In memory of the life, love and wit of Carol Versandi
The Day the Dinosaur Disappeared
January 12, 2015
I've mentioned this before, but one of my mom's most prized possessions, was the dinosaur statue she bought back in 1971 off of an old Sinclair Gas Station that was going out of business.
"Prized" is not really an accurate description.
"Sacred" would be more appropriate.
She loved this dinosaur more then anything else in the world, with the exception of her children.
She always said "When I die, I want to be buried with the dinosaur!"
And for the most part, she was serious.
For those that don't know, Sinclair Gas Stations used to be fairly prevalent here on Long Island. From what I understand, at one point there was one in every town. Today, there are none.
They still exist, but mostly out west.
If you've never seen one, their mascot was, and still is, a bright green Brontosaurus with the tagline "Go With the Dino".
It's a pretty impressive, not to mention iconic image. And vintage Sinclair merchandise is highly collectable.
Most of the stations had a large scale replica dinosaur statue placed out front to greet the cars as they pulled in.
Some, like the one in my hometown, put their dinosaur on the roof of the garage. Out of concern for theft or vandalism,
Anyway, as the story goes, back in 1972, when one of the last of the Long Island Sinclair stations were calling it a day, my mom casually walked in and asked the owner, "How much for the dinosaur on the roof?"
The guy kinda quizzically looked at her and said, "I don't know. How about $50 bucks? But you have to go up there and get it"
"Sold!" said my mom.
She called a friend and together these two woman somehow managed to remove a very large, very bulky fiberglass dinosaur off the roof of a gas station and onto the roof of my mom's Canary Yellow Mustang Fastback.
Don't ask me how this happened.
I have no idea.
I'm simply telling you as it was told to me.
And thus began the legend of the Rye Place Dinosaur.
All throughout my childhood, the dinosaur held court over our backyard.
Occasionally moving from one corner to another, it always kept a watchful eye over not just me and my brother, but all the neighborhood kids who came by to play.
It was our Jurassic sentinel.
Our surban guardian.
It was always there.
My brother Chris playing on the dinosaur. 1973
Fast forward to 2004.
By this time, my brother had joined the Navy and was stationed in Italy.
I had moved out, gotten married and was now living out east. About 45 minutes away.
The dinosaur, however, remained with my mom.
It stayed vigilant. Watching over the backyard.
But now, aside from the occasional dog, there was nobody to watch.
But it never faltered. Was never lax in it's duties.
Fall gave way to Winter which in turn gave way to Spring.
My mom hired a landscaper named John she found in some local publication to come by and clean up the backyard a bit.
Leaves, branches and other seasonal debris that seems to collect and loiter.
Being the trusting sort, my mom told this guy to just "come whenever", "do whatever" and "charge whatever".
And that's what he did.
One day, while she was at work, he came by and raked all the leaves. Trimmed all the hedges. Picked up all the dead branches.
And put the dinosaur into the back of his truck and drove away.
When my mom got home and saw the dinosaur was missing, she broke down in tears.
She was devistated and inconsolable. That dinosaur wasn't just a kitschy advertising mascot, it was part of the family.
It had been stolen and a piece of my mom had been stolen right along with it.
When she called to tell me what had happened, she was completely unintelligible.
Sobbing through her words, it took a full 10 minutes before I finally had the gist of what had happened.
Unfortunately I was at work at the time and couldn't do anything about it at that moment.
But I told her not to worry. As soon as I was able, I would come by and together we would go and get the dinosaur back.
After all, the genius that stole it, had left his business card with his home address on it.
But my mom wasn't going to wait that long. She was anxious, impulsive and determined.
She called a friend to come pick her up and together the two of them went to John's house.
Pulling into his driveway, they immediately spotted the dinosaur in his backyard.
He hadn't even bothered to hide it. It's like he was taunting them.
He wanted them to know he had it.
A less than subtle "Fuck you. What are you going to do about it?"
My mom got out of the car, marched up to the house and started banging on the front door.
John wasn't home but his wife was and my mom let her have it, verbally speaking, with both barrels, guns blazing.
Calling her every name she could think of. Even going so far as to invent a few new names.
John's wife said that the dinosaur was rightfully theirs, relying on the old "possession is 9/10ths of the law", and that if my mom had anything to say about, feel free to call the cops.
She then slammed the door and that was that.
When I got wind of what had transpired, I was furious. Beyond furious. Enraged.
How dare these people treat my mother this way. Who the hell do they think they are?!?
There was no way, no chance, that I was going to let this go.
To paraphrase an old saying, "Hell hath no fury like a son whose mother has been scorned".
I had to get the dinosaur back, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy.
I had to come up with a plan. Devise a scheme.
Something well thought out.
After some serious deliberations and soul searching, inspiration fell on me like it was being hand delivered by an Angel from Heaven.
I was going to find John, hit him with a brick, burn his house to the ground and ride the dinosaur all the way back to my mom's house.
I figured the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, and, well, at that moment, killing this guy seemed like the quickest way to the finish line.
I also just liked to imagine the dinosaur as a mode of transportation. Even though it was a static object.
Now I just needed to find a good brick…
No, what I actually did was something that I'm not altogether proud of – although I don't really regret it –but I do strongly advise against anyone ever doing it.
Again, let me state that this was not my greatest moment, but it is the truth…
I called him up and left a very nasty message on his voice mail.
Not just your typical, run-of-the-mill nasty messages.
Not the standard, "I hate you. You're a jerk. Screw you", message.
No. This was more like "Hi my name is Michael Versandi. You stole my mom's dinosaur. I'm coming to your house to kill you. I'm going to tie you to a chair and slit your throat with a kitchen knife. My smiling face will be the last thing you ever see. If you call the cops, I will kill your entire family as well." - kind of message.
That might actually be verbatim.
It was a kind of psychotic Inigo Montoya message.
Prepare to die.
Like I said, not proud, but I don't really lose any sleep over it either.
Anyway, about 10 minutes later, he called me back.
He asked if this was Michael.
I said it was.
He asked if I just left a threatening message on his voice mail.
I said I did.
He asked if I was serious.
I said I was.
He then launched into his own 20 minute telephone tough guy verbal assault, during which, I said nothing.
When he was done, he said something along the lines of "And what do you think of that?"
I simply and very calmly replied, "You stole something that has an immeasurable amount of personal value from a helpless 60 year old woman. You are a scumbag. Give it back and this all ends."
We went back and forth for a while.
He claimed that he didn't steal it. That he was told to get rid of it…on and on…blah and blah and blah….
By the end of the conversation, cooler heads prevailed.
He said that he would bring the dinosaur back, but my mom would have to pay him for the delivery and apologize to his wife.
I agreed knowing FULL WELL that there was no chance…seriously absolutely no chance that either of those things would happen.
My mother was a very kind and gracious person.
But hot damn could she hold a grudge.
Once you got on her shit list, forget it buddy, you were there forever.
Now unfortunately, what actually happened next is a complete mystery.
I never did get the full details.
All I know is that John and his wife showed up to the house to deliver the dinosaur and get their payment and apology.
And, I know they left without either because there were witnesses.
I also know that John and his wife came into my mom's house for coffee and by the time they left, my mom had a verbal agreement with John that he would maintain her property all throughout that summer and into fall. Free of charge.
My mother was somehow able to turn a lying disreputable thief into an indentured servant. All while having coffee.
And to my utter amazement, John held up his end of the bargain.
He came by every two weeks to mow the lawn, trim the hedges and weed some flower beds here and there.
Now, I'm not claiming that my mother was a wizard or that she even had a passing understanding of magical spells and potions, but you have to admit, that's some serious Harry Potter shit right there.
In fact, that's the only explanation that makes any sense to me at all.
Witchcraft. Had to be witchcraft.
My mothers magical powers of Jewish guilt and persuasion had claimed yet another unsuspecting rube.
After that day, the dinosaur was moved inside, for it's own protection.
It lived a very happy, warm and cozy life.
Keeping a protective watch over my mom as it stood, unmoving and vigilant, by her bedside.
Up until the day she died.
The dinosaur is in my house now.
In my bedroom.
Guarding my wife and myself.
And even though I know it's just a statue, made of fiberglass, epoxy fillers and layers of green paint,
I can't help but think the expression on its face has changed ever so slightly.
Where it once stood proud and fierce, it now seems older.
It used to be a noble defender, a reliable companion and a trusted baby-sitter to the neighborhood kids.
It had an owner. Someone who freed it from its perch. Rescued it from a demeaning life as an advertising shill.
Someone who gave its life a purpose.
Now, it sits alone in a room.
Staring at nothing.
More relic than paladin.
It's dignity is still intact, but like everything else, there is a patina of sadness that covers it.
It has a family.
It just wishes things could go back to the way they were before.