Letter From Milo: Otis Rides the Wild Surf

May 21st, 2018

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ve got a lot of shit on my mind. The IRS has been hounding me. The lovely Mrs. Milo wants to drag me off to marriage counseling again. My sister has cut off my line of credit. And my mother hasn’t taken any of my phone calls since she got Caller I.D.

But these are problems I can live with. The main reason I’m pacing the floor at three in the morning instead of sleeping is due entirely to the presence in my home of a mangy, rotten bastard of an alley cat named Otis.

Ever since Otis followed my youngest daughter home and weaseled his way into our household, about 15 years ago, my life has been a living hell. I would have gotten rid of him long ago but my wife and kids told me there’d be hell to pay if anything happened to the cat.

I haven’t got the time or space to write down all of Otis’ despicable character traits. But the thing that bothers me the most is that Otis has alienated my family’s affections. It’s become obvious that my wife and daughters care more for the cat than they do for me. When my eldest daughter, who lives a few miles away, comes to visit, she barely acknowledges my presence. Instead, she rushes straight for the cat, picks him up, cuddles with him and showers the bastard with baby talk.

“What cutesy little kitty you are. How’s my favorite little guy in the whole world? Ooh, I miss you so much.”

And when my wife comes home, the first thing she asks is if the cat had been fed. Apparently, my nutritional needs don’t matter. It is plain to me that I have become a second class citizen in my own home.

This past summer, I was sitting on the rocks at Foster Avenue Beach, sipping from a half pint of Old Crow and feeling sorry for myself, when I noticed that a film crew was working nearby. I recognized one of the crewmembers, a guy named Kevin, from my days in the advertising business, so I went over to talk to him. After a bit of small talk, he said that they were going to shut down the set.

“Why?”

“We ran out of cats,” Kevin said, then explained that they were shooting a commercial for a Canadian pet food company and the scene required a cat on a surfboard. “The cat’s supposed to catch a wave, ride it all the way to shore, then hop off the surfboard, and walk up to a bowl of tasty looking cat food.”

“So, how did you run out of cats?”

“Well, we started with eight cats and as soon as we put one of them on the surfboard the fucker fell off and drowned.”

“Jesus, are you saying that all eight of the cats drowned?”

“Yeah, now we’ve got to shut down the set and do it all over again tomorrow, when we get some more cats. This was supposed to be a one day shoot. I’m going to catch hell for blowing the budget.”

“Wait a minute! I may be able to help you. I’ve got a cat that’s an expert surfer.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I picked him up in Malibu a couple of years ago. The cat was raised on the beach. He’s forgotten more about surfing than most people will ever know.”

“Oh, man, that’s great. I can pay you a couple of hundred bucks. How soon can you get him here?”

“I’ll be back in half an hour.”

I rushed home, grabbed Otis, stuffed him in a cat carrier, and headed for the door. When I got back to the beach, Kevin said, “Alright, let shoot this thing while the light’s still good.”

A short while later, Otis was perched on a thin sheet of wood, about 150 yards from shore, and bobbing up and down with the roll of the waves. It was a windy day and the water was rough. I expected Otis to immediately lose his footing and tumble into the water like the other cats did. But to my surprise, and bitter disappointment, he kept his feet. In fact he seemed eerily calm, almost confident.

When the big wave came along and lifted Otis to the crest, I expected he’d be done for. Instead, Otis pulled an aerial on take-off, and then did a fins-free snap and a cutback. He rode the tube for a few moments, followed by a roll off the top, before coasting into a floater. When the wave weakened, Otis did a bottom turn, before hitting the lip to return to the top of the wave. As he got close to shore, the cat put a paw in the water to slow the ride and stay in the tube.

Otis stayed on the surfboard until it beached itself on the sand. Then he hopped off and headed for the bowl of cat food. Maybe I was imagining things, but it seemed like he was strutting as he walked toward the food.

“Milo, that was spectacular,” Kevin said, shaking his head in awe. “The cat’s a natural. Do you think he’ll be available next week? I’m shooting another commercial that calls for a cat to be caught in a cattle stampede.”

“Yeah, Otis will be there. But I’m sure he’ll want more money.”

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Letter From Milo: Married Men

May 14th, 2018

Marriage is wonderful, but it’s not for everyone. Some people (and I’m referring to males of the species) are incapable of withstanding the rigors of marriage.

There are men who are so set in their doggish ways, so unwilling to compromise even the slightest bit of their independence, or answer to anyone for their behavior, that matrimony is simply not an option for them. They live by their own rules and schedules, and answer only to their own consciences.

I have a dear friend, who I’ll call Bruce Diksas, to spare him undue embarrassment, who has never married and doesn’t plan to get married anytime soon. He lives on his own terms, enjoying a rigorous lifestyle that most wives wouldn’t tolerate. I once asked Bruce if he had ever considered getting married.

“I almost asked Martha to marry me.”

“I remember her. You two were together for a couple of years. What happened?”

“It was just one of those things. I was getting ready to have my usual breakfast. I rolled a joint, popped a beer and got the pizza out of the fridge, when Martha said, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t care for some granola and skim milk?’”

“Jesus!”

“I couldn’t believe she said that to me.”

“Swear to God, just when you think you know somebody…”

While there are lots of men who have never gone to the trouble of getting married, there are many others who are plainly unsuitable for matrimony, yet they keep getting married, over and over again. They are as unfit for marriage as any boozing, drug-abusing, whore mongering career bachelor, but that doesn’t stop them from marching down the aisle whenever they can convince some foolish woman to join them in wedded bliss.

I asked a friend, an old hell raiser named Rodney, who had been married four or five times, why he didn’t just give up on marriage and live in sin, or make some other satisfactory arrangements. Why, I wondered, did he insist on being married when he was obviously so bad at it.

“I’m Catholic. I was schooled by nuns. I’ve got a lot of guilt in me. I don’t want to add to my bad karma by living in sin.”

“That’s a bullshit excuse. Catholics aren’t supposed to get divorced, either.”

“Heh, heh, I’ve given that a lot of thought. There’s a very fine line there. You see, technically, I never divorced any of my wives. They divorced me. So, I figure that gives me some wiggle room.”

Ah, well, I guess people get married for all sorts of reasons. They marry for love and for money. Some marry because they want to and others marry because they have to. Some marriages are arranged and some are deranged. Some unions last forever and some are doomed from the start. I suppose the great thing about being married is that if things don’t work out, you can always try again.

There are not many situations in life where people get second or even third chances. The institution of marriage, however, comes with a lifetime supply of mulligans.

I was having a few drinks and discussing the subject the other day with a guy named Phil, who is a commodities trader and a ladies’ man with a string of ex-wives in his wake.

“So, why did you marry your first wife?” I asked.

“She had great tits.”

“What about the second wife?”

“She had a fantastic ass.”

“And the third wife?”

“Double jointed.”

I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to get married.

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Letter From Milo: Drunken Mailman

May 7th, 2018

Well, it’s happened again. I am physically and emotionally incapable of writing my weekly column here at The Third City. I know this is a terrible disappointment for many of my readers who rely on me for insightful commentary, celebrity gossip and spiritual guidance. But this time I’ve got a good reason for letting my readers down.

You see, I still haven’t recovered from the ugly incident that occurred last week, when the two chicks I picked up at Swillagain’s beat me up in the parking lot of the Diplomat Motel on Lincoln Avenue and stole my wallet, car keys and one-hitter. I’ve pretty much recovered physically, but I’m afraid the emotional damage may be permanent.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a trick that other columnists use when they are unable to come up with a column. Most of my idols in the column business – Royko, Popovich, Mrs. Shimkus, Standing Elk, Junior Gomez, and Lamar from Memphis – have resorted to this cheesy gimmick when time or inspiration run short. What they do is simply post a few letters from readers, add snappy replies, and call it a column.

Here then are a few letters from The Third City’s esteemed readers, followed by my snappy replies.

Letter #1:

Motherfucker, where’s my money!

Snappy reply:

Sis, that’s a real nice way to talk to your only brother. I don’t know why you’re being such a bitch about this. It’s just a poker debt. I was hoping you’d give me another week or two to come up with the money.

Letter #2:

Hey, Milo. I understand you’re a huge porn fan. I enjoy it, too. Can you recommend any good internet porn sites?

Snappy reply:

Yes, I spend most of my waking hours sitting in front of a computer, wearing my ratty bathrobe, smoking reefer and surfing the internet for porn. I enjoy all sorts of pornography, but my personal favorite is grainy, black and white Eastern European porn from the Stalin era. There’s something about hairy Slavic ladies wearing babushkas that drives me wild. That said, we all have different tastes in erotica. Here are a few sites you may find interesting:

NudeHighSchoolCafeteriaLadies.com
NunsGoneWild.com
SpankMyGrandma.com
HoosierFarmboys&TheirFlocks.com
TastesLikeChicken.com
BillLindenTheLostYears.com
ArethaFinallyGetsSomeRespect.com
HaulingAngela’sAshes.com
ThelmaAndLouiseMeetHaroldAndKumar.com

Hope you enjoy the sites, By the way, if you come across any interesting porn sites, please let me know.

Letter #3:

Dude! This nuclear proliferation thing is starting to scare me. I’ve been having nightmares for weeks. A lot of unstable countries have or are developing nuclear weapons. Some of these countries, like Iran and North Korea, are run by nutcases and religious fanatics. And now I heard that Uganda is planning to develop a nuclear arsenal. I’m scared shitless that one of those countries is going to drop the Big One on us.

Snappy reply:

My friend, your fears are groundless. If anything, these second-rate countries should be afraid of us. The USA has more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world put together. And we’re not afraid to use them. Don’t forget, we’re the only nation on earth that’s actually used nuclear weapons. We dropped atom bombs on Japanese cities – twice! There’s no reason to think we won’t do it again if we run across some other uncooperative sons of bitches. And if you’re worried about religious fanatics and nutcases running countries, wait until one of our fire-breathing, bible-thumping, right wing Christian fundamentalists becomes president.  Then we can all kiss our asses goodbye.

Letter #4

Hello to you, Mr. Milo. I am still being Dr. Victor M’Bogo, President of the Nigerian Society of Artistic Endeavors. I am sadly to be informing you that the 1.5 million dollar Hakeem Olajuwon Prize for Excellence in International Blogging cannot be released to your good bank in Chicago. The reason for this misfortune is that your check for $750, which was covering certain transfer fees, has bounced very highly. I am certain this was probably an error caused by your banking institution. So, please put in the mail another check in the same amount, preferably a cashier’s check, and we will send you the prize money most immediately. Thanking you most gracefully and may peace and blessings fall gently upon your head like warm golden showers.

Snappy reply:

Sorry about that, Dr. M’Bogo. I’ve had some financial reversals in the last couple of weeks, the main one occurring when my rotten fucking sister hit a club flush on the river to beat my three queens. But don’t worry, I’ve got some money coming in next week. As soon as I get my unemployment check I’ll send you the 750 bucks.

Letter #5:

Hey, Milo I’ve noticed that the quality of your mindless rants and ignorant opinions has deteriorated since Rolando left The Third City. What ever happened to him?

Snappy reply:

We’re not sure what happened to Rolando.. Rumor has it that he’s working the Puerto Rican Gigolo Circuit and prospering.

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Letter From Milo: How sweet it is…

April 30th, 2018

If a doctor ever tells me I’ve got just a few months to live, there are a lot of rotten bastards I’m taking with me.

I’ve got a shit list, and it’s a long one. It goes all the way back to grade school.

I’ve been told there’s a phrase in the Bible that says vengeance belongs to the Lord. Well, I’m not much of a religious guy, so where does that leave me? Besides, I’ve got a lot of grievances. I can’t be certain that the Good Lord will take my side in each case.

No, if there’s any revenging to be done, I’ll have to do it myself.

A while ago, having discovered several new aches and pains, and realizing I wouldn’t live forever, I decided it was time to start settling scores. I was sitting at the kitchen table, making an enemies list, when the lovely Mrs. Milo came by and asked what I was doing.

“I’m making a list.”

“What kind of list?”

“I’m writing down the names of all the low-life sons of bitches I’m going to stab, strangle and run over with my car in the next few weeks. I’m also planning on chopping up a couple of these cocksuckers with a machete.”

“Milo, have you been drinking?”

“I may have had a smidgen of red wine with lunch.”

“Let me see that list,” she said, and grabbed it off the table. “Are you crazy? What have any of these people ever done to you? And why in the world is your brother-in-law, Bill, on this list?”

“My sister heard about my plans and asked me, as a personal favor, to run over her husband with a car. I said okay.”

With the possible exception of cats, human beings seem to be the only creatures to commit, and take pleasure from acts of vengeance. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing that something terrible has happened to someone you despise, someone who’s treated you shabbily, abused you, and made your life miserable.

Just imagine how great it would be to find out that someone you truly hated — someone who embezzled your retirement funds, killed your dog or ran off with your wife — had come to a bad end.

Then imagine how much better it would be if you had personally caused this despicable person’s destruction.

Vengeance, after all, requires a personal touch. Random accidents don’t count as proper vengeance. It’s not enough that a person slips on a banana peel and breaks his neck, gets torn apart by a pack of pit bulls, or gets crushed by a falling piano. You have to be the person that leaves the banana peel on the sidewalk, lets the dogs loose, or drops the piano.

And, finally, the object of your vengeance has to know that you are responsible for his or her predicament. Ideally, in the moments before the ambulance arrives, there’ll be enough time for you to walk up to the bleeding, mangled victim and gleefully take credit for their misfortune.

“Hey, Mrs. Shimkus, you remember me?”

“Aarrgh”

“Maybe next time you’ll think twice about giving someone an F in algebra and making him go to summer school.”

I was sitting at my computer, surfing legal aid sites, when I got a phone call from Benny Jay, my esteemed colleague at The Third City. He seemed agitated.

“Milo, your wife just called me. She thinks you’ve lost your mind. She says you’re planning to commit some sort of wholesale slaughter.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“I’m sure you’ve got your reasons. But I have to tell you that, in my opinion, this might reflect poorly on The Third City.”

When I explained my reasoning to Benny, he grew uncharacteristically quiet. After an awkward silence, he said, “Well, I can see your mind is made up, but while you’re at it can you do me a huge favor?”

“Sure.”

“Put Hue Hollins on your list.”

“The NBA referee?”

“Yeah, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since the bastard called that ridiculous foul on Scotty Pippen in game 5 of the 1994 playoffs.”

A couple of hours later, I got a call from my dear friend, Bruce Diksas. I believe he had been drinking. “Hey, Milo. You remember Carlos Rivera, the rotten fucker who hit a king on the river to beat my flush?”

“Consider it done.”

Just before I went to bed, I got a call from my sweet, gray-haired, mother. “Do you remember Mrs. Popovich…”

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take care of it.”

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Letter From Milo: Good Grooming

April 23rd, 2018

I was having a pleasant conversation with my sweet, gray-haired mother when she stopped in mid-sentence, stared at me for a moment, and said, “When are you going to get rid of that ugly thing on your chin?”

“What? You mean my goatee?”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Looks more like a hamster attached itself to your face.”

“Mom, that’s kind of harsh. I’ve been told that the goatee makes me look distinguished. My daughters, your own grandchildren, like it. They say it’s cool.”

“Well, they’re lying to you. That nasty thing makes you look like a mangy old goat. It probably smells bad, too. Why don’t you do the world a favor and shave it off?”

“Damn, Mom, I bet you don’t talk to your daughter like that.”

“Your sister is a mean, spiteful bitch. She hasn’t spoken to me since I told her she was getting fat.”

There was a time, when I was a young man, when facial hair was very popular. I remember a group photo that was taken in Sterch’s tavern in the mid-1970s. Every guy in the picture, including me, was bearded or had some sort of facial growth. We looked like the House of David baseball team, or characters in a Matthew Brady Civil War photo.

The variety of whiskers in the photo was impressive. There were full beards, droopy Pancho Villa moustaches, Van Dykes, modified goatees, bushy sideburns that Isaac Asimov would have envied, something that vaguely resembled the traditional Amish beard, and a few follicular arrangements that defied description. Most of the guys had pretty long hair, too.

I had a full beard when I met the future lovely Mrs. Milo. At first, she didn’t seem to mind the beard, but after a few months she began complaining that it smelled like smoke. So, rather than quit smoking, I shaved off the beard, which I thought solved the problem neatly.

I stayed clean shaven for many years. I paid no attention to the beard styles that regularly popped up and quickly faded away. I had no interest in cultivating the scruffy Miami Vice look or sporting a grungy soul patch. And I thought manicured mutton chops looked ridiculous.

I didn’t give any thought to facial hair again until about three years ago, when I was hired as Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist, here at The Third City. To be completely honest, I don’t know why they hired me in the first place. The only qualifications I had were an honorable discharge from the Army, a reference from a prominent bartender and a good reefer connection. I didn’t even look the part. I looked more like a gandy dancer than a columnist.

I felt like a complete fraud. If it wasn’t for the chicks and the money, I would have walked away from the job after a couple of weeks.

That’s when I decided to grow a goatee. A well-groomed goatee can make an insignificant person seem important, a stupid person seem smart, and a nebbish seem hip. It can cover a multitude of personal and intellectual failings, and it does wonders for a weak chin.

There’s nothing like stroking your goatee and gazing thoughtfully into the distance to make people believe you’re thinking great thoughts. The chin hair didn’t actually make me a better writer, it just made me look like a better writer.

The goatee probably saved my blogging career. That’s why I felt so bad when my mother told me that it looked like shit. I have always considered myself an exceptionally handsome man. If anything, I thought the goatee enhanced my striking good looks. But my mother had put doubt in my mind. Maybe I was wrong about the facial hair.

I went into the bathroom and stared into the mirror. Perhaps the goatee did make me look older. There were more gray whiskers on my chin than dark ones. And maybe it did look ragged around the edges. I had to be more careful about my grooming. I stared into the mirror for a long time. The longer I looked, the more I feared my mother was right in her assessment.

And then I shaved the damn thing off.

A few hours later, my wife and daughter returned from a shopping trip. When my daughter saw my clean shaven face, she shrieked, “Dad! Why did you shave the goatee? It looked really good on you. It was cool.”

My wife chimed in. “Why did you do it? It made you look sort of distinguished.”

“I was talking to Mom and she said it made me look old and ugly. She said it smelled bad, too.”

“You know I love your mother, but she has terrible eyesight and Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s liable to say anything. Half the time she doesn’t even remember my name.”

“Well,” I said, rubbing my hairless chin thoughtfully and gazing off into the distance, “maybe I was a bit hasty.”

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Letter From Milo: Paranoia Strikes Deep

April 16th, 2018

Recently, the lovely Mrs. Milo asked me what I would like to have done with my remains in the unlikely event that I should someday die.

“Jesus! That’s a hell of thing to ask a guy before he’s even had a chance to enjoy his morning whiskey and cigarette.”

“I’m serious, honey. Responsible adults have to make these kinds of decisions.”

“This is a thoroughly disagreeable conversation, but I suppose you’re right. What are my options?”

“Cremation or burial.”

“Neither of those choices appeals to me. I was thinking mummification would be the way to go.”

“I doubt we can afford that.”

“God damn it, if it’s a matter of money, just put me in a plastic bag and leave me out in the alley on Tuesday morning. The Department of Streets and Sanitation will take care of everything. It won’t cost a cent.”

There are actually many other ways of disposing of corpses than just burial or cremation. Bodies can be buried at sea, dissolved by caustic chemicals, donated to science, exposed to the elements, frozen in liquid nitrogen, sold to private collectors, or left in the trunks of cars parked at Midway Airport.

My personal favorite carcass disposal method is the eco-friendly practice of ritual cannibalism, which is generally frowned upon in the USA, but still highly popular in many parts of Eastern Europe..

Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated in gleefully pointing out my wife’s ignorance of less traditional burial customs, but I didn’t want to antagonize her. She has been in a nasty mood the last few months and I didn’t want to start another argument.

The sad truth is that we haven’t been getting along as well as I’d like. She finds fault with me on a daily basis. It seems that anything I do or say pisses her off. I hate to use a cliché, but I have been walking on egg shells.

Then, the other day, as I was enjoying some red wine and reefer, a disturbing thought occurred to me. Why was the lovely Mrs. Milo so interested in figuring out a way to dispose of my earthly remains? What was going on in that pretty head of hers? Was there something I needed to know?

I decided to keep a close eye on her, just in case. Soon, I noticed that she was exhibiting strange patterns of behavior. For one thing, she was spending much more time than usual watching movies on the Lifetime and Oxygen channels. She also started reading self-help books, like Accidents Rarely Happen By Accident, and Women Are From Venus, Men Are Rat Bastards. She also bought a new cookbook called Unusual Italian Recipes, by Lucy Borgia.

I realized I was probably being foolish. Still, a guy can’t be too careful. I decided to call my sister, a refined, accomplished woman, and get her advice.

“Hey, Sis, it’s your only brother.”

“What the fuck do you want? If you’re calling to borrow money you can just forget about it.”

“I just need some advice.”

“Make it quick. I haven’t got all day.”

When I explained what was on my mind, my sister said, “You’re an idiot,” and hung up the phone.

That night I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was making dinner. I didn’t recognize what she was preparing, so I asked, “What’s cooking?”

“Something different. I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“It’s got an interesting aroma. I don’t recognize some of the spices you’re adding.”

“Trust me, it’s to die for. I got it from a new Italian cookbook.”

When we sat down at the table my wife dove right in. She’s always had a good appetite. After a moment, she gave me an odd look and said, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I just saw you give the cat some food from your plate. You’ve never done that before.”

“Heh, heh, I don’t know what got into me.”

“Well, aren’t you going to eat?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m just letting it cool off.”

A bit later, she said, “What are you waiting for?”

“I think I’ll have another glass of wine,” I said, keeping a close eye on the cat. “Then, I’ll eat.”

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Letter From Milo: The Toughest Jew in Town

April 2nd, 2018

Gary, Indiana, in the middle to late 1960s, had a sizeable Jewish population. Like a lot of other families in town, including mine, many of the Jewish families were post-WW2 immigrants.

As is the case with most immigrant groups, Gary’s Jewish community was hard-working and industrious, their lives centered around traditional values like family, faith, education and a belief in a better future. Some did pretty well for themselves.

For example, there was a kid who went to my high school named Joey Stiglitz who was pretty good with numbers. Like any Gary kid with a knack for math, I’m sure Joey aspired to be a bookie. When that career choice fizzled, young Joey Stiglitz tried his luck in the field of Economics and eventually won a Nobel Prize.

I don’t want to give readers the wrong impression about Gary’s Jews. Not all of them were pillars of the community. They had their quota of drunkards, druggies, whoremongers, thieves, gangsters, bookies, murderers, tough guys and rotten bastards. Some of them, I’m proud to say, were dear friends of mine.

That said, the toughest Jew in Gary was a man who made other dangerous men tremble in fear. His reputation as a hard, unforgiving, vengeful badass was legendary. He was a mean, vindictive, cold-blooded, pitiless son-of-a-bitch with a long history of dealing with crime, violence and bloodshed.

His name was Judge Richard Kaplan and he ruled the Gary City Courthouse with an iron hand.

Although Judge Kaplan’s given name was Richard, he was known throughout the City as Judge Max Kaplan because he always handed down maximum sentences. Miscreants who appeared before Judge Kaplan always expected the worst and they were rarely disappointed. He believed everyone was guilty until proven innocent — and he refused to believe that anyone was completely innocent.

As far as I know, only one person ever got the better of Judge Kaplan – and that person was me. Here’s how it happened.

I was 18 years old and going nowhere. I had dropped out of college after one semester and was hanging around Gary, trying to figure out what to do with my life. One night I ran into some friends, went out drinking, got into a wild brawl, got maced by the police and ended up in jail. The charges were illegal possession of alcohol, public intoxication, creating a public disturbance, assault and battery and resisting arrest, although, to this day, I believe the last charge was a bum rap.

When I was released on bail the next morning, I was given some paperwork informing me of my upcoming court date, which was just a few weeks away. The presiding judge was going to be “the Honorable Richard Kaplan.” My goose was cooked. I was a goner, as doomed as it was possible for a young man to be. To make matters worse, I had a couple previous run-ins with the law, and I was fairly certain that Judge Kaplan would hold that against me.

That evening, I was hanging out in Stu and Ducky Greene’s basement with a few other guys, drinking beer and listening to the brothers’ collection of shoplifted 45s.

“You are fucked, man,” Ducky said, sadly. “You’re looking at 90, maybe 120 days in Crown Point.”

”That’s if Judge Max lets you off easy,” Stu Greene added. “If he’s in a bad mood it could be worse. It’s a good thing you’re not Jewish.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because he’s extra tough on his own kind.”

Dickie Simon, another friend who had an unpleasant experience with the City’s justice system, spoke up. “Too bad you’re not in the military. That’s Judge Max’s only soft spot. He takes it easy on soldiers. He’s an ex-Marine Captain, fought in World War Two.”

The next morning I went down to 7th and Broadway, walked into the Navy Recruiter’s office, and said, “I want to join up.” I spent several hours filling out paperwork. The only thing I had to do to officially be in the Navy was sign on the dotted line. But, I hesitated to sign. “Do you mind if I take these papers home and show them to my mom and dad?” I asked.

“You’re 18 years old. You don’t need your parents’ permission.”

“I know. But I’d like to show them anyway. I’ll be back tomorrow. I promise.”

The next morning I went down to the Courthouse, explained my situation to a secretary and asked to see Judge Kaplan in his chambers. After a two hour wait I was ushered into Judge Kaplan’s office.

“Tell me what you want and make it quick,” the Judge said, not even bothering to look at me.

The last place on earth I wanted to be was in a courthouse, talking to Judge Kaplan. I was nervous as hell, scared actually, but somehow I got through my poorly rehearsed pack of lies. I told the Judge that I was terribly sorry for any trouble I had caused. I explained that my inexcusable behavior was due to immaturity and the influence of bad companions. I said that I had given my situation a lot of thought and realized that by joining the Navy I would get away from bad influences and be in a disciplined situation where I would have the opportunity to become a responsible member of society.

Judge Kaplan quickly glanced at the Navy paperwork I laid on his desk, then looked at me for the first time. “I dislike young punks and criminals because they usually grow up to be old punks and criminals,” he said. “Had your case gone to court, it wouldn’t have turned out well for you. But I have a feeling that you’re a sincere young man. Your decision to join the military is a wise one, especially with our nation at war. I’m going to dismiss this case. Good luck in the Navy, son. Just remember, be on your best behavior. If you get in trouble, I can assure you that the officers who sit on military tribunals are not as good natured as I am. Now, get the hell out of my chambers.”

As soon as I left the Courthouse, I went back to the Navy Recruiter and handed him the paperwork. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But I changed my mind. I think I’m going to study for the priesthood instead.”

There was a strut in my walk when I left the Recruiters’ office. I was pretty proud of myself. I had gone into the lion’s den and come out without a scratch. I had outwitted the dreaded Judge Kaplan. I had gotten the best of the toughest Jew in town.

My euphoria was short-lived, however. A couple of months later I received my draft notice. And a few months after that I was in Vietnam.

Many years later, when Judge Kaplan died, an old Gary friend sent me a copy of the judge’s obituary. When I read it I noticed that Judge Max had served on the Lake County, Indiana Draft Board, which meant that he had a say-so about which local boys were eligible for the draft.

Was it just a coincidence that I got drafted so soon after pulling a fast one on the judge?

I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that maybe, just maybe, the tough old bastard had the last laugh after all.

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