Monday, March 31, 2014

THE WORLD WAS A BETTER PLACE WITH MY DAD IN IT !

Throughout March 1995, my dad was unusually nervous. He had been entitled to a substantial tax break for senior citizens but failed to apply before the deadline. His accountant, (Shifty of Ozone Park), family members and friends assured him that it a tedious paperwork process…but still doable.

The big day was the morning of March 29th. Together with my supportive mother as his co-pilot (mom didn’t drive), the dynamic duo blasted off for Downtown Brooklyn, (the furthest point away from Canarsie but still in Brooklyn).
EARLY 1940's, EVEN THOUGH TEENAGE DAD, (HE PREFERRED TO BE CALLED "HY"), WAS THRILLED TO GET OUT OF THE CITY FOR THAT WEEKEND, (above), HE WAS ALWAYS OPTIMISTIC AND WENT THROUGH LIFE WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE.

My easy-going father got little sleep the night before and was especially tense that morning. Even though he was armed with a manila folder full of completed government forms, bank statements, check stubs, old tax returns, a Xerox copy of his Honorable Discharge from the army, notarized letters confirming his character, aerial photos of our house plus a happy face pin in his lapel…dad went through a pack of Kents (cigarettes) between 7:00AM and 10:00AM.
DAD WASN'T SUPERSTITIOUS BUT ON THAT DAY, IN ADDITION TO WEARING THE HAPPY FACE BUTTON, HE ALSO STASHED A RABBIT'S FOOT AND A PLASTIC THREE-LEAF CLOVER IN HIS POCKET. 

The accountant, Shifty of Ozone Park was adamant about dad getting to the tax office when they open, to avoid long lines. So getting stuck in the consistently awful Belt Parkway traffic shouldn’t have been a surprise. Dad was already running forty-five minutes behind schedule as he exited the highway, (between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges). To minimize his panic, he accepted the first parking space, (three blocks from the target, Cadman Plaza) and stuffed a shit load of dimes into the meter.

Dad never stopped puffing on cigarettes as he hurried mom along. At one point his anxiety skyrocketed when a canceled check slipped out of his folder, became wind blown and caused mom to chase it down.

Like the Keystone Kops, my parents accidentally wandered into the building next to their destination. Dad was befuddled.
DAD LIKED TO REMIND ME THAT IN THE SILENT MOVIE-ERA, THE KEYSTONE KOPS WERE THE EPITOME OF BUMBLING CHAOS.

My father infrequently used profanity but when the wall directory’s office number didn’t match-up with his, dad’s dormant fluency in obscenities echoed through the concourse. Luckily a stray passerby understood my father’s frustration, set him straight and sent them outside to the adjoining building.

My folks were physically and mentally exhausted when the elevator doors on the fourth floor opened. Down the long, murky and depressing corridor, dad was feeling beaten-down by the negativity of his circumstance. He cursed at the prospect of a long line only to be disqualified by a technicality. At a dead-end, they found the opaque glass door of their quest.

Inside was surprisingly bright and cheerful. My parents noticed two things immediately, the NO SMOKING sign and that up ahead only one of the four clerk stations, (resembling old-fashioned bank tellers… behind bars), was manned..

Dad's eyes were still getting used to the light as mom reminded him to crush-out his fresh cigarette. That's when dad noticed that only one man was on line.  He led mom around the long, ever-winding serpentine rope that was designed to accommodate huge crowds. Dad said, “This still might take a while.” He suggested that mom sit on one of the hard, shiny, wooden benches that rimmed the perimeter of the waiting room. She smiled, patted his forearm and said, “No thanks.”

Mom and dad were next! They dropped anchor and marked their territory with glowing, yet guarded grins. Seconds later, their lot in life improved again as the man being served thanked the clerk and strode away with a look of satisfaction.

My folks sheepishly advanced to the window. Dad explained his purpose and the representative squawked, “Have you completed the amendment form?” Dad handed the single sheet over. The clerk’s bespectacled eyes scanned the page. Then rudely without explanation, he walked away with it, as dad defensively blithered the other items he brought to bolster his case. Dad’s distrusting eye followed this man through the bustle of other county office workers until he disappeared into a distant cubicle.

The clerk was out of sight for a minute but it must have have felt like an eternity for my father.  A victim of his addicton, dad reflexively reached for the comfort of a Kent but mom waggled her denying index finger at him. In a huff, my pop returned the pack to his pocket as another couple ambled in, behind my folks. 

The pressure of waiting got to my poor dad.  He was so tortured that he couldn't stand still as he muttered more harsh language. Mom nudged him in the ribs to remind him that he wasn't alone so he continued his verbal lashings in Yiddish.

The representative reappeared. Dad was impatient as the clerk stopped once along the way to greet a coworker. When the rep returned to his window, he had several papers. Then like a jackhammer, the clerk slammed a rubber stamp a gazillion times all over the papers…before handing back dad’s original. The representative barked out the instructions on how to file the amendment and shouted out, “Next!” My dad said, “Wait! That’s it?” The rep said, “That’s it.  No problem.  You're good to go.” Dad’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as he thanked the clerk and turned towards mom.

Dad was giddy the whole three blocks back to the car. He joked about wasting so many dimes in the meter and said, “I suddenly feel like a wealthy man, how about brunch?” Mom nodded as dad continued, “Remember that restaurant we liked on Pineapple Street near the St. George Hotel? I wonder if it’s still there.” Mom said, “Good idea,” as a coughing fit came over my dad. He gurgled unintelligible words, grabbed at his chest and collapsed. Later, mom found out that he was dead before he hit the pavement.

Now nineteen years later, I’m still haunted by who to feel worse for. Think about it, dad was killed by a painful, massive (first time) heart attack and my shocked mother witnessed the carnage, was helpless to save him and was all alone to deal with it.

My father was a loving man. He was also kind, sensitive, generous and artistic. He always wanted to be funny but failed miserably at it. Indirectly, he got his wish because it was funny to hear him butcher jokes.
RODNEY DANGERFIELD, (1921-2004), ONCE SAID, "I HAVE NO LUCK WITH MONEY...IF  I INVESTED IN CEMETERIES, PEOPLE WOULD STOP DYING." MY FATHER ADMIRED RODNEY AND SECRETLY MIGHT HAVE DREAMED OF DOING STAND-UP HIMSELF. HE GOT PLENTY OF MATERIAL FROM ONE OF HIS NEIGHBORING SHOPKEEPERS AND MY COUSIN SONNY BUT DAD MANAGED TO BOTCH EVERY GAG.

Mom was affected the most by the loss of dad. But the blossoming bond between he and my son Andrew (who had just turned one) was sadly never fully realized. It is safe to say, nobody outside of the mortuary business profited from my father dying so young, (67).
AT ANDREW'S BRIS, THE RABBI (a.k.a. "THE MOHEL"...pronounced MOIL), GAVE MY FATHER THE HONOR OF HOLDING MY BOY DURING THE CIRCUMCISION.  DAD WAS FAMOUS FOR BEING SQUEAMISH AND DECLINED.  WHEN THE RABBI SHOWED MY FATHER A MEDIEVAL-LOOKING CONTRAPTION THAT THE BABY WOULD OTHERWISE BE RESTRAINED IN...DAD OVERCAME HIS DISCOMFORT.  HE DID A GREAT JOB AND SOLIDIFIED HIS BOND WITH ANDREW.

Dad was a small businessman. Despite being a slender man, his long dependency on tobacco, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle contributed to the heart disease that prematurely ended his life. When dad passed, I looked deep inside myself. While I was certain the smoking habit was the leading cause of his demise…I had to come to grips that I was heavyset and also led an inactive lifestyle.

It would be almost two years before I put two and two together.
SPECIFICALLY ON OCTOBER 26, 1996 (above), OUR WAITER AT DENNY'S SUGGESTED AN EXCURSION TO BIRCH GROVE PARK, IN NORTHFELD, (NEW JERSEY).

My lifestyle epiphany occurred a few communities away, in that park. By accident, my boy and I discovered hilly, picturesque trails in woods that outlined a series of canals. Andrew dubbed this wonderland, “The Jungle.” He likened the jungle to the “Hundred Acre Wood,” from Winnie the Pooh.  Over the next few years, we made regular visits there, (somewhere in the house is a crude map I drew that identified points of interest that Andrew and I named along the trail).
OUR RENDITION OF THE JUNGLE WAS INSPIRED BY A MORE DETAILED MAP OF "THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD," FROM ONE OF ANDREW'S, "WINNIE THE POOH" BOOKS.

At first, my boy was still in diapers when I realized that I couldn’t keep up with him as he toddled, at full speed, down such steep places as the, “Great Up-Down” and the “Virtual Vertical.” The alarm sounding in my brain demanded that I had to get into better shape, to protect my son in the present and assure myself that I’d be around to see his future. That’s when I initially got involved in the Atkins Diet. I used it to successfully lose enough weight…to give me the false impression that I’d be okay.
BY THE TIME ANDREW WAS THREE, HE WAS SUCH A PRO ON THIS FANTASTY OBSTACLE COURSE, THAT EVEN THE "GREAT UP-DOWN," (above) WAS BARELY A CHALLENGE.

In February 1999, I was driving through the next town (Absecon). I saw Doug, a coworker about my age, (and chunky like me), power-walking. When I asked him about it, he said that running (to lose weight) caused more harm than good. But in power-walking three times a week for an hour, he got better results without causing sports related injuries.

Doug lost a ton of weight. He looked so healthy and I wanted to congratulate him but he transferred to another shift. Soon there after, he got laid off. I never saw him again.

In honor of my father and inspired by Doug, on March 29th of that year, I started power-walking. So today is not only the 19th anniversary of my father’s death, it is also the 15th anniversary of me power-walking.

Ironically, about five years ago, I learned that Doug died, (apparently he had multiple health issues but I never found out the exact cause of death). Nevertheless, I doggedly stuck to my walking routine. Even this winter, as crazy cold, windy and snowy as it was, I never got too far behind in my schedule that I couldn’t correct in a week or so.

The bottom line is, diet and exercise is not enough. It might be hard to believe but I work hard to maintain my good looks. That's right, the sexy hunk of burning love you see comes at a price. Therefore, I make well-visits to my doctor twice a year and expose myself to all the age-appropriate preventative tests. Additionally, I adhere to her medicinal regimen that addresses (among other things), my high blood pressure, borderline cholesterol issues and I take a daily baby aspirin for my heart.

I doubt my dad was that careful. But like him, I’m sure the world is a better place with me in it than without.
(FEBRUARY 27,1928-MARCH 29, 1995), SHORTLY BEFORE HIS DEATH, DAD DIDN'T LOOK LIKE HE WAS GOING ANYWHERE. 

Please…everyone…find the time to take care of yourselves because the world is a better place with you in it too.

Monday, March 24, 2014

PICKLEBALL

In the summer of 1995, my family became a charter member at the Highland Swim Club. Nobody would ever confuse our little summer retreat with country club living but it served our purpose well. “The Pool,” was only a couple of miles from home, offered a relaxing way to beat the heat, swimming, other activities and a social outlet.

My wife Sue and I, measure our son Andrew’s progression from infancy, to splashing around the kiddie pool with a diaper under his swimsuit, to graduating to the "big boy pool," (learning to swim) and the after dark, adolescent mixer parties.
(1998), MY BOY ANDREW, AT THE HIGHLAND SWIM CLUB.  JUST OFF-CAMERA IS THE KIDDIE POOL (RIGHT), SHUFFLEBOARD, BASKETBALL AND VOLLEYBALL COURTS, (FURTHER BACK) AND THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING WITH A SNACK BAR AND LOCKERS (LEFT). 

The Pool, was such a valuable asset that many times we included Andrew’s non-member friends or families as our guest.

In the gung-ho early years, volunteer committees organized special events which sparked great enthusiasm. Among others, there was the Fourth of July Party, an adult only nighttime blast and a Labor Day sendoff, marking the season’s end.

During the 2000 Fourth of July party, I turned Sue down to play bingo, (I'm not saying I'm too sophisticated for it...but maybe I am)?  Later, Sue was adamant when we were recruited to be in the “Couples Shuffleboard Tournament.” I was reluctant because I knew I sucked, but Sue embarrassed me in to it. I soon learned that my wife’s expert talent had been honed from a gazillion visits to her grandparent's retirement facility.

I remember few details except, we won the first match and were walking away when the scorekeeper/social director announced, “Next up against the Edelblum’s are the Strom’s.” These old-timers, in matching white Bermuda shorts, the same orthopedic, navy knee socks and Hawaiian shirts, looked like ringers who flew in from Miami Beach...just to kick our ass, (which was fine by me).

This seventy-five year old gentleman set down the golf putter he was carrying and started examining each shuffleboard pole. Behind me, I overheard some scuttlebutt from the gallery that tabbed Sue and I as prohibitive underdogs.

The Strom's must have been doing Geritol shots.  Their swagger was extraordinary as they jitterbugged to imaginary music after winning the first round of the best, two-out-of-three format. Mr. Strom removed his dark blue captain’s hat (revealing a nineteen-dollar toupee), and took a deep bow to the approval of the audience, (which had swelled to over ten people and a stray dog).
GERITOL IS A DIETARY SUPPLEMENT WITH IRON AND OTHER MINERALS.  FIFTY YEARS AGO, IT WAS THE SPONSOR OF, "TED MACK'S AMATEUR HOUR," WHICH I WATCHED ON TV WITH MY PATERNAL GRANDMOTHER.  AIMED AT SENIORS WITH "IRON POOR BLOOD," MY GRANNY WAS APPARENTLY IN THE MARKET FOR RENEWED VIM AND VIGOR.  IN MY RESEARCH, I WAS SHOCKED THAT IT'S STILL SOLD, (UNDER A DIFFERENT FORMULA).

The writing was on the proverbial shuffleboard wall. I was ready to retire to our umbrella table and hit my own bottle, (I was heavily into Pepsi-One back then). But Sue laughed in the face of adversity and rattled-off some incredible shots, including a rare ten-pointer. 
AROUND 2002, PEPSI-ONE CHANGED ITS RECIPE.  I DIDN'T LIKE THE NEW TASTE AND SWITCHED TO DIET WILD CHERRY PEPSI.  NOW, TWELVE YEARS LATER, I'M DRINKING ONE RIGHT NOW, AHHHHHHH !

The stunned Strom's “shuffled” off in disgust.  Mr. Strom was so ashamed to lose to "such upstarts" (us) that he left his golf putter behind.  Sue and I temporarily basked in the glory of the championship until the scorekeeper announced, “Next up for the Edelblum’s are the Dover's.” Through mutual friends, Sue and I were acquainted Eileen and Ben. Their relationship was so dysfunctional that I was shocked that they were appearing together at all. Between witnessing them bicker over a missing ten-dollar bill from his wallet, Ben drank (alcohol was strictly verboten on the property) from a paper bag. I was a good judge of character so I knew that wasn’t Pepsi he was pounding, (after murderizing them, I saw it was twenty-ounce can of generic malt liquor).
IN MY TEENS, COLT 45 WAS THE KING OF MALT LIQUOR.  I TRIED IT ONCE AND THOUGHT IT TASTED LIKE *WD-40 WITH SAND IN IT.  SO I CAN'T IMAGE HOW AWFUL "BRAND-X" MALT LIQUOR MUST BE...   * THE TIME  I DRANK WD-40 WITH SAND IN IT, IS ANOTHER STORY...

Amazingly, Sue and I beat seven straight couples. She did all the major scoring but winning is contagious, so I got into it too.  However, towards the end, I was engulfed by boredom.  When the social director announced, “In the final game, for the Highland Swim Club shuffleboard championship of 2000, it’s the Edelblum's versus the Winnegar’s!” I was thinking; The Winnegars?...A family with a name like that doesn’t lose…the Edelblum dynasty ends here.

While shaking Mr. Winnegar’s hand, I felt like I was looking into a mirror, (he was, extremely good-looking, about my age, fat and bald). The scorekeeper added, “Due to an emergency, Doris (Mrs. Winnegar) had to rush home.” I was thinking: Cool, we won by forfeit.  Then he continued, “If it’s okay with the Edelblum’s, the Winnegar's daughter Allyssia will take her mom's place.”

Deep down, I really didn’t care but I didn’t like the way we were put in the awkward position of NOT being able to say no. Until that point, I had taken an easy-going approach but this gum-cracking, twelve-year old brat’s cockiness annoyed me to the core.

Outwardly, I maintained a dignified smile as this impudent, pest in pigtails talked trash, derisively grinned and stuck her tongue out at me, while single-handedly dominating the first game. In the second game, while I bordered on intense physical and mental exhaustion, I reached inside myself, found an unknown (to me) source of inspiration and played my best to help tie the series.

I heard someone say in was 4:35. I was shocked how late it was. I needed to go home, take a nap and get ready for work. So it pissed me off that the deciding game was a nail-biter that went into the tedium of overtime. It was too bad, here we were at crunch time and the once crazed crowd (that for a short time had numbered twenty), was now reduced to six. Even my son Andrew abandoned us when we needed all the support we could muster, in favor of a Pokemon battle with another five-year old, (which I'm told out drew us, by five spectators) . All looked bleak for Team Edelblum until the little girl’s last shot failed to block our slim chance for a comeback victory.

She examined all the angles as she prepared for the last shot.  There was no room for error.  Her window of opportunity rested on a sliver of room to knock-out two of the Winnegar’s scoring rocks, (to produce a scoreless round and prolong my agony). But to avoid another overtime, if she could manage this difficult feat and score herself, we’d win. Sue’s competitiveness was never keener. She looked at me and silently got her point across…I got this!

Like a gold medal-winning Olympic curler, my girl's deft touch skittered her rock between the tiny space between barrier rocks.  She banged her rock into their eight-pointer and sent it flying off the court. Her rock then careened towards their seven-pointer. She skinned it enough to back it onto the “minus-ten box” while her rock safely nestled to a stop in the victorious confines of the seven-point area.
IN THE EARLY GOING, WHEN SUE TIED THE STROM MATCH WITH A COLOSSAL (AND RARE) TEN-POINTER. THEY WERE SO INTIMIDATED THAT THEY BARELY "SHOWED-UP" FOR THE DECISIVE THIRD GAME.  BUT WHEN SHE SLITHERED THROUGH A TINY CRACK IN THE WINNEGAR'S ARMOR, SHE NOT ONLY TOOK FIFTEEN POINTS OFF THEIR TOTAL, SCORED SEVEN HERSELF...BUT TO PUT AN EXCLAIMATION POINT ON OUR CHAMPIONSHIP, SHE DUMPED ONE OF THEIR ROCKS INTO THE "TEN POINTS OFF" ZONE. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes, nobody could've done it better. I looked at my twin and dumbfounded Mr. Winnegar’s jaw dropped. His weasel of a daughter complained to the scorekeeper, “No fair! That lady’s foot was on the line.” He ignored her protest and congratulated Sue and I...and walked away. I hadn’t cared the whole time but now I was pissed…that’s it?  No coronation, no plaque on the wall, no "we're heading to Disney World speech?"  What a chintzy outfit!

Indeed, there was no trophy, no announcement or recognition of our feat on the activity bulletin board. I shouldn’t have been disappointed because the champs of horseshoes, volleyball, cup-stacking and ping-pong weren’t acknowledged either.

Now, fourteen years later, Sue and I haven’t competed as a team since. However, with the reality of retirement a few years away, I think I have found a solution to our feisty nature…it’s a game called Pickelball.

Pickelball was invented in Bainbridge Washington (1965) by Joel Pritchard, (a State Representative).  This politician used his creativity to entertain his children...but the game blossomed into a sport. Since then, Pickleball enjoyed modest success with people of all ages and skill levels.  But recently, its popularity has gone viral, primarily among senior citizens.

My friend HOBOKENKID lives in a Florida retirement community. She says that even though there are twenty Pickleball courts on the grounds, people have to sign-up for time slots in advance…and there’s still long waiting lines.  She also mentioned that one of their top players is a ninety-one year old Adonis.
PICKLEBALL, FOR TWO OR FOUR PLAYERS, IS AN INDOOR OR OUTDOOR RACQUET SPORT.  IT USES A BADMINTON-SIZED COURT, PADDLE-BALL RACQUETS AND A WIFFLE BALL.  THE GAME FEATURES RULES THAT ARE SIMILAR TO TENNIS AND THE SAME NET.  BECAUSE OF THE SMALLER DIMENSIONS, THE GAME HAS BECOME ESPECIALLY FASHIONABLE FOR ATHLETIC SENIORS.
The game is already trendy in the USA, Canada and India. Plus, Pickleball clothing and equipment are hot items on the Internet.   The only controversy regards how the seemingly silly name "Pickleball" originated.  Some people feel it was a tribute to the Pritchard family dog, "Pickles." Others are confident it refers to the phrase used for a fisherman's last catch of the day.  But according to the TV news report I saw, the term refers to a mixed bag of participants in a sculling boat.  Me, I like the dog named Pickles.
SCULLING (a.k.a. COMPETITIVE ROWING OR CREW), IS OVERWHELMINGLY AGE AND/OR GENDER SPECIFIC.  SO A MIXTURE OF PARTICIPANTS IS FREQUENTLY CALLED , "PICKLE BOAT."
In a few years, Sue and I must decide where we enjoy our golden years.  That decision seems even more controversial than how Pickleball got its name.  But the three main destinations are, Florida, Arizona or Las Vegas.  Either way, I still have time before I need to kick my Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi habit and switch to Geritol, as well as getting fitted for my Bermuda shorts, orthopedic knee socks, nineteen dollar toupee and captain's hat.

Monday, March 17, 2014

JOHNNY FLOWERS

If you can forget about the near-blizzard outside for a second, remember, today is St. Patrick’s Day. And, you don’t need to be Irish to live it up. So in keeping with the green theme being stronger than the snowy, white one, I present to you an interesting personality (with a green thumb), who's talent for horticulture didn't extend to making much spending greenery.

Did you have shady characters in your hometown with names like, Tommy Bagadonuts and Joe Fruit?  I did. In my youth, I was comfortable being under the impression that they were real and unique and living in my native Canarsie. Their names sparked dangerous images and were spoken in whispers.  It was assumed they had mob connections…which made them cool. In my late teens, I discovered that these were not real people.  Even worse, other Brooklyn neighborhoods boasted their own fictional wiseguys with the same nicknames. Of course once I became more worldly, I found out that these colorful monikers as well as similar ones...were everywhere.

The mystery began to unravel when I turned twenty. That’s when the secret identity of Canarsie hot-shot Joe Vanilla (the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces), was shared with me. How disappointing to find out he worked in an auto parts store, wasn't a criminal and that his real name was neither Joe nor Vanilla.

Once I started piecing other nonsense clues together, I was crushed to find out that overwhelmingly these clever names weren’t even urban legends…they were merely arbitrary names for non-existent people…much like Joe Blow, John Q. Public or Joe Gaboongotz. My fascination took another hit when I figured out that even my parents had their own fictious people like; Moishe Gimple and Chiam Yussel.

At about that time, (1976 at Brooklyn College), I became friends with LTS and we eventually became flea-marketing business partners. LTS was engaged to CM. Through the influence of her father, several months before the wedding, they rented a converted garage (in East Flatbush), as a fixer-upper basement apartment, (on the cheap). Towards the end of her dad's one-man interior restoration project, I volunteered to help LTS with some bull work, in clearing backyard debris.

My end of the project started when another friend dropped me off in Red Hook, at a heavy machinery rental agency.  I was told to say, “Johnny Flowers sent me.” At the cash register, the representative never asked me for ID or money…he just handed me the keys to a pick-up truck. I said, “When do you close?” I was impressed by the respect Johnny Flowers' name held when the clerk shrugged, “Bring it back, whenever.”

LTS’s new place, even without furniture, looked surprisingly nice. The earlier descriptions made it sound like a pit. CM was quick to point out that Johnny Flowers, (her dad) paneled the living room, brought the bathroom back from the dead, patched, spackled and caulked a million holes, re-painted the whole place, adjusted the cabinets, installed new rugs and sand-blasted filthy crud from the kitchen appliances. LTS nudged me and whispered loud enough for his fiancé to hear, “Johnny Flowers even helped me sweep-up the silverfish and ants after he detonated the bug bomb.” LTS privately informed me that the insects in question were really water bugs and roaches.

Soon, I was led to the eyesore outback. This colossal junk pile proved to be an all-day, heavy lifting affair. As per Johnny Flowers instructions, LTS and I hauled four truckloads of crap to different dumpsters all over Brooklyn. In twilight LTS mercifully said, “I can get rid of the small shit myself.”

Inside the apartment, I met CM’s father for the first time. In lieu of calling him dad, daddy or father, it was odd that she referred to him as Johnny Flowers...to his face. In the three years that followed, I never found out her dad’s true occupation. Instead, he was a jack-of-all-trades…willing to work hard at anything. Johnny bragged that he owned a part interest in a filling station, a carpet store and the previously mentioned rental agency, (he never said how big...or small those parts were). The one thing he owned outright was a modest hothouse in Bensonhurst, (thus Johnny Flowers).

In the first awkward moments of meeting him, he hardly acknowledged me because he was busy, sitting on the kitchen floor tinkering with a sliver of paneling, a soup tureen, a stick of margarine and a jar of peanut butter.

While the three of us watched in silence, I wondered why his own daughter would call him by his nickname because his first name was Lou and his last name started with “M.”

Johnny Flowers was a youthful forty. At five-foot-six, he was a good-looking man with an upbeat, likeable, yet dopey personality. Later when I suggested that his sturdy physique and overall look made a dead-ringer for Robert Blake…nobody agreed.
ROBERT BLAKE (1933-PRESENT) STARTED AS A CHILD ACTOR IN THE "OUR GANG COMEDIES," UNDER HIS REAL NAME, MICHAEL "MICKEY" GUBITOSI.  INTO THE 1990's, HE WAS A PROMINENT FIXTURE ON THE BIG SCREEN AS WELL AS TV.

My curiosity went through the roof as Johnny “buttered” the steep inside walls of the soup tureen and used the scrap paneling as a ramp. After he smeared a glob of peanut butter to the bottom of the tureen he exclaimed in a full-blown Brooklyn accent, “Voila, the woild’s best mouse trap! When that rat bastid smells the bait, the stoop-id ass will walk up here and fall down dere."  He pointed to the greased sides of the deep bucket, "It’s coitins, I tell ya, coitins.” CM said, “What if I’m home alone when ‘Mickey’ gets caught?” Johnny Flowers said, “Mickey? Dis ain't no pet...it's a friggin' rodent. Jus give him a burial at sea.” CM said, “Heh?” LTS chimed in, “Just flush him…” CM interrupted by wailing, “EWWWWW!” Johnny cut her off, “Well lil’ goil, if yuh doan wanna trow him down da turletjus get some aluminum ferl, grab your Mickey up, wrap him in a tight ball and trow him in a plastic bag, then double-bag him in anutha bag. Remember to tie it real good and trow da whole business in da gobbidge." CM shuddered, “The burial at sea suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.” We all laughed.

Two days later, it was no laughing matter when Mickey was caught. I gave Johnny Flowers and his old world mouse remedy a lot of credit. And luckily for CM, LTS had the honor of disposing of the varmint...down da terlet.

LTS was a real go-getter too. He worked three part-time jobs while going to school. He was determined to save for the biggest “getting started” nest egg he could. A couple of nights a week, he was a salesman at a tuxedo store. He also conducted phone surveys in his spare time and on weekends sold (Johnny’s) flowers, ferns and other plants, at the Aqueduct Raceway flea market.
THE AQUEDUCT FLEA-MARKET, IN SOUTH OZONE PARK, (QUEENS NEW YORK), HAD A THIRTY-PLUS YEAR RUN UNTIL THE TRACK BECAME A CASINO.

LTS wasn’t making much profit with flowers but didn’t want hurt Johnny by quitting. LTS liked to remind me that Johnny was broke.  He even told me twice that his future father-in-law embarrassed CM badly when he sent her a Christmas card to a niece...and crossed-out everything with magic marker and wrote in, Happy Birthday daughter.

Johnny tried to come-off as a big shot because he had a piece of a few businesses but in reality, what he had was a worthless, token taste that bore more responsibility than financial gain.  Plus his hothouse was only a hobby.  So he over-exaggerated the money that the flowers generated. 

LTS's parents were footing the bill for the whole upscale wedding.  Johnny was contributing little else than the flowers. CM's mom lived out of state and despite being remarried and living a high life out-of-state, she was attending their shindig strictly as a guest.

A few months before the wedding, LTS and I concocted the idea of a flea market partnership...that still included flowers but concentrated on selling women’s tops. In terms of earning pocket money, we did well. More importantly, it was fun to hang-out together.  Our big day was Tuesday.  After an executive lunch, we had afternoon buying sprees in the garment district of Manhattan's, Lower Eastside.

One night, I got a call to meet LTS at the tuxedo store. His boss took us to a closet in the far corner of his warehouse, across the street. In this small room, dusty boxes of mint condition, high-end, but out-of-style tuxedo shirts were littered all over the floor, piled on desk tops and stuffed, willy-nilly into broken shelves.

The boss said, “There’s over four-hundred shirts, gimme four bills and they’ll work out to less than a buck-a-pop.” LTS and I conferred. We then made the point that the shirts weren’t going to be easy to sell or else he’d sell them. We made a counter-offer of two-hundred. The boss came down to three-hundred after stating the high quality of the big designer names like, Givenchy, Lion of Troy, After Six and Johnny Carson.

To be respectful of LTS's boss I said, “No thanks. We'd be taking too much of a risk and we have limited space if they don't sell…” The haggling continued until he said, “How about two-fifty and I’ll throw-in fifty, crushed velvet bowties.”
THE SHIRTS WE BOUGHT WERE UGLY. SOME WERE LAUGHABLE FLOURESCENT COLORS, OTHER WERE DISGUSTING LOUD PRINTS AND A BIG CHUNK WERE FROM THE "FAT MAN" SHOP.  WE SOLD ENOUGH IN TWO DAYS THAT OUR PRICE WENT FROM $5 TO $7 TO $9.  THEN WE STARTED GIVING AWAY A FREE BOWTIE WITH THE PURCHASE OF TWO OR MORE SHIRTS.WE DID SO WELL, (SELLING MAINLY TO MUSICIANS) THAT WE WISHED WE HAD BOUGHT FOUR THOUSAND SHIRTS.

Strangely, our flea market success actually undermined the whole joy being together. To maximize our selling capacity, we split up and worked simultaneously, at two different flea markets. That’s when it became a job and lord knows, I wasn’t ready for that.

One time LTS, CM and Johnny Flowers picked me up at my dad’s gift shop in Bay Ridge. Johnny frequently depended on LTS for transportation because his rusted-out heap (a badly dented, 1974 Ford Elite) was in the shop and he couldn't afford the repairs.
JOHNNY'S ELITE WAS WHITE WITH A BLACK VINYL ROOF.  HE THOUGHT HE STOLE THIS YEAR-OLD BEAUTY FROM THE POLICE AUCTION BUT IT GAVE HIM NOTHING BUT GRIEF.

Johnny said, “Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day are cumin' up. Ya know, I have guys sellin’ flowers at my gas station, in front of my carpet store and by my rental jernt. Yous get a ton o'traffic goin' by ya father's store...if ya want, I can set ya up wit flowers here next week. Ya only pay for what ya sell…I’ll take everything else back. Ya can’t lose.”

On the way to Johnny's, Johnny had LTS stop on a busy street where Bensonhurst ends and Bath Beach begins. We all followed Johnny down an alley between a Chinese take-out and a shoe store. In the courtyard, surrounded by apartment buildings was Johnny Flowers pride and joy…his little hothouse.

Johnny swept me off my feet. He explained that he’d have his car back and that he'd deliver the flowers and drop by later with more if I needed it. I agreed to do it.

On Easter Sunday, everything Johnny said that would go right…went right. When he dropped by after two hours (11:00AM), I had little left to sell. He re-stocked me and I was incredibly happy with my big, one-day windfall.

My dad’s store was in ethnically diverse Bay Ridge (Brooklyn).  He was located across from, *Athena's International Driving School and between a Moroccan coffee house and a huge, two-level, cut-rate mini-department store. My dad referred to the store's owner as Mr. Potter, (as in Lionel Barrymore’s mean-spirited curmudgeon), from 1946’s, “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.”
LIONEL BARRYMORE (1878-1954), ONE OF THE MOST REKNOWN ACTORS IN MOVIE HISTORY, PLAYED THE DESPICABLE, INVALID VILLAIN, HENRY F. POTTER.

The next door Potter was an anonymous figure. By remaining in the shadows, my dad only knew this nasty, petty, jerk had a pronounced Scottish accent but never knew for certain who he was. So it’s possible that “Potter” went into John Q. Public, Joe Gaboongotz or Moishe Gimple-mode, pretended to be a potential customer and spied on my father’s tiny store. Thus freeing up this dastardly, Spartan entrepreneur, to adjust his cut-rate prices or bring in new merchandise with the intent of driving dad out of business.

I was naïve and always thought my father was just paranoid until I arrived with Johnny Flowers at dad’s store on Mother’s Day.  That money-grubbing weasel must have found-out what I did...and had a bunch of his employees already outside, overseeing an ornate set-up along the curb that included, flowers, plants, candy, balloons, toys etc.

My Easter Sunday bonanza did not repeat itself. I did okay but Johnny didn’t need to replenish my stock…and indeed, he took back loads of things I didn’t sell.

This time around, my profit was only a third of what I made without competition. I whined to Johnny and he shocked me by implying that this Potter...might be better suited to go around the rest of his miserable life, in a wheelchair...like Lionel Barrymore's Potter. My eyes bulged out of my head and I couldn't believe what my ears were hearing. I couldn't tell if he was serious or not but I didn't want to insult him.  I wanted it clear that I wasn't putting out hit on someone over a hundred or so dollars.  So I said with authority, “That’s okay, I still did pretty good.”

The following Easter, I gave it another try. This time, Potter was more aggressive so that my little lemonade stand was dwarfed and blocked from the view of oncoming traffic by his humongous Coca-Cola-like factory. I worked for minimum wage that day. When Mother’s Day rolled around, I declared my retirement from the flower game.

The next Easter, (1979), I had already moved to Las Vegas. 

*In 1984, I returned to New York.  The driving school across the street from my father store, (Athena's International Driving School) which had been known by its initials, (AIDS) had a gigantic billboard over the building.  In an attempt to save money because of the new context of AIDS, the business changed its name to "The International Driving School, (TIDS).  It was funny how they blocked-out certain letters, rather than make a new sign, A the na's International Driving School, (TIDS).

In 1991, I was already in Atlantic City when my dad fulfilled the last lease on his store and retired.  I haven't been out that way since but I hope that Wal-Mart put the cut-rate mini-department store out of business.
WAL-MART HAS DESTROYED A LOT OF LITTLE GUYS. EVEN THOUGH THIS VAST RETAIL EMPIRE OPERATES LIKE A BIGGER, MORE VICIOUS VERSION OF HENRY F. POTTER, I HANG MY HEAD LOW AND ADMIT SHOPPING THERE. BUT I DO TAKE A SMALL AMOUNT OF COMFORT THINKING DAD'S HATED RIVAL MIGHT HAVE BEEN SWALLOWED UP BY WAL-MART ALONG THE WAY.

Thanks to FACEBOOK, five years ago, my wife Sue and I had dinner with LTS and his wife. It was a great once in twenty-five year event…my only regret was that when I had LTS alone, I forgot to ask whatever happened to Johnny Flowers.  It still bugs me that this nobody, might've had ties to organized crime.  Hell, I never expected Robert Blake would ever be tried for murder either.  You never know...and maybe, when I was a teenager, it was a good idea afer all, to whisper the names of Joe Fruit and Tommy Bagadonuts?

Monday, March 10, 2014

TWIN BIMBOS TWERKING

I told my friends at work big news, but they already knew the ME-TV Network (Memory Entertainment-TV) was added to our local cable package. We compared notes and I found out a lot more about the station’s 24-hour lineup of vintage shows.

One friend, BS, was less enthusiastic…he lives near Philadelphia and his cable provider just took away his ME-TV. So over the next few days, I rubbed it in his face that I saw, “RAWHIDE,” “NIGHT GALLERY,” and “THE FUGITIVE.”

BS took the friendly taunting well until I told him I have “ON DEMAND” and that I set my DVR to record off-hour presentations of, “COMBAT!,” “THE RIFLEMAN" and “PERRY MASON.” BS whined, “I love Perry Mason.” I said, “I remember as a kid watching it with my folks.  I was always clueless but it was fun seeing them unfurl the evidence and guess...whodunit.”
"PERRY MASON," AIRED 271 EPISODES, (1957-1966).  THIS ULTIMATE IN EARLY LAWYER SHOWS STARRED RAYMOND BURR (left), (BURR'S TV STARDOM HAD PERFECT TIMING BECAUSE HIS SPUTTERING CAREER WAS DEPENDNG ON JAPANESE GODZILLA MOVIES).
I hadn’t seen a Perry Mason rerun in thirty years. I watched two episodes and was pleased that despite the corniness, (especially the wise cracks at the end) that the stories were interesting. But the biggest thing I took away from the show was actor William Talman who played Los Angeles District Attorney, *Hamilton Berger, (Perry Mason’s regular courtroom foe). 

*In a bit of Perry Mason trivia, D. A. Burger only won three cases against Mason...and two of them were in the ninth (final) season.


My memory went into total recall mode and remembered William Talman's attempt at a great contribution to society. Talman was never a big-time movie star, (his role on Perry Mason defined his career). But in light of a real-life tragedy, he used his Hollywood star-power to advance an original idea that probably saved much misery and a lot of lives. It's too bad not enough people appreciated his purpose and didn't follow his lead. Unfortunately in 1968,Talman succumbed to his real life tragedy and died a young man (53) from lung cancer. Yes, his motivation was idealistic but his intent should earn him enough hero status for his face to be immortalized into Mount Rushmore.

Before passing away, Talman became the first celebrity to do a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the American Cancer Association. This plea was intentionally NOT shown till after his death. The impact of his anti-smoking message was made stronger because his expert “testimony” gave the correct perception…that he was speaking from the grave.
WILLIAM TALMAN (1915-1968) SAID, "I DIDN'T MIND LOSING THOSE COURTROOM BATTLES, BUT I'M IN A BATTLE NOW I DON'T WANT TO LOSE.  BECAUSE IF I LOSE, IT MEANS I LOSE MY WIFE AND KIDS.  I'VE GOT LUNG CANCER...IF YOU DON'T SMOKE, DON'T START.  IF YOU DO SMOKE, QUIT!  DON'T BE A LOSER."
  In 1985, international superstar Yul Brynner made a similar public announcement.
YUL BRYNNER (1920-1985). AMONG HIS HONORED CREDITS, HE'S BEST KNOWN FOR HIS 4,625 APPEARANCES ON BROADWAY IN, "THE KING AND I."  IN HIS PSA FOR THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY HE SAID, "NOW THAT I'M GONE, I TELL YOU: DON'T SMOKE.  WHATEVER YOU DO, JUST DON'T SMOKE.  IF I COULD TAKE BACK THAT SMOKING, WE WOULDN'T BE TALKING ABOUT MY CANCER."

We’ll never know how many people were saved by these straight forward campaigns but I know my parents never heeded their warnings. Trust me, the world was a far better place with my folks in it and healthy...but before my dad became an old man, he died suddenly and painfully and mom had a long debilitating illness that ruined her golden years.  Both deaths were from the effects of smoking.




                                                          *


To protect the memory of my parents, my immediate and extended family as well as my friends, I decided to preserve our photographs. We've all lent-out our best pictures and some were never returned, they get lost and damaged, are subjected to natural catastrophes and they fade too. That's why I have created a centralized mega-photo forum from my gazillion photographs. By researching the dozens of old-school picture albums in my closet, the scattered, shoe-boxed snapshots left dormant in my garage and the framed beauties all over the house, I realized that I need to organize them…forever.

The conduit of my success is FACEBOOK. I have gone through many of my old albums and discovered that you can waste a lot of time going through each page without seeing a cool picture. So by scanning only the winners, I made themed albums with easy access to the best of the best. Then with push-button technology at my disposal, it's simple to add new ones or share...without the risk of them going unreturned.

One of the eye-opening downsides to my project is that overwhelmingly the photos of my folks include a cigarette. How annoying to see what killed them in action.  Even worse, it seems like every pose was pre-empted by them lighting-up first.
MY FOLKS IN 1968, THE SAME YEAR WILLIAM TALMAN MADE HIS ANTI-SMOKING PLEA.  MY MOM AND DAD WERE A DYNAMITE LOOKING COUPLE.  THEY WERE YOUNG AT HEART AND SHOULD HAVE HAD A LONG, PLEASANT TIME AS SENIOR CITIZENS.

I am not the only person using FACEBOOK as a permanent, preservation device for my old pictures. My friends SHMEE and MSM2 frequently post old pix. To rationalize this practice, they use the computer-speak "T-B-T."  This acronym flew over my head. But because I always tell my son Andrew to figure things out before asking for help, I plugged in my inner Perry Mason and tried to unravel the mystery myself.

The possible T-B-T's  I came up with were, “Totally Boring Time,” "Thoughtlessly Burnt Trash," “Throwing Better Tantrums,” “Tasteless Bad Tacos,” “Thy Bulging Thyroid,” ‘Twin Bimbos Twerking,” “Temperamental Bermuda Triangle” and “Tareytons Burying Thousands.” Somehow, I didn’t think any of my guesses were right.

Still, I wanted to solve the problem on my own, so I googled, "TBT."  In seconds, I had my answer…but the “Truth Be Told,” didn’t fit into the context of what SHMEE and MSM2 had written. In frustration, I gave up and asked my wife Sue. She laughed, “Well Captain Obvious, you’re a silly boy if you don’t know TBT is, ‘Throw Back Thursday.’” “Aha,” I said, “it’s all clear to me now because SHMEE and MSM2 always included an old photo.”

Sue (and some friends), can’t see the cleverness behind my colossal FACEBOOK picture project. She said, “Forget about Throw Back Thursday, you’re obsessed with posting pictures, you’ve already put too many up.”

I was disappointed that she felt that way. I had been doing a little at a time for so long
but this freezing winter has taken a toll on me. I’m still not quite over a three week-plus cold. At its worst, I was over-tired and lethargic. I was spending nearly all my spare time in bed or on the sofa. When I was strong enough to sit upright, “playing” with the photos and writing little snippets was all I could concentrate on. Well now that I have posted over 1200 pix, I still have more than half the old school photo albums to go through. Hopefully my cold will end soon and I can take a slower, less obsessive approach to my ambitious undertaking.

In the mean time, my reality is, I work in one of the eleven buildings in the entire state that allow smoking inside. The lawmakers seem to side with big business.  In the name of corporate profits in a struggling economy, the law permits this travesty of a proven health hazard to continue. The slap-in-the-face absurdity to the situation is made more acute because there is support to ban smoking on public beaches. Baffling? That means, they will force smokers, inside?  Even more baffling!

For all the good William Talman and Yul Brynner strived for, today’s YOLO (You Only Live Once) mentality doesn’t want to hear about the side-effects of their actions on other people. They feel beaten-down by anti-smoking restrictions and when they can light-up, they feel entitled. After all, between hacking coughs, they know the grim reaper is ready to take them. So if they can’t help themselves, they certainly don’t care about anyone else.
I'VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SMOKING, USING DRUGS OR UNNECESSARILY RISKING ONE'S LIFE TO BE COOL...SIMILARLY, IT'S ALSO HARD TO BELIEVE THAT ONE YEAR FROM YESTERDAY, JOHN BELUSHI WILL BE DEAD, (FROM DRUGS), AS LONG AS HE WAS ALIVE.  BUT AS TALENTED AS THIS YOLO WAS...TODAY, HE'S JUST ANOTHER SCHMUCK.

Thanks to secondhand smoke, my friend TH (a thirty-year casino veteran) has a thick, ear-to-ear neck scar, from the throat cancer surgery that saved his life…and he NEVER smoked or used a tobacco product in his life. There are plenty of stories like his...and most have far less upbeat endings.

I say protect your memories. You never know what might befall you. Whether it’s throwback TV or the images of your folks, healthy and in their prime, use all the weapons at your disposal to keep them.

If you don't, there’s always going to be YOLO's and blunt-blowing, “Twin Bimbos Twerking,” your eyes irritated and throat scratched from, "Thoughtlessly Burnt Trash," someone “Throwing Better Tantrums,” because they can’t smoke their stinky-ass cigar wherever they want, “Tasteless Bad Tacos” due to tobacco stink, secondhand smoke causing, "Thy Bulging Thyroid" and a “Temperamental Bermuda Triangle” ready to kill any who gets too near…all because of “Tareytons Burying Thousands.”
TAREYTONS HAVE BEEN AROUND SINCE 1954.  THEY HAVE BECOME SIGNFICANTLY LESS POPULAR AND ARE NOW ONLY AVAILABLE ONLINE OR IN SPECIALTY SHOPS.  THEIR LONG AND SUCCESSFUL AD CAMPAIGN (above) EXPRESSED A BRAND LOYALTY, WORTHY OF FIGHTING FOR.  TODAY, THIS MARKETING STUPIDITY ONLY REINFORCES THE NOTION THAT YOLO's (PERHAPS UNDER A DIFFERENT NAME), HAVE BEEN AMONG US FOREVER.

The next time I have good news for my friends at work, hopefully I'll be telling them that the suffering is over!  That effective immediately, there's a 100% smoking ban in all New Jersey indoor facilities.  Can I get a, "That Blessing's Tremendous!" AMEN to that!!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

SCATTING WITH ELLA FITZGERALD, AT ESTELL MANOR PARK.

In 1998, before I was hip to the “dot com” age, I nicknamed one of my wife’s acquaintances, "WWW," (not as a term of endearment). It stood for, the Wicked Witch of the West. Which today, conveniently helps us celebrate the 75th anniversary of, "THE WIZARD OF OZ."

WWW (or "W") and her family lived in her husband’s parent’s tiny house, which was coincidentally on Western Avenue. In her late thirties, her witch-like presence was exemplified by making no attempt to dye the gray streaks from long, stringy black hair. If that wasn’t enough, her constant dour expression was dominated by a crooked nose, (too bad she didn't have giant facial wart or hunchback to complete the haunting package). Unfortunately for everyone, those were her good qualities. I soon discovered that it was her skewed personality that was truly wicked.

W had two sons, (four and three) who were friendly with my son Andrew. Her innocent little boys were overly bashful, always looked scared and cried over the slightest mishap. But when their mom was around…these bundles of nerves…were much worse.

Mr. W. was a zero too. The two times we socialized, he seemed afraid to speak when his misses was around. This dude was so overwhelmed by her that he flinched every time there was a sudden movement or an unexpected loud noise. The only way to reduce his tension was to attach a permanent Budweiser IV to his arm and go through life anesthetized.

I’m guessing, but Mr. W’s downward spiral started when he inherited a large tract of land in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Under normal circumstances this would be a financial bonanza…but…the Pine Barrens are being preserved by conservation groups. The restrictions are so severe that building on or otherwise developing the property is nearly impossible. Thus, the W’s vast homestead…is not only nearly worthless but their capricious and unsuccessful legal proceedings to circumvent the law proved to be costly.

WWW felt robbed. If she had a squadron of flying monkeys, I’m certain she would have taken her wrath out on the world. So, because I was aware of her eccentricities, I had to be a moron to try to “cure” her.

What could be more normal than taking little kids to Border’s Book Store? On my suggestions, she brought her sniveling cry babies to the children’s reading hour that featured, a Winnie the Pooh birthday party. While Andrew was being lavished with candy, cake and Hawaiian Punch, the son’s of WWW, under her watchful eye, stared off into space as if in a sad, hypnotic trance.

Soon, a volunteer came out in a Pooh costume. A surge of children, including Andrew, greeted the chubby little cubbie stuffed with fluff. When I turned around, the two W boys were glued to their seats and sobbing. Pooh was making a slow, hug-laden lap around the party area. At a snail’s pace, he advanced towards the two weeping, non-participants. The younger W, sensing acute danger, (Get it? A cute danger), sprang from his chair and ran in screaming hysterics, in the opposite direction. Brother bawler recognized the menace seconds later and followed, with mom right behind him.
SUMMER - 1998. WHAT A GREAT TIME FOR ANDREW AND 98% OF THE KIDS WHO ATTENDED THIS BIG EVENT.  TRUST ME, IT'S HARD TO TYPE WITH A STRAIGHT FACE THINKING THAT THOSE TWO SCAREDY CATS VAMOOSED WHEN POOH LOOKED AT THEM.

A month later, the theme at Border’s reading hour was Dr. Seuss. When I mentioned this to WWW, she lambasted me, complete with her bony finger in my face demanding to know, “What do any of his books mean?” Before I could muster an answer, she dismissed me. So a week later, I had to be a real dope when I invited her and her charges to the children’s nature lecture at Estell Manor Park.
A GREAT DAY TRIP, ESTELL MANOR PARK IS A HIDDDEN TREASURE THAT MANY FOLKS IN MY NEGHBORHOOD ARE UNAWARE OF OR ARE UNWILLING TO TRAVEL SO FAR TO.

WWW couldn't just say, "No thanks."  Instead she used the opportuity as a soapbox to remind me of her hatred of conservation groups and bragged, “In the news, a tiny Greenpeace boat protesting a Japanese whaling ship got rammed, split in two and one of the tree huggers died.” Her joy in telling me was stunning. Then she added, “If I was driving a train-load of lumber and one of those weirdoes laid on the railroad tracks, I would think nothing of cutting the jerk’s legs off.”

I said, “You do realize that a friendly park ranger will teach the kids about being kind to animals or preventing forest fires and do a craft.” WWW ripped into me. She even said incredibly awful things about Smoky the Bear and finished with, “Don’t EVER try to include my boys in your follies!”

Andrew and I were veterans of the park and were never disappointed. That day, the W’s missed out on a nice presentation and a lot of fun. During the years between Andrew being two and seven, we made the forty-minute trip to Estell Manor, about twenty times.

Our visits started at the Warren E. Fox Nature Center. The building housed many displays about; Native American influences to the area, the history of the park, environmental education and ecological issues. Additionally, photos and an array of taxidermy animals that are indigenous to the grounds, helped kids understand the reality of wild life. On the “back porch” they had a mini-menagerie of small, woodland creatures. Andrew especially liked the bullfrog and the bunnies. Whatever curiosity he had about snakes was lost when he witnessed their lunch...a tasty, live, white rat.

The sprawling 1700 acre park has a paved, square-shaped road cut through it. Along this route, twenty-plus miles of paths, tiny trails and other off-shoots are a paradise to a youngster’s imagination. Even when Andrew was two, he showed incredible longevity as we hiked through those woods for long periods of time.

Andrew’s favorite landmarks included; the ruins of a pre-Civil War-era bottle factory, a boardwalk over swamps and a never-ending supply of small bridges over ponds, spongy bogs and marshes. Andrew was also an early reader so he was fascinated that many trees and shrubs had numbers or letters that corresponded to an identifying guide.
THE ESTELLVILLE GLASS FACTORY (1825-1877) WAS ONE OF THE FEW MANUFACTURERS IN THAT ERA THAT PRODUCED BOTH DRINKING VESSELS AND WINDOWS.

Andrew was such a stout walker that he still had energy to climb all over the three different playgrounds that were along the paved road. When he was five, I brought along his bike with the training wheels. Unencumbered by many cars, he rode with confidence to our favorite picnicking site near a lake. The park was such a beautiful setting that when he mastered a two-wheeler, we rode our bikes together.

Still, I doubt we scratched the surface and didn’t nearly explore the park’s entire greatness. But on the occasion of the nature lecture that W dismissed, the highlight was the park ranger’s description of animal fecal matter. That means, if you’re trying to engage the minds of four-year olds, animal crap, is a perfect subject.

Andrew wanted to show me the display. He whispered to me, that “scat” was the big boy word for animal poop. He led me to the signs and read aloud. Soon I knew the difference between a squirrel’s droppings, a deer’s, a possum’s and even a coyote’s.

In the year that followed, despite the rift between the families widening, Andrew and the W boys wound-up on the same tee-ball team. In the name of self-preservation, I tried to separate myself from WWW…who was clearly out of her mind. It was fitting that she was so afraid of her boys contracting lice from an unclean stranger’s batting helmet that she bought each of her boys their own, (she also steadfastly held those helmets when they weren’t in use, so the great unwashed portion of the population didn’t have access to them).

I should have let myself be entertained by W’s antics but mostly I was sickened. If she made her poor little bastards sit at attention in the dugout while waiting to bat there was nothing I could do about it. But when Andrew was standing in the shortstop position and having a good old time kicking up the infield dust, W ran out onto the field, picked him up, set him down (three feet away) on the grass and scolded him…that's where I drew the line.

Still, I controlled myself because I didn’t think Andrew was traumatized.  But her actions were so wrong, in so many ways. My problem was, it would be inappropriate to confront the hag in front forty people. And because my wife wasn’t there, I sought out her fuddy-duddy hubby.

What a mistake. I found Mr. W in his pick-up truck working on his four Budweiser. I said, “You see that? You better straighten your wife out!” He shrugged, “No, I didn't see nuthin'! But whatever it was, take it up with her.” To silently send me packing, he rolled up his window. All ties with the W’s were immediately cut.

To further perpetuate her sons' social ineptitude, WWW decided to home-school them. Thus ending any interaction between the families. Through channels, we heard that WWW forbid her boys to play with Andrew because, his mother, (Sue), “wore blinders and was evil.” Yes, we were angry, but considering the wacky source, it was clearly a waste of time to go out of our way to address her idiocy. It should be noted, shortly there after, the W’s divorced.

By the time first grade rolled around, the W’s were ancient history. Andrew and I were still regularly going to Estell Manor Park but the issue of animal scat seemed long forgotten.

One day Andrew came home from school and he wasn’t his cheerful self. Sue and I prodded him and he mentioned an incident during music class. The music teacher, (Mr. Salty as the kids called him) discussed different kinds of music like, jazz, rock-n-roll, rap, classical and country-western. Mr. Salty said, “Does anyone know about scat?” My boy raised his hand and answered, “Scat is animal poop.” The class erupted in laughter. Apparently Mr. Salty was laughing too because he realized that scat is the formal term for animal solid waste as well as the song styling that included improvised, meaningless syllables in singing. He mentioned Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as leaders in scatting and that Scatman Crothers nickname was derived from this talent.
ELLA FITZGERALD (1917-1996) MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE ORIGINATOR OF SCATTING.
Andrew was uneasy because he thought he said a dirty word.  Sue phoned Mr. Salty. He assured her that there were no problems.  The incident proved to be a long standing joke between all and us, even after my boy graduated. Today, Andrew appreciates the irony that Scatman Crothers' talents have criss-crossed his life so many times.
BENJAMIN "SCATMAN" CROTHERS (1910-1986) WAS A MULTI-TALENTED ENTERTAINER. LATE IN HIS CAREER, HE TURNED TO ACTING ON TV's, "CHICO AND THE MAN." SOON HE HAD ROLES THAT ANDREW WAS FAMILIAR WITH LIKE IN; 1980's, "THE SHINING," AS WELL AS VOICE-OVERS IN CARTOONS SUCH AS; "THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS," "TRANSFORMERS," "HONG KONG PHOOEY," AND AS SCAT CAT IN THE 1970 ANIMATED FEATURE FILM, "THE ARISTOCATS." 

Andrew outgrew Estell Manor but we paid one last visit there when our county's network of Cub Scout's, had a cooperative outing there.  Due to my knowledge of park, I volunteered to make a, "Golden...Red, White and Blue Scavenger Hunt."

While I was in the forest setting it up, I found myself singing and humming Ella Fitzgerald's, "A TISKET, A TASKET."  Of course I didn't know the words too well, so I wound-up scatting it myself.  Click on the link below for Ms. Fitzgerald's three-minute youtube video of it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbztUizvDjw

I can't be bothered with "whatever happened to the W's? " But now that W has sole possession of her ex's Pine Barren property, wouldn't this be hilarious. If she got off her broom long enough to explore "somewhere over the rainbow" of their land, hiked through the woods with her sons and stepped in flying monkey scat or Pooh's poo? Yes, whether you have no brain, you're heartless or afraid of everything, there's no place like home....even if it's really someone else.  Hey, even if WWW and the boys weren't bare-footed, they'd be justified to cry over that!