Monday, April 25, 2016

Reminiscences: The Intelligent Playboy Bunny




In May of '75, I graduated with highest honors and an AA in Humanities from The County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ. The following fall I entered Montclair State Teacher's College as a junior, majoring in both Psychology and Sociology. Several of my friends from CCM had also transferred so we soon developed the habit of meeting regularly at a couple places on campus namely the cafeteria in the theater arts building and the Rathskeller, a beer hall nestled in the basement of the student center. As we shared experiences, it wasn't long before it surfaced that among our fellow classmates, our fellow psych. majors, there was a playboy bunny.

Now, understandably, the concept of playboy bunny as student produced different expectations for me, who was married at the time and not on the prowl, and my cohorts who were younger and perpetually horny. While I envisioned her as good-looking, but studious, wearing glasses with dark rims that made her look highly intelligent, always with a notebook in hand into which she recorded detailed notes and thoughts, my cronies pictured her bouncing around campus in a scant bikini, blowing kisses to all her fans.

It wasn't long before the bunny popped up in one of my classes, then another, and another. She was indeed a beautiful girl, a raven haired beauty, with a body that wouldn't quit. As it turned out, my friends were off the mark when it came to her deportment – the bunny remained fully clad at all times. They were, however, much closer in their imaginings than I was with my vision of her as a bespectacled, intelligent beauty. In truth, she was dumber than dirt.

She was continually disrupting classes with dumb questions, questions that could have been answered by your average 7th grader. I remember one day in Statistics she had taken up the last twenty minutes of our class getting the teacher, a very patient woman, to explain what was meant by the arithmetic mean. Everyone else in the class already knew -- I mean this wasn't rocket science. Not only were we bored, but mid-terms were fast approaching and we were eager to get on to new material. But she kept on asking for clarifications on every single point. Finally, when the professor was sure she had explained the mean in it's entirety and Miss Luscious had responded with a positive nod and a thank you, another student observed that it was basically the same as an average. That's right, said the prof. “I don't understand,” said the bunny.

By our second semester all fascination with the bunny had dissipated and I, for one, was glad she wasn't in any of my classes. I may have spotted her occasionally, after that, walking around campus, but I don't think I ever thought of her again. Not for years.

In 1977, I graduated from Montclair State College summa cum laude. I was one clever dude when it came to school. I could write papers and ace exams like nobody's business. That's all you needed to get good grades. Regarding the kind of smarts that allowed one to succeed outside academia, I, unfortunately, came up rather short. But that's another story.

The job market was saturated with recent grads and I wasn't making much headway in my job search until one day I read a notice in the local paper announcing that there were several openings in The Morris County Probation Department. To be considered, I would first have to take a test. Knowing my abilities in test-taking, I signed up immediately, me and a couple hundred other people. True to form, I did well and had the fourth highest score out of the fifty people who passed.

The story was that as jobs opened up the department would work their way down the test list. But, based on my previous experience with Morris County, I was a little skeptical. A year or two prior, after I had graduated from junior college, I had learned of an opening at the Morris County Juvenile Detention Center up on West Hanover Avenue in Morris Plains. It was an official listing, I met the requirements, so I applied. When I was called in for the interview a few weeks later, I was told that there was already someone in the position, but because he didn't meet the qualifications the listing had to remain open. The director explained to me that since I was qualified I could have the job if I wanted it, however, he added, the staff was very fond of the young fellow who was presently holding the job and if I were to displace him, he said, it wouldn't sit well with them. In other words, they would hate my friggin' guts. It seemed to me that there were already enough people in the world who didn't like me, so, I declined the offer.



Despite my misgivings, I really hoped that I could land a job in the probation department. I'd been a troubled youth with a history of screwing up and thought I might be able to help people in similar situations. When I was notified that the head of the probation department wanted to see me, I couldn't help getting excited. On the appointed day, I donned my favorite double-knit suit and headed to Morristown. Expecting a tough interview, I was more than a little anxious. I was wrong – everything was pretty straight forward. I was offered a position, it seemed, based solely on my test scores. There was an opening, I was told, in the Boonton office and as soon as I completed the basic formalities – medical exam, background check, etc. etc – I was to report there and assume a caseload. I was elated. This was exactly what I wanted – a caseload of people who needed my help.

Unfortunately for me, while I was fulfilling my pre-employment obligations, a couple vacancies popped up in the Pre-Sentence Investigation Department. Because of the urgency to fill these posts combined with the fact that I had already completed the preliminaries, I was redirected to that department and named a pre-sentence investigator. Rather than helping probationers, this job required me, along with the other three fellows in the office, to investigate all defendants who had either plead guilty or been found guilty and to prepare a report for the court that presumably would assist the judge in rendering a fair and appropriate verdict. In truth, I'd be surprised if one of the dozens of reports we completed every week had the slightest effect on a sentencing. Our recommendations were routinely ignored.

I remember one young fellow who had committed a theft, been prosecuted and sentence to 4 years in prison and then released. Ironically, the charge he was now being sentenced for had occurred prior to the offense that had landed him in prison. A good lawyer, you might think, could have disposed of those charges a long time ago. Now, with a wife and daughter to take care of, he seemed to have turned his life around. He was working for a billboard company and, according to his boss, he excelled at his job. “He climbs around up there like a monkey,” his boss said during a phone interview. Considering all this, I recommended to the judge that in lieu of further jail time the defendant be placed on an extended stint of probation. No such luck. The judge saw him as a repeat offender and threw him back in jail, this time for five years.

That was the job in a nutshell – recommendations for leniency ignored; defendants thrown back in jail. It was disheartening.

Accordingly, I was already growing disenchanted with the job when one day I ran into Willie McDonald, a childhood friend, in the hallway outside one of the courtrooms. He explained that he had been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The minor in question was his girlfriend. They had been going out for several months. He had even accompanied her several times to dinner with her parents who never protested when she ordered cocktails. How was he to know she was under age?

Anyway, he had had no previous run-ins with the law, so I asked him why he hadn't applied for pre-sentence intervention which basically is a program that enables first offenders to keep their records clean. He told me he had applied but that the officer in charge had turned him down.

Which brings me back to you-know-who – the playboy dummy, I mean bunny. I don't know how she had landed a job in the probation department -- I know it couldn't have been based on test scores – but she had. She not only was responsible for admitting people into the pre-sentence intervention program, she was the person who had turned down my friend Willie's application.

I couldn't help myself – I had to confront her. Of course, she didn't remember Willie McDonald off hand, but once she pulled his file it all came back to her. “On, I didn't like him,” she said.

He's a great guy! What's not to like?” I said.

Well, I didn't like the way he acted, talking soft and pretending he was all meek and mild. I wasn't about to fall for that.”

I left her office. If I had stayed, I might have wrapped my hands around that pretty throat of hers and strangled the shit out of her. If she had made the slightest bit of effort to know Willie she might have learned that, aside from her, there wasn't a single person in the world who didn't like him. Even the parents of the girl involved in the contributing charge gave him their full support. And, as for his quiet manner, since as long as I remember we'd been calling him Whispering Willie because he always talked so softly that you could barely hear him.

I'd had enough. Next day, I went into my boss and explained that I was tired of the pre-sentence department and wanted a caseload. When that didn't happen in the next month, I handed in my notice. After one of the other men in the department killed himself, they told me I could stay on if I wanted, but I declined.


It's been so long ago, I couldn't tell you where I landed next but, wherever it was, I have the bunny to thank.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2015

Here are 2015's best mysteries and thrillers as compiled by NPR. I like it because of it's inclusion of titles and authors we might now otherwise encounter.


Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon



The Blondes by Emily Schultz



Descent by Tim Johnston



Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly



All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer



Spy Games by Adam Brookes



Secrets of State by Matthew Palmer



The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter



Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham



Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews



Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates


A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer



Orient by Christopher Bollen



The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins



The Last Taxi Ride by A. X. Ahmad



in a dark, dark wood by ruth ware



Freedom's Child by Jax Miller



The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi



The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato



The Crossing by Michael Connelly



My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh



The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt



The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz