Bookcase: Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler

 

The Book: Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Get Their Names by Stephen Moss

My 13-year-old grandson has a book review due in two weeks based on a book he read this summer – or, rather, was supposed to read. I asked him how the book was coming along. He told me that he didn’t actually read it; he’d write the review based on the cover.

Based on the cover? “Yeah, Grandpa Scobe, I’ve been getting A’s writing about the covers for all my book reviews.” Such are kids; such is American public education; such is genius – my grandson!

Why read the book? Just pen some stuff based on what you read on the cover—I never thought of such a thing. Here I am—for decades—writing book reviews on books I’ve read thoroughly. I’m writing between 500 and 1,000 words about entire books, trying to figure out what to say to capture in such short word length what often these books are about. How silly of me.

I am now letting a little child lead me in my review of Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Get Their Names by Stephen Moss.

The cover asks us, “What’s in a name?” Basically everything. Birds have some of the most lyrical, most ridiculous, most awe-inspiring names. Take the “wheatear” which has nothing to do with ears of wheat in any of wheat’s incarnations. The name means—if you are easily offended then skip to the next paragraph—white-arse (white-ass). Yep! Such a distinctive name in our age of racial consciousness.

How’s this? The Dartford warbler; once named, was never seen in Dartford again. So what’s in that name? Evidently no loyalty.

On bird walks with the South Shore Audubon Society I’ve asked some of our astute bird observers how did thus and such a bird get its name? Sometimes they know; sometimes they don’t. What’s in a name many people will ask; well, I think a lot. Sometimes everything. You are, perhaps, what we call you.

Birds have been named after positive things (sunbird), or negative things (go-away-birds). Some have very long names (Ruwenzori double-collard sunbird); some have very short names (ou).

States in the United States have birds named after them (Mississippi kite and Hawaiian akepa), while some are named after man-made objects (ovenbird and riflebirds).

Natural elements, metals, gems and precious stones have their share of birds named after them; as do mythological figures such as Lucifer. Indeed, birds have even been named after other animals and insects (frogmouths and antbirds). Royalty has its share of bird names too (emperor penguin). For all I know, you have a bird named after you.

Final disclosure: I am not my grandson. I didn’t review just the cover; I read the whole book. It is fascinating and takes us on a journey into the past and into the world where you saw a bird and could assign it a name. Fun reading!

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

 

 

 

The Warriors of July 4th

 

I like the idea of celebrating our country on July 4th but I do not enjoy the local residents exploding monstrous fireworks near our house. These bombs go off late into the night and some houses have even had small fires on their rooftops when roman candles land on them. Happened to my house one July 4th.

If people want to see fireworks they can go to the parks or to the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn and have themselves a ball watching real professionals light up the night skies.

At 6:30 AM on this July 4th I went to my local supermarket to get some cold cuts for the day. Usually at 6:30 there aren’t many people – or any people – in the store, but today at the deli counter there were three people, a elderly woman in the process of ordering, a gray-haired old guy, and a short guy of maybe 40 years old waiting patiently.

I stood next to the short guy. We nodded at each other.

Behind the counter was Fred Laconic, who was the opposite of the meaning of his last name, and something of a pain in the ass if you were in a hurry. He would regale you with his ideas from the many “important” books he had read.

“Do you know people are idiots?” he once asked me as I was waiting to get my cheese. “Complete and utter idiots?”

“Ah,” I said. I have mentioned the sound “ah” before. It is an utterance that can be used to stop a conversation or at least one’s participation in a conversation. When it is used properly it merely means you heard the person talking but you had no real response. It usually works well. But with Fred? Not so much.

“I am going to kill my older brother!”

“Ah.”

The elderly woman who was ordering walked down the counter. “Could I have a taste of that ham please?”

Fred cut her a small slice of ham and gave it to her dangling on a plastic fork.

“Not so good,” she said wolfing down the meat. I can’t stand the supermarket nibblers who think they are entitled to samples of everything. You even see them in the fruit and vegetable aisles grabbing loads of produce and shoveling them into their gaping mouths.

“Good morning,” said the short-guy to me after he had nodded his hello. “A great day, the 4th of July isn’t it? The celebration of the greatest country of all time.”

I nodded. Please, please, don’t get Fred involved in….

“Don’t give me that crap!” said Fred Laconic. “This country isn’t the greatest country of all time. We’re a face with a lot of pimples; religious nuts and conservatives of all types. You want a great democracy go to ancient Greece!”

“Let me taste some of your Swiss cheese,” said the elderly woman.

He slowly sliced her a small piece of Swiss cheese, handed it to her on another plastic fork. She smelled it as if it were an expensive wine and then gobbled it down. “I’ll take an eighth of a pound of that,” she said. He started slicing it for her when she waved her hand. “No, no, I changed my mind. I’ll have an eighth of a pound of white American cheese.”

“To celebrate the 4th!” said the old guy in front of the short guy.

“You think we have a free country?” said Fred. “We don’t. Just about everyone is brain washed and has been for centuries. We had slavery for crying out loud. Our so-called founding fathers had slaves. That’s some free country, ha!”

Well, his ancient Greece had slavery too – probably the majority of the population of those Greek city-states did not allow women or the salves to vote. Some of those states had more slaves than citizens. But I wasn’t getting involved in that conversation. Picking out the faults of the United States is easy. But I always think of such talk to be the equivalent of looking at some pimples on an otherwise good-looking face.

Allowing slavery was the worst decision our founders made. I sometimes flirt with the idea that those geniuses who formed our nation should have just told the South and anyone else in our land practicing slavery that such would not be allowed in our new union.

Maybe we shouldn’t have broken away from England? Maybe. After all England outlawed slavery in 1833 without a Civil War. I wonder if that thought is sinful for an American to ponder, that maybe our country started on the wrong foot – a shackled foot for some of the population?

I don’t know the answers to almost every question I’ve ever asked myself. That’s how it is with me.

“We are ruled by the ad agencies!” Fred said forcefully. “We have no free will!”

Fred looked right at me. “You’ve read all the great modern day atheists. I know that.” He then started naming the authors, “Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan,,,”

I held up my hand to stop him. You see I had once made the mistake of having a conversation with him one morning about the group known as the “new atheists” and that conversation made him always regale me with his new atheist ideas. I really don’t want to be harangued so early in the morning even though I have read all the “new atheists.”

The elderly woman pointed to the baloney, “You are ignoring me,” she said to Fred, who looked at her as if she were a worm.

“Let me have a piece of that baloney over there,” she pointed. Fred sliced a piece of baloney for her and then he continued with his baloney. “There is no God; anyone who is intelligent knows that. But the society has been trained to believe in fairy tales. It keeps them quiet and controlled. We are all just subatomic particles working ourselves out. We are not conscious. We just think we are.” Isn’t the saying, “I think therefore I am.” (Or was it, “I doubt therefore I am.”)

“A small slice of cheddar please,” said the elderly woman.

The short guy turned to me and said, “Isn’t she full by now? She’s had her breakfast right here.”

The other guy left. It was now just the elderly woman, the short guy and me. And of course Fred, demonstrably waving his arm in the air, “I find myself disgusted with people. They are fools!”

“Let me have an eighth of a pound of salami, the cheapest one,” said the elderly woman. “Let me have a little nibble of that too.”

“Jesus Christ,” said the short guy.

“Jesus Christ,” said Fred. “He’s a joke.”

Fred obligingly did as requested for the elderly woman. He then slid over the small amount she had bought.

“Thank God it is over,” said the short guy as the woman started to move away from the deli counter.

“Oh, crap,” said Fred, “I forgot to put on the number sheets for customers to take.” He flipped a switch and the light went over the machine that gave out tickets to tell you what place you were in line. The short guy has just ordered something so he didn’t have to get a ticket.

I strolled over to the machine to take a ticket but this skinny guy of about 70-years-old practically sprinted to it and grabbed a ticket before I could reach the machine to get mine. I took the ticket after his.

“What numbers do you guys have?” asked Fred.

“My number is seventy-four,” said the skinny guy.

“I’m seventy-five,” I smiled. “But I should go next since I have been waiting while that woman tasted everything in the case,” I smiled again. I figured the skinny guy would let me go ahead of him because I had been there long before him. I was also being very friendly.

“No,” he said. “My number is lower than your number so I go ahead of you.” Then he took out a sheet of paper with eight-trillion things on it that he was ordering. Remember this was, of course, July 4th and he was stocking up for whatever the hell he was doing to celebrate the day.

“But I have been waiting here for over fifteen minutes,” I said.

“That’s right,” said the short guy. “We had a long wait.”

“So I really am next,” I said.

“The rule is,” said the skinny guy pontifically. “The lower number goes before the higher number. That, sir, is the rule in case you didn’t know.”

“Look,” I said, almost beggingly, “I have to get one thing, one thing. That’s all. Some Swiss Cheese.”

“I have the ticket that’s ahead of yours, sir,” said the skinny man, now looking up and down his monstrous list of items.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” It was that elderly woman again. “Egg salad. Can I have a taste of egg salad to see if I want to buy it?”

“Lady,” said the skinny guy, “I am next after this guy,” he pointed to the short guy. “You have to wait your turn just like everyone else.”

“Fred, hey Fred,” I said. “Aren’t I before this guy?”

“I never interfere with customers,” said Fred. “Work it out among yourselves.”

“Lady,” said the skinny guy. “You aren’t getting ahead of me.” And he gave her the thumb to get away from the counter.

“Well, I never!” she remonstrated and walked off in a huff.

The short guy got his order and turned to the skinny guy and said, “He’s next (meaning me), and you should let him go next.”

“I have the lower number,” he said.

I haven’t had a fight in fifty years. But now I was ready to re-enter the arena.

Could I take this skinny guy? Maybe. You never know. He could be in great shape as opposed to the whale-like condition I’m in. He could be some MMA kind of guy but he didn’t look anything like that. He looked as if he smoked. The fight wouldn’t last long if I did the usual routine. Left jab! Right cross! And a powerful left hook! One swiftly after the other. I might be able to knock this piece of dung on his ass, get my Swiss Cheese and leave the store.

So I looked at him and I was truly ready to fight him in the deli section of my local supermarket.

We stared at each. I said in my scary voice, “I’m going next.” Just then, the elderly woman came back with the store manager. “I was ahead of these gentlemen,” she said. “But they wouldn’t let me order my two pounds of egg salad. They were totally disrespectful. You are going to lose a lot of business if you allow people such as these men with no manners to get ahead of an old woman.”

The store manager looked at us and made his pronouncement. “The woman is next.”

I looked at the elderly woman. I looked at Fred who was ignoring all of this. I looked at the skinny guy. Then I turned and walked out of the store.

The last I heard was the elderly woman saying, “I’d like a taste of the potato salad.”

I’ll save my return to the ring for some other time.

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Buy Silver and Gold!

Hi, I’m Willow D’Vain, an actor who made a few forgettable movies that can’t even be gotten on Netflix, and I want to talk to you about silver and gold. There are two things that I believe in and that is my beloved country America and also precious metals.

Do you know that throughout the world economies are crashing and money is becoming worthless? Especially that paper stuff! That’s right! I want to keep us in the U.S. strong and that’s why I want you to send me your money, which will be worthless quite soon as I said, so I can send you silver and gold which have been used by civilizations throughout history such as ancient Greece, ancient Rome and Norway.

There was a time when America was respected throughout history, especially during the Middle Ages, and that’s why I am standing in front of a green screen that is showing you one of America’s greatest battleships. I want to keep America great again and make it strong again and we can all do that if you send me your money so I can send you some of the tonnage of silver and gold the company has in warehouses all over the world.

Why not be safe with a safe filled with silver and gold? You’ll be the envy of everyone starving on your block that put their faith in the crumbling currency of the world.

Make America good again!

Frank’s books are available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores

Please, Just a Regular Haircut

My hair is curly and thick. It used to be really blonde, then turned brown in my twenties and now it is completely gray. I don’t mind that because it has stayed curly and thick.

There have actually been people who thought I wear a wig because very few men my age have such a great head of hair. I was once doing a talk in Las Vegas and some idiot came up behind me after I was done and pulled my hair.

“Hey, hey, it’s real!” he shouted to a friend. “You win the bet!” Some people have no manners. I told the guy that I should share in the win since my head hurt from the pulling of my hair. They laughed and left.

But the biggest problem I have is when I go for a haircut. Most of the barbers in my area do not speak English well. Those who do, especially the young ones, don’t really know how to cut my kind of hair. An electric clipper just doesn’t work that well on it and the older guys, what few are left in the profession, just cut from rote and do a crummy job as my hair is all different lengths when they are finished.

So the barbershop I am reduced to patronizing is owned by people who have trouble with our language. It is the closest to my home.

So this morning I entered the shop.

“Hullo!” said the owner who was trimming some bald guy’s tuft of hair. The barber next to him held open the apron he’d put over me.

“Hi,” I said to both of them.

I sat down in the chair.

“I’ll have a regular haircut and a beard trim. Leave the lines I already have on the beard; I don’t want it cut near to my chin. I keep it this way so the flab on my neck doesn’t show too much,” I said, waiting for a laugh on my last line. Nothing.

I continued: “Make sure you cut the hair sprouting out my ears and nose, and do my eyebrows,” I said. “Those are recommendations from my wife.”

My barber looked at the owner. The owner said to him, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.” My barber nodded and turned to me nodding.

“Shurt,” he said. He rolled the “r” a little.

“Not short,” I said. “A regular haircut.”

“Shurt,” he said.

“No, regular,” I said.

He put the apron over me and took out an electric clipper. “Shurt,” he said.

I looked over at the owner. “Give me some help here.”

The owner said, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.” My barber nodded and turned to me smiling and said, “Shurt.”

“Regular, normal, regular,” I said.

“Shurt,” he smiled.

I looked at him. He was nodding and smiling up a storm. I gave up. Let him cut it shurt. And he did. I looked as if I had just joined the Marines.

When he had finished and started with my beard I repeated to him not to cut it too short and to keep the lines on it the same. He looked over at the owner who said, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.”

My barber smiled, nodded, placed the clipper on my beard and took a huge chunk of hair off. You could see more skin than beard. What the hell? I was stuck because a big section of my beard was so short that every section of my beard now had to be mowed the same length.

My hair was now short and my beard had almost disappeared.

He then did my eyebrows (he left them too long) and my ear hair (he left too many bristles) and my nose hair (he left a few sticking out). Gray hair sticking out of your nose looks as if something else is coming out of your nose; if you get my drift.

I gave the guy a good tip; I always tip well as that was my training in Brooklyn, New York where tipping is the true sign of a man—even a man with short hair and a beard that looks exactly like a five o’clock shadow, and with something gray sprouting out of his nose. I tip, therefore I am. It’s an old Brooklyn expression.

When I got home my wife, the Beautiful AP, looked at me and said, “My god, your hair is way too short!”

“Shurt,” I said. “It’s pronounced shurt.”

Frank’s books are available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best and Worst of the Big Monster Movies

They are big, some gigantic, and most have bad personalities because they kill people and destroy cities and other sites. Yes, these creatures can be experienced in full glory (gory) in our big monster movies.

Which are the best of those movies? Which are the worst? Which have great ideas for monsters but the movies these monsters are in just don’t cut the mustard. Here goes:

The Best Big Monster Movies 

  1. King Kong (1933): This movie is magical for me. Modern movie goers might sniff at the special effects but to me the seediness and fog create a truly other world. I’m sure you know the story; it’s about a giant gorilla that falls in love with a beautiful woman named Ann Darrow played by the truly beautiful Fay Wray. Robert Armstrong is the fast talking movie director who takes her on a journey to an unknown but forbidden world of Skull Island where they meet Kong, the gorilla god. Kong enjoys killing and eating the natives…until he meets her and falls in love. Kong is no match for the chloroform that renders him paralyzed. He is taken to the big city, New York, to be exhibited on Broadway and he ultimately meets his fate – to die from airplane shots as he stands atop the Empire State Building. His fall crushes him. A cop says, “The airplanes got him.” But Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) replies, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” Wow! Magic!
  2. King Kong (2005): Now this is arrogance. Producer/Director Peter Jackson had the gall to think he could remake King Kong. Can you believe that? Did he really think his special effects of dinosaurs and his rendering of a 25-foot tall gorilla along with stars such as Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody could bring the real King Kong back from the dead? Other King Kongs had been tried before this and what happened? I can’t even remember the names of those movies without looking them up. Jackson, Jackson, Mr. Peter Jackson – what did you do? Here’s what. You in fact created a brilliant movie that takes us back in time to the 1930’s and lays out the Kong story wonderfully. Not a false step in this movie from cinematography, direction, special effects and acting, each perfectly in its place. Jackson’s King Kong brings back King Kong!
  3. Jurassic Park (1993): I certainly do have a thing for dinosaurs and Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park brings us dinosaurs aplenty. How scary can dinosaurs be? Very scary! The movie equals Michael Crichton’s book in excitement and terror. I usually hate movies with children having leads (I rooted for the shark in Jaws II) but this movie puts the young ones in real trouble and we root for them to be saved. Oh there is a great fat villain (all villains are better if they are fat, right Mr. Potter?) and he screws up everything because of his greed. Terrific movie with good sequels as well.
  4. Jurassic World (2015): There are two separate iterations of the Jurassic Park story. We have the first trilogy ending in 2001. Then we have a second one starting in 2015 that picks up where the first trilogy let us off. This is the beginning of what will be the second trilogy and it is excellent as it introduces a manmade dinosaur called the Indominus Rex which is slightly bigger and slightly meaner than even the T-Rex. It kills for fun, not just to eat. We have somewhat tamed raptors and a great cast trying to save everything as everything falls apart again. Yes, we do have some teenagers in lead rolls but once again they do a fine job. Join the fun and excitement but don’t get eaten.
  5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018): This is the second movie in the current trilogy (the third movie will be coming soon) and the writers do us an unusual favor: they start with a “big bang” opening which is usually the “big bang” closing of a big-budget movie. The island where the dinosaurs live is about to be destroyed by a volcano. There is no stopping it. Our main heroes (played by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) try to help out in capturing and saving as many of those dinosaurs as they can but they are betrayed by another bunch of greedy bastards. Ba-boom! The volcano blows and all hell breaks loose on the island. Some dinosaurs are saved and brought back to civilization where we see the machinations of the greedy ones in all their ill-splendor. Now, the intricate story reveals itself. Can a house – even a very large house – house so many dinosaurs? Oh, yes, and they ultimately get their chance to run rampant. And we get another new dinosaur as well. And cloning too! Join the fun as dinosaurs are let loose on the modern world in the closing scene.
  6. Lost World: Jurassic Park II (1997): This movie is the sequel to Jurassic Park and it ends with a T-Rex running wildly in, of all places, San Diego. Lesson to be learned is do not leave your dog tied up in the backyard. That T-Rex is looking for its offspring. Lost World: Jurassic Park II has shades of the movie Gorgo in its theme but this movie is handled well in stark contrast to Gorgo, a rotten movie. Jeff Goldblum reiterates his character Ian Malcolm, ably abetted by Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn and a great team of villains. Doesn’t have the full kick of Jurassic Park but it is still a super movie. What do you think happens to the lead villain?
  7. Jurassic Park III (2001): An annoying boy falls from the sky as his mother’s annoying boyfriend takes him on a parasailing trip above the dinosaur island. Shouldn’t this annoying adult know better? The annoying kid’s parents, played by William H. Macy (prior to his real-life wife allegedly bribing a college to let their daughter in) and Tea Leoni, convince Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neal) to go back to the island. He soon discovers what’s really happening. They are hunting for their annoying son. A new dinosaur is introduced, the Spinosaurus Aegypticus which kills a T-Rex in a one-on-one battle and ultimately comes after them. Also a bunch of raptors wants them because one of their company, an annoying 20-something, stole some raptor eggs. There is drama and also running galore. Fun movie which would have ended the franchise except the franchise rediscovered itself and thankfully continues.
  8. Mighty Joe Young (1998): Look, I like movies with giant gorillas. Maybe in some alternative earth we humans evolved into such creatures. Jill Young (played by Charlize Theron) raises a giant mountain gorilla – maybe about half the size of Kong – and she brings it to civilization because she is convinced by a zoologist played by Bill Paxton that her monstrous pet is in danger in that part of the mountain. Nothing goes right once they make it to Los Angeles as the bad guys (there are almost always bad guys when you love a gorilla) try to capture Mighty Joe Young who now escapes the zoo and goes somewhat nuts in the streets of Los Angeles. Unlike King Kong, the story ends happily so the kids can watch this, although the opening scene is somewhat scary as poachers (the bad guys) kill some peaceful gorillas.
  9. Cloverfield (2008): A giant monster or two from space lands on earth. How? Why? What the hell is going on here? We are not exactly sure of the answers to these questions but the monsters and their offspring wreck New York City big time. I mean these monsters knock over whole skyscrapers, It is shot with a hand-held camera by one of the characters in the movie; a filming technique that can often make the viewer sick to his or her stomach but this movie, thankfully, is done with the idea that the creators don’t want members of the audience vomiting on other members of the audience as that would hurt popcorn sales. The movie starts off somewhat slowly until wham! all hell breaks loose.
  10. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953): Forget Godzilla because without this movie Godzilla and all those insects, worms, rodents, turtles, moths and other radiated creatures that grew to massive sizes wouldn’t exist. This is the first and clearly the best of those radiated beasts that is brought forth from atomic-bomb testing in the arctic to invade one of our cities and destroy parts of it and, yes, to also to creep us out. The special effects are quite good for its time period and when that monster eats the cop, oh, my god! Kenneth Tobey is the second lead and many of you who love those old movies think of him as a friend who is, sadly, almost always in danger from those things on the attack.
  11. Them (1954): Many of you have had ants in your house (my oldest son once had red ants in his pants – no lie). Perhaps you had carpenter ants trying to redesign your cabinets. That’s nothing compared to these rascals; radiated ants that become almost as big as houses. Future Gunsmoke star James Arness battles them in the desert and then in the sewer system of Los Angeles. Special effects are okay but the story about those miserable ants holds up well. You will need a lot of Raid to get rid of these buggers if they ever do attack.
  12. Mighty Joe Young (1949): The original with Terry Moore as the young Jill Young who is convinced to bring her ape to the big city by, come on, guess who? That’s right Robert Armstrong of King Kong fame. Seems this guy is always angling to make money off these immense simians. Things go wrong (yes, the always do) and Joe Young goes ape in a lavish nightclub. Just before that, the heavyweight champion, the huge Primo Carnera, punches Joe Young a few times with no effect and then the poor fighter is hurled across the nightclub. But don’t worry; this movie has a happy ending.
  13. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Truly stupid premise for the movie but the producers had to get these monsters all together in one epic monster-fighting-monster film. And the pacing and fights are great. The special effects are superb as Godzilla battles Rodan and the supremely powerful alien monster King Ghidorah. Yes, Godzilla does get some help from his friend Mothra. The fact that we accept the fact that such gigantic monsters are wrecking Boston (and Fenway Park no less!) how can a stupid moth be so strong and clever? Makes no sense. As I said, this is a stupid theme that nature needs to right itself because humans are destroying Earth and by sending us monsters that destroy whole cities everything will come out okay. Seriously? The villains are a man and a woman and soldiers constantly willing to die to push forward whatever they think they are getting paid to push. A minimum wage job would be better than this.
  14. Godzilla (2014): Godzilla fights two ancient monsters dubbed MUTOs for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms and he has a hell of a time defeating them. Great scenes of them fighting although we should have seen how these beasts destroyed Las Vegas as we only see what they did as opposed to watching them do it. This is the first iteration of the dumb theme of Godzilla being the beast that rights the wrongs humans have done to planet Earth. If he keeps this up humans will be back living in caves.
  15. Godzilla (1998): This movie has some good points as the monster, with a totally different look from the traditional Godzilla, is frightening and fast. He doesn’t breathe fire and he is pregnant. Yes, he is pregnant as this new spawn of the radioactive age is born pregnant. He is called “he” in the movie for some reason as opposed to her but that’s not my fault now is it? Matthew Broderick is excellent as the lead and Jean Reno is also excellent as the French secret-service agent who knows exactly where and how this Godzilla arose. However, Broderick’s cutesy-poo girlfriend is an awful character in the movie and detracts from every scene in which she appears. That one character almost made me put this movie into the eat-some-popcorn and you can kind-off kind-of enjoy this movie. But the flow of this Godzilla and the special effects did it for me.

What About All Those Japanese Monsters?

I did some homework for this article and I watched the original Godzilla with subtitles; it stunk. Then I watched the dubbed American version with Raymond Burr added as narrator to give an American flavor to the picture. It stunk too. I didn’t mind that the special effects were toy cars, toy tanks, toy armored vehicles and toy planes and crappy destruction of buildings but the total impact got me sneering. Sorry if I offend Godzilla fans. You may have liked these Godzilla films when you were a kid but now? Come on; grow up already.

You want a radiated monster? Go with the The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms upon which all the radiated monster films are based.

And what about Rodan and Mothra and King Kong and the rest of the Japanese monsters? All those movies stunk too. Japan made good cars but lousy radiated-monster films.

Movies You Might Enjoy with Buttered Popcorn

Your popcorn must be buttered with real, slightly salted butter. Then you can probably sit through these movies without screaming at the set: “Why can’t they make good monster movies?” The “they” in the previous sentence is anyone who makes these monster movies. I don’t have them in any order of non-greatness

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957): Alien creature keeps growing and finally fights a gigantic elephant.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955): Kenneth Tobey in this one. A big octopus or squid attacks San Francisco. I thought this was a terrible thing to happen to this city until I recently visited San Francisco and saw the hordes of the homeless.

Kong: Skull Island (2017): They (see above for who “they” are) have made King Kong really, really big; in fact, big enough to fight Godzilla in 2020. I have a theory about that fight and how the two of them become allies to fight against King Ghidorah one of who’s head remained at the end of the Godzilla: King of the Monsters movie.

Pacific Rim (2013): Loud and idiotic but big monsters fighting big robots. This will pass the time and might make you deaf.

Rampage (2018): Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson has a big old time of it with his own version of a white King Kong who must fight two other giant monsters, a wolf and an alligator or crocodile because I can’t figure which is which when it comes to these animals lizards.

Shin Godzilla (2018): Yes, an actual Japanese Godzilla film that is somewhat watchable. Get past the opening baby Godzilla which looks like a toy and instead enjoy how the bureaucracy in Japan is just as idiotic as the one in the United States.

Super 8 (2011): An alien monster screws up a movie being made by a bunch of kids. Watchable.

Awful Movie with a Great Monster

There is one awful big monster movie that has a monster that is terrific. Isn’t it sad to see a great monster in a rotten movie? The blob in the movie titled, well, The Blob (1958) is wonderful.

This jelly/jello monster sucks up humans by the crateful and grows to enormous proportions. Except for seeing the future superstar Steve McQueen in an early roll – all you can think when this movie ends is “ah, blob, you could’ve been a contender instead of a tomato can.” (The remake of The Blob in 1988 is a passable picture but some of the comic sequels are so bad I don’t think you can find them to view them anymore.) The blob’s grave is somewhere in the arctic. If you see it why not place some flowers on what might have been.

The Following Movies Stink to the Seventh Heaven

In mythology the seventh heaven is where god resides. The following movies are so bad their stench wafts its way to god’s nostrils. No order to their stench in this list:

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

The Beast from Hollow Mountain (1956)

Gorgo (1961)

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Tremors (1990) and all its sequels

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

War of the Colossal Beast (1958)

The Giant Claw (1957)

Reptilicus (1961)

I’ve seen many more bad big-monster movies but these I’ve dug out of my memory. Tread carefully with bad monster movies as they can rot your brain. I have firsthand experience with that.

(All Frank’s book are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.)

 

 

 

 

Lover Come Back

 

It was 1970. I was 23 years old.

Peter Hemmings arrived right on time. We were to meet at 8 pm at O’Leary’s Pub and Dance Hall and at 8 pm my wife and I were there as were Lucy and Gorgo (we called him “Gorgo” after the famous British monster). Peter came in too and we all took a large table in the back of the room, as far away from Simon Says Banjo and Band that would be blasting its music all night long. Simon was a teacher at our school and we felt compelled to go to the Pub when he was playing.

Simon’s band was as loud as loud could be but no member actually played the banjo.

“So what did you think of tonight’s set so far?” Simon would ask.

“Great, great,” I’d say which meant Jesus Christ was that loud.

“Yeah, yeah,” he’d agree. “I thought it was great. Someday we’ll be discovered.”

“Yep, someday,” I agreed; which meant Keep your teaching job. It has a good retirement plan.

“Hi Peter,” said Lulu, my wife at the time, (the six-year divorce travail wouldn’t happen for another 16 years, so now we were cordial).

“Peter, great to see you,” said Gorgo, whose given name was George. Gorgo worked in a computer lab, all very top secret.

“Tonight should be fun,” said Peter who was a little shy; not a lot, but a little. “I guess everyone is late.”

“Uh,” said Lucy. “Ah” said Lulu. Gorgo just looked at them and then said. “Most of your teacher friends make it a point to be punctual. It might have something to do with living your working life based on bells.”

“Where is everyone?” I asked. “Anyway let’s order wings and fries and drinks while we are waiting to order those things when the others get here.”

“I haven’t met any of your school friends,” Peter said to Lucy who taught second grade; Lulu didn’t teach and she didn’t work either. She was “finding herself” in those days and it took about 16 years to find that “herself” never really wanted to work and thus she hadn’t. She used to stay at home, when we didn’t have kids, and also when we did have kids, reading British murder mysteries where the wives killed the husbands for sundry reasons.

“I’m looking forward to it, a nice night out,” finished Peter. He was a hell of a nice guy; six-foot tall, thin as a rail, snow-white skin, with white hair and a face that could turn red at the slightest embarrassment. He never went out in the sun for fear of roasting alive.

“I am sure the girls are going to be pretty,” laughed Lucy and then Lulu laughed too.

Peter’s face reddened.

At 8:30 Katie arrived. We were originally scheduled to meet two weeks ago but Lucy said that Katie was putting herself on a “strict diet” to be ready to go out with, “uh, friends.” I didn’t take her up on that by saying, “That’s stupid. Everyone has to wait on Katie?” But I knew that would cause Lucy to get into high dudgeon with Lulu supporting her all the way.

Gorgo asserted that early feminists supported each other all the time, no matter how stupid. One would shout out: “Men should all be killed!” “Yes, sister, you say that lady!”

To Gorgo married feminists talked a strong game. He thought they were all “full of it.”

Katie was a woman with big bones, as they called it. She wasn’t fat per se but if you were a betting person by the third year of marriage put your money on the fact she’d be ballooning.

According to Lucy who told Lulu which I overheard, Katie had lost 15 pounds in two weeks, a remarkable achievement considering this was just going to be a group of friends meeting for a good time. Why would the 29-year-old Katie go on such a strict diet? Made no sense to me or to Gorgo. “What the hell is wrong with her?” he asked. I think Katie told people she was 29 ever since she became 29 about three years before but I didn’t say anything about that. In marriage it is often best to just shut up.

Katie was dressed to the nines; a red mini-skirt which was too small and too tight; a see-through blouse that showed her large bra-busting bosom. Her dyed blonde hair was puffed up and held together with some kind of sweet smelling glue. She was perfumed to the hilt.

She stood over us at the table and made her hands go up and down her body: “I needed to finish this,” she said teasingly.

“You look great,” said Lucy.

“Absolutely,” chimed Lulu.

“How come everyone else is late?” asked Gorgo.

“Uh,” said Lulu.

“They couldn’t make it,” said Lucy. Gorgo threw her a look.

Katie nodded to Peter and gave her version of a sexy smile.

“You are all mine, handsome,” said Katie to Peter. Peter turned red. Gorgo threw Lucy a weird look and then he weird-looked at me. I gave the “what the hell is happening?” look back at him.

“You mean no one else at your school could make this?” I asked Lucy.

“No,” she said definitively.

“Oh, enough of this; let’s all have our drinks,” said Lulu. Katie yelled at the waiter to bring more wings and a “large mug” of beer, which was the pub’s specialty and a double shot of scotch for her. She also ordered a glass of whipped cream.

Katie squeezed in right next to Peter who squirmed a little out of the way so Katie wouldn’t wind up on his lap. “So what’s the conversation? I love a good conversation,” said Katie wiggling her large breasts a little.

“We were basically talking about Nixon and…” I started.

“Oh, forget this president stuff,” said Katie. “That’s all I hear, Nixon this and Nixon that. Peter how many children do you want?”

I almost choked on my drink.

“Well, I, I, never really, you know, I, I never really thought about that very much,” he said.

“You should,” said Katie. “You are getting on in years and you have to plan for your marriage.”

“I’m twenty-four,” said Peter.

Silence.

“I wonder if Nixon has a good marriage,” said Gorgo breaking the silence.

“I think the band should be starting to play again,” I said.

“I love music, don’t you, Peter?” and then she gave her “cute” little-girl smile and asked seductively, “Can I call you by a better name?”

“Huh?” uttered Peter.

“Peter is so formal. We should have especially cute names for each other, don’t you agree?” asked Katie and then she raised her eyebrows up and down the way Groucho Marx used to do. (Gorgo whispered in my ear: “She shaved her eyebrows. Those are made with a pencil. Jesus Christ.”)

“You just met,” I said. Lulu gave me a look, meaning the wife look indicating the husband should stay as quiet as possible. “Well,” I said. “They did just meet.” I got another of those looks.

“I am sure that you have special names for each other,” said Katie looking at Lucy and Lulu. Then she signaled the waiter. “Bring us twenty-four mozzarella sticks.” Then she looked at us, “You know the Italians in Brooklyn call mozzarella mutzadel? What’s with that?” Pause. “God I am so hungry, I could eat a gazelle.”

The waiter left with his new order. In a moment he returned with Katie’s drinks and that glass of whipped cream.

“I love to put my whole mouth on the whipped cream glass and slurp it all down,” said Katie doing her eyebrow thing. “I love slurping cream.” She stage-whispered this to Peter. She then put the whole top of the glass in her mouth and sucked down half of the whipped cream.

“It’s not the fresh kind,” she said. “I know fresh cream when I taste it.”

The band started playing again as Gorgo whispered in my ear, “She’s psychotic.”

Lucy kicked George under the table. “Shut up,” she whispered.

“I know what cute name I can have for you,” said Katie. “Pea-TEA with the emphasis on the word tea because you are drinkable.” And she put the top of the whipped-cream glass in her mouth again.

“Holy shit,” said Gorgo into my ear.

“What did you say?” asked Lulu.

“I didn’t say anything,” I said.

I looked over at Peter who was trying to move away from Katie who now seemed glued to him. “What do you think Pea-TEA?”

“We, uh, just met,” he stammered.

“But I can feel the heat, can’t you Pea-TEA?” she said. “The heat is building; I can feel it.”

I hadn’t noticed but Katie had finished her mug of beer and her double scotch. She called out to the waiter, “More!” and held up her three empty glasses.

The waiter brought over the drinks right away.

“Bottoms up!” he said.

Katie looked at Peter and said, “I always like my bottom up.” And she wiggled her eyebrows.

“I’m gonna be sick,” whispered Gorgo and he was kicked again by Lucy.

I got a kick too from Lulu. “I didn’t say anything,” I said.

“You thought it,” said Lulu.

Katie took a swig of beer, then downed her scotch and put the new glass of whipped cream to her mouth, “Watch this Pea-TEA,” she said. Then she put her mouth on the glass and sucked down all the cream at once. “I love cream!”

“Go ahead, kick me,” said Gorgo. Lucy kicked him.

“So boys, what cute names do you call your wives?” asked Katie, swigging more beer and motioning to the waiter to bring her another scotch, another beer and another glass of whipped cream. That would be three rounds of drinks for her already.

“Do you really want more cream?” asked Gorgo. Then he turned to Lucy, “Don’t you dare kick me again. I think I’m bleeding.” He lifted his left pants leg. “Look at how red this is.” It was indeed red but not as blood red as Peter’s face which looked as if all the red corpuscles in his body had decided to hold a conference in his cranium.

Thankfully the band was so loud you couldn’t hear these private conversations that we “guys” were having. The loudness was much like wedding bands that think you are there to hear them as opposed to attending a wedding.

Katie wasn’t listening to any of this. She was ogling Peter who looked as if he were a trauma victim in a war photo.

“Guys now tell me the cute names of your wives,” said Katie after a pause to finish the last of her beer and swallow several chicken wings in one long suck, slide and gulp. Some of the chicken sauce rolled down her chin and fell onto her blouse.

“Cute names please,” she almost demanded. “Cute names fellas!”

“I call her Lucy,” said Gorgo nodding to Lucy. Lucy frowned.

“Lulu,” I said nodding to Lulu. Lulu frowned.

Katie stared at us for a moment and then she rubbed Peter’s arm which was now almost as red as his face. “I have the perfect name for me, call me Kay-TEA! Our names go together Kay-TEA and Pea-TEA! How do you like that everyone?”

Peter looked at her. I looked at her. Gorgo looked at her. Lucy and Lulu laughed.

“You know,” said Kay-TEA, “we are like Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The heat between us is making me sweat. I loved their movie Lover Come Back. I love Rock Hudson. What a man!” Pause. “People think I look like Doris Day.”

Now even Lucy and Lulu were quiet. Gorgo and I looked at Pea-TEA; had a haunted look. Katie didn’t look anything like Doris Day and the all-white, but now red, Peter did not look anything like the dark-haired Rock Hudson.

Katie finished another round of drinks. The waiter said, “I’m sorry but we have run out of whipped cream.” Kay-TEA loudly laughed, then looked at her trauma victim Pea-TEA and said, “I guess three creams in one night is enough…” she did her eye-browing, “Don’t you think Pea-TEA?”

Pea-TEA had a distant look. Did he actually see her?

There was silence as the band took another break. It was then we could hear the loud sucking sound Kay-TEA made as she slurped down the meat from the chicken wings alternating with eating handfuls of ketchup-covered fries. Her chin now seemed to have a small but steady stream of dribble-sauce going down it.

“I am so happy we met,” she said to Pea-TEA. When she rubbed his arm she got some sauce on him. He didn’t seem to notice. “I am so hungry,” she said. “For food and…” she gave him a sexy look.

“I am sure,” she said, slurring her words a little now, “that there is some real heat between us. Everyone can’t you all feel that heat? We are Doris Day and Rock Hudson.”

Pea-TEA just stared ahead now. I wondered if his bulging head, colored red as heart’s blood, and now showing visible veins (were they pulsating?) would explode.

“You know,” I said. “I have to go to the bathroom. Guys join me.”

“Pea-TEA, wait, I’ll go too,” said Kay-TEA grabbing his arm.

“No, no, Katie, Lulu and Lucy want to talk to you…about, ah, another time to go out; all of us,” said Gorgo. He knew exactly what I was going to do. Kay-TEA swallowed some fries and nodded and did a delicate burp that could be heard across most of the room now that the band was taking a break.

Gorgo, Peter and I headed at a slow trot for the bathroom and then a quick left for the front door. Gorgo stayed on the inside of the front door – as a guard in case Kay-TEA came running to attach herself to Peter.

In the parking lot I turned to Peter. He was looking at me and then said. “That was the worse night I ever spent. Why did you guys set me up on a blind date?”

“We had no idea,” I said. “I thought it was a big get-together, The girls did this.”

“And I am gay,” he said.

“You’re gay?”

“I’m gay,” he said. “I thought you realized that.”

“So does that mean you don’t want to marry her?” I asked.

Sadly, it didn’t end there. Although Peter did make his escape that night (“He wasn’t feeling good so he went home.”) and Kay-TEA spent several hours dancing up a storm at the pub before she got sick, going back to school was kind of a trial. You see Kay-TEA would show up at lunchtime to have lunch with Peter. He wasn’t to be found.

She’d be at the front desk demanding of the secretary, “So where is he? He isn’t in the teacher’s lounge. Can’t you make an announcement to the school that I am here to have lunch with him? We are a couple.”

Peter had found a place to have his lunch that no one knew about, except me of course. Up in the lighting-booth of the auditorium.

I can’t deny that heading for the theatre was a stereotypical move but it was ultimately the place that saved Pea-TEA or should I now say Rock Hudson? Finally our school’s principal called Katie’s principal and that stopped her visits.

Not Adorable

They tried to pull the wool, or rather, the feathers over our eyes. But I discovered the truth and it is not pretty. I must share this truth with you.

You may have heard of this: There has been a tale of the on-again, off-again relationship of two red-tailed hawks that live in Tompkins Square Park in New York City. This pair, Christo, the male, and Dora, the female, have had a lot of press and most of it makes Christo out to be the Harvey Weinstein of hawks because it seems he has betrayed his love for Dora.

Now, Dora and Christo had 10 little hawks together and it has generally been thought that mated hawks mate for life—or thereabouts.

Well, the “thereabouts” seems more accurate, as “til death do us part” is not quite working out in this case.

You see Dora had a wing injury that required the services of skilled rehab people and when she was all well and good, they returned her to the park. This was in 2017. However, when she got back lo-and-behold Nora, another hawk, had entered the picture, taking poor Dora’s place.

About a year ago still another randy hawk named Amelia came in for a loving, landing in Christo’s lap (so to speak). Amelia was courted by the gamey Christo and then she also mated with him—and oh-my-heavens, they actually did the deed in Dora’s nest! Yes, now Christo had three females, Nora, Amelia and his old flame Dora.

Such contentment could not last. Hawks are not Mormons, delighting as they once did in polygamy. Dora decided to assert herself, taking back the reigns of lead wife, and she fought an epic air battle with Amelia high over Tompkins Square Park.

And she lost. She was no match for Amelia in battle or in bed (so to speak).

Dora had some serious wounds and had to be removed to Tackapausha Museum and Preserve in Seaford, New York, where she now spends her days eating rats and perhaps thinking of that rat she once loved.

Now the bones of this story certainly make Dora seem like the injured party in a love quadrangle, finagled by two other females and one horny male. But no story is really simple, is it?

According to Sara Dorn’s article “It’s a Coop D-Etat!” in the New York Post on Sunday, May 5, 2019, Dora was no wall flower, suffering from abuse by her mate and his new females. Instead she was a “queen,” a totally demanding mate who had Christo jumping (or, rather, flying) through hoops.

Cathy Horvath of Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation was quoted as saying that Dora was “not a friendly bird. She was the worst patient ever.”

Nature photographer Laura Goggin said that Dora indeed had a sharp personality and Christo “waited on her” claw and claw. It seems Amelia is far less abrasive on Christo than Dora. As far as those who watch Christo and his two current loves, Nora and Amelia, he seems like a far happier hawk.

The not adorable Dora has enough rats to keep her contented and out of Christo’s life. So you see, some stories have a happy ending.

Frank Scoblete’s books are available on Amazon.com, from Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. His web site is www.frankscoblete.com.

The Scobes Tackle San Francisco

 

We promised our grandchildren that when they each turn 13 we will take each on a special birthday trip anywhere he or she chooses in the continental United States— excluding Alaska—as a gift for reaching such an advanced age. We quickly learned that we had to specify that the offer also excludes Hawaii…and Paris.

It’s the chance for my wife, the Beautiful AP, and me to have some alone time with each one before he or she gets to the eye-rolling “not-these-two-old-farts-again” stage of hanging with Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe.

[We have our friends Jerry “Stickman” and his lovely wife Tres to thank for with this idea as they have some ten thousand grandkids.]

Day One: Tuesday

So it was now John’s turn for this trip. In point of fact, we only have two grandkids, John and Danielle, and this would be our first time spending alone-time with John who is known as Johnny Scobes by his friends and teammates. The “Scobe” name has now lasted through four generations of Scobletes!

[John’s Journal: I had chosen to go to Los Angeles but we’re going to San Francisco. So much for my choice and Grandpa Scobe’s veto.]

Grand AP and I had a whole list of activities and places to see in San Francisco and we had bought tickets to the San Francisco Symphony for our final night.

“He’s going to hate it,” said AP.

“We’ll have him trapped,” I said.

Izzy, the driver whose company I have used for over a dozen years, picked us up at 7:15 AM and we were off to New York’s Kennedy Airport. Izzy is a story teller—he relates his life and ideas to you as he drives. On the trip to Kennedy we learned where his two daughters live; the roads near his second home in Florida, as said home is on the beach and how many hours he plans to work down there. Also that the home has a good crosscurrent of air.

We were flying first class on Delta. I was interested to see how John would like that experience. I have stopped using economy. It’s torture.

Now, Delta has two types of first class cabins—the old ones which are essentially larger seats; and the newer ones which have totally private seats that can recline into a bed, large individual television screens, great earphones and superior meals and drinks.

We always use carry-on, no matter how long we’ll be away, and this trip was no exception. The first snag we hit was that John’s suitcase could not be opened. The suitcase had exhausted its life cycle and was stuffed with so much stuff that no amount of tugging could open the zippers without ripping the entire case.

We decided to wait to open the suitcase until after we checked in at Kennedy Airport and then we’d buy a new one. Yes, that was a small problem but kind of typical of John’s cavalier attitude towards anything that he didn’t really consider all that important. How hard is it to pack carry-on for a three-day trip?

[John’s Journal: So I over packed. But I told them my mom and sister had done the packing. I think I got away with that.]

We got to the airport early. You can’t miss a flight by being early except that Jerry “Stickman” missed one of his flights when he arrived early and fell asleep in the lounge and snored through all boarding announcements as his plane then sailed the blue skies while he slept soundly in his seat.

When John and AP bought the carry-on suitcase (I stayed in the lounge to relax), John came back with it.

“Guess how much it cost?” he asked.

“A hundred dollars?”

“Nope,” he said. “Four hundred dollars.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” said John.

[John’s Journal: I fooled Grandpa Scobe about the price of the luggage. It was only sixty dollars. He looked relieved when I told him the truth.]

We boarded the plane in the very first boarding group and John’s eyes lit up when he saw the accommodations. It was the new first class! Grand AP showed him everything that he needed to know about his remote, his headsets, and how to call the flight attendant for drinks and snacks. We all settled in for the flight, which was well over five hours long.

Newlyweds who were seated apart asked me to change my seat so they could sit together. So I moved. Sometime in the future their request might be the opposite, “Would you change seats with me? I don’t want to sit next to my husband.”

Instead of an aisle seat, my preference, I now had a window seat next to a guy who got quite buzzed on the flight. That’s what I got for being nice to the newlyweds. I wish I weren’t that nice. I could smell my stewed seatmate’s breath the whole flight.

[John’s Journal: I’ve got to tell my parents that first class is how we must always travel. It should be the “Scobe Way.”]

I was really disappointed in breakfast. I ordered French toast and it was soggy and tasted like a leftover from two weeks ago. I ate about ten percent of it before I gave up. The other choices seemed to be just as unappetizing as AP and John didn’t finish their meals either. That’s the first time I had food on Delta that I didn’t like.

[John’s Journal: Breakfast sucked.]

When we landed early afternoon, we had a car service take us to our hotel, the Marriot Marquis. I wanted John to enjoy this trip and experience what I considered to be the finer things in life. Grand AP and I would enjoy taking him to the symphony, whether he liked the experience or not. Bad experiences can often become good experiences in retrospect.

We were on the 33rd floor in a corner room. You could see the city and the San Francisco Bay from our windows.

[John’s Journal: We had a cool suite with giant television sets in each room. Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe are not big on watching television during the day or of “constantly” looking at your phones. They are old fashioned in many ways.]

I was disappointed in our hotel. No elevator went from the lobby floor to the higher floors. If you had a floor above 18, you had to switch elevators on floor two or four to take another elevator. The higher floor elevators were down a hall where you had to make various turns. You followed red tape on the floor to figure out where you were supposed to go. It was maddening.

[John’s Journal: You never knew where you were in that hotel. There were always guests wandering around with confused looks on their faces. The lobby was white, white walls, white floors; it was like Antarctica. If you asked a worker how to get somewhere they would say, “Behind the white wall.” Couldn’t they see that every damn wall was white?]

After lunch in the rather high-priced restaurant at the Marriott Marquis, we headed for the Cable Car Museum and then the piers. That’s when they became noticeable. the hordes of the homeless, everywhere in the city—not just in some godforsaken out-of-the-way neighborhood but everywhere; in front of the banks, the restaurants, the stores, the department stores; the office buildings. Some slept on the sidewalks; some in the alleys, some in doorways. Some of them howled their objections to life’s “slings and arrows of their outrageous fortune,” although the rest of didn’t want to hear them.

[John’s Journal: There were a lot of homeless in the city. It was like being back in New York, only maybe worse. Where’d they all come from? Were they all born in San Francisco?]

The Cable Car museum was interesting. It had great information about the earthquake of 1906, which destroyed the city. The amount of work keeping those cable cars moving in those years must have been enormous. Today they are a fun ride up and down a few breathtaking hills.

[John’s Journal: The Cable Car Museum was okay but the pictures of the earthquake were amazing. Even the young people looked old in those photos. When did young people start looking young like they do now?]

At the beach area from where you could see Alcatraz, there were children playing in the sand; dogs romping; joggers happily jogging; people playing touch football; babies being wheeled in carriages; and swimmers swimming in the Bay area that had been fixed with barriers so the waves wouldn’t drag the hardy swimmers out to their deaths in the Pacific ocean. Of course, the children, the dogs, the joggers, the football players, the baby wheelers, had to do their things around the homeless sprawled out here and there.

[John’s Journal: The Bay was nice and a lot of people were swimming. As far as I could see, the swimmers did not have any homeless swimming with them in the Bay, unless there were bodies floating nearby.]

That night we went on the Haunted San Francisco ghost and murder tour near Union Square that skirted the tip of the Tenderloin District – the seedy part of town. Our tour guide, Sebastian warned us to be careful with the homeless as the sidewalk was their “living room” and we should understand that. I took that to mean, Be careful, some of these people are insane.

[John’s Journal: The ghost tour was okay but there was more about murder than about ghosts. There were a lot of weird people in San Francisco’s past.]

Day Two: Wednesday

Today was Alcatraz, one of the best tours the Beautiful AP and I have ever been on. We were excited to take John on it.

You put on the headsets and are whisked back in time for two hours. Alcatraz Island housed some of the most dangerous criminals in American history and you learn what they were really like when they were caged. For example, did you know that the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” so lovingly portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, was described by the warden as “a psychopathic, suicidal mass murderer who spoke three languages”? No one turned his back on this killer of men and lover of birds.

This amazing tour starts off with a pleasant boat ride to the island and then you are in for it. If you visit San Francisco then you must go to Alcatraz and take the audio tour.

[John’s Journal: I really liked Alcatraz. The criminals looked like criminals. Maybe we are what we look like?]

Late afternoon would be our Chinatown visit and then a dinner at the highly recommended Oriental Pearl. The Marriott concierge said this was one of the two best restaurants in Chinatown.

Over the years in four separate visits to San Francisco’s Chinatown I found that I was not a fan. I found the area to be grimy, rundown and ragged. But Chinatown is a big tourist destination and we felt that John would enjoy entering this world.

I asked John why there were so many Chinese in San Francisco. John was unaware of the history of Chinese immigration to San Francisco; he thought some had just showed up one day and others followed. We explained the horrors of forced labor on the railroads.

Our first stop was the Golden Gate Cookie Factory. That sounded interesting as this factory was where fortune cookies were created. That had to be fun to see, right?

It wasn’t.

We walked into this crummy store and once we got about nine feet inside that was the end of the “self-guided tour.” There were two women loading the cookies with fortunes and some guy wandering around the place. Factory? How could this dirty store be called a factory? Of course, the conditions of the place did not stop us from buying a bag full of fortune cookie slices. John loved them. They were delicious.

[John’s Journal: If Chinatown was my room, my mother would be yelling at me all day to clean it up.]

After walking the littered streets we found our restaurant, the Oriental Pearl. The store with the sign was closed but another sign led us to a door that signaled we were to go upstairs. Well, at least we would sample Chinatown’s best! Even bad places have good places, right?

I noticed that the rug on the staircase was frayed. I hoped from a lot of foot traffic. Upstairs the restaurant looked okay and there were several tables with diners.

We were seated next to a slightly opened window that had no screens. We checked the fraying cardboard menu. I turned to the page with drinks.

“I’ll have a Macallan please,” I said.

“That last page in the menu we don’t have,” said the waitress. I then noticed that the menu was stained and falling apart in the middle. It was a very old menu; maybe as old as Chinatown itself.

We ordered two glasses of wine and John ordered lemonade. The wine glasses were small, I mean, really small. The lemonade had a slight greenish color. John took a sip of it, put it down and chugged some water.

“Oh, god!” he said. “The water is making me sick. I feel a big lump of phlegm in my throat. I gotta spit! Grand AP, is it okay if I spit out the window?”

“No, no,” said AP. “Run to the bathroom over there!” and she pointed.

“Taste my water,” said John.

I took a little sip. Oh, Jesus! It stuck to my tongue and the back of my mouth. It tasted like – I don’t know what the hell it tasted like.

“Take a taste of this,” I said to AP.

“You crazy?” she said. “You’ve already said it tastes terrible. I don’t need to taste it. We need to complain about this water.”

The food arrived as John returned. It looked disgusting. The white rice was a greyish color. I had ordered lemon chicken and I cut a piece. It was – can you say this about chicken?—mangy. I spat it out of my mouth. John took a taste of his and looked at us. “I’m going to throw up if I eat this.”

“Let’s leave,” said AP.

I called the waitress over. “We’re leaving,” I said. “This food is disgusting. We’ll pay for our drinks but we are leaving.” The waitress nodded. Strangely, she didn’t seem at all surprised.

[John’s Journal: The food in Chinatown was worse than on the plane!]

Back at the Marriott Marquis, we went to the 39th floor to the View lounge for some drinks. The view was spectacular and the drinks tasted like real drinks. I will never go back to Chinatown again.

When our appetites returned, we had a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant. John ordered only French fries.

[John’s Journal: I’ve never gotten sick eating French fries.]

Third Day: Thursday

We found a good diner for breakfast, Mel’s, a block from the Marriott. We had paid $34 per person for a buffet breakfast at Marriot’s B-55 the day before. That’s a ridiculous price for some eggs, fruit and toast. Mel’s was a throwback to the 1950s and ‘60s and the breakfast was delicious and reasonably priced.

We walked to pick up the Cable Cars a few blocks away and we enjoyed our trip up and down the hills. If you have never been to San Francisco you can’t imagine how hilly the city is and the cable cars are a great way to get the feel of what it must have been like over a hundred years ago.

You can sit on the cars or you can hang off them on the sides. The Beautiful AP and John hung off them, but I sat.

[John’s Journal: The cable cars were fun.]

We did some more touring of Fisherman’s Wharf.

After that we went on a great boat trip Bridge to Bridge on the Red and White line. It went from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and back to the pier. The day was warm and it was perfect for a boat ride in the beautiful Bay.

Many folks that visit San Francisco think the Golden Gate Bridge should be gold in color. Not so. The “golden gates” are the mountains on either side of the Bay which the Bridge connects and that is where the Bridge gets its name, not from its color.

 

Giant beasts have attacked the bridge, including It Came from Beneath the Sea, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJqXEhMdlg4) the recent Godzilla monster and an X-Men villain did the Bridge in as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITMren3I3WM).

San Francisco has to keep repairing that bridge.

We had a great dinner at the B-55 and that is when John hit us with, “So are you taking me to a concert?” How the heck did he know that? I told no one and Alene told only some 20 colleagues at work.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“I just guessed,” he said. Maybe I should get lottery numbers from this kid.

Then it was off to the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall for Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte and Piano Concerto in G major; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Simone Young was the conductor.

So how would this first dabbling into classical music go for our young grandson? We’d see. AP told him that his cellphone be shut and his eyes open. We assumed his ears would be open.

Of course, first we had to get there. Our Uber driver sternly told us not to walk in the Symphony Hall’s neighborhood because of all the homeless. This was the Tenderloin District and they were everywhere – everywhere. It was like a zombie apocalypse. “Do not wander from the symphony.” We saw some tents and what I took to be drug deals occurring on the sidewalks. Coming from New York this reminded me of well, of course, New York as John has already said, but also Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Memphis, and countless cities across our country. I just don’t remember these numbers when I was a young man, over 50 years ago. Was I that blind? Did we always have such numbers of homeless?

The Symphony Hall had uniformed security guards throughout the building and one of the ushers told AP that those were the ones you saw but there were also undercover ones everywhere as well. I guess the Symphony knew its neighborhood.

John was a good sport and he said the symphony was all right. I took that as high praise.

[John’s Journal: I did not like the Ravel. It was dull. The Scheherazade was good. I was tired throughout this and wanted to go to sleep but I had to keep my eyes open as Grand AP kept checking. She doesn’t want you to get away with anything.]

So tomorrow we would fly home.

Day Four: Friday

The car service picked us up at 6:15 AM. Our flight was at 8:30. We’d get back to New York at about 5 PM.

After a good breakfast in the airport (we weren’t taking chances with the airplane food), and a little wait, we boarded the plane. Yes, it was the new first class again. The three of us settled in for the flight.

I started watching The Carbonaro Effect, a funny hidden camera magic show, but at the half-hour mark, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “We are turning around and going back to San Francisco. There is some smoke in the cockpit and in the economy class. We take such things seriously and we want to be cautious so we are going back to check things out.”

In a half hour we landed in San Francisco airport.

We were told we could make reservations on other flights heading to other cities if we wanted to try for transfers or we could wait in the airport for another plane, if Delta sent another plane. Thankfully, another plane did arrive and the departure was for 1 PM. We’d get into New York at around 9:15 PM or so.  AP used this as a “teachable moment,” explaining to John her maxim: no day goes as planned and always take carry-on luggage.

None of the three of us were upset. Heck, we got back to the airport with no trouble. It wasn’t until we were standing in line to board the second plane that a couple of the passengers on that first plane told us that it wasn’t just smoke they saw but that the floor was rattling like crazy. That was the scariest thing of all to them.

On the flight back to New York I noticed that John watched the “R” rated movies Ted and The Hangover. I was going to tell him to go to “PG-13” films but then I figured these are his rewards for the symphony. In point of fact, he’s probably seen much more when he and his friends do “research” on the Internet.

At Kennedy Airport at 9:15 that night, Izzy was there to pick us up. When we got into the car we began to tell Izzy the story of our interrupted return journey but we didn’t get very far. Instead Izzy told us about his journey of six miles from his home to Kennedy and then how one of his regular clients had trouble on the airlines sometime in the past and that he and his wife have an agreement about when they fight and that Izzy doesn’t mind letting her win in order to establish peace in the family and that he is rapidly making friends with cops in Florida and that he made sure everyone in his development now knows that he will be happy to serve as their ride to the airport and anywhere else they wished to go for a fee of course because he doesn’t work for nothing. Izzy had six miles worth of stories.

[John’s Journal: Izzy really enjoys talking.]

All in all this was a very good trip.

[John’s Journal: All in all it was a good trip.]

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

The Fat-Fingered Blackjack Technique

 

For several years some Las Vegas casinos offered a two-deck game dealt face up – mostly the Mirage properties. This was unusual since most double-deckers are dealt face down. You will probably find some casinos throughout the country that continue to do the face-up double-deck game and if so the “fat finger” strategy can give you a startlingly large advantage.

The ultimate spot on the table is at first base for the “fat finger” strategy so when you see that a dealer is falling into “fatitude” you must get yourself to first base [first base is the very first seat to the dealer’s left and is the first position to get cards].

So here is how this technique works: The dealer deals the cards to the players face up. When the dealer gets to third base [immediately to the dealer’s right] and he starts to flip the card over for the player, there are times when he double flips – that is, he starts to flip two cards at the same time. In a normal deal the top card is the player’s but in a double flip the second card is shown – that will be the dealer’s hole card. The dealer catches the almost-mistake and knowing he was about to show his hole card, he quickly stops the flip and fixes the cards so the player gets the correct card without the dealer’s hole card being seen or being flipped. Or so he thinks.

That hole card is often visible from first base. That’s right; he isn’t able to hide the card completely from the first base player – meaning you.  Now you know his hole-card and can play your hands with that knowledge. A huge edge has just now been given to you on a golden plate.

What makes this a great way to play has to do with some of the hitting and standing decisions that you can make. If you know the dealer has a 6 under his up-card of 10, you might want to stand on your 15’s and 16’s, or double on your 9’s. He will not know that you know he has a 6 in the hole. Your playing decisions can really help you bring in the money. Of course, you could go completely nuts with your decisions. You would be foolish to stand on a 12 against a dealer’s 10 card even if you knew the dealer had a 6 in the hole. That would be something of a give away. You have to keep yourself somewhat reigned in so the pit wasn’t aware of the fact that you were not actually dumb (as you appeared to be based on your strategies) but actually smart enough to catch a problem in their game. Smart is bad in a casino; dumb is prized.

The reason I call this the “fat finger strategy” has to do with which dealers tended to make this misstep. These were usually large guys with big, thick fingers. For some reason when they flipped the cards, they had a tendency to double-card flip. That double card-flip was no big deal when it occurred to the players before the last player since you were going to see those cards anyway, but when it was the last player being double-card-flipped – voila there was a nice fat edge for you.

Yes, at times all types of dealers made this mistake but the large, thick fingered ones made it the most. Be thankful so many Americans are out-of-shape and over-weight or nicely plump due to so much protein, sugar and fat in our diets – they’ve made it perfect for some blackjack players such as me.

The best dealer I ever had was at Bellagio; he did it almost ten percent of the time. Still, I didn’t go all out to take hits. If I had an 18 or 19 I stayed on my hand even though I knew the dealer had, say, a 20. Again, hitting an 18 or 19 would have been too radical a hit unless you looked like Alfred E. Newman with drool dripping down your chin.

I did, however, double-down on hands such as a nine against a dealer’s 10 up-card when I knew he had a small card in the hole. This merely looked as if I were stupid whereas hitting on an 18 or 19 would have made me look crazy or smart. Again: Stupid is loved in the casinos. Also: Crazy gives the casino pit people pause. Again: Smart makes the casinos hate you.

A.P. and I played these face-up two-deck games for over a year and it was a very, very satisfying year indeed.

The above was excerpted from Frank’s book I Am a Card Counter!

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Truth About Blackjack Players

 

There are three types of blackjack players and sub-categories of these three. If you are a self-styled blackjack player using your own unique and probably wrong strategy and you are easily offended, you might not want to read this article. That’s my warning to you.

Blackjack players who are card counters, meaning they can get a small edge over the casino when they play, have certain things they look for. They want deep penetration into the deck, decks or shoe. This allows their count to become stronger as the cards have been played.

These players are not as interested in the rules as they are in the penetration (however, they will probably forgo the 6:5 blackjack games). Penetration is the key to the casino treasury. They would also prefer to play alone or with only a couple of players at the table. Advantage players want to play as many hands as possible. They love fast dealers!

Regular basic strategy players (basic strategy being the computer derived play of every player hand against every dealer up-card) want just the opposite. They want good rules, shallow penetration, a full table and slow dealers. The fewer hands such players play the better for them. Old, arthritic dealers or those dealers who love to talk are the best bets for a basic strategy player.

Card counters and basic strategy players are opposite sides of the blackjack coin; the two never to meet in their long-term expectations.

The third type of player, the category of which goes from stupid to stupider to “oh, my god, he did what?” Such players use their own well-thought-out-seemingly-logical strategy which is totally wrong and based merely on their own limited experiences in the casinos. (“I know what I am doing; I have been playing blackjack for years.” “Sorry, no, you don’t. You split 10s, double on 12, and annoy everyone by giving the wrong advice! And there’s a funky odor coming from you.”)

Players who try to use their psychic powers are long-term losers. Players who assume the dealer always has a 10-card in the hole, even though only about 31 percent of the cards are of 10-value, are long term losers. Players who always insure their hands, even their blackjacks, are long-term losers. Players who split fives…players who won’t hit their 16 against a dealer up-card of seven…players who don’t always split aces and eights – the list goes on forever – they are all losers.

Yes, basic strategy players are losers but they are basically losing a mere one-half percent of their action while our third category folks are losing their shirts.

Blackjack is a great game, for card counters and for basic strategy players, but each must play the particular game their strategies are suited for. And that third category? Sadly, there’s no talking to them.

[Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle and Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com