Monday, December 30, 2013

#1 DOG, #1 DOG, MY ROXY IS THE #1 DOG

The ATM boys, (my son Andrew and his college roommates Tom and Matt) got the idea of writing down their top fifty Rock-N-Roll songs. Others participated in the fun and so did I. I liked comparing my old-school selections with the hipsters, (even though I knew few of their songs and fewer performers). And yes LYNYRD SKYNYRD’S “FREE BIRD” is still my favorite and personal anthem.
THE ATM, TOM (left) MATT (right) AND ANDREW.
When the good vibe of the music list ended, I made-up my own category for; Top Ten Cartoon Episodes. Through the miracle of YOUTUBE, I was able to view many of my favs, (others were available...for a dreaded fee).

In some cases, my memory failed because the episodes that I had built-up in my mind as classic were less than clever, dull or stupid. A perfect example of this failure was Popeye’s 1942, “SCRAP THE JAPS.”
THIS PROPAGANDA-FILLED CARTOON WAS PRODUCED WHILE THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR WAS STILL RAW.  BY TODAY'S STANDARDS, THE DEPICTION OF THE JAPANESE AND ASIANS IN GENERAL IS SO INSENSITIVE THAT THE EPISODE WAS BANNED.

Some of the cartoons that are still special to me include; Daffy Duck dreaming that he's Duck Twacy in 1946's, “THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY.” While competing with Sherlock Holmes for detective turf, Daffy runs afowl of such grotesque criminals as; Neon Noodle, Pumpkin Head, Pickle Puss, Eighty-Eight Teeth and Hammer Head.
AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, I STILL GO CRAZY FOR THIS TOON, ESPECIALLY WHEN RUBBER HEAD (HE LOOKS LIKE A PENCIL WITH AN ERASER FOR A FACE), SAYS, "I'M GONNA RUB YUH OUT..."

In 1942, Daffy gets second billing under, “CONRAD THE SAILOR.” The screwball antics are still funny but, "THE SONG OF THE MARINES” (aka, "SHOVIN' RIGHT OFF AGAIN)," sung throughout, takes me back to happy place in my heart.  And now that I heard it for the frst time in twenty plus years, I'm proud to say, I can't get the song out of my mind.
UNDER ALL THAT THEATRICAL MAKE-UP, CONRAD (right) IS APPARENTLY A CAT.  AN INTERESTING BIT OF TRIVIA, MEL BLANC OF COURSE VOICED DAFFY.  BUT A GENTLEMAN NAMED PINTO COLVIG SPOKE FOR CONRAD. AND COLVIG (using the same voice) WAS DISNEY'S ORIGINAL GOOFY.

The cartoon I wanted to see again the most was 1945’s, “FRESH AIREDALE.” I especially loved the nightmare sequence and the repetition of the line, “Number-One dog.” I liked it so much that in the past three decades since I saw it, I bet I’ve thought about that phrase or made reference to it hundreds of times, (Unfortunately, I didn't hear it today either because I didn't want to fork-out the cash).
IN HIS MASTER'S EYES, "GOOD 'OL SHEP" (DREAMING ABOVE) IS THE PERFECT DOG. BUT THE CAT KNOWS HE'S REALLY A TWO-FACED MUTT WHO CAN BE BOUGHT-OFF WITH A BONE FROM A BURGLAR.  WHEN THE CAT CHASED AWAY THE CROOK, SHEP TOOK THE CREDIT. BUT SHEP BECOMES OBSESSED BY A NEWSPAPER ARTICLE ABOUT ANOTHER CANINE HERO (CHAMP) BEING THE NATION'S "NUMBER-ONE DOG." IN HIS SURREAL DREAM, SHEP'S SUBCONSCIOUS TAKES OVER AND HE IS HAUNTED BY HIS ACTIONS. 
An interesting footnote, earlier in 1945 Warner Brothers was producing a cartoon called, "FOR HE'S A JOLLY GOOD FALA."  Fala was President Franklin Roosevelt's dog.  Unfortunately, the president died before the episode was finished (the project was dropped).  However, a few seconds (a ticker tape parade sequence) of the cartoon was injected into "FRESH AIREDALE."

All this Number-One Dog talk started me thinking. To my surprise, I have Roxy, a worthy candidate for the World’s Best Dog Award, living at my house.
A COMMON HORSE MIGHT THINK IT CHIC TO TAKE A WILLY-NILLY CRAP ON MANHATTAN'S FASHIONABLE FIFTH AVENUE, (TO PROVE IT, YOU'D NEVER SEE A MOUNTED POLICEMAN USING A POOPER-SCOOPER).  BUT TO QUALIFY AS #1 DOG, (LIKE ROXY), A MODEST AND TRUELY DIGNIFIED PUP WOULD NEVER CONSIDER DOING THEIR BUSINESS IN THE STREET.
Roxy will be nine years-old on February 3rd and my little girl is as playful as ever and more affectionate.  So in keeping with the theme of "lists," I have included some of Roxy's greatest dventures.
ROXY DOESN'T LIKE BIRTHDAYS ANYMORE. BUT DUE TO HER VANITY, SHE RARELY TURNS DOWN A PHOTO-OP.

On a few occasions when I thought I was protecting her, she was indeed protecting me.

Once a small wren flew into our kitchen. While I panicked, Roxy waited for the right moment. On her first jump, my girl caught the flying varmint in her mouth. I scurried outside. My pooch followed, opened her mouth and the bird flew away. The potential disaster was solved in less than a minute.

Another golden moment came during a walk around the corner. The owner of a vicious monstrosity accidentally let their goliath dog (Jasper) out…unleashed. This canine whale charged at my doggie. Roxy’s could have been swallowed whole but she stood her ground. She raised her hackles and growled the blood-sucking behemoth into a stalemate, just long enough until Jasper's owner (a beast herself) corralled this Clydesdale of dogs.
ROXY IS A LOVER NOT A FIGHTER.  TO PROVE IT, LAST VALENTINE'S DAY (2-14-2013) SHE INSISTSED ON THIS HEART-SHAPED POSE TO SEND OUT TO ALL HER FRIENDS.

My most memorable Roxy moment was when I heard her give-out an unfamiliar, continual, blood-curdling bark. I thought I knew every bark in her arsenal but this wasn’t the one reserved for an intruder on the lawn, a strange car out front, the meter reader, a flock of Jehovah Witnesses or the Fuller Brush Man….plus she was in our Florida Room, staring out back.
THIS PHOTO'S PROSPECTIVE IS PRETTY ACCURATE EXCEPT THE SEASON ISN'T RIGHT, ROXY IS FACED THE WRONG WAY...AND SHE ISN'T BARKING HER HEAD OFF.
Roxy watches our back like her life depends on it. She has made the yard her dominion and I’m certain she notices every nuance. During her maniacal wailing, my presence wasn't reassuring enough.  My "daughter" stayed in a vibrating state of exasperation even when I declared that everything was okay. Through it all, her riveted focus remained steadfast.

It was March so the leaves from the barren trees had already been raked and disposed of. The only hiding spot I couldn’t see was the tiny sliver of space behind the shed, (see photo above). I was satisfied that Big Foot, a hippopotamus or a T-Rex hadn’t invaded my property. I was buried..as my puppy continued to bark, yelp and squeal in terror.

I got on one knee to see if I was overlooking something. But to my surprise (shock), I was “under-looking.” Because from her lower vantage point, all I could do was look up. And there it was, high up in the tree behind my shed, (about a hundred feet away), a hawk.

This menacing bastard was so huge that it looked like it was on a steady diet of steroids and an avian version of human growth hormones. If its girth wasn’t intimidating enough when it flapped its wings, it looked like it had eaten a handful of amphetamines and washed it down with a can of Red Bull.

I stood up in awe. Together with Roxy we admired this king of the Galloway skies. Suddenly, the great brown bird took off. It swooped down, soared under the canopy of trees and zoomed like a Kamikaze directly at me and my dog. To underscore the threat, while within the safety of our Plexiglas-walled addition, I flinched from this strafing.  I was still breathing heavy as, at the last terrifying second, the hawk pulled up and presumably flew over my house.

Those examples alone should have won Roxy the Number-One Dog Award. But she has far more to offer. One of my great joys was watching her chase squirrels in the backyard. I pity the fool rodent that she catches because despite all her love, there are nine-years of frustration behind all those fruitless chases.
MR. T WAS BORN IN 1952 AS LAURENCE TUREAUD.  IN HIS ROLE AS CLUBBER LANG, HE MADE THE CATCHPHRASE, "I PITY THE FOOL," POPULAR IN THE 1982 MOVIE, "ROCKY III."

In the past, one of the treats I liked to give Roxy was an occasional Sunday romp through the fenced-in ball fields, at the local middle school. Free from the restraints of our nice-sized backyard, it's a thing of beauty to watch Roxy run this colossal open range.

About five years ago, on a frosty January day, this privilege suddenly ended, (as did her Number-One Dog status) when my little genius rolled in another dog’s droppings, (thank goodness she wasn't with us on Fifth Avenue).

My wife Sue wasn’t around to share in my delight. So without the luxury of my outdoor hose, I had to drag my newly nicknamed Muttzilla into her least favorite place in the world, the tub. It was like a WWF caged fight to the death, until I washed the pudding-like shit stuff out of her fur, (thus requiring an unscheduled, precautionary shower for myself).
THIS ESCAPADE ALSO COST MUTTZILLA IN HER MOST VULNERABLE SPOT, NO SITTING WITH US AT THE DINNER TABLE...FOR ONE YEAR!

Last week, in the heart of the holiday season, this whole Number-One Dog Award concept resurfaced. I felt sorry that I punished Roxy, by taking away her freedom to run, (as well as my great joy in watching her).
ROXY IS A FOUR-LEGGED, GOOD CHEER MACHINE. WHO CAN SAY NO TO THIS FACE?

So it was my aim to reward her loyalty, friendship and sweet, lovable nature...and hook her up today, with a fun-run at the middle school.

But alas, I woke yesterday morning to the tragic news that in the sanctity of our backyard, Muttzilla's intellect short-circuited, causing her to roll in her own fecal matter. Sue alone had the displeasure of tourturing the dog and herself as she hauled the former Number-One Dog hopeful into the dungeon-like tub, (Sue took an unscheduled shower afterwards too).

It doesn't matter if you call my dog, Roxy, Muttzilla or Little Lady Frauntleroy.  And it also doesn't matter if she isn't the best dog in the world or even the country...she'll always be the Number-One Dog at my house.  But the next time she rolls in poop, I say it's her brother's turn to wash it off...thus giving him and his college buddies fodder for, a Least Favorite Activity list.
LIKE A NORMAN ROCKWELL PAINTING, NOTHING IS MORE HEART-WARMING THAN THE LOVE BETWEEN A BOY AND HIS DOG.
Maybe it's a good time for everyone to make a list of their dog's (any pet's) greatest moments. 

In the mean time Andrew me boy, get ready to take an unscheduled shower.

Monday, December 23, 2013

THE FIFTY-YEAR OLD VIRGIN'S MERRIEST CHRISTMAS

I wrote a novel about ten years ago called, “IF IT AIN’T NAILED DOWN.” In it, I describe a supporting character as a fifty-year old virgin. 

Nothing…from a writer’s perspective…and I do mean NOTHING, is more galling that coming up with a great, original idea and something else coming along later that gives the impression that your vision was inspired by it. In this case, I’m talking about the movie, “THE FORTY-YEAR OLD VIRGIN.”
STEVE CARELL STARRED IN 2005's, "FORTY-YEAR OLD VIRGIN," TWO YEARS AFTER I DEVELOPED MY CHARACTER.
The gist of the today's blog represents excerpts from my book that chronicle the life of Joseph George Singletary, (aka George Joseph "Piss" Pisarcik).

An intensifying snowstorm managed to make the Depression-era Christmas Eve more dismal. Together with the last wisps of dwindling sunlight, the shopkeepers’ hopes to cash-in a few more pennies from last-minute shoppers vanished.

On Manhattan’s desolate West End Avenue, in a sea of snowy whiteness, a solitary black dot persevered against the stinging wind. This dot was a hunched woman in a thin, black, flannel coat, shrouded by a black babushka. She clutched a black satchel as she followed the faded tracks in the snow made by the messenger who had summoned her.

The woman faced a severe crosswind as she cautiously turned on slick pavement, up West 28th Street. From the corner, only three burning lights could be seen in the usually bustling business district. Across the way, muted laughter brought her attention to a tawny light glimmering through a greasy, nicotine-stained, shamrock-shaped window of Walden’s Frolic Tavern.

Next, buried in a mounting snowdrift were the three stairs that led down to Bu Dun Yu’s Curio Shop. Safe inside, under a bare forty watt bulb, Mr. Yu looked up at the frozen urban wilderness.  He caught eye-contact with the woman and gave her a disconsolate nod. The austere woman did not respond and persevered.

Beyond other closed shops, the woman’s destination was identified by a glowing red lantern, in a tenement’s second floor window. She paused to peer up at the four-flight walk-up.  The woman climbed the snow-covered mortar stairs. Carefully, she followed the beaten-down, center path that surrounded the virgin blanket. At the icy top step, she felt cracks in the cement underfoot. A sudden howling gale disturbed the ghostly silence...she lost her balance. Luckily, she grabbed the doorknob to prevent tumbling down.

The woman was not greeted in the dingy, unlit foyer as she bypassed the locked doors of four apartments. Up one flight, a garish mauve carpet replaced the stark hardwood floor. Frilly scarlet lampshades and cherry-red floral wallpaper gaily enlivened the hall’s parlor-like ambiance.

The doors to the apartments were all open as young girls in open housecoats revealed various levels of undress. The devoutly Catholic woman in black shivered as she looked down at a tiny Christmas tree and grasped her rosary beads. She avoided any dignifying glimpses at the fallen women as she murmured prayers for their absolution.

Madam Nellie appeared. In a robust Hungarian accent she said, “You must be the midwife. My Sonja usually handles these matters but she’s more suited to…” In a hushed tone she added, “How you say…getting rid of…” The midwife was nauseated by the crassness and was seething by the implication as the madam continued, “You know…ending such matters.” The holier-than-thou midwife extended her hand and said, “Three dollars.”

Croatian-born Lucy Pisarcik was the mother-to-be. The difficult, painful delivery would last long into the night. The storm knocked out the electricity and by candlelight, the baby boy was born a few minutes before midnight. Nellie was comforting the new mom and asked, “What will you name him?” In broken English Lucy groaned, “My father’s name was Šimun Tomislav.” Nellie rolled her eyes, “Perhaps we can make that great name sound more American…” Suddenly, the midwife broke the tranquility, “There’s second child!” Lucy fainted.

In the stillness of the pristine Christmas Day morning, Lucy was introduced to her fraternal twin sons. Named by Madam Nellie, the elder (by an hour) Samuel Thomas was a healthy six pounds. The second, Joseph George was a scrawny two-pounder struggling to breathe. The boys were given the name Singletary, in the hope that Lucy's favorite customer Joseph George Singletary would support them...but he didn't.

In a couple of months, the girls of the house had arranged a rotation to communally attend to the boys while Lucy worked. Sammy was strong but little Joey didn’t take well to the breast. He was weak from undernourishment and it was feared that he would be susceptible to disease. So when a shrill hacking cough woke up the house, the ladies feared the dreaded baby killer, whooping cough.  They rushed to Joey’s aid. The women found tiny Joey sleeping peacefully until another distressed bark turned everyone’s attention to Sammy.

Lithuanian Mary was sent to the Frolic Tavern.  She was told to promise anyone a fifty-cent piece who could come back and do some doctoring. A low-life barfly accepted the proposition.  On the way up, he groped several girls.  When saw the baby he shrugged, “It don’t look good…where’s my four bits?” A real doctor was sent for. He diagnosed Sammy as having diphtheria and before the summer, the big brother died.

Two years later, impish Joey became the whorehouse's mascot. He was playing with one of his many mothers when a violent shriek rang-out from the third floor. There was the sound of a struggle...then a scream of finality. A john bounded down the stairs.  Moments later, Lucy Pisarcik was discovered dead...with a knife in her neck.

The working girls tried to keep Joey but social services shipped him off to the St. Eustis Home for Children.

In 1944 Joey was fourteen. The crumbling orphanage was about to close and disperse its populace. The over-worked Monsignor, who had deemed the diminutive loner as incorrigible, now faced the dilemma of “sticking” another institution with the troubled boy or shipping him to a reform school.

In early June, Joey disturbed an arithmetic lesson and was beaten mercilessly by Brother Dante. But the punishment was far reaching. The next day, while waiting to board one of the buses for the school trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brother Dante jumped Joey from behind and dragged him back into the building.

A new student, Consuela Wood witnessed the attack. At fifteen, this bashful girl was the tallest person at St. Eustis. Due to her newness, height, Philippine/American parentage and acne plagued complexion, she was taunted by the other kids.  Soon like Joey, she became a withdrawn loner.

Consuela saw something heroic about Joey. All through the class trip as she dodged bullying barbs about her heritage, matured body and pimples, she had romantic fantasies about Joey.

While the student body enjoyed the outing, Brother Dante punished Joey by leaving him with the custodian, Carroll Inmen. Inmen (or as the kids called, Old Tomato Face), was a red-nosed old man who used to play Santa every year at Christmas, until a mysterious problem occured between him and a student. To everyone’s dismay, stoic Brother Dante became the new Santa.

Mr. Inmen was ordered to have Joey do his chores that day. While Joey mopped around the Ionic columns at the main entrance, Inmen smoked a few Chesterfields outside.

The old man came back, looked at Joey's half-assed, unfinished work and said, “Excellent job…now we can move on to something more important.” Joey growled in sing-song voice, “Yes Mr. Inmen.” Inmen gently lifted Joey’s chin and smiled, “Call me Cal.”

In the basement of the decrepit Pre-Civil War building, beyond stacks of text books, desks and chairs was a junk pile of broken items. Cal said, “To help fight the Huns and Japs, we’re gonna bring all the metal outside.” Joey said, “This mess helps fight Japs?” Cal picked up a bent bed frame and said, “Scrap metal guys take it, melt it down and bring it to the factories that make armaments…” Joey said, “Heh?” “You know airplanes, tanks and bombs.” The patriotic notion motivated Joey to talk about running away and enlisting as he hustled-up the day-long event into ninety minutes.

Cal wiped his brow and said, “Excellent job, kid. You deserve a reward.” He was rubbing Joey’s upper arm as the boy exclaimed, “Yessirree.” Inmen took Joey into the side-basement, an interior, four-foot wide, unlit alley. This brick-lined conduit ran parallel with the long basement. Despite Inmen’s flashlight, the walk in the damp darkness was nerve-racking as Joey inched slowly along. Inmen impatiently prodded Joey along from behind. Joey cried, “Are there rats and bugs in here?” Inmen sneered, “There are much worse things in life than vermin,” as he patted Joey’s posterior.

Joey didn't like being touched back there.  He remembered that Inmen had gotten in some sort of trouble before.  He was scared and wanted to punch Old Tomato Face...but where could he run to. In the near distance, Joey saw a thin silver line of light on the floor. At the same time Inmen said, “Here we are” and opened the squeaky door. 

To Joey's surprise, he wasn't being led to a dungeon.  The door opened to the sun-drenched boiler room but Joey still didn't feel safe.  He up to spied the row of street-level opaque windows that led to a small, latched opening that allowed for coal deliveries. He examined the coal chute and decided to scale it and use it as an emergency escape route.

Inmen's lair featured a cot, a rectangular table and a beat-up easy chair hidden behind the massive boiler. Cal told Joey to sit in the comfy chair as he grabbed something from inside the cracked, cinder-block wall. Joey was curious but couldn’t see what it was.  Inmen lit another Chesterfield, pulled up a busted, three-legged stool and said, “Here’s the reward I offered you.” The old-timer produced the pint of Canadian Club rye. Joey trembled as he took a slug, spit it out and had a coughing fit. Mr. Inmen laughed, “Take a drag off my cig…” Joey smiled, “Next time you wanna give me a reward, get me an orange Nehi.”

The next Sunday morning was cloudy and breezy.  After mass, Consuela approached Joey. She was complimenting his bravery as he surveyed her and the shapely body that the older boys thought was so appealing. Joey was in shock that any girl would talk to him as he remembered what a jock said; Consuela’s perfect, skinny with big tits…as a flow a blood to his genitals resulted in an erection. When he saw her adoring smile, Joey realized it was Cal's day off.  He got a wild idea and suggested an adventure to Inmen’s man cave.  She agreed to go.

He led the way with Cal's flashlight as Consuela fearlessly followed behind holding his other hand. The boiler room was filthy. But despite wearing her best white blouse, she overlooked the dirtiness and marveled at the secret hide-away. He offered her the comfy chair, found the rye and pulled-up the broken stool.

Consuela turned down the liquor. Ever so carefully, Joey let one droplet of rye into his mouth.  She closed her eyes, puckered her lips and said, “Do with me as you wish.” Joey was a devious, guilt-ridden problem-child.  He never cared about the scoldings, punishments and being beaten.  But this time, he truly knew that taking the next step was a sin.

Joey invisioned being beaten to death by Brother Dante and eternal damnation from God as he stared at Consuela's soft throat, past her dangling crucifix, the “V” shape formed by her open collar and down to her breasts. He was still ogling her as she breathlessly said, “I'm ready.” Joey ignored his fear of going to hell and leaned forward.  His inexperienced hand reached for her bosom as a crack of thunder startled him. His hand accidentally clawed across her chest and the top button popped off. When she let out a little shriek, he panicked and scaled the coal chute. She cried out, “It’s okay,” as he opened the latch, pushed himself through the narrow slit and into the street.

Consuela mended the button, washed the soot off her blouse and never mentioned the incident. Joey wasn’t missed until dinner yet despite police involvement, the scared boy never returned. All he had was the clothes on his back, a tattered photo of his mother and his Student Index File Card that he had stolen from the Monsignor’s file cabinet. This card included his December 25th birthday, mother’s name, George Singletary as his father and identified Samuel Thomas as his deceased brother.

In the weeks that followed Joey lived by his wits in streets and slept in Central Park. In August, St. Eustis closed and the students were reassigned to different orphanages. But because Joey’s ID card was missing, he fell through the bureaucratic cracks and was never missed.

Summer gave way to autumn. The chillier weather and the abundance of enlistment posters since D-Day (June 6, 1944) gave Joey the idea to join the army. He switched to his middle name and his mother’s name and marched into the Times Square recruitment office. Joey wasn’t fifteen yet but looked a lot younger plus he had no ID. He was shooed away.

He tried again at a naval enlistment center.  This time, young George Pisarcik was taken serious…so serious that he was detained. When the boy refused to give parental information or an address, the police were called. Before they arrived, George bolted out the door. He kept running until he got to the freight yards, hopped into a boxcar and never returned to New York.

For over twenty-five years, George Pisarcik led a hobo life. This fit his loner lifestyle. He was around few women in that time and because of his guilt over “molesting” Consuela and the eternal damnation drummed into him by Brother Dante…he eventually stopped achieving erections...and didn’t miss them.

The best place in the country for hobos was Las Vegas Nevada. Glitter Gluch became a Mecca for drifters because it offered meager jobs (handing out leaflets or casino coupons), inexpensive food and liquor and a comfortable climate. It was so popular that a hobo shantytown sprang-up in the downtown train yards.

George overheard other bums fantasizing about scamming casinos. So he decided to see what life was like inside. He became a fixture at the Tropicana and developed a down-on-his-luck “rap” that would encourage patrons to spot him a few dollars. Soon he formed a route through other casinos so he and his “schtick” wouldn’t be so apparent.

Years later, casinos started cracking down on hustlers like him.  Now that his “job” was more difficult, he tried something new…by staging a fake fall at the Sahara.

His ploy worked well because the best interest of the casino was served by indulging this nuisance.  So after a paltry out-of-court settlement, the Sahara fortified their defenses against such nonsense in the future while side-stepping bad publicity.

For George, the actual cashing-in became more complicated because he had no ID, no past and no identity. So in the hospital, he had to add amnesia to his list of physical maladies. Then through the unwitting help of Ms. Nilson, an altruistic social worker, his scam net over ten thousand dollars.

George confessed to Nilson that he lied about the amnesia.  He cut-off the name from his St. Eustis student identification card and said he wanted is new name to be George Pisarcik. The spinster didn't like being "played."  She assumed he was from New York because of his accent but her investigation found no hospital that matched the births with the dates.  So rather than undo the mess, she decided to make it her mission to save George's soul.  One of her stipulations included George taking the tiny apartment over her garage…which he did. And get a real job…which he did not.
MS. NILSON WAS MOLDED FROM NANCY KULP (1921-1991).  SHE PLAYED MISS JANE HATHAWAY, A STICK-IN-THE-MUD BANKER'S SECRETARY ON THE LONG-RUNNING, "BEVERLEY HILLBILLES," TV SHOW.

George without considering the comfort of a woman squandered the whole ten thousand gambling. In that time, he became a fixture at the Stardust Casino’s sports book, (race horse and sports betting parlor), and was exposed to a criminal element that included loan sharks, drug dealers, pimps and thieves. At times of extreme poverty, he accepted small jobs from these lowlifes.

Outside the casinos, George spent years dodging Ms. Nilson and her prying questions...while desperately trying to maintain the only solid roof over his head since St.  Eustis.

To avoid the criminals, when he was broke, George developed a new talent as an independant tout.  He scratched out an existence by recommending race horses or sports teams to naive gamblers and receiving occasional commissions for his expert advice.

Still, he experienced tough times.  It was during one of those lulls that Dennis LaRue (the lowlife bell captain at the Stardust) recruited him, another hustler named Marco Del Toro and an English cripple named Cobby Webster to rob that casino, (no spoiler alert here…you’ll have to join CHARLIEOPERA, WTW, ZYMBOT, THELARCH, JERMAC and a couple of others who read my book).
IN THE TWO YEARS I DEALT CRAPS AT THE STARDUST CASINO, I OBSERVED THE ACTIVITES OF A PARTICULAR TOUT (HUSTLER). I NEVER KNEW HIS NAME, SO HIS LIFE STORY AND THE ROBBERY I DISCRIBE ARE COMPLETELY MADE-UP.

The heist involved Marco driving the getaway car, Cobby being the spotter and George grabbing the money, (casino chips). George was a regular at the Stardust, so it was important to disguise his looks. The least expensive way to do it was a few hours at Caesar’s Palaces's spa. He went in with an unhealthy pasty complexion, a wild hairdo, scraggly beard and clothes that looked like he was just rescued after years on a deserted island. Under LaRue’s tutelage, George came out clean-shaven, in a neat hair-cut and a spray-on sun tan. To complete the disguise, George was given new clothes from Goodwill and non-prescription eye glasses.

LaRue looked at George and Marco as perfect dupes because in his scheme, they would be taking all the risks.
LIKE RALPH KRAMDEN AND ED NORTON FROM "THE HONEYMOONERS," MARCO, (A HULKING EX-BOXER WHO WAS TOO SOFT-HEARTED TO RETIRE AS A MOB COLLECTOR) AND GEORGE (A FIVE-FOOT-TWO COCKROACH) WERE DUMB AND DUMBER LOSERS...EXCEPT LIKE NORTON, GEORGE WAS SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HE WAS AN IDIOT.

The four-man Bad News Bears-like criminal team met at a round table in the Marina Casino coffee shop. The other two henchmen couldn’t believe George’s clean-cut transformation. With a new found confidence, George joked with the squatty battleaxe waitress. By the time she left to put in their order, her ornery disposition melted into girlish playfulness. Marco said, "That broad looks like Phyllis Diller.  And I bet she puts her make-up on with a putty knife."  In his gentlemenly English accent Cobby said, "You shouldn't call her a broad, she seems quite pleasant."  Marco snapped, "Okay, that train-wreck looks like Phyllis Diller..." Cobby snarled, "Don't listen to this wanker, she has the hots for you."  George shrugged it all off. 
PHYLLIS DILLER (1917-2012) WAS A COMEDIENNE WHO PARLAYED AN ECCENTRIC LOOK WITH A LOUD, OBNOXIOUS PERSONALITY TO CARVE-OUT A LONG SUCCESSFUL CAREER.

A couple of minutes later while delivering another party’s check, the waitress detoured to their table, glided her fingernails along George’s bicep and whispered in his ear, “You’re cute.”

Ten minutes later, she dropped off everyone's food. She was staring down at Marco’s sparsely combed-over bald head when she was repulsed by his intense body odor. She gathered herself and announced, I saved best for last.” While setting down George’s eggs ranchero, she grazed her breasts along his cheek and said, “You’ll love these…” George felt something foreign inside him. This excitement soon blossomed into his first erection in decades.

George was interested but had no inkling how to close the deal so his sexual impulse wasn't acted on. But the waitress followed him outside and said, "Don't be fooled, I can be very spry when I want to be."  George didn't know what she meant as she added, "Are you a local?" When he nodded, she gave him her phone number. He read her name on the slip of paper and said, “Rayette, I have work out of town. It might be a while till I call.” She kissed his cheek, smiled coyly and said, “I’ll wait.”

George was neither arrested nor injured during the robbery. He came back, dated Rayette for a short time and at age fifty, lost his virginity to her. However, as part of the heist preparation, Marco stayed over at George’s apartment. Ms. Nilson caught them breaking her “no visitor” rule and changed the lock after they left.

After the job, George begged for his place back. Nilson demanded that he seek employment first. To soothe his relationship, George considered her offer of free blackjack dealer schooling. George stipulated that he would...only if Marco was bundled into the deal. Weeks later, he and Marco went to work as dealers at the California Club and rented a crappy apartment on seedy Chicago Street.

Ms. Nilson help didn’t come cheap. She required George to make monthly visits to her office, (as if he was a parolee) to make sure he was on the straight and narrow. Prior to one of those meetings, George saw an Asian woman, (about twenty years younger than him), in the waiting room. She was struggling to calm her screaming infant. George offered to help. The baby took to his silly noises and funny faces and stopped screaming.

He looked into the mom’s face and asked her name. She said, “Jing.” George knew of the plight of the Vietnamese boat people and understood the rough life they led, (later he would find out that she was Chinese but still led a difficult life).

Jing’s oriental features reminded him of Consuela as he said, “What’s the baby’s name?” She said, “Sammy.” He stammered, “S-s-sammy was my brother’s name.” They were frozen in awkwardness as they looked at each in mutual regard.

Later in their conversation, George found out that the child’s American father had run off and that Ms. Nilson was trying…unsuccessfully…to keep Child Services from taking the baby and possibly deporting Jing. George stepped in and used his influence on Ms. Nilson and got an extension. In that extra time, he spent a lot of his spare time and money on Jing and the baby.

At the casino, George’s personality flourished. He used his experience with Rayette to gain the sympathy of female dealers by saying, “Her addiction to nickel slots (machines) ruined our relationship.” He then sighed, “It was the best sex I ever had…” He also told unbelievable but true stories about being a hobo. He was so endearing that two of the divorcees he worked with fought for his attention. But it didn’t matter; he was falling in love with Jing.

On the other hand, Marco’s moodiness (bi-polar disorder) repelled the same coworkers. Plus he always smelled like he never bathed and was an unskilled, habitual liar.

Marco was estranged from his wife and adult daughter (he was unaware that they had recently moved back to South Philadelphia). So while George platonically sat most nights with Jing, Marco was alone.  Without his only friend, he went crazy with boredom. Their relationship then hit a brick wall when George announced he wanted to get an apartment with Jing. Marco felt betrayed and sealed their fate by calling George (Pisarcik) his long lost, hated nickname, “Piss.”

Within a short time of their split, Marco returned to gambling. Once his downward spiral hit rock-bottom, he started hanging out at the Stardust Race and Sports Book.  When he was completely broke, he reintroduced himself to the hustler lifestyle.  It didn’t take long until he owed the wrong people more money than he could handle.  So through the use of "favors," to pay down his debt, the novice gangster met with a painful, lonely death.

Ms. Nilson got Jing free training and she became a blackjack dealer too. While visiting Ms. Nilson’s office together, George proposed. A month after their wedding, George adopted baby Sammy and cried, “Sammy Pisarcik will live again.”

George, Jing and Sammy moved to a modest apartment in a better section of town. To celebrate, he invited Ms. Nilson to a luncheon. The happy couple surprised Nilson when they asked for baby name suggestions. The old maid excitedly said, “When are you expecting?” Jing said, “Around Christmas…” Nilson said, "Let's see...maybe Noel or Noelle would be a good name.” George and Jing politely shook their heads. “Well then,” Nilson continued, “If it’s a boy, he should carry your name…” George avoided eye-contact and coyly said, “Nah, everyone should have their own identity.” Nilson said, “Well, I’ve always been partial to the name Lowell…” George and Jing’s giggles signaled their disapproval.

Nilson wasn’t insulted as she said, “Okay wise-guys. What were you thinking?” George said, “We were thinkin’ Mark for my best friend Marco...may he rest in peace. But we're stuck for a middle name…” Nilson said, “You’re sure Lowell is out of the question?” George grinned, “Seriously, I know you how many years...and I don’t know your first name.” “It’s no secret, my full name is Leanne Gretchen Nilson…” George fought off another giggle and said, “I would like to honor you…but there isn’t much we can do with Gretchen.” Jing smiled, “Like Leanne, my father’s name was Lee.”

On Christmas Day, Jing gave birth to Lee Mark Pisarcik. In the hospital George was beaming when he told Ms. Nilson, "This is my merriest Christmas.  And even better, my baby boy will share the same birthday as me..."  Nilson said, "And...you both will have the same birthday as Him."  George scratched his chin, "Him who?" Nilson pointed upwards and smiled, "Jesus."  George shrugged, "Oh yeah, him too..."

Interestingly, because of the baby's stinky diapers and bald head, George and Jing began to call him Marco…and the name stuck.

                                           #     #     #     #      #                            

LET ME NOW IF YOU WANT TO READ MY, "IF IT AIN'T NAILED DOWN,"  BOOK, LET ME KNOW AN I'LL ARRANGE IT.  EITHER WAY, HAVE YOUR OWN MERRIEST CHRISTMAS EVER!  THANK YOU ALL FOR YOU CONTINOUS SUPPORT.

Monday, December 16, 2013

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE PORTUGUESE?

December means different things to different to people. At my house, nothing else matters except the month-long celebration of my wife Sue’s birthday. The daily festivities include round-the-clock parties, singing, dancing and consumption of vast quantities of liquor. Another element I like to include is a meeting with our close friends from New York, the ZIMBOS.
DECEMBER 1981 - THE ZIMBOS VISIT SUE AND I, IN LAS VEGAS AFTER THEIR WHIRLWIND HAWAII HONEYMOON.

G-ZIMBO has her birthday the day after Sue’s. Down through the years whenever possible, we’ve bridged the distance barrier by meeting halfway…or one of us traveling all the way to the other.

The ZIMBOS are not casino folk. Due to their “normal” lifestyle and realistic sleep schedule, a Thursday night is a less than ideal partying time for them. Therefore our joint birthday celebrations, (Broadway shows, restaurants and quiet get-togethers), occur less than half the time.

This year, Sue and I went up to their neck-of-the-woods. J-ZIMBO, (the real JAY Z) took us to a new age steakhouse.
J-ZIMBO IS THE ORIGINAL JAY-Z.  DON'T BE FOOLED BY SHAWN COREY "JAY-Z" CARTER, (1969-PRESENT)...EVEN IF HE IS ALSO FROM BROOKLYN AND A RAPPER, RECORD PRODUCER AND ENTREPRENEUR WORTH $500 MILLION.

Although this restaurant's menu included a wide range of continental dishes, their specialty is sizzling meats on a skewer, served at tableside.

It was a good omen that when we pulled up at the Rodizio Restaurant, the parking lot was full. However, it was a bad sign too because we parked two blocks away and had to navigate the icy streets on foot, in Arctic 18º conditions.

Along the way G-ZIMBO mentioned, “It’s the Hernandes Rodizio and rodizio refers to the style in which the all-you-can-eat meat is served.”
THE ULTIMATE PIG-OUT AND BEEF-OUT AND LAMB-OUT AND...

My teeth were chatting when I noticed the neon sign spelled Hernandes with an “s” at the end rather than the more familiar “z.” I said, “The owners must be Portuguese.” J-ZIMBO grunted in frosty disinterest as I added, “Many Spanish names that end with a ‘z,’ are pronounced the same in Portuguese but end in an “s.”

I could tell that shivering J-ZIMBO was not concerned with my blithering. So I incorporated a baseball theme by stating, “Former major leaguers Dave Lopes and Wayne Gomes were of Portuguese descent.” Once I got his attention I added, “If Lopes and Gomes hadn’t Americanized, we would say their names as, Lopez and Gomez.”
LOCATED ON THE IBERIAN PENINSULA IN SOUTHERN EUROPE, PORTUGAL (left) SHARES A BORDER WITH SPAIN.

At Hernandes' front door, my mind flew off on a tangent. I scanned the storehouse of useless information file cabinet in my head and discovered that I only knew two people of Portuguese extraction, KURUDAVE, (half Portuguese) and Penny, (a Heinz-57 with a quarter of her lineage from Portugal). Coincidentally, they both are former casino coworkers of mine.

A few years ago, KURU visited his businessmen cousins in the big city (Lisbon) and other family members (farmers), in the Portuguese countryside. He regretted that he missed seeing the branch of the family on the coast who were sponge fishermen.

From KURU’s vacation, he had a running gag that if it wasn’t for a career in casinos, he might have been better suited to being a sponge diver.

Penny, (in her mid-seventies when she retired a few years ago) split her Portuguese heritage with Spanish, Italian and German blood. She featured a gruff, street-smart exterior that was accentuated by a sharply New York accented voice (wth a scary, gravel-like quality). She came-off as unsophisticated but was fluent in the languages above. When reminded (provoked…and she was easily provoked), that in the 1950’s, in name of love, she turned down an opportunity to work at the United Nations, she would brag, (in a sea of profanity), “These cheap bastards (our bosses) can kiss my ass before I’d lift a pinkie to translate for them.”

I was dealing a busy roulette game and Penny was my “check racker,” (the helper who prepares new chip stacks for the dealer from the previous losing bets).
THE CHECK RACKER (left) IS THE ASSISTANT WHO KEEPS THE ROULETTE GAME'S TEMPO MOVING.  THIS POSITION IS ALSO CALLED A CHECK MUCKER, (THAT TERM WAS DERIVED IN NEVADA BECAUSE A "MUCK RAKER" IS A PERSON WHO CLEANS THE FLOOR IN MINES...GOLD, SILVER ETC).

A check racker has little responsibility.  That makes heavy conversations with the actual dealer common. On this occasion, Penny lived up to her reputation for crude directness which was doubly unusual due of her “maturity.”

She and I were gathering up the losing chips between the spins when she commented, “My daughter got a puppy but soon found out that the mutt had distemper. The vet wanted a ton of money to put it down…” I spun the roulette ball. My attention was split between listening to her and doing my job. But I’m almost certain she said, “So I gave my daughter money and told her to take her rugrats out for ice cream. Then after they left, I got a hammer…" I was interacting with the players while Penny kept yammering. The next thing I heard was, “When the kids got back, I told them Ralphie ran away.” I said, “Wow.” She said, “It’s okay. I heard on TV from Dr. Oz that if little kids don’t have much of an attachment just giv’m something else to do and they’ll forget…” I said, “You mean Dr. Phil…” She cut me off, “Dr. Oz…Dr. Phil, same shit.” Then Penny smirked, “I made everything hunky-dory by having them draw-up ‘lost puppy’ signs to put up.”

I was flabbergasted by the time I spun the ball next. The new winning number was twenty-five. One of the players had a big hit.  I was figuring out the payoff while the image of Penny burying poor Ralphie flashed through my mind. So to clear out the negativity I proclaimed, “My son’s birthday is twenty-five…” Penny barked into my ear, “I had the friggin’ world by the bawls when I was twenty-five…”

At the same time, KURDAVE was passing behind us. I tried to block-out Penny by announcing to my players, “There goes the world’s most famous Portuguese sponge diver…” This bit of nonsense pissed off Penny, the same woman who just implied that she took a hammer to a puppy’s head to avoid veterinary costs. In an intimidating fashion, she got in my face, “What’s wrong with the Portuguese?” I was digesting the absurdity of her reaction as she said, "Well..."   I couldn't believe that fossilized battleax was so thin-skinned.  When I didn’t respond she addressed my supervisor, “That Steve used to be such a nice boy.” I was shaking my head at the irony of her dishing it out and not being able to take it as Penny stormed off to a less busy table.  Lucky me, never spoke to me again.

J-ZIMBO interrupted my daydream in Hernandes' warm vestibule, “You do realize that a rodizio is a Brazilian-style restaurant?” I said, “Oh. But in Portugal and Brazil they both speak Portuguese.” 

To prove how chic these contemporary, upscale rodizios have become, it was a frigid Thursday night and every seat, in both dining rooms plus the bar were full. Luckily the company was great so it didn’t seem long until we were escorted to a table. On the way, the floor was slippery. I figured my shoes were icy or wet from being outside and forgot about it.

My innards were still freezing so before I settled in, I excused myself and went to the restroom. At the urinal, I felt both of my feet slipping away from my body. I buoyed myself to the privacy wall and realized that the floors were greasy…yuck.

We were enjoying a cocktail when J-ZIMBO phoned another close and mutual friend RBOY. RBOY’s birthday was also that day, (before he moved to Connecticut…decades ago, he was included in many of our bashes).

Shortly after J-ZIMBO hung-up, Sue’s over-sized menu accidentally toppled her wine goblet onto J-ZIMBO’s lap. The table was drenched and it looked like he had peed himself. But J-ZIMBO was a trooper and laughed it off. I gave him a lot of credit because I was in a nasty draft that made me feel like I was outside. Then good fortune shined down on me when management insisted on relocating us to a dry (warmer) table.

Everybody except me ordered regular food. I took advantage of the rodizio concept and ordered the tonnage of meat. That meant that a rotation of gaucho chefs would cruise the tables with long skewers of roasted meats and slice what the customer wanted.  Too bad my son Andrew wasn't around to hear my "José Jalapeño on a Steek" jokes.
FEATURING MANY MEXICAN STEREOTYPES, "JOSE JALAPENO ON A STICK (STEEK)," IS ONE OF VENTRILOQUIST JEFF DUNHAM'S PUPPETS.

Our meals entitled all of us to delicious bread and butter and some tasty garlic and oil dipping sauce. Also included was an all-you-can-eat, cramped “gourmet” salad bar…that other than some unspectactular fennel was actually quite ordinary. Additionally, all the dinners came with authentic Brazilian side dishes.

I would soon find out that there were sixteen different (mostly) meats to choose from. The first I had was chicken…and it was the best I ever had. The continuous service included turkey wrapped in bacon, pork, lamb and goat kebob. I was also served filet mignon, robust garlic top sirloin and several other cuts of steak. I had prime rib, beef ribs, tilapia and shrimps. I ate it all, (except for lamb and the yucky-poo cheesy pork).

Everything I had was good. But I’m sorry to report that after the fantastic chicken everything else was pretty much the same. So while it was a feast for the eyes, (trust me I ate well and gorged myself), the novelty of a rodizio wore off fast.

While the table was being cleared, under the guise of another restroom visit, I sought-out the maitre d. It was a major turn-off to return to the ice skating-like slip-n-slide greasy floor. When I found him, I asked him if someone would sing “Happy Birthday” to the girls.

The dessert cart was jammed with scrumptious looking delectables but nothing caught my eye. I went off the board and got a scoop of chocolate ice cream. While waiting, I watched a gaucho server carve meat at another table. The waiter held the long shafted skewer by a lat bottom that resembled a sword hilt. He leaned closer to the customer and didn’t realize that the angle of his steek became acute. Unbeknownst to him meat juice and some gristle poured on the ground…thus answering the slippery floor puzzle.

I was offered pineapple with my meal. Nobody loves fresh, cold pineapple more than me. When I go on a cruise, I eat pounds of the stuff (no exaggeration) every day. I was full from my huge dinner but the idea of a little dish of pineapple sounded refreshing. Soon, I found out that rodozios are famous for serving all-you-eat pineapple. In my mind, I’m thinking Sue and the ZIMBOS are going to be watching me scarf-down pineapple for quite a while.

Seconds later, a gaucho dude appeared with a steek with large brown orbs on it. He said, “Pineapple sir?” I cautiously said, “Yeah. But why is it that color?” He said, “That’s cinnamon.” I hate cinnamon so I figured I would cut it away. Things went from bad to worse after the careful surgical procedure I performed to eliminate the unwanted spice. Then I realized that the damned pineapple was roasted….are you kidding me??!!*$?

It was nice when several gauchos and the maitre d came over with a candle in the girls’ dessert and sang happy birthday. But as the candles were blown out, the rest of the meal went out with a similar fizzle. My dish of ice cream (which was great) had latticed icing across the top that was disgusting. I ate around it but the bottom was soaked in a lake of the same rancid gooeyness.

We all ordered coffee. I hate to complain but whatever coffee-flavored beverage these guys passed off on us couldn't possiblybeen coffee.  I was the worst I ever tasted. NONE of us took more than a couple of sips.

The maitre d arrived with check and complimentary glasses of port. If we thought the coffee was bad, the wine tasted more like the “all purpose icky tasting medicine” featured on the “REN AND STIMPY” cartoon show.
THE "NURSE STIMPY" EPISODE FIRST AIRED ON AUGUST 18, 1991 AND FEATURED SOMETHING WE CAN ALL RELATE TO, ALL-PURPOSE ICKY TASTING MEDICINE.

I was again skeeved by the slippery floor on the way out.  I got better traction on the icy street, as the bad tastes in my mouth gave way to a numb butt from the cold. Before the J-ZIMBO-mobile's heater could thaw me out, I thought…what’s wrong with the Portuguese? And of course, I thought…NOTHING! Then my mind wandered a little more…what’s wrong with BRAZILIANS? And again I thought nothing…they were all pleasant and cordial…but rodizios...not so much.

I just hope Sue enjoyed this part of her month-long celebration and I was glad to include G-ZIMBO and RBOY too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

MOONED BY LUNA'S

In 1977, I went to a movie in Manhattan with my sister and brother-in-law. Afterwards we stopped at Luna’s, their favorite restaurant in Little Italy.

Luna's was dark and claustrophobic. In the farthest corner, two, tiny but scary-looking women dressed in black continuously husked and diced garlic. On the brighter side, I ordered zuppa di clams (red sauce…of course) and it was the biggest portion of the most delicious clams I ever had, (an extra loaf of bread was needed to sop up every drop of the liquid goodness). Even better, my brother-in-law picked up the check.

I always wanted to return to Luna’s but never made it. In 1979, I moved to Las Vegas. Five years later, I returned to the east coast and settled near Atlantic City. Over the years, I built-up Luna’s as one of the tastiest marvels of modern mankind. That’s why it’s so puzzling that during my numerous visits to adjacent Chinatown, (since 1984), I never made it a point to eat at Luna’s.

Today, my only guess is that over time, I forgot about it. Then about ten years ago, I started reading Kinky Friedman’s humorous detective novels. For a New Yorker like me, one of the allures of his work was the use real locations, mostly in lower Manhattan, as backdrops.
RICHARD "KINKY" FRIEDMAN (NOVEMBER 1, 1944 to PRESENT), IS A SINGER, SONG WRITER, HUMORIST, AUTHOR AND POLITICIAN, (IN 2006, HE RAN FOR GOVERNOR OF TEXAS.  HE PLACED 4th OUT OF SIX AND RECEOVED 12.6% OF THE VOTE).

Friedman had me salivating by having his characters eating well…in places that I was familiar with. A spot he liked to wine and dine potential clients was…Luna’s. While reading a couple of sentences, Friedman would transport me back to the elfin women slicing fresh garlic, a mountain of the best zuppa di clams and my brother-in-law insisting on paying the check.

I shared anecdotes from Friedman’s books with my son Andrew. My boy especially liked when I quoted Kinky’s descriptions of Luna's food and atmosphere. I vowed to take Andrew there and he was on board…but like I said, it NEVER happened.

I read six of Friedman’s twenty novels before the similarity of each story grew tiresome. So once again, Luna’s drifted off my radar. The idea of eating there became so remote that when nearby on other occasions. it never crossed my mind to stop in.

We fast-forward to June 2006. My wife Sue got a new job a month before our family vacation. We discussed the matter and decided that Andrew and I would go alone on a whirlwind, six-day jaunt that included; Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky Ohio, the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Niagara Falls in Ontario Canada, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York and a visit to my mother’s house in Brooklyn (Canarsie).

For those of you fortunate enough to know Andrew, you know that even as a pre-teen, he was an interesting conversationalist. To our mutual benefit, he and I yakked and yakked.  So the first and longest leg, (ten-hours) of our journey to north-central Ohio, was a pleasure.

Cedar Point was rated the number one amusement park in the world that summer, (maybe it still is?). It lived up to the hype by being picturesque, (along Lake Erie) while dazzling us with huge roller coasters and other fun activities.

The next day we drove an hour to Cleveland. Andrew had a decent knowledge of music so he (and I) loved the six and a half hours we spent in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.
PRIOR TO THIS VACATION, I NEVER SET FOOT IN OHIO.  BETWEEN CEDAR POINT AND THE ROCK-N-ROLL HALL OF FAME, (above) EVERY PERSON WE MET IN THE BUCKEYE STATE WAS FRIENDLY AND POLITE.  KUDOS INDEED TO MY READERS WTW AND NEIL.

We drove to Canada that night. We were on such a high from our musical history lesson that the first three hours zoomed by. Unfortunately, the last ninety minutes became anti-climatic. Andrew and I were passing Buffalo when to fill the last half hour, I told him a story that might have been better suited for a more mature audience.

The condensed version involved a jerk I knew making a drug reference at the border. In a short time, the jokester was pulled from his car, interrogated, stripped, chained to the floor and given a full (anal) cavity search.

At the border, all vehicles stop at a toll booth-like station. Innocent cars are spot-checked however most drivers are asked basic questions and are allowed to proceed. It was still the pre-passport-era, so we were just asked if we were American citizens, where in Canada we were going and how long we were planning to stay. Bing, bang, boom the border guard smiled and said, “Enjoy.” Three seconds later Andrew let out a tremendous sigh of relief. I was pretty exhausted so I was clueless to what was on his mind. I said, “What was all that about?” Andrew said, “You said if you say the wrong thing…they chain you to the floor and…” I cut him off. And being the supportive father that I am I said, “No, no, no, they don’t do that in Canada. On the way home, it’s the American guards who are afraid of drug smugglers…”

We saw the falls after dark. Andrew was impressed especially by the light show but he was more anxious to use our hotel’s indoor pool. In the morning, we went on the Maid of Mist boat ride between the falls.
ANDREW CALLED HIS FRIENDS TO SAY HE WS SAILING BETWEEN THE USA (left) AND CANADA (right)...OR MAYBE HE HAD SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY.

An hour of sightseeing later, I suggested lunch. Andrew wanted a snack instead. I told him about “TIM HORTONS, A PLACE FOR PIE.
IN 1964, TIM HORTON, (NOW AN NHL HALL OF FAMER), FOUNDED THIS FRANCHISED CAFE AND BAKE SHOP.  THERE ARE 3,000 LOCATIONS THROUGHOUT CANADA MAKING IT THE BIGGEST FAST-FOOD CHAIN IN THE GREAT WHITE NORTH, (SURPASSING McDONALD'S).

The Tim Hortons franchise there was like walking into a Dunkin’ Donuts that OD’d on steroids. This massive shrine to baked goods had ten separate specialty areas with their own cash register. Andrew's expectation produced a thundering sugar rush.  His mouth watered enough to dwarf Niagara's falls and make Pavlov proud.  He confided that he was hankering for apple pie but he wanted to see what the cherry looked like first.

We went to a random register after failing to find the pie station. Andrew said, “A slice of apple pie, please.” The lady said, “Sweetie, we don’t serve pie.” Unlike the folks we met in Ohio, the tone of her voice was condescending and reminiscent of the guide doing the Alamo tour in the 1985 movie, “PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.”
PEE-WEE FOLLOWS A FALSE LEAD TO FIND HIS STOLEN BICYCLE. AFTER ENDURING THE TEDIOUS TOUR OF THE ALAMO HE ASKS, "AREN'T WE GOING TO SEE THE BASEMENT?"  THE TOUR GUIDE (above) PLAYED BY ACTRESS JAN HOOKS LAUGHS, "THERE'S NO BASEMENT AT THE ALAMO."  THE REST OF THE PEOPLE ON THE TOUR LAUGH AT PEE-WEE...

I was anticipating the bitch laughing in my boy’s face.  I snapped, “The name of the place is TIM HORTONS, A PLACE FOR PIE, isn’t it?” She fought off a budding grin and smirked, “No sugar, the name is just Tim Horton’s. We have cookies, cake, doughnuts and…” I nudged Andrew away. We headed for the farthest station away from her, he got a brownie.

I was pissed-off that I was wrong about them specializing in pies.  Hell with everything else they had...why not pies too?  Maybe they hate money...maybe it's a non-profit orgin-eyes-ation?  Those stupid asses didn't even take advantage of Tim Horton himself. He's a national hero and there was no hockey memorabilia to be found...

We went to the car with a sour taste for Canada and returned to the good old USA.

We had no trouble passing through customs and back into our country.  But Andrew let out a colossal sigh of relief just to punctuate the poor judgment I used, in telling him the drug joke story.

For several hours, we traveled through western New York. When we got off the thruway, the scenic country road to Cooperstown was beautiful…except recent rainstorms had flooded the area. It was sad to see farmers and other people using canoes to get around in low-lying areas, (we were lucky because three days earlier, the road we were on was closed).

Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing baseball in Cooperstown. He would have been hard pressed to find a more remote spot in the whole state of New York.

In the summer, tons of youth organizations gravitate to this tiny berg. That puts a premuim on finding a room because the rest of the year is slow, (the flooding also forced some of the few motels to close). We drove out of town and couldn’t find a pace to stay for twenty miles.

We found a cheap motel ($114.00) in the town of Oneonta. The manager pointed across the way to the over flowed banks of the Allegheny River and said, “See those branches sticking out of the water, that’s the top of a fifteen-foot tree.” Then she suggested, “If you like ribs and barbecued chicken, try the Brooks Family Restaurant.”

The restaurant was like being inside a domed football field...and every seat was taken. During our wait, I was afraid of an instant replay of Tim Horton’s. Luckily they actually had ribs and barbecued chicken...and it was great!

In the morning, I got gas in Cooperstown. The attendant (nametag; Doc) was a friendly twenty-year old. I mentioned that we had to go to Oneonta to find a room. He said, “Considering we're still in a state of emergency, you're lucky.  Some people go further.”

Andrew is not a baseball fan. But he was smart enough to treat the Hall of Fame like any museum. One of his best traits is that he is not only a good speaker but a good listener as well. That means, he let me blither about my baseball memories ad nauseam.
ANDREW'S PATIENCE WITH ME EARNED HIM "THE MVS TROPHY," FOR MOST VALUABLE SON.

Today if you asked him what the best part of the hall was, I’d bet he’d say…seeing the Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First,” routine.

He gave me close to two hours before asking, "Is it okay if we leave?"  I agreed but I wanted to make one more stop before we left town...Doubleday Field. My father had taken me to the Hall of Fame in 1963 and had the foresight to bring a ball and baseball gloves.  Dad and I played catch on Doubleday Field, (I think I won the MVS trophy that day). Unbeknownst to Andrew, I did the same and he made my day by throwing a ball around with me.
NO PRESSURE BUT HOW COOL WOULD IT BE IF ANDREW PLAYED CATCH ON THAT FIELD WITH HIS KID(S) THERE SOME DAY.

Before hitting the road, I stopped at the gas station. I saw Doc and said, “What’s the best way back to Manhattan?” He said, “You want gas?” I said, “No.  Just...” He said, “Well, I don’t rightly know…” I said, “I got gas with you this morning…remember I said we had to go to Oneonta for a room…” He huffed, “Oh yeah,” and told me.

Maybe they misspelled his name-tag because that dick took us hours out of our way.

Our odyssey through the never-ending back roads was boring. Andrew took a long nap until we caught up with the New York State Thruway, (not far from where Woodstock took place).

At a pit stop, I called my mother. I told her we were going to get to her house about at about nine. Andrew wanted lunch but I suggested eating light because while he was asleep, I got a great idea to have dinner at Luna’s.

Two hours later, we were stuck in Saturday night, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Washington Bridge. It would take an eternity to reach lower Manhattan. Andrew and I were dressed shabbily, starved, burnt-out by the road and irritable.

It was already dark as we finally approached Little Italy.  Our spirits brightened when we got a primo parking spot (without praying to Joe Vanilla, the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces).

Mulberry Street was a mob scene. But as we marched towards Mecca, I felt an electric impulse of pride shuddering my body when I saw the gigantic vertical neon sign that read; L-U-N-A-’S.  I was so joyous that I didn’t notice that the sign was not lit!

Seconds later, I was horrified to discover the handwritten sign on the front door that read; THANKS FOR YOUR 43 YEARS OF PATRONAGE. What a slap in the face, Luna's closed for good a few weeks before. It felt like I was mooned by Luna’s.
"MOONING" EXPRESSES PROTEST, SCORN, DISRESPECT, PROVOCATION OR THE FUN OF SHOCK VALUE. ITS USE FOR SHAMING AN ENEMY GOES BACK TO 66 AD DURING THE FIRST ROMAN-JEWISH WAR.

I searched Mulberry Street for a consolation prize but the other Italian restaurants were so elegant. Mired in regret I said, “Andrew, let’s go to Chinatown.”

We waited on line to get into my favorite WO HOP, (17 Mott Street). I over heard someone say; they only take cash. Now I had to find an ATM. When we got back, the line had tripled. We wound up in Big Wong’s, (the Chinese restaurant that Kinky Friedman took his clients to). It was gravely disappointing.

My mother greeted us at midnight and we all went immediately to bed. In the morning, we brought a nice Sunday breakfast in for grandma, (no, there wasn't a Tom Hortons in Canarsie...try find a stinkin' decent bialy in all of Canada). We shared the highlights of our vacation and left.

To cap our trip, just when I thought I had been in the car long enough, we got caught in the height of the shore traffic.  The ride home was a horrendous four-hour ordeal (nearly double the usual time).  At least I had a great conversationist with me to while away the time.

In any event, Andrew and I had a great time. But the funny thing is, a different Luna’s has opened across the street from the original Luna’s. We were at the San Gennaro feast in 2009 but the streets are so crowded, we didn’t notice the new addition.
INTERESTINGLY, WE HAD LUNCH IN CHINATOWN THAT DAY.  SO SEEING THE NEW LUNA'S WOULDN'T HAVE DONE US ANY GOOD.
Now that I’m a more sophisticated Internet user, I saw the reviews of the new Luna’s. So before you go looking to recapture the grandeur of the little old ladies cloaked in black preparing the garlic and an over-sized portion of the best zuppa di clams you could imagine…PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE remember, I DON’T suggest the new Luna’s.

To avoid getting mooned by this Luna’s, read the reviews yourself. You’ll see, most of the comments are harshly negative; too expensive, commercial tasting food and an indifferent staff looking to gouge naïve tourists by rounding the 8.25% sales tax up to 10% and secretly adding a hefty gratuity onto the bill.

Monday, December 2, 2013

THANKS FOR GIVING...NOT !

In 1980, I learned a strange…and lasting lesson about gift giving, (and receiving).

The roots of my lesson developed when I made it up to the major leagues of craps dealing jobs, the Stardust Casino, (on the fabulous Las Vegas strip). On my first vacation, I visited my sister and brother-in-law. They took me to park and we hiked through the woods. On the way back to the car, we passed a high-end men’s shoe store that was going out of business.

On the face of it, there was nothing of interest for me. I followed behind my sister’s hubby until he stumbled upon a huge bin of unboxed Bally’s shoes (attached to each other by a thin plastic string). 
I WAS UNPHASED BY THE 80%-OFF SIGN OR THE PRICE TAGS THAT WENT UP TO $180.00.

I was daydreaming as my junior executive in-law pawed through this potential treasure trove. His eyes lit up when he found a pair that fit. Moments later his thrill of discovery was repeated by a second pair. Like a prospector showing off gold nuggets, he held his trophies by their thin strings and called out to my sister, “These are both under forty bucks!” Her reaction wasn’t what either of us expected…she said to me, “What are you…blind? Where’s yours?”

I flashed back to the shit-kickers I was wearing at the casino. Then I thought of my refined coworkers and their manicures, pinkie rings and fancy watches. But I didn’t want to be like them, (hell, some of them were over forty). I scoffed at sis, “I got shoes…” She said, “Don’t be a moron. Look in the damned box! If they have your size, you’re not walking out of here without a pair…even if I have to buy ‘em.”

A week later, I couldn’t help but feel good while working in my Bally's of Switzerland loafers. Still, I didn’t take proper care of them. I had them a few month before one of my manicured coworkers said, “Fancy shoes don’t look like much if you never polish them.”

Fate brought me to the shoeshine stand in the Stardust’s main men’s room.

I was greeted by George the attendant (about my age). He had a warm welcoming manner as he said, “Step right up there.” I had never lavished myself with a professional shine so I got caught-up in how cool it was.

George had the gift of gab and even before he started working on me, he chatted with another man. They exchanged pleasantries until George said, “Step into my office.” The two vanished into a walk-in utility closet. From my angle, all I could see was a slop sink, two mops hanging from a wall bracket and the corner of a steamer trunk. The two were speaking in whispers as my gaze shifted to the public counter space that housed four wash basins. Like a centerpiece, I noticed an industrial-strength-sized plastic mayonnaise container haphazardly cut in half and inartistically labeled: TIPS ! This tip jar sat between a display of various colognes, mouthwash, skin lotion, hair tonic, antacids, condoms and other sundries.
GEORGE DIDN'T LOOK LIKE A BUTLER.  HIS UNIFORM WAS MERELY A SKY BLUE TUNIC WITH MINI-STARDUST LOGOS SERVING AS PIPING DOWN THE CENTER, AROUND THE CUFFS AND ALONG THE LOWER HEM.

I watched a man help himself to a roll of mints and drop some coins into the jar. Another man washed his hands, didn’t touch any of the convenience items but put a dollar bill in the kitty. I heard George close the trunk. My eye followed his "client" from the inner sanctum until he exited the restroom. Seconds later, George was re-filling a soap dispenser when that same man returned, pointed to a slip of paper and said, “My man, this last number…is it a three or a five?” George grinned, “It’s a five.”

George walked past me, handed an older man a paper towel and was given two, one dollar casino chips. When George’s chit-chat talents were focused on me, I didn’t mind that he repeatedly, (briefly) attended others. From my perch, the experience of watching him use a tiny wisk broom to sweep dandruff of a man's shoulders while working the rest of the crowd was entertaining. Even when my casino break-time was running low and he disappeared with a second man to the sanctity of his steamer trunk, I didn’t mind.

I had two minutes to spare when George said, “You’re all done.” I hopped down. There was an awkward moment because I never gave it any thought how much it would cost, (there were no signs). He said, “That’ll be a dollar-seventy-five.” Considering how good the shoes made me feel and how much better I felt now that they gleaming…I thought the price was a bargain. I handed George a five. It felt great to say, “Keep the change.” I wasn’t expecting him to kiss my ass but he didn’t thank me. Instead, he scurried into his closet and shut the door.

I told an elder, pinkie ring wearing coworker what happened and he said, “George is in guest services…” When I didn’t react he added, “You realize he has more than cough drops and disposable razors in his bag of tricks.” I had a glazed over look in my eye so he continued, “He isn’t just dealing toilet paper…” I must have had a hopeless look on my face when he sneered, “He’s dealing D-R-U-G-S…drugs.” His message seeped in. When I nodded the elder smiled, “Actually, he’s hustling anything he can make a buck on. You know, hooking dudes up with whores or loan sharks…trust me, with his entrepreneurial spirit, he’s got more on his mind than your three bucks.”

All George had to say was thanks. Instead, my bubble was burst. I felt violated and permanently boycotted that restroom. The next time I was in the supermarket, I bought my own shoe polish.
THIRTY YEARS AGO, A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF LIQUID SHOE POLISH WAS 59c.

Something as simple as saying thanks has the power to validate another person’s existence. In theory, holding a door for a stranger, allowing someone with one item ahead of you on the check-out line or giving courtesy while driving causes a chain-reaction of random kindnesses that goes a long way to making our crazy lives tolerable. That’s why I like Thanksgiving so well. It helps us stay in touch with a sense of kindness and a universal appreciation (brotherhood) towards our fellow man.

Thanksgiving, (observed in the USA on the fourth Thursday of November), is a national holiday of appreciation. Its historic, religious and cultural origins celebrate the previous year’s harvest and the hope for a bountiful new year.
THANKSGIVING CAN BE TRACED TO THE 1660's IN COLONIAL AMERICA.  HOWEVER, SIMILAR CELEBRATIONS IN EUROPE GO BACK ANOTHER HUNDRED YEARS.

Although appreciating every morsel we eat is taken for granted by many, the importance of Thanksgiving has evolved into a general appreciation for the maintenance of the family structure, a sense of goodwill to mankind and the beauty of life itself.

Thanksgiving’s placement on the calendar is also clever because it serves as the kick-off to the holiday (gift giving) season. So in order to deserve what you get next month, a day in late November, set aside for both religious or earthly appreciation, seems like a perfect time for personal reflection and to show thanks.

This concept was not wasted on me.  In my youth, I might have been a weasel the rest the of year but I was always extra thankful at Thanksgiving.  I knew the holidays were around the corner...and I’m certain tons of other goniffs operated the way too. But as time passes, we see as adults that the whole gift giving process becomes a bit one-sided…because children receive the bulk of the gifts. Today, that works for me because in the immortal words of my wife Sue; What do you get for a guy (me) who has nothing…and wants nothing.

Today’s column will concern itself with the false face of appreciation we put on when we get the stupidest, most useless and unwanted gifts.

I don’t want to come off as an ingrate but in the late 1980’s and into the 90’s, my wife and I exchanged gifts with my friend CUEBALL and his wife. I remember how much thought, care and energy (primarily Sue) put in to their presents. So when we were given a Chia Pet, it was hard to be excited.
CH-CH-CH-CHIA PETS WERE FIRST MARKETED IN 1977. THEY STARTED AS TERRACOTTA ANIMALS FIGURINES WITH MOISTENED CHIA SEEDS THAT SPROUTED TO RESEMBLED FUR OR HAIR.  TODAY, A WIDER RANGE OF THEMES ARE OFFERED LIKE CARTOON CHARACTERS, HISTORICAL FIGURES AND EVEN PRESIDENT BARRACK OBAMA.

Back when I received my Chia Pet, they were $1.99 pharmacy store items.  My friends weren't strapped for cash so I was insulted by it. It would have been an appropriate gift from my spinster neighbor.  But I wouldn't dream of using such a cheap to give the mail man or newspaper boy.  Had this gift been a prank, (CUEBALL once had me try imported Danish cookies "to die for."  Well, he almost died from laughter when I bit into that beautiful but sugar-free piece of saw dust).  But far worse, I got the impression that the Chia Pet was given to them and "re-gifted" to us.

Rather than gripe about my adult disappointments, I think we are all best served if we talk about the crappy presents we got as a child. That’s one big reason why the 1983 movie, “A CHRISTMAS STORY,” is a four-star classic.

The plot centers on bespectacled Ralphie Parker. He’s a pre-pubescent kid in 1940’s Anytown Indiana who is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB-gun.

The movie batters the viewer with the negativity of why Ralphie will never have his dream come true. The scene that typifies his anguish, is the apex of awful gifts…Aunt Clara’s hand-made, pink, bunny PJ’s.
THESE INTENSELY UNWANTED PAJAMAS NOT ONLY REPRESENTED A SLIP BACK TO IMMATURITY BUT RALPHIE WAS HUMIILIATED BY BEING FORCED (BY MOM) TO TRY IT ON.  WHILE HE SUFFERED THROUGH THE EMBARRASSMENT OF HAVING A LOWER LIFE FORM (HIS YOUNGER BROTHER RANDY) LAUGH IN HIS FACE, HIS ALL-KNOWING DAD STEPS IN AND LET'S HIM OFF THE HOOK.

Ralphie takes off the PJ's and returns to his real Christmas gifts.  But his young and fragile (frah-jee-lay) psyche can't handle sports equiptment, blimps and anything else. His single-minded fixation is the special award that will help him fight bad guys like his idol, Red Ryder.
I DON'T WANT TO SPOIL THE END...IN CASE YOU'RE THE ONLY PERSON ON THE PLANET WHO DOESN'T KNOW THAT A BB-GUN IN THE HANDS OF A FOURTH GRADER SPELLS OUT ONLY ONE THING...SHOOTING YOUR EYE OUT...

I had my own version of a Ralphie moment when I was five.  That's when a TV commercial for a toy space station flooded the air waves. I whined so badly for it that despite its expense, my parents relented. Unfortunately, there was such a high demand for them that these babies were hard to find. Luckily for me, my dad knew people who knew people. He used up some favors and managed to get me one.

I remember this toy. It featured push-button weapon launchers and a battery operated crane with a magnet for off-loading cargo from the mother ship onto the lunar surface. According to my mom, while my imagination fended-off Martian attacks, I destroyed this chintzy plastic piece of crap in ten minutes. Of course I don’t recall throwing the whole kit and caboodle down the basement steps (but that's what I was told...if so, hey don’t forget, I was five).  Nonetheless, I do remember being forced (by guilt) to play with it regardless of its cracked, lifeless carcass and myriad of missing pieces.

My guilt from that incident was so strong that in future years, I stopped asking for specific stuff. My self-imposed penance also included never complaining about getting clothes or receiving things I didn’t want.

When I was nine, HJ and some of my other friends had Aurora slot car sets. I pined for one of my own but I was too ashamed to ask, (I was still under the assumption that my folks thought I would break anything worth owning). So I took to manipulation. In a round about way, I extolled the virtue of my friends’ race cars.
SINCE THE MID-1960's, THE FAD OF SLOTS CARS KEEPS POPPING BACK INTO POPULARITY EVERY FEW YEARS.

That year, my slot car dreams DID NOT come true. In the next few months, my interest in this hobby dwindled and I rarely spoke of them. When Christmastime rolled around the following year, dad’s face was bursting with pride as I tore the wrapping off a big, Tyco brand slot car box.

My excitement turned to dismay.  My previously coveted cars had gone out of style. Quickly, I gathered myself, I didn't want to piss-off dad.  I acted appreciative and forced myself to enjoy it…and I did. I even sparked my friends to rekindle their interest. But unbeknownst to me, I had thrown my own monkey wrench into the equation by not specifically telling my father that I wanted an Aurora slot car set.  What a shock it was to find out that Tyco's gauge was slightly different so the cars weren’t compatible. Hence, my cars didn’t work on my friends tracks nor did theirs on my mine.

The other big ticket gift I got that year was the grand-daddy of stupid and useless presents. When I first got this highly-hyped game, I thought I wanted it, but once I tried playing it…I couldn’t even fake an orgasm over, “BOTTLECAP BASEBALL.”
BOTTLECAP BASEBALL IS SUCH AN OBSCURE GAME THAT LITTLE IS WRITTEN ABOUT IT. I FOUND ONLY FIVE PHOTOS ON THE WEB AND THEY WERE ALL BLURRY.

Bottlecap Baseball came in a sleek silver tube with black lettering, (the container runs along is right side of the photo above, (in the picture, the color pattern is reversed from the set I had).

Inside the tube was a thirty-inch square, baseball field on glossy green paper. The players were represented as bottlecaps. Every aspect of the game was the result of flicking a bottlecap. That meant that every pitch was a flick, (after a short while, the flicking repetition caused the nail on my right index finger to hurt.  I even damaged my cuticle.  That meant as a little bugger, I had the fortitude to play through the pain.  Too bad I didn't have the intelligence to notice sooner...that the game sucked).

More importantly every sequence took an eternity, (whatever skill it took to “throw” strikes would take more time to master than boring factor could overcome). There nothing exciting (or baseball-like) about this game. Between a ten year-old’s inability to pitch (even the occasional strike was usually unhittable), it was almost impossible to “put a ball in play.” Even when my dad or uncle tried, the game was so tedious that I doubt I ever witnessed a half inning properly executed.
SOMEHOW, I RETAINED THE MY ORIGINAL RULES BOOKLET BUT I COULDN'T FIND IT BY PRESS TIME.
Bottlecap Baseball (by Amsco Toys) was a white elephant. It took up a lot of space and the rounded corners had to be held down by shoes.  The game was only produced in 1965.  In the early months of 1966, the company blitzed New York City with an agressive ad campaign.  This media frenzy was "capped" off with a, "BOTTLECAP BASEBALL," TV show, (aired by the same station that televised New York Mets games, Channel-9, WOR-TV).

This thirty-minute show (which was more like an infomercial), featured a geeky fifteen-year old Bottlecap Baseball savant playing (slaughtering) local celebrities.  For kids my age, this was the pinnacle exciting because when you're ten, the kid on TV regardless how much of a putz he might have been, (probably of Amsco or Channel-9 linneage), the actual game secondary.  All I could do was have lustful fantasties about being on TV and hob-nobbing with the show's host, Dick Stuart.
DICK "DR. STRANGEGLOVE" STUART WAS A DOMINATE HOME RUN HITTER IN THE EARLY 60's.  STUART WAS ONE OF THE MOST POLARIZING PLAYERS THERE WAS.  HIS HOME RUN HITTING WAS APPRECIATED BY THE FANS BUT HE WAS SHARPLY UNAPPRECIATED BY TEAMMATES.  HIS ABYSSMAL FIELDING AND TERRIBLE ATTITUDE TOWARDS THIS FIELDING EARNED HIM HIS NICKNAME, DR. STRANGEGLOVE, (THE NAME DICK, SPEAKS FOR ITSELF).  IN 1963, HE SET THE RECORD (WHICH STILL STANDS) FOR MOST FIRST BASEMEN ERRORS, (29).  HE WAS SO BAD THAT WHEN THE WIND BLEW A HOT DOG WRAPPER HIS WAY, THE RED SOX FANS GAVE HIM A STANDING OVATION WHEN HE GRABBED IT CLEANLY.  WHEN STUART'S INEPTITUDE COST A PITCHER A WIN, HE WAS LIKELY TO CROW, "THEY PAY ME TO HIT, NOT FIELD."  THUS CAUSING A FIST FIGHT. WHEN HE HIS CAREER FALTERED, MY DREADFUL NY METS PICKED HIM UP (1966) IN AN ATTEMPT TO FILL THE STADIUM.  TO FURTHER GET THE FANS EXCITED ABOUT THE NEW SEASON, HE WAS HOOKED-UP AS THE HOST OF BOTTLECAP BASEBALL.
The Bottlecap Baseball TV show was cancelled after about five episodes...and Dick Stuart played so poorly for the Mets that he was released after a couple of months.  But I was stuck with the unnappreciated gift.  So it was relegated to the Siberia of my house, the farthest corner of the attic.  My guess the whole mess started when my father saw me watching the show or maybe he heard about from someone else who saw it on TV?  All I know is, the only solace was, at least I never begged or even asked for it.

Such is the power of TV. The holiday gift giving season relies on advertising and TV is its strongest suit.
MY PARENTS' GENERATION HAD NO SHOT.  THE PSYCHOLOGICAL INFLUENCE OF TV WASN'T WIDELY REALIZED SO SOMETHING AS HARMFUL AS SMOKING WAS GLOSSED-OVER, (BIG TOBACCO KNEW THE HEALTH RISKS OF THEIR PRODUCT IN THE EARLY 50's).  BUT BY HAVING THEIR DEATH-STICKS ENDORSED BY MOVIE STARS, SPORTS FIGURES, DOCTORS AND EVEN SANTA CLAUS...SUDDENLY THE GIFT OF A CARTON OF UNFILTERED CHESTERFIELDS WAS TRULY APPRECIATED.

I hope this column has taught you a lasting lesson about gift giving and receiving.

Now that we have passed Thanksgiving and are thrust forward towards Christmas
be mindful that you aren't giving gifts to heartless criminals.  And for your loved ones, be careful that your present won't take their eye out.  And while you're at it, make sure you know what you're asking Santa for...because you just might get it.

THANK YOU ALL, FOR GIVING ME YOUR SUPPORT, TIME, ENERGY AND FEEDBACK.  I WISH YOU LOVE, PEACE AND HAPPINESS...ALL YEAR, EVERY YEAR.