Monday, January 27, 2014

THE COCKAMAMIE KID

I’m not easily entertained but in September 1978, when I enrolled at the New York School of Gambling, I had no idea that I would become fascinated by every movement of fellow student, Barney Kush. Today, I'm sensitive to the real problems caused by Aspergers, ADHDOCD or adult ADD...but thirty-five years ago, I'm ashamed to admit, that my ignorance of Kush’s eccentricities made him hysterical.

There must be something strange about that name because Kush remains the only real person I ever met named Barney. Years later, I thought Barney the Purple Dinosaur was the essence of weirdness while the only other Barneys I can think of (Fife and Rubble) were fictional oddballs too.
FROM 1960-1965, DON KNOTTS (left) AS TV's BARNEY FIFE SYMBOLIZED THE SMALL TOWN, BUMBLING FOOL, POLICE OFFICER.

My gambling school’s student body was almost exclusively under thirty-years old, (I was twenty-three). Despite the age similarities, three main cliques divided the pupils, (the jet-setters, the good people and the *kruds). Barney Kush was so strange that no group wanted any part of him.  Unfortunately for him, his ambition was to be accepted by the jet-setters...and that NEVER happened!

*It's true that the term “nerd” was already in use. But alternative epitaphs like “krud” were popular in certain social circles until “nerd” earned its eternal universality.
THE STEREOTYPIC TERM "NERD" SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN CEMENTED INTO THE FABRIC OF OUR CULTURE IN 1973.  IT USUALLY REPRESENTS THE UNCOOL OR SOCIAL MISFITS WHO ARE OVERLY INTELLECTUAL, SHY, UNATTRACTIVE OR HAVE DEEP-SEEDED INTERESTS IN NON-MAINSTREAM ACTIVITIES.  THE TERM REPLACED,"SQUARE" OR "DRIP" AND IS CURRENTLY AN ACCEPTABLE SYNONYM FOR "GEEK."  MANY PEOPLE FEEL "NERD" ORIGINATED FROM "KNURD" (DRUNK SPELLED BACKWARDS) WHICH IMPLIED THOSE INDIVIDUALS STUDIED RATHER THAN PARTIED.

At dealer school, I was one of the “good people.” We were noted for being easy-going and down to earth. Therefore, we were willing to socialize with the upwardly mobile as well as the socially inept. Of course there were rare exceptions and with Barney Kush, we drew the line. But it was a moot point because he shunned the good people by lumping us together with the kruds.

Barney was a bright, good-looking kid. But he was a hyper, selfish, (self-centered) chatterbox, know-it-all. I watched his annoying personality in action and saw why he was friendless, (two jet-setters, Nick Tucker and his girlfriend Tish occasionally advocated that the others didn’t pick on Barney. But Tish made it clear that Barney creeped her out and that her skin crawled when he got too close to her).

Kush’s biggest problem was, he couldn’t be still or keep quiet. His nervous energy caused one commotion after another. It seemed impossible but everyday; he made himself more detestable, by trying too hard, to get in good with the jet-setting “in-crowd.”

These three distinctly segregated social groups were blended into every course, (craps, blackjack, roulette and baccarat). So the only time this caste system was clearly defined was before class, during breaks and after school. The king of the jet-setters was an enormous gym rat who worked as a nightclub bouncer in the Bronx named, “Party” Artie Cisco.
WAY BEFORE I HEARD OF STEROIDS OR HUMAN GROWTH HORMONES, PARTY ARTIE (stock photo above, not him) WAS THE BIGGEST GUY I KNEW.  THE ULTIMATE CONTRADICTION, ARTIE WAS A DOPEY, WORK-OUT JUNKIE WHO EPITOMIZED THE "JERSEY SHORE" MENTALITY.  HE SPOKE OF THE HEALTHY BENEFITS OF DIET AND EXERCISE WHILE PREACHING ABOUT VITAMINS AND NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS.  YET HE SMOKED UNFILTERED PALL MALLS LIKE A FIEND, BRAGGED ABOUT "RECREATIONAL" DRUG USE AND DRANK LIKE A FISH.

Before class, sweet-talking Party Artie wooed one of the receptionists (Phyllis). In a short time, this tramp, (soon to be nicknamed "Sif,"as in Sif-Phyllis) was wrapped around Cisco's finger.  "Sif" didn't mind because in exchange for pot or cocaine and the status of being included when the jet-setters went clubbing, she, during business hours, performed various sex acts in empty conference rooms with Artie…and upon request, his high echelon cronies.

Barney Kush tried to tap into her carnal resources. But he was so annoying that Phyllis didn’t complain to school administrators about his pushy sexual advances, she took her grievance to Artie. To prove how messed-up Barney was…even with his new black eye and bloody lip, he never stopped condescending against those who stood in the way of his wants.
IS IT GOOD MEDICINE?  TODAY, OVER SIX MILLION AMERICAN CHILDREN (EVEN TWO-YEAR OLDS) ARE BEING FORCE-FED CONTROVERSIAL, POWERFUL, TOXIC, PSYCHIATRIC MEDS, LIKE RITALIN.  LORD KNOWS WHAT WAS WRONG (IF ANYTHING), WITH BARNEY KUSH BUT IF RITALIN WOULD HAVE HELPED HIM, THEY SHOULD HAVE PRESCRIBED HIM A DAILY BUCKET FULL.

Learning to deal craps, DID NOT come naturally to me. But in my defense, only a few people such as Barney Kush stood-out as talented. For the vast majority of us getting the knack was a slow process. Additionally, a small amount of others gave the impression that they weren’t bright enough to ever “get it.”

Despite a hilarious personality and enough charisma for the rest of the school, it was apparent that "Party" Artie Cisco would never, "get it."  He lacked the mental agility to solve simple craps tasks or the fine physical agility to handle casino chips.

On several occasions when Artie’s cherished twenty-minute turn to deal in a mock craps game came up, he’d fail miserably. While the rest of the class patiently waited during these lulls, hyper-active Barney was driven crazy. He had learned the hard way not to criticize Artie. So when a vapor-lock over-came the big fellow, Kush struggled to pent-up his instinct to make corrections.  When Cisco was frozen by indecision,, my true entertainment came from watching Barney agonize, twitch and contort while holding himself back from springing over the table to "help."  Artie might have been stupid but he could sense (and hated) Barney's negative energy. So he'd give Kush a murderous stare down. The message always came across loud and clear.  To save face, Barney would change the subject and either brag about his winning football bets or whine about his losses...he did a lot more whining.

While Cisco struggled to deal craps, Barney frequently lamented about his degenerate gambling habit and owing loan sharks. Artie could barely concentrate on his work without distractions, so when these sob stories were brought up, the practice session temporarily came to a halt.

Artie had claimed to have been a collector for a bookie. He didn’t want to publicly talk about his mob connections nor did he want to hear about this schmuck risking life and limb over penny-ante ten-dollar bets. So Cisco’s response always was, “If yuh don’t eat garlic, yuh don’t stink.” That was his way of saying; if you pay your debts, you have nothing to worry about.

Like being unable to stop picking at a scab, something in Barney's inherit wiring couldn't stop him from pestering people.  When he gravitated too close and violated Cisco's personal space, the giant would shove him aside as if flicking away a cockroach.

Still, Kush NEVER stopped.  If he didn’t get the attention he demanded, he exploded into tantrums aimed at humiliating Artie. Cisco would have been justified to punch his lights out every day but didn't. When Barney sensed he was getting away with murder, he’d insist, for everyone’s betterment including Artie’s, that everybody would learn more about dealing craps by watching him.

The title of Judge Judy’s 1996 book, “DON’T PEE ON MY FOOT AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING,” sums up Kush’s tactics for tip-toeing around insulting Cisco’s intelligence while stealing his practice dealing time.
JUDITH SHEINDLIN (1942-PRESENT) WAS A NYC LAWYER AND FAMILY COURT JUDGE.  IN 1996,HER HARD-NOSED TV SHOW "JUDGE JUDY" REVITALIZED COURT ROOM REALITY PROGRAMMING. NOW IN IT'S EIGHTEENTH SEASON, SHE AND IT ARE STILL GOING STRONG WITH 4,375+ EPISODES UNDER THEIR BELT.

It’s hard to admit but if it wasn’t for Kush’s obsessive compulsive behavior and condescending personality, it was indeed educational to watch him deal craps. The jerk thrived during the pressurized, frenetic pace and easily made sense of what seemed like incredible chaos. Others were mesmerized too and a couple of them confided in me that they fantasized about being as proficient as him.

I was always shocked that a tough-guy like Artie wouldn’t stand his ground or be sharp enough to know he was being manipulated away from something he needed, (he had to know that craps dealing, like body-building can only be achieved through repetition).

To minimize this bullying, the instructor interceded a few times. But the public embarrassment factor of being "on-stage" and failing was more than Cisco could take. He claimed that he studied and practiced at home before whimpering, "I should concentrate more on blackjack.  So, it would be better for me to watch."

Kush had no internal shut-off switch. So if the big, dumb lummox didn’t step-down quickly enough, he’d physically push him. Incredibly, Cisco never smacked him. Then while dealing, Kush would take-on the role of teacher and rattle off a barrage of related questions that Artie (who rarely paid attention) was never prepared to answer. When Barney went too far, Artie went directly to harsh death threats. But Kush would only smile and say, “If you’re serious about learning, during the break, I’ll give you some real drills and a one-on-one ‘ultra-work-out’ which is more than this ‘gentleman’ would ever do, (as he pointed to our instructor).”

Barney Kush knew Artie Cisco better than Artie did. These promised work-outs never happened because during the breaks, Artie was addicted to the nickel-a-point Hearts game that was played in the school’s break room.
HEARTS IS BEST SUITED FOR FOUR PLAYERS. AT FIVE MINUTES PER HAND, THIS EVASION-TYPE, TRICK TAKING GAME IS IDEAL FOR KILLING SHORT PERIODS OF TIME. THE OBJECT IS TO AVOID THE HEARTS (ONE POINT EACH AND THE QUEEN OF SPADES, THIRTEEN POINTS).

This break room was an opened-ended alcove that overlooked the casino-like classroom.  Crammed into this tight space was an el-shaped formation of five vending machines, two round tables with chairs and a counter with four bar stools.

Artie and his jet-set crew use this space to their play fast-paced hearts game. Like a minor league, the other table featured "good people" and sometimes "kruds," also playing hearts but not for money.

Early on, Barney Kush was excluded from the cash game.  In addition to never shutting up, the regularity of his tics, shudders and surpressed fits ruined the concentration of the players.  Plus the quirkiness of his OCD? required him to stack his nickels and dimes in precise formations. But the biggest problem was...he was always broke...and tried to play on credit, (he could have played for free with us…but we didn’t qualify to be a part of his social strata).

Kush was relugated to watching the game. On one occasion, he positioned himself behind Cisco. His constant movement unnerved who Artie said, "Beat it, skidmark." Barney drifted behind other players. They shooed him away when they couldn’t take his kibbitzing.
"KIBBITZING," IS UNSOLICITED OR WANTED OR UNHELPFUL ADVICE FROM SPECTATORS, ESPECIALLY DURING CARD GAMES.
Kush returned to Artie and noodged him about his poor strategy. Cisco generally ignored the wearying bore's tedius badgering.  But he was on a losing streak and when he got fed-up with the nagging he snapped! Artie Cisco stood up, grabbed the chair and swung it at Barney’s head. Kush was laughing as he ran out. In the classroom, he crossed paths with Phyllis the receptionist and made a U-Turn.

Under the pretense of wanting a candy bar, Phyllis came to hang-out with Artie and the jet-setters. Barney followed her in. During the heat of the next hand, she wasn’t getting the attention she was craving and said to Artie, “I want uh Almond Joy but I ain't got no change…” The game continued, no one responded to her. Seconds later, Artie got stuck with the queen, (he was the big loser again…this time for over a dollar).  Out of frustration, he emptied out his arsenal of profanity. The other players didn't want to further piss him off and didn't respond to her.

Phyllis wasn't bright enough to notice his foul mood.  She held out a five-dollar bill and carped, “Ar-dee, I doan want it fuh nuthin', I jus' need change." Artie had an odd smile as he raised up out of his seat and sneered, “You want a friggin' Almond Joy?” She perked up, “Uh-huh.” The goliath reached around the candy machine.  With a Herculean grunt, he pinned the over-sized dead weight against the wall and lifted it off the ground. Pulsating veins were protruding from Cisco's neck and forehead as he heavily dropped it. Artie repeated the process. Others from the classroom and office rushed over to see what the loud commotion was all about. On the third try, like a winning a slot machine, candies fell into the hopper as a flood of quarters spit out onto the floor.

Artie pulled out two Hershey Bars, a bag of chips and a roll of Life-Savers. He laughed, “Sorry Sif, we’re all out of Almond Joys.” He gave the candy to Phyllis, put his arm around her waist and led her away as his hand slid down to her butt.

The second his back was turned, Barney dove on the floor and started picking up the coins. Artie turned and yelled, “You low-life scum!  This is for G.P.," (general principals or maybe Barney was also annoying someone else with those initials).  Cisco grabbed Barney off the ground by the back of his collar, pushed him against the soda machine and broke his nose with one colossal punch.

The next day, all the vending machines were bolted to the wall. Also, it was no surprise to me that Barney had two shiners and a huge bandage taped to his face...but he never spoke of the incident.

Barney graduated in early December and decided to move to Las Vegas. He was refused job placement probably because his screwy nature might be a poor reflection on the school. But Barney used his grating personality and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  He negotiated himself into getting sent to the El Cortez which for a newbie, (grossing about $300.00/week), was the top of the line.

Artie graduated a couple of weeks later. He (and many others) learned the hard way that the school lied about being accredited by the *State of New Jersey. So if he pursued a gaming career in Atlantic City, he would have been required to retake, (and repay for) all the courses he spent over $1,500.00 and eight months on.

*I guess Artie Cisco never got into the legal end of the gaming business because I never heard whatever happened to him. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission (NJCCC) was so afraid of the underworld infiltrating it’s casinos that the licensing background check mandated strict disclosure of family associations and prior employment histories. So if Cisco was a bookie’s collector with ties to organized crime, I doubt he would have been granted authorization to work here.

The school’s job placement service sent me, (January 1979, in Las Vegas),  to a terrible craps dealing job. I toiled at the Slots-A-Fun Casino for $150.00/week (gross) until early April.
BY COMPARISON, BARNEY'S SELF-MADE "JUICE" BROUGHT HIM TO PARADISE. LOCATED DOWNTOWN, THE EL CORTEZ CASINO IS A BLOCK FROM THE EASTERN EDGE OF TODAY'S "FREMONT EXPERIENCE."  BUILT IN 1941, THE "TEZ'S" SPANISH COLONIAL REVIVAL-STYLE EARNED THE STRUCTURE A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL REGISTRY OF HISTORICAL BUILDINGS.

On a cold, misting, rainy afternoon in February, Barney Kush came into Slots-A-Fun. He had no jacket and was drenched and shivering when he asked for a job. He acted as if he didn’t know me…and that was fine. Despite being sopping wet, he took an audition, wowed the bosses and was told that he would start that night.

On my break, I saw him leaving. He seemed so calm and in control that I figured it would be harmless to flag him down. What a mistake!

We chatted outside, underneath an awning. He went from zero to hyped-up in seconds. He was twitching, complaining and looking over his shoulder as if he was expecting to get jumped. Between facial tics he said, “Can I borrow twenty bucks?” I politely said, “No.” He then scanned the area before whispering, “Does Tish work here?” I said, “No.” “Does she gamble here?” I said, “No.” “Do any of her friends?” I said, “No.”

Barney wasn’t reacting to run-off water dripping on his shoulder. I said, “You okay?” His body had a split-second spasm as he said, “Well, actually no. I got fired from the Tez (the El Cortez) last week and I’m fucked for cash. I had to hock my car.” He used his thumb to point to a 50CC dirt bike getting rained on in the alley and added, “So I had to borrow my neighbor’s Honda.”
BARNEY'S "RIDE" LOOKED LIKE  TOY.  IT WAS DIFFICULT BUT I CONTROLLED MYSELF FROM SAYING, "I'D RATHER SEE MY SISTER IN A WHOREHOUE THAN MY BROTHER ON A HONDA." 

I said, “Why did you get fired?” Barney said, “I was the only one who knew craps in that whole shithouse. So when someone needed help, I wasn’t trying to be a hero, I helped because I’m a team player…” I rolled my eyes as he continued, “The games always get out of control but at least I can handle it. Then some flea comes in and buries me with tons of nonsense props (proposition bets are long shots). When the prick gets impatient, I tell him if you want to keep the game moving, stop making all these cockamamie bets.”

I said, “Geez.” Barney said, “My supervisor is a drunken old man who couldn’t deal that kind of action if his life depended on it. Wanna know what that fossil said? ‘You can’t tell a guy to NOT make prop bets, that’s our bread and butter. You know the PC (house percentage) on them?’ So I say, you know how much this toilet losses if those cockamamie bets cause the dice to stop?”

“Could you believe it, I'm killing myself trying to teach this douche the ins and outs of his own business and he fired me? I can’t imagine who they dragged in off the street to take my place…” I looked at my watch and cut him off, “I gotta go.”

Barney knew I was giving him the brush and growled, "Brilliant."  Then he switched gears, perked up and said, "Can you at least spot me ten till pay day?"  I flashed back to the degenerate gambling habit he advertized at school and said, "Sorry."  Most people would have said; thanks any way, but he looked disappointed and surprisingly said nothing.  I can't imagine what he was calling me in his mind as he spun in place and walked out into a stronger rain. 

I was turning away when he called out to me, "You know, um, er...my brother..." Slots-A-Fun had no name-tags so it was obvious he never invested any brain space at school for the names of kruds.  We gravitated towards each other but this knucklehead's body was still partially exposed to the elements.  I watched the rain pelting his side and was convinced that he was sick in the head.  In that awkward moment, I tried to recall the term; idiot savant, but couldn't.

Barney put his wet hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and said, "Wouldn't you feel better lending me at least five dollars and knowing I had enough gas to get back and forth on my first night?" 

I had twelve dollars in my pocket, (as bright as he was and with all that dealing ability, I wondered if he realized how awful this job was...).  Either way, I didn't want to give-up any money...especially to him.  But he looked so pathetic.  My armor-coated force field was dissolving when the rain cascading off his pant-leg felt like he was peeing on my foot.  I said, "Sorry, I'm broke."  He was violently waving his arms and M-F'ing the world as he marched back to the tiny bike and puttered away.

Later that day, it was drizzling at five minutes to six. Outside, I saw Barney walking (not riding) the motor bike into the alley. He was all wet again except his white shirt was stained by automotive grease.  When he walked past my craps table, I saw blood seeping through at his elbow. His black slacks were badly frayed to the middle of his right shin and two mud streaks extended across his right cheek.

The boss that hired him had already gone home. So the swing-shift boss says, “Are you Kush?"  Barney nodded. The boss said, "What happened to you?” Barney said, “Drove into a pot-hole, went into a skid and took a spill. But I’m ready to work!” The boss said, “I admire your willingness but we can’t have you looking that this. I’ll hold your job. Can you be back all cleaned up in an hour?” Barney said, “Fuck you! I didn’t want to work for this cockamamie outfit anyway.” He limped away and left the bike behind.

I called Ciro the Zero (back then he was still Ciro the Hero) as soon as I got home. I told him about Barney. He said, “I’ll make a couple of calls and we’ll find out what’s what.”

An hour later, he called back and said, “Nick Tucker (one of the jet-setters from school) said, ‘Vegas was eating Barney alive way before the Tez fired him. Just like New York, he had no friends. Except here, he got caught-up with more gambling, booze and whores than ever. He was always broke so losing his job was the last straw. When Barney found out that Nick and Tish broke up, he conned her into letting him stay over a few days until he got on his feet. She came back from work on the second day and her apartment was stripped to the walls of anything that could be sold…and the neighbor’s putt-putt scooter was gone too.’” 

I said, "I knew he was a looney-toon but..." Ciro interrupted, "Someone like Barney always has someone after him.  I bet he only had the clothes on his back...and nowhere to go.  Guys like that get desperate, do stupid things and wind up six feet under...we got a pretty big desert out here..."

Over the next thirty-four years, I have NEVER heard of a Barney Kush sighting. That doesn’t mean he’s dead…but it seems news of even the most obscure old-timers always pops up.

I still like to consider myself to be a "good person." And now that I’m aware of Aspergers, ADHD, OCD and adult ADD, I guess I’m supposed to feel sorry for those afflicted…but forgive me, whether that cockamamie kid was sick and couldn't control himself or not, I still draw line and don't pity Barney Kush.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I really liked The Cockamamie Kid. Judge Judy is one of my all-time favorites, and you too...of course. --- AMGB in GA

Charlieopera said...

I was once crossing 34th Street (heading south), a few blocks from our bookmaking office ... some guy with a guitar on his back (heading north) eyed me as we passed ... a few feet later I heard footsteps ... and as I turned a wad of clam (spit) nailed me in the neck. I went ape shit and started pounding him on the NE corner of 34th (in front of a temple) ... 3 old ladies saw me and assumed I was a lunatic (hmmm) ... long story short, a cop car approached and I panicked big time (I was carrying the work from that afternoon's business) ... fortunately, the whackjob tossed a bottle at me and hit the police car ... they told me to take off and they handled it (how, I don't know) ... later in life I wondered the same thing (about ADD, mental issues, et al) ... I do feel bad about pounding the guy now, but not then ... not for about 30 years. Good stuff again, Sir Steve.