Freudian Slips: September 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.

September 29, 2005

The Lifting at Bally's Gym

While lifting free weights at the gym, a crook lifted my valuables from my gym locker. I thought my veins swell and pop while weightlifting but it was nothing compared to the varicose variety when I discovered my ransacked locker. My body raged with endorphins but I had nobody’s neck to wrap a barbell around. The crook hit seven lockers in broad daylight at high noon then vanished without a face. He used bolt cutters to snip through our combination locks. He stole wallets, cell phones, pagers, and car keys. To add comedic value, he decided to steal everyone’s pants in the caper. Imagine seven guys in dress shirts and little else standing around the gym lobby waiting for the police. Some people waited hours for a family member to bring duplicate car keys.
The police officer arrived and escorted me to my locker to check out the scene of the crime. He took my name and phone number and jotted down what was stolen. I sensed that the police office was starting to wrap things up. I just so happened to be cooperating with the local police department and the Prosecutor’s office on a case at work so I started to throw names around. I got lively conversation from the patrolman but no further action.
“That does it from here.” The patrolman concluded after my name dropping stalled.
“A few of us have cell phones with global positioning. Can you call the phone carriers to see where exactly in the world these phones are at?”
“It can take a month to get a court order.”
“What is the sense in having GPS if you can’t use it when you need it?” The familiar phrase ‘Can you hear me now?’ echoed in my inner ear.
The officer made some polite closing statements then was gone faster than you can say Adam 1 Adam 12. I pulled the operations manager of the gym aside.
“For a member who loses his key or forgets their combination you use bolt cutters to get into their locker, right?”
There were only two people who were in the locker room when I undressed. Where are your bolt cutters right now?”
“Relax. They remain under my desk.” He replied. “They haven’t left my side all day.”
“I had to ask you.” I admitted. “I wasn’t pointing the finger at your staff. The crook could have used your bolt cutters. I have been a member of this gym for twenty years. How about a peek into your computer to show me the male members who came into the gym today? The crook needed a gym membership to get in here. You can print them out and the names can be scrutinized by the detective when he gets on the case. I could almost eliminate half the names on the list because I have known these guys for years.”
“Joe, I did the Bally’s incident reporting. You filed a police report. I just want to turn it over to the authorities.”
I could not argue with his approach but including the word ‘just’ didn’t go over well with me. An hour after a second shift housekeeping staff reported to work, I asked him if he had heard what happened. He had not heard of the looting. In my mind, this oversight exposed the operations manager who wanted to ‘just’ let the authorities handle it and not use his own authority to make his gym safer. There was no inservicing staff coming on shift about the robbery and no increased patrols of the locker room by housekeeping staff. No additional signs were hung in the locker room. No announcement on the intercom and the first sureveillance camera by an entry door remained a ghostly technological advance. It was business and theft as usual. More could have been done to make members ‘just’ feel safe.
Another patrolman meandered into the gym to make a police report on victims # 6 and 7. I thought it was odd that the first patrolman left without asking the staff on duty any questions. When the second patrolman headed towards the exit doors without taking action, I questioned the protocol.
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask the front desk staff what they remember? Here me out. I arrived at the gym at 12:15pm and the last victim arrived at 1:00pm. It is a slow day at the gym. There can’t be more than 10 members who came through the front door in that time frame. Can’t you pull the computer records and see what you got?”
The officer was polite and straightforward. “Sir, that’s not how it works. I come out and take the information for the police report. I go back to the office and finish the report later. Said report gets submitted for typing. It will eventually find its way over to a detective’s desk who will come out and conduct an investigation. This is not my investigation.”
“By that time in the distant future, the front desk staff will have forgotten the information that is in their short term memory now.”
“I’m sorry. It is not my investigation.” he reiterated.
Like the last puppy to hear a dog whistle, I finally got it. It is not an investigation yet. It is only a crime. Unless I had made a citizens arrest by capturing the crook myself with the wrap around barbell, this case was going stone cold. The fact gathering I had done to this point was for naught. The second officer left the scene with impeccable timing. I came to the gym to workout but became worked up after crime and this exercise of futility.
Borrowing a cell phone, I walked out to my parked car. I pressed my ear to the trunk and dialed my cell phone number to see if I could hear it ring. My phone ringer sounded to the tune of the X-Files theme. I was confident that my trunk had not been popped and my wallet, cell phone, and jewelry were safe. I returned to my air conditioned perch in the gym slightly relieved. I continued waiting for a family member to deliver a second set of keys to the gym.
About an hour later, the young girl working the front desk fumbled around with the legal tender in the cash register. She turned to us, the disgruntled group of victims for help.
“Do any of you guys have change for a twenty dollar bill?”
“What are you freaking kidding me?” I piped. “We aren’t just standing around here in our loins for nothing. Don’t you remember, we had everything stolen from us? If you think you got nothing in your drawers, ours have been totally cleaned out?”
The manager came out of his office hideaway to quell my outpouring of emotion. I am not a hot head but she sure pissed me off.
“I think you guys have waited long enough to earn a free soda. What can I get you fellas?” the manager offered.
I know the manager meant well but I found the free soda pop insulting and representative of the only observable action the gym was willing to take. I declined on the token carbonated freebie. So I wound up waiting a total of four hours with my face peeled to the front bay window worrying whether some hooded heroin addict was coming to steal my car.
Free weights have never cost me so much but the moral of the story is apparent. A crook with a gym membership does all of his lifting inside the locker room.


September 27, 2005

For The Birds!

I definitively ruminated about a blog comment by a Google-happy representative over at in response to my August 28th post Quote the Raven Nevermore. My story followed the plight of birds accidentally flying into the windows of my home. I don’t want to cry fowl but believe I should be doing more with my home to protect birds than my token bird feeder chock full of imported sunflower seeds.
While sliding down a creamy strawberry banana yogurt, my mindset focused on bird safety. I got to admit it was the first time I thought in these terms. My bulging eyes shifted to labeling on the side of the yogurt container. I read the warning label:
I didn't even know birds liked yogurt. The day my life is less ironic is the day after I am not here.
Psychologists might call it overcompensation for the past, but I sat at my desk trying to crush the plastic yogurt container to do my part to protect birds. Alas, the non-cooperative yogurt container was made of a virtually crinkle resistant plastic material that kept returning to its original shape and size. A trash compactor or a vice would have been needed to dispose of it properly. I barely have enough time to pack my lunch for work let alone haul the heavy equipment necessary to dispose of an 8 ounce yogurt container.
In keeping with taking everything to its most logical or illogical conclusion, I telephoned General Mills and spoke with an attentive customer service representative. It’s for the birds I told myself. I read the UPC code, the expiration date, gave my name, address, and even answered a short survey about favorite yogurt flavors all before I had opportunity to expound on the situation. I explained that was circling overhead like vultures. I explained the indestructible yogurt container that had not an ounce of biodegradability to it. She took my concerns so seriously that she patched me through to the Save Lids to Save Lives program. Wow! General Mills even has a department for it. I explained my quandary again but wound up facing an additional barrier.
I lamented, “I’m having an impossible time crushing the yogurt container and you’re telling me that I’m suppose to save the lid in the process?”
“Save Lids to Save Lives donates money for a cure for breast cancer.”
In this crazy mixed-up world, I wanted to make sure I had been connected to the wrong department. “I didn’t even know….I pray you’re talking about research on human beings.”
“Of course, sir, you didn’t think that….?”
My voice trailed into submission. “But what about all the birds wearing yogurt containers on their beaks?”
I believe in active yogurt cultures but the labeling had me swearing by this culture. Maybe the concerned people at http://www.birdsandbuildings/.org can get me in touch with the fine people over at Like I said, it’s for the birds!

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September 25, 2005

A Taste of Leather

-not your typical home cooked meal
I proudly announce that my son joined Little League baseball this year. While he has been on a swim team for years, baseball is the first dry land sport he has shown any real interest in. The news that he wanted to be on a baseball team came as a complete surprise and we were left with little time to prepare him. He didn't even own a glove. My wife bought him a brand spanking new baseball glove only a month before the season started. I admit to having trouble breaking in that glove despite routine spankings. Fault being the new equipment, every other baseball would pop out of my son's glove during a routine catch.
I needed to break that glove in before he became frustrated. I abused the glove trying to domesticate it. I tried everything from following the urban legend of rubbing shaving cream on it, hitting it with a sledgehammer, dipping it in vegetable oil, and storing it under a mattress. Growing anxious my son asked me to sleep with the glove.
"Put it under your mattress because you're much heavier." he instructed with good intention.
I can take a hint. So I weighted in on the matter. Two hundred thirty pounds of top-notch slumbers did not work either.
I bought a product called Hot Glove treatment, which required preheating a conventional oven to 300 degrees. Anything as goofy as this couldn't possibly work but I was running out of time and options. Now I haven't played organized baseball in thirty years but I never anticipated cooking a glove in my lifetime no matter how long I stayed away from the game. Holy cow what a half-baked idea! This product had to be a gimmick that ends with firemen at your front door.
Nevertheless, my son lathered up the obstinate glove like a professional glazer. I cooked it in the oven on a cookie sheet. Four minutes later, I heard the timer sound. Presto-Change-O. I used an oven mitt to remove the scalding hot baseball mitt from the oven. It even smelled good. I poked it with a spatula while it cooled to room temperature. I checked the product's directions and thankfully there were no plans for a bunt cake for dessert. I returned alongside the former cow of a glove. It felt velvety soft. My son tried it on and he could snap it shut for the first time. The Hot Glove treatment was a miracle second only to the 1969 Mets.
So the next time I get served a steak hard as shoe leather in an upscale restaurant, I'm spraying this miracle whip on it and sending it back to the kitchen until it comes out a moist tenderloin. Sometimes you just got to raise the steaks in life.


September 21, 2005

Laid To Rest

I couldn’t understand why I was listening to an interview with actress Jennifer Tilly on WIP sports talk radio. Jennifer has over 32 film credits and an Oscar nominattion for her role in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway but the unlikely connection to sports came as a surprise to me. I learned that Jennifer won the World Poker Tour Ladies Night and remains one of the best poker players in America. When talk show host Angela Cataldi asked Jennifer why she chose to enter an upcoming poker tournament at the Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey she answered “they have the most comfortable beds in the world.” That remark came from an actress who has everything going for her.
Did my ears decieve me? I have been raving about Borgata beds from the top of the mountain to down on the farm ever since my wife and I stayed at Borgata for Valentines Day two years ago. We went bonkers over the bed. My wife is irresistibly sexy but I could have slept with a Shaker and still had romance that night. That’s a mover and a Shaker for those of you keeping score at home. Soft and molded to the contour of one’s body, the bed ranked as ooooooooooh so comfy. By morning, curiosity got the best of me. Relaxed and rested, I tore the bed apart looking for a manufacturer, a tag, any clue would do. There wasn’t a trace of its origin.
When we got home to our clumpy hard mattress even the bed bugs didn’t want us back. Horizontal reality sank in. I started to call around asking if any mattress company did business with Borgata casino. No mattress company south of Newark gave a sheet but they all tagged me as crazy. After that dead end I still wouldn't let it rest. I waged a call to Borgata's housekeeping department. I got absolutely nowhere with a broken English speaking El Salvadorian woman who believed I was making a crank call. I didn’t let the receiver go cold in my hand. I called Borgata back and asked to speak with someone in public relations. I was patched through to a woman whom I lathered with compliments over my stay at her swank casino.
“Now about the bed. Funny thing is…” I preambled. “I couldn’t even find a tag on that heavenly bed to know who made it. He-he.”
“Oh, you won’t sir.” she stonewalled with mystery.
I piped, “I thought it was illegal to tear off mattress tags! Isn’t that a federal crime punishable by law?”
“Borgata doesn’t want you to know what you are sleeping on. That way you will look forward to coming back.”
“I’m not asking you to sleep and tell.” I flirted. “I’m only asking you to tell?”
She giggled before composure took hold. “Even if I knew what brand, it isn’t for public knowledge.”
“The secret is safe with me. Look, would things change if I can produce a medical note that I’m an incurable insomniac?”
“Sir, I'm glad you adored our beds. Would you care to book another room or be mailed a catalog of items that are For Sale in our hotel casino?”
“Is the bed listed in that catalog?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“No spring edition, huh?”
She laughed but remained firm as the mattresss I vowed to disown. Stymied and out of bed jokes, I layed the issue to rest. We rolled the dice with the purchase of a brand new box spring and mattress without ever learning the manufacturer for Borgata beds or replicating its comfort. Poker face and all, I bet Jennifer Tilly knows hands down.

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September 20, 2005

Danielle's Law and Rescue 911

Danielle Gruskowski was a middle-aged old woman with a diagnosis of Rett’s Syndrome, who died tragically on November 5, 2002. Staff at her Edison, New Jersey group home failed to call 911 in response to a fever she had developed the previous evening. By the time staff transported her to a doctor the following morning, Danielle could not be revived. Sadly, she was pronounced dead two hours later at a local hospital. Lawmakers in New Jersey believe they can now save the lives of more disabled people like Danielle who entrust the totality of their care in others. Hence forth, Danielle’s Law became New Jersey law in 2003. Making State laws on employees who take care of human beings is complex and it will never be declared an exact science. Too often there exists extenuating circumstances that policy cannot foresee let alone outline the gray areas in training protocols. Danielle’s Law may fit this bill.
If other states in the country follow suit with similar laws, I sure hope they do not adopt New Jersey’s penalty phase. It imposes punitive fines on individuals who fail to call 911 or dillydally in making a SOS call in a life threatening emergency. The fact that we even need a law to govern human services employees to call 911 is an apocalyptic advertisement and distress signal in and of itself. People who take care of human beings should know to call 911 in a real emergency. In the rarest of incidents, if a rogue staff member fails to call 911 the gross negligence should result in termination of employment as a practical repercussion.
30:6D-5.4 Danielle’s Law violations, penalties: “A member of the staff at a facility for persons with developmental disabilities or a facility for persons with traumatic brain injury or a member of the staff at a public or private agency who violates the provisions of section 3 of this act shall be liable to a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first offense, $10,000 for the second offense, and $25,000 for the third and each subsequent offense, to be sued for and collected in a summary proceeding by the commissioner pursuant to the "Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999," P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.).”
You read it correctly. Danielle’s Law imposes a first time offender a whopping fine of $5000. With no intended disrespect to the Gruskowski family who lost their daughter, caring people save human lives for free and they do not want to be robbed for what might be an error in judgment. I am sensitive to the fact that this is a safeguard designed to save lives and protect the disadvantaged but the penalty is not in touch with the low paying salaries of those providing care. Five thousand dollars is to be taken out of their pocket and put into the State Treasury! Conscientious workers telephone 911 for free. If there is indeed a place for Danielle’s Law in this world, the penalty phase could be reworked and downgraded to be more in balance with the circumstance. A direct care worker earning $20,000 a year would call 911 knowing there was a $100 fine. But impose the consequence of taking 1/4 of their net annual salary over what could be a quasi judgment call regarding a human being is punishment that may not fit the crime. A second offense garners a subsequent $10,000 fine. Do we really need a second offense category in this law or a $25,000 third offense by the same employee? Its tiered layout suggests an exaggeration of isolated incidents as in the unfortunate case of Danielle Gruskowski. Does the law imply that the habitual offender is still being paid to care for the disabled after THREE incidents of failure to dial 911 in a life threatening emergency? I argue that another vocation is needed after the first offense. Employment elsewhere is the life saving measure for these disabled clients not more fines.
If direct care staff follow the letter of the law the 911 system could be flooded for the sake of saving lives and livelihood. I worry that this will actually have a reverse effect and cost the lives of others who might have needed that ambulance ride when one wasn’t available. Every petit mal seizure client who boards an ambulance four times a week is certainly going to test the patience of ambulance staff and negatively effect the client.
This law could withstand a practical amendment and it would not detract from its original intent. In addition to downgrading the penalties, the fines should be earmarked for return to this disenfranchised population. For all of the levied fines, I support rewarding the employees who excel at their caregiving jobs. Maybe we shouldn’t just kill the messenger in the blame game and recognize the heroism of the vast majority, the direct care workers who take fine care of human beings. If a reward system is not palatable to the public, how about we use the collected revenue to fund new group homes and supervised apartments for the developmentally disabled population. The waiting list for residential placement has ballooned to over 3,000 developmentally disabled people stuck in a waiting game. Any money this law generates should be returned to the disabled population and not used for any other purpose. Its return could only make the Danielle in Danielle’s Law more humane.
The day after I attended mandatory Danielle’s Law training by my employer, I found myself taking a leisurely stroll at a craft show. I wound up in front of a parked ambulance used for emergencies. I peeked my head inside the back of the idle vehicle only to find two EMT’s artistically practicing their bandaging skills among the hideaway compartments beaming of lifesaving equipment.
“Can either of you gentlemen tell me what Danielle’s Law means to you?” asked the ornery reporter in me.
"Who is Danielle?” one asked quizzically.
“I never heard of Danielle’s Law. What is it?” the other exclaimed two years after it became a law.
For what it is worth, I forwarded a letter to my Senator proposing an addendum to Danielle’s Law.


September 18, 2005

A Crafty Guy With No Overhead

This is a picture of me selling sports memorabilia curbside at a craft show in Pitman, New Jersey today. The snapshot does not represent an accurate account of the commerce. I swear I attracted customers and left with money in my pocket. The weather proved to be quite humid though making it hard to cope without a copa cabana. Although I appeared as a blip in a Hooverville, marketing 101 prognosticates that too much overhead dooms business.


September 15, 2005

A Tail Piping of Caution

On the same day that my oldest daughter attended her first driver’s education class in high school, comes the following story of ironic mishap.
A gas station attendant approached my car with a surly demeanor. “Sorry it took so long , guy, we have a situation. How much can I get you?”
“Ten dollars regular, please.” I could hear commotion by a bunch of tangled cars. “What is going on?” I asked.
“You're not going to believe it. See that teenager with the mullet? He pulled up into the gas station and asked for $20.00 gas. I gave him the gas. No problem. Then the smack discovers he left his money home. He shows me an empty wallet. I believe his story but I tell him that he has to surrender his driver’s license as collateral or I’m calling the coppers. He just got his driver’s license yesterday so he pitches a royal fit. He wings the license at me and peels out in a huff. Before he is even out of the parking lot, he slams into a van totaling his own car, which he said he just bought. The van driver just asked him to produce his license but of course I have it.” The attendant grinned menacingly. “Ya know, looks like the coppers are going to have to be called anyway. Now mullet head is out a car, a license, he needs a ride home, and he still freaking owes me $20.00 for gas he probably will never get to use.”
A simple request, all I wanted was gasoline at $3.06 cents a gallon. The attendant sure put the fill in filling station. We are all paying at the pumps. Some more than others.


September 14, 2005

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Quackery

Lost in migrating thought, my car transversed a quiet two-lane country road. I have traveled this same road a hundred times. With the sun inching lower in the sky, the tree canopy on both sides of the road provokes dusk. I rounded a blind bend in the road expecting nothing out of the ordinary.
My eyes fixated on a small animal. A lonesome duck plodded by the roadside as if he were impatiently waiting for a ride. An old suitcase rested by his side.
How the the duck and the suitcase paired up remains fodder. It didn't matter. I roared. It was enough comedy to quack anybody up!


September 12, 2005

Fly Like An Eagle to be Free

The eyes of a city turn towards the Philadelphia Eagles as they kickoff their 2005 football season verses the Atlanta Falcons tonight.
The Philadelphia Eagles organization prides themselves as the gold standard of the National Football League but their last four years can be arguably compared to the Buffalo Bills of the 1990's. The Eagles have earned four straight National Football League Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. The Eagles played a mediocre performance in the Super Bowl and yet only lost by three points to the defending champion New England Patriots. It may be revisionist history but the loss left the Eagles players holding up the dress of a blushing bride. Players can translate these hard knocks to either character building or reasons for disenfranchising the team down the yellow brick road that hasn't lead to gold.
In a watered down conference obliging itself to mediocrity, the talent-rich Philadelphia Eagles begin their quest of another Super Bowl. Because of their recent success, the Eagles now need only a Super Bowl trophy to etch their mark in football history. It is a single-minded measuring stick and anything short of winning the Super Bowl may be viewed as unacceptable to both fans and players.
Football history tells us that of the few teams who became dynasties all shared a short life span. They are built, glorified, then dismantled for new parts. Understand that the players on a football team are moveable parts and remain married for only a short time. Contracts, age, and injury are just a few reasons for divorce in pro football. In my playbook, the future appears to be now for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles need to fly before empty nest syndrome sets in. Finishing second is a hollow conversation in the football annals. At any wedding I had the good fortune of attending, I don't remember a single bridesmaid.


September 10, 2005

The Old Man and the Sea

Rock climbing aboard the Voyager of the Seas.
By leaving my keyboard untouched last week, I may have lost some regular blog readers but I offer the following plausible excuse. My family went on a Royal Caribbean cruise. For any Mastocytosis sufferer, I went from New Jersey, the insect capitol of the world, to an oasis of white-capped waves without the flying critters. My exuberance almost prompted me to the front of the ship and pulling a Leonardo Dicaprio "I'm king of the insect world!" cry. The ship we sailed on was aptly named the Voyager of the Seas, a truly amazing floating city offering the finest amenities and indulgences known to Satan.
In between shrimp cocktails, chocolate covered strawberries, and a Hollywood tan, I planned on doing remote location blogging. While the trip turned out to be more heavenly than the picturesque brochure, the idea of blogging turned out more remote than I imagined. From the rustic interior of the cruise liner's Internet cafe, the $.50 cents per minute surcharge seemed more than pennies for my thoughts. Knowing that my writing abiliity woefully lacks a stream of conciousness and my sign-up sheet for volunteer guest bloggers remains blank, Freudian Slips abandoned ship.
The ship's captain masterfully dodged Hurricane Nate to get Voyager of the Seas in and out of Bermuda. I felt rather safe aboard a 142,000 ton vessel, one of the biggest and grandest ships in the sea. My kids were first time voyagers though and they shared a different opinion of the rocking, creaking, blackness of the night which tied their stomachs in nautical knots. Professional cruise-goers might say that when only two of the four kids vomit on a five day cruise, that is some good sailing! Our stateroom attendant became mighty understanding over the upheaval once my wife slipped him a $20.00 dollar bill.
The accommodations were stately in our royal suite, only one of four spacious cabins on the cruise ship like it. Two bedrooms, two full baths, a large living area, a walk-in closet, and a 10' x 30' walkout veranda to the ocean. Talk about going overboard for room and board. I kept waiting for Captain Stubing to enter our cabin and toss us to a lower deck without Dramamine. Added to the amenities was concierge service and an inviting concierge lounge, an additional safe harbor stateroom passengers can go for information and hospitality. An open bar and appetizers in the evenings created a decadent atmosphere in the concierge lounge. I hob-knobbed with the creme de la creme of passengers without suspicion that I had infiltrated a higher socio-economic bracket. So what if my polo shirt was on backwards one night. On the whole, the 3000 passengers came from an international mix of heritages and backgrounds. In fact, our cabin neighbors regularly smoked marijuana out on the deck below. I would like to take this time to thank the strong winds which brought their illegal hospitality on international waters to my nostrils. Second hand smoke had found a place in this world.
Four to five times a day, I ate until my heart was content with saturated fat. The onboard entertainment was magnificent from Broadway shows, to ice capades, comedians, jugglers and mimes, jazz music, the sound of big band, piano bars, nightclub singers, and disco clubs. Add a luxurious shopping mall on a promenade, world class gymnasium, salon, arcade of the ages, a glitzy casino and you are talking about a shizel at sea.
With kids nipping at our coattails, my wife and I somehow forged our way into a languorous bingo hall without resistance. Deep into the ink blot action, my wife shouted out a resounding "Bingo" on a coverall bingo card with a super jackpot of $9000. A dozen senior citizens popped their dentures right out of their mouth. Too bad it was an invalid claim to found treasure at sea because I wanted to spend Christmas in London. My wife finished the anti-climatic game publicly embarrassed and one measly O64 away from taking home the windfall. The Beatles' I'm a Loser felt like our bingo anthem but an an abridged When I'm Oh 64 tune would have done the same.
With Hurricane Nate to our south, the gusty winds and choppy seas of the Atlantic Ocean turned many of our on board activities into adventure sports. There is nothing like your son beating you in rock climbing or your youngest daughter lapping you during in line skating to make a father feel his advancing age. If somebody handed me an oar, I truly would have been the Old Man and the Sea. I have a hard enough time ice skating dry docked but add a swaying vessel and I wield cutting edge death blades on my feet.
Roller skating was no better on the sun deck. Add a tilting planet and a swift sea, and I am a pope-eyed blow me down on ball bearings. Cheating didn't help either. I cross-checked my children into the padded boards with only a guardrail between us and the ocean below but they still out foxed me in the roller derby. I had only the blowing wind and sucking air to blame. Bob Dylan's words 'How does it feel?' came to mind.
Since the children wisely chose not to challenge me in minature golf, it was on to rock climbing. There is nothing like rock climbing a 40 foot wall aboard a cruise ship. The Voyager of the Seas is 14 decks and 200 feet above sea level to begin with so it gives you an added illusion of height. Add 30 mile per hour whipping winds to an inherent fear of heights, and I became chicken of the sea. On my best attempt, I made it about 3/4 of the way up the vertical wall on the easy course. Not too embarrassing for a middle aged man carrying not only bruised pride but three pounds of shrimp, a generous cut of prime rib, two helpings of curried lamb, a hamburger, french fries, onion rings, and three scoops of bananas flambe' in my belly all before the sun rose high in the sky. Between my twitching muscles, sagging belly, and my fright height, I captured a glimpse of the vast sea high up on that vertical wall. The unbelievable view was worth the pain and fear but I learned that there comes a time a parent can no longer compete with their children and even an old man needs rest at sea. I fell ungracefully off the wall and repelled down. A torch can be passed even at sea.


September 04, 2005

Brush with Death

“Buckle up. Buckle up for safety.”
-1970’s commercial jingle for car safety
The click of my seatbelt prompts me to think about Sugar Bear.
The summer months of my undergraduate college years were spent painting school buildings. As a summer hire, I worked on a four man painting crew making a lackluster dollar above the $3.85 minimum wage. I was on a work detail with Sugar Bear, a blond haired mountainous man who owned more than an ounce of rebellion in him.
Aboard a gas guzzler of a flatbed truck, the driver turned on one of the most winding tree-lined roads in Gloucester County, aptly nicknamed Snake Road. The cab was filled with the driver and the troublemaker of our motley crew. Passengers often stood hanging on to the wooden side rails as the truck lumbered along. Sugar Bear and I were no smarter than the average bear.
So we stood tall in the back of the flatbed. The invigorating wind blew in our faces and cooled off our sun drenched bodies. We laughed to the sound of youth squeezing life by the balls. With the Friday work day almost over, the upcoming weekend inflated our mood. We could lay down our brushes and paint the town red. Life was grand.
Sugar Bear bobbed and weaved his man-child body to duck under the tree branches from the overgrown canopy. All of his attention seemed focused on the trees above. We were rolling along at 40 mph when a pothole swallowed the truck’s right front end. The truck inadvertently shifted tossing our bodies in the loose flatbed. I grabbed and hung unto the left wood rail for dear life. I heard wood snapping and breaking away behind me. I turned back to check on Sugar Bear but he was no longer a passenger. Bouncing along the road were overturned paint cans, the right wood rail, and Sugar Bear. I watched the tail end of Sugar Bear’s twisted body roll to a merciful stop. Even stuntman Evil Knievel would have called this a bad landing.
I pounded on the cab while screaming at the top of my lungs for the driver to stop the truck. He did. As we dashed back to Sugar Bear, the spilled paint provided a polychrome splatter pattern. Dirt and gravel collected in Sugar Bear’s bloody cuts. He barely hung onto consciousness. Sugar Bear did not try and talk but he laid strewn out in a silent prone. The strangest expression in all of tragedy, he exuded a Cool Hand Luke like smile. We held vigil until a summoned ambulance whisked him to a hospital.
I paw for the reassurance of my seatbelt. Life is a bunch of snapshots in the mind. I never saw Sugar Bear again.


September 01, 2005

Scaling Back the Big Tuna

On July 2, 2005 Dan Dillion caught a whale of a tuna fish. In an inlet off of the Atlantic Ocean, Dillion reeled in an 873 pound bluefin tuna. The catch more than doubled Delaware's previous state record. A quarter ton of fish! Holy mackerel, well almost. How much tuna fish and grilled tuna steaks has Dillion been chowing down on? He isn't biting and here is why.
Reportedly, the big fish contained exceedingly high doses of mercury that make it not only illegal to sell but it could be considered unconscionable to give away to sworn enemies. Studies have shown mercury harms brain development. Consumption of tainted seafood should only occur in small dosages while children and pregnant women need to be even more careful. Fish stories don't get much bigger or worse for the environment than this precautionary tail. The mercury readings, however, didn't stop Dan Dillion from having an inlet shop carve it up into 500 pounds of steaks then hosting a wild tuna party. Talk about a 'if you see food don't eat it party.' that sends everyone home reeling. The party invitations might have suggested for hungry guests to bring their own metal detectors and a bag lunch just in case.
I imagine the granddaddy fish enduring its toxicity to trawl the waters watching other fish die of unnatural causes year upon year. I bet he probably lost a ton of friends in the Valdez oil spill alone. So I wonder if that dying tuna propped a snicker on his scaly face when he was hauled aboard the vessel after a 75 minute struggle. In his grandness, maybe the big fish somehow knew he could not be eaten by his captors without causing concern about mercury poisoning.
I argue that the less industrialized a nation, the more beautiful its bodies of water. Industrial pollution is a major culprit for degrading ocean water quality on the planet we call home. In other words, mankind is defecating in its own backyard. While deemed illegal now, straight pipes running from homes used to pump human waste into tributaries which polluted the ocean. When the cheery TV show Love Boat graced the silver screen, unregulated cruise ships emptied garbage into the deep blue sea. We are paying for our past sins gill-ty as charged. Call it a catch-22 but Dan Dillion took a hit for the team.
I have no beefs with sports fishing if the bounty taken from the sea is consumed. If it can't be eaten, what exactly is the point? A hundred years from now, I worry that the oceans will resemble brackish water and people will start dying from eating a single mercurial seafood hors d'oeuvre. In that doomsday scenario, the arrogance of mankind may be more likely to list creatures like tuna as a predator then take social responsibility for his rape of the earth? It is food for thought. Put down the knife and fork because it is only food for thought.


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