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.
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.
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.|
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.
Such is the power of TV. The holiday gift giving season relies on advertising and TV is its strongest suit.
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.