Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

Archive for the ‘Facts’ Category

Today’s Gladiators – Professional Football Players

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I love the NFL. There’s nothing more exciting to me. After the Super Bowl, I count the days until the Draft, followed by off-season training sessions, then pre-season and the new season. I fear dying before I get enough. It is the coolest and most anticipated thing in my life. When the season starts I am in 7th Heaven. “Lord, I thank you for the NFL.” Give me football on my death bed.

Millions of Americans and people all over the world love the sport. Players sacrifice their bodies and minds for our enjoyment. Billions of dollars are at stake. Players undergo sugeries we have to research on the Internet to understand. A lateral this and a medial lateral that is music to our ears. Living beyond fifty-years-old for an offensive lineman is a luxury, but who cares? We have our sport. Today’s Gladiators provide our entertainment and milk our weaknesses by proxy.

The NFL is a mutli-billion dollar industry. Our stadiums are like the Roman Coliseums. The players are shoved out on the field and we hope to catch a violent hit or two. We are just missing the lions and other beasts tearing flesh from the fighters. If it wasn’t moralistically-challenged, the creatures would play a part. Like the Gladiators, football players are shown the exit door once they have suffered enough injuries or grown too old to be of use to a team (although a Gladiator’s death ended their careers). Winning is everything, and job security is short-lived.

In virtually every sport there is the hope of tragedy. With Nascar, we are waiting for the fiery crash. In hockey we love the fight, where a couple of teeth are knocked out. A knockout in boxing brings with it a cheer from the fans, and tears from the loser’s family. Baseball brawls, with the dugouts emptying on the field are particularly exciting; the more players involved, the more newsworthy the event. An NBA player entering the stands to punch a fan in the mouth gives us goose bumps. Soccer hooligans are damned-near idols in some countries; tearing down fences and trampling spectators. A near-death collision in the NFL is spectacular. We thrive on the violence. Am I wrong?

Every year the NFL winner comes down to which team is the healthiest. When key players are hurt, the whole complexion of a team changes. How many of you relish the thought of your team’s biggest rival losing a player who makes a difference? I’m happy that Tony Romo is hurt, or T. O. is going through a meltdown. It helps the Redskins’ chances. And you are thinking the same thing with regard to the opponent of whichever team you cherish. The most anticipated statistics on Friday are the injury reports.

I’m not apologizing. At times I feel sort of bad hearing the news someone has broken a limb or suffered a season-ending injury that can help my team. But, I don’t feel that bad. If they don’t die, my conscience is off the hook.

We are already finished with half of the season. It will be over soon, and I have to begin the cycle again. Drool is running out the side of my mouth. I only have a couple of months left apologizing to my wife for ignoring her and letting the grass grow too long because it rained on Saturday. Sunday is my domain.

I always justify my love of the NFL by narrowing it down to the fact it is only 16 games, 3 hours each, which really only involves 48 hours. Two days out of 365; unless the Redskins make the playoffs. The math is what it is. Some wives don’t really get it, unless they are into the sport, too. I guess it’s because I watch the other games that can affect the Redskins’ season; crossing my fingers with the hope someone gets hurt.

Hail to the Redskins!!

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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October 28, 2008 at 2:11 pm

3:10 to Yuma – A Movie Review

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Being born in 1950 has at least one benefit. Many of you reading this think “that’s a long time ago, and what could be good about being that old?” Well, it gave me an appreciation of the western movie.

In 1950 the Wild West had only been tamed for about 35 years. The last stage robbery took place in 1916 and Wyatt Earp died in 1929. Forty years ago from this year, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, so thirty-five years in perspective doesn’t seem so long ago.

Some of the best TV shows in the 50s and 60s were Westerns. We had Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne, The Rebel, Bonanza, Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Zorro, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Texan, Bat Masterson, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Have Gun Will Travel, Big Valley, High Chaparral, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, The Virginian, Wanted Dead or Alive, etc. I think you get my point; there were a lot of shows devoted to Cowboys. Go to this website for an extensive listing.

In 3:10 to Yuma the cast gets my attention. I have enjoyed monitoring the career of Christian Bale. He was the kid in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and now he’s the newest Batman. If you had the pleasure of seeing his performance in The New World, you will most likely agree he is very good. He’s “movin’ on up” and it’s based on talent. In this movie he is great as Dan Evans, a rancher who is down on his luck. An Oscar for some performance is probably in his future.

Of course, Russell Crowe is terrific as the bad guy, Ben Wade. Mr. Crowe gets a lot of flack from the press for his “bad boy” ways, but his performance in virtually every movie he makes appears Oscar worthy. Throwing telephones at hotel employees is a bit much, but artists are often somewhat crazed (at least he didn’t cut off one of his ears). By the way, he was born in New Zealand, not Australia.

In my opinion (this is my review) the standout actor in 3:10 to Yuma is Ben Foster. You may have seen him in Boston Public as Max Warner or in the awesome HBO series Six Feet Under as Russell Corwin. In this movie he plays a really creepy, but slick killer, Charlie Prince, and he wears it so well.

Those of you who are familiar with Easy Rider know Peter Fonda, who is in this, too. He’s the son of Henry Fonda and brother of Jane, and even though he has a long career in films, most of which I have enjoyed, I think his greatest accomplishment is the fathering of Bridget. During the 90s she was the “It Girl” in my mind, and her greatest performances for me were in Point of No Return and Singles.

What I liked most about 3:10 to Yuma is the respect Russell Crowe shows for Christian Bale. Russell sees a father trying to impress his son, and willing to take on a job that can only lead to unfortunate circumstances. Bale is part of a group bringing Crowe to the town of Contention on behalf of the railroad he has been robbing, to be transported on the 3:10 train to Yuma for his trial. Bale is paid $200 to risk his life. All along the trail, Crowe’s gang, led by Ben Foster is creating havoc for the group, but Bale is committed to the task, regardless.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what happens. This was my second viewing, and I won’t hesitate to watch it again. If you like westerns, lots of action and very good acting, check it out. Our library has it on the shelf for free. Yours might, too.

“Saddle up, Pardner.”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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October 12, 2008 at 12:40 am

O Phineas, Phineas, Wherefore Art Thou Phineas?

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I’m probably going to Hell, be struck by lightning, or meet a horrible end for this post, but the subject is too freakish for me to avoid. I just can’t help myself.

It would have been interesting to know Phineas Taylor Barnum. Probably every birthday party he gave for his kids included clowns, dwarf piñatas, lots of celebration, and just a damned good time. He was involved in a few nefarious activities, including running numbers, hoaxes and displaying odd humans, referred to as “Freaks, ” and he was considered by many people of his time to be a scoundrel. If you’ve ever attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, you are guilty of being an enabler. Phineas started it, and you bought tickets. I took my kids when they were young, but they spent the whole show counting the number of times the elephants pooped. We didn’t have a chance to see Freaks.

Some of you may be thinking you are “Holier than Thou” and that you look the other way when you see an unusually-figured person (mimes don’t count), but don’t kid yourself and don’t kid me. We all like to see strange things. We pretend not to notice, but the corner of our eye gets stretched as far as possible and at any opportunity, we peek. When was the last time you were stuck in traffic, and the only reason for the delay was rubber-necking? I know you looked. Don’t be ashamed. It’s acceptable to gaze. That’s how Barnum grew rich. He was the first Millionaire Showman. And if it makes you feel any better, the people who were displaying their oddities and/or deformities referred to themselves as “Freaks.” So, you’re off the hook for the curiosity or use of the word.

When I was a kid, my favorite school field trip was to the Medical Museum where we saw fetuses in jars, photos of disfigurements, skeletons, and the Elephantiasis leg (there was a rumor about John Dillinger’s wee wee, but I never saw it). Little did I know at the time that Elephantiasis is caused by a parasitic worm (again with the parasites, Bake) and it demonstrates how vulnerable we are to nature’s invasive activities that cause unwarranted agony.

I recently became aware of the Treeman of Indonesia, aka Dede. This story has been circulating for some time, but it just caught my attention about a month ago (maybe I’ve been “living in a tree or under a log”). Wow! This guy is messed up. And from a human papillomavirus (HPV). He grows these wood-like warts all over his body. His hands and feet resemble tree branches and he has a morbid fear of termites, beavers, woodpeckers and squirrels. The sad thing is his wife left him and he was fired from his job. I assume he was sacked because he couldn’t use his hands or feet and it was impossible to perform any normal task (I suppose they don’t have ADA protection in Indonesia). His wife was probably worried about splinters. Yet, he likes to smoke cigarettes. If I were him, no open flames would get anywhere near me.

There is a fellow in Indonesia, Hani Suwanto (their P. T. Barnum), who along with his assistant, Boy, display Dede and several other people with physical deformities known as the Sadaluk Clan. The Clan includes Dede, Bubble Man and Nose Man as featured performers. Hani thinks of himself more as Walt Disney, with a goal of 100 of these people under one roof. In his mind he is providing a social service for the “performers” who have no other opportunity for income. Before you feel aghast at the exploitation, be aware Dede is OK with it. It’s the only way he can make a living. The Welfare System in Indonesia is not quite as generous as here, so Dede has to work somehow to feed himself and his children, and the circus is the only willing employer. If Barnum was alive today, Dede would be his featured act and he would probably have Huang Chuancai open the show for him.

Alright, I’ve gotten my cheap laughs and perhaps freaked you out just a bit with the pictures displayed here. Click on some of the links (especially Freaks) and feed your amazement. But, the purpose is not really for amusement. I’m fascinated by how unforgiving nature can be. The more we mess around with it the nastier it can get.

The next time you see an abnormal human, think about the suffering they must be experiencing and how fortunate you are to be spared the misery. Working in a circus might pay the bills, but I’m sure it’s not the occupation they had in mind.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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I Went to the Animal Fair; the Germs and the Microbes Were There

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Many of you reading this probably attended the Maryland State Fair, or a fair or festival of some sort this summer; especially if you have children. Ours ran from August 22 through September 1st. It’s always the same number of days ending on Labor Day. My wife and I hadn’t been for several years. This year we were given free tickets from the car dealer where she purchased her auto. Oh boy, free! Gotta go, right? It’s free!!

The Sunday morning before Labor Day we went for a walk to get a little exercise. I enjoy our walks. It gives us some time to talk without interruption, and to share each other’s company. As we strolled I was trying to avoid the subject of the fair, because I really didn’t want to go, initiating conversation about anything I could think of just to keep the chatter going and suppress the thought of the fair. Even though I had agreed to go earlier in the week, it was not an enthusiastic endorsement. Then it came up. “What time do you want to leave for the fair?” she asked. “Do we really have to go?” I whined. “It’s kind of hot now, and later on, it’ll be too hot.” “You don’t want to go?” she asked, in that sort of wife way that tells you she’s annoyed, but not angry. “We don’t do much on the weekend,” she continued. The guilt honed-in and my love of hanging out at home was challenged. As a society we spend about a third of our life sleeping. Another third working. We spend a substantial amount of our income buying a home and equipping it with entertainment and furnishings so we can enjoy our stay. Personally, I want to hang out at my abode. But, I don’t want to be a creep and sloth of a husband, so I agreed to attend the fair. Fun, fun, fun. After all, the tickets are eight dollars each, and we have two, so we’re saving $16.

We left our home about 1:30 to drive the half-hour or so from Eldersburg to Timonium. In my mind I was singing “Our State Fair is a Great State Fair, it’s the Greatest Fair in our State.” It sounds hokey, but I really was (I bet you are right now, too). I’m just glad it wasn’t out loud, because that would be just too corny. Our drive was unimpeded and we made it with ease. The bowling alley across from the Fairgrounds was offering parking for $5.00. Another bargain. We pulled in and parked, and thus far our afternoon was thrifty.

If you are young or have children, the fair can be a grand time. There are rides, treats, animals to pet, things to see, and you can act silly, unencumbered by embarrassment. When you are older, without children, it’s hot, noisy, dirty, stanky, boring, expensive, and the food really isn’t that good. But, the tickets are free, so we become two Old Coots walking around the grounds hoping for some excitement. They don’t even have bumper cars, so what the hell was I supposed to do? “I know, let’s get some bad food.” And the fair has the baddest. Deep fried Twinkies and Oreos? You mean they are not artery-clogging enough, that they have to be dipped in batter, and fried in the grease pit called a fryer? Those cookers have never contained zero-trans fat anything, and I doubt the grease has been cleaned during the entire event, and we were there the next-to-last day. No, thanks. I’ll pass on the “treats.” My mind was tuned to the thought of some lamb. Mmmmm. I like lamb.

The adult food is stationed next to the petting zoo. Nice and sanitary. That’s where you’ll find the pit beef, pork stuff, burgers, turkey legs, chicken parts, and the lamb. There are sanitation stations nearby, and there is the assumption the “chefs” are keeping their appendages clean. One would hope. The food is cooked, even though there’s no guarantee once it’s in the “keep it hot” containers the temperature is high enough to prevent illness. The servers are using utensils, and some are wearing plastic gloves, in compliance with the lenient Board of Health rules. But, the tongs and gloves are used over and over, without cleaning or changing, so we have to trust the heat is high enough to kill anything living within the grub.

My desire for lamb got the best of me. I cozied up to the stall, paid my $6.50 for a lamb wrap (a Gyro in a spinach wrap, rather than a pita, with less sauce) and devoured it standing, while my wife joined the pit beef line. She did have a bite of my wrap to taste it, but apparently missed the bad part. I inhaled my wrap, because it was falling apart and I was concerned about losing it. She brought her $6.00 pit beef sandwich, along with her $2.00 coke over to a table (she’s more sophisticated than me) and we sat down for a short time. Next to us a couple planted their lard asses, violently shaking the table, and began eating a pile of deep fried Oreos. They were both wearing fanny packs, no doubt stuffed with goodies of some type. The wife used a napkin to sop up the food-lube, and I thought, “To what food group does that belong?

We left the fair after a couple of hours playing Hop Scotch with critter feces, and seeing most of the livestock. I have to admit the babies are adorable, when there are a few. I see cows when passing a Chick-fil-A, pigs in any Walmart, chickens in the supermarket, and sheep when trying to go to sleep, so I don’t need to go to the fair. But, the tickets were free. Fun, fun, fun.

This was the beginning of a truly horrifying experience that was developing in my innards unbeknown to me. I’ve written posts about Parasitic Friends and pandemics One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the two guys being given birth, although not considered the source of a pandemic, definitely are not friends. They were intent on mischief and evil.

That evening everything seemed fine. No problems. The next morning (Labor Day) my wife fixed a nice breakfast, which I enjoyed with a few cups of coffee. Still going well. Then around noon I started feeling a bit queasy as the incubation was beginning. I laid down for a nap, skipped lunch and reluctantly anticipated the rib steaks we were to have for dinner. I lounged around on the couch, dozing off occasionally, while trying to watch TV. Eventually dinner was ready, I had a few bites of the steak, wrapped it up as leftovers and went to bed. This was about 7:00; very early to retire for me.

Tuesday morning appeared to be a normal beginning. I felt a little under the weather, but not enough to stay home from work, so I got ready, had some breakfast, packed a lunch and headed to the office. There were a couple of bouts in the mid-morning with bathroom visits, but not an unusual number of sittings for me. Things seemed on par with daily life. At noon I had my sandwich at my desk, all the while feeling a bit groggy, attributing it more to age than illness. Around 2:00, the “boys” took over as I rushed to the latrine, in a state of emergency. I was feeling downright funky. After returning to my office, I packed up my things and left without saying anything to anyone, because I was feeling putrid. I drove home, clenching all the way, and made it to the potty (think Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber). My dog was sitting outside the door because I had not properly greeted her upon my entrance. Little did I know at the time, she was in for a lengthy stay with Daddy. I changed into my home clothes and laid on the couch for a nap, and Holly joined me.

The “boys” made it impossible to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time without a bathroom rush. I was popping generic Imodium like mints, but no relief was given. Eventually I read the label and realized the limit is four per day. Eight had already been consumed on Tuesday. The pill popping had to stop. It wasn’t working, anyway. I was drinking G2, Powerade Zero and water in “beer bong-style” gulps, hoping not to become too dehydrated, but it seemed nothing could stop the assault on my body. The exhaustion was overwhelming and frankly I thought I was dying. It continued into Wednesday.

Wednesday morning the first thing on my mind was Gene Upshaw (not to mention the wallpaper in the bathroom), who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Sunday, August 17th and died on Wednesday, August 20th. He was only five years older than me, so I was worried I might be next. The difficulty I was experiencing was worse than any other episode in the past. What little time I could muster to stay awake was used to delete files on my computer and organize my passwords for my survivors. The same routine (by now it was routine) from the previous day continued into Thursday.

Thursday morning I called my doctor’s office and they were able to fit me in at 4:00. By the time I arrived for the appointment, I was sweating profusely. The intervals were now about every hour, so I didn’t have an emergency situation in her office. While I was signing in, practically laying my head on the counter, the receptionist made sure I had my $10 co-pay. “No problem, I’ll give you my house for a cure.” After examination, “Doc” surmised it was something I ate, and she gave me a lab form to get the vials for samples. On the form she wrote the word Giardia, which at the time made no sense to me. I asked if there was anything she could give me to halt the deluge, but she said not until it is determined what was attacking me. So, I obediently went to the lab, got the necessary equipment (eight vials) and returned home to continue my suffering.

About 3:00 AM Friday morning I collected the samples, and started searching on the Internet for Giardia. It is such a common parasite, I’m surprised I had escaped its wrath until now. Based on my symptoms I self-diagnosed that my doctor’s suspicion was correct. Since she couldn’t prescribe anything, the Imodium wasn’t doing the trick, and a large cork was out of the question, I searched for natural remedies. Goldenseal Root and Garlic were mentioned in several different articles. After making my lab delivery around 10:00 AM, I mosied on over to GNC and bought a bottle of Goldenseal Root for $15.99 and Odorless Garlic for $12.99. And guess what? By Saturday morning, I started feeling better. Now, many of you may think it just ran its course. Everything I read indicates Giardiasis untreated lasts about two – three weeks. I’m convinced I “nipped it in the butt” with a natural remedy.

Here‘s the best part. My doctor called me on Wednesday — which was five days after dropping off the samples — to give me the results. “Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news.” she joked. “I guess the bad news,” I replied. “Well, you have two things, Giardia and Clostridium difficile (C. diff).” I knew about Giardia because I had just researched it, but the other condition was puzzling. “So, what’s the good news?” I asked. “We have one pill that can get rid of them both,” she said. “If you were older the C. diff could have been an even more serious problem. And you must have gotten both from the State Fair.” C. diff is sometimes rampant in hospitals among older patients. I guess I was lucky. Now, I’m taking Metronidazole three times a day for ten days.

The next time you want to attend a fair to see cute and cuddly animals, keep in mind the possibility of illness. I probably won’t go again, but if we are fortunate enough to get free tickets, I’m going shopping for a new outfit. Since this fair cost me $42.48 net (plus time off from work), I’ll have to factor in the cost of the new clothes for the next event.

I should’ve had baked fish.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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September 13, 2008 at 6:32 am

Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?

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In August of 1973 I began attending Prince George’s Community College, while living in Imperial Gardens Apartments in Suitland, MD. After being discharged from the Air Force in February, I had been through an attempt to sell pots and pans and one season of driving a Good Humor truck. Now it was time to start working on an education. After several months of growing my hair and beard, my Hippie Wannabe look was beginning to take form. You may recall in my Good Humor post I mentioned how several of the Ice Cream Men drove a taxi in the off season. I was glad they directed me to this particular occupation. Since I was also attending summer classes, there would be no further Ice Cream Man duties. Hacking was my immediate future until graduation.

Cab driving proved to be rather lucrative. The Government paid me $388 a month on the G. I. Bill to be a full-time student, and I rented a cab on the weekends from the Bluebird/Yellow/Suburban Cab Company in Marlow Heights, netting between $150 – $200. Working on New Year’s Eve was usually worth an additional $100 – $150 for the night. I was averaging over $1,000 a month, tax free (please don’t tell Uncle Sam), which was a tidy sum back then. It was enough to support my wife and two tots (aged 1 and almost 3), and allowed for the occasional bottle of Boone’s Farm, Bali Hai, Ripple, or a six pack of Black Label. Whenever school was closed for a holiday or snow emergency, I rented a hack and spent the day driving, and studying on the cab stand during slow periods. It was the ultimate temporary profession.

Most of you probably have in your mind the stereotype of the taxi drivers in most cities, who can’t speak English, or feign misunderstanding to drive you out of the way, and run up the meter. In 1973, the drivers were primarily American who spoke and understood English. But, in defense of today’s cabbies, we weren’t getting constantly mugged and ripped off by passengers, as seems to be so prevalent now. Sure, there was the occasional robbery and the passenger who jumped out without paying, but not to the extent it is today. Those most desperate for work tend to gravitate toward the danger and hassle, because no one else will do it. Cut the drivers a break when criticizing their lack of language skills, if you don’t mind. You’re lucky they are there when you need the ride.

“Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?” That’s the call from the dispatcher over the two-way radio putting out a job in the Marlow Heights section. How it worked was the first cab in line sitting on the Marlow Heights stand, located in front of the Giant Food/Steak in a Sack in the Marlow Heights Shopping Center, was given the job. Why the phrase was uttered twice, I’ll never know. Maybe it was to be sure we heard him. If there was no cab on the stand, the dispatcher called “Marlow 1st,” and any driver who was empty in section could bid on the job. The one closest to the fare would get it. “Marlow 2nd” was the next call if no one was empty in section. In this case, the taxi had to be in Marlow, dropping someone off or out of section empty. The closest to the location of the passenger won. Then if it went to “Marlow, Marlow,” which was the final call, and the first driver to bid got the fare.

Recently I met with some folks who grew up in Marlow Heights. The website in the highlighted link is run by Chuck Fraley. He organizes get-togethers of people who were youngsters in the area during the 60s and 70s. I discovered Chuck’s site while doing research for my Blog, and I’m glad I did. The group met at the Steak in a Sack for a terrific meal that brought back memories of the many sandwiches (basically a steak and cheese in a pita) I ate during my tenure as a cabbie from 1973 – 1976. Chuck was all “retroed-out” in his Banlon shirt, Macs and Chucks with the colored shoe laces. He really works to “Keep the Memories Alive!”

We had several taxi stands in the area. There was the one at the Prince George’s Motel, called “The PG,” which was across the street from Iverson Mall, where I sold shoes at Baker’s in 1967. We had a stand in Suitland at the Scot’s gas station (I forget what it was called). In Temple Hills we were on a dirt lot at the corner of Brinkley and Temple Hills Road, called (now stick with me on this), “The Dirt.” Those clever guys. Then there was the stand outside Andrews Air Force Base at the Ramada Inn called (sing in unison), “The Ramada.” By far the busiest stand was The Marlow. After moving to Greenbelt in 1975, I worked out of the Hyattsville office, and my favorite stand was at the Little Tavern on Route 1, right outside the University of Maryland campus (I was a Maryland student at this point). The reason I liked that location so much was not just because of the great little burgers, but its name. It was called “The Ritz.” Someone had a sense of humor in naming that one.

Most people these days are moaning and groaning about the price of gasoline; how it’s cutting into their budgets, and causing them to forego the extra Starbucks coffee or chocolate bar, just to keep their heads above water. Try having no gas when you are driving for a living. On October 17, 1973, just a couple of months after I started hacking, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to get even with the Western world for their support of Israel. Their plan to use oil as a weapon, by making it difficult to obtain, was secretly negotiated in August, in preparation of Egypt and Syria’s united assault of Israel. Both countries launched their attack on October 6th (Yom Kippur), and it was the beginning of the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

Fine and dandy for them, but my family had to eat and the Oil Embargo was not a welcome addition to my lifestyle. Sitting in line waiting for gas, and running out of gas while waiting, was not a particular thrill. It was irritating. In one instance, I was lucky enough to get a big fare going to Glen Burnie. The good news was I got a lot of cash for the trip. The bad news was I ended up hitchhiking, holding an empty Clorox container (it was in the trunk in case of an emergency), to get to a station and wait in line, so I could fill up the jug and get back to my taxi, with just enough gas to find another line that I could join and eventually fill up the car. Hitching a ride with long hair and a beard (two more months of growth), wearing jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and my old Air Force fatigue jacket, isn’t a particularly appealing look to passers by. The addition of the Clorox bottle to my ensemble gave some people the impression I was a bum. My Hippie Wannabe look was transformed into Hobo Chique. It was a killer look, and I don’t mean in the sense of hot and sexy, I mean killer in the sense of homicidal. Fortunately a real Hippie stopped in his VW bus and drove me around to get the bottle filled and back to my cab. Kindred Spirits. “Peace, Brother. Groovy.”

One result of the Oil Embargo was the proliferation of self-service islands at gas stations. Although the first self-service station was opened in 1947 by George Urich, they didn’t really catch on. In fact many states banned them due to concerns about the elimination of jobs, and distrust of the inexperienced motorist spraying the ground (and possibly other customers) with petrol or driving away and ripping a hose off the pump. After the crisis that occurred in ’73, and the subsequent spike in gas prices that resulted, stations began offering the choice of full-service at one price and self-service at a lower cost. Still, many states didn’t allow self-service stations, but as we all know, today they are prevalent everywhere except New Jersey and Oregon. Additionally, the many incarnations of forced increased mileage legislation grew out of the Embargo.

Aside from the gas crisis, I enjoyed driving a cab, usually working the night shift because there were fewer drivers to compete with, and fewer old ladies with eight bags of groceries to be lugged to their sixth floor apartment, who only took the cab a few blocks, which meant a low fare, small tip, a lot of time spent, and losing my place in line at the stand. If I did work during the day, I avoided The Marlow, opting to drive around on the edge of several sections at once so I could “stretch my hood” when a job came out. If there was no cab on the stand of a particular section and it went to 1st call, I would make up a location in that section, hoping no other cab could see me. Any time a driver got caught fibbing he was cut off the air for an hour. If I was lucky enough there was no other cab closer to the job, I would get it, which meant I had to hurry, so as not to be discovered. A long delay in picking up a passenger, when I was supposedly nearby, was a dead giveaway. But, we could always use the excuse we had a bathroom emergency on the way.

Marlow Heights is fairly close to Andrews Air Force Base. Andrews is where Air Force One, the plane used by the President, is housed. There was always a “Press” plane as part of the entourage whenever the President went on trips. Although there were several reporters privileged enough to accompany the President on Air Force One, most of them flew on the Press plane. And, many of them ordered taxi service to get them into Washington and Northern Virginia once their plane landed. Our dispatcher would give us notification that several cabs would be needed in the Andrews section, so those who wanted the fares would go and sit on The Ramada at the appropriate time in anticipation of a pretty decent trip. The passengers were usually interesting, talkative (after drinking on the plane) and tipped well. I had the pleasure of carrying Connie Chung, Pierre Salinger and Garry Trudeau on separate occasions.

But, the best part of driving a hack was practicing my “Chicken Call.” There was a driver whose last name was Abel. I forget his first name because they always just called him Abel. He was a full-time cabbie who worked during the morning hours to make enough money to go to the racetrack in the afternoon and bet on the horses. There were several guys who drove to bet. Then after the races were over, if they lost they’d come back out on the street and work several hours, or if they won they wold take the rest of the day off. Abel was kind of a cut-up and the dispatchers liked him. My task was to cackle like a chicken over the radio, and I am very good. What was so much fun about the “Chicken Call” was the dispatcher always blamed Abel. My original intention was just to cluck for fun, but when they started yelling at Abel, it became a pretty good game. Sometimes I would continue on until the dispatcher was irritated to the point of threatening to cut Abel off the air. And Abel wasn’t even working. We had different dispatchers at different times, and they always blamed Abel. I got a real chuckle out of it, and it beat studying while sitting on a stand.

I often think about what it would be like to drive a cab today, but I’m sure it would not be as entertaining as then. I’m not even sure Abel is still alive, but if I were ever to cross his path again, I’d confess to the “Chicken Call,” just to see his expression.

“Who’s on the Coop, the Coop?”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Who Left the Red Barn Door Open?

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It was 1966. I was 16 at the time and a big fan of the emerging fast food craze. McDonald’s was taking off, and we had a place named Burger Shack on Marlboro Pike, near the Hillside Drive-in Theater, selling yummy hamburgers for fifteen cents a pop. I loved Fridays, because my mother often brought home Burger Shack dinner, which included hamburgers, fries and shakes. So, I thought the best way to get a constant supply of burgers was to go to work for the new place called Red Barn that had recently opened in Coral Hills. Although the goal was to gorge myself on free eats, I had fallen upon a pretty decent job.

Red Barn was a really good chain that was started in the early 60s in Ohio, whose first Franchisee was Harry Barmeier. At its peak they had around 400 restaurants in 22 states, as well as Canada and Australia. What I liked about Red Barn that was different from McDonald’s, was they sold fried chicken. My mother grew up in Southern Virginia, so fried chicken was one of the foods I learned to love. I still do, but have to abstain because of the cholesterol problems we know about now, that we didn’t hear about then.

I was on the night shift, which went until closing. Our shift manager was a fellow named John. He was all of 19, but was still the boss. John was on his way up the Corporate ladder, yet he was very down to earth. We often messed around with him. He drove a dark blue Karmann Ghia that usually started, but sometimes did not. John had a rather weak stomach.

Our french fries were made from scratch, using a potato peeling machine and slicer. We blanched the fries and put them in the cooler for frying when needed. There was a product called Stay Fresh we used to keep them from spoiling. It probably caused health problems, but what the hell did we know in 1966? I couldn’t find anything on the Internet about it, but I would guess it was somehow related to MSG. When Stay Fresh was sprinkled in milk shake mix, it had a foul smell. One of our pranks was to take a bit of shake mix, drop a little Stay Fresh in it, and ask John to take a whiff and let us know if the mix was OK to use. The smell never failed to make him vomit. And we laughed our asses off. Sometimes John would have a drink set aside for himself, and we would add a little Stay Fresh to it when he wasn’t looking. Once he took a sip, he was a goner. It got to the point where we would just tell him it was in his drink (even though it wasn’t) and he would barf. Quite the chuckles for us punks.

My favorite task at Red Barn was to work the grill. Cooking the hamburgers, fries and chicken made me feel like a chef. It kept my Ichabod Craneish persona (picture Ric Ocasek with zits and a paper garrison cap) away from the customers, and I preferred to avoid their whiny orders, anyway. Working the counter usually ticked me off, but running the grill gave me command of the entire process.

The policy of Red Barn was to allow us to have free fried chicken only on Wednesdays and Sundays. But, we were more clever than they thought. At the end of the evening, any leftovers were fair game for our gluttonous ways. Around 10:00 PM, we would drop a load of chicken in the fryer, knowing it couldn’t be sold by the time we closed, leaving us with quite a bit of waste, that either had to be thrown away or consumed. John usually looked the other way, and we had chicken on whatever day we wanted.

Robbery of fast food restaurants was a fairly new phenomenon. During my time at Red Barn, we got hit twice. Once, a guy came in while I was cleaning the grill, hunched down near me to avoid being seen from the window, pointed a gun and yelled, “Where’s the money?” It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening, and I just said, “It’s in the back.” He was anxious and ran into the back of the store, while I took a moment to gather myself. Then it dawned on me what was going on. I shook for awhile and stood still, then figuring he was gone, went in the back looking for the rest of the crew. No one was around, so I worried a bit, then opened the walk-in refrigerator. Everyone inside instinctively put their hands in the air until they realized it was me, and John asked, “Is he gone?” Since no one was bleeding we figured he was. John then called the police. What the gunman didn’t realize was the cash registers had not been reconciled, so “The money was in them.” Robber Man did get away with the petty cash box, escaping with about $35.00. A big haul, and perhaps a couple of nights of drinking, or one fix of whatever drug he probably abused.

The second attempted heist was just this side of ridiculous. Often times after we closed, our activities included a drive to Guys and Dolls pool hall in Silver Hill, for an early morning round of pocket billiards, or a jaunt to Waldorf to throw our wages away in the slot machines that were legal at the time. This particular evening John was going to drive a few of us to Waldorf. We closed the store, and started piling into his Ghia, when we heard, “Give me the money!” We looked around to see where from the voice originated and saw what appeared to be a gun peeking out from the fence behind the store, with the “criminal” hiding in the bushes. The Karmann Ghia wouldn’t start, so we pushed it with John using the driver’s door as a shield, as we backed out of the parking space, snickering all the way. After popping the clutch, the car started, and we drove away from the “bad guy,” and headed to Waldorf. Our subsequent laughter was probably a combination of fear and relief that this particular robbery attempt was committed by a fool. We survived for another day of french fry blanching and terrorizing John.

My stint at Red Barn gives me fond memories. I’m not quite sure what happened with John’s career, but being the kind, gentle soul he was, I would guess he fared well (unless a Corporate audit revealed our chicken thievery). I tend to think if people are good, good things come of it. Since I don’t remember his last name, I can’t Google him to see where he might be (just entering John brought about 1,040,000,000 results). But, the last Red Barn franchising leases expired around 1986, so I can assume he has left the night shift.

I just hope wherever John is, he has a reliable car.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Coral Hills Red Barn Today

My Grandpa, the Shriner

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I always thought the hats were funny. Now, I’m not so sure. The miniature cars go well with the toppers. You have to be special to look silly.

My Grandfather was a Shriner. He appeared to enjoy it; but as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention. When my Mother and I went to the funeral in 1982, the honor of his participation showed through. The podium featured the logos of the Freemasons and Shriners, and eulogies from both groups. Wow, Henry was a Freemason. They are the world’s largest fraternity. To me that’s kind of a big deal.

Henry Sussman (Heinrich Süssmann) wasn’t a rich guy or a man with connections. His family left Germany in 1900 to settle in Pennsauken, NJ, and on October 10, 1903 Henry was born; the only one of his siblings conceived in the USA. He grew up to become a loom mechanic and shift supervisor for Belding Hemingway, who in the 30s and 40s was manufacturing silk thread. His father and he went to Lynchburg, VA to open a plant for the company, and at some point Henry moved to Bedford, VA to help open another facility. Eventually the company made a decision to switch from producing thread to the manufacture of fiberglass fibers. Occupational disease became an issue with the employees, who developed illnesses from the product, causing the demise of the Bedford location. But, Henry eked out a decent living for the time; back when “blue collar” meant you made enough to live. He raised my Mom as a single parent and things turned out grand. Knowing he was a Freemason piques my interest.

Throughout history, there have been quite a few Freemasons who were famous and influential. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and Colonel Sanders were Freemasons. I’m not sure Freemasonry had anything to do with the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the secrecy of the Society probably contributed to the Colonel keeping his Original Recipe® of 11 secret herbs and spices under wraps. To this day, we still don’t know how the bird is dressed. Phrases like “Level with him,” “Be square,” and “The Third Degree” all originated with Freemasons. They are very important in our history, whether or not we are aware.

Red Skelton, John Wayne, Danny Thomas and Harry Truman were Shriners. I can picture Red Skelton wearing the funny hat, but not John Wayne. Being a Freemason doesn’t necessarily lead to Shrinerism, but to join the club, you must first be a Freemason and make it all the way to Master Mason. Check out this list of famous Shriners, and you might be impressed.

Shriners always look like they’re having fun. I bet they are. Helping kids is a heart-warming thing. Then there are the meetings, parades, conventions and all sorts of activities that keep the mind abuzz. And don’t forget . . . the little cars. You never hear of them causing any problems in the hotels or towns where they are holding conventions (news of Shriners throwing televisions out of hotel windows is minimal). They seem to be well behaved, upstanding citizens.

Because of my renewed interest in my Grandfather, I recently inquired about joining the Shriners, not understanding the necessary steps. At my age, I will be dead before qualifying. They were kind in not laughing at my naivete, and directed me to the Freemasons. Then I found out you don’t just join. You have to be recommended. Since, the only person I know who was a Freemason/Shriner died in 1982, it seems a difficult task. My interest will probably dwindle soon, but if there is a Freemason out there who is interested in recruiting a new member with a connected ancestor, give me a call. Better yet, send an email to Bake My Fish.

Henry Sussman was a pretty good guy. Whenever he came to visit my family, particularly on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he always brought me liverwurst (I was the only one in my family who liked it) and Land O’ Lakes butter (Mom preferred margarine). And, my mother always cooked a pot of Spareribs and Sauerkraut, which was his favorite. He loved me, and I loved him. Now that I know Henry even better, I love him more.

“Rest im Frieden, Heinrich Süssmann. Du warst ein guter Mann.” When we meet again, I’ll bring the Spareribs and Sauerkraut. Just make sure you leave my name at the gate, because Saint Peter may not let me in without a referral.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

July 20, 2008 at 12:01 am