Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly


Do you remember Lee Van Cleef?

He was the "Bad" in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly ...  one of the old Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. Great movie.

His daughter was an art student at UGA with me. She worked part time as an artist's model. The first semester I met her was when we were taking photography together.

I introduced myself, "Hi, I'm Joel. We haven't met."
I held out my hand and she just stared at me. My hand looked like some alien object floating out there.
Undaunted I tried again, "Hey is that a Pentax you have?"
"Yes." Still staring at me.
"Do you live on campus?"
"No."
"Really? Me either. I've got a place on ..."
"Hey .... you don't know me?"
"No ...  that's why I indroduced myself."
"Ever see me before?"
"Um ... no ... I don't think so."
 "You draw me naked in Charcoal Studies Class every Thursday."
"Oh my God ... you're ... you're the model?"
"Yes. And ... this ... is my face." She pointed to her broad smart aleck grin.

I liked her immediately. We had a great time for 10 straight days ... then we never went out again. She was just like her father ... only prettier. You'll notice I never used her name here. There's a reason for that. It's not the gentlemanly thing to do ... besides ...  I can't remember it.


My dating life could have easily been entitled: "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". The "Good" was Deena. She was the sweetheart of our fraternity. She was also "The Unattainable". I thought she would never go out with me ... but she DID. I thought she would never kiss me ... but she DID. I thought she would never go to bed with me ... and I was right.

So much for the "Good".

The "Bad" was Van Cleef's daughter ... and most of the art department. They were fascinating for about an hour and a half and then you had to change your home address. But they were fun.

And The "Ugly"?


Every guy knows about the "Ugly" ... that's right ... don't pretend ... you weren't THAT drunk ... although you swear you don't remember.

Still bothers you, huh?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My First Apartment

Everybody remembers their first apartment. For me ... it was a REALLY BIG thing. I felt like an adult for the first time ... responsible for monthly payments, cooking my own food, cleaning up for myself ...

Well ... the cleaning part really didn't happen.

You see I had two new roommates: Jeff Adair and Bobby Horowitz (everybody called him Horo). None of us were particularly fond of cleaning and we sometimes left a few dirty dishes around. Okay, it was more than a few dishes. We were ... what's the word for it? Pigs. Truth is ... after a while the kitchen looked like a science experiment ... lots of colors and things growing out of the food and stuff that sat out for weeks. We took great pride in sharing it with everyone who dropped by. No girls of course ... at least none that we were truly interested in ... just other pigs in the neighborhood that wanted to take pictures and compete.


Once every couple of  months, even we couldn't stand it anymore so we hired a guy named Willie, who was the apartment complex handyman. We paid him about 20 bucks to spend the day cleaning (more like gutting) our place. He would come over dressed in a one piece coverall with big rubber boots, rubber gloves, a hood and a mask. He'd hose down the whole place after he disinfected everything from floor to ceiling. (Willie, if you are reading this ...  I thank you from the bottom of my heart. None of us were strong enough to do what you did.)

Jeff was the grown up of the group. He was also the resident "business" man. Every weekend, he drove to Atlanta and brought back cases of turtleneck shirts from his dad's factory for us to sell and make money. We sold them for $4 and kept $3 from each sale. Can you believe that? I thought Jeff must have been stealing these shirts from the factory.

One day I sold three to Larry at the frat house (I guess he wanted to see what it would be like to wear a shirt for a change). I saw him the next day with one on ... and the turtleneck had separated from the rest of the shirt.

He bit me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freaks and Frats


I was torn between two worlds at UGA: The Freaks and The Frats

For most of the day, I was meandering from class to class with my fellow art students, like "The Roach", a Fine Arts painting major who didn't speak. And when I say didn't speak ... I'm not talking about saying a few words every once in a while ... I mean he NEVER said anything. He was really tall, really skinny and had hair and a beard that covered his entire face. No one knew what he really looked like.

His nickname was not derived from what he smoked to get high ... he actually painted abstract roaches on canvasses. The canvasses were huge and there were three roaches on each one. The teachers called him a genius and praised his work daily.  I ran into Roach years later. Still had long hair and a beard ... but he finally spoke. In fact, he was giving a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art about one of his paintings that MOMA had acquired. Go and figure!


At night I'd hang out at the fraternity house for dinner and then we'd sit around and belch and look cool in Athens frat attire ... matching socks and shirts, sweaters tucked into  pants and perfectly cropped early Beatles haircuts. Everyone looked the same ... except for Larry. He never wore a shirt and often no pants. Larry's major goal in life was to build a reputation as a badass. He was not too tall ... maybe 5'8" ... had a muscular build and bright red hair. He was the guy who scared all the pledges and stayed up late dreaming up ways to humiliate them ... like dropping them off in the middle of nowhere naked without money (that was one of the more creative, intellectual pranks he dreamed up.)

Larry had issues. I remember once he hid in a closet all day because apparently some girl was after him to go to Vegas to get married. I asked him why he just didn't say no instead of hiding there ... so ... he bit me. He dropped out of school, married the Vegas girl and went to work for a construction company. The owner really liked Larry alot. Five years later the owner dropped dead and left the company to Larry who now owns one of the most successful construction companies in Atlanta. You see a pattern here?


 Here's what I think. Whether you start out as a frat or a freak, you can still succeed in this world if you just remember this:

"There are no losers ... just other idiots who can make you rich and powerful."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where Y'at, Y'all


After two years at LSU I was ready for a change.

I realized that Architecture was not for me and switched to Landscape Architecture with my roommate Barry. But when I found out it had nothing to do with gardening and that I had to memorize 3000 names of different plant materials, I quickly lost interest.

I found out that I was pretty good at design. I could create great models out of balsa wood and particle board. Problem was ... nobody uses balsa wood or particle board to build real houses. Who would have known that?

So I gravitated to the Arts, and left LSU.

One of my childhood friends, Adam Skorecki, told me about the University of Georgia and the Arts program there. And just like that, I transferred. Because I had total faith in Adam's knowlege base (I knew him when I was 8), I was certain this was my destiny. I only lost about two years worth of credits, but who's counting?


Adam and I knew no one in Athens and wound up joining a fraternity to meet people. We of course had to go through pledge class and hazing but I was used to that at LSU. I was just glad they didn't shave my head and give me a rifle.

Culture shock set in when I had to relearn English. "Where y'at?" loosely translated into a 16 syllable phrase: "Well, howwww you doowin', bowey?" Four letter curse words were expanded to eight letters and "Bye" became ... "Y'all come back to see me heeyah?"

Now before you think I'm a south-basher, remember I grew up in the south. New Orleans was about as south as it gets geographically ... if you surgically removed Florida. Even so, I was as foreign to these guys as they were to me. They thought I was from New York. But I managed to communicate eventually. I found that words like beer and sex were typically used about 90 percent of the time and even though it took longer to say them, nothing was lost in the translation.


I think I did well getting accustomed to the new language and the new culture.

Then I met the Art students ....

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Family Jewels Part 2


My introduction to neurosis was actually in high school.

Well ... at least, that's when I was old enough to realize that my mom was "different". Before that I thought that everybody's mom didn't allow food to be cooked in the oven (ours was an appliance that was meticulously cleaned daily and was only for "show"). Come to think of it ... so was our living room. No one ever was allowed to sit in there.

Anyway ... my first real neurotic encounter happened at home ... after school. Mom burst into my room grasping her chest and moaning that she was having a heart attack.

I was dumbfounded.

"Please ... take me to the hospital ... now."
"Should I call an ambulance ...?"
"No. I really want you to take me."

I rushed her into the car and sped to Touro Hospital. It was all a blur. I remember pulling up to the Emergency Entrance. I opened the door and she refused to get out. I was confused.

"On second thought, " she said, " take me to Dr. Smith's office."
"Who is Dr. Smith?"
"He's across the street."

More confusion. I didn't want to argue with her at this point as she was having trouble catching her breath and  I didn't want her to be upset.

I found Dr. Smith's office .... carried her inside and demanded to see the doctor. The receptionist looked at me ... smiled ....  and then picked up her phone. "Gladys, Mrs. Momberg is here again."
"Again?" I asked.
"Oh yes ... she's actually been here twice today."
"AND YOU LET HER GO HOME?"

Just before I lost it, Dr. Smith arrived and told me to calm down. He explained that he was her regular doctor and would take good care of her ... after all ... she was the most interesting neurotic he had ever treated.

It was then that I looked at Dr. Smith's nameplate and realized that he was a psychiatrist. Mom was now standing ... dramatically telling everyone in the waiting room about her earlier "horrible experience" and how she almost died.

I almost killed her on the spot.

 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Family Jewels Part I


While I was at LSU, my family moved to a new house. They forgot to tell me.

You probably think this is unusual. Most families communicate regularly about things like that. Not mine. Actually, I don't think my Dad knew about the house either and he was involved in the decision. I found out when I came home one weekend and met the new owners of our old house. THEY gave me our new address.

When I finally found our new house in Metairie, the conversation went something like this:

Me: "Mom ... why didn't you tell me we moved?"
Esther: " Sam, can you believe this? NOW he wants to communicate. Where was he when WE asked him things about HIS comings and goings?"
Me: "Mom ... I asked about our house."
Esther: "See this Sam ... see how he does this? Now it's OUR fault that he doesn't know."
Me: "It IS your fault. How else ..."
Esther: "Sam, are you going to LET him talk to us this way???"
Sam: "Wait a minute. Did we actually move?"

Esther hit him in the chest a few times and then she disappeared into her new closet where she spent the majority of her time, in those days.

Most who know my mom know that shopping was her lifelong quest. Whether or not we had any money in those days (which was usually "not") the shopping continued. The house in Metairie was about 2500 square feet. Esther's closet was 3000 square feet.

Seriously.


It had it's own air conditioning system, 6 individual clothing lanes, a complete makeup counter and 4 walls of shelving for shoes and accessories. It was a store. Everything was individually wrapped in plastic and many of the items were in pairs or triplicates (Esther was afriad that these might never again be available and she wanted to make sure she would never run out).

Sales people around the city knew her well and had her number on speed dial. She would not hesitate to order something sight unseen ... because she also had a "thing" about being confined in a store with .... other people.

Yes ... Esther was SLIGHTLY neurotic.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Son the .... ??

When it came time to declare a major ... I had no idea what I was going to do. Books and Libraries (we called it Books'n baries) was my favorite class. I was crushed when I heard it was only a required freshman course and not a major. What a shame ... I was really good at the Dewey Decimal System.

I always wanted to be that kid who knew exactly what he wanted to be from day one ... so focused ... at 4 years old deciding to be a nuclear physicist or a school teacher or an attorney or a garbage man (okay ... that was me. I guess I did focus on something. I thought hanging on the truck looked like fun).

My roommate, Barry, was that kid. It was always Architecture for him. I thought to myself ... you know, since I couldn't come up with anything that sounded cool ... I'll do it too.

So Barry and I signed up together for our classes and then went shopping for Architecture supplies.

Whoa. In those days, before computers, every thing was designed and measured and modelled by hand. We needed drawing boards ... we also needed special pens, drawing tools, rolls of paper the size of Louisiana. Two part time jobs later, I almost had enough money to cover one of the rapidiograph pens.

Barry had an unbelievable work ethic. He came home from classes, immediately got to work and was in bed by 9PM. I too had an ethic ... non work related ... I did everything BUT study. I saved that until 9PM when Barry was asleep. I didn't do this on purpose. There were just so many distraction: television, beer, girls, beer, televison, beer ... oh and there was a fly once in my room that just wouldn't go away.


Needless to say, Barry is now a very successful architect ... actually a city planner and landscape architect ... in New Orleans. Riverwalk and Jackson Brewery are both his handiwork.

Barry and I have so much in common. I visited them both .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Geau Tigers

I was asked by one of my readers, "What happened to the girl in my last post?"

Well ... I'll tell you. Truth is, I gave her the whole twenty bucks we won on the bet because quite frankly I was afraid not to ... even though she LOOKED sweet and angelic in that picture. We dated a few times after that. For her I'm sure I was just an interesting diversion for a brief time.

Nonetheless ... it was fun while it lasted and I certainly needed fun that year.

Yes ... my social life was just about non-existent. One fact I forgot to mention was that toward the end of my senior year of high school, I developed mononucleosis. Yep ... Mono ... the kissing disease. I was pretty sick. The doctor told me that because I was jaundiced, I shouldn't have any alcohol for about a year. After that I should be fine.

Sure ... easy for him to say. Just don't drink during your first year in college. EVERY party we went to at LSU was a beerfest. But I was good ... refusing to drink ... even when friends dunked my head into a tub of beer. I just held my breath and didn't swallow.

I was doing okay until the LSU/ Ole Miss game.

This is THE big rivalry and when it's a home game ... the students and citizens of Baton Rouge are ordered by the police to get as drunk as they can and pass out around the campus. Radio stations play the famous play that all LSU grads have heard a million times ... The Halloween night 89 yard touchdown punt return by Billy Cannon (LSU's legendary running back) that won the Ole Miss game in 1959 and gave LSU the National Championship. Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy that year.


But let's remember that he is also a Louisiana boy ... from the state that brought us Huey Long and Carlos Marcello and so many wonderful citizens. Billy Cannon was convicted in the early '80s of a $6 million counterfeit scheme and was imprisoned for 3 years. But all was eventually forgiven and his jersey #20 was retired with honors.


But I digress (of course).


The weekend of the Ole Miss game was special for me because ... I had a date ... a real date ... not one I paid for ... a real one. And she couldn't wait to go to the game, party with me and ... drink.

She drank ... alot. I believe that night she threw up in Mike the Tiger's cage outside of the ZBT House. I didn't get a good look because I was passed out in the bushes next to the cage.
I do remember what happened next.
My mother was standing over me screaming and punching my father in the chest when I opened my eyes. I know she was screaming, even though I had temporarily gone deaf and saw her veins pop on her forhead. I thought of course this was just a bad drunken dream and I would wake up soon. But it was real.
I looked to the side and saw my date's head  in the tiger cage and her dress was tucked into her panty hose. I thought it would not be a good time to introduce her to my parents.
"Mom? Dad? What are you doing here?"
My mom answered. "Sam ... he wants to know what we are doing here. Don't just stand there ... say something. Tell him we came up to SURPRISE him ... and guess who is surprised now. "


At that moment my dad pulled me to my feet and asked my mom if she smelled liquor.
"Sam .... how stupid are you ...  he's been drinking and KILLING himself. He forgot that he has NO LIVER???" 
My dad said, "I'll put him in the car."


At this point I must tell you that this is a typical conversation with my parents. I am never an active participant in any of the dialogue.
The rest of the night was a blur. I remember my mom packing bags and punching my dad repeatedly because he probably asked too many questions. They finally figured out that taking me home was not going to work ... mainly because between the two of them they couldn't develop a cohesive plan. So they left the next morning.


Mike the Tiger III became the new mascot ... Mike II died that year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Dorm Darling

There she was.  I recognized her right away sitting in the student union .... by HERSELF! Oh yeah ... sure I recognized her. Everybody recognized her. She was the most sought after freshman on campus. After all ... she WAS a "Dorm Darling" (voted on by the men's association ... whatever that was). Her picture was everywhere and I was just 20 feet away from her.
One of my roommates Barry punched me in the arm, "Hey! That's .... "
"Yeah, I know ...shhh".
"Isn't she the one you're always ....?"
" .... just keep it down."

The 6 other guys at the table started in on me. They all knew that I was obsessed with her. After months of hanging out with these guys, shaved heads, beanies, freshman slaves to the upperclassmen ... we were all hungry for just one female to pay attention to us. I, of course, had to open my big mouth and talk about wanting to (no GOING to) date this one ... the one that no freshman was ever gonna talk to ... the one that all the upperclassmen were after ... and here she was right in front of me. Me ... the big talker.

They said stuff like: "Go talk to her." ... "Yeah ... she's just dying to meet you." .... "Cmon. No guts." .... "Go on."  .... "Hey ... You ain't got a HAIR on your ass if you don't go over there ... "

Hmmmm. Ass hair ... the last ditch effort to send you over the top. My face turned red. I was almost ready to ....

"Tell you what ...", my friend Barry said. "I'll give you TWENTY DOLLARS if you get a date with her right now."

That did it.

You swear to God ... $20." I asked.
"Yep ... $20. If you get a REAL date with her. Gotta be a real date."

We shook on it.

I started walking ... probably took me a week and a half to walk those few steps. I heard the guys behind me laughing and jumping around but didn't look back.  Finally I was just a few feet away ... and then she turned.

This part I remember exactly. She had long blonde hair and tossed it over her shoulder when she turned. I almost passed out cold. My throat closed right up.

"Hi," she said.
"jgttfgffvjlkkjb" I answered.
" Pardon?"

I turned away ... embarrassed ... and started to walk back. The guys were blowing kisses at me, hugging themselves, making lewd gestures in her direction.

I stopped ... I turned back around and walked right up to her.
"Sorry about that."
She looked up. "About what?"
"um ... nothin ... I'm Joel ... and I had a question for you."
"Do I know you?"
"No .... okay ... would you like to go out with me?"

She looked past me at the circus of freshman now gathered at my table. I flinched ... not wanting to look around.

"Are those friends of yours?"
"Them? No. Actually ... I pretty much hate them all."
"How much?"
"Huh?"
"How much did they bet you?"
"Bet me? Oh ... you think ... no .... I..."
"How much?"
"Twenty dollars."
"I'll take ten. How about tomorrow night?"

I nodded in a stupor. She stood up, wrote her number and gave me a great big hug. Then she walked out the door.

You could have heard a pin drop behind me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fresh Meat

One day you're on the top of the world. And the next, the world's on top of you.
Senior year of high school was my coming out party. I had finally made it to the rank of cool and accepted. My skin had cleared up (kinda), I could speak a whole sentence without puting my head down and I learned how to spit water between by front teeth. The latter was clearly the most important.

Just when I thought I made it, I began my freshman year at Louisiana State University and slid from hot shot to not-shot.


Freshman hazing was still a ritual at LSU when I was admitted (just my luck ... it was outlawed the very next year). This was the practice of making all freshman feel as though they are the lowest form of life. Apparently it was started in the 1920's by upperclassmen who figured out if the freshmen boys had their head's shaved, the upperclassmen would have an edge on the "Fresh Meat" ... the freshmen girls. So all freshmen went through this ritual when they started classes.


If this wasn't bad enough, the freshmen were also commanded to wear little beanies with the name "Dog" and their last names written on the underside of the brim. When they were confronted by upperclassmen they had to do whatever they were commanded to do like pushups, washing a car, barking, telling the upperclassmen how hansdsome and smart they are ... everyday stuff.


There was also the tradition of wearing pajamas to the first game. It was mandatory ... if you didn't they would kill your firstborn child or something. So I remember sitting with the other freshmen and my roommates watching the game with our dumb beanies on ... no hair ... and pjs. what I didn't know was that at halftime we were supposed to throw all the pajamas off onto the field. Apparently everyone else knew, because I was the only one that didn't wear clothes under my pjs.


All freshmen had to take ROTC. The choices were Air Force or Army  ... I should say it was chosen for you. All freshmen lined up in the big Cow Palace (the Ag Center) and were plucked one by one ... right and left .... Army and Air Force. Well, if there's one thing you learn early it's DON'T get picked for the Army. You had to march with a rifle, classes started much earlier, uniforms were wool and much hotter. So I cleverly started to trade places in line as I looked to the front and counted the numbers, playing the odds. Army, Air Force, Army, Air Force ... Army ... "Well hello Mr. Momberg. Welcome to the Army!"
My roommates of course got Air Force. They marched at 10AM and then took naps in their cute little blue short sleeve shirts. I marched at 6AM until forever with my M1 rifle ... on which we had to constantly have "loading" exercises where you stick your thumb precariously into the cylinder while pulling out quickly before the bolt snapped it off ... like our sergeant's thumb. 


By the way ... Army had the nickname of "Ground Pounders" and Air Force were "Flyboys".


But what really made that first semester so special was the fourth roommate we had in the dorm suite, Phil Miley, the freshman punter from Bogalusa, Louisiana. Phil was 6'8" and weighed all of 300+ pounds ... and as gentle a soul as you would ever meet. He was soft spoken, had a Looooosiannna drawl and  always willing to lend a hand when someone needed help.


I think it was the first week that Phil freaked me out. He walked over and sat on my bed in the middle of the night. Actually he sat on my legs and he also happened to be stark naked. Phil stared down at me without any expression ... just staring ... no hint of his signature grin.


"Phhhphhhphhil?" I calmly said. "You're ... um ... you're sitting on my legs".

No movement.

"Well ... really it's okay if if if you wwwwant to do that."

Still no movement.

"You wanna trade beds? Is that what you want? Sure ... I will. Don't like yours, huh?"

Phil calmly got up, turned and went back to his bed.


I, of course, didn't sleep (that night or any other). I got up cautiously that morning at 4AM to polish my shoes for ROTC and tiptoed out the door. I saw Phil later and he acted as if nothing happened. He was his old jovial self and in fact never mentioned again. But I was always sleeping with one eye open never knowing when he might get "frisky" again.


Months later at dinner, I remember,  he turned to me and said, "Hey, know what I forgot to tell you. Sometimes I walk in my sleep ... probably won't happen here but just in case ... didn't want you to be concerned."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NOLA Lie detector test: So Did You LIVE There or Are you FROM There?

These are my top 20 vocabulary test questions. If you are FROM New Orleans ... these should be easy (Disclaimer: A score of 3 might mean you grew up there but claim LSD flashback status) :

1. Y'at  ..... This is short for "Where y'at?".... the preferred greeting between friends.
2. NOLA ...... Initials for New Orleans Louisiana and a famous restaurant owned by Emril Lagasse

3. Glaudi ....... Last name of the most famous sportscaster in New Orleans history. First name was Hap and he appeared for years on WWL Channel 4.
4. King Cake ......... This should have been one of the easy ones. The cake that is shaped in a circle covered with colored sugar and served at kids' Mardi Gras (or birthday) parties. Inside is a little plastic baby that ... if you are lucky enough to bite down and break your teeth on it or accidentally swallow it ... you have to hold the next party as soon as you are discharged from the hospital.
5. Mc Kenzie's ......... THE bakery in New Orleans where you order your King Cakes.
6. Coon Ass .......... Term of endearment to a fellow New Orleanian.
7. Earl ........ this is what you fill up your engine with.
8. Oil ........ a man's name.
9. Norma Wallace ......... The most famous (or infamous) prostitute in New Orleans during the 40's - 60's. Her house of ill repute still stands today. (The book at left, The Last Madam is written by a friend, Chris Wiltz.)
10. The Point ...... Make out spot at the Lakefront.
11. Corinne Dunbar's ........ Most unusual restaurant in New Orleans. Closed today but was located on St. Charles Ave. in a townhouse. When you arrived you rang the doorbell and were met by a butler who escorted you to the parlor where you waited to be seated in the dining room. There were only 4 tables and a fixed menu ... family style. GREATEST oysters and artichokes.
12. Jax ....... One of two local breweries. GREAT commercials. The other is better known (Dixie). Today the site is filled with retail shops in the Quarter ... Jackson Brewing Company.
13. Frogman ...... Clarence Henry's nickname. He sang in the Quarter for years varying a falsetto and a deep froggy voice.
14. Rebennack ...... The real last name of Dr. John.
15. Connick ........ Former DA of Orleans Parrish. He had a son by the same name, I think. (the picture on the left is Harry, Sr. with my friend Ronny Foreman who rebuilt The Zoo and The Aquarium)
16. Manning ............ Quarterback of the New Orleans Saints. He had a couple of sons too, if I remember correctly.
17. Barq's ................... THE Root beer of New Orleans.
18. Birch  .................... The other root beer of New Orleans which resided at the Royal Castle next to those little burgers.
19. Bruning's ................ Seafood restaurant on the lakefront. Favorite of locals .... blown away by the storm.
20. Chris's  .......... The steakhouse everybody went to before Ruth bought it.

BY THE WAY ..... If you were thinking you'd find ACME, Mother's, Brennan's, Preservation Hall, Pat O'Briens .... forget it .... you're a one timer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mr. Zimmer and the AV War

I was looking through old high school yearbooks last night and noticed that I appear in almost every picture of every organization or club at Fortier. The interesting thing was that I wasn't a member of any of them. Neither were the gang of ten of my friends that were next to me in each picture. We just showed up on picture day to each one  ... The Travel Club, The Chess Club, The Poetry Club, The Spanish Club ... Of course you can spot us right away by the way that we were picking our noses or flipping off the cameraman.
My favorite picture was shot in Physics class sitting in a stairstep desk arrangement ... with my middle finger stuck in my ear. My friend Barry Marks is next to me in the same pose. We were SOOO cool. Unfortunately, the one person missing from that picture was one of the most bizarre teachers I ever had ... Mr. Zimmer, the physics teacher.

Mr. Zimmer was definitely a regular consumer of pharmaceuticals and/or alcoholic beverages. By regular ... I mean every day. Kramer from Seinfeld couldn't hold a candle to this man. His hair was "Krameresque" ... flying above his thick eyebrows and dark glasses. I can't remember one complete sentence he ever put together.


And his classroom antics ...


On our first day of class, he had a television set turned to a non-broadcast channel (remember those?) that just had "snow" and white noise, irritatingly turned up loud. He left it on all semester. He said it was to test out how long the TV would last ... to make sure his warranty was accurate.

Another time, he brought in a bunch of different objects like basketballs, paper weights, encyclopedias ... and pitched them out of our third story window and then he'd run down to get each one. I'm not sure if he ever explained that one.
But the best day of all was the day that James O'Malley (I changed his name to protect his identity) and Robert Noonan (his too) collided in  the "Battle Over the Audio Visual  Projector". It still lives in infamy among those of us that were lucky enough to have lived through it.


It started innocently enough when Mr. Zimmer quietly asked everyone to take their seats as he stepped aside for James O'Malley, the AV boy, who lifted the 16 mm projector and it's stand to the center step. James was wearing his standard AV outfit that day: White shirt, black highwater pants, white socks and hush puppies. He topped it off with an oversized black raincoat speckled with  flakes of dandruff along his shoulders and stuck to his greased back hair.
  

Mr. Zimmer mumbled some nonsense about the movie we were about to see, put on his sunglasses, turned off the lights and took a seat on the first row. His head dropped immedialtely into a drunken slumber.


O'Malley threaded the film carefully and turned on the movie. Robert Noonan, arch enemy of James O'Malley, started to make trouble for the AV boy almost immediately.


Noonan: "Hey stupid. You got a license for that thing?"
O'Malley: "Shut up Noonan. YOU'RE stupid."
Noonan: "No YOU'RE stupid ... and ugly."
O'Malley: "You're STUPIDER and UGLIER."


That went on for a few more minutes with snappy comebacks like that until Noonan made the classic move that strikes fear in the heart of every AV boy:
HE SLIPPED A PENCIL IN THE SPOKES OF THE TAKE UP REEL.


The film stopped, sizzled and ripped. O'Malley went postal. His eyes ablaze, he pulled Noonan out of his seat and wrestled him down the stairs knocking over the projector, desks and students along the way. They froze when they landed right in front of Mr. Zimmer only to find out ...


... he slept through the whole thing.
  

Being Cool At 17

After 16 years of relative anonymity, my hair grew out from the buzz cut I had for years and I somehow stumbled into "the sacred cool group" when I was a senior. I'm not sure how or when this happened but I suddenly had friends with names like Joe Pecot and Bill Hyde and Mark Covert. My former fellow nerd group of Elliot Shushan, Philip Sizeler and David Radasky had moved down the list.

Shallow huh?

Nevertheless ... it was a turning point in my life. I won senior superlatives, student council elections and drank heavily at the Raven on school nights. The latter really brought me closer to my new friends.

The Raven was the neighborhood bar. Percy the bartender never checked an ID and even let us come behind the bar to mix drinks.

I forgot to mention that I had music friends as well. Matt Campbell, Mike Elam and I had a group that played for school events. We called ourselves "The Brothers Two Plus The Jew". Guess who I was? We would do Smothers Brothers routines and change them slightly to fit with our name ... like "They Called The Wind Machaia (instead of Mariah)" and "My Zelda" instead of "Mathilda" (old Allen Sherman routines). It's okay if that didn't make you laugh. The students didn't laugh either.
  
Another friend, David Feder played with me in the French Quarter on the sidewalk. That was when we pretended to be a couple of starving street musicians. Made alot of new friends with that gig.

Then there was PE.

I actually got picked for football games. I remember once when I got picked for Vincent Ambrosia's team. Vincent was my age ... I think ... although he had beard stubble and dark hair all over his body. He used to dress out for PE with his tee shirt tucked into a pair of long black pants ... high up on his waist to his chest ... and pointed toe black boots. His cigarettes were rolled into his sleeve and he always had a toothpick behind his ear. Vincent wanted me to play quarterback. Everybody laughed ... including me ... but Vincent didn't. He felt charitable that day. I think I bungled through most of the snaps although most of it was a blur. Then finally we were ready to score and Vincent called the next play. Long pass down the right sideline (by the coke cases) and just before the big oak tree that bordered the field. Vincent was gonna be the receiver.

He started at me and said, "Don't mess up, Mardi Gras (that was my nickname by the way. There was a song in New Orleans called Mardi Gras Mambo ... which became Mardi Gras Momberg)."

Well ... I know I was shaking in my sneakers when I let the ball fly on the next play. It sailed over Vincent's head and into the oak tree. Trouble was ... so did Vincent. He was looking back at the ball and not at the tree.

Knocked out cold.

There wasn't a sound. Everyone looked at me and shook their heads thinking what I was thinking. I'm a dead man when Vincent comes to. Vincent turned his head slightly opening one eye and trying to focus. I ran quickly behind the tree, grabbed the ball and cradled it in his arms. 

"Vincent ... you did it, man. TOUCHDOWN!"

He smiled slightly and passed out one more time. 
  

Monday, September 7, 2009

Older Women

At 16, there was something truly magical about older women. Of course when you are 16, older could mean by 6 months. Or in the case of Marci, it was 17 and a half.

Marci was my first older woman.

She was a senior ... and drove a '63 Karmann Ghia. I thought it was the coolest car on the planet. I hadn't started to drive yet. Our "romance" was all after school stuff. I never saw her at night and she would always drop me off a few blocks from my house. I wanted the world to know ... she wanted no one to know. Yes sir ... a match made in heaven.

I have no idea how long we kept this up ... seemed like an eternity but it was probably only a few months. I remember weird stuff like her back seat, her checkered blanket and her girdle. Yes ... most Jewish girls of that era wore girdles. They were long waisted panty girdles that did not come off ... ever. Well maybe with guys named Rocco ... but not guys named Joel.

A year later, I dated an Irish girl named Ann (she was older than me, too) ... no girdle for her. But I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would blow that one. One night, we double dated with another couple and parked the car at the Lakefront. In the middle of a steamy embrace, Ann accidentally passed a little gas. I couldn't help myself and burst into laughter ... so did the other couple. That was our last date ... I sure did miss her.

I'm not gonna make this a kiss and tell series about older women. It's not that I'm too much of a gentleman ...

... there's really not much to tell.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ode to Baby Shoes

The summer of my junior year in high school, I started working at Gus Mayer selling children's shoes ... a punishment worse than death. Back to school specials brought in every bratty, whiny, smelly kid from miles around and the last thing they wanted was a pair of new shoes. Oh ... there was the occasional Sally Perfectstudent who couldn't wait to get her new black patent baby dolls. But I never waited on her. Miss Nancy (that's the only name we were allowed to call our boss) was the only one allowed to wait on the well groomed ... apparently well to do ... customers. Because I was the part time kid, I got to wait on anyone that was referred to as "that family".


To check shoe sizes, we used old style wooden measuring sticks (which were even old in 1965) and we had ... believe it or not ... an xray machine in the back for difficult fits. I'm sure we were responsible for causing many future generations of sterility. Come to think of it ... as dumb as I was at that age ... I'm surprised I was still able to produce three kids myself.

The older kids loved the measuring sticks. They were great weapons to fence with, hammer with and of course throw at the shoe salesmen with. Toward the end of my employment I was able to appreciate the same enjoyment the kids were having when I used these weapons on some of my customers, as well.


But the most fun of all was fitting baby shoes. Back then, Stride Rite had baby shoes that weighed 10 pounds and ... on little feet ... looked like big white storm trooper boots. We know today that babies don't even wear shoes during the first months of walking so they can form their insteps and actually bend their little feet. I think parents bought our shoes to delay the process and take a few extra naps.

As tough as these were to walk with ... they were tougher to fit on baby feet. Babies struggled and cried while their feet were jammed into these boots. Worse was the fact that they had a natural tendency to ball up their toes so that it was next to impossible to get their foot to straighten up. Miss Nancy had a technique she showed us to release the tension in the toes. She told us to press under the baby's kneecap as the foot went into the shoe so the foot would relax ... Right!

I tried it once and the baby got so upset that he projectile vomited all over me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Take A Lap ... Make it Wide!

Forier High School had three coaches that ran the sports program: Mook Clavier (Cluh-veah), Coach Didier (Did-e-yay), and Stanley Richard (Reee-shad). For purposes of this writing, I'll focus on Coach Richard. Richard was my coach for the majority of the time I was in school and one of the most colorful characters I have ever known.

He was shorter than the rest ... about 5'8" and built like Mr. Universe (he was actually Mr. New Orleans one year, I believe). He also had a speech impediment that could have been caused by his missing upper dental plate or the apparent head trauma that must have plagued him when he played sports as a youngster.

Every day, before cleass we would have roll call. Coach Richard could not pronounce any names correctly and his ability to maintain information was limited .... so he spelled them out. My friend Wayne's last name was Lassen (which he pronounced "Layyy-Thun"), I was "Mum-boig" and two guys who were named Schmidt and Smith were both called "Smitt". Whe he called out their names it was always: "Smitt"! "S-C-H-M-I-D-T" ... "Smitt"! "S-M-I-T-H".

We had regular PE workouts which meant running laps ... lots of laps. The elaborate equipment we used for this consisted of empty wooden soft drink crates that cornered the dirt track. From the coach's office that overlooked the field, Coach Richard would yell into the microphone ... the one probably used today in Mc Donald's Drive Thrus ... in the most garbled tone you can imagine. We never knew just what he was saying but after years of careful traslation we think it was: "OKAY ... EVERYONE ... TAKE A LAP ... MAKE IT WIDE .... FIVE TIMES AROUND THE COKE CASES" (or , "otayebryuntakalapmayitwhydfitisarounddacokecattheth").

I also remember a health class we took with Coach one day in which there was a movie about drunk driving. It was one of those sappy dramatizations that was probably shot 20 years earlier and had Eddie Haskell lines like "Gee, Mr. Smith, I don't know what had come over me when I could not retain control of my vehicle." You know ... stuff all kids say. Well, in the film, the lead teenager gets killed in a crash while drinking and comes back as a ghost to see what has happened to his family after his death. After about a half hour or so of watching the "ghost", Coach Richard stood up and turned off the projector. He flipped on the lights and said, "I WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW THAT THE BOY IS DEAD ... THEY CANNOT SEE HIM."

He turned on the projector, everyone thanked the coach for his insight and we watched the rest of the show.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Summer jobs

I had a job every summer from the time I was 11 years old. Not like a paper route or lemonade stand ... real retail jobs.

Those familiar with New Orleans know that age doesn't really matter. Child labor laws never applied ... in fact I don't remember Louisiana ever having any real laws for anything. The drinking age was 18 but if your head could reach the bar, you were served. There were pinball machines in the local restaurants that paid off in nickels. They all had TAC Amusement stickers. We used to play the ones at the Frostop. They had a series of holes that moved and created patterns when the ball dropped in them and would pay off when you'd get three across, four across, etc.

I worked for a while at Ernst Food Mart as a stock boy. Loved that job. I had the dog food and pet supplies aisle. I got to carry the price stamper on my belt. It had it's own ink supply and after ripping the box lids off, it was a race to see how fast you could stamp the cans. What a great loud sound the stamper made .... At closing time we'd "front the shelves" (meaning you would make the shelves look fully stocked by stacking the front cans) and then the chief stock boy would check your aisle for accuracy. I always wanted his job.

I remember when I first started as a rookie, I fell for every trick they'd pull. My boss demanded that I find the left handed shelf stretcher and I had a half hour to do it or I'd be fired. I asked everybody I saw. No one knew where "it" was. I sweated every minute until at the end when the boss looked down at me and said ... "you're fired". As I put away my new stamper dejectedly, the whole place lit up in laughter. Of course there's no such thing.

Then there was the time I was commanded to find a bogus "lost case" of dog food ... As soon as I got to the stock room, bags and cans showered on my head from up above as I was given the full initiation from the rest of the stock boys.

I hated them .... and by the end of the summer we were best of friends.