I Am a Broken Record

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed Kills!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Blackjack Player of All Time

 

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

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

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

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

“I’m Paul Keen,” he said.

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

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

Paul Keen?

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

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

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

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

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

The Ken Uston,” said Howard.

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

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Maxim,” I said.

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

And that is how I met Paul Keen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you any good?” he asked.

“We’re good,” said the Beautiful AP

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

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

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

“God,” I said.

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

“God,” I said.

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

“They are giving away money.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Keen did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Genius of Birds

 

Anthropomorphism. Over the centuries that little word (okay, that long word) will cause most of our Western scientists and philosophers to emphatically state that giving human traits to animals is an incorrect assessment of other species’ intelligence and their place in the world of thought and behavior. Animals are just instinctual automatons.

After all if we look at our ancient literature such as the Hebrew Torah, the Christian Old Testament (essentially the Torah) along with other scriptures, and the New Testament (the story of Jesus), and the Muslim Koran, we see clearly that God is anthropomorphic; he is male, prone to quick and massive bouts of temper and not adverse to killing our first parents (Adam and Eve) for eating a fruit, while sentencing all of their children to die (that means y-o-u) and even at one point drowning the entire world with the exception of the wine-loving Noah, his family and mated pairs of animals.

Even the ancient Greeks portrayed their gods as human-like in every way, albeit with more power than mankind—power they used with abandon.

But think of this: what if Anthropomorphism may not be such a dirty word or idea after all. Perhaps we should take another look at it, as Jennifer Ackerman clearly and brilliantly relates in her compelling book The Genius of Birds.

Using the latest studies we see birds being creative through immediate and delayed learning, some using complex problem solving to work out puzzles. This includes the Let’s Make a Deal or Monty Hall mathematical puzzle that has baffled most humans, although “lowly” pigeons answer this higher math problem without much of a problem. Some birds have an intense interest and recognition of art works, and some seem to have a relatively sophisticated language.

Some songbirds will give a “wee, wee, wee, wee, wee, wee, wee” call to alert others that a large raptor is flying nearby. However, if it is a small raptor, the cry is “wee, wee.” At first this might seem the correct weeing as the bigger raptor needs more wees than a small raptor, right? Not so. The large raptors can’t really chase these songbirds through the thick leaves and branches of the trees and thus the long signal is merely a general warning.

But what about the small raptors? They can nail these songbirds because such raptors can maneuver in the trees. So a fast “wee, wee” is what’s needed as an immediate warning that a small and deadly raptor might be scouting for his or her next meal. Such songbirds do not want to wait for a long wee because such a wee could be a quick end to them.

Some male birds produce opioid type drugs when they sing and so they sing like all get-out at certain times of the year even when there aren’t many local females to impress. Evidently, being stoned is just as much fun as mating!

Based on our latest knowledge, anthropomorphism is alive and well.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Husbands’ Day is a Necessity

Ladies, this is a column for the husbands out there. Women shouldn’t read this, especially wives. It is for men only. I know you understand and will not read any further than this opening paragraph. Thank you. Thank you so very much, wonderful ladies.

(Pause)

Okay guys, that’s it; they’re gone. Now I can be honest with you and make this a hard-hitting article that our wives will not read.

My original opening was much tougher than the above one – I commanded our wives not to read this article. That’s right men; I told them that as the kings of our castles, husbands deserved time to be with other husbands, talking man-things. (All single males are happily invited to read this too!). I ordered the “gals” to stay away from this or else. I am not sure what the words “or else” meant, but I didn’t want my wife to read the “or else” because she’d get mad and I would be in trouble. So I wrote a gentler and more genteel opening. Women got the point, I’m sure.

I’ll lay it on the line, men; we husbands are treated shabbily by society. Here are a few examples from television commercials:

  • A husband is portrayed literally as a horse’s ass in a Sony commercial
  • A husband stupidly buys a cheaper detergent and is then informed by his super-smart wife that it will take twice as much of the stuff to clean the dishes and thus, they will pay much more for his idiotic decision
  • Countless commercials show men as dopey, sports-loving, junk-food eating, baseball-cap wearing children even if these men are middle aged
  • Men are so stupid they drive their cars off cliffs and thus women need an insurance company of their own to prevent their rates from getting too high
  • United Health Care shows a bunch of men cheering a fellow idiot as he tries to pole vault across a pool and instead lands on the food table, crushing it and causing himself to be concussed, while the wives watch, snicker and discuss what health care they have
  • Most truly dumb husbands are white men but now we are beginning to see black husbands as idiots too; being just as sports-obsessed and clueless as their white counterparts

I am sure you know of dozens of commercials where the husband (or man) is treated as if he were still slowly evolving into something somewhat resembling a human being; something wives have been for millennia. I don’t have to list them all because there’s a Yankee game starting in a half hour that I don’t want to miss.

So husbands, we must unite to fight the stereotype of husbands (and other males) being doofuses. You gay men out there, now that you can marry, guess what? You’ll be portrayed as doofuses soon enough. What a field day the advertising agencies will have with two husbands!

And look at the holidays of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day: these celebrate women. Almost all commercials show Valentine’s Day as a woman’s day. How are men remembered on Valentine’s Day? The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre! And Father’s Day? It’s an afterthought without the impact of Mother’s Day.

Enough I say. Enough! It is time to wipe out the discrimination against husbands.

I now propose Husbands’ Day with the following stipulations:

  • The celebration day will be on a Sunday and the next day, Monday, will be considered a National Holiday, where men who must work get double-time
  • Wives must obey their Husbands 100 percent
  • Husbands can wear whatever clothes they want without recrimination, including Crocs with white socks and high-water sweat pants
  • Husbands will be allowed to put the television sound as loud as they want
  • Husbands will not be force-fed fruits and vegetables by their health-conscious wives
  • No commercials making fun of husbands will be broadcast on television, radio or Internet
  • New commercials shall be made showing husbands to be the most important people in history
  • Husbands will be accorded the respect we deserve and all women must bow to us as we enter a room or are introduced to them

This is just a preliminary list to get us started. As Husbands’ Day takes full shape other stipulations will be added.

Let me add one more thing: Wives shall call us “master.”

Husbands, our time has come!

Men, let’s get this movement started! (Do not tell my wife any of this.)

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.

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.

I Hate These Commercials

 

 

I am not a big fan of television commercials. I don’t like seeing car companies selling speed with whooshing automobiles and sexy women salivating over the vehicle which only leads idiots to conclude that driving fast is a good thing and will get them plenty of sex too. I don’t like those drug commercials that sell you on something that has so many side effects it’s amazing anyone lives who takes these drugs. I certainly don’t like those male erection commercials that warn if you have an erection for several days after taking their powerful drug you’d better head for the emergency room. Even as a teenager I didn’t want an erection that lasted several days!

But in my business as a professional gambling busybody, the commercials that have driven me over the edge are coming not from auto manufacturers, or from the chemistry industry, or from the erector set, but from the casinos and casino venues.

Here are a few:

In Tunica, Mississippi, Fitzgeralds had a radio commercial that promoted itself as the luckiest casino in the area. How do you measure that? How can you say you are the luckiest casino? What is the precise definition of luck and how does a casino have more or less of it than some other casino? Had the casino said it pays back more on its slot machines and proved that, well, that is a statement of fact – but to say your casino contains more luck is a statement of fantasy to be nice, or falsehood to be precise.

The bizarre thing is that another Tunica casino, The (now defunct)Grand, was also billing itself in radio commercials as the luckiest casino too. It even had radio commercials where “players” claim that they have the best luck at the Grand. So which casino is the luckiest? Can there be two luckiest casinos?

The Vegas promotion of “what happens here stays here” has generated a tremendous positive buzz around the country – it’s more popular than any quote from Shakespeare. It’s also as false as a “dicer’s oath.”

These commercials are designed to make people think that they can do anything they want in Vegas and no one will ever know. Speak to former education secretary Bill Bennett and you learn his multi-million-dollar slot-play losses didn’t stay in Vegas but made front-page news all over the world when “secret” casino files were released. These “what happens here stays here” commercials are recommending that people lie and cheat on their spouses and fiancées. They recommend giving fake names to people you meet so you can have “carefree” pickups. In short, they recommend the type of behavior you were taught from childhood to avoid – the type that is ultimately not healthy for your mind, body or spirit. Germs don’t stay in Vegas.

Now the massive Foxwoods, Connecticut casino came up with a truly nauseating commercial. It was a takeoff of The Wizard of Oz and had several weird looking people cavorting on the grounds of and in the casino. “Dorothy” looked as if she was seriously strung out. The others looked worse. What is the point of the commercial? That people who look like crack addicts have fun at Foxwoods?

Foxwoods competitor, Mohegan Sun, had its own strange television commercials. One highlighted a middle aged woman using her “psychic powers” to find a hot machine – as if such mysticism actually was the way to winning slot play. It isn’t of course. But it fuels the poor deluded slot players into thinking they too can find a fabulous machine just by using their psychic powers.

Perhaps the commercial that drives me to yelling at the television was Mohegan Sun’s “Nick Felder: I Am An Idiot!” commercial. Yes, I have named it that based on its content.

The commercial opens with a crowded craps table where everyone is madly cheering. A somewhat disheveled young man who has been shooting the dice turns and then walks towards the camera: “I don’t even know how to play this game,” he laughs. “But I’ve got them all fooled. It’s all in the game face, something I call ‘attack force delta.’ So tonight Nick Felder is the deadly green felt ninja. And tonight I’m faking it until I’m making it and no one is going to know the difference.” He then turns and goes back to the table where he shoots the dice and everybody cheers like maniacs even before the dice stop moving.

This commercial was not subtle in getting its points across. It explained that the casino prefers its players to be complete dolts at the tables. Certainly if an idiot such as Nick Felder, the green felt ninja, can play craps than you certainly can too. You don’t have to know anything. Just throw the dice and win! This commercial recommends stupidity as a primary criterion for playing its games, not knowledge of the odds, not knowing which are the best bets.

You have no idea of whether the craps game being shown in this commercial is a good one or a bad one or one in between. Because none of that matters. The casino isn’t selling a good game – it’s selling a mind set for the player or a mindless set to be exact. Just pretend, that’s all you have to do, and you can have “them” all fooled too.

Now to be fair, there are many good casino commercials – showing people enjoying the games, the restaurants, the shows and athletic events, the spas – none of them attempting to promote a mindset that is seriously absent the mind part.

In truth, casino games are tough enough to beat when you know what you are doing. “Faking it until you are making it,” is a sure way to economic disaster.

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, ebooks and at bookstores.

 

Puffy Poodle Doodle Doodle

 

Germaine was in a state. She could not find Puffy Poodle Doodle Doodle’s winter coat. “Walter, I knew I had it but after I sent it out to be dry cleaned I don’t know where Cecilia put it and she took today as her weekly day. Of all the days!”

“It’s cold out there, Doodle could freeze to death,” said Walter turning the page of the New York Times. He wasn’t nearly as interested in the little puff ball as was his wife but he never let on; best to keep peace in the family. His wife could get into one of her “states” without much prompting.

It was cold too. January 15 and it was eight degrees! It had been 55 yesterday and then the temperature plummeted overnight. Oh, well, that was New York City weather. Up one day, down the next. It’s the price you paid for living in the greatest city in the world, thought Walter.

“I found it!” shouted Germaine just as the doorman called up, “A Ms. Livingston, ma’am.”

“Yes, yes, Maurice, send her right up.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ms. Livingston was a college kid who walked dogs to earn some money. For Doodle, it was an alone walk for which Walter paid quintuple so that Doodle did not have to rub fur with other dogs. Germaine had insisted on that, “I do not want our wonderful Doodle with those other dogs, touching them and smelling their pee-pee and poo-poo.”

Germaine put on Doodle’s coat—a faux-fur over Doodle’s own thick fur.

Just for the record, Germaine did not work but she did attend daily lunches, symposia and club activities and she was well-known in philanthropic circles, “Those poor, poor Afroid-Americans and Lantinos all the way up-town; you have to feel sorry for them and all those drugs that they can’t stop taking. A little money can’t hurt them can it?” And that is what she gave, a little money.

All the women had dogs and some had dogs and cats. Germaine did not like cats. “They stare at you. They are not nice.” Germaine’s dog was the cutest and most obedient. She kept that to herself; she didn’t want the other women to feel inferior, although they must have felt inferior every time they saw Doodle and how well he behaved.

Outside Ms. Livingston walked Doodle. She wondered why this little dog that had so much fur needed a winter coat. Her dog walking clients had many odd habits but Germaine was in a league of her own.

Of course, Germaine was stereotypical too, a rich husband, ladies’ lunches, clubs, meetings, charity; living in a building of apartments with price tags of $10 million or more. Ms. Livingston doubted she would ever be rich, not when she was a philosophy major. Dog walking might be her future as well as her present, but after all, she did have a very special connection with dogs.

And this poor dog, sad too; it didn’t look happy in its faux-fur coat.

They were crossing the street near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The icy wind was whipping down the avenue. Ms. Livingston took another look at Doodle. She crouched down and cradled its manicured face in her hands. “What’s the matter?” she asked sweetly.

Little bundled-up Doodle gazed deeply in Ms. Livingston’s eyes. “I used to be a wolf,” he said sadly. “Now look at me.”

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.

Students Are Sharks

 

Students are sharks, no doubt about that. When they scent blood in the water, many will unite and attack. The object of that attack will be the teacher.

I saw some teachers destroyed by students when I was in high school. Even in Catholic schools, teachers were fair game if you could rip them to shreds and not get in trouble (or too much trouble). Few teachers wanted anyone in the school to know that their students swarmed them, sometimes daily, and made them tremble in the face of disdain or vicious attacks. Many teachers would just hold it all in and not share their torment with others. Some of these teachers broke down and quit the profession. That was a true victory for the sharks.

It didn’t matter if the teacher was a nice person; if he showed some fear, or lost his temper and yelled, or trembled; he was dead meat. As a student, I never joined the sharks in their blood-letting. It was too easy; a weak teacher, belittled, and getting his ass chewed; I didn’t want anything to do with that. But you only needed a few students to set up the shark attack. Three or four and the class could be thrown into chaos.

Dealing with Possible Destruction

As a young teacher, losing control scared the hell out of me. It terrified me. I did not want to show any weakness on any day that would open me up to attack.

In 1969, before I entered my first classroom to teach my very first class, I had nightmares of the students turning against me and making me bleed so much that the front of the room was bathed in red. After teaching for 33 years and being out of the game for the past 16 years – I still have nightmares (which I call schoolmares) about not being in control.

In my teaching career I have strong memories of the teachers who lost control; who would cry, females and males, weeping shamefully, after their sharks’ devoured their soft flesh with delight.

I remember a former Marine, a big, strong guy who could rip a student to pieces in a physical fight, brought to blubbering in the teachers’ lounge. He didn’t last a full year on the job. I remember one teacher who was being observed by our department chairman crying as the lesson unfolded because the students became uncontrollable. He lasted two years before he gave up the job. There were plenty more.

Now some teachers can maintain discipline by being bastards or being scary or being both. Students can be rightfully afraid of strong-willed, mean, unrelenting teachers. And many of these teachers actually taught well. A good teacher is a good teacher even if he is a prick or she is a—(well you can supply an accurate descriptor here).

I didn’t want to be a scary, nasty teacher; that’s not me. I wanted to enjoy the classroom and have a good relationship with my students. I wanted to like my students and I would prefer that they liked me. Admittedly there will always be kids you dislike and, yes, some kids would dislike you. That’s the human condition.

Just prior to entering the classroom at the age of 22, I wondered: How do I circumvent the possibility of ultimately facing a school of ravenous adolescent biters looking to chomp on me?

I recalled both good and bad teachers I had encountered when I was a student. One started the very first lesson on the very first day by saying, “People, people let’s begin.” Nothing happened then but he had unknowingly lumped all his students together into one grouping (“people, people”) and many of those “people” in a relatively short time had formed a school of sharks and ripped this guy apart.

Okay, lesson one, don’t let the students think of themselves as one group. Keep each one thinking of him or herself as an individual. They had to think of the relationship with you as a dual relationship – me and Scobe – between two distinct individuals. If a kid liked you that probably would stop that kid from kicking your ass in class.

So no kid represented a group. No kid was the leader of the classroom. No kid represented his race or religion or ethnicity. The kid was the kid and nothing more. It was the student and me, period. Easy to say but how do I put that into effect?

I would face close to 30 kids per class on that first day. I figured that I’d meet them at the door and try to say something personal to as many of them as I could. The administrators of the schools want you to stand at your door to make sure the kids in the hall are behaving. No, it would be better for me to set up the future conditions in my classroom on that first day at the door.

So I would stand in the doorway those first few days and say silly things. If the kid had a tan I’d say something such as “Well, at least we don’t have to go swimming and have fun anymore now that school has begun.” Or “I’ll bet you can’t wait to do a lot of homework.”

To kids who swaggered and looked tough, I might say, “Okay, you are in charge of protecting the nerds. They need someone like you or they are dead from… ” and I’d wave my hand at the students rushing through the halls to their classes. I think most students, like most adults, think other people are idiots. I’d play on that with the tougher kids.

I’ll admit that what I had to say was never all that clever. I just wanted a word with the kid; that’s all, just a lightning-fast personal word, one-to-one.

In class I could build a one-on-one relationship even if I hadn’t gotten to the kid at the doorway. If some student said something really stupid, I would look at another kid in the class and do a quick eye-roll that only he or she could see. We made a connection at that moment. Then I would tease the kid who said the stupid thing— never nasty, just in fun. A little humor and a quick one-to-one with an individual student during class could go a long way in establishing a personal relationship and a classroom tone.

I also knew never to do the same lines or actions over and over. That could get boring.

Okay, that was one idea to employ, a truly personal relationship.

The Humor Trip

Some teachers don’t have much of a sense of humor in their classrooms. If a student got off a good line at your expense, how should you react? Get angry that a kid would dare say something funny about you, the paragon of education? No. For God’s sake, just laugh. What the hell? I enjoyed teasing my students, so why can’t they tease me? There were only a few times when I really wanted to kill the kid who said something mean to me, but I never let the #$%^&* know that.

Or come back with a funny remark of your own. But never nasty, “Timmy, your mother is a smelly ape!” That achieves nothing.

Okay, so have a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy what you are doing. If you like what you are doing, the kids should like it too. I called that emotional transference.

Classes didn’t have to be dry, dull and deadly. I would do the literature I liked, that I enjoyed, that I could get excited about when I taught it. I would teach writing the way I wanted to teach it.

So this was the plan I put into effect the very first day of my career. Did it work? I think so. In 33 years I never had to throw a student out of my class; or write a disciplinary referral on anyone. I never had to yell at a kid. Don’t get me wrong; there were times when I wanted to walk down the aisle and belt a kid in the nose. No teaching day is perfect even for the best teachers. That is something all teachers know. That’s why most days you see the teachers dragging their asses out of the school building.

Liking My Students

Did I like all of my students? Just about. I did have a few that I couldn’t stand and a couple I can honestly say I hated.

People might think it is wrong for me to say I had a couple of students I hated but I did. Why lie? Out of the approximately 6,000 kids I taught, I think hating two of them is pretty good. Some will say the word hate is too strong a word. If it is then feel free to change it to a word that means hate but doesn’t sound like hate. I’ll have a section about these two creeps in the future. You might hate them too.

And one seemingly weird thing, which will probably sound totally idiotic to many of you, but I remember from my little sister and my cousins when they were toddlers that they liked to have the same books read to them over and over; that they liked to eat the same food night after night. I remember an uncle who shaved his beard and his daughter cried as if he had died because she had never seen him clean shaven.

A certain sameness creates calm.

So I dressed basically the exact same way day after day after day. Each year I tended to have a different uniform (after all my uniform would wear out with such extensive use over one school year). I figured it would be easier for the students to basically see the same Scobe day after day. A leopard doesn’t change his spots and my clothes were my spots.

I remember one year when a PBS station was doing a show about my classroom and that year I wore a burgundy sweatshirt every day. So for the show every student wore a burgundy sweatshirt. It was fun to see all of us looking alike. And we did not give in to telling the producer of the show what we were doing. I just taught my regular class and the students were just great. It was a fun day!

The Attention Span Problem

Here is another situation that concerned me, the attention span of students. I found in my elementary and high school days, in college (even in high-level honors programs), in graduate school and in the mind-numbing education courses to which would-be teachers were subjected, that many students could not concentrate for prolonged periods of time. You could see legs beginning to vibrate; faces lost in dream-states, eyes drooping, and big yawns.

I knew you couldn’t teach a kid if that kid couldn’t pay attention. How do you solve that problem?

Over my years of teaching there have been many idiotic attempts by educators to find methods to engage students for prolonged periods of time. One such was called cooperative learning, where you put students in groups and they teach each other. The smart kids did all the work, achieved all the grades for the group, and the lazy kids did nothing, but they still achieved success through their hard-working peers. Of course that nonsense was not around in 1969.

So what did I do? I watched television. The kids I would teach had been brought up with television. So what held their interest for a half-hour or hour-long show? Something did because we had a nation of kids addicted to this form of entertainment. It took me a while but I got it. Commercials!

Every 10 minutes or so, the show was interrupted with a commercial that did two things; it introduced something new, maybe some product or food or cigarette brand and it gave a break from the program that the kid could get back into when the commercial was over.

How could I introduce the commercial aspect into my lessons? Every 10 minutes or so, I would interrupt the lesson and go on a short riff, something funny or unusual. Then I would get back to the lesson but first I’d say something such as, “Wait, wait, I’ve forgotten what we were talking about. Can anyone help me?” Of course, the kids would raise their hands and tell me what I had taught. Okay, that was a sneaky way to do a review and it also gave the kids the idea that I had a pretty poor memory.

The Students I Taught

In my career I taught every type of student—from advanced placement to regents to non-academic. I once had a class comprised of six felons who had taken someone’s life when they were in junior high school. I had some students who were—even at the young high school ages—far smarter than I would ever be. But a kid is a kid, no matter how brilliant. If a kid taught me something by something he said I had no problem saying, “Excellent. I never thought of that.”

I taught kids from all races and many ethnic groups. I treated them all the same—I’d tease, cajole and praise kids if what they had just accomplished was worth it. I was never overly-critical. I was not an easy grader.

My department chairman won a bet against a teacher who said my popularity was based on my giving out high grades. He told the guy to bring his grade book in and he’d compare the grades, especially when we taught the same students. This teacher’s grades were far higher than mine. My chairman won the bet.

So I had my plan and I put it into effect from day one. I might still have schoolmares so long after retiring but I did accomplish what I set out to do—that was, being the best teacher I could be and to never lose control.

Frank Scoblete’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, and at bookstores.