Friday, July 24, 2015
GOING TO A FUNERAL--FROM CHAPTER 15--THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE
I grabbed the first sport jacket I saw, a doe skin Paul Stewart blue blazer. It was the only sport jacket still in my closet. It was also thirty years old, but in the dull yellow bathroom light, still looked good, and met Sig at The Cedar.
Sig was sitting at the end of the bar drifting into a martini; there was no telling how long the cocktail had been in front of him: a minute or a month; I’ve seen Sig make a whole meal out of cutting three green peas, salting them, and, using a knife and fork, take very small bites. And he was decked-out in his best Heart of Darkness harlequin’s outfit: a Ralph Lauren white suit which he picked-up in a thrift store on the lower east side on one of our strolls twenty-five years ago, a white on white shirt nearly translucent from wear, with a blue collar that he’d sown from another shirt of different material slightly less worn, a stripped tie of unknown vintage and a flannel pocket square—his way of accessorizing the outfit. He could have been a circus extra in a Fellini movie.
“Sharp,” I said, as I took the seat next to him, “real sharp.”
He gave me his Mona Lisa smile. “How do I look? I look O.K.?”
“Sharp, I’m tellin you, sharp—in a Bangkok whorehouse.”
He emitted a fart-like chuckle. “Whatareyagonnado?”
“No, it’s cool. Really. Cool. Frankie, Chivas and soda, please, tall glass. Where’s Dutch?”
“The Ponderosa taking a shower,” Sig said. It was so small you had to go out to change your mind; the last rooming house in the West Village, big enough for a Murphy bed and a hot plate; the toilet was down the hall. “How’s it going with you?”
“O.K.; had my first two sales today; not bad.”
“Two sales? You saved three lives today—theirs and yours. That’s good.” His fingers fished out one of the two olives and his little front teeth took a nip, just peeling away the top bark. He plopped the rest of it back in his drink.
“How’d he go?”
“In his sleep.”
“Not bad. My old man went the same way,” I offered. My father’s death appeared to be beneficent, his life for his last fifteen years was fucking miserable. A funny, tough, street-wise man was reduced to taking my harpy mother around anyplace she wanted or needed to go; usually it was to play poker with money they didn’t have, or shopping for brassieres; a fat man sitting in a tight chair waiting for his wife of sixty years to shovel her floppy tits into a battleship like contraption while he stared into space. His heart might have been diseased, granulated, selfish, and manipulative, but it was a human one. Her heart was only slighter warmer than the Republicans rebuke to global warming.
The Happy Hour kids and the beat to shit slugs of commerce and industry were making their way into our saloon, their evening. The kids had to be proofed and the rest had to prove they were breathing. Frankie, like most day saloon slaves, made his daily bread from five to eight. The young kids talked too much, not realizing what was in store for them in a few short years, while the older folks—late twenties to the grave—wanted to get lit before they lit up. Nothing much had changed in my fifty years of drinking, except there was now more of them than us. Little did they know their ticket had already been punched, they just had no idea they’d entered the lounge. They paid us no mind; to them we were calendars, telling them what time is was. Fuckem. They’ll never know what it was like to drink and smoke a cigarette at the same time in the same place.
Old Spice made an appearance before Dutch did. Then his bony hand, veins like blue spaghetti, fitted on my shoulder and his cratered face leaned in between me and Sig: “Frankie,” he crooned, “Cutty and water, tall.” He threw a twenty up on the bar. Sig and me did a quarter swivel.
Frankie placed the amber iced liquid in front of him. “I’m buying him this one,” Sig said.
“And I got the next one.”
“Fuck both of you,” Frankie said. He picked up the twenty and tried to hand it back to Dutch. “Your money’s no good here tonight.”
“Leave it on the bar.”
He waved the twenty around. “Take the fuckin money.”
Dutch swatted at it with the back of his hand; Andrew Jackson floated down to the dark wood, dated a hundred years back to the Susquehanna Hotel down by the seaport where Civil War vets sweated on it, leaned on a stump of a leg against it, told their stories over it, spit in a golden cup on the floor on either side of the bar and breathed their foul breath on it with stories soaked with blood and jubilation now stained by alcohol, nicotine and polished with Linseed oil. Quiet as its kept, it’s more of a police state now, with more black and white and yellow and brown slaves with less freedom than they had then; now a place where you couldn’t smoke a cigarette in this climate of health and good cheer and freedom, and fewer people capable of splitting the plantation. Sure, you could select from three thousand flavors of bullshit, but at the end of the line, or at the end of the day, it’s one of two things: “cash or check.” Dutch punctuated it: “Leave it. Put it in your cup.” Period. End.
Frankie left it where it landed and moved off quickly enough for us to notice it. Our eyes followed him to the other end of the bar near the entrance and front windows.
“No, you ain’t. Get the fuck outta here, Bruno. You ain’t comin in here. Joey barred you last night; I got the note this morning—you didn’t know what you were doing.”
“I still don’t,” she said with an embarrassed grin. “C’mon, Frankie. You can’t be serious.”
“I am serious.”
“C’mon Frankie.” She stood her ground. She planted all five feet two of her and looked at him and smiled. “C’mon, Frankie. No trouble tonight, I swear.”
“You’re trouble. You’ve always been trouble. You’re nothin but trouble. Get the fuck outta here.”
She was trouble, but beautiful trouble—at least she knew that, more than I can say for most folks. I was fucking her for awhile fifty years ago while we were kids at The New School For Social Research, reading our poetry Sunday brunch for Max at The Vanguard, before she got thrown out and went back to Amsterdam to make a living rolling drunks. Someone had to pay for a fifth a day Hennessy habit and she thought she might as well get drunk and stay drunk doing it. The only thing she came back with was a scar as deep as a ravine running along her palm, like a second lifeline. How do you argue with that?
“Let her in, let her in,” the three of us said like a Greek chorus.
“”Fuck you, you deal with her.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll deal with her. Let her in,” we shouted over the din.
Bruno ambled over. Her first name was Susan, but she didn’t like that. Bruno fit her. She didn’t much care for anything. But there wasn’t much she didn’t know. She was ugly as sin…but interesting as hell…impish…black Italian eyes like Moroccan cured olives…calculatingly impulsive. She was one of the rare ones who held a joyful darkness and played with it, charmed it, learned to use it like a weapon.
I met her while she was living in a tenement on the lower east side, down the block from McSorley’s and around the corner from The Fillmore East, with Mary, who’s Ukrainian father subsidized the rent. Until one day he surprised us and saw his daughter jerking-off Henry, a spaced-out guitar player and Bruno and me going at it; on the wall were pictures of Mao, Che, Fidel and battle hymns to capitalisms destruction on a grand scale. He ripped the pictures down and was about to throw Bruno out until she proposed to fuck him for free, provided he didn’t ask for it too often or stayed too long. Her philosophy was simple: anyone could fuck anybody they wanted anytime they wanted, but no one could have the privilege of getting into her mind—except her. She never did give up that philosophy or that apartment. I’d not seen her for nearly twenty years after she split to Amsterdam, until one night my door bell rang. It’s the only reason to be listed.
“Where are you guys goin?…to a funeral?”
“No, wake,” Dutch said.
“Yeah, those could be fun.”
“My old man.”
“Still could be fun; we got hammered at my father’s wake; my crazy mom tried to touch my father’s dick in the casket: “Once more, she cried, just once more. I thought that was her best moment.” She looked at the twenty on the bar. “Could I drink off that?”
“Sicilians know how to murder, fuck and die,” Sig added.
“They know how to paint and write, too,” Dutch intoned.
“Have a booze,” I said to Bruno, and threw twenty more up on the bar.
“Barkeep! Hennessy,” Bruno shouted, as her eyes followed my twenty’s fall, “make it a double.”
Frank banged a rocks glass in front of her and free-poured the cognac. “I should go to the wake and you guys should get behind here,” and swiped my twenty from the wood.
“He was always too serious,” Bruno said, “even when he was child. Pity…Can I go with you guys? I like wakes…wakes me up (no pun intended)…makes me feel alive. Seriously.”
“Bruno, it’s a wake not a Polish funeral,” I said, but looked to the man of the hour, Dutch.
“You wanna go, go. But drink up, we gotta move,” he said and picked up his drink, but midway to his mouth he stopped. “How do I look?”
The “Guh” sound was all we got out before Dutch interrupted, “Not you assholes, I was askin the chick.”
Bruno glanced him up and down. “Good enough for eyes,” she rendered.
“O.K. let’s go,” Dutch commanded, polished off his drink, as we all did with ours, and pushed ourselves off the bar. “Wait, wait a second,” Dutch said.
“Now fuckin what?” Sig said.
“Hold it,” Dutch said a little angry, “just hold it…I gotta ask ya somethin…”
“You know when you go up to the casket?…”
“And say a prayer or somethin…”
“I got holes in my shoe.”
No one spoke for a few beats.
“Both shoes?” Bruno asked.
“No, the right one.”
“Your right one? You sure it’s the right one?”
“Sure I’m sure; I looked before I put em on, only decent ones I got.”
“Get on your left knee when you get up there and plant your right foot on the ground. Don’t worry bout it.”
“You can do that?”
“Sure you can do that. You can do anything you want—it’s your father, it’s his wake, it’s an off-ramp, man, it’s an off-ramp that’s jammed with people gettin off too and most of those fools inside the chapel are just happy as shit that they don’t haveta get off now, at least not today they don’t; they couldn’t give a fuck about your shoes or how you kneel; do any fuckin thing you want. Don’t worry bout it.”
And with that, we were off.
If anyone had a grand time at the wake, we’d be the wrong ones to ask. After Dutch said hello to his brother, not another word was said between the two of them, until they said their goodbyes. He went up, did a little curtsy by the box, and we retired to a saloon across the street to nurse our grief. A few hours later, we were on a bus going back to The Port Authority.
“Ninety-three and watering your flowers one morning…and that’s it…end of story. Cared about those flowers…probably why he drank 4 Roses. Don’t even make that swill anymore. Tough man. Mean. Bounced us kids around like handballs…my mother, too, especially when he got a jag on—which was almost everyday. Yeah. He told us, us, that we were gonna kill him.” He stood up to take off his jacket and his St. Christopher’s danced between his chest and his shirt.
We didn’t say nothin. Everybody’s allowed to ramble on the day they lose their parents, especially sons with fathers; fathers are always the son’s masters no matter how much they were hated. I think that if you can get rid of both parents at the same time, in one shot so to speak, you’re better off, but what do I know?
We cabbed over to The Cedar and stood in front for a few seconds. Dutch and Sig went back in and I was going up to my pad—I had to get up and go to work the next morning. Bruno stood there watching two dispersions and me about to.
“I want to go upstairs with you,” she said.
“What for, sweetie, I gotta get some sleep.”
“I want to touch your dick,” she said.
“Not much to touch, these days,” and I laughed.
“We’ll fool around; have a little fun.”
I looked around and noticed everything near me, but nothing registered.
“You want another body next to you, dontcha?”
She looked at me, disappointed that I had to point out the obvious.
“Sure, I bought a flashlight the other day just for this occasion.” She walked over to me and put her arm through the crook of my elbow. “You’re a real softie, you know that Bruno?” Hell talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
“Shut-up,” she said, "and get that flabby body next to mine."
pgs 67-75 of 539--THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE
© 2015 Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015