Saturday, July 7, 2018

SAMMY: The Novel (An Overview)

I finished writing Sammy:The Novel. 

So ... I called my good buddy and excellent writer, Dave Scheiber, to help me write an overview to pique the interest of publishers. The stuff that Dave wrote made me want to read my own book! We combined our efforts and here's what we came up with:

SAMMY (An Overview)

Sammy Levine, 86-year-old resident of Star of David nursing home, was not happy with his daily existence and dreamed of taking one last trip with his wife Esther (presently residing in an urn on the third shelf in his room). Sammy was careful about not exposing his plan to anyone, especially his son, Barry, who dutifully visited regularly and tried to make sure that he lived out his remaining days comfortably.

Through a carefully choreographed plan, Sammy managed to access personal information on three recently deceased residents from the nursing home’s computers. Then he applied for and obtained three new credit cards. Armed now with available cash and credit, he loaded up Esther, a knapsack and a walker and headed back to his hometown of New Orleans, where he would visit the places and people he wanted to see before he died.  It was a bucket list of all bucket lists concocted to take care of unfinished business – and serves as the engaging foundation of Sammy: The Novel.

This is a unique, coming-of-age road trip featuring a feisty, often salty and insensitive senior citizen, who still has some coming of age to experience in his twilight years.

It is the final ride of a lifetime that involves a most unusual cast of characters – a smart, streetwise stripper named Destiny with a soft heart beneath her hardened demeanor; Sammy’s musician son Barry, who longs to rekindle the magic of his old recording and touring act, the Chosen, while keeping tabs on his wayward dad and helping his career-minded daughter, Wendy; an array of despicable street thugs; and one very special urn on which this book turns ... containing the ashes of Sammy's late-wife Esther, whose posthumous presence is central to the novel’s unfolding mystery.

On one level, this is a story that takes readers on a wild, raucous journey through the gritty and dangerous streets of New Orleans and into Sammy Levine's complex past, as he tries to make amends for shortcomings in his life and a lingering guilt that drives him to make a daring break from his nursing home and embark on the adventure of a lifetime – even as his life nears an end.

Yet on another, it is the tale of a father and son who long-ago drifted apart and took one another for granted as they grew older and faced their own mortality. But they gradually come to bridge that widening gap as the secrets of Sammy's hidden past and new life come into sharp focus. And the high-octane action careens into a surprise revelation that makes this story about an old man on a mission to make things right more you'd ever imagine.

One of his first stops – and most important as it turns out – is a strip club on Bourbon Street, the kind of establishment that neither Sammy nor Esther had ever frequented. It is here that he meets Destiny, whose real name is Audrey, and she is thrust into the unwanted position of Sammy’s caretaker soon after he steps into the club and finds himself and “Esther” threatened by a lowlife regular.

The plot takes off from there as Sammy, determined to push on in spite of his weak heart, proceeds to check off crucial items on his list – exacting revenge on a drug-smuggling fishing captain, spending time in an old furniture store that holds a key to Sammy and Esther’s past, and an aging corrupt New Orleans attorney Sammy confronts and forces into spilling his own dark secret.

Along the way, the emboldened nursing home renegade is joined by a colorful cadre of Destiny’s stripper friends, who revel in supporting him on his quest. And there’s Destiny/Audrey, who finds herself growing increasingly attached to the old man in spite of his rough edges, the multitude of headaches he causes for her – and the life-and-death situation they find themselves in unexpectedly.

But there is another unexpected twist to come – something Sammy has kept from everyone in his midst that was the fuel for this last ride. And it finally comes to light in a frenetic conclusion, a celebration he planned for Esther by the New Orleans lakefront, where she always wanted to live but was too expensive for Sammy. The fragmented pieces of his bucket list now all make sense – even though it’s the last thing Destiny, Barry and Wendy ever expected to hear. And one final, life-changing surprise awaits even then.


So ... Sound like a book you'd want to read?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sammy's Missing Ball (A Father's Day Memory)

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY

Here's a blast from the past in honor of Sammy.  

Sunday, June 15, 2012

Sammy had a major problem today.

"One of my balls is gone." He said as he stepped out of the car and leaned on his walker outside of Bob Evans Restaurant.

"That's a real problem, Dad. Are you in pain?"

"What? No ... I lost my tennis ball. See?"

Sure enough ... Sam was one ball short on his walker which  kinda leaned to the right. But he seemed okay walking with it. Once in a while a spark or two would flash from the back leg on the sidewalk. But other than that ... he managed fine.

We saw a couple that we knew leaving the restaurant as we were putting our name on the list at the hostess station. We made the introductions.

Debbie ...  "Sammy, these are friends of ours, John and Donna ... and this is Sam ... Joel's Dad."

Sam ... "Nice to meet you. This is my son, Joel."

John ... (smiling) "We know Joel."

Sam ... "Yeah? I didn't know that. So ... what do you do?"

John ... "Well I'm a lawyer now ... I used to be in securities."

Sam ... "You like being a lawyer better than being a policeman?"

John ... "Oh ... well ... the securities I mean are like stocks and bonds. I used to sell those."

Sam ... "Are you making more money now?"

Just about that time, Sammy had a coughing attack and grabbed a few tissues to get rid of whatever came up (don't ask). He reached over and handed the tissues to Donna ... "Can you take this for me?"

Debbie swooped in to rescue Donna telling Sammy to drop them in his tissue box.

Thankfully, our table was ready. John and Donna were saved. We said our goodbyes and headed to our table. The waitress took Sammy's order. Because he said he was not too hungry he only ordered 3 eggs over easy, bacon, home fries, three pancakes and two biscuits.

In between mouthfuls, Sammy made conversation.

Sammy looked at Debbie's USF sweatshirt and said ... "Debbie ... 1956 ... that's incredible isn't it?"

Debbie pointed to the date ... "I know ... that's when the school was first started."

Sammy ... "What? I thought that's when you went to the school."

We both just shook our heads.


After breakfast we took Sammy back to The "Manor". He wanted me to come up and take a look at his headsets. On the elevator, he stopped one of his lady friends who was coming out.  He told her to show Debbie her knees. Why ... we never figured out ... but the elevator door kept hitting both of them as they tried to communicate with each other.

Once in his room, Sammy put on his massive headsets and told me to fix them.

"Joel ...  they are not working."

We switched on the button which was turned off and asked him if they were working now."

He just stared at the TV screen.

"Dad ... are they WORKING?"

"What?  I don't know Joel. I can't see it."

Friday, June 15, 2018

Sammy at Harrah's

Another random chapter from "Sammy". Hope you like it:

Chapter Nine

       “Remind me again why we are here?” Audrey held onto Sammy’s arm as they pushed open the large doors that led to Harrah’s Casino and stepped through the velvet ropes at the security desk.

        “This, my dear, is Esther’s favorite place in the world.”

“Esther was a gambler?”

Sammy let out his hoarse shoulder shaking chuckle and said, “Not just ‘a’ gambler, more like ‘a crazy, get your hands off my machine or I’ll break your face’ gambler. She spent hours here. Also spent almost all our money, many times over.”

“I have seen more than a few Esthers here,” said Audrey. “Sounds like you had your hands full.”

Sammy took Esther out of the knapsack as he paused and slowly turned around with her urn tightly at his chest. “Okay, Miss Esther. Where would you like to go first?”

“If she says ‘the bathroom’, I’ll lead the way.” Audrey said as she pointed to the restroom signs. “Gotta pee Sam.”

“Okay. We’re gonna be in the high limit slots. Her favorite machine is the Triple Diamond.”

Audrey made a beeline to the left and Sammy shuffled off to the right.

As they walked he talked softly to Esther. “There’s the buffet, honey. I remember they had the softest rolls. Remember that? And the desserts. You loved those desserts. The bananas foster, the carrot cake, the pies. Getting hungry just thinking about it. Oh I know, I know, you want to get to your machine. I’m not stopping …”

An older woman patted Sammy on the arm as she walked next to him. “Excuse me. Is that an urn?”

Sammy turned to look at her. “It sure would be an ugly a flower pot now , wouldn’t it?”

She giggled. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Your wife?”

“Yes.”

  “How sweet. You must miss talking to her.”

Sammy stopped and rested for a second. “Truth is, I never got a word in when she was alive. So I’m making up for lost time.”

“My husband passed last year. He and I would talk for hours.” She looked at the urn. “I miss him dearly. I just visited him at Sacred Heart Cemetery.” She looked around and then whispered. “I still talk to him.”

Sammy shook his head and stood for another few seconds and finally said. “Well, we have some gambling to do. Gotta go.”

“Try the Poker Joker in the back corner. Harvey told me that it’s been hot tonight.”

“Harvey’s your husband?”

She laughed. “Oh heavens no. Harvey is the cashier in the high limit room.” Sammy nodded and started to turn. She continued. “My husband told me that the 7’s were gonna pay out but I never listen to him.”


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sammy's Ballers

So I'm here again at the beach furiously working on my book (up to 40,000 words) and I've taken Sammy on some really cool adventures and some that will surprise you.

Just left Cafe Du Monde and now he's at the bowling alley ... What do you think?


CHAPTER FOUR



        Mid-City Rock’n Bowl came alive with lights and music as soon as 'Sammy's Ballers' checked in at lane ten. The girls were giddy now as they picked out their brightly colored balls, finally settled on which bowling shoes they wanted to wear and  picked their positions to bowl. 
“Sammy. You want to go first?” Sally asked.
“Ladies first. I’ll watch and help any one that needs it.” Truth was, Sammy was feeling a little stiff and had that shooting pain in his shoulder. Better to just sit and wait, he thought.
“I’ll go.” Audrey spoke up and balanced the ball as she stood at the line.
“Hey Audrey,” Sammy yelled. “Stand about three feet back and walk up to the line when you are rolling the ball like this.” He demonstrated with an imaginary ball shuffling three steps while swinging his right arm.  
“Do I have to shuffle like an old man when I do it?”
Sammy flipped her off and sat down.
“Okay here goes.” Audrey said as she took three steps and rolled the ball. A turtle could have caught up with it as it gradually plopped into the gutter.
“That’s okay honey,” Layla said. You looked pretty doin it.”
Sammy laughed. He stood up and balanced on his cane. “I’m gonna check out the men’s room.” Once he was out of sight, he headed to the front desk. A tall pimple faced adolescent wiped down the counter as Sammy stepped up. “Say, son, does a Walter Smith work here?”
“Yes sir. He’s probably in the equipment room polishing bowling balls right about now.”
“Where’s that?”
“Um, third door on your right. Not marked but you’ll see it.”
Sammy walked past the dividing line between the lanes and the big dance floor where a zydeco band played Cajun music to the crowd of  rednecks (as they were lovingly called by their peers). He pushed open the door to the equipment room and there was Walter Smith, his former young employee at Holtzman’s whom he mentored and took care of when he was just a teenager. Walter still had his tiny moustache and “cookie duster” as Walter called it below his lower lip. But the facial hair was greyer now and a stark contrast to his dark skin, drawn and wrinkled with the passage of time. He was wearing a one piece blue uniform with the Rock’n Bowl logo on the back.
“Walter?” Sammy asked. “That you?”
Walter paused and peered over his glasses at Sammy. He put down his polishing cloth and stepped closer. “Mr. Sam?”
Sammy nodded yes.
“Well as I live and breathe. I ain’t seen you in what … 30 years or so?”  
“That’s probably right.” Sammy said. “I hoped you were still here. You’re on my bucket list.”
Walter gave Sammy a big hug, careful not to squeeze too hard. “I am honored Mr. Sam. Yeah, I have been here for about 40 years I guess on and off.” Walter smiled. “How’s Miss Esther?”
Sammy held up the bowling ball bag he was carrying and showed Walter the urn.            “Unfortunately, she passed a few years back.”
“I’m so sorry,” Walter said.
“We all are here for such a short time.”  He looked at the urn. “I know she would be so happy to see you Walter.”
Walter moved some papers off a folding chair. “Sit, sit. Lemme look at you Mr. Sam.” He studied him. “Looking good!”
“Liar! I look like crap.” Sammy smirked. “You too.”
Walter laughed. “Well you haven’t changed, that’s for sure.”
“Was thinking about you this morning coming down here. I remembered when I found you crouched in the corner of my store, hiding from the NOPD, with a bunch of candy bars and cigarettes in your pockets.”     
“I think about that time in my life a lot.” He sat across from Sammy. “You saved my life, you know? Giving me a job, buying me clothes and stuff when I needed them.”
“And calling your mother to give your ass a whupping for stealing.”
Walter put his head back and laughed loudly. “That too.”
Sammy looked around the room. “I also remember when you said you were ready to be on your own and started working here. It was when I lost the business.” Sammy looked down at the floor. “I let so many people down.”
“Stop it.” Walter said. “You never let nobody down. Actually, working here, having to rely on myself … changed my life.” 
Sammy put his hand on Walter’s shoulder. “You have a family now?”
“Sure do. Beautiful wife, two boys who live right here in New Orleans and have families of their own. I’m a blessed man.”
Just then, the pimpled faced boy popped in and handed Walter a piece of paper. “The guys from AMF just got here.” 
“Thanks, Reggie.”   
Sammy stood. “Hey, is Willy still around?”
“No. Willy sold the place in the 80s.”
“Who bought it?”
“Me.” Walter said.
Sammy stopped. “No way.” He continued. “Wait a minute. What the hell are you doing polishing balls? Don’t you have people to do that?” 
“I like polishing balls.” Walter leaned closer. “I polish them at my other 5 bowling alleys too.” Walter put his arm around Sammy. “What do you think of me now?”
Sammy laughed. “Think?  I think I might be able to bowl for free today.”     

Sunday, May 20, 2018

There's a PODCAST Out There For You

Podcasts are a wonderful thing.

My daughter Alissa introduced them to me a couple of years ago and I've been listening faithfully ever since. My commute from St. Pete to North Tampa takes anywhere from 45 minutes to three weeks depending on traffic. So I've definitely got the time to listen. I have discovered some real gems in the podcast universe that you can subscribe to as well. It's all free too!

The first one I was introduced to was a series called "Serial". The focus was on a homicide investigation into the death of an 18 year old girl named Hae Min Lee, who was found in a shallow grave, and the subsequent trial and conviction of her ex boyfriend, Adnan Sued. The interviews were fascinating because they were not edited to fit a 60 Minutes kind of format. They were raw and real. The interviewer was not slick and clever ... she was hesitant and thoughtful and refreshingly genuine. There was a subsequent season about an army deserter that's worth a listen as well.


"How I Built This" is one of my favorites. It's a PBS series that has been adapted to podcast format and should be on every entrepreneur's top ten list. Interviews with everyone from Sarah Blakely and her Spanx to  Michael Dell and Dell Computers give you insight into what makes these guys tick, how they got started and where they are today.  The most recent focused on two brothers who were from Ireland and sold their first company before they were 20. John and Patrick Collison then founded Stripe, a software company that uses a few lines of code to power the payment systems of companies like Target and Lyft. They talk about their early years (which was less than 10 years ago) when they were 16 and won science awards, moved to the US to attend Harvard and MIT and now are worth an estimated $9 Billion ... and they are not even 30. 

"The Daily" is a product of the New York Times and airs 20 minutes a day five days a week. It is really what news should sound like. In depth coverage of the biggest stories from experts that you'll want to hear from. Not into petty name calling or partisan debates ... just right to the core of the store, researched and presented expertly by Michael Barbaro.

"Revisionist History" is from the mind of Malcolm Gladwell. Each episode re-examines something from the past ... an event, a song, an idea ... and asks whether we got it right. His latest was called "Divide and Conquer" and it was a study of the Constitution of the US and the use of semi colons. It was an incredible look into punctuation that caused some of our basic laws to be reinterpreted just by the way they were divided (accurately or not) by semicolons. I know that sounds dumb ... but it truly is not.

"Serial Killers" is another favorite. This one is just what it says ... and if you love the gory details of some of the great murderers of the 20th century, this one's for you.

There are so many more out there. Just click on the podcast app and explore. I promise you'll find something you'll love. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orlando, Back to the Beach and Sammy's First Adventure


We took a break in the middle of the week to head to Orlando to Universal with Dennie and Tom.

Stayed at the Portofino and sailed to the park in the morning. Drank butter beer, saw Blues Brothers, had Margaritas at Jimmy Buffet's, ate at  Emeril's, shot aliens at MIB 


But the most mind bending, complicated, challenges of all came AFTER we left. We stopped at Pinera to eat breakfast and skipped the line to try out the ipad menu. It took four of us about a half hour and we STILL couldn't figure it out. We left and tried three other places until we settled at First Watch.

Look at these people crowding my beach!

Beautiful day and I spent most of it on the porch back at my computer working on the Sammy novel. 

It was so nice to get another week to do this because I'm now at 25,000 words (about halfway done).

By the way thanks for your suggestions on where Sammy could go on his adventure. I'm going to use some of them. 



Here's another chapter (Sammy's first Stop) :

      “Can I see your Driver’s License, Mr. Finklestein?” asked Raul, the front desk manager of the Roosevelt Hotel.

Sammy didn’t think of this when he was collecting bogus credit cards and making his plans for escape. Crap. I have no identification. “Son … I haven’t driven in 10 years. My son makes sure of that. Gave up my license years ago.”

“Any ID?” Raul asked.

“Only my credit card I’m afraid.”

“I see.” Raul handed him back his card. “I am sorry sir … really can’t …”

“Not a problem my friend. I understand.” Sammy hoisted his backpack and headed into the Sazerac Bar. He shuffled into one of the low tables in the corner, folded his trusty old walker with the worn out tennis balls and collapsed into the leather chair. He reached down and opened his backpack and pulled out the powder blue urn, placing it gently right next to his oversized bar menu. “Esther … looks like we are not gonna see the inside of one of those Roosevelt Hotel rooms. So let’s just have a drink at the Sazerac for now and I’ll get us another place to stay.”

Caesar, the bartender, was taking this all in from his station listening intently. He came up to the table. “What can I get for you sir?” 

“Old Fashioned for me, thx.” Sammy winked.

“And for …” Caesar nodded to the urn. “The lady?”

“Why she will do the Sazerac of course.”

“Of course.”

Caesar had done this job a long time. He knew better than to ask a lot of questions … especially to an old man talking to an urn and ordering it a drink. He smiled to himself. He figured it out right away. Wife passed away, lonely widower can’t part with her and brings her to their favorite place for one last drink.

Close … but no cigar.

Caesar stepped behind the elegant bar to mix the cocktails. The Sazerac is one of the oldest and best known bars in New Orleans. Named for the first ever mixed drink, the Sazerac was visited by the famous and infamous. Governor Huey Long (The Kingfish) would visit regularly as well as countless celebrities who played the hotel’s Blue Room like Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

In about four hours … it would be packed with patrons but for now it was just Caesar and Sammy … and Esther.  

Caesar stepped up to the table and served Sammy first. “Sir.” Then he reached over and placed the Sazerac in front of the urn. “Madam.” 

“Thank you.” Sammy looked at his name tag. “Caesar.”

“My pleasure.” Caesar continued. The curiosity got the best of him. “If I might be so bold … can I ask what was her name?”

“Her?”

“Yes.”

“Esther.”

“Your … wife?”

“She was.”

“I’m sure she was a lovely person.”

Sammy took a long sip of his Old Fashioned. “Actually, she was a real bitch.”

Caesar was silent.

“It’s okay Caesar. The great thing about being 86 years old is that it frees you up to say all the things that you couldn’t when you were 40. Plus … she’s dead you know? I can actually get a few words in.”  Sammy smiled that semi toothless smile where his dentures were missing. “You married?”

“Yes I am.”

Sammy motioned him closer. “I’m sure she’s a lovely woman.”

Caesar looked around as if she might be behind him. “Actually … she’s kind of a bitch.”

They both laughed loudly.

“Caesar … let me buy you a drink. This one’s on Ira Finklestein.”




Saturday, April 7, 2018

I Need Your Help

I've been bad.

I haven't written a blog entry in ages and I want to apologize to my fan. (No that's not a typo. I'm probably down to one "fan") So here's an update ... I have been spending any free time I can get at our beach condo writing my Sammy novel. 

Getting pretty far into it.

I sent my first 50 pages to my buddy Dave Scheiber who is the best writer I know and who I hope to be when I grow up (which as you all know will never happen ... the writing part and the growing up). Dave's gonna give me some notes and I know him well enough that he will certainly tell me the truth ... that it is brilliant.

But until then I'm pushing ahead.

So ... the novel plot centers around Sammy (who is based on my dad) who lives in a nursing home, is depressed and plans an escape. He takes with him two urns ... one with Esther's remains (based on my mom) and one empty for his own. His plan ... go back to his hometown and visit his favorite places that Esther hated and make her go to them with him.

Now I've copied a chapter below so you can get the gist. YOU can help me write it because I've got lots of ideas about where to take Sammy ... but I bet you do too.

Comment some of yours back to me. 

Okay ... enjoy (I hope)

 SAMMY ... the novel 


Chapter 11


Sammy’s face crinkled around the edges as he smiled and looked out the back window of Uber driver Ahmed Kumar’s car. The night air felt good. It was fresh and a little cool and gave Sammy a feeling of renewal. This would be his last and greatest adventure. In truth, Sammy didn’t feel he ever really had a great adventure. Maybe a few pretty good ones? Not really. Not even close. So this was going to be his last chance for the adventure that he never had.

He had been planning it for well over a year.

Sammy knew that he needed money. At Star of David, there was no money that changed hands for anything, In fact, residents were not allowed to even carry money. Older residents were forgetful and were prone to misplacing valuables, there would be no temptations for light fingered staff members and it just made sense to limit liability. So, he needed a plan to find a different source.

The answer came from his old friend Bertha.

“So Sammy … did I tell you about my sister Sarah’s daughter?” Bertha told him one night at dinner (when she still ate with him).

“Sister?”

“My sister, Sarah. I told you about her Sammy. Lived in Brooklyn, married the butcher and had three selfish kids who tried to bleed her dry. They were the most selfish girls … I swear my poor sister had her hands full. Oy … what a mess even at the funeral …”

“Bertha … Bertha … stay on track”

Bertha put her fork down and straightened her dress. She whispered to Sammy (not the best strategy). “So … when Sarah died last year, her daughter Isabel decided to steal her identity.”

“Steal her what?”

“IDENTITY … her IDENTITY.” Bertha said very loudly. About a third of the diners turned to look at her. The rest were as deaf as Sammy.

“She’s dead for God’s sake. What identity?”

“That’s the point. She died so no one noticed that her identity popped up again on credit cards … on credit cards … can you believe it? Isabel got credit cards in Sarah’s name.”

“That’s crazy. How could she just get credit cards like that?”

“She just applied and used all her mother’s information. And … she just charged and charged and charged and never paid them off. They kept trying to contact her but guess what?”

“She didn’t answer… because she’s dead.”

“Right. The only way they found out was when she forgot and signed her own name to one of the charges and left her real phone number with a clerk.”

Brilliant, thought Sammy.

Six months later, when three of the residents of Star of David passed away, he sent off three brand new applications and got three approvals and three credit cards in just weeks … Ira Finkelstein, Arthur Smolensky and Sandy Weiner. They were real people … just not breathing any more. He’d probably just use one but he might live longer and need more cover, he thought.

The rest was easy. Airline reservations, hotel rooms and some new clothes were all done in the last month to reduce the investigation time if there was any suspicion.


“Which airline, Mr. Finkelstein?” Ahmed asked from the front seat. At first Sammy thought Ahmed was talking to someone else on his cell phone, forgetting his new identity.“Mr. Finkelstein?”

Sammy jumped in, “Oh … yeah … (reading his ticket) that would be Delta.”

“You got it.” Ahmed smiled. “Big escape?”

Sammy was flustered. “Escape? What makes you say that?”

“That crazy ComicCon is in town this week. Traffic and parking are a nightmare.”

Okay you gotta calm down, thought Sammy. “What the hell is a Comie whatever?”

“Comic Con. It’s just a big conference for people who dress up like comic book superheroes and come together in one big place. My girlfriend is really into it. Can’t say I mind. Man does she look hot in that Wonder Woman costume. You know?”

Ahmed looked in the rear view mirror and saw that Sammy was not listening. Sammy was tired. His adventure hadn’t even begun and he was already feeling like he needed a nap ... or at least an aspirin for the pain in his shoulder and hip.