Save the Best for Last


My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I went bird watching recently at the Jamaica Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens, New York. This is my favorite place to go for the variety of birds, and for everything else—the marsh, the lakes, the ponds, the bay, the paths, the forest and the magnificent vistas.

You are in beautiful nature yet, through your binoculars off in the distance, you can see the skyline of Manhattan, which is always a spectacular sight. And since this refuge is quite close to Kennedy Airport you get to see hundreds of planes flying into the sky—mankind’s successful attempt to mimic the birds of the air.

Having gotten out of a 10-day post-New Year’s single-digit deep freeze, it was a relief to escape into 40-degree weather, although along the ocean and wetlands, it was still cold and windy.

We had to sneak into the park; it was closed because of the Federal government’s shutdown. We did a two mile walk on the main path; on our left the salt quarter-frozen bay and on the right the completely frozen freshwater lake.

About a hundred feet into the walk we encountered a young female photographer who was sitting on a bench looking at the bay on the opposite side of which is Far Rockaway.

“Any luck?” asked AP.

“Nothing except some flitters that are too fast to photograph,. They zip into the bushes and vanish,” she said. “Nothing is standing still today. There just isn’t really much to see.”

“Well, good luck,” I said as we walked on.

When we hit the area that had no bushes or trees on either side of the path, the wind whipped us. “So much ice,” said AP, looking over the bay.

“Nothing out there,” I said. Just then high overhead a small flock of Canada geese sailed over our heads. “I wouldn’t want to be a Canada goose,” I said. “Nobody seems to like them.”

“Do you like them?” asked AP.

“Not after stepping in their shit all these years,” I said.

“Remember the ones that were so aggressive at Hall’s Pond? If you didn’t give them something to eat, they attacked you.”

“Even if you fed them,” I said. “They still bit you.”

So we kept walking the path, stopping occasionally to look through our binoculars to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. The Manhattan skyline looked great as did the planes soaring into the air, but that was about it.

“Maybe we will see something in the second half of the walk,” said the Beautiful AP. “Maybe the second half will be good.”

“The second half of life’s been good,” I said.

“My first half wasn’t so hot,” said AP.

Indeed, AP’s first 29 years saw her more like a deer caught in a car’s headlights on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. She titled her parents’ marriage “Ozzie and Harriet in the Twilight Zone.”

“I was in the Twilight Zone with them,” she said. “It was a middle-class suburban family in chaos.”

“I had wild ups and downs in my first half of life. I certainly disappointed my father,” I said.

“You didn’t become a major league baseball player,” said AP.

I laughed, “I didn’t become the next Joe DiMaggio. I was nowhere near as good as you had to be to become a professional player, even a minor leaguer. So I didn’t get the fame he wanted for me. I petered out. And then a bad marriage, divorce and damn it wasn’t exactly turning out like It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“If we hadn’t met each other I sometimes wonder if I would ever have left Twilight Zone,” she said.

“Without your support I would never have become a well-known writer,” I said.

“The second half has been the best,” said AP.

“Agreed,” I said. “I’ve always felt bad for the people who look over their early years, say in high school or even in college, and reminisce as if these were the best years of their lives. It is sad that the right now is not their best times.”

“I have no nostalgia about those years. I’d never go back,” said AP.

“Me too. Just as we wouldn’t go back from where we came from on this walk, other than a flock of Canada geese, not a bird in sight, I prefer moving ahead. ‘Let the dead past bury its dead,’ as someone famous once said.”

“So let’s move on with the future of this walk,” said the Beautiful AP.

Right then a sparrow landed on the path in front of us. Our first non-goose! AP focused her camera but the sparrow scooted into the bushes before she could take a picture. The sparrow was not the last. We took a couple of steps and two unidentifiable black birds zipped over our heads. At least they were birds!

At the tail end of our walk all hell broke loose! Or maybe you could say that the heavens’ opened. Suddenly there were a half dozen different birds flying overhead, landing in the denuded trees, walking on the snow on the path searching for water and seeds, and some just stood on the side of the path looking at us. AP took dozens of photos. A couple came over and both the husband and the wife exclaimed, “Look at all the cedar waxwings!”

These birds are small and look like miniature cardinals. They were not skittish and the Beautiful AP got dozens of pictures of them. There were cardinals and robins and sparrows and gulls and, yes, flying overhead and honking like crazy were those Canada Geese. There were some other birds too—I just don’t what kind. It was, I kid you not, like being in an aviary.

When we finished, we snuck out of the Refuge and walked  to the car.  AP summed up our lives and this bird walk stating, “The second half was so much better!”

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

School Days


The Beautiful AP and I were coming back from swimming on Tuesday morning. It was the first day of school for kids on Long Island, New York. AP was driving. It was 7:45. We swim weekday mornings from 6:30 to 7:30. It’s a great way to start the day.

“Look at the four of them,” I said.

“Off to school they go,” said AP.

“Look at the little guy,” I said.

She laughed.

Two of the four kids were in high school; they were chatting with each other. The third kid, probably in eighth grade, was buried in his phone. The little one had to be, maybe, sixth grade? My, my, my did he strut!

“The poor kid has to show he is something special, walking with all these older kids. So he has that exaggerated strut, ‘Look at me!’ his strut says. ‘I’m not just a little guy. I’ve got it!’”

“First day of school is nerve wracking,” said AP.

“Especially for the teachers,” I said. “The day before the first day of school, Labor Day, that night’s sleep—if you do sleep—can be filled with horror. If you teach high school, you will be meeting 130 to 160 kids. You know some of them will be PITAs [pains in the ass]. The high schoolers are only meeting about nine teachers. Teachers have it tougher.”

“I feel sorry for the kids,” said AP. “I mean they all have to act cool or at least most of them do. They could be shaking inside.”

“True,” I said. “But I do think the teachers have more to fear.”

We were on Ocean Avenue, with the High School on our right and the Middle school on our left. About 10 teachers were heading for the Middle School.

“Look at that group,” I said. “Which of those teachers will be destroyed this year? Which will go home many a night and cry? Which will go home after a good day of teaching only thinking of the kid or two who gave them trouble that day? At times it’s hard to even enjoy the good days.”

“There are plenty of teachers who love what they do and enjoy teaching,” said AP.

“Yeah, that may be so, but just about all of those teachers here and across the country are going to be emotionally stripped and whipped on given days. They’ll know what pain is.”

In my 33 years of teaching I never had to send a disciplinary referral for a kid or even yell at a class but I was well aware that at any moment I could be hung out to dry by my students.

I used to have schoolmares. I’d dream that I had suddenly lost control of a class and the kids were now tearing me to pieces. I’ve been retired going on 16 years and I still have schoolmares! As it turns out, all teachers have schoolmares at one time or another.

I saw horror visit many teachers; their careers painted in the colors of torment. I don’t know how they did it; year after year, students mocking them, baiting them, and ganging up on them. Some of these teachers were true experts in their subjects—but devastated almost daily.

There were quite a number of new teachers who couldn’t make it into their second year—or even their second semester. I saw a big, strong Marine come back to the teachers’ room and cry. He left soon after this. A former cop took up teaching in his retirement. On the third week of school, he jokingly asked me, “How do you do this without a gun?” He left after his first year to enjoy his retirement from the police force.

I knew teachers who had only honors classes because they couldn’t survive “regular” classes. And how were those honors classes? Pandemonium.

“What about teachers who say they look forward to a school year?” asked AP.

“I’ll place a bet that often enough they will write referrals; they will have dreadful days. Their mouths say they are looking forward to the year but their hearts? No. They will have tough times.”

Ah, yes, the first day of school! When that bell rings before each period, it ushers in the next round—and that bell rings day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year and…how could I still have schoolmares?

“So are you saying that you hated your teaching career?” asked AP.

“I loved it,” I laughed. “I loved it.” Yes, I did.

Frank Scoblete’s latest books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Killing Whales


On our recent trip to Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, my wife the Beautiful AP and I visited the National Museum that has artifacts of early sailors, Vikings and whale hunters—particularly whale hunters.

I must tell you that seeing the small size and limited power of the boats that the whale hunters used has put me off becoming a whale hunter in the 1600s. Sorry, that’s not for me. Actually that, added to the killing of those magnificent animals, probably won’t make me a whale hunter in any era.

Among its outstanding artifacts, this museum had an excellent film about the killing of the whales circa 1920. Picture a Sunday with women and children dressed in their Sunday finest, many having come directly from praying and praising their eternal loving God at church.

These well-dressed folks—men in suits, women in their Sunday best, children miniature versions of them – stood on the docks talking and laughing and looking out to the harbor; parents holding their children’s hands, other children skipping and playing. A true family day; a true town day; a truly wonderful day for all concerned.

Then they appeared; dozens upon dozens of pilot whales being herded by the whale hunters to the small harbor where the Sunday-go-to-meeting folks were now cheering. Kids were jumping up and down and clapping. The adults’ faces showed glee; a truly wonderful day for all concerned.

And the slaughter began.

The whale hunters started hacking away at the whales, the people cheering wildly as the blood splashed onto the docks, splattering many onlookers. The kids skipped happily as the blood washed over the land and over their little well-dressed bodies.

The water of the harbor turned red. It was reminiscent of one of the plagues Yahweh sent to destroy the Egyptians – only now it was the whales, thrashing and dying ignoble deaths in the shallows of the harbor.

Oh, how the boys and girls, the fathers, mothers, grandparents, the newly married and the single people looking for love cheered the blood and guts slaughter of these sentient creatures. There would be meat tonight and every night, and whale blubber for myriad uses.

I admit, the video engaged me, enraged me and fascinated me; it sickened me too, but it also made me realize that mankind must eat and we have the ability to turn just about everything into food and resources that we need. Our ways are at times grisly, yes; but nature—our human nature—is drenched in blood. It always has been so and perhaps it always will be so. Humankind dances our dance on the death docks even if we are vegetarians killing plants and vegetables with no blood to be seen. To live, the other living often must die.

I highly recommend visiting the museum should you be sailing the North Atlantic. I do not recommend killing the whales, if you can avoid it.

[Frank Scoblete’s latest books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]


The Pursuit of the Puffin

On a recent cruise in the North Atlantic ( my wife the Beautiful AP and I wanted to see the huge puffin colony on the Faroe Islands. Supposedly there are millions of puffin nests scattered throughout the islands on the sides of the monstrous mountains jutting out over the sea.

These little birds are beautiful with comical characteristics, including large, colorful beaks. Puffins are generally monogamous birds and build their nests on the sides of the giant mountains.

Puffins make up some of the diet of the Faroe Islanders and Icelanders. I wonder if they taste as good as they look?

“Oh, you probably won’t see many puffins today,” said the receptionist at the hotel where we were meeting our driver and tour guide Thordeval. “The weather is really bad and you are getting a somewhat late start. It is a long drive to that side of the island. You might not see a single one.”

“I thought there were millions of these birds on these islands,” I said.

“Yes, but this weather is not conducive to flying about.” She probably saw the defeated look on my face. “But you might see some, maybe, you know, you might see some.”

The word puffin means “little brother” as some religious folks saw the bird’s black and white colors as similar to monastic robes. Of course, that didn’t stop the islanders from eating these pretty little birds.

Thordeval came by in his taxi and we introduced ourselves. The day before this puffin adventure, the Beautiful AP and I had decided to forgo the bus trips that the cruise line sets up in favor of hiring our own guide. These bus trips had been harrowing, but most were also dull, so we jettisoned them. We wanted to see what we wanted to see in the time we had to see them.

Thordeval shook his head as the wind and rain pelted us as we entered his car. “Not the best weather,” he said. “Those birds may be hiding in their nests.”

“Well,” said AP. “Let’s give it a try.”

It was an hour’s drive to the side of the island inhabited by the puffins; a drive often through long tunnels in the mountains. The drive was beautiful and Thordeval explained how the sheep and fishing industries worked. The mountain sides were littered with sheep.

“Who owns these sheep?” asked AP. “There don’t seem to be any farmhouses nearby.”

“All different farmers own them,” said Thordeval. “They bring the sheep to these grazing areas and they are all mixed together.”

“But when winter comes, how do farmers know which sheep are theirs?” I asked.

“They are branded on the ears just in case the dogs usher the sheep to the wrong farmer,” said Thordeval. “Each farmer’s dogs know their sheep and they herd them in winter to that farmer.”

Keep in mind that winter can be dark up to 24 hours a day. Right now we were in July and it was light except for two hours of “dusk.” I couldn’t see spending almost an entire day in darkness. (See the great horror movie 30 Days of Night.)

Thordeval also explained that there was no crime on the island; at the worst, the police have to occasionally deal with fights between lads who have drunk too much in the pubs. “There aren’t many fights either.”

The Faroe Islands have no squirrels either. Or snakes. My backyard seems to have more dangerous animals than exist on these islands.

Thordeval, like many other islanders, loves where he lives. At one point, he tried living in Denmark, but lasted only six months and then returned home. Many of his schoolmates had the same experience.

At times the rain and wind were ferocious on the coastline. The only birds we saw were numerous varieties of gulls flying and soaring about. The scenery was beautiful even in the on-again, off-again rain.

The rain let up as we arrived in puffin territory. We walked down a slippery mountain path; around a small herd of rams, and we checked the sides of the mountains but saw no puffins. We saw more waterfalls and beautiful vistas of mountains and ocean and the ubiquitous gulls.

Suddenly Thordeval pointed to a spot just below us, maybe about 10 feet down. “There are two!”

And there were two, looking out of their nest. Then they left their nest. What beautiful birds! What comical birds! Oh my God, they just kissed and put their necks around each other. And, and, they were looking right at us. They did not seem afraid of us at all. Maybe these two weren’t aware that they could (someday) be a dinner for someone.

AP spent time cooing as she watched them through her binoculars. She took dozens of photographs with her phone. “I don’t think these are going to come out too clear. I wish I had my camera!” Since we always travel with carry-on and never check luggage, AP had decided to leave the camera home. Maybe we could get one good “phone” picture.

We watched these two birds for a good 20 minutes. They watched us too. Finally they went back into their nest; the rain picked up just then, and we headed back up the path, past the rams, and to Thordeval’s car.

A third puffin zipped by, his wings beating so fast he could have been a colossal hummingbird.

On the way back we toured Torshavn National Museum.

Thanks to Thordeval and a happily married pair of puffins, AP and I were very satisfied with our day in the Faroe Islands.




My 70th Birthday Cruise

Yes, I just turned 70. Seventy years old!

My wife, the Beautiful AP, told me to choose any trip I wanted as a 70th birthday present and I decided on a cruise that would start in Copenhagen and go to Norway, Shetland Islands, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and finish in Southampton, England.

I love cruising. My wife doesn’t. Despite my love for it, I found this particular cruise somewhat irritating and, at times, anger-provoking.

First off, you might think that at 70, I would be one of the oldest on this ship. Not so. Passengers went from somewhat young to middle to my age to the truly elderly; meaning those who had trouble walking, or breathing, or thinking, or figuring out where they were at any given time. These folks dominated the cruise and some suffered all of the aforementioned maladies.

And fat! There were more fat people (myself included) on the ship than slim ones. Some even made me look slim.

Many of the passengers were grumpy too. Okay, my nickname is Grumpy Grandpa, but I am aware of my surroundings and can find my way from point A to point B.

When AP and I signed up for a three-hour walking tour of Reykjavik, the day was a downpour of rain. Still, we wanted to go on the walking tour. What’s a little water? We paid $$$$ for the tour.

We had done a couple of hours seeing the city the day before on our own and we wanted the full experience of this small capital. Walking in the rain, the shine or the in-between was fine with us. We could dry off on the ship.

We were the first on the minibus. We joked with the tour guide about the fact that it might just be the two of us on the tour.

Then the other 14 people arrived, seven of them so decrepit that they had a hard time walking on the pier from the ship to the minibus. They had to be helped onto the bus! I’m 70, okay; and I have nothing against old people. But for God’s sake, if you can’t walk, why the hell would you sign up for a three-hour walking tour?

Three women of the seven decrepits immediately proclaimed that they assumed we would stay on the bus and make this a bus tour. Their proclamation sounded more like a demand. The tour guide said she would mostly do that.

I looked at AP and she looked at me. We paid $$$$ to sit in a minibus on a walking tour?

On the tour we did get out of the bus a few times. At one point we toured a sculpture garden, which was a beautiful place even in the pouring rain. One of the three complainers seemed to get lost, right in the middle of the garden, and went round and round in a circle—not a big circle, a little one, maybe a dozen feet in diameter. She was lost; in the garden and in her mind; in her eyes I could see the eyes my mother and father and father-in-law had when they were struck with Alzheimer’s.

I helped her by taking her arm and guiding her out of the garden to the minibus.

On the ship was an old guy, ever clad in a bathrobe, wandering around, not knowing what deck he was on or where his room was. Members of the crew kindly escorted him back to his room. He was lucky he didn’t fall off the ship. What was the purpose of putting this poor soul on a ship sailing the often rough seas of the North Atlantic?

The Back Story

Let me back up. We left Kennedy Airport on July 4th. We were travelling first class as I like to.  This irritates the Beautiful AP since she thinks it is not worth the money. She has no problem telling everyone in first class that she prefers coach. So much for me being a big shot.

When we went to the boarding area we met a couple, Mr. Foister and Ms. Mute, who immediately struck up a conversation; well, Mr. Foister did. He couldn’t stop talking. His wife, Ms. Mute, looked the other way.

“Why don’t we have dinner the next two nights in Copenhagen since we are all going to be there? It’s great that we’re staying at the same hotel. We can share a taxi too. This is going to be some trip.”

Then Mr. Foister started making plans for us on the cruise. “You know there is a big art contingent on the cruise. We collect art. You should come see us analyze the art works….” He was verbally off and running. His wife frowned and ignored him. AP and I made no commitments, which was easy because there was no opportunity for us to say anything.

Throughout the plane ride Mr. Foister hung out with the crew and knocked back one drink after another. When AP tried slipping by him to go to the lavatory, he started up again about all the things we could do together in Copenhagen and on the ship. She told him we were meeting friends and that she likes to keep her options open.

AP returned from the lavatory and whispered, “We have our trip planned. He’s foisting himself on us.”

“How do you want to handle this?”

“I guess we’ll just try to avoid them,” she said.

“No, do you really want to skulk around the ship trying to avoid them? It’s a small ship. What about Jerry and Tres? Do you think they want to spend time with Foister and Mute?”

“So what can we do?” she asked.

“I’m going to tell him right out that we have our own plans,” I said. “Then we don’t have to skulk around. That will end it.”

The Beautiful AP argued with me about this and I pretended she won the argument. (This is my new tactic and one I recommend to husbands everywhere.)

As we left the plane, AP went to the bathroom and Mr. Foister came up to me. “Hey, so let’s get that cab to the Marriott together.”

“We’re not hanging out with you,” I said. “We are getting our own cab. We have our own plans for this trip.”

Since he was still somewhat drunk, he staggered back and his face had that drunken questioning look. “Uh, ah, uh.”

“You understand, right?”

He understood. And that was what I had up my sleeve when I let AP think she won the argument. We did see Mr. Foister and Ms. Mute a couple of times on the ship but it was no big deal. Mr. Foister always seemed to be latched on to someone—a different someone every time I saw him.

“You were right,” AP finally said to me.

I love hearing that!

Copen-HAY-gen or Copen-HOG-en?

Recall that old commercial “Certs is a breath mint. No, Certs is a candy mint.” Then an announcer’s voice would say, “Stop, stop, you’re both right!” Well, how you pronounce Copenhagen can be either one of the above.

Copenhagen is a city of canals and we took a wonderful canal tour. You had to be careful because some of the bridges are so low that even people my height (5’6”) have to duck or lose their heads and what a mess that would be.

The Beautiful AP climbed all 400 steps of the Church of Our Saviour’s staircase that spirals round and round the outside of the building. While she did that climb, I sat in the churchyard fast asleep. Neither of us had slept on the plane ride over here and I was flat out exhausted. Oh, and we couldn’t get into our hotel room until four o’clock that afternoon.

The highlight of the trip occurred the next day; our personal three-hour tour hosted by Stuart. We hired him through the tour group Viator and he was well worth the price.

When he met us, the Beautiful AP asked, “How’s your English?”

He laughed, “Pretty good. I’m American.”

The man was in fact funny, delightful, and knowledgeable; he’s lived in 24 countries. The three hours flew by as we learned about the kings (Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick…) and some queens, and armies and wars. I never knew that as the Nazis ordered the Danes to hand their Jews over, the Danes clandestinely ushered their Jewish citizenry safely out of the country. There is a building built by Israel acknowledging this amazing achievement.

With Stuart, we discussed many current-day issues including immigration and how Denmark is handling the settlement of Muslim refugees. The Danish government integrates them into society throughout the country, thereby avoiding enclaves like we see in countries such as England, France and Germany.

If you do visit Copenhagen, you might want to tour with Stuart. You also might want to eat at two fabulous restaurants, Amass and Restaurant Kanalen. And ride a bicycle. The young, the old, the moms, the pops, and the kids zoom hither and thither through the streets on bikes.

AP and I would definitely visit this city again.

The Ship

Azamara Journey is a small ship that carries some 600 passengers and about four hundred crew. This small ship was set to tackle the sometimes rough waves of the North Atlantic Ocean and at times it was damn rough.

This was the 32nd cruise for our travelling companions, Jerry “Stickman” and his lovely wife, the Sainted Tres. It was our fourth.

We had great rooms, right at the bow of the ship, with wide vistas and we figured we’d spend many a late afternoon relaxing on our connected balconies, indulging in wine and conversation. Not to happen. With the exception of a couple of days (make that hours!), the weather was too cold, too cloudy, too rainy, too windy and the seas too choppy to sit outside, so we scurried to a lovely inside destination called the Living Room.

The very first day we were “at sea” and we would be “at sea” five of the 12 days we were on the ship. This became monotonous—and also put me in a frame of mind that almost caused me to punch out another passenger, maybe two; something I hadn’t done in over 50 years since my boxing days.

The ship had two gourmet restaurants, one Italian and one a steak house, one general restaurant, a buffet and smaller food service places scattered throughout. You do not go hungry on a cruise. Most passengers gain weight. Not AP, of course. She always took the stairs and hit the gym all but one day.

The “Foxhole”

Our first tour was Mount Dalsnibba in Norway. We would take a bus up the two winding roads leading to the two peaks of the mountain range. I hadn’t really read the blurb about this tour as I simply got us on every tour Tres and Jerry had signed up for. Big mistake on my part.

The first ride up the first mountain was harrowing, with hairpin turns and a very narrow road on which our LARGE bus had to travel. What kind of maniac would want to take such a tour? Oh, right, Jerry “Stickman” who has jumped out of planes 450 times! This was his nutty idea and I just signed us up for it because he was on it – next time I’ll read the blurb.

We made it up to Eagle’s Bend Viewpoint and actually saw a brown eagle, and, yes, the view was amazing but it could not calm down the terror that had welled in me as with each turn. Then what goes up must (damnit!) go down.

I asked our tour guide, “Is the next mountain road just as bad?”

She smiled serenely, “No, you did the hard part already. The next one is easy.”

Arrrggghhh! She lied! It was far, far worse; far, far longer; far, far narrower and far, far more harrowing. In fact, from my seat on the bus I saw no road, just drops that were hundreds (millions) of feet deep.

Oh, sure, the scenery was spectacular. But screw the damn scenery! I could die on this road or, rather, off this road if the bus had a flat tire or the driver sneezed or a slight wind blew against the side of the bus. We would plummet down and down and down. No survivors, I’m sure.

Around and around on the mountain road we snaked at speeds that seemed a hundred miles an hour. I was sweating by the time we got to the top of a snow-covered mountain!

“That lake over there, the big one, has no life in it. Not fish or plants. It cannot harbor any life at all,” said the guide. Great we were looking at a dead lake, as in d-e-a-d.

I don’t care how beautiful the scenery was; I knew one thing – I had to get back on the bus and make an even more treacherous journey down the mountain side. Then I saw them; bicyclists pumping their bike’s pedals going up the damn mountain. What the hell was wrong with these people?

I did try to look at the scenery and feel its beauty because it was so beautiful, but the horror of the past and the upcoming return trip just didn’t allow me to enjoy it. My mind just kept repeating to me, “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!”

One woman came up to me. “I can see you are afraid of heights.” She was trying to be comforting.

“I’m afraid of death,” I said flatly.

The guide announced we were to now get on the bus for the return trip, the death trip, down that mountain road. How could they even call that sliver of concrete a “road”?

I took my seat, put on my seatbelt, kissed AP. “Uhm, that was a nice kiss,” she said.

“Goodbye my love,” I said. “We’ve had a great run, you and I.”

“Scobe, just close your eyes and don’t look down. This will end shortly.”

“Yes,” I said dramatically. “In the blink of an eye.”

She smiled and gave me a kiss on the forehead.

I closed my eyes and prayed, which is hard to do when you’re an atheist.

Dear God please don’t let me die. I’ve got too much to live for. Please don’t let a leaf hit the bus and knock it over the edge and down into the valley. God, take pity on me and on all the other people on this bus. Jesus, if God is too busy to bother, or he’s pissed off at the things I’ve said about religion and religious people, maybe you could just make sure the bus makes it down the mountain safely. Or if you are busy maybe Mary can come on over and keep the bus on the road, after all I am a son and Mary is a mother. My prayers are sincere. If there are any Norse gods hanging around please save us. Thor, you could save us. Please keep me alive. Really, I’ve been a good man. I haven’t hurt anyone, even those who have hurt me. Please, God, I want to live!

“Open your eyes,” said AP.

“Are we falling off the mountain?”

“No, we are down now,” she said.

I opened my eyes. The bus had stopped. I hadn’t even noticed that.

“We’re alive! We’re alive!”

Now I could be an atheist again.


There is a great mystery show you can get on Netflix titled Shetland. That will give you an amazing view of these islands and the surrounding sea. Again, this was a bus trip with the slowest people seated up front and struggling to get out of the bus, holding everyone back.

“We have 15 minutes at this stop. Please everyone return at 12:15,” said the guide.

At 12:10 we managed to finally get off the bus. We got to see an argument between a mother and son as the mother wanted to walk and the son wanted to push her in the wheelchair. Walk? Walk uphill on a gravel road? Mom could barely stand.

Once released from the bus, the Beautiful AP and I zipped up the gravel road, zipped back down, and waited to get on the bus as mother and son slowly made their way back up the three steps. They never went to the top of the hill. Indeed, they never left the door of the bus.

We visited the Scalloway Museum and learned about the Shetland Bus. During World War II, the Shetlanders, Norwegian fisherman and Allied forces courageously ferried a vast array of armaments to the Resistance in Norway and smuggled out 350 people who would have been murdered in Hitler’s Holocaust.

There was a small castle next to the museum and AP characteristically went to climb up it.

I was sitting outside the museum. Near to me was a table filled with middle-aged and older men, a couple of guides and bus drivers. It was then when we saw She. Yes, She was there.

She appeared in her tight, low-cut, black and white striped dress, holding her cell phone up, taking selfies. The men watched her as She lifted her dress high over her knees (click! click!) or bent low in front of them so they could see her rather ample breasts dangling inside her dress (click! click!) or then bend over so they could see her wiggle her perfect butt in her perfect dress just a few yards from their faces.

Men are hard wired and a delicious dame wiggling, bending, posing and hiking up her dress in front of them just riveted their attention.. Finally, She jumped up onto a low stone wall, lifted her skirt almost all the way, and clicked! clicked! more selfies. I was riveted too – by her narcissism. I brought AP over to watch this.

Back at the ship we saw She sunning herself. One of her boobs fell out of her skimpy swimsuit as She turned over in her lounge chair. She slowly put her breast back into her bathing suit after fondling it a little bit. Many eyes bugged out at that. We didn’t see She after that as the waters got rough and the days were cold, wet and unsettled.

Akureyri Iceland and Planet Fart

This was an interesting trip for one reason—I got to see and smell the largest fart in the world! Okay, not exactly. First we were taken to the extremely disappointing waterfall of the gods where Iceland’s religion supposedly germinated. (Note: AP enjoyed the waterfalls.) We drove through the hillside to see amazing lava fields from volcanic eruptions past and present. The monstrous lava boulders and landscapes were indeed interesting.

Then we arrived at Planet Fart. We could smell this new planet from a mile or so away. “What the hell is that?” people asked. People scrunched their faces and looked around the bus to see who had cut a monstrous fart. The consensus was the old guy with the hearing aid in the front seat.

We parked and nothing looked Earthlike. The hills were shades of brown from almost off-white to doo-doo dark, in confusing streaks. There was no life on those hills either; there was no life anywhere near us. All around were bubbling lava or mud pits causing that awful stench. Steam rose from many of these pits. This was fart-land pure and simple.

Even AP, who finds fart humor completely unfunny, laughed at my fart jokes in this locale.

Days at Sea and I Lose It

We had to endure five days when we were “at sea.” The ship offers all sorts of activities on sea days. Jerry “Stickman,” the Sainted Tres, the Beautiful AP and I enjoy trivia, although we are not very good at it. But it was fun and something to do as the waves swelled and the ship lurched.

There were all sorts of trivia contests: modern music, modern love songs, iconic places on earth; fast food symbols; movie themes; sports stars; airplane symbols and the like. You could have a maximum of six members on your team.

I had taken a nap on the first day at sea. AP came back to the room. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”

“Believe what?” I said.

“I was playing trivia with my group and this other group challenged every answer we gave. And we were right. It was two older guys and a woman.”

“There are shitheads everywhere,” I said in a comforting voice.

“That woman tried to tell us that MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are one and the same. Can you believe that? She tried to get the host to disqualify my answer. I told her I have been to both and they are different museums.”

Fortunately, the host ruled AP’s answer as correct.

That afternoon we all decided to play the battle of the sexes. The women made up one group, maybe a dozen of them, and a dozen of the men made up the other group.

As we entered the room AP nudged me and whispered, “There are the men.” I looked over at the two men. One looked scornful and the other resembled a mouse. Both men were ignoring everyone else.

Jerry and I sat down.

AP and Tres went over to the women. AP nodded to me to tell me the MoMA woman was on her team. The woman looked like a wicked witch ready to devour a small child.

So the game began. I had to do a charade cataloging four things. I did five because I mistakenly acted out the label for our group: Men. I finished a single second behind my wife the Beautiful AP who did the required four. Scornmale looked at me with scorn and Mouseman shook his head as if to say, “That guy [meaning me] is an idiot.”

The game kept going back and forth, each side answering trivia questions. Mouseman, Scornmale or MoMA challenged whatever answer they could.

Finally, the women were given this question “How many movies has Rocky appeared in?” The women conferred. “Five,” said MoMA.

“Sorry, that is wrong,” said the host. MoMA then argued but the host said, “I stand by my decision.” He was right that MoMA was wrong.

Then we got to answer that question. I yelled out “seven!” and quickly listed all the movies where Rocky appeared.

“Sorry, no. Rocky is in the title of only six,” said the host.

“You didn’t ask what movies had Rocky in the title,” I said.

“My decision is final,” said the host.

“You didn’t ask the titles of the movies,” I pleaded. I looked at my fellow teammates. “He didn’t ask the titles of the movies.”

“You were not supposed to shout out!” yelled Scornmale at me.

“You lost that round for us and we only tied the game,” said Mouseman.

“But I am right,” I said.

“You caused us not to win this game,” said Scornmale.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am sorry but the host is wrong. At least we tied.”

“We would have won this game if you hadn’t shouted out,” said Mouseman.

“Look, I am sorry,” I said. “I just knew the answer.”

“And we only tied,” said Scornmale. Mouseman rolled his beady eyes.

My last words at this battle of the sexes were “I’m sorry. Really, I am.” The two men ignored me and left the room.

I found out sometime later that in trivia these three folks were undefeated.

We played trivia some more. Yes, their team consistently won. Scornmale, Mouseman and MoMA sat haughtily through every game.

Finally, the moment came. This particular trivia contest had only two teams: us versus them. Us this time did not have Jerry and Tres; they were elsewhere. AP and I were with Barbara and her husband Ray (two great passengers) versus the three of them with another snooty person added to their team.

“Using the letter ‘O’ name something with a tail.”

Our team agreed, “Ostrich!” I said it again. “Ostrich!”

“Team left wins!” said the host.

“Wait a minute! Wait just a minute!” said Scornmale. “Ostriches don’t have tails.”

“Yes, they do,” I said. “They have tail feathers, thus a tail.”

“They do not have tail feathers. They do not have tails,” shouted Mouseman.

“Team left wins unless you can show that ostriches do not have tails,” said the host.

MoMA said, “This is ridiculous! Birds don’t have tails!”

“Yes, they do, and we win,” I said.

There was more mumbling from them. Scornmale stood up and pointed his finger. “I challenge this decision!”

Mouseman shouted, “Okay, wise guy, do chickens have tails? Huh? Do chickens have tails?”

“I am not talking about chickens,” I said. “The ostrich is the bird we are talking about.”

“Oh, yeah,” yelled Mouseman. “Answer my question. Do chickens have tails? Come on, do chickens have tails?” These guys were really heated. I was getting heated too.

“He’s afraid to answer my question!” yelled Mouseman. “You see, he’s afraid to answer my question about chickens!”

“We aren’t talking about chickens,” I repeated.

“I think that question should be thrown out because he won’t answer my question about chickens,” said Mouseman. Scornmale and MoMA were vigorously nodding their heads.

“Team left wins,” said the host.

“I object! Do chickens have tails? He can’t answer the question!” yelled Mouseman. “He can’t answer a simple question!”

That was it; that was it. I was 20 years old again. “Why don’t you shut your fucking mouth?”


I was ready. If Mouseman stood up I would walk over to him and knock him out. I was happy to also clobber Scornmale and even MoMA. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell?

MoMA turned to me and gave me her “look” which probably worked on young children she was about to devour, but I just gave her my look back and she turned her head.

I immediately realized I should never have said what I said to them, but it was too late. I wasn’t going to apologize but I also wasn’t going to hit anyone as I hadn’t hit anyone since my last fight 50 years ago. Well, maybe I had, but that is another story for another time.

Team Chicken, as I now thought of them, went back to their rooms and looked up if ostriches and chickens had tails. Wonder of wonders, they do have tails and, thus, so much for their objections to my answer.

My teams beat them two more times at trivia; still they were the best on the ship. But they were not undefeated, an accomplishment of which I was proud.

Do you see what days at sea reduced us to? Do you see why AP doesn’t like cruises?

Our last stop was the Faroe Islands where AP and I went in search of the puffins. That is a separate article (coming soon) in Bird Scobe.

The last day on the ship AP and I were heading towards the elevators to depart. And there were Foister and Mute standing next to Mouseman and MoMa and Scornmale in front of the elevators. Looking at them I realized this trip could have been worse than it actually was.

Windsor Castle

After the cruise, AP and I spent time in England, specifically to see Windsor Castle. It was a great tour, especially St. George’s Chapel.

Upon arriving home we started discussing future trips. It’s no surprise that AP hasn’t proposed any cruises.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]




























Camera Shy

“They are smart,” said my wife the Beautiful AP. “This can’t be just coincidence.”

I agreed with her. We were talking about Hooded Mergansers but such applies to almost all birds. They are smart.

Too many ornithologists come down on the side of birds just being creatures of instinct with no real intelligence. My wife and I have two parrots and let me tell you, they are both intelligent. In fact, more often than not, they outsmart me. Their goal in a day is to manipulate me; my goal is to be left alone so I can do my work. They often – quite often – win.

I guess you can say that for the Beautiful AP and for me, birds have passed our version of the Turing Test. This test was created by Alan Turing to determine if a being were actually intelligent or just a machine of some kind.

According to Turing, if a machine responds as if it were intelligent, then indeed it is intelligent. Anyway that’s what Turing’s test tries to show. I’ve just extended it to animals and birds. I agree that there are instincts (or unconscious programs) but intelligence is there, in some cases (as in parrots) that intelligence is pretty high. I assume other animals pass the Turing Test too. I am not saying animal/bird intelligence is equivalent to human intelligence; just that those minds are working.

“So why can’t I ever get Hooded Mergansers?” AP whined.

She was right. Every time we saw Hooded Mergansers they were always on the other side of the lake. We’d then walk around the lake – even a far walk – and as soon as we got to where the Hooded Mergansers had been, those rotten birds were now on the side of the lake from where we just came.

This didn’t happen just once or twice but multiple times in multiple places both on Long Island and in Cape May. Come on, they had to know they were busting the Beautiful AP’s chops. Maybe these birds had some kind of psychic connection to each other as in, “That dumb photographer is heading to Cape May from Long Island. Let’s screw around with her as our LI brethren have done. Awk! Awk!” (“Awk! Awk!” is the derisive laugh of birds.)

Next, we have a couple of Cardinals who come to our three feeders quite often. Cardinals are magnificently colored creatures; red as red can be – the males that is. The females are far plainer, but still quite pretty.

But the Beautiful AP cannot get a picture of this magnificent male bird. He will be on the feeder, beaking his food, when AP positions the camera to capture him in all his glory and then – the stinking bird will scoot over to the other side of the feeder where he can’t be seen.

“Damn! Damn it!” says AP.

The bird now peaks its head around the feeder at her. You can see it looking at her. But as soon as she lifts the camera, Mr. Cardinal scoots around back again. This does not happen with the host of Sparrows, the many Blackbirds, Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Grackles, Mourning Doves, Tufted Tit Mice, and Black Capped Chickadees. These birds just eat and swiftly fly away when a cat crouches to kill them. No, just those miserable male Cardinals play this nerve-wracking game.

When the Cardinal was in a bush or tree, every time she lifted the camera, the damn bird would scoot behind a leaf, a branch, a feeder – anything to hide himself.

No one should ever think a bird’s brain is just a birdbrain.

AP is undeterred. She plans to have an exhibit of her bird photos in less than a year and vows to have great shots of Cardinals, Hooded Mergansers and other smarty-pants birds in the display. If I know my wife, she will prevail.

“’You must do the things you think you cannot do,’” AP said thunderously, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt.

I could be a smarty-pants myself. “’I can resist anything but temptation,’” quoting Oscar Wilde.  Then I poured myself a drink.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Miami Is Another Country

In New York City you have different neighborhoods some dominated by Italians, some by Jews, some by Germans, some by Afro-Americans, some by Puerto Ricans, some by Irish, some by Indians and some by a whole combination of these and more ethnic groups. While you might hear foreign languages in many places, there are so many of them in New York that the City has true diversity – although diversity has no inherently good moral quality.

Not so with Miami.

When people call the city “little Cuba” they mean it. The U.S. Census has Miami’s Latin / Hispanic population at 70 percent (some define themselves as Hispanic white or Hispanic black), while almost 20 percent of the population is Afro-American.

About 22 percent of the population is Catholic, although a full 60 percent of the population considers itself non-religious. While the state of Florida is sometimes called “little Israel,” only a shade over one percent in Miami are Jewish. (In New York City we have a rapidly shrinking “little Italy,” a little “Chinatown,” a “little Korea,” a “little India,” a little Beirut – for the lower streets of Bay Ridge – and on it goes. Hey, in New York, you get a “little” of something or other all the time!)

Spanish seems to be the dominant language, which pleased my wife the Beautiful A.P. as she speaks Spanish. As for me, I just stand there smiling as she enjoys conversation after conversation. She could be talking to someone about his family being murdered and I stand there with a goofy grin on my face. I am sure some Miamians thought I was a total idiot.

In Miami I was in a different country, a vacation-touristy-type country, meaning a pretty Latin American or island country given the weather, the Palm trees, the ocean, the sands, the Spanish speakers and the architecture; plus all the beautiful people, those tanned men and tanned women posing in skimpy bathing suits at the beaches (particularly South Beach), or at the pools, often holding drinks in their hands as if they were in commercials.

Being there in late September was – to put it frankly – awful, absolutely awful. The temperatures hovered in the high 80’s and low 90’s, while the humidity was at steam bath levels. I sweated like crazy. Maybe that’s why so many of the beautiful people walked around almost naked. Even some of the non-beautiful people were almost naked too – not a pleasant sight.

We stayed at the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel in Coconut Grove.

I had already stayed at a Sonesta in Baltimore and loved its old world, classy style. The Coconut Grove Sonesta at first seemed less appealing but by the third day I loved the place. It was clean, had a great restaurant, pool and terrific views from one’s room. Our traveling companions Jerry “Stickman” and his wife the Lovely Tres, along with the Beautiful A.P. and I would sit on our adjoining balconies, watch the sunsets, the ocean, while drinking fine wines.

Our meals went from good to great; from gourmet to not-so gourmet. The first night we ate at Bombay Darbar (, an exceptional Indian restaurant. The following day we ate lunch at a good Cuban restaurant in South Beach, Puerto Sagua.

Thankfully I did not go into the men’s room at Sagua until after lunch. It was covered in graffiti – with graffiti on top of graffiti (all of it un-artistic). The stall toilet was covered in shit and someone had taken a small dump in the urinal. The place stunk. Had I gone to the bathroom before lunch I would have left the restaurant.

Prior to eating at Puerto Sagua, we toured South Beach with Art Deco Tours with Christine and Company. ( Christine is a vivacious young woman with a true love for Miami and her tour was excellent. I recommend it highly.

That night we ate at a French restaurant La Plame d’Or at the Biltmore Hotel. Terrific gourmet with excellent ambience.

One of the reasons we went to Miami was for Stickman and me to attend a Tampa Bay Rays’ baseball game and a Miami Marlins’ baseball game. So on Sunday morning Stickman and I headed to Tampa Bay (St. Petersburg) – a four-hour trip from Miami – to watch Tampa Bay take on the Baltimore Orioles.

We had breakfast at Sonesta’s excellent Panorama restaurant and at 8am off we went. The wives would have their day in Miami; while we’d be continuing our baseball odyssey.

Going to Tampa Bay became an ordeal. Suddenly, out of nowhere (so to speak) I had to go to the bathroom; go urgently, as in the saying, “If I don’t go now I will explode in the car.”

“Jerry,” I said, holding myself in. “Pull over. I can’t hold this.” Jerry Stickman pulled over and I squatted beside the car. EXPLOSION! The road we were on went through the Everglades so there were no houses anywhere; just swamps and grasses and small trees as far as the eye could see, with a stream running beside the road. There was a big, electrified fence between the side of the road (where I squatted) and the stream. It didn’t dawn on me just then why such an electrified fence was there. EXPLOSION!

The cars coming towards us on our side of the highway could catch a glimpse of me squatting the way the Japanese squat over their floor-level toilets. EXPLOSION!

“Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhh,” I said inside myself. What could I do? Cars flashed by. (“Mommy, that man is showing his rear end.” “Timmy don’t look.” “Oh God, Sarah, he just blew a big one onto the ground!”)

As I was finishing up, I noticed it – an alligator, a BIG nasty-looking alligator, staring at me from the stream parallel to the road. Oh, my God, I was already embarrassed by the fact that I had dumped my brains out; now I would be eaten by an alligator. I could see the headlines: “Famous Writer Eaten by Alligator after Having Loose Bowel Movement on the Side of the Road!”

As I pulled my pants up, I realized now why the electrified fence had been erected – to protect humans from alligators!

Getting in the car, Stickman said, “Well, that’s a first for me!”

“I’m mortified.”

“On we go!” he said.

Ten minutes later, I said: “I gotta go again.”

“There’s a rest area coming up,” said Stickman.

We made it and I made it too. EXPLOSION!

We had to stop a third time at a gas station and I literally battled several elderly men to get into a stall. “You son of a bitch,” said one old guy I pushed aside. EXPLOSION! “Oh, man; oh, Christ,” said another man. “You smell that?” EXPLOSION!

Thankfully, the gas station had a sundry store with a mountain of Imodium piled high on the counter. Evidently I was not the only one to experience what I had been experiencing. I took two.

“I think I will be all right,” I said.

“This has been a first for me,” said Jerry again.

“I’ll never live this down.”

“Can’t wait to read what you write about this,” said Jerry Stickman.

“You crazy? I’m not writing about this.”

The Tampa Bay game was fun. Stickman bought us Diamond Club seats. You had your own private club with all sorts of food and drinks, all covered by your ticket fee. Jerry had a great time; eating and drinking and eating and drinking and eating a little fruit and a huge stack of cookies for dessert – he got his money’s worth. I ate a couple of cookies fearing anything more might start me going again. Those were the most expensive cookies I ever ate.

We got back to Miami around 8:30pm; sat on our balcony with our wives and as he poured the wine Jerry said, “Frank has a great story ladies. It was an amazing trip to Tampa Bay.”

“Oh, yeah, I really wish you could have come along,” I said. They were anxious to hear about our wonderful trip – and I told them. Their faces went from anxious to horrified. Evidently I can tell a great story.

The Beautiful A.P. and the Lovely Tres left Miami early Monday morning. Jerry Stickman and I stayed in order to go to the Miami Marlin’s game that night.

Now I must admit this. I have a small quirk in my personality. I love to go to aquariums when I visit a city. Lately, I’ve dragged Jerry to aquariums in Chicago, Memphis, Baltimore and Hawaii, among others. So today we would go to Miami’s Seaquarium. (

We took our wives to the airport at 5am, went back to Sonesta, finished our evening’s interrupted sleep, had breakfast and headed out to Seaquarium.

Of course, the day was brutally hot and drippingly humid. We figured the aquarium would be indoors and therefore air conditioned. That had saved us in a hot, humid Honolulu, Hawaii. We’d relax, watch the fish swim; in short, have a comfortable indoor day.

The Miami Seaquarium was outdoors.

It was not the typical aquarium with indoor rooms filled with tanks of various sizes; instead it was a world of shows. Jerry and I saw the Sea Lion Show (great fun), the Killer Whale and Dolphin Show (spectacular – and by the way, Killer Whales – also known as Orcas – are not whales but dolphins) and the Dolphin Show (disappointing). We also visited the weird looking Manatees (often thought to be mermaids – ugly as hell mermaids) and watched them eat bushels of lettuce. We saw giant sea turtles and a whole area of alligators – an animal now associated with the worst crap of my life.

It was a fun time.

Now let me tell you about Jerry “Stickman’s” quirk. He is an eater of food that I would normally avoid. He loves fast food chains (the man even eats White Castle!) and he watches shows like “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and “Burger Land with George Motz.” Jerry is also a world traveler. He and the Lovely Tres probably spend as much time on the road as they do at home. I think he has been to about two-thirds of the countries in the world. He’s been to every state too. One of Jerry’s favorite activities when he travels in America and Canada is to visit the recommended restaurants on those shows. Sooooo…

We went into Little Havana to eat lunch at El Rey De Las Fritas, a highly recommended restaurant where we would eat a supposedly unique Frita.

Little Havana is a sad area of Miami. Just about every house and store had safety bars on the doors and windows. Still, Jerry and I had the greatest Frita! I have never tasted a hamburger like that. So if you are in Miami check this place out. The restaurant was clean and it is in a little shopping center.

Got back to the hotel, took a nap and then headed for the Marlins’ ballgame. We were two of about 3,000 fans. Miami is not a baseball town.

That was our trip. It was a fun four-day visit (except for when I was you-know-whating).

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Nature Flipped Me the Bird

I have become somewhat passionate about this birding business. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I planned on a birding weekend. We planned that just the two of us were going to go to Camman’s Pond Park in Merrick on Saturday morning so AP could take some pictures of White-Hooded Mergansers which are supposed to be plentiful there.

Two days prior we had had a 12-inch snow storm and the park, we presumed, was loaded with snow. But we were going anyway except…

The Beautiful AP got a call from Scuba Steve who owns the pool where we swim and where she teaches swimming, asking her if she could teach classes that day since one of the other swim teachers was out sick. She said yes, leaving me and the White-Hooded Mergansers for another time.

AP has a saying, “No day goes as planned.” Well obviously going to teach swimming disrupted our original plan but even the swim-teaching plan went off the rails. Some tiny tot had diarrhea in the pool and everyone had to leap out.

She came home early. “A kid pooped in the pool,” she said.

“Crap,” I said.

Sunday our South Shore Audubon Society bird walk was to be at the Massapequa Preserve. Joe, our bird-walk leader, went on Saturday to check out the conditions. It was snowy and wet and, yes, icy – and Joe slipped and fell. Plus rain and sleet were predicted. So that walk was cancelled.

No day goes as planned.  Often that is because Mother Nature has something else in mind—and this weekend, she clearly flipped me the bird.

The Hunt for the Great Horned Owl


By Frank (and the Beautiful AP) Scoblete

After four months of weekly birding trips on Long Island, where I became the well-known expert in not-knowing-anything, my wife the Beautiful AP, our son Mike and I headed to Cape May, New Jersey for our annual Christmas trip. And this time, now knowing that Cape May is a premier bird-watching venue, we brought our binoculars.

This would be a bird-watching vacation! The three Scobletes reveling in nature while staying in a magnificent hotel, just where we (meaning “I”) belong. Knowing that Mike sleeps just as well camping under the stars as he does in a top hotel, AP told him, “This is as outdoorsy as Scobe and I get,” as we navigated well-marked trails.

Cape May has woodsy, watery, and grassy places harboring birds of all types, from cute little colorful and skittish songbirds to ravenous raptors such as hawks, falcons, and sometimes even bald eagles. It is one of the best birding areas in the world.

As we entered the “bird observatory” (about two miles of trails around a few lakes) I noticed a prominent sign. It had pictures of the birds that were currently being spotted, and smack in the middle was a photo of the great horned owl.

The great horned owl – at almost three-feet tall with strong wings and slashing claws – is perhaps the largest owl on earth and it eats just about anything it catches, including mammals and birds, some of which are its size or bigger.

Seeing the great horned owl would be a major coup in my birding career and quite early on at that. Very few birders in my South Shore Audubon Society have ever seen this bird since it is nocturnal. It would give me much-needed status in the birding community and take me from my current position of “Oh, he’s a birdbrain,” to a position of, “Can you believe this guy once saw a great horned owl?”

The following two days as we tramped around the great areas near the Cape May Lighthouse, we saw an amazing number of birds:

On a small pier in a salt-marsh lake we saw three cormorants perched looking for lunch.

We saw disorganized flocks of robins moving from tree to tree.

We also saw ducks: mallards, pretty males with their plain females; several spectacularly colored wood ducks (I consider them the peacocks of the duck world); and a few American black ducks, which are mostly brown with some gray and a spot of blue.

Of course, there were the ubiquitous Canada geese (named after a man named Canada – seriously – not after the country); a half dozen majestic white swans; three great blue herons, the largest of which came flying down from the sky to stand still on the edge of the lake also looking for lunch. These herons can stand still for a very (very!) long time just waiting for their meals to arrive.

We also saw numerous gulls – I just don’t know one gull from another yet. To be honest I also don’t know the names of most birds from most other birds. Sadly, I am a birder without a bird brain yet

And, of course, there were dozens of different types of songbirds – those small, swift flying creatures seemingly always looking out for predators that are looking to eat these little guys. It’s hard to get them into view because as soon as you lift your binoculars the birds tend to zip away.

Although we saw various types of sparrows, they don’t give us a thrill; we have maybe 800 thousand of them at our feeders every day.

We got a close-up view of a nest of the cute black-capped chickadees. Actually it was more like a communal apartment building made of leaves and small branches with quite a number of these adorable birds flitting in and out.

Then we saw a bird that Paul, a member of our South Shore Audubon society, calls “butter butt” which I think is actually called the yellow-rumped warbler. If you look at the bird’s butt, right under it is a yellow horseshoe design – I’m talking bright yellow. I have only seen this particular one so far in my expeditions, although the Beautiful AP has seen several.

For three days up above we saw numerous hawks. We’re still trying to identify them. They glided in the sky as if they owned it.

In fact, these predators, and other predators like them, do own the sky. They don’t so much fly as soar; they glide through the air like winged warriors. All other birds, constantly flapping their wings, look as if they are putting such energy in flight, but not the predators. They are the birds to be reckoned with.

As we hiked, we scanned the trees for the great horned owl. We talked about the past, the present and the future. We stopped to focus on myriad birds. We admired nature (as outdoorsy as we get). We joked around. We looked up birds on AP’s Audubon app. One or another of us stopped to pee. One or another of us produced mini alcohol wipes for the person who peed.

And our hunt for the great horned owl? No luck there. But the walking, talking, kidding around, the spotting of all the other birds, the admiring of nature even at our modest level of outdoorsy-ness – isn’t marked or marred by the absence of the great horned owl. Instead it is an occasion memorable for the time we did spend together away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, for what we did see together and for what we did say to one another.  And that, my friends, is a Scoblete bird walk.

[Read my new book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available from kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

I Will Destroy My Grandkids!


My wife the Beautiful AP (known to our grandkids as Grand AP) brought a Scrabble game over when we were on babysitting duty for New Year’s Eve. Our grandkids are a boy 11 (known as Johnny Scobes) and a girl of nine (Dani Scobes). The Scobe name is going to live on.

“We’re going to play Scrabble,” said Grand AP taking out our Scrabble Board.

“Are you sure, my beauty?” I asked. “I mean, I am going to destroy all of you if we play that game.”

“You don’t know that Grandpa Scobe,” said Dani Scobes.

I bent down and whispered into Johnny Scobes’ ear, “I am going to kick your ass!” I whispered so Grand AP wouldn’t be able to hear me as she dislikes when I do “guy-talk” with Johnny Scobes. Johnny Scobes, of course, smiled as I said the word “ass” and now he felt he could whisper the word back to me. “No, I am going to kick your big fat ass.” Please note my grandson’s creativity. He added the words “big” and “fat” to the threat.

“I know what you guys are doing,” said Grand AP. “There’s not to be any bad talk.”

“He started it,” I lied. Johnny Scobes shook his head no.

By some kind of process of elimination ruled over by Grand AP, I was slated to go last.

And the game began.

“I have never lost in this game,” I bragged.

“You lose to me all the time,” said Grand AP.

“Only sometimes all the time,” I said.

“The rest of the times too,” she said.

And we played. I kept pointing to Johnny Scobes and making a fist. “You’re dead.”

Johnny Scobes laughed.

Dani Scobes said, “Grandpa, if you brag it will be worse when you lose. You shouldn’t brag.”

“Listen kid,” I said. “When it comes to Scrabble I am the king of the universe.”

“What would be a good score?” asked Dani Scobe.

“Anything over one hundred,” said Grand AP.

The final score was:

Grand AP – 150

Dani Scobes – 108

Johnny Scobes – 106

Grandpa Scobe – 78


Obviously, the game was fixed.


[Read Frank’s book Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! On sale at, kindle, Barnes and Noble and at bookstores.]