Back The Tracks – Part 5 – Refrigerator Box

This story doesn’t begin back the tracks but it sort of ends there.

When I was a kid, like most boys I liked to play with matches. Boys are always carrying all kinds of things in their pockets. But having a pack of matches was something you weren’t supposed to have. It’s not a toy and shouldn’t ever be played with. Hence the attraction. Matches could quietly sit in your pocket safe and sound. If they got wet they were useless, but if you took one out and struck it, you instantly had a fire. It was an ancient attraction and a feeling of power all in that tiny little cardboard packet.

https://matchpro.org/Anatomy.html

They were a common household item used for lighting cigarettes, cigars, birthday candles, and gas ovens. We all knew where they were in our homes but were forbidden to touch them. But we always took them anyway. If we were in one of our forts we could always have a little fire like we were camping. It was cool to build little fires and then add bits of wood to it and that would sustain it for several hours. We weren’t bothering anyone and it was light and warmth out in the woods.

As I’ve said before, we had tons of toys. Christmas was always a bounty each year. But if we were ever walking down the street, and saw an old refrigerator box in the trash, it was not only fair game, it was a toy that lasted all day long. So, most boxes you found were open on one end. That’s obviously how they removed the fridge.

The box was first laid down in the yard, and you’d get in it. We never went near an actual fridge in the trash because we’d heard the stories. Old refrigerator doors locked from the outside and could not be opened from the inside, so we heard horror stories of how some kid thought it was a spaceship, got inside, and suffocated because once inside, it was sealed and he died in there. That message was clear to every kid I knew. The kid gets locked in a fridge and eats his own leg to survive and other childhood myths.

They actually passed a law that if you were throwing out a refrigerator you had to remove the door, so no kid could kill himself in it. But the box it came in was pure joy. First of all, we’ve all seen boxes, but a refrigerator box is enormous when you’re 4 feet tall.

DIY: Cardboard Box Playhouse - Project Nursery

We’d get in it, the other kids would help stand it up, and then you’d push it over. But after a while, we’d get bored of banging the box around and the bottom would come loose. Now you had a big cardboard cylinder. That would become a tank. Two or three kids would get inside and you’d roll it down the street like a tank tread. We would even put it at the top of our driveway with us in it and it would roll down the hill and we’d all tumble over each other laughing our heads off.

Here’s a shot of my friends, Michael and RJ making use of a refrigerator box for commerce!

A couple of years later I got into magic. Not only did I like doing magic tricks I liked trying to invent my own tricks. I would get books out of the library about famous magicians and their tricks.

So my friend RJ and I found a refrigerator box and decided to make it into a magic trick. We stood it on its end in my garage. Open-end on the ground. We cut a door in the front and a door in the back. I took an old towel and thumbtacked it over the door in the inside back of the box. Our theory was, we send one kid into the box in front of an audience in my garage. We close the door, say abracadabra and when we open it, he’d be gone. Of course, he would have slipped out the back and the trick is so obvious and dumb, but we just had fun constructing and painting it.

Of course, we were out there playing with matches as usual. I had some masking tape on a roll. I pulled off a three-foot piece and taped the end to a wooden shelf in the back of our garage. I lit the bottom end of it, and it burned beautifully. The glue in the adhesive worked as an accelerant. I did this a few times and it was cool to watch it burn straight up very quickly and then go out in a puff of smoke.

We realized our magic disappearing box trick was lame and no one would fall for it, so we decided to add an element of danger to the trick. What if after the kid went inside, we had strips of masking tape hanging around the front and sides of the box that would be lit on fire to distract the audience while the kid exited the back of the box. Yea, this was a great idea. Great to a bunch of 10-year-old morons!

We knew from our previous experiments with the burning tape and the shelf that once it reached the top end it would go out. But that worked when the tape was attached to a heavy wooden object. Not a flammable cardboard box. But we didn’t think of this part.

So RJ goes into the box for us to test out our new exciting trick. He closes the front door and I light all the pieces of masking tape hanging from the box. They burn like mad and it looked amazing as RJ exits the back of the box. Now, remember we’re in my garage. The garage roof is made of wood. Instead of the tape burning to meet its end, it starts to burn the actual box. Thank goodness RJ was already out of the box. He comes around the front to help me put it out. We’re hitting it with whatever we can to snuff out the flames, but it’s just not working. The fire’s getting bigger. We start panicking and don’t know what to do at this point.

So I made the executive decision to grab the bottom of the burning magic box and drag it out of the garage. If anyone had caught us doing what we did that day, I would have been grounded for a year for nearly burning down our family garage.

I run down the driveway dragging the flaming box behind me. The wind and velocity of me running at full speed down the middle of my street is really giving the fire the oxygen it needs to turn into an inferno. I was like a little comet as I ran on the black asphalt. I hoped I wouldn’t end up a falling star.

I actually made it cross Hasbrook avenue and dragged the flaming husk into the vacant lot. The flames were nearly reaching my hands as I dropped it in the middle of the lot and kept running. I turned left onto Newtown Avenue and another hard left onto Gilliam street and back up Hasbrook to Magee street where I lived.

My friend RJ is laughing his butt of and tells me it’s the most exciting and funniest thing he’s ever seen. So much for our foray into Vegas-style magic, but the weird thing was, either no one saw us do it, or nobody decided to say anything. Because there was zero fallout from any parents or neighbors after that incident.

Just another day on Magee Street.

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Merlin McFly’s

In June 1979, a bar “with a magical theme” opened in Santa Monica. It was called Merlin McFly’s and was notable for its décor: nine stained glass windows depicting Merlin, Aladdin, Houdini, a fire-eater (below) and other notable names from the history of magic and sorcery. It was part of a chain of bar/grills across California, the other “family members” – Maxwell, Maestro, Maggie, Sly and Sky – also offering imaginative décor (heavy on the stained glass windows of course) and definitely looking to entertain their customers.

I worked there in 1983, first as a food cashier for the kitchen. I’d take the food orders, ring up the sales and pass the ticket to the cooks. I later was trained as a cook, and for the first time in my life started cooking meals. Before I came to Cali, I lived with my parents so all of my meals were cooked by my mom or I ate out somewhere. Usually fast food.

But this is really where I learned to cook. I still consider myself the “king of the fire pit grill.”

I remember there were two managers. I think their names were John and Renee. I don’t know if either of them had spouses but I know for a fact they were doing plenty of coke up in the office and were totally banging each other. (Caught on occasion ensures gainful employment)

Oh, there was this other guy that managed for a short time. He was a fat clown. I remember he went on a game show, called Dream House. You could win a house if you crushed all of the questions. He’s bragging to the whole staff about when he’s going on the show and tells us all to watch him win. We’re all like… whatever.

So the day comes, and we all crowd around the TV set in the office. He’s on there looking all goofy and cocky and they ask him this question: “If you fed a cow cocoa beans, she would give chocolate milk.”

Him: “I agree.”

And like that he was off the show. In and out. We ripped him apart when he returned to work.

There were roaming magicians in the restaurant and would come to your table while you ate or drank, and would do close up magic for you and your guests. It was such a cool place to work.

The wait staff were all hot women, that were dressed all in black. Tight lycra low cut body suits. Stockings, either fishnets or nude. They all wore a black skirts that revealed one of their legs. (Of course it was my mission to work there) They all looked like magician’s assistants.

I remember this especially hot one. Heather was a tall blonde that everybody loved. She looked like my ex girlfriend Michelle but 24 years old and long blonde hair.  It was my birthday and Heather walked up to me and French kissed me sensuously on the lips. I was shocked and stunned and turned on all in the same moment. Everybody loved it and laughed as I limped back into the kitchen. Nothing ever happened but it’s just something Heather could get away with anytime she wanted. Like a tigress that couldn’t be caged and lived by her own rules.

One night I was emptying the dirty fat from the fryer. This was done by attaching a nozzle to an opening on the lower part of the fryer. Then I would get a big metal pot. Huge. Two feet tall. Like a huge metal bucket with metal handles on the side. I’d stick the metal pot under the nozzle and then turn on the spigot. This was done a few nights a week. The oil would get dirty and you have to change it so your fried foods don’t come out all brown and gross. Those fries need to be crisp and golden!

So I’m letting all of this hot oil empty out of the fryer and into the big pot. It’s the end of the night and the kitchen is closing. It’s after midnight. The fryer has been off for a bit so the 350 degree oil has cooled down. Plus it’s dirty, so it will cool faster because it’s not as pure as fresh fat.

As you know, metal is a great conductor. So when the oil enters the pot it heats up the metal. You have to put towels around the two handles on the side to carry the pot. When it’s full, you have to pick it up, and carry it through the slippery floored kitchen and through the dish washing section and out the back door to outside. This thing is very heavy, awkward to carry, and is filled with hot oil. I hate this part of the job more than any other part.

I get the pot outside and I have to pour the hot contents into a big metal upright barrel. Usually that goes with out a hitch.

But not tonight. I leaned the big pot against it and started to pour it in the barrel when the barrel tipped towards me and the contents of the barrel splashed back into my face!

I’m freaking out. It’s burned my face and gone in my eyes, and I call for help.

The good news is. It had rained earlier so there was a load of cool water down in the bottom of that barrel. So that cooled the oil down from whatever nightmarish temperature it was was when I carried it out here. So I was okay, but I couldn’t see because the oil had gotten in my eyes. One of the Mexican dishwashers came out to help me get inside.

The manager and one of the waitresses, Holly came over and sat with me. They cleaned me up and asked if I was okay. I could see just fine but my face was a bit red but I’d live. They asked if they could get me anything. (Thinking about it now I think they were afraid I’d sue or something) I told them I wanted a 151 and coke. Done. I was all better.

We had this huge doorman named Mike. When the employee meal went out I always gave him and extra load of whatever was on it. Extra chicken, steak or whatever. I would call his name to come pick up his meal and he would always smile and drop a couple of joints next to the plate on the rack as he picked it up. It was like one fluid moment. Hand off plate, joints dropped, snatched, and slipped into my pocket. Thanks to Mike there was never a shortage of weed.

I would do the same for a few of the girls that worked there and they would bring rum and cokes to me and the other chef. So even back then I knew how to get the hookup. Learned from the best…my Dad!

I’ll write in other posts about my celebrity meeting at this fun establishment.

The great thing about doing a bunch of different jobs in your life is, it gives you a different perspective on life and you really do learn a lot of skills in a variety of environments.

A Merlin McFly’s advertisement promised it was a place of “madness, magic and friendly spirits” and that their menu offered the delights of their “mystic burgers” and “wizard ribs”. “Fun is the password” said another in 1984, which had a hand-drawn picture of “P. Eye McFly” and report of the “The Great Restaurant Mystery”, an “investigation” into the McFly’s family tree and their restaurants.

By that time though, Merlin McFly’s was having some trouble. (I was gone by then so I missed all of the trouble.) There were local problems with drug dealing, the city of Santa Monica had an ancient licensing rule about “Dance Halls” that meant McFly’s theoretically had to impose a cover charge, and then there was the issue that hit many singles bars very hard: the rising awareness and fear of HIV and AIDS.

When the bar closed, there were dozens of calls when it was announced that the windows would be on sale – at a price of $325,000. Steve Spill at the nearby Magicopolis magic theater bought the windows a year or two later and then sold them to a collector who put them in a stained glass museum in Washington, DC.

Today, Sly McFly’s in Monterey is the only one left, and their website’s amusing “story” of aspiring race car driver Sly mentions how he finished second at the Trophy Race in Ulster – a connection to Finn McCool’s Irish Bar, which is owned by Belfast-born Geraldine Gilliland and is now at that spot on Main Street.

Geraldine wears funky glasses and has long, red hair, and originally started out working at a restaurant in her native Northern Ireland. She grew up during the early days of “The Troubles” – “I used to fall to the kitchen floor when the bombs started going off” – and like many others she moved away, eventually finding herself in Los Angeles:

“I found LA very exotic – they spoke a different language, even though it was English! It was very scary actually – I didn’t know anyone at all, (but) I fell in love with Santa Monica after I drove from New York. When I saw the beach I cashed in my Greyhound bus ticket and my return ticket to Ireland too.”

As soon as she arrived, she started working over the grill and has continued ever since. Gilliland’s Cafe opened its doors in 1984, and she began her own catering company soon after. It was an immediate success, providing Christmas puddings to Bloomingdales, Dean & Deluca and Balducci’s in New York, but it was her mix of California and Irish cuisines that really established Gerri’s reputation on a national scale.

The cantina-style Lula Cocina was next in 1991, and 1994 saw Jake and Annie’s American-Irish Café, which eventually become Finn McCool’s and officially opened under this name a few days before St. Patrick’s Day in 2002.

As for any ghosts or strange stories, Spill hadn’t ever heard anything about Merlin McFly’s, but Gilliland – who has now been here for nearly 20 years – had:

“There were ghosts in the bathrooms. It was said that every time you washed your hands and looked in the mirror, an apparition appeared.”

The bathrooms at Finn McCool’s are in the same place as they were when Merlin was weaving his spells, but after emailing John Forbes at Bonny Doon Art Glass I found out exactly where the ghosts came from:

“The bathrooms had special effects in them; the mirrors were one-way and when the lights in the bathroom dimmed, the light behind the mirror came on illuminating the figure of the “ghost”. It made for startling looks on people’s faces as they saw the ghost figure appearing in the mirror!”

There was no further archival evidence of any strange events or stories here, so it seems that since this ghostly story has an earthly explanation, you’re safe in the smallest room. Still, it’s kind of a shame that the “ghost” special effect isn’t there anymore.

Forbes also recalled the Merlin stained glass image:

“The back bar had a stained glass image of Merlin and at midnight lasers would turn on, shooting red beams across the room – it looked pretty cool as it pierced through the drifting smoke. Wow, that took me back! Merlin’s was a really fun project, a lot of creative energy.”

Here’s a pic of an original menu done by the great AWEST.

 

I’ll never forget my time at Merlin McFly’s!

 

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Sarika – Song of the Black Widow

God, she’s beautiful. I couldn’t find a stock picture on the internet to capture the delightful beauty of this girl. She is so pretty. Indian. Exotic. The type of beauty you’d almost pay for to be seen with at an event. She is probably one of the most beautiful women I know in Philly. But she recently reached out to me to come hang at a happy hour and a brand new place in Rittenhouse, called Scarpetta. Smith and Wolensky’s is gone and now that place is here. It’s in the Rittenhouse Hotel. She also mentioned that she wants me to come up to her apartment and check out her new place at the Dorchester. I am so glad I have reconnected with her. This vacuous she-devil is such a good character for this work. I am a huge fan of lovely Sarika.

I got to Scarpetta around 5:30. They’ve done a nice job with the place. It’s dark and intimate. The bar looks the same but they’ve opened up the place a bit. There’s only the one bar, but they have a lounge in the back and there is a dining room upstairs. I look around for Sarika but I don’t see her. I’m chatting with the manager and then I look out the window and see her walking towards the building.

Sarika looks amazing as always. We grab a couple of drinks at the bar and sit in this cool little area by ourselves near the window. Rittenhouse Square looks beautiful. It’s all decorated for the holidays.There are strings of bulbs in the trees and the whole park twinkle with light. She is having some sort of light pink beverage that I didn’t catch the name of, and I’m having the old-fashioned. Normally, cocktails are around fifteen dollars, but during happy hour they’re half price. So that’s something I can live with for now.

I ask her what she’s been up to and she says she’s been going on a lot of dates. Turns out that weasel she wanted to bring to my eighty dollar a plate New Years party last year has been gone for a while. I remember she was so into that guy. Apparently they were together off and on for two years. She says she wasted her best years on him and now she’s old. She’s 28! Come on Sarika, you are still but a child. She said he was a jerk to her and probably never loved her. I get her laughing, and start thinking that the black widow isn’t so bad after all. She may be smart as a whip, but she’s still a young woman navigating her way through love and life. I even joke that she probably has a blood-red hour-glass tattooed on her belly.

I do love pretty things, and she is no exception.

I tell her she looks great as always. She has been in some sunny destinations lately, so her skin is a darker brown than normal. I like it. It makes her look even more mysterious and exotic. I mention it and she immediately asks if I think it looks ugly. She always says things like that. She is so smart but so immature at the same time. She’s also a bit of a chatterbox. I think most men can’t handle that and don’t like a girl who talks too much. I don’t mind it. I like a girl who has things to say and experiences to share. I love to talk and entertain a woman, so it’s nice when I have a chatty girl so I don’t have to do all of the work. Women like a good listener and I grew up with three sisters. But what I can’t stand is what Carol used to do. Just babbling on nonstop like a tire spinning in the snow. (See: Carol 5/2014 to 8/2016 – There’s No Fun In Dysfunction)

I once read that women speak up to 20,000 words a day, compared to men, who speak only 12,000. So when we get home…We’re done!

It is puzzling how a woman this strikingly beautiful can’t keep a man. But the more you’re around her the more it makes sense. She says she’s been finding men on an app called J Swipe. It’s like Tinder for Jews. I asked her why that app? She said Jewish men normally appreciate women more, have good jobs, and have money. Sounds like she’s hunting for a husband. I think one of the challenges Sarika is facing is that she may be viewed more as a conquest. A creature to be captured and checked off of some list, because she’s so beautifully exotic.

She said she went out with a guy on Monday and even had a date with a pilot after our happy hour. So I assume I won’t be getting a tour of that gorgeous apartment in her building tonight. Sarika has a very busy life. She travels a great deal for her job as a scientist. I know she was formerly an engineer, but now I guess she’s a scientist. She makes great money and spends her other free time hopping on planes and taking little trips. It sounds like a fun life with all of the dating, and jet setting vacations, but it almost seems like she doesn’t want to be alone in her apartment. She’s crazy dating now. It’s good that she’s getting out there and meeting people after two years wasted with weasel man. But again, I can see men wanting her because she’s so beautiful, but she’s kind of annoying to talk to for any length of time. So if they get the opportunity to sleep with her they may not stick around.

Sarika is very intelligent and a nerd. I have taken her to Science after Hours at the Franklin Institute in the past. She loved it like a child. We went to see Jurassic World last summer, and Guardians of the Galaxy is her favorite movie. If my friend Duncan finds that up he’ll probably move up here from North Carolina. You would think guys would find that hot. A pretty girl who likes guy stuff and sci-fi, but it hasn’t worked. Maybe one of these many men that she is meeting for dates, will be rich and just marry her as a trophy wife. But sadly, people are funny about race in this country. They may want to sleep with a hot girl, but they may not want to bring and Indian woman back home to meet the family. I personally I have nothing against it. If you have been reading this blog, you know I love all different kinds of women. As Hank Moody says in the show Californication, “I got all your albums. I love you all and you and you included, Sarika.”

My buddy Church shows up at Scarpetta. I’m happy to see him. Once Sarika  goes on her date at One Tippling Place up the street, he and I can go to Square 1682 and have a drink. Church knows everybody in the restaurant and bar business in this town, so when he orders a drink and the server brings it over, she says, “This one is on Nathan.” He’s the GM there so Church got the hook up. I get another drink, but Sarika is only having the one so she doesn’t show up drunk for her date at 7:00.

While I was waiting at the bar to get my drink, Church chatted with Sarika. I was a little glad that it took the bartender a little time to get to me and make my drink. Normally I don’t like that, but I thought it would give Church a chance to talk to Sarika.

I get back to our little area by the window. We all chat a bit more. Sarika has to go soon, so she heads back to the ladies room. Church tells me she wouldn’t stop talking and it was driving him crazy. He’s been on edge lately, and listening to Sarika go on about something was annoying him. He said something to the effect, “I wanted to put a gun in my mouth.” He said she is so vacuous and self-absorbed and all she talked about was herself.

He once said that about another attractive girl who talked a lot. He was in a car with her and she was talking non stop and he said, “I wanted to leap right out of the car while it was going 70 miles per hour down the highway.”

Sarika returns, and I put her coat on for her. I tell her I will pay for the one drink she had. She tells me she’ll get me next time. I give her a kiss on the cheek good-bye and she’s off. I get the bill for my two old-fashioneds and her dainty drink. It should come to over $22 plus tax. I look at it and it’s only $15. So I got the hookup because I was with Church.

Dude certainly has the power.

I think next we’ll do a happy hour with my friend Carly.  So the night went well and again without incident.

So maybe my pretty little arachnid is finally growing up.

I love Sarika. She is beautiful, and I enjoy her company, if nobody else does, and I can’t wait to see her again.

(Oh… and if you’ve somehow found this and other stories Sarika, I’ll understand if you cut me off. The truth always hurts more than fiction)

 

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Sun Stories: Charlie & Christine – Love in Bali

Here’s an interesting short little story. This couple comes in the salon and both sign up for memberships. We get chatting with them. He’s from London. Charlie is 24, tall and blonde and good-looking. He works as a broker in the financial industry there. I don’t know if he got laid off or just decided to quit his job.

Christine is attractive and works as a bartender at a P.J Wellihans out in the suburbs of Philly. I would say in my opinion he is more attractive for the male than she is for the female. But they are still a hot couple.

He went on holiday for a few weeks in Bali. Then he was going to go to Australia and look for a job in the same field there.

She was on a long vacation in Bali with some of her friends. They met three days into Charlie’s trip. He was staying at his friend’s hotel one evening. They saw each other at the pool. It was around 2pm in the afternoon, and he was speaking to Christine’s elder cousin who was ten years older than Charlie. She actually called dibs on Charlie! Christine was chatting to a family from Australia.

Christine’s cousin asked if Charlie and Christine wanted to grab drinks with her that evening. Their first proper conversation came when Charlie opened a bottle of beer using a lighter. Some one took a photo at that moment and that is the first picture of them together.

They fell in love, and he cancelled his trip to Australia. He instead returned with her to Philadelphia. I assume he is looking for work here.

I will write more about them as the story develops.

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