Who’s Your Favorite Niece?

 

I started 2019 in the hospital with pneumonia and the flu. It was just barely bearable.

After half a day in the emergency room, I was sent to a room.

When my wife the Beautiful AP and I entered the room we heard my new roommate call out, “Gracie? Gracie?” I slowly walked over to his side of the room to let him know neither of us were “Gracie.” I parted the closed curtain just slightly; I could see the guy clearly. He was an ancient man, shriveled up in bed, and when he wasn’t calling for Gracie, I heard his labored, wet breathing and deep cough.

I got into my bed. “You think he’s calling his wife, Gracie?”

“I don’t know,” said AP.

“He doesn’t sound as if he has long to go,” I said.

“No,” she said.

The nurse came in and questioned me about my life story; then the blood-letter came in and drew some of my blood (in three days I gave enough blood to feed an entire village of vampires).

“Gracie? Gracie?” After each “Gracie,” he’d cough, cough, and cough some more in an awfully deep phlegmy way and you could hear the rattling in his lungs. I checked him one more time and I could see the mucus leave his nose in a bubble and burst during many of the coughs. Everything he did was accompanied by a horrible sound effect. It was – to be frank – quite rattling to hear.

The nurses came into the room to ventilate my roommate a couple of times (“Gracie, Gracie”) – which meant they were sticking some kind of vacuum down his throat or nose into his lungs to remove the mucus and whatever other slime had lodged inside this ancient fellow.

Late that night, the orderlies came in to change his diaper. The smell was pungent, despite the fact that the orderlies tried to hide it. He was vacuumed and cleaned up several times that night. Despite my being sick and really tired, it was hard to fall into a restful sleep. The phlegm sounds, the smell, and the recognition of mortality all prevented relaxation.

The next morning a woman came to visit him. I discovered his name was McDougal – that didn’t take much detective work since his name was on the door, McDougal “W” which stood for bed by the window and I was Scoblete “D” which stood for bed by the door. We were in a containment room and if anyone came in they wore a mask and a yellow rain-jacket.

The morning saw Mr. McDougal visited by his niece Becky. Now Becky is an all-American name which I associate with the Midwest and Norman Rockwell, probably a blond cheerleader type. This Becky was anything but. She had long black hair – dyed black hair – and she was, as the Beautiful AP said, “Dressed to the nines, but inappropriately.” She dressed as if she were 15 years younger and going to a cocktail party or out clubbing.

I’d guess she was mid-forties and about a decade away from having the severely gravelly voice of the heavy smoker. She was low-class New Yawk all the way with an accident that makes mine sound as if I were a British lord.

“Unckie-wunkie,” she said to Mr. McDougal whose eyes were tightly closed as he raspingly breathed. Spittle dripped slowly down his jawline since his head was turned into the pillow. Becky’s voice sounded nothing like someone who would say unckie-wunkie.

“It’s your favorite niece,” she shouted directly into his face. “I’ve come to visit you again. Remember that I am the one visiting you in the hospital; your favorite niece, Becky…Becky.”

Uncle McDougal was out cold and did not acknowledge her. Becky continued, “See what I brought you? A living flower! I’m going to put it on the window so it gets some light.” She did so. I couldn’t see her go to the window but the Beautiful AP could. AP gave me a look and mouthed, “OMG.”

I could see Mr. McDougal from the chest up, because my privacy curtain gave virtually no privacy. He stirred a little and let out a gurgle.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” said Becky. “I am sure you like the flower your favorite niece, me, Becky, Becky brought you while you were in the hospital.”

“Aaaarrrrgghhh,” coughed Uncle McDougal. “Eh, eck, aaaarrrrgghhh.” A snot bubble formed and exploded onto his lips.

“I knew you’d like the flower I got you. I am happy to be your favorite niece.”

A little while later, after mentioning several times that she was his favorite niece, she turned his television on really loud as if Unckie-wunkie could actually watch it or hear it. She stomped out of the room as though she had just wasted precious time. AP paused and said to me in a whisper, “I hope she doesn’t get any inheritance.”

“The damn set is blasting. What the hell was that all about?”

“New York one-up-man-ship,” said the Beautiful AP. “She was showing us that she’s in charge.”

“What’s the flower look like?” I asked.

“A cheap little thing.” AP then got a nurse’s aide to lower the volume of his TV set.

The next morning—after Mr. McDougal had been vacuumed and cleaned up a dozen times during the night—two women came to the room and one was Becky. Unckie-wunkie’s favorite niece. The other one, maybe ten years older than Becky, was dressed to the nines as she was poured into a pants suit that was far too small for her ballooning blubber.

She had bleached-blonde hair where you could see clearly the greyish-brownish original hair that was growing out under the blonde. She had already achieved the gravelly voice of the addicted smoker. She was in her late fifties I would guess.

“It’s me, Madeline,” said the woman. “I am a close friend of your favorite niece, Becky. You remember me. You always loved me. You do see how Becky is visiting you all the time right? She loves you so much. That’s why she’s your favorite niece.”

Madeline was dressed in black with a low-cut front with her breasts squeezed together so you could see a lot of cleavage. That cleavage was somewhat wrinkled. She was overly made-up and she reeked of cigarette smoke. The Beautiful AP was sitting in a chair at the bottom of my bed (there was no other room for it) and she shook her head slowly.

“Uncle Do-Do, are you awake?” demanded Madeline.

“Can’t you open your eyes when we talk to you?” scolded Becky.

“Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh,” coughed Uncle Do-Do. Dribble coming from his lips. He hacked a few times. This poor soul wasn’t feeling too wunkie this morning.

“Your favorite niece is here,” graveled Madeline.

“Open your eyes so you can see your favorite niece,” said Becky.

“Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh,” coughed Uncle Do-Do or Unckie-wunkie. Dribble streamed down his cheek. He hacked a few times. Pop! went a snot bubble. He did not open his eyes.

“Your favorite niece is here,” graveled Madeline. “Why don’t you open your eyes when I speak to you? It’s her Becky, your favorite niece. You know Becky. See that beautiful flower on the window? She bought that for you.” That flower looked as if it was partly dead today.

“We love to come visit you Unckee Do-Do, uh, wunkie, because we love you and that’s why I am your favorite,” cooed Becky.

Mr. McDougal never opened his eyes and his “responses” were just coughs and snot bubbles and spittle rolling down his cheek.

After a while the two of them started to leave. Becky asked Unckie-wunkie if he wanted his set turned up louder. She turned it up to blasting level. The two of them left.

The Beautiful AP and I waited a few pauses.

“I feel like telling Unckie-wunkie Do-Do not to give any of these witches a dime,” said AP. “All we need is a cauldron, one other witch and we can do Macbeth.”

“When I write this, no one will believe it. It’s so over the top,” I said.

“Over the top,” AP nodded.

Later that day, three well-dressed doctors entered the room and looked at him for a while. Then they looked at each other. Mr. McDougal was moved from the room. The orderlies wheeled his bed out and down the hall.

Another orderly came in to scrub the floor and a woman hurriedly entered the room. She was another overly dressed type, maybe in her twenties.

“Excuse me,” she said to the orderly. “Where is my uncle? You know, McDougal?”

“Que?”

“I am his niece, his only favorite niece. I have to talk to him.”

“Que?”

She left the room.

“Where can we buy a cauldron?” asked AP.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. 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.

 

I Am a Broken Record

 

My wife the Beautiful AP just said that no one talks about broken or even unbroken records anymore. She is not sure many of my readers have much experience with records of any type so let me update that opening and say that I am a tape recording coming unraveled.

No, wait; tape recordings are pretty old too, aren’t they? So let me go modern and say I am an eight-track tape. Oh, for crying out loud, my neighbor’s annoying kid was outside lounging by his pool and I asked him about eight-track tapes. He laughed at me.

The nerve! The kid just got rid of his braces and his teeth are still multi-colored. He didn’t care that he is one weird-looking kid. He still snorted and snickered and disdainfully told me no one discusses eight-track tapes. “Get with it, Scobe,” he said to me. “Get with the real world dude.”

Just for your information this kid is a PITA which stands for Pain in the (ahum). I got that directly from the person who gave birth to him. His mother knows best.

Okay, so what is it that’s broken? Am I a cracked CD or wacked-out digital download into something that takes digital downloads? What is going on?

Oh, screw it, I am a broken record. Look, I prefer records, just as I prefer real coins making coin sounds in a slot machine. The new-fangled-slot-world that has evolved around simulated sounds and dancing animation these past 15 or so years is not going to get to the eight-track-tape-deck of my heart.

True, I have to deal with the world as it is (I’m trying, I’m trying) and you my dear slot players do too. So here is what’s broken about my record:

Speed Kills!

Let me put it another way: The faster you run head-first into a brick wall the more your head is going to hurt as a result. You might even die.

Whether you are playing an old machine or a brand new machine one thing has always been true – the greater the number of decisions you experience, the better chance you have of losing because you are bucking big house edges on almost all slot machines.

Fast equals not good. Slow equals good. Relax, there is no rush.

Use this as your new mantra: The more you play, the merrier for the casino; the less you play the merrier for you.

A leisurely pace is the best method to contain your bankroll and avoid getting hammered too soon and too often. Is it really so joyous to play as fast as a whirlwind when such a wind could easily blow your bankroll away?

I think I have been giving this slow-down advice for decades now but still so many slot players – who obviously have not read my broken-record of slow down you move too fast, got to make your money last – just seem anxious to play faster than the speed of light.

Albert Einstein would have changed his theory concerning light’s speed had he witnessed the swiftness of today’s slot players. “Hmm, I zink it eez e=slot-player-speed squared.”

I will admit that there is a tendency to speed up the number of decisions a slot player faces as time passes. This is similar to how fast a drinker drinks. A person takes the first drink, sips it, and savors it. “Ah, that was delicious, my good man, simply delicious.” He gently wipes his lip with his silk handkerchief.

By the 10th drink, our sophisticated sipper has become a wet-mouthed raging lunatic: “Ah, whool haf mo ma man! Jus po it dowen ma troat!” as he power snots into the bar.

There are relatively easy ways to slow down the pace. Do a spin every 10 seconds. If you must sit at the machine and actually count from one to ten, then do so. After a while it will become second nature.

I think one of the most important realizations that slot players – and all gamblers for that matter – come to is the fact that anticipation is the driving force behind our play. We are looking forward to the next decision. We want a win!

That anticipation of what’s coming next is the fuel that can fool us into playing way too fast. Containing the speed of play will not diminish your anticipation; in fact, I believe it will do the opposite.

I think the anticipatory fun is even more fun the longer you allow it to play itself out. Do six decisions per minute and allow yourself the delightful feeling as you prepare for the next decision. Let the anticipation grow; savor it the way you would savor that first sip of a great drink.

Come on now; your drink almost always tastes better on the first couple of sips than on the swilling of gallons on the 200th swallow.

Okay, so here is the denouement: I am a broken record but what I am saying is the right advice for the smart slots player. I don’t care if my neighbor’s kid thinks I am a “dude” who has to get with it. Listen kid, I’m a gramophone on a mission!

Frank Scoblete’s new books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps! and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! and I Am a Card Counter! All available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores.

The Greatest Blackjack Player of All Time

 

“I want to meet the greatest blackjack player in the world,” I said to Howard Schwartz, manager of the Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas.    If anyone knew the greatest blackjack player it would be Howard.

This was June of 1991, several months before my first gambling book would be published.

“Let me go to my office and see what I can do,” he said.

A couple of moments later, a shabbily-dressed worker came from the back.

“I’m Paul Keen,” he said.

“I’m just waiting for Howard. He’s getting something for me.”

Paul smiled. “I’m what he’s getting for you. Howard said you wanted to meet the best blackjack player in the world. I really don’t know if I am the best in the world but for many years I made my full living playing blackjack.”

Paul Keen?

I had heard of Ed Thorp whose book Beat the Dealer revolutionized the game for advantage players. I had heard of “the big player” Ken Uston, who was the most famous and flamboyant blackjack player of all time.

I’d heard of Lawrence Revere, Stanford Wong, Henry Tamburin, Lance Humble and Arnold Snyder. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily know Paul Keen since he hadn’t written a book, but I wondered how this guy could be considered the best in the world at blackjack? Shouldn’t the best in the world be rich? This Paul Keen was a stock boy. How could he be the best in the world?

“You expected someone a little more imposing didn’t you?”

Howard came from the back. “This man is the greatest blackjack player that I know of.” He nodded at Keen. “When any of the great names have a question they come to Paul. Uston used to frequently come here to talk to him.”

The Ken Uston?” Ken Uston was the blazing star in the blackjack firmament.

The Ken Uston,” said Howard.

“Okay, dinner tonight at 7 o’clock,” I said. “I’ll give a call and let you know where I’ve made reservations.”

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Maxim,” I said.

“The Maxim has the best blackjack game in the history of Vegas.”

And that is how I met Paul Keen.

The Maxim casino is no longer around; it closed in 2001. The building now houses the Westin.

My wife and I had selected the Maxim because it was inexpensive and two blocks from the strip. The place had a coffee shop and a good steakhouse. So the steakhouse it was for dinner.

I called and told Paul Keen that we’d meet him at 7pm at the Maxim steakhouse.

Paul arrived right at 7 o’clock. “This is Susan,” he said. “I live in her luxury trailer.”

I introduced them to the Beautiful AP and we went inside to have dinner.

We ordered drinks. “You count cards?” asked Paul.

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you any good?” he asked.

“We’re good,” said the Beautiful AP

“You’ll like the Maxim’s game,” he said. “It is the best single-deck game ever in Las Vegas. I don’t ever remember a game this good.”

The waiter brought us our drinks. We toasted to a great trip.

“The game uses all but one of the cards, which is discarded after the shuffle. If the dealer runs out of cards midway through the hands, he just takes the discards, shuffles them and continues dealing.”

“God,” I said.

“The rules are great too. Dealer stands on soft 17 [ace-6], you can surrender your hands, and you can double on any two cards and split three times.”

“God,” I said.

“And every time you get a blackjack with five dollars or more you get a one dollar coupon you can use anywhere in the hotel.”

“They are giving away money.”

“There are only four tables. The other players have to satisfy their urge to play so they play the six-deck games which aren’t so hot. The casino manager is pretty clever. He brings the players in for the best game in town but most of them play inferior games.”

“The crowd gets the adrenaline flowing,” I said.

“Some card counters are even getting hit at the single-deck games too,” he said. “They aren’t winning as much as they should.”

Paul Keen had started off as a relatively big player, betting green and black chips, but Vegas is not a friendly town to skilled card counters. The casinos have finely honed radar to catch them – with skilled players hired to catch other skilled players and now computer systems. Even though card counting is perfectly legal, the casinos have the right to tell you to stop playing and to never to come back to their properties.

Over the years Paul was banned from almost every casino. Then he managed to get some of the pit bosses to allow him to play five dollar games with his high bet no more than $15. As he said, “They gave me that at least.”

In card counting when the cards remaining in the deck favor the casino, the player bets small and in Paul’s case that would be five dollars. When the cards remaining to be played favored the player, then the player bets big and in Paul’s case that would be $15. The cards favored the casino when more small cards – 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 remained – and the cards favored the player when more 10’s, jacks, queens, kings and aces remained. Paul’s bet spread from low ($5) to high ($15), while quite small, was sufficient to get him the advantage against those great single decks of the early 1990’s.

Still Paul couldn’t really win a lot of money at those great games unless luck became his lady not just for one night but for the rest of his life.

So Paul Keen lived in his girlfriend’s “luxury trailer” and worked at the Gamblers Book Shop. Vegas would not allow Paul Keen to win substantial sums of money even if some casinos let him play. That’s not how Vegas works. Vegas delights in snatching money, not bestowing it. If Vegas were a science fiction movie it would be “The Invasion of the Money Snatchers.”

Paul certainly had his ups and downs over the years. At times he lived out of his car because he didn’t want to use his bankroll to pay for room and board. Thankfully, Howard Schwartz hired Paul and then Susan housed him so at this point in his life he had a job and shelter.

When we went to the casino after dinner, there were two open spots. Paul took one spot; I took the other. I had never played this type of single-deck game. As I played it just didn’t feel right.

“Let’s quit,” said Paul. He was up about $60. I was down about $20. My spread was $5 to $20. “Let’s go to your room.” In the room Paul took out a deck of cards and shuffled. “There’s a type of play, known as end-play, which almost no one knows nowadays. When all the cards are dealt out but not all the players have received their full hands, those discards now change the nature of the game – they flip your count. Understand?”

“Let me get this,” I said. “If the discards contain small cards, the count is high and normally you’d bet big but if the cards run out and you haven’t gotten your two-card hand what’s about to come out will be small cards.”

“Right,” he nodded. “So you have to know that if you are betting into a positive count [favoring the players] your big bets won’t be ruined because that second card you are getting will most likely be small. So you have to be careful and make sure you know approximately how many cards are left in the dealer’s hand so you don’t get caught by the reshuffle. Also, if a dealer is showing a small card and has to hit that small card, those discards coming into the game could help him make his hand. Or they can bust him if the discards contain a lot of high cards.”

AP jumped in. “So many card counters are actually hurting themselves not knowing this end-play?”

“Yes, the card counter might not be able to handle that reshuffling in the middle of a round of play.”

Paul continued: “Almost no one knows about end-play because games like this are never played. But card counters – most of them anyway – just play by rote. They rarely think to look at a truly unusual game and see if it has some unique pitfalls.”

Paul concluded: “You get the hang of [end play] and your edge on this game will be the highest you can imagine. Off the top the player has a small edge on this game [using] basic strategy. You will have the best blackjack game you ever played with end-play.”

At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that Paul knew his stuff. End play? Amazing.

The next night, Paul took out a deck and taught us end-play.

As we played Paul would ask us how many cards were left in the dealer’s hand and if he would run out thereby reshuffling the discards and how that reshuffling would affect our hands, the dealer’s hand and our betting and strategy decisions. At first A.P. and I were awful. After about an hour, we started to get close. Soon after that, we started hitting it just about right.         At the end of several hours, Paul put the cards down and said, “Let’s go down and give this a try.”

That night turned our blackjack playing careers around. I became a great end-player and the Maxim’s heaven-sent game took us from spreading $5 to $20 up to $25 to $200.

We extended our trip to eight weeks. What made the Maxim so great was the fact that the floor people and pit bosses knew we were counting; they knew others were counting and didn’t care. No sweat, no heat, nothing to do but keep the count and bet appropriately. It was like going to heaven.

The Beautiful AP and I then played for those eight weeks, logging in eight hours per day with each of us playing two hands. When the count was high, we’d jump bets – $25 to $100 to $200. High counts could have $800 on the layout – four hands of $200 – as opposed to $80.

By playing four hands for eight hours per day, we accumulated a fortune in $1 coupons because the average is about one blackjack every 20 hands so (on average) every five rounds one of us would get a blackjack. Those $1 coupons added up – except for the first couple of nights, we never had to pay for a meal while we stayed there. The Maxim did not comp us – one of the things that showed they knew we were playing with an edge.

With the best rules, with relaxed executives, and with personable dealers, the Maxim game was the best blackjack game I ever played.

Paul Keen played every night after work. I got to see him in action and he was truly in his own class.

Paul Keen seemed to have an uncanny ability to predict when he was going to get a blackjack. He was allowed to bet more than $15 at max in this game, so he’d jump to $50 in a player-favorable moment and it was stunning how often those blackjacks came to him. (That $50 was his maximum bet.)

During the eight weeks I gained a great appreciation for his blackjack skills. But there was still more in the offing.

Keen took me a step further – or at least tried to take me a step further. After touring the car collection at Imperial Palace (now the Quad), Paul said, “I want to show you a great way to add to your edge, card tracking.”

The concept of card tracking (also known as shuffle tracking) is quite simple. You follow the 10-valued cards and/or the aces as they come out. When a given round is played, if there is an abundance of 10s and aces, you watch them put into the discard rack and when the dealer finishes with all the cards you follow the shuffle to see where those cards wind up. Then as you play you keep your eye on those areas where the 10’s and aces sit and as they are about to be dealt you bet big. It is a step way beyond simple card counting; an extremely difficult step. Almost no card counters I ever met achieved mastery of this technique.

Paul Keen did.

We stood behind the players at a six-deck game and watched the rounds. Then it came, one round where 10’s and aces poured out of the shoe. Paul watched them being played then put into the discard rack. When the dealer finished this shoe, he shuffled the cards and put the decks back into the shoe. I had no idea where those 10’s and aces wound up. I tried to follow them in the shuffle but I just couldn’t do it. The shuffle became a blur to me. I couldn’t believe Paul would know either. How could you follow this kind of thing?

Somewhere in that shoe was supposedly a group of high cards and aces. Paul watched the discard pile. Then he nodded, “The next two rounds will have those 10’s and aces. If we were playing we’d pump up the bets. There should be some blackjacks and some hands of twenty.”

It was a miracle; a cascade of 10’s and aces came out in the next two rounds. Of course, there were some small cards mixed in with those 10’s and aces but there were three blackjacks and six hands of 20 in the next two rounds.

Paul did this several times and he always got the groups of high cards correct. Was this a perfect strategy? No. Other cards did mix in with the high cards, but overall it was a high percentage play favoring the player. So, I guessed, maybe this was how Paul got that extra edge at the Maxim game because he could follow a couple or several cards even in a single-deck game.

Yes, Paul Keen was an elite player; truly the best I ever saw and I have seen some other great ones. You could understand why he was a threat to the casinos – that is, if he had enough of a bankroll to play. Even Paul Keen, the best blackjack player in the world, was closer to broke than break even.

Keen’s lack of money didn’t allow him to play up to his potential. With the casinos banning high bets, his spectacular early career ended with a whimper. So here was blackjack’s greatest player on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. Such is the sad irony of life.

No books would be written about him. No young players would think, “I want to be the next Paul Keen.” No great gambling writers would flock to Vegas to pick his brain. He was Ozymandias, a broken, wind-whipped statue in the desert but, yes, he had been the true king.

Frank Scoblete’s newest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage Play Blackjack! and I Am a Dice Controller!  Join Frank on his web site at www.frankscoblete.com.

 

 

My Neighbor versus My Landscaper

 

I was relaxing in my special chair meditating before I was about to write an article. I do that most days. When my mind is allowed to relax in meditation, I find that – My doorbell rang. Crap! Who the hell is that?

“Hey, hey, Frank,” said my next door neighbor. “Don’t mean to disturb you.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” I said.

“You know your landscaper,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “He finally got around to raking my leaves today.”

I have a corner property, thankfully no sidewalks. Our village has been designated Tree City USA; we have a lot of trees. I have giant ones on my property; so does my neighbor; although he did cut a couple of big, leafy ones down recently.

“He left some leaves on the edge of my property,” said my neighbor.

“Isn’t he your landscaper too?” I asked.

“I fired him. He didn’t do a good job so I got rid of him. I prefer to do my property myself. It’s done the way I like it when I do it. No leaves at all when I do it.”

“Did he blow them onto your property?” I asked.

“No, they are on the edge, just past your property line. Touching my property.”

“Ah.” (“Ah” is a great way to respond to something that you don’t know how to respond to.)

Now my neighbor is very particular about his house and his property. When I start writing at five in the morning I see him outside – in the dark – raking his leaves up. After he rakes, he vacuums his back yard and his front yard with his outdoor vacuum cleaner. In the fall, you would be hard-pressed to find a single leaf on his property. He rakes quite a few times a day.

Once at 3 AM, the cops stopped at his house to arrest someone that they thought was a burglar trying to gain entrance. Someone had reported some dark figure using a flashlight on the property. It was my neighbor with a miner’s cap on his head, the kind with a light on it, raking leaves. He explained to the cops that he was keeping his property clean.

The police left satisfied that he was not a burglar.

My neighbor also climbs a tall ladder to go up to his roof and clean the gutters; I’d say he does that at least twice a week. Once, when a nor’easter was heading towards us, I heard some kind of large animal on our roof. I went outside to see. I didn’t want any raccoon trying to gain entrance into my house. We sometimes have families of raccoons hanging around.

I had nothing to fear; it was my neighbor cleaning my gutters. “You want to make sure these are clean,” he said. “When that storm hits you don’t want your gutters overflowing.” He was right, of course; I didn’t want my gutters overflowing. Our gutters were slated to be cleaned the following week but they were now full of leaves.

“I called the police on that landscaper,” said my neighbor. “He’s doing this leaf thing to annoy me. I also called the village to complain about him. You have to have a license to do landscaping in this village and I want his license revoked. He did awful work for me. He shouldn’t be allowed to garden in our village.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll give him a call and tell him to come back and get the leaves on the edge of my property.”

“Do we really want to keep him if he’s causing so much trouble?” said my wife, the Beautiful AP, entering our foyer. “I wasn’t happy he waited so long to rake up.”

“We’ve had him for twenty-five years,” I said somewhat quietly.

“I fired him,” said my neighbor. “I didn’t think he did good work.”

“Maybe we should get a new landscaper,” said my wife.

“Ah,” I said.

“They are all way too expensive,” said my neighbor. “The company that does the house across the street charges way too much, almost as much as yours.”

“Well, ah, you know our property is basically one big Japanese garden. It takes a lot of work, uh, a lot, you know,” I said.

“We should look into getting another company,” said my wife.

“Well, first I’ll give him a phone call and get him over here to clean up what remains,” I said. “Show him,” I said to my wife meaning show my neighbor, “my big fish tanks while I call the landscaper.”

My wife took our neighbor into my office where my 210-gallon tank resides just behind my desk along with a 55-gallon and a 20-gallon. I’ve always loved fish. I also love looking out the windows of my office, which is three-quarters windows. I see the birds in front and to the sides of me; I see my fish behind me when I take little breaks from writing and I see the damn cats people let loose trying to get at the birds. Also squirrels and raccoons, and possums, and occasionally I spot a field mouse scampering by on my deck.

My landscaper’s phone message system was full. I told that to my wife and neighbor as they reentered the living room.

“You should think of doing it yourself,” said my neighbor. I guess he could see the look of horror on my face. “Okay, if he doesn’t come by tomorrow I’ll do it myself.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “I’ll get him to do it.”

This was a Saturday and his phone messaging system stayed full until Thursday. By then my neighbor had raked up all the leaves and put them in the road outside my house. In a neat, neat pile, not even a trail of tiny little leaves. Also he had put some in huge leaf bags, totally full, in the street outside of my house.

I had asked my wife why she was so fierce about firing our landscaper. “I don’t want to get into a conflict with our neighbor. We’ve all been good neighbors for 25 years. If it’s a choice between our landscaper or our neighbor I choose our neighbor.”

“Well,” I said. “He did do a good job on our gutters before that big storm.”

I left a message for our landscaper about the leaves and the fact that our neighbor had called the police and the village about him. I said he had to make sure when he does our property not to get a leaf on our neighbor’s property. I didn’t want a problem with my neighbor.

Several hours later the landscaper called.

“Hello,” I said.

“All he does is complain,” said the landscaper.

“Ah.”

“Nothing was ever right with him when I was doing his property. He’d inspect everything as we did it. He was never happy. If a leaf blew down from a tree he’d start complaining. Leaves fall down from trees! Leaves fall down from trees all fall and even in winter! They fall! Jesus!”

“Ah,” I said.

“I’m coming there and going to his house to tell him what I think of him,” said my landscaper.

“You see, I still have this big pile of leaves in the street outside my house,” I said.

“You shouldn’t have raked them,” said the landscaper.

“I didn’t,” I said.

“He did! Jesus! He did! Oh, man, he did! He did! Jesus!”

“Ah.”

“You know when we do your property I make sure that we do some of his property even in summer when we are cutting the grass and taking care of everything else. That’s so he doesn’t bother you,” he yelled.

“Ah.”

“I am going to talk to that guy. Jesus!”

“Uh, can you come by and get those leaves?” I asked.

“Can you believe that guy raked up everything?”

“The leaves are on the side of the property,” I said.

“Come on, Jesus,” he said. “He raked!”

“There are two huge garbage bags there too.”

“He can’t just be an average guy? What the hell!”

“If you can come by and get them as soon as possible,” I said.

“I am talking to that guy. You can bet on it. Calling the cops and the village on me, Jesus.”

“As soon as you can,” I said.

“This is my job, you know. This is how I feed my children. I have four children! Four and my wife wants more. Can you believe her? More. I work like a dog and this guy wants to ruin my business? Jesus.”

“Okay,” I said. “Good talking to you.”

“Jesus!”

The next day I was meditating in my special chair and my cell phone rang. “Hello,” I said.

“Yes, it’s me,” said my landscaper.

My home phone rang.

“Just hold for a second,” I said to my landscaper. “My home phone is ringing.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Hello,” I said.

“It’s me,” said my neighbor.

“Listen,” said the landscaper in my left ear. “I’m coming by in five minutes to rake up.”

“Can I come over in a few minutes to talk to you?” asked my neighbor into my right ear.

My wife came in from the garage and stood in front of me. “So is everything straightened out?” she asked. “Why do you have a phone on one ear and a phone on the other ear?”

Because we live in Tree City USA!

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

No Machado, No Way

 

The New York Yankees are considering getting Manny Machado, who played for the Los Angeles Dodger for a couple of months in 2018 and who played for the Baltimore Orioles for several years. They might want him to play shortstop and then third base when Didi Gregorius returns from surgery.

He is an all-star and a terrific player. No doubt about that.

They would be crazy to sign him.

He is a lazy player, much like Robinson Cano whom the Yankees got rid of a half decade ago to no fan puzzlement or upset. Why you ask? Because Robinson Cano was not, and still is not, a hustler. He trots out infield ground balls and shows no inclination to put it all on the line when he runs. That Is not good for the game or for your team.

According to some baseball analytics if you run full out to first base on ground balls you will add 20 base hits to your season totals. That’s more than enough to encourage a player to bust it down the line. It’s good for your team and it’s good for the player. Add that to the fact that you should have pride in yourself and never dog it.

Mr. Machado even bragged that he is not a hustling type of player by saying, “I’m not the type of player who is going to be Johnny Hustle.”

No he isn’t. He is the type of player who can sew discord on a team and in the minds of fans.

The Yankees have right now a team of hustlers. Guys who seem to get along and have that team spirit. A lazy player who doesn’t hustle and thinks he is a precious gem belongs on any other team except the Yankees. Those other teams can have him.

To the Yankees, pass this guy on by. We don’t need another Cano.

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

The Wheat Germ Man

 

(The following is excerpted from the book I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack by Frank Scoblete.)

The “Wheat Germ Man” was totally whacked out. First, he was a great card counter; not as good as Paul Keen (the greatest I ever saw) but in that elite category nevertheless. He had some three-level count and he could also track cards in the decks but not with the precision of Keen. He was fearless in getting his big bets out when the count favored him. He was an all-around pro. He would be what any blackjack player wishes to be – talented, perceptive to dealer mistakes, fearless.

And thoroughly insane.

I called him the “Wheat Germ Man” because he was a health food fanatic – his favorite drink was some concoction of wheat grass and Gatorade. He was completely convinced that such a drink prevented cancers, all kinds of cancers too, along with heart attacks, strokes, and body sores, and such a concoction would prolong his life into his early 100’s. “I will be the healthiest one-hundred-year-old in the world. That is my intention.”

His breakfast was wheat germ with banana and a whole grove of other fruit. Or oatmeal with the same grove of fruit. He took far more vitamins than I did – and I am almost a vitamin junkie. I would say he took a handful every couple of hours. He also loved seaweed, even that stinking raw seaweed just out of the ocean. He gave himself enemas just about every day.

“Enemas are great for cleansing you,” he’d say. “I use decaffeinated coffee as I find that cleans me out without the jangling from the caffeine.”

He ate almost no meat and he loved fish.

I met him in 1995 – during the Christmas vacation. During Christmas many of the big billboards at Caesars, Las Vegas Hilton and other major properties were written in Chinese. Vegas was crowded during Christmas with Asians. Wheat Germ Man was not a fan of Asian players.

“These Orientals and I call them Orientals and doesn’t that sound exotic instead of Asian? I think so. What’s with this Asian crap? They don’t know how to play. They are morons but they come to the table and throw their money around and yell in that stupid language. Why don’t they just shut up and play the slots? They don’t know how to play so why waste everyone’s time? I can’t stand them coming to the table and jabbering like monkeys. If they don’t know how to play they should go away.”

Wheat Germ Man was rarely in a good mood – everyone was a moron or, if they were of another race, a monkey to him. He always had something to complain about. He always had something to lecture you about. He believed he knew everything.

He thought he knew more about health and medicine than doctors. He thought he knew more about government than any political-science professor in America. His opinion of college political science professors: “They are all lackeys of the power structure. When the revolution comes they will all be broken eggs in the university system. In the revolution to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. I’ll have my baseball bat.”

He was also convinced that there were giant world-wide conspiracies. Some of these were among countries, some among politicians, rich people, Catholics, Jews, illuminati, masons and maybe even bricklayers.

He was a high school dropout. “School is stupid. Look at how many stupid people have gone to school and graduated. More stupid people have graduated than smart people.”

And he almost always had a cold or, as he said, “allergies” to the poisons around us. He was sniffling, coughing, incessantly blowing gobs of greenish mucus into tissues that tended to rip apart when such heavy loads were propelled in them. It was kind of like watching a movie called “The Blob from the Outer Nostrils.”

The daily enemas gave him a raging case of ulcerative colitis – a disease that is horribly painful and debilitating. The ulcerative colitis came about – according to the emergency room doctor who treated this anally bleeding, dehydrated, hallucinating wizened shell of a health-food expert – from those enemas over so many years.

The doctor explained that Wheat Germ Man probably had a genetic factor in the disease but his enemas and stress probably brought that factor out and that is what landed Wheat Germ Man into the emergency room.

When a strong regimen of prednisone, a steroid, halted the symptoms thereby easing his pain, Wheat Germ Man returned to the blackjack wars, and he told us, “What the hell do those doctors know? They wouldn’t give me the [wheat grass] juice and Gatorade. They pumped me full of drugs. They are all morons in a conspiracy with the FDA. My body being healthy cured itself.” Then he blew his green globule into his tissue. The fact that modern medicine might have saved his life was irrelevant. Wheat Germ Man’s famous saying was “Who you gonna believe? Me or the FDA?”

I sometimes wonder why so many of the great blackjack players I’ve met seem to have personality disorders – at least what seem to me to be personality disorders. Certainly, Wheat Germ Man fit right into that diagnosis. He was a health nut who was unhealthy; a high school dropout who knew everything, and an anti-“Oriental.” Still he was a marvelous blackjack player.

His saying was a simple, “Get the money out there.” That saying I have appropriated. I use it all the time. And he did get the money out there; he certainly did. If you want to be a successful card counter Wheat Germ Man – for all his madness – hit the nail on the head. “Get the money out there.”

He died in 2001 at the age of 38. From what I understand no one attended his funeral.

Frank Scoblete’s latest books are on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Read his web site at www.frankscoblete.com.

Doctor Ego and Mister Id

 

Just about everyone knows the Robert Louis Stevenson story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll, a mild-mannered, logical doctor, gives himself a formula aimed at bringing out the being deep inside him, in short the basest, most vicious, sexually propelled, avaricious creature that he believed was within us all. This being became known as Mr. Hyde.

Hyde becomes the dominant force after a while and this monster creates chaos and pain for all around him.

There is an even more modern version of this story about one doctor, Bruce Banner, who gets hit with gamma rays and turns into the incredible Hulk, a monstrous, totally angry creature hidden in Banner’s subconscious. Hulk enjoys smashing and fighting. It is the essence of his existence and over time the Hulk comes out more and more until he too becomes the dominant personality.

Sigmund Freud postulated that every human being has both a Dr. Jekyll in them, which he called the ego, and a Mr. Hyde, which he called the id.

The id contains our innermost drives; our hidden fantasies; it is a primitive, instinctual part of our minds with us from our very births. It is a totally aggressive part of our sub consciousness devoted to satisfying its urges, be they sexual or materialistic or totally irrational.

On the other hand, the ego is the break-pedal on the id, the part of our minds that is logical, controlled, in command of our being. Because of our egos we are usually able to control the id, stopping it from going to self-destructive extremes. Let me make this point clear; today we use the word “ego” to describe a person’s usually exaggerated sense of self. It can be a totally negative word in our lexicon. It was never meant to be that.

Now I am sure that many of you have experienced these elements in yourselves. While many psychologists and neuroscientists now reject Freud’s ideas, they are useful as a guide to various types of human behavior, especially as I see it, in the casinos. That’s right, casino players can be Mr. Hyde’s and incredible Hulks sometimes in their play.

I have heard players say such things as “I can’t believe I did that!” or “I was out of my mind last night.” or “What got into me?” or “I bet how much?” I know these expressions are not unique; I have been there, I’ve uttered them, especially in my first year of casino gambling almost three decades ago. Playing games can release some of those inner drives; drives best left buried.

The player who says “I lost it last night” is admitting in effect that his ego could not control his id which took control and made him play foolishly.

In my scenario, the id would play the games until it caused the player to collapse. Certain elements in the casino experience can help the id emerge, drinking is one and (this may sound weird) joy! The fun of playing casino games can thrill a player so much that he or she wants more and more. That last is great but not if it goes too far and releases the Mr. Hyde (or Ms. Hyde) inside us.

In Las Vegas there is something called the Las Vegas flu, a term which emergency room workers apply to those patients who have been brought there because they drank too much and played too long in the casinos. This flu is the aftereffects of Hyde coming out of hiding, the id taking over.

I am not a spoil sport; I think casino gambling is a truly fun way to pass the time. Letting a teeny-tiny part of the id to appear now and again is not a horrible thing; after all, without the ids of our mommies and daddies none of us would have been conceived. Eating a fine meal is also a measure of the id’s pleasure principle. The id is a part of us; it just shouldn’t be the part of us that is in total control. When such a thing happens, it is usually bad news.

Savvy casino gamblers know how to handle their Mr. Hydes. These players give themselves a set bankroll against which they play a session. If they run out of that bankroll they will take a break. They do not throw more money out after losses to make up quickly what they just lost. They keep their desire to “let it all hang out” a safe distance from their actions.

In games where specific strategies are called for, such as blackjack, then the players have learned the proper way to play their hands. In craps, they know what bets to make to keep the house edge against them to a minimum.

In fact, even those players who do not follow the best strategies can still control their ids if they know when to quit their games. Mr. Hyde would never quit until he was done-in by himself; the Hulk just wants to roar and fight until he meets up with something stronger and tougher than he is. The Hulk might not find such an opponent but the player will hit up against such an opponent, the casino itself.

In short, keep the id contained, except in those special times as mentioned above, and enjoy the pleasure the ego allows you to have. The heck with Hyde and the Hulk!

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

Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

 

[Please direct all hate mail to any teacher but me.]

A substitute teacher in New Jersey’s Montville School district has been let go because she taught the first graders that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. She also put down the existence of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Elf on a Shelf. The teacher has been permanently dismissed.

USA Today reported the following:

“Principal Michael Raj of Cedar Hill School in Montville, New Jersey, sent a letter to parents apologizing for a teacher who told a first grade class Santa was not real.

“’As a father of four myself, I am truly aware of the sensitive nature of this announcement,’” Raj wrote, reports NJ.com.

“Raj said he also talked to the teacher about her “’poor judgment.’”

Letters have poured into newspapers and Internet sites that carried this story and the overwhelming majority of the ones I read support the school district’s getting rid of this substitute. One fiery letter writer wrote that this teacher was “ruining the joys of childhood” for the first graders.

Do you think we are “ruining the joys of childhood” if we were to tell our children the truth about the existence of such a fantastical character as Santa Claus? I told my kids that there was a Santa Claus (my kids are now 42 and 39—I don’t think they believe in him any more) and we’d leave out cookies and milk for him, which I ate. Was that a mistake on my part, pushing the belief in Santa Claus and eating those cookies? (I justifiably blame fat Santa for my being fat now.)

Knowing kids tend to be magical thinkers, that is, they believe in the fantastic, I went even further. I told my children I could bring the snow. I’d listen to the weather reports and when snow was imminent I’d tell them, “Boys,” I would say, “Daddy is bringing the snow tonight!” They would cheer my great powers. In their minds I was Magic Dad.

My wife would dryly say, “Tell Magic Dad not to bring the snow on the driveway.”

That is one of the reasons she is now my ex-wife.

So my first impulse about this teacher and this situation was Oh, please, Santa is a fun…. But a fun what? Lie? A lie that adults in all areas of society are deliberately telling impressionable little kids? Is Santa merely a harmless myth that will be easily forgotten and put away with other childhood beliefs? Or, is it something actually harmful?

Why should kids be told that this creature can follow your every movement and maybe even your thoughts during the year to see if you were good or bad and that your Christmas presents depended on him? Or possibly no presents at all! As the song says, “You’d better watch out!”

Why are we telling kids that such a large man can go down chimneys and otherwise enter apartments and houses that don’t have chimneys? How can he fly magical reindeer throughout the world on a single night visiting everyone on earth? Why do television news shows and radio newscasters announce where he is flying at any given moment?

“Daddy, if I don’t want Santa to come into my house can he just come in by going through the walls?” one of my sons asked me. Yes, he can; kind of like a blubbery ghost.

So now I am faced with a dilemma. The teacher is objectively correct. There is no Santa Claus flying the skies and reading your thoughts and seeing your actions through the course of your life, nor do any of those other magical beings exist. The kids may believe they do but they don’t exist. I know they don’t; you know they don’t.

However, magic is fun even when you know it is all phony. I like horror movies and superhero movies and giant monster movies, but I know these are all nonsense. Superman isn’t real; nor is Spiderman or Hulk or Wonder Woman or Thor or Doctor Strange or any of the other great supremely-powered defenders of humanity.

I do ask this: Is belief in Santa Claus a prelude to these kids growing up into adults who believe other fantastical beings such as ghosts, angels, demons and the powers of witchcraft? Is the fantastical Santa an entrapment into belief in magical things? An entrapment we helped foster?

I don’t know what to think about this whole topic. I contributed to the big lie and I enjoyed doing so. Heck, during Christmas season I have giant pictures of Santa Claus throughout my house.

I am in a quandary.

I guess it could get worse; what would this substitute teacher say about God?

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His latest books are I am a Dice Controller!, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! and I am a Card Counter! His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

Wow! I Met Pete Dunne

 

I’m new to birding; two years to be exact. I’ve been going to Cape May, New Jersey for over 60 years and—this is so embarrassing—I never knew it was a birder’s paradise. Four trips most years from my home in New York and I had no idea. I am not truly an observant writer.

My grandchildren suggested birding as an outlet I would enjoy since I had stopped my whirlwind traveler’s life. My wife, the Beautiful AP, asked them “What could Grandpa Scobe do instead of being a hermit?” Grandson John (11) said, “He should get out into nature.” Granddaughter Danielle (9) said, “Go birding, Grandpa.”

Birding? Aren’t the people who do that a little off? But the Beautiful AP liked the idea and one-two-three she had signed me up for our local South Shore Audubon Society. Birding? Me? Seriously?

Seriously.

And I found, despite my total ignorance, that I loved our weekly bird walks; and I loved coming to Cape May and birding in the various parks and sanctuaries. And I actually liked the people with whom I went birding.

And I started to read many books on the subjects, from academic books (often dreadfully dull) to personal stories (some extremely compelling).   I even became a book reviewer for our Audubon chapter.

And my birding friend, Paul Stessel, gifted me with several books written by Pete Dunne, an amazing writer. I dove into them and then I read many of his articles in BirdWatching magazine.

My word, this guy could write! His articles and books were informed not only by great knowledge but by a distinct voice. Yes, the subject matter fascinated but the person behind the writing was just as fascinating. You learned the subject and you learned about he who taught the subject. That is great writing. In short, a true voice spoke to you in his books and articles.

So, we were in Cape May last week, during the end of the great raptor watch, standing on the hawk observatory, being told which raptors were flying nearby by a member of the Cape May birding society. Then I heard someone say, “Pete, Pete?” It was kind of a dreamlike moment since I was intent on the sky. Pete? No. Could it be the Pete Dunne? I knew he birded in Cape May but was he here now?

I saw a man being engaged by several people. These several people had stars in their eyes. Pete Dunne? These people soon left him to continue watching the skies.

I turned to me wife. “Ask that guy in the green jacket over there if he is Pete Dunne.”

“Why don’t you?” she asked.

“I don’t want to act like a fan,” I said.

“You are a fan,” she said but she did walk over and ask him. He said “yes.”

I casually walked over; that is, if sprinting can be considered casual. I wanted to get to him before anyone else could. I introduced myself. I think I was tripping over my words. To meet someone that you respected; well it really doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?

He is a gracious guy and invited my wife and me to sit down with him. My wife arranged to have a couple of pictures taken with him. We discussed birds and writing and writing and birds. Throughout, he’d point to the sky and call out exactly which birds were flying by exactly where.

I explained to him why I thought he was a terrific writer.

He pointed to the sky, calling out the name of the raptor right over our heads.

I explained to him, again and again, why I thought he was a terrific writer.

We sat together for about a half hour. And I was unselfconsciously effusive. I have no problem telling people who are great that they are great.

In my life there are some people I wished I could sit next to: Shakespeare, Mark Twain and my literary love, Emily Dickinson. Let me be at the Globe Theatre watching the first rehearsals of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Or with Mark Twain when he penned the greatest line in American literature; Huck Finn saying “All right then, I’ll go to hell.” Or a Sunday afternoon listening to Dickinson’s poems in the glow of her garden instead of in the cold confines of a church.

Those could never be. But now Pete Dunne, in his element, in the world of birds and birders, and I was right there with him; sitting right next to him. Wow!

Frank Scoblete has written 35 books, several television shows, and has his own web site at www.FrankScoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at book stores.