Three Strikes and I’m Out: Amazon, Delta, and P.C. Richard

 

Strike One: Amazon.com

Amazon.com has benefited from the Covid-19 virus because mail order is now a bigger part of our economy than ever before. Amazon’s profits increased by close to 30 percent. Indeed, on Wednesdays our village collects cardboard and just about every home is overflowing with Amazon boxes to be recycled.

Over the years Amazon.com has been a big seller of my 35 books. Like many authors, I have also had a special Advantage contract with them under which they sell autographed copies of my books. Amazon sends me the order, I then autograph the book, and mail it to the customer. I get to keep a part of the sale price, as does Amazon.

I’ve been getting orders that I can’t fill because the Advantage program suddenly didn’t accept my password. Okay, so I created a new password but Amazon did not recognize that one. Then I created another password and Amazon didn’t recognize that one either. I continually receive orders through the Advantage site, but once I log in using any of these passwords, no orders are listed. I can’t fulfill an order without knowing the purchaser’s name and address.

I looked for ways to contact someone at Amazon who could combine my three Advantage accounts and then figure out who had ordered books. We’re talking a good number of books here too.

No one was “home.” No chat, phone, or email was available to get through to Amazon Advantage.

Okay, so at the moment I have lost money that I would have earned had Advantage functioned. That isn’t a huge problem. But here is the problem: People who have tried to buy autographed copies are being told that they can’t because the orders can’t be filled! That frustrates the customer and makes me look bad.

Yes, my wife the Beautiful AP and I have been trying to contact someone at Amazon to solve this problem. We thought we got through to Amazon and were told there is no direct line to Advantage, but someone from Advantage would call us back within 24 hours. It’s been 168 hours and no call.

Strike Two: Delta Airlines

“I’m sorry but we have many phone calls and our agents are all busy. We cannot answer this call.” Click! Hang up.

The above is a paraphrase of a message I received from Delta Airlines when I called to find out about a refund or credit on my tickets. It took me several hours to get through to them. Well, to get through to the click!

I had two round trips scheduled for Canada, one in June (Montreal for three people) and one in July (Calgary for two people). That’s five first-class tickets in total.

On the website, I saw that they were giving me personally, but neither of the other two fliers, a few hundred dollars as a credit for the Montreal flight. Three first class tickets do not cost only a few hundred dollars. One first-class ticket does not cost that either.

I also received (now get this!) a notice that I could fly from Calgary to JFK in New York when I was originally supposed to—just me, no one else.

Of course, there was no such flight because Canada is closed to Americans! So I couldn’t fly to Canada but I could fly home from Canada. Indeed, the flight was cancelled by Delta even as they were telling me that if I sneaked into Canada I could get back to New York. Of course I would not be with my wife, the Beautiful AP, but I guess Delta figured we had been married a long time so we needed a little time apart.

Finally, yesterday, the Beautiful AP received a boarding pass for Calgary in an email. Yes, she could now fly to Canada. Wait a second; isn’t Canada still closed to Americans? So we checked Delta’s website to see if there was a flight taking place to a country that doesn’t want us there. No.

So we now have a boarding pass for a flight that doesn’t exist to a country that won’t let us in. But if I do get illegally in to Canada, somehow and in some way, I can get back home.

Strike Three: P.C. Richard and Son

I write just about every day and when I am done I either read a book, a magazine or watch a good movie or television show. Actually I do all those things. In short, I reward myself for my daytime efforts.

I had an in-house theatre installed when I came home from a particularly lucrative trip to Vegas, with speakers that can blow the roof off my house. “Will you lower that?” the Beautiful AP says constantly as she hides in the bedroom. “Wear noise cancelling earphones!” I yell back but she can’t hear me because the speakers are too loud.

A couple of years ago I bought an LG 4K HD television—a big one—so I could watch my shows with the fullest of pleasure. I figured I deserved that, right? I mean, I started my life in a cold-water flat where three of our six rooms were not heated in winter, and now look at me!

Yeah, look at me. My stinking LG 4K  HD television is on the blink. Every so often the set pauses and displays the LG logo, interrupting the show or movie for about 30 seconds. This can happen over and over or just every once in a while. But it has now been going on throughout the virus lockdown.

I bought the set from P.C. Richard and Son here on Long Island, along with a five-year extended warranty from the store. So they should send someone over to fix the screwed-up set. That’s what the extended warranty stipulated. Yes, it stipulated that in clear terms. I have the paperwork. (Actually, my wife has the paperwork.)

P.C. Richard and Son states they will honor all warranties except those—yes, you guessed it —for television sets. Refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, clothes dryers, toasters, stoves, air-conditioners, microwaves – all of which by the way we have bought from P.C. Richard and Son over the years— are essential items and will be serviced during the Covid-19 virus. But no televisions!

On its official web site P.C. Richard and Son states clearly: “We Are Here for You!”

Mr. Richard and Son, I’m okay, but my television isn’t. Why bother with a warranty if you won’t honor it?

So, my friends, no autographs, no flights, and no television. This is almost as bad as the pandemic itself!

Frank Scoblete’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. Receive Frank’s articles in your email. Sign up today.

 

 

The Big Bang…Boom!

 

I like the idea of celebrating the United States of America on July 4th.

The fact that we were not perfect at our start or during the early 1800s or after the 1800s or during the 1900s or right up until yesterday is no reason not to celebrate our great experiment in self-government.

I think we are heading in the right direction. Our ideas are strong and slowly we will see them manifest themselves more completely as time moves on. Most of our citizens are decent people and their decency will win out in the long run. We are created equal even though it is taking centuries to establish that fully throughout our states.

However, can we jettison the street-side fireworks on this important holiday? My neighborhood was a war zone, starting at dusk and heading into midnight. There were explosions that shook our house. There were Roman candles that landed close to our roof. A barrage with no pause, no intermission; a relentless cacophony of booming.

What is the point of keeping your neighbors awake and, for some, have them trembling in fear that their houses might be damaged or even burned? Are those explosive experts romping in the streets aware that what they are doing is morally wrong?

Indeed, it is morally wrong to light up the night with fearing, flaring flights of Roman candles and generate explosions so loud that birds, squirrels, and people quiver in their nests, unable to read a book, listen to music or watch television. Our local yokels were hopping and skipping and bellowing out on the streets as they threw their bombs with nary any consideration for those who didn’t want to hear their whoops and wham-bangs.

We tend to think; “Oh, they are just kids” as if being a kid allows one to be stupid and totally self-centered. Yes, these were kids—a few decades ago. They’ve grown up postulating that making noise has some valuable meaning in the scheme of life.

They have probably read neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution. Maybe they should expose their brains to knowledge and not ka-booming on Independence Day, and, perhaps, lead the country closer to the ideals expressed in those documents.

Some might say, “Oh, buck up, Scoblete, it’s just one day of the year.” Unfortunately, they are setting off fireworks just about every evening throughout year—it’s just louder, longer, and more loathsome on July 4th.

My wife, the Beautiful AP, is of the opinion that these July 4th bombers—and also those drivers who remove the mufflers from their cars so they can be heard for miles—are people who have accomplished little or nothing in their lives, thus making noise is their way of getting attention.. “I’m loud, therefore I am.”

So if you are one of the noisy masses, perhaps next year you should do something more meaningful, or at the very least—do nothing.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. Sign up to get Frank’s articles sent you to you.

A Second Virus Attacks!

The coronavirus has caused the world to turn upside down and inside out. My travels have been interrupted; no casinos in the last two months; no trips outside the country either. My wife the Beautiful AP and I are having a sedate life at the moment—the most sedate life of our lives. Our lives now revolve around our home, our pets and Zoom calls.

Our village is quite quiet now. We are stepping back in time to an older, finer world.

Except:

There is a second virus out there; a hideous one, perhaps more hideous than even the coronavirus. It is called the carownervirus (pronounced car-owner-virus) and it entails humans removing the mufflers from their cars and speeding on New York’s highways and boulevards.

Intermittently during the mornings, the days, the evenings and the middle of the night when I get up for a refreshing urinary expulsion, I hear them zooming in the distance as they race one another. The closest parkway is about two miles away but even so that mufflerless cacophony assails my ears.

Who are these life-forms that think removing mufflers and stepping down on a gas pedal makes them special? Are they believers in the idiom I am loud, therefore I am? Are they the adult version of those beings that spent years trying to ruin the educations of all the other kids who wanted to learn something? Is it true that the young idiot usually grows into an older idiot? I do ponder these questions.

The carownervirus might be here (hear) to stay as the infected take over the roads while healthy people hunker down to avoid catching or releasing the coronavirus.

Perhaps those infected by the carownervirus will even have their own PPE uniforms to wear: short-sleeved T-shirts with a pack of unfiltered cigarette rolled up in one sleeve, adorned with gold chains dangling from their necks, along with greased hair and leather jackets bearing their gang’s name (Misfits!).

Will their saying now become for all time, “Hey, Daddy-o! What’s happening?” And when all our lives settle into a new normal, will we be challenged to a perpetual drag race each time we venture on the open road?

I know what I’ll say when I am challenged: “Sorry sir, but I have a bowl of goldfish on the front seat.”

Frank Scoblete’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at bookstores. Receive Frank’s articles in your email box. Sign up today.

My Wife is THE Boss

As Valentine’s Day fast approaches, the 27th anniversary of my marriage to the Beautiful AP is at hand. We married on Valentine’s Day so I wouldn’t forget what date our wedded bliss began. That date was AP’s idea.

Make no mistake about it, the Beautiful AP saved my life.

I was about 40 years old, losing my teaching job of 18 years, in debt up to Wilt Chamberlain’s eyeballs, paying child support and the mortgage on my first house and sending (who I hoped would be) my soon-to-be ex-wife to graduate school to become a librarian and taking the kids on weekends so they could be with me and also enjoy working with me in the theatre company I half-owned and I was depressed.

We were sitting on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey, and I was lamenting everything. I am an excellent lamenter.

“How can I get out from under all this debt? How can I send my kids to a private high school and then college? I do not want them to have to pay back college loans; I don’t want them to start their adult lives in debt. I don’t know where I can get all this money I need.”

Although I was not married to AP at that time, I knew we would get married as soon as my first wife and I could settle our almost six years of divorce discussions. As anyone knows who has gotten a divorce, the old song “Our Love is Here to Stay” must be rewritten as “My Former Love is Here to Slay” because divorce is a killing business.

But AP came in to save me. “Scobe, you are going to become a famous writer. You are going to take this gambling study you’ve been doing and make something big out of it. The kids will be totally taken care of and you’ll get out of debt. You’ll see, you are not down as much as looking up at where you will be going.”

She was right. In every way I was headed up. In every way.

And so it was that the Beautiful AP and I got married on Valentine’s Day once my now ex-wife had met a man she wanted to marry (I love that man!), moved to Texas in lightning-like fashion, so I now had custody of the kids, and all was right with the world. We paid the tuitions for high school and college; my debt was paid off; 35 books were published; television shows were written; consulting boomed; I did a lot of radio; I did a lot of television and I was free and clear and happy as could be.

And soon after our marriage I allowed the Beautiful AP to become the boss of my whole life. She deserved that much, did she not?

She is now in charge of everything. I watch her happily dusting, vacuuming the house and washing the floors and cleaning the bathrooms in her delightful manner. I see her scampering to do the laundry and to take the clothes out of the dryer and fold them and put them neatly away in our closets and cabinets. Our bathrooms are spotless. She is totally in charge

The whole house is hers! She deserves this power. She saved my life and now she runs everything. A woman in command is a wonder to behold.

When I sit in my recliner for hours and watch her exercise her authority over the whole house, I am in a state of joy. All women would enjoy such empowerment. Too many husbands do not allow their wives to have such strength in life as I do with the Beautiful AP. She even works a full-time job that she loves.

For our anniversary I bought some slippers for myself; wrapped up the box and gave them to her so that she could now joyously slip them on my feet when I call for them. I have stocked the refrigerator with grapes for her to bring to me and feed them to me—one at a time—as I enjoy an endless stream of movies.

I bought her an easy-to-use snow blower so she can make sure our property is clear after a storm. She’s even promised me that she would clean the garage.

What a woman!

Happy 27th anniversary to my Beautiful AP

(Do not, under any circumstances, let the Beautiful AP read this article.)

 

Frank’s books are available on smile.amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at book stores. Why not subscribe to Frank’s web site and get his articles emailed to you free of charge?

 

 

 

She is and She isn’t

 

My wife the beautiful AP was a great card counter at blackjack. We played together as a team from 1989 to June of 2001 when our youngest son, Michael, graduated from college. The moment we finished the graduation ceremony she said to me, “I am now officially retired from playing blackjack.”

I had a strong feeling this was coming. We were spending way over a 100 days a year in the casinos – and that was a lot since we live in New York and the shortest commute we had was 3 ½ hours to Atlantic City. For two people who hate to drive those hours dragged by. Indeed, we went to Vegas far more often than we did to Atlantic City because Vegas had the very best blackjack games in the country, including the best of all time at the Maxim in the early 1990s where all but one card was dealt out of a single-deck game. In addition, the game had great rules too.

While the beautiful AP enjoyed going to the casinos, the intense pressure of counting cards because we needed to make money had taken its toll. She was totally burnt out. She liked the swimming pools, the shows, the gourmet dinners, the great conversations with friends but her card counting career was now over. In those days, the great new card counting method Speed Count which I write about in my new book Beat Blackjack Now! did not exist – maybe she would not have burned out had we been playing Speed Count instead of the traditional methods.

“How about playing craps again?” I asked. “I’ll teach you how to control the dice.”

The beautiful AP gave me that look; that look all husbands understand.

“No, seriously,” I said. “Once you learn to control the dice, you’ll really enjoy the game.”

Now, the reason the beautiful AP shied away from craps didn’t have anything to do with the nature of the game since it is – in my opinion – the most exciting table game in the casino. Her rejection of the game had more to do with her own personal experiences shooting the dice.

You see, while the beautiful AP was a consummate blackjack card counter, she was a deadly craps shooter – meaning anyone at the table, players and dealers, faced death while she was shooting and with each and every one of her throws I held my breath praying no one would get hurt. When the dice left her hands, they were like twin-bullets shot from a twisted tortured gun barrel. She had no idea where the dice were going, I had no idea where the dice were going and certainly the dice had no idea of where they were going.

One time she threw the dice so hard that both went whizzing past the head of the player standing at the end of the table. One went past one side of his head; the other die went past the other side of his head. She once threw the dice down the cleavage of a young woman to the cheers of all the salivating males at the table. She once hit herself in the face as she shook the dice in her hand as one die shot out at her.

Perhaps her greatest and most deadly feat was throwing the dice and having one hit the boxman and one hit the stickman. If you don’t know the game of craps, the boxman is on one side of the table; the stickman is directly across from him. Even Annie Oakley couldn’t have performed such a trick shot. The boxman was hit on the forehead; the stickman was hit in the chest. AP turned bright red and gave up the dice. That was her last roll; her last time playing the game.

I tried to convince her to play again. She said, “I could kill someone with the way I throw.” I told her she didn’t have to throw. She gave me that look again, “What’s the point of playing craps if you don’t throw? That’s the thrill of the game.”

In 2002 I had her enroll in my dice control course. She reluctantly agreed.

Now some of my critics like to think that I exaggerate some of my true-life stories. I mean seriously, how could anyone throw two dice to opposite ends of a table with one throw as I am claiming the beautiful AP did? That has to be impossible right?

Well, in the class I had the instructor we call “Old Eagle Eyes” be AP’s mentor. He is a patient, laid back individual who would handle my wonderful wife wonderfully. He sat down in the boxman’s position and I was in the stickman’s position. AP took the dice for the very first time – and performed her miracle again. She hit “Old Eagle Eyes” right in the head and, to top off her first achievement of this great feat, she hit me on the cheek!

Eagle Eyes sat stunned, “I thought you were exaggerating when you said she once did this. I can’t believe it.” He picked up the die. “These things are really sharp!” he laughed.

Over the course of two days, the beautiful AP did get better but she never accepted the fact that she could become a good enough dice controller to make money at the game. So that class ended her craps career.

My wife was a great card counter at blackjack and she also was the deadliest dice shooter the world has ever seen – and that’s no exaggeration!

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from smile.Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

I Am Calm and Cool with Others

My wife, the beautiful AP, says I have one criterion for judging people. According to her, “If they agree with you, Scobe, they are smart; if they disagree with you they are stupid. You have no in between.”

Okay, to show my beloved wife that she is wrong I took two people who have different opinions than I and we had a three-way conversation. Here it is, exactly as I recorded it:

 

HE: The worst table game in the whole casino is blackjack. I mean how do you know what decision to make? What are you supposed to hit? When do you stand? It is just too confusing.

SHE: Blackjack is a real pain in the neck because the people at the tables are all experts and some of them have big mouths and they tell you when you are doing something they don’t like. But I am betting my own money and how dare they try to intimidate me into playing the way they like?

ME: Blackjack is a good game if you know the right strategy. You can buy a basic strategy card in the casino gift shop and face maybe a half-percent house edge on the traditional game. If you play the correct basic strategy you can ignore what the “experts” at your table say because there is a good chance they are wrong. Just smile at them and then ignore them.

HE: I don’t want to look at a basic strategy card. People will think I am stupid. That would be embarrassing.

SHE: I really like to play those single deck games. I think you have a better chance to win at those games even with the 6 to 5 payout on the blackjacks. I heard single decks are the closest contest for the players.

ME: A lot of people use basic strategy cards. No one will make fun of you. It actually means you are smart. Now those 6 to 5 payouts on the single deck blackjack games, plus the fact that they hit soft 17s, will give the house about a 15 times greater edge on the single deck games than the casinos used to have in the good old days. You need to get that 3 to 2 payout on the blackjack to help make it a close game in terms of the house edge. So I think you must avoid all those games where the casino is taking too big a cut from you.

HE: I like craps because you have the best chance to win a lot of money at that game. You have bets that pay off like 10 to 1 and sometimes even higher. It’s a great game with a lot of excitement. I like to shake the dice up, blow on them, and then fling them down the table. I try to get them to bounce hard off the back wall and make it all the way back down to me!

SHE: Craps is too confusing. There’s too much going on.

ME: You know a lot of people think craps is confusing and it really isn’t. It’s a simple game. There are a lot of bets and almost all of them are bad. I hate to say this but all the bets that pay off large sums like 10 to 1 are bad bets with high house edges. Just use the Pass Line, take odds, place the 6 and 8 and the game is very close between the player and the house. You don’t even have to know the other bets because they aren’t worth making.

HE: I find roulette to be dull.

SHE: I love roulette. Some numbers get hot and if you are watching the scoreboard you have a really good chance to win.

ME: Roulette is fun and relaxing but the game is random so those hot numbers are not necessarily going to repeat themselves often enough for you to get an edge over the house. Because roulette at a crowded table is a slow game, the high house edge doesn’t hurt you as much as it would if you played the number of decisions you play in blackjack for instance.

HE: The other day I got a great comp from the casino. They treated us to dinner at the Steak House and I really enjoyed the meal.

SHE: My host loves to give us comps. She really likes us.

ME: Comps are rewards for play at specific levels. The host has some discretion but not a lot. If you get a gourmet comp that means you are betting enough that your losses will more than pay for that meal two or three times over. Comps are not given to people who are not going to make the casino enough money to warrant the comp.

HE: I always wanted to play baccarat but the losses at that game look like they are gigantic. All the high rollers play that game so they must lose a lot of money.

SHE: I understand it is a complicated game too. I saw the hitting and standing rules and I couldn’t even follow them.

ME: Baccarat is a good game with a relatively low house edge and the game doesn’t have a lot of decisions so your losses per hour are not so bad. In the high roller rooms the minimum bet is usually $100 but sometimes you can find games with $50 or even $25 minimums. The rules for hitting and standing have nothing to do with you. They are automatic and you don’t have to even know what they are. The dealers will tell you when to deal a card or to stand – which is one of the fun things about baccarat, you get to deal the cards at times. There is a mini-baccarat game too but this is very fast and the low house edge with a lot of decisions can still cut deeply into your bankroll.

There I did it. I didn’t tell either of these two that I was right and they were wrong. Of course, I was right and they were wrong. But I am sure you can keep that a secret from my wife.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at smile.amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, as e-books, on Kindle and at bookstores.

 

Please, Just a Regular Haircut

My hair is curly and thick. It used to be really blonde, then turned brown in my twenties and now it is completely gray. I don’t mind that because it has stayed curly and thick.

There have actually been people who thought I wear a wig because very few men my age have such a great head of hair. I was once doing a talk in Las Vegas and some idiot came up behind me after I was done and pulled my hair.

“Hey, hey, it’s real!” he shouted to a friend. “You win the bet!” Some people have no manners. I told the guy that I should share in the win since my head hurt from the pulling of my hair. They laughed and left.

But the biggest problem I have is when I go for a haircut. Most of the barbers in my area do not speak English well. Those who do, especially the young ones, don’t really know how to cut my kind of hair. An electric clipper just doesn’t work that well on it and the older guys, what few are left in the profession, just cut from rote and do a crummy job as my hair is all different lengths when they are finished.

So the barbershop I am reduced to patronizing is owned by people who have trouble with our language. It is the closest to my home.

So this morning I entered the shop.

“Hullo!” said the owner who was trimming some bald guy’s tuft of hair. The barber next to him held open the apron he’d put over me.

“Hi,” I said to both of them.

I sat down in the chair.

“I’ll have a regular haircut and a beard trim. Leave the lines I already have on the beard; I don’t want it cut near to my chin. I keep it this way so the flab on my neck doesn’t show too much,” I said, waiting for a laugh on my last line. Nothing.

I continued: “Make sure you cut the hair sprouting out my ears and nose, and do my eyebrows,” I said. “Those are recommendations from my wife.”

My barber looked at the owner. The owner said to him, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.” My barber nodded and turned to me nodding.

“Shurt,” he said. He rolled the “r” a little.

“Not short,” I said. “A regular haircut.”

“Shurt,” he said.

“No, regular,” I said.

He put the apron over me and took out an electric clipper. “Shurt,” he said.

I looked over at the owner. “Give me some help here.”

The owner said, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.” My barber nodded and turned to me smiling and said, “Shurt.”

“Regular, normal, regular,” I said.

“Shurt,” he smiled.

I looked at him. He was nodding and smiling up a storm. I gave up. Let him cut it shurt. And he did. I looked as if I had just joined the Marines.

When he had finished and started with my beard I repeated to him not to cut it too short and to keep the lines on it the same. He looked over at the owner who said, “Kaže da mu se sviđa sve kratko.”

My barber smiled, nodded, placed the clipper on my beard and took a huge chunk of hair off. You could see more skin than beard. What the hell? I was stuck because a big section of my beard was so short that every section of my beard now had to be mowed the same length.

My hair was now short and my beard had almost disappeared.

He then did my eyebrows (he left them too long) and my ear hair (he left too many bristles) and my nose hair (he left a few sticking out). Gray hair sticking out of your nose looks as if something else is coming out of your nose; if you get my drift.

I gave the guy a good tip; I always tip well as that was my training in Brooklyn, New York where tipping is the true sign of a man—even a man with short hair and a beard that looks exactly like a five o’clock shadow, and with something gray sprouting out of his nose. I tip, therefore I am. It’s an old Brooklyn expression.

When I got home my wife, the Beautiful AP, looked at me and said, “My god, your hair is way too short!”

“Shurt,” I said. “It’s pronounced shurt.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Scobes Tackle San Francisco

 

We promised our grandchildren that when they each turn 13 we will take each on a special birthday trip anywhere he or she chooses in the continental United States— excluding Alaska—as a gift for reaching such an advanced age. We quickly learned that we had to specify that the offer also excludes Hawaii…and Paris.

It’s the chance for my wife, the Beautiful AP, and me to have some alone time with each one before he or she gets to the eye-rolling “not-these-two-old-farts-again” stage of hanging with Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe.

[We have our friends Jerry “Stickman” and his lovely wife Tres to thank for with this idea as they have some ten thousand grandkids.]

Day One: Tuesday

So it was now John’s turn for this trip. In point of fact, we only have two grandkids, John and Danielle, and this would be our first time spending alone-time with John who is known as Johnny Scobes by his friends and teammates. The “Scobe” name has now lasted through four generations of Scobletes!

[John’s Journal: I had chosen to go to Los Angeles but we’re going to San Francisco. So much for my choice and Grandpa Scobe’s veto.]

Grand AP and I had a whole list of activities and places to see in San Francisco and we had bought tickets to the San Francisco Symphony for our final night.

“He’s going to hate it,” said AP.

“We’ll have him trapped,” I said.

Izzy, the driver whose company I have used for over a dozen years, picked us up at 7:15 AM and we were off to New York’s Kennedy Airport. Izzy is a story teller—he relates his life and ideas to you as he drives. On the trip to Kennedy we learned where his two daughters live; the roads near his second home in Florida, as said home is on the beach and how many hours he plans to work down there. Also that the home has a good crosscurrent of air.

We were flying first class on Delta. I was interested to see how John would like that experience. I have stopped using economy. It’s torture.

Now, Delta has two types of first class cabins—the old ones which are essentially larger seats; and the newer ones which have totally private seats that can recline into a bed, large individual television screens, great earphones and superior meals and drinks.

We always use carry-on, no matter how long we’ll be away, and this trip was no exception. The first snag we hit was that John’s suitcase could not be opened. The suitcase had exhausted its life cycle and was stuffed with so much stuff that no amount of tugging could open the zippers without ripping the entire case.

We decided to wait to open the suitcase until after we checked in at Kennedy Airport and then we’d buy a new one. Yes, that was a small problem but kind of typical of John’s cavalier attitude towards anything that he didn’t really consider all that important. How hard is it to pack carry-on for a three-day trip?

[John’s Journal: So I over packed. But I told them my mom and sister had done the packing. I think I got away with that.]

We got to the airport early. You can’t miss a flight by being early except that Jerry “Stickman” missed one of his flights when he arrived early and fell asleep in the lounge and snored through all boarding announcements as his plane then sailed the blue skies while he slept soundly in his seat.

When John and AP bought the carry-on suitcase (I stayed in the lounge to relax), John came back with it.

“Guess how much it cost?” he asked.

“A hundred dollars?”

“Nope,” he said. “Four hundred dollars.”

“Really?”

“Yep,” said John.

[John’s Journal: I fooled Grandpa Scobe about the price of the luggage. It was only sixty dollars. He looked relieved when I told him the truth.]

We boarded the plane in the very first boarding group and John’s eyes lit up when he saw the accommodations. It was the new first class! Grand AP showed him everything that he needed to know about his remote, his headsets, and how to call the flight attendant for drinks and snacks. We all settled in for the flight, which was well over five hours long.

Newlyweds who were seated apart asked me to change my seat so they could sit together. So I moved. Sometime in the future their request might be the opposite, “Would you change seats with me? I don’t want to sit next to my husband.”

Instead of an aisle seat, my preference, I now had a window seat next to a guy who got quite buzzed on the flight. That’s what I got for being nice to the newlyweds. I wish I weren’t that nice. I could smell my stewed seatmate’s breath the whole flight.

[John’s Journal: I’ve got to tell my parents that first class is how we must always travel. It should be the “Scobe Way.”]

I was really disappointed in breakfast. I ordered French toast and it was soggy and tasted like a leftover from two weeks ago. I ate about ten percent of it before I gave up. The other choices seemed to be just as unappetizing as AP and John didn’t finish their meals either. That’s the first time I had food on Delta that I didn’t like.

[John’s Journal: Breakfast sucked.]

When we landed early afternoon, we had a car service take us to our hotel, the Marriot Marquis. I wanted John to enjoy this trip and experience what I considered to be the finer things in life. Grand AP and I would enjoy taking him to the symphony, whether he liked the experience or not. Bad experiences can often become good experiences in retrospect.

We were on the 33rd floor in a corner room. You could see the city and the San Francisco Bay from our windows.

[John’s Journal: We had a cool suite with giant television sets in each room. Grand AP and Grandpa Scobe are not big on watching television during the day or of “constantly” looking at your phones. They are old fashioned in many ways.]

I was disappointed in our hotel. No elevator went from the lobby floor to the higher floors. If you had a floor above 18, you had to switch elevators on floor two or four to take another elevator. The higher floor elevators were down a hall where you had to make various turns. You followed red tape on the floor to figure out where you were supposed to go. It was maddening.

[John’s Journal: You never knew where you were in that hotel. There were always guests wandering around with confused looks on their faces. The lobby was white, white walls, white floors; it was like Antarctica. If you asked a worker how to get somewhere they would say, “Behind the white wall.” Couldn’t they see that every damn wall was white?]

After lunch in the rather high-priced restaurant at the Marriott Marquis, we headed for the Cable Car Museum and then the piers. That’s when they became noticeable. the hordes of the homeless, everywhere in the city—not just in some godforsaken out-of-the-way neighborhood but everywhere; in front of the banks, the restaurants, the stores, the department stores; the office buildings. Some slept on the sidewalks; some in the alleys, some in doorways. Some of them howled their objections to life’s “slings and arrows of their outrageous fortune,” although the rest of didn’t want to hear them.

[John’s Journal: There were a lot of homeless in the city. It was like being back in New York, only maybe worse. Where’d they all come from? Were they all born in San Francisco?]

The Cable Car museum was interesting. It had great information about the earthquake of 1906, which destroyed the city. The amount of work keeping those cable cars moving in those years must have been enormous. Today they are a fun ride up and down a few breathtaking hills.

[John’s Journal: The Cable Car Museum was okay but the pictures of the earthquake were amazing. Even the young people looked old in those photos. When did young people start looking young like they do now?]

At the beach area from where you could see Alcatraz, there were children playing in the sand; dogs romping; joggers happily jogging; people playing touch football; babies being wheeled in carriages; and swimmers swimming in the Bay area that had been fixed with barriers so the waves wouldn’t drag the hardy swimmers out to their deaths in the Pacific ocean. Of course, the children, the dogs, the joggers, the football players, the baby wheelers, had to do their things around the homeless sprawled out here and there.

[John’s Journal: The Bay was nice and a lot of people were swimming. As far as I could see, the swimmers did not have any homeless swimming with them in the Bay, unless there were bodies floating nearby.]

That night we went on the Haunted San Francisco ghost and murder tour near Union Square that skirted the tip of the Tenderloin District – the seedy part of town. Our tour guide, Sebastian warned us to be careful with the homeless as the sidewalk was their “living room” and we should understand that. I took that to mean, Be careful, some of these people are insane.

[John’s Journal: The ghost tour was okay but there was more about murder than about ghosts. There were a lot of weird people in San Francisco’s past.]

Day Two: Wednesday

Today was Alcatraz, one of the best tours the Beautiful AP and I have ever been on. We were excited to take John on it.

You put on the headsets and are whisked back in time for two hours. Alcatraz Island housed some of the most dangerous criminals in American history and you learn what they were really like when they were caged. For example, did you know that the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” so lovingly portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, was described by the warden as “a psychopathic, suicidal mass murderer who spoke three languages”? No one turned his back on this killer of men and lover of birds.

This amazing tour starts off with a pleasant boat ride to the island and then you are in for it. If you visit San Francisco then you must go to Alcatraz and take the audio tour.

[John’s Journal: I really liked Alcatraz. The criminals looked like criminals. Maybe we are what we look like?]

Late afternoon would be our Chinatown visit and then a dinner at the highly recommended Oriental Pearl. The Marriott concierge said this was one of the two best restaurants in Chinatown.

Over the years in four separate visits to San Francisco’s Chinatown I found that I was not a fan. I found the area to be grimy, rundown and ragged. But Chinatown is a big tourist destination and we felt that John would enjoy entering this world.

I asked John why there were so many Chinese in San Francisco. John was unaware of the history of Chinese immigration to San Francisco; he thought some had just showed up one day and others followed. We explained the horrors of forced labor on the railroads.

Our first stop was the Golden Gate Cookie Factory. That sounded interesting as this factory was where fortune cookies were created. That had to be fun to see, right?

It wasn’t.

We walked into this crummy store and once we got about nine feet inside that was the end of the “self-guided tour.” There were two women loading the cookies with fortunes and some guy wandering around the place. Factory? How could this dirty store be called a factory? Of course, the conditions of the place did not stop us from buying a bag full of fortune cookie slices. John loved them. They were delicious.

[John’s Journal: If Chinatown was my room, my mother would be yelling at me all day to clean it up.]

After walking the littered streets we found our restaurant, the Oriental Pearl. The store with the sign was closed but another sign led us to a door that signaled we were to go upstairs. Well, at least we would sample Chinatown’s best! Even bad places have good places, right?

I noticed that the rug on the staircase was frayed. I hoped from a lot of foot traffic. Upstairs the restaurant looked okay and there were several tables with diners.

We were seated next to a slightly opened window that had no screens. We checked the fraying cardboard menu. I turned to the page with drinks.

“I’ll have a Macallan please,” I said.

“That last page in the menu we don’t have,” said the waitress. I then noticed that the menu was stained and falling apart in the middle. It was a very old menu; maybe as old as Chinatown itself.

We ordered two glasses of wine and John ordered lemonade. The wine glasses were small, I mean, really small. The lemonade had a slight greenish color. John took a sip of it, put it down and chugged some water.

“Oh, god!” he said. “The water is making me sick. I feel a big lump of phlegm in my throat. I gotta spit! Grand AP, is it okay if I spit out the window?”

“No, no,” said AP. “Run to the bathroom over there!” and she pointed.

“Taste my water,” said John.

I took a little sip. Oh, Jesus! It stuck to my tongue and the back of my mouth. It tasted like – I don’t know what the hell it tasted like.

“Take a taste of this,” I said to AP.

“You crazy?” she said. “You’ve already said it tastes terrible. I don’t need to taste it. We need to complain about this water.”

The food arrived as John returned. It looked disgusting. The white rice was a greyish color. I had ordered lemon chicken and I cut a piece. It was – can you say this about chicken?—mangy. I spat it out of my mouth. John took a taste of his and looked at us. “I’m going to throw up if I eat this.”

“Let’s leave,” said AP.

I called the waitress over. “We’re leaving,” I said. “This food is disgusting. We’ll pay for our drinks but we are leaving.” The waitress nodded. Strangely, she didn’t seem at all surprised.

[John’s Journal: The food in Chinatown was worse than on the plane!]

Back at the Marriott Marquis, we went to the 39th floor to the View lounge for some drinks. The view was spectacular and the drinks tasted like real drinks. I will never go back to Chinatown again.

When our appetites returned, we had a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant. John ordered only French fries.

[John’s Journal: I’ve never gotten sick eating French fries.]

Third Day: Thursday

We found a good diner for breakfast, Mel’s, a block from the Marriott. We had paid $34 per person for a buffet breakfast at Marriot’s B-55 the day before. That’s a ridiculous price for some eggs, fruit and toast. Mel’s was a throwback to the 1950s and ‘60s and the breakfast was delicious and reasonably priced.

We walked to pick up the Cable Cars a few blocks away and we enjoyed our trip up and down the hills. If you have never been to San Francisco you can’t imagine how hilly the city is and the cable cars are a great way to get the feel of what it must have been like over a hundred years ago.

You can sit on the cars or you can hang off them on the sides. The Beautiful AP and John hung off them, but I sat.

[John’s Journal: The cable cars were fun.]

We did some more touring of Fisherman’s Wharf.

After that we went on a great boat trip Bridge to Bridge on the Red and White line. It went from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and back to the pier. The day was warm and it was perfect for a boat ride in the beautiful Bay.

Many folks that visit San Francisco think the Golden Gate Bridge should be gold in color. Not so. The “golden gates” are the mountains on either side of the Bay which the Bridge connects and that is where the Bridge gets its name, not from its color.

 

Giant beasts have attacked the bridge, including It Came from Beneath the Sea, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJqXEhMdlg4) the recent Godzilla monster and an X-Men villain did the Bridge in as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITMren3I3WM).

San Francisco has to keep repairing that bridge.

We had a great dinner at the B-55 and that is when John hit us with, “So are you taking me to a concert?” How the heck did he know that? I told no one and Alene told only some 20 colleagues at work.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“I just guessed,” he said. Maybe I should get lottery numbers from this kid.

Then it was off to the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall for Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte and Piano Concerto in G major; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Simone Young was the conductor.

So how would this first dabbling into classical music go for our young grandson? We’d see. AP told him that his cellphone be shut and his eyes open. We assumed his ears would be open.

Of course, first we had to get there. Our Uber driver sternly told us not to walk in the Symphony Hall’s neighborhood because of all the homeless. This was the Tenderloin District and they were everywhere – everywhere. It was like a zombie apocalypse. “Do not wander from the symphony.” We saw some tents and what I took to be drug deals occurring on the sidewalks. Coming from New York this reminded me of well, of course, New York as John has already said, but also Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Memphis, and countless cities across our country. I just don’t remember these numbers when I was a young man, over 50 years ago. Was I that blind? Did we always have such numbers of homeless?

The Symphony Hall had uniformed security guards throughout the building and one of the ushers told AP that those were the ones you saw but there were also undercover ones everywhere as well. I guess the Symphony knew its neighborhood.

John was a good sport and he said the symphony was all right. I took that as high praise.

[John’s Journal: I did not like the Ravel. It was dull. The Scheherazade was good. I was tired throughout this and wanted to go to sleep but I had to keep my eyes open as Grand AP kept checking. She doesn’t want you to get away with anything.]

So tomorrow we would fly home.

Day Four: Friday

The car service picked us up at 6:15 AM. Our flight was at 8:30. We’d get back to New York at about 5 PM.

After a good breakfast in the airport (we weren’t taking chances with the airplane food), and a little wait, we boarded the plane. Yes, it was the new first class again. The three of us settled in for the flight.

I started watching The Carbonaro Effect, a funny hidden camera magic show, but at the half-hour mark, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “We are turning around and going back to San Francisco. There is some smoke in the cockpit and in the economy class. We take such things seriously and we want to be cautious so we are going back to check things out.”

In a half hour we landed in San Francisco airport.

We were told we could make reservations on other flights heading to other cities if we wanted to try for transfers or we could wait in the airport for another plane, if Delta sent another plane. Thankfully, another plane did arrive and the departure was for 1 PM. We’d get into New York at around 9:15 PM or so.  AP used this as a “teachable moment,” explaining to John her maxim: no day goes as planned and always take carry-on luggage.

None of the three of us were upset. Heck, we got back to the airport with no trouble. It wasn’t until we were standing in line to board the second plane that a couple of the passengers on that first plane told us that it wasn’t just smoke they saw but that the floor was rattling like crazy. That was the scariest thing of all to them.

On the flight back to New York I noticed that John watched the “R” rated movies Ted and The Hangover. I was going to tell him to go to “PG-13” films but then I figured these are his rewards for the symphony. In point of fact, he’s probably seen much more when he and his friends do “research” on the Internet.

At Kennedy Airport at 9:15 that night, Izzy was there to pick us up. When we got into the car we began to tell Izzy the story of our interrupted return journey but we didn’t get very far. Instead Izzy told us about his journey of six miles from his home to Kennedy and then how one of his regular clients had trouble on the airlines sometime in the past and that he and his wife have an agreement about when they fight and that Izzy doesn’t mind letting her win in order to establish peace in the family and that he is rapidly making friends with cops in Florida and that he made sure everyone in his development now knows that he will be happy to serve as their ride to the airport and anywhere else they wished to go for a fee of course because he doesn’t work for nothing. Izzy had six miles worth of stories.

[John’s Journal: Izzy really enjoys talking.]

All in all this was a very good trip.

[John’s Journal: All in all it was a good trip.]

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

The Fat-Fingered Blackjack Technique

 

For several years some Las Vegas casinos offered a two-deck game dealt face up – mostly the Mirage properties. This was unusual since most double-deckers are dealt face down. You will probably find some casinos throughout the country that continue to do the face-up double-deck game and if so the “fat finger” strategy can give you a startlingly large advantage.

The ultimate spot on the table is at first base for the “fat finger” strategy so when you see that a dealer is falling into “fatitude” you must get yourself to first base [first base is the very first seat to the dealer’s left and is the first position to get cards].

So here is how this technique works: The dealer deals the cards to the players face up. When the dealer gets to third base [immediately to the dealer’s right] and he starts to flip the card over for the player, there are times when he double flips – that is, he starts to flip two cards at the same time. In a normal deal the top card is the player’s but in a double flip the second card is shown – that will be the dealer’s hole card. The dealer catches the almost-mistake and knowing he was about to show his hole card, he quickly stops the flip and fixes the cards so the player gets the correct card without the dealer’s hole card being seen or being flipped. Or so he thinks.

That hole card is often visible from first base. That’s right; he isn’t able to hide the card completely from the first base player – meaning you.  Now you know his hole-card and can play your hands with that knowledge. A huge edge has just now been given to you on a golden plate.

What makes this a great way to play has to do with some of the hitting and standing decisions that you can make. If you know the dealer has a 6 under his up-card of 10, you might want to stand on your 15’s and 16’s, or double on your 9’s. He will not know that you know he has a 6 in the hole. Your playing decisions can really help you bring in the money. Of course, you could go completely nuts with your decisions. You would be foolish to stand on a 12 against a dealer’s 10 card even if you knew the dealer had a 6 in the hole. That would be something of a give away. You have to keep yourself somewhat reigned in so the pit wasn’t aware of the fact that you were not actually dumb (as you appeared to be based on your strategies) but actually smart enough to catch a problem in their game. Smart is bad in a casino; dumb is prized.

The reason I call this the “fat finger strategy” has to do with which dealers tended to make this misstep. These were usually large guys with big, thick fingers. For some reason when they flipped the cards, they had a tendency to double-card flip. That double card-flip was no big deal when it occurred to the players before the last player since you were going to see those cards anyway, but when it was the last player being double-card-flipped – voila there was a nice fat edge for you.

Yes, at times all types of dealers made this mistake but the large, thick fingered ones made it the most. Be thankful so many Americans are out-of-shape and over-weight or nicely plump due to so much protein, sugar and fat in our diets – they’ve made it perfect for some blackjack players such as me.

The best dealer I ever had was at Bellagio; he did it almost ten percent of the time. Still, I didn’t go all out to take hits. If I had an 18 or 19 I stayed on my hand even though I knew the dealer had, say, a 20. Again, hitting an 18 or 19 would have been too radical a hit unless you looked like Alfred E. Newman with drool dripping down your chin.

I did, however, double-down on hands such as a nine against a dealer’s 10 up-card when I knew he had a small card in the hole. This merely looked as if I were stupid whereas hitting on an 18 or 19 would have made me look crazy or smart. Again: Stupid is loved in the casinos. Also: Crazy gives the casino pit people pause. Again: Smart makes the casinos hate you.

A.P. and I played these face-up two-deck games for over a year and it was a very, very satisfying year indeed.

The above was excerpted from Frank’s book I Am a Card Counter!

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

Thar Ain’t No Gold in Them Thar Hills

I enjoy birding or, as it used to be called, bird watching. My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I try to go get outside, sometimes just the two of us, just as often with the South Shore Audubon Society (SSAS) on Sunday morning excursions.

I am an amateur of amateurs. I know the names of some of the birds but basically I just gape. I enjoy hearing them sing, watching them fly, seeing those hunting raptors soar. I will never be an expert as some of the members of the SSAS are, but that’s fine with me.

I can last for about two hours on a walk; once or twice I’ve hit three hours, but I can’t do the all-morning, all-afternoon, most-of-the-evening walks some of the SSAS members enjoy. I do know my limitations.

My wife photographs the birds, the trails, and nature. When we get home she goes over the hundreds of pictures she took that day and will ask me my opinion of this one or that one—an opinion I am happy to express.

But not all bird walks are rewarding based on how many birds we encounter. There are some days when there are so few birds that we will say, “Nothing to be seen.”

Still, saying such a thing does not adequately express what we experienced that walk.

Where we take our most beautiful walks—Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens; the Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside on Long Island; and the Cape May Point Trails near the Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey—can be inspiring, with or without many bird sightings.

A bird-empty beautiful area is still a beautiful area, and one to be savored. The three mentioned above are just such areas, and there are more.

But on a walk at the Marine Nature Study Area where there was “nothing to be seen,” something else hit me.

“You know,” I said to the Beautiful AP. “Even on walks where we say we didn’t see any birds, that isn’t true. We usually see something.”

That is true. We tend to simply overlook some birds because they are so familiar that they are just considered pests. Take the Canada Geese which can be found everywhere we go. Indeed, there probably isn’t a lake, pond, park, ballfield or grassy knoll that hasn’t seen an invasion of these creatures.

The sky at times can be filled with them flying in a massive “V” shape. They honk like crazy; and crap large black heaps, all to their hearts’ content. Such heaps can cover any footpath, turning a simple walk into a game of hopscotch.

You always know when they are around. They can aggressively demand food or privacy from humans. They have accommodated themselves to living in our areas to the point where they don’t even bother to migrate anymore.

When we see them we just tend to overlook them; it’s as if we didn’t see them.

“You know AP, if we only saw a few now and then, they would fascinate us.”

“True,” she said.

Canada Geese are large birds, powerful, and they move rather quickly. They are high flyers and their landings in the waters of lakes and ponds can be fast and furious.

Sometimes on our walks where we see “no birds,” we have seen dozens of Canada Geese, which we completely discount.

On the days when we think “thar ain’t no gold in them thar hills,” in reality there is plenty of gold. We have beautiful landscapes away from traffic to enjoy. And if we pretend never to have seen this species that has come to annoy us, they can transform a birdless walk into a bird walk, to which some of my wife’s photos can attest.

So, in birding, sometimes nothing is actually something.

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