Freudian Slips: November 2004

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

November 29, 2004

Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum

Courier Post "AC Today" 11-28-04


November 28, 2004

One Man in his Time Plays Many Parts

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances: And one man in his time plays many parts… -William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II
It seems appropriate to quote Shakespeare here. On Sunday, November 28, 2004 I sit down at the kitchen table with a steamy cup of coffee and the morning paper. With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday shopping season upon us, I break from the habit of tackling the sports page. Instead, I separate the two pounds of colorful advertisements from the black and white newsprint. An Atlantic City Today insert grabs my attention. I flip open the pages, take a caffeinated swig, and what I read causes me to double gulp Folgers. From a feature article on The Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum in Atlantic City, NJ, my eyes effortlessly lift my name from the page. By my own admission and other patron’s admissions, I am a recent yet permanent fixture in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, a depository which showcases the unusual and celebrates the unique...for a price. I have no words for the Courier Post writer, who described my exhibit early on in this article, ahead of even Meng, the “Human Unicorn” who sported a thirteen inch horn protruding from his head.
For the rest of the day, I try to come to terms with strange company the likes of which include horny Meng. My self-esteem remains intact because I am rarely caught without a plan. Success summons businessmen. The consensual tradeoff for my likeness to be re-created for the Ripley’s museum is to sell my autobiography in their gift shop. Tit for Tat it is as simple as that. When it is all said and done, I want to be most remembered as a writer not artifact. Whether my unorthodox plan proves to be a successful endeavor remains to be seen. There are few certainties in life, but I wish to note Meng’s autobiography appears nada nowhere in the Ripley's museum. This makes me way ahead of a man who now receives second billing to me. Stop right there. I don't want anyone to think I have a big head like Meng. I am a Neanderthal next to this specimen.
With all pretense aside, the moral of this story is to make lemonade out of lemons. This may be one of life’s greatest yet underachieved lessons. A friend once lampooned my resolve. “If I left Joe in a pile of excrement, he would be sitting on gold bars when I returned the following day.” There is a sprinkle of truth to that exaggerated notion so the rare opportunity to recognize my sarcastic friend for his left-handed compliment has come to pass. Amen.
“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is not only proven physics but practical sense for proof of life. Our reaction far outweighs the immediate action of what happens to us. Human adjustment is necessary for personal growth. None of us should ever accept lemons as straitjacket fate. If God gives me the slightest opening in a land of ruins, I’m driving a plow through the devastation to resurrect anything that can be salvaged.
From the pillaged ruins, I return back to making lemonade. You don’t need to refer to a recipe book to make lemonade. Water, sugar, and lemons are all that constitutes pure lemonade. If we stir these ingredients together ever briefly, mouth-watering lemonade can be enjoyed. Stirring is a key step. Attitude and mindset are crafted ladles, instruments of change. There is no lemonade if we don't stir, just lemons.
I would like to take the art of making lemonade to a higher echelon. Take that freshly squeezed lemonade and place it in the hands of the right people and viola….lemonade shines with limelight. My life changed when I was stung by a bee. Because of a bizarre series of unfortunate events and fortuitous self-promotion, my story has been portrayed on two TV shows and I can now visit myself in a museum, when I dare to. While this associates me more with notoriety then fame, any entrepreneur knows there is no bad press in the limelight. Think of lemonade as the beverage of choice for anyone down on their luck. A tip of a lifetime, I invite anyone to squeeze their lemons and see what they get. Drink up. Just think twice before contacting any museums.
Winners accomplish their goals in life. Winners hurdle obstacles, maybe not at breakneck speed, but they are overcome before reaching the finish line. I cannot see the finish line yet but I envision it. I may never realize my dream but it will not be for a lack of trying. I am not a gifted writer but I am a tireless scribe, equal parts reincarnated monk and starry eyed paperback novelist. Will my barter with a museum lead me to actualizing my goal of becoming a recognized writer? While reading the newspaper today, I wonder about the Shakespearean wisdom of this man playing many parts…


November 26, 2004

Hankering to saw into the beast for a Thanksgiving feast.


November 25, 2004

The Pampered Chef

I may have bit off more than I can chew this Thanksgiving. Twenty salivating sit-down guests and a 34 pound fresh killed farm fed turkey. Anytime you tackle that many houseguests and a turkey that weighs half as much as your ten year old son, you should expect a fight on your hands. If this turkey didn't do steroids, the hens he ate for breakfast did.
I hear the alarm clock sound at 2am and tip-toe into my daughter Jenna's bedroom. I whisper in her ear to see if she still wants to help daddy make the homemade stuffing. The only one of the four kids who expressed a remote interest in becoming an assistant chef, Jenna is fast asleep. She is difficult to stir much like an uncooperative gravy. I nudge her. She is warm and cuddly. I almost want to say to hell with Thanksgiving dinner and just lay down next to her and drift back to sleep. Children can scramble priorities. Instead, I whisper kitchen chores in her ear fold.
“Uh-uh.” Jenna replies.
In kiddy talk, this meant not a chance, what are you kidding, at this hour, call me when it is ready. So I eased her bedroom door closed. The family needed their beauty sleep anyway. They are to rise early to go to the Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia, where a room has been reserved at the fabulous Four Seasons hotel so they can watch the parade festivities from a bird's eye view while I stay home by my lonesome. The Thanksgiving Day cook always reminded me of the designated driver on New Years Eve. Down the dark stairs, I shuffle. My nightly dose of Zyrtec adds an additional layer of film to my eyes. My mouth opens and closes. Yawning is as much a staple for a cook on Thanksgiving as is a turkey. I put on a pot of coffee and turn on a Peter Gabriel CD on the surround sound at volume 8 for anyone keeping score at home.
I cube a loaf and a half of the supermarket’s finest poultry bread and lay it out on the table to get crisp. My Iron Moto sized knife works with precision. An obsessive compulsive personality worries about each cube being the same size, even in the middle of the night. The food processor makes mincemeat out of the mounds of celery stalks and raw onions. The bagged beast squirms in the refrigerator upon realizing that I am getting the trimmings ready for his cremation ceremony. The smell of poultry seasoning mixes with the raw vegetables and melted butter in the frying pan. There may be no better smell on the planet. Chopped garlic, raisns, salt, and crushed black peppercorns are added. I wonder what Martha Stewart is doing right now.
As the ingredients simmer stovetop, I remove the beast from the refrigerator. Its weight is great. My paultry biceps flex hoisting the bird to the sink. I thrust my hand into the belly of the beast. It is cavernous and I consider grabbing a small flashlight for internal inspection. The beast swallows my arm up to my elbow before I can remove the guts. This is a necessary evil, which I suspect has made vegetarians out of millions. The neck bone is gigantic. I swing it around in my hand for dead of night frolic. For a second, the thought occurs to me that I bought an ostrich not a turkey. Nah, I throw the gizzard, kidney, testicles, and neck bone into a stock pot. Good thing everyone is sleeping. There is no denying that these internal organs and cold cadaver body parts are my ingredients for delicious full-bodied gravy. The slumbering family only wants the finished product so I will spare them the details until they read my Blog entry. I pamper the bird with a cold water shower in the sink. Next, I combine the stuffing mix with the cubed bread. Kneading of the hands produce a nice consistency for stuffing. I stuff the bird front and back and realize something for the first time in my life. The larger Tom turkeys sure have distinguished anatomical parts. Sadly, I can recognize everything and this may be why they say, “It always tastes better when you eat someone else’s food.” I hog tie the bird’s trapped doors shut with #2 twine available at any hardware store. Check local circulars for a store in your area. I coat the roasting pan with no-stick spray and slowly lift the beast into its metal coffin. One huge problem. The beowulf of turkeys is too big to fit in my only roasting pan. I slap wildly at the beast before calming my nerves. I take a step back and down a sip of my coffee. Peter Gabriel is singing “Red Rain” right about now. The floor above me is thankfully quiet. Nobody has witnessed me abusing a dead animal. I like to cook a turkey upside down, it seems to keep the meat more moist but this turkey didn't fit in my roasting pan upside down or right side up. I wedge him on his side and none too gracefully. In the melee, I may have broken one or two of his meaty legs, the size of a rolling pins. I put the roasting pan housing the beast on the floor, cover it with a metal lid, and actually stand on dinner. I thank God the family is asleep for this step. I hear a few animal bones break but I pay it no mind, it will taste good in the end as a first course, stovetop leftovers on Friday, and maybe even a little turkey salad by the weekend. Waste not want not. I heave the panned turkey into the burning oven. After a sinkful of dishes, I calculate that this turkey will need to cook all night and into Thanksgiving Day, and then cool for about an hour and a half before my electric carving knife gets to his bronzed skin.
Everything is proceeding as planned. I decide to write this Blog before retiring. I am pecking and pawing away at this entry when what is that I hear? The sound of the smoke alarm tells me time to start basting may be here.
I'll be back. Hold that thought.........................
Okay, I’m back at the keyboard. Basting couldn't have been further from the problem. The colossal bird escaped from its metal cage despite my standing order. Drippings caused a small grease fire but I quickly restored order. The ghost of Martha Stewart is alive and well. I still got twelve hours of cooking left. I got to wonder if this turkey is going to say "ouch" when I plung a meat thermometer into his heart come tomorrow. The blaring smoke alarms awoke my son but nobody else. Smoke surrounds us as I greeted him at the top of the staircase.
“What are you doing down there, Joe?” my stepson asked.
“Cooking Thanksgiving dinner.” I snicker Grinch-like.
“It smells like you are burning Thanksgiving dinner?” Jimmy tables.
In raising kids, their sarcasm can come at all hours with no time off for good behavior. I convince Jimmy there is no real fire or practice fire drill. I tell him I am smoking the turkey this year and encourage him to go back to bed. Talk about a smokescreen! I stay up another hour as a precaution. It is now 5am and the sun has yet to give thought to rising. A strange car pulls up to the front of the house. From the library window, I watch a man get out of the car. I realize my Blog has moved to the present tense. “What is he doing?” I wonder.
I hear a loud thud against the front door. The sound startles me. I had just turned off the house alarm to open the windows to fumigate the first floor. Burglars scare me more than grease fires, apparently. Alas, it’s only the paperboy delivering the morning paper in what looks like an older model Ford Taurus. I guess he is not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.
This Renaissance man in a full length apron goes up the winding staircase to his bed for a catnap. Thanksgiving is for the birds! I still have to make the homemade cranberry sauce, three other starches besides the stuffing, and four vegetables, but what are holidays for. The side dishes will be for another day. I need some shut eye. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


November 22, 2004

Slots on a TV Show

I spent the last few days in Atlantic City, NJ on business and pleasure although I am not sure where business began and pleasure ended. My mother and I took the road trip together. Comp rewards encouraged her to book a free two night stay at the Showboat Casino. I attended a most enjoyable and informative conference held at the nearby Atlantic City Convention Center during business hours on Friday. In between time, my mother and I cherished quality time together. I ate till my heart was content and gambled responsibly if there is such a thing.
I am a slots player by default because serious gamblers abhor a novice card player sitting at their gaming table with money on the line. In trying to pick out my first kind slot machine, I avoided the lure of the I Dream of Jeanie slot machines. For any hot-bloodied male, a slot machine that has animation of a scantily clad genie who submissively calls you “Master” is a definite allure. I made it until Friday night before Barbara Eden’s seductive voice got the best of me. I am only human. She took me for everything I had!
On Thursday night, however, I ask a floor person if the Showboat carries Ripley’s Believe It or Not slot machines.
“We have only four left.” he replies. “We are waiting on the newer models to come in. Follow me. I’ll take you to them.”
“Are they .25 cent slots at least, I’m on a budget? Staying two nights, got to pace myself.”
“Nickels, sir.”
“Even better.” I say as we walk down the rows of glitz, bells and whistles set in a Mardis Gras theme.
The Ripley’s slot machines were located clear across the casino floor so we had time to chat. “What’s with the weird attraction to the Ripley’s slot’s?" he innocently asks.
“I was on the TV show. Figure on turning the Misfortune 500 club to the Fortune 500 club, if you know what I mean.”
He gives me one of those “Sure you were on the TV show" looks but he doesn’t argue with a paying customer. I didn't owe him further explanation either.
“There.” He points to four occupied slot machines bearing the name I have come to recognize in my travels. “Sorry, looks like you are going to have to wait, if you really want to play this game. Full house.”
His voice is loud and it booms over to the patrons playing the Ripley’s Believe It or Not machines. A middle age lady swings her head around long enough to see my frown.
“Do you want my machine?”
“Yes, I do." I answer with the perk of coffee. "I would like that very much. But are you ready to leave?”
“Let’s just say I am willing to get up. I have been sitting in this seat for about six hours.” she explains.
My brother Anthony, who traveled down to AC to join the gaming festivities, finds me in the row. He sees me trying to worm my way into the lady’s seat. As the kind-hearted lady gets up, I notice a bulky manual in her lap.
“What is that?” I ask her.
“Oh, I wish I could leave this with you.” she gestures. “It's the manual for all of the bonus questions on the Ripley's slot machine.”
I sit in her seat, she moves to a standing position. “You’re kidding me right?” I ask.
“Not in the least. I downloaded it off the Internet. It's the main reason Ripley’s has devised a new model. I'm playing night and day before the new machines come in. I’m up about $600.00 on this machine today. Take good care of it. It will be good to you, although I wish I hit her jackpot today.”
“Can I see that manual?" She must recognize my brother as not a representative of the Casino Gaming Commission because she obliges. Anthony leafs through the manual with bewilderment. “I want to see if my brother is a question in this slot machine."
My brother and the lady proceed with intercourse on how my appearance on the Ripley’s Believe it or Not TV show could have landed me a trivia question on a slot machine. I seize the opportunity to play the slot machine. My first nickel yields nada ching. My second nickel causes quite a commotion and mega ching ching. I see the machine registering a big payday. I hear my lady friend yell something incredulous behind my back.
“You just hit my jackpot!”
“I did?” I say cooly and coyly.
“Yeah, that’s about 2000 nickels. Geez, I was waiting for that all day.”
I apologize profusely about my Midas Touch. My brother figures my windfall is as good of a time as any to hand her the trusty manual back. I ask my brother to take a picture of me by the slot machine. The lady hangs around in disbelief. Her short-lived huff surrenders to a warm caress on my back. My brother snaps a photo and a guard immediately appears. She is of Asian descent and stands 5” nothing. I realize immediately that her sudden appearance has nothing to do with providing security for a nickel jackpot and everything to do with the photo shoot in session.
“You no allowed to do dat.” she barks.
My brother confuses the breach with a game of hot potato because he quickly passes the camera back to me. I oblige the rules of the casino and tuck my camera back into my fanny pack. The guard gives my brother and me the evil eye one last time before disappearing into the night. My brother begins to play the machine to my right, a non-themed .25 cent stock machine with regular bells and whistles. My winning streak continues as I multiply my earnings. Anthony hits paydirt and encourages me to cash out with him. I watch him press a single button and a receipt of his earnings is conveniently printed out. Monkey see, monkey do. I tap virtually the same button and twenty pounds of nickels comes pouring down to the belly of my machine. Another patron hands me what amounts to a Dixie cup before my brother procurs a voluminous container. Over to the Coin Redemption station we head. My brother carrys the weightless receipt from a .25 cent slot machine while I lug twenty pounds of nickels in a KFC bucket. Go figure.


Premonition of a Museum

The curiosity of a boy often leads to either digging to China, digging for dinosaur bones, or the two expeditions colliding in one earth-moving activity with their father’s shovel. Many of my childhood memories are from Turnersville, New Jersey. Our family owned a bi-level house with a decent sized backyard. The lay of the land does not matter in a dig. The property ends where you see fit.
As a nine year old boy, my friends and I unearthed some rather large and unusually shaped bones a few feet below the surface. We dug them up and dusted the bones off. Through the backyard I sped, shouting “Dinosaur”. I barnstormed the house and my youthful exuberance grabbed my mother’s attention. Neither of my parents dared to call the Smithsonian Institute about our excavation because the bones were identified as cow bones. My disappointment showed. I dreamed of the bones to be destined for a museum and named “Joetornasaurus Rex.” in my honor.
That experience of finding something unusual for display in a museum never waned. Why I believed I would one day find something that would end up showcased in a museum seemed absurd, especially since my career choices mirrored psychology and sociology not paleontology or archeology. I can only reiterate that this premonition lingered from the age of discovery as a child into adulthood. I did not know why until November 21, 2004.
As it turns out, the fallout of personal tragedy enabled me to find myself not an artifact. Bee stings brought me to death’s door. Near death is often a precursor to an extemporaneous turnaround in life given a second chance. It took finding myself through a process of mistaken identity and that the clothes off of my back literally entered a museum floor. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you something equally as frightening as Joetornasaurus Rex. Introducing the newest exhibit to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in Atlantic City, New Jersey – The Bee Man from Blackwood.
Life takes you many places, some you imagine, some you don’t even dream about. While I always envisioned a museum as a reality, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum wasn’t on my top ten list. Closure, however, has been supplied to that childhood memory with a vigorous exclamation point!
Always trust your instincts. Introspection can uncover much about life. The rest of life’s mysteries, you got to dig for.


A twin brother...I think not.


The Halls of Montezuma

There exist few circumstances more precarious than walking into a museum to see a statue of yourself for the inaugural time. I had little control over the content or the direction the project took, which is ending its second year in the development stage. Along the way, I gave practical suggestions and Ripley’s listened with a sympathetic ear to my input while never promising me any rose gardens. I perseverated to Ripley’s the importance of making the public aware of the seriousness of my disease, Mastocytosis, and to downplay the underlying man vs. insect theme.
I find myself, in life and actuality, standing in front of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Since 1996, the museum has been a landmark on the boardwalk even without me inside. The building's enormous signature wrecking ball globe is an impressive breakway facade. The museum has just opened up for the day and my life was about to turn a page. The curator is out of town on business. So my initial walk through the museum is without escort and this causes an uneasy deliberation in my stride. Through the catacomb rooms, I stumble upon a man on his knees busily dusting the unique furniture with pride.
“Excuse me. The manager said I could snap a few pictures of my display. You know the new exhibit.”
He popped to his feet and it looked like his hand seemed thankful to stop working in a circular motion with his dust rag. “What do you mean, your display?”
Since I set-up my visit through the absent curator, I was not sure if the staff expected my arrival, especially since I left my visit open-ended without an appointment.
“I am the guy behind the beekeeper’s mask.” I explain. “I am...the exhibit.”
The expression on his face changed for the better. Then his jaw drooped before issuing the following statement. “Man, I have been dusting these displays and statues for years; I ain’t never met a real attraction.”
“Joe Tornatore, how do you do?”
I carry no pretense about me. I am who I am. I offer my hand and my hand confirms to him that I was not an aspiration casing the joint.
“Wow, you’re the Bee Man from Blackwood. You were on the TV show and everything. I don’t believe it.”
Anytime a Ripley’s staff member exclaims “I don’t believe it” in one of their famed museums I nominate them to win the First Annual Freudian Slips grand prize award, if ever there was one on my website.
He gladly led me through the halls of Montezuma, where a strange sensation took over me. Goose bumps stood out on my forearms and I glanced at any one of the exhibits as my brethren. We arrive no worse for wear at the Survivor’s Gallery, one of their thirteen themed galleries.
The room is poorly lit and it adds to the spooky ambience. A life size ambulance is stationed with its poor passenger impaled by a spear. A statue of St. Jude, the patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, was nowhere to be found although her blessed name could easily be dropped in the suggestion box at the door. The man points to a statue standing before a red brick wall.
I do not know what a normal reaction should be seeing themselves as an erect statue in a museum. I stop walking and blink my eyes upon bearing witness to my effigy. Ripley’s chose to use a full figured mannequin instead of making a more authentic wax figure. Because of my allergy to bees, dipping me up to my eyeballs in beeswax might have been an exercise in futility, liability, or both. I hate to use a man vs. insect analogy here, but I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall to observe the responsible party picking out the mannequin that best looked like me? I quickly embraced the Adonis statuesque looks with the svelte figure dressed in a full-figured beekeeper’s outfit. At 5’9” I always wanted to be a few inches taller anyway. At 230 pounds and counting, I did not have a problem with being remembered as lighter. Ripley’s sculpted an overweight endomorph into an athletic looking ectomorph but maybe this was for the good of mankind. Ripley's could correct the discrepancy if they wanted to. Buzz saw me at the ankles, wrap a big pillow case around my waist, and inject a healthy dose of collagen in my plastic cheeks. Two peas in a pod! I took a few pictures with my digital camera for prosperity. My trigger happy finger snapping the shutter seems to forget the exhibit is a permanent fixture of the museum. Soon people gather around me, asking for autographs at the foot of my display. It has been said that one definition of famous is when asked earnestly for your autograph from two different people for the same reason. I am not comfortable with the famous designation so let’s put an asterisk next to that definition. Nonetheless, Ripley’s letterhead and a black sharpie are thrusted my way, and I begin honoring requests to sign autographs not only for patrons and staffers but for their relatives and enclave including “Sally, who lives in the unit above me.” and “my niece who is due to be born any day.” I did not mind signing an autograph for Sally in absentia but I do not know if a newborn baby is better off entering this world being sung lullabies of the Bee Man from Blackwood. Who am I to tell would-be parents how to raise their children? I minded my own beeswax.
The assistant manager interrupts the autograph signing. “What do you think of your display?”
“All I got to say, I’m glad to see someone finally wearing that costume other than me.”
At this point, I notice a familiarity with the footwear on the mannequin. I kneel down and inspect the sneakers. “Hey, this is cool. I’m glad corporate decided to use the Reeboks I donated. Those dogs were so comfortable on my feet and my twin is going to be on his feet all the live long day.”
I am not sure what people thought of my strong sense of humor. They just kind of obliged me and made my remarks seemingly pleasing to their ears. I thanked everyone before I left. I promised to return when my exhibit moves from its prototype stage to completion. Ribbon cutting ceremonies, a press release, and a book signing are tentatively scheduled in 2005.
I exit the front doors of the museum and gain my bearings. The museum is located with its front doors to the Atlantic Ocean at New York and the Boardwalk between the Resorts and Sands casinos. Even on this overcast November day, the boardwalk bustles with sightseers. I make a mental bookmark. There is no getting around the fact that I am now a sight for sore eyes in the museum but amongst sightseers this may turn out to be a good location to sell my autobiography.
I remember my mother, whose lifeline is portable oxygen tanks, waiting in the car curbside. Health and fatigue prevented her from joining me in the museum. I hurry down the boardwalk ramp singing, “If I were a rich man, dadadadadee”. I make it back to the car and my mother’s side.
“Well, how did it go?” my mother asks in the cabin of the car.
“Uh, your son is an exhibit in a museum on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, the tourist capital of the entire country. I answer in the third person, for no other reason than to gain some seperation from the events which just transpired.
“I thought Las Vegas held that distinction?” my mother corrected.
“Mom, I just got done signing autographs. Don’t you think you’re splitting hairs here? You’re acting like you got another son in a more upscale museum at the Smithsonian or something.”
My mother registers a full belly laugh and she had not even seen the exhibit. I take care of that glitch. I whip out my digital camera. Mom fumbles for her granny glasses, puts them on just above her air intake, and stares down the barrel of the camera. I show her the carnage in a rather unusual “Joey Horror Picture Show.” My mother has always been my biggest critic and showing her a Ripley’s Believe it or Not effigy seemed to give her twice as many targets, each bearing the same name. Not a smart career move for a son wanting her respect.
“I hope the pictures print a lot better than they look, Joe.” she commented.
The car is put in drive and my mother never looks back. For me, objects in the rear view mirror appeared closer than they really are. On the drive home, my mother and I entertain many conversations but my mind never fully leaves the museum. Not many people can talk about themselves in a museum nor am I sure how many people want to in this case. I mull over the possibilities in disembodied thought as we put distance behind us.


The Ripley's Believe It or Not Musuem in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A wrecking ball graces the facade of all things.


November 17, 2004

Dallas Cowboys toilet paper.


Fourteen Seconds of Football Dethrones the Cowboys

On Monday night, a dozen friends gathered at my digs for Monday Night Football to bear witness to the Philadelphia Eagles battle their arch rival the Dallas Cowboys in front of a national audience. I guess the only thing better than watching a football game on a 65 inch HDTV is watching football on a plasma screen but I wouldn’t know. I am too much of a tight-wad to cough up top dollar for the newer technology. My friends didn’t complain one iota and they scarfed down vittles and brew, key elements in what turned out to be a raucous evening.
The game featured one of the greatest plays I have ever seen on a football field. Late in the second quarter, on third down, Donovan McNabb ran from sideline to sideline for fourteen seconds deeking, dodging, and eluding before hurling the pigskin across his body for 55 yards in the air. Receiver Freddie Mitchell caught the projectile in stride for a sixty yard game. From the snap to the time he caught the ball, Freddie Mitchell transversed one hundred yards. The play seemed to unfold in slow motion on the big screen and I can best describe it as improv teaming up with majesty on the gridiron. I am sure plasma viewers saw it differently.
For an NFL quarterback attempting to pass, fourteen seconds without being tackled by mammoth lineman running with the speed of gazelles, is next to mission impossible. Editors at NFL films may be already looking for ways to shorten this hallmark highlight. Count’em fourteen seconds. Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three... Some species procreate in less time although I don’t know if this applies to eagles or cowboys. What I do know is that it takes me longer to pass the butter at the kitchen table and it doesn’t always wind up with the intended receiver. But when run abolitionist Coach Andy Reid says ‘pass’ the butter at his kitchen table or in the huddle, he means pass the stinking butter even on fourth and one. They say too much butter can give you the runs, but I don’t think pass-happy Andy Reid runs for anything. What an exhilerating football game. Even if I cleaned up beer bottles and hoagie trays until 1:30am on a work night, improving to an 8-1 record gave me newfound glory. If you are a Cowboys fan, I apologize for my glee but I survived the golden years of Tom Laundry an unwavering Eagles fan. Do not underestimate my pain and suffering. If given the opportunity, I’d still plunge my fist through Tom Landry’s trademark fedora like a bad Three Stooges routine.
The fourteen second play helped dethrone the Cowboys chances for an upset. I will give the defensive back assigned to Freddie Mitchell on that unbelievable play his props. He had him covered like a blanket for the first dozen seconds. So let’s point blameful fingers in the right direction. The Cowboys defense layed down on six of the seven Eagles' touchdowns. The Cowboys offense even pitched in with a miscue by giving up one touchdown on Lito Sheppard’s magnificent 101 yard interception return.
We viewed the game in my finished basement, a 1,500 square foot museum of sports memorabilia from floor to ceiling. I’m talking collages, matted frames, wall plaques, shadow boxes, re-painted bubble hockey players of Philadelphia Flyers greats, autographed bats, balls, helmets, ticket stubs, baseball cards, etc. I go to extremes in anything I do, so it is no wonder that I even deco page’ my light switch covers. Eat your heart out, TV’s Extreme Makeover.
I customized the basement bathroom with an entire wall mural of about 400 Eagles football cards encased by Plexiglas. Why is Plexiglas needed? Because the toilet is in front of it and everyone has a full-bladdered friend who is a bitter Dallas Cowboy fan. A licensed Eagles border circles the bathroom walls, accented by a 1960’s circa pennant, an autographed photo of wide receiver Ben Hawkins, and some other bathroom do-dads that just want to make you scream E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!. Well, I finally found an area of the house my creative hands hadn’t touched, that is until Monday night. So I tried to put my own signature element on the evening. I made Dallas Cowboy toilet paper using non-biodegradeable NFL logo stickers even though the Eagles went on the roll to victory. Final score Eagles 49 Cowboys 21, sore buttocks from the pointy Dallas star 3.


November 15, 2004

The Dating Game

In 1998, there existed a portal in time that I could call myself an eligible bachelor. In the dating game, I found there to be too many games on too little quality dates. Dating with the stigma of a failed marriage seems to be a lousy perch in the pecking order. The more baggage you carry, the more often you get left behind at the airport of love. Nonetheless, I approached single life full throttle like a free enterprise system tipping in the balance.
I am an intense individual with a carefree demeanor. I'll admit that this is confusing for even myself to be around. I had an inkling that finding a soul mate would take time. I was right. Single life turned out to be either feast or famine for me. I remember going two weeks without a date and the drought prompted me to superstitiously change mouthwash brands. It worked. I soon pocketed phone numbers in supermarkets, met women at the gym, even got asked out on a blind date. I kept an open mind, a flexible schedule, and a full jug of Listerine. One time I overbooked and had eight different dates in seven days. Now that is a lot of germs! I needed to actually post a schedule of events on my refrigerator so I remembered who to pick up when for where. My florist and I came to know each other on a first name basis.
Tired of the casual date, I placed a personal ad in a newspaper searching for a soul mate. The anonymous advertisement connected callers to a voice mailbox system. It is sometimes humorous to look back on the deeds of our past. I can’t help re-printing my personal ad here. Let me serve public notice on how not to conduct your personal business.
If I remember correctly, I came up with placing this personal ad while taking a lavender scented bubble bath. I got to confess that some of my dumbest ideas were born with suds but it was the alcoholic variety. It should come as no surprise, I wrote my personal ad to the theme of the blockbuster movie Titanic, a heartwarming love story that ends in bone chilling death for just about everyone. What was I thinking? When I say this thing is corny, I mean ear, bushel, and farmer’s market corn by the truckload. It needs no laugh track.
WM, 5’9”, fit, non-custodial parent, arid XXX dry humor. Sports enthusiast. Favors quality time, cuddling, movies, dining, thunderstorms. Yearning for shapely, witty, female, 24-34 years young. One ticket left on this Titanic adventure…minus the drowning.
The two minute message I recorded on my outgoing mailbox delivers enough field corn to frighten crows in famine. I went way overboard, much like the crew and passengers of the doomed Titantic. The outgoing message went as followed:
Hi, my name is Joe; I’m a 36 year old, non-smoking, non-inhaling, non-infectious man. The last time I owned a mirror and a weight scale I registered 5’9” 200 pounds. I trashed both items. I’m college educated twice over although common sense and ambition can be freely substituted. I have a secure day job as well as my own side business, which I invest time into when I’m not actively dating. Since you saw my personal ad, you can imagine that my business is thriving.
I’m looking for a shapely, feisty, female 24-34 who doesn’t look or act her age. Brownie points awarded for high emotional intelligence. Divorcees welcomed to bring experience to the table.
I have an overdeveloped sense of humor, Arid XXX dry like the deodorant. If you have quick wit and are looking for a non-fattening Good Humor man, well do I have a scoop for you. Do not apply within, if you think a double entendre is a new menu item at Taco Bell. I do have carry on personal baggage. I’ve been separated for two years and am the non-custodial father of two mannerly daughters who I see often. Hoping there are legs out there fit enough to handle the kid hurdle. I’m not looking for a surrogate mom…just acceptance.
My hobbies include working out at the gym, playing golf, racquetball, table tennis, and watching most spectator sports too exhausting to participate in. I enjoy movies, dining out, watching thunderstorms, cuddling because I’m scared of thunderstorms, and writing non-fiction when I can’t concoct a fable. I am interested in bicycling although my training wheels need minor adjustment.
Favorite foods are anything that doesn’t move except road kill. Due to a voracious appetite, I’m no longer welcome at most buffets. My taste buds favor Chinese, Italian, and Mexican. I love Doritos although a relationship should be more than a proverbial bag of chips. You gotta have some salsa. One ticket left on this Titanic adventure…minus the drowning. If you think you are seaworthy, leave me an SOS message including your phone number and your life jacket size. I’ll return your call and that is no joke.
My objective was to scare away any woman who could not appreciate my good sense of humor. The only one running for the hills turned out to be me because this witty personal ad attracted every neurotic and chemically unbalanced woman in a fifty mile radius. Consider this my public apology to all who answered my personal ad. I listened to all of your recorded messages. After careful screening, I called some of you back. I even dated a couple of you before changing my phone number. Even FEMA would have declared my dates natural disasters. Today, I am offering closure on a few memorable contestants. Since I cannot control the dream sequencing of my nightmares, they appear in no particular order.
To Lilly: I may not have heeded your insatiable urge to obsessively sleep with every guy on the first date. Making me your second date of the day surely didn't improve your chances. I told you a breakfast date would be fine.
To Shamika: So what if your voodoo high priestess predicted you would meet a man of stature by the name of Joe. I remain only 5’10” and just because my name is Joe didn’t mean I would eventually marry you in a ring of lit candles at midnight.
To Maxine: They say three is company but just because we didn’t work out, why did you expect me to date your mother with whom you lived?
To Gabrielle: Any woman who is bigger than me and carries brass knuckles in her purse is too much woman for this man.
To Dee: I got to say your cartoon voice on the telephone intrigued me. I believed you when you claimed to be attracted to me because of my education. I heard you loud and clear when you complained about dating a lot of stupid guys. But when I drove my car to your house for our first date, turning onto Tweedle Street was a little too much concidence for me. I made a U-turn and never looked back. Tweedle Dee, you can call me Tweedle Dumb just like the others.

To Foxy Roxy: Asking me over for a homecooked meal appeared to be a fabulous idea but the snarl your golden-bronzed titan landscaper shot me as I approached the house should have clued me in. To make matters worse, it was minutes into our date before I learned your ex-husband was babysitting your child in the next room. I hate to eat and run but there are times the situation calls for indigestion and exodus.

To Bubbles: While I had a difficult time calling you Bubbles, it paled in comparison to you referring to yourself in the third person. By the way, you did not need to introduce me to all seven of your kids on the first date! You saw my lap could only balance three toddlers at a time. I never found my wallet and the brat with the sling shot shooting marbles needed a boarding school.
And finally to Suzie: I agreed to pay for dinner, not quality time afterwards.
The only genuine woman of fiber, substance, and equal who answered my personal ad happened to be my ex-girlfriend, whom I jilted and whose void led me to placing the ad in the first place. I don't know who was more surprised, her hearing my outgoing message on the dating service or me hearing her emotional incoming message. Some things you never find out in life but you can surely find your adam's apple during incredulous times like this. A telling story dates us all.


The Dating Game. And now a word from our sponsor - Listerine.


November 13, 2004

SPCA and PETA on location. A scatter plot could only mean keys to the city.


The Cosby Show

Our house sits nestled on three wooded acres so it is not unusual for me to be cleaning up the yard, especially when cooler weather and my skin disease rekindle their alliance. Circling the property, I took note of all the pet cemeteries planted in our yard. If I scattered a few Indian arrowheads around, our land could be forever preserved as a historical site. As I collected dead twigs, I came upon a distinct feeling that I would be burying another pet today. Through ghostly images, I could see my shovel spooning the earth from two sides of a hole.
An incident which took place this past weekend may have influenced my thinking. While watching a football game, the phone rang then I heard a lot of footsteps and commotion coming from the floor above. Diane swung the door to the basement open and shouted at me downstairs. "Bill Cosby is dying!" Her announcement was a guttural call straight from the heart. I met her at the foot of the staircase even though the Philadelphia Eagles looked primed to be scoring a touchdown. "Who in the hell just called us and told us Bill Cosby is dying?" I asked. "Why did they call us and why are you so upset?" She corrected, "No, Lauren's hamster, Bill Cosby." The incoming phone call had nothing to do with the actor but everything to do with issuing a death sentence on our hamster. Call me stupid for stringing together a series of events to its logical conclusion. In three years, the hamster's name failed to stick with me because Bill Cosby was female. Even a background check on this hamster wouldn't uncover a single paternity suit. The lifespan of a hamster is three years but none of us wanted "Cos" to go off the air. I personally didn't want to see her go because Lauren loved her hamster so, even more than the Cosby show. Since Bill Cosby first started to seizure, Lauren began preparing for the inevitable. I forgot the hamster had even been sick. Today, however, Lauren's worst fear would be realized. It started when I came home from ordering nothing other than a fresh kill turkey for Thanksgiving, a thirty two pound gobble gobble Tom to be exact.
Barely inside the door, my wife announced, "Bill Cosby died!" Only a blithering idiot would assume it was the actor a second straight time. I asked a few follow-up questions to gauge the seriousness of the situation. I had only been gone from the household an hour, but life can change in a heartbeat. And it did. "Where are the kids?" I ask. "Does Lauren know?" "Yes, she knows. They're all out playing. Lauren left a box here for you to put her in." From the kitchen, I could see the art deco box doing everything an empty cardboard box does in our family. The box waited for a dead pet to be placed inside. My wife and I discussed the next course of action but we got our wires crossed. I mistakenly thought my wife had said Lauren didn't want to be involved in the burial. While this surprised my ears, I took it at face value. This was a departure from the norm because when a pet dies around here, the kids usually want bag pipes playing, a coronation, and midget pall bearers who specialize in lightweight funerals.
My personality is task oriented. Once I am put into motion, I do not like shifting gears. So I placed 'Cos' in the cardboard box and the two of us made a pit stop in the garage for a pointy shovel. I walked around back and debated whose grave 'Cos' should be buried next to. There were plenty of options not so ripe for the picking. I decided against placing her next to 'Rosie, the hermit crab'. A mammal shacking up with a crustacean didn't seem right. After deliberation, I opted to bury like creatures in the same section of the backyard. That way, if I get fined by the SPCA or PETA a scatter plot for excavation might come in handy. The ground was soft and the dirt left the hole with ease. I placed 'Cos' in her final resting place. As I backfilled the earth, I realized that this No Frills burial was less emotionally draining on me than a pet funeral. I walked back to the garage relieved of duty and singing 'Hi Ho Hi Ho there is no more work for Joe.' Back in the garage, I hung up the shovel on its metal hook, started to remove my grave digger's boots, and that's when I heard my wife's voice, the recognizable pitch it gets when furious.
"What did you do with Bill Cosby?"
"I buried her like you told me." I answered with compliance.
"I said Lauren wanted you to remove her out of the hamster cage. We got to have a funeral."
$%#^&%$$# expletives sound in my head, the translation of which meant it was on with the Cosby show. Alas, the grave digger boots stayed on, and I grabbed the metal shovel again with a vengeance. Around back, the ground was soft and the dirt left the hole with ease. I dusted off the cardboard box housing the little fellar. The kids came filtering home and before long we all gathered around back staring at the empty hole. The kids voiced a few empathetic words and this all seemed to be wrapping up rather nicely for a second time. Then, Lauren's cousin took a cell phone out of her sweatshirt. She said we need music for the somber occasion, pressed a button, and we are all listening to 'Time of Your Life' by Green Day in the wilderness. Never underestimate the convenience of technology. Try getting a Scot with bag pipes to the back of your property at a moments notice. Green Day seemed to make the moment more accountable. My wife began to cry. The children hugged each other. I passively leaned on the shovel all by my lonesome. I let the funeral run its course because it meant more to them than me. Soon they gave me the go ahead to pile dirt back on Bill Cosby. Dirt flew in the air with reckless abandon.
"Okay then." I said awkwardly to close ceremonies. I walked away from the group ahead of everyone because quite frankly all these pet funerals were running together in my mind. I had a standard issue orthodox funeral to go to the following day (see Requiem for a Heavyweight). The distance I had put between myself and the funeral, proved not far enough away to miss hearing the change in schedule.
Diane said, "Joe, we still have Brandy's ashes in the urn. We never buried the dog from last year. "Are you sure?" I asked sheepishly. To all you organization freaks out there like me, this is where a scatter plot would have come in handy. And to think I had a ream of untouched graph paper that I did not know what to do with. I am not really sure which astute kid spoke up but it sounded like smart-ass Theo from the Cosby show. "I saw Brandy in the laundry room the other day." The wife uttered the words I couldn't bear to hear. "We might as well have a funeral?" On a baseball schedule this is called a doubleheader. For funerals, let's just say we were breaking new ground. I wasn't digging any of it figuratively, but the shovel was literally about to take another plunge. "I'll go get Brandy." volunteered Jimmy, and he ran up to the house. So I pick another choice location from the field of screams. I approach the ground from a different side and begin digging. I could describe the ground as soft and the dirt leaving the hole with ease but you already know I have been there, done that. I realize too my eerie vision of digging two holes from different sides. Thank God I didn't have a nightmare because we were running out of pets. Outside of saltwater fish we were down to Smokey the mouse. We start the second service of the day, the second funeral for Brandy on public record. The kids start talking about the first funeral. I am just standing there trying to look like I am not going through the motions. With another funeral looming tomorrow, I was pacing myself to avoid becoming emotionally drained. The wife removes a cell phone from her sweatshirt and pipes up 'Blackbird' by the Beatles. 'Blackbird singing in the dead of night'.. The children better not boycott the fresh killed turkey come Thanksgiving. They can go hungry if push comes to shovel. But, if I end up burying turkey bones out back, I am becoming a vegetarian.

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November 12, 2004

Spell check could have done wonders for the 2004 Fund Drive.


November 10, 2004

Catch Me If You Can

In 2001, bee stings nearly cost me my life twice from freak incidents four weeks apart. My body's reaction had little to do with a bee allergy per say, but everything to do with how my skin disease, Mastocytosis, overreacts to venom. On both incidents, I was stung in my own backyard adding to the adage the most accidents happen close to home. Waiting for an ambulance to pick me up almost proved costly the first time I was stung. Not to fret, the law of averages alone told me I wasn't due for another bee sting in years.
Four weeks later, bees attacked me again but the disorientation I experienced made the first sting seem like a mosquito bite. This felt like impending doom. I knew that if all 225 lbs of me fell unconscious like the last time, the spot I landed could very well be the spot I died. My wife is petite so my limp body would have been like a jockey trying to drag his dead horse. I managed to stagger into the minivan and my remaining faculties used an Epi-pen stored in the glove compartment. Then I passed out in the front seat. My wife started a zip drive to the hospital with four screaming children strewn across the backseat. My body swelled, my throat closed shut, and I turned blue. Doctors later estimated that I had inside of ten minutes to live from the time the minivan reversed in the driveway. My life was saved that fateful day by my wife, who opted not to wait for an ambulance to knock on death's door.
I still needed a little Lady Luck and it arrived not only right on time but right in our path. An automobile accident detoured traffic right outside of our housing development. My wife drove around the detour and spotted police and ambulances on location. Another back-up ambulance, which had been dispatched to the accident scene, provided my unlikely high-speed shuttle to a hospital with call-ahead dial-up triaging in the works. I made it to the hospital in the nick of time but that's where the real fun began. I needed life support before it was all over. It sounds funny to say but we were lucky to find an accident. Irony seems to follow me everywhere in life including to the hospital when I needed it.
The following is an excerpt from my autobiography, Stop and Smell the Silk Roses: "Every once in a blue moon there is a person born who is so lucky that his fiancee finds him an ambulance originally intended to transport someone else. Accidents are meant to happen and irony is for anyone who cares to look. This is a story tested by adversity, tethered by love, and measured by humor. This is my life."
I received a charitable donation fund letter in the mail from the very same ambulance squad who rescued me. The rescue squad is a non-profit organization and donations are relied upon to cover operational costs. It seemed good business sense to target repeat customers in bulk mailings. If I said it once, I said it twice. Never bite the hand that feeds you, especially when it is a bee who stings you. I noticed that the Rescue Squad's mission statement has changed. I did a double take but it really read, "WE CAN'T HELP YOU, IF WE CAN FIND YOU. Now this has got to be the rescue squad for me. They might as well print bumper stickers with the catchy slogan, Catch Me If You Can. Well chasing an ambulance worked once, why not a second time? Given the new mission statement, I don't think their fundraiser will be a whooping success but I'm donating. You can bet my life on it!
I repeat. Irony is for anyone who cares to look


"We should all live as if we are dying."


November 09, 2004

Requiem for a Heavyweight

I work with the medically fragile and developmentally disabled, where death comes for this special needs population as a frequent visitor. The average life span is about 49 years of age. Circumstance not morbidity encourage me to store Sympathy cards in my desk drawer.
On Monday morning at the start of business, a pall was cast over our job site. Simultaneous sobbing staff have come to mean only one dreaded thing. The census today would be one person light although I had yet to learn who would not be joining us. Someone should have warned me because this was about to hurt like hell.
The deceased happened to be the life of the party. I had no more time to spend with this special lady because she died the night before in her sleep. As a social worker, I make every effort to treat everyone fairly but I do have my favorite clients. Human beings are different it is as simple as that. While every one of my clients receive the same level of service, others bend more of my ear.
A half century caretaker for his daughter and a widowed octogenarian, her father traveled to the day program to comfort staff. I singled him out. If I describe our union as an embrace, I would be making light of the moment. We bear hugged. In his ear, I whispered standard condolences but mere words could not match the depth of my feelings. The moment at hand has always been an albatross for me the writer.
To make amends, later that night I returned to the familiarity of my pen. I wrote the grieving father exactly what I wanted to share with him in person. My poem exacted unequivocal social work. As touching words transversed the page, my heart and my soul truly negated the bastardized ritual of having to keep death cards cued up. My words were a final goodbye to my client. Blue cloud designer stationary found a soft picturesque home for the ink. I tucked the poem inside the Sympathy card and mailed it to the father as a fond remembrance of his beloved daughter. Grab a tissue. Here it is word for word.
On November 7, 2004, the world lost a beautiful human being in you. Your brand of beauty rivaled star status. I can only imagine the challenges of having a lifelong developmental disability. I realize God blessed me a little more than you when I entered your life as your social worker. Non-verbal and non-ambulatory, you never spoke a single word or walked a single step but that didn't stop your zest for life. You possessed uncanny receptive language skills that the general population may have overlooked. By simply modulating your voice with utterances, you spoke from a mountain-top to those who ventured to listen. I came to understand you as a person, as noble a gift as any. You had personality, kid, and a great sense of humor which time will never tarnish. I will sorely miss spending time with you. You could make me laugh without uttering a word and saying something. If I teased you too much, you would playfully ignore me. That I deserved. When any man walked into the building, your voice chided me about your transfer of affection. That I didn't deserve. I will miss pretending to phone your father to tattletale on you only to have you laugh at my antics. I will also miss flirting with you and cling fondly to the time when I flashed my wedding band and told you I got re-married. You snarled at me because deserved better. When you were positioned from your wheelchair and onto my lap the year I played Santa Claus, it was you who recognized me inside the big red floppy suit. Your eyes, your windows to the world, saw me and you let me know it too. I can still hear your trademark cackle. This is what made you special. I regret many things in life and one of them is taking your presence for granted. I know this now that you are gone. I cannot say the world will be a better place without you because the lights dimmed when God took you, a shining star. I trust your quality of life is better now. Love is never better left unsaid. Without saying a word, you taught all of us that much. Your friend first, Your social worker second, Joe Tornatore


November 08, 2004

Dark circles under my eyes are often a telling sign of writer's block.


The Irony Giant

In October 2004, Readers Digest made preliminary contact with me regarding a short story I wrote entitled Wish I Could be like Superman. It was written about my disease Mastocytosis and how my life intersected with actor Christopher Reeve on the day he died. It was an uplifting story about irony and it was gaining attention. I had aspirations of moving from the theatre of the bizarre anyway. Yes, I wanted to move from my appearance on TV’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not, enter a Witness Protection Program, and relocate to mainstream middle America writing under a pseudonym. I had all of my bags packed for Main Street Middle America when I received an email from an editor at Reader’s Digest. She politely explained that my short story had been rejected. After I finished digesting humble pie, I unpacked my suitcases for my prose was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Rejection without constructive criticism can be confusing to a fledgling writer. I envisioned my short story grinded through the steely claws of a shredder then a night custodian emptying the trash can as he mumbled about the waste of trees in America. Ouch!

Let’s leave rejection behind and travel back to the glorious week that I imagined my life’s story would be read by millions of happy readers across the United States. I grew-up with Reader’s Digest and cannot think of a more wholesome publication to be associated with. So when Reader’s Digest gave me a deadline to submit not only the final draft for my short story but a one page story proposal on myself, I made a fresh pot of coffee and hunkered down at the computer for a long night of extracting the creative juices from every orifice in my body. Strangely, I sat staring at the blinking cursor on the monitor. I developed a troublesome full fledged writer’s block trying to figure out a lead sentence in the crucial last paragraph. It seemed intimidating toying with the notion that I was actually writing for an intended audience for a change. But the longer my keyboard emitted no sound, the more my forehead grew sweaty, and the more I realized I may be out of orifices.

Beside me, my wife sat down happy-go-lucky on our second networked computer. She punched up the website to AT&T to investigate the pros and cons of their AT&T Advantage plan, which operates through your cable line. Her nimble typing seemed to bastardize my writer’s block. The phone rings. Since I am the only one in the room not doing anything, it seems my responsibility to answer the blasted phone. The caller is John, a middle aged guy who only recently met me.

John had never been on the Internet until last week when his cable company connected him. The very first thing he did on-line was go to Ebay. He types in the name of Randall Cunningham, a former quarterback with the Eagles. He finds my listed auction advertising the sale of a Randall Cunningham photo. From the auction he links to my own memorabilia website and sees that I live not only inNew Jersey but also in a neighboring town. He retrieves my phone number off my website, gives me a phone call, comes over to do business, and viola, friends for life. There are easier ways to make friends but I wasn’t knocking his sucess. The nice guy that he is, John is calling to see if I want to go with him to a bookstore in Philadelphia to an autograph signing of Philadelphia Eagles superstar Terrell Owens. I tell him to call the venue and get back to me on the details of the event.

He declines on my suggestion. “Joe, do you mind if you call the book store and check it out? I don’t know if you have ever heard of the AT&T Advantage plan but there is no 411 information. You are hooked to your cable and you got to look up numbers on-line. I am not skilled at the Internet thing yet. I was lucky to find you. "

I looked over to the monitor of the second computer where my wife still read from the AT&T web page.

“John, hold on for a minute.” I muffled the receiver then whispered to my wife to clue her in on the irony. “John is on the line. He is calling from an AT&T cable line right now. He brings with him new meaning to the saying word of mouth advertising.”

“Oh, how does John like AT&T?” my wife asks matter of factly.

“That’s the thing.” My wheels started turning upstairs and this caused me great celebration. I had found another orifice that I did not know existed. “Evidently, one advantage of the AT&T Advantage plan is you don’t have to dial long distance.” I chuckled. “Yeah, you just call local friends to make the long distance calls for you.”

I get back on the phone and tell John he could never sell me the AT&T Advantage plan, which has left both of us disadvantaged. I explain to John that my wife is looking at their web page as we speak. He seems surprised but only in a small way.

“Joe, our relationship is based on irony. Remember how I found you. I thought I was expanding my world and I found you in my backyard the first place I looked. That’s pure irony.”

I took it one step further; risking sounding crazy to a person I met only once. “That is all fine and dandy, but I’m telling you my whole life is based on irony. Life imitating art. Irony tripping over itself. Irony engulfs my life and don’t ask me why. In fact, I’m sitting here writing a short story about irony this very minute. I am up against a deadline to get this to Reader’s Digest and I’m stuck wrapping up the last paragraph.

Then John delivered the ultimate irony. “Maybe, irony is God’s way of talking to you.”

“Oh, my God.” I reveled in emotion. “That is it, isn’t it? You are so right, John. That is exactly what I am trying to say in my short story to Reader’s Digest.”

I took it that God was talking to me through John. John appears to be a lightning rod for irony. He was the Irony Giant and he was slaying me with coincidence. Not that I needed or wanted anymore irony in my life but if this guy gets this short story published, I made a silent vow to put shoes on his baby and give God twenty percent after taxes.

I couldn’t help but ask. “John, how attached are you to that moral-of-the-story line you just gave me?”

“Why, do you like it?”

“I love it. It is the bomb.”

“You can use it, no bid deal.” he says.

I gained consent to permanently borrow his adage but not before I made clear no royalities would be involved with his contribution. We put the social plans on hold as I vowed to finish my short story at a decent hour.

After I hung up the phone, my wife chimed in, “What else did John have to say?”

“Besides finishing my short story for me, John now wants to buy a copy of my autobiography (Stop and Smell the Silk Roses).”

Diane concluded, “The world is a different place for you isn’t it?”

When God helps you make a deadline, you know He is in your corner.

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November 06, 2004

This game can really string you along.


Racquetball 101 with Strings Attached

Knowing me is ample forewarning that I will go out of my way to play a practical joke on anyone. My dream job would be replacing host Ashton Kutcher on the TV show Punk'd. Okay, so I don't have his Georgeous George good looks or as many notches on my belt buckle but Ashton has made a lucrative living out of doing what I have been doing for a lot longer for free. The verb punk'd has been recently added into the English language and, although Ashton Kutcher may take sole credit for it, I am a senior contributor. My practical jokes run the gamut and admittedly some go overboard. I have lost friends along the way but that is the nature of the beast. Others backfire like the time I mailed myself in a cardboard box to Ohio to visit a girlfriend. I offer the following advice to any hopeless romantic out there in a long distance relationship. Constant postage for love letters is tough on the wallet but the shipping and handling when I mailed myself nearly killed me. The following is a summary of how I came to impersonate a college professor and the formulary for a practicial joke.
In the summer of 1995, my brother Jimmy ran into a friend. The two had just graduated high school so naturally they made small talk about the direction of life. His friend made the mistake of announcing he was taking up the sport of racquetball as an elective at a local community college. Conversation is not a bad thing in and of itself but never courier fodder to a Tornatore. My brother convinced his friend that I was the adjunct professor for his college course. Gullibility aside, it is widely known in my circle that I played tournament level racquetball player during my heydey. I still play recreational racquetball but I stopped competing when it started reeking havoc with my skin disease whose enemies include rigorous exercise. Now back to our story. I laid low for a couple of days then I shamelessly telephoned my brother’s friend. I told him I picked off his name on the course registry, and was giving students a courtesy call before classes started. He admitted to having never played racquetball before. In fact, he confessed to having never been to college before. He was like a double virgin ripe for the picking. The early part of our telephone call can be called the sales pitch for the jokester. For those that don’t know, racquetball is a fabulous sport that is like a game of chess at 125 mph. I talked about the speed of the game, reflexology, and strategy. I made a believer out of him and judging the tone of his voice he now seemed anxious having me become his professor. By now, I knew I had sold the sales pitch and step two was trust. Trust is always the lynchpin in a practical joke. I confided that Racquetball 101 was going to be my first experience at teaching and that I planned on going easy on my students. I told him to never admit in public that the two of us know each other and to always call me Professor. I outlined my only class requirements. Show up for class and get a passing grade on one final written exam. Easy as mom’s apple pie. The rest of the ruse went something like this. “I’ve never been a good test taker, what is the final exam going to be like?” he asked. “Don’t you mean, what is the final exam going to be like, Professor?” When you have gained trust, the jokster can get away with saying crap like this. If trust was to be questioned, it would be revealed in his answer. “Ugh, yes." his answer was tangled in anxiety. "You know I meant to say Professor.” “Easy skipper, school hasn’t started. You can call me Joe right up until that first bell rings. As far as the grading goes, it’s not like your racquetball game is going to be evaluated on the court. It’s the effort you give and then the one final exam. I want to see you diving for balls and you might as well round up some kneepads. “You got me a little worried about how I am going to do.” “Don’t worry. No need for performance anxiety. You got an in, man. I’m going to go easy on you. Not only do I appreciate you and my brother being friends but I’m also a good friend of your sister, who is very dear to my heart. I won’t let Racquetball 101 flunk you out of college or ruin friendships. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, but this has to be a secret kept between you and me, do you hear me?” “What do you have in mind?” he wondered. And so I began to unroll the red carpeted hook. “The semester starts in a few short weeks. So we got to get a move on it. I’m risking my career here, but how about I mail you out the final exam? She’s the slowest typist in the world but my secretary just got the hard copy back to my desk.” I thumbed through the blank checks in my personal checkbook for a sound effect. He asked for reassurance. “Joe, you would really do that for me?” Denying reassurance then giving more of the hook is a thing of beauty. It takes patience and an ability to hold in enormous amounts of laughter even with the risk of farting omnipresent.
“Hold up, not so fast." I said haltingly. "I’m not going to give you the correct answers just the test itself. After all this isn’t Mickey Mouse high school anymore this is college. I want you to look the answers up using available resources. This class has no textbook. When you get to college, most of your electives won’t have a hardback text. Now you study the test I’m sending you. I want you to sleep with the test like it’s your high school prom date. That test is 80% of your grade for the semester so what you do with the test is on you.” Before I hung up the phone, I verified his mailing address. Two days later, I mailed him the following bogus test. For readers not familiar with the game of racquetball, this test was born of bullshit then dunked in horse dung. You don’t have to understand the game of racquetball to appreciate this impossible exam. There are no right answers. There are no answers at all. Poor kid. CAMDEN COUNTY COLLEGE RACQUETBALL 101 FINAL EXAM PROFESSOR TORNATORE Name___________________ Directions: Answer the following questions to the best of your ability. Each question is worth 5 points and there are no deductions for correct answers. Anyone caught cheating will need to repeat the course. MULTIPLE CHOICE 1. Racquetballs come in various colors. Name the color racquetball not allowed for tournament play: a. baby blue b. algae green c. rosewood d. eggshell white 2. Tournament play is the best of three games. Games are played to 15 points but the tiebreaker is played to: a. 1 b. knockout or submission c. 16 d. dusk 3. A serve must travel the airborne distance pass what mark on the court: a. half court b. superior court c. the front wall d. the chalk line 4. The best offensive maneuver in racquetball is called: a. nutmeg b. scrapple c. Nellie Bean d. murder incorporated e. looks like a lizard 5. The initials of the sanctioning body of racquetball are: a. USR b. USRA c. USSR d. Canada e. ROYGBIV 6. In what continental United State is racquetball illegal to be played on Sundays because of a silly blue law: a. Nevada b. Illinois c. New Jersey. D. Ohio 7. Identify the only legal serve: a. hitting three walls before the ball lands b. hitting the ceiling before the wall c. hitting the back wall on the fly d. b & c because a sounds too ridiculous 8. The founding founder of racquetball is: a. Abner Doubleday b. Sirhan Servehand c. Wally Balltree d. Anne Marie Sabitini 9. How many timeouts is an unranked player allowed during a consolation game in tournament play? a. zero b. none c. two d. his parent’s discretion 10. Racquetball most closely resembles this sport: a. tennis b. ping pong c. nude beach volleyball d. Eastern European squash e. hackey sack 11. Currently the number 46th ranked racquetball player in Brazil is a. Buenos Nachos b. Jorge “High On The” Rivera c. Juan Samuel d. Enrique “Speedy” Gonzales TRUE OR FALSE 12. If your racquet breaks, play can be continued by hitting the ball with an open hand but not a clenched fist? TRUE or FALSE 13. Black soled sneakers and construction boots are both allowed footwear on regulation sized racquetball courts. TRUE or FALSE 14. A nervous server can accidentally drool saliva on the ball without penalty before a serve but not during continuous play. TRUE or FALSE 15. Players can freely substitute ping pong paddles or tennis racquets instead of racquetball racquets. TRUE or FALSE 16. Coaches and personal trainers are not permitted on the playing surface once a match begins, not even to serve liquids to a dehydrated player. TRUE OR FALSE FILL IN THE BLANK 17. In a doubles match on a serve the teammate of the server should stand on _____________ and _______________before play resumes. 18. ________________ is the number of back-up racquets a player is allowed to carry in his gym bag. 19. The body ritual _____________ in the ________ signifies the end of a game, especially a shutout. 20. ____________________ is the penalty for verbally mocking an opponent before a three set match. For the life of me, I wish I could have seen his precious face on the first night of class when his real professor showed up and handed out the real syllabus. Once college began, my young apprentice made a point to get in touch with the Tornatore brothers. I don’t want to repeat the atrocities of what he said a decade ago, but the three of us laugh about the whole prank now. Playing a good practical joke is a racquet in and of itself.

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November 03, 2004

The Bear Necessities

At work, a mother called me up out of the wild blue yonder. She asked for me by name and identified me as her new case manager for her son. I unrolled my printout of clients, which was long enough to wallpaper a studio apartment twice. I found her son's name blinking halfway down on page 6. Mom went on to explain that her son Renny was a shut-in. The mother complained that she has become a prisoner of her home and wanted me to schedule a field visit to see what we can do in terms of intervention. In my career as a social worker, I have seen some homes not fit for human consumption but I had to ask the next question.
"Why do you refer to yourself as a prisoner?"
"Renny can't be left alone and he hasn't left the house in over a decade." "Do you really mean he has never left the house?" "Well not never but only a handful of times has Renny left the house. We have to promise him he is going to McDonalds for all he can eat, but we sneak him to the doctors or wherever he has to go first." I knew McDonalds hadn't changed their menu to offer a buffet. They were golden arches for a reason. "I see." She now had my full attention. "Will you be home all morning?" "I'll be home all morning and all night every day 24/7. Yeah, that's what I'm telling you." "There is no need to setup an appointment." I said. "I'm dropping what I'm doing and I'm coming right over." For someone who described themselves as a prisoner she gave me great directions including a detour in the making that satellite GPS may have not even picked up yet. I entered the home, a tiny 1950's clapboard located in rural New Jersey. Mom moved over some dirty dishes and sat me down at the kitchen table. The house was eerily quiet. The smell of fried bacon filled the house. It smelled too good to be McDonalds for sure. I doled out my business card before borrowing electricity to boot up my laptop. The client file I assembled in the office was devoid of any current information. It was like a decade passed Renny by without services. She told me of her difficulties in the caretaking and behavior management of her son. "Okay, where is Renny?" I asked the million dollar question.
"He is sound asleep."
"Can we wake him so he can join us?"
"I don't think so." she shook her head like it was out of the question.
Being in someone's home for the first time is always strange. People have different customs and ways. I sat there puzzled for a second. "What do you mean?"
"Renny is asleep now."
"Look, I came down here on a moments notice to evaluate the situation. I don't want to leave here not meeting Renny."
"You wake him then. Renny sleeps all day and doesn't like to be awakened unless it is for a feeding. He just finished his first feeding of the day.
I looked again at the dirty dishes, not a morsel was left. "I still want to see him.
"I'm giving you fair warning. Renny can be a bear when he wakes up.
"Okay, where is he?"
"He's locked in his bedroom. My ears have heard some strange things as a social worker. An hour ago, she called herself a prisoner and I could swear she just referred to her son as locked up.
"Did you say locked?" I repeated for clarity.
"Yeah, let me show you the way in."
Beyond the kitchen table, a dark hallway loomed. It was obscured by a Dutch door fastened by a series of deadbolt locks that would make Get Smart feel safe. She removed all the locks, eased the Dutch door open, and this all lead to a closed bedroom door a few feet ahead. For the decency of human beings on the planet, I hope this is not what she meant when she categorized Renny as a shut-in? She swung the door open, which I got to say was suspenseful. Darkness prevailed.
"Renny likes it dark so the curtains are drawn." mom explained.
I asked, "How does he know when it is night or day?"
"Renny doesn't give a shit about that. Food is all that matters."
The bedroom was devoid of not only light bulbs but missing personal possessions, even a sense of individuality. I reserved judgment on that one for all 300 pounds of Renny lay asleep on a humongous bed with nothing on but undees. The bed frame was collapsed in the middle and it hosted a sunken center full of massive flesh. Exposed coil springs shot up like daggers around the perimeter. This home would take some getting used to.
"Renny" I nudged him on the shoulder. "Oh, Renny."
Mom helped out. "Renny, your social worker is here."
Her statement missed the mark. It was like telling a poltergeist a Ghostbuster arrived. I kind of looked at mom kind of odd. That is when I realized mom stood behind me when she shouted her instructions. Since I wasn't presented between two slices of bread, I kind of expected my reception would not win favor but I did not expect the worse either. Renny stirred for a moment, licked his chops, opened his eyes, and then reared up in bed with his hands clawing in the air. He reminded me of a grizzly bear preparing to attack. I didn't want to get into a tussle. Heck, the exposed bed coils alone would result in a workman's compensation claim.
"Grrrrrhhh." He growled. "Grrrhhh."
"What's he doing?" I asked backing up towards the door. Once I sized up the situation, I realized I had not even a single french fry to offer. I'll admit to being a little afraid at this point.
"That is his bear impersonation." Mom explained. "I told you he can be a bear when he wakes up but you didn't believe me."
Point taken and I escaped without incident. I don't care what my job description says. I could work another twenty years as a social worker without ever again making the mistake of strolling into a den to awaken a bear from hibernation.


November 02, 2004

Curtain Call on Election Day

A Boy Scout assignment forced Jimmy to accompany his parents to the election polls. Still on a chocolate high from Halloween, I was unsure whether Jimmy had civic duty in mind or even if his head was in the right place. As the three of us exited the car, I noticed something amiss.
"Wait a minute, Jimmy. Do you think wearing headphones into the polls is a good idea?"
"Why not?" he asked. He had his head in the right place all right but his ears were misbehaving. I gave him one of those parental what-is-this-world-coming to looks. I argued the point. "I don't think listening to the soundtrack to School of Rock is the national anthem to vote. Leave the headphones in the car. I want you to use your ears and your eyes to take in the experience." Maybe I reprimanded him a bit too much because he chose to follow his mother into the fire hall. They both walked ahead of me. Inside, I explained that his mother and I were standing in two separate lines to vote because we carried different last names. Marriage and politics are both complicated institutions and I don't pretend to be a professor of either. What I do know is that I love America and my wife. However, I might have an easier time remembering the third President of the United States than what I gave my wife on our third wedding anniversary.
Jimmy dutifully followed his mother into the voting booth. The curtain swung shut like a Kmart instant photo booth and all I saw were two sets of feet. My wife is very vocal about her political views so there existed no secrecy who she was voting for. With gas at $2.00 a gallon, it seemed impractical to cancel her vote and place my ties with the other party. We could have stayed home and saved gas. I would have felt comfortable telling the Boy Scouts we were preserving the environment by not putting noxious emissions in the air rather than voting For then Against.
With the nation so polarized, it seemed odd for me to be undecided all the way up to the last minute. I read the newspaper, I followed the nightly news, and endured all but one television debate and my lone absence had more to do with a debatable bout of narcolepsy than apathy. The moment of truth came, which in this 2004 campaign could be considered a misnomer. I closed my eyes, came to a momentous decision, then toggled the vote. As we left the fire hall amongst the drove of voters, I asked Jimmy what he thought about his first voting experience. "Curtains." he said in a one word summary. The more I thought about his editorial, the more it made sense. Today, it would be curtains for one presidential candidate.

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November 01, 2004

The Seven Year Itch, a Short Time in Comparison

For the last few weeks, I have endured intense itching all over my body. I have been baffled as to what is the exact cause. Poison ivy hasn't appeared on my body and checking with my wife to see if she changed laundry detergents is pointless. You see, I do my own laundry and I haven't been in the woods lately.
Seriously folks, the real culprit is Mastocytosis. A symptom of my skin disease is itching but trying to determine what, if anything, is causing the itching is always the baffling part. For readers who do not have this disease, I offer the following comparison. The hundreds of tiny brownish-red lesions covering my skin itch like a nasty case of chicken pox that lasts for an entire lifetime. Can you hear me now? The seven year itch would be a short time in comparison and a more pleasurable experience. Not that I am allowed to scratch that either.
In understanding my body, I now can identify triggers which serve to intensify the itching - too much caffeine, rigorous exercise, extreme changes in temperature, situational stress, certain antibiotics, novel foods, etc. Every once in awhile, however, something gets beyond my vigilance and I must turn to using a metal rake from the garage as the back scratcher of choice. Not a pretty sight.
In this day and age, there is nothing wrong with being a sensitive guy but somebody has got to find a cure for Mastocytosis. I have broken all of my rakes and the Fall leaves are piling up in the yard.


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