Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Go ahead, I deserve. It has been over two months. Just very, very busy between HHYF, Herps Alive! and other "stuff." Beginning This Friday, Smokin With the Giss moves to and for grammatical accuracy adds a g at the end of smokin. Columbus, OH --- The United States Trotting Association is pleased to announce that Keith Gisser will be providing a weekly column of selections on its website, beginning this Friday (April 6). Keith Gisser's "Smoking with the Giss" column will debut this Friday. The column will be titled "Smoking with the Giss" and will replace Steve Carpenito's Carpe(nito) Diem column that ran on the website for the past two years. For 15 years Keith Gisser was Northfield Park's on-air track handicapper. His most notable public handicapping success was giving out the 2010 Back To The Track Pick-4 to Northfield patrons. He also served Northfield as Publicity Director, Webmaster, Advance Wagering Platform Coordinator, Players Club Director and fill-in announcer. An award winning harness writer and radio host, he is currently a Project Manager with the Harness Horse Youth Foundation.

Monday, January 30, 2012

We're baaaccckkk

Sorry it has been so long since I posted. the combination of the holidays, some minor illness and just getting busy with Herps Alive! has forced the blog to take a back seat, but I will be posting on a regular basis as we go forwward. I will also be posting side-by-side at my new site ( for the next month at least so everyone can get their bookmarks in order. Thanks for your patience. We are closing in on the one-year anniversary of my separation from Northfield Park and a recent visit there shows the departure was none too soon. While the racing remains exciting, pools that were $80-90K a race are now $55-65K a race and a number of long-time employees have been shown the door. The joy and excitement that used to be there are gone and that is truly a shame. In the year since leaving, I have had the chance to work on the Breeders crown media Guide; do winners circle interviews for Ohio Super Night at Scioto Downs (Stacey,call me) and appeared at Vernon and Tioga Downs as the Handicapping Herpetologist (I will return to those model race tracks the first weekend of June, by the way). My reptile program, a part-time endeavor as I watched my kids grow up and toiled at the Route Eight Oval, is back in gear with dozens of programs upcoming (you can check our facebook page,, for schedule updates, and a website is coming soon.
But the most fun has been working with the Harness Horse Youth Foundation.I have attended a number of events, but mostly work from home. This organization. The picture is of me in on the grandstand apron on Kentucky Futurity Day at The red Mile with Ima Hit (originally named Ima's Hit until we realized what happened if you left out the space between words. If you have kids, check out our website ( for our summer camp and event schedulem which will be posted soon. We also have compiled a list of available scholarships and are in the process of finishing a new harness racing careers guide. So lots is going on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I love Christmas and Almost Everything Associated With It

I love this season. I love the music (even the goofy songs like There’s Something Stuck up in the Chimney); I love movies (even the goofy ones like the Groundhog Day-like Twelve Dates of Christmas on ABC Family), but most of all I love the commercials (even the goofy ones like the crazy Target lady working out for her Christmas shopping) . Among the best are the Hershey’s Kisses in We Wish You a Merry Christmas:, or the M&Ms (the relatively new Hungry Eyes is not as good as this: Anybody remember the ginbgerbread family Go Phone ads with Steve Buscemi’s voice as the dad? Oh wait, Steve Buscemi’s voice is in every commercial. Or is he just in every movie? I forget. And there is the Mac vs PC animated Christmas ad with John Hodgman (who is a very underrated and funny guy, by the way). And who can forget the Heineken Holiday 5-pack? And I really miss the Norelco “Noelco” ads of my childhood, where Santa uses a Norelco electric razor as a sled. So I love Christmas commercials. But not all of them. Back in 1982, Folgers did a really cute |Christmas ad called Peter, or Peter Comes Home. It is really, really cute. Here is the link: In 2009, they chose to modernize it and it is just way too creepy for me. Here it is: Now, I don’t KNOW if this guy’s name is Peter, although Folger’s and their ad people insist it isn’t. And maybe I am the weird one thinking there is more going on here than sibling affection. But check out sister’s hand right before she gets her gift from Peter. And those looks. Quick, get the little kiddies out of the room. Someone has added even more creep factor by editing in two more close-up cuts. At least I HOPE this is not an actual version that ever aired, but rather one that somebody played around with: And if you don’t think Folger’s and their ad folks didn’t do it on purpose, I have a deal for you on some swamp land in New Jersey. They have edited the ad since it originally aired. They changed an audio track that originally said, “Finally, some real coffee.” Guys, dude is coming back from West Africa, where some of the best coffee in the world is grown, including some that is sourced into Folger’s. So they changed the audio track. But they did not change any of the visuals, the mood or that very creepy hand between the legs. If I go to my car dealer this time of year, I might get a free cup of Folger’s, but frankly, I have never understood the idea of buying a Lexus for someone as a Christmas gift. It seems to me they might want to pick out their own options, color and so on. And how many of us spend $40K on a Christmas gift? Still, they have pushed pretty hard in the Christmas season. This year, folks who give a Lexus also find clever ways to play that annoying theme song (which has gotten nearly as bad as It’s A Small World After All) instead of saying “I bought you a Lexus.”. There’s a music box; a customized version of Guitar Hero (pretty cool, I admit, but not commercially available… I checked) and an elevator that plays the theme Lexus song. Huh? I guess I am just not rich enough to “get it.” I can’t afford a Lexus for my wife (Although I did buy her a Chevy Aveo for our anniversary one year). But a music box that plays the Lexus song. That I can afford. And still have $39,950 left for my divorce attorney. Gotta go. Gayla Peavey’s Greatest Christmas Hit CD is now available packaged with a chocolate hippopotamus and I need to grab a couple before they sell out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Moving starting January 2012

Hey guys, just so you know, I am moving the Smoking With The Giss Blog to starting with my first post in January, which will probably be Tuesday, January 3. This will make it easier for us to get searched and since I am no longer associated with Northfield Park, it makes sense to lose the northfield title in the name. There will still be plenty of harness observations, but we will be discussing a number of other issues, too, as you have seen the past few weeks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Joyous Holiday Season (and, just maybe,Merry Christmas)

It is a sad commentary on the world when people waste so much energy arguing over how we should be greeting each other this time of year. Thousands of people are posting "I am a Christian" as their status on Facebook, urging everyone to use the greeting Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays. I admit, I even got drawn into this battle at one point. It was a mistake. But in this forum I WILL address it.

I am Jewish. And I do not get offended by someone wishing me Merry Christmas. But it is not a salutation I will use very often. To my church-league volleyball teammates, yes. To the minister dad of one of my ex-soccer players, absolutely. But generally, the Happy Holidays greeting, when it comes from me, means a lot more than Merry Christmas. It means Merry Christmas. But more importantly, it means best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year, which is just as important.

On the retail level, Happy Holidays may not be as sincere, but it is certainly better than "have a good one." As I said, I don't get offended by being wished Merry Christmas, but some Jews, and Muslims, and Agnostics, and Atheists and Wiccans and others, are offended by it. So there is nothing wrong with playing it safe. Heaven forbid that group starts a boycott of your business. That is territory reserved for "pseudo-Christians."

If you are a Christian, a true Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. But if you are one of the alleged Christians threatening to boycott Lowe's because they (inadvertently) advertised on the cable show American Muslim, then I wish you a lump of coal. And if you are one of the (apparent) Christians who runs Lowes, I will be buying that coal at Home Depot. Sorry, cavers, I am joining the Muslim community on this one and boycotting you for your spineless decision.

But, having said all that, I hope all of you, whatever your religion of choice, stop to think about what the various holidays this time of year truly meaning. The miracle of faith over bullying celebrated at Chanukah (not the miracle that the oil lasted 8 days, which is secondary); the miracle of the birth of one of the most remarkable individuals, Jesus, in the history of man. Whatever your religion, his significance is undeniable. And for the Principals of Kwanza, which we would all be well served to honor - Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith

So instead of worrying about how we say it this holiday season, let's worry about how we honor this time of year.

Be well. -Giss-

Swamp redux- Thanks to Frank Cotolo, who in commenting on last week's blog, pointed out (as I knew, but left out) the fact that The Meadowlands is known as The Swamp, having been built on New Jersey marshlands. So, if Jeff Gural is reading, it seems obvious we need to add that venue to next year's American Racing Herps Alive Tour.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting Harness racing on Mainstream TV

I wanted to write this a few months ago, but I have been swamped lately. Literally, swamped. Let's face it, we can all sit and lament the lack of coverage our sport gets on TV, but after hours of researching the cable networks, I think I have an answer. We need to race through swamps. Anything with "Swamp" in the title gets a show on cable.

It started a few years back with Swamp Loggers on Discovery, as we watched North Carolina loggers deal with horrible conditions, venomous snakes, alligators and equipment that will break down without warning to harvest hardwoods to build, well, whatever. Next, my personal favorite, Swamp People debuted. This one follows a group of alligator hunters in the Lousiiana bayous during the thirty day season dealing with horrible conditions, venomous snakes and equipment that will break down without warning to harvest alligators for hide and meat. (It's okay to slaughter gators for meat, but not horses, of course.

Swamp People has generated a cottage industry for The History Channel. You can go on-line to by $26 dollar t-shirts (buy four and maybe Troy Landry can get a teeth cleaning and x-rays) with cute catch-phrases like "Choot im, Choot 'im!" I wonder how many of these guys actualy have Interenet access. One of the gator hunters is an American Indian who is also a wrist-wrestling champ. He would certainly fit tight in the paddock on many nights at Northfield Park. And with their look, hair and dentition, Brothers Glenn and Mitchell Guist could find a job on any backstretch. Have a look at
Remind you of anyone?

Recently two other shows have joined the airways. Swamp Men is not a misogynist twist on Swamp People. After all Swamp People did add female gator hunter Liz (Don't call me Elizabeth) Chevalier in season two,. Instead, this one looks in on the crew at Billie Swamp Safari. This Indian, err, Native-American run tourist trap features a true swamp experience. We watch the crew, headed by Ed Wood (no, not that one), deal with tourist "chickees" (kind of primitve cabins) in horrible condition, venomous snakes, alligators and equipment that breaks down without warning.

Swamp Wars details the dedicated folks of the Miami-Dade Venom Squad and is the most disappointing of the genre, since there are hardly any cheesy re-enactments. These folks are government employees who get to deal with wild weather conditions, venomous snakes, alligators and top-end equipment as they extricate native and exotic reptiles, usually from nice suburban homes, and deal with their impact on the public. (Imagine Python Hunters with badges0.

So, here is what we do for Swamp Racing. Flood the track. The softer surface means fewer breakdowns and healthier horses who can race longer. Heck, we could probably double heat them since the miles will be going in :15. Interview the mud-covered drivers regularly and create their personalities- Aaron Merriman could spout Facebook-esque motivational lines in the winners circle and Ryan Stahl could just stand there and look stoic. Turn loose a few gators in the infield pond (or maybe we could get more "live action" with snapping turtles). Maybe Greg Grismore or George Brennan could even wrestle a gator.

Turn a concession stand into the Swamp Cafe, serving gator nuggets, crawfish etoufee (which is apparently the Cajun word for stew), and the like and have every episode feature interviews with fans, all of whom must speak like the late Justin Wilson.

Now call the producers and let's get this baby on the air.

Off-topic- Thanks to all of you who wrote about the pending exotic animal legislation in Ohio. I have yet to hear from any of the politicians involved, but I will try to keep you all updated. See you next week.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Not harness related- my letter to Governor Kasich

It's my blog, so I can.

December 2, 2011

Governor Kasich:

As you and the state legislature work on the proposed and sorely needed Ohio exotic animal legislation, HB 352, I hope you will look at a number of issues with the proposal as it is currently structured. I specifically ask you to look at the regulation as it refers to reptiles.

I have been a herpetology educator for thirty years, lecturing at colleges, libraries and community events. It is my primary income. I carry a $1,000,000 liability policy and have never had a claim. My program has been seen by tens of thousands of people, has won national awards and numerous local nature centers refer those with unwanted animals to me as a reptile adoption agency, which is currently not regulated by the state. I take my responsibility as a herpetoculturist seriously. But the proposed legislation would either force me out of business or force me out of the state.

I support a licensing process, similar to the one that currently exists for native reptiles; inspections (with advance notice); and insurance/bonding requirements. Some form of exemption should be allowed for legitimate educational presenters which do not other qualify as American Zoological Association membership or as members of any of the museum association which exist. In Cleveland alone, there are nearly a dozen animal educators who will be put out of business without this exemption. While this may affect fewer than fifty presenters statewide, it will affect thousands of schoolchildren who will be denied unique educational opportunities with these animals.

Another issue with the legislation is its overly broad definitions. For instance, in declaring constricting snakes banned, the Bill bans numerous safe colubrid snakes (ratsnakes and kingsnakes) {Section 1(E)(e) }although the media continues to report that it bans Boa Constrictors and Pythons( (0ver 95% of which are actually bred in captivity, many right here being bred safely in Ohio, aiding the economy). If we are we actually banning boa constrictors and pythons, which ones? The common boa (Boa c. constrictor) or the totally harmless 18” rubber boa (Charina bottae) and the two foot long sand boa (Eryx ssp)? There are over twenty species of boa constrictor and only two grow over six feet long, a length that might be considered potentially dangerous. And those two are far less likely to cause injury than most “domesticated” dog breeds. Looking at the pythons. Python regius, the ball python, is probably the second most popular snake in the pet trade. At a typical maximum size of four feet, it is not a dangerous. While my preference is that reptiles be removed from this legislation entirely, I am sure there is room for a common-senes compromise.

There are other problems with this legislation regarding the time frame for disposal of exotic animals (are you really asking me to kill animals that are still in my possession ion January 2014?) and the fact that several of its proposals contravene Federal Law, although that does not affect me directly at this time. But they must be looked at in a broad context in order to avoid possible court challenges and get a workable law in place as soon as possible.

While action must be taken to avoid another Zanesville-like tragedy, I urge common sense and a workable solution, instead of a knee-jerk reaction that will limit the educational use of these animals, hurting Ohio’s economy and preventing children and the public easy (and controlled access to these animals for educational use. I can only hope reason will prevail.

I have been licensed in over 25 jurisdictions over the years and would be happy to provide additional input as you make your decision.

Thank you.

Keith Gisser, Presenting Herpetologist
HERPS ALIVE! The Interactive Reptile and Amphibian Experience