Archive for the ‘TALES’ Category


In the late 1950’s, when the draft was still in effect, I was scheduled to go for a physical one Monday. The night before, I started experiencing pains I had never encountered before. The pains  were so sharp, so severe that I was up the entire night.  Instead of worrying about what was causing the pain, I was concerned with getting to my physical for Selective Service in the Armed Forces and what might happen if I did not show. The result of that physical would rate my standing in the draft. Since I was in relatively good health, I knew I would be rated 1A and that I would be called up  soon after my physical.

Very early that Monday morning I contacted a cousin of mine, a medical doctor, and described my condition.  Soon after, I was under going an appendectomy in the hospital, the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.  Prior, the only few times I had ever visited Montefiore, was to see relatives suffering from severe cancers.  I thought Montefiore was a hospital at which one came to die.  To my delight, after a few days, I was sent home.

The doctor contacted the Selective Service System and stated that I should not indulge in any strenuous activity for six months.  Given this ironic reprieve I busied myself trying to find a placement in either the National Guard or Armed Forces Reserve. If I could get into either of these programs, I would have to serve active duty of only six months. If I were to get drafted, I would be forced to serve a minimum of two years in the Infantry.

I contacted Armed Forces centers throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.   There were no openings in either Reserve or National Guard units. I was getting quite concerned that I might end up going through the draft system.  I lucked out.

Another cousin (Fortunately, I have a lot of relatives.) who worked for an airline based out of Miami, FL, informed me that he heard that there were openings in the Air Force Reserve unit at Homestead Air Force Base, not far from Miami.

At this juncture I’ll move ahead, leaving for another tale the humorous story of how a young lady joined me when I flew down to Miami for enlistment and how she ended up in jail.  I took a battery of tests: written, oral, and physical. I scored well enough that I was given a choice of schools to attend after my four weeks of basic training at Lakeland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX.  The committment for Air Force Reservists included basic training, followed by “schooling,” followed by balance of six month tour at originating unit, Homestead AFB.

Of all the school choices I had, I chose whichever of the schools was the shortest. So it was I ended up in the Military Police, Air Police to be precise.

There are many stories to be told of when I was in Texas, many humorous–many, sadly, just a sorrowful sign of the times. While in the service, I was quite fortunate financially.  I had cut a deal with my business partners, albeit my mother and brother-in-law, that I would receive $75 per week (as opposed to the $200 per week I was earning at the time) for the six month period I was in the service.  In the late 50’s, $75 a week (especially with no overhead) was a lot of money for a single guy.  We received no leave time until after basic training.  Sometime after my first few weeks of  Air Police school, also at Lakeland AFB, I got a two-day, weekend pass.

I rented a Pontiac convertible. I asked a young black man from Columbus , OH, I had befriended, if he wanted to join me.  I soon discovered that I was the only Jewish person my friend had ever met. Together we headed for downtown San Antonio– no River Walk, no Spurs, no fancy anything as I recall. (As a matter of fact, if you wanted to give the United States a good enema, San Antonio in the late 1950’s was a good place to insert it.)We went out to eat at a very ordinary restaurant.  We were stared at as some kind of weirdos.  As I looked around, I realized that he was the only black face in the restaurant.

This weekend turned into a disaster.  As we went from motel to motel, hotel to hotel, no place would rent us rooms together.  Finally, I had to drop him off at some seedy-looking motel, where he checked-in.  Worse than San Antonio proper, were the outskirts where he had to stay. We would meet during the day and sight-see.  Sadly, we spent no more weekends together.  Anyway, I diverted from my tale.

I spent ten weeks training to be an MP (AP).  I experienced physical training I thought I could not endure. I learned to  toss grenades and how to fire and clean many weapons including M1 rifles and BAR’s (Browning automatic rifles) and two different pistols. I learned judo and to direct traffic. I became familiar with all procedures surrounding military funerals. The worst of the chores was securing the scene of an aircraft crash–bodies, limbs, horror. Then, there was the hours and hours of classes and the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

After Texas tour and five-day furlough in New York, I packed my car and drove straight through to Miami, staying awake on dexidrine and caffeine. I reported for duty. I was given two days to get my affairs in order.  I rented a furnished apartment in Miami Springs, where, thanks to my cousin and his stewardess friends, I had a very pleasant three months.

Day to-day tasks at Homestead AFB were routine.  Except for planes being hijacked from Cuba and being parked at the base, there was not much that required AP services. Every now and again I would be sent to Miami International Airport or to some bars to check on a minor complaint. Mostly, my duties were confined to the base.  Our schedule was three days 8 A.M. to 4 P. M., three days 4 P. M. to midnight, three days midnight to 8 A. M., and three days off.

One of my first assignments was the overnight patrol, securing the perimeter surrounding a few of the planes hijacked from Cuba.  I was on base two days when my sergeant instructed me to take the  Military Police  Chevy station wagon and secure the perimeter. I told him that I did not have a Military Driver’s License.  As I recall, he said that he didn’t give a shit.  So, he tossed me the keys. Then, the “fun” started. I went to start of the Chevy, only to discover that it was a manual transmission wagon. Since the only experience I ever had with manual transmission was on my college roommate’s Dodge, which had Fluid Drive and was just partially manual, I was more than just a little concerned at my ability to actually drive this wagon.  Since the sergeant was not too pleased about my lack of a Military License, I was not about to tell him that I could not drive a manual transmission.  So, that is how I learned to drive a standard shift car.  Now, any of you, who have seen me drive a standard transmission vehicle,  might better understand my “clumsiness.”  I chugged and stalled and stalled again, finally getting the hang of driving without Hydromatic or Jetaway, whatever it was that automatic transmission was called then.

Marching prisoners (there were only two) to and from chow was the most formal part of my daily activities. Ironically, it was these two prisoners who got me involved with Tonk.  I now realize, I no longer remember how to play this card game. If you are interested in specifics of this game, there is a great web site that explains the game in detail, www.pagat.com/rummy/tonk.html

During many of my night shifts, I would chat with the two prisoners, both black, both serving time for stealing some cash from the PX (base store). Coincidentally, both of these guys were from Georgia. Both were older than I and very street smart. The two often sat and played Tonk. So it was, I asked them to teach me. We played for cigarettes, a cheap commodity at that time, especially tax-free at the PX.  When just the three of us were in the brig, I would let them out of the cell, they shared, and we would all sit and play Tonk for hours on end.  I started to like the game and thought that playing for other than cigarettes might be fun.

One of the prisoners mentioned to me that there were nightly Tonk games on base in many of the barracks.  Because of my Sam Browne gear (intricate leather belt that held night stick, hand gun, handcuffs, many keys, whistle, etc.), I was not too welcome at the first game I approached(Hmmm? Maybe it was the color of my skin. I was the only white guy there.)  Anyway, I removed the belt, the holster, and all and found a game at which I was accepted. Even then, I was the only white face at the two games going-on simultaneously. So many nights, after working the four to midnight shift, I would head to a game of Tonk, with my newly found friends on base, who, by the way, were the only fellow airmen I befriended while I was on active duty.

At first, I was the welcomed neophyte. The players were happy to take my money.  After a while, my game improved.  I started to win and kept winning. 

If you were expecting a poker tale, sorry for wasting your time.

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Sure there was poker, and Hearts, and Pinochle, and Red Dog through highschool and college years, but for now I jump to sometime in the 1950’s, 1956 or 57.  I was living in Castle Village, which overlooks the Hudson River from the New York City side. One of my neighbors was a young man [I’ll call him Winky] who owned an insurance agency. We were more acquaintances than we were friends. As an insurance agent, he was always promoting his services. I started using him for my car insurance and household insurance.

Eventually,  he introduced me to a group of  guys with whom I started playing poker on a regular basis. The game continued for many years to come.

One of the places we played at was at the apartment of one of the guys who lived on West 92nd Street off Central Park West in New York City.  He owned an investment company. Another of the players owned a sandwich shop down near the Bowery. Another was a prominent actor who lived in New York City. There was another regular who also sold insurance.  On and off, transient players attended as well. Then, there was Lou [actual name], who lived in Chelsea Towers on West 26th Street in New York City.  We played there as well as at West 92nd Street location.

Lou was a stock broker (as best as I recall).  When my second child was born, I named him after my father, Louis.  When I saw Lou, who I had become close to, at the poker game soon after my son Louis was born, I informed him of my son’s birth.  When he asked what my son’s name  was, I told him Louis, after him.  I was joking, of course. However, my friend Lou was so honored, I never told him the true story.  Moving ahead to the future, my friend Lou moved to Mill Valley, California.  I lost track of him. Some years later I received a birth announcement from Lou. It was one of those custom printed off-white cards that had some black engraved-style printing announcing the birth of Lou’s son, David. Hand-written on the card was, “named after you, Dave.” So, was the joke on him, or, ironically, was it on me!

Back to poker.  We were playing almost exclusively high-low games at this time.  Believe it or not, declaration was verbal.   Last active better declared first.   Therefore, positioning yourself to raise or not to raise was  part of the strategy. As an example, if there were four players remaining and three players before you all declared high, you could, by default, win low by just  stating “low.”  Winky was usually the one who split the pots. Winky had huge hands and was very quick. We all appreciated his taking the responsibility for splitting the pots. Sometime after four or five years of playing with the same renegades, I noticed that Winky, calling a bet,  was putting a chip into a pot.  However, the chip never came from one of his stacks.  I started to concentrate on Winky as he split one of the pots.

When I thought I saw what was a chip or two remaining in Winky’s palm after the pot was split, I grabbed his wrist and turned his cupped palm up, revealing two chips he was palming. He made some feeble attempt to justify his actions.  I recall some tall story about his feeling duly compensated for splitting the pots most of the time.  Since we were playing $1/$2 stakes, Winky was compensating himself $1 and more for who-knows-how-many-pots per night.

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The First Time

It’s not that I was weaned on a poker table, but it seems, that  ever since I was a toddler, there were always poker games at our house or at my aunts’ or uncles’ houses.  That’s what my folks did for entertainment, they played poker.  Aunts, uncles, a few of their close friends–women, men all at the same table.   There did not seem to be any collusion between husbands and wives, but who knows.  I was just a kid, sometimes just sleeping on a nearby couch.  I do remember they played Five-Card Stud and that most players went out almost as soon as they looked at their hole card.

Sometime during the 40’s (Do I need to specify 1940’s? Perhaps, I do. Oh my!) my father and a few of his friends starting playing a new game, Seven-Card Stud.  I’m not sure whether the game was played exclusively.   I do remember there was no dealer’s choice. They either played Seven-Stud or Five-Stud.  It seems, as I now think back, the mixed gender (family) games remained Five-Stud. 

I am trying to remember the stakes at which these games were played.  I know there were no pennies involved.   Certainly no chips were used. There were coins, lots of coins.  Perhaps, some of the games (family style) were nickel-dime. I believe some of the games my father played with friends and business associates  [Somewhere, sometime , I need to expand on this, since some of my dad’s friends were his business associates, who in fact, were ripping him off–not at poker (At least I don’t think they were.)–but in business.] were higher stake–maybe quarter-half-dollar.  I do remember there was paper money on the tables as well. I assume that was just to be changed, not to be bet.

As I try to recall all this, having given no thought to this for more than half a century, since my folks played exclusively high-only games, they did not have to worry about splitting pots.  The winner just scooped it all.

During summers of my youth, maybe from when I was nine to about thirteen, my family would  leave Washington Heights, Inwood Section, where we lived until I was twelve or thirteen, to spend summers in Far Rockaway (Was that Queens or Long Island?) We stayed on Beach 27th Street (I think). We would rent a house from a family who lived there year-round and would move-out for the summer and rent the house to us.  We always seemed to have  rented one of the nicer houses, as opposed to one of the many summer-only bungalows,  on the block.

It was sometime during one of these summers that I first started playing poker, Gin Rummy, and Michigan Rummy.  Stakes?  I cannot recall, but definitely for money.  Interesting, at least to me, is that all my friends in Far Rockaway were from Brooklyn.  I guess I was the only non-Brooklyn Dodger fan. My favoring the New York Giants was the cause of many fights.   So many, in fact, that my father bought me boxing gloves and insisted I learn to box.

The poker we played then was strictly Seven Stud.

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