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Archive for the ‘TALES’ Category

It’s Been A While

Just the other night a friend mentioned that I must have given-up on my blog. Another friend jumped in with, “Yeah. What’s up with that?” “No,” I answered.  “It’s just been on hiatus.”  

Moreover, maybe I’m the one who has been on hiatus.   What’s wrong with me! 

Sometime between my last post (in May) and now I came to the realization that my status in life has changed.  I didn’t have to complete any forms or even advise the government. It took a while for me to be cognizant of my new-found status. It’s been like forever that I’ve had a job or owned my own business.  Whenever anyone asked me what I did (As in, “What do you do for a living?”), I always responded with a job description or title; most recently with, “I’m working part-time for a friend.”

Now I am not working.  Now I am not looking for a job. I guess I would start a business if the right situation presented itself, but, basically, I am retired.  There, I have made it official.  Since I have come to this realization, I have become more relaxed about life–more casual in my day-to-day activities. David’s busy day is hardly busy at all. I’m happy with that status. 

The sixth of next month (December), Cindy and I will have celebrated forty years of marriage.  Now that’s an accomplishment of which I am proud. Occasionally, Cindy goes off to work or works from home. So, we spend most every day together. Except for the few nights a week I  play poker, Cindy and I are home (or traveling, though not enough).   As I am writing this, I am sitting ion my livingroom watching the sun set. Our cat is snuggling on my right. Our dog is sleeping beneath the piano. In front of me are framed pictures of my family and friends.  My heart is full of love for Cindy. So, retirement is good–life is good, status–excellent.

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Deja Vu in Vegas

In May of this year, 2010, I was just in Las Vegas for four days.  Four of my friends and I had the best time yet.  We go every year. Every year we have a ball–poker and laughs all day and most of the night.  Though we slept at Harrah’s, we spent most of our waking hours playing poker at The Venetian, just a few doors away.

The Venetian has the perfect mix of both Hold ’em and Omaha.  Most of the guys play $1-$2 No-Limit, Hold ’em. I play mostly Omaha Hi-Lo. With a modicum of success, I’ve tried to ween a few over to Omaha.  The Venetian seems to have taken over as the Poker Mecca, not because of the size of their poker room, but because of their goal to be the dominant  poker venue in Las Vegas.

We played a little at the Wynn, where the crowd is a little haughtier; the room a little smaller.  Primarily, we went there to play in their Wednesday noon Omaha tournament, which ended up being much smaller than anticipated–just twenty participants.  Four of the twenty were us. So, right off the bat, we had a 20% chance of finishing in the money. After about five hours, I was the money leader. Rather than keep playing, I agreed to split the prize pool with three others, none of whom were of our quartet.  My $120 buy-in netted me a profit of $365 (collecting $485 for my five hours of play).

The other guys left town.  I was scheduled to fly out on Friday morning at 6:00 A.M.  I saw that there was an Omaha Hi-Lo tourney at The Orleans at 7:00 P.M. on Thursday.   I left the Venetian where I was playing $4-$8 Omaha Hi-Lo and not faring too well.  In about six hours I took half of only one pot and a quarter of two others–quite a costly session. The Orleans tourney was a $75 buy-in. I figured, even if I failed to come in, in the money, I would limit my exposure to $75 and get to bed at a reasonable time.

So, I hopped into a cab and traveled to The Orleans.  I signed up for the tourney.   There were 75 participants.  I appeared to be among the early chip leaders.  With seven places being paid, I managed to make it to the final table of ten.  Not wishing to go into all the details, I played smart and made it to fifth place, yielding me $345 for my $75 investment.  At 1:15 A.M., I hailed a cab and headed to Harrah’s.

There was no traffic.  We made it to Las Vegas Boulevard in five minutes or so. The cab turned left on Las Vegas Boulevard. Very shortly we were at that fatal corner where the accident of 2006 occurred. I am still haunted by the calamity of the evening and of the needless death of a friend I had met just a few days before. Now, the accident, the chaos, the catastrophe of four years ago came to life.  Actually, it was all bigger than life. While the cab waited for the light to change, to my right two men in electric scooters (similar to the one my friend was using when he was killed) crossed the intersection.  If that was not ironic enough, to my left, in front of Caesar’s Palace, was a huge billboard featuring Jerry Seinfeld coming July 23.  The video billboard was blaring just as loud as it did the night of the accident.  It was all too bizarre.  It could have been a dream–worse yet, it was real.

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“The Real Paper” Years

Having served as general manager and executive vice president of Brands Mart, a division of Allbrands Appliance and Television, Inc., I left as soon as they filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy. Brands Mart was good to me and let me do things my way. We offered extremely competitive prices on TV’s, audio equipment, and major appliances. Brands Mart was unique. To shop at a Brands Mart showroom, one required a membership card. The cards were free and available only through organizations, companies, unions, and such. I came up with a unique concept by accepting college ID as a form of admittance. (There was no Costco, no Sam’s Club, nor BJ’s.)

When I joined the company in 1968 or 1969, Brands Mart was one, closed-door showroom in Long Island City, New York. When I left, they were a major factor in the northeast with branches in New York in Long Island City, Deer Park, and Manhattan. In addition there were three branches in New England in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

My responsibilities including opening their Boston branch for them on Friend Street. The Friend Street location soon outgrew itself, and I opened their most successful branch, a 40,000 sq. ft. showroom in Cambridge on what was then a little known location, Smith Place. Soon after we opened, the entire Fresh-Pond section of Cambridge became vitalized. A Burger King soon opened at the corner of Smith Place. Brands Mart became the Mecca for off-price electronics. We became active in sponsoring major fund-raising events and yearly hosted the Brands Mart 5k in conjunction with the American Heart Association. Sidebar: The first Brands Mart 5k was won byAlberto Salazar, who went on to set a course record and win the Boston Marathon in 1982.

I was able to attract students from all over the metropolitan Boston area by advertising in all the college newspapers. Eventually, I spent most of my time as their director of advertising, running the advertising programs for all six Brands Mart locations (and for a partially owned division in Miami). I became familiar with all aspects of media, managing a $3,000,0000 annual budget in print, radio, and television, even dablling in the creative aspect from time to time.

Through Boston contacts, I became extremely familiar with some of the local publications catering to the desirable 18-40, male demographics. So, when Brands Mart filed for bankruptcy in 1979, I was approached by one of the weekly publications, “The Real Paper,” to join their staff as co-publisher. “The Real Paper” was definitely the weaker of the two major weekly publications in Boston. Yet, through both paid-for and free distribution, we boasted a weekly publication of 100,000.

Knowing little about the inner workings of publishing, I learned on the job. The paper was struggling when I joined their ranks. I was brought on, primarily, to use my contacts with major TV and audio manufacturers to garner some of their lucrative coop advertising budgets and oversee the sales department and strengthen the management team.

I became involved with all aspects of the newspaper. “The Real Paper” was a fun place to work (and learn). The staff was a compilation of both neophytes, learning the trade, and talented, accomplished writers. Over the years, “The Real Paper” was home to renown writers and reviewers like Joe Klein, Mark Devlin, Stephen Schiff, Monica Collins, Arthur Friedman, David Ansen, Mark Zanger, Jon Landau and so many others, who moved-on to bigger and better careers.

“The Real Paper” was more of a factor in earlier years, when music reviewers could make their own mark when new sounds and voices were setting the stage for the future of music for the younger generations. In a prophetic 1974 article, Jon Landau wrote “… tonight there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. Last Thursday, at the  Harvard Square theatre, I saw my rock’n’roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time. When his two-hour set ended I could only think, can anyone really be this good; can anyone say this much to me, can rock’n’roll still speak with this kind of power and glory? And then I felt the sores on my thighs where I had been pounding my hands in time for the entire concert and knew that the answer was yes.”

“The Real Paper” rebounded for a very short time, but it could never compete with the major weekly in town, “The Boston Phoenix.” “The Real Paper” staff was not as hungry or as aggressive as “The Boston Phoenix,” which flourished while “The Real Paper” floundered. The owners of “The Real Paper” included some prominent investors, who had their own motives for keeping the publication alive. One such investor was David Rockefeller, Jr., who held senior-staff meetings at his Cambridge, Craigie Street residence. Why he needed the financial burden of “The Real Paper” was never made clear to me, but due to his support (and that of other investors), the paper continued to exist. (When I left the paper, I was pleased to have a letter of recommendation from him.)

“The Real Paper” had a very strong local presence devoting itself to community-based cultural efforts as well as the arts. Along with “The Boston Phoenix,” “The Real Paper” published a weekly calendar of events that kept the metropolitan area aware of all the concerts (major and minor), all the shows, all the movies, all the sporting events, and all the art exhibits. Since there was no Internet, one needed a newspaper to keep abreast of all the many arts activities of this vibrant area.

These newspapers formed the voice for all those who had something to advertise in the “Personals” section. “Personals” and “Arts and Entertainment” were the focuses, but some of the political viewpoints and causes were reason enough to attract the interest not only of readers, but of political pundits. Throughout the country “underground newspapers,” more aptly described as ”alternative newspapers,“ like “The Chicago Reader,” “The Village Voice,” “The Boston Phoenix,” and “The Real Paper” were popular forums for the counter-culture revolution that was occurring.

There were cliques within departments, but, mostly, we were a friendly group who socialized both in and out of the workplace. Two-to-three beer lunches at Plough and Stars across from our offices on Mass. Avenue were commonplace. Many meetings occurred there. Real work was actually accomplished. Of course there is a history of too much inter-socialization that occurred long before I joined the staff– like when the associate publisher’s wife moved in with the associates publisher’s closest friend, who was also the paper’s publisher. No scandals like that when I was there.

Readers of this blog may wonder what any of this has to do with playing poker. For my entire tenure at the “Real Paper ” (when it was purchased by “The Boston Phoenix” in June of 1981), I played no poker at all. One of the players in the Thursday night game in which I regularly played prior to joining the “Real Paper,” resented my joining “The Real Paper” and applied pressure with the other players to keep me out of the game. It was not until after I left “The Real Paper” that I re-joined the Thursday night group.

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 It was the fall of 2006. Though the individuals were not all the same, it was our group’s second visit to Las Vegas. All of us were poker players. Some of us had gone in May, 2006 as well, frolicking and echoing lines from “Animal House”–though years past our prime.

The fall, 2006 trip included six, of which five were from the Wednesday night poker game in which I played. The sixth, a good friend of a few of the other attendees and brother-in-law of one as well, was a guy I had never before met. I had heard his name mentioned in various humorous stories. He used to play in a long-running poker game–a previous incarnation of our Wednesday night game. It was a pleasure to meet him. He exuded friendship. His round, full face seemed to have a perennial smile. We immediately started to bond. While old stories were being repeated, new tales were being spun. This tale is as memorable as he was. Rather than use actual names, I’ll call him Gill.

We were staying at Harrahs. Harrahs is certainly not one of the fancier venues in Las Vegas, but it sure is well located. In addition, Harrahs has always gone out of its way to make us feel welcome. Always great dinners at The Range Steakhouse! This particular night at Harrahs, we pigged-out on many great appetizers and then so many tasty main courses. We enjoyed them all while we laughed and drank at Ming’s Table. The good times and laughs continued as we all wended our way to Caesars Palace to play poker.

Las Vegas is a Mecca for billboards. It’s a Mecca for a myriad of neon lights. Loud jokes and song and music boom from marquees. As you cross Las Vegas Boulevard you are aware not only of all the hustle and bustle of the street, but of all the lights and all the noise from extravagant billboards. Each hotel, each casino competing to outdo the other–a cacophony of sight and sound. Outside Caesars Palace, their billboard featured Jerry Seinfeld, including some Jerry Seinfeld humor. The dialog boomed, yet it seemed to drift into the night air along with all the lights and the fountain sprays and the cigarette smoke.

The poker room at Caesars was unusually quiet. Management was kind enough to open a $5-$10, hi-lo Omaha table for us. At first it was just our group. Then, we were joined by others. To Caesars surprise, they had an actual Omaha game going. We cajoled and socialized with other players, who would come and go from the table. Every so often one of us would disappear for awhile and run off to shoot Craps or play Black Jack. While two of the group returned to Harrahs, four of us remained at Caesars, playing-on past 1:00 A.M. or so.

By the time we were ready to leave Caesars Palace, the night air had turned chilly. The four of us were anxious to make our way back to Harrahs as fast as possible. Three of us were walking back. The fourth, Gill, whose knee was more pained from recent surgery than he had anticipated, was headed back on a motorized wheelchair-scooter he had rented. .

 

We had come all the way from Caesars to Las Vegas Boulevard. One of the group was still waiting to cross. One of us had traversed the treacherous street. Gill, on his scooter, was just about at the center island of the boulevard. I was about halfway across the first section of the boulevard when I saw a speeding car traveling along the lane closest to the center island. This car just recklessly whizzed-by in front of me as I turned my head to the right and saw the vehicle racing along, headed directly for Gill on his scooter, not yet safely on the center island.

The impact was fierce and unforgettable. The horror is not to be described here. It was immediately apparent how close Gill and his brother-in-law must have been. One could feel all the true affection they had for each other. Their family ties interspersed with their business ties which interspersed with their long, on-going friendship–demonstrating that we become relatives by chance; friends by choice. This catastrophe has effected all of us. Too often I relive the events of this needless killing of this very vibrant man.

We were there for hours. A few witnesses gathered. Police arrived. Las Vegas Boulevard was closed during the lengthy investigation. The wanton, inebriated driver was taken into custody. Caesars Palace security showed up. Caesars Palace management team showed up. There was nothing they would deny us. They brought out blankets for us and the witnesses. They brought us hot coffee and cold drinks. They went out of their way to comfort us. Yes, Harrahs and Caesars are part of the same corporate conglomerate, but their personnel appeared to be trained in compassionate care-giving for the public. They offered to make phone calls for us. They offered us an inside comfort area, which we declined.

Through all this tragedy and sadness, Jerry Seinfeld’s comedic remarks kept booming through the chilling air. The humor was just out of place. We all were grieving and dealing with this shock and calamity. The constant recycling of the same Jerry Seinfeld routine was just an inappropriate interference. When Caesars management asked if there was anything else they could do for us, I said “yes” and requested that they please mute the Jerry Seinfeld sign.

The somberness befitting the tragic events finally quieted the impending morning dawn.

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West 92nd Street

Long before I moved to the Boston area and long before I started playing in a local Thursday night poker game in Newton and Medford, I played in a game at Mel’s apartment in New York City. Mel was a bachelor who owned an investment company. Each week he hosted a game. He supplied sandwiches, snacks, and beverages.  He never took any money for the sustenance.  It was usually the same group of renegades.  We were seven at maximum.  Many times we played with less.  The group consisted of a few insurance guys; Harry, who owned a diner somewhere near the Bowery;  Lou, who I mentioned in a previous post (he hosted a similar game with some of the same guys); and, when he was in town, the actor James Broderick.

It was a nice size game for the 1960’s with stakes at $1, $2, and $5.  We played a few wild card games, one we called Manhattan. It was a Seven-Stud, hi-lo, declare game.  The low card in the hole  (and any others in your hand that matched it) was wild.  In addition, after the seventh card, there was a replace card that cost $1.  So, if by chance you were betting your hand contingent upon your low card in the hole being a four, let’s say, and your seventh card was a two, you had a chance to get rid of the two in hopes of getting a card higher than the four so that the four would be reestablished as your low card in the hole.  Anyway, there were many reasons to replace a card. By replacing an up-card, you could possibly match your low card in the hole. 

We played a five-card version of Manhattan, called Downtown. Each player received one card down, three cards up, and a final card down. There was betting each round. Of course, after you received your fifth card, which was down, it was very likely that your complete hand changed. You now had the option of replacing a card.  There was a lot of positioning and posturing.  This game made everyone think.

We played some Seven-Stud, hi-lo, declare with no wild cards, but still a replace.   In addition, we played some versions of Fiery Cross, described elsewhere in this blog under Criss-Cross Variants.

At that time, we played no 8-low qualifier games.  All hi-lo games were declare. Positioning was paramount, since all declaring was verbal. In the declaration round of betting, the last active better (the person making the initial bet or the person taking the last raise), was the first to declare. Sometimes, by posturing yourself correctly, you could back into winning by hearing, as an example, that the three declarers before you all went high.  You being last to act, might just declare low, feeling that your high hand faced too much competition.

Games would usually start at about 8:00 at night and run through 1:30 or 2:00 A.M. That’s when the real action started.  We played Poker for five or six hours, struggling to win $150 to $350; then, we would risk so much more.  Chairs got moved, a couch got moved. The carpet was moved back. We got on our knees and would start shooting Craps, many mornings until daylight.  The wins and losses at Craps were not relevant to those possibilities of the Poker game. Sometimes, someone who was a marginal winner at Poker, might win $600 to $1000 shooting Craps. Usually anywhere from three to five remained to shoot Craps.

House Craps (or Street Craps) varies from casino-style Craps. There is no felt listing all the betting options. All bets need to be covered by other players.  Many times, not all bets get covered. Usually, most action was against the dice roller. There was no behind-the-line action. The roller would put up let’s say $200. The other participants would shout out how much of the action he was taking and lay his money down. When the last of the $200 was covered, the shooter was “faded.”  If the $200 was not covered in full, the shooter would pull back the money that was not covered. Assuming there was no 2,3, 7, 11, or 12 on the initial role, the point would be established.  Then, there was usually more action: 2 to 1 on the 4 or 10, 3 to 2 on the 5 or 9, and 6 to 5 on the 6 or 8. That was the extent of the action.  No one was betting the hard-8 or placing a come-bet on the next roll. 

Most everyone at the game smoked cigarettes or cigars. If you were a non-smoker, you never objected since smoking was hardly verboten then.  By 5:30 or 6:00 A.M. we all stank from the smoke in the air and were all quite disheveled.  Many mornings, we never made it home to shower or change clothes.  Sleep! Sleeping was secondary.  There were many times that we just went from work to Poker/Craps and back to work–and that was without cocaine.

One day Mel, whose apartment was on West 92nd Street, not far from Central Park, parked his car.  He opened his car door to exit. At that moment, Mel’s life changed.  He was never the same. Some young man, speeding down the street on his bicycle, slammed head-first into Mel’s car door. The bicyclist was pronounced dead on the spot.

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Lake Mohegan

I remember the place actually being called [Lake] Mohegan Country Club. It was located on Lake Mohegan, NY, about fifty  miles from New York City. Ironically, since the early 1970’s, “Lake Mohegan” ceased to exist and the nomenclature is no longer used. The area, the lake, community–one and the same–is now “Mohegan Lake.” During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the area developed into a famous resort community.  (One could hardly call  Mohegan Country Club “a famous resort community.” As a matter of fact, in all honesty, one could hardly call it a country club.)

Lured by convenient train travel (a few hours), New York City apartment dwellers came to Lake Mohegan to breathe country air and relax at a picturesque lake.  Nine or ten resorts operated for sixty-plus years. They offered lodging and top-name entertainment. (I never saw any of this so-called, top-name entertainment.)Most of these resorts had their personalized water-fronts and swimming-cribs.  They provided safe harbors for swimming and boating.  One of the more popular resorts was the Mohegan Country Club and Bungalow Colony, located on Route 6.  The Lakeside and Villas condominiums now occupy the space.

By the time I arrived in the summer of 1954,  the Mohegan Country Club and Bungalow Colony must have been a shell of itself.  It was like a cast-off of the Catskills. Nearby this area in Yorktown, NY,  not too far from Peekskill, was a much fancier community, Lake Mahopac. Mahopac had the reputaion of being “upscale.” In that respect, one would have to label Lake Mohegan Country Club as down-trodden. Yet, this summer of 1954 proved to be a remarkable summer for me–not because of the area, the work, or even the all-night poker games, but because I met someone who eventually changed my life.

In good consciousness, I cannot relate all the facts of how I came to the area that summer.  I can say, I started the summer as a counselor for waiters at a summer camp somewhere near Bear Mountain. Having been a camp waiter a few summers before at a summer camp, Brookside, in Great Barrington, MA, qualified me for the position. I was working at this camp in or near Bear Mountain and enjoying the challenges and responsibility of the job. Not so, however, for the young lady with whom l went there. She had taken the job as counselor for the youngest girls at the camp. As she put it, she was not going to change diapers for spoiled brats all summer.  I can’t vouch for the diapers or any of her complaints.  I can say that she convinced me to quit my job (shame on me), because she was not up to the task.

Off we went in my forest green, 1953, Pontiac Chieftain. She called a friend of hers who had rented a house for the summer in Yorktown Heights. She moved in with that family as their au pair for the summer. There I was–no job, no place to stay, my mother not knowing where I was. I knew nothing of the area around Yorktown. Knowing I needed both a place to stay and a job, I started to drive. I decided that my best bet was to find a job at a hotel–intending to both work and live there.  I traveled from hotel to hotel around Lake Mahopac and Lake Mohegan.  At each place I would ask for the kitchen manager, or restaurant manager, or hotel manager. I would plead my case for summer employment, fudging my waiter experience. After turn-down after turn-down, I lucked out. My persistence finally paid off.

With its lake, its pool, its tennis courts, its rec hall, and such, Mohegan Country Club and Bungalow Colony had all the amenities middle-class, vacationing New Yonkers craved. ( I do not believe there was a golf course affiliated with this country club.) Some of the families stayed the entire summer.  Some families visited for only a few weeks. Like at so many of these summer resorts, it was usually the wife and children who would spend Mondays through Fridays vacationing.  The husbands (dads) would usually join them for the weekend. (I’ll get back to weekends–when waiting tables was more than just a chore, but a challenge.)

As I recall, the diningroom was owned separately from the resort. The gentleman who ran the diningroom  and who hired me must have always been under a lot of pressure.  Being inexperienced with the inner workings of the restaurant business, I just saw him as cranky and bossy. From constantly having to walk in and out of the walk-in refrigerator and in and out of the hot kitchen and then into another temperature zone in the diningroom, per se, I remember seeming to have a cold most of the  summer.

Back to being hired: I was told I had to start that day.  They were short-handed.   Why?   I don’t remember. I was instructed to go to an army-navy store  (There were many around then, selling discontinued and copy-cat military gear and low-end clothing.) in Peekskill and purchase black pants (chinos) and at least one white shirt.  I needed black shoes, as well, but had them with me.  There was no training.  I served dinner that night.

I moved into a room in the adjoining lodge. I am not sure if  Doc (Not wanting to use his actual name, I’ll call him Doc.) was there before me, or whether he arrived after me.  I’m not even sure with whom I bunked.  There was a few other waiters.  I do not recall how many. There were a few busboys as well. Doc was one of the busboys.  He was no more a busboy than I was a waiter. Doc grew up in Brooklyn.  I believe he went to Erasmus High School.  His hard-working mother sent him off to college at Wake Forest, where he achieved as a pre-med major and from where he graduated. Doc wanted to attend medical school.  He applied to Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest and was accepted. However, he was considered too young to attend and was told that he would have to wait a year.

He decided that this hiatus in his education was the perfect excuse to see the world.  He joined, of all things, the Norwegian Merchant Marines. I assume that any Norwegian he learned, he learned on the job. Because he had to get back to attend medical school in September of that year, he jumped ship (Perhaps,  in Argentina, but I am not sure.) and made his way back to New York. My good fortune, he took employment at the same place at which I was working.

Doc and I became best of friends. We had a running joke about the time I introduced him as my busboy. The work was both  time consuming and demanding–setting-up and serving  three meals a day. Once in a while, we were given time off for one lunch meal a week. Every so often, we managed to get an entire day off.  Mostly, we worked seven days a week, three meals a day. The worst days were always weekends.   That is when the husbands (dads) would arrive. Their wives and children were spending the summers, while they, just the weekends. Maybe they just resented that their time was so limited or maybe they just felt that  a whole week’s worth of food was due them on the two days they were there. These guys were ultra-demanding. The diningroom owner, who must have been losing his shirt in this summer venture, took the attitude of “give-him, give-him.”  Those words became his mantra. How Doc and I would laugh.  Sunday dinners were always special. Steak was on the menu. When any of the husbands would demand more steak, the owner would shout at us “give-him, give-him.” Of course, we would eventually run out of steak, so we couldn’t always “give-him, give-him.” On those days when we ran out of steak, we waiters took a lot of grief. Most of the guests tipped at the end of each week, usually on Sundays. We waiters were never happy when we had to tell these demanding husbands that we were out of steak.

I remember one incident in particular. One of the families at one of my tables arrived for Sunday dinner after we had depleted our steak supply. The father seemed upset but then, in a polite tone of voice, asked if we had chicken.  Happy to report that we did, I went into the kitchen and returned with a broiled, half-chicken with vegetables and potatoes. “I just want the drum stick,” he shouted, “just the drum stick.” I showed him that the drum stick was there.  He then asked if I knew why he wanted the drum stick. I did not venture a guess. I finished serving his family and went back into the kitchen. Into the kitchen he walked, drum stick in hand. He proceeded to tell me that he wanted the drum stick so that he could tell me to shove it up my ass and get him the steak that was due him. 

Being that all my prior waiting experience was as a camper-waiter, I had no experience with waiting on grownups and catering to their whims. Campers were easy to handle.  I was older than most of them. If need be, they could always be kept in line by a counselor. These weekend-dads were something else entirely.

Doc and I worked well as a team. More importantly, we became best of friends. We socialized then and continued to socialize  for years to come, through various marriages for both of us. Doc eventually became an internist and is now a prominent cardiologist in New York on Long Island.  If it were not for Doc, I would never have gotten out of the food industry. Many years after working at Lake Mohegan, I was working as a store manager for a small supermarket chain, Food Pagent, in New York City, when I received a call from Doc, who I had not seen for a while. He informed me about a job opportunity. His neighbor owned a successful appliance-TV-stereo business, called Brands Mart,  in Long Island City. In chatting with his neighbor, Doc learned that Brands Mart had just lost three key employees, who were setting-out on their own to compete with Brands Mart. Doc told his neighbor that he had a friend, who was not in the appliance-TV business, but he was sure he could run anything. I was soon interviewed. Voila! The start of my new career! Were it not for Doc, I’d probably still be slicing roast beef or bagging groceries on busy supermarket days.

There are countless stories that Doc and I could relate about Lake Mohegan. There was this one guy who slept with a tin can next to his bed so that he would not have to get up at night to pee. The story is really funnier than it reads because of the manner in which he accomplished his feat. How any of us fellow workers were ever able to put in a solid day of work amazes me still. Many nights we played Poker until dawn and then all went directly to work. These mornings we formed a motley crew of disheveled cooks, dishwashers, busboys, and waiters. Some nights Doc would go to sleep at a reasonable hour and cover for me at my waiting station while I grabbed a few minutes of shut-eye. On those nights, I would stay up all night and play Poker, and Doc and I would share any winnings or losses.  The only game I recall playing was Seven-Stud.  Each of us had our own table rules from home games in which we played. At first, there were many disputes.  Finally, we agreed upon our own set of guidelines. Winning or losing fifty bucks was a good or bad night.

The end of that summer sent Doc off to medical school and me back to Rutgers. Indeed, it is not so much the job at Lake Mohegan I recall.  I hardly remember whether I won or lost at Poker. What I think of most–and fondly so–is Doc.

Epilogue: I have not spoken to Doc in more than twenty-five years.  Through the internet, I have located him. Just today, February 12, 2010, I called the only number I could find for him. Bravo! We spoke and plan to meet.  

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The Lizas

On the table sat a bowl of gribenes, chicken skin fried in chicken fat. Every so often, the gribenes, smelling of fried onions, would get smeared on a piece of  pumpernickel. The house always wreaked of onions.  Sometimes my eyes would tear. 

There were not many private homes on Cabrini Boulevard in Washington Heights in New York City.  Mostly there were apartment houses lining the street opposite PS 187. Sandwiched between some apartment houses were two small homes.  (At least, that’s what I remember.) I was around fourteen at the time. My thoughts are a little jumbled around all this.  Were there really two private homes, here amidst all these apartment houses?

The name Pete comes to mind.  Was Pete Liza the father or was he one of the Liza children? I can’t really say. I can say that I remember, that in one of these houses, the father (German or Polish immigrant, I assumed) sitting at the white, chipped-porcelain kitchen table. There he would sit, naked beneath his bathrobe.  His balls dangled over the seat edge. He had a cup of hot tea and a plate in front of him. He would sip some tea.  He would eat some bread smeared with chicken fat.  No matter the time of day, he was in his bathrobe.

In the schoolyard I was approached by a member of the Liza family; I assume, a son. He mentioned to a few of my friends and me about a Poker game at his house.  Since I was playing both Hearts and Poker (strictly, Seven-Stud, high only) on a regular basis–always with the same group of  friends, I was interested in this “other” game. A few of my friends were too.  The Poker stakes we regularly played for were nickles and dimes, maybe quarters.  I don’t remember whether or not we played Hearts for money.   We probably did.

A few days after we were first asked to play at the Liza house, we actually showed up to play.  There were about six Poker players, including the old man Liza.  I don’t recall where I got the original money for the first game in which I played there. As a kid, I never got an allowance. When I needed money, I just asked my mom or dad, and I would get money: $1, $2, $5–whatever.  I do know that whatever amount of money I brought to that first game at the Lizas,  I lost.  The stakes were for some amount of bills, not coins.  I assume the betting must have been at $1 or $2. (More?  Maybe, but I doubt it.) 

Coming up with money to keep going back to this game was a problem.  I do not know where my friends, who were also losing all the time, came up with the money.  (We never thought about why we were losing all the time.   Who new about card sharks and hustlers!) I do remember where I came up with the money.

Sometime after dinner, my father would be relaxing in the livingroom of our two-bedroom apartment. He would either change his pants or put a bathrobe on (I don’t recall which.). I know he did not walk around in just underwear, and I don’t think he had on pajamas. I do know that he would leave the suit pants, he had worn that day, draped over a cushioned chair in the master bedroom. In the left rear pocket of those pants was his wallet made of a light tan leather. This wallet had some oil-like stains and was cracked in most of its exterior.  There were no pictures in his wallet–just some pieces of paper and some identification stuff. What there always was in my father’s wallet was  lots and lots of bills–$20’s, $50’s, $100’s. His wallet was over-stuffed with bills.

When I was quite sure he was asleep in a living-room chair or couch and that my mother was in the kitchen, I would stealthfully find my way into the master bedroom and take some bills from my father’s wallet.  Usually, I took a few $20’s.  Certainly, he would not miss a few bills.  By lifting some bills from my dad,  I supported my loses at the Lizas. I probably played there being duped by the elder Liza (and maybe other members of the family) four or fives times. 

One night, my father caught me with my hand in his wallet. I suspect he must have noticed that some of his money was missing.  I remember well the evening.  My face must have been flushed, but cooly I told him that I was going to bring him his wallet because I needed some money for something-or-other. I know he did not believe me, but I admitted nothing.  Shame stayed with me.

Epilogue:
The facts surrounding what happened afterwards are not too clear. For sure, since I no longer had access to   discretionary money, I stopped playing at the Lizas.  However, something dramatic must have transpired. A day or two after I was “caught in the act,”  somehow or other, my mother and the mother of one of my friends (Hal, I believe) questioned Hal and me about this card game going on at “that German man’s house.”  I was not in attendance when both mothers went over to the Lizas to confront them.

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