Freudian Slips: April 2005

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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.

April 28, 2005

Doctor Dolittle

I got to thinking about all the times I made a fool of myself. I have no shortage of foolish memories on tap. Some were funny, some were embarrassing, and some a spoonful of both. All my foolish experiences, however, regrettably remain a part of my life. Here is one trinket of foolishness.
I graduated high school in 1980. It was a big party year. The world appeared at my footsteps and there were times I treaded none too lightly. I overindulged in barley and hops the summer after my high school graduation. I frequented local bars, taverns, and disco infernos. I wore clingy muscle shirts and Calvin Klien jeans that would no longer fit over my calves. I loved the taste of beer so much you could catch me licking foam from the lip of beer bottles.
Somehow drinking one beer at a time became too slow a process. I cannot take credit for its invention but my irresponsible sudsy era was highlighted by making a beer bong out of a milk jug, clear plastic tubing, and hardware. The beer bong was speed drinking for professionals like me. It enabled me to chug-a-lug a gallon of beer in less than ten seconds then piss like a race horse at the nearest trough. Silly foolishness and inconceivable bloating now but what a rush for a lush back then. Okay, that sets the table for a twenty five year old foolish story.
Around two o'clock in the morning, I arrive home in my gold 1979 Chevrolet Camaro. I am borderline intoxicated with the last few Miller beers invading my bladder. The house is dark except for a lone street light. I pray that my parents are sound asleep. I hear a jingle and a shake of fur to my left. My eyes squint to see our dog, Daisy, staked on the leash of a chain. It seemed a given that somebody must have mistakenly left her outside all night. I figured I should better check to make sure.
So I asked Daisy, "What are you doing out here?" It was a rhetorical question that beckons no answer from a dog.
"I don't know Joe. What are you doing out here?"
I stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of the front yard. The dog spoke to me in a gruff Scooby Doo voice. What the heck is going on? I thought to myself. I got to go easy on the bottle because the dog is talking to me. In my inebriated state, I could barely speak decent English and the pooch just asked me a sarcastic question.
"Joe. How was your night out?" asked the dog.
Whoa Nellie! Not again. The dog just asked me a personal question. What the? This can't be happening. The dog talked to me not once but twice and now sits wagging its tail as if it were no big deal.
I promise myself to give up drinking, go to church, and see a psychiatrist all in the same breath. I was on the road to sobriety and rehabilitation when I heard laughing. I turned around but nobody was there. More laughing, the deep kind of body shaking laughing you only hear a few times a year. My prankster brother, John, rolled himself out from a curled stowaway position under our mother's car. He was nearly pissing himself laughing. The dog was not.
Sometimes when you Dolittle but drink, it does a lot in the making of a fool.


April 26, 2005

Jean of Arcadia at the Blue Light Special

I love to catch a great sale! While clothes shopping the other day in Kmart, the sale proved more than I could bargain for. Regular readers have no fear. This story comes with no trappings. It will not lead into old women unabashedly asking me to model underwear(see my January 13, 2005 blog posting entitled Brief Moment at Walmart).
Buying clothing out of season is an awesome way to catch discounted merchandise. I found a clearance rack of winter clothing, a blue light special for Kmart history buffs. On the clearance rack hung 40 pair of corduroy jeans in every rainbow of color. What are the chances the rack would turn up a single pair of my size? Slim, unlike the size I hunted for. Guess again. About thirty of the jeans were my exact size in waist and length. Eureka! Archeologists have wasted entire careers coming up with less of a find.
I checked the retail price. $22.99 was slashed to $14.99. But wait there is more. A yellow sticker further marked it down to $4.00. I wondered what the catch is? A pair of Route 66 jeans for $4.00. My woven treasure had to be defective, irregular, used, or all of the above. But no matter what pair of jeans I removed from the rack, I could not find a blemish, moth hole, or skid mark. When it was all said and done, I brought only one pair of jeans to the counter. I was an opportunist by the slimmest of margins.
A hayseed dressed in overalls behind me remarked, "Nice jeans. How much are you getting them for?"
"Four dollars."
"Employee discount?"
"No." I showed him the yellow sticker to settle the score.
"Wow. Are there more jeans back there?"
"Plenty, but only if you are a 38 inch waisted porker like me."
"I'm not there yet. But what are you waiting for?" After he reaffirmed my girth, he offered me a shimmering chance at a new wardrobe. "Go back there and buy six or seven pairs why don't you? You could fill your closet for the cost of one regularly priced pair."
The hayseed was right. He was Jean of Arcadia, a man of the cloth and the voice of reason. He sees me failing to make a move. I see myself failing to make a move out of line. Jean of Arcadia felt the need for twine intervention.
"Do you think you can beat $4.00 for a pair of nice jeans, buddy?"
That is exactly what I was thinking but I buy one pair. Call me frugal. Call me cheap. Call me stupid. Afterwards, Jean of Arcadia's words replayed in my head.
I went home and tried the jeans on for size and pinache. I really like the look of them on me. They felt comfortable and the mirror didn't shatter. The jeans work the miracle of lifting my buttocks into a high heart-shaped postion. It reminded me of a Best Buns contest I almost entered in stonewashed Calvin Klien jeans. I chickened out right before the curtain call because there is always the occasional heckler. I didn't want to be the butt of jokes. In the end, my butt forever remained in the private sector.
I headed back to Kmart the next day. I shuffled back to the same rack. Things look moved around from the day before. Whoa Nellie! The price tags have been slashed from $4.00 to $1.50. This can't be right. Jumping Jean of Arcadia. I jogged two pairs to the register and sure enough I checked out with two pairs of jeans for $3.00. It must be an unadvertised Spring Martha Stewart From Prison sale or the handy work of Jean of Arcadia. Why didn't I buy more than two pairs of jeans at $1.50 each? It is simple to figure out if you know my personality. The following day I try and return the $4.00 pair.
The lady at Customer Service asks, "Is there anything wrong with this pair of jeans?"
"Not that I can find and I have been looking."
"And the reason for your return is..."
I hoped not to trip on my words. "Too expensive." There I said it. Plain and simple.
She stared down the receipt. "Four dollars is too expensive?"
Customer Service 101 should have taught her not to argue with a customer, especially when I was all over this sale like a scatter plot. I speak to her for my own amusement.
"I know I can do better." I say.
Kmart refunded my money. Ten minutes later, the Customer Service lady eyeballed me standing in line with an armful of the same corduroy pants. I took aim at four more pair of jeans for that unheard of price. So that would make it six pair of jeans for $9.00. If any of my friends or family suffered from my same measurements, I would have bought birthday presents from now until 2027.
The Customer Service lady keeps staring at me. I smile and wave to her. I am not doing anything wrong in the eyes of the law but these were her eyes.
"I changed my mind. I couldn't do better than this. I am buying them." I shouted over to her from my spot in line.
The surprised look on her face was worth ten fold the price of the pants. She had me figured as a wingnut but I did not care. I love a bargain when I see one. I love a return when I see one.
I said to the cashier, "Do you know where I can get Perry Ellis button down dress shirts for .25 cents?"
Jean of Arcadia she was not.


April 24, 2005

Just Visiting

Scent is the strongest scent linked to our keen memory. The smell of fresh cut grass reminds me of two memories not bridged together. One memory is productive, the other is associated with my divorce. After a dormant winter, the arrival of Spring and the smell of fresh cut grass recently invoked these two memories.
I inhale. It takes me back in time. It is springtime. I am walking across the Glassboro State college campus. Ah, spring is the earth reborn. Lawnmowers shred the high grass blades of soccer fields and courtyards but it is the chloroform smell that the machines swaths produce that I fall in love with. It means the end of another college semester with the freedom of summer to look forward to. I equate that smell of grass with hard work, professional growth, and accomplishment. It is a rewarding scent to treasure.
The inhale also returns me to the difficult separation from my first wife in 1996. Since moving out of the marital home, I still made frequent jaunts back to mow the lawn. I couldn't afford to pay for a landscaper and I was the epitome of free labor protecting a real estate investment - ours, hers, mine. I recall the mental difficulty to physically care for a home physically vacated. I am mowing the front yard one afternoon straight from work. High atop the perched seat of my riding lawnmower, I am lamenting all that goes with a divorce. I smell the Kentucky bluegrass sod and divorce becomes linked to this olfactory scent. The lawnmower's roar rips through the air and its vibrations create a numb feeling through my body. I see my wee children milling about the house. Now I am totally numb. Yes, I am emotionally drained but it is no doubt tougher on the family I left behind. Another thirty minutes into giving the grass a Mohawk haircut, I hear shouting. I ignore it but the shouting grows louder. I recognize my name being called but glances back at the house do not derive a caller. I finally see a neighbor flagging me down. She walks toward me. I put the tractor in park, cut the engine, and remove my headphones.
"Joe, I got to tell you, I didn't think your wife was that strict. Nobody can be that strict and by the book."
I ask, "What are the heck you talking about?"
She points to a sticker adhesed to my shirt pocket. I look down. Having just come from visiting a sick client in the hospital, I see the JUST VISITING sticker brighter than a neon sign. We laugh so hard that I dizzily almost fall off the tractor.
I reply, "When I'm officially divorced, I may be demoted to wearing a NOT WELCOME sticker. Stay tuned for the divorce decree."
If laughing at yourself is truly healthy, I laughed like the bray of a donkey. It was my first laugh in weeks even if it was at my expense. So the next time I smell the splendor in the grass, one nostril is for accomplishment while the other nostril breathes in the life I left behind. And let that be a lesson served to never become a visitor in your own house. Only now does that make scents to me.


April 21, 2005

Ace in the Hole

"Just because it is your job doesn't make it right, boss." - Prisoner Paul Neuman reprimanding a prison guard in a scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke.
The wind howls when I hear the mere mention of his name. If I lower my rose-colored social worker glasses, the view of his his house is that of a crime scene in a cheap detective novel. My client is an alleged sexual perpetrator who has escaped prosecution. Heinous allegations against defenseless minors he reflects on with a sinister smile. He is none other than the bloody ketchup on a small fry. Developmental disability is his crutch that his attorneys have leaned on mightily. He understands the difference between wrong and right. His basic understanding of the difference between wrong and right is the crux not crutch of the matter. God forbid. I am not his judge and jury. Nobody has sat for that...not through trial or error.

He sits across from me now on a tattered sofa. I look him in the eye without a grimace or wink. We dialogue freely over the noise pollution known as the Jerry Springer show. He repulses me although I do not let him know it. He fills me with the kind of nausea that could bring a greenhorn social worker overtop a toilet. I take it all in and keep it all down but make no mistake about it, I believe his accusers. I have prayed for their sorrow and pain. While my mind is filled with malcontent, I discuss social services to his indifferent ear. I wonder, fret even, whether my composure constitutes two-faced hypocrisy or savvy compartmentalization of a professional? The world may never know since I haven't yet figured that one out for myself.
As he watches the fabric of America unravel on Jerry Springer, I think about how I got in this predicament right here and now. A man is not idle just because he is absorbed in thought so I force myself to remember. I am called as a witness for the Defense in his pre-trial hearing. This case against my client was held in abeyance for years before somebody came up with the less than noble, prize winning idea of getting this man a staunch social worker. I knew my testimony could be a part of my own deathbed confessional. Guilt lays heavy with me. I recall time standing still before moving from the inertia of my courtroom seat to testify. My personal opinions had to be suppressed in my testimony. I represented the State not myself.
Standing in a monkey suit, I take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth hurts but in this case it hurts me and the prosecution more. It is small thanks to being certified as an expert witness in my field of social work with nary an objection from the Prosecution. The Public Defender's questions box me in a corner. The court draped me in a papal robe as suit and ties tout the miracles I can perform in the name of social work to save a wretch like him. My leg twitches below the microphone but my voice booms with confidence. I realize during the questioning that my testimony makes the community more vulnerable. A huddled group of people in the audience sneer every time I mention another social service my agency offers. It is a smothering experience to feel resigned to tell the truth and only answer the questions asked without an allowance for expansion. Rather, I want to stand up and yell that justice is being overlooked and this type of offender cannot be rehabilitated. I want these charges to proceed to trial more than anyone except maybe the latest victim herself.
After an hour of testimony, I am summarily dismissed. I turned helplessly over to the old Judge. I will never forget his uncomfortable look. His eyes looked me over like the manner in which the public respects a used car salesman. His wrinkles had frowns. The judge handed me a manilla envelope after I testified. He instructed me to read it in private and not to share its contents. To this day, I have not told a soul. It is unspeakable for the most part anyway. I can still feel the weight of the voluminous file as I limped from the stand.
Back in my office, its stark contents startled me. I had been given no choice but to testify in ignorance. They wanted me without prejudice and that they got. What have I done? I lumped my head on my desk and cried. I felt betrayed by lawmen. Knowing what I know now, I cannot ensure the safety of the community nor guarantee his rehabilitation. I can do neither but I am expected to do both. Under oath, I have been reduced to a pawn among tournament chess players. I am both the system's pawn and my client's ace in the hole. I am being played.
After umpteen pre-trial motions, hearings, and uninterrupted social services, the criminal case gets dismissed! The little girl is now fourteen. She is anyone and everyone. She is every youngster's face I see in a crowd. She is any one of my daughters, the neighbor's kid, the unsupervised toddler spinning a Big Wheel on the sidewalk. She is anyone who can't protect themselves. She is the innocence of childhood falling prey to the wicked and it is this brand of wicked who rests his laurels in my protection. Go figure.
Fisticuffs break out on Jerry Springer. My inner conflict surrenders to present day conflicts at large. He reaches for another cigarette barely acknowledging my presence. The card deck has been shuffled and only two players remain from that courtroom. It is just him and me. The Prosecutor has moved on. The probation officer last hung up the phone in my ear before taking a new job. The Public Defender has disappeared into the Halls of Justice. My letter to the Judge trying to amend my original testimony never amounted to a hill of beans on the justice scale. I remain his ace in the hole attentive to his needs in the chamber of his house. The silence of second guessing proves deafening. I look up from my notepad to force a smile that snakes across my face of regrets. All the pre-trial social services I started for him he has the latest criminal case against him. I point out the circumstantial evidence of his uncooperativeness. I want him to admit he worked over the system as much as I don't want to hear it. I wait for an answer.
I hear his red-neck voice carry through the cigarette filled air. "Joe, I'm a free man." He boasts to the tune of braggart. "Ha-Ha! F---k yeah!"
The walls in the speck of a house close in around me. He is a free man and I am his prisoner.


April 19, 2005

Stand by Me, Better Taken Sitting Down

In the continuing saga learning how to play the piano against all odds, I submit the following audio blog. The song is Stand By Me. I really do need to announce the name of the piece because nobody will recognize the choppy melody. The song is appropriate because I can’t find a piano teacher willing to stand by me. I can’t read music worth a lick and my tone deafness is a huge barrier. Everyone in the family reaches for ear plugs anytime I even walk through the living room. Wince. Wince. I practice my heart out learning how to play songs in butchered bastardization before somebody points me to the right ivory. I only recently learned what in tarnation constitutes a G7 chord. My epiphany forced my hand in learning how to play songs all over again.
This probably sounds like Frankenstein’s first music lesson but…the show must go on. Bear with me…or dare I say…stand by me.


this is an audio post - click to play


April 17, 2005

Desperate Housewives

This story will be preserved in the Freudian Slip Hall of Fame archive vault. All parties involved may want to reverse time and revert back to when their lives were not affected from such avoidable tragedy. Remorse has finite limitations. It is not a feeling you see in front of you. Remorse only whispers in your ear after it is too late.
The story. A married woman became unfaithful to her husband. In and of itself, this is not earth-shattering news but this story has more skeletons in the closet. Does she end the seedy romance before her husband finds out about it? Does she confide to her husband about her change of heart? Neither. What is a desperate housewife to do?
She brazenly moves her lover into her home. It is the best of both worlds for the woman. She has a man coming and going. Where does a married woman hide a stud muffin with a nine inch nail? She harbors him in a closet with a Do Not Disturb Sign hanging around his neck. It should not conjure up the innocent memory of ET being stashed in a bedroom closet because those were the actions of children in a Hollywood movie not that of an adult harboring a fugitive from morality court. It makes light of Mommy Dearest demanding no more wire hangers! Even the Home and Garden channel never turned a walk-in closet to a live-in closet for hanky panky. That had to have been some flip your wig, Romper Room sex to actually move into a closet and patiently wait for sloppy seconds.
The ill-fated arrangement lasted 30 days before lover boy was discovered. I find the deception an amazing length of time. So how did the husband find out? Walking by a closet, the husband heard snoring. The lover actually fell asleep on the job. The moral of the story is that if you are going to be immoral do not choose a narcoleptic as a lying, cheating, carousing trespassing fool. A heated argument erupted and who can blame the husband when his wife brought her lover home kit and caboodle. This was no romp in the hay, be on your way, and change the sheets before the end of the day. This is truly a live-in boyfriend for a desperate housewife. A study in contrasts, I have never forgiven my wife for taking in hamsters.
Back to our story or should I say tail? The husband demanded the man to vacate the premises before he returned from a cooling off, simmer-down walk. A reasonable non-violent request but the lover and infidel wife defiantly held the fort. That's right! The lover had not left by the time the husband returned home. As you might imagine, that is when the situation went from bad to abysmal. The husband and lover territorially fought like rabid animals over the woman. In his rage, in his revenge, for his honor, for all the vigilante justice out there in the world.......the husband is beaten to death in his own home by his wife's closet dwelling lover. The lover comes out of the closet when he is arrested for murder. The woman loses both men sleeping in her bed, one by death, one by incarceration. Like the door to the closet, this may be an open and shut case. Good grief.

April 14, 2005

Taxation Can Take Its Toll

"Another year over, and a new one just begun." - John Lennon

The deadline to file your taxes is here. When my wife and I get our taxes prepared by an accountant, it is always one of the most stressful days of the year. I do not have anything to hide. Skeletons may be the only thing the government has not thought of to tax. My stress bubbles and boils from worrying whether we owe money. We work full time and have three jobs between us. I hate owing money after sweat and toil.
Tax season is a confusing time for us. My wife and I do not mix our money together. We have no bank accounts together. We have no investments together. We do not see each others paycheck. The last time I checked, we do not even share the same last name. Ironically, tax season is when we combine everything together to file jointly. Each year, I carry OUR folder of my categorical receipts, my signed charitable donation forms, every last business mile of mine calculated, even beginning of the year and end of year odometer readings. My wife laughs at my organizational skills. What I can't account for is the other half of the ledger, the blank ledger who sardonically laughs across the page at the ink blots. That is part of the stress, the rest is self-induced. But it's over. Thanks to the way my wife structures her deductions in her paychecks, we came out slightly ahead.
Check this tax tidbit out. According to the Gannett News Service, a Los Angeles, California man deducted the cost of his daughter's wedding as a casualty loss. When a baffled IRS agent telephoned to inquire about the odd category, the tax filing man replied, "My son-in-law turned out to be a complete disaster."

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April 12, 2005

A Left-Handed Compliment While Punking a Friend

Tennis anyone?
Dinner with friends can lead to all kinds of trouble. My wife has her share of male friends and I am not a jealous man. Last autumn, Diane came home from happy hour and dinner with friends saying she wagered my tennis skills against a psychologist in a three set match on the court of his choosing. That was the only proposition that went down so I considered it an innocent night out with my wife.
"How much did you bet?" I asked.
My wife set the playing field. "Thirty bucks to you. I got to just take Gunther to dinner if you lose."
"Now those are fighting words. I lose; he gets dinner alone with my wife."
I have such a competitive tenacious nature about myself, the challenge was impossible to turn down. Gunther was equally competitive and a betting man by the likes of it. Before the match was even scheduled, I heard scuttlebutt that he was taking drill lessons at the Cherry Hill Racquet Club. I had thoughts to send out a scout with high powered binoculars. My opponent was a student of conditioning through long distance running and had athleticism in his dossier. I, on the other hand, have coordination. I am like a bull who can balance china in a china shop. But in competition against superior athletes, I needed to rely on my will to win, refusal to lose at all costs.
With Gunther's training and conditioning complete, I tried to set-up the match for Election Day since we both had the day off from work. A staunch republican, Gunther quite frankly had been voicing a little anxiety about the election. This was a guy who spent a week at Ronald Reagan's funeral and bought specially made Bush ketchup from a website to not support the Kerry/Heinz campaign. I figured Election Day might be a good day to play him trying to gain any advantage I could. I envisioned shouting out Ohio's electoral votes going Democratic if the match got close. I called him up at 9am in the morning and he had already been to church and voted Republican, although I am not sure whether he prayed or polled first. He urged me to vote Republican and then and only then did we discuss tennis. As it turned out, we both decided to play the tennis match on the coming Saturday November 6, 2004 at 9:30am at Cherry Hill East High School.
No sooner did I arrive on the court did Gunther announce the winds blowing at an easterly 10-15 mph. My wife warned me Gunther was a hyper guy but if I didn't know any better I swear he was pumped on speed. It was a grueling three set match. I won the first set 6-4 and he complained mightily about the spin I put on the ball as a left-handed player. He clocked me in the second set 1-6.
Thirty dollars and bragging rights came down to the last set. The deciding set went back and forth but I clearly ran out of gas. I carried with me a hundred extra pounds than him on every shot. At one point, I purposely hit the ball over the fence, shouted "Oops" and Gunther chased the ball across the high school parking lot as I bellied over sucking air. If my diseased body recognizes my strain as an emergency, anaphylaxis could happen. But I wanted to win. In the bitter end, Gunther won the last two games decidedly and won the final set 4-6. We walked off the court and shook hands but that is where the practical joke started. May the games begin! If someone is going to beat me in tennis and nearly kill me in the undertaking, I am going to have the last laugh.
Gunther works with my brother and my wife. I knew Gunther would spread it around to all who went out the night the bet was made. So I spoke in confidence to my wife and brother right after the match was decided. I had all the players in line. They reported back to me on my cell phone as my sinister plan unfolded.
The following Monday morning, Gunther winds up sharing an elevator with my brother Jim. They were both going to a treatment team meeting. Before they were even off the elevator Gunther speaks highly of his weekend conquest. To the spoils go the victor. To the joke goes the puppeteer.
"I beat your brother in tennis on Saturday."
"Joe?" he asked coyly. "You didn't beat Joe."
"Oh yes I did. He beat me the first set but I won the next two."
"Let me get this straight. You beat my brother Joe in tennis. There is no way."
"Yes, I just said I beat your brother." asserted the zealot Republican. "Ask him yourself."
"I will and if you beat him I am going to tease Joe like crazy because nobody beats him in tennis."
Jimmy left it alone. Gunther perseverated but Jimmy knew it was too early in the day for him not to bring up the subject again.
In the treatment team room later that morning, Gunther says to my brother. "Why didn't you think I could beat Joe in tennis?"
"It doesn't happen. Wait a minute?" Jimmy changes his posture in his seat. Methodical acting is in the Tornatore blood. "Tell me you didn't bet Joe. Tell me there was nothing on the line?"
"Yeah, I did bet. We bet $30.00, his wife put up the money on his side. Why what's wrong with that? I won fair and square."
"No, you didn't Gunther. Joe pulls this all the time with people who do not know him. He bets low and loses on purpose. Then he'll make a ridiculously high wager later and take your money. I've seen him do it in racquetball, billiards, darts, and bubble hockey. It doesn't matter what sport, the formula is the same."
"I got news for you, Joe was trying as hard as he could. He was huffing and puffing. He was cursing in the end. He wanted to win. I can't be more clear, your brother didn't throw the tennis match with me."
Jimmy let out the hook. "There is only one sure way to tell Gunther. If you were part of a ruse, I guarantee you Joe was playing you left-handed."
It was silent for a couple of seconds then Gunther lost composure. He picked up the telephone and dialed my wife's extension. I told Diane to expect his call and sure enough it was Gunther on the line, who was ballistic by now.
"Diane, tell me the truth. Is your husband left or right handed?"
My wife lied through her teeth to perpetuate the myth. "Right is his dominant hand."
"I don't believe this. Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I told you my sweetie was an athlete. Sometimes against lesser opponents, he will even the playing field and he will play southpaw."
"Why would he spend an afternoon losing to me in tennis unless there was.." he paused. "Does Joe bet on games?"
"If Joe is lining his pockets AND getting exercise I don't know anything about that."
Gunther became defensive. "I can't believe your husband thinks he is going to take me to the cleaners? To fleece me no less."
He haphazardly got off the phone with my wife and peppered my brother with another battery of tests. He made another phone call to someone who watched me play in a racquetball tournament years ago. The same question was asked. "Ambidextrous." the guy replied for some still unknown reason.
It is outstanding folly when you can dupe a psychologist with psychometrics. People who wager on athletic games do not like to be taken to the river in a flim-flam. I wasn't spastic playing racquet sports with my right hand but my left is unanimously my dominant hand bar none.
Gunther calls me and let's me know that Diane will not have to pay him the $30.00. Instead, his courtesy call is to inform me he will be soon dining with my wife at the Creole Café in Williamstown, a charming little restaurant tucked out of the way.
A week later, I left him a telephone message. "Gunther, how about a rematch in tennis? I know you are a gambling man, so what do you say we make it a Ben Franklin this time? There should be a little more at stake if you lose since you proved already to be a better tennis player than me. If you lose, you also got to dump all the Bush ketchup down the drain and register Democrat. Give me a call so we can set something up before the next election."
But the joke ended when friends and family felt sorry for the seething victor. They told Gunther of my left-handed orientation. Too bad. I like a joke to go on as long as it can without hurting anyone. Gunther, you read my Blog from time to time. If you are reading this, recognize that I had the decency of assigning you a pseudonym. I hope you have cooled your jets by now. Remember, winning always has a price with me.

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April 10, 2005

Wendy's...Dismembership Doesn't Have Its Privileges

Wendy's on a chili night.

A patron dining at a Wendy's restaurant in San Jose, California claims to have found a human finger in her chili. I don't know if it was three or four alarm chili but the unusual discovery brought the police to the scene. Authorities are scrambling to determine whether they have a crime or OSHA health violation on their five digit hands. I don't know about you but I haven't had finger foods since I was eight years old. When one finds a finger in their chili, it does give the option not to use a plastic spoon to stir. Think of the irony if this happened to Kentucky Fried Chicken and not Wendy's. KFC's Finger Lickin' Good motto may have been applauded for realism.
Police have searched the home of the woman who reports to have bit into the detached finger. Meanwhile, Wendy's is conducting an internal investigation of their own. Internal? What about an external hand check of all employees? How about erecting new bathroom signs in Wendy's with more concise instructions?
Truth be told, I love Wendy's chili. It is a great deal with a great taste. I don't think it needs any more meat other than ground beef. My instincts tell me this claim will be unfounded and not the negligence of Wendy's restaurant for all of you doubting Dave Thomas's. If there is a legitimate lawsuit to result, I am guessing it won't settle for single digits... Anyone out there willing to lend a hand in this unsolved mystery, please contact the proper authorities.
These puns will self-destruct in ten seconds...


April 07, 2005

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, More Powerful Than A Locomotive, Look Up In The Sky...

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in this country. It is an industrialized state with an euphuism for a nickname, The Garden State. It almost seems as though you go to bed at night and pod workers pour concrete foundation on farmland. Roads are littered with bad drivers motoring with and without the highest insurance premiums in the nation. Road rage is a growing problem. It is a habitat for inhumanity.
Stop and Go traffic makes commuting to and from almost anywhere a nightmare. The roads between my home and office have been under major construction for the last six months. Detours and single lanes have created more congestion and turned a simple drive into an awful commute. Get behind a monster Hummer and you won’t see the road ahead for miles.
I live only four miles from my office but this a stone’s throw in distance has turned into a 30 minute ride at rush hour. That is a ridiculous time and distance ratio. That is over seven minutes per mile. It equates to a couple of compact car lengths per minute. Bicyclists and joggers pass me by. A mother pushing her kid in a red wagon once beat me to a red light. I am reminded that the left lane is reserved for passing. When and where? An open stretch of countryside in rural Iowa?
I didn’t break any land speed records this week either. I actually got stuck in traffic on an overpass. My car idled on the bridge burning $2.05 cent a gallon gasoline nearly as precious a resource as it were in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Rain drizzling down added to the mix. I was stuck with cars in front of me, behind me, and below me on a busy corridor. As far as my eyes could see, hundreds of immobilized cars snarled traffic. I couldn’t imagine how things could get any worse…until I looked up in the sky. Attached to the branches of a budding tree rested an inhabited hornet’s nest. Already twenty minutes into my drive, it was time to buckle up for safety. The line couldn’t move fast enough. Spring is here to stay. As many of you know, this is my danger season. Bee safe is my motto.

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April 05, 2005

Charlie Manuel or Manual Labor?

Now that the Boston Red Sox have won a World Series and an 86 year old curse has been lifted on superstitious Beantown, focus turns to a new baseball season. The Phillies opened up the 2005 campaign with an 8-4 victory over the inaugural Washington Nationals. Do I hear the sound of one hand clapping?
The Phillies need to rebound and forget about last season’s disappointing season. Nobody could have been more disappointed than I. I split a 17 game plan with friends. I didn’t see those Fighting Phils fight hard enough to eek out one win. My package included three games with long rain delays. I broke a cell phone diving for a foul ball. My son got sick the night he and I went to a ballgame. I didn’t get to see my favorite player, Jim Thome, hit ONE ball out of the INFIELD the entire season which included a 16 inning marathon against the Baltimore Orioles. Adding insult to pinstripe injury, the best sports moment occured when a horse, Smarty Jones, won the Kentucky Derby on Phanavision before a game.
The Phillies season ended with manager Larry Bowa getting ousted. While it is not unheard of for an underachieving baseball team to fire their manager, whether the players are more to blame or the skipper is the subject of sports debate from gym locker rooms to talk radio. This brings me to the following unofficial survey. I asked a mildly mentally retarded, devoted Phillies fan who she thought was more responsible for the disappointing season the ballplayers or Larry Bowa.
She responded incredulously, “Joe, in case you don't know, Larry Bowa hasn’t played for the Philadelphia Phillies since 1980 or something.”
Silly me for asking but there you have it. Only between the chalk lines matters to many a baseball fan. They believe Big Bird from Sesame Street could manage a bunch of blue chippers. The Phillies are going to have to go to bat for their new manager, Charlie Manuel, to make a ripple in the improved National League East. So it all comes down to Charlie Manuel or manual labor. You make the call.


April 03, 2005

The Heart of the Matter

When I was in third grade, I vividly remember a school trip to the Franklin Institute, a landmark science museum located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While the museum has added exhibits over the years, its signature remains the interactive giant human heart. The heart allows you to walk through all of its chambers colorfully teaching about its functions with all the bells and whistles you would expect from this middle earth of human organs. One thing every kid's memory comes away with though is the constant beating of that heart. Some 32 years later, a Boy Scout camping trip to the museum brought me back to the foot of the giant heart.

As fate would have it, our troop was assigned the floor with the human heart as our base. We could pretty much choose where we wanted to sleep. I hunkered down for the night next to the beating heart. But the heart that kept the museum alive with its pulsating beat was silenced at lights out. Any man can attest to the difficulty of trying to nod off to sleep with a heart on but hearing that massive heart stop beating made me contemplate the value that should be placed on life. I started to wonder how I can go through an entire day not hearing the miraculousness of my own heart beating yet have this three decade old splinter memory of an artificial heart beating in a museum? I needed to get to the heart of the matter. So there I lay wide awake in thought. Two gallons of my own blood circulated through my body as I stared at this massive replica heart that had been killed for the night. I tried to fathom how many ticks of a clock turned me from nine years old to forty two in the blink of an eye. I rolled over in the cocoon of my sleeping bag to cradle the base of the darkened heart in a classic fetal position. It was then that I saw the light. Ever so subtle emergency lighting shone around the curvature of the right ventricle. Indeed, light was at the end of the tunnel even after the death of this manufactured heart. Its eerie glow offered up a symbolic representation of the hereafter. Its prominence so pedestrian, its meaning so profound. Life moves on.
I nuzzled off to sleep amidst the trailing voices of Boy Scouts each taken life for granted as I did at their very age on my first trip to the Franklin Institute. With another blink of the eye, I awoke to the sound I too have too often drowned out, a heart beating life. Not the stale museum's heart that I remembered all these years. My heart. I was here for another glorious day.


April 01, 2005

Cells in America

Immigrant - a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another. An organism that appears where it was previously unknown. -Webster's II dictionary
My office is adjacent to a row of business suites where a twice DEA raided pizzeria and a massage parlor are considered the anchor stores. The lack of parking spaces in this Shangri-la force my car to the rear of the building on a grassy knoll next to a monster dumpster and a hedgerow. Never to be confused with mahogany row, I call it deadwood back alley.
In the summer of 2005, I rolled my car up onto the grass for the start of another day of social work. Aware of my surroundings, I noticed two pieces of luggage resting by the overflowing dumpster. I thought nothing of it because this dumpster shamefully attracts the public's discarded trash, furniture, and appliances.
I came and went all day. Eight hours later, I exit the back door of the building at the close of business. I turn the corner only to observe a woman peering inside the window of my car. The noise from the back door swinging shut startled her into turning around. Undaunted, I walked over to my car. She backpedaled. She was in her twenties, an attractive looking small-framed Asian woman. I do not know where she came from or where she was going. No other vehicle was parked in the vicinity. She was just there in my time and space like an organism that appeared where it was previously unknown. I kept my cool.
"Can I help you?" I asked rhetorically.
She did not answer but she knew I was expecting an explanation. She inched forward closer to my car. She pointed to something inside. I took a gander. My Playmate cooler for a lunch box rested on the front seat of my car. I thought food might be the object of her desire.
"Are you hungry?"
She gave me a blank incomprehensible look.
I asked, "Can you speak English?"
She shook her head back and forth to the contrary.
"Are you hungry?" I repeated, this time rubbing my belly in a silly charade.
She pointed back inside my car. Unsure of what she wanted, I did not feel threatened either. I made the decision to open up my car to her. She immediately nudged me to the side, leaned inside the cabin, and pointed to my cell phone recharging by the cigarette lighter. She did not touch anything.
I asked, "My cell phone?" She turned back around to face me while reaching for something inside her purse. I hoped it was not a firearm for a carjacking because as luck would have it I had just enough trunk space for me and a shovel. Not to be alarmed, she pulled out her cell phone and muttered something in her native language. I quickly determined that her cell phone had a dead battery. I handed the cell back. She tossed it into her purse alongside what looked like travel documents. She wasn't a dangerous cell but her circumstances warranted suspicion.
"Do you want to use my cell phone?" I asked as a maestro of stating the obvious.
Once I handed her my phone, it produced her first smile. If she decided to make a run for it, I could think of worse things than tackling this damsel in distress. But she really did need to use the phone. I watched her dial a long distance phone number with a New York area code. The phone rang and rang. While she waited for her contact to answer the call, she trampled the grass with nervous pacing. She gave it a dozen rings and a teardrop before handing me back my cell phone. She bowed her head then bolted towards the dumpster where she reclaimed her luggage. She gave me one last look back, an unforgettable vulnerable glare. Suitcases in tow, she jumped through the hedgerow. I heard her plodding footsteps disappear deeper into the heart of America.
That was six months ago. I thought about her today as I stood in line to renew my driver's license at the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles under the stringent rules of the new Six Point Identification program. I am #538 in line standing behind a parade of nationalities. I am carrying two sets of photo identification, my social security card, proof of residency, a raised seal birth certificate, and my most recent pay stub. These travel documents.
I thought a lot about her and the state of America. I kept wondering if one has something to do with the other.

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