at Tiffany's.
Holly-Golightly-1
AUDREY HEPBURN AS HOLLY GOLIGHTLY, FROM TRUMAN CAPOTE'S 1961, ROMANTIC, YET THOUGHT PROVOKING COMEDY, "BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S."

I became braver as Andrew got older.  In the name of running errands and entertaining my boy, we went all over the area and mixed, "FRIENDLY'S" and "IHOP" into our breakfast lineup.
Andrew did so well that we were having a breakfast in restaurants that weren't necessarily kid friendly like the Sunryser (the former Neen's Country Store) and the cafe at the Ten Acres Motel.

My wife Sue worked weekends but sometimes we would incorporate her in our escapades. Therefore when we went on vacation and had breakfast at a Bob's Big Boy or a Cracker Barrel it wasn't a surprise to see how patient and mannerly he was.

Once when Andrew was about six, on our way to the amusement parks in Williamsburg Virginia, we introduced him to the Waffle House, (many years later on a cruise, the comedian said of the Waffle House, "It was so dirty there, I saw a cockroach vomiting).

Andrew was a pro by this time and ordered pancakes.  Our sixty-year old waitress with the giant mole on her cheek with cable wire-like hairs coming out of it and the cat woman glasses held around her neck with a beaded chain snarled, "This is the Waffle House, we don't serve pancakes..."  Innocently, Andrew said, "They have waffles at the pancake house..."  The waitress was speechless.

OVER LOOKING SINEPUXENT BAY. ENGLISH'S DINER HAS BEEN SERVING OCEAN CITY MARYLAND SINCE 1939.  I WAS DRAWN THERE BY THE OLD SCHOOL ALUMINUM WALLS THAT REMINDED ME OF THE COBE DINER.  BACK IN THE 80's and 90's, WE WERE NEVER DISAPPOINTED THERE BUT TODAY'S REVIEWS ARE HARSH.
Into Andrew's teenage years, we have continued our tradition while refining our taste in breakfast restaurants.  Of course we had some temporary set backs like Zyko's.  But overwhelmingly, we enjoyed our latest fad restaurants like, "Howell's."  Then I learned that the family of my friend's husband owned "Gilchrist's."  It was out of the way but soon it became a regular stop.  The allure started when I heard our waitresses' New York accent and we struck up a conversation.  Andrew's eye lit up when she name-dropped one of his favorite actors, Christopher Walken.
Christopher Walken <3 - christopher-walken Photo
ORIGINALLY A SONG AND DANCE MAN, CHRISTOPHER WALKEN (70) HAS APPEARED IN MORE THAN 100 MOVIES AND TV SHOWS. I BEST REMEMBER HIS ROLES IN, "THE DEER HUNTER," "ANNIE HALL" AND "CATCH ME IF YOU CAN."  ANDREW'S FAVORITES INCLUDE, "PULP FICTION," "HAIRSPRAY" AND "SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS."  BUT WE SHARE OUR APPRECIATION OF HIS ROLE IN THE SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE CLASSIC SKETCH, "MORE COWBELL."
The waitress told us she worked at the Christopher Walken's parents bakery in Astoria Queens.  She said he was hilarious and that she loved to go on deliveries with him because he would purposely sped around curves to see how fast he could go without toppling the cake.

Our search for a better breakfast took us to several local diners.  But after being brought up on the diners in New York City, all I can say is, the one's around here, all suck!

In the last few years our breakfasts out have evolved to the cream of the crop, Romanelli's.  This brand new player is better suited to a more sophisticated taste.  There really is nothing negative that one could say except that despite a vast menu, the sparkling clean, modern and beautiful interior, it is still devoid of any soul.  By not taking any real chances, it attracts a much older, conservative crowd. It was those technicalities that drove us to our current chic restaurant, "Shea's Cafe and Bakery."
Oceanville Station, Galloway Twp, NJ
SHEA'S IS LOCATED AT 195 SOUTH NEW YORK AVENUE (ROUTE-9) IN GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP NEW JERSEY.  DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, CHECK THE INTERNET AND SEE ALL THE TOP-NOTCH REVIEWS IT RECEIVED. FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL THEM AT (609) 748-7000

Andrew is now a college hipster and Shea's is like the holy grail of breakfast eateries to him, (and cool for me and everyone we take there).  The place brims with tremendous service and a contemporary ambiance in both their epicurean offerings and young upbeat staff. 

Shea's specialty Pancakes-#1 seller-Cinnamon swirl and #2 Strawberry cheesecake
BEAUTIFULLY PREPARED, SHEA'S DELECTABLES INCLUDE CINNAMON PANCAKES AND STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE.
The owner (Lou, a transplanted New Yorker), is a dynamo and the ultimate front man.  His constant, cheerful, up close and personal presence as the host, cashier or even busboy, is always a breath of fresh air. He is so good at what he does that no matter how busy he is, he'll take the time with his established customers, or to be a stranger's new best friend. 
Photo: Sending my thanks & love to my cousins for a beautiful lunch xoxo
WE TOOK MY COUSINS TO SHEA'S, ( MARCH 11th).  THE PLACE RADIATES LOU'S INCREDIBLE PERSONALITY AND THEY DIDN'T MIND US LINGERING AFTER THEY CLOSED FOR THE DAY.

Who knows, maybe at some point we'll find a place better than Shea's.  But I doubt we will...because we won't try.

My only regret is that my father wasn't around to enjoy the breakfast circuit with Andrew and I. 
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ANDREW AND MY FATHER WAS STRONG.  IT'S STILL SO HARD TO BELIEVE DAD DIED EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. 

Yes, it all started with the fond memories of hanging with dad...and the Cobe Diner's hamburger-flavored pancakes.  The father-son tradition he started was revitalized here in South Jersey with breakfast at Tiffany's, (dad would have fit in perfectly in all our adventures).  In particular, he would have gotten a kick out of watching Andrew grow up in our breakfast club.  He would have also loved Shea's food and atmosphere and he would have gotten along handsomely with Lou, (they were both from the East New York section of Brooklyn). 

Of course dad was never a complainer.  That means, he would have been on the same page as Andrew and I...so like us, I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted much more out of life than great breakfasts and more cowbell.  Click on the link below to see the, "MORE COWBELL" sketch featuring Christopher Walken and the band "BLUE OYSTER CULT" and their song, "DON'T FEAR THE REAPER."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFKt0j-UoXE&list=PL181967421C90E696

Suddenly, I'm in the mood for some happy face pancakes. 

LOOKS TOO GOOD TO EAT...NOT !
Tomorrow, is a great day to take your kid, one-on-one to breakfast...trust me, even if it's at Denny's, it's a "win-win" situation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

FUNNY VANCOUVER

My monthly poker game lasted nineteen years.  Those great friends, through generally less than ideal conditions, have scattered to California, Florida, Maryland and Nevada.  The first to leave was FRANKIERIO.  He followed his destiny and moved from Atlantic City to Las Vegas in 1996.  To his credit,  few people slow down from their rut long enough recognize their need for change.  Far fewer, see a realistic, better way.  Even less find the means to accomplish their goal.  And only an infinitesimal amount have the fortitude to not only set everything in motion...but to actually go through with the plan.  So seventeen years later, I salute Frankie's successful upward mobility and in his honor, share with you, his favorite story of mine.

Like Frank, I reached a similar crossroads in 1980.  I wasn't even burnt-out from casino work yet when the epiphany for a more suitable way of life shined down on me. I reached for my destiny and gathered my entrepreneurial resources.  While doing my homework, I discovered that I had the right stuff to buy an "EASTERN ONION," singing telegram franchise in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. The only thing I lacked was the gumption to drop everything (which was good) and take my shot.
A SINGING TELEGRAM IS A GAG-GIFT OF A PROFESSIONAL ENTERTAINER (IN COSTUME)  PERFORMING AN APPROXIMATELY TEN-MINUTE MUSICAL COMEDY SKIT.

I chose Vancouver because when I went cross-country in 1976, (sixty-eight days of hitchhiking and Greyhounds), it was the only place that grabbed me enough to ever think about relocating to.

VANCOUVER WAS NAMED AFTER SOME ENGLISH DUDE.  I WAS DISAPPOINTED BECAUSE I ASSUMED IT WAS THE ESKIMO WORD FOR PERFECT TOWN.  INCORPORATED IN 1886, TODAY IT'S CONSIDERED, ONE OF THE MOST LIVABLE WORLDWIDE CITIES.  IT'S WARM TEMPERATURES AND CHIC LIFESTYLE HAVE EARNED IT THE NICKNAME, "THE L. A. OF CANADA."  ALSO, BECAUSE IT HAS BECOME A TRENDY AREA FOR FILM PRODUCTION, IT IS CALLED, "HOLLYWOOD NORTH."

My attraction to Vancouver started on the way into town.  In the outskirts, at a red light, in a gap between two stores, I saw a moose step out of the bushes. 
UNTIL YOU SEE A MOOSE IN THE WILD...YOUR BUCKET LIST CAN NOT BE COMPLETE.
I was so moved by the gargantuan (once you see one up close, you'll know why they are called, a moose) that when I factored in the nearby sea, the wealth of mountains and the general rustic beauty, I was sold.  And that's before I became fascinated by the bustling, cosmopolitan city itself. 
Vancouver is located in Canada
VANCOUVER IS LOCATED IN THE EXTREME LOWER LEFT HAND CORNER OF CANADA.  NOW THAT I THINK OF IT, I MISSED A GREAT OPPORTUNITY BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE ONLY BEEN A HOP, SKIP AND A JUMP...STRAIGHT UP, THROUGH THE YUKON, TO ALASKA, (WHAT'S ANOTHER 1500 MILES?).

This ultra-modern city was crammed with young, friendly and cool locals.  I liked the cultural diversity spearheaded by a huge 30% Chinese population as well as more from other Asian countries.  Plus I loved the Native-Canadian influence.
VANCOUVER WAS SETTLED ON THE TRADITIONAL TERRITORIES OF THE SQUAMISH, MUSQUEAM AND TSEIL-WATAUT PEOPLES.  INUKSUK (above) AT ENGLISH BAY, TYPIFIES THE ART OF INUIT INHABITANTS THAT GOES BACK 10,000 YEARS.

I befriended other back-packers when I hit town.  There were three buddies from Ulster, Northern Ireland, an Englishman, a South African and an arrogant French Canadian guy from Montreal, (we later found out he was reallly a hick from tiny Drummondville Quebec). 

We combined our information and formed a seven-person team.  Within our group, the three guys from Ulster, (Paddy O'Furniture, "Silent" Murph and "Killer" Cadugan) kept to themselves. 
ONCE AGAIN I'M WAY AHEAD OF MY TIME.  WHEN I ASSIGNED THE "KILLER" NICKNAME TO RED-HEADED CADUGAN, I HAD NO IDEA THAT 15 YEARS LATER, "THE REN AND STIMPY SHOW" WOULD HAVE A WRESTLING EPISODE FEATURING REN AS "MADDOG HOEK" AND STIMPY AS "KILLER KADOOGEN."

The South African, (a skeevie schemer named Neelish) gravitated to the know-it-all from Quebec (Frenchy). I hung out with the Brit, Gerald "Don't Call Me Jerry" Simmons.  Our first stop was a youth hostel, a thirty-minute city-bus ride into the countryside.
OUR YOUTH HOSTEL WAS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (foreground) WITH DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER IN THE BACKGROUND.

We reserved a spot on the gymnasium floor for four dollars, (which was kind of expensive).  But Gandhi, the skeevie South African schemer was right, by doing morning chores, you received a full refund.

The seven of us took the bus back to town.  Our first stop was the zoo at Stanley Park.  The funniness of Vancouver started when Gerald and I realized that we were both MONTY PYTHON fans. 
MONTY PYTHON WAS A HIP, BRITISH, SKIT COMEDY TROUPE WHOSE HALF HOUR TV SHOWS WERE BROADCAST IN MY TEENAGE YEARS, ON NEW YORK'S PBS STATION, WNET, CHANNEL-13.

Gerald and I splintered from the group and entertained ourselves by incorporating Python humor to our traveling companions, particularly the Quebecois (Frenchy) and South African (Gandhi).  We were at the otter enclosure (those cute buggers were extremely funny them self) when Gerald said, "Frenchy is forcing me to fart in his general direction and Gandhi's mother was a hamster."  I said, "If Frenchy became a criminal, nobody's lupins would be safe."  Gerald laughed, "The only thing more lethal than the world's funniest joke, is the abysmal body odor radiating off the Ulster blokes."  I said, "You mean the three finalist in the 'First Class Twit of the Year Contest.'"

Above our laughter, we heard the roar of the lion.  We headed towards a large mass of spectators that included the rest of our team.  The king of beasts' admirers were so thick that we couldn't get near the wire mesh fence.  While we waited for another roar I whispered, "Frenchy is so full of himself that I wouldn't be surprised if he stuck his arm through the fence and tried to pet the lion.  Gerald was saying, "Then we'd have to call him Lefty," as the lion started gagging.  I motioned Gerald away and said, "Holy hair balls, this doesn't sound good."  Then there was a nauseating wretch.  The crowd gasped in disgust and fled.  But it was too late, the king of the jungle spray barfed his fan club.

God, I don't know what was funnier, Paddy O'Furniture getting hit by some projectile flak or him screaming like a twelve-year old girl and running to the restroom as if he took a bullet in the shoulder.
EVEN AFTER PADDY O'FURNITURE CLEANED-UP,  WE ALL AVOIDED HIM.  OUTSIDE THE ZOO, IN FRONT OF A MUSEUM, I TOOK A PICTURE OF KILLER CADUGAN (left) AND MURPH.

Our next stop was Gastown.  Gastown is the artsy part of Vancouver.  The other five weren't interested and detoured into a hotel's bar.  I joked, "With the bits of puke shrapnel on Paddy's shirt, I bet they won't serve him until he takes a shower." Gerald said, "No, the bigger joke is that in Canada, none of them will be served in a hotel bar until five." 

On our own, we window shopped and watched street performers.  We struck up a conversation with two hippie chicks and strolled with them a while.  One of the girls bought a cup of strawberries from a pushcart and shared them with Gerald.  The other girl got a colossal peach.  She said, "I can't eat this whole thing.  If I get him (the vendor) to cut it, would you have some?"  I nodded and the fruit man sliced it down the middle.  He gave the girl the half without the pit.  When I was about to take my first bite, like a horror movie, a gazillion ants poured out of the rotted pit.

Gerald and I were laughing over the incident long after the girls went their own way.  We had dinner after dark and later bumped into our teammates.  "We're on the prowl for tarts," said Paddy.  "Yeah, we heard there's an excellent bar on the next street," said Cadugan.  Then Frenchy boasted, "I'll show you imbeciles how its done."

A couple of streets away, we found this dimly lit generic bar.  It looked like a shoe store and an insurance agency went out of business and the two storefronts were combined to make one tavern.  The left side had a long bar on the left wall and some bar stools along a ledge of the right wall.  In the rear you could see the lady's room. The other side had rows of plain tables and chairs with the men's room in the back. 

We carried our drinks from the bar, through the cut-out in the wall near the restrooms and sat on the other side.  After the second round Cadugan said, "There's not too many lasses here."  Gandhi said, "It's still early."  Gerald excused himself and went to the restroom.  He saw men inside openly "enjoying each other's company."  On his way out, he glanced into the women's room and saw other men also enjoying each other's company.  He came back to the table and said to me, "I want to show you something."  I was stunned.  Upon closer scrutiny, the only women in the place were dressed in drag.  Gerald said, "Frenchy must have really annoyed somebody so they directed them here."  I said, "In the states, we call that getting set up, to take the fall."  We decided it would be funny to ditch the team.  So hidden by the dividing wall, we left without being seen, through the bar.

In the morning, we got the cold shoulder from the others.  Gerald was given the chore of picking up trash outside and I was given a giant, fuzzy broom to clean the dust bunnies off the gym's floor.  We were not only refunded our four dollars but were also given a roll and butter, a packet of sunflower seeds, an apple and a small container of orange juice.

Gerald informed me that he was going back to Portland Oregon.  I was heading east through the Canadian Rockies but I decided to stay another day when the other five said they were going my way. 
CONSIDERING THE BEAUTY, IT'S CRAZY TO THINK I ONLY TOOK TWO DECENT PICTURES IN VANCOUVER AND THIS, FROM THE COLLEGE LOOKING TOWARDS THE CITY, WAS ONE OF THEM.

I spent my day alone, walking around gorgeous Victoria Island.  On the bus back to the youth hostel, I got an intense urge to pee.  But the ride was going to be at least fifteen more minutes.  I was twenty-one and my bladder control was at the peak of its career so I was confident I could hold back the brewing tsunami.  I twisted, turned and did the hucklebuck for an eternity but only around three minutes passed.  That's when I became a realist.  It was officially an emergency.  I threw down my preconceived notions of my manhood and disregarded my stubbornness.  I was ready to pee! But how?  Where? 

Both sides of the road had a brick wall that seemed to never end. Each ticking second that passed was drawing me closer to the embarrassment of all embarrassments.  I looked out the window and there were no businesses, no woods, no privacy.  Knowing my luck, I'd be forced to "go" in the street, get caught in this foreign country and have the book thrown at me for indecent exposure.  Then as the bus turned, the bay became visible on the right through open fields and on the left there was woods.  I was saved.  I pulled the cord that signaled the driver to stop.  I ran out but a woman was right there walking her cocker spaniel.  This was no laughing matter until I spotted an Esso station in the distance.
Dudok Esso petrol station
FOUNDED IN 1912, "ESSO" IS DERIVED FROM THE INITIALS OF STANDARD OIL, "SO."  HERE IN THE USA, THE NAME WAS CHANGED TO EXXON IN 1972.  PRETTY MUCH THE REST OF THE WORLD STILL CALLS IT ESSO...LIKE THE ULTRA-MODERN STATION (above),  IN HOLLAND.

I lumbered as fast as I could while controlling any leakage.  When I reached nirvana, I couldn't believe my bad luck, the station was abandoned and boarded-up.  I hustled to the side of the building.  I saw the men's room door was tangling from one hinge.  I kicked the door in so well that Bruce Lee would have been proud. But inside...I saw the most disgusting thing I EVER, EVER saw in my life.  Apparently some knuckle headed vandal with a warped sense of humor put excrement on the toilet seat, stuck a cherry bomb (or some such weapon of mass fecal destruction), in and lit it.  I saw the aftermath...and even people from Hiroshima would have said that THIS was the worst thing they ever saw...or smelled.  The entire room was painted in shit. I hurried out and was glad that I didn't slip on the glazed-over broken glass. I scampered out back and released the hounds.  Please bear in mind that in less than one second after peeing, I was laughing out loud.

Frankierio once told me that when I told him the Vancouver story that he knew, we'd be friends for life.  So despite the miles and all that time, we have indeed remained good friends.  A part of the reason why I appreciate him was he (unlike me) understood his disillusionment in New Jersey and rather than complain, made the change that improved his situation.
FRANKIERIO'S GOING AWAY PARTY AT MY HOUSE (WITH THE POKER BUDDIES). WHEN YOU CONSIDER THAT PCSCHMEE TOOK THIS PICTURE...IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, I'M THE ONLY ONE STILL AT THE OLD CASINO.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I bought that singing telegram business and moved out of the country...but I never dwell on it because I have no regrets.

Monday, April 8, 2013

SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD AND STILL THE TOUGHEST GUY IN THE BAR.

At the end of March, my wife and I saw the new Tina Fey movie, "ADMISSIONS." In so doing, we shared the unique experience of being the only people in the theater. 
TINA FEY AND I HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY.  BUT THAT POSITIVE KARMA AND HER VAST TALENT COULDN'T UPLIFT THIS BARELY BETTER THAN DISMAL MOVIE.
I guess the "avoid the movie" memo didn't filter down to us because it was a bland romantic-comedy without much romance and a lot less humor.  Even if you chose to see an inner, deeper meaning...there wasn't much to work with there either. Towards the end, I realized that we should have read the reviews first.  In that moment, I thought of Roger Ebert.

Other than wasting $21.00 on the movie tickets, two other unfortunate items were in the news this week.  First, in a terrible coincidence, Roger Ebert seemingly on cue, passed away.
Roger Ebert (extract) by Roger Ebert.jpg
EBERT (1942-2013) WAS A MOVIE CRITIC FOR THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES FROM 1967-TO PRESENT.  HE WAS THE FIRST IN HIS FIELD (1975) TO WIN A PULITZER PRIZE AND FIRST CRITIC TO HAVE A STAR ON THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME.

When teamed up with Gene Siskel on TV, it seemed that I always agreed with Ebert's reviews.  He seemed less stuffy and that regular guy attitude (someone who just loved movies like me) is exemplified by this quote, "I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin – of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine."

The other sad incident this week was the events that led to the firing of the Rutgers University men's head basketball coach, Mike Rice.  Through the miracle of video tape from December 2012, Rice was captured on film physically and mentally abusing his players during practice.

These two circumstances led me to recall, Mr. Broderick "Dick" Boyle.  Mr. Boyle, was casino manager at my first craps dealing job, (he remains the only upper manager who insisted on being called; mister)   His acutely offensive manner makes him stand out as the biggest asshole I encountered in my thirty-four years in the gaming industry, (considering the competition...that's quite a feat).
MY MR. BOYLE TORE INTO HIS EMPLOYEES AND CUSTOMERS WITH SHARP ETHNIC SLURS, EXTREME (loud) PROFANITY AND REGULAR PETTY FIRINGS, (HARD TO BELIEVE WE "TOOK IT" BECAUSE EVEN IN JANUARY 1979, THE $150.00 A WEEK I GROSSED, WAS PEANUTS.
The reason why villainous Mr. Boyle makes me think of heroic Ebert is, in my short story the "HEAT IS ON," I described him as Roger Ebert's evil twin, (that similarity is why I chose the 1970 photo of Ebert). 

To best serve Ebert's memory I choose to span journalism (his profession) with movies (the core of what he did) and television (where he gained his global recognition). 

So with the "stage" set by such scoundrels as Boyle and Rice, let me introduce one of filmdom's lesser known bad guys whose alcoholic tirades prevented him from being a household name.

Lawrence Tierney was a significant player in the film noir genre but his brushes with the law regularly derailed his path to super stardom.  To this day, experts agree that it was difficult to decide whether Tierney was such a good actor (specializing in being diabolical) or an alcoholic with sociopath tendencies.
A NATIVE NEW YORKER, LAWRENCE TIERNEY (1919-2002) WAS RUGGEDLY HANDSOME AND ATHLETIC. HE WAS TYPECAST AS AN ON-SCREEN MOBSTER OR STREET TOUGH.  AN OVERVIEW OF THIS HULK'S CAREER MIGHT BE; HE WAS NOT SO MUCH AN ACTOR AS A FRIGHTENING FORCE OF NATURE. 

In 1943, he broke in as an extra and soon graduated to small supporting roles in B-movies.  His big break was the starring role in 1945's, "DILLINGER."  Tierney shined in this low-budget affair, advertised as; being written in bullets, blood and blonds.  He was so memorably menacing that the picture was banned in Chicago and other cities adversely affected by the real Dillinger.

Tierney's stone-faced, human-devil persona was never more apparent than his starring role in 1947's, "BORN TO KILL."  In it, he plays a suave, murderous con man.  NEW YORK TIMES film critic Bosley Crowther condemned Tierney's performance, "It's not only morally disgusting but an offense to a normal intellect."

While Tierney was etching a solid niche on the silver screen, he was also tarnishing his name by earning a reputation as a drunken brawler off-camera.  His numerous arrests on both coasts, including scuffling with police, made him, regardless of his abundant talent,  persona non grata in Hollywood.

A lull in his career ended when he received a second chance with a small, malevolent role in 1952's movie sensation, "THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH."  Tierney got rave reviews but before he could be offered a big contract, his drunkenness led to fighting, another arrest and a one-way ticket to palookaville.

Tierney's deepest decline lasted into the late 50's as he bounced around New York City as a bartender, construction worker or driving a horse-drawn carriage. In the 60's, 70's and 80's, he continued to be given opportunities in movies, TV, on stage and in commercials but because of old habits, his comeback never blossomed.  His most notable work included; "PRIZZI'S HONOR," "FAME," and a voice-over in, "THE SIMPSON'S."  Tierney even had the privilege to utter the last words on TV's long-running, "HILL STREET BLUES."  His best shot during this period was being cast as Joe Cabot (sixth billing), in Quentin Tarantino's 1992 ultra violent, "honor among thieves" movie, "RESERVOIR DOGS." 
IN TARANTINO'S AUSPICIOUS DEBUT, TIERNEY (OFF-CAMERA) WAS BOTH AMUSING AND DISTURBING  TO THE CAST ANS CREW. TARANTINO  CLAIMED TO HAVE SAID OF TIERNEY; THERE WERE TIMES I WANTED TO PUNCH THE OLD MAN IN THE FACE.

Prior to my research for this blog, I assumed the old boy had retired from show business sixty-something years ago. Oddly, once you know what you're looking for, Tierney seems to keep popping up.

I was channel surfing the other day and came across an unfamiliar episode of "SEINFELD," ("THE JACKET," 1990).  What caught my eye was the old-timer playing Elaine's father, (Alton Benes).  I recognized the inner-evil under the comical, sour curmudgeon's facade but I couldn't place it. I waited till the closing credits to see...that's when I was pleasantly shocked to it was the long-forgotten, still scary as hell, Lawrence Tierney. 
TIERNEY RECEIVED ENOUGH HIGH PRAISE FOR HIS WORK THAT HE WAS TO BECOME A RECURRING CAST MEMBER.  BUT HE WAS SEEN STEALING A BUTCHER'S KNIFE FROM THE SET.  WHEN JERRY SEINFELD ASKED HIM, "WHAT'S UNDER YOUR SPORTS JACKET?" TIERNEY BRANDISHED THE CUTLERY.  THEN ALA THE MOVIE "PSYCHO," HE MADE THREATENING GESTURES ASSOCIATED WITH THE FAMOUS SHOWER SCENE.  LATER JASON ALEXANDER SAID, "HE SCARED THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF ME."

Tierney was still getting into movies like, "ARMAGEDDON," as late as 1998. Regarding that time period, his agent Don Gerler once said, "I was still bailing him out of jail back then because at seventy-five, he was still the toughest guy in the bar."

The next time Lawrence Tierney tries to scale the pearly gates, maybe he should wait for a Sunday...when no one is watching. Inside, Roger Ebert is saving him an eternal aisle seat in heaven's, Divine Paradise Pub, (they show old movies on a continuous loop like, "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS," "JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR" and "THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S."

Ebert has an enthusiastic two thumbs up waiting for Tierney so I'm certain they'll have plenty to talk about when they raise a chalice or two of sacramental wine.  But if Tierney over does the holy spirits and reverts to his sinful ways, he'll be brought down to earth.  In fact, a lot further down than he'd want because he'll be joining Mr. Broderick "Dick" Boyle, and the other twisted, wicked losers, (maybe Mike Rice some day),  in the underworld purgatory inferno.

Monday, April 1, 2013

THE SHORT LIFE OF THE MAFIA STAFF CAR

My dad was a champ, my sister's first car was a cherry, one-year old, 1970 Chevy Chevelle.
(MID-SEPTEMBER-1971) THIS PHOTO APPEARS TO BE OF ME COMING HOME FROM MY FIRST DAY AS A HIGH SCHOOL SOPHOMORE.  ACTUALLY, IT'S A RARE PICTURE OF MY SIS'S CAR.

In 1976, dad bought himself a new Plymouth Volare station wagon.  So I was thrilled that his less-than-cherry hand-me-down, 1968 Dodge Polara (a.k.a. The Thunderbolt Grease Slapper), was my first car.
  WHILE IT WAS STILL DAD'S, I DROVE (above) MY GRANDPARENTS TO THE RUBIN'S HOTEL (MAY - 1973, ELLENVILLE NEW YORK).  AND FOR YOU WISEGUYS OUT THERE...NO! I WASN'T SUCKING IN MY STOMACH...BUT CRAZY AS IT SEEMS, I JUST THREW OUT THAT BELT...NO, REALLY !

In my regime, (a little more than a year), I had some high adventures in that Dodge, including several out of town road trips.  The car never let me down but alas, I let the car down myself. By neglecting dad's suggested periodic maintenance schedule, it didn't take long until I ran my pride and joy into the ground. 

I felt awful when my father told me that his mechanic (Sammy of Stone Avenue) needed $412.00 to fix the timing belt and the collateral damage it caused. I chose (poorly) to junk the car.  Dad realized that I was making a decision that I would regret, (I told you he was a champ).  He stepped in like a knight in shining armor and offered to lend me the money for my folly.  Stupidly, my stubbornness out weighed his classiness...I still refused.  Dad tried to change my mind by offering to pay (his gift) but that made the guilt, for my lack of responsibility...worse.

A few months later, (July 13, 1977), NJPHILSKIM and I we clubbing in Long Island.  In his car, on the way home, we crossed back into New York City (Queens) and found ourselves in the dark.  We would soon learn the, "25-HOURS OF TERROR" complete with violence, thefts, vandalism and arson was underway, all over the five boroughs.

Phil dropped me off to a dark, empty house.  A note on the kitchen table informed me that my parents went to "defend" their juvenile furniture store in Brownsville.  At 3:AM, my folks returned.  The store was still intact but if the situation changed, they would not risk their lives trying to stop anyone.
THE CRIMES DURING THE MASSIVE BLACKOUT CAUSED OVER $300 MILLION IN DAMAGES.

We all got no sleep.  At sunrise, dad and I drove through the craziness of the Rockaway Avenue business district.  We found that the interior of the store, (the family business since 1918) hadn't been broken into but ten or so looters were busy in the store's window, carrying out the last of the merchandise.  Dad made a tough decision and said, "I'll lock us in, let me get a few personal items, financial records and they can have everything else."  Before we left, dad noticed that one delivery that was paid in full was going out that day.  I thought he was nuts but dad was a sensitive and conscientious man. He said, "Grab the crib, I'll get the mattress and the bumpers."  He locked the door and the gates on the way out.  Our hands were full as we exposed ourselves to the dangerous mob in the street.  In the safety of the car he sighed, "Let the chips fall where they may." 

Dad insisted that we make the delivery immediately.  We drove to the other side of Brooklyn and woke the family.  The husband got pissed off that be disturbed his beauty rest.  Hopefully at some later time, that "last" customer realized what a champ dad was.The next day when the power was restored, we returned to Rockaway Avenue and our store was an empty shell.

My father was displaced for quite some time.  At the same time, I was trying to assert my independence but I couldn't land a job using my communications degree. In August of 1978, I decided to go to a casino dealer school.  The admissions officer worked out a weekly payment plan that would extend till mid-December after I made a minimal down-payment.  To pay the tuition, I drove for a local car service, (I netted about $40.00 for a six hour shift).

My coworkers were rather unsavory, the cars weren't safe and some of the bosses were kind of scary.  Be that as it may, the real problem was happening in the trenches.  In a short time, I knew two drivers were robbed at knife point, another received a death threat from a drunken husband as the cabbie was whisking his beaten and bloodied wife away and another incident had a psycho try to push the driver out of the taxi (at high speed) on the Belt Parkway.

Monday October 2, 1978 was my last shift, (I was NOT motivated by a near-death experience).  Instead, a scary, mystery pick-up, (a small parcel handed through an over-sized peep-hole, at 2:AM, near Newark Airport) made me realize that no amount of chump change could rationalize the potential hazards.  I quit the next day and thus was faced with the dilemma of how to pay the last $400.00 to the school.

It killed me to ask dad for money. He wasn't solidly back on his feet, so I delayed the inevitable for many days. When I finally did, I was shocked at how happy he was to help and happier that I saw the light and quit driving before it was too late, (pretty insightful considering I never shared the plight of other drivers).

At the New York School of Gambling, I gravitated to four guys in my craps class. They were around my age and like me, were Las Vegas bound.  My little rat-pack included Ciro (before he was either Ciro the Hero or Ciro the Zero), BB (a lush who drank his lunch at the Ireland's Eye Bar and chain smoked Merit menthol 100's), JLOOPY, John Heaverlo and me.

Ciro and BB moved to Vegas in November and became roommates.  JLOOPY, John and I were invited to stay with them when we hit town, (January 1979).  I arrived last and slept on the floor.  But I didn't have it as bad as BB.  Maybe it was his Irish/Native American ethnic background but right after the new year, he was hospitalized with acute alcohol poisoning, (he was like a kid in a candy store with Vegas' free booze while gambling or top shelf liquor for 50c a drink).  His life was in such danger that his mother and sister flew out. In the mean time JLOOPY slept in BB's unoccupied bed and John had the couch.

BB made a full recovery and moved back in with Ciro. Once John Heaverlo got a job and his own apartment, he ended his rat-pack membership by sending for his wife.  Soon, JLOOPY and I became roommates at the Fiesta Apartments on Harmon Avenue, (two blocks behind the Aladdin).

The New York School of Gambling's job placement service set-up BB at the California Club, John Heaverlo went to the El Cortez and Ciro, JLOOPY and I broke-in at the Slots-A-Fun Casino. 

All three of us were on different shifts at Slots-A-Fun.  It was too bad because JLOOPY had a car.  He was generous with his rides during our off time together but I had to commute to work on my own.  It was such a long walk to the bus stop that I realized that if I walked in a diagonal path all the way to work, it wasn't much farther.

Being a New Yorker, I didn't mind the walk because in the beginning, it was always sunny and usually in the sixties.  By the time March rolled around, I was a lot less idealistic and those morning strolls to work became tiresome in 80+ degree temperatures. I was considering a move to Reno where my friend from Canarsie the "Amazing Mr. K" said he had juice, (help me get a good job). 

A few days before visiting Mr. K., I was waiting outside Slots-A-Fun, for the city bus to go home.  A change-person named Dara (Da-Ra-Ra-Booms-EE-Ay) walked by and said she saw me walking one morning and offered me a ride home.  She was heavy, not especially good looking and had a big mouth with an overbearing personality.  Plus she had a loose reputation (thus earning her nickname) so I just wasn't interested in her...but a ride...that was another story.

I was grossing about $150.00 a week in that toilet and Dara made less.  Her 1970, Datsun Sunny-140Y, was a rolling hunk of junk.  She said she only kept the piece of shit because the "D" logo badge in the grill (above the license plate), made her feel that the car was personally monogrammed.
DARA'S CHOCOLATE-COLORED CLUNKER WAS ACTUALLY IN SLIGHTLY BETTER SHAPE THAN THIS.

I was getting out when she said, "Aren't you going to invite me in?"  I knew I was safe because I saw JLOOPY's black Buick Electra convertible and said, "Okay."  To my pleasant surprise Ciro, BB and plenty of Olympia beer was there too.

We had a little party.  When JLOOPY said, "Let's do a beer run."  BB said, "And a bottle of Jack Daniels."  Dara said, "Shit, I gotta go but definitely another time."  Then she took my phone number and said, "I like you and your friends, I'll pick you up and drive you home whenever our schedules match."

On my next day off, I flew up to see the "Amazing Mr. K." in Reno.  He lived up to his nickname by showing me an amazing time.  But he said, "I never said anything about getting you a job."  The town without solid work had nothing to offer so I decided to stay in Vegas.

When I got home, my room reeked of smoke and I found a half-full pack of Merit menthol 100's on my nightstand.  The rarity of those specific cigarettes led me to ask JLOOPY, "Was BB in my room?"  He said, "Yeah, him and Da-Ra-Ra-Booms-EE-Ay sort of spent the last two days in there...and if BB was telling the truth, you might want to turn the mattress."

It pissed me off that my bed was getting more action without me.  I confronted BB the next time I saw him.  He shrugged, "She was hurtin' for a squirtin'."  I said, "Yeah but..."  But he cut me off, "C'mon buddy, you know, any port in a storm."  I was still nauseated but I couldn't hold back a smile.  When I factored in that he almost died, I let it slide.

In the morning I told JLOOPY, "I gotta buy a car." I ran outside and pulled the classified section out of my crazy neighbor's newspaper (McHugh, the accused cat poisoner).  I had $370.00 and was willing to spend the whole shebang to keep Dara out of my apartment and to not owe her any favors.  I soon discovered that there weren't many cars out there I could afford.  I was stymied.  I still hadn't repaid dad for dealer school and wanted to save face by not sponging off him from thousands of miles away.  JLOOPY read my frustration and said, "You can get a used Vespa (scooter)  for under a hundred."   
VESPA IS THE ITALIAN WORD FOR WASP.  THE NAME COMES FROM THE SOUND OF THE ENGINE.
I told him I didn't want a scooter. On the bottom of the last auto sales page there was an advertisement for Supreme Motors.  They had eight cars under $375.00.  The one that caught my eye was a 1969 Pontiac Le Mans for $339.00.  The ad read; looks sharp, runs great.

JLOOPY drove me to Bonanza Road.  What bullshit, the unpaved lot had only one car in my price range...and it wasn't the one I wanted.  A tall skinny man with a cowboy hat and a char of tobacco in his cheek came out of a dilapidated trailer.  A breeze blew dust into his face.  He turned away from us, spat a wad of disgusting brown liquid on the ground and twanged, "What can I do y'all for."

I soon "learned" that a wholesaler just bought up the car I wanted and three other cheapies.  He pointed to a shiny orange Corvette and said, "Looky, you can't do better'n $1,999.00 on thisy here nowhere."  I recognized the old bait-n-switch routine but I was determined to buy my first car.  I took a dented, faded yellow Ford station wagon for a test drive.  Afterwards, JLOOPY looked under the hood and said it was worth, $399.00.  I bickered over the price and got the salesman down to $390.00 including all the incidentals.  Still, JLOOPY had to look under his car seats to scratch-out two bucks with change, in order to lend me the last twenty.
MY CAR WAS AN EIGHT-YEAR OLD, FORD LTD WAGON.  TO COVER A RUSTY DENT, CIRO GOT ME A BUMPER STICKER THAT READ; MAFIA STAFF CAR.  BB REMARKED IN REFERENCE TO ALL THE OTHER BLEMISHES, "CIRO, YOU SHUDDA BOUGHT THIRTY OF THEM."


In April, I got a new craps dealing job at the Western Casino.  To celebrate, I rounded up the rat-pack and we ate dinner in a dumpy Mexican restaurant called, El Cholo, (or as Ciro called it, El Choko).  The beer and tequila was out-weighing the tacos and burritos when JLOOPY said, "Let's see what your heap can do. Let's go up to Mount Charleston."

In the midnight darkness, we never found our ultimate destination.  But our forty mile (in each direction) excursion to the ski area netted two conclusions about the Mafia staff car; it drove well in the mountains and the brakes worked perfectly.  I discovered the latter when JLOOPY with my foot on the accelerator, pressed his foot down on top of mine.  He yelled, "Let's see what this baby can do!"  Suddenly out of the blackened woods, a herd of wild horses ran across our path.  I slammed on the brakes as the last stallion galloped safely across the road.
Image
SEVERAL TIMES, I SAW WILD BURROS, (DESCENDANTS OF THOSE ABANDONED BY MINERS), IN THE DESERT NEAR LAS VEGAS.  THE HERD OF WILD HORSES I ALMOST HIT WITH THE MAFIA STAFF CAR WAS THE ONLY ONE I SAW, IN MY FIVE YEARS IN NEVADA.

In May, I got an even better job at the Holiday International Casino.  When the Fourth of July rolled around, I had trouble parking for my 6:PM shift.  I ended up with the last spot on the roof of the Four Queens.  I was walking down Fremont Street when I was stopped by a scrawny, pimple-faced girl handing out coupons in front of the Friendly Club.  From inside, I heard my named called, it was BB at the bar, (still in his dealer uniform after his graveyard shift).  I shook my head when the bartender said, "What'll you have?" When BB got up to hit on the coupon girl he muttered, "Any port in a storm." The barman scratched his head and said to me, "Never saw anyone like your buddy.  He's been slamming bourbon and beer for five hours and he's not even tipsy.  Where does he put it?"

My casino was busy for the holiday so we had to work two hours of overtime.  On the way out, my friend and supervisor Dick Paynlewski said, "Let's go for a drink."  At the Golden Gate Casino, he swilled two double scotches before I was half-done with my draught.  He had a third drink in his hand as he said, "I'm gonna play blackjack...sit with me."  He downed that drink and ordered another before we sat down.  He was slurring his words when he bought in for seventy-five dollars (about his day's pay).  He had lost his first two hands when his fourth double arrived with a bottle of Lowenbrau.  He lost again, sucked the beer bottle dry and giggled, "Damn the booze is expensive here."

Paynlewski struggled but managed to pile the rest of his chips in the betting circle.  He belched with double-edged satisfaction when he hit to a six-card twenty.  The young Asian girl dealing to him was showing an ace. Then she turned over a second ace.  Dick smiled and yelled, "Paint, paint..."  But he sank in temporary silence when the dealer revealed a nine.

He was loudly cursing her heritage and stoic expression so I shushed him.  He grinned, "Lend me twenty till pay day."  I turned him down and added, "Let me drive you home."  He said, "I'll find Carmichael (his girlfriend), I'll borrow the money from her."  He staggered a few feet but collapsed into a seat in the keno lounge.  He said, "You're a good friend...even if you don't lend me the twenty...but will you lend me..."  I cut him off, "No."  He was blithering for a short while and then said, "People can be such pricks. I hate all the Pollack jokes...even Carmichael uses 'em.  But I have an idea.  I'm going to legally change my name."  "To what?"  He said, "How does Richard Thomas Payne sound?"  I said, "It sounds like a good, strong name...and if you are really so annoyed...you should do it."

I re-offered him a ride home.  He refused but said, "You drive safe.  There's a lot of drunk assholes tonight."  Outside, maybe because it was Independence Day, I was mulling Dick's proposed new name when the historic significance of Thomas Paine, (the author of the Revolutionary War-era pamphlet, "Common Sense"),  came to mind.  I laughed to myself at his expense when I considered Dick Paynlewski and the notion of common" sense in the same sentence.  Then I found it even funnier when I realized that he'd be changing his name to "Dick Payne."

It was 4:30 when I walked by the Friendly Club.  I ducked my head in and was shocked to see BB passed out at the bar.  A different bartender said, "This kid is one hurtin' buckaroo.  He's been knock'n 'em back since one in the afternoon.  His roomie (Ciro) was just here, he's getting a cab to take him home."  I would have liked to know if BB got anywhere with the coupon girl but I was pretty tired.  So with the situation well in hand, I left.  In the Four Queens parking lot elevator, I was glad that BB had enough common sense to not even have a driver's license.

At that late hour, the Mafia staff car stood alone on the top level.  I stopped for a few seconds to admire the view of glittery Fremont Street.  Then in the opposite distance, I was happy to see that my route home on I-10 south was free of traffic.

Moments later, in the middle lane, I had the highway all to myself as the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, "FREEBIRD," came on the radio.  I was lustily singing along as I approached the Sahara Avenue exit.
1974's FREEBIRD, IS MY FAVORITE SONG AND PERSONAL ANTHEM.  CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW TO HEAR THE 13-MINUTE FULL VERSION.
http://www.lyrics.com/free-bird-lyrics-lynyrd-skynyrd.html

While pouring out the lyrics, I noticed in the rear view mirror, a car flying in the left lane.  He was about to whiz by when the driver veered towards me.  I cut the wheel right but it was too late.  I got sideswiped and lost control.  While he sped off, I was pounding the brakes as I skidded towards the exit ramp...and BOOM !  I hit a streetlamp and careened back onto the interstate.  I did a 180 degree turn and faced oncoming traffic in the center lane.

My car's hood had a giant "V" gouged out from the impact.  I tried the ignition... and nothing.  Dazed, I hobbled to the shoulder, sat on the neck of the downed street lamp and waited for the police.  It killed me to think that if just one of the oddball things that happened that night was different, I wouldn't be in my predicament, (working overtime, drinks with Dick, stopping at the Friendly Club...and not sticking around to help Ciro with BB, the long walk to the Four Queens, admiring the view from the roof as well as every stop sign and street light).

In my mind, I was eulogizing the short life of the Mafia staff when true anxiety gripped me.  That's when I realized that I might have to ask my dad for a car loan.