Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hop on the Bus

When I was 16 I spent a summer as a counselor at a day camp for underprivileged, inner city youths. (I had my car and my locker broken into more times than I can count, hut that's another story.)

One day a slightly older co-worker asked me if I wanted a ticket. To see the Rolling Stones. At Madison Square Garden. That night. Mick Jagger's birthday. For free. (This was the 1972 tour, when the Stones were still at their peak.)

He, for some reason, only had the one ticket, and his girlfriend was pissed that he didn't have two (to also take her) and that he was even THINKING about going himself. So I got lucky.

I lived in New Jersey, about 40 minutes outside Manhattan by bus, and went into the city regularly. After work my mother gave me a ride to the bus station, and off I went.

Stevie Wonder was the warm-up band, and he was incredible. The Stones were as well. But the best part of the concert was my seat mates.

Just before Wonder came onstage a large, very flashy black man and two black women sat in the three seats next to me. I realize now (but certainly didn't then) that he was a pimp, and the two women were his ... employees.

For some reason he took a liking to me, a skinny, long haired, suburban white kid. He offered me liquor from a flask (I declined) and then some "blow" (I didn't know what that was), but didn't seem to mind as I repeatedly turned him down.

One of the women was VERY affectionate with him during the show, while the other was eying me. As the concert was nearing its end, he started talking about what we should do after the show.

"Looks like Charisse (the name of the woman who was eying me) really likes you. After the show come back to our hotel for a little party."

I, having no idea what he was talking about, thought for a minute. "Oh, I can't," I told him. "The last bus leaves at 11:30."

"The last bus?" He was incredulous.

"Yeah, I took the bus here. I can't miss the last bus."

"Instead of coming with us you're gonna catch a bus?" Now he seemed amused.
He shook his head. Charisse giggled a little, as did the other woman.

The concert ended and we parted, me wondering what it had all been about (I'm a little less naive now) and he, no doubt, muttering "crazy white kids" under his breath.

To this day I consider it one of the best concerts I've ever attended. Even though, in retrospect, it appears that I might have missed the best part.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Roll the Dice

My wife's record as a gambler is enviable: she's never lost. At least in a casino.

Years ago we were vacationing in St. Martin, and arrived early for a dinner reservation in a restaurant whose building also housed a casino. With time to kill, my wife's curiosity led us into the casino.

It was tiny and amateurish, compared to American casinos, the equivalent of something you might build in your basement: two short rows of slot machines (maybe 20 in all), one roulette wheel, half a dozen tables for various games. My wife, intimidated by the tables and wheel, approached the slots. She asked how they worked, and I explained.

"Do we have time for me to try one?" "Sure, go ahead."

She inserted a coin and yanked the lever (these weren't the modern electronic machines). The wheels spun. She won nothing. She tried again. Nothing. She tried a third time.

Ding ding ding! Lights flashed, bells rang, and coins began to spill out of the machine and onto the floor, rolling and bouncing around us. My wife began giggling uncontrollably. "I won! I won!"

She gathered up her winnings, which were about $80. 

"What do we do now?" 

"We leave. You just won enough to pay for dinner." 

"But I want to play some more."

"Of course you do. And if you play long enough you'll give it all back. Trust me."

And off we went to dinner. It was all the more tasty for being paid for by gambling winnings. My wife has never been in a casino since and, apparently, hasn't missed it.

Last year for Christmas I bought her a one-year subscription to the lottery's Mega Millions, which meant that she was automatically entered into every drawing (twice a week) for a year. The Maryland Lottery sends you a letter if you've won a larger amount (I think over $1,000), but just adds up your smaller winnings and sends you a check for them at the end of the year.

Every day, of course, I'd run out to the mailbox to see if we'd received that $1,000+ letter. I mentally spent multimillion dollar prizes many times over.

One day there was a letter from the Maryland Lottery, which she eagerly ripped open. Inside was a check for her year's worth of winnings.

$18. We ate dinner at home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sitting In Limbo

On Easter I gave a gift to a stranger that, I believe, made us both happy: she self righteously, me, well...

Two of our children were altar servers at 9 o'clock Mass on Easter morning, so my wife and I went. (I try to go to most of the Masses they serve.) For those who have never been to a Catholic Mass, there are a couple of occasions when the parishioners kneel.

Just as the service was starting, an older woman (70s, maybe) sat next to me. She looked rather severe.

All was fine until the first point during the service when parishioners kneeled. Not being Catholic, I didn't, but remained seated in the pew. She shot me a look.

The second time everyone else kneeled, I again remained seated. She glared at me. She said nothing, but her body language said it all.

I was going to lean over and whisper to her, "I'm Jewish," but I stopped myself. Clearly she was receiving some pleasure by being so disapproving. I was sure she was going to mention my actions (or lack of actions) to someone else later in the day. Who was I to deny her a "tsk, tsk" moment?

When the service ended she gave me one more look before scurrying away. I felt like a heathen. A happy, giving heathen.

I hope she sits next to me the next time I go.

Monday, April 13, 2009

'Tis better to give

Have you ever received a gift that seemed to be more for the giver than for you? This year I received several which semed suspiciojusly driven by self interest.

I only asked for two gifts, and received them both: a home made bookmark from one daughter, and a large ceramic mixing bowl (I'd broken my favorite one) from my wife.

My wife also inexplicably gave me some TV trays, so I could eat dinner while sitting in front of the TV I never watch. (I watch the least TV of anyone in the house by far.) A couple of years ago she gave me a breadmaker, which she used (and loved) sveral tims before I ever got around to doing anything with it. (Since it just broke I'm expecting another as a gift some time soon.)

I tend to receive gifts that the rest of the family wants, but since I really want very little it all works out. My brother-in-law was going to give me one of three books, and since he'd read two he gave me the other, assuming (correctly) that I'd lend it to him once I finished it.

One of my closest friends said he plans to give me some very nice cigars.

I don't smoke. He does.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I occasionally get emails meant for another person with my name, who assume that my first initial and last name at Gmail is this other guy. (My name isn't very common.) Today I received the best email yet.

The subject line consisted of only three letters: "wtf." The opening sentence: "Whatup dude."

I knew right away the email wasn't meant for me.

My other me was wished well (apparently I'm leaving a job or a place, I couldn't tell which). I was asked how long it took me to get used to my CPAP machine, told about a traffic stop where the writer had avoided a ticket, and asked how my wife was doing. (Fine, thanks.)

I was asked if I felt antsy about leaving (no) and told I was missed and that my name was "invoked every time there is free food." I guess that's a compliment.

Then came the heavy stuff: "my unsolicited, uninformed opinion is that you may have a pill addiction and it could possibly be underlying a lot of your issues, at least since Yvonne."

Oh boy, am I in denial. I had no idea I had a bad pill habit. Nor can I quite recall Yvonne. Guess I was so wasted on pills I didn't get her name. Or something.

It gets better: "At the same time, I feel like a HUGE hypocrite telling you that because I really enjoyed the pills you gave me and I wish you were here to give me more."

Now, actually, I think he feels like a huge idiot for sending this email to the wrong person.

I can't wait to see who writes me next. I just get more interesting by the minute.