Monday, October 5, 2015

NICKY'S A PRICK

October is, MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH.

                                                     #

What makes a good person snap?  How can a well-adjusted, intelligent, God-fearing, friendly, generous, caring and confident individual soar so high...only to suddenly fizzle, crash and burn?

We are learning more about the evil inner demons of depression and what can spark the internal downfall of someone who seems to have their act together.   Where might it start?  Getting betrayed by a lover? An untimely death in the family? Disillusionment at the workplace or money matters?   Certainly any one of these could mess someone up...but more than one or all, especially condensed into a short period of time would test the will of a saint. From the outside looking in, a perfect example might be comedian/actor Robin Williams.
ROBIN WILLIAMS (1951-2014)  WAS A UNIVERSALLY BELOVED CELEBRITY.  DURING HIS CAREER IN SHOW BUSINESS, (1976-2014),  HE HAD NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF, (WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF THE 1980 MOVIE, "POPEYE.")  HE WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU'D EXCEPT TO HARM HIMSELF. AFTER HIS TRAGIC SUICIDE, WE LEARNED THAT THIS ACT WAS TRIGGERED BY DEPRESSION AND PARANOIA RESULTING FROM A TYPE OF DEMENTIA.

I met a universally beloved man (Nick Tucker), in 1978, while  attending the New York School of Gambling, (West 32nd Street off Broadway). Our original relationship was cemented into a friendship when three years later in Las Vegas, we became coworkers at the Golden Nugget

Tucker (five years older than me), fooled me into thinking he was the world's finest human. I once introduced him to my wife Sue (before we were married) as, a true gentleman.  He was of course flawed.  One of his shortcomings was to say to Sue, "Pardon my language but..."  And then he'd use the harshest profanity that would make a longshoreman blush.  He also thought it was funny to brandish a switchblade on people.  When he did it to Sue and I, I  cracked, "Are you a Shark or a Jet?"  His response started with, Pardon my language but..."
NICK GOT MY REFERENCE TO THE 1957 HIT BROADWAY MUSICAL AND 1961 MOVIE, "WEST SIDE STORY." WHICH WAS INSPIRED BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S CLASSIC, "ROMEO AND JULIET." EXCEPT, THE DISAPPROVING FAMILIES ARE REPRESENTED BY WARRING STREET GANGS IN NEW YORK CITY AND THEIR WEAPON OF CHOICE IS KNIVES, SPECIFICALLY SWITCHBLADES.

In those two rare instances, Nick's nastiness came off as cute, so it was a shock later on, to discover that Nick had a disturbing, dark side, (Nick Tucker appears in several of my pieces, which among others includes the short story, "NO HELP'S HALL," and my blog from June 30, 2014, "NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE CHURCHILL AND FREUD."

In each case, Nick takes on the hero role.  But, we find out that he was a twisted bastard who carried vendettas and thought nothing of hurting the people who he perceived had hurt him.  It was only after Nick abandoned his position at the Nugget, (December 1983) that I found out about this double life.

In the beginning at dealer school, our student body, like a caste system, had a strict, social status hierarchy.  While our craps dealing class wasn't in session, the jet-setters like Nick Tucker hung-out together.  Regular low-key guys like me, remained in our "good-people" crowd.  While the nerds cast themselves off to the furthest shadows.  Despite the social separation, Tucker stood out as unique because unlike his elite brethren, he was friendly and kind to everyone.

Tucker's running mate at school was John Crotty.  Crotty, was a narcissistic asshole.  Even in the early stages of dealer school, his upward mobility mindset defined his future as a casino games dealer, as a "temporary obstacle" on his way to upper management.

The heart of Crotty's coolness was based on the Vegas connections he bragged about.  So to anyone beneath his strata who didn't get high the way did or go golfing with bigwigs was nothing to him.  So unless a nobody could do something for him, his personality was epitomized by aloofness, shallowness and materialism.  At no point at school did he and I share a spoken word that didn't relate to our course.  However, he was famous for repeating one phrase over and over again, "You don''t shit where you eat."

My first interaction outside class with Nick Tucker was during a mid-morning break.  While Tucker thought everyone left the building, I returned to our seventh floor mock casino, to get extra practice.

I found Nick near an open window tying plastic straps to a burlap bank sack.  I had no idea that he was in the process of stealing ten stacks of non-value casino chips.  Down on the street, John Crotty and jet-set wannabe *Barney Kush,  were waiting for Nick's signal to stop pedestrian traffic so the missile-like booty could be tossed down "safely."

*Kush's story was blogged on January 27, 2014.  It was called, "THE COCKAMAMIE KID."

Nick called out as I entered the casino-like classroom, "Hey you, lay chickie for me."  Unwittingly, I became the lookout for the robbery.  Later, I was invited to practice with those stolen chips and hundreds more, on the craps table John Crotty built in his Elizabeth New Jersey garage. I might have taken Nick up on his offer but the harsh glare from Crotty made me feel acutely unwelcome.

In my five years in Las Vegas, I saw Crotty only three times.  I ducked him the first two times but the point of this story centers around our third meeting.  However, first I must introduce you to Mateo. I doubt Mateo and Crotty ever met.

I was hired as a craps dealer at the Las Vegas Golden Nugget in August 1982.  Nick Tucker was already dealing dice there and took me under his wing.  In no time I was traveling in the inner circle clique which included Mateo.

Mateo and I gravitated to each other.  He gave me background on Nick which made Tucker God-like. He said, "Nick proved his generosity many ways including: counseling another dealer and taking him by the hand to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.  Nick spent several nights off in a gorgeous blackjack dealer's apartment and helped her study and soon gain her GED, (he declined her offers of sexual compensation). To a pit boss on the verge of disowning his fourteen year-old, drug addicted daughter, Nick spoke so highly of a supreme being and convinced the man to speak to a priest." He also mentioned that he once offered Nick a hundred dollars to drive up to Utah with him and help roll a cement mixer into the bed of his truck and bring back to town. Nick went but refused the money.

Nick Tucker was also famous for using up favors to set up parties and other outings for our group, (oddly, he never stuck around for them).  I know now that root of Nick's deeper problems laid in the fact that despite being a social butterfly at work, nobody knew his address or phone number.

Mateo ( a craps dealer), had juice in the Nugget's executive office.  So he had access to the employees personal information.  This influence was so strong that it arranged supervisor pay for him.  The bean-counters didn't catch on to Mateo's bonanza, (an extra $40.00 a day for two years). His connection also saw to it that this "oversight" was swept under the rug.

In November 1983, Nick didn't tell anyone and went on vacation during Thanksgiving.  Nobody knew where he went and two weeks later it was apparent that he wasn't coming back.  That's when Mateo found out that in Nick's file folder, he used a post office box for an address and provided the casino with a phony phone number.

A few days before Christmas, I bumped into John Crotty at the Meadows Mall..  He was wearing an expensive suit and had an unnatural orange glow from a tanning bed session.  I was afraid he was going to bend my ear about how set for life he is.  Instead he asked, "You still at the Nugget?"  I was impressed that he knew I was there as I said, "Yeah.'  He said, "Where's Nicky? It's like he disappeared."  I shrugged, "Dunno. Nobody does..."

Crotty started talking...and at no time did he speak about himself.  At one point his saddened voice cracked, "I thought I had the best friend I always wanted in life...but Nicky was more skitzo than 'Skitzo-Al.'"  (Skitzo-Al was a regular guy from dealer school who hid the fact that he was deaf in one ear, resulting in an erratic personality).

Before long, I would hear the all highlights of John and Nick's friendship. Apparently Nick got to Las Vegas a couple of months before Crotty.  In that time, to minimize costs, Nick became roommates with a kid (Dale) attending UNLV.  When Crotty came to town, he and Nick got a place together.  Crotty said, "Nick's tongue really flapped when he was drunk."

Crotty and I sat on a bench as he shared Nick's life story:

"First! Nick's real name is Lonnie Orlando.  Nicky must have really fucked-up because he bought fake ID.  He wanted to go off the grid...and picked Vegas.  I bet whatever put him on the run was a combination of shitty circumstances.  First, he was an only child.  He was about twenty, still living at home when both his healthy but elderly parents died a month apart.  He inherited their-turn-of-the-century house, in a beaten-down section of Newark...the back of his property touched the tall barbed wire fence that surrounded Newark Airport's freight terminal."

I patiently listened as Crotty continued, "Nick became a high school business teacher.  Which meant for $9,100.00 a year, he was stuck teaching non-college bound juvenile delinquents how to type."

"Soon he married a grade school teacher named Annette and she moved into that house.  They were broke, so he wouldn't let her refurnish or decorate the place to her liking.  Plus, it was the only house left standing on the whole block, in the middle of a slum.  She hated being isolated without convenient shopping and never feeling safe.  In the name of love, she might have made do but the icing on the cake was that Nick had an insane phobia about going too far from home.  So forget romantic vacations, they hardly left Newark."

Nick life didn't seem so tragic to me.  When I pretended to yawn, Crotty spoke faster and his voice went up an octave, "Nick wanted to teach history but there were no openings.  He dedicated himself to instructing his misfits.  Through care and understanding, he got enthusiasm from kids that usually don't give a rat's ass."

"Towards the end of March, Annette felt so neglected that she left him.  Nick told me, her leaving made him so depressed that he considered killing himself.  Then in June, he won the Teacher of the Year Award.  On the last day of the term during a fond farewell with his students, some silliness got personal.  He argued with his pet and lost his temper. They cursed each other.  He was losing the battle of wits and felt the urge to physically attack her.  Instead he quit on the spot, walked out the door without taking his best teacher trophy,clearing out his desk or picking up his last check."

"Wow," I said. Crotty kept talking, "I don't know if he ran because he did something to that girl or if it was something else.  But your buddy Lonny Orlando saw a TV commercial for our dealer school and soon signed up as Nick Tucker."

I said, "That's crazy.  Did he harm his wife?"  Crotty said, "No.  He didn't even contest the divorce. But did you ever notice he always took vacations at Thanksgiving?"  I shook my head as he forged on, "He picked that time of year because Annette and her family followed the same ritual.  So he knew exactly when and where she was.  Then he'd travel incognito back to Jersey and harass her."  I said, "No way.  He was such a great guy, he could never hurt her."  "Well, he felt betrayed by Annette.  Before that, while still mourning for his mom and dad, she wanted to remodel the only house he ever lived in...and, erase the memories of his folks."

"Financially, he screwed himself royally by turning his back on his career and giving up half of everything he owned, even his parent's house."  I said, "I can't believe it. Nick was so smart, he knew right from wrong, he went to church..."  John cut me off, "He NEVER went to church out here!" "Well," I added, "He was a funny man, caring, generous and so confident."  Crotty said, "I'm telling you, he snapped and became schizophrenic. He was usually normal but when pushed, he was capable of doing terrible things."  "No.  You don't think he killed that teacher pet's of his?"  He said, "I can't rule out anything."

John said, "Nick got to Vegas before me and lived with a college kid named Dale.  When we got our apartment together, he told me that he and Dale didn't get along.  Nick was dealing on graveyard at the El Cortez and wanted to sleep from eight at night till two in the morning.  But it was Dale's place and he thought nothing of blasting music and partying all the time.  They clashed over the noise. And when it finally got quiet, Dale had taught Thor, his Norwegian Blue parrot to screech, "NICKY'S A PRICK, NICKY'S A PRICK..."
THERE IS NO SUCH BREED OF PARROT NAMED THE NORWEGIAN BLUE.  DALE CALLED THOR A NORWEGIAN BLUE, AS A HOMAGE TO THE MONTY PYTHON, "DEAD PARROT" SKIT.

John Crotty sighed, "To get even, Nick doused the birdseed with Tabasco Sauce. Thor's shit was blood red for a couple of days...until he died.  I'm no animal rights guy but what Nick did was criminal. Whenever he told me that story, he included lines from the Monty Python sketch. It wasn't funny."  I said, "Parrots live like forty years..."  John said, "That's right.  It's like a member of the family.  So when Dale attacked him, Nick kicked his ass, trashed the apartment and bolted."  "Did the guy press charges?"  "No apparently Nick gave Dale a different phony name when he moved in and quit the El Cortez, so he couldn't be tracked down."

Seven years after moving to Atlantic City, (1991), my wife Sue and I had a Vegas vacation.  We telephoned Mateo and met him for lunch.  I asked if he knew anything about Nick.  He said, "Months after you left, my connection in the executive office sent me a Xerox copy of a November 1983 arrest report from Ionia New Jersey.  He (Nick) had slashed the tires of his ex's new husband, broke into their house, trashed the place and smeared his own shit on wedding and honeymoon pictures.  Then on the morning of Thanksgiving, he broke into her parent's house.  He was holding his own crap and was about to do the same thing to that house when cops burst out of closets, the basement and attic."  I said, "I thought Nick had no family or real friends so nobody would miss him?"  Mateo said, "You're right.  The police got his true identity from Annette and were able to trace him back to his fingerprints, on his application for a Nevada casino dealer license."

I sighed, "That boy needed professional help."  Mateo huffed, "He had too much pride."  I said, "He needed to be on meds...sounds like he went off the deep end and could have become one of the weirdos that goes berserk and drives up on crowded sidewalks and mows down strangers."

Mateo was shaking his head as I continued, "One of Nick's friends (John Crotty) was right, you shouldn't shit where you eat."  Then I shared with him a lot of what Crotty told me.  When I finished with the parrot story I said, "Nicky really was a prick.'"

Monday, September 28, 2015

CUBAN SANDWICHES

What are the chances that I would eat one of my favorite foods once in the last thirty-five years?

In my Las Vegas years, (1979-1984), my longtime running mate was "Ciro the Hero."  Although he eventually crashed, burned and turned into Ciro the Zero, he widened my range of experiences...most of which I rejected.  However, his mainframe of genius was...knowing where to eat.

The best place he took me to was Tommy B's Casino.  Tommy B's opened in 1968.  It was located in a four-store strip mall just north of the Circus Circus Casino.  By the time I got there with my feedbag on, Tommy's had evolved away from being a casino.  So their only claim to gaming fame was, two antique nickel slots machines.

What Tommy B's had become was a bodega, (an Hispanic grocery store). The long, left wall featured shelves of Goya food products.
I HAD NEVER HEARD OF GOYA BACK THEN BUT TODAY MY CUPBOARD IS STOCKED WITH MOJO, SOFRITO AND ADOBO...PLANTAIN CHIPS...NOT SO MUCH.

The right side of Tommy's oblong space was dominated by a bar.  In addition to rows of alcohol bottles, there was a grill.

It was after midnight when Ciro and I went in to this sleepy, mostly empty dump.  I immediately noticed that the cigar chomping bartender was wearing a white, sweaty and decrepit Cincinnati Reds baseball cap. His neutral expression broke into a broad smile as he caught eye contact with Ciro.

They leaned over the bar and gave each other a hearty welcome.  Ciro whispered something in pigeon Spanish that drew a serious nod from the man.  Soon there after, I was introduced to the proprietor, Javier Cuellar
YOU HAVE TO BE REALLY OLD LIKE ME OR A BASEBALL NUT TO REMEMBER CUBANS BEING BIG CINCINNATI REDS FANS.  THE REASON WAS,  (BEFORE THE 1959 REVOLUTION), THE REDS HAD THEIR AAA, INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE AFFILIATE IN HAVANA.  SO, IT WAS COOL TO ME, THAT CUELLAR HAD A WHITE CAP FROM THE 1950's AND 1960's.  (above) ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITES, HALL-OF-FAMER FRANK ROBINSON MODELS THE VINTAGE CAP. 

Cuellar turned to the greasy grill and flipped a pancake, fried eggs, a burger and home fries. Ciro grinned, "Everything tastes like a hamburger here."  I nodded, "And everything stinks like cheap stogies."  Ciro ignored me and called out, "Servicio amigo, dos Carta Blancas y dos mixtos."
A CUBAN SANDWICH...OR CUBAN MIX...OR A MIXTO, IS A VARIATION ON A HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICH.  IT ORIGINATED IN CUBAN CAFES THAT CATERED TO BLUE COLLAR WORKERS.  IMMIGRANTS BROUGHT DIFFERENT RECIPES TO THE USA WHICH GENERALLY INCLUDED;  HAM, ROASTED PORK, CHEESE, PICKLES AND MUSTARD ON CUBAN FLAT BREAD...WITH THE WHOLE ENCHILADA PRESSED DOWN ON A GRILL.

On a bar stool, I found a three-day old copy of El Nuevo Herald, (the Spanish counterpart of the Miami Herald).  I thumbed through it as I sucked down my first beer until Ciro nudged me to watch Cuellar prepare his version of our six-billion calorie snack.
I MAY NOT BE THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE WORLD BUT WHEN I DRINK BEER, I KNOW MOST LATIN AMERICAN CERVEZAS WILL BE A LET-DOWN.  HOWEVER IN THIS CASE, I WENT WITH THE FLOW.

My arteries were already stiffening as Cuellar slathered the grill with butter (no mustard) while the added ingredient of bacon sizzled. That Cuban sandwich wound-up being so incredible that I didn't feel cheated out of the Heinekens that I was looking forward to.

On two other occasions I went back to Tommy's with Ciro and loved it...but never went on my own. During a private conversation,Ciro implied that he did *business with Cuellar.  Later, that tidbit reinforced my concern over the questionable goings on, (primarily by the low-lifes), hanging out in the storage room out back.

* The term "business" suggested marijuana.  If that was true, Ciro never made clear who was supplying who.

 Ciro convinced me that the seedy men on the other side of the beaded curtain were a part of a social club and that nothing truly sinister was going on.  But on my way to the restroom that first time, I glimpsed through and saw a beat-up wooden table.  Dominoes, beer cans and bottles were strewn about and four grisly Latinos, in their native tongue, were intensely arguing.  I knew Ciro wasn't the most wholesome character and assumed that his idea of savory and mine was different.
EATING AT TOMMY B's WOULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT PLACE TO TURN OTHER FRIENDS ON TO, BUT I NEVER DID.  I DIDN'T SEE GUNS OR KNIVES IN THAT BACK ROOM BUT I WAS WILLING TO MISS-OUT ON A TASTY TREAT IN THE NAME OF SAFETY.

I was in Tommy B's three times and drove by it without giving it much thought countless other times. But its memory, specifically the Cuban sandwiches are indelibly etched in my mind. So, in 2009 during our family Las Vegas and Grand Canyon vacation, I went out of my way to have a drive-by. But twenty-three years is a long time...Tommy B's as well as the whole mini-mall were long gone.

If you were in Vegas in the 1980's, you probably thought the town was mega. Since then, this adult playground has taken steroids and has exploded into super-mega popularity. The quaint little casinos and vacant desert lots that took up the space between giant gaming halls along the fabulous Las Vegas strip have vanished.  The once plentiful, seemingly unwanted land has become so valuable that it's no exaggeration to say that you can't squeeze a credit card between today's expanded properties. So with Tommy B's nearly removed from my memory what are the chances that it would come to mind in Dullsville...a.k.a., Rehoboth Delaware.

Throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's, my family enjoyed long weekends and many vacations in Ocean City Maryland. To get there from South Jersey, the only realistic way to go was the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.  From Lewes Delaware, through Rehoboth, it was a forty-five minute scenic jaunt along the shoreline to Ocean City.
THE CAPE MAY - LEWES FERRY HAS BEEN SHUTTLING ACROSS DELAWARE BAY SINCE JULY 1, 1964.  CURRENTLY, THE DAILY SERVICE RUNS 16-HOURS, EVERY DAY.  FOR THE 80-MINUTE VOYAGE, SHIPS ACCOMMODATE UP TO 100 VEHICLES. DEPENDING ON THE SEASON, A REGULAR CARLOAD COST: $27.00, $37.00, $42.00 OR $45.00.

On the way home, we got into the habit of taking the last ferry and stopping first at the outlet shops in Rehoboth, (the town next to Lewes). Shopping was exciting to my wife Sue and less thrilling for my son Andrew and I. Eventually, I devised a plan to drop mom off for an hour or two which allowed us the uninhibited testosterone rush of exploring and having our own adventures.

When Andrew was nine, (2003), on the way to dropping Sue off, a traffic accident blocked our approach to Rehoboth.  While the other side of the two-lane roadway was at a complete standstill, we inched forward in Dewey Beach, (the adjacent town).  The snail's pace allowed me to noticed a deli's big sign advertising Cuban sandwiches.  My mouth watered as I pined for my long-lost treat and looked forward to bonding with Andrew over this culinary delight...and maybe a sarsaparilla or two.

Unfortunately, the last couple of miles took forever.  I dropped Sue off at the outlet center with a lot less time than we had anticipated. I began to retrace my steps to the deli. Up ahead, I could see the traffic hadn't eased up  There might have been an alternate route but I didn't know the lay of the land.
THE TRAFFIC JAM WAS WHERE THE LAND BOTTLENECKS, AT THE TOP OF THIS NORTHERLY, AERIAL PHOTO OF DEWEY BEACH.

These were the pre-cell phone days.  So only a fool would've risked becoming a victim of circumstance with the potential for making Sue wait and worry.  The Cuban sandwich idea suddenly wasn't an option.  I couldn't chance the disaster of missing the last ferry and getting stranded or being forced to drive all through the night to get home.  I made a reluctant U-Turn.

During that next week at work, I struck up a conversation with a man who coincidentally lived in Dewey Beach.  I told him about my frustration about missing out on Cuban sandwiches.  Even crazier!!!  What's the chances...this man owned that deli!

Since then, I have had one Cuban sandwich at a restaurant called Babalu's.  They wanted to justify charging $13.00 so they called it a "gourmet" Cuban sandwich. But it wasn't special and tasted antiseptic.  I guess some foods by their nature require being greasy.  That meant to me that a gourmet Cuban sandwich was an oxymoron. Either way, my Andrew has still never had the pleasure.
(stock photo) BABALU'S HAD A LOCATION IN ATLANTIC CITY, (I'M UNCERTAIN WHETHER IT WAS ASSOCIATED WITH OTHER EATERIES OF THE SAME NAME).  IT WAS PRICEY AND NOTHING SPECTACULAR....IT CLOSED WITHIN TWO YEARS.

Until recently, I again hadn't thought about Cuban sandwiches for a long time.  So what's the chances of me seeing the exact spot where Tommy B's Casino had been located, in an old movie, (thus conjuring-up the great memories of Javier Cuellar's grill mastery).

The 1967 film, "IN COLD BLOOD," was based on the Truman Capote novel from the previous year.  The book was based on the 1959 killing of the Clutter family in Kansas and the ultimate hanging of the two assailants.
THE BOOK, "IN COLD BLOOD," WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS.  IT RANKS  BEHIND VINCENT BUGLIOSI'S, 1974 CLASSIC, "HELTER SKELTER" AS THE SECOND BEST SELLING CRIME NOVEL IN PUBLISHING HISTORY. 

Last week, those Cuban sandwiches memories gushed out of head, three quarters of the way through the movie. That's when I noticed something interesting when the two murderers were so broke that they gathered deposit bottles.  Just before getting apprehended, they cashed them in for chump change in Las Vegas.  In the establishing shot, like an epiphany, I saw the supermarket was in the space where Tommy B's was, (before it was divided into the four-unit mini-strip mall that I was familiar with...ten plus years later).

Due to the movie, the idea of Cuban sandwiches was fresh in my mind last Sunday.  I was at work, dealing roulette when I struck up a conversation with a player.  He told me, he was from Dewey Beach.  I told him the same story I told that other man from Dewey Beach twelve years ago.  He said, "That was me!" What an amazing coincidence, it was the same guy. You tell me, what are the chances of that?

Monday, September 7, 2015

NOBODY NEEDS A CRASH LANDING AT THE AIR SHOW

In 1998, I was driving south on the Garden State Parkway with my son Andrew, (behind me in his car seat).  Suddenly, I experienced a patriotic eruption of goosebumps when out of the eastern sky, a Flying Wing elegantly coasted down, crossed in front of us and descended for an apparent landing in Egg Harbor Township, at 177th Fighter Wing, (a military installation, adjacent to Atlantic City Airport).
AN ENGINEERING MARVEL, THE NORTHROP B-2 SPIRIT, (aka STEALTH BOMBER OR FLYING WING), IS AN AMERICAN HEAVY STRATEGIC BOMBER, (WITH A TWO-MAN CREW), FEATURING LOW OBSERVABLE STEALTH TECHNOLOGY DESIGNED FOR PENETRATING DENSE ANTI-AIRCRAFT DEFENSES.  THE FIRST OF THE 21 MADE, (AT A COST OF $737 MILLION PER UNIT) WAS INTRODUCED INTO SERVICE IN 1997.

I knew this cutting edge boomerang was something incredible.  I shared my scant aeronautic knowledge with my incredibly bright four-year old but I'm certain he thought I was blithering because Andrew probably couldn't see it and even if he did see it, he just too young to appreciate the rare bird's grandeur.

I have never seen another Flying Wing but if I ever get the craving, I now know a likely place to see one, the Atlantic City Airshow.
EVERY AUGUST SINCE 2003, (ON A WEDNESDAY), ATLANTIC CITY HAS HOSTED THE AIRSHOW THAT BEARS ITS NAME.  SPECTATORS (75,000+) GATHER ALL ALONG THE SHORE FRONT AND BOARDWALK FOR THIS FREE EVENT.  THE FLYBYS AND DEMONSTRATIONS ARE DOMINATED BY MILITARY PRESENTATIONS OF THE AIR FORCE THUNDERBIRDS, NAVY BLUE ANGELS AND ARMY GOLDEN EAGLES.  SO THIS WOULD BE A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO SEE A FLYING WING.

My father would have loved the air show.  Back in the 1970's and 1980's, he and my mom would take friends and family to the Air Show in Rhinebeck New York.
THE OLD RHINEBECK AERODROME (SINCE 1966),  IN RED HOOK NEW YORK, (TWO HOURS NORTH OF NYC),  IS A MUSEUM WITH EXAMPLES OF AIRWORTHY AIRCRAFT FROM THE PIONEERING DAYS, THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF FLIGHT, PRIOR TO WWII.  (above) MY GRANDMOTHER TOOK  THE TRIP IN JULY 1972 TO SEE AERIAL STUNTS, STAGED DOG FIGHTS ETC.


I never joined my folks on their trips to Rhinebeck, (hey, I was a teenager with better things to do). But I do remember my first time up in an airplane?
MY FIRST FLIGHT WAS A FAMILY TOUR IN THE SKIES ABOVE HERSHEY PENNSYLVANIA (SEPTEMBER 1963).  
My father took home movies during our less-than-mile-high excursion. Nobody would ever compare dad's camera artistry with Fellini or Bergman.  But weeks later, after seeing those 8MM home movies, I realized (between the blurry monotony of the landscape below and immediate head-ache inducing shakiness of the images) that we defied death by being so high.

It's possible that those home movies encouraged me to avoid high places and hampered me from being inspired to fly.  I think it also dissuaded me from becoming a daredevil.

I was always uneasy looking down from high places and my self-preservation mode didn't allow me the luxury of going on roller-coasters till I was in college.  So scaling tall ladders to get to the second story of my house was and still is...completely out of the question.
I LEARNED A LOT OF LIFE LESSONS FROM CARTOONS.  ONE IN PARTICULAR WAS, IT'S A LOT FUNNIER TO SEE SOMEONE ELSE SUFFER A FALL FROM HIGH UP. LIKE BUGS BUNNY IN 1944's, "STAGE DOOR CARTOON," AS HE DUPED MORONIC ELMER FUDD (above)  INTO DIVING FROM A RIDICULOUSLY TALL TOWER...INTO AN ORDINARY GLASS OF WATER.  DUE TO MY SHORTCOMINGS RELATING TO HEIGHTS, THIS FEAT WAS HILARIOUS TO ME.  PLEASE NOTE - FUDD WAS A PROFESSIONAL (WHO DID HIS OWN STUNTS).  HE WAS OBVIOUSLY OKAY AFTERWARDS BECAUSE HE WAS RIGHT BACK OUT ON STAGE FOR THE NEXT SCENE.


Remember the old, "ED SULLIVAN SHOW?"  While I tolerated the musical acts, my two loves were the acrobats/specialty acts and the comedians.  I didn't need to see death defying mayhem, I found it thrilling to see the guy spinning thirty-seven dinner plates to the accompaniment of Khachaturian's "SABRE DANCE."
I HAD NO USE FOR SWORD SWALLOWERS AND I COULDN'T WATCH THE KNIFE THROWER PEG DAGGERS AT HIS LOVELY ASSISTANT.  OF COURSE MY FRIENDS WANTED TO SEE ALL THE PLATES BREAK,  BLOOD SPURTING FROM THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S GULLET AND THE POOR KNIFE THROWER'S ASSISTANT WITH A  BLADE STICKING OUT OF HER FOREHEAD.

A few weeks ago, all the memories I mentioned above rushed to mind when I ran into an old friend, (JP). During our conversation, JP (who's two year older than me), mentioned the finer details of taking a serious household fall.  He said, "It happened right after Thanksgiving.  And now ten months later, I'm finally 90%  pain free". In our chat, he described his accident in the style of old comedian (and veteran of the Ed Sullivan Show), Jackie Vernon.
JACKIE VERNON (1924-1987) WITH A GENTLE, LOW-KEY DELIVERY SPECIALIZED IN SELF-DEPRECATING HUMOR.  HE WAS FREQUENTLY REFERRED TO AS, "THE KING OF DEAD-PAN" AS HE'D SAY, "TO LOOK AT ME NOW, IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE I WAS ONCE CONSIDERED A DULL GUY."


JP croaked, "I'm too old to climb up on the roof," as he explained his accident while imitating one of Jackie Vernon's "vacation slide" routines.
BACK IN THE DAY, THE EPITOME OF BORING WAS TO SEE OTHER PEOPLE'S VACATION SLIDES.  ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR UNCLE MORTY WOULD GO OFF ON A TEN-MINUTE TANGENT LIKE, THE POPULARITY OF DR. PEPPER DOWN SOUTH. SO MY FRIENDS WERE NEVER FORCED TO ENDURE OUR SHAKY AIRBORNE HERSHEY PENNSYLVANIA FOOTAGE.

Jackie Vernon's comic genius was proven as he used his drollness, to wrap jokes around his pantomiming the use of a non-existent slide projector. So JP had me laughing immediately when he pretended to press an invisible clicker and said, "Here I am in my garage."

(click)  "Here I am loading the Christmas lights into boxes."

(click)  "Here's my neighbor's cocker spaniel running through my yard."

(click)  "Here I am half way up that rickety old ladder."

(click)  "Here I am slipping on the dog crap I stepped in and falling off the ladder."

(click)  "Here's the EMS driver scraping the shit off my sneaker with his finger and saying, 'Oops, I thought it was pudding.'"

Last week on Wednesday August 26th, I was thinking of JP and his concussion, the collar bone he broke, his messed-up shoulder, elbow, fingers and other injuries as I removed the leaves from my gutters, (the lowest ones I can get to with a five-foot ladder).
I NEED YOU TO BOTH LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY LOOK BEYOND THIS GRATUITOUS  PHOTO FROM 2002 OF MY SON ANDREW. I NEED YOU TO FOCUS ON THE FLORIDA ROOM EXTENSION ON MY HOUSE, SPECIFICALLY THE HEIGHT OF THE GUTTERS.  BECAUSE LAST WEEK, I WAS TAKING LEAVES OUT OF THEM . 

Due to the narrowness of the gutters, I had to use my hand to grab out the wet, disgusting leaves and other debris.  I don't relish this filthy chore but after almost twenty years of practice, I'm secure in my abilities.  The big difference this year was JP's words of wisdom, "I'm too old to climb up on the roof."  So the whole time I was up there I kept repeating to myself, "I'm not gonna fall.  I'm not gonna fall."

The job itself is fast and easy.  Once you recall the best procedure and get into a rhythm, the whole shebang takes twenty minutes, (plus twenty more to wash the yuck off).  While up there, I never stopped chanting my 'I'm not gonna fall,' mantra as I finished the first side and advanced to other.  I was just about done with side two when I heard the unmistakable sizzling roar of three fighter jets, zipping across the skies above my neighborhood. Before I could connect their presence with the airshow (ten miles away), I forgot my Zen-like, "I'm not going to fall," pledge of positive karma.

Stupidly, I contorted my back, squinted into the sun to catch a patriotic glimpse and lost by balance.  Luckily there would be no cliffhanger that day.  Despite my split-second failure to be careful, I grabbed the gutter (after all these years I'm thrilled it supported my weight) and righted myself.

Trust me, even at the cost of missing out on seeing a Flying Wing...whether you're at the air show or not, nobody needs to see or be a part of a crash landing, (except maybe my friends from when I was ten).

Monday, August 31, 2015

LITTLE MURDERERS

"MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," is not a forum to show how smart I perceive myself to be.  I stay clear of religion and politics while sparing my readership the drudgery of commercialism. However, in a rare blog, (like today's), my glibness temporarily takes a giant step...backward.



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IMPOSSIBLE!  Impossible but true.  In 1971, a futuristic movie set and filmed on location in New York City did not include its single most significant (new) landmark, in any of the establishing shots or panoramic skyline views.

Somehow or for some odd reason, the filmmakers managed to keep the much ballyhooed World Trade Center out of their dark comedy, "LITTLE MURDERS."  If my guess is right, they were the most prophetic bastards since Nostradamus.
"LITTLE MURDERS" WAS ADAPTED FROM A JULES FEIFFER PLAY. THE SCREEN VERSION STARRED ELLIOTT GOULD AS THE BOYFRIEND WHO EARNED A GOOD LIVING PHOTOGRAPHING DOG SHIT.  THE SUPPORTING CAST INCLUDED, VINCENT GARDENIA, ALAN ARKIN, DONALD SUTHERLAND, DORIS ROBERTS AND LOU JACOBI.

I saw Little Murders in the theater when it came out.  I not only never saw it again (till last week) or saw that it was shown on TV...BUT nobody I ever mentioned it to, heard of it.  This obscure movie left a deep impression in me but after so many decades, my fuzzy memory caused me to slightly mess-up the title by calling it, "LITTLE MURDERERS."  (Which I now think is a better title).
 (above) VINCENT GARDENIA (1920-1992) PLAYS THE FATHER OF ELLIOTT GOULD'S GIRLFRIEND.  I HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART FOR GARDENIA. NOT BECAUSE HE RESEMBLES MY UNCLE GEORGIE BUT BECAUSE THIS LIFE-LONG RESIDENT OF BROOKLYN WAS A REGULAR CUSTOMER IN MY *DAD'S GREETING CARD STORE, (LATE 70's TO EARLY 90's).  PLEASE NOTE THAT AS A TRIBUTE, A SECTION OF 16th AVENUE IN BENSONHURST HONORARILY BEARS HIS NAME. GARDENIA'S THEATRICAL CREDITS FROM 1945-1991 INCLUDE: A TONY AWARD FOR BEST ACTOR, TWICE NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR AS BEST SUPPORTING FILM ACTOR AND IS BEST REMEMBERED ON TV, (1973-1974), AS ARCHIE BUNKER'S HENPECKED NEIGHBOR, (FRANK LORENZO) ON, "ALL IN THE FAMILY."

* I never had the privilege of meeting Vincent Gardenia but my dad held this pleasant, down-to-earth gentleman in the highest esteem.


When Little Murders came out, the absurdity of humor was far-fetched.  To the credit of my sixteen year-old mind, I got the sardonic, dark wittiness featuring the impending collapse of social mores that would result in functional society as we know it, to go haywire.

The theme of the movie is people getting beaten-down. Elliott Gould's character typifies the notion of "you can't fight City Hall."  So when he gets swallowed up by progress, he gives up.  This is proven when he allows himself to be repeatedly beaten by street toughs who think he's weird, (for taking pictures of dog crap).

He's so accustomed to being accosted that as long as they don't break his cameras, he doesn't resist. In one instant, a girl is awoken by the scuffling below her wide open, high-rise apartment building window. She phones 9-1-1, (wow, they already had 9-1-1 back then).  She has trouble getting through...and is finally put on hold. With the blind optimism that would epitomize her character, she risks her well-being, confronts the attackers and saves the man.  She and Gould start dating. The ever-spunky girl sees his acceptance to negativity and tries to retrieve his long-lost sense of feeling.

While her crusade to change her man gains momentum, we see the decaying world around them worsening. People are now getting regularly and arbitrarily gunned-down in the street...yet passersby can't be bothered by these atrocities.

The apathy becomes rampant and soon the citizens no longer have faith in their elected officials.  We also find out that the cops who are sworn to protect, are just as psychopathic as the out-of-control crazies who are responsible for the ever-rising 457 unsolved murders, (457 unsolved murders by today's standards hardly seems exaggerated).

In a society so beaten-down, the formerly desensitized Gould, through the tutelage of his girlfriend and her family, fight back. Unfortunately, soon they get married,.whatever faith in the goodness of mankind he regained was abruptly lost when he received the ultimate slap in the face.

The rest of Little Murders plot uses a similar formula, as a good adventure story.  The climax comes when the hero is backed into a corner and with all odds against him, he finds a logical, last second conduit to safety.  The pleased audience relaxes until an unexpected obstacle blocks any hope for "happily ever after" finish.  After the new dilemma gets ironed out, some obscure danger, bigger than anything else rises up.  A tremendous fight to the death ends in a crescendo victory and the satisfied movie-goers, to upbeat exit music, are all smiles as they file out of the theater.

The formula used by Little Murders has a subtle difference.  Through a thin veneer of humor, it's apparent climax splatters the viewers' face with intensely depressing visions.  We are led to believe that the movie has come to an acutely sad conclusion because Gould or even the bravest super-hero...could not possibly save the day or reverse the nervousness, paranoia and rising masochistic tendencies of an entire culture. Instead, we find that the situation CAN get worse when average, otherwise innocent and insignificant people own and irrationally use guns.
BEHIND VINCENT GARDENIA, IRON SHUTTERS (WHICH TO THE PLEASURE OF HIS WIFE WERE AVAILABLE IN BLACK, WHITE AND THE FAR MORE DECORATIVE BATTLESHIP GRAY), HAVE BEEN INSTALLED TO KEEP RANDOM SNIPER SHOTS OUT OF THE APARTMENT.  PLEASE NOTE, FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF THE CONSUMER, NARROW SLIDERS ARE INCLUDED IF THE USER WISHES TO CHANCE GETTING KILLED BY LETTING SOME SUNSHINE IN.


Eventually,we arrive at the ultimate finale.  The reality of the permanent doom and gloom of their imminent destiny is solidified when Gould uses role reversal to maneuver away from the most incredible trouble.  This results in him leading the family on a fantastic, heavy-hearted,  "if you can't beat them, join them," counter-attack.

Today, I  (we) frequently feel beaten-down.  I (we), live and work next to people with dangerous emotional problems that are so plentiful that the logistics and cost for their appropriate care are astronomically impractical...so, they are free to roam the streets, unsupervised and/or improperly medicated

The system is so overwhelmed that we have to be careful with the police too.  Many of them aren't fully trained so when a routine questioning turns out to be a pissing contest, we all too often find out, (despite the presence of body cameras and social media) that a great many of our protectors, are sociopaths too.

By the time we look for intelligent government leadership, we are guaranteed to unhappily realize that the cavalry isn't coming over the hill to rescue us.
AT A TIME WHEN THE USA NEEDS TRANSPARENCY AND NON-PARTISAN COMMON SENSE TO LIFT US FROM ECONOMIC DOLDRUMS, VARIOUS FORMS OF SOCIAL UPHEAVAL, THE PROJECTILE VOMIT KNOWN AS "AFFORDABLE HEALTH INSURANCE, " TAXATION GONE WILD, FEAR OF TERRORISM AND  BEING THE HATED GLOBAL POLICE, WE GET, BUSINESS AS USUAL CANDIDATES, (OR HEADLINE SEEKING AMATEURS).  WHO, MORE THAN EVER, WANT TO LINE THEIR POCKETS WITH THE BLOOD, GUTS AND HARD WORK OF THE COMMON MAN.

Yes, it seems IMPOSSIBLE but Little Murders was unfortunately way head of its time.  In a quirky, terrible way, it should also be congratulated for envisioning the not-too-distant future New York City without the iconic World Trade Center.
IN LOWER MANHATTAN, GROUND WAS BROKEN FOR THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, AUGUST 1966.  THE FIRST TOWER WAS COMPLETED IN DECEMBER 1970 WITH THE SECOND RIGHT BEHIND IT.  SO WHEN LITTLE MURDERS DEBUTED IN FEBRUARY 1971, THE TWIN TOWERS SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN ABSOLUTE MUST FOR OUTDOOR SHOTS OF THE CITY.  UNLESS THE MOVIE MAKERS KNEW THE BUILDINGS COULDN'T SURVIVE WHAT OUR WORLD HAS BECOME...

Little Murders or as I have come to call it, "Little Murderers," despite fine performances is not a dark comedy.  It's an all too real upper-cut to the jaw reminder that nothing matters.  That whoever you are, unless you have infinite resources or are well-connected, life is merely a struggle to survive. Therefore, considering how our beaten-down society has deteriorated, the movie is too depressing to recommend.

(I managed to avoid spoiling the plot, so I won't whet your appetite or waste your time by providing the amusing youtube movie trailer here).

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE PERFECT CASINO STORM

To quote an extremely bright and articulate person, "Only a thirty-year veteran homicide detective has seen more shit than a decent craps dealer with five years experience."

"THE PERFECT STORM," from 2000 was a fact-based movie about the high-risk, high reward nature of commercial fishing.
THE VICTIMS OF THE PERFECT STORM WERE A CREW OF UNLUCKY FISHERMEN WHO UNEXPECTEDLY SAILED INTO THE CROSS-HAIRS OF THREE CONVERGING STORMS...RESULTING IN BEING CAUGHT IN THE FIERCEST, GRANDDADDY OF LETHAL STORMS IN MODERN HISTORY.


From the movie, the term "perfect" has become chic to add to a wide assortment of acutely bad situations.  Today, I have the perfect casino story to attach this "perfect" moniker.



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From late 1984 to mid-1986, I dealt craps, in the perfect toilet of Atlantic City casinos, (the Atlantis),
THE ILL-FATED ATLANTIS (far left) WAS IN A GREAT LOCATION NEXT TO THE ATLANTIC CITY CONVENTION HALL (center) AND TRUMP PLAZA, (far right).  IT HAD ITS HEY-DAY JUST BEFORE I STARTED THERE AS THE PLAYBOY CASINO, (1981-1984).  DURING MY TIME, THE CASINO (NICKNAMED, "THE DUMP NEXT TO TRUMP)," QUICKLY SPIRALED DOWNWARD.  AFTER I LEFT, IT HIT ROCK BOTTOM AND LOST ITS GAMING LICENSE IN 1989. 


While I worked at the Atlantis, the financial value of dealing at any casino in town was about the same. However, two joints stood out as slightly better...and one (mine) was a distant worse. For this blog, it's not relevant why our tip income was inferior...what is important is, the low-class clientele.

The Atlantis' casino space was separated on three gaming levels.  The top floor had the high-roller games. Overwhelming, the folks who were attracted to these tables played close to the minimum ($25.00).  So these self-proclaimed big-shots...who would have been complete nobodies anywhere else...made themselves out to be aristocrats.

On weekends, many regular customers treated the old dump next to Trump as a private social club. They gambled, had meals, saw shows and hung out with casino friends, (strangers, whose schedule regularly coincided).  Some extended families did the same.  Once these clans learned the ropes, they played the system to maximize their freebies.  But far worse, they abused the privilege and treated the place (and employees) like they owned it.

Sometimes, we (the workers) felt like we were witnessing them playing pinochle on their kitchen table. They were so at home that it wasn't uncommon to hear embarrassing details of their lives or "too much information" when grievances turned into family arguments and dirty laundry was aired.
"SCARY MARY" WAS AN ESPECIALLY CLASSLESS, ABUSIVE, BIG-MOUTHED, CHAIN-SMOKING PHYLLIS DILLER-LIKE HAG WHO'D TORTURE THE STAFF ALL NIGHT.  IT WAS A RELIEF WHEN SHE WENT TO BED.  BUT WHEN HER *HUSBAND FELL ASLEEP, SHE'D EMERGE FROM THE ELEVATOR IN CURLERS LIKE A CHARGING RHINOCEROS, SLOVENLY DRESSED IN A SCHMATEH (RAGGEDY HOUSECOAT THAT ANY WOMAN WOULDN'T BE CAUGHT DEAD IN), AND FUZZY BUNNY SLIPPERS.  AT HALLOWEEN WHEN THE STAFF WAS PERMITTED TO WEAR COSTUMES, THEY USUALLY INCLUDED A THEME. ONE YEAR, THE FEMALE EMPLOYEES, (AND ONE GUY),  HAD A PRIVATE CONTEST TO RECREATE THE SCARY MARY LOOK, (I'M PRETTY SURE THE GUY WON).  

*  Scary Mary's milquetoast husband was nicknamed "Bullet-Head."  He had a golf ball-sized divot in his forehead which among my Atlantis craps brethren resulted from a failed gunshot suicide attempt.  After all, why would someone married to Scary Mary die so young...because he wanted to.


Matriarchal Scary Mary and her kin (sometimes as much as twenty people), became weekend fixtures. As "big fish" in a "small pond," they cut themselves a large chunk of influence and convinced management that the casino couldn't survive without them.

By using an iron-fisted personality, Scary Mary's three generations of low, high roller minions were forced to follow her lead.  Soon, in a family dominated by weak males, they all knew how to use their sense of entitlement.  With complete disregard to a craps employee's reputation and job security, this ploy was especially efficient to bolster their odds by making false claims, (lying and cheating).

These people wielded so much clout that well-adjusted employees wouldn't dream of correcting them.  They saw how Scary Mary treated her own family, so most of us got out of their way and hardly a brave soul reprimanded them.  So if there was a dispute on a craps game, any attempt by the staff to defend the house's best interest was guaranteed to result in a severe and demeaning tongue lashing.  If the situation erupted into a federal case, someone (100% in the right)...could lose their job.



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I have done a good job in forgetting nightmare customers. Unfortunately those harsh thirty-year old memories were rekindled last week at my present job.

 "B," my supervisor that night as well as being a former Atlantis coworker, pointed out a player and whispered, "There's Calvin Park."

This skinny, sickly man looked like he was over seventy.  I imagined him to be an old biker who led a tough life.  His companion was an equally mature woman with a bad blond dye job.  This lady took on a curious position behind him at another craps table.  She seemed to be his watchdog as she alternated watching him play ten dollars at a time and protecting his blindside from would-be rail thieves (chip robbers) and/or knife wielding enemies.  I don't use the term "broad" to describe women but that's what came to mind. This hard woman made me think what gun moll Bonnie Parker (Clyde's Barrow's Bonnie) might have looked like if she lived to be a senior citizen.
IN 17th CENTURY ENGLAND THE TERM "MOLL" OR "MOLLY" WAS SLANG FOR PROSTITUTE. DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION, (above) EVELYN "BILLIE" FRECHETTE (1907-1969) WAS DILLINGER'S GUN MOLL FOR SIX MONTHS. AFTERWARDS, SHE MADE A CAREER MAKING GUEST APPEARANCES AND DISCUSSING HER EXPERIENCES.


Despite my talent for remembering people, I told "B", "Who's Calvin Park?"  Within seconds of his description, I not only recalled the Calvin Park legend but I also remembered going out of my way (thirty years ago), to catch a mere glimpse of his incredible skyrocket to notoriety. To prove Park's rapid ascension was so unique... when I stole my tiny glance at him playing craps at Atlantis' top level...the last thing I was looking at...was his face.
THE "BOXMAN" IS THE SUPERVISOR SITTING BETWEEN THE TWO CRAPS DEALERS.  TIPS WERE SO BAD AT THE ATLANTIS THAT IT WAS A CUT-THROAT PROCESS FOR DEALERS TO ENTER LOWER MANAGEMENT.  THE ONLY CRAPS DEALERS CONSIDERED FOR THIS PROMOTION DEALT ON THE UPPER LEVEL.  I DIDN'T CARE ABOUT UPWARD MOBILITY  BECAUSE I WAS BIDING MY TIME, WAITING FOR MY DEALER TRAINING ACADEMY LICENSE TO BE APPROVED.  THAT MEANT, UNLESS THERE WAS AN EMERGENCY, I NEVER WORKED UPSTAIRS.


"B" was the boxman when Calvin Park had the defining moment of his life.  So he had first-hand knowledge of the backstory he shared with me.  Most notably, Park was a small business owner who had enough disposable income to burn $1,000.00 playing craps at the Atlantis high-roller pit, a couple of weekends each month.

Unlike the families and faux-social clubs that also met up there, Park was a withdrawn man.  While the others (that everyone hated) whooped it up, Park (who was equally loathsome in his own way), was a loner, playing a different style... quietly.
THE GREAT MAJORITY OF CRAPS PLAYERS WANT THE DICE SHOOTER TO WIN. THEIR BETS ARE PLACED ON THE "PASS LINE" OR THE "COME."  HOWEVER SOME FOLKS PLAY THE "DON'T PASS" OR THE "DON'T COME" AND HOPE THE SHOOTER WILL LOSE.  WHILE THESE APPROACHES SEEM OPPOSITE, THE BUILT-IN HOUSE EDGE USUALLY RESULTS, OVER TIME,  IN EVERYONE LOSING.


Park was a "don't" player.  Despite being razzed by the low-class masses on the pass line, he never wavered.  On several occasions"B" referred to him on that historic night, as golden.  He might have had temporary set-backs but overwhelmingly, he couldn't lose.

At first, the family took harmless verbal swipes at Park.  But soon Scary Mary led her entourage into an escalation of childish insults that morphed into a deluge of obscenities.  One by one, someone from the family exceeded what they were willing to lose and quit. But Scary Mary forged on. Between prolonged episodes of intense coughing, in her harsh, shrill voice, the black-hearted witch used language that would make a longshoreman blush, to profane Park every time he won.

Scary Mary didn't take her losing streak laying down.  Through vicious insistence, she demanded that the casino change the dice.  Even though it was against their policy, they accepted being manipulated, (they secretly rooted against her in general but in this rare case, they were superstitious and willing to do anything to stop the casino from hemorrhaging big money to Park).

To rationalize the switch and to eliminate the idea of a conspiracy, the casino manager showed Calvin Park an insignificant flaw in one die.  Park was in his rights to protest and stop the bullshit but he was so focused on winning that if a black cat was thrown on the table, he couldn't have been bothered.

When the game resumed with an aura of invincibility, he remained stoic and ignored Scary Mary's renewed verbal attacks.  Instead of being distracted, to spite her and the big bosses, Park rode the crest of this perfect casino storm and multiplied his bets to $1,000.00 each..

Scary Mary remained stubborn but over time, the intensity of her sarcastic MF-ing foul mouth weakened. Her barbs became infrequent as the new dice remained cold.  Soon, Park's most stubborn adversary raised the white flag of defeat as she pissed and moaned about her worse loss, EVER!

A large throng of spectators remained as Park played alone.  The area was as quiet as a cathedral until Scary Mary reminded everyone how evil she was even when she wasn't playing by yelling at a waitress, "I said six fucking sugars in my coffee not five...you think I can't taste the fucking difference!"

Park was in the zone.  Within a couple of hours, he was betting the $5,000.00 table maximum and making additional side bets to further support his cause.

That night I was dealing on the middle level.  Like a telethon, the news filtering down to us from upstairs reminded me of the giant tote board with spinning numbers always getting higher.
I REMEMBER AS A KID BEING ENTRANCED BY TOTE BOARD NUMBERS SPINNING HIGHER.  NOW THAT THEY ARE DIGITIZED, I THINK IT LOSES SOME OF ITS FASCINATION.


Some of my middle level cohorts went upstairs to see the action with their own eyes.

Each new report of Park's luck sounded like an exaggeration.  When I broke down to sneak my own peak, his rail included a gazillion gray chips, (each $5,000.00).  Which explains why I said I never saw his face.

"B" reminded me that late that night Park broke his silence and made one announcement, "I have $800,000.00 and I ain't stoppin' till I have a million."

To keep Park (and his booty), in the casino, the well-trained Atlantis management team used psychology and persuasiveness to arrange for Mrs. Park (in her pre-gun moll days?) and other family members helicoptered in.  Over the course of a marathon gambling session, (twenty hours a day for five days), the winds of Park's perfect casino storm simmered down to doldrums and finally stopped.

When a new storm brewed, the gale came from the opposite direction. So while he and his family were lavished with every amenity the casino could throw his way, Park lost every single dime back...plus some fresh, out of pocket cash.

"B" sighed, "The best casino stories involve greed, stupidity and a lust for power...that's why so few have happy endings.  You'd think that Park would have known...the freight train doesn't come through town every day. Just look at that burnt-out degenerate, he's still chasing the fantasy of another one-in-a-million perfect storm ."  I looked at the seemingly vigilant Mrs. Park and said, "So his misses isn't watching his back, she's just being polite and trying to hide her boredom."  "B" scoffed, "That dude could've had the world by the balls...and now look at him...thirty years after his ten minutes of fame, he's just a punchline, playing for peanuts and cursing the world every time he loses."

Monday, August 3, 2015

THE "THURSDAY" JOKE

In the late 1980's, I spent an afternoon with my parents in Manhattan.  At the South Street Seaport, the (then fledgling) Lifetime TV Network had a interviewer and a camera crew flagging down passersby and asking about their awareness of the new cable station.  
HEADQUARTERED IN NEW YORK CITY, THIS CABLE AND SATELLITE TV CHANNEL WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1984.  THEIR PROGRAMMING IS GEARED TO WOMEN'S ISSUES OR FEATURE WOMEN IN LEAD ROLES.  IN FEBRUARY 2015, IT WAS ESTIMATED THAT THE LIFETIME NETWORK WAS AVAILABLE IN 82.4% OF AMERICAN HOMES.

Lucky me, out of the flock of tourists, the microphone was shoved in my face.  Before asking me what I knew about their network, a lady asked some preliminary questions.  I got on a roll and had my folks, others in the crowd, the crew and even the interviewer, chuckling.  

One of those questions was, "What's your favorite day of the week?"  Without hesitation I said, "Thursday!"  The interviewer said, "Thursday?  I've asked that to a hundred people and you're the first to say Thursday."  I said, "It's simple. What day is today?"  She said, "Thursday."  I said with a twinge of sarcasm, "That's right!  And...Thursday is my favorite day of the week because...I'm off on Thursdays."

That became the original, "Thursday" joke.  But the joke was on me because the cameraman screwed-up and needed me to redo my little repartee.  I laughed, "Comedy is all timing, I could never recreate that moment."  I grabbed mom and dad and led them inside to the clam bar.



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Before casinos went national and opened on every street corner, I had a legion of loyal roulette followers.  On any day, I could count on a familiar face shoehorning onto my table to play...or at least waving as they went by.  Many of my people...whether they played or not were likely to make the hand signal associated with the new and improved, completely different "Thursday" joke.
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS SECOND "THURSDAY" JOKE IS VISUAL.  SO TYPING IT OUT WON'T SERVE THE ESSENCE OF THE HUMOR.  SO TO PUT A SMILE ON THE FACE OF THOSE WHO KNOW IT,  I PRESENT THE SIGNATURE HAND GESTURE (above).   IF YOU NEVER HEARD THIS JOKE, ASK ME TO TELL YOU THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME.


From the outside looking in, you'd think casino workers would use some level of schtick.   Of course not everyone has the enthusiasm, energy or willingness to be a cheerleader.  But overwhelming my coworkers lose sight of the fact that we are in the hospitality business.  They make no attempt to show an interest in their players or show a touch of sympathy to the losers.  So entertaining or even chatting with the customers is out of the question.

It's crazy to think but in that regard, many of my contemporaries view me as an oddball.  So while they suffer through the self-imposed drudgery of being there, I cultivate my customers in search of the right audience.  Therefore, whenever I can, I have fun on the job which helps pass the time.

Today's blog concerns itself with another one of the lines I like to use.

At times, a roulette dealer is swamped with work. Sometimes an impatient or less savvy player will ask another player to place bets they can't reach.  My answer to that is, "He's playing, I'm working. Give me sec and I'll professionally set-up whatever you need.  Besides, if an amateur screws up, you can scream at them until your head falls off...but you won't get satisfaction.  If I mess-up, you can still yell AND you might get what you wanted."

The bigger problem is, outside the casino, I have a long history of not heeding my own, "letting a professional do my work" advice.  This is especially true when it comes to me making home repairs.

In regard to my fix-it prowess, I am famous for trying to replace a light bulb and turning it into a "mature audience only" TV special. I have a talent for making insignificant inconveniences into a mess and messes into an epic problems and epic problems into catastrophes. A big part of my dilemma is, I am at times cheap, lazy and stupid, (or all three at the same time).

Far worse, because I have a poor road record, I keep trying to prove, (to myself...and family), that I'm not a bumbling idiot.

The latest installment of my ineptitude started six months ago on my day off, (a Thursday).  That's when we realized our dishwater wasn't draining.  I suggested running another cycle...and like magic, I found the cure.

My heroic status lasted a couple of months until after a big Thursday meal, we discovered that the bottom of washer was again flooded with stagnant water.

Here was my chance to prove that I am willing to go the extra mile, have common sense and that I'm not clumsy.  I referred my difficulties to the Google search engine.
GOOGLE IS A TECHNOLOGY COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN INTERNET-RELATED SERVICES AND PRODUCTS.  THEIR CORPORATE OFFICES ARE IN MOUNTAINVIEW CALIFORNIA.

Search engines were developed by Google (and their competitors) to allow users to receive a wealth of answers to virtually any question.  That's why the budding Internet called itself the, "information super highway?" So to  get to the source of my problem, I typed in, "dishwasher not draining."

I found out that most drainage problems were caused by: a clogged filter, drain or pipe or a drain motor failure.  I visited the Frigidaire web-page and found the dishwasher trouble-shooting page.
THE DIRECTION IMPLIED THAT A FOUR-YEAR OLD WITH AVERAGE INTELLIGENCE COULD FIND THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. TOO BAD I DIDN'T HAVE A LITTLE KID AROUND TO ASK FOR HELP.


I was self-assured as I followed the directions to siphon-out the still water.  But I lost all my momentum when I reached the "self-cleaning" filter.  It was as clean as a whistle and there weren't gobs of greasiness blocking the drain.  One last idea was to remove the propeller-like sprayer arm at the bottom, to check for a blockage in the pipe underneath.  I didn't see any screws and it wouldn't lift up so I gave up.

Lucky for me, I have a friend (neighbor) who is a handyman.  While its true the last thing he wants to do when he's not doing handy work...is do handy work, but for me, he'd do it.

It took a couple of weeks to coordinate a common time for both of us.  In that time, I figured out that the propeller arm twists off.  For a split second, I was so proud of myself.  But I also discovered that the problem couldn't be unearthed by looking under it.  In the mean time, I reconnected the propeller.

On a Thursday in early July, my buddy came over.  He detached the actual motor and tested it.  It worked.  He had experience with various dishwashers but he suggested calling a professional because he couldn't see what was wrong.

We made a Thursday appointment with an appliance service.  From the time that man set foot in the house until he identified and fixed this Mickey Mouse problem was three minutes, (a clogged water line).  BUT,  he also said, "Whoever removed the motor...broke it!  And it has to be replaced."

I was in no position to point a finger at my friend.  Even though he was out of his league, he was doing me a favor.  I can only blame my thriftiness, laziness and stupidity for trusting the job to a non-expert.  I ate $160.00 worth of humble pie.  The new motor had to be ordered so it wasn't until the following Thursday that the repairman returned to install it.  Unfortunately, he gave us a three-hour window, (3:PM-6:PM) and arrived (on time?) at 5:45 which killed my whole day off.

On his way out, he suggested that we run washer immediately, to eliminate the stench of the old dirty, still water. In the morning, (Friday) I emptied the washer.  To my surprise...the propeller arm that I had snapped (improperly) back on, before my friend looked at the dishwasher, had fallen off.  It was laying on the floor of the dishwasher atop the coil that heats the water.

Upon closer examination, the plastic arm had melted halfway through the coil and was fused to it. Ugh, I called the repairman back.  He gave me another three-hour window that now ruined both my days off.
IN THE 1960's, JESSE WHITE WAS THE TV COMMERCIAL SPOKESPERSON FOR MAYTAG APPLIANCES.  THEIR CATCHPHRASE, PRIOR TO THE ADVENT OF "TRUTH IN ADVERTISING," IMPLIED THAT THEIR PRODUCTS WERE SO RELIABLE THAT THEIR REPAIRMEN WERE THE LONELIEST GUYS IN TOWN.


My dishwasher repairman certainly can never complain about being lonely, I'm seeing him way too often. Maybe my schtick with him helped forge a bond between us. To prove how effective the second "Thursday" joke was, he used the hand gesture when he greeted me the last time.  It's like we're pals. So much so, he gave me a break and will install a new sprayer arm, (no service call charge), next Thursday for the price of the part, fifty bucks.

I'm already dreading the possibility of losing another day off.  This epidemic is rapidly becoming a third version of my Thursday joke...except this one isn't funny.

Monday, July 27, 2015

MY LUCKY RAT-HAT

EVELPEETY must love seeing his name in print. He voiced his disappointment that my last blog, "NEXT GEN, FREE HAT," wasn't about a different free hat I was given back in the Stone Age. Thus implying that the hat he was referring to, needs to be addressed.

EVELPEETY  reminded me how much he hates that hat from so long ago.  I will, paraphrase his comment from last week;  I hope you're not trying to convince Andrew (your son) to use a hat like the one I'm thinking of as a freebie to attract interest in his work.  I know this hat.  I do not like this hat.  

As a tribute to EVELPEETY, I will share the history of my "Rat-Hat"...aka, my "Lucky Hat."  I hope this homage satisfies EVELPEETY because I know him and his jibber-jab might just be a clever ruse for the rare privilege of seeing his photo in consecutive MGTP stories.

                                                                  

                                                                       #



I moved to New Jersey in 1984.  I got a craps dealing job at the Atlantis Casino for two years while my dealer training academy was being developed.
THE ILL-FATED ATLANTIS OPENED AS THE PLAYBOY CASINO IN 1981.  IT WAS PURCHASED BY THE ELSINORE CORPORATION IN 1984. ITS NEW NAME COINCIDED WITH THE MYTHICAL "LOST" CONTINENT.  SITUATED NEXT TO THE TRUMP PLAZA, OUR STAFF NICKNAMED THIS DUD, "THE DUMP NEXT TO TRUMP." THE PROPERTY LOST ITS CASINO LICENSE IN 1989 AND NEVER RE-OPENED AS A GAMBLING HALL.


During my time at the Atlantis, my wife Sue had a series of non-casino jobs.  One was as a secretary, for an electrical contractor.

To welcome new employees to their firm, Sue received a treasure trove of chintzy novelty gifts with the company name and logo emblazoned on them.  Among other nonsense, this shit included a water bottle, key chain, memo pad, pen, pencil and baseball cap.

Sue gave me that white with orange lettering ball cap.  I'm not a hat guy so it was worn infrequently, (mostly in the rain or on the hottest sunny days, especially at the beach).  Despite being rarely used, the cheap fabric faded and the filth and sweat stains were easy to see.

At that time, we were living in an apartment complex with a pool. The hat embarrassed Sue and she was mortified when neighbors would see me in my disgusting "Rat-Hat."
MY WIFE NEVER BOUGHT-IN TO THIS RATIONALE FOR WEARING THAT MESSED-UP HAT, "YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN A DISEASE SPREADING MENACE MIGHT JUMP ON YOUR HEAD...SO IT'S GOOD TO HAVE PROTECTION."


Sue started a campaign to buy me a new hat.  I refused. She pointed out that the plastic sizing strap in the back of the hat was broken off.  I had grow accustomed to its unique features and said, "I don't mind.  Besides, it adds character."  Soon Sue stopped badgering me about it.

Once my parents came to visit.  We spent time at the pool and returned to our apartment.  My mom didn't say anything and slipped outside.  Ten minutes later, she returned with the Rat-Hat which I had accidentally left behind. Sue wasn't joking when she said, "I saw it too...but I was hoping he would have forgotten about it."

In 1989, Sue and I bought a house.  In addition to its regular uses, I wore that raggedy hat when I did yard and automotive work.  The already nasty hat became smudged with grass and dark grease stains.  Whatever level of hatred Sue might have had in the hat's early years, it was intensified a thousand-fold, five years later.  I could only imagine the diabolic plans she laid out to rid the free world of it.
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN A CONSPIRACY ORCHESTRATED BY MY WIFE BUT IN 1990, LESLIE AND GARY BOUGHT ME A PITTSBURGH PIRATE HAT.  I REFUSED TO WEAR IT ON THE GROUNDS THAT IT HAD GOLDEN PEE ON IT.  THEREFORE IT REMAINED (UNUSED) IN MY HALL CLOSET FOR TWENTY YEARS.  IN 2010, I TOOK IT OUT OF MOTHBALLS AND NOW IT'S MY "NEW" RAT-HAT.  THANKS L AND G.


During my time at the Atlantis Casino, I became friendly with Willie Potato, (see my, "THE NINE LIVES OF WILLIE POTATO," blog from October 17, 2011).  When he got married, Sue and I attended their wedding.  Soon, the four of us socialized a great many times.

Willie had several close calls with death.  But when he and his wife encouraged Sue and I to join them on a canoeing trip on the Bass River, it was Sue and I who were lucky to survive.
THE CANOE RENTAL ADVERTISEMENT READ, "YOU HAVEN'T SEEN NEW JERSEY UNTIL YOU PADDLE THROUGH THE PINELANDS."  TO GET YOUR JUICES FLOWING MORE, THEY LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT PRIOR TO THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY MOVING TO THE LEFT COAST, THE SILENT "TARZAN" MOVIES WERE FILMED ON LOCATION, ON THE RIVER NEAR CHATSWORTH.

The Potato's were veteran canoeists.  Sue and I were not into water sports, (get your mind out of the gutter...we weren't into any kind of water sports...).  For our three-hour river tour, she and I over-prepared like the cast of, "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND."
"GILLIGAN'S ISLAND" CENTERED ON SEVEN CASTAWAYS ON AN UNCHARTED ISLAND WHO SEEMED TO HAVE DIFFERENT CLOTHING ENSEMBLES FOR EVERY OCCASION, BAGS OF MONEY, JEWELRY AND ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WOULD NEVER BRING ON SUCH AN EXCURSION. DESPITE BEING THE STUPIDEST, MOST FAR-FETCHED SIT-COM EVER,  IT WAS POPULAR, LASTING THREE SEASONS AND 98 EPISODES, (1964-1967) .

Much like Lovey Howell's maid, Sue carefully packed us a picnic lunch, a change of clothes, a blanket, towels, bug spray, suntan lotion and a camera.  Just before blasting off,  (I mean launching), Sue and I felt confident in what we were doing so the Potato's didn't pester us or look over our shoulder.

Please note, during the next three hours, the Potato's never capsized.  It should also be noted that Sue and I capsized in the first six feet of our journey.  I'm not pointing a finger at my better half because it was a team effort...we would overturn the boat five more times.  Of course it didn't matter after the first time because our lunch, insect repellent, suntan lotion, camera and other personal items were lost during our impersonation of the Titanic, (we saved the things that remained afloat; blanket, towels and most of our formerly dry clothes).

Throughout the morning, dozens of other canoes and carefree individuals floating in inner-tubes successfully navigated the Bass River.  I was jealous how relaxed the day could have been as I watched them happily glide by, (we never saw a single other overturned boat, even the one with two stoic nuns and another with three screaming nine-year old brats).

It's crazy but my Rat-Hat remained with me until the third time we were involuntarily forced to abandoned ship. As victims of circumstance, I was so glad we didn't get hurt.  Therefore losing the hat was the least of my worries. We were so numb from our mutual tumult that the embarrassment factor faded into obscurity long before we parked (landed) and took a halftime break.

The Potato's were gracious enough to share their lunch with us.  While chillin' long after the fact, we were shown how everything they brought was 100% dry because they were stored in plastic trash bags and secured to the inside of their canoe).  Sue and I didn't complain about not getting enough to eat as we sat on our sloshing wet, (soon to be muddy on one side) towels.  Nor did we mention that we getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and getting sun-burnt.  We just gutted it out and still had fun, (sorry, no camera means, no photos to share).

We never really got the hang of canoeing.  After the break, we overturned the boat a couple of more times. We were close to the end as I became preoccupied, wondering about water damage to the credentials in my wallet.  We drifted into some overhanging tree limbs.  Sue pulled a branch away from her face, but it snapped ala the "THREE STOOGES," into mine.  I panicked, we started listing side-to-side and our boat flipped one last time.
IN THE, "THREE STOOGES" CANOEING EPISODE I'M THINKING OF, NEAR THE SHORE, MOE HOLDS A BRANCH AWAY FROM HIS FACE AND HANDS IT SAFELY OFF TO LARRY.  LARRY TRIES TO DO THE SAME FOR DAYDREAMING CURLY BUT HE'S NOT PAYING ATTENTION...THE BRANCH SNAPS INTO CURLY'S FACE. 


I was floundering in neck-deep water when I looked behind us and saw a funny sight.  It was an enormously overweight man in an inner tube, drinking a Budweiser and smoking a cigar.  To add to the comic picture, he had a second tube tethered to his, towing a small ice chest full of beer.
LOSE THE GIRL AND ADD A MORBIDLY OBESE GUY SMOKING A STOGIE. THIS STOCK PHOTO DOESN'T QUITE CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF THE HUMOR.  I WOULD HAVE TAKEN THAT PRICELESS PICTURE EXCEPT THE CAMERA FELL TO DAVY JONES' LOCKER, SIX FEET INTO OUR ADVENTURE.


To complete this hilarious moment, the dude was wearing my long lost Rat-Hat.  I yelled out to everyone, "Look, here comes my hat!"

Nothing about the trip pissed Sue off...until I was reunited with my suddenly renamed, "Lucky Hat."

Of course she also hated going to the parking lot, (a company shuttle returns customers downstream to their cars).  This grim walking experience was exasperated by being forced, in the one flip-flop she had left, to cross forty feet from the canoe to the bus, on hot gravel, covered with broken glass, twigs and creepy crawly insects. I was tempted to tell her: Hey, I'm friggin' barefoot...but I knew it was better to keep quiet.

I lost touch with Willie Potato after I gave up the school.  While back doing casino work, I made many new, valued and lasting friends.  When Sue and I bought our house, some of my posse helped me ready the land in my backyard, for some major projects.
OCTOBER 1993.   KURUDAVE (right) AND EVELPEETY (center), THIS MIGHT BE THE ONLY PICTURE OF MY "LUCKY" RAT-HAT.  FROM THIS DISTANCE, THE HAT DOESN'T LOOK SO REVOLTING...BUT THE SMELL WAS STRONG ENOUGH TO KEEP SKUNKS AND OTHER VERMIN FAR AWAY.

My friends (above) lived a mile away.  I nicknamed their place the "G-Spot" because they were both single and their last names start with a "G."  During this stage of our friendship, I was meeting them three times a week and working out with their Solar-Flex equipment.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO KNOW ME, IT PROBABLY SEEMS LAUGHABLE TO VISUALIZE ME WORKING OUT...BUT I DID.  IF YOU THINK I SUCK AT CANOEING, YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN ME LIFTING WEIGHTS, (FOR ME THE FAD DIDN'T LAST TOO LONG).  HOWEVER, YESTERDAY I SHOCKED SUE AND MY SON ANDREW BY DOING FIVE PUSH-UPS (WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS).


These pumping iron (stretching giant rubber bands), sessions took place in EVELPEETY'S bedroom.  At one point, I ignorantly placed my not-so-lucky "Rat-Hat" on his pillow while exercising.  This discovery did not please EVELPEETY.  Now, twenty-two years later, that memory still causes a sudden blast of bile to erupt into his mouth...as you can tell from the comment he left on last week's, "NEXT GEN, FREE HAT," blog.

EVELPEETY was surprised that I conveniently allowed myself to forget that little incident.  But he might feel better knowing that he'll always be a hero to Sue because the tongue lashing he gave me convinced me to cremate the Lucky Hat.  Maybe the next time he's on Cos Cob Street, he can go by his old homestead, look at the rhododendron bushes below his former bedroom and see if he can catch a whiff of the lucky hat remains. Remember EVELPEETY, the stink of the hat is FOREVER and wasn't improved by the noxious odor of burnt plastic.