Thursday, August 30, 2007

Barker On A Walking Charlie - Part 3

Step right up! THREE parts to the story, but all you have to do is read just ONE to be a WINNER! Read Part One and learn what a Walking Charlie is! Read Part Two and learn what a barker does! Then read Part Three (Right here in front of you – No travel necessary!) and learn the fate of Walking Charlie! You, pal! Yes, I’m talking to YOU! You look like an EXCELLENT reader! I bet you can knock off all THREE parts in no time flat! And, today only – JUST FOR YOU – no admission is required! Step right up!

It was called a Walking Charlie, but it went all over New England via the wheels of my Dad’s 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. Open highway, local streets, dirt roads, cow paths, uphill, downhill – nothing stopped Walking Charlie.

Especially going downhill.

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to buy a 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, you should do so. That car was an absolute beast. It hauled that 28-foot trailer everywhere and lived to tell the tale. The only recommendation I’d make is, if you intend to haul around a 28-foot trailer, you have the brakes fully rebuilt before taking to the road. Otherwise, you may find yourself traveling on the downhill through Franconia Notch with no way to stop.

I don’t remember what fair we were coming from (Littleton?) or what fair we were traveling towards (Plymouth?) but there we were traveling through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. If you’re not familiar with the region, I’ll tell you that it’s one of the highest elevations in the state. It’s situated smack dab in the middle of the White Mountains, boasting some magnificent scenery, and it’s a wonderful place to take a pleasure drive. Hauling a 28-foot trailer uphill with a 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon? Not as pleasurable.

My Dad was one of the world’s greatest drivers, no lie. Give him a starting point and a destination, equip him with any sort of a motor vehicle, and then get out of his way. He would get there or die trying. Snow, rain, hail, plagues of frogs falling from the skies – he didn’t care. No actual road? Not a problem. Given a clear day and an actual stretch of state highway, he considered the laws of physics no impediment, either.

The Ford strained and groaned, and the transmission may have shed a few tears, but Walking Charlie was successfully transported up to the top of The Notch. It was all downhill from there.


As we cleared the top and headed down, my Dad found that Walking Charlie was pushing him down the hill, rather than he pulling it. We were picking up speed way too fast. My Dad lightly applied the brakes. No difference. He put his foot down a bit harder. Nothing. He put the brakes to the floor. We slowed to about 40 miles per hour, but that was it. We could smell the brake lining smoking. He downshifted, keeping the brake pedal to the floor, ready to apply the emergency brake as a last resort.

There was enough reduction in speed, and enough steering control overall, to make application of the emergency brake unnecessary, but it was a close call. For a good five minutes, Walking Charlie was RUNNING down a mountain with us in front, praying. The prayers were answered, but it probably cost my Dad a couple of years off of his life.


Most of the other bad times with Charlie happened when it was parked. I’ll tell you about a couple of the more memorable ones.

You’ll recall that the marks had to break a coffee mug in order to win a prize. It was a fair and honest game, albeit a tough one. We never considered what would happen if a baseball thrown by a customer actually hit one of the mugs and the mug didn’t break. We just assumed a baseball HAD to break a mug if it hit it.

One day, at a very crowded venue, this big burly guy strode up to the game and bought three baseballs for a quarter. He wound up and fired a fastball that would have made Roger Clemens envious. I mean, it was a fireball, and thrown just 30 feet or so from his target, remember. Well, the ball struck a coffee mug square on the bottom of the mug – the thickest part of the mug – and the mug just spun around wildly on the hook in the dummy’s ear, not even cracking.

The guy started yelling, “What the fuck? This game is impossible to win! I couldn’t have hit that thing any harder if I walked up to it and swung a bat at it. What the fuck!”

Well, we were just as amazed as he was. A small crowd had gathered in response to his yelling and they were now wondering just what the hell kind of con this game was. Sizing up the situation in a flash, My Dad quickly assured the guy that hitting the mug counted, even if the mug didn’t break.

That calmed him down and seemed to satisfy the crowd, too. The guy wound up and fired the next ball. SMASH! He splintered a mug. Then he threw the third, thankfully missing the mark and only costing us a teddy bear instead of a Giant Panda. I congratulated him and handed him the bear. He asked me to hold onto it for now, and he bought three more balls. He wanted the panda, not a teddy bear.

He missed three times. He bought three more, and now so did a couple of other people. The crowd was growing. His having hit the mug and NOT broken it was turning into a good thing for us.

Long story short – he ended up buying about five dollars worth of baseballs and didn’t hit another cup with even ONE of them. He sheepishly claimed his teddy bear and walked away. We made a good buck that day.


You know, I’ve told you about a couple of good days, and you might be getting the idea – as my Dad had in the beginning – that this was relatively easy money waiting to be earned. It wasn’t. The life of a carnie, even a successful one, isn’t easy. The guys who own the games and depend on them for a living, year in and year out, deprive themselves of many things my Dad just wasn’t willing to do without.

For instance, many carnies don’t pay for lodging. They camp out in their rigs, or in their games. My Dad might have thought about that, but I don’t think he would have done it for long, even if I wasn’t with him. What with my being there, we always slept in real beds. He always tried to get us a room in an inexpensive motel, but a motel it was, not a sleeping bag in the back of a truck.

And many carnies subsist on carnie food. They eat hot dogs, pizza, fried dough and not much else. This is because the folks who run the food stands will always give a free one to their fellow carnies. Many times, I went over to the slush stand on a hot day and got an ice-cold one to enjoy. But, my Dad? He liked good food, well-prepared. He wasn’t averse to junk occasionally, but he wouldn’t spend a whole summer eating nothing but crap. We ate at decent restaurants many times.

Well, those things add up. DON’T sleep in a motel and DON’T eat a decent supper? That’ll save you $30 in those days and that meant $150 - $200 a week to a carnie. And that meant one less day until he made back his nut.

As hard as my Dad worked at it - and he worked tremendously hard – he just wasn’t cut out to be a carnie. And that’s basically why Walking Charlie died. My Dad was willing to work hard, but he wasn’t willing to change his personality.

The fellow who ran the muffin pan game had talked him into this. But that guy had the gorilla gag, the Monte Carlo nights, and other barely-reputable activities to fall back on if any ONE of them failed. What my Dad didn’t realize going in was that he would have just the one – Walking Charlie – and, if he didn’t make a go of that, he'd be dead in the water.

Glub, glub, glub.


Carnies can be funny, albeit roughly so. Their humor tends to run to the ribald side of things. Hey, so does mine, sometimes. Anyway, I’ll tell you about one funny stunt they pulled on my Dad, but I have to set the scene.

Aside from barking, there were two other duties I had. One was retrieving the baseballs that had been thrown and then bringing them back up to the front to be purchased again. The other was to hang new cups on the dummies ears after a few had been broken.

In order to hang the new cups, I had to go around to the other side of the game – the back of the trailer – where my Dad had installed a small door for access. I would step through that door and be inside of Walking Charlie.

There was a divider between the front of the game and the back, so I didn’t have to worry about being hit by the thrown baseballs. Also, the person working the front of the game couldn’t see his partner when he was in the back. The dummies were still traveling by, perched on the poles by which they were attached to the turntable. You had to be careful when inside because a bit of daydreaming meant you’d get whacked very hard on the legs by one of the dummies. I got so I could time it well. I’d wait for a dummy to come, hop over his pole, then reach out and hang the cup on his ear, wait to jump the next pole, and so on.

Anyway, one time I’m back there hanging cups when a couple of ride operators showed up at the little door. These guys ran the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel. They were friendly enough and I knew them pretty well, so I thought nothing much of it. However, when I made eye contact with them, they were both smiling broadly. Each held an upraised finger to his lips, signaling that I should be quiet. They were each holding a brown paper bag in their other hand.

I stepped outside of the machine and one of them said, “We’re gonna play a little joke. Don’t let on.”

I said, “You’re not going to screw with the machinery or anything, right?”

“God, no, nothing like that, kid. Go back out front. You’ll laugh.”

So, I went back out front and resumed barking and selling baseballs. A minute later, while my Dad and I were facing the midway and trying to draw customers, a mother came by shepherding her three kids along. She looked our way and her eyes went wide for a moment, then she let out a little shriek and hurried her kids away, trying to shield their eyes.

My Dad and I looked at each other. We saw nothing out of the ordinary. We weren’t matinee idols, but we weren’t ugly enough to make a woman want to hide her children from us, either. Then we both turned and looked at Walking Charlie.

Every one of the dummies was sporting a huge dildo in the appropriate spot of their anatomy.

My father said, “Holy shit!” and scrambled around to the back of the machine. He performed radical surgery on Walking Charlie, removing all six dicks in about twenty seconds. Meanwhile, I was on the ground out front, laughing.

The guys who had “improved” the dummies then came out of hiding and started laughing, too. My Dad came back around to the front. At first, he was totally pissed off, but then he quickly realized that he had been had, so HE started laughing, too.

The only one not laughing was the lady who had shrieked. She was now coming back up the midway accompanied by a cop.

We all clammed up, stifling any impulse to laugh. We tried to appear as though nothing was out of the ordinary. The lady and the cop stopped a few feet from Walking Charlie – she had left her kids in a place safe from inadvertent rubber penis sightings, I guess – and they both just stared at the now completely sexless dummies. After seeing all of the dummies go by two or three times, the cop looked at her, shrugged his shoulders, and turned to go back from wherever he came. She followed, bewildered.

Little did she know: If she had asked the cop to check the BACK of the game, he would have found a pile of six schlongs by the door, which is where my Dad had dropped them after making eunuchs out of the dummies.


This is getting pretty long, and I want to wrap up the history of Walking Charlie, but I can’t stop without telling you about Barton, Vermont.

Barton is only about ten miles from the Canadian border and was, at that time anyway, stupefyingly rural. It was easily the most backwater stop of our journeys. There were – no exaggeration – people riding into this fair on muleback, toting jugs of moonshine.

Our spot was right across the midway from the biggest attraction at this fair, the girlie show. It was raw stuff, populated by women who couldn’t quite make it as either dancers or hookers. They did the next best thing, combining their inadequacies in both fields and coming up with an amalgam that neither titillated nor entertained, all for two bucks.

In order to draw the perverts, loudspeakers blared out Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll, Part Two, which was relatively new at the time. I loved that song at home. And I really dug it in Barton, too - the first 150 times I heard it. By the end of the engagement, I could have gone the rest of my life never hearing it again and been a marvelously happy man. I still shudder a tiny bit whenever some of it creeps into my hearing from a televised sporting event.

Out in front, before the show, the girls writhed slowly, chewing gum and otherwise looking completely bored, as the barker made his pitch.

“Come on, all you Frenchmens! This is what you been waiting for all year. Two dollars, two measly dollars, and vwolah, sexy sexy girls, girls, girls! We pallee-voo, you Frenchmens! Whoop-de-doo! Come on, all you Frenchmens!”

And the damned French Canadians ate it up by the bucket. They streamed over the border in droves to witness this godforsaken spectacle. The tent was jammed, day in and day out. And, I’ve got to admit, I didn’t see too many of those “Frenchmens” leaving the tent without a smile. Not too many of them interested in taking a shot at winning a Giant Panda, though.


Walking Charlie was a noble failure. My Dad ended up selling the whole rig – the trailer, lights, plush, baseballs, leftover mugs, signs, and the heartache – to a fellow who planned on installing it on the boardwalk at Nantasket beach, so it wasn’t a total loss. However, my Mom and Dad, as I mentioned previously, were divorced not too long after Charlie came off the road. Walking Charlie wasn’t the fellow who broke them up, but he certainly hadn’t helped matters.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Barker On A Walking Charlie - Part 2

We’ll continue the story in just a moment. However, because of something my Mom said in a comment on the first part of this story, I need to give you (and her) an explanation. Here’s what she said:

"Don't forget that your mom put a lot of sweat equity into dear old Charlie. I can remember being in the car pulling that trailer up some mountain pass when it would start swaying from side to side and nearly dump us over the edge."

Well, as much as this might be disheartening to my Mom, I have to be honest and say that, if anything, I only vaguely remember her being on the road with us that summer. I can conjure no concrete memories of this adventure other than those where I am solely in the company of my Dad. She’s probably more correct in her general memories than I am in mine. For instance, the brochure pictured at the top of this page was no doubt saved by her, not me or my Dad.

The time period from around the advent of Walking Charlie, until a couple of years after I graduated high school, was an extended period of generally low mental health for me. I was having a tough go of it at school for the first time ever, I really did NOT want to be on the road with the carnival, and not too long after this story, my Mom and Dad got divorced, which in turn led to my having to take care of my father’s mental health, for a year or so, as he descended into a period of almost suicidal funk.

Don’t get me wrong. There certainly were a lot of good times in these years – I’ve chronicled quite a few of them here already, and more will follow – but the point is that I might have a lot of blank spots in my memory from then. We tend to reconstruct some of our more painful times, in memory, and build up a past that seems extremely true to us, but may not be so to the others who were with us. And I fear that this is one of those times. I do have some very distinct memories, and those are what I intended to write up, but when confronted with something such as my Mom’s assertion that she was there for a major part of this, I have to be honest and say that I’m drawing mostly a blank.

Sorry, Mom.

To further elucidate concerning my Mom's probable correctness in memory and my lack of same, I'll tell you that, for most of the stories from this time period of the early 70's, I have had to consult many sources outside of my head to confirm dates and whatnot. I was completely at a loss, for instance, as to the year of Walking Charlie. Seeing the brochure, and some other small bits of memorabilia (again, most likely saved by my Mom) was the only way for me to know for sure that it was 1972 and that I was 15.

Having said all of this, I don’t know how to easily segue back into the story I had planned to tell. The only thing to do is just hop back into it, I suppose, and ask my Mom to forgive me if she finds that I’ve inadvertently left her out of any scene she was actually a part of. Please feel free to fill in the blanks, Mom, in the comments, as you see fit.

(If it’s any consolation - and I’m certainly hoping it is – I’m awfully glad you’re here NOW, Mom. It's better than just having memories of you then. How’s that?)


When last we left Walking Charlie, my Dad was ready to hook the 28-foot trailer up to his station wagon and take it on the road with the carnival. First, though, he had to hire a barker.

That’s me! WOOF! WOOF!

I have to be totally honest with you – as much as my now-admittedly-faulty memory allows – and tell you that I wasn’t the only barker my Dad had during the life of Walking Charlie. I was the principal one, doing about 2/3 of the dates, but there were others. The carnival season ran from late spring to mid-autumn in New England. I wasn’t available to go on the road until school let out, and I had to leave the road when school resumed.

More honesty: I had little desire to be a barker. I trot the experience out into conversation now, spiffing it up all nice and shiny, and it makes a good story, but all I wanted to do that summer was what I did every summer of my life up to that point – loaf. I wanted to hang out in the neighborhood with my friends, play some ball, sleep late, watch TV, maybe read a book or two. I didn’t want to be working long hours on the road, for my father or anybody else.

(I look back now, at the amazing amount of work he put into this endeavor, and I’m fairly ashamed at my lack of spark. I was nowhere near the worker I should have been. I was there physically, but mentally I was AWOL much of the time. He really poured his heart into this scheme and he deserved better than my half-assed effort.)

So, between the two parts of this story, we’ve now gone through about 3,000 words without my explaining just what in hell a barker actually is or does. Time to rectify that situation.

A barker is a pitchman. He is the person who tries to entice the mark to part with his money. It was my job to stand out in front of Walking Charlie, juggling a couple of baseballs, and saying the following:

“Three balls for a quarter! Break ONE cup and win a prize! Break three and take home the GIANT panda! Three for a quarter! Step right up!”

If I felt particularly brave, I might improvise something like the following:

“YOU look like a ballplayer, Chief! Come on, three balls, just 25 cents! All you have to do is break ONE mug! Come on, pal, show your pretty girlfriend what you’re made of!”

Often, my barking was met with the bane of all barkers’ existences…

“Lemme see YOU do it.”

Well, you can’t antagonize the customers, no matter how little respect you have for them, so I couldn’t say what I always wanted to say, which was…

“You stupid asshole! This is an HONEST game. You get a better chance for your money here than at most of the other gaffes you’ve been playing. It’s simple – so simple even a stupid shit like you should be able to comprehend it. You buy three balls and take your best shot. If you’re successful, I give you a very nice prize, worth way more than the measly quarter I’m asking you to part with. If I could bust a mug every time a jerk like you asked me to do it, I’d be pitching for the Red Sox, not barking for a Walking Charlie. Now, go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut and let me get back to work.”

It’s a good thing I didn’t have a gun.

So, I stood in the baking sun and the pouring rain, amid the wrath of the passing unwashed masses, hawking baseballs for people to throw at coffee mugs hanging off of a dummy’s ear. Who says America isn’t the land of opportunity?

(Mom, are you absolutely sure you want to be in these memories?)

There were more bad dates for Walking Charlie than good ones. The good ones, though, were fairly spectacular – and sometimes freakish. I’ll relate the story of one, to give you an idea of how strong a game it could be, and of the vision my Dad had in the first place.

There was a festival happening in New Bedford, Massachusetts. If you’re local, you know that New Bedford has an extremely large Portuguese population. Thus, it should come as no surprise that this was a Portuguese festival. The carnival set up some games and rides, and Walking Charlie was one of the games.

Now, I won’t cast any blanket assertions concerning the character of the Portuguese. I’ve known many very nice, gentle Portuguese people. I have a small bit of Portuguese blood, myself. However, the particular Portuguese who were at this festival were as bloodthirsty as the villagers who chased Frankenstein’s monster.

Remember that the point of buying the baseballs – three for a quarter – was to break the coffee mugs hanging from the dummies ears. That was how you won a prize. However, the folks at this festival were not interested in taking home teddy bears. As quick as my Dad (and my Aunt, who was his assistant at this date) could hand out the baseballs, these guys would throw them at the dummies. Not at the mugs. Just at the dummies.

They kept handing over quarters, taking three baseballs, firing them as hard as they could and screaming, “Keel Him! Keel Him!”

Whenever one of them hit one of the dummies in the head, a huge cheer went up. They were standing four and five deep, straining to buy baseballs, and not caring a whit if they got anything in return other than the thrill of crushing a department store dummy’s head. A couple of times, folks broke cups and REFUSED a prize. They just plain didn’t give a damn about anything except “killing” the dummies.

It was easily the best night in the existence of Walking Charlie. There was no letdown in business for hours. They had to actually empty their change aprons to make room for more money, more than once.

My Dad said, some time afterward, that he was actually scared that night – and he didn’t scare easily. He said it was some sort of mass hysteria that took over the crowd and he was afraid that, if Walking Charlie broke down that night, they might just as easily have started pelting HIM with the baseballs.

Well, that was the high point. Tomorrow, I’ll relate a few of the more numerous other types of stories that led to the demise of Walking Charlie. See you then.

Part Three

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Barker On A Walking Charlie

As I mentioned earlier in this series, my Dad was not one to stand still. He was, in many ways – and I do not mean this unkindly – like Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason’s bus driver from The Honeymooners. He was always after some new scheme that he thought would make money. However, whereas Ralph was spectacularly ignorant, my Dad was an intelligent man – which makes the following story that much more of a tragedy.

While we were working for the outfit that ran the Monte Carlo/Las Vegas nights, my Dad found himself between jobs with the airline industry. In the meantime, he found out about an opportunity for possible enrichment. The fellow who owned the gambling outfit made a good buck for himself every summer by traveling around with a carnival. He ran a money game. It wasn’t all that different from a casino game, really, except that it took place outdoors under a tent-top on the midway.

The game consisted of a bunch of muffin pans, set up side-by-side on a tabletop, and with the insides of each individual muffin cup painted a different color. Someone from the betting public tossed a bouncy rubber ball into the mass of muffin pans. Patrons could place a bet on what color muffin cup the ball would eventually settle into. Those who were successful in their prognostication received a payoff at odds, depending upon how many of the muffin cups were painted their chosen color. For instance, out of the 216 possible cups there were only three painted black. A bet on black paid off at 50-1. There were something like 45 cups painted blue. A wager on blue got you a return of 2-1.

A rudimentary grasp of mathematics was enough to tell you that the payoffs were heavily skewed in favor of the operator. However, there were more than enough patrons of carnivals who lacked a rudimentary grasp of mathematics, thus making this game an enormously profitable one.

(It should be noted that this game, and other money games, were not operated at every stop the carnival made. Obviously, it was straight-up gambling and therefore illegal in quite a few of the towns to which the carnival traveled. However, many of the local constabulary were amenable to… oh, hell, why couch it in pretty language? You could usually bribe the local heat.)

It was suggested to my Dad that he join the carnival, too. However, it wasn’t as simple as just working for this same fellow again, albeit in a different capacity. The muffin pan game already had all the help that was needed. And there was no opening in the gorilla gag, either. His daughter already had that gig.

(The gorilla gag was a mild scam wherein people paid to enter a tent where they would see an African princess transmogrified into a gorilla. It was a clever trick, done with mirrors. As the African princess sat in front of the crowd – behind a pane of glass, for the crowd’s protection, of course – a spiel was made concerning her unfortunate curse. As the speech continued, the princess appeared to be growing hairier. Finally, she completed her transformation into a primate. As the speech continued, with suitable excited warnings concerning the possible dangers inherent in this situation, the former princess - now a big, hairy, scary gorilla - would suddenly leap forward towards the crowd, growling and beating its chest. Without fail, most of the crowd would run out of the tent, sometimes with women and children screaming. The few wise guys who didn’t run, and who understood that they had been taken in, then became unpaid shills for the gag. Having paid their money for tickets and been bilked, they then talked their friends into buying tickets, and laughed heartily at them when they came running out of the tent.

This show ran every twenty minutes or so. I always got a kick out of the fact that the “African” princess was white and – although this might seem impossible – even more Irish-looking than myself. It didn’t matter. As with the fundamental lack of mathematical skill displayed by the patrons of the muffin pan game, the crowd at the gorilla gag never quite put two and two together.)

Anyway, the upshot of this lack of open positions in the established cons was that my Dad had to come up with his own. And he did, too. I’m not quite sure how he came up with what he did, but he certainly came up with something promising. What it mostly promised was hard work and heartbreak, but that never deterred my Dad. He had made his decision.

He had decided that his fortune would come from taking a Walking Charlie on the road.

Now, my Dad didn’t come up with the concept of the Walking Charlie – which I will explain to you, in a minute or so. It had been around, in one form or another, in carnival settings, for quite a few years. However, it isn’t as often seen as many of the other carnival perennials. For one thing, the actual construction of the game is complex. For another, it takes up a lot of room, and that’s an important consideration when figuring out your bottom line in a carnival. I’ll explain.

The carnival owner rents out the grounds for the carnival from the local jurisdiction or private property owner. In turn, the various operators rent space for their games or attractions per linear foot of frontage. In other words, if the counter space of your game takes up 12 feet, then you’re charged for 12 feet of frontage. On top of this, you’re charged a flat fee for an electrical hook-up. Then there are your additional expenses for paid employees, prizes, lodging, food, gas, and whatever else you may have as an outlay. Collectively, these expenses are known as your “nut.” Operators hope to make back their nut as early in an engagement as possible, since every dollar taken in thereafter is pure profit.

While a Walking Charlie has a tremendous profit potential, it also has a huge nut. This is because… well, I suppose it would be best, at this point, to describe to you just what a Walking Charlie actually is.

There are six life-size dummies, rigged out in various amusing and entertaining costumes – in this case, rubber monster masks and colorful tramp-type rags. These dummies are mounted on a large turntable that rotates at a medium speed when the game is in operation. The dummies have hooks on their ears, and from these hooks hang coffee mugs; the type sometimes found in cheap diners, very heavy and thick – no bone china here. The object of the game is for the mark – the patron – to throw baseballs from some 25 or 30 feet, at the rotating dummies, in an attempt to hit (and break) the coffee mugs.

The reason a Walking Charlie has such a big nut is because, first, it takes up a shitload of room. The Walking Charlie operator has to pay close to twice as much as other game operators because of the size of the game. Secondly, there was a breakable component that had to be constantly replaced – the coffee mugs. They were bought cheaply – unpainted and rough – from a wholesale manufacturer, but the broken crockery added up fast when the game was booming. Third, this was an honest game. Unlike many of the game operators, my Dad had to take into consideration the very real possibility of losing his plush.

(Plush = teddy bears and whatnot that are awarded as prizes.)

Yes, as you may have surmised from the previous paragraph, some of the games at carnivals are utterly impossible to beat. This is because, while an honest game can make just as much money as a dishonest one, there are many carnies that couldn’t live with themselves if they gave the marks an even break.

(Carnies = carnival workers.) (Marks = customers, a.k.a. suckers.)

Carnies are a peculiar lot. They’re as loyal as the most fervent of fraternal orders. If you’re one of them, you’ll never starve – as long as you don’t mind subsisting on fried dough, hot dogs, cotton candy and slush. And they don’t cheat their own. Every outsider, though, is a mark - a potential source of money - and nothing more. I say this having been one of them and a recipient of their largesse. They all treated me well while I was with them. But, while I was with them, I saw petty thievery and larceny that I wouldn’t expect to see replicated anyplace outside of a pickpocket’s convention.

Be that as it may, my Dad had decided on his racket and now he had to actually put it into operation. He made an outlay for raw materials and then he invested his sweat.

He bought an old 28-foot trailer. He modified one side of it, by cutting out the panel with a torch and putting the thing on hinges, so that it could swing out and up, creating an awning. He modified six large steel poles, installing a hinge in each one near one end. He bought department store dummies, screwed metal plates to their feet, and then welded these dummies to the other end of the steel poles. In turn, he welded these poles to a huge turntable, installing them so that the hinged end was near the turntable and thus able to be turned upright, into the body of the trailer, for transportation, but folded out to full-length while the game was operating. He installed an electric motor to rotate the turntable. He dressed the dummies in colorful clothing, glued rubber fright masks to their faces, and screwed hooks into their ears for the coffee mugs to hang from. He wired the whole contraption for electricity and strung colorful lightbulbs to attract the customers and spotlights to illuminate the game for nighttime operation. He worked hours on end, like the devil himself, doing all of this. He gave himself second-degree burns on his legs from the welding. But, damn it, he did it. It was an absolutely amazing feat for ONE man to have accomplished all of this construction.

He then bought crates of coffee mugs to hang from the dummies ears. He bought a couple gross of baseballs, for throwing at the coffee mugs hanging from the dummies ears. He then bought all of the plush, from a place called Nancy Sales that specialized in such stuff. He loaded up on small little prizes for those who broke one cup; regular-sized teddy bears for those who broke two; and freakishly gigantic pandas – five feet tall, and almost as wide – to be set out for all of the marks to see and greedily desire and to be awarded to the superhuman who somehow accomplished the ungodly task of breaking three mugs with just three baseballs. He modified one further section of the trailer to be used as a holding space for all of this booty.

He bought a canvas awning, and tent poles to hang it from. This would connect, with ropes (which he also bought) to the hinged metal awning. He had signs professionally painted – “3 Balls For 25 Cents” “ONE Broken Cup WINS!” – and he bought aprons with pockets in them, in which to hold the many quarters and dollars he imagined flowing from the pockets of those on the midway. He bought (or, maybe, “borrowed”) six or seven milk crates in which to hold the baseballs awaiting throwing.

He installed a trailer hitch on his car. He intended to pull the 28-foot trailer with his 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon.

(And he did, too. Of all the acts of bravado that this endeavor required, that may have been the biggest proof that my Dad had brass balls.)

Last, but not least, with Walking Charlie finally ready to hit the road in pursuit of all the spare change in a 400-mile radius, he acquired the final piece of the puzzle necessary for success. He hired a Barker.


(More tomorrow.)

Part Two

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mmmmmmm! Hippo!

Last time, I told you about how I became the world's youngest professional blackjack dealer. At the end of that piece, I promised to tell you about my next profession, which was as a barker on a walking charlie.

Yes, I’m still speaking English.

However, you’ll have to wait one more day to find out just what a barker on a walking charlie is. Today, I have one more story to tell you about my stint as a blackjack dealer.

I ate a hippopotamus.

No, I’m not tripping.

As I explained in the other piece, I worked for an outfit that ran Monte Carlo or Las Vegas nights. These were affairs wherein our organization was hired to provide all of the equipment and personnel needed for a night of gambling. I mostly worked as a blackjack dealer during these events, but did occasional turns as a roulette croupier, stickman on a craps table, or other gambling-related chores.

Well, one time we were hired to set up at the New England Aquarium. It was a private function, played totally with “fun” chips; that is, no real money exchanged hands and all winnings were paid out, at the end of the evening, in prizes provided by the organization who had hired us as entertainment for their members.

We set up our equipment at various places throughout the Aquarium. If you’re familiar with the Aquarium, you know that it is built around the main exhibit area, a huge central fish tank. A large ramp circles this tank and takes you up higher and higher as you walk it. There are other exhibits off to the side on the ground floor. That area is level, of course. Since a craps table needs a level area, we set that up near the entrance. The roulette wheel also needed someplace where the results wouldn’t be skewed by gravity, so they set up near the craps table. However, blackjack tables were set up at various places around the central fish tank and at other exhibits. Cards don’t need balance.

I was dealing blackjack that night and my table was set up in front of the railing that enclosed the penguin exhibit. What with the plethora of cute penguins populating movies these days, you may find the following hard to believe, but please take it from someone who spent three hours with them one night. Penguins are some of the most prodigious farters in the animal kingdom.

Every couple of minutes, while I worked this table, there’d be a loud blast of penguin ass trumpet. I wanted to make sure that the people playing at my table knew that it wasn’t their dealer who was fouling the air, but I couldn’t very well interrupt play every time it happened to say, "It's not me! It's those filthy birds!" I mean, I had to assume this event was being held at the Aquarium because these people enjoyed creatures that lived in the water. Maybe the people at my table were big-time penguin aficionados. If I insulted the penguins, I might cost myself a tip or two.

(Of course, if they didn’t care about penguins and they thought I was the one farting, I sure wouldn’t be getting any tips for that, either. It was pretty much a no-win situation.)

After dealing cards in front of the farting penguins, I was told – as were all of the crew –that I was invited to join the members of the sponsoring organization in the large main dining room of the Aquarium for dinner. This wasn’t a total surprise, as many of the people we worked for allowed us to scarf from a buffet or whatever, but this was a black tie and tails crowd, so the dinner promised to be a decent one.

As we entered the dining room, we found out just how unique a dinner this was going to be. The sponsoring organization was made up of big-game hunters. We had been invited to partake of their various catches, kills, and trappings.

Here are the meats that were on the menu:

Elk, Wild Boar, Deer, Rattlesnake, Lion, Bear, and Hippopotamus.

Yes. Hippopotamus.

For some of the guys, this was not the meal of their dreams. My Dad, for one. He was a person who loved a good meal - quite a good amateur chef, actually - and he enjoyed dining at fine restaurants worldwide. However, his palate was rather limited. He hated fish, he hated garlic, and he was not a big fan of anything he hadn’t eaten at least once before in his life. If he had to do so, he would eat at a McDonald’s in a foreign city rather than subject himself to the local unfamiliar cuisine. The prospect of chowing down on a big plate of Yogi & Boo-Boo was not something he relished. He was also deathly afraid of snakes, so he didn’t even want to be in the same room as a rattlesnake, no matter that it was deep-fried.

On the other hand, I was ready to try everything. I was a little bit hesitant about the lion, having had cats for pets for most of my life, but I figured this was probably my one and only shot at eating a lion, so...

I took a lion steak covered in gravy back to our table. My buddies from the crew all had plates full of strange and interesting things, none of which were identifiable unless you asked. Odd conversations were the order of the day.

“Hey, Rusty, what the hell is that?”

“Venison. It tastes a bit like corned beef. What have you got, Brian?”

“I think it’s bear.”

“You think it’s bear? Don’t you know?”

“Well, the sign said, “bear,” but it was kind of in-between two different plates of meats, and the other sign said, “elk”. I’ve never had bear before, so how can I be sure?”

“Ask it if it shits in the woods.”

Lion was not my favorite thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Maybe lion is swell and the gravy was bad; I’m willing to allow the benefit of the doubt. In any case, I had one big bite and decided to go get something else.

I returned to the table with a plate full of hippopotamus.

“Hey, Jim, that looks pretty good! Is it beef of some sort?”


“Hippo? Man, it looks like prime rib!”

I replied, with a mouth full of hippo, “Igsecklent!”


I swallowed and said, “It’s excellent! It tastes like prime rib!”

I (excuse the expression) wolfed down the hippo and went back for seconds. It really was that good. Many of the crew followed me to the hippo station.

After the excellent hippo, I decided to try something else. Who knew? Maybe rattlesnake would be excellent, too.

Nope. Rattlesnake was most decidedly NOT excellent. I went back for thirds on the hippo.

For dessert, there were chocolate-covered ants and some sort of deep-fried honey-covered grasshoppers. I decided that I preferred to keep the taste of hippo in my mouth rather than eat bugs.

All in all, the hunters were a fun bunch to entertain and it was very nice of them to share their bounty with us. I do have to say that I was very glad they didn’t have fillet of flatulent penguin on the menu. The next time I see hippo on the menu, I will definitely order it.

Next time – I promise! - Barker On A Walking Charlie.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The World's Youngest Professional Blackjack Dealer

I was the youngest professional blackjack dealer in the history of the world. I started at the age of 14.

(If you’ve been coming here for a while, you may remember me talking about this before. However, don’t go away thinking you know the full story. Last time, I gave it about 2/3 of a page. I’m going to give you much more depth than I did then. Stick around.)

(By the way, MY WIFE insists that I can’t know for sure if I was the youngest blackjack dealer in history. She says that, with child labor laws in other countries being what they are, there are probably pre-teens dealing blackjack somewhere in Asia. Well, until they start writing about it, I’m it.)

(One note about the following: I’ll be using unwieldy terms such as “these fellows” or ”that guy” when referring to the characters here. I won’t use their real names – or even falsified ones that could possibly be figured out – since they may still be working in illegal activities of one sort or another. They were all nice to me and I have no desire to repay that kindness by getting them busted.)

(Finally, the picture above is from a group called Casino Entertainment, based in Kentucky. They seem to offer pretty much the same services as the outfit I worked for, so if you want more background after you finish my story, you might go there and look around.)

My Dad, aside from his day job with the airlines, worked as a dealer and stickman on a craps table. He was the type who always looked for some new opportunity, no matter how well he might have been doing in his current position, and he had become friends with a fellow who ran what were called Monte Carlo nights or Las Vegas nights.

Now, you probably know how these affairs operate, but I’ll give a brief rundown, just in case you don’t.

These were events run for charity, but the money was real and the action could get pretty heavy at times. My Dad’s friend would bring in all of the equipment necessary to set up a working casino – craps table, roulette wheel, as many blackjack tables as the charity thought they could use, big wheel, chuck-a-luck, and all of the cards, dice, chips, and personnel to run the games. In those days, when the only legal gambling in the United States was in Las Vegas, it was a chance for locals to let their hair down without having to fly across the country.

There was always a need for guys to run the craps table. While just about anybody can deal cards – badly – just about nobody aside from a pro can work a craps table efficiently. Since my Dad was familiar with how a craps table operated – having spent quite a few hours on the wrong side of the railing blowing enough money to get the education – he figured he could deal the game. He convinced this other fellow to hire him as a dealer and stickman.

As it turned out, this was one of the best moves this other fellow ever made. Not only could my Dad deal the game - and deal it extremely well - but he also had a supply of very intelligent, very personable guys who weren’t averse to working hard and who could easily be trained to deal the other games such as blackjack or roulette. By the time my Dad had been with the outfit for a year or so, half of the guys dealing cards and spinning wheels were airline sales managers.

This was a tremendous boon to the fellow who owned the outfit. His previous employees, although not utterly dishonest, were not averse to the occasional dipping of their hands into the till. They were happier if they figured out some way to steal five bucks than if they honestly made thirty-five. And any excuse they could find to goldbrick, they made good use of. The airline guys, on the other hand, were as honest as the day was long and had all worked their way up in the airline industry through slogging luggage and other menial tasks, so they had no aversion to hard work. In actuality, as hard as the work ever became on these gambling nights, it was a paid vacation for most of them.

And it paid well, too. Consider that this was mostly during the 1970’s. For somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours work dealing cards and setting up the equipment, these guys were getting $35 plus the occasional tips. There was usually some sort of free dinner or buffet they could attack, plus the atmosphere was generally convivial. These guys were all salesmen, so they had the salesman’s knack for telling jokes and funny stories. Thus, although the customers more often than not were losing their money, these guys kept them in a good mood.

(I have a great story regarding one of the events we worked, and the free dinner we received while working it, but I think it will make a good stand-alone posting. I'll tell you about that at a later date.)

Around the same time that my Dad hooked up with this outfit, our family had started attending a somewhat renegade Catholic Church in downtown Boston. They had masses featuring folk music, rallies for social justice causes unpopular with the archdiocese, and they ran programs such as supper clubs for the homeless.

My Dad soon became heavily involved in this community. He basically started the supper club himself, going to many restaurateurs and food producers to cadge what he could as charitable contributions. And he suggested that the church hire the gambling organization to run a Monte Carlo night as a fundraiser for the supper club.

I was looking forward to attending. I had always liked gambling and, since this was a charity event for my church, I knew I would be able to do so to my heart’s content without sneaking around. Well, on the night of the event, they came up one dealer short. My Dad knew that I could handle a deck of cards fairly well and he knew that I knew the way a BJ table operated (the odds, payoffs, etiquette, etc.) so he recommended me to the operator as a fill-in. Since I had done the job so well – and since my Dad was an integral part of the crew already - I was hired on as a permanent part-time blackjack dealer.

Here’s how the work was handed out. The craps crew always worked, as there was always a craps table at these events. We sometimes staffed the other games and other times they were staffed by volunteers. We always explained that it was in the best interests of the charity to hire our dealers. We could deal faster, make payoffs and collect bets more quickly, and just generally be more slick and entertaining. When we worked, the cost of hiring us was almost always worth it in increased revenue for the charity. Occasionally, however, the stakes being gambled for were too low to justify their using anything but their own people as dealers, no matter how slow and slovenly they might deal. On those nights, most of the airline guys and I didn’t work.

I dealt cards, but I also acted as croupier at the roulette table, dealt chuck-a-luck (a very poor gamble involving three dice), spun the big wheel, and did an occasional fill-in on the craps table, from the time I was 14 until I was in my early 20’s. I would guess that I averaged one night a week for my career in this profession.

(In light of the later jobs I'll tell you about, I guess I should explain that my work with this outfit increased as the years went on. When I started, I was doing perhaps one night a month. Near the end, two or three nights a week. I'm telling you this just in case you begin wondering why I ever chose to work in a shoe store or as a dishwasher.)

Anyway, it was an excellent source of income for someone like me who had begun cultivating a dream of making it as a musician. It took little time away from practice or actual gigging, and kept me from having to find a real full-time job to support myself. Occasionally, the rewards were much larger than the $35 salary.

While most of the jobs were strictly charitable events, and therefore legal under Massachusetts law, the outfit also ran private affairs that were not legal in any way, shape, or form. I worked these, too, as did everybody else. The entire crew worked on these nights – no amateurs. These affairs were held at sea.

At 5:30 or 6:00, we’d start loading all of the equipment onto a chartered boat. Once it was all set up, the invited clientele would board and then we’d set out for a three-hour-or-so cruise around Boston Harbor and environs. The action at these events was serious. It wasn’t unusual to see guys drop a few thousand in a night.

(The reason we could more-or-less get away with this action was because we also did charitable events at sea. Since we did them often, and on the same boat, it was assumed that we’d never be bothered for the non-charity events. This remained true until... well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry.)

As for the previously mentioned occasional huge rewards, I had my best night ever on one of these illegal nights. I was dealing blackjack and I had a real live wire at my table. He was winning a decent amount and he liked my style, so he was tipping me $1 or $2 on every other hand. We kept our own tips - no pooling - so I ended up with over $300 in tips for my three hours that night. On top of that, I had my regular pay of $35, so it was one hell of an evening.

(I’d like to be able to tell you that I invested it in something good, but what happened was that my Dad and I were planning on going to the REAL Las Vegas just four days after that gig. The tips became my stake for the trip.

I started off by working it up to about $700 on the first night, playing blackjack, of course. My Dad, much wiser than I, suggested that I stow half of it in the hotel safe, play with the rest, and be guaranteed a profit for the trip no matter what else happened. I, being dumb as a post, figured I was unbeatable. Do I really have to tell you what happened?

Oh, OK. The next day I started off betting $25 and $50 a hand. I was broke by noon. We had three days left in town. Those were three of the most miserable days in my life, even with my Dad being a nice fellow and lending me the occasional sawbuck to keep me in action.)

It came to an end for both of us when, one night while we were working separate functions, my Dad was arrested. His gig that night was on the boat. Meanwhile, I was working a function for a charitable organization in New Hampshire.

I got home and he wasn't there, which was unusual since his job ended earlier than mine and I had been out-of-state. I knew that sometimes the crew went for a late dinner, though, so I wasn't tremendously worried. I went to bed.

In the morning, he was home and he told me what had happened. The Coast Guard, who had been tipped off about some ship in Boston Harbor, had boarded them. As it later turned out, it seems that they boarded the wrong ship. There was a MUCH higher-profile operation out that night – think Tony Soprano – and that was whom they had meant to get. Well, you can’t start busting someone and then say, “Oh, sorry, you’re not the ones we intended to arrest. Resume your illegal gambling, folks, and sorry for the interruption,” so the Coast Guard did their job as best they could under the new circumstances and took everyone in.

The story was in the papers, though there were no photos good enough to give anyone's identity away. Thank God, because that would have meant mass firings within the airline industry. This was, of course, strictly a second job for most of the crew. In the end, deals were cut and everyone got off with warnings and a sealed record, after pleading guilty and paying court costs.

After the bust, we weighed the advantages and disadvantages of taking another chance. We both decided to stop dealing. It was very decent money for no heavy lifting while it lasted, though.

Next: Barker On A Walking Charlie.

(You KNOW you have to come back, if just to find out what in the hell I’m talking about. See you then.)

First, read about the delicious hippo!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Paperboy, Part Two

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I started telling you about my paper route yesterday.

I liked being a paperboy, for the most part. The deliveries were no big problem. I could be in my own world delivering the papers in the early morning. I’d ride my bike up and down Elliot and Oak and Maple – yes, those were the actual names of the streets – and, aside from one dopey collie on Oak that occasionally took me out of my reverie by charging full speed out of his backyard and trying to bite me, it was kind of fun flinging the papers and seeing how close I could get them to the door while riding by. However, I actually had to interact with people when collecting, and that was work.

Considering some of the things I divulge here, and the fact that my current job involves nothing but communication, you might find it hard to believe that I was a very shy kid. I was. I really hated knocking on doors and asking people for money. It didn’t matter that I knew they owed me. I still felt somehow like I was begging. Most of the folks were friendly enough, but I was still ill at ease. I especially dreaded the customers who would tell me that they didn’t have the money this week and ask me to collect double the next time. Half the time they didn’t remember that they owed me double. When I reminded them, they gave me a look like I had just peed on their carpet. However, there was one woman who always paid when it was due and, on one occasion, gave me more than money for a tip.

She was an older woman. Of course, at the time I was 14, so somebody 15 would have been older. I think she might have been 40. She was dark blond, pretty in a mature way, very soft looking skin, and she smelled of lavender bath powder – not overpowering, but just always sort of hovering in the air around her when she came to the door. She was always nicely dressed and she had the slightest hint of a southern accent, an odd – but charming – thing in this neighborhood near Boston.

Whenever she answered the door and saw me there, she smiled very sweetly. I smiled back, of course. She’d ask me to step inside the front hall while she got my money. While I waited for her to return, I’d often hear her singing softly while she went through her purse or whatever. It was a pleasant stop each week. And she always tipped me a quarter.

Well, one week she came to the door and she was in a robe. It was mostly red, appeared to be silk and had floral patterns on it. She asked me to step inside, as usual. I couldn’t help noticing that she was barefoot. She had painted toenails. She went to get her purse and then she asked me to come into the room where she had gone.

I was no dummy. I grew up in Dorchester and went to Boston Public Schools, so I had certainly heard my share of dirty jokes concerning lonely women and traveling salesmen, milkmen, mailmen, and so forth. I started to wonder if I might be in the middle of one.

The room she called me into was her kitchen. She asked me if I might like a piece of cake that she had just baked that morning. Well, sure! I’ve never been one to turn down a free piece of cake. She put a big slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting on a plate. She got me a fork and asked me if I’d like something to drink. I suppose if I had been surer about what was happening, I might have been all suave and asked her for a snifter of brandy. Instead, I told her that a glass of milk would be fine. She poured me a tall one.

As I ate the cake, she sat next to me and asked a couple of innocuous questions – where was I from, where did I go to school, stuff like that. Then she excused herself from the room, saying she’d be right back.

She hadn’t done anything overtly sexy, but I was 14 and horny. I did start to wonder if she might return to the kitchen naked or something. I wouldn’t have been unpleased. She wasn’t bad looking. She was also very nice in her mannerisms – gentle, sweet, soft-spoken, and graceful. I finished my cake and pondered the possibilities.

She returned to the kitchen as fully-clothed as when she had left it, but carrying a few items in her hands. She put them down on the table just slightly off to my side.

She said, “I thought you might like these things. If you want, you can have them.”

There was a ruler, a small notebook, a nice ballpoint pen, and a couple of other small school-type items. As I regarded them, she leaned over my shoulder to show them to me more closely. I could feel the heat of her body. My face was close enough to her to see a few small, fine blond hairs on her neck. The smell of the lavender bath powder was no longer hovering; it had landed.

After a minute or so of showing me the items, she casually straightened up. She asked me if I wanted more cake. Well, I can always hold more cake, but I didn’t want to look like a pig, so I said, “No, thank you, ma’am.”

She went to the other side of the kitchen, got a small paper bag, and came back over to the table. She put the ruler, notebook and other things in the sack. She handed it to me and I thanked her.

I stood up from the table and, as I did so, she said, “Oh, I forgot!” and she went into the pantry that was a few steps on the other side of the kitchen. She returned quickly, before I could start thinking any more Mrs. Robinson thoughts, and said, “I almost let you leave without your money!”

She handed me the regular collection and a half-dollar tip. I thanked her profusely then. That was the biggest tip I had ever received from any of my customers. She said, in that slight southern accent, “You’re very welcome. You’re a nice boy.”

Then she walked me to the door, giving me a very slight touch of her soft fingertips to my cheek - the only actual physical contact in the entire meeting.

I’ve never quite been able to deduce whether it was an attempt at a seduction or not. The way my hormones were raging at that age, almost everything had a sexual undertone to it in my mind. I think she may just have been a very nice lady, a bit lonely, perhaps at one time with a boy of her own whom she missed. I truly don’t know.

After that day, she never answered the door other than in regular clothes. She still smiled, but she never invited me inside again. The tip was always a quarter, which was a good tip but not as good as a half-dollar. I spent quite a few spare moments thinking about her. To this day, I can recall the smell of that bath powder and whenever I see small fine hairs on a woman’s neck, I think of her.


A totally different sort of encounter with a customer happened when I put a newspaper through the glass on his front door.

I had been doing the route for close to a year and I was now very good at being able to judge the speed and distance I’d need on a toss while I was riding by on my bike. I could usually land the paper within a foot or so of my target. I very rarely had to stop pedaling even once on the entire route, other than for traffic.

I was in the home stretch, on Maple Street, and feeling really good about myself. I had been hitting my targets with precision all the way along the route. As I came up on the Andrews house, I was whistling. I readied their paper in my right hand as I steered with the left.

It should have been the other way around. Their house was on my left. I was feeling so cocky about my aim, though, that I decided to try to hit their porch with a hook shot as I rode by. Bad idea. I let loose the paper and I knew as soon as I let it go that it was too strong a throw.

Well, I was disappointed in losing my perfect string of throws, but other than that, I didn’t expect it to be truly troubling. I started to put on my brakes. I figured to get off the bike, pick up the paper and place it on the porch. Except…


I heard it, but I didn’t want to see it.

I turned around anyway. Where there had been a storm door with two lovely panes of glass, there was now a storm door with one lovely pane of glass in the upper section, but no glass at all in the lower section. The paper wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

I immediately understood that the paper was inside the door, along with most of the glass. I was terrified. I had no idea how much it would cost to replace the glass. I had visions of myself delivering papers for the next ten years in order to pay for it.

“Hey, Sully, who are you taking to the senior prom?”

“Nobody. I’ve got to do my collections that night.”

I don’t know what possessed me to do so, but instead of going back and knocking on the door and taking my medicine, I got back on my bike and finished the route. Then I went home.

There was no way in the world I couldn’t be blamed for what happened, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go up to the door, ring the bell, and face the immediate wrath of Mr. Andrews. Somehow, it seemed better to go home, eat, go to school, and see if a miracle would occur to get me out of it.

There was no miracle. I got home from school and as soon as I walked in the door, I saw my Dad. He did not look happy.

He said, “Mr. Buckley called. He said a Mr. Andrews from your route called HIM. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I told him. What else was there to do? When I had finished, my Dad told me what we were going to do.

“We’re going to take a ride over to Mr. Andrews’s house. You’re going to knock on the door and talk to him. I’ll be there with you, but I’ll wait in the car. You’ll apologize and offer to pay for the window.”

I again pictured myself penniless for the next decade or so.

“If he says that, yes, he wants you to pay for the window, I’ll help you pay for it. Mistakes happen.”

He must have seen the smile of relief on my face. Hell, how could he miss it? He had just given me a last-minute reprieve from the chair. Anyway, he wanted to make sure I knew that I wasn’t getting off scott free.

“I said I’ll HELP you pay for it. You’ll still pay half. How could you possibly think that you could do something like that, just ride away, and not get caught? What the HELL were you thinking? Come on, let’s get it over with.”

We rode over to Mr. Andrews’s house in my Dad's car. When we got there, there was already a new pane of glass in the door. Mr. Andrews wasn’t one to wait, I guess.

I got out of the car, walked up, opened the storm door, and knocked. Mr. Andrews came to the door. My stomach was doing somersaults. He just stood there, waiting for me to speak.

“Hi, Mr. Andrews. Um, I’m really sorry about your window. I don’t know why I didn’t knock on your door this morning when it happened. I just panicked, I guess. Anyway, I’m really, really sorry and I’ll pay for the window.”

Sometimes miracles just take a little while to kick in. As I stood there, waiting for the axe to fall, Mr. Andrews said, “No, these things happen. Don’t worry about the cost of the window. I had a spare pane in the garage. But I needed to hear you say what you did. If you had knocked on my door this morning, I would have been mad, no doubt, but not as mad as I was when I saw the glass and the newspaper and then realized you had done this and then gone on your way without even telling me.”

For a guy who had just received a miracle, I felt pretty lousy.

“The next time you get yourself into trouble, remember that it’s always better to face it than to let it face you. Is that your Dad in the car?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What did HE tell you?”

“Pretty much the same as you just did, Mr. Andrews.”

“Good. I’d like to talk to him for a minute. Come on.”

We both walked over to the car. I got in the passenger side and Mr. Andrews went over to the driver’s side to talk to my Dad. The conversation started about me, but it basically turned into a mutual admiration society by the end. They shook hands, and then we drove off.

From that day onward, I always stopped at Mr. Andrews’s house, got off my bike, and put his paper inside the storm door – without putting it through the window first.


Well, I certainly have another couple of stories concerning the paper route, but nothing that beats these. How could I top Crime & Punishment and a (sort of, maybe, could have been, but I’m not quite sure) May/December romance?

I quit the route when I became tired of the hours. One Saturday, I didn’t make my deliveries until about 11am. I didn’t feel like making them at all, but I knew I couldn’t just blow it off altogether. But I was sick of it. I wanted to sleep later before school and not worry about slogging papers through rain or snow. I was meeting girls – girls my own age, that is, and thinking of all sorts of wonderful things I’d like to do with them – and I really didn’t want to cut a date short because of having to get up in the morning to deliver papers. And I was really sick of that dopey collie on Oak Street trying to take a bite out of my leg. When Buckley came by to collect, I turned in my resignation. I was an ex-paperboy.

(I was about to become the youngest professional blackjack dealer in the history of the world, but that story will have to wait until next time. See you then!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


My first job – my first long-term paying job – was as a paperboy. I was a paperboy when I was 13 and 14.

(An interesting thing occurred while I was trying to remember just how old I was when I did this job. I found that I could best date it via reference to drug usage.

Really. Just before I sat down to type, I was thinking, “How old was I? I know I smoked cigarettes at some point during that time. I distinctly remember sitting down by Central Avenue with Kevin McAteer [another paperboy] smoking Trues. Yechh! Those things were horrible! But I know I hadn’t started smoking dope yet, so...”

That’s truly how I figured out that I was 14, at the oldest, when I did the paper route. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 14, but didn’t try grass until I was 15.

And further thought brought the realization that many of my jobs are remembered in conjunction with dates involving drug abuse. When did I work at the shoe store? Well, that would have been in 1973, because Grand Funk were involved in a heavy legal battle with their former manager, Terry Knight, and they had just released the album “Phoenix” in late 1972, and Joey Santucci liked the cover of that album so much, he painted a reproduction of it on his bedroom wall and a bunch of us had smoked some angel dust one night after work and I stared at that damned bird for a good half-hour thinking it was going to come off of the wall and start flying around the room. And when did I work in the warehouse for Prudential Insurance? Well, I remember having been the broker in a deal to buy 500 hits of acid, made between a co-worker and a friend of mine from Dorchester. I remember thinking how strange it was that I could be making this big drug deal, but I wasn’t old enough to legally buy a drink to celebrate my windfall, so I wasn’t 18 yet, but it was winter - there was snow on the ground - and that means it was early 1975. And so on.

I wish this blog were a bit more widely read. I’d love to see some crackpot sociologist make a faulty connection and come up with a syllogism stating that delivering the Boston Globe leads to drug abuse amongst teens. I don’t expect that the Globe would report the story, but I know damn well the Herald would.

And I’d like to state, at this point, that I know of no studies proving a connection between drug usage and digression. If you’re the go-getter type, you might like to apply for a government grant to research such a link. If you do, please cite your sources.)

Back to the story, I was much more innocent when I was 13. The only plan I had for any of the money I made as a paperboy was to buy comic books.

The person who delivered the papers to my house, and who collected for them at the end of the week, was a fellow by the name of Buckley. Looking back, he was probably just scraping by in a job that was more work than it was worth, but to my adolescent eyes, he was a major businessman and someone to be feared. You didn’t want to not have his money ready for him when he came to collect because he could probably throw you in jail or something.

(I did fail to have his money ready one Saturday a few months into the job. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was probably a combination of my not having made all of my collections and my still wanting to buy all of the comic books I had planned on buying. Anyway, he came by to collect and I had to short him something like two dollars. He was mad, no doubt about that, but jail time never entered the conversation. About the best he could do was threaten to take away my route if I didn’t have the money for him by next week. It was at that moment in my life that I learned there’s usually more time to get things accomplished than you might initially have been led to believe. It has shaped my philosophy ever since.)

Buckley delivered the papers at about 5:00 every morning. He left them on the lawn in front of our house. I’d get to them at about 5:30 or so and bring them inside the house. They were always wrapped with some sort of petroleum-based twine that was impossible to untie, so I always had to cut the string with a knife. Then it was time to fold the papers.

Folding newspapers for delivery was an art. You wanted to make them aerodynamic, so that you could fling them with precision while riding by on your bicycle, as well as compact enough to fit them all into the delivery bag. And you had to make sure the paper wouldn’t come apart when you threw it. Nothing sucked more than to have the paper fly apart into four or five sections before it reached the porch you were aiming at. In that case, you had to actually dismount the bike, take off the delivery bag, and put the paper back together – sometimes from pieces that had blown half-a-block away before you were able to catch them.

Some kids forsook folding the papers and put rubber bands around them instead. Not me. I took great pride in being able to fold my papers tightly. Anyway, it was a slim enough profit margin without adding an expenditure for elastics.

(I was going to include a photo here, showing how to fold a newspaper correctly, just in case any of you got the itch to become a paperboy from reading this stuff. I couldn't find anything decent; not even a good photo of a finished folded newspaper. Until this very moment, I thought you could find everything on the web. I am now officially disillusioned.)

I had about forty customers on my route, so that was a fairly heavy bag to balance while riding a bike. It was damn near impossible with forty Sunday papers, so I usually walked the route on Sunday. That was no bargain, either, as my shoulder quickly became sore from the weight of the strap of the bag.

(It probably would have been smart, in the long run, to have invested in a little red wagon, but see note above concerning elastics and profit margins. Besides, I was a teenager now and macho. Little red wagons don't get the chicks.)

I should explain that, while I lived in Dorchester, the paper route was in Milton. You’ve heard about someone coming from the wrong side of the tracks? In my case, as a paperboy, it was literally true. I had to go about a half-mile from my house and across the trolley tracks to begin my route. The other side of the trolley tracks was where Milton, a rich suburb and NOT part of Boston, began. There was still a fair amount of middle-class real estate on my route, not all big bucks, but definitely a neighborhood more well-off than my own.

I kept a small percentage of the actual price charged for the paper, but an equal source of income was the tips. In those days, a quarter tip was a good one. A dime wasn't scorned, but it didn’t produce glee, either. Some of those rich folks, though, were so tight with a buck that George Washington’s face turned red before they released it. I don’t remember anyone trying to truly cheat me out of the subscription price, but there certainly were a few for whom parting with a tip would have been a cause for apoplexy.

My least favorite part of the job was doing the collecting. Most folks paid on time, and were friendly, but there were three or four who, on a semi-regular basis, told me that they didn't have the money this week, so come back next week and collect double. Then, when I went back the next week, they'd forget that they hadn't paid me the week before. When I reminded them, they looked at me as though I were a particularly loathsome roach skittering across their kitchen floor. I just stared at them with my pitiful little red-headed boy eyes until they went and got the money. Never a tip from them, though.

There was one woman who always paid on time and who, on one occasion, gave me much more than a monetary tip. And with that titillating piece of information, I’ll leave you. Let your lascivious minds chew on it overnight and I’ll be back with the details tomorrow.

Go To Part Two

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Parade Of Past Jobs!!!

Approximately two eons ago, I asked you to respond to a little survey concerning jobs. The questions were as follows:

1 - How many paying jobs have you held in your lifetime? I'd say include all full-time positions, as well as those part-timers that were held for a significant length of time; maybe a couple of months or more. For instance, I would include "paperboy" as one of mine. It was certainly part-time, but I did it for more than a year.

2 - What was the highest-paying gig you ever had? Any length of time on this one.

3 - Finally, what is the longest length of time you've been employed at one place?

Here are all of the answers you gave:

Barbara said...

1. About 14, although I could be forgetting a couple.
2. Probably my current job
3. 8 years and counting

Mushy said...

1. 14
2. Communications Manager - 8 years
3. 29 years

Jen Stewart said...


and then she also said...

1. At least 20. Between age 25 and 34, I worked a minimum of 2 jobs, at most 4 (although that only lasted 3 grueling months) concurrently. A lot of my jobs were for companies where I worked more than once, or where I had more than one position with the company, so I'd say at least 20, but probably more like 28.

2. Overall, my current job. But per hour? A place I used to wait tables in Hawaii. I'd come home with $150 in cash tips, after tipping out the bartender (unless the bartender was me), kitchen staff, and host, after 3 of work. It was only part-time, though, and the owner was volatile, and they went under anyway, so it didn't last.

3. Current job - 8 years, and I quite frankly hope to retire with them.

David Sullivan said...

1. 2 Full Time, 2 Long Term Part-Time, 12 Short Term Part-Time,2 under the table, 1 selling illegal substances between '84-'86.

2. Salary: Current Job

One Days Work: $300+ bartending a 150 person wedding with me and one other bartender.
One Minutes Work: $600, gained illegally and no it wasn't prostitution.

3. 10 years, current job is in 9th year.

DJ Big Mick said...

1. About 20, although one of those was recurring over about 8 summers.

2. One night in October of last year I made 1000.00...
Get your mind out of the gutter! I AM a DJ after all.. it was a wedding. Other than that, my current position is the best paying I've held

3. 8 years with a company you might be familiar with (since you still work there) and the summer job in Maine

While I certainly appreciate the time these folks took to answer the questions, five responses really isn’t a heck of a lot. When you consider that I get more than 100 visitors a day here, it actually kind of sucks. However, I understand that these were questions that you might have been reticent in answering. Who knows what pair of prying eyes might stumble upon the answers? Giving full and complete disclosure about your past jobs – and, more important, about the amounts of money you earned doing them – sets you up for all sorts of ugliness from the IRS, law enforcement agencies, ex-spouses, identity thieves, nosy neighbors and all other manner of troublemakers. In order to be completely comfortable in answering, you either:

1 – Have to have a past as clean as a whistle.


2 – Be dumb as a post.

Paging Mister Suldog! Paging Mister Suldog! Please pick up line two!

Here is a list of all my past jobs, somewhat in chronological order.

(You may think that one or two of the “professions” listed below couldn’t rightly be considered jobs. If the qualifiers are making a profit and devoting many hours of work, then you can believe me when I tell you that they ALL qualify as jobs.)


Blackjack Dealer

Carnival Barker

Shoe Salesman/Stock Clerk



Drug Dealer

Cab Driver




School Bus Driver

Street Cleaner

Mail Room Clerk

Warehouse Worker

Security Guard

Order Packer

Ice Cream Truck Driver


Fruit & Produce Delivery Driver

Order Picker

Purchasing Clerk

Customer Service Agent

Catalogue Writer

Voice-Overs & Commercial Production

That’s 25 jobs. Yikes!

That’s a whole lot of work to get to the middling position in life I now hold. If I had stuck to any ONE of them – except maybe paperboy – I’d probably be better off financially than I am. Oh, well. All of those experiences add up to make me what I am today – a complete and utter failure.

No, that’s not true. I’m fairly successful, I guess. I’m not rich, but I’m certainly not starving. I make enough scratch to keep me comfortably in peanut butter and crackers, and I occasionally have enough put aside to splurge on chocolate milk. I also have a job that involves very little heavy lifting, so that’s a plus.

(In addition, I have a lovely wife, caring relatives, good friends, nice co-workers, blah blah blah. We’re talking jobs here, so who cares about any of THAT twaddle?)

Now that you have the list of my past jobs, you pretty much have a roadmap of where this blog is headed for the next month or two. I’m going to bore the hell out of you by writing up some stories concerning my experiences in the workplace. We’ll start tomorrow with “paperboy” and work our way up my very rickety corporate ladder. See you then.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Goop Melange

The first person to identify the source of the title wins my everlasting admiration. I call this piece that because it accurately reflects the contents - a mix of disparate parts adding up (as in the original) to something much more distasteful than its components.

(The picture is appropos of nothing. I just didn't have anyplace else to put it and it's a good one. From left to right: Moe, Larry, Shemp.)

(No, actually it's Jimmy Sheehy, Jake Sheehy, and Pirate Jim. Don't ask.)

The constituent parts of this post, aside from silly photos: Joyful News, an apology, and some meaningless statistics.

First, the joyful news. Good friend Kaylee is through her operation and recovering nicely, according to a comment she posted here yesterday.

For those of you unfamiliar with who she is, what's the matter with you? Don't you visit the people I link to here? Anyway, she is the #1 Red Sox fan in Arizona. She is also (I hope I remember her age correctly) sixteen and had to have heart surgery last week.

Yup. Sixteen. Heart surgery. And you thought you were having a bad day.

Anyway, she is relentlessly upbeat. Heart surgery? Just a minor pothole in the road of life for Kaylee. And she has had the surgery and is recovering nicely. I couldn't possibly imagine more wonderful news. I expect the Sox to go on a ten-game winning streak in celebration.


And now for something completely different...

About a week ago, I asked you to complete a very short survey. It concerned jobs – how many you’ve had; which one you’ve held the longest; and which one was the highest paying of the bunch. I bet those of you who answered the survey were thinking that I completely forgot about it. Nope. I just ignored it for a little while. Why? I don’t know and most of you don’t care, so let’s just move on.

Your answers were interesting. Some of those answers begged further questioning, but I asked you to give as little or as much information as you felt at ease in giving, so I have to expect that, if you didn’t supply further information then, no further information will be forthcoming.

Be that as it may – and I suppose it may as well be, because what else are you going to do with it? – I told you that I’d give you my answers to the questions later on. Well, now is later on.

However, I’ll ask your indulgence and put off giving you the answers until next week. When I do, I hope I’ll have a really good story or two for you. I’ll have about twenty stories, all told, but I hope I’ll have one or two good ones.



Finally, the meaningless statistics.

(My good friend, and teammate of longest-standing, Fred Goodman, following my final game with The Bombers.)
(Photo by my other Bombers teammate, Eric Benoit.)

G   AB   H  2B 3B HR  RBI AVG.  BB  K  OB%  SLG%  OPS  R
34 88 38 2 0 0 12 .432 23 7 .550 .455 1.005 42

These are my final stats from my final fast-pitch softball season. Not bad.

As I've said here before, you can take the statistics from our brand of softball and divide by 2/3 to come up with a rough equivalent to baseball stats. Let's assume a baseball season of 136 games played, which would be fairly remarkable for a codger like me. The neutral stats - games, at-bats - remain the same, percentage-wise. The % stats get divided by 2/3. Conversely, the production stats - hits, RBI, etc. - are multiplied by 4, then divided by 2/3, and...

Sheesh. Let's cut to the chase. Here is my season in baseball terms, giving a truer picture of what I actually did.

G   AB  H   2B 3B HR RBI  AVG. BB K   OB%  SLG%  OPS  R
136 352 101 5 0 0 32 .287 61 42 .392 .301 .693 112

Some of the stats are slightly preposterous when you do this - the runs scored, for instance - but generally it gives a good idea of the season in terms that are more meaningful to those people familiar with baseball stats. The truest is the batting average. I had a decent season. However, a fellow who goes to the plate 413 times and only manages 5 extra-base hits? He's cooked.

Monday, with the parade of past jobs!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sox, Cicada Killers, Celtics & Sandwiches

(Despite the title, this is definitely saner than yesterday's posting. No further explanation will be forthcoming concerning yesterday. Either you got it [unlikely] or you didn't, in which case congratulations on your mental health.)

(And, by the way, any ONE of the following four sections could have been expanded to fill the entire space here. Instead, I've given you all four in one day. That ought to be worth something.)

(I mean, besides a kick in the ass.)

Now, a little quiz. Which of the following best expresses your feelings concerning the local baseball team:

A) The Red Sox are in first place! Hurray!

B) The Red Sox are in first place, by only four games, whereas they were in first place by fourteen-and-a-half games earlier this year! Man the lifeboats! Women and children first! Abandon Ship! Abandon Ship!

C) Baseball is sooooooooo boring! When does the NFL season start?

If you answered:

A) You have a wonderfully positive outlook on life and you are no doubt enjoying this baseball season to the utmost extent.

B) You have completely forgotten a year of your life. Go read your diary for 2004 and then answer the question again.

C) Die, pagan scum!

Here's the deal, kids. If someone had told you before the season that the Sox would lose Curt Schilling for the better part of two months, that neither Manny nor Big Papi would have hit 20 home runs, that Julio Lugo would bat below .200 for most of the first half of the season, and that J. D. Drew and Coco Crisp combined would be batting about .270 (and sitting out in favor of Wily Mo Pena and his sterling .227 average quite often), but that the team would still be in first place by four games come August 14th, you would have jumped all over it and said, "No, you don't need to wrap that; I'll eat it here, thanks."

Take a chill pill, Red Sox Nation. These are the good times.

The cicada killers are pretty much gone. They've all dug their nests, laid eggs, caught a cicada or two, and died. I haven't seen one flying around for a few days now. The sand mounds are rather conspicuous, but no wasps are to be seen.

My only unanswered question regarding these critters is this: Where do they go to die? The ground isn't littered with cicada killer corpses. Do they crawl into the sand mounds and die alongside the poor paralyzed cicadas? Do they look at the cicadas mournfully, as if to say, "Hey, I know I paralyzed you and you're awaiting a gruesome death come springtime, but I'm checking out now, so... no hard feelings?"

(If I'm the cicada, I say the insect equivalent of "Go to hell!")

You knew that sooner or later I'd have to weigh in with my opinion concerning the Celtics' recent trades. So, here's my opinion of the Celtics' recent trades:

They stink.

Kevin Garnett is a great ballplayer. Ray Allen is a fine one, too. The Celtics will make the playoffs - barring injuries, of course - and will probably win a first-round series. After that, I don't see much good happening. They get eliminated in the second round or maybe get lucky and go to the conference finals before being eliminated.

Meanwhile, they've given up their future - Big Al Jefferson.

This is not to belittle the absence of Gerald Green or Delonte West or anyone else involved in the trades, nor to minimize the loss of the draft choices. However, there's one huge reason why these trades suck, and that's the loss of Jefferson.

Jefferson is going to be a franchise player for the next 12 or 15 years. He was the Celtic's future. Now he is Minnesota's future. I can't believe that Ainge traded this guy. I don't believe there's a player in the league with a bigger upside to him, and I'm including Oden and Durant.

Look at it this way: Jefferson is just now at the age when he would have been graduating college. Instead, he has years of NBA experience in his pocket and he's already proven, during the second half of last season, that he can consistently be a 20-15 guy and a decent defensive presence. If Jefferson came out in the same class as Oden and Durant, he would have been the consensus #1.

However, instead of keeping this gem and assuring themselves of some future, the C's decided to go for the gold ring right now. In so doing, they allowed themselves to be robbed blind by Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves. Jefferson and a draft choice for Garnett? OK. I still don't like it, but we can discuss it reasonably. Throw in Green? Extremely iffy. Jefferson, plus Green, plus three more guys and two choices and maybe Danny's first-born grandchild? The Celtics got raped.

After three years - four at the most - of middling playoff success, the Celtics are going to be right back at the bottom of the pile and it might be another 20 years before they get a shot at a player equal to Jefferson.

(Maybe I'm being too pessimistic. Maybe the new "Big Three" - and what a sacrilege it is to Bird, McHale and Parrish to name this aggregation that - will find something great to back them up. Maybe Rajon Rondo fully blossoms into a tremendous point guard. Maybe Big Baby Davis becomes a force in the paint. Maybe Kendrick Perkins shows that he can be more than just a decent 2nd-string center. Maybe Leon Powe... Maybe Tony Allen... Maybe... Maybe hundred-dollar bills are going to come flying out of my butt the next time I fart and I'll be rich.)

Despite the opinion of the no-patience majority, this is one of the worst trades in basketball history. Talk to me in two or three years and see if I wasn't right.

(Meanwhile, I am now dreading the delivery of the Celtics vanity license plate which I so happily signed up for last year. It still benefits Childrens Hospital, so I won't renege on the deal, but if this trade works out the way I think it will, I'll have to check into the legalities of re-painting Lucky The Leprechaun to show him ripping out his own heart.)

Finally, this lovely turn of events.

The other night, I got up at around 3 AM to take a pee. After doing so, I decided that I'd like a little snack, so I went out to the kitchen and made a cheese sandwich.

(The point here isn't my piss-poor dietary habits, so no "A cheese sandwich at 3am? Good God, Jim!" comments, please. Thank you.)

Anyway, I put a couple of slices of cheese between two slices of pumpernickel, poured a glass of milk, and took these things back to the bedroom. While listening to some dopey sports reporter on the radio bemoaning the fact that the Red Sox were now only five games ahead of the Yankees (see first section above) I took a bite of the sandwich. Then I winced in pain.

Somehow, I had managed to loosen one of my front bottom teeth by biting into a damn cheese sandwich.

I can now wiggle this tooth back and forth - not that I want to - and since then I've had to be very careful when biting into anything else because I might just lose it completely and I really don't want (and can't afford) major dental work right at the moment.

Never, in my wildest imaginings, would I have foreseen myself suffering an injury at the hands of a cheese sandwich. I am now officially decrepit. If I see some big guy dressed all in black, carrying a sickle, and he's pointing his skeleton-like finger at me, I'm going to run as fast as I can. However, considering the state of my knees, he'll probably catch me rather easily.

If I can avoid some other catastophe - for instance, breaking my jaw on a pudding - maybe I'll see you tomorrow with more better stuff.