Thursday, May 29, 2014

don't come around here no more

"Me? I'm just a lawnmower - you can tell me by the way I walk."
— I Know What I Like
Selling England by the Pound (1973) 
Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford
When I was a kid, one of my regular chores was to mow the lawn. I hated mowing the lawn. Since summer is lawn mowing weather, it was hot. We had a fairly large front lawn and backyard, so after the lengthy ordeal of mowing was completed, I had to rake up the clippings and bag them. Did I mention it was hot? The only saving grace was the nearby Nabisco Cookie factory. During certain times of the day, my neighborhood would be enveloped in the delicious aroma of fresh Oreos. I tried to schedule my lawn-mowing efforts around those times. It made the work a little more bearable. Not much, but a little.

When I got married and moved into my own house, I felt I was obligated to buy a lawnmower. My own lawn was considerably smaller than the one I grew up cutting, but I realized I still hated mowing the lawn. At the end of the first summer in my own house, I decided I would never push a lawnmower again. I would hire someone to cut and maintain my grass. I was working. I could afford it.

The next summer, we hired Mr. Edwards to cut our lawn. He (or one of his crew) would force a giant commercial riding lawnmower* into our tiny, helpless backyard like a rapist. In a matter of a minutes, a few unruly inches of grass was reduced to microscopic shreds — no raking necessary. At the same time, three strapping young men would guide three roaring gas mowers across my yielding front lawn, rendering it into a regulation US Army crew cut. Then, they'd perfectly edge the areas adjacent to my driveway and public sidewalk. The entire job would take less than ten minutes. Ten minutes that I could find another way to occupy.

Mr. Edward's visits were always preceded by a phone call at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning. Many times, my slumber in my peaceful, pre-workday hours were harshly interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone by my bedside. I'd fumble in darkness, usually knocking my glasses to the floor or prematurely setting off my alarm, in my search for the receiver.

"Mistah Pincus!," Mr. Edwards would scream in his nearly unintelligible, thick Jamaican accent — and those were the last words that I would understand. In his best approximation of the late Bob Marley, he'd ramble on (I surmised) about the afternoon plans he had for my lawn and, through my grogginess, I'd "uh-huh" in agreement, although I had absolutely no idea what he was saying. For all I knew, he could have been explaining the secrets of quantum physics or slyly revealing a plot to murder me. When I sensed by his tone that he was winding the one-sided conversation to a close, I'd ask, "How much should I leave for you?" Suddenly, the island dialect would disappear and he would clearly intone "twenty bucks," the words spoken as though they were a Shakespearean soliloquy delivered by Laurence Oliver.

And so it went like that for years. I was pretty happy with the services Mr. Edwards provided. Actually, I was just happy that someone that wasn't me was doing the yard work. Of course, the price rose several times over the years. Each time, I was a bit surprised when his garbled Rasta-inflected explanation ended with a crystal-clear, eloquently-enunciated, Queen's English delivery of a price increase. Twenty went to twenty-five. Twenty-five went to thirty. The cost of spring clean-ups escalated, too. The only things that didn't change were the early morning phone calls and the size of my yard.

In February, this happened. A large tree branch crashed through our living room window. After the initial shock and panic, we were relieved to learn that our homeowner's insurance would cover the cost of damages and clean-up if we provide an itemized bill from a hired contractor. A neighbor (who is also a contractor) was able to replace the window and cut the offending branch into small, easily disposable sections. However, our area was pummeled relentlessly by more wintry weather, hindering the removal of the debris on our driveway. The big thaw coincided with our annual spring clean-up from Mr. Edwards. He called and I explained that he was not to come until the tree branches were removed and the other maintenance work was completed. His annual clean-up would have to wait until he heard from me. I repeated it again to Mr. Edwards. I can only assume he understood.

He didn't.

The first nice day, Mr. Edwards and his workers took it upon themselves to clean my yard. They puttered around my yard, filling leaf bags and uprooting some weeds. A short time later, Mr. Edwards left me a voicemail. Through his accent, I deciphered that his crew had been to my house and he was asking for a whopping $175. I was furious! He didn't provide anything close to $175 worth of work. Jeez, my lawn isn't big enough to warrant $175 worth of work! But, still, I put a check in the mail and called him. This time, I got his answering service. I left a message saying that he would be paid, but we would no longer require his services. (A few weeks prior, my wife found a landscaper that quoted considerably lower that Mr. Edwards' price.) I thought — actually hoped — that this would be the end of it.

It wasn't.

Mr. Edwards called me. I tried to explain that I was unhappy about his crew doing work when I explicitly told him not to come until I called him. I expressed my anger that he blatantly disregarded my instruction. He repeatedly interrupted my explanation, until I raised my voice well above his.

"Mr. Edwards!," I yelled, "I told you not to come to my yard and you came anyway! Despite that, I paid you! Now, don't come anymore! Understand? We got someone else!" I think I finally broke the language barrier as I was breaking the sound barrier.

The new lawn guy came the next week. He did a pretty shitty job, but better him than me. I still haven't been behind a lawnmower in twenty-five years and I intend to keep that record going.

* the type you see cutting the grass that grows on the median strips of six-lane super-highways

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I'm gonna add some bottom

Uncontrollable circumstances have forced a friend of mine to seek out a new bass player for his band. He decided to take the "place an ad" route, so he turned to Craig's List, the online one-stop shop for all things everything. My father used to say, "If you put your phone number in the newspaper, every nut in the world will call you." My father's prophetic warning still rings true in the Internet age, except emails have now replaced phone calls. However, nuts are perennial. So, Sly* placed this ad (The ads have been edited for privacy - JPiC):
Formed in late 2011, heavily into '60s soul/northern soul/mod/garage sounds, like Booker T. and the MGs, Small Faces, The Kinks, Georgie Fame, etc. Lineup is Hammond organ/elec. piano, guitar, bass, drums. Songs are almost a 50/50 split between instros and vocals.
We're all 'family guys' with kids, jobs, houses, etc. but we make time for this because we love it so much. Rehearsals are weekly in *******, usually weeknight evenings, gigs are 1-3 times/month, local and regional.
Someone with the tightness/groove of Duck Dunn (Booker T and the MGs), the power and joy of Ronnie Lane (Small Faces), and the cool detachment of Pete Quaife (Kinks). Background vocals would be a plus. We try to do 3-part harmonies, so if you're a good high-harmony shouter, that'd be cool.
We do try to put on a 'show', so image/energy definitely has its place. Other obvious requirements like reliable gear, transportation, etc. kind of go without saying.
 If interested, please get back to us and we'll set something up. Thanks.
and, man oh man, did he get a reply!
If PRO LEVEL is what you're looking for, I just MAY BE the one for you !!! ODDLY ENOUGH I'm just a block or two from you, below Spring Garden, and between 9th and 10th Streets, and used to live in Fishtown [a Philadelphia neighboorhood - JPiC] (used to watch "G-Love" walkin' around the hood). I have opened up for James Brown at "Jam On The River" in Philadelphia for 10,000 or so people, and I have done gigs where just one or two people have shown up (I think we've ALL been through that). I was the bassist with the Dead End Kids, hard rock band (the former"Kings of Wildwood") for awhile, and everything in between. PLAYING is my MAIN THING, but I DO like to see A LITTLE something ($) come out of it. Some of my 10-30 amps & axes are in the pawn shop, but I can always get them out, if the need arises. I've BEEN AROUND, but was told I was the most dynamic player with Dead End Kids, by a reliable source. If you know ANYTHING about them, you know this is a TALL ORDER......... Anyway. If you feel like givin' me a shout,call (***) ***-****. As of JUST NOW, myphone minutes are down to two (2), but I'm tryin'to get the dumb-ass phone company, to realize that my debit card ACTUALLY DOES have money on it !!! Have my own wheels, gear, etc.
Talk to you soon,
Sly rolled his eyes and lamented, "This is why I absolutely loathe placing ads for musicians."  But, bass-playin' Dave wasn't finished. Thirty minutes later, he added a post-script to his initial (tirade? ramble?) whatever-you-like-to-call-it. It seems that if he wasn't getting a steady gig out of this, he would at least try to sell a guitar to make the whole endeavor worth his while.:
ALSO - I'm sellin' my Les Paul, with an asking price of $30,000. I DID have it on craigslist, but got "flagged" twice, POSSIBLY for mentioning that Slash was one of the potential buyers. Not REALLY sure why, but the money should NOT be a problem, once this is taken care of. I keep getting 5 calls in the same number of days, and then it's OFFLINE !!! Mind if I stop by. If I do it NOW, I could be back in time to eat. OTHERWISE, I could do it after 6................
On 5/19/14, Dave wrote: > P.P.S. - Sorry for the bad "space bar" on this keyboard. Many of the > words arejammed together "cause the bar can't "jam"..............

But wait! Dave still had more to say, despite no acknowledgement whatsoever from Sly. Two days after first contact, Sly received this:
“Hey, just one more thing. I don't think it's FAIR to judge one person just because another, who had ONE thing in common, turned out to be a bad choice. You may miss out on the VERY GUY you need in order to make things WORK, long term. I DID TELL YOU that I stay OUTSIDE the facility. HOWEVER I worded it before, this is precisely because I DON"T LIKE the people who stay in there. Also. I don't necessarily think your guy "turned into" a junkie. People who do that stuff lie about it all the time. It's pretty much the only constant thing about them. He most liikely just failed to tell you about it until the issue became unavoidable. Even if this IS what happened, it just shows a weak character for someone to PICK UP that kind of behavior, just because 40% or more (MY estimation) of the people around them do so. I also doubt this guy was doing the kind of work I did when he became homeless. There are basically two categories of people in there (notice I said "there", not "here"). Your bums in general, ne'er do wells, ex-cons,& junkies. On the other hand there are those who had a chink in their armor, as far as luck is concerned and who get out as soon as possible. I'm quite sure you remember my stating I was only there as long as required to be eligible for a program through which I can get out and STAY OUT. It would be POINTLESS in THIS ECONOMY, to just make a run for it, hoping in vain for work without making SURE it's going to workout. They make you WAIT nearly 6 months beforeyou're eligible for ANYTHING and then they expect you to take whatever burger flipper or WHATEVER jobis available,WHETHER OR NOT you can support yourself with it.
All the best,
P.S.- Minutes are out AS OF NOW,,but will likely be back on shortly,,as customer service is too stupid to know that my debit card has money in it. Unless it'sanother Target type scheme.”
Anyway. If you reconsider,let me know. I did not seeanything from you in my Inbox.but did not bring my glasses,and haven'tchecked it all. Just thought these ideas were important to get across and WILL LOOK to see if you sent anything. They call me "Lightning" in the studio. I'm a very fast learner and have the reputation ofbeing the BEST in any location in which I play. Sorry you got a bad taste in your mouth from that "other guy", but I really have no control over that,do I? You must be getting a lot of calls or are not quite sure with whoever you have oryou would not let another Wednesday pass by without hooking up with SOMEONE.
Sly re-read the ad he placed and finally emailed Dave, saying:
I think you may be replying to the wrong ad.
Dave responded:
Oh. Yeah, I guess.

Don't do drugs, kids. And stay in school.

* you remember Sly, don't you?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

the best things in life are free

Mrs. Pincus got an offer for a "Buy One, Get One Free" entree at the Hard Rock Cafe for her birthday. On Friday, we decided to take them up on it.

My wife loves to drive, so I was a bit surprised when she conceded to take the train into Center City (where the Philadelphia outlet of the Hard Rock is located). Around 7:30, we headed to the train station, in much the same way I do every morning to get to work. I think the last time Mrs. P was on a train (not counting Disneyland) was three years ago, as opposed to my three hours ago. The train arrived and we selected a seat and settled in for the brief ride. A conductor soon came by to collect fares. As a daily commuter, I flashed my monthly trans-pass, which allows full access to all public transportation. My wife gathered some money from her purse, not sure of the actual fare. The conductor smiled and said to my wife, "How 'bout a free ride?" and he kept on walking down the train's center aisle. Unsure of what just happened, Mrs. P and I looked at each other and laughed. Cool! Free train ride!

Mmmmm.... cedar paper.
We walked a block from the downtown train station to the Hard Rock. We were seated within a few minutes and presented menus. Our waiter appeared, introduced himself and explained the menu as though we had never been to a restaurant before. We each ordered the same thing - grilled salmon with broccoli and mashed potatoes. We also ordered an appetizer of the signature "Nachopalooza," a large plate of tortilla chips, cheese, beans, jalapenos, pico de gallo and sour cream. The waiter complemented us on our selections (whatever!) and said our order will be out shortly. We sat and talked, watched some vintage and current videos on the monitors scattered among the display cases of memorabilia (I got to hear my first Miley Cyrus song!), and waited for our meal.

A different waiter delivered our dinner to our table, announcing "Two salmons," as he placed the platters before my spouse and me. We looked at the plates (which looked and smelled delicious), but realized that we didn't get our appetizer. I scanned the dining room for our waiter. I looked among the tables of weary-looking tourists - beleaguered parents and tired children who had seen enough Liberty Bells and Betsy Ross Houses for one day - but our waiter was nowhere to be seen. Finally, he emerged from the kitchen entrance. I waved for his attention and motioned him to come to our table.

"How is everything, guys?," he asked. (I hate the new trend of waiters addressing an entire table as "guys" -  but that's a rant for another blog.) I explained that while our dinners looked great, we had not received our order of "Nachopalooza." He looked shocked and broke into a flood of apology. Actually, he over-apologized, but crossed the line when he revealed that he never put in the order because he was preoccupied by a larger dinner party. Not cool, dude. Don't ever tell a customer that another customer is more important. Anyway, he promised to put the order in now and they would be free of charge. Cool! Free train ride and nachos!

We finished our dinner as the nachos arrived. While it was a little unusual, we had them instead of dessert. And they were really good. (Granted, I love any form of Mexican food, even corporate chain restaurant versions of Mexican food.) Together, we cleared the plate. My wife produced her "free entree" coupon when the waiter asked if we'd like anything else. He returned to our table with a check for a mere twenty dollars. Cool! Free train ride, free nachos and one free dinner!

We made our way back to the train station for the ride home. Birthday celebrations are always fun and to quote a friend: "If it's free, it's for me."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

so pile on those mashed potatoes and an extra chicken wing

Did you ever walk into a restaurant for the very first time and think to yourself, "Well, I'll never be coming back to this place again."? We went out to dinner last night with some friends and that thought popped into my head as soon as I walked through the front door of the Hibachi Grill and Buffet.

I will be the first to admit that I have unusual eating preferences. I am a vegetarian. I have been for eight years. I do, however, eat fish. There are plenty of die-hard vegetarians that will tell you that, because I eat fish, I am not a true vegetarian. To them I say, "Fuck you, broccoli-lover." I am very particular about which types of fish I eat. I like salmon, flounder, tilapia and tuna. And that's about it. I don't like fishy fish. I also don't eat shellfish. Aside from the fact that I have observed the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) for nearly thirty years, oysters and clams look like snot to me. Crabs and lobster seem to involve too much effort for a meal. I like to eat with a knife and fork. I don't care to have a hammer and nutcracker as dinnertime utensils. As a vegetarian, I don't eat a lot of vegetables. I like corn, potatoes, peas, carrots and the occasional asparagus stalk, but it pretty much ends there. To make up for it, I eat a lot of cookies salad.

Hibachi Grill and Buffet offers a small (as compared to the sumptuous spread available at most casinos) buffet. Several food service ares are set up in the center of a large room, the dimly-lit perimeter of which is sectioned off for seating. Among the predominantly Asian-centric fare was a selection of pork, beef and poultry. The seafood was mostly of the shell-dwelling variety.

An out-of place salad bar was my first stop. I piled an adequately-clean plate with chopped lettuce, shredded carrots and tiny croutons that would have passed for crumbs in a larger establishment. I added a ladle-full of bright orange French dressing from a small trough on the salad bar and headed to our table to begin my first course.

Finding enough to eat among the animal flesh would prove tricky. I located a mass of misshapen objects that had been breaded and deep fried beyond reasonable recognition.. An index card-size sign identified the morsels as fried flounder. I am used to seeing flounder as large, flat slabs. These things looked shriveled and scared. Making my way down the buffet, I spooned myself some fried potatoes, some vegetable lo mein and a few fried plantains. I topped the food mound off with a slice of heat-n-serve garlic bread. I looked down at my plate. Everything was the same color. It was beige. Very beige. And it looked like a four-year-old advised me on my choices. A cup of ketchup brightened things up.

Dessert, the best part of any meal, was next. The dessert station offered several unappetizing cakes, a large but untouched tray of dry-looking brownies and a larger tray of Pillsbury "Ready-to-Bake®" sugar cookies boasting Hallowe'en designs. It is nearly Memorial Day. You do the math.

As I considered my dessert options, something over by the cut-up fruit caught my eye. There were several large pans filled with neatly-cut squares of Jello®. They were divided by color and/or flavor. Red. Orange. Green. And clear.

That's right. Clear. I stared at those cubes for a long time. I had no intention of eating that  Jello®. Now, I consider myself fairly adventurous. I like roller coasters. I like scary movies. In my meat-eating, pre-kosher days, I even ate alligator and conch. But, I draw the line at see-thru dessert. I really just wanted to see someone else plop a big ol' spoonful of the colorless, jiggly blocks onto a plate. There were no takers. A few snickers and bewildered glances, but no brave souls stepped up to the gelatin plate.

I will never know the fate of the clear Jello®. I made my first and last trip to Hibachi Grill and Buffet at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. I wonder if those two birds ended up on the buffet?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

elevator... going up!

For roughly 1,680 mornings, I have boarded one of six elevators to take me to the 36th floor of a center city Philadelphia office building. At the end of the workday, I board one of those same elevators and return to the building's lobby where I head out the the train station and eventually make my way home.

This morning started the same way as those previous 1,680. I arrived at the elevator lobby and pressed the "up" button — the only option in the lobby. As I waited, a few people gathered behind me. There were a couple of co-workers that I recognized mixed among the other people who work on floors occupied by other businesses. I gave a "Good Morning" nod to those I knew, just as a melodic "ding" split the air announcing an elevator's arrival. Ever the old-school gentleman, I allowed the waiting women to enter the car first. Then, I stepped in and waved my swipe card across the smoked-glass panel situated below the floor number buttons. This grants access to floors that are directly off-limits to the general public. I selected my floor and the other occupants did the same. The doors closed and the car hesitated. Then, it jerked. Then, it dropped slightly and shook. Several riders let out an audible gasp. Others gripped tense fingers into whatever they were holding — bags, backpacks, insulated cups of steaming coffee. The cramped car seemed to get even smaller and more confining as it jostled up and down a few times before the familiar automated voice announced "First Floor" and the doors slid open. The group exited en masse and emitted a collective sigh of relief. Someone pressed the call button in the lobby and we all eyed the offending doors from which we just egressed, warning newly-arriving passengers to avoid that elevator.

Another elevator arrived with the same friendly "ding" as the first one. With mild trepidation, we entered the new elevator car much like we did the first one. Satisfied with the apparent safety, everyone made their respective floor selections and the elevator doors slid closed.

And it happened again.

The elevator car shivered and dropped. This time, instead of gasps, several startled passengers uttered frightened cries. One woman shrieked, "Jesus Christ!," and clutched her chest, her eyes wide with terror. After a couple more shimmies, the doors opened and the passengers broke for freedom, nearly trampling each other while trying to remain civil. The call button was pressed again and the group waited with apprehension for a third — hopefully functioning — elevator.

The elevator arrived and the same group of shock-weary passengers entered  — slowly, deliberately, suspiciously. The doors closed. We felt the elevator rise in a normal fashion, the way it usually moves. I spoke up, breaking the taut silence.

"Y'know," I began, smiling, "people in Disney World pay a hundred dollars a day to ride in an elevator that does that."

My attempt at levity was rewarded with a few nervous giggles.

Eh... I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

who let the dogs out?

It's been some time since I offended dog owners (December 2012, March 2011 and way back in August 2010), so let's give this another shot.
You love your dog? Good for you! But I've got some bad news for you, sunshine... I don't love your dog. Nor do a whole lot of other people. Fortunately for you, the good folks at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City have rolled out the flea-bitten carpet for you and the kibble-eating members of your household. It seems that the casino is hurting for business and want to throw out the welcome mat to everyone. Having already divided and sub-divided the "No Smoking" areas of the casino floor for the sake of future emphysema patients, they are now offering accommodations to guests with dogs, provided they are under fifty pounds (The dogs, not the guests. Harrah's still offers one of the best all-you-can-eat buffets at the Jersey Shore).

There is a list of rules and regulations regarding staying with dogs. One of the five guest room towers has been designated as the "dog" tower. Dogs must be crated when left unattended or when a member of the housekeeping staff is making up the room. Not unreasonable. Not unreasonable at all. Unfortunately, there are those among us that live by the credo: "Rules? Rules are for you assholes. The rules do not apply to me." Then, there is that other group, too (the ones I referenced earlier). The ones who love their dogs and believe that everyone else loves their dogs, as well. The ones who think their dog is a person*. The ones who refer to their dog as "my baby." The ones who don't restrain their dogs around other people. The ones who insist their dog is just being friendly as it wipes its muddy paws all over your shirt and jams its snout into your crotch.

These are the guests that will bring trouble to the well-meaning Harrah's.

The elevators at the designated "dog" tower let out mere steps from a busy, twenty-four hour coffee shop. That means dog hair in the food. Dogs, while leashed, will encounter other dogs in common guest areas (lobbies, inside walkways, front desk, elevators etc.). Dogs are known to be unpredictable around other dogs.(Yes, even your dog!) Children love to pet dogs, whether or not your dog likes to be petted... and dogs bite. Some owners don't bathe their dogs regularly. Oh, and sometimes dogs shit on the floor. (Yes, even your dog!) 

I hope Harrah's little canine experiment works out for them. I, however, will not be around to see if it does.

Look, I hate dogs as much as the next dog hater. But, I hate overzealous dog owners more.

*Your dog is not a person and never will be. Never.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

fate's right hand

photo by E.
Early Tuesday morning, my son was taking his usual walk to work on his usual route. He walked up Walnut Street and, as he made his way towards 30th Street, he gave my wife a call on his cellphone. He didn't have anything special or pressing to talk about. A frequent morning ritual, he was just calling his mom for the sake of calling. They chatted as he walked. As he approached the Walnut Street Bridge, he spotted flashing lights and a gathering crowd of people.

"Hmmm," he said to his mom, "It looks like there's been an accident. They have the street blocked off and I can't get to my building. I'll have to go around the corner and go in through the ground floor entrance."

* * * * * 

Zachary Woods moved from New York to Philadelphia to begin a two-year program in international business at the prestigious Wharton School of Business's Lauder Institute, a graduate branch of the University of Pennsylvania. He had previously worked for the New York City Regional Center, an organization that stimulates economic growth by seeking foreign capital for projects in the United States. Representing the NYCRC, Zachary lived in China, where he helped with water treatment in rural Chinese villages. After settling into his new home on Sunday, his first day of his new course of study began on Monday.

photo by
Early Tuesday morning, Zachary was walking up Walnut Street for his second day of classes. A few minutes before 10 a.m., Guy Andrews was speeding up 30th Street in his 2005 Mercury and ran a red light. A driver in a Toyota Camry broadsided Andrews' vehicle, sending it careening towards the curb. And towards Zachary Woods. In a moment of quick thinking, Zachary jumped up on the base of a nearby traffic light, hoping to avoid being struck by the out-of-control car. But the force of the impact was too strong. The Mercury plowed into the traffic light, sending it over the guard rail of the Walnut Street Bridge. Thirty-eight feet below, a crew of Philadelphia utility workers on a job site looked up to see the traffic signal and Zachary topple over the cement wall and plummet towards them, striking some power lines on the way down. Zachary crashed onto the pavement next to the utility truck, one leg obviously broken. Emergency services were called and Zachary was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, assessed to be in critical condition.

Penn had scheduled a welcome party for new students. 27 year-old Zachary Woods most likely would have attended that party. Sadly, he passed away from his injuries late Tuesday evening.

When Zachary woke up on Tuesday morning, he had no reason to believe it would be for the last time.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by Philadelphia Police.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

it was great when it all began

I like to visit cemeteries. It's a hobby that started innocently enough on a family trip to Cleveland in 2007. After visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and taking in an Indians game, a waitress at the Hard Rock Cafe suggested that we cap off our stay with a stop at Lake View Cemetery. She explained that President Garfield, a suburban Cleveland native, is buried there. So, on our way out of the city, we went to Lake View.

President Garfield Memorial
What a cool experience! My previous cemetery visits were only on the occasion of a funeral or an unveiling (a traditional Jewish ceremony in which a grave marker is dedicated and "revealed" within one year after a funeral). This experience was different. There was no solemnity or sorrow. We were there as sightseers. Within the orderly rows of tombstones, conveniently placed directional signs pointed the way to the final resting places of such luminaries as millionaire John D. Rockefeller and G-Man Eliot Ness. I found myself taken in by the picturesque landscape and the quiet, serene atmosphere. At the actual grave sites, I was intrigued by the connection to history.

I was hooked. From that point on, I tried to schedule a trek to a local cemetery on every family vacation we took... sometimes to the chagrin of the other members of my family. At first my wife and son would humor me, joining me as I traipsed through rows of similar-looking headstones, searching for that elusive find. As the years rolled on, it turned to "Ugh! Dad wants to go to another graveyard!" Our trip evolved into me wandering around with my camera at the ready, while my family dozed off in the parked car. Soon, I was going to cemeteries alone.

John D. Rockefeller lies here
While I appreciate the sculpture and elaborate decoration that marks a vast amount of graves, my main goal is to visit the graves of celebrities — actors, actresses and other people who have made their name in history. Finding these graves is no easy task and requires a great deal of preparation. It's not like you can drive through cemetery gates and look for the sign that says "Famous People — This a-way!" Unlike their treatment above ground, famous people have no choice but to be buried among the commoners. Sometimes their remains are housed in huge, ornate mausoleums, sequestered from the cookie-cutter plots of the average Joe. But, for the most part, death is the great equalizer. When you die, no matter how important you were in life, you're just as dead as the next guy and into the ground you go.

Eliot Ness'  marker
So, before I visit a cemetery, I do a lot of research. I find a map of the property. I check to see the amount of "celebrity" graves on the property. (One or two is hardly worth the trip.) If possible, with the help of my favorite website Find-A-Grave, I find the location of the particular grave sites. Then, I plot out my route on the cemetery map. Sometimes, the available maps are not accurate and I find myself standing in the middle of a mass of headstones, surveying the area like a moron, half expecting a corpse to pop up and wave "Hey! I'm over here!" It hasn't happened yet.

I have found that most cemeteries are not set up for picture-taking idiots like me. They are laid out for family members who are going to the same loved one's grave site year after year. No map required. You've been there before. You can find the spot with your eyes closed. As far as the "grave hunter" (yes, there's an accepted term for what I do) is concerned, most cemeteries are poorly marked with little or no posted directions. Also, with very few exceptions, cemetery employees are not tour guides. The outside workers are there to cut the grass and pick up trash. Inside workers are there to maintain the books and schedule funerals. They aren't interested in leading you by the hand to Judy Garland's crypt. There are some cemetery managements, however, that embrace and celebrate their famous residents, but they are the minority.

We have seen some weird things on our cemetery visits. I don't mean ghosts or spirits or any of that type of bullshit. I mean other visitors just being weird. We saw a woman lovingly stroke the brass plaque that adorns the crypt of Marilyn Monroe, before seating herself on a nearby cement bench, where she unwrapped a sandwich, a bag of chips and a can of soda. She no doubt told her friends that she couldn't make an afternoon lunch date because she would be dining with the late silver screen siren. I watched a woman, sitting on the curb next to the grave of R.H. Macy, spend several long minutes putting on a full face of make-up. We watched kids playing hopscotch, using flat grave markers as their game board. The animal kingdom even got in on the weirdness. I was startled by a fox with a shaved ass zig-zagging between the headstones of a Pennsylvania cemetery and a flock of turkeys strolling through a New York memorial park.

Over the past seven years, I have visited over two dozen cemeteries, dragging my poor spouse along to most of them. She's a good sport. 

My adventures in grave-hunting are chronicled HERE. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

law man has put an end to my running

On June 3, 1999, Clayton Lockett, a 23 year-old just ten months out of prison on an embezzlement charge, stole a car, picked up two accomplices and headed to the home of Bobby Bornt. Lockett had made a deal with Bornt to cover up an unwanted tattoo for twenty dollars. Bornt had given payment to a mutual acquaintance, but Lockett claimed he never received it.

Bobby Bornt was asleep on his sofa when his front door was kicked in. Clayton Lockett burst in brandishing a shotgun. He cracked Bornt in the head with the butt of the gun and, as Bornt lay bleeding, the three intruders ransacked the home. Stephanie Neiman, a recent high-school graduate, stopped by with a friend to ask Bornt to a party. The two young girls innocently walked in through the open front door, in the middle of the assault on Bornt.

Lockett and his cohorts bound Bornt with duct tape. They beat Stephanie and beat and raped Stephanie's friend and then forced the three outside to Bornt's and Stephanie's vehicles. Lockett took the lead and drove with Bornt. The two accomplices rode with Stephanie and her friend. Lockett drove to a remote area of Kay County, Oklahoma. He ordered his accomplices to dig a hole while he dragged Stephanie's friend off to rape her again. When he returned, they bound Stephanie and her friend with duct tape. Lockett shot Stephanie twice and kicked her into the hole, giving instruction to cover her up, despite her obvious writhing and audible moans. He drove everyone back to Bornt's house. He let Bornt and Stephanie's friend out, threatening to come back and kill them if they contacted the police. 

They next morning, the two survivors of the ordeal went to the local police.

Lockett was picked up and questioned by police, eventually admitting guilt. At trial, he was convicted of first degree murder, as well as eighteen additional counts, including rape, assault, conspiracy and kidnapping. Lockett was sentenced to 2,285 years in prison for the lesser charges, but received the death penalty for committing premeditated murder.

On April 29, 2014, Clayton Lockett lay strapped to a gurney in a small, cinder-block room in Oklahoma State Prison. His outstretched arms were rendered immobile under the thick leather restraints encircling his wrists. At 6:23 pm, the first of a deadly three-part "cocktail" was injected into the IV tubes that had previously been inserted into Lockett's arm. A minute later he was declared unconscious. But, to the surprise of the prison staff, Lockett began to exhale and writhe on the table. He lifted his head up and muttered, "I'm not" and "Something's wrong." The two remaining drugs were administered, in spite of Lockett's actions. He thrashed more, until, at 7:03 pm, he was pronounced dead. It was determined that he had suffered a heart attack.

A lot of controversy has surrounded the so-called "botched" execution. Several pharmaceutical companies have forbidden their products to be used for government-sanctioned lethal injection. In a scramble to find a substitute, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections used an untested combination of drugs on Lockett. A similar mixture had been used in Florida in 2013, but the dosages varied. A large number media outlets have condemned the incident as "barbaric" and "inappropriate in a civilized society." Even the White House said the execution "fell short of humane standards."

Taking his actions of June 3, 1999 into consideration, I think that while Lockett was squirming uncomfortably on that gurney, someone should have kicked him in his fucking head.

But, that's my personal opinion.