My Neighbor versus My Landscaper

 

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

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

“No, no, it’s fine,” I said.

“You know your landscaper,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The police left satisfied that he was not a burglar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several hours later the landscaper called.

“Hello,” I said.

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

“Ah.”

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

“Ah,” I said.

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

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

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

“I didn’t,” I said.

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

“Ah.”

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

“Ah.”

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

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

“Can you believe that guy raked up everything?”

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

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

“There are two huge garbage bags there too.”

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

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

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

“As soon as you can,” I said.

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

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

“Jesus!”

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

“Yes, it’s me,” said my landscaper.

My home phone rang.

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

“Okay,” he said.

“Hello,” I said.

“It’s me,” said my neighbor.

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

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

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

Because we live in Tree City USA!

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

No Machado, No Way

 

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

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

They would be crazy to sign him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheat Germ Man

 

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

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

And thoroughly insane.

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

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

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

He ate almost no meat and he loved fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Ego and Mister Id

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

 

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

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

USA Today reported the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am in a quandary.

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

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

Wow! I Met Pete Dunne

 

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

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

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

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why don’t you?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Level Playing Field

 

We’ve just finished Thanksgiving and the Black Friday crowds in every corner of the country have shown once again that mobs certainly act like mobs and not like bright, articulate individuals gathered together to share something they like—in this case enjoying sales on a holiday where we are supposed to be thankful for everything we have. In the case of Black Friday that “everything” is a product the raging shopper can rip from some other raging shopper’s hands.

Whole displays have been toppled by groups battling over this or that; people falling all over each other in and between boxes and then demanding that they are the sole ones who deserve the products scattered on the floor.

Indeed, I have been watching videos of numerous mobs going berserk; fighting over television sets, toys, clothes, electronic equipment, seductive sexual outfits – you name it and probably some Black Friday shoppers physically battled over it. There have been fistfights galore; men and women of all sizes (many amazingly plump!) pounding on one another and even preteen kids beating the hell out of each other over some merchandise on sale.

There were some 150 million shoppers on Black Friday and none of them were calm. When the store doors opened monstrous crowds acting monstrously rushed the workers who were trying to actually get the doors fully open. Some of these doors were torn off their hinges by the surge.

Despite the madness, despite the frenzied crowds, despite the violence, despite the embarrassment of seeing our fellow citizens raging almost unchecked for discounted merchandise, our newscasters relish recounting the wonder and glory of our fellow humans maniacally shopping.

However, there was one good point on this vicious day; blacks and whites and browns all went nuts simultaneously throughout the nation. This was true equality. No one group was worse than another; they all shared equally in the fiery fighting and that is in itself a wonderful testament to the equalizing fury of buying goods on sale. As a society, we have finally found a level playing field.

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

The Bird-Boating on the Osprey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmm, yes, it is so salty!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine Falcon debates attacking us:

Cormorant takes a break:

 

Mother & Son Ospreys (August, 2018)

Photos by Alene Scoblete

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 Amazon.com, 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 www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle and at bookstores.