Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ad Floormats & Biblical Cords

Soon after I moved to the Orlando area, I got a job at Stonebrook Advertising. I was a hardline and ad layout artist. I drew everything but fashion. Shoes, TVs, stereos, furniture, jewelry and that sort of stuff. We did work exclusively for the Belk Lindsey department store chain. My boss was Glen Stone. There was another office in Tampa which was headed by a guy named Doug Middlebrook. Doug had his own single engine plane. One time he flew us from Orlando to Daytona Beach and let me pilot it for a few minutes on the way back. My boss, Mr. Stone, turned as white as a ghost. I went up and down and left to right. It was neat. Mr. Stone was known as just that, Mr. Stone. No one ever called him by his first name. I think his wife even called him Mr. Stone. He was quite the character. For a guy who had been in the advertising business so long, you would think he would know the term 'format.' No, they were 'ad floormats.' He always wore those shiny silk suits. Quite the fancy dresser, he was. One Saturday morning, one of the employees dropped by his house for some reason. There he was, outside cutting the grass, in a white shirt and tie. He was from Kentucky and was awarded the ceremonial title of Kentucky Colonel. Another one of his quirky phrases was biblical cord instead of umbilical cord. Oh well, he was from the back hills of Kintuk.

Every morning, he would come in at 10 o'clock and make a beeline for the freezer. We could hear him cracking the ice cube tray and dumping a few in his glass. He would then go into his office and pour himself just about the cheapest vodka you could buy. That was his day. He didn't really do anything else but drink. He'd come up to me sometimes and ask if I could do a design for him. It was usually personal, like the time he wanted something for his son's flying club. They were glider pilots and I think it was for t-shirts. I came up with 'Easy Glider' or something like that. "Now, I'm not in a hurry or anything. I know you're busy, so next week or the week after is just fine with me," he would insist. It only took me one time to learn that he meant DO IT NOW! That afternoon, he asked me if I had done it yet. "No," I said. "Well, GD it, why not? I told you I wanted it!" One time. That's all it took.

Mr. Stone got into a little DUI trouble a couple of times. I remember they took his license away for 5 years. Guess who had to drive him everywhere? His wife would drop him off in the morning and pick him up later. The part I hated the most was being forced to drive him to his girlfriend's house every day at lunch. His girlfriend brought him back. Because of that, I really started to dislike the man for what he was doing to his lovely, church-going wife.

I guess the state made him go into some sort of substance abuse program. They put him on a drug called ANTABUSE . Here's where it gets tricky. Once he went on that drug, he had to give up drinking. Antabuse has some really serious side effects, like copious vomiting. I knew it wouldn't last long. Well, he did give up drinking vodka. He no longer drank at work. I never heard the clunk of ice cubes again. Instead, he would go to his girlfriend's house at lunch and drink wine, probably a rotgut varietal. As soon as she dropped him off, he would race into the bathroom and puke his guts out. I had the misfortune of sitting on the other side of the bathroom wall. I could hear everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. We won't go into that. His daily ritual went on for months. Every day he'd come back from "lunch" and rush into the bathroom. I knew it had to be bad for him, especially his heart. At 66, he was developing heart trouble that his doctor kept in check.

One morning I came in. At 9 o'clock, everyone went out for breakfast. I stayed in to answer the phones. We all took turns doing it that way. The phone rang. It was his partner in Tampa, Doug Middlebrook. He asked me, "Dave? Are you sitting down?"


"Well you need to."


"Mr. Stone passed away last night."


"What happened?"

"He and his wife retired for the evening. She went into the bathroom to take her shower and when she came out she checked in on him, but he was already gone." They had slept in separate bedrooms for years, unbeknownst to me. "It was a massive heart attack."

I was shocked, but not surprised. I had warned him of the damage he was probably doing to himself, to no avail. I had the unfortunate task of sitting everyone down when they returned to pass on the sad news. In spite of his quirks and cheating on his wife, I guess I really liked him. The funny thing is, the day he died, he didn't go to lunch and I sat in his office for hours, chatting up a storm. I was the only other male there, so he had a penchant and fondness for chewing the fat with me. I'm glad I had that final chance.

A month went by and someone had to take his place, although I'm not really all that sure why. A woman who worked there for many years was promoted to his position. He had a little cubby hole in the back of his office that no one (except me) was allowed to go into. He had his stacks of Playboy magazines and God knows what else. Another woman I worked with asked me if I'd take her in there to see what it was like. I said, sure, why not? There was an air conditioner duct that was exposed directly under the ceiling with, maybe, a half inch gap. She looked up and said, "What's that?" I told her I didn't know. I reached up and pulled out an envelope. Inside were very, very graphic Polaroids of his very, very naked girlfriend. I won't elaborate. She looked at them and gagged. I ran them out to the dumpster, tearing them up along the way. No way did that girlfriend ever want to have anyone else look at them. We went back to work and never spoke to anyone about that incident. It remained our secret.

A few weeks later, we hired a handyman to renovate the office and open up that tiny room. While the guy was in there working, he came out with another envelope. Good thing for his honesty. Inside, was $3,000. The guy's name is Steve Somerset. I'll never forget it because of his honesty and work ethic. The guy was just plain good at what he did. We called Mr. Stone's wife and told her of the windfall. She said, "You know? I'm finding all kinds of money hidden all over the house. In a sock in his dresser. Taped up on the bottom of the tray in his tool box. All kinds of weird places." I think he used this stash to buy things for his girlfriends over the years.

He's been gone for 15 years now, so I don't really feel I'm infringing on him personally by relating this story. He was cremated and there was no service of any kind, so it's not like I'm walking on his grave or anything. His wife moved far away. Besides, I think he would want people to know what alcohol can do to you if you let it take away your life.

Good ol' Mr. Stone. He sure was a quirky guy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Mushroom Incident

Ever since I was a little kid, I could spot a hair on my plate. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see it if it was halfway buried under the food. They were usually from cats or dogs, since we always had one or two of them running around the house.

When I owned my restaurant in New Jersey, there were a couple of provision houses where I bought my food items. After all the years of serving the same food to customers, I would get a little sick of eating the same things, day after day. Oh, don't get me wrong, I spiced things up a bit. One day, I would eat a burger with lettuce and tomatoes, the next day, I'd make it with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese. Same thing with chicken. You're kind of limited with hot dogs. French fries, back when they were still called that, I'd dip in ketchup one day and mustard the next. But, I'd still get bored. Sometimes, I'd send someone out to get me a good steak or seafood of some kind. Hey, while you're at it, get one for yourself. On me.

One of the nice perks of being in the restaurant business is the free sample stuff. A sales rep would come in and say, "Hey, this product might sell well here. You want to try it out?"


Most of them were pretty good, but, I never really added much to my already existing menu. They would always bring you fliers of new products and what's on sale. One time I saw something for frozen breaded mushrooms you deep fry. I loved deep fried breaded mushrooms. Heck, how much are they? How many pounds? I'll take one. I couldn't wait for my next delivery to bring me my goods and that brand new box of mushrooms. I think I waited out by the road when I saw the truck coming.

I carefully opened the box. I think it was 10 pounds. I didn't want any of them to spill out onto the floor. I threw a whole bunch into the deep fryer. Who cares if it was lunch time? It was my restaurant, my lunch rush and my mushrooms. Of course, I offered some to my employees after I hid them from the view of the customers. I said, "Eat them now while you can. The rest are mine."

When I closed the box to put into the freezer, I noticed it said PRODUCT OF THE PHILIPPINES. Who cares where they were from? See? Even back then we were outsourcing. All I needed to know was that every day I could eat deep fried mushrooms. I would bite into that crisp breading. Those soft, succulent mushrooms were delectable to me. Every day, for a month, I cooked up a batch. Sometimes, I'd share. Usually, I'd eat them in the afternoon when the lunch crowd was gone. It was slow then. I'd only have one other person working until dinner time.

I was probably about halfway into that box when I had an experience that would change my mushroom eating habits for the rest of my life. I had cooked up a few. Bear in mind that I was not even close to getting tired of them yet. As I popped one into my mouth and started to chew, I could feel a hair in there somewhere. I managed to grab the end of it without losing any of the mushroom. I started to pull the hair out. Out and out it went. I started to move my fingers away from my mouth. The farther I got, I realized this was no ordinary hair. It was long and straight. And black. It must have been 2 feet long by the time it was completely out. I spit the mushroom into the garbage. Oh, that poor Filipino woman losing her hair like that. How did something that long get wound up into one mushroom? I didn't want to think about it. My appetite was gone. I threw the remainder of that box right into the garbage and I've never eaten one again. I still love mushrooms, but, the thought of breaded ones, well, it makes my hair fall out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Birthday Card

Stewart and I have been very close friends for about 40 years now.

Well, not
that close.

This is the e-mail birthday card I made for him.

You don't want to see the one I made for his wife.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Volvo Kind Of Guy

A few years ago, I had a Volvo 240 DL. It was a very good car and I had owned it for years with minimum problems. Eventually, it started to nickel and dime me and Volvos were never cheap to fix anyway. I decided to get a new car. I got one and still owned the Volvo. I figured I could probably get around $500 for it.

In the meantime, a woman I know is a waitress at an Orlando restaurant. She came up to me one day and told me about this co-worker whose wife left him and cleaned out what little money he had. The car he owned was a real clunker. Would I consider donating the car to him? He's really a nice guy and he can use a big break like that. I told her I'd think about it and get back to her the following week. I did. I gave it some serious thought, and being the good guy that I am, I said, sure, I'll do it. I wasn't really hurting for money or anything at the time, so why not?

I cleaned it out and set a date for him to come get it. They came up and I signed the title over to him. In Florida, titles don't have to be notarized any longer. Off he drove. I didn't care that he put a phony tag on it. He had the title. It was no longer my car. At least, that's what I thought.

Months later, I came home from work. In the mailbox was a postcard from the Orlando Police Department. It stated that my Volvo was left abandoned on a street and it was towed to the city (but privately owned) lot. I had to pay the $46 towing fee plus $15 a day in storage. Or my license would be suspended by the state after 31 days. Hey! I didn't even own that car anymore.

I called the police department. The dispatcher was very nice. I explained the whole situation to her. She told me the phone number of the towing company and wished me luck.
Apparently, the new "owner" never transferred the title. Technically, to the state, I still owned it.

The dispatcher at the towing company was nice, too. I explained the whole thing to her. I told her that I could have sold the car, but, out of the goodness of my heart, I gave it to someone who subsequently, just abandoned it. I asked her how much the storage fee was. She told me, and I think, it was $195, plus towing. Wow! I then asked her if she could waive the storage fee since I didn't think it would be all that fair to me. She said she didn't think so, but she would explain the situation to the owner and let me know. In the meantime, before I could pay anything, I had to show proof of ownership. I said I don't have the title and I don't remember who the guy was. Plus, I had to turn in my old registration in order to transfer it over to the new vehicle. Kind of like a Catch-22. I said just the mere fact that I got the letter and that the vehicle was still in my name proved that I was the owner. Why do I need to show you anything? Because you do. That's it. I was perplexed, but I knew I would figure it out.

I called the tag office and told my story again. The lady there said, sure, it's still in your name. Yes, we can print out proof that you own the vehicle. That should work for them. Great. I went and picked it up (free!) and returned home to call the towing company again. She said the owner felt bad for you and said that if you can get down here today and today only, he will waive the storage fee, but, someone's got to pay the tow truck driver, so the $46 stays. I would have to pay that. I drove down and paid it. I thanked them for being so nice. After all, they didn't have to give me any kind of break.

When I ran into my old "friend" again, I told her what I had just gone through. Hey, don't get me involved in it, she said. I said, you got yourself involved in it when you came up to me in the first place. I'm not blaming you. You were just trying to do a good thing, too. Would you please tell him and see if he's willing to at least pay me something? Yeah, yeah, right. I never heard another thing about it again. Some friends.

I'm probably the only person who ever gave away a car for free and then had to pay for it. I learned my lesson. I will never just turn over a title to anyone again. Ever.