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.

Thar Ain’t No Gold in Them Thar Hills

I enjoy birding or, as it used to be called, bird watching. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I try to go get outside, sometimes just the two of us, just as often with the South Shore Audubon Society (SSAS) on Sunday morning excursions.

I am an amateur of amateurs. I know the names of some of the birds but basically I just gape. I enjoy hearing them sing, watching them fly, seeing those hunting raptors soar. I will never be an expert as some of the members of the SSAS are, but that’s fine with me.

I can last for about two hours on a walk; once or twice I’ve hit three hours, but I can’t do the all-morning, all-afternoon, most-of-the-evening walks some of the SSAS members enjoy. I do know my limitations.

My wife photographs the birds, the trails, and nature. When we get home she goes over the hundreds of pictures she took that day and will ask me my opinion of this one or that one—an opinion I am happy to express.

But not all bird walks are rewarding based on how many birds we encounter. There are some days when there are so few birds that we will say, “Nothing to be seen.”

Still, saying such a thing does not adequately express what we experienced that walk.

Where we take our most beautiful walks—Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens; the Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside on Long Island; and the Cape May Point Trails near the Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey—can be inspiring, with or without many bird sightings.

A bird-empty beautiful area is still a beautiful area, and one to be savored. The three mentioned above are just such areas, and there are more.

But on a walk at the Marine Nature Study Area where there was “nothing to be seen,” something else hit me.

“You know,” I said to the Beautiful AP. “Even on walks where we say we didn’t see any birds, that isn’t true. We usually see something.”

That is true. We tend to simply overlook some birds because they are so familiar that they are just considered pests. Take the Canada Geese which can be found everywhere we go. Indeed, there probably isn’t a lake, pond, park, ballfield or grassy knoll that hasn’t seen an invasion of these creatures.

The sky at times can be filled with them flying in a massive “V” shape. They honk like crazy; and crap large black heaps, all to their hearts’ content. Such heaps can cover any footpath, turning a simple walk into a game of hopscotch.

You always know when they are around. They can aggressively demand food or privacy from humans. They have accommodated themselves to living in our areas to the point where they don’t even bother to migrate anymore.

When we see them we just tend to overlook them; it’s as if we didn’t see them.

“You know AP, if we only saw a few now and then, they would fascinate us.”

“True,” she said.

Canada Geese are large birds, powerful, and they move rather quickly. They are high flyers and their landings in the waters of lakes and ponds can be fast and furious.

Sometimes on our walks where we see “no birds,” we have seen dozens of Canada Geese, which we completely discount.

On the days when we think “thar ain’t no gold in them thar hills,” in reality there is plenty of gold. We have beautiful landscapes away from traffic to enjoy. And if we pretend never to have seen this species that has come to annoy us, they can transform a birdless walk into a bird walk, to which some of my wife’s photos can attest.

So, in birding, sometimes nothing is actually something.

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

Bye, Bye, Big Bang

 

The “big bang” in the title of this article does not imply I will be writing about the origin of the universe or quantum mechanics or relativity or science in general. Instead it refers to the great situation comedy The Big Bang Theory.

The show is concluding its 12th season and will end its spectacular run in the spring of 2019. Fans are, of course, disappointed that the show is ending even though reruns will be aired on a number of channels until, perhaps, the end of time.

My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I were at first two of the disappointees.

We decided to start watching the series from beginning to end on our DVDs. This would be our third time through it. Lately, life has dished out some rough times, with a series of family stressors, job losses of relatives, injuries of friends and of AP and even me being hospitalized with pneumonia and the flu.

We could use some laughs each night so we watched a few episodes before we went to bed. And here is what we found:

The Big Bang Theory of the first half dozen seasons is far superior to The Big Bang Theory of recent vintage. The laughs came fast and furious during those episodes. The pacing of the show was perfect and the delineation of the characters was spot on. There are times when a single sentence garners three laughs—the first laugh after the first couple of words, a second laugh after the next couple of words and a third laugh right after the punctuation mark.

Neither the characters nor the situations do seem strained. Everything flows. Those shows are masterpieces; as good as any shows ever on television. These episodes were exploring the characters and their world views. The laughs were bang, bang, bang. The show was truly explosive.

But slowly, with the addition of other permanent characters, the show started to bog down and the episodes became contrived. The new characters were excellent but the stories tried to flesh them out to such an extent that the humor took second fiddle to the plot lines. It stopped being a riotous show and instead settled more into the average, only intermittently funny, sit-coms seen on other channels.

The time is actually more than ripe for this show to leave the scene and screen. My wife and I think that sit-coms and other shows should consider going the route of six seasons as a maximum and then calling it a day, even if the show is still a hit.

Yet, what producers and directors would put a cap on the number of seasons to keep a show an artistic masterpiece when there is money to be made? In the case of the Big Bang Theory, the longest running multi-camera sit-com in TV history, it was lead actor Jim Parsons who shook the world and wallets of the cast, crew and sponsors when he cried, no mas.

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

Birdie Its Cold Outside

 

This afternoon as I write this article, the outside temperature is 10 degrees. I am in my three-quarters glass office and quite warm. Outside are several dozens of birds of many kinds: mourning doves, two blue jays, sparrows of various types, black-capped chickadees, woodpeckers, male and female cardinals and, I believe, a couple of grackles. And some little reddish bird too. The ones appear to be mated, the blue jay and cardinals, tend to always be together.

My wife the Beautiful AP came into the room and stood by the sliding doors to our deck. She was watching the wind whip through our trees.

I came up behind her and put my arms around her waist. And we both looked at the windy day from the security of a warm house.

I kissed her cheek and then I sang to her – heck I can be a romantic son of a gun. “But, baby, its cold outside” and I kissed her cheek again. And she turned, tilted her head (I love her head tilt) and I sang again, “But, baby, it’s cold outside,” and she slapped me.

“Woe, what the hell?”

“That song is sexist and should be retired,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “It’s a beautiful song and fits the weather today.”

She slapped me again.

“What the hell is with those slaps?”

“They are symbolic,” she said.

“Of what?” I said.

“Harder slaps.”

“Jeez,” I said.

“You are singing a song that might imply violence against women,” she said.

“What the hell? You have got to be kidding me,” I said. “It’s a love song. You know the male wants…”

“I know what the male wants but the female doesn’t want that.”

“Let’s go to the Internet and put the song on,” I said.

So we did. I thought the song was cute and flirty and had nothing whatsoever to do with violence against women. The self-righteous of the political left have demonized the song and my wife, despite her awesome intelligence, has fallen for the hoax.

We listened to it a second time.

“You don’t see what’s going on in the song?” she asked me. “She says ‘no, no, no.’”

“No,” I said. “She wishes she could say ‘no, no, no.’ But she can’t.”

“No,” said the Beautiful AP. “In another line she definitively says ‘no.’”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I said. “I knew listening to NPR could give you erroneous ideas.”

“Plus she asks what’s in the drink. A date-rape drug isn’t ‘flirtatious’ now is it?” she countered.

“There’s no date rape drug. She was hinting that there might be alcohol in the drink. It’s flirty.” The Beautiful AP shook her head.

“Look, here’s how we settle this,” I said.

“We settle this because I am right,” she said.

“Wrong,” I said.

“I’m right,” she said.

I made a copy of the lyrics and we read them.

“Totally innocent and fun,” I said.

“An invitation to sexual abuse,” she said.

I looked out the window at our three bird feeders and noticed both Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal and Mr. and Mrs. Blue Jay eating up their food in the frigid air. They could be singing the song, “Birdie, Its Cold Outside,” or would they be fighting over the meaning of the damn thing?

Politics has become a form of religion, if you ask me. Soon everything will be banned. The left has become as righteous as the right. The song is not sexist; it’s flirtatious; nothing more. (Don’t tell my wife I wrote this last paragraph. I’m afraid she’ll slap me again.)

Dean Martin’s performance of the song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaflZPQhtmE

Complete lyrics to the song:

(I really can’t stay) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(I’ve got to go away) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping that you’d drop in
(So very nice) I’ll hold your hands they’re just like ice
(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful, what’s your hurry
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I’d better scurry) Beautiful, please don’t hurry
(Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour
(The neighbors might think) Baby, it’s bad out there
(Say, what’s in this drink?) No cabs to be had out there
(I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now
(To break this spell) I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I’m gonna say that I tried) What’s the sense of hurting my pride
(I really can’t stay) Baby, don’t hold out
[Both] Baby, it’s cold outside
(I simply must go) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(The answer is no) But, baby, it’s cold outside
(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm
(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious
(My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore
(My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious
(But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before
(I got to get home) But, baby, you’d freeze out there
(Say lend me a coat) It’s up to your knees out there
(You’ve really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand
(But don’t you see) How can you do this thing to me
(There’s bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow
(At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died
(I really can’t stay) Get over that hold out
[Both] Baby, it’s cold outside

Dear reader, what do you think? And remember, it’s okay to take my side!

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

Blinding Insight

 

 One night I was driving onto Sunrise Highway in Freeport, New York, coming back from a South Shore Audubon meeting at the library, when I was blinded by a SUV with those new LED lights. I wanted to make a left hand turn onto Sunrise. I couldn’t see the road, I couldn’t see where I was to turn; I couldn’t see the street light above me. I could not see my dashboard. I was blinded.

“Can you see?” I said to my wife the Beautiful AP.

“This is horrible,” she said.

I stopped somewhere on Sunrise Highway before I even tried to see where I had to turn. The SUV passed me by and my vision returned.

“How can car manufacturers make such lights for their cars and SUVs?” asked my wife. “They will kill people.”

“Like cigarettes,” I said. “The car companies will pretend that these lights do not blind other drivers. That they are great for the environment while people smash up on the roads.”

She agreed. “They’ll pretend everything is just great with these lights.”

“Imagine being on a winding country road and being blinded by one of these cars?” I asked.

Lately more cars and SUVs are using those LED headlights. They are blinding as they approach you. The cars are bad enough but those SUVs are devastating on your eyes.

Are the two of us the only people who realize what danger these LED lights pose?

My wife and I can’t be the only ones now noticing how much more dangerous driving at night can be. The normal car lights do not blind you as they approach. You can clearly see the difference between the normal lights and the new LED lights. Even high beams on normal lights do not blind you.

Have accidents happened because of LED lights? I am guessing they have.

I think the time has come to outlaw such headlights on cars, SUVs and trucks.

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

 

The Bird-Boating on the Osprey

 

The Osprey is both a bird of the raptor class (usually meaning hunter/killer) and the name of a boat that plies the waters of Cape May, New Jersey’s back bays. The Osprey bird is a fish eater and can often be seen swooping over the water looking to nail its prey for itself and its young.

The small, rectangular Osprey boat seats up to 20 people. In the front it has an open deck that allows birders to get up close and personal with the birds and the water, with both often swooshing around them. (http://www.ospreycruise.com/)

What a treat bird-boating those back bays of Cape May is! At the helm of the Osprey boat is the knowledgeable and quite humorous Captain Bob Lubberman. He is accompanied by a naturalist. On our last the trip in October, our naturalist was Thomas Baxter, a young man who knows the ins and outs of the birds inhabiting the back bays during migratory season; and, yes, some of these back-bay birds stay all year round.

On this particular trip we had about 15 people on board, all carrying their binoculars. A few were rank amateurs on their first trip—I am no longer such a rank amateur; you might say I am just rank.

Right off the bat, across from the dock about 100 feet away on the far side of the inlet were several Cormorants, Herons and Oyster Catchers. Baxter pointed them out and so our October tour began before the boat had moved an inch.

“Look in the air, about eleven o’clock, is a Red Tailed Hawk,” said Baxter. All our binoculars shot upward. There the hawk was, gliding beautifully on the air currents.

“For those of you who are new to birding and the use of binoculars,” said Baxter, “When you see the bird with your naked eye, do not bend your head to get your binoculars; just bring them up to your eyes. Keep the bird in your normal vision and then you will not lose him when you raise the binoculars. If you move your head when you try to use the binoculars you will lose the bird.”

We were out about a few hundred yards and the mudflats were filled with shore birds. “At one-o’clock,” said Captain Bob, “you’ll see a couple of Surf Scoters diving, these are large ducks.” These male ducks are black with white and black heads and seemingly orange beaks—caused by the sunlight bouncing off them.

Now my wife, the Beautiful AP, is a photographer learning her trade and she will zoom over to the area of the boat’s open front deck where she can best photograph the birds being identified. Occasionally she runs over me. I am zooming as fast as I can to the right spot but my zoom is closer to an amble. Her zoom is closer to Usain Bolt’s 100-yard sprint.

There are other camera-carrying birders and they do the same thing—zoom to the best area of the open front deck to get a picture of the indicated birds. “Brants over to the right at three o’clock!” Zoom, every photographer careens to that side of the boat. “Great blue heron at ten o’clock!” Zoom.

The Osprey boat can at times land on those massive mudflats and some birders have the courage to exit the boat in order to forage for and munch on the plentiful “salt” grass.

“Mmm, yes, it is so salty!”

Of course, it’s salty, that’s why it’s called salt grass!

Sorry, this type of naturalist eating is not for me; I want my salad prepared by a gourmet chef; not nature’s mud where birds have been (I’m going to be indelicate here) dumping their brains out. I actually don’t want to think that what I eat is or was alive so don’t bother writing me to tell me that everything I eat sooner or later can be traced back to living nature. When I was in Japan and the fish was served with its head still there and its eyes gazing into my eyes…well, no thanks.

Although my wife took some great close-up pictures of Ospreys in our August bird cruise, our October trip saw us see no Ospreys as these beautiful birds had left for their winter homes; but we did spy a host of birds of every type—even amazing Peregrine falcons living in the metal and concrete works of a drawbridge.

These two Peregrines were alert when our boat stopped under the bridge in order for us to gawk and photograph them. Captain Bob explained why they were so annoyed and aggressive: “At first when they made their home here, the opening and closing of the bridge didn’t seem to concern them. But as summer came and the tourists flooded the area, that bridge opened and closed so often that the birds became ill-tempered. Now they associate any boat passing under the bridge with the bridge opening and treat it as an annoyance or a threat, so you see why they are taking off and flying at us and around us.”

These are beautiful birds and the fastest creatures on earth, being clocked at up to 200 miles per hour! Even birders with cameras can’t move that fast (my wife is close though).

On this particular two-hour trip we saw a myriad of birds. Here’s a list taken from my memory: Scores of Cormorants and the same with American Oyster Catchers. There were so many Brants that they rivaled the thousands we see on Long Island. Of course, Canada Geese, honking and craping like crazy and found in all areas. Yes, we had Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets and Surf Scoters. Add to these the many Royal Terns and Caspian Terns and Dunlins and Dowitchers. Couple these with Bald Eagles and Peregrines and Red Tailed Hawks and Kestrels and Sanderlings. Finally, so many various Gulls I actually couldn’t keep up with which ones they were.

There were more species but I was too busy zooming and missed them.

We also saw a small school of dolphins in the back bays, which is unusual because the water is not very deep in most parts. Captain Bob told us there were probably a lot of fish present and that lured the dolphins.

If you are in Cape May, do try to take an Osprey bird-boating tour. I think you’ll enjoy it…but stay off the salt grass; it will give you high blood pressure.

 

Photos by Alene Scoblete

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

My Damn Wife

 

My wife, the Beautiful AP, is my editor. A few days ago I handed her my latest article “The Righteous Outliers.” I thought it was a brilliant piece.

“So what did you think of my article?” I asked her, awaiting praise.

“I didn’t like it,” she said.

“You’re kidding.”

“No,” she said. “You wrote about two people in the club and about Thomas [not his real name] and I think you are going to hurt their feelings and our friends are going to be upset by this.”

“I didn’t make fun of anyone,” I said.

“You’re good with dialogue. I heard those two in the club actually speaking in your article. You don’t think everyone is not going to know who those club members are?”

“I gave them fake names,” I said. “I can’t believe you didn’t like it.”

“I hated it,” she said.

“I mean people who have certain beliefs sometimes go to the furthest ends of those beliefs and become intolerable. They lose their sense of humor and they are so critical of anyone who isn’t as fanatical as they are. You see it in religion, politics, societies…”

“Yes, yes, the idea is good. These outliers are everywhere in society,” she said.

“Righteous, righteous outliers. So that’s what I was writing about. I thought I caught it,”

“And Thomas? Do you think he wants you to share with the world the fact that he is being followed by his former religious friends because he’s converting to Catholicism?”

“I didn’t use his real name,” I said. “I mean his former religious friends have shunned him or are waiting outside his house speaking in tongues and trying to save him from the Satanic Catholic Church. Those people are all righteous outliers.”

“I hated the article,” she said.

Today I gave my wife my written analysis of the Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate hearing from Thursday. I don’t know the truth of what happened and I am glad the FBI is looking into the allegations. My article was merely my attempt to show that a certain stereotypical pattern existed in the situation with Ford being the quivering damsel in distress while Kavanaugh was the beastly, sexually assaulting angry man. I claimed this stereotyping could be portrayed in a movie and the critics would say that this stereotyping was trite. My article was not taking either of them lightly.

She read the article, turned from the computer and glared at me.

I was smiling. “I hit on something that no one thought about or wrote about,” I said.

“I hated it,” she said.

“What?”

“I hated it.”

“Seriously,” I said. “Come on, seriously?”

“This is a serious case and women are not going to be calm in the face of what you wrote,” she said. “This is a serious and emotional issue. They will not think of what you wrote as an ‘interesting analysis.’”

“What did I write? What did I write? I was just showing how you can see a stereotypical pattern in the event, that’s all. It was with both of them.”

“People are going to misunderstand what you meant,” she said. “You know and I know that people post absolute emotional garbage on the Internet. The reaction to your piece is going to be fierce and you will be mischaracterized.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “You mean I can’t write about hard-hitting issues?”

“Of course you can. But, you called Ford a damsel in distress and Kavanaugh the beer-bloated male bully but you’ll find that no one will understand you seeing a stereotypical pattern in this case. People will be outraged, thinking that you are trivializing the whole incident and what it represents—especially to those of us who can say, “Me too.”

“I don’t even know what you mean,” I said. Actually, I knew exactly what she meant but didn’t want to admit it.

“I mean: don’t publish it,” she said.

So I am writing this reaction at 2:30 in the morning. My problem is this: I know my damn wife is right about both articles. If it were ever Frank Scoblete versus the Beautiful AP testifying before the United States Senate—I would not be nominated as writer of the year.

Now comes the hardest part. I have to give my wife this article for editing. If you are reading this, it passed muster. If not…well, this will be the third article dumped on the trash pile this week.

Frank Scoblete’s latest book is Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Of Mice and Men and Me

I was sitting in my particularly special recliner one afternoon, having finished my writing on a particularly strong intellectual subject, and I was now reading a particularly fascinating book titled UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan, when a mouse sauntered across the living room floor.

A mouse! In summer! A mouse! I watched it leisurely stroll under the couch.

Call my wife! the Beautiful AP! call my wife! of course, of course, at the library where she works. So I called. I must have misdialed the number. “I am sorry, this is not a working number!” said the operator-voice. Crap! I dialed again.

“Rockville Centre Public Library, please hold (click, then music).”

A mouse! In summer! And I have to wait to talk to a librarian?

“Hello, Rockville Centre Public Library,” said a voice that I thought was my wife’s.

“We’ve got a mouse,” I said.

“What?”

“A mouse! A mouse! He just ambled across the living room floor! What should I do?”

“Who is this?” asked the voice that I now realized was not my wife.

“Sorry, sorry, can I speak to the Beauti – I mean Alene,” I said.

“Maybe I can help you,” said the voice.

“No, no, we’ve got a mouse and I have to talk to my wife.”

“Who is your wife?” asked the voice. “Why don’t you call her?”

“Alene, Alene,” I said. “Alene! Alene! She works there.”

“And you are?”

“Her husband!” I said, “Her husband!” I realized now that I didn’t recognize this voice so it must be someone new. Most of the librarians know me, especially Amy.

“Hold on a moment and I’ll look for her (click, music).”

Four years later, the phone picks up, “Alene speaking.”

“Mice! We’ve got mice!” I said.

“How do you know? You heard them in the attic?”

“No, no, one walked right across the living floor! He saw me and didn’t care; he just kept going.”

“Where?”

“Under the couch!” I said.

“Call the exterminator,” she said calmly.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, right, right,” I said.

“How big was it?” she asked.

(The size of an African elephant. Huge. A true killer!)

“Small, baby size.”

“Well, call the exterminator,” she said.

“Yes, yes…oh, crap!”

“What? What?”

“There’s one over there at the sliding doors, a different one,” I said.

“You sure this is a different one?”

“Yeah, yeah, this one looks sickly,” I said. “We’re being invaded—in summer no less!”

“Don’t panic,” she said.

“I’m not panicking! I’m not panicking!”

“Okay, how big is this one?” she asked.

(Godzilla! Godzilla-size!)

“Small. Another baby,” I said.

“Can you catch it and throw it outside?”

“You kidding? With what? With what? I’m not touching it.”

“The net you use for your fish tanks,” she said. “Trap it in there and throw it out so we don’t kill it.”

“It’s a damn mouse!”

“I don’t want to kill it if we don’t have to.”

“Didn’t the Japanese kill Godzilla!?”

“What? What are you talking about?” she said.

“Never mind, never mind. I’ll figure it out, somehow,” I said.

“Use the net you use for your fish,” she repeated. “You won’t have trouble if it is sickly.”

“Then my net gets all sickly-shit on it,” I said. “What then?”

“You clean the net afterwards.”

“Oh, yeah, right, I’ll clean it.”

“And call the exterminator,” she said. “I’ve got to go. I have a patron at the desk.”

“But the mice….”

She hung up.

I got my fish net and cautiously approached Godzilla. I caught him and he struggled a bit but I opened the sliding doors to our deck and catapulted him out of the net. He hit the wood and slowly walked towards the back of the deck. I closed the doors quickly. He fell off the deck onto grass.

But that first one, that casual elephantine one was probably still under the couch.

I called the exterminator. He couldn’t come right away. What was I paying this company about four-trillion-dollars a year if they couldn’t come when I called…when I was in great danger from a massive, monstrous mouse invasion?

That night I kept every light on in the house because mice seem to prefer the dark and I hoped this monster would stay out of sight if my house were super-illuminated. But I wasn’t taking any chances.

No, no. I sat in my recliner, holding my fishing net, keeping watch in the harsh glow of all the lights, prepared to stay up all night just in case a monstrous mouse again sauntered across my living room floor. But then, my wife pried the fish net out of my hands and escorted me to bed, reassuring me the whole way. I drifted off to sleep thinking it’s great to have a good spouse when you have a horrifying mouse.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

 

 

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

They are high among the woodland giants; at the top terraces of massive trees, and in spindly ones; in those middle terraces that can support the weight of human beings and bears, in dugout crevices and holes, they look out at the forest floor and up into the canopy of leaves; and in bushes and even on the ground scooting about. They are there. You can hear them.

Now listen, listen: birds, birds of every size and type, singing their distinct songs of love; males and, yes, even females, looking to mate, to reproduce, to continue their lines as far into the future as those lines stretched so far into the past.

Birds. Some are nature’s beautiful angels and some are cold-eyed hunters and killers; all singing their songs to attract mates and after mating, to discuss daily living.

We hear their songs as chirps, whistles, and trills; hoots, honks, whinnies and squawks; caws and cackles. Each bird looking to distinguish itself so others of its kind will hunger for them, so others will know they are there.

For human birders the second step in recognizing who hoots who is learning the birds’ songs. There are some birders in our South Shore Audubon Society (on Long Island, New York), who can connect – like that! – with just about whichever bird is making whatever song. Birds listen to bird song but we listen too.

I do not have the ear as of yet. I recognize several songs but most of the charm of the 5 AM cacophony is lost on me. My wife the Beautiful AP isn’t much better at it than I am. Still, we haven’t been at this birding very long and sooner or later we’ll be able to identify some of those singers.

Our guide Joe, a former college biology professor, will stop the troop and point “up there” and “out there,” and say, “What bird is calling?” Slim-as-slim Michael, as new a birder as I am, will answer and he is almost always correct.

While tuning in to the songs of birds, I now hear trills from my mate:

“Scrape your plate and load it in the dishwasher.”

“Don’t come home with a plastic bag! There are canvas bags in the trunk.”

“If you can put your lips on a coffee cup and a wine glass, why do you need a plastic straw for a drinking glass?”

The birds are far more sonorous than this non-feathered creature who chirps to me daily—but the main thing is I’m beginning to listen.

 

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.