Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Life, Death and DeBare

 

 

June 3rd was the last Sunday of the South Shore Audubon Society’s Sunday bird walks until these pick up again in late August. We were at the Massapequa Preserve, a beautiful area of woods and lakes and streams with magnificent birds everywhere.

There was also a bicycle event of some kind taking place while we were bird watching and as the bikes whizzed past the 28 of us ambling along the small paths Paul and my wife the Beautiful AP’s voices rang out to the rest of us, “Bike coming! Here comes a bike!” Other voices would lift as well. Those bikes were scary. Indeed.

Paul was somewhat annoyed, “These bikes are supposed to have bells that they ring as they come up to pedestrians. That’s the law. They can kill us. They must have bells!”

He was right, of course; those bikes could kill us. The paths were not very wide. Some of the riders seemed to enjoy almost hitting one or two of us as they whizzed by. (“How many birders did you get today Tim?” “I got me a few, maybe even killed a couple.” “They are really weird people,” said Ben in his multi-colored helmet.)

Perhaps the most illuminating of the events of that day were the two families of Canada geese, both with a “husband” and “wife” ushering their young from the fast-moving stream. Although the geese were not afraid of us, mom and pop kept a close eye on their goslings and us gapers.

I love birding; it’s fun getting out into nature, watching the beauty of beings that can fly. I even like the rabbits and chip monks and the plants and trees and water and the occasional fish you see and…

I am thinking about death and not just death by bicycle.

A former teaching colleague of mine, Mike DeBare, just passed away shortly before this bird walk. Passed to where? Passed to what? Passed to anything at all? Are we actually passing through something or does death just stop us at the dead end which is really nothing, nothing at all?

I liked DeBare. We’d talk now and then, especially if we were on hall duty together. He seemed like a good guy; he was certainly a good teacher; his students liked him, which is a good sign of a good teacher.

I can’t count up on my fingers and toes the number of my former colleagues who have passed because the number of dead far surpasses the number of my digits. Most were my age or younger; some somewhat older, some were close friends, some favored colleagues; and some of these passed colleagues, I really didn’t know well or at all.

I am more aware of death now than ever before in my life. It waits for me like a bike speeding by me along the path on which I am walking.

 

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

The Incredible Fading Man

 

This Sunday my wife the Beautiful AP and I went on a bird walk at Hempstead Plains, a venue near Hofstra University and Nassau Community College on Long Island.

I didn’t like the place. You had to walk through small thickets, in and out of powerful vines that would catch your ankles and not let go, and the occasional really thorny thorny plants. The grass was wet; the walking was dirty. I was miserable.

We saw a bird here or there but I had to keep my head down to see where I was going so I wouldn’t fall on my face. Thus, I didn’t look up too much.

The place has a combination of rare local plants—something called Gerardi something or other which seems to be impossible to transplant elsewhere and is therefore on the endangered list and an invasive species called “those yellow flowers” which they have tried to kill by cutting, mowing and burning but the damn plant is taking over the Hempstead Plains.

The volunteer at the place told us to look out for ticks. How the hell do you do that, short of bringing a microscope and constantly checking the ground, the plants, your body and maybe everyone else’s body that might be swarming with these vile creatures?

Thankfully, when the walk was finished I stood by the administration building (a bunch of recycled shipping containers made to look like a building) and I stated emphatically out to the world at large that “I will never come here again” (unless, of course, my wife says I have to).

There were four people standing near me. What I took for a mother (or teacher or both) and three kids, two girls and a boy, maybe ages 15 to 20. They were about to go on their walk. I thought I’d have some fun with them. I mean what the heck! I’m a funny guy and maybe I could get a laugh out of them. One of our South Shore Audubon Society members, Bill, was near us as well.

I said to them as a group, “I saw the most amazing bird today.” I paused to make sure that they were hanging on my words and then I hit them with the punchline, “Rodan!” Bada-bing, folks! “Rodan!”

All four of them looked quizzically at me.

“What is that?” asked one of the girls.

“Rodan,” I nodded. “Rodan. You know, Rodan.”

“Never heard of that bird,” said the mother.

The boy shook his head. “What kind of bird is that?”

“Come on, man, Rodan,” I said.

“Never heard of it,” said the other girl. “What’s its Latin name?”

“You folks don’t know Rodan?”

They shook their heads.

“Rodan destroyed Tokyo,” I said. They just looked at me.

“When did that happen?” asked the first girl.

“I wasn’t aware that Tokyo was ever destroyed,” said the mother.

Bill stepped in to save me. “He’s talking about a science fiction film from Japan in the 1950s. Rodan was a giant bird.”

The four of them looked at me. I think they were wondering if this crazy man really thought he had seen this giant bird during his walk through Hempstead Plains.

I smiled wanly and turned my attention to something else—actually I pretended to turn my attention to something else. I was actually wondering if I am that far behind culturally? I thought every kid knew the great Japanese monsters that destroyed Tokyo. How could these four be so ignorant?

It wasn’t them. It was me. My reference points are my own life’s events and memories. I actually don’t know most of the current modern singers or songs or movie stars. I am out of sync with modern times.

Yes, more fool me, I’m fading: Rodan, for crying out loud, Rodan!

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

The Woman Who Tormented Me

 

I was waiting for a cab as I stood outside the Sleep Inn and Suites in Round Rock, Texas, which is just outside of Austin, when she got out of her car, carrying her viola, and came to the entrance.

My wife the Beautiful AP was participating in a three-day strings camp and obviously this woman was as well.

“I hope you have a good day,” I said to her.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“New York,” I said.

“Oh, New Yawk! New Yawk!

“I know, I know,” I said. “I still have some of that accent.”

“New Yawk, New Yaaawwwk!,” she said and entered the building.

Wherever I go around the country or the world there will be someone who points out that they think I come from New York – even in Japan, “You from New York!” It usually ends there.

I can’t seem to escape it and I know that I do have a New Yawk accent but when I went to college a half-century ago I was able to get rid of most of my lower-class-working-man-woman Brooklynese. For example, if there were a group of men or women hanging out I would say, “Youse guys,” or “Youse gals,” as youse is the Brooklyn plural of you. I did not go to the bathroom but to the “terlet” and I would put not gas but “earl” in my car.

I also had that New York cadence in my voice and I’ve worked hard to get rid of it or at least tone it down a notch. I am almost 71 and I haven’t achieved my goal yet.

Look, I do admit that the New York accent is not a pleasant one; we all sound more or less like Mafia dons from the Godfather and Goodfellas. Even if you have a high IQ and great intellectual success, it doesn’t matter. The New Yawk accent lowers all of us in the eyes of many other Americans. In Mississippi one delightful unscrubbed gent said, “Y’all New Yerkers is duumb!” I felt like saying, “Who won the Civil War, pal?” But I didn’t; no use starting another conflict.

I came back to the hotel from a tourist trip to Austin and this woman was talking to my wife in the lobby. The musicians were on a break. I went over and kissed my wife.

The lady sneered at me, “Oh, it’s the New Yawker!”

I laughed. Then I said to the Beautiful AP, “The cab was fifty bucks each way. Most people couldn’t afford that.”

The lady jumped in. “Affawd! Affawd! You gonna go in tamorra too?”

“I take it you like my New York accent,” I laughed.

“New Yawk! New Yaaawwwk!” she cackled.

“I don’t think I got your name,” I said.

“I am Mrs. Rosen,” she said proudly. “I am from Queens but I do not have that stupid accent. I’ve been living in Texas for over twenty-five years.”

“Nice to meet you Mrs. Rosen,” I said.

“She’s in the advanced ensemble,” said the Beautiful AP.

“Oh, that’s great,” I said.

“Dats! Dats! He said dats!” snickered Mrs. Rosen.

“No I didn’t,” I said. “I didn’t say dats, I said that’s.”

New Yawk, affawd, dats,” she said.

“Well, uh, I’ve got to go to the room and take a nap,” I said.

“I think I heard gotta, I heard gotta!

I walked away and went to my suite. It was a decent hotel. What was with this harridan?

I took my nap and the Beautiful AP came back to the room. She had a long day. We were meeting her brother and his wife for dinner. She was washing up.

“What’s with that Mrs. Rosen?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “She even mimicked you during breaks in the music.”

“Is my accent really that bad?”

“No, no,” said my beautiful wife. “I think she adds to your accent on certain words. Forget it.”

“Man,” I said.

“Forget her,” said the Beautiful AP.

Although we had a good dinner with my in-laws, I kept thinking of Mrs. Rosen intermittently throughout the meal. Was my accent really that bad?

The next day I went to visit the Museum of the Weird in Austin. When I was buying my ticket the young blue-streaked and blood-red haired girl at the ticket booth asked, “Where are you from?”

“New York,” I said. “Lived in Brooklyn and now I live just outside the city.”

“I thought so,” she said.

“Is my accent that bad?” I asked.

“No, just a hint,” she said. “I love New York. The people are so interesting, so different. I’ve been there four times. I wish I could live there.”

“I’ve lived there over seventy years,” I said.

“You are so lucky,” she said handing me the ticket.

The next day I saw into Mrs. Rosen in the lobby. Oh, Christ; I try to get by her.

“Hello there, New Yawker!”

I nod and scoot out the door. I hear her in the lobby as I am leaving, “That guy is a New Yaaawwwker!”

What the hell is with her?

Now I am back at the hotel and I again see Mrs. Rosen as I enter the lobby. “New Yawk! New Yawk!” This is my last night here and again I have to hear this creature. Tomorrow morning we head off to Arlington outside of Dallas to see our niece, her husband, their two gorgeous children and my sister and brother-in-law. I can’t wait to leave this hotel and this woman. AP is having a grand old time. I am having thoughts of murder.

In the elevator I fume. This stinking rotten old bag! I am usually in control of my temper but I have noticed that once I hit 65 years old I tend to get a little grumpy. What the hell is with this witch, this miserable human being?

In the room I think of how much I hate her.

AP arrives and we are to go down to the “music sharing” (aka concert) where all the members who attended the camp will play together. There will be two groups playing – the “B” group that has the Beautiful AP and the “A” group that has Rosen the rabid Rottweiler.

She’s a bully. In my life I had one other bully, Sullivan. That was 55 years ago. I wrote about him in my book The Virgin Kiss. He was a massively strong and incredibly tough kid who hated me and when we played basketball in the schoolyard he always tried to hurt me. I was a star athlete and he was a miserable creep who scared the hell out of me.

Sullivan was always on me, egging me, pushing me, shoving me when I shot the ball, and I could tell he was waiting to hammer the crap out of me. In a fair fight I couldn’t beat Sullivan; no one in the school could. But I couldn’t take his bullying anymore and I had to do something.

I did.

In our next schoolyard basketball game I faked a jump shot, Sullivan jumped with the idea of blocking the shot, but instead of shooting at the basket, I shot the ball with all my might right into his face. He flipped down backwards, hit his head on the pavement, and I then landed on him and pummeled him, probably breaking his big red nose that was spurting blood, and I had him basically unconscious when I was pulled off him.

AP looked over at me and asked, “What are you smiling about?”

“Do you think there’s a sporting goods store nearby?”

“What?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just thinking about when I was an athlete.”

But I now knew how I was going to handle Mrs. Rosen if she got on me again. I’d say dramatically so everyone could hear me, “Mrs. Rosen, you are a bully!

The concert was fun and AP played wonderfully. The “A” team was excellent and the creepy Mrs. Rosen seemed to be a good musician and then I noticed a new musician entering the “A” team. She was introduced by the conductor as Mrs. Rosen’s daughter, maybe about 40 years old.

The woman looked somewhat tired, a little haggard, drained. With her was her son, a kid who seemed off. Since the “A” team was getting ready to play another piece I said to AP, “The Rosen daughter has a kid who really looks off.”

AP confirmed, “He’s on the spectrum.”

“Yeah, he’s off,” I said.

“We don’t use words such as off,” she said.

The kid was fiddling with a coloring book and kind of laughing. He may have been about 10 years old. No wonder Rosen’s daughter was drained. Dealing with an off kid – sorry, a kid on the spectrum – was one of the toughest jobs in the world, a job that never ended.

When the concert ended AP and I stayed to help the owners of the company clear the room of all the stuff they had brought. Mrs. Rosen and Rosen’s daughter helped too. We were the only ones who stayed to help out.

I wasn’t as angry with Mrs. Rosen as I had been at the start of the concert. I felt sorry for her daughter and I felt sorry for Mrs. Rosen…kind of.

AP whispered to me and nodded over at Mrs. Rosen across the room. “She lost her son about two months ago. He was about fifty years old.”

I looked over at Mrs. Rosen, bending, picking up a viola to bring to the front door. This woman’s daughter was drained; her grandkid was on the spectrum and she had recently lost her adult son.

And me? I was a damn baby because I had been teased. Really? Really? I had been upset by nothing at all, a few words by a sad old woman who was confronting some tough challenges. The anger drained out of me and I thought, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

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

The Fastest Things on Wings

 

Hummingbirds are indeed “the fastest things on wings” and although the peregrine falcon can descend to earth at 200 miles an hour, the hummingbird can fly its body length over and over again far faster than can the peregrine. The hummingbird’s wings can beat at 60 to 80 times a second, and some hummingbirds in South America can beat up to 120 times per second.

Still, hummingbirds living in cities and suburban enclaves—though they are accustomed to human beings, with individuals so friendly they can be fed by hand— these tiny birds, some almost as small as a large bee, some somewhat larger than that, face extraordinary dangers. Among such perils are hitting skyscraper windows, blasting into cars, buses and trucks, getting stuck in air conditioning systems, on fire trucks, hitting objects, products and mannequins in stores, falling to earth in exhaustion (sexual torpor) after mating and even in one case getting hit by a golf ball in mid-air.

“Everybody cries about hummingbirds,” states hummingbird rehabber Terry Masear, author of the fascinating book The Fastest Things on Wings. In her experience, bikers, goths, salespeople, laborers, CEOs, grounds keepers, tree cutters, professional and amateur athletes, along with some ludicrously rich Hollywood actors, directors and producers, all tremble in the light of a hummingbird’s approaching demise. They seek Terry out at all hours of the day and night to get the necessary help for the little bird they wish saved. In a single year she will get close to 5,000 calls!

Terry Masear cares for injured hummingbirds in Los Angeles. During the hummingbird season, late April through the summer months, she will save over a thousand birds with her step-by-step rehabilitation techniques. Sadly some will die. These are not casual deaths as Terry, despite her attempts at being “cold-blooded,” often mourns them. Life is precious, even the tiny life of a hummingbird. A tiny life is still big.

As we are learning now, individual birds within a species are not all alike; just as we humans differ from one another, each hummingbird has his or her own personality. Terry recounts instances where hummingbirds react in radically different ways to her rehabilitation techniques. Some are docile, some inquisitive, and some look to mate—even in rehabilitation. Terry states that male hummingbirds are quite horny. I guess that’s the way of the world when it comes to males.

A small percentage of hummingbirds, again predominantly males, are nasty. She recounts one such monster that attacked almost every bird in her aviary. This beast would nail the other birds with his bill, trample them when they were feeding on the ground, and bully them almost non-stop even in the early evenings when hummingbirds typically grow quiescent. In fact, one of Terry’s rehab friends said that such intensely aggressive hummingbirds—were they human—should be shot! Terry does not waste much of her time with such cruel beasts; she lets them meet their fate rather than risk the lives of the other birds.

The book is fascinating, well written and hard to put down. Masear has done a wonderful job!

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

Two Great Shows

 

I have two television shows, both on the Tru Channel, that I recommend to you. One is sheer entertainment that pushes the envelope in ways that today’s television shows and movies have failed to do. The other is an enlightened, funny, show about knowledge and our lack of it.

First, sheer entertainment: that would be The Carbonaro Effect starring Michael Carbonaro, a magician and actor, who sets up unsuspecting people with magical moments, funny and quite often hysterical, that warps the world for those selected people.

This is an original show that pushes the envelope.

Now most shows and movies today push the envelope by having major scenes taking place in the bathroom, public and private, often with people pooping or peeing; or having one or a few of the characters vomiting with gobs of off-white or brown or tan gobs of puke shooting out of their mouths, then dripping down their chins and onto their shirts or blouses.

We see graphic killings all the time, and people wasting movie-goer and television-viewers’ time rolling around having sex or talking about sex or making sex a part of movies that aren’t actually about sex. Sex often slows down the action of the movie.

Now, I am as au courant as the next au courant person and I can understand why some of the modern pushing of the envelope is necessary at certain distinct times but seriously it is has gotten ridiculous that many a good work becomes snickerable and loses its intended impact.

But The Carbonaro Effect plays with reality, distorts it. Michael Carbonaro has fun with changing the reality in our everyday lives and his chosen subjects are often shocked, amazed, and even scared by what they experience. No vomiting, no pooping, no peeing. In short, the show is totally refreshing and truly unique in our landscape of artistic dreck.

Michael takes on various roles as store clerks, managers, executives. It’s funny when a delivery man from a Chinese restaurant delivers a fresh crab sandwich only to discover when Michael opens it that real living crabs crawling around inside. Or when a horse seemingly moves from one outdoor painting at an art gallery to another painting where it is now at an indoor party scaring everyone sedately seating and talking. Or when Michael levitates himself in a store in front of several witnesses. Or when he gets gallons of orange juice from a single orange at a fruit kiosk. Or…dozens of dozens of magical stunts!

Next comes Adam Ruins Everything starring a brilliant Adam Conover. Adam tackles serious issues in a lightly humorous way. Today I watched him skewer conspiracy theorists, Listerine, flushable wipes, sewage, antibiotics, pregnancy, birth, being a scientist, a woman’s clock ticking, breast feeding, Christopher Columbus, King Tut, grammar and why hospital charges are so grossly high.

Every show tackles knowledge and history that most of us take for granted about which, sadly, most of us are partially or completely wrong. It is a funny get-rid-of-your-misconceptions show. Did you know that Listerine started as a floor cleaner? It didn’t make enough money, so the owners just changed it into a mouthwash without altering any of its ingredients; now it cleans your floor and freshens your breath!

Adam Ruins Everything couples sketch comedy with a profound understanding of what’s what about the “whats” of the world. Every piece of information is referenced in a clever way and his expert guest stars contribute enormously to the show.

Who knew that learning why you are so wrong about so many things could be so much fun?

These two shows are worth your time. Magic and meaning—an unbeatable combination!

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

My Grizzly Wife

 

I love zombies! In movies, books and television shows just give me the undead snarling, biting, gulping victims’ guts and flapping intestines side-to-side in their mouths, and eating off the juicy exposed bones of their prey. I love the blood and the killings and I especially love when a zombie gets his or hers by having his or her head blown up, shot, stabbed or crushed with a giant stone.

Let me watch Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead over and over; and the Night of the Living Dead even in the early mornings. The zombie is a genre that I love.

But I am normal; please keep that in mind.

My wife, the Beautiful AP, is the truly grizzly one in our home. She makes me look like a calm and rational lover of fine fiction. There are no zombies in the real world. None of the stuff in those books, movies or television shows is real. I even know how all the special effects are done.

So, as I said, I am normal.

But the Beautiful AP watches shows that could make me ill and one of them almost did—a show called My 600-lb Life about immensely fat people who have operations (by this really weird dyed-haired doctor) to do something gory to their stomachs so they can lose weight.

I was dozing in my comfortable armchair after watching a rewarding Walking Dead episode, and my eyes opened. There on our 65-inch screen, in living color, I saw the weird doctor carving up a monstrously fat woman and digging around in the blubber looking for her stomach.

“Oh, God! Oh, God!” I said. “Shut that off. I’m about to throw up.”

“This is so fascinating,” said AP as she ate her buttered popcorn. (Point of fact: the Beautiful AP is thin and in amazing shape.)

I kept my eyes closed until a commercial for chocolate cake came on.

“How can you watch that?” I asked.

“The world of the morbidly obese is really interesting. They sometimes have to lose a hundred or more pounds just to get down to six-hundred pounds,” she said.

“Those operations,” I said.

“I know. The doctor…”

“Who is weird,” I said.

“Who is weird,” she agreed. “He goes right into them and has to move their blubber and organs to get at the stomach. Everything is crushed in there.”

She is also now watching a New Zealand show about immensely blubbery New Zealanders titled Big Ward. Evidently New Zealand has a huge fat problem; maybe New Zealanders are worried that with the increasing number of obese people trudging around that their island nation will sink into the sea.

If I nod off in my chair, she will immediately put on those shows or others such as Hoarders: Buried Alive and Hoarders: Family Secrets about people who keep disgustingly filthy clogged homes. She also likes Tiny House Nation about seriously whacked people who have teeny-tiny houses built for them, houses no bigger than my living room. Some of these people have crammed their fat children into these houses!

Okay, I give you My 600-lb Life, Big Ward, Hoarders; Buried Alive, Hoarders: Family Secrets and Tiny House Nation – or zombies? That’s right, which is the worst addiction? Vote!

But no matter what, I am going to hide the remote from her. I want to be able to keep my food down.

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

 

The Annoying Phone Call

 

I usually have my secretary answer the phones – or a pleasant answering service takes over in the “off” hours; a service that usually gets about 50 percent of the messages correct and the other 50 percent so completely botched up that I have no idea what the person calling wants. Who knows?

But every once in a while, I answer the phones. This is not a trial for me, except every once in a while the person on the other end is either a nut or a talker who tells you his long life story and how it relates to casino gambling — his long, incredibly boring life story.

The other day, however, I got a real nut who also told me his long and totally boring life story and then proceeded to badger me after the interminable thing ended. After the War and Peace version of his dull life, he then said. “You see, I want to get a way to beat the casino at craps when the other shooters are rolling. I don’t roll the dice. I don’t like to roll the dice.”

“You mean the regular random shooters?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you have a system for that? So I can win when a regular shooter is rolling?”

“No,” I said, “there is no system to beat craps just by betting. You have to control the dice to have a chance to win at the game.”

“That’s not what I heard,” he said.

Then I heard the “click” which meant I had another call behind him. “I have a call behind you,” I started to say.

“There are many systems to beat the game of craps, “ he said. “You should know that. You can watch a table and discover what kind of trend is working at the table and bet that. Or you can bet against that if you think it is not going to last. What about those?”

Click!

“They don’t work. Random is random. There’s no predictability in random trends,” I said.

Click!

“Nah, nah,” he said, “I have seen trends last for quite awhile at the craps tables.”

“Okay, well, look, I have another call…”

Click!

“What about hedging your bets? You hedge your bets on the Pass Line with any craps so you reduce the impact of the seven. That’s a good system. Right?”

“No, no, it stinks,” I said. “Give me a second.” I pushed the button to see who was the other caller. He or she had hung up.

“The hedging is a good thing, all the great gambling people know that,” he said. “I am surprised you don’t understand it. I mean you’ve written a lot of books on craps. Aren’t you supposed to be an expert?”

“I understand hedging,” I said, “and I have written about it on my web site and in Casino Player magazine. Hedging doesn’t work. You lose more money by hedging your bets.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “You find a trend and bet with or against it by hedging your bets. That is a great way to bet.”

“Okay, fine, look, you bet any way you want to bet. It’s your money,” I said. At a certain point some conversations are just not worth pursuing and this one had gotten to that point.

“So you have no betting systems that can get me to win on the other shooters?” he asked.

“I told you that there are no betting systems that can overcome the house edge. You have to control the dice in craps. In blackjack you have to count cards. Betting systems just can’t overcome negative expectations.”

“That’s not what I heard,” he said.

“Like I said, it’s your money, bet it any way you choose,” I said.

“But you sell books on craps and gambling and you don’t know any systems to beat the house when other shooters are rolling?”

“Is this a joke?” I asked.

“What?”

“Is this a joke? Are you someone who is pulling my leg?” I asked.

“I’m gambling for 40 years. I don’t joke. You should know the systems to beat the games.”

“Look, I can talk about any system you want but none of them works. I’ve written about, well, just about all of them and they don’t work. Random is random. There are trends but they are not predictive – they are random. You hedge and you’ll lose more money. You can use the 5-Count to reduce your action but against random rollers you still can’t get the edge.”

“What about the idea if you see a horn you bet a horn?” he asked.

“Stupid, it’s stupid,” I said.

“Why is it stupid?”

“Because the game is random and that horn number is no more likely to come up next than it was likely to come up the time before. The house edge is about twelve and a half percent. You’re going to lose twelve dollars and fifty cents for every hundred you bet on that.”

“I’ve been gambling for forty years,” he said, but I cut him off.

“Look, why do you need a new system?” I asked.

“What?”

“Why do you need a system? If you know all these systems and have been gambling for forty years haven’t these systems won you money all those years?”

“Huh?”

“You must be a billionaire by now. You must have seen and bet a lot of horns in forty years. You must have been on or off a lot of trends in forty years. You must be so rich with all that hedging that you could own a casino now.”

He hung up. He must have heard the sarcasm in my voice. Guys like him can make you go crazy. Then the phone rang again. I picked it up, “Look, you idiot, I told you, there are no betting systems that can beat a negative expectation game! You’re an idiot for thinking there are!”

“Frank?”

“Go away, go away. Go away! ” I shouted.

“It’s me, Margaret,” said my mother-in-law.

“Ah,” I said. “Oh…Hi, how are you?”

And she told me, for the next hour, how she was.

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

Teachers Toting Guns

 

Mr. Morris Dickly served in the military. He was good with pistols and rifles and assault weapons. He was also highly strung but he was able to do his job.

Now 12 years later he is a teacher in a wealthy suburban high school composed of snotty teenagers who have no respect for anything other than themselves. These students have seemingly mated with their phones.

The principal selected him as one of 10 teachers who would now be able to carry a concealed weapon in school to protect against possible school shooters. No students knew about this new but secret security measure. No non-weaponized teachers knew about it either.

Dickly taught history and government. Did the students like him? Not really. Most obeyed because they were too lazy to exert energy in discussion or homework and it was up to Dickly to get them through their exams so their pain-in-the-ass parents wouldn’t complain. You never want parents to complain.

Dickly had three students he hated, Charlie Crisp, Raymond Barlow and Jeremy Jones. They were insufferable and nasty.

You see Dickly had a rather large red nose with plenty of hair coming out of it. The redness wasn’t from drinking, although Dickly loved his beer and it showed in his expanding gut. Every day he would get home from school wound-up and wishing his students, especially those three, would just go away like his wife did two years ago with that guy who never served a day! A few beers soothed him. Why did he ever go into teaching? He couldn’t stand most teenagers.

Charlie Crisp enjoyed sticking pencils in his nose to imitate Mr. Dickless as the three called him. Actually most of the kids called Dickly Mr. Dickless but they did it so Dickly couldn’t hear them. Barlow went so far on occasion as to put some cotton in his nose to imitate Dickly’s nose hair. Jones for his part was the loud laugher “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!” whenever his compatriots did their thing. Dickly figured that everyone in the school could hear Jones’ laughter coming from his room. I hate those three fucks!

Those three were responsible for writing on the chalk board “I am Mr. Dickless! I can’t stand up!” whenever they could. Dickly could occasionally hear them saying under their breath Dickless, Dickless, Dickless when he had his back turned to the class. But he couldn’t nail them doing it. None of the other jack-asses and jack-lassies would tell on their schoolmates. Fuck them too!

On the day it all happened Dickly was late for class. Charlie Crisp was dog style on Dickly’s desk with the pencils in his nose making pig noises while Barlow, cotton balls sticking out of his nose, was pretending to have anal intercourse with him. Jones was laughing his head off – “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!” All the other kids were laughing too.

Since Dickly was late he did not get to his private locker to put his pistol away. When the class saw him, they quieted somewhat, but Jones kept “yuking” it up. “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!”

“Yeoow!” screamed Crisp, not knowing Dickly was standing in the door. “I’m Dickless getting reamed, yeoow!” Jones roared, “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!” Barlow bellowed, “I’m Dickless screwing myself up the…” “Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!” roared Jones.

Then the three of them knew something was different. They turned and saw a red-faced Dickly at the door – red faced with his nose even redder. They were about to make the wrong choice.

“Get off my desk Crisp,” said Dickly.

“You don’t scare me Dickless,” scoffed Charlie Crisp, suddenly feeling invulnerable as many teenagers will.

“Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!”

“Aren’t you enjoying what is happening, Dickless?” scorned Barlow.

“You like it this way!” shouted Crisp shaking his ass and at this and the whole class, even the usually quiet kids, went into paroxysms of laughter.

That man had stolen his wife. Now these three had stolen his dignity. They were sneering at him. The fucks!

The gun blasts were heard throughout the school. Teachers brought their kids into the closets and locked their doors. Students at gym hid under the bleachers.

“Bam! Bam! Bam!” One bullet caught Crisp in his ass; another tore part of Barlow’s face off, and Jones was killed right after a “yuk!” Three dead. Those fucks!

That night students talked to the television news crews who were swarming like locusts outside the school. The students, even the ones from Dickly’s class who laughed at Dickly, were all acting sorrowful,. “Mr. Dickly just snapped. No one did anything.”

Commentators on the networks talked about the need not to allow teachers to have guns. “Only administrators should have guns,” said one principal wearing the cowboy belt his wife had given him for his birthday.

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

The Bookcase: Review of “Wesley the Owl” by Stacey O’Brien

 

Last things first—I cried. Wesley the owl died at the end of the book at the age of 19. I am not ashamed to admit I cried. Thirty years ago I would have been sneering at my tearing but in the last 22 years I have had two parrots as pets (both still alive) and I know the close relationship that a human and a bird (perhaps all pets and people) can have.

My older bird, Augustus, came close to death about five years ago. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I were shattered. I never thought that could happen to me, my lord, I was sad because of a bird? Yes, I was. Augustus was a part of my family; he is still a part of my family.

Stacey O’Brien has written a masterful tale, Wesley the Owl, of her 19 years with a barn owl who would have died in the wild because he started his life with a broken wing. If owls can’t fly, they die. Stacey had a choice; adopt the owl or know that she had consigned him to oblivion. Stacey is a biologist specializing in wild animal behavior. She adopted the owl.

Of course, she had to figure how to feed it (loads and loads of mice) and take care of it in the confines of an indoor life. Wesley had some very strong ideas about how he wanted to live—one way was without other males coming near his “mate.” Wesley was jealous of “suitors.” In that he was much like the Greek hero Odysseus, after whose return from a 20 year adventure, killed his supposedly widowed wife’s suitors.

Despite the word barn in the owl’s name, it is an outdoor creature that might only very, very occasionally wind up in someone’s barn for some strange reason or other.

Wesley the Owl is a personal tale. Stacey suffered from migraines which became so bad that she would pass out. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, then a stroke and wound up in a wheelchair. She seriously thought of suicide. What held her hand? Let her tell you:

“Wesley had been my constant companion, my teacher, and my friend. I now made the decision to honor this little body with the huge soul, and to see him through to the end. I had promises to keep. It was the one thing I could still do. It’s the Way of the Owl. You commit for life, you finish what you start, you give your unconditional love, and that is enough. I looked into the eyes of the owl, found the word of God there, and decided to live.”

I just gave my two birds kisses. These are birds I love. Stacey loved Wesley. Read the book; I think you will enjoy it.

 

This book review first appeared in the South Shore Audubon Society’s newsletter The Skimmer at http://www.ssaudubon.org/

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