Monday, July 29, 2013

SLUGGO'S REVENGE

SPOILER ALERT – Animals were indeed purposely killed, by me, in the making of this story. If you can’t come to grips with that...this story isn’t for you.

My friend, crime novelist Charlie "Charlie Opera" Stella is also a gym rat. Due to a combination of factors including being busy with professional priorities and laziness, he strayed from his passion for quite some time. Recently he informed me that his hiatus from the workout room is over. (See his blog at:  temporaryknucksline.blogspot.com).

The part of Charlie's news flash I liked best was his proclamation, "The 'Bull' is back!"  He was referring to his high school nickname and that he had bench pressed 392 pounds, cold turkey." He also bragged, “Not bad for a fifty-six year old. Hell, you should've seen the shocked faces of the babes struggling to lift half that weight.” He looked at me with an odd expression when I said, “Your admirers would have been even more impressed if you told them that in dog years, you'd be the same age as the 392 you lifted.”

Later on FACEBOOK, I congratulated him again and added, “Even if I used the dog year conversion chart in reverse, I doubt I could lift fifty-six pounds.”

On FACEBOOK, Charlie occasionally writes hilarious dialog sequences involving his mother...that may or may not have have actually happened. As homage to both of them, here’s my feeble attempt to address the passage above:

C – (enters his mother's apartment) Hi mom.  Why aren't you watching your "MENTALIST" reruns.

M - The rat bastids put golf on.

(They both laugh)

M – Where were ya? You were supposed to be here at 4:30.

C – You’re breaking my balls over ten minutes…can’t I at least get a decent hello kiss.

M – Kiss ya? I don’t want ya near me. Ya stink like ya been fishin’ off Fountain Avenue Pier.

C – I went back to the gym and came straight to you.  I benched 392. (He sarcastically bends towards her and puckers his lips),

M – Who’s the Patron Saint of not giving a shit! Where’s my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and chocolate cruller?

C – No really. You have seen the faces on the gorilla-juice-heads…

M – Heh?

C -  The young guys at the gym who think they know what's what...

M - Those young bastids’ll be more impressed with me when I slap ya face with a Fountain Avenue white fish…

C – Oy vey mom. You know what oy vey means?

M – Yeah. It’s Latin for, my son has shit for brains…

C – Fuhgeddaboudit! The coffee’s here…

M – Even Stevie Wonder could see that...but something’s missin’…

C – I got the coffee but (points to his belly) we don’t need any more doughnuts.

M – Are ya out of your friggin’ mind? After three years, ya go to the gym once...

C – Wait a second…

M – No you wait! I know ya better than you know you. In the morning, you’ll call and be cryin’ like a baby; I’m dyin’ over here, I’m sore, I pulled a muscle, blah, blah, blah.…And then you’ll stick a nipple in a bottle of Chivas…and good-bye gym till the twelth of never.

C – No ma not this time…I weighed myself yesterday and already lost a pound…

M – Whaddya moron or what?  You losing a pound, is like Bayonne losin' a mosquito…

C – There was a time when I could count on you for support…

M – Fatso, you want some damned support? Before I stick my boot up your ass, get me my cruller. You’re on the clock for forty minutes…and don’t come back without a shower or Sunday’s dinner will be catered by friggin' Chef Boyardee...and the spaghetti sauce will be out of a jar.
IN 1928 CLEVELAND OHIO, ETTORE "HECTOR" BOIARDI BECAME A PIONEER FOR MAKING ITALIAN FOOD MAINSTREAM.  BUT TODAY, EVEN THE AVERAGE FOODIE WOULD CRINGE AT THE THOUGHT OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE FROM A JAR.  BUT EATING CANNED PASTA WOULD BE CONSIDERED GAUCHE AND RESERVED FOR THE BOTTOM OF THE DUNG HEAP.

On my way to work, the same night that Charlie informed me that he was back in the gym, I was running late going to work. While I was speeding through Galloway, I got the idea to write my above version of Charlie's conversations with his mother.

At about 7:30, on a bright sun-shiny early evening, I turned right onto Route-9, (one lane in each direction). I accelerated to fifty as I passed the country club. In the distance, a sleek red Jaguar convertible came out of the health spa parking lot and made a right. In a matter of seconds, I was applying my brakes in this 40 MPH zone as this fancy car with Quebec license plates preceded at 20-25 miles per hour.

I was cursing my bad luck as our ally from the great white north puttered along like he was taking the fifty-cent tour. My frustration was mounting as the next three miles of twisting road made it dangerous for passing. On the rare straight-aways, the poorly timed traffic from the opposite directions sealed my snail's paced fate.

In the next town, (Absecon), Route-9 branches off. I was hoping Pierre-Froggy would turn but he didn’t. I didn’t want to jeopardize my perfect attendance at work and recognized that this residential area would be my last chance to pass the slow-poke. I thought I had my opportunity but as I veered to pass, an oncoming car zoomed into view.

I resigned myself to making up time later, on the causeway into Atlantic City when suddenly, Frenchy slammed his brakes. An adult-sized deer ran into his path, crossed Shore Road and leapt over a five-foot chicken wire fence that was hidden by bushes. While the Quebecer was counting his blessings, I inched around him and continued my race to work.
I'M NOT SMART ENOUGH TO MAKE THIS SHIT STUFF UP. THIS WAS AS CLOSE TO A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AS I COULD IMAGINE.  PLEASE NOTE - GIVE CREDIT TO THE DEER.  I STOOD AGAINST THAT CHICKEN WIRE AND IT CAME UP TO MY UNDER ARM.  HOWEVER, BAMBI KNEW THE LAY OF THE LAND WELL ENOUGH TO JUMP OVER THE ONE SECTION THAT WAS A FOOT SHORTER.

In a short time, I realized how close I came to meeting that deer, “up close and personal.” I managed to get in on time but was weighed down by the bloody scenarios that were churning in my mind.

I had been looking forward to writing a rough blog draft about Charlie and his mom. Instead, I told everyone at work about my narrow escape from hitting that deer.

I must admit, I felt anger towards the other driver. But on the way home that night, I was thinking evil thoughts about that deer. There are so many deer accident stories that don’t have happy endings, (I was reminded that my reader THEDONALD totaled his truck in May and was fortunate to escape without injury).

Luckily, as rage against animals surged through me, no squirrels, rabbits or aardvarks crossed my path. The trip home at 4:00AM was uneventful until I pulled into my driveway. In the dark, contrasted by the white aluminum siding next to my front door, I saw two silhouettes, the size and shape of El Stinkadora cigars. They of course were my arch enemies…slugs.

At that ungodly hour, all I usually want is, to take off my uniform and vegetate. But at that moment, I was ready to drop my personal comforts to kill these bastards. But if you know anything about slugs, always remember, you don’t want to handle those slimy buggers in any way.

I didn’t have any weapons or protective gear…but I was impatient. So rather than going inside and taking newspapers from the recyclables, I lifted my right leg high and smooshed the slug that was lower on the wall.

My second target seemed just as easy except it was a little higher and in the small alcove that separates the siding from the door's wood frame. In explicably, I missed. I raised my vengeful shoe again, nipped the frame and re-missed my target. By the time I missed five times, my dog Roxy (aka Muttzilla) was barking her head off.

Due to fatigue, I was having difficulty raising my foot high enough for another attack. I didn’t want the dog to wake-up the whole house so I mulled changing my strategy. But this was no time to get fancy...or use my hand. Motivated by hatred, adrenaline careened from my brain, through my body and into my right foot. With one last gasp of strength, I strained to get my leg higher and aimed carefully, at my obscured yet stationary objective.

Eureka! It was a direct hit! Bullseye!

IF YOU COUNT DOWN FIVE SLATS FROM THE BELL, THAT'S THE SMUDGE FROM THE FIRST SLUG.  ONLY TWO SLATS DOWN, NEXT TO THE DOOR FRAME WAS THE MORE CHALLENGING ONE.  IF YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR OWN SNAPSHOTS OF EVIDENCE OF MY VICTORY, YOU BETTER HURRY BECAUSE ME AND MR. CLEAN HAVE AN APPOINTMENT TOMORROW TO BEAUTIFY THE BATTLE GROUND...AND NO PLAQUE WILL BE PLACED THERE TO COMMEMORATE MY DESTRUCTIVE TRIUMPH.
The slippery crud under my shoe signaled the end of my siege with Sluggo. I took the precaution of scraping any residual slug pieces on the welcome mat and went inside. Roxy greeted me with the odd look that suggests her thinking; That was you making all that noise? What are you crazy...you know what time it is?  (Here's an idea, maybe I'll write nutty dialogs for me and my pup?)

In the foyer, I pet my trusty watchdog and took off my shoes. My first step to the garage (to toss in my splatter soiled shoes), I came up limping. I couldn’t believe it; I sprained my big toe killing the goddamned second slug.

Something tells me, if my mother was around to hear that I was hobbled for two days from smooshing a slug, she would have sounded just like Charlie’s mom..  Anyone see the nipple for my Chivas bottle Diet Cherry Pepsi?

Monday, July 22, 2013

LAKE STUPID

Forbidden love…in my generation, the 1957 Broadway musical and smash movie of 1961, “WEST SIDE STORY,” epitomized the idea.
TONY AND MARIA ARE STAR-CROSSED LOVERS FROM OPPOSING NYC YOUTH GANGS.

A hundred years earlier, the romanticized family feud of the Hatfields and McCoys triggered bloodshed over secret liaisons of their young. However, the granddaddy of all forbidden love stories pitted the Montagues versus the Capulets. Written over four-hundred years ago by a William Shakespeare, we all know it was called, “ROMEO AND JULIET.”
THE ENDURING TITLE CHARACTERS FROM SHAKESPEARE'S CLASSIC TRAGEDY "ROMEO AND JULIET," (1591ca.), ARE THE ARCHETYPE OF YOUNG LOVERS AND FORBIDDEN LOVE.

Shakespeare is credited with this originating this timeless tale. But you are about to learn that the old Bard of Avon plagiarized Romeo and Juliet. Okay, time out! Perhaps plagiarized is too strong a word. Instead, let’s give Bombastic Bill the benefit of the doubt and say he used poetic license to inspire his greatest work, by borrowing from an old Native-Canadian saga…affectionately known today as, “THE LEGEND OF LAKE STUPID.”

Long, long ago…just beneath the Arctic Circle, in the northern-most wilderness of the present-day Yukon Territory, sits an Eden-like Valley. A freak of nature has warmed this narrow, ten-mile strip from the typical harsh weather of its thousand-mile radius and provided salvation for a wide range of vegetation, animals, fish and birds. Although the circle-of-life still exists, the wildlife seemingly has cut-out a reasonably peaceful niche.
TODAY, THE YUKON IS STILL SO VAST AND SPARSELY POPULATED THAT IT'S SECOND LARGEST TOWN, DAWSON CITY HAS LESS THAN FIFTEEN-HUNDRED RESIDENTS.

Unfortunately, humans have been far less charitable and unwilling to share this blissful outpost. Through the eons, to control this frosty paradise, tribal warfare has wreaked bloody havoc. Ancestral Aleuts of the west, Eskimos from the north, the Inuit of the east and Indians from the south all converged there. These conflicts caused the weaker clans to be wiped out and long forgotten.

The focal point of the area is Lake Chapultepec, (an indigenous term for; lake that never freezes). This over-sized, oval-shaped pond is sandwiched by lush forests on two sides and mountain walls on the other two. Due to its strategic placement, the lake acts as natural demilitarized zone for the last two warring tribes, the Narwhals of the south and the Vuntut of the north.

These two enemies knew that half the valley had enough resources to comfortably support their people. They also had a good idea of the valley’s lethal history. So they settled into a cautious, non-negotiated, closed-off, peaceful co-existence.

For several generations there was hardly any interaction. The hated rivals maintained a strict segregation while closely scrutinizing the daily activities of each other. And despite the perceived harmony there was always  an under-current of unrest. Especially if an over zealous potential chief needed to demonstrate his strength to his would-be constituents. Luckily, no accidental incident ever sparked more than a minor skirmish.

On a mid-September morning, long after the short summer had ended, the first hint of winter invaded the valley. Through dawn’s mistiness, a lone female Narwhal knelt where the stream of melted glacial water entered the lake’s western side of the south shore. This young squaw, on the verge of womanhood, was attracted to that spot by the nearby natural hot spring that prevents the lake from freezing.  She leaned over the bank and stared at her gawky reflection. Her whimpering broke the silence until her gush of tears threatened to overflow the calm waters.

Her name was Delicate Flower. But this bit of sarcasm was bestowed on her the same way you might nickname a giant; Tiny. But Delicate Flower wasn’t crying about her awkwardness, she was unhappy because she had come of age to begin the courtship rituals of the tribe but was deemed unsuitable.

Delicate Flower’s low status was represented by her new responsibility as a laundress. The tribe had a pecking order within the laundresses and it was she alone who scraped the “racing stripes” off the men’s loin clothes.

Soon a group of giggly laundresses gathered fifty feet away. They directed their laughter at the poor girl’s misfortune as they used rocks to the pound the community clothes clean. Delicate Flower knew she was being shunned but what really bothered her was their adolescent chatter about the young boys who they hoped would court them.

Delicate Flower wasn’t dainty and was still having difficulty getting used to the clumsy hatchet she was using to do such fine work. While her hormones raged inside, her outward situation worsened when she dropped the big scraper into the murky water. The other girls laughed and pointed at her as the humiliated girl waded knee-deep trying to locate the valued tool.

At the same time, across the lake, on the western side of the north shore, the equivalent of a drill sergeant ran fledgling Vuntut warrior cadets out from the woods. Twelve young bucks, breathing heavily from their rigorous training proudly stood in a straight line. For two long minutes, the boys remained at attention staring at Chapultepec, waiting for the order that would set them at ease.

A rustling in the woods caused the instructor to look behind his troops. The erect cadets feared recrimination and strained their eyes, in the hope of seeing behind them without turning their heads. Suddenly, Brown Trout, a thirteen boy emerged. The rotund lad entered a small clearing and hopped over a fallen log but skidded on a slanted stone and fell.

The trainer had some unkind words for his group as they laughed at their flawed, Gomer Pyle-like comrade. When the chubby boy finally joined the others, the sergeant roared profanity into his face, poked his engorged belly and pointed to where a left moccasin was supposed to be.
JIM NABORS AS GOMER PYLE (right) WAS A SIMPLEMINDED, COUNTRY BUMPKIN MARINE CANDIDATE, IN THE TV SHOW THAT BORE HIS NAME, (1964-1969). THE 1987 MOVIE, "FULL METAL JACKET," USED GOMER PYLE AS A NICKNAME FOR IT'S FOOLISH, TRAGIC CHARACTER, PRIVATE LEONARD LAWRENCE.

Brown Trout was so dense that when the other boys were excused, he needed two explanations before understanding that his punishment included taking a miniature Vuntut totem pole, by canoe, to the center of the lake. He was then required to stand up and taunt the Narwhals with it. The true measure of the ordeal was that he wasn’t provided the luxury of a paddle.

By the time Brown Trout reached his destination only Delicate Flower saw him . She watched with confused curiosity until he rose up, shook the symbolic artifact with malice and shouted vulgarities in his alien language. His silly intimidation attempt ended abruptly when the canoe started to list side-to-side. The kid kept the boat from capsizing but he fell and cracked his head on the wooden seat. He was afraid to look back at his village and see who might have witnessed his bumbling ineptitude. So he looked towards the enemy camp.

Delicate Flower saw the boy’s bloody forehead. She stood up and gaped in sympathy, causing Brown Trout to interpret her tender reaction as concern. Out of embarrassment, he smiled. When she smiled back…they both experienced a mutual regard...it was love at first sight.

For several weeks, Brown Trout under the pretense of practice, started every morning by maneuvering a canoe closer, in the hope of catching a better glimpse of Delicate Flower.

One day, Delicate Flower in the name of romance, decided to walk around the lake. She claimed to be gathering berries and lost her way when she was discovered too close to “enemy” lines. She was sent to the Shaman. She remained obtuse throughout the questioning so the medicine man thought she was crazy.

December ushered in a thick blanket of snow that covered the land. In the distance, Brown Trout spotted his beautiful Delicate Flower framed by the purity of the white background. As was his custom, he set out by canoe, to get a better look at his forbidden love. On this morning, his surging testosterone compelled him to paddle near enough to talk to her. His spirits and libido were ricocheting between his lower abdomen and his heart as he bravely thrust his vessel into the bitterly cold water.

Brown Trout hadn’t gone thirty feet when one of the elders called out, “Where are you going?” The boy was caught off guard. His high-pitched, prepubescent voice cracked as he stammered said, “I-I-I’m taking this totem to the center of the lake, t-t-to taunt the Narwhals.” When he realized that he didn’t have the symbolic talisman with him, he shamefully made a U-Turn.

The wise man grabbed Brown Trout under his armpit and forcibly led him back to his lodge. The cowering boy was thrown to the ground.  The elder said, "I'm disappointed in you Brown Trout.  Last year, I had a high opinion of you when you asked for an audience with the chief.  You showed maturity, made a reasonable request and presented a good case...and were granted an irregular favor."  "Yes, that was when I asked the chief how he named new born children."  The elder said, "That's right, the chief leaves the tepee of each new child and names the baby after the first thing he sees."  Brown Trout said, "The chief used my sister and brother as examples."  The elder said, "Your brother Silver Moon and sister Leaping Fawn were indeed named in that manner.  In the same way, you were named, Two Wolves Humping.  But you didn't like that name and the chief renamed you."

Brown Trout hung his head low as a long interrogation about his strange escapade with the canoe began. But the kid made no sense as he blithered in circles but never divulged his true mission. So the elder forbade him from using the canoes and came away from their meeting convinced that the boy was a bigger moron than he ever imagined.

The next morning was two degrees below zero. Despite some minor icing along the far shore, (away from the stream carrying the hot spring water), the always thawed lake lived up to its name.

Brown Trout saw his beloved in her usual place and decided to risk everything. But the elder had hid the canoes. The love sick warrior-in-training wasn’t clever enough to think out a better plan...and dove into the lake.

Motivated by horniness, Brown Trout swam like an Olympic champion.  His first fifty feet would have given Tarzan goose pimples. But soon his progress slowed considerably until he was floundering. Delicate Flower recognized her beau's panic-stricken attempt to stay afloat and pushed a canoe into the lake. She had never used one in her life but when she saw her sweetheart thrashing about, struggling to keep his head above water, her adrenaline took over. She focused on saving her man and cut through Chapultepec like an expert.

Soon tribesmen from both sides converged on Brown Trout’s limp body. He had succumbed to hyperthermia and drowned. The corpse was dragged back to the Vuntut village. Members of the Narwhals instinctively followed Delicate Flower into the enemy camp and nobody stopped them. To the surprise of everyone, she embraced the boy’s head and in a hysterical crying sob, professed her love for him.

The Narwhals and the Vuntut continued to lead separate lives until Delicate Flower assumed the role of goodwill ambassador.  She frequently visited the Vuntut and shared cultural nuances. Over time, her familiar face brokered many meetings between the tribes...and hostilities evaporated.  Her greatest accomplishment was getting the two chiefs together on the first anniversary of Brown Trout’s ill-fated death. From that powwow, the day was proclaimed a holiday and open communication, trade and socializing became officially acceptable.

The chiefs also liked Delicate Flower's idea to change Chapultepec’s name, in honor of Brown Trout.  But she didn't quite get exactly what she hoped for.  With hierarchy of both tribes in accord, the name was changed...to Lake Stupid.

Monday, July 15, 2013

THE MANY SIDES OF "SKITZO AL"

In 1978, I attended the New York School of Gambling, (West 32nd Street in Manhattan). Together with a random conglomeration of people, I went through the process of getting in on the ground floor of the
expanding gaming industry.

Instead of getting strong-armed by salesmen and soaked for thousands of tuition dollars, I bucked the school's system (which was immediately changed in my "honor" after I left), by taking only one course, craps dealing. In that class, I gravitated to easy-going guys my age (22-26) who intended to move to Las Vegas. My clique included, Ciro the Hero, (way before he became Ciro the Zero), BB, John Heaverlo and JLUPY.

Another student who sometimes hung-out with us was thirty-year old Al Muñoz. But Al was like a man without a country as he bounced from one group to another. He seemed so likeable but sometimes, he’d get so moody that he made people uncomfortable.

Al’s accent was strictly from the Bronx. He was of Puerto Rican descent but both his parents were born in Yonkers and none of them ever visited their native island. But due to the fact that the gambling school had three other students named Al, most people called him Spanish Al.

Al was also short, so some people called him Little Al. But because he wore a distinctive well-trimmed beard and mustache, the wannabe wiseguys called him Toulouse. Al, a graduate of Lehman College was bright enough to understand the reference. Privately, he hated it but was mature enough to not give his taunters the satisfaction.



HENRI de TOULOUSE LAUTREC (1864-1901) WAS A POST-IMPRESSION PAINTER. HE SUFFERED FROM NUMEROUS PHYSICAL AILMENTS INCLUDING ONE THAT PREVENTED HIS LEGS FROM GROWING AS A YOUNG TEENAGER.

The underlying problem with Al was a lack of consistency in his personality. One moment he’d be funny, articulate or caring about someone and seconds later, he’d be stone cold and ignorant to someone else. There were even times that I witnessed Al helping someone and simultaneously being a jerk to another with the same problem…then in the blink of an eye, he’d turn a cold shoulder on the person he was helping and bend over backwards to the person he was being rude to.

To the untrained eye, most of us thought Al suffered from a Napoleonic complex.


FIVE FOOT SIX, NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821) WAS THE EMPORER OF FRANCE. THE INFORMAL PSYCHOLOGY TERM, "NAPOLEONIC COMPLEX," SUGGESTS THAT SOME SHORT MEN OVER-COMPENSATE FOR BEING VERTICALLY CHALLENGED WITH AGGRESSIVE OR DOMINEERING SOCIAL BEHAVIOR.

Nevertheless, Al's most enduring nickname was, Skitzo Al.

Just before one of our 10:00AM, forty-minute breaks, Al was telling BB, JLUPY and me about the discotheques in his neighborhood. He wanted us come up. I thought it would be fun. After all, I already had the official disco uniform in my closet; an off-white, polyester three-piece suit, a selection of qiana shirts by Huckapoo and platform shoes.



DESPITE A BLEAK SCRIPT AND BEING TERRIBLY DATED TODAY, THE 1977 TWO AND A HALF STAR MOVIE, "SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER," LEFT AN IMPACT ON SOCIETY AND POP-CULTURE, IN ITS DAY.

While I was seriously considering taking the trip BB cracked, “I don’t want to go. Even the police are afraid to leave the station house up there.” Al said, “I’m not sending you to the South Bronx, I live in Riverdale.” But when JLUPY said, “I live in Connecticut, would I be able to crash at your place,” Al didn’t even acknowledge the question.

While we were talking, Awilda, a gorgeous blackjack student from the Dominican Republic walked by. Al rattled off the names of a couple of discos and asked her if she wanted to get together Friday. In a heavy accent she enthusiastically agreed. Al went into a full-blown flirtation with her in Spanish. After she left JLUPY said, “I thought you couldn’t speak Spanish?” Dead silence. Al wouldn’t even look at him. JLUPY got pissed off. He got in Al’s face and repeated the question. Al as if nothing strange happened smiled, “I pick my spots. As you can see, it comes in handy for picking up Latina chicks.” JLUPY was confused and insulted...and left.

Al was still encouraging us to come when Awilda breezed by holding a slip of paper with her phone number. But Al concentrated on me and BB. She didn't appreciated being shunted aside.  But he wasn’t even phased when the tempestuous beauty exploded into a rant, in Spanish, punctuated with a well pronounced, (in English), “Fuck you!” I guess he thought he was being cool because as she stormed off, he pretended not to notice.

My clique usually went to the coffee shop near Eighth Avenue on our breaks. John Heaverlo and Ciro had already left so I asked Al, “You wanna get something to eat with us?” BB interjected, “Include me out, I’ll be at the Ireland’s Eye, drinking my breakfast.” Al said, “No, I’m gonna play hearts. Do you play?” I said, “No.” He said, “C’mon do something different, it’ll be fun.”

At a round table, in a small room rimmed with vending machines, the card game was full-up with four wannabe wiseguys. In a loud, hyper whisper, Al described the rules and the finer points of hearts. I was fascinated by the fast action and impressed by the way he disregarded the player's shushing and harsh barbs.

I think because of our age difference, Al never developed into friend material. But because of the intelligent, nurturing side of his personality, his mentorship made me feel like I had an older brother. This was especially true when he stressed, “Don’t sit-in with these vultures until you really know what’s, what. They’ll sucker you in for a penny a point…but it adds up." When one of the players said, "Shut up Toulouse!" Al kept talking.

I moved to Las Vegas in January 1979. Ciro got there two months earlier so I looked him up. He was living downtown with BB in a cheap, rundown two-bedroom apartment. JLUPY was already occupying the sofa so I got to sleep on the floor until I got situated.

When I arrived, it was the filthiest dump I ever saw. The thought of sleeping on the floor was nauseating. But it became a moot point because the day before, BB was rushed to the hospital with acute alcohol poisoning. The situation was so dire that his mom and sister flew out because BB could've died.

So JLUPY was upgraded to BB’s bed and I got the couch. It was good timing because John Heaverlo drove in from Poughkeepsie (NY) the next day and took my spot on the floor.

At fifty cents a drink in casino bars, I could see how someone with a liquor dependency like BB could get caught in Vegas’ web of vice. I understand this because my first five days in town are a drunken kaleidoscope of broken images and partial memories. During a lucid moment Ciro took me aside, “I want you to know that you can stay here forever…no charge. But for your own good, don’t you think it’s time to go to work.”

He was right. I had gotten wet feet from watching live games and felt that I could never make it as a craps dealer. But Ciro’s little chat straightened me out. I was determined to go to the audition that the school arranged at the Slots-A-Fun Casino.

The next morning, it was bright, sunny and 80°. I was standing in a white dress shirt and black slacks at the bus stop, shivering from nerves. Across the street, a billboard advertising a heating and refrigeration school caught my eye. Their two slogans were; YOUR CORE OF $UCCE$$ and TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR FUTURE.

While transfixed on the sign, I heard Ciro’s voice in my head saying, “It’s time to shit or get off the pot” as I admired how the word “charge” had two bolts of lightning running through it. Suddenly, my daydream was shattered by an annoying, squeaky, beep, beep. It was someone on a Vespa scooter. When the driver pulled to the curb and took off his goggles, I realized it was a clean-shaven Al Muñoz.



VESPA, THE ITALIAN WORD FOR WASP, IS A MOTOR SCOOTER PRODUCED IN ITALY SINCE 1946.

I told Al my situation and he congratulated me for taking the plunge. Then he changed the subject, “I’m dealing craps at the Lady Luck. It sucks but I’m ready to apply for a better job. I live in a shack on Ogden. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to live downtown.” I pointed beyond Las Vegas High School and said, "I'm staying on South Tenth with Ciro." He said, “It’s just as bad there too…like the wild friggin’ west…especially at night if you stray from Fremont Street.” He surprised me by adding, “Forget all that negativity, first, let’s get you working. Screw the bus. Hop on. I’ll take you up there before you change your mind or shit yourself.”

Al and I wouldn't cross paths for four months. By that time, I had left Slots-A-Fun and got hired at a slightly better job, the Western Casino. Al came in to take an audition and passed. Later during my break, he told me he was fired from the Lady Luck. I told him, “One of our craps dealers, Debbie Dotson used to work there.”

When I added that the Western fired her after one shift Al shook his head, “Debbie, Debbie, Debbie. She couldn’t get out of Oregon fast enough. But she had no plan...” He became philosophical about life in Las Vegas. During his ensuing sermon about the transients, petty criminals, runaways, lowlifes and the deadbeats that he has met, I was distracted about Al's appearance. I knew his facial hair was missing but I couldn’t figure out the difference.

Al was right. Misguided people visit Vegas and perceive that dealers lead luxurious lives in the top casinos.  Far worse, some wrongly think they too can live a rich, vacation lifestyle every day. Then each day, new dreamers reflexively drop what they are doing and rush out there.

I saw it immediately when BB nearly drank himself to death. And the town might have chewed me up too and spit me out if Ciro didn’t give me my reality check. Before Al was processed as a new employee he added, “Remember this, Vegas is like the French Foreign Legion. Most people up root themselves here out of a romantic fantasy that it’s shangra-fuckin’-la. A lot of the other morons are just desperate. So always watch yourself and be weary of the *Debbie Dotsons of the world...because Vegas is a sanctuary for the lunatic fringe.

*Debbie Dotson was a main character in my short story, "SANCTUARY FOR THE LUNATIC FRINGE."

Al started at the Western the next day. At no point did he give-off that Skitzo Al vibe. He got off to a great start with our coworkers but I was still having trouble putting my finger on the difference in him so I gave up and asked. Al in an appropriate conversational tone and pace said, “Getting fired from the Lady Luck changed my life!” He took off his glasses with great exaggeration and cleaned off the lenses. I said, “That’s it, you’re wearing glasses!” He smiled, “But I don’t wear glasses.” I was perplexed. He said, “Listen. They fired me because they thought I was a prick because on second base, I could hear the boxman’s instructions. But on third base, he were speaking into my deaf ear.” “You’re deaf in one ear?” Al said, “Yeah. You knew that...everyone at school knew.” I said, “Trust me, nobody knew.” “Anyway," Al continued, “So when I get the ax, I tell the dude about my ear. He suddenly becomes human and tells me that Beltone has an office around the corner. And if they hook me up with a hearing aid, he’ll give me my job back. I tell him, I was born this way and I was told there’s nothing that can be done. He said you should still go…you never know.”

Al said, “These non-prescription glasses are the latest technology. They have a tiny microphone in the frame and wires carry the sounds from the bad side to my good ear. I’m a new man!” As excited as he was to show me, his quieter, slower pace never faltered as he showed me a photo of Jing, his girlfriend.

Two days later, I got hired at a better job the Holiday International Casino. I never saw Al again. But down through the years when I asked mutual acquaintances who saw him more recently, nobody called him anything but Al.

Monday, July 8, 2013

SHERBERT vs. SORBERT

Please help me honor Independence Day and the brave men and women in our military.  Also, excuse me for writing a blog on how wonderful my vacation was...outside the USA.
WE DIDN'T STRAY FAR, BERMUDA IS OFF THE COAST OF NORTH CAROLINA.

Our family get-away last week was a cruise.  The fun took on a new wrinkle by including Andrew's girlfriend Amanda.  And even before the four of us hit the high seas, the consistent theme of our adventure would be, new knowledge.

First we found out, it's better to be lucky than good.  At Amanda's house, we expected to pick her up and go.  But her gracious parents gave us a party-like send-off, so we lost track of time.  The lucky part was...we hit no traffic, all the way into Manhattan and up to the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) docks, (West 55th Street and 12th Avenue).

The ship boarded passengers from noon till 4:PM.  At 4:15, we "lugged" our luggage into the empty football field-sized processing hall.  Between us and the distant metal detectors, I saw the dormant serpentine ropes that could've accomodated several hundred people as it meandered through the great oblong space. I asked an uniformed employee, "Which way to the Norwegian Breakaway?"  Electric impulses of fear shot through my body as he turned away and screamed, "Charley, is the Breakaway still boarding?"  Thank goodness, they were.

A minute later at check in, the French accented agent politely informed us, "If you learn only one thing today, please remember for next time, ships do leave tardy, paying customers behind."  I looked behind us, there's a chance, we were the last one's to get on.
 ANDREW AND AMANDA JUST BEFORE BOARDING.  THE  BREAKAWAY IS THE NEWEST STAR IN NORWEGIAN'S FLEET.  IT'S MAIDEN VOYAGE WAS MAY 2013 AND JUDGING FROM THAT NICE "NEW" CRUISE SHIP SMELL, WE COULD TELL THIS WAS ONLY  IT'S FIFTH TRIP.

We went to one of the many welcome aboard parties.  Twenty minutes after getting on, I was enjoying my first taste of tremendously sweet pineapple (I bet I ate ten pounds in a week), when a girl from Andrew's high school spotted him.  Over the next seven days, the enormity of the ship (almost 4,000 passengers) was proven because he never saw that girl again.
WE STAYED OUTSIDE AS THE GRAND BOAT SAILED DOWN THE HUDSON AND PAST THE STATUE OF LIBERTY UNTIL EVERYONE CHEERED AS WE COASTED UNDER THER VERAZZANO BRIDGE.
We lingered on deck until the Coney Island section of Brooklyn was a mere speck in our rearview mirror.  Inside, Sue wanted to check-out the gym and spa.  It was there I found nirvana, (the suana, steam room and Jacuzzi).
I FOUND TWO NEW INNOVATIONS, A SALT ROOM AND THE HEATED THERAPEUTIC BEDS, (above).  I VOWED TO OUR TURKISH HOST...TO NEVER LEAVE.  THEN HE TOLD ME THE ADDED COST!  HENCE, UNLIKE OUR OTHER CRUISES, THIS GOOD STUFF CAME AT A PREMIUM PRICE.  MY RELUCTANT, THRIFTY ASS WAS DIRECTED TO THE FREE HOT TUBS ON DECK FOR THE PEONS.  STRIKE-ONE NORWEGIAN!

We got ourselves situated and relaxed before dinner.  I soon learned that it wasn't a good idea for me to only bring one pair of pants.
NO I DIDN'T DROP A DOLLOP OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE ON MY LAP BUT AFTER MY FIRST PIG-OUT MEAL, I DISCOVERED THAT I COULDN'T BUTTON MY PANTS, (PANTS WERE REQUIRED IN THE GOURMET ROOM).

The art deco-styled Manhattan Room was sophisticated and beautiful.  The service was elegant and it included a live band and dance floor.
YOU CAN'T TELL FROM THIS ANGLE BUT BY DESSERT, I WAS FORCED TO *UNBUTTON MY PANTS...OR EXPLODE. * NOTE TO SELF, NEXT CRUISE BRING BIGGER PANTS OR A GIRDLE.

Later, we learned that nineteen-year olds, even in international waters are considered too young to drink.  However, Sue on different occasions, let the kids sample her Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and Bahama Mama, (I brought a case of diet cherry Pepsi from home...and the kids liked that too).  Now let me teach you something, out at sea, eighteen-year olds are of legal age to gamble.
BEGINNERS LUCK!  ANDREW AND AMANDA WALKED AWAY FROM THAT SLOT MACHINE WITH A SMALL FORTUNE.  TOO BAD THEY STARTED WITH A BIG FORTUNE.  THAT'S A 75c VOUCHER...THEY BOUGHT-IN FOR TWENTY DOLLARS.  OF COURSE, IT'S A MOOT POINT BECAUSE IT WAS SUE'S TWENTY. HOPEFULLY THEY CAME AWAY WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THERE'S NO PERCENTAGE IN GAMBLING.

Beyond the Manhattan Room, the menu was the same in other dining rooms, "Savor" and "Taste."  Even though the staff was less savvy, our next few dinners were there because I was too embarrassed to divulge the secret of my tight pants.
 AT NIGHT, THE KIDS ALWAYS DRESSED WELL.  AT THE TASTE RESTAURANT, (above)  I'M IN STAINED GYM SHORTS AND MY THIRTY-YEAR OLD ALFRED E. NEUMAN T-SHIRT.

I know the main focus of our excursion shouldn't be on food but...
ANDREW DISCOVERED THE HARD WAY WHAT SCUNGILLI AND CALAMARI ARE...MAYBE I SHOULD'VE TOLD HIM THEY WERE BEETS AND TURNIPS.

For some inexplicable reason, the ship pumped-up the air conditioning at night. I brought a hoodie for emergency purposes only so I (we) froze a lot.  Sue brought some warmer clothes but she caught a cold.  We're off the ship five days and she still can't kick the sniffles, sore throat and laryngitis ...and now I'm starting to feel similar symptoms.  Strike-two Norwegian!

Others (not us) battled the cold temperatures by going to the Ice Bar.  Norwegian, in partnership with Svedka Vodka, opened an intimate, frosty pub featuring a range of icy drinks.
IT MUST BE "COOL" BECAUSE THERE WAS USUALLY A LINE TO GET IN.  FOR TWENTY DOLLARS, THEY LEND AN ARCTIC-WORTHY HOODED COAT AND GLOVES, WHILE PROVIDING TWO DRINKS AND A LASER LIGHT SHOW.

In our own way, we minimized the freezing.  That's when I learned that it was perfectly comfortable for after-dinner strolls outside, on the boardwalk-like deck.  The main reason why this became part of our daily routine was the glorious weather.  I don't care what's going on inside, if the boat is going through a storm or turbulent seas, it's nearly impossible to enjoy yourself.    

I think a lot of our fellow passengers assumed it was windy.  So they froze after dinner because they failed to realize how nice it was outside.  Of course some of those who did venture out were still in shell-shock from the recent barrage of natural calamities, like hurricanes and tornados. So some of them panicked and ran back inside when they saw the wild cloud formation in the distance.  I'm no meteorologist but I can recognize peaceful waters and calm winds.  Besides, I know great scenery when I see it.
A BETTER PHOTO OF THE SKY INCLUDED TWO OLD BIDDIES FIGHTING TO BE FIRST ON THE LIFEBOAT QUEUE, (QUEUE, THAT'S BRIT-SPEAK FOR LINE), BUT THAT PICTURE CAME OUT BLURRY.

If you've never gone on a cruise, you should remember what was told to me before I went on my first...once you go on a cruise, you'll never want to vacation any other way.  I'm sure there's exceptions but if you want to be busy with organized events, you could spend every waking second being entertained.  Each day the social director's staff publishes an itinery and you could take part in contests, demonstration seminars, classes, movies, swimming, sports or see a wide variety of musicians, comedians and shows.
LONG STORY SHORT, I GOT STUCK IN THE RED TUBE WHICH CONTINUES TO THE DECK BELOW, (far left).  I WAS HUMILIATED BECAUSE A RESCUE TEAM HAD TO PULL ME OUT.  ALL EYES WERE ON ME AS I WAS FREED. I FELT LIKE A BROWN TROUT BEING SURGICALLY REMOVED FROM A PLUMBING PIPE. STRIKE-THREE NORWEGIAN!

Sue and I went to different bars to hear and dance to the blues, rock-n-roll and hip-hop.  We also saw the Second City Comedy troupe twice, a salute to ballroom dancing, a terrible comic/magician and the Broadway show, "ROCK OF AGES." 
GREAT MUSICAL PERFORMANCES OVER-SHADOWED THE  STUPID STORY LINE OF "ROCK OF AGES." AFTERWARDS, ANDREW AND I MUGGED IT UP WITH THE CAST.  ACTOR ON LEFT LOOKED LIKE FRANKIERIO. 
Between organized activities, Sue and I entertained ourselves.
THIS CRIPPLING EXPERIENCE WAS BETTER THAN BINGO BUT IT MIGHT'VE ENDED MY DANCING THE "HUCKLEBUCK" DAYS.
We landed in Bermuda, at Heritage Wharf in the Royal Naval Dockyard, on the morning of the fourth day.  The capital city Hamilton is a delightful ferry ride across the bay.  The other option is a hair-raising, hour-long bus ride.  To get to the magnificent beaches, you can go either way.  The first of our three-days on terra firma was at Horseshoe Bay Beach.
IMMACULATE HORSESHOE BAY BOASTS PINK SAND.  UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, SUE STUFFED SOME IN A BAGGIE BUT GOT BUSTED GOING BACK ON THE SHIP. 

When I saw this body-like formation of seaweed from the distance, I thought SLVRM6 had won a back shaving contest.
ON VACATION, SUE IS AN EXPERT OVER-PACKER.  ANY ODD-BALL NECESSITY, AS IF BY WIZARDRY, CAN BE PLUCKED FROM HER FELIX THE CAT-LIKE BAG OF TRICKS.  BUT WHEN I ASKED FOR A JAR OF GLUE SO I COULD STICK SEAWEED ON MY BACK AS A TRIBUTE TO MY HAIRY BUDDY (AL6), SHE LAMENTED, "NO CAN DO."  OF COURSE IT'S STILL POSSIBLE SHE HAD IT BUT DIDN'T WANT TO RISK SEEING ME MAKE AN EVEN BIGGER BUFFOON OUT OF MYSELF.

Our dinner that night was at Savor.  The serving staff is always so nice.  But few employees emphasize friendly chatter or use any personal touches.  The best example of one who did was Conred.
WHILE THE REST OF THE ROOM ATE THEIR DINNER AS IF THEY WERE IN A CATHEDERAL, CONRED ACTIVELY TOOK PART AND IMPROVED OUR HIJINX.

Some of the demonstrations that we never took part in included; fruit sculpting, ice carving and the ancient art of towel folding.  I'm guessing, the housekeepers were required to take towel art classes because to the delight of Sue and Amanda, each night a different towel animal adorned one the beds.
WITH ORAGAMI ON THE DOWN SWING, TOWEL ART IS SWEEPING THE UNIVERSE.  THE ELEPHANT WAS MY FAVORITE BUT EVERYONE SEEMED TO PREFER THE PENGUIN, (above).

The second day in port, I strayed from the breakfast buffet, (it was tough to go without my daily pineapple fix).  Plus, the choice I made at O'Sheehan's, (an English themed bar that served food), proved costly.  That's when I learned that it's common practice for Brits to eat baked beans as a morning side dish. Sue made better use of her time by learning about one of the best kept secret beaches in Bermuda.
ON THE PLUS SIDE, LATER THAT MORNING, THOSE BAKED BEANS HELPED GET ME A CHOICE SEAT, ALL BY MYSELF, ON THE CROWDED HARBOR CROSSING.

Just like going from Brooklyn's Bensonhurst to Canarsie, after the ferry docked in Hamilton, we took the Number-7 bus.  The directions that Sue got was a couple of stops past a place called Jews Bay.  We got off at Warwick Long Bay Beach.  We hadn't taken ten steps when we realized that we had arrived at heaven on earth.
THE ONLY WAY TO IMPROVE THE SCENERY WAS TO PUT THESE GUYS IN THE PICTURE.

Warwick Beach proved to be a half-mile stretch of paradise.  This quiet, secluded spot featured gentle rolling turquoise waves, coral reefs and pale, white sand.  I can't ever remember not falling asleep at a beach but I stayed awake for this. We hung-out in the water for hours before exploring the rock formations and the hidden coves.
THE NATIONAL BIRD OF BERMUDA IS THE LONG TAIL, (not pictured).  TO ME, THAT COMMON SHORE BIRD LOOKS LIKE A SEAGULL WITH LONG FEATHERS.  A BETTER CHOICE WOULD BE, THE YELLOW-BREASTED KISKADEE.  WE ONLY SAW TWO NEAR THE COVES AND THEIR BEAUTY AND ELEGANCE OF FLIGHT MADE IT HARD TO TAKE YOUR EYES OFF.  THE IMPRESSION THEY LEFT, MADE ME ANXIOUS TO FIND SOMEONE WHO COULD IDENTIFY IT FOR ME.

The mountainous rocks were a photo-fest.
I AM LYING AT THE EDGE OF A CLIFF AND SUE IS STANDING ON A HILL SHOOTING DOWN AT THE COVE.  LATER I HAD TO CLIMB ON ROCKS TO GET DOWN WHERE THAT COUPLE IS, (upper right).  IT WAS SUCH A SPECIAL PLACE THAT I WISH I COULD GO THERE EVERY TIME I NEED TO MEDITATE.  TO SEE MY OTHER 98 PICTURES FROM THAT AREA, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE COME BY THE HOUSE.

On the way back from our great outing, Sue took some amazing seascape shots from the ferry.  My favorite is the one that caused me to sing, "THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP."
I LIKE THIS PIC SO MUCH, IT'S CURRENTLY OUR SCREEN SAVER.  WHEN SUE TOOK IT, I WAS INSPIRED TO SING.  THEN SOME JOKER INTERRUPTED MY GOLDEN MOMENT BY SAYING, "LET ME EDUCATE YOU, WHEN SHIRLEY TEMPLE SANG, 'THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP,' SHE WAS REFERRING TO AN AIRPLANE."  EVEN THOUGH THIS SHOT MAKES ME THINK OF THAT MORON, I STILL LOVE IT.

On the morning of our last day in Bermuda, we took a longer ferry ride to the only other city, St. Georges. Whatever we were hoping to find, we didn't.  So we didn't stay long.
THIS CONTRAPTION IS CALLED A STOCK.  SO IF AN EARLY SETTLER DID SOME PETTY CRIME, THEIR PUNISHMENT MIGHT HAVE INCLUDED BEING LOCKED IN THE TOWN SQUARE SO "RIGHTEOUS" CITIZENS COULD MOCK THEM.  ERGO, THAT'S WHERE THE TERM; A LAUGHING STOCK, COMES FROM.
Later, Andrew and Amanda explored the shops, in the wharf next to the ship.  They were surprised to learn that an old, mutual friend wanted to have a meet-n-greet with them.

HE LIVES IN A PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA BUT COMES OUT OF THE WATER FOR SPECIAL FRIENDS.

On their photo safari, Andrew came across the only familar business we saw on the whole island, the Bone Fish Cafe. What surprised him more was the name of their exterior bar.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT ANDREW THOUGHT WAS SO FUNNY.  BUT HE DIDN'T BELIEVE ME WHEN I TRIED TO SCHOOL HIM THAT A BONER IS A MISTAKE.  LIKE IN BASEBALL, MERKEL'S BONER OF 1908.  FRED MERKLE'S BONER IS A NOTORIOUS BASERUNNING BLUNDER THAT LED TO ONE OF THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL GAMES IN MAJOR LEAGUE HISTORY.

The bigger mistake is thinking that the cruise would last forever.  At 5:PM, we were back at sea and almost immediately a depression settled in me because we were heading home. My melancholia worsened at dinner when I chipped a tooth.  Strike-four Norwegian!

We went to see the magician/comic that night.  He was so bad that within three jokes, he was mocking the audience because of our lack of response, (a trend that would continue throughout his act).  To his credit, I remembered the stand-up comedian from another cruise being pretty bad too.  But at least I was able to steal one line from him, "The Waffle House is so dirty, I once saw a cockroach vomiting there."
HIS JOKES WERE STALE AND HIS MAGIC WAS BORING.  FIFTEEN MINUTES INTO THE SHOW, I WAS HOPING HE WAS AT LEAST GOOD ENOUGH TO MAKE HIMSELF DISAPPEAR.
When things are going bad, it's easy to dwell on negativity.  Back at the room, I started to pick apart our ship's petty problems.  The most common was my difficulty flushing the toilet.  I guess I should have gotten a tutorial on the first day but I always figured I'd get the hang of it. Another annoyance was the sound, presumably of suitcases, sliding across the floor, in the space above my bed.  Everyone else said I was crazy...but they said I was even nuttier when I swore I heard the toilet water surging in the pipes over head too.  Strike-five Norwegian!

When we woke up for our last full day, the beautiful weather came to a grinding halt.  No one could blame Andrew and Amanda for succumbing to the rough seas.
NEITHER ANDREW OR AMANDA CARED WHEN I EXPLAINED THAT THE WORD; LIST, (THE TILT OF A SHIP) AND YAW (THE BACK AND FORTH SWING OF A SHIP IN HIGH WAVES) WEREN'T SYNONYMS.  BUT LUCKY FOR THEM, SUE PULLED DRAMAMINE (FOR SEA SICKNESS RELIEF),  OUT OF HER BAG OF TRICKS. THE KIDS FELT BETTER AND SALVAGED THE LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING.

For our last dinner, we returned to the Manhattan Room.  I was glad everyone's appetite was back but Andrew was pretty direct when he said, "And we don't want to hear about words that describe the slant of the ship." 

Later, Andrew was reading the dessert menu and asked me, "How come you pronounce sher-bit as if it had an extra 'R?'"  I said, "Because that's the English pronounciation.  Everyone calls it sherbert."  He said, "Dad, you're wrong."  I said, "No, I'm not.  Sherbert is the English word for Sorbert, S-O-R-B-E-R-T which is French."  He laughed, "I'm reading them off the menu and neither one has a second 'R.'"  I said, "I don't have my glasses..."  Andrew interrupted, "Not having your glasses doesn't mean you aren't wrong."  Andrew flagged down the maitre'd and said, "Please help settle an argument.  Sherbet and sorbet are two different things and they are spelled correctly on the menu?"  The Peruviana smiled, "Yes, they are spelled correctly and they are two different things.  They might seem similar but sherbet contains milk or gelatin while sorbet is tart fruit ice." Andrew glared at me and said, "See pop, you're never too old to learn something."  I said, "I'll take the Italian ices at Ices Queen, (in Brooklyn) over either one.  And don't call me pop!"

IF THE ICES QUEEN FACTORY AND RETAIL STAND IS STILL OPEN AT 1633 UTICA AVENUE, MAKE MINE LEMON ON TOP AND CHOCOLATE ON THE BOTTOM.

Before we woke-up the next morning, the Norwegian Breakaway was already moored at their dock in Manhattan. While Sue packed, I brought her breakfast after doing some packing of my own, (my last ton of pineapple was as good as the first).

On our way out, a housekeeper from another section gave us his usual big, good morning greeting.  He didn't even work for us but he learned our names (everyone on our floor?).  Andrew was so taken by his sincere pleasantness that he wanted to take his picture.
THIS GENTLEMAN (AL) HAS THE HONOR OF BEING IN OUR LAST SNAPSHOT ON THE SHIP.
The anxiety of getting off the ship is a tedious game of hurry up and wait. An hour after starting, we "lugged" our luggage out into New York City's hubbub and it's infamous humid stickiness.  Our four frowning faces proceeded to the adjacent parking lot.  I didn't remember where I parked but I knew I was next to a green Buick.  Shockingly, the damnned Buick was gone but somehow I found our car.

The geniuses running the city do a bang-up job hiding the Lincoln Tunnel signs but luckily Sue remained awake and spotted it.  I can't say the same thing about anyone else.
I SHOULD HAVE WOKE THEM UP WHEN WE PASSED THE "WELCOME TO NEW JERSEY" SIGN...BUT I DIDN'T...ROTTEN KIDS !

Despite all the strikes against Norwegian, it's safe to say we all a tremendous vacation. So, let's show some tolerance and give the new ship the benefit of doubt as they iron-out their flaws on the fly.  If you're more the mercenary type, chalk that nonsense up to the unpatriotic vibe I gave off by leaving the country right before the Fourth of July.
ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE, NORWEGIAN WAS CLEVER ENOUGH TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE USA's 237th BIRTHDAY.
An hour after getting in our car, we re-united Amanda with her parents.  Her courteous folks prepared a wonderful welcome home spread for us.  It was so good...that there were no strikes on them! We told stories and laughed for three hours...which was exactly enough time for me to have two more pounds of pineapple.

Monday, July 1, 2013

THE BEST TASTING FOOD ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH

Last week, I attended the wedding of Jeffrey and Michele.  This swanky affair took place at the Mandarin House Hotel overlooking Manhattan's Central Park.  The Bentley's, Porsches and Lamborghini's in the parking lot gave the impression that only a rags to riches family or Bonnie and Clyde could afford such oppulance.

From the Thirty-Fifth floor, the stunning view New York's skyscrapers and park below was only outdone by the beautiful ceremony.

We advanced to the cocktail hour and I will whisper a slight complaint about the food...this feast for the eyes...was fairly ordinary for my state-of-art taste buds and stomach. 
papa_murphys_jack-o-lantern_pizza
ONE OF JERRY SEINFELD'S SCHTICKS IS, "THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS BAD PIZZA."  BUT WE KNOW THAT'S JUST A SET-UP FOR A PUNCHLINE BECAUSE, THERE ABSOLUTELY IS...BAD PIZZA.  JUST LIKE THE ORGY OF FOOD AT THE COCKTAIL LOOKED SCRUMPTOUS...BUT LOOKS CAN BE DECIEVING.

Luckily the company was so good, the eats were secondary.  Then the brother-in-law of the groom came by to shake my hand.  In his plate was a pile of fist-sized shrimp cocktail.  I said, "Where did you get that?"  He pointed and said, "It's between the lobster and the stone crab..."  I was gone before he mentioned the oysters and clams on the half shell.

I filled my plate with lobster (tails), shrimp and oysters.  I dropped a dollop of cocktail sauce on top, squirted lemon and added Tabasco...and went to town.  Soon others were marveling at my delectibles, including my son Andrew and wife Sue.  They swooped down and reaped the benefit of my wait on line as they raided my dish.  Accidentally, (to my good fortune) once they got to my force-field gimmick, (Tabasco) my plate was safe from future attacks.

On my return voyage to the shellfish station, I eliminated the cumbersome oysters.  Eventually, I concentrated solely on the lobster and shrimp and lost track after five refills.  Towards the end, I became clever enough to time when a fresh batch was brought over.  On my way into the main ballroom, my wife's cousin asked me how many lobster tails I ate.  I told her, "At least a pound..."  When she gasped I said, "And two pounds of shrimp."

She said, "I guess you think lobster and shrimp are the best tasting foods in the world?"  I said, "No.  The best tasting food in the world is so poorly marketed that the manufacturers think they have to add something to it, to make it good."  Her eyes widened, "And that food is...chocolate?"  I said, "You're almost right."

I said, "To sooth the savage beast, this nectar of Gods, is sweet ambrosia to my soul."  She said, "Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!  They combine two of my favorite things and make something even better."  I told her, "You're quite astute but remember, the world's tastiest food is worsened because it is never sold...or eaten on its own."  She said, "I'm glad I didn't say banana, strawberry yogurt."  I winced at the thought and said, "If you like that, you'd probably love fried liver, Brussels Sprouts and beets."  She said, "C'mon already, what is this great secret...what is the world's tastiest food?"

I said, "The chocolate wafer of an ice cream sandwich."  She said, "They are good."  I said, "Ice cream sandwich mogols are sitting on a goldmine and don't know it.  The cookie should should be sold...frozen of course...separately.  If you think I ate a lot of seafood just now, I bet I could over-dose on those babies."  She said, "Yeah but the ice cream is so good too."  I said, "No.  That's like saying there's no such thing as bad pizza.  An ice cream sandwich only tastes good because of the cookie.  The ice cream they use is so plain that on its on, it's flavorless."  She said, "I don't know about that."  I pointed down at the entrance to Central Park.  I said, "See that dirty water hot dog cart?"  Wearily she said, "Yeah..."  "Well, most people eat 'em and love 'em...I know, 'casue I do."  She nodded as I continued, "But if you took away the bun, mustard, sauerkraut etc., and just ate the actual frankfurter (that has been marinading in toxic, days-old, fat-globular-laden sludge), you'd puke all over your sneakers."

We were laughing as I added, "The situation is getting worse.  I was in Wal-Mart last week and saw a seemingly ingenious variation of the ice cream sandwich.  But their wayward idea strayed from the classic formula by combining (tasteless) chocolate and vanilla ice cream, inside one chocolate and one vanilla wafer. Stupidly, I took those Madison Avenue knucklehead's bait and bought a box.  Luckily I have a kid with less sophisticated taste who cheerfully ate the tainted product.

TO THE UNTRAINED EYE, THESE HALF CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM, HALF VANILLA JOBBIES LOOK PRETTY GOOD.

My wife's cousin said, "Half and half, eh.  They do sound delicious."  I said, "You're missing a serious point.  The ice cream is inconsequential, what's important here is, the flavor of the cookie is diluted because you're only getting half the dose of the best tasting food in the world....trust me, without the full-blown lusciousness...why bother."  "Yeah but..."  I said, "There is no but.  I took the blind taste test and pulled away a section of each cookie...and the chocolate side was dynamite and the vanilla...wasn't!"  She said, "You're funny."

This morning she sent me a FACEBOOK message and asked how many chocolate, ice cream sandwich wafers I ate since last week.  I wrote back, "None, because I was scared to eat anything."  She said, "Why?"  I said, "Because my pee still has the sweet aroma of lobster."  She said, "Jeffrey and Michele would be thrilled to know that their soiree left such a lasting impression on you."