Are Birders Liars?


I mentioned this topic in a past article. My birding friend, Bob, is convinced that many birders are much like golfers, they lie to make themselves look good, especially those birders who keep lists. He believes it is inherent because birders are on the honor system and that leaves it totally open to liars and cheaters.

Has any honor system ever really worked? There have been scandals at West Point for crying (or lying) out loud. I remember that when I was a teacher the “leaders” in education (such sad, sad people) were always trying to figure out a way to have students “share” knowledge as opposed to cheating to get good, or at least passing, grades. None of these impractical ideas worked. Obviously. Did anyone of any intelligence think they would?

Antony in Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, sarcastically said of the murderer of Julius Caesar: “For Brutus is an honourable man; / So are they all, all honourable men—“

Are all birders honourable men and women? Or are some outright or closeted liars?

When you are on a birding walk most birders don’t necessarily see every bird that someone else points out or points to. I certainly don’t see all of them. I probably— to be blunt here—don’t see half the birds everyone is saying they are seeing. “Look, there’s a tufted tit mouse over there!” I put my binoculars to my eyes but the bird zips away like lightning, as do most little song birds. Song birds are the biggest annoyances in birding—beautiful but fast-flying birds that are hard to see at times. (Give me high-soaring raptors any day.)

Okay, I don’t see half of them.

Yet, I wonder how many of my fellow birders are actually just lying about it all? “Oh, yeah, yeah, I see that tit mouse!” Did you really? I mean really?

Many birders keep lists of the birds they see; on a given day, week, month, trip or year and also in areas, countries and continents. Some birders go on “Big Years” where they try to see as many species of birds as they can in a single year. Some birders do a big year restricted to provinces, states, or countries, and some traverse the entire earth.

The American Birding Association states there are 993 species of birds north of Mexico. John Weigel, an extreme birder, saw 783 of these species in 2016. There are a host of “see-ers” throughout the North-of-Mexico birding community. Are any of them total frauds?

Additionally, you don’t have to see the bird to record it on your list—just hearing it counts. Don’t laugh at this; there are plenty of birders who know the songs of almost all the birds they encounter, perhaps some birders know the songs of all the birds in the world. Hey, I recognize a few bird songs, two of which are my parrots sitting to my right in my office as I write this.

As for the big guns in birding, I think these folks are probably honest as they are driven to be the best at what they do and they probably have folks joining them on many of their expeditions.

But what about the rest of us? Are all the birders in my group the South Shore Audubon Society totally honest observers of birds?

So I decided to do a survey to see if honesty would prevail. I would just point up to the tree and say, “I see a Baltimore Oriole up there.” There was no Oriole. I did this several times, naming different birds. Did anyone lie to me and say they saw these missing birds at which I was pointing? No. People just admitted to not seeing the bird.

And what of when others saw birds and pointed? Did anyone flat out say, “I don’t see it.” Yes, quite a few, myself included.

Of course this was not a scientific poll such as the ones that predicted Trump would lose the Presidential race in 2016.

So, my opinion is that while birding does allow for subterfuge, I haven’t actually witnessed any as of yet. If I do I’ll let you know.

[There is an excellent movie titled The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as birders going on a big year. Enjoyable all the way.]

Frank’s books are available on, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.

Wildlife in Your Backyard


Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle

It is raining.

My office is three-quarters windows so I am surrounded by nature. Trees and bushes are my landscape.

I see my three squirrel-proof Sky Café bird feeders right over the top of my computer, their roofs dripping the rain away from the seeds, and, yes, some birds are happily eating those very seeds. Don’t let anyone tell you that birds won’t eat in wet weather. I eat in wet weather; you eat in wet weather; birds eat in wet weather.

Which brings me to Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard: 101 Ways to Make Your Property Home for Creatures Great and Small by Josh VanBrakle.

I have wildlife coming and going throughout my property: possums, raccoons, mice, lizards, those damn voles and their holes; in addition to countless squirrels of the grey, black, and rust variety (my wife the Beautiful AP and I once saw a white one). Sometimes we see rabbits too. And birds, species after species of beautiful birds at our feeders, in our bushes and on our trees.

I also have those horrible outdoor cats, some feral, some let out by their owners. Those cats are responsible for the death of over a billion (yes over a billion!) birds a year. I like cats…indoors.

Now, the author Josh VanBrakle is a research forester and he lays out most of what a person needs to know to attract and keep wildlife on private property; from planting native plants; getting rid of invasive species, choosing which trees to plant, where to plant them; how to create and care for a rather large pond of at least half an acre or more.

He even recommends attracting bats to your property to kill off mosquitoes. And bring in the bees in order to pollinate recommended plants (bats help pollinate plants too).

Do I think this is a good book and worthy of a read? Yes, I do, especially if you have the land necessary to put in place his recommendations. Still many of his insights actually do fit those of us whose properties do not live up to the proper size required for a half-acre or more pond. For example, if invasive species of plants have possessed your property, he gives you a step-by-step method for exorcising such demons.

In truth, I do not want to attract deer or moose or bears or bobcats or mountain lions to my property; just birds. I particularly do not want to attract those aggressive, vicious cats.

Wild nature is not so wild as it once was. One of the greatest saviors of our wildlife is, in truth, us. So welcome the wild ones into your civilized life.

Visit Frank’s web site at His books are available at, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and at bookstores.




The Best, the Worst and the Between


In casino gambling there are good players and bad players and every type of player in between. Sadly, most players have no idea of the house edges on the games that they play and most don’t care to know these edges – such knowledge might diminish their fun. How fast is a game? Is it important to know how many decisions a game has per hour in order to understand the impact of the house edge on your bankroll? Not to them.

Knowledge to the unknowledgeable is a waste of their time.

Strange as it may seem, many casino players have actually bought a bill of goods that proclaims casino gambling to be an activity that is best engaged in with no knowledge whatsoever. Others have bought into the flawed concept that they are going to lose anyway so why play perfectly – it ultimately doesn’t help you win anything, does it? That’s a true but very limiting way to look at the casino gambling experience since the better you play the less you lose over time. The less you lose the more you can go to the casinos. The “you’re only going to lose anyway” philosophy results in greater losses and fewer possible trips to the casino.

Three criteria would have to be applied to casino gamblers to ascertain where they fit in the continuum of good to awful players – the games they play, the strategies they use at these games, and their emotional control while playing. Even the very best players can do foolish things if they lose control – just ask any card counter who over bets his bankroll and goes bust, despite his small edge.

So who are the best casino gamblers? And who are the worst casino gamblers?

The best casino gamblers are the “advantage players,” those players who have developed skills such as card counting at blackjack, dice control at craps, perfect strategies at video poker, and expert poker play. These players know how to beat the games they play by getting small edges, betting appropriately so losing streaks don’t cream them – yes, advantage players can have losing streaks, some of them quite long – and by always betting into their edge and not into their emotions. Of the 54 million American casino gamblers, maybe 4,000 are advantage players.

Just under the advantage player are those casino gamblers who play strong strategies at the games. They use basic strategy in blackjack, keeping the house edge around one-half percent; they only make the best bets at craps, generally the Pass, Don’t Pass, Come, Don’t Come, utilizing the odds bet to get their money on the table, and placing the 6 and 8. If our good players like roulette, they strictly bet outside “even-money” propositions at the roulette games where the 0 or 00 loses them only half their bet. In video poker they only play the strongest strategies at high return games such as 9/6 Jacks or Better. They never play slot machines. Based strictly on my observations of casino gamblers for the past 30 years I’d say the good players in this second category make up maybe two million casino players.

Thus, the two types of “best players” are in a distinct minority because they are overwhelmed by the legions of “worst” players. The worst players use their “instincts” at blackjack, giving the house edges of one to four percent. The worst players make all the ridiculously poor bets at craps, subscribing to idiot notions such as “see a horn, bet a horn,” which can lead to disastrous results. The worst players bet the inside numbers at roulette and play all the carnival games such as Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Four Card Poker – without even knowing the correct strategies for these games. They love the slot machines, especially the mega-jackpot machines that have house edges around 15 percent. Losing $15 for every $100 they wager doesn’t seem to have any impact on their gambling choices.

The poor players play with real money – that is to say, they don’t have a special gambling account but rather they use household money to fuel their usually ill-fated adventures. They play for too much, for too long, and too poorly to ever have a chance of coming out ahead – except on rare occasions where Lady Luck pities them and gives them a winning session. But this or that winning session can’t make up for the horrid fact that they are way behind in their casino gambling careers – so far behind that short of a mega-jackpot they have no chance to ever catch up.

I think the majority of casino players probably fit into this last category – and they account for the overwhelming amount of money made by the casino industry. Advantage players will sometimes say that all the poor players make it possible for them to keep winning because without the poor players the casinos wouldn’t exist. That is probably true.

However, why should that be true for you? Let the other players play foolishly. There’s plenty of room for you in the first two categories of players. The Captain of Craps once told me, “There’s always room at the top.” He was right. You should join that top tier.

Frank’s books are available on, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at book stores. His latest? Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!

Act It For Crying Out Loud!


There is something in the human heart that needs to be appreciated and liked and maybe even loved. Many men and women would love to be worshipped as well. Short of all that, most of us will take a pleasant friendliness in the people we must deal with, especially in our leisure time pursuits.

I remember one particularly horrid meal I had in New York City’s theatre district. My wife, the beautiful AP and I, along with gambling’s maverick author Walter Thomason and his wife, best-selling romance novelist Cynthia Thomason, were going to see the delightful hit The Music Man and we selected a restaurant near the theatre and we made an early reservation – 5:30PM – so we could make the 8PM curtain. This restaurant had come highly recommended by someone I will never talk to again!

The waiters were the nastiest people I have ever met. Poor Walter ordered a drink before dinner, then during dinner, then after dinner – the same drink, because they never brought it to the table. Yet the drink appeared three times on the check. The service was slow. The food was cold when it was brought to the table and when we left we told the maitre d’ that the service and the food left a lot to be desired.

He looked at us and said disdainfully, “This is New York if you haven’t noticed.” I have no idea what he meant since I have been living in New York for more than 60 years. Was he saying that nastiness is something we New Yorkers should be proud of? Most New York restaurants have very friendly waiters by the way. So did he think we were tourists who had to be mistreated to get his version of the New York flavor? Beats me.

Almost topping this dining disaster was one I had in Memphis, Tennessee at a restaurant everyone told me had the best barbequed ribs on the planet. I was staying at the delightful Peabody Hotel and I went nearby to enjoy this world famous barbeque. Aside from the fact that the ribs went down like bricks, the waiters at this restaurant were frothing cousins to their New York City counterparts. Even worse, I found the restaurant greasy, the plates smudgy, the drinking glasses smeared. I had a hard enough time starting my meal, much less finishing. I don’t care how famous a restaurant is – filth is filth. The surly waiters almost threw the plates on the table and when I ordered a glass of wine – the glass looked like those jelly glasses that Welch’s used to sell so when you finished your jelly you had a cheap glass. The wine at this dump did not taste as good as the Welch’s jelly either.

These two events brought home the fact that not everyone belongs in the “service industry.” When I was a young man I worked in a fancy restaurant where I wore a tuxedo and spoke with a slight French accent (this restaurant only hired people with foreign accents so all of us Americans pretended to be from somewhere else) and I know that many nights I had to act friendly even though I didn’t feel friendly. That’s the nature of the job – you must be professional and friendly if you want to be a good waiter or waitress. In a real sense you are the servant of those whom you are serving and no one wants a surly servant.

Now is it easy to be a servant? No, many times it is difficult because the people you are serving, over the course of a day, a night, a week, a career can sometimes be tough to deal with. That one nasty person can make an otherwise great day turn somewhat sour. But a professional is a professional. Actors in a bad mood must still show delight if the scene in the play calls for it. A waiter must show the same friendly face even if inside he is steaming because of this or that event or patron. If a servant can’t do that he or she should seriously consider another job.

The casino industry is no different than any other service industry. From the moment you drive onto a property you are meeting service people – valet parkers, bellhops, reservation clerks, dealers, pit personnel, waiters, waitresses, spa attendants and more – all of them working jobs where your satisfaction is the key to their performance. The casino-hotel has made a commitment to making your stay enjoyable.

Players who play at tables with surly dealers certainly have diminished pleasure. The dealers can’t make you win or lose, of course, but they can present you with a winning attitude, a friendly disposition, and a professional demeanor. So how come some dealers seem like fire-breathing dragons, ready to incinerate you for daring to talk to them? Because they haven’t learned the most important aspect of the service industry – acting.

I learned from being a waiter that it didn’t matter what I was actually feeling. The patrons at the restaurant weren’t interested in my internal state. They were there for a gourmet meal served by a professional waiter. So that is the role I played. I showed the same disposition whether my internal state was happy or glum.

Dealers, pit personnel and others you encounter in the casino environment must perform their roles regardless of their inner states. What’s inside is irrelevant to the job.

Let me close with a great moment from the lives of two of the world’s greatest actors, Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. They were filming Marathon Man and the scene to be shot was supposed to be about Hoffman’s character having stayed awake for 24 hours. Hoffman, being a method actor, wanted to do the scene for real – so he stayed up for 24 hours before the filming. Of course, he could not remember his lines and he was screwing up left and right. Olivier, to be helpful, said to him, “My dear boy, if you had learned how to act you wouldn’t have had to stay up all night!”

Great advice.

Enjoy Frank’s web site at Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!, I Am a Dice Controller! And I Am a Card Counter! Available at, Barnes and Noble, ebooks and at bookstores.

Did I Die?


On January 9, 2007 I received the Last Rites at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The priest who gave me the last rites was Father Donovan. Strangely enough a priest in my parish on Long Island is also a Father Donovan, although maybe there are many Father Donovans across the country.

I have no memory of the Last Rites. I have no memory of this particular Father Donovan. I have little memory of most of a 48-hour period when I was almost dead to the world.

On the morning of January 9, I had a Grand Mal seizure while visiting my son Greg and my daughter-in-law Dawn in New Jersey. Actually my son Greg was on a business trip to Las Vegas (lucky man!) and we were helping Dawn with our beautiful grandson, John Charles. My seizure happened around 1:45AM. I went to sleep on January 8, feeling just fine – actually feeling happy as could be having played with my grandson for two days – and woke up at noon, actually semi-woke-up, on January 9 in the ICU of the hospital.

Thankfully my wife, the beautiful A.P., woke up while I was having this seizure, saw me thrashing in bed uttering animal sounds and she immediately called the ambulance service when she couldn’t rouse me.

One of the members of the ambulance service lives across the street from my son and daughter-in-law. I’ve been told that I thanked him in a very personal way by throwing up on him in the ambulance. “It was projectile vomit,” A.P. later told me. Great, I can be the new secret weapon against the terrorists.

I have no memory of that, thankfully, but we did send a donation to the ambulance corps and a thank you letter to the guy I threw up on.

I have no memory of the ambulance ride or of my time in the emergency room or the nurses shoving a catheter into my penis or an air tube down my lungs. I have no memory of the CAT Scan, the MRI or the MRA or the MRV that were done either.

I came swimming up from the elsewhere to hear a doctor, Sotolongo, ask me to blink my eyes, which I did, and wiggle my toes, which I did, and squeeze her hands, which I did. Dr. Sotolongo seemed to be a million miles away in some distant world that my eyes were just barely seeing. I wasn’t even quite sure of whom I was – my self-consciousness came back slowly in a world of haze.

The beautiful A.P.’s face floated behind the doctor and I then knew something before I even knew what was going on with me – something I guess I knew all my life – this beautiful person was the little girl in the projects, this was the girl in the school yard, this was the girl of my life, through my schooling, through a disastrous first marriage, through wild journeys into other dimensions, through witnessing murders, through a teaching career, right through to today where I gain great joy beating the casinos at their own games. My God, A.P. had been with me all the time – I knew this without really knowing it and she has no recollection of this at all – until she reads this book.

Floating in the haze behind her was my younger son Michael. A.P. explained to me what was happening, “You’ve had a seizure. You are going to be all right.” I couldn’t talk because of the ventilator in my lung. (“It’s you; you were the one through it all. I see now, I see everything now. I want to tell you! I’ve got to talk to you! You’ve been in other worlds with me! I knew you before I knew you and you knew me!”) This book is going to talk to her because I haven’t said anything since I once more became my conscious self. As I swam in semi-conscious waters, I could also feel something in my penis. But my head was swimming far away in the deep waters and I was mostly under those waters. Still it was good to see my wife and son.

And I was under again.

When next I awoke, the air hose and whatever else they had down my throat were out and the catheter was out of my penis. I have a dim recollection of them pulling those things out of me but strong drugs prevented me from feeling any pain – or much of anything. (Let’s hear it for strong life saving drugs!) I was now in the ICU section of the hospital when I woke up. My nurse was Deborah, a friendly, highly professional nurse. I rewarded her by peeing in the bed three times. I couldn’t control it because the catheter made it hard to keep everything back. I also found it impossible to actually keep myself awake for very long periods of time, like more than a minute – or remember much of what was said to me or what I said to others when I was awake. The beautiful A.P. tells me I talked quite a bit in the ICU but I don’t remember anything except apologizing for peeing in the bed.

In the past, maybe three times, I had fainted because of dehydration but I had never had a seizure. The initial thought was that I had suffered a stroke. Poor A.P. had to grapple with the idea that I might be seriously impaired because of this stroke/seizure. Thankfully, the CAT scan, the MRI, MRV and MRA showed no new damage to my brain, although I did have evidence of an old injury (this I knew already) – in fact, my brain was in pretty good shape, all things considered.

My neurologist thinks it is possible that my “career” as a boxer in the mid-1960s might be the cause of the brain injury that the CAT scan shows. I put “career” in quotes because while I had 19 fights, largely against really poor amateur boxers, I did not have the will or the skill to become a polished amateur, much less a professional boxer.

I was just a stupid college student looking for the thrill of individual, competitive sport. I’ve written about some of my athletic experiences in baseball and basketball in other books, but my boxing “career” hasn’t touched a page – until now that is.

My last fight, number 19, saw me take on an opponent who was far superior to me. In those days, I used to weigh about 135 pounds and I was in stupendous shape. I would run five days a week – 6 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, and 12 miles. I could swim two miles at a clip. I could do one thousand sit-ups. I could do 100 pushups, 100 chin ups, 100 pull ups, 100 dips and I could do a pushup almost no one could do – slapping both of my hands behind my back. Those of you young enough to attempt it – give it a try. I could do 25 of them. Those of you who are too old – well, you can pretend that in your prime you might have been able to do one or two of these.

I thought of myself as superman. Yes, hubris reigned supreme in my little brain.

And hubris allowed me to step into the ring with opponent number 19, a Golden Gloves champion, and while I showed him that I did have a good punch and I did have fast hands and fast combinations, I didn’t have the skill to really compete with an A-level fighter.

He came out for the first round and immediately ducked into one of my uppercuts. A big mistake some boxers make is ducking into punches before any punches are thrown. He did this. I’m guessing he figured I would not have much of an uppercut since very few amateur fighters have good uppercuts. I fooled him. I did have a good uppercut – with both hands too. He bent down into me and I unleashed a beauty, catching him full in the face. Down he went. I wish the fight had ended there.

It didn’t.

He was up quickly, before the ref could even count. That was the big moment of the fight for me because when he got up the rest of round one was he whacking me around the ring.

After round one my nose bled profusely. In my previous fights I rarely got hit. I was usually too strong and too fast for my opponents, who – please remember this – were not very good. This guy was very good. While I was able to land some shots, he countered with better shots of his own. Indeed, in truth, in point of fact, in all honesty – he was beating the crap out of me.

Midway through the second round, I tried another uppercut – and he was ready. I was skidding somewhat along the ropes and I saw him duck low – actually he faked ducking low, figuring I’d figure I’d nail him with my uppercut again, and I dropped my right for the big uppercut. Instead of continuing down, he came up fast and hit me with a left hook before I could bring my right hand back up to protect that side of my face.

I could see all this in slow motion, too, which was really weird because even my memory of this shot to my unprotected face plays itself out in slow motion. I knew as the hook headed for my jaw that I was going to be hit hard. I kept thinking, I won’t be able to get my right hand up to protect my face. I won’t be able to get my right hand up to protect my face.

I was not able to get my right hand up to protect my face.

Then I was at the water cooler, blood pouring out of my nose. I was drinking water. Another boxer was next to me. “What happened?” I asked. “Was I knocked out?”

“No, no,” he said. “You did really well in the third round. You battled him like a maniac. You lost a decision.”

Third round? Lost a decision? Battled him like a maniac? I have no memory of the rest of that fight from the time the left hook headed for my jaw midway through the second round until I woke up at the water cooler – probably seven minutes of “no time.” When I headed back to my fraternity house on campus, I knew I was in bad shape, light headed, nauseous, still bleeding from my nose and aware that I had stupidly been in the ring with someone who made me look like what I was – a total pretender when it came to being a boxer.

I checked myself into the infirmary. I was there for six days – with fever, chills, and the need to sleep. The very first hour they had to cauterize my nose – which entails burning away veins that won’t behave themselves because they keep bleeding.

That fight taught me two valuable lessons – keep your right up until the opponent’s head actually goes down – and screw fighting again. Having taken such a beating, having lost consciousness for at least seven minutes while my body must have been on automatic pilot, was enough to hammer home that a career in boxing was not for me – I would not become the white Muhammad Ali.

That fight might also be the reason for the signs of an old brain injury that the CAT scans pick up. I can’t think of any other serious blows to the head I ever received, except for that wicked left hook, which did leave me unconscious even though my body seems to have worked on its own for those seven minutes of no time. Talk about the will to survival!

I don’t relish the thought as I hit the age of 60 [I am now 71] that I am going to have to worry about seizures now. I wonder what would have happened had I been in a hotel room, alone, on one of my many trips to the casinos when such a seizure hit. My neurologist thinks that I would probably just wake up about eight hours later, very sore, and somewhat confused but none the worse for wear.

Ironically, I think the reason I took to casino gambling in terms of advantage-play is the same reason I enjoyed being an athlete and a boxer – I like the competition. The fact that the casinos are greedy gargantuan Goliaths makes it that much more fun to slay them in blackjack, craps, video poker, [in banking] slots, and Pai Gow poker. I teach seminars in all ways to beat the house. Yes, even the lowly slot machines – the very worst bets in the casino – have some machines that on occasion can be positive expectations for savvy players.

Thankfully all my brain tests have come back showing that I am okay. The EEG, which I took a week after my seizure, does not show anything wrong in my gray matter either. Still at 60, the time has come to reveal it all to my readers in order to make some sense of it – talk about my first love, talk about the games I beat, the casinos I play in, my in-laws, the great Captain, my trips into the Weird World of Astral Traveling, the murders I know about, my career as a teacher and some other things as well.

I want you to read this book [The Virgin Kiss] and tell me, if you can, what it is all about because I just don’t know what the theme is. When I was 20 years old, I knew it all. At 60, I haven’t a clue. I am basically going backwards from now to when, as that is how our memory works. Travel with me and maybe you can explain my life to me.

[This is an excerpt from my book The Virgin Kiss.]

Of Mice and Men and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ve got a mouse,” I said.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you are?”

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

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

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

“Mice! We’ve got mice!” I said.

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

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


“Under the couch!” I said.

“Call the exterminator,” she said calmly.

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

“How big was it?” she asked.

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

“Small, baby size.”

“Well, call the exterminator,” she said.

“Yes, yes…oh, crap!”

“What? What?”

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

“You sure this is a different one?”

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

“Don’t panic,” she said.

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

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

(Godzilla! Godzilla-size!)

“Small. Another baby,” I said.

“Can you catch it and throw it outside?”

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

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

“It’s a damn mouse!”

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

“Didn’t the Japanese kill Godzilla!?”

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

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

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

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

“You clean the net afterwards.”

“Oh, yeah, right, I’ll clean it.”

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

“But the mice….”

She hung up.

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

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

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

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

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

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



Big and Little Irritations


My wife the Beautiful AP hates when I get on a soap box and start preaching but sometimes you’ve got to let some of your irritations go, even if they are only little ones. These are mostly little with a few big ones. I’m not going to pontificate on them (too much); I’m just going to state them. I am not, however, going to let my wife read this even though she is my first and most trusted editor because if she disagrees with something I write then I erase the damn thing because she is almost always right, damnit. (A major problem I have is a smart and beautiful wife. It can be so annoying.)

  1. First the Yankees. Mr. Cashman, save your money and go all out to get Mike Trout in two years. Then the Yankees go down with three of the four best centerfielders of all time: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout. Of course, New York Giants’ Willie Mays cannot be left off that list so I’ll pretend he was a Yankee. When Joe DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak he struck out about 13 times that season! (Derek Jeter averaged over 100 and Judge will be over 200 this year!) DiMaggio had to hit balls to left center in Yankee stadium which was (hold your breath) 460 feet away! Imagine the number of homers he would have hit today with fields that are all far shorter than they used to be?
  2. Empire Casino: I hate the commercials for the Empire Casino because they are out-and-out subterfuges accompanied by upbeat music. One is an idiot doing idiot things and winning and the commercial makes it look as if this is why he wins. A person could blow his nose and then win at a game; the two things are not related. The other commercial has five people simultaneously winning the biggest jackpots on their machines – each sitting next to each other. Never saw even two people win the monster jackpots sitting next to each other at the same time. I’ve written an entire article on this stuff for the 888 website for the fall season.
  3. Anti-semitism? Are you kidding? College campuses are rife with it. There is no dialogue about Israel or Jews. A pro-Israel student has to wear armor to open his or her mouth.
  4. No holocaust? On my block in Brooklyn my father’s friend Kaplan the Butcher had this crummy tattoo in his arm. Why would he put that crap on his arm? Navy guys had better tattoos. And then a group of women and men opened a supermarket three doors down from my father’s store. They all had those shitty tattoos. I asked my father about them and he said I had to be older to understand. I was a kid then; I’m older now and now I know what really happened to these people.
  5. Cable News: I have basically stopped watching news shows. I used to watch three of them; MSNBC, CNN and FOX (never network shows). I’ve jettisoned them from my life. I am now so cynical I can’t listen to any politician, no matter what persuasion, without realizing they are all (I do hope it is not all) crooks and phonies. I used to like New York State assemblyman Dean Skelos, he seemed very committed to the community – he’s on his way to prison! I now watch the major league baseball channel.
  6. DC Movies: People who say the movies about DC characters are all bad are not right. Some DC movies are excellent. Marvel is top dog with just about all of its movies but do not discount DC. I’ll have some articles on this in the future. (By the way, I wrote for Marvel when I was a college kid. Marvel was not the billion-dollar enterprise it is today. Maybe I gave that job up too soon?)
  7. New Cars: There is no such thing as a real price for a new car; just check out the commercials. Every month there is a new “sale” or “event” that saves everybody loads of cash. Are they kidding? Do these companies ever have a month that is billed as “no sale” or “no event”? The car companies have developed a message that is a subterfuge just as have some of the casino companies. (The Tru Network has a show titled Adam Ruins Everything that really looks into this car stuff.)
  8. Eating Well: I love eating at gourmet restaurants and at almost-gourmet restaurants, perhaps that’s why I am somewhat overweight (about 100 pounds) but I have avoided fast food and franchises. But my lovely wife the Beautiful AP and I were in a suburb in Austin, Texas a couple of months ago (she was in a violin sharing) and we didn’t feel like making the trek into Austin proper so we ate at – oh, my God! – Olive Garden and you know what? It was quite good. Not gourmet but the food was decent and the wait service was excellent. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat there again. Although I am not planning on going to Austin anytime soon.
  9. UFOs: I do not like UFOs, especially if they are alien space crafts, because – let’s face it folks – their technology is not much better than what we have. I also think if they are so advanced why do they have to shove stuff up the butts of the people they kidnap? And why can’t they just clone themselves or do some other fancy genetic something to save their race if they are dying out as abduction advocates advocate? Arthur C. Clarke said that advanced alien technology would seem like magic to us – well, there’s no magic in the UFOs, that’s for sure.
  10. Ghosts: They annoy the hell (or heaven) out of me too. These “spirits” go up and down hallways, time after time, and they do this, that or the other thing time after time. They are all idiots! There is no intelligence exhibited by any of them. What is Einstein’s ghost doing right now, cutting the hairs in his nose? And Stephen Hawking’s ghost? Is he just racing his wheelchair up and down a hall and jabbering idiotically? Leads me to conclude the shows – done in “night vision” for some idiotic reason – are just as idiotic as the ghosts that they pretend exist.

Thank you!

Read Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! Available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores.


War and Peace


I spend many hours writing in my office, where I also look out at the trees and bushes and the astonishing number of birds that come to our three feeders. I can’t actually identify them all. But I am learning…slowly.

These three feeders are right outside the windows of my office and since my office is basically three-quarters windows I have a great view of nature every day.

My wife the Beautiful AP likes to go into the backyard and take pictures of the birds (and trees and bees and plants and bushes and butterflies) but yesterday was a different day. AP was busy going over some pictures she had taken earlier when I saw them at the feeders, two (what I think were) grackles, one black, the other gray.

The gray one stayed on the top bar of the feeder away from the other birds while the black one went to the grain in the feeders, shoving aside the sparrows, and put some feed in his beak and flew back to the gray one and fed her beak-to-beak. He did this over and over again. I called the Beautiful AP over to take a look and maybe get a picture of this.

I know that mother birds and often father birds will feed their chicks in their nests but these two birds were basically the same size so I assumed they were both adults and since males tend to be more colorful than female birds I made the assumption that the magnificent black bird was male and the somewhat less magnificent gray bird was female.

“I’ve never seen anything like this with two adult birds,” said AP attempting to take a picture through the window.

These two (lovebirds? mated birds? courting birds?) continued in this fashion for about fifteen minutes and then they both flew away.

“What do you think?” I asked AP.

“The only thing I know,” she replied, “is you can’t get a decent picture through a window.”

She hadn’t. Too bad. What the heck was actually going on? Was I right in some of my assumptions?

A while later I saw her tromping around the backyard with her sunhat on her head and the camera at her eyes. I wondered what she was photographing.

I found out when she came into the house about a half hour later.

“I got two blue jays at war,” she said. “They were really going after each other. First a cardinal attempted to scare off the first blue jay but the jay just lunged for the cardinal and the cardinal flew away really fast.”

“Blue jays are tough birds,” I said. “I can see they probably evolved from dinosaurs a few million years ago. They’ve got that attitude.”

“Well, the cardinal turned tail. Literally,” she said.

“Our lovebirds didn’t come back,” I said.

“No,” she said, “but then another blue jay came over and these two blue jays were not friends. They went at each other along the fence. I think I might have gotten a decent picture of them going at it. I would think those two were not lovebirds unless it was violent love. They’re aggressive.”

Yes, they are. I have heard and read many stories where blue jays have attacked people for getting too close to the nest – like about 30 feet! They are dangerous birds and when they come to the feeder most of the other birds get away, to a different feeder or altogether out of there.

I did see one blue jay get killed when a cat nailed him and scattered the blue jay’s feathers and guts under the bird feeders. Okay, I admit, blue jays can’t defeat cats.

I have been now watching birds in a somewhat serious manner for two years – more or less – and they fascinate me. First thing, they can fly! Give me my choice of a single superpower and flying would be it. I don’t need super strength because if someone were bothering I could – snap! – just up and fly away, just like that cardinal did.

So today I experienced two aspects of the bird world; love and warfare. Some relationships combine them. Just like Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and warfare; go together like a horse, carriage and carnage.” AP and I are thankful that our relationship is love minus the warfare, once I learned that in marriage one person is always right…and the other is the husband.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!; I Am a Dice Controller and I Am a Card Counter. All of Frank’s books are available from, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Read Frank’s ongoing series about his teaching experiences in School Scobe.

The Craziest Kid I Ever Taught

1969: GERRY, The Rat Boy

This is the story of the craziest kid I ever taught who also taught me a valuable lesson; that lesson being that I wouldn’t love every kid I ever taught – and some would be out of their damn minds. Getting your eyes opened in the very first year of your teaching career – starting on the very first day of your teaching career – was more of an education than I ever got taking the education courses that I needed to get certified in New York State.

Okay, let me set the mood. I came out of college with three majors (literature, history and philosophy) and decided that I didn’t want to work the business world where I had been fired many times and so I went into education. I wanted to be the best teacher that ever existed and also become a world famous writer. That’s a character trait of mine – I always want to be the best I can be at whatever I try – be it basketball, baseball, boxing, teaching, writing, and casino advantage play. I was filled with fire and with insane ideas I had learned in the education courses I took the summer before my first teaching assignment. I actually thought I could reach every kid I taught. It never dawned on me that there would be some kids I didn’t want to reach or even touch for that matter, Gerry being one.

That first class was huge, thirty-seven 7th graders. Now some of you may have forgotten what 7th graders look like. They’re a disconcerting amalgam of adult and infantile characteristics; mature bodies with elementary school heads sitting atop them; or little kid bodies with adult heads; or diminutive creatures with huge feet, or somewhat proportional bodies hosting teeth so monstrous that it’s a wonder any mouth could accommodate them. If a normal 7th grader is a wonder to behold, imagine what a wacko one looks like.

And Gerry was wacko.

He sat in the second seat of the middle row. I didn’t see him at first because he was so little even the little Korean kid (Peter Kim) who sat in front of Gerry actually obliterated Gerry from view.  Gerry tended to hunch over and he looked like a bizarre crossbred rodent – part rat, part ferret, and part squirrel – with teeth that would do a chipmunk proud. To this day I fondly recall him as “Rat Boy” because when I first glimpsed him I thought, “Jesus, that kid looks like a rat.”

I realized as I took attendance that first day that something was amiss. When I called out his name instead of the standard yo’s and here’s, I heard growling noises coming from his area. I looked over to see who it was and I saw Rat Boy growling into his notebook. Actually he was growling while eating the cover of his notebook.

“Excuse me,” I said, “notebooks are for writing in, not eating.”

“Ignore him,” said Peter Kim. “He’s crazy.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” I said in my best adult tone. Keep in mind I was a just-turned 22 year old and my mind was filled with the unreal educational idiocy that a 12-year-old kid couldn’t be Looney-Tunes. “We should respect each other,” I concluded.

“I respect him,” said Peter Kim. “He’s just crazy.”

I glanced at the rest of the class. No one seemed to care in the least that Peter called this poor, shriveled rat-kid crazy or that, in fact, the kid was crazy. Indeed, a few kids nodded in agreement.

I decided to move on.

“In any case, Gerry, I don’t think it’s a good idea to eat your notebook,” I said lamely.

Gerry looked up and I saw his eyes for the first time – beady, bloodshot, rodent little eyes. He looked at me as if I were a piece of cheese. Then he put his head down and continued eating his notebook. I didn’t really know what to do so I let it ride.

If Gerry had confined himself to only eating his notebooks and assorted other classroom products, this story would be about some other kid. As any veteran teacher knows, kids will eat assorted school supplies, sometimes in great quantities, including pen tops, pen tips, pencils of lead or graphite, paper, hard or soft book covers, book bindings of string or glue, and some kids will go as far as to nibble on film strips or the edges of their desks. In short, a kid’s culinary palate can easily handle the mundane aspects of the normal classroom menu. If a kid isn’t learning, he’s eating.

But Gerry took his Epicurean treats into the realm of the unique. Several days later, as I was teaching a particularly boring lesson on subject-verb agreements, I heard a snap, snap, snapping coming from his area. I figured he was eating another pencil since he had eaten several #2 soft pencils in prior days. So I didn’t pay it any mind. However, the snap, snap, snapping continued and occasionally I’d hear a little flutter, flutter, flutter – at least in the beginning of the snapping.

Finally I looked over Peter Kim’s shoulder to see what was going on. Gerry was eating a little bird – it resembled a destroyed Tufted Titmouse. He had snapped, snapped, snapped the little thing to pieces on his desk and he was devouring little snippets of wing and leg. There wasn’t much blood because he hadn’t yet gotten round to the underbelly, but his razor-sharp incisors gnawed away like mad. By this time the bird was mercifully dead.

The other kids in the class ignored him; an unusual thing as you all know because kids, even big, high school ones, will use anything as an excuse to justify an assortment of groans, whelps, catcalls, farts, burps and other noises in order to annoy their teachers and diminish work time. But not when it came to Gerry. No sir, Gerry could have been eating an African lowland gorilla and the kids would have pretended nothing was out of the ordinary. You see, Gerry the Rat Boy was truly, magnificently crazy and the truly, magnificently crazy can silence any forced craziness even 7th graders adopt. No one wants to mess with the truly crazy – that’s why we put many of them away in hospitals.

Of course, I didn’t let him finish his meal; it would have ruined his lunch. I took the bird away and threw it out the window. Being a first-year teacher, I thought the principal would be helpful. He wasn’t. He told me that all the students had “individual needs” and that I should try to meet those individual needs. I tried to explain to him that short of opening an ornithology workshop in the class, I didn’t see how the feeding frenzy of a Rat Boy came under the province of subject-verb agreements. I ended the conference by sarcastically showing the movie Rodan, about giant birds that eat Japan, to the class.

This principal, Dr. Denton, and I never got along after that. I alienated my first principal within a few days of starting my first teaching job, not a good thing to do.

In the following weeks Gerry ate an assortment of flora and fauna, furniture and fixtures that could have earned him a lasting spot in The Guinness Book of World Records. And all of us in the class ignored him.

Until he started eating himself.

That’s where I drew the line in the sand.

I’m not kidding, one day Gerry started to nibble away at himself. It would have been an interesting, albeit bloody, experiment to see how far he could have gotten. He was pretty skinny so he probably could have finished himself in a week. But I didn’t let it go that far. Even back then I had some standards.

He jabbed a Bic extra fine point pen into his hand and nibbled off the pieces of skin that separated. He slurped up the blood and ink as he did so. Now, him eating himself didn’t bother me the most but the noise did. Do you have idea of what it’s like teaching “The Tell-Tale Heart” and in the background there’s a constant gnashing and slurping? Not an easy feat, I’ll tell you.

So I walked over to him and grabbed his hand – not the one he was eating since that was all bloody – but the one he was eating with – and said, “Now, Gerry, it’s impolite to eat yourself in class.”

And with a fierce growl, he bit my hand!

I tried to continue with my lesson – since I was one of those teachers who thought his lessons were important – but Gerry had a strong hold. I guess I should have seen it from his point of view, which is what you learn in education courses; repeat after me, no one is responsible for his or her own behavior. Hey, I had this big, meaty hand and Gerry had this skinny, almost bony hand – which would you rather eat? But at the time the pain was rather intense for me to see his side of it. All I wanted was to get the Rat Boy to let go of me.

So I yanked and yanked again and yanked yet again as strong as I could and he released my hand from his mouth. I was bleeding. Even though my hand was no longer in his mouth, his teeth were chopping away – like those monsters in the movies that are killed but their skulls keep snapping away trying to eat the hero and heroine.

I grabbed Gerry by the throat, gently of course as he was a student and I was a teacher, and said, “I think you should see the school nurse.”

Before I could utter another syllable, Gerry jumped up and out of my grasp. “I’ll die first!” he screamed and ran to the window and before anyone could stop him, he opened it and jumped out.

Unfortunately, my classroom was on the first floor. Gerry plummeted all of three feet. I could see the top of his little rat head at the windowsill. I reached out, grabbed him, and hauled him back into the classroom. I then carried him to the nurse’s office, right across the hall from my classroom.

Now the nurse, Mrs. Delaney, was a kindly woman, always on a diet. She was eating her lunch at her desk, her daily custom, from an assorted array of Tupperware containers. I informed her that Gerry had been eating himself, then tried to commit suicide by jumping out the window. She looked kindly at Gerry, put her fork into her Tupperware container, and rang for the principal.

By this time, Gerry sat in a chair, growling softly, and eyeing the nurse’s Tupperware container. Could he still be hungry? What an appetite this kid must have, I thought.

Seconds later the principal arrived. He asked me what was going on. I related the story. The principal looked at Gerry, no longer growling and looking innocent as a lamb (well, innocent as a lamb that looked like a rat) then back at me. “It seems you didn’t heed my advice,” he said. “You have to individualize instruction and meet the needs of the students.”

“The kid was eating himself, Doctor Denton, eating himself! Should I have given him some salt? And then he bit me!” I held out my left hand to show him where Gerry had taken a small piece of my hand. (If you ever meet me, ask me to show you the scar.)

“You probably provoked him,” said Doctor Denton knowingly.

“He’d eat you if given half a chance,” I said.

“I am sure it is not half as bad as you make it sound,” he said.

Gerry saw his half a chance. He grabbed the fork from the nurse’s Tupperware container and in one, smooth, swift motion plunged it through Doctor Denton’s gray, thin, pinstriped, polyester suit jacket and into his back, just next to the shoulder blade.  The one thing you should know about polyester is that it doesn’t absorb blood as well as good old-fashioned cotton or corduroy. A big, red blot appeared almost immediately on the principal’s back, the fork still embedded there.

The principal picked Gerry up – and none too gently I might say – and carried him down the hall to his office. What a sight – the principal barreling down the hallway, Gerry hissing as he hung over Doctor Denton’s shoulder, with the fork sticking out of the other side of Doctor Denton’s back.

Then the bell rang and hundreds of junior high kids streamed into the hallway with Doctor Denton making his way through them – and none too gently either – as he finally staggered into his office.

I wish I could tell you that the story ended here. It didn’t. Of course, Gerry did not come back to class that week, or the next, or the next. The following week, Doctor Denton told me to meet him in his office after school. We had some clashes in the three previous weeks, even without the presence of the Rat Boy, and I thought he would read me the riot act as he had every week since I started teaching there – or fire me (which he ultimately did during my second year at that school). So I went to his office after school.

“Mr. Scobe,” he said (everyone called me Scobe or Mr. Scobe and when I taught in high school two years later I was called King Scobe – a title I feel I deserved). “I think I’ve been wrong about you – well, somewhat wrong, not totally wrong. But in some things I might have been wrong. Well, in one thing I might have been wrong.”

“And that one thing is?” I asked.

“I thought you weren’t able to reach each and every student – for example that Gerry child. But evidently you do.”

“Thank you,” I said. What the hell was he getting at?

“Yes, I was just on the phone with Gerry’s mother. She says Gerry has really taken a liking to you.”

“God, really?”

“Yes,” he replied. “A real liking. That’s why we want you to home tutor him.”

“Excuse me?”

“Gerry’s mother says that he can relate to you.”

“We’re both mammals (a rat, a human),” I said, then added, “Well, I guess that’s nice but…”

“Oh, no buts about it. We’ve had our problems, you and me, but for me to ask you back for next year, I have to see some evidence…”

“That I’m crazy enough to go to that maniac’s house?”

“I would not put it that way,” said Doctor Denton.

“What way would you put it?”

“To be an educator requires a true commitment to the students.”

“I should be committed if I went to his house,” I said. I think one of the reason’s Dr. Denton didn’t like me is that I said what I said without too many “educationese” filters blocking out what I really felt. Also I had a fistfight with him – but that came in the second year, when he fired me. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

“Okay, I will ask you one more time, will you home tutor Gerry?”

We eyed each other over his desk. I didn’t want to get fired and Doctor Denton could fire me just like that since I had no tenure. After all, my wife didn’t work – in fact, she only worked for a couple of months in all our 18 years of marriage because she didn’t like to work. I knew she was home, reading a murder mystery where some husband who lost his job was probably brutally slaughtered by his wife, and I knew that there was only one answer to Doctor Denton’s question.

“Hell, no,” I said.

“Then I am going to terminate your employment here,” he said.

“Just kidding,” I said. “I’d be delighted to do it seeing as you’ll let me finish out this first year and start a second year, yes?

“Of course,” he said. “We always want to see fine, young teachers get a chance to establish themselves. And you will also get fifteen dollars per hour to tutor him too.”

I nodded yes and shook the principal’s hand, thus sealing my fate. I would actually enter the lair of the craziest kid I would ever teach.

When I returned home that evening, I informed my wife that I was going to the house of Gerry the Rat Boy to home tutor him the next day. After checking to see that our insurance was paid up, my wife said, “Sure, fine, go. We could use an extra fifteen dollars a week.”

I didn’t sleep well that night. I realized that I might have made a very big, perhaps fatal, mistake. This kid had shown himself capable of eating anything – including himself. What would his parents be like? A rodent doesn’t crawl too far from the family tree, does it? Maybe this family did this every year. Maybe they were cannibals and once a year ordered out for a teacher to dine on. Maybe they wanted me as a snack? Yes, please send over Mr. Scobe as we would like to dine on him tonight.

I woke up in the middle of the night in a profound sweat. The next few hours might very well be my last on earth.

I then woke my wife up. “Honey,” I said. “I might be facing death tomorrow.” She mumbled something. “What was that? What was that you said?” I asked.

“Increase your life insurance,” she mumbled and then fell back into a deep sleep.

That day I taught my classes but my mind was elsewhere. It didn’t really matter because my students’ minds were elsewhere too – as they almost always were every day anyway. I kept thinking I had never had a book published – or even an article – and now I would die never having completed my destiny to be a great writer. Damn! The hour was approaching when I would go to Gerry’s house.

And the fatal last bell of the day rang.

After the students exited the building, I went to my car. Doctor Denton stood proudly in the parking lot waving goodbye to the buses, then he saw me, and shouted, “Good luck today Mr. Scobe!” His smile looked as if he were hoping I would be killed and eaten!

I turned the key in the ignition and then prayed. At that time I was an atheist but that didn’t matter. I prayed to every god whose name I had ever heard of because maybe one of them was up there listening and would see me through this ordeal.

Now Gerry lived in a relatively rural area of Long Island with no sidewalks, no street lights, houses tucked into the woods so you couldn’t see your neighbors and they couldn’t hear you if you screamed as a knife was being plunged into your heart because you were stupid enough to show up to tutor the Rat Boy who was now ripping away at your body, tearing large chunks of your stomach out and eating them raw and Oh, my God! I thought to myself, as these visions passed through my mind. Then I said in a whisper, “Scobe get a hold of yourself.”

I found his house. It looked almost normal if you ignored the little gravestones on the front lawn; yes, little grave markers covered parts of the front lawn of the property. Each one had a little something written on it in Gerry’s weasely scrawl. I read one. “Here lies Ralphie, a good puppy.” I read more. “Here lies Dino, a good lizard.” “Here lies Bubba, the good blue bird.” “Here lies Alphonse, a good friend.” I hoped Alphonse hadn’t been a human. A thought flashed – would a grave marker say next week: “Here lies Mr. Scobe, a good English teacher”?

Put this out of your mind, I said to myself. I took a deep breath and went to the front door. I lifted my hand to ring the bell and saw that my hand shook like mad. What am I doing here?

Then I heard a man singing, beautiful singing too, “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Beautiful singing; great voice.

I rang the bell. Several heartbeats later, the singing stopped, and several heartbeats after that the door opened. I don’t know what I really expected to see – probably some demented looking adult with wild, unkempt hair and pointy teeth wiping his face with claws – so it surprised me to see a normal looking man of about 40, maybe five-foot six inches tall, dressed immaculately in a tuxedo jacket, frilly tuxedo shirt, and black bow tie. Probably this must have been the man I heard singing. I later found out that this man was a professional nightclub singer of some renown which was unfortunate because he was shot dead in a mob hit while he sing “My Way.” Indeed, before me stood Gerry’s father.

He smiled, “Mr. Scobe?”

I had almost relaxed as I smiled back (Whew! He’s normal!) and almost uttered hello when I realized something was wrong, seriously wrong. Oh, yeah, this nightclub singer, immaculately dressed from the waist up – but if you looked lower, from the waste down he was naked – he’s stark naked! – with his, with his…microphone hanging there for all to see and that “all” was actually only me.

Now I don’t know about you but when someone is exposed in front of me I want to look. Well, I don’t mean I want to look, I mean I have an irresistible urge to look. It can be a man, a woman, a wildebeest – if their naked self stands before me my eyes keep going to you know where. I fought it this time. But my damn eyes wanted to look down. So instead I put my head up and kept looking at the sky.

“You Mr. Scobe?” he said once again.

“Uh, yes,” I said, looking at the sky.

“Come on in,” he said, swinging the door wide open. “Gerry’s waiting for you.”

I started to walk in but bumped into the side of the house because I was still looking at the sky. It’s hard to see where you are going with your head pointed heavenward. So I angled my head down a little, just a fraction, so I could get through the doorway.

“You got a stiff neck?” Gerry’s father asked.

“A stiff what!?” I reacted terrified.

“I asked if you had a stiff neck,” he said calmly.

“Neck, God, great,” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“No, no, my neck is fine…I have…a…a nosebleed,” I lied. “I get them all the time. It’ll go away.”

“You know what’s good for a nosebleed?” he asked.

“No, what?”

“Singing,” he said.

With his microphone hanging there like that I wasn’t about to sing a duet with the man, so I said, “No, no thanks, I’m in a bit of a rush…ah…I have to pick up my wife at work.”

“My wife is in the kitchen. She wants to meet you before you go upstairs to Gerry’s room.”

“Okay,” I said, “which way?”

“To your right and down the hall,” he said and I could see out of the corner of my upturned eye that he was indicating the direction with his hand.

“Thanks,” I said, then turned right and walked into the wall.

“No wonder you get nosebleeds,” he said, “you’re always bumping into things.”

“Yeah,” I forced a laugh, and thought, And as long as you don’t bump into me, I’ll be all right.

            Get a hold of yourself, one part of me thought, the man is normal, almost. He has a wife, a kid, he’s normal.

            Oh, yeah, right, he’s normal, the other part of me thought, sure he’s normal. You idiot! His son is Gerry the Rat Boy. The man probably doinked a giant rat to produce him!

            Shut up, my first part said to my other part, Get this over with by just walking down the hall into the kitchen and meet his wife.

            Oh, Lord, and what a wife she was! She could have been four wives. She was a tall woman because even though she was kneeling on the kitchen floor praying she seemed almost as tall as me. She had to weigh 500 pounds if she were an ounce. Five hundred pounds in all directions too – a Mount Kilimanjaro but with this molehill of a head (there’s that rat theme again), a teeny-tiny head sitting atop a flesh mountain. She chanted incantations about Satan and his demons swarming around her. “Get away! Get away! The Lord Jesus Christ of the Last Supper and the Cross and the Resurrection says to get away from me Satan!”

I coughed.

Her mole-head turned to look at me. At first it was as if I weren’t there. Maybe she thought I was one of Satan’s demons, but then she smiled and struggled to lift her mountainous bulk. She sweated profusely, with some little flecks of foam in the corners of her lips. Gerry had eaten pens, pencils, furniture – his mother had eaten a house!

“Mr. Scobe?” she panted.

Please don’t eat me! I screamed inside my head. Please don’t eat me! God, don’t let her eat me! I’ll believe in you if you get me through this!

            She trundled towards me. “Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice coming from that monstrous body was soft and feminine. I came out of my trance.

“Yeah, yes, I’m okay, yeah, fine, okay,” I said.

“Have Satan’s hordes and legions gotten to you?” she asked sweetly.

“No, no, I think I have indigestion,” I said.

“I have that sometimes,” she cooed and then she angled her mole-head heavenwards, “but the good Lord cleanses me as does a physic I take each night.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry. I have another kid to tutor after Gerry,” I lied and for effect looked at my wrist. I wasn’t wearing a watch but I looked at my wrist as if I were. Actually I didn’t know what I was doing, but as I looked at my wrist I thought: My time is running out.

            Then I heard loud singing coming down the hall, which meant Gerry’s father was heading this way.

“Can’t I go tutor Gerry?” I pleaded.

“I must first rid you of all the demons that surround you. You have many demons in you young man,” she chanted.

“I really don’t have time for that,” I said looking at my wrist again.

“Everyone has time for the Lord,” she answered sweetly.

Just then Gerry’s father entered the room. My eyes shot to the ceiling.

“Still have that nosebleed?” he asked.

“No,” said Gerry’s mother, “he is looking to God to rid him of his demons.”

“Oh, ho! ho! ho!” guffawed the father.

“James,” said Gerry’s mother, “how many times have I told you not to walk around the house like that?”

Oh, good, I thought, she’s going to make him put on the rest of his clothes.

“Now take off your good clothes immediately,” she said.

“Yes, dear,” he said and left the room.

“My husband doesn’t believe,” she confided in me.

“Oh,” I said. I wanted to say, you mean he doesn’t believe in wearing pants?

“He doesn’t believe in Satan and his onions,” she whispered.

Onions? Satan and his onions? She meant minions, but I didn’t bother to correct her. If a woman that big wanted Satan with onions who was I to argue?

“Gerry? I’m here to tutor Gerry,” I said.

“First, we must pray,” she said and before I could respond, she wrapped her giant tree limb of an arm around me, squeezed me tightly into her bloated body, and started screaming, chanting and praying as if the world were about to end. I can’t remember what she said, what she shouted, what she chanted, but as she shouted and chanted her mouth became full of spit and she spat in my face a Baptismal fount of saliva. When she finished, she released me and I staggered into the kitchen table. Just then Gerry’s father re-entered the room.

“Boy, you really do bump into things,” he said.

I closed my eyes. Why had I come here? Oh, yeah, to save my job.

“I’m here to tutor Gerry,” I said. Actually I think I croaked it.

“He has to pick his wife up soon,” said the father.

“I thought you had to tutor someone else?” asked the mother.

“Both,” I said. “I pick up my wife and then I go and tutor someone else.”

“Gerry’s room is upstairs,” she said.

“Okay,” I said and started to walk. Where? I had no idea, since my eyes were closed, as Gerry’s father was totally naked now. I slammed into the refrigerator.

“Maybe,” said Gerry’s father, “you bump into things because your eyes are shut.”

“I’ll lead you,” said Gerry’s mother grabbing my hand, “as the Lord leads me away from carnality and into the light!” Gerry’s father rolled his eyes and itched his balls. Yes, I had looked!

At the bottom of the stairs she let go of my hand. I noticed that she had a chair seat on a metal railing that went up the side of the staircase. She sat in the chair. It creaked like crazy. She pressed a button and up she went. God, don’t let the whole staircase fall down! I climbed the stairs behind her.

We walked down the hall to Gerry’s room. The hall was dark and musty. Things have died in this hallway, I thought. We stopped at Gerry’s door.

“I will knock three times,” said Gerry’s mother. “On the third knock he will open the door and you count to six and then go in.”

“Count to six,” I repeated.

“Six,” she repeated.

Gerry’s mother knocked once, paused, then knocked twice, paused, and then knocked the third time. She turned around and ambled down the hallway back to the stairs. She walked much faster going away from Gerry’s room than she had walked going to Gerry’s room.

Gerry’s door swung open slowly. I was alone, alone and entering Gerry the Rat Boy’s room. Maybe I should have let Doctor Denton fire me.

He had huge furniture in his small, cramped, foul-smelling room – a giant armoire with swinging doors, an oversized desk from the 1940s, a large, murky fish tank that hadn’t been cleaned since Noah’s flood, and on the walls hideous pictures from newspapers and magazines of traffic accidents and murders.

I was standing in the center of the room, but where was Gerry? “Gerry?” I asked hesitantly. No answer. “Gerry, are you here?” I heard a movement behind me and just as I turned, a body came hurtling from the top of the huge armoire.

Gerry landed half on my shoulder and half on my back; his mouth open and about to take a chunk out of my arm – the same arm whose hand he had previously bitten. I spun around fast and grabbed him by the throat – none too gently I must say – and then pulled him off me and held him at arm’s distance. The kid couldn’t have weighed more than seventy pounds. With my hands on his throat, with his feet dangling in the air, Gerry smiled. “Hi,” he growled. “He ha, ho, ho, who.” (What the hell was that?)

“I’m going to let you go,” I said. “But if you attack me I am going to beat the shi…I am going to beat you to a pul…you get the idea?”

Gerry nodded as best he could and I released my grip on him as I put him down so his feet were on the floor. Gerry smiled (he looked even crazier when he smiled); this was the happiest I had ever seen him. Maybe he liked to be strangled?

His beady, blood shot, rat eyes looked at me strangely.

“Wanna see my skull collection?” he asked.

“Not now,” I said.

“Wanna see my dead fish?” he asked. “They are all skeletons.”

“Not now,” I said.

“Wanna see my moth collection?” he asked.

“No, no,” I said, “I am here to tutor you.”

“You hungry?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Let’s get this over with, okay?”

“You wanna play?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“I like you,” he said. “You’re the best teacher I ever had.”

“Get your books and let’s get started,” I said.

“I don’t have books,” he said with a slight smile.

“The school was supposed to send you two copies of all the books on a list I gave them,” I said.

“They did,” smiled Gerry. God, his teeth were sharp. Did he go to the dentist and have them filed? Would a dentist do that – file some kid’s teeth like that?

“So where are they?” I asked but I knew where they were. They were where other books, pens, birds, bugs, frogs and assorted pieces of furniture were – digested.

Gerry the Rat Boy now started growling in very low volume. His cheeks started to twitch and his eyes started to glaze over. “So what you wanna do,” he asked in a whisper.

I wanna get outta here, I thought and then I said, “I want to get out of here!” And I literally leapt out of his room and ran down the hall to the stairs. I didn’t turn around to see if Gerry was chasing me – I certainly could outrun a rat. I ran down the stairs. I could hear Gerry’s mother praying in the kitchen – a mountain praying to Mohammed (okay, to Jesus). I could hear Gerry’s naked father singing into his microphone in the living room.

I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I just catapulted out the front door, through the front graveyard, and jumped into my car. I drove off like a demon – or Satan and his onions.

Three months later, Doctor Denton called me into his office. “Good news, Mr. Scobe. Gerry’s coming back to school.”

“Shit,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” said Doctor Denton, “he’ll be drugged.”

“Strong drugs I hope,” I said.


My Dinner with Peg and Don

I have a little problem with my father-in-law Don Paone. As I write this, he is 85 years old and still going. The problem is – he is going slowly. This is not due to his age but rather his temperament. The guy is a slow walker, a slow talker, and a maddeningly slow eater. He has genetic slowness. His wife, my mother-in-law Peg, is just the opposite. She is a fast talker, walker, and eater. But she is a young chick, really, only 84.

Don Paone is a published writer, his concentration philosophy, with an intense concentration in Catholic theology and politics. God created the world in six days but it takes Don Paone 60 days to write a thousand to two thousand word article – if he hurries. I write 30 of such articles in that time. Okay, so I am generally writing about the trivia of gambling, of which I am an unparalleled expert, and Don is writing about heaven, hell, and priests who should know better. There is no comparison in the seriousness of the issues we tackle.

Even for simple articles, Don Paone has to do massive research. His research is endless, which is fine if you are writing about things that aren’t timely, but half the time he is sending his articles to the New York Times whose editor invariably tells him that what he wrote about, while well written and intelligent, was no longer hot. It was hot about a month or two or three ago. It took Don that long to get his ideas down on the page and by that time nobody cared about the issue at the New York Times anymore, or at any newspaper or magazine in America or the world. “Okay, so the world is oval, Don, we already knew that!”

Let me measure his slowness for you. He awakes at 7:30 AM. By 9:30 AM, he has finished his slow shower, his slow shaving (he must shave in two directions, so that’s two slow shavings) and his slow dressing. He then eats breakfast. Slowly.

At 11 o’clock, he is finished with breakfast. The problem is he hasn’t finished reading the New York Times. He is always behind in his New York Times reading. Now, most of you would jump to the conclusion that he is reading the New York Times for the news or the editorials. But that is not so. He reads the New York Times to parse it. Yes, parse it; as in enjoy the structures of the sentences and how the writers go about creating a story. His only real book reading is style and grammar books. These he reads slowly. He never reads a normal fiction or non-fiction book because there “just isn’t enough time.”

So he is always behind in his New York Times reading, day after day after day after day. And he must read the New York Times in chronological order so that he always has six or seven papers piled up from days past to read. This is another reason why he is behind when he writes about contemporary things – when he read about them; they aren’t contemporary anymore. They are last week’s news, which he has just gotten to.

Okay, after breakfast, he must get right to work. To do that, though, he must slowly organize what he is going to do for the day. If it’s a research day, he gets the computer ready to use the Internet, where he does most of his research. In the old days, when he was younger and slower, he had to plan which library he was going to for his research. That was truly endless – the planning. He’d make a list of which libraries he was going to and it took forever to compile the list as he writes slowly.  In those days he was a relatively fast writer; he was banging out an article every six months or so.

But now he gets the computer ready by turning it on. Unfortunately, there’s usually some problem with the computer so he has to call his eldest son, Donald, to find out what’s wrong. So those days Don just kind of mopes around waiting for Donald to come home and figure out what is wrong with the computer.

Now Don’s eldest son Donald, a desired day laborer on Long Island because he can speak both Spanish and English, so the gardeners and home repairmen who need help always pick him up on the designated day-laborer street corners and parking lots so he can help them translate for all the illegal aliens that are also being hired. Suffice it to say that Donald knows computers and not just how to hack into them, but also how to fix them.

When I was away in Vegas for a 12-day trip, Donald decided to fix my computer because we hired him to redo my office. The computer wasn’t broken and I am sure you know the old saying about fixing something that isn’t broken. My computer has not worked well since then and I no longer have any sound.

Back to Don Paone.

If Don Paone is just going to write, meaning the computer is actually working, then he readies himself at the dining room table where he has his notes written in longhand. With the computer fired up, Don is now ready to blast off. The research is at his fingertips. The Internet is humming. His yellow legal pad is ready to be ripped into. His fully loaded inkwell pen is bursting.

The man is ready to write and his notes are spread out on the dining room table. He is poised over the legal pad. He is clean. He is shaven in two directions. He is fed. He is ready to do the writer’s rumble.

Then the interruptions begin.

My mother-in-law Peg usually has something to do in the community that requires Don to come along. This is usually around noon, just as Don hovers over his legal pads, prepared to write about his great ideas about the universe, God and man.

Peg is very big in community activities, both church and state. She is the president of this, of that and of other things in our village on Long Island: If I can remember some of them – the Rosary Society, the Women’s Club, the Historical Society to name a few. If she were President of the United States, we’d have a much better country, I can tell you that. Peg could make a teenager tired – her energy is boundless. But she likes Don to be with her when she does some of her community or church work – which is almost every day of the week, including Sundays, as she is the altar chairlady of the local Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Lourdes.

Most days, therefore, Don doesn’t get to actually write, poised though he might be, which is a shame because he is a good writer. Most days he doesn’t get to do his research, either. And all those copies of the New York Times pile up waiting for him as well. So he is behind in everything always and from the split second he wakes up.

Now, how do I know all this? Because when I am not gallivanting around the country doing my research in casinos, my wife, the beautiful A.P., and I have dinner with Don and Peg on Friday evenings at the Cork ‘n Board restaurant. That’s how I know Don’s behind on everything every week because that’s what he says.

I once tried to help Don with his writing. He had asked me how I had written 20 books [now I am at 35], three plays, a DVD, six television scripts, three movie scripts, edited and wrote forwards for a dozen more books, and also wrote thousands of articles for the 50 or more magazines and newspapers I write for regularly; all of this in a mere 16 years [now 30 years]. He seemed genuinely interested in figuring out how to increase his writing production, which had seen him write about 20 articles in that same 16-year period – a dozen of which were published.

So I told him, pleasantly, that he was nuts to take two or more hours every day getting ready to go downstairs just to have breakfast. Shower in the evening, not in the morning, and shave every other day, not every day – and just do it one way one day! Go up the beard one day, then down the beard on the day after tomorrow. Also, don’t get fully dressed (Don has a hard time coordinating his colors so that takes endless amounts of time and ultimately the help of Peg). Just go downstairs in your pajamas or put on a sweat suit and eat breakfast, read a little, and get to work. If you don’t finish the paper, recycle it because a new one will be arriving tomorrow. Never waste a morning because that is prime writing time – you are awake, refreshed, and crisp. The afternoon is better for editing and polishing. Use those mornings because you are fully ready to write new material.

That was damn good advice, I must say. That works for me.

But it didn’t work for him, even though he never even tried to speed up the writing process. He just couldn’t change his habits. Or maybe he is changing them but he is doing so sooooo slowly that no one has noticed yet.

Okay, fine, you know we all have different rhythms. Don has a rhythm too, much like a bear in hibernation. I live in my sweats. In fact, I have very few clothes. I don’t need them; I don’t want them. I’m never behind in my newspapers and I read three a day. I usually read a book or two a week. I read magazines. I watch movies. I write for eight hours every day seven days a week and I am even now writing on my gambling jaunts to the casinos around the country.

But none of that matters, really. That’s how I work. That’s not how he works. And that’s that. It really isn’t any of my business.

But here is where I do come in. Those dinners we have with Peg and Don are very nice occasions – but Don eats so slowly that he’s always behind the rest of us. I have finished my salad, my soup, and my main course plus a few drinks – which takes me about an hour – and Don is still on the soup. Then he gets to the main course (thankfully he has no salad) and takes forever. New planets have been discovered; new countries have come and some have gone, animals have gone extinct, other animals have just evolved and Don is slowly eating his meal. And he always orders something that has a lot of food in it; like veal francaise with potato pancakes – a huge pile of potato pancakes. At Cork ‘n Board you get large quantities of good food.

He cuts the veal slowly, lifts it to his mouth slowly, he looks at the fork with the veal stabbed on it and ponders – what he’s pondering about I have no idea, but he ponders and then he puts the food in his mouth and chews in such a way that it can only be caught on stop-action photography, the kind the Discovery Channel uses to show how plants move in the course of 24 hours. Announcer: “You never thought plants moved, did you? Well, look at this incredible stop-action photography and you’ll see that plants move several inches every 24 hours!” These plants move faster than Don Paone eats!”

Because I don’t want to finish my meal so far ahead of Don, I decided that when we have dinners together I would order what he ordered and eat as slowly as he ate. When he cut the meat, I would cut the meat – into the same, small piece. When he took a forkful I would take a forkful. When he lifted it up to his mouth, I would lift mine to my mouth. When he pondered I’d ponder. I thought this would work out just fine. Therefore, I would not eat, finish my dinner, and have to watch Don eat as suns in distant galaxies went super nova. I would match him fork for fork, chew for chew, and swallow for swallow.

That was the plan.

It was Friday evening, the first Friday of my grand design, and Debbie, our regular waitress came over. She brought our drinks for us since she knows exactly what we want. At Cork ‘n Board we have our own table and our own waitress. I like that. Since I am on the road a lot, when I am home I like a lot of routine. Debbie is an outstanding waitress and a hell of a nice person.

“Have you decided?” she asked us.

“Let the women go first,” said Don, which is what he always says. We have a regular ritual at these dinners.

“I’ll have onion soup, no bread,” said my wife, the Beautiful A.P. “I’ll have shrimp with garlic and oil. No potatoes but extra vegetables.” My wife is on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet to help her avoid a flare up of Ulcerative Colitis – something she has been free of for five years now [now it is 16 years].

“Peg?” asked Debbie.

“I’ll have a fruit cup, salad with Russian on the side…”

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Don. “A Russian on the side. Oh, boy!”

Debbie gave a little chuckle.

Don always makes that same joke when Peg orders “Russian on the side.” The first time I heard it, two decades ago, it was pretty funny. Debbie has heard it, maybe, several hundred times, but she always manages a chuckle. She is a truly professional waitress.

“Now, Don, you always say that,” says Peg. “I’ll have salmon, broiled, with lemon and butter and I’ll have a baked potato.”

“Frank, you go,” said Don. This was the dining habit I had to change; otherwise I wouldn’t know what Don ordered in order to make my selection. But I had a foolproof plan.

“No, Don, as the patriarch of the family, you should go,” I said.

“Uh, I don’t know what I want yet,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I had this figured cold. “I’ll have the cream of broccoli soup, a salad with honey mustard dressing on the side and…” Here came my moment of triumph! “…I’ll have as my main course, whatever Don is having!” Ta! Da!

“Okay, Don?” asked Debbie.

“Uh, to the Queen!” said Don lifting his wine glass for a toast.

“You have to order before we toast,” said Peg.

This toast, “To the Queen!” Don made at every meal. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant but I always toasted. I wondered if Peg were the Queen? Maybe it was to the Queen of England.

“Oh, right,” said Don. “What are you having Frank?”

“Whatever you’re having,” I said.

“Hmmm,” said Don.

“Should I come back?” asked Debbie.

“No!” said the Beautiful A.P., knowing that if Don didn’t make his decision now we could be in for a long evening.

“Have the veal francaise,” said Peg.

“My mother has spoken,” said Don. “With potato pancakes.”

“That’s not funny,” said the Beautiful A.P. “You shouldn’t be calling Peg your mother. That is just nasty. You should stop that.”

“I am just joking,” said Don, his whole face and baldhead turning beet red.

“Soup?” asked Debbie.

“Oh, the chicken noodle is fine,” said Peg, ordering for Don.

“Okay, I’ll be right back with the soups,” said Debbie.

The course of conversation at these dinners is usually the same week to week as follows: Peg asks me how my family is, I tell her they are fine but my mother is losing more and more of her memory; how are my sons, they are fine, and my little grandson is beautiful [I now have two grandchildren], and when am I traveling next, in a few weeks. Then the Beautiful A.P. will tell how much she loves being a librarian, which is her new career, a career she has wanted to be in since she was a little girl and then she’ll tell about a few maniacs she served the past week (I’ll bet you didn’t know that public libraries attract maniacs – harmless ones mostly) and the combined elapsed time of A.P. and my conversation takes a total of, oh, about two minutes, three if A.P. has some really funny stories.

Now it is Peg’s turn. Actually, make that big letters: PEG’S TURN.

Peg talks in long but precise and intimate detail about people that A.P. and I don’t know (we call all of them Mr. and Mrs. Obscure) and they are legion, people that Don has totally forgotten (“Don, you know who I am talking about, come on. She was wearing a pillbox hat with a retro sixty’s lime green dress at church four weeks ago and was sitting next to Paulie and Theresa Smithy who are having trouble in their marriage and are seeing a marriage counselor who is related to Joan Jonah whose hip is really giving her trouble after her last trip to Florida where she fell in a row boat and what she was doing getting into a rowboat is beyond me, she’s 87 years old, but her son, a retired school bus driver wanted her to get on the boat.”) and about how Mr. and Mrs. Obscures’ houses are fixed up, and the vacations they took, and what’s happening with their children (kids Obscure). She speaks at length about their homes, going from room to room chronicling how the owners made all sorts of design changes and at the end of the story Peg mentions that house no longer exists but was torn down thirty years ago to put a bigger house on the property which she then describes in even greater detail.

Peg informs us of all the politics in church and state in our village, which is just about everything going on everywhere. She was instrumental in running out of town a priest (nicknamed Adolph after you know whom) who deserved to be run out of town. This guy closed the house for unmarried mothers – called Momma’s House – because he wanted to build a bigger church as an edifice to himself. I think he even wanted to name the extension after himself. Peg was one of the architects of his demise. (“We Catholics believe that abortion is murder but he kicks out the women in crisis who agree to go to term on their pregnancies?” Peg would say to the local papers and radio stations that interviewed her.) You don’t tangle with Peg that’s for sure. Unfortunately, all the unwed mothers had to leave our community since their house was torn down. But if you want to know what the inside of the house was like, Peg can take you on an inch-by-inch verbal tour of it.

When you dine with Peg you realize that she is writing a verbal book every time she speaks. She never just says something is this or that – no sir; the adjectives flow in the descriptions and there is almost never a time when one word would suffice when dozens of words could also be used.

Peg loves to discuss her son Lawrence and her daughter-in-law Catherine and their two beautiful daughters, Peg’s grandchildren, Anna and Laura, (“Oh, that Anna is such a character!”) or she discusses the Beautiful A.P. Whenever I bring up A.P., I let Peg know just what a great daughter she has and what a great wife A.P. is – which she is.

According to A.P., “Peg loves to throw herself into community work and to talk about all the things going on around her, all the people she knows and she knows just about everybody. Her community business validates her. Before there were liberated women, Peg found that doing things was more fun than just staying home. She’s always on the go.”

Peg was discussing the color of someone’s living room when Debbie brought over our soups. I didn’t have to match Don spoon for spoon on the soup because I would have a salad coming next. But I watched the way he ate it. Don and Peg are expert at manners. Dom tilts the soup bowl away from him when he spoons out the soup. He never even drips a little of the soup on the table or the napkin. Unfortunately, some soup always drips on his shirt. None of us, not Peg, not A.P., not me, has ever seen the soup go from spoon to shirt, but somehow it does at every meal.

Don never notices it but Peg always spots it.

“You spilled soup again,” says Peg.

“Acchh,” says Don and then we all forget about it and continue dinner.

A.P. and I finished our soup, Peg finished her fruit salad, and then the regular salads were brought. Don ate his soup, with the cup now tilted away from him, and the stain growing on his shirt.

Now I slowed down my gastro ministrations. I tried to time my salad eating to finish when he finished his soup and to do that I started to cut my salad into smaller pieces.

I was keeping pace this way.

“Everything all right with your salad, Frank?” asked Debbie


“You’re cutting it up. Do you want me to have the chef do that?” asked Debbie.

“Oh, no, no,” I said. “I, ah, am trying something new, slow down how fast, uh, how much, you know,” I said. “I’m getting fat.” I hoped she realized that I was trying something new because I wasn’t getting fat; I was already fat from too many gourmet meals in the casinos during the past 20 years [now 30 years].

I don’t know if she knew something was up but she nodded and headed to another table.

“Is the salad okay?” asked A.P.

“It’s fine,” I said.

“You’re just picking at it,” said A.P.

Don had his soup bowl tilted away from him. I tried to see how much soup he had left. I couldn’t get a good glimpse because his hand covered it.

“It’s fine,” I said.

I was determined to begin my dinner when Don began his dinner. Debbie had learned to bring out our main courses even before she brought his. Tonight would be different. Tonight I would start with Don and end with Don.

The end of world hunger, disease and war, and the second coming of Jesus Christ took place and Don finally finished his soup. I finished my salad then too.

“Ready for our main courses, Debbie” I said, happy to see my plan working perfectly.

A few seconds later Debbie placed my plate in front of me and Don’s plate in front of him. Problem! Don had much more food than I! Oh, God, how could I keep pace when Don had what looked like an Everest of veal in front of him.

“Don,” I said. “You want to switch plates?”


“I thought you were going on a diet?” asked Peg.

“Yes, well,” I said. “That looks like a lot of food for Don.” I know I sounded like an idiot, but it would be very hard to stay on pace with Don since his plate looked like the mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“Oh, I’m fine,” said Don. “I’m really hungry.” He started to slowly cut a slice of veal.

I was desperate. “If you need me to eat any of your veal I’d be happy to,” I said.

“Scobe, what are you saying?” asked A.P. I looked at A.P. She gave me this look that said, Have you gone crazy?

“Oh, well, you know,” I said. I grabbed my fork and knife. “Hey, let’s eat before everything gets cold.” Maybe I could rush Don into eating at something like normal speed. Maybe pigs can fly too.

So we started eating. A.P. still glanced at me. I smiled at her. Peg chewed a mouthful of salmon.

But Don had not yet lifted the small slice of veal to his lips. So I fiddled with my veal. I started to cut it, nano-inch by nano-inch, and when I had finished cutting my slice, Don was only just now lifting his slice to his lips. I had to eat half as much as he did to keep pace with him since he had so much food to eat. Don was about to bite when he thought of something, “You know, ah,” he blinked. When Don spoke, he blinked a lot. He put down his fork, blink, blink, blink.

“So I said to Mary Contessa that…” started Peg. Peg can start a conversation about anything at any time if she thinks she can get you hooked with her eyes.

And Peg had me on this one because we caught eyes. When you catch Peg’s eyes, “she launches” (which is what the Beautiful A.P. and I call it) and you are a squirming fish on a hook. Sometimes she just hones in on one person and grabs him/her with her eyes and then she launches into a long soliloquy. She had me pinned now.

Don was blinking.

I put my forkful of veal down.

“I, ah,” said Don blinking.

“Mary Cummins was going to miss the Women’s Club Meeting…”

“Ah, uhm,” said Don.

“What kind of members are these that they miss all the meetings and don’t want to open up the club to people who will actually attend the meetings?” said Peg.

“When Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of, ah,” blinked Don.

He still hadn’t picked up his first forkful!

“Don,” said Peg, “What are you talking about? We’re discussing Mary Cummins and Mary Contessa.”

“I …wanted to… say… something,” blinked Don.

Peg dropped my gaze for a second. I was free.

“Okay, what do you want to say?” asked Peg.

“I forgot now,” he blinked.

Don has some severe memory problems and he forgets a lot – like how to get to places he’s gotten to for 60 years.

“The Women’s Club is a hard working group,” said Peg but I busied myself with my fork. I had to take a mouthful soon.

Don lifted his fork.

“Is everything okay?” asked Debbie.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes,” said Don putting down his fork. He still had not taken his first bite!

“You haven’t eaten anything, Frank,” said Debbie.

“Are you feeling okay?” asked A.P.

“Is he sick?” asked Peg.

“Fine. I’m fine,” I said.

“I want to see you take a big mouthful of your food!” laughed Debbie. “Come on!”

What could I do? I took a mouthful.

“One more,” said Debbie.

“Okay,” I said. So I took a second mouthful. And, wonder of wonders, Don took his first mouthful. But Debbie then made me tale a third mouthful.

I was behind him in eating by two mouthsful but I could chew slowly. Except Don was the slowest chewer on earth but I was determined to under-chew him.

“Good boy,” said Debbie and she walked to another table.

I chewed in stop-action.

“Is the veal okay?” asked A.P.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m just relaxing as I chew.”

A.P. gave me that Are you crazy? glance but she didn’t say anything.

Peg now launched into the history of the Women’s Club, founded in 1951, none of whose members I knew or cared to know, and how all these Marys (Cummins, Contessa, O’Toole, Flaherty, and Rineberg) were stuck in the old ways and didn’t want new ideas. The youngest of the Marys was 80. The youngest member of the whole club was 70 – a young sprite! I quarter listened to the avalanche of information about the Ladies Auxiliary although I nodded every so often as Peg continued. I didn’t want Peg to think I wasn’t interested in her story because I do love Peg. But I intensely watched Don. I was keeping pace with him. So far I had four mouthsful and he had taken eight. God, my plan felt great! If he had twice as much food as I, this eating pattern would allow me to finish when he finished – some time in the 22nd century.

“Hey, Frank,” said Tommy the owner of the restaurant. “Is everything all right with that veal? I notice you haven’t eaten much.”

“The veal is delicious,” said Don, putting down the forkful he was just about to eat! My fork was in midair too. I put mine down too. I had to keep pace with Don.

“The veal is great,” I told Tommy.

“I hope so,” said Tommy. “You don’t do restaurant reviews do you?” He laughed.

“Not anymore and I would give your restaurant a great review,” I said.

Don picked up his fork. If I kept talking to Tommy I might be able to get Don to take that forkful and maybe even another one without me having to eat a thing.

“So anyway, the Yankees…” I started.

“Tommy, I need a carafe of cabernet,” said Debbie.

“Oops, gotta go,” said Tommy who was also the bartender.

Don excused himself to go to the bathroom. This was becoming an ordeal. Peg talked about Nanette Ludinski whose husband had left her with five kids, a terrible thing to do to a woman, especially in 1947, when Mr. Ludinski flew the coop with some dancer for Radio City Music Hall. I guess it really got to Mrs. Ludinski too because she just died at age 90. “She was really very healthy until the day she died,” according to Peg, snapping her fingers.

“Are you okay?” whispered A.P. as Peg continued to talk.

“Yes, damn it, I am fine,” I whispered back.

Peg explained that Mrs. Ludinski never trusted men after 1947.

“Why so angry?” whispered A.P.

“I’m not angry. I’m just eating slowly,” I whispered.

“She had one man that she loved in 1956, Paulie Delano, nicknamed PD, a cop, when she was finishing the basement of her first house on Vincent Avenue, although she never really did the walls there quite right because she painted over cinderblock and it was uneven, but she just couldn’t say yes to marriage…”

“Why are you eating slowly?” whispered A.P.

“To stay even with Don,” I whispered back.

“Ridiculous!” whispered A.P.

“Why is that ridiculous?” asked Peg. “She was very hurt. It wasn’t easy raising those five kids all by herself since one of them was deaf, one had a club foot, and one had a very bad temper which got him imprisoned when he was in his early twenties for assault after he hit a cop at Jones Beach who told him he had to leave because there was a curfew.”

Don slowly walked back from the bathroom.

Peg discussed the various incidents in the lives of Mrs. Ludinski’s children but ultimately all the kids turned out okay and retired from different successful professions.

Don took a small bite of one of his potato pancakes. A.P. finished with her meal. Peg finished with hers as well.

Don still had most of Veal Everest remaining and all the potato pancakes except for one small bite out of one of them.

My veal was cold, maybe colder than Mrs. Ludinski right now, and I decided fuck it! I quit! and I resumed my normal way of eating. I finished in a flash.

And so, as usual, we all waited for Don.

Peg was on the story of the living room of Davida Davidson who had just sold her house in a neighboring community without ever having done anything to the house in the 30 years she had lived in it. Peg had visited the house once, in 1960-something, and described everything she could remember in great detail. It was enough to get us through Don’s eating.

“That house is going to be torn down,” said Peg. “The Amaruso Demolition company run by Danny…. Oh, Alene, you went to school with Danny’s sister.”

“Who?” asked the Beautiful A.P., whose first name is Alene, a name I find beautiful and Alene hates because so many people call her Arlene or Eileen.

My cell phone rang. I had forgotten to shut it off.

“Scobe,” said A.P. in the voice that said, You aren’t going to answer that in a restaurant are you?

“It’s Dominator,” I said as if that made it okay to answer the phone.

“Tell him you’ll call him after dinner,” said A.P.

“Hey, Dominator,” I said, answering the phone.

“You’ll never guess but that stupid fuck was murdered!” said Dom.

“The stupid fuck as in the stupid fuck?”

“Yep,” said Dom. “He was killed in one of those sleazy motels in Vegas. They burned the body and they identified it with teeth. But the big fat fuck is dead.”

“His teeth? Christ!”

I felt a kick under the table. A.P. kicked me under the table. She whispered in my ear, “You said teeth, Scobe.”

I looked at Don Paone and his face was blown up like a red balloon, veins sticking out of his neck, his baldhead, and his forehead. Damn, I had also said the word “fuck.” You can’t say those words around Don when you are eating or … well, he might die.

“Listen Dominator I am at dinner, I’ll call you back in a half hour, okay?”

“Sorry about that, Don, Peg,” I said.

Don’s swollen head was receding.

At Peg and Don’s house there is a table tent placed on the table at all times that has a list of words that cannot be said during a meal: teeth, spit, mucus, saliva, gums, tongue, scrotum, abscess, fart, fungus, armpit, diarrhea, toes, feet, bunions, nails, eardrum, eyeball, root canal, dentist, toilet, bathroom, bladder, kidney, and choke. If those words are said at the table, Don’s face becomes bright red and his head swells up, veins bulging ominously. His eyes get watery and he blinks like crazy. We’ve never pushed the issue because of the obvious pain he’s in when those words are spoken.

Except once. By my mother.

She and my father were at Don and Peg’s and we were all having a great dinner, which Peg had prepared. Peg is a wonderful cook. My mother, a lovely, kind and generous woman and one who never wants to hurt anyone, saw the table tent. She picked it up.

“Oh, what’s this?” she asked.

“Those are words…” started Peg.

“Teeth, root canal, mucus” said my mother.

“Uh, Mom,” I said.

“Diarrhea, dentist, nails,” continued my mother who is quite deaf.

“Mom,” I said.

Don was swelling up. My mother just kept reading: “Tongue, gums, abscess, saliva, bladder, kidney…”

“Mom!” I yelled.

She looked up.

“You can’t say those words at the table because…” and I nodded over at Don who was redder than a red beach ball.

“Don, your head is all red,” said my mother. Since Don is almost completely bald, you could see the veins bulging at the top of his head. They looked like they were pulsating. “Don, did you choke on something?” asked my mother and Don turned redder.

“You can’t read these words,” I yelled.

“Oh,” said my mother and put down the table tent.

I concluded having witnessed that incident that if you pushed those words on Don for any length of time; he would expire.

I hung up with Dominator. “Some guy who wrote some rotten stuff about Dominator on the Internet was found murdered in a sleazy motel in Vegas, burned to a crisp.”

“Dominator takes everything too seriously,” said A.P.

“Hey, it’s no fun having people attack you,” I said. “It’s taking Dominator some time to get used to the fact that when you are famous people takes shots at you.”

“You handle it okay,” said A.P.

“Yeah, well, it’s still not easy,” I said.

“The people who attack usually aren’t as successful,” said Peg. “Ramona Jorgensen was a past president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Flowers and she didn’t do very much and then Sally Blake took over and created a great newsletter that she published once every two months. Sally did such great work around the village that she received so many awards for her holiday floral arrangements throughout the village. Well, Ramona became an increasing critic of Sally to the point where at board meetings she would stand up and just attack Sally every chance she got…”

“The usual after-dinner drinks?” asked Debbie.

“Yes,” I said.

“What do I get?” asked Don, who was beginning to forget what our habits of dining were – other than the habit of eating slowly. Peg ordered for him.

“You know the mayor is having a problem with attacks, too,” said Peg. “He has been attacked for going on too many trips.”

“What? What are we talking about?” asked Don, who sometimes found it hard to follow the conversation – he was also slightly deaf too.

Now when Don asked a question, especially about a political figure or someone of prominence in our village, Peg did not like to talk about it too loudly. So she would then cup her hand over her mouth and talk so low that no one could hear her and even a lip reader couldn’t read her lips. That was the opposite of what Don needed, someone who would look him in the eyes and talk normally or even loudly. “Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.

“What?” said Don leaning in and starting to turn red.

“Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.


“Mumble, mumble, mayor, mumble, mumble, mumble,” said Peg into her hand.

“Forget it,” said Don. “I can’t follow this.”

Then Peg took her hand away from her mouth and talked in a normal voice and launched into a discussion of what the Rosary Society was doing for their big party next month.

In another hour we were waiting for Don to finish his coffee and his drink. When he finished I paid the check with my airline-miles credit card and Don gave me his and Peg’s half in cash. It took forever for him to count out the money since he did it three times to make sure he had the correct amount.

Now a tricky part occurred – could we get out of the restaurant without Peg meeting someone she knew and launching into an endless story? That happened about half the time. We would stand waiting for Peg, as she talked animatedly with someone none of us recognized.

But, in truth, I would never replace these meals. I like true characters, and Peg and Don are truly characters.

[Peg died July 29th, 2009. There is a picture dedicated to Peg in the lobby of the church. Don died January 19, 2012. My mother died March 22, 2008. Cork n’ Board is now Uva Rossa. I did the eulogies for both Peg and Don. Debbie is still working in a restaurant in our village. Dominator did something unconscionable to me, which I wrote about in my book I Am a Dice Controller.]