Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sam Conure, R.I.P.

Sam was a conure, about ten years old, owned by my friend Bobby.

When Bobby draws from a bong, he draws deeply, which usually results in a minute long fit of squeaks and sputters as he tries, sometimes unsuccessfully, to avoid coughing.

From long experience, Sam knew what was coming the minute he saw Bobby reach for the bong, and he would begin imitating Bobby's squeaks, sputters, and coughs. This was usually rewarded by the single finger salute from Bobby, along with a two syllable curse, the second syllable sounding like "q."

A few years ago, Bobby got home from work to find Sam sitting in the bottom of his cage, which was a little unusual as the cage door had been left open for him and his wings weren't clipped.

Getting Sam to hop up on his finger, Bobby set him on his perch in the cage. Sam teetered a little and then - flop! - back to the bottom of the cage. Bobby took him out and examined him, then set him back on the bottom of the cage. Before long Sam had leaned forward and was supporting himself with his two feet and his beak.

Somewhat alarmed, Bobby took him to a veterinarian. The vet examined Sam but could find nothing wrong. He told Bobby he'd never seen anything like it, to take Sam home, and if he wasn't better to bring him back in the morning.

Bobby took him home, set him in the cage (three point stance again), and kept an eye on him for the rest of the evening. On waking in the morning, Bobby found that Sam was back to normal.

Several nights later, Bobby grabbed a little grass for the bong, sat down, and began to smoke it. The usual series of imitative sounds from Sam ensued, followed by the usual salute and epithet. And then, and then . . . Bobby watched as Sam flew down to the baggie on the table and began eating the marijuana buds!

Obviously, the bird had gotten himself stoned, causing the crisis of several days before. Equally obviously, he liked it and was doing it again. Bobby acquired the habit of putting the baggie in a drawer where the bird couldn't get to it.

But there's a sequel. Bobby sometimes gave Sam a small twig from the bag, and Sam diligently chewed it up, getting a little stoned in the process. And when I visited and Bobby and I got pizza, a stoned Sam would eat it with us - and no, not just the crust, but the cheese and sausage as well. Soon after that Bobby would put Sam in his cage and Sam would be out for the night.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Me and Cassie At a Ball

  • About 20 years ago, a married couple, Jeff and Cassie, both worked at a small junk mail company at which I also worked. One week Jeff was absent from mid-week on. That Friday night Cassie showed up at the local watering hole, sans Jeff.

    "Hi, Cass. Where's Jeff?"

    "He's still got the flu. And he's really a PITA. 'Cassieeeeee, will you bring me a glass of water? Cassieeeeee, will you go get me a hot fudge sundae?'"

    Flash forward to the following Friday. Among the early arrivals at the bar we see Jeff, but not Cassie. Jeff and I sit at a tall round table with our drinks, and I cannot resist: "Cassieeeeee, will you bring me a glass of water? Cassieeeeee, will you go get me a hot fudge sundae?"

    Jeff grins and says, "Bitch told you that, huh?"

  • Several years prior to that, the company for which we worked had been smaller and in a different location. There our most frequented bar was at a Chinese restaurant.

    Jeff worked nights and at that time I was an independent consultant, arranging my time as I wished. Jeff would show up to collect me at around two o'clock every Friday, and we would go "warm up the bar" for our colleagues who would begin to trickle in around five o'clock.

    Virtually the entire work force smoked marijuana and it was typical for us to leave drinks on the bar or on a table and tell the bartender that we were going out to "listen to the new speakers" in someone's car. Jeff and I would do this a couple times on a Friday afternoon while having two or three drinks and waiting for the others to arrive.

    One afternoon we were sipping our first drink, and I told Jeff I had a new music cassette and I wanted him to listen to one piece from it. "OK, Donnie. What is it?"

    "I don't want to tell you."

    "It's OK. Whatever it is I'll listen to it."

    "It's Chopin's Grande Valse Brilliante, my favorite light classical piece."

    "Aw fuck."

    "You never know, you might like it."

    On finishing our first round we decided to go to the car and smoke a little grass. When we were finished I asked, "Ready?"

    "Yeah, OK, but I'm not gonna like it."

    I turned it on, sat back, and closed my eyes. About 30 seconds into it I snuck a look at Jeff and his expression had changed from one of resignation to one of interest. A moment later he chuckled. I asked him, "What?" and he waved me off.

    When the piece finished he said, "I like it, Donnie."

    "Good. So what was that chuckle about?"

    He laughed. "Well, I was picturing me and Cassie at a ball, all dressed up. I had a ruffled shirt and pants tucked into tall boots, and she was wearing a very low cut gown that went all the way to the floor, and she was covering her breasts with a fan. At that point where I laughed, she cleaved me."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mom and Football

  • Penalties

    When home for the holidays, Billy would drag my mother into the living room to watch NFL football with him. My mother knew nothing - and cared nothing - about pro football, but watched it to accommodate my brother. They bet twenty-five cents on each game, with my mother getting to pick whichever team she wished, neither getting nor giving points. Both understood that bragging rights meant nothing in this case, but there would still be the occasional bit of needling.

    I recall one humorous exchange between the two of them. The team my mother had picked was called for some infraction or other. An official threw a flag, time was called on the field, and my mother asked, "Billy, what does that mean when he throws that flag like that?"

    "That means your team cheated."

  • The Commercial

    At one time, Budweiser had a really hokey "bring out your best" commercial involving a rookie trying to earn a spot on a football team. In one play during practice the rookie gets his clock cleaned by a veteran and the coach turns away disgustedly. The rookie visibly bundles up his guts and on the next play he bowls the veteran over. The coach turns away again, this time to hide a smile.

    The emoting by the rookie and the coach - particularly the coach - made the commercial positively cloying, but it was apparently meant to win over little old ladies, and it was successful with at least one: my mother. Unfortunately for Budweiser, she didn't drink beer.

    Mom: "I love this commercial."

    Billy: "He got cut the following week."

    Donnie: "Yeah, and when he got home he learned that his mother had died."

    Mom: "You kids are awful."

    And we were.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vignettes from the Board Room

The Board Room, as you may recall, was (is?) a Boston bar.
  • Donnie: "Why so pensive?"

    20-Something Girl Who Had Been Staring into Space: "Oh, I'm not really. I was just thinking."

    No you weren't.

  • One night a friend, Rob, was at the bar and said, "Come on Donnie. Let's cut the cards once for twenty dollars." Rob loved to gamble, particularly at games requiring little or no skill.

    "No, no thanks, Rob."

    "Come on, just once."

    When Rob shows the first sign of persistence, he's showing you your future, which in this case was that I was going to be hearing "Come on, just once" until I agreed or one of us died.

    I caved immediately, rather than submit to his version of the Chinese water torture.¹

    "OK, Rob."

    Rob got a deck of cards from the bartender (one of the features of the Board Room was bench tables with cribbage boards drilled into them, and the bartender always had decks of cards).

    We cut and I won.

    Rob: "Double or nothing."

    No surprise there. I never dreamed we'd cut just once if I won. Well, this turned out to be a lucky night, and I beat Rob four times at twenty dollars a cut.

    Another regular, James, a guy who thought he had all the angles but who actually believed in the maturity of chance, then challenged me, also for twenty dollars. I won, he chose to try again (double or nothing), I won again, he doubled up, making this cut for forty dollars, and I won again. He gave up.

    I had won seven times in a row, a 127-1 shot, and was ahead $160. All seven times the other person had shuffled the deck. It was late, the bartender closed the bar, and I walked across the street with my two victims to another bar and bought them two dollar drinks.

    ¹ The "Chinese water torture" is not Chinese in origin.

  • For a couple of years, 1969 and 1970, I made bets on college football in the form of what was called a "three game tease." One regular customer was a bookie's runner, and he would give me a card with the lines on the college and professional football games - that is, the card contained the games along with identification of each favorite and a point spread, the number of points they were favored by. You could take either team, giving or getting that number of points.

    You could bet from one to eight games, receiving odds on multi-game picks. I got five to one on my three team bets. Of course I had to be right about all three games. One loss meant I lost my bet. Now normally, this would be a sucker bet. If you assume that the point spreads were realistic and you had a fifty-fifty chance of picking the correct team in each game, then the correct odds are seven to one. However, whoever was quoting the odds that were printed on the card usually blew it on several games, and I don't mean blew it in hindsight, but that the lines on those games were predictably and egregiously wrong.

    I waited until the college football season was four or five weeks underway, giving me a chance to evaluate the teams based on recent experience, then began my betting. I usually bet ten dollars, but some weeks bet more if I felt strongly about my picks. The most I ever bet was fifty dollars, and I remember sweating out the third game's result. I had bet on Georgia, but I no longer remember who they were playing. They beat the spread and I won two hundred fifty dollars, more than two weeks' pay at the time.

    I think that in those two years I only lost once, and toward the end of the second season, the bookie's runner approached me on a Monday and gave me five hundred dollars.

    Donnie: "What's this?"

    BR: "For two years I've been watching you win, and this weekend I made flat bets on the three teams you picked."

    Donnie: "Well, great, but you don't owe me anything."

    BR: "Donnie, I'm not going to tell you how much I bet, but that five hundred doesn't make a dent."

    I still wonder how much he bet.

    A word of caution: You can't do that today, or at least I can't. Someone finally wised up, and the lines don't come from one source anymore. They are set by people who are experts on each conference, and the cards no longer quote lines varying wildly from reasonable expectations.

  • However, my happiest moment regarding football betting came in 1970 when another regular overheard me lamenting the fact that the LSU-Notre Dame game was "off the card." Whenever a team was favored by more than 21 points, that game was not in the card's list.

    Notre Dame was favored by 25 points and I wasn't at all sure that they would even win. LSU had what I considered the best defense in college football. The other customer felt that Notre Dame should be favored by more than 25 points, and not being the retiring type I told him I thought that was a joke.

    He wasn't shy either and neither of us would move an inch, so we wound up making a peculiar bet. I took LSU and 25 points, and we bet five dollars a point. That is, the loser would pay the winner five dollars for every point the bookies' spread was off. If Notre Dame won by 28, I would owe $15, having come out three points behind the spread. If they won by 20, he would owe $25, having fallen five points behind the spread. If LSU won, well boy oh boy oh boy. If they won by seven, for example, I'd win by 32 points, pocketing $160.

    In the event it was a defensive battle. Notre Dame kicked a fourth quarter field goal and won the game 3-0, 22 points less than the spread. *Eye* won $110.00.

    Incidentally, this was in principle a bad bet for him to make: his potential winnings were fairly limited but his losses could have been out of sight. Suppose LSU were to win by 10 points. Then he would be 35 points short of the spread and would lose $175. However, for him to win $175, Notre Dame would have to win by 60 points, 35 points more than the spread, and that wasn't going to happen in this world.

    In general, avoid bets in which your potential winnings are more limited than your potential losses.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Honey Bunny

It was my 43rd birthday and Mandy was coming to my apartment. It was the middle of winter and she arrived plumped out in an overcoat and laden with packages. It had been several decades since my birthdays were "special" to me, but for her this was an event.

She could hardly wait to show me the birthday cake she had ordered, and as soon as her coat was off she opened up the box, telling me about picking it up at the bakery.

Mandy: "The bakery was crowded when I got there. When my number was called I went to the counter and the woman asked me to describe the cake. I told her it said 'Happy Birthday Honey Bunny,' and some of the other customers laughed. When she found the cake and brought it to the counter she asked, 'And how old is Honey Bunny?' When I said 43 everyone cracked up."

She put the packages on a table, lining them up in the order I was to open them. Then she looked around, walked over to her purse and opened it, and said, "Damn!"

Donnie: "What's wrong?"

Mandy: "I can't find your card. I know I had it when I got out of the car."

Donnie: "No problem. It's gotta be between the car and here. I'll go find it."

I grabbed a jacket and headed down to the parking lot. Although the outside door locked automatically, we had a security guard as we were located two blocks from Cabrini Green, a troubled area. When I reached the foyer the security guard, making his rounds, had just arrived there. He was big, perhaps six feet two inches tall and powerfully built. We helloed each other and I scanned the foyer floor but saw nothing.

Donnie: "Have you found an envelope that might contain a birthday card?"

Security Guard, in a Darth Vader voice: "Are you Honey Bunny?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I was the Director of a small division at Blue Shield of Massachusetts. My Assistant to the Director, Dave, was just too young to remember the 1950s. He was also gay, although this aspect of his life virtually never surfaced at work.
  • Dave was the wittiest person I've ever met, and once his tongue outran his brain for the sake of humor.

    We were meeting in the office of our VP, Rick,and a little pre-meeting chatter somehow got around to the 1950s. Rick smiled and asked me, "Do you remember butch sticks?"

    Dave blurted out, "I don't know what they are, but I'll take two."

  • When the preceding Director was fired, I was promoted to the position. Dave was disappointed, having had his eye on the position, but handled it well and stayed on as Assistant to the Director. (Later I managed to promote him to Assistant Director. The distinction was that "Assistant to the Director" was a purely administrative position while "Assistant Director" carried some management responsibilities and put him in line to succeed me.)

    Our annual budget was due and Dave had it pretty much under control. He and I headed up to the executive floor to negotiate the budget with the Executive Vice-President, Bill, (who was also my mentor) and our Vice-President, Rick.

    Dave had been through this before, and I had not. In the elevator he warned me, "Rick is a piece of cake but Bill is very tough." As I was brand new to the process I let Dave handle it at the meeting and generally participated only in discussions of certain projects. Bill was a pussycat, almost certainly because I was the new kid on the block, and when it was just about over he asked me, "Got enough money, Don?"

    I tried to haggle for a couple thousand dollars he had removed from our projections but got nowhere. We all shook hands and went our separate ways. In the elevator on the way back to the office, Dave said, "I almost died when you tried to get that money back." And after a pause, "I wonder if they'll be able to get the urine stains out of the carpet."

  • Dave dressed immaculately and stylishly, and was a little vain about his appearance. One Monday morning he announced that it was time for him to lose a little weight. I couldn't see that there was an ounce of fat on him, but there must have been one somewhere. He said he would do it by dieting.

    A few days later he announced proudly that he had lost three pounds. I asked him what kind of diet he was following and he said, "A water diet."

    "Oh, my brother had some success with that a couple of years ago."

    "How much did he lose?"

    "Twenty-four pounds."

    I received a long and exasperated stare, followed by "Let me teach you something about how to get along with people."

  • At about the time I was made a division Director, I was playing a lot of backgammon at night, for anywhere from a dollar to ten dollars a point. It was not unusual for me to have several thousand dollars in hundreds in my wallet.

    Somewhere around my first or second meeting with my Vice President, Rick, something came up that made me take out my wallet and fumble for something inside it. Rick noticed the hundreds, laughed, and asked where all the money came from. I told him that I had won something over ten thousand dollars in the last year playing backgammon.

    "Donnie, what are you going to do with all that money?"

    "Rick, that's my fuck you money."

    Dave jumped up, grabbed my arm, and hauled me out of Rick's office.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Hammond Electric Organ

Pretty much all his working life, my father worked two jobs, For years he moonlighted as a short order cook, then as an organist in several lounges.

He had a knack for musical instruments and at various times taught himself to play the accordian, piano, and electric organ by ear. Around 1959, he and his second wife, Pru, visited some friends one evening. The husband proudly displayed his new Hammond electric organ, and my father was entranced. While he was at work a week or so later, a truck showed up at Dad's home, carrying . . . right, an organ for delivery. This was a complete surprise to Pru, but she took it in stride. I imagine this was the first time either of them had made a $1,500 purchase without telling the other. A week later he got home from work and there was a brand new Buick in the driveway.

Dad set about teaching himself to play, and things went smoothly. During this learning process he mentioned to a colleague at work that he had bought the organ. The colleague owned a restaurant and bar and asked if he could call on Dad to play in the lounge on those occasions when his organist didn't show up, and Dad said, "Any time."

That night he got the call. Several years later he told me that he went to the lounge, headed for the bar, and had two quick doubles.

This led to a Friday and Saturday night gig at a restaurant and lounge in Amesbury, the 110 House (now defunct - as a matter of fact it was a car wash the last time I drove by there). He played there during the late 1960s and for much of the 1970s. I often drove up there on a Friday or Saturday night, most frequently with Dee. One anecdote from there:

Dee and I were there one night and the lounge was packed. One table away was a party of six, a couple of whom we knew. In that party was a woman in her fifties and her mother - late seventies or early eighties. You know how every once in a while in a crowded place there'll be a moment when everyone but one person stops talking, and that person can be heard all over the room? Well, during one of those . . .

80ish Mom: "I'd give a million dollars for the feel of a man's hand on my belly again."

50ish Daughter: "Mama!"

80ish Mom: "Well, you know what they say: 'When you're too old to cut the mustard you can still lick the jar.'"

50ish Daughter: "MAMA!"

Customers: (Much laughter and a smattering of applause.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fort Sam Houston Vignettes

After Germany, I was assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I worked as the finance clerk (and did the Morning Report) for Brooke General Hospital's patients. For some reason or other there was a brief period during which there was no NCO in charge of this small personnel area, and the staff was managed by a First Lieutenant we'll call Jones. (I can't use "Smith" because that was his real name. Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha.)

Today, I can't seem to get a handle on his personality, but my recollection is that I couldn't get one forty years ago either. He was formal without being prissy or a martinet, neither particularly friendly nor particularly unfriendly.

During the time when there was no NCOIC, one bizarre incident occurred. It was part of my job to spend some time in the office on Sundays, nearly always alone, sometimes with Lt. Jones present, in order to produce the day's Morning Report. One Monday morning he called me into his office and accused me of not having been in the office at all on Sunday. I had in fact been in and could prove it in two ways: most importantly, the Morning Report was done, and secondly an enlisted man from another department had been in and we had chatted over a cup of coffee.

I pointed these items out to him and offered to walk down the aisle and get the enlisted man right that minute, but he declined, and much to my astonishment threatened to report me to my Company Commander to be disciplined for failure to report to work on Sunday.

"Lieutenant, you're going to look like a fool when you have to explain how the Morning Report got done. Incidentally, how do you think it got done?"

No response to that, and although he gave up on the idea of reporting me, he never backed off the position that I had not been there on Sunday. To this day I don't understand what was going on. There had been no incidents of any kind between us and I don't know why he got dug in on the idea that I hadn't been there.


One morning I awoke with some pain on each side of my groin. I went to sick call and the doctor asked me a few questions, among them whether I had a cat (I lived off post). I did, and he sent me to the Brooke Army Medical Center Maternity Ward.

A doctor there asked me whether the cat might have scratched me. I told him that the cat often scratched me, as we did a little friendly roughhousing. A nurse drew a little blood, they ran a maternity test on me, and I tested positive. This meant I had "cat scratch fever," and an antibiotic, tetracyclene, was prescribed, which soon did away with the infection.

I'm sure other men must have gone through this, but I don't actually know any other guy who has tested positive for pregnancy.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Parking, A Cultural Thing

I think that Germany was building its first drive-in theater (in Frankfurt), when I returned to the US in 1963, after four and a half years. This would help account for at least one of the cultural differences between there and here, although the major reason for most of them would be Germany's recent history. I had arrived in Germany in February, 1959, not quite fourteen years after World War II. Although West Germany was thriving economically, some parts of it were still rubble. Germans my age had lived through some very difficult times, being four years old when the war ended.

Around 1962, Anna and I were just beginning to date when I suggested she try to think of someone for John to date. Anna, John, and I all worked in the same office on post, she being one of two civilian women there. Soon she thought of a high school girlfriend, Irma, whom she had not seen for a while. She called Irma, cleared it with John, and arranged a double date for dinner.

Irma spoke very little English, but had studied it at school a few years earlier. John spoke as close to no German as one could get. Anna was fluent in several languages - German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. I spoke some German, what we called "street German," that I had picked up over the preceding several years, with the atrocious accents of Bavaria's Oberpfalz District. Anna and I agreed that except in the most extreme cases we would not help John and Irma with translations, and this worked very well.

I believe the first double date was just a trip to a local restaurant for dinner, and then a gasthaus for drinks. John and Irma were instant hits with each other. Soon the four of us became inseparable and in a very short time Irma's English came rushing back to her.

Well, John and I were GI's, and although the dollar was still very strong in Germany (a hair under four Deutsche Marks to the dollar), we weren't paid so well that constant dating didn't create a problem, so we often tried to think of inexpensive activities for the four of us that would still be fun. John came up with what seemed to be a brilliant idea for end-of-the-month activities, when he and I were usually broke or pretty close to it - parking.

We have now arrived at the cultural difference referred to in the first paragraph. We tried parking after dinner one night. The girls had never heard of it, and were skeptical. Justifiably skeptical, in fact.

John found an isolated spot in a wooded area and we found that our dates had the remarkable talent of turning into statues. Nothing heavy was going on, just a little light necking, but only two of us were attempting it - John and I. The girls had never been exposed to such a scenario and could not get by the fact that they could actually see each other. We soon gave it up as a bad job.

That night and for the next several days, John and I brooded over the situation, analyzing why it didn't work, wondering if it could somehow be made to work, and eventually stumbling over an idea.

After the next dinner we announced that we were going to try parking again, and were roundly booed by the girls. We promised that there would be a little change and that there was a good chance they would enjoy it. Understandably, they were as skeptical as ever, but . . . John and I pinned an Army blanket up between the front and back seats of John's 1950 Opel, and the statues melted. They were still a little reserved (they could hear each other, you see) but they were much more relaxed.

Still, it never became quite as comfortable as American guys were used to, and we only went parking once or twice more. Growing up in post-war Germany, their experiences were different - no drive-ins, few cars (and just about none to be used by teenagers for recreation), and little money for frivolities created an entirely different atmosphere during their formative years.

John and Irma got engaged, and as I was returning to the States before John, I was tapped to visit his family and reassure them about Irma. I spent several days with them, assuring them that Irma wasn't just some girl he'd picked up in a bar - they'd heard some disaster stories about that - and by the time I moved on to Fort Sam Houston they were comfortable with it all, or at least much more comfortable than they had been.

My friends did get married and as far as I know are still married. I have visited them but it has been many years now.