Archive for the ‘Musings and Observations’ category


June 13, 2012

There are few times in most people’s lives when everything is pretty much on cruise control, and the older you get, the fewer those moments.  One such time is the last month or so of senior year in high school.  Everyone pretty much knows where they will be attending college in the fall, and with few exceptions, graduating from high school is pretty much a given.  It is a time for cutting class, hitting Jones Beach or Half Moon Beach, and just having fun.  It is also a prime time for silliness, cutting up with your best buddies and girlfriends, all the time realizing, on some level, that this is the end of one part of your life and the beginning of another.  None of us had chosen the same colleges, and though we’d see each other on vacations and summers, things would never be quite the same.  We would all meet new friends in college and most of us would not be returning to Port Washington to live after college.  Some would get married; others accept jobs in other parts of the country.  So this was our curtain call as a group, and though it was never openly discussed, I think all of us, unconsciously, realized this.  Unspoken as well was whether the high school romances would survive the long periods of separation of the college years.  A few did. Most did not. So with something like quiet desperation, we all went about trying to make every minute funny and memorable.

Frub and I were best buddies senior year in high school and did everything together.  Don’t ask where the name Frub came from; I have no idea and I’m not sure he does.  His real name was Doug. We double-dated, ate and slept over at each other’s homes, and did many other things that should not be recounted on a blog page or anywhere else.  Donny and Paul completed our foursome.  All of us had girlfriends, but found plenty of time to hang together anyway.  I had ordered a new Firebird, but delivery was several weeks away.  My Mother often needed her car, but Doug’s Mom, Fran, could walk to work, so Doug often had the use of his family’s white Mustang during the day.  It was driving in the Mustang late one weekday afternoon that we encountered Klebby.

Doug was driving me home from his house and we had taken Ivy Way, a lovely quintessential suburban street.  There were fancier homes in Sands Point and Harbor Acres, but the area where Ivy Way is located was always my favorite part of Port Washington.  That my home was very nearby probably had something to do with that.  Near the end of Ivy Way we passed a beautifully maintained white house with a collie sitting in the shade of a tree in the front yard.   With perfectly cut green grass, immaculately pruned flower beds in bloom, the home looked like a postcard.  And this was not just your run-of-the-mill collie; hands down, the best-looking collie I had ever seen.  He made Lassie look like she was suffering from mange.

“ Frub, pull over and check out that collie,” I said.

We pulled to the curb right in front of the pooch and he thumped his tail happily a couple times in greeting.  We talked to the dog for a few seconds with the usual “Hi Boy” and “Good Dog.” Then for reasons I cannot explain, we began to converse with the dog in a tongue that sounded like Spanish, but wasn’t.  The reason it wasn’t is neither of us could speak a lick of Spanish.  Long elaborate passages of complete gibberish, the collie listening intently, his ears perked straight up.  You could see him searching our sentences for a heel, stay, come, sit; anything a dog might have heard from his family before, something that might register.  Alas, nothing like that was forthcoming.  The collie began to move his head from vertical to horizontal positions, side to side, in confusion.  Being mature young men, Frub and I found this hilarious.  We stayed and spoke to him for about five minutes and then drove off laughing.

“Let’s call him Klebby,” Frub proposed.

“We don’t know if the dog’s a he or a she,” I said.

“Don’t see that it matters,” Frub said.  “Have you ever known anyone named Klebby?”

“Not that I recall,” I replied. “Actually, make that a definitive no.  I see where you’re going, though. The Klebby handle really isn’t gender specific.”

“Exactly, “Frub said.  “Could be a boy or a girl.”

“Works for me.  Kind of has a nice ring to it,” I said.  “Klebby it is.”

Visiting Klebby for a couple minutes became an almost daily thing.  The collie came to recognize the car, and seemed to almost look forward to our visits.  I think he may have felt sorry for these two morons who were unable to communicate effectively even on a collies’ limited vocabulary.  The routine never varied.  Pull up to the curb, get a tail wag and ears straight up to digest the nonsense he knew was coming.

“Seuntulo byalo della foon?  Bassolo selumino,” Frub said.

Klebby’s head shifted to the left, questioning the wisdom (sanity?) of what he had just heard.

“Blapmolencantro chalassimo!  Veel plapt unimos leel? I inquired.

Klebby looked from Frub to me, full head shift to horizontal right, confusion reigning.  And we’d drive off.  Seemed like pretty harmless, if foolish amusement.  It might have continued for a long time, but things changed in a hurry.

A day or two later, we were sitting down to Dinner at Frub’s house with his folks, Fran and Bob.  My seat in the corner of the kitchen afforded me a view of the front door.  When the doorbell rang, I looked up to see two cops at the front door, two of Port’s Finest.  Fran and Bob got up quickly and went to the door to let them in, looking a little anxious.  Frub and I followed.

The two officers came in.  One was a big, red-haired Irish guy, 6’3’ and maybe 240 lbs.  His partner was a little Italian guy, slightly cross-eyed, who shuffled his feet nervously and had trouble making eye contact.  It was not difficult to establish the pecking order in this particular partnership.

“Sorry to interrupt your meal,” the big guy said.  “I’m Officer Mahoney and this is my partner, Officer Riccio.  We’re responding to a complaint from a family over on Ivy Way that two males have been speaking to their Collie in alien tongues on a number of occasions.  They became concerned enough to take the license plates on the vehicle, and we traced it to the white Mustang in your driveway.  Can someone here shed some light on this matter?”

Bob’s jaw dropped in astonishment, but he said nothing.  Fran however was rarely at a loss for words.  She turned to Frub and me, her face contorted in both anger and confusion, and said “You were doing what?

“Yes, Officer, my buddy and I were talking to the Collie,” I said.  “It wasn’t really an alien tongue, it was intended to sound like Spanish.  I see your first initial is “J”.  Is that for Jerry, like Paul Winchell’s puppet?

Mahoney fixed me with the kind of look one would reserve for a particularly repugnant water bug.  “No, my given name is John, my friends call me Jack, and you will address me as Officer Mahoney.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Why were you talking to a strange dog in fake Spanish?” Officer Mahoney asked.

“Faux,” I suggested.

“What the hell is faux?” Mahoney asked, his neck turning a little pink.

“It means imitation, artificial,” I volunteered.

“So fake, that’s what I said,” Mahoney said.

“Fake has such a negative connotation to it,” Frub said.

“I think fake works just fine here, and my question stands” said Mahoney.

“Fine, we’ll go with fake,” Frub said.  “It’s your syntax.”

“My what,” Mahoney asked.

“Never mind,” Frub said.

“So again, why talk to a strange Collie in fake Spanish?” Mahoney asked.

“Well, neither of us can talk real Spanish,” Frub said.

“And German sounds so harsh and guttural,” I added.

No,” Mahoney said, his voice rising. “No, you guys are not getting it. Why talk to a strange dog at all? In any language.”

“Well, had we had any idea the dog was strange, we probably wouldn’t have talked to him at all,” I said.

“We’d probably have talked to another dog,” Frub said.  “One that wasn’t strange.”

“The dog is fine,” Mahoney said.  “What is strange here has nothing to do with the Collie. When I say strange, I mean a dog you didn’t know, had never been introduced to.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been formally introduced to any dog,” I said.

“Me neither,” said Frub.

“But you didn’t know the dog, right?” Mahoney asked, his patience ebbing at a rapid clip.

“Just in passing,” I said.

“Passing in a car,” Mahoney said.

“Right,” Frub and I answered in unison.

“Were either of you under the influence of anything on these occasions?” Mahoney asked.

“I’d had an egg salad on rye and a vanilla Coke at Greenfield’s,” I said.

“I had tuna,” Frub said.  He always had tuna.

“I meant drugs or alcohol.”

“No Sir,” Frub and I answered.

“Well, that’s good,” said Officer Riccio, his first words of the encounter.

“You think that’s good, huh Joe?  Talking in tongues to a Collie while completely in control of your faculties?” Mahoney said, turning to his partner.  His expression said that he felt he had drawn the absolute dregs of the partner pool.

“Well, I just mean its good they weren’t driving under the influence, is all I’m saying,” Riccio said, looking at the floor again.

Mahoney returned his attention to us.  “I’m asking you guys to give me your word that you will not revisit this dog or any other.  This has been a remarkable waste of time, and if I have to come back again, you guys will not like it.”

“We agree to that Officer, “I said.  “We won’t bother Klebby anymore.”

“Klebby?  The dog’s name is not Klebby,” Mahoney said.

“He never corrected us,” I said.

“And he is a she,” Mahoney said.

“Never corrected us there, either,” Frub added.

“Maybe if I’d seen her go #1, I’d have figured that out,” I said.

“Maybe,” Mahoney said unconvincingly.

“Officer, can I ask a quick question? I said.  “Do you do hard time for talking to collies?

My mind strayed for a moment and I had a vision of doing the ankle-shackled two-step into a maximum security prison, stripping, getting hosed down and issued my sheets and orange jumpsuit.  I was then led to my cell.  My “roomie”was a shaved-headed, heavily –tattooed, three hundred pound Aryan Brotherhood dude.  After the cell doors had clanged shut, I asked him what he was in for?

“I gutted my Mother-in-Law.  She griped too much,” the behemoth explained.  “How bout you?”

“I was pinched for talking fake Spanish to a Collie I didn’t know,” I explained.

Newfound respect registered in the con’s eyes.  “Whoa,” he exclaimed.  “Jesus, you are one scary dude.”

I shook off the daydream and returned to real time with a chuckle.

“Something funny?” Mahoney asked.

“No Sir. Sorry.”

“I have no idea what the charges would be against you, should the family on Ivy Way choose to press them, “ Mahoney said.  “We can get creative if provoked.  But you guys have promised to desist and I don’t see us having to come back.”

Fran had remained quiet for the whole encounter, hands on her hips, looking back and forth between Frub and me with a mixture of disgust and amazement.  She spoke up now.

“Thank you for your patience, Officers, and we’ll see to it that they occupy their time with something a little more constructive going forward.”

‘That would include just about anything,” Bob muttered.  The Officers left and we returned to the table to finish Dinner.

As we resumed eating, Bob said “I have to say that you two have made it possible to take part in what is probably the stupidest, most inane scene I’ve ever experienced.”

“Yeah, and you know the best part?” I happily asked.

“No, Jud, I did not see a ‘best part’,” Bob replied.

“We’re still young,” I exclaimed.


George’s Dilemma

October 18, 2011

George had no idea he even had a problem.  At least not yet.  His alarm had gone off at the usual 5:45 AM.  He rose, showered, shaved and selected one of his Wall Street pinstripe uniforms.   Ready for the day, he entered the kitchen, put on coffee and went to the front door to retrieve the Wall Street Journal.  Something seemed out of the ordinary, but he couldn’t immediately put his finger on it.  Ah, the cat!  Binky always bothered him to be fed and watered first thing.  Not today.  No sign of him.  George went into the living room where Binky slept peacefully on the carpet.  A little too peacefully.

George called to the cat, asking him to come and eat.  Nothing.  Approaching the kitty, George stamped his foot.  There was no reaction.  Bending down, George stroked the cat, feeling for a heartbeat, pulse, anything to disprove what he was dreading.  Binky was late, among the departed, no longer with us.  Dead. While George felt badly, he had always been pretty much a dog guy.  His Wife, Debbie, had wanted the cat, and five-year old George Jr. absolutely adored the cat.  George was considerably more concerned with how this should be handled than in Binky’s demise.  Binky had been an adequate cat, as cats go, but George was not devastated.   Little George knew nothing about Death.  That’s what was eating at George.  He dreaded being the one to tell his boy that nothing is forever. Things die.  As he sipped his coffee, he ran through some alternate scenarios.  He could always just get rid of the body and tell little George the cat must have run away.  That seemed convenient, but cowardly.  Maybe he could get Debbie to take the reins here; worth a try, for sure.

Running quietly upstairs, George gently woke Debbie and explained the situation.  He had been hoping for some guidance.  Actually, what he had really been hoping for was a transfer of responsibility.  It did not happen.  Debbie suggested a proper burial in the backyard after George had explained to the child about Life and Death.  After he had done the explaining; definitely  not the desired response.  She deflected the issue as if she were Teflon-coated.

George picked up Binky from the carpet, carried him to the kitchen and found a large brown paper bag.  Once he had Binky in, he put the paper bag in a large white plastic bag and went out to the car for the short drive to the LIRR.  He contemplated just putting the bag in his garbage can out at the curb, but balked at the idea.  The garbage guys knew him.  Maybe he could put the bag in the garbage can at the station.  Again, he couldn’t do it.  Parking his car, he boarded his crowded rush hour train to Manhattan.  As he found a seat, he placed both his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.

George was unable to concentrate on his paper.  He could just discard the bag in a Penn Station garbage can, but his conscience was kicking in.  That was no way to treat a family pet.  Binky had not just been an average cat. He’d been a damn fine cat.  Any cat that’d had to suffer the name Binky shouldn’t just have a grave; he ought to have a mausoleum.  No, George was going to face the music and do the right thing.  But obstacles still remained.  He had a whole day to get through and he could hardly keep the bag in his desk drawer.  At some point not too far in the future, Binky was going to get a little aromatic.

The subway ride was uneventful and George entered his office a few minutes early.  Good thing, too, because the Department refrigerator, though big, could get very crowded.  George put the Binky bag on the bottom shelf, as far to the back as possible.  Barring something unforeseen, Binky should “keep” until quitting time, right alongside everyone’s salads and sandwiches.  Nice. George hoped the Department had no closet “frig foragers.”

The day seemed to go on forever.  George made umpteen clandestine visits to the Kitchen to check on the bag; so far, so good.  When quitting time came, George grabbed the bag out of the refrigerator and was among the first to the elevator.  The subway came immediately and he arrived at Penn Station in time to catch the train before his usual one.  Again he placed his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.  Binky seemed to be noticeably less limber. Sort of stiff, no pun intended.

As George got off the train, his briefcase and bag in tow, he made a beeline for his car.  Leaving the lot, he cut off some guy in a Lexus, who flipped him off.  Following protocol, George returned the gesture.  Minutes later, he was pulling into his driveway.  The sun was setting and the backyard was dark.  Figuring he could get the grave dug before Dinner, he grabbed a shovel from the garage and went to work.  Though not yet Winter, the ground was hard and the digging was harder.  George comforted himself by imagining how difficult this could have been were Binky a rhino.  He got the grave finished and went in to eat.

Over Dinner, George was somewhat distant, wrapped up in what he would say at the burial.  After the plates had been cleared, George explained to his Son that all beings, people and animals, face a time when their Life on this Earth ends.  They go to join God in Heaven, a much better world than the one they left behind.  While we will miss our departed one, we must be glad for them and send them off with good, loving thoughts.  Little George, though very sad, seemed to understand, inasmuch as any five-year old kid understands.  It was time.

The family went out to the small grave, and held hands while George did his best impersonation of Minister delivering a graveside eulogy.  Some tears were shed, and Debbie and little George held hands as George brought the bag to the graveside.  They all bowed their heads as George opened the bag, knelt down and gently shook it over the grave.

Out of the bag and into the grave tumbled a cellophane-wrapped leg of lamb.

Boring Jim

June 21, 2011

Circa 1989, I was completing my shift at what was probably the worst job I have ever had.  Believe me, that is saying something.  I was working nights in Brooklyn for a major commercial bank.  My job title was Final Proof Clerk, and I worked alone.  The salary was abysmal and the hours long.  I went in at about 4:00 PM, and with overtime virtually guaranteed, I did not usually get home to Manhattan until 3:00 AM at best.  In those days, the City was not so gentrified, and the subway commute at that hour was often an adventure, particularly since I was dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase.  One of the things I had going for me was I was often mistaken for a cop by the night people looking for trouble.  There were a few incidents, but it could have been worse.

 I liked to stop off at a local saloon a block from home for a few pops before going home.  My buddy Matthew was the bartender, and out of courtesy, I would call and see if he was going to be closing, or if he’d wait for me to come in.  It is crucial here to mention that I stutter.  My stutter is neither subtle nor occasional.  I stutter frequently and very obviously.  I would call Matty and ask if I could come by, and invariably, he’d say loudly “Who is this?” Since I had had trouble saying his name, he knew exactly who it was, but it was always worth a chuckle.  A number of my friends over the years have pulled that on me, and it is pretty funny.  I don’t mind friends giving me flack as I’m a master at giving it back.  Give and take is a good thing if you have the temperament for it.  Matty told me he had a few stragglers yet and couldn’t close, so come on in.  It was a Tuesday night.

I arrived at the bar about 3:30 AM.  There was one couple at the end of the bar animatedly groping each other and an older dude sitting in the corner by himself.  I’d seen the guy around, although we’d never spoken.  I was to learn later that everyone called the guy Boring Jim.  In my experience, people who get saddled with a handle like that have earned it. In spades.

Matty came over, brought me a beer, and we shot the breeze for awhile.  Our conversations usually were made up of insults of varying degrees.  Matty looked like a bouncer, maybe a former offensive lineman.  In truth, he was a very interesting and educated guy; a teacher, football coach and a history buff.  But he was not terribly interested in making great impressions.  If a customer came in and thought Matty looked like a bonehead, he was happy to meet their expectations.  He also had another trait I greatly admired, one which I possess myself.  Many people have a certain line of decorum beyond which they will not go.  If Matty had such a line, it was very pliant.  He could be absolutely out of control, and although being good and “cocktailed’ helped, it was not required.  The guy was a riot.

The couple at the end of the bar required refills, and Matty left to take care of them.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the older guy getting out of his chair and sidling over to join me.  He asked if I minded him joining me, and being a gregarious and friendly sort, I shrugged.  I didn’t mind if he did; or didn’t.  He slid into the chair next to me.

“I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation,” the guy said. “I’m Jim,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Billy,” I said, shaking it.

Jim leaned closer to me, looked around to insure privacy, and asked in a secretive voice “Are you aware you have a speech impediment?”

His question absolutely amazed me. Having been saddled with stuttering since kindergarten as a result of paralysis from an allergic reaction that had nearly killed me, my very essence had been shaped by this handicap. Kids are cruel to others who are different, and I’d been “aware” as long as I could remember.  But anyone capable of asking a question of such moronic magnitude had potential.  I saw the chance to have some fun with this guy.

No” I replied with an expression of dismay.  “No one has ever told me that.”

“Oh, no question, you do,” Jim said, nodding his head sagely.

“You know Jim, people have been looking at me strangely for years, and I could never figure it out” I said.  “But thanks to your insight, it is beginning to make some sense to me.  They must have been looking at me because I talk funny.”

“Oh yeah, yeah” Jim nodded emphatically.  “They heard your speech impediment.”

“Well thanks Jim, that would make sense.” I said. “The waters are a little less murky.”

Matty returned, having overheard the entire exchange.  He was fighting desperately to keep from laughing out loud.  I was hoping he’d make eye contact with me, but he was too smart for that.  He’d have definitely lost it.

As we spoke, our attention was drawn to the couple at the end of the bar. The groping had intensified, and it appeared they were contemplating attempting coitus on two bar stools, a feat better left to circus acrobats.  Matty saw the situation, reached under the bar, and came out with a mini-Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  He walked down to the entangled couple, who were far too involved to see him coming, and slammed the bat on the bar in front of them.  The sound was like a gunshot.  The couple unclenched and sat looking fearfully at Matty and his bat.

“What do you two do in bed?” Matty inquired, “Drink?”

“So Billy, what do you do for a living?” Jim asked, as Matty rejoined us.

I do hockey play-by-play,” I answered, pausing for effect.  “On radio.”

My reply, coupled with Jim’s look of absolute bewilderment, caused Matty to guffaw out loud.

“Naw Jim, just pulling your leg there” I said, smiling.  “I’m an interpreter at the UN. Have a good night.”

I left.


April 16, 2011

Pursing is an activity that owes its existence to kids with creative, if warped inclinations and too much time on their hands.  The basic necessities required to go pursing are a ladies handbag, a fishing pole with line, a dimly lit suburban intersection and no interest in really doing anything remotely constructive.  The handbag, ideally, should be white.  Pursing hours commence with dusk, and continue through full darkness, so the handbag must be easily visible.  A black handbag would constitute a poor selection.  The intersection must have some traffic, but not too much. You could not effectively purse in Manhattan as there is way too much traffic and no place to hide.  Conversely, rural Kansas would be less than optimal as you might not see a car. A four-way intersection with at least two stop signs is very good.  Four stop signs are perfect.  The fishing line is tied to the handle of the purse, which is then placed in the center of the intersection.  Letting out line as you go, you find a comfortable hiding place about 40-50 yards away, and sit back to see what takes the bait.  Much like fishing, some patience is required.  Not everyone takes the bait.  Some people see an object in a place totally out of context, and proceed to not really see it.  You get the idea though, right?  Sounds like a fun pastime for grade-school kids and maybe immature junior high students.  Well, we were high school seniors. We drove to the selected site, stopping off to pick up beer on the way.  A mature lot were we.

It was a balmy Saturday August night in 1969.  My buddies Donny, Al, Doug, Joe and Vince had declared it a boy’s night out.  All of us were off to college in September, working at summer jobs; landscaping and the like.  We arranged to meet at Doug’s folk’s house, and discuss the evening’s nefarious plans.  I picked Al up, stopped for beer and went to Doug’s house.  The others were already there.  We decided on an intersection, and prepared to set out.  Al went over to greet Doug’s Grandma, Nana.  She was sitting in her usual rocking chair as Al approached.

“Ah, this weather’s awful isn’t it?  The rain’s been coming down in buckets!” Nana griped. The weather had, in fact, been beautiful, but Al went with the flow.

“Yeah, hope it keeps up” Al replied, nodding sagely.

“What the hell you mean ‘Hope it keeps up’ you silly bastard,” Nana frowned, turning in her rocker to look up at Al.

“If it keeps up” Al replied, “it won’t come down.”

“Smart alecks, the whole bunch of you. Wisenheimers” Nana said, her eyes narrowing.

“See you later, Nana” Al said waving, as we went out the door.  We had emptied Nana’s handbag and brought it to use as that evening’s “bait.”

We arrived at the chosen intersection minutes later, and set up shop.  The handbag was attached to the line on the pole, and placed in the intersection.  We retreated about forty yards and found a fine lair, blocked with shrubs and well-concealed, but affording a clear line of vision to the purse. And close enough to hear the dialogue between our potential targets. We all opened beers and settled in.

The first few cars that passed the handbag showed no interest. Maybe they smelled a trap. But it would not be long; people are innately curious.  Minutes later, a car came to the stop sign.  I recognized the car, and knew the guy driving it; a would-be tough guy greaseball named Ricky, out for a spin with his girlfriend.

“Hey, check that out!’ Ricky said to his babe. “Pick it up, maybe there’s cash in there.”

Ricky drove slowly up to the bag and his girl got out to retrieve the purse.  She had almost touched it when we gave the pole a slight pull. The bag moved several inches, and the girl recoiled in horror.

“Ricky, it moves!” she yelped, jumping back into the car.

“Oh for Christ sakes, Diane, how could it move?” Ricky sneered.

“Maybe some animal is in there, I don’t know. But it moved” Diane said, beginning to pout.

“There might be money in that purse; we have to look” Ricky insisted.

“Does money move?” Diane whined.

“Not by itself, no” Ricky conceded. “I’ll take care of this.”

Ricky swung the car in a circle through the intersection, coming back around with the purse on the driver’s side now.  Still in motion, he opened his door and leaned out for a flashy, moving rodeo grab. As his hand brushed the bag, we pulled hard on the pole and the bag skittered several feet. Ricky almost fell out of the car and jammed on the brakes.

“Holy Christ!” Ricky screamed. He slammed his door and the car roared off.

We were rolling around in the bushes, laughing, tapping each others beer cans in a toast.  But the fun was just starting.

A few minutes later, a middle-aged man came along on foot, walking a beautiful Yellow Lab.  He went straight up to the bag and picked it up.  The Lab was far more interested in the myriad scents on the nearby trees and paid the purse no mind.  The man whistled to the dog and set off up the street, the purse in hand, the pooch at his side.

“Whoa, you let the guy pick it up!” I said.

“No problem, we’ll let him run with the ball a little. Watch this!” said Donny, holding the pole.

As the man walked up the street humming, Donny gave the pole a savage jerk. The purse flew out of the guy’s hand , he emitted a high-pitched scream that sounded like a little girl and broke into a full-tilt boogie. The dog broke into a sprint as well, probably frightened more by his owner’s shriek than the purse. They disappeared up the street.

We were beside ourselves; what do you do for an encore? But the frivolity was short-lived. No sooner had we retrieved the purse, repositioned it and got into our cover than a cop car came by.  The Officer got out and went straight over to the purse, picking it up.  He discovered the fishing line and began to follow it, coming straight towards us.  We scattered, all except Joe.  Joe, the guy with 1600 SATs and a scholarship offer from MIT, climbed a tree directly above the fishing pole.  The policeman followed the line to the pole, looked around, and then looked above him. There was Joe up in the tree.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing up there?” the Cop yelled.

“Staaaaaarrrrrgazing” Joe replied.

“Get your ass down here now” the Cop ordered. Joe complied.

We could not hear what was said, but apparently Joe convinced the Cop he was sorry. His tone of voice and body language fit the bill. After warning Joe there would be trouble if he came back and found Joe there, the Cop returned to his car and left. We didn’t.

By this time, there had been a lot of beer consumed, and although we set up the purse again, less and less attention was being paid to the handbag.  We were just shooting the breeze and cracking each other up, when the line on the fishing pole began to whine loudly.  The line was being pulled out so fast we could not touch it.  While we were not watching, someone had picked up the purse, gotten back into his car and driven off;  guy in a little Datsun. I used my lighter to sever the line.

“That’s my Grandmother’s purse!” Doug yelled. “I have to get that back.”

Doug and I ran to my Firebird and we set off in hot pursuit.  The guy in the Datsun had been driving slowly along, but when I flashed my brights and drove up on his ass, he panicked. I can only imagine what was going through his mind. What had he stumbled upon?  A drug deal gone bad? Whatever his thoughts, what ensued was a chase scene reminiscent of Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt’, minus San Francisco’s hills. The guy seemed to realize his little Datsun was not going to lose my Firebird, and he drove directly to the Police Station, jumped out and ran inside carrying the handbag.  He was just starting to give his story to the Cop at the desk when Doug and I charged in.  I shoved the guy hard, Doug took the purse, and we headed for the door.

“Stop right there. Now!” the Cop ordered.  We did.

We explained our story and the Cop was not amused. He had asked the man if he wanted to press charges and it came to light we were high school seniors in town.

“You must know my son, Wally” the man said. “He’s in your class.”

When he told us his last name, we did indeed know Wally. The man declined to press charges and Doug and I apologized.  Handshakes all around, the man left and the Cop read us the riot act for a few minutes and we were told we could go.

Outside, Doug said “I think I’m putting pursing on pause.”

“Yeah, we’ll give it a little break” I agreed. 

Nana got her handbag back, none the wiser for its absence.

Remembering Liz Taylor

March 24, 2011

I just saw a blurb that Elizabeth Taylor had passed away today at the age of 79.  I had the good fortune to meet this lovely lady, although under false pretenses.  The story seems to be worth telling, particularly today.

The year was 1981, and Ms. Taylor was in New York to star in the play “The Little Foxes” for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress.  I had seen a small piece in one of the tabloids recounting a mix up with her limousine service which had left her stranded at the airport for hours when she arrived in town.  This bit of information turned into my “ticket to ride”.

I had agreed to accompany my friend Paul to pick up his Wife from work.  She tended bar at a restaurant that was a hangout for Broadway people.  It may still be there, but the name escapes me.  As Paul and I entered the restaurant, I spotted Elizabeth Taylor sitting in the restaurant area with Roddy McDowell.  Two gigantic guys, obviously bodyguards, were standing by her table to discourage the curious.  I told Paul that I was going to go over and say hello to Liz, as we had a lot of catching up to do.

“You know Liz Taylor?” Paul asked.

“No” I replied.  “That’s why we have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Fifty dollars says you don’t talk to her or even get near her” Paul said.  “You see those two goons?”

“I see them.  No problem.  I’ll take the bet.  I want a hundred if I’m able to join her at the table” I said.

“You’re on.  I’ll go for the C-note.  But there is no way you pull this off,” Paul said, shaking his head.

“Watch me,” I said and grinned knowingly.  Paul shook his head again.

I began my walk from the bar area where we were sipping beers around to the restaurant entrance.  Both of the bodyguards had their eyes on me long before I had even begun to approach their table, as if they had some kind of internal radar.  As I approached Liz and Roddy’s table, both bodyguards came together and blocked my passage.  A hand the size of a Virginia ham waved me away.

“They don’t want any interruptions,” one of the behemoths told me.  “You should beat it.”

“I think Ms. Taylor will want to speak with me.  I owe her an apology,” I explained.  “You want to ask her?”

“She knows you?”

“No.  She wouldn’t know me from Adam.  Never laid eyes on me” I replied.

“So why would she want to talk to you?  I’d rather you leave under your own power, pal; less of a fuss.”

“I’m the limo driver who hung her up at the airport,” I said. “I want to apologize.  Would you just ask her?”

At that point, Liz glanced up, probably to inquire as to why I was still there.  One of the bodyguards whispered something to her.  She looked up at me, smiled and waved me through to join them.

“It is wonderful of you to come and apologize in person.  With all the trouble you got in the papers, I’d have thought you‘d hate me.  The whole incident was really no big deal,” Liz said, smiling. “Please, join us for a drink.” I could not believe the color of her eyes; almost a lavender shade.  Like nothing I’d seen before; nor since.

I sat down and risked a glance up at the bar.  Paul was watching with jaws agape.  His eyes were huge!

“Ms. Taylor, I just wanted to tell you in person how very sorry I am for any inconvenience you had to go through.  No excuses, I dropped the ball,” I said.

“That’s ancient history and you’ve paid enough of a price.  The limousine company said you were fired”

“Yes, that’s true, but it really wasn’t working out” I replied.  “You weren’t my first faux pas, just my most infamous. It was time to do something else, anyway.”

She laughed.  “Well, I wish you the best of luck. And I thank you for making the effort to apologize in person.  That was very honorable and it took some guts.”

The honorable part was just plain wrong, and I’d probably have substituted balls for guts.  The waitress approached to take my drink order, and I raised my hand in dismissal.

“Ms. Taylor, I appreciate the offer but I’m going to pass on having a drink.  I came with a friend and he’s alone up at the bar.  I should join him.  Besides, he owes me $100.00. I told him I was going to go join Liz Taylor and he bet me it would not happen.  It did” I said.  “If I’m out of a job, I should go collect my money.”

“Did he know you were my limousine driver that never showed?” she asked.

“No, I was less than forthcoming in that regard” I replied.

“That was very clever and a little devious” she said, laughing. “I feel better about your losing your job after meeting you.  I think you’ll be just fine. It was a pleasure.”

“The pleasure was all mine” I said, rising to my feet.  “Have a wonderful evening.”  I left the table and began my return to the bar area, most impressed with how very warm and friendly Elizabeth Taylor had turned out to be.  And those eyes!  On the way, I decided not to tell Paul the limousine story which had made all this possible.  It was much more fun to have him wonder about it.

“How the hell did you pull that off?” Paul demanded as I approached, his brow furrowed.

“I really can’t explain it, you know?” I said.  “Sometimes people just seem to connect.”


Photographs by Google Images

The Church Bells

March 23, 2011

There is a Church across the avenue from our apartment.  On Sundays, I have become accustomed to the chiming of the Church bells.  Over the years, I had become interested in what the chimes meant, and if there was any symbolism to the times the bells rang.  The internet provides answers to these kinds of questions, so I researched the history of church bells.  Apparently, for a Church of this denomination, the bells were supposed to be rung in the morning, at Noon as a call to worship, and again in the evening on weekends. I was astonished to find that the church bells across the street were ringing at times that meant nothing.  And had been for as long as I can recall.

Passing the Church recently, I encountered some of the clergymen outside talking.  I approached them and posed my questions about the bells.  One gentleman answered that the timing device was giving them trouble.  Another simply said, “They’re broken.”  Well, these things happen, right?  Things break and you have to fix them.  But this has been going on for twenty years!  Does it cost too much to fix?  Do the church people really care if the bells are broken and the message being sent an errant one?  Were they even aware before I broached the subject?  I don’t have the answers to these questions.  I do know I was dismissed as if my inquiry was merely bothersome.

It really is not an issue for me.  I am not a follower of this particular faith.  Nor any other organized religion for that matter.  I choose to believe the AA vision of a Higher Power, one greater than myself.  I fervently hope such a power exists, as if there is no Power greater than me, I have to think all of us are more or less screwed.  But the Church bells do bother me.  I can’t help but thinking the Church bells might be symptomatic of a far broader problem.  Maybe something more fundamental than the Church bells is broken.  Broken, and either unable to be fixed, or not important enough to address.

The Boulders

February 15, 2011

I was awakened by the Sunday morning sunlight filtering through the bay windows into my bedroom.  While I lay there and contemplated getting up, I performed my ritual weekend activity of seeing how much of the previous evening I could piece together.  On this occasion,  my recollection was a fairly fruitful exercise, in that I could remember just about everything I did, apart from the drive home.  The drive home I almost never remembered.   Suburban kids drive drunk a lot.  Many will tell you they are good drunk drivers.  Some of them die testing that theory.

This was my first apartment after graduating from college.  I had started apartment hunting two days after I got home.  While my parent’s home was comfortable and the price was right, I had lived off-campus in an apartment with buddies for the last three years.  I had grown accustomed to my hours and my schedule did not mirror that of my folks; to put it mildly.  They certainly did not seem devastated by my decision to seek other lodgings.  My Buddy Al was also looking for a place, and we decided to share the expense.  My Mother loved Al, but had suggested we were too much alike to be good roommates.  As is my wont, I blew off her advice.  If there was an Association for People Who Have to Learn Lessons the Hard Way, I could be the poster boy.

Al and I got lucky.  The second place we saw seemed to be perfect.  The apartment was the second and third floors of a nice-enough old house on a good block, walking distance to the train station. Since we both worked in the City, this was a selling point.  The place had one definite bedroom, bath, a small living room which opened up onto a second-floor railed-in terrace, and a sitting room (bedroom?) with a door to the attic.  Access to all the rooms was via a narrow hallway.  The only possible snag that occurred to me was who would get the bedroom?  I was willing to pay a larger share of the monthly nut, but to my surprise, Al fell in love with the unfinished attic.  It was huge, but musty and really unfinished.  But Al liked it, so we went to negotiate with the Landlady.

Mrs. K was an elderly Polish widow with eyeglasses that magnified her eyes to appear as if she was looking out of a fish bowl.  Her last name was one of those that have about thirty letters and two vowels, most of the letters being w, z, c, or k. She pronounced it for us once.  I had her write it out for me to make out the monthly rent check.  I never tried to verbalize it, not being into masochism.  She agreed to the rent, accepted our security deposit, and we got our keys.  The poor woman had no idea what she was getting into.

I was ready to get up, make some coffee, hit the can and read the Sunday Times out on the terrace.  I opened my bedroom door and found myself face to face with a pile of rocks.  No, my description does not capture the essence.  The entire hallway, the hub to the whole apartment, was filled with boulders piled about five feet high.  I had seen homes with sunken living rooms, but by virtue of the boulders, we now had a sunken apartment.  No room was accessible without climbing and descending the rock pile.

Muttering some colorful words, I got a good handhold and foothold, and was able to climb into the bathroom.  Having brushed my teeth, taken care of business and donned my robe and slippers, I then climbed into the kitchen and made coffee.  The next part was the most challenging, seeing as I needed to scale the entire length of the boulders to get from the kitchen to the sitting room off the terrace while carrying a mug of hot coffee.  It took some time, and several times I needed to put the coffee on a ledge to advance, but I made it.  Then it occurred to me that I had left the paper in the kitchen, so I did it again.  Finally, I settled in at the picnic table on the terrace, sipped my coffee and started the paper.  I was looking forward to Al getting up, as I was anxious to hear the origin of our new personal quarry.  I was not really angry, as Al was all about the unexpected.  I had known that coming in, and in fact, to me, it was a big part of his appeal.

Sometime later, I heard sounds of activity in the attic and soon Al appeared.  He gave me a military salute and began his climb to the kitchen to get his coffee.  Upon his return, he shook his head as he sat down.  I asked what the problem was.

“Much easier getting into the kitchen than coming back out” Al said.

“Stands to reason,” I replied.  “You got two hands free going in… an easier climb.”

Al nodded.  “And you need to set your cup down at least once coming out, and those rocks aren’t level.”

“No, they’re not,” I said.  “I’m having a hard time finding many positive rock attributes. Where did you get them?”

“Randy and I clipped them from a construction site.  They weren’t guarded or anything,” Al said.

“Go figure. I guess they thought no one was going to run off with thirty 250 lb. boulders,” I said. “Talk about naïvete.” I began to smile.

Al tried to maintain a straight face, but he was losing the battle.  “Pretty haphazard way to run a construction business, you ask me,” Al said.  He grinned widely.

“How the hell did you get them up here to the second floor?  That staircase turns at a ninety degree angle and it’s not wide, either.  Must’ve been a bitch,” I said.

“You have no idea,” Al answered. “It took two of us to lift one of those suckers. It took forever to get them all up here.”

“Good thing you’re no quitter,” I replied.  I smiled again.

“I couldn’t have done it sober,” Al said, shaking his head. “No fucking way”

“I guarantee you wouldn’t have done it sober,” I said. “Never even would have occurred to you.”  I knew this because I’ve had similar eureka-type revelations when I was smashed. They don’t usually hold up to the light of day sobriety test.

“”Well, let’s not get hasty here,” Al said. “ Let’s brainstorm the pros and cons of the rocks.”

“You mean like they do in corporate boardrooms?” I asked. “You and me?”

“That’s the plan,” Al said, chuckling.

“Shouldn’t take long,” I said.

“Blink of an eye,” Al said.

“OK, you start since they’re your rocks,” I said.

Al sat for several minutes deep in thought.

“OK, suppose we were building a moat?” Al said.  “We’d have a good start on a foundation.”

“When did this become we?” I asked. “But you’re right.  Those be some fine boulders. But I see a  few obstacles to the moat.”

“Expound” Al said.

“Well we have no property. We’re renters.  A moat seems like a big expenditure for renters.”

“There is that,” Al conceded.

“And you think Mrs. K. would go for the moat idea?  Maybe she doesn’t want a moat,” I pointed out. “And even if she did like having a moat, she could throw our asses out and give our moat to the next tenant!”

“That would be the height of gall,” Al exclaimed indignantly.

“Actually,”  I said, “She might not be far from throwing us out, moat or no moat.  She evidently doesn’t like George Clinton and P-Funk.”

“No?” Al asked.

“Not at 2:30 in the morning on a Tuesday.  Maybe never. But she was really pissed off Tuesday.”

“Well, music is a very subjective kind of thing,” Al observed.

“Talking about Mrs. K., how do you suppose she didn’t hear you bringing the rocks up here?  It had to be noisy.  Those old stairs creak when you’re not carrying 250 lb. boulders” I asked.

“You’ve seen her glasses; she’s blind as a bat.  Seems her hearing might not be razor sharp either.  And you slept through it, too. You must have been well-medicated” Al said.

“Apparently well enough” I replied. “So I think we agree the moat is not viable.  Just out of morbid curiosity I have a question.  Castles build moats to keep things out.  Zoos build them to keep things in.  Which way were you leaning?”

“Both” Al replied with conviction.

“Good thinking,” I said. ” Why pigeonhole yourself?”

The next day, Monday morning, I climbed my way into the bathroom, showered and headed off to work. After work, I met some friends for dinner and drinks.  It was late when I got home and opened the door.  The boulders were gone, the hall vacuumed. I never asked Al how or where he disposed of them.  He would tell me if he felt like it. He never did.

Photograph by