The Warriors of July 4th

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am going to kill my older brother!”

“Ah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus Christ,” said the short guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So I really am next,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have the lower number,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, Just a Regular Haircut

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

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

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

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

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

So this morning I entered the shop.

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

“Hi,” I said to both of them.

I sat down in the chair.

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

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

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

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

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

“Shurt,” he said.

“No, regular,” I said.

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

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

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

“Regular, normal, regular,” I said.

“Shurt,” he smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Lover Come Back

 

It was 1970. I was 23 years old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter’s face reddened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You look great,” said Lucy.

“Absolutely,” chimed Lulu.

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

“Uh,” said Lulu.

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said definitively.

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

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

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

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

I almost choked on my drink.

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

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

“I’m twenty-four,” said Peter.

Silence.

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

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

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

“Huh?” uttered Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holy shit,” said Gorgo into my ear.

“What did you say?” asked Lulu.

“I didn’t say anything,” I said.

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

“We, uh, just met,” he stammered.

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

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

The waiter brought over the drinks right away.

“Bottoms up!” he said.

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

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

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

“You thought it,” said Lulu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I am gay,” he said.

“You’re gay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Adorable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fat-Fingered Blackjack Technique

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth About Blackjack Players

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delightful Horror of Family Birding

The Bookcase by Frank Scoblete

The Delightful Horror of Family Birding by Eli J. Knapp

Americans are not big buyers of books loaded with short stories, essays or multiple poems presented to us by somewhat obscure poets. Actually in America just about all poets, except for the ones taught in high school and college classes, are obscure.

I can’t speak for Europeans, who are constantly speaking about themselves, but the American literary market shuns big books loaded with short pieces. Magazines, the sacred shrines of the short piece, are dying now but short stories and books of essays have already dug their graves.

Even in the world of nature writing and, yes, even within our particular focus with birds, we tend to like our feed-grain to be of one type per book. Give us a tale that hangs together from beginning to end and we are satisfied if the tale can hold our interest. Yes, some birders will buy encyclopedic books about birds but those books must contain pictures for the reader to stay interested. Give me a full book about owls (thank you very much), but not one about various readers’ appreciation of what they are individually experiencing with those owls.

Now this predilection for longer pieces has pushed to the side those books that contain enlightening, entertaining, and important information that can delight us if we only give such works a chance to tickle our fancy.

One such book, composed of wonderful essays, (don’t you dare stop reading this article because I used the word “essays”) is by Eli J. Knapp and is titled The Delightful Horror of Family Birding. Knapp is a college professor and a bird lover since his youth when he encountered his first birds. More important, this man is a father opening the world of nature and of birds to his soon-to-be-savvy children.

Now, most books that feature children can be vacuous since most kids are dull, at least in my opinion, and their great discoveries are rather pedantic. Today our children would rather watch a sunset on their phones than in the actual sky. Not so with Knapp’s children. His kids are looking at the world because they are in the world.

Knapp’s essays often speak powerfully about the beauty inherent in birds and, of course, in the natural world and his kids happily pick up on that. It is fascinating to watch a parent lead his children to an appreciation of the rich world around them.

The book is funny; the essays hang together with crisp, sharp language and imagery. I think you will find the “horror” of family birding to be anything but horrible. Give it a try.

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

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.