Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The Incredible Fading Man

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All four of them looked quizzically at me.

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

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

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

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

“Come on, man, Rodan,” I said.

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

“You folks don’t know Rodan?”

They shook their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Outrages

 

  • Gary Sanchez, the catcher for the New York Yankees, has tired arms. That is to say that his arms cannot keep up with many pitches to the left of him, to the right of him, and sometimes low and in the dirt. You will note the number of passed-ball he allows as one indication. But a better indication is the fact that balls get by him in counts that are not critical, balls that do not get by other catchers. He might also have other tired parts of his body that do not allow him to move as quickly as most other catchers.
  • What percentage of people attending a ball game eat something? Drink something?
  • Every stadium should have a movable roof. Minneapolis has a brand-new stadium with no roof. It snows there in October and April. I went to a game in Denver and it was snowed out!
  • Does anyone else want the creators of the jingle for “Kars for Kids” given the death penalty? I wrote a full article about this company. Not exactly what it pretends to be.
  • Speaking of commercials: Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York has two commercials that are insulting to the intelligence of even rather dumb people. The first and most egregious has an “everyman” doing weird stuff to his face to increase his luck, as if facial weirdness can do such a thing – and, naturally, he wins and his wins come at almost all the games! The casino is telling us that even a moronic jerk can beat the house but his secret way of winning is magical – just like yours till be.
  • The second Empire City commercial has a group of good-looking people at a row of slot machines who one-after-another in a split moment all win the huge jackpots on their machines. They are all lined up at the machines, one, two, three, four, five jumping up as the jackpot wins pour in. In over 30 years of casino gambling I have never seen such a thing – in fact, I have never seen any two people sitting next to each other win the huge jackpot at the same time. However, I have seen an extraordinary number of players sitting next to each other lose.
  • Soda? I hate soda. It isn’t good for you. You know that. But if you watched the Olympics and saw all those world-class athletes doing their thing in soda commercials you might get the idea that drinking this crap would help your athletic performance. Did anyone watching those commercials believe that? Now Aaron Judge is doing a Pepsi commercial but at least he doesn’t even pretend it’s good. He just drinks the stuff and nods with pleasure.
  • How come all those guys with erectile dysfunction on those Cialis commercials are rugged, good-looking studs throwing bales of hay on trucks, working he-man jobs? There are no little waddling fat former-accountant guys in their flabby late 70’s.
  • And why on those commercials does the couple take baths in separate tubs (outdoors no less) after they have sex? Shouldn’t they be clean before they have sex? Otherwise the unwashed body-smells would be overwhelming.
  • I will say this again: Why do the commercials for gold and silver want us to buy the stuff with the money they claim will soon be worthless? Why don’t the companies just keep the gold and silver since it will be so valuable in the coming future?

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.

My Three Best Teachers

 

Today, May 8th is National Teachers’ Day. I had three teachers who helped me set the course of my life.

My 5th grade teacher at Our Lady of Angels Grammar School was Sister Patricia Michael of the Sisters of Charity. I hated this woman! She would not let me get away with anything. I sat in the back with the other dumb kids – that was considered proper seating in those days, smart kids upfront and dumb kids in the back. I enjoyed being with the idiots.

“Francis,” she would say to me. “You are not stupid. You are one of the smartest kids I know. You belong up front. If you don’t get there by the end of the term you will be in great trouble. Do you hear me, young man?”

And she had this damn thing about writing. “You can be a good writer but you are lazy. You better learn the rules before you bend them, young man.”

So my early essays for her came back coated in what looked like blood. Slowly (and surely) I learned to write a decent essay because of her falcon-like hovering over my work.

By the end of the year I was upfront with the smart kids. It was uncomfortable but what could I do? She was beating me into the submission of being smart. Damn her!

I went back some years later to tell her how much I appreciated her for what she did for me. That she was a great teacher and I wanted her to know it. She cried.

I dedicated one of my books to her.

In 6th grade I had a true poet as a teacher, Franciscan Brother Jonathan. He was very interested in my writing and he gave me a tremendous amount of advice. He wrote in my yearbook that I would be a published writer, just wait and see!

He also told me that I had a way with public speaking. He didn’t call it that; he’d say I had a way with crowds.

I dedicated one of my books to him.

And finally my 8th grade teacher and basketball coach Franciscan Brother Barnabas.  We had the best 8th grade basketball team in New York City. I wrote about this in my book The Virgin Kiss.

I had backslid a moment and my grades were in the low 80’s. He told me that if I didn’t get them over 90 there would be no basketball for me. I got them up.

In basketball I had two roles; to cover the best player on the other team (I was one of three who covered Lou Alcindor – now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar – and my job was to irritate the hell out of him since I was a foot-and-a-half shorter than he was). I also had to handle the ball if the game was within 10 points at any time. We tended to defeat teams by huge scores and 10 points close to us was considered too close.

He once told me that if there were ever a problem the ball would go to me and I would take care of it. I took care of it. We went undefeated.

I dedicated a book to him.

I enjoyed my career as a teacher and what made it worthwhile was joining Facebook and discovering that I had not wasted my time in education. I appreciated those former students who told me that 33 years of my life had real meaning to them.

Bird Walking and Talking

 

When I tell my friends that I am now a “birder” or, as people used to say, a “bird watcher,” they think I have lost my mind. My wife’s friends think what she is doing is simply wonderful. They will congratulate her on her enthusiasm and love of nature.

My friends? Here’s what they say: “Aren’t those bird people all crazy tree huggers? Aren’t they nuts? Why would you want anything to do with them? Are you nuts?”

Look, the birding community is made up of many different types of people; some are progressive, some liberal, and some conservative. It is a decent cross-section of American society obviously awash with those who care about birds and the environment.

I will admit it clearly; I like birders.

The Beautiful AP and I go on bird walks with our South Shore Audubon Society just about every Sunday from late August to the following June.

The talk is usually about birds that we are seeing and hearing – our guide Joe knows his stuff and is happy to teach us. I am, sadly, the birdbrain in the group. Of course, in the real world of birds a birdbrain can be quite intelligent with a host of parrots including the brilliant Kea, the magnificent African Grey, the Macaw, the Cockatoo, the Amazon, along with your backyard birds such Crows, Ravens and Jays – to name just some of the really bright ones. It is true, if I were a bird I would not be on this list.

But not all talk centers on birds, especially when we are walking and not seeing or hearing a specific bird or species. I have a few birders that I enjoy talking with about other stuff, sometimes trivial stuff, and sometimes earth-shaking stuff.

This moment was trivial: We were at my favorite birding place, The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Howard Beach, Queens. The refuge is a study in contrasts. The world of the refuge is nature; lakes, ponds, woods, and a beautiful bay, but off in the distance is the epic city of New York, with skyscrapers trying to scratch the sky. The refuge was only a few miles from Kennedy Airport where planes take off to everywhere in the world.

I was walking with Bob going past the Bay side of the park. Bob is one of my favorites. He has some very funny opinions about the birding population. He thinks “we are like golfers, our scores are not always to be believed.” Birders pride themselves on being honest about the birds they are seeing and cataloguing.

“How much would it take,” I said, “for you to strip naked, call over all the birders here and run into the water up to your neck and then run out letting everyone see you?”

“I don’t know,” he said, seriously thinking about it.

“Ten thousand?” I asked.

“You got it! Ten thousand and I’ll strip, shout to everyone and they can watch me run into and out of the water.”

“How about five thousand?” I asked.

“Then I wouldn’t want to go up to my neck because that water is cold. I’m not one of those polar bear people,” he said.

“You don’t care if everyone laughs at you?”

“I laugh at him,” said his wife. I hadn’t noticed she was standing behind us.

“How about a thousand?” I asked.

“I’ll do it but I will only stand at the shore line. I won’t go in.”

“Will you jump up and down?” I asked.

“This is getting disgusting,” said his wife.

“How much would it be for you?” asked Bob.

“I wouldn’t do it unless the money was really, really big. People would really laugh at me.”

“Who cares?” he said. “At our age what does a little thing matter?”

“Not that,” I said. “It’s because I have gotten really fat. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me. I’ve become the human blob. There is no beauty in me anymore.”

We never did establish a price for me because at that moment a Peregrine falcon was spotted looking at all of us from a nearby tree. Now that is one beautiful bird! It captured our attention and immediately took us from the trivial to the sublime.

The Woman Who Tormented Me

 

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

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

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

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“New York,” I said.

“Oh, New Yawk! New Yawk!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“New Yawk! New Yaaawwwk!” she cackled.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s great,” I said.

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

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

New Yawk, affawd, dats,” she said.

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

“I think I heard gotta, I heard gotta!

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

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

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

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

“Is my accent really that bad?”

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

“Man,” I said.

“Forget her,” said the Beautiful AP.

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

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

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

“I thought so,” she said.

“Is my accent that bad?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

“Hello there, New Yawker!”

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

What the hell is with her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did.

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

AP confirmed, “He’s on the spectrum.”

“Yeah, he’s off,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fastest Things on Wings

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bird Breakups

 

Many birds “marry” for life, others for a little while, and some others continually play the fields, bushes, trees and shorelines. Females determine with whom they will mate, so the male birds must be colorful and expert at the sex dances in order to get those women to love them—at least for the few seconds that the actual mating takes place.

Females produce the eggs and do what they must do to propagate their species. Yes, there are some couplings where the males actually help out around the house and some even are house-husbands but usually the males are doing most of the hunting to feed their brood and leave the baby caring to the ladies. Some males just scoot away never to be seen or heard from again.

The March 2018 issue of Scientific American has an interesting article “Bird Breakup” by Jason G. Goldberg on why certain bird couplings go astray and sometimes end in a birdie divorce. Blue herons have a different mate every breeding season—they are the Liz Taylors of birding—while the mallards only have a nine percent divorce rate. The mallards are committed to marriage. The blue herons are committed to mating without commitment.

Why so?

First, most of the birdie divorces occur because of the death of one spouse or a lack of synchronicity in the birds’ migrating patterns. If hubby arrives at the nesting site a few weeks ahead of his wife but his dear wife does not get there within a certain time period, the urge to reproduce is too great for the male to hang in there. After all, the bird’s genes are screaming for reproduction. In short, death, delay or lack of synchronicity can wreak havoc with a bird marriage. A male or female is not going to wait for a delayed or dead spouse to hurry on home because the future awaits.

It is rare that in a bird marriage, one will say, “Go on now, go! Walk out the door. Just turn around now, ‘cause you’re not welcome anymore.” Generally the breakups are due to circumstances outside the bird’s control.

Then there are accidents that can cause problems in a bird’s relationship with his spouse. In New York City’s Tompkins Square Park, according to The New York Post, a lovely red-tailed hawk couple, Christo and Dora, who have raised 10 chicks together, have suddenly encountered true marriage problems.

You see Dora needed to go into rehabilitation and no, even though this is New York City, her stint in rehab had nothing to do with drugs; she had a broken wing.

Red-tailed hawks usually mate for life but with Dora’s disappearance, and presumed death, a new love entered Christo’s picture, Nora, meaning “not Dora,” flew in, wiggled her feathers and enticed Christo to give a second marriage a try.

Christo and Nora started the mating rituals and then – oh, no! – Dora was released back into the park.  Dora saw Nora. Nora saw Dora. Christo saw Dora and Nora. And there was trouble with a capital T!

The two females had no intention of being sister wives. They were on the verge of fighting to the death when Christo helped create two nests far enough away from each other so 0that Dora and Nora didn’t have to bother with one another. But Christo is not a Mormon bird from the old school of polygamy and whether he can handle two wives is yet to be seen. New Yorkers who enjoy the hawks are waiting with baited breath for the end results of this bigamy.

Peregrine falcons that also mate for life will experience devastating angst when their mates die. In the marvelous book Wings for My Flight: The Peregrine Falcons of Chimney Rock, Marcy Cottrell Houle recounts the death of a female falcon whose mate waits and waits for her return.

The male flies and flies miles and miles as he desperately searches for his mate. In his travail he loses significant weight, and when he finally realizes that he has lost his beloved, he mournfully takes up the total care and training of the chicks himself. It is a heartbreaking tale that looks exactly like true love.

Can a bird love? Can a bird feel loss? Decide that for yourselves, but my answer is yes.

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.