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AutoBARography 8: A NEW YEAR’S MEMORY

 

A RECENT EMAIL EXCHANGE


From: Krissy@….com
To: hgould@heywoodgould.com
Subject:  is that really you???

Wow, look at you! Got your own web page. Is that old man really you? Picked up some dents since ’75, but still got that crinkly squint, laughing at the world. Glad you’re alive.


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com
To: Krissy@….com
re: is that really you???

Thanks. Me too. Today anyway. Laughing now, but in ’75 that “crinkly squint”  was probably a hangover.


From: Krissy@….com

Not liking yourself so much back in the day, huh? Well, join the club. I get a hot flush every time I think of some of my escapades…


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Which were?


From: Krissy@….com

Vanity, Vanity, huh?  Thinking you’d remember me from a name after all these years. Krissie, the skinny blonde with overbite (since corrected.)  I used to come into Spring Street bar with my cousin, Charlene. We’d hang out and watch the show. Charlene was a big girl, loud laugh, really big drinker, never got drunk. “Here’s the lady with the hollow leg,” you would say. Charlene was really mortified the first time, but then she realized this was Soho, nobody judged. Anyway it kind of made her a celebrity, although she probably drank more because of it. 


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Still drawing a blank.


From: Krissy@….com

There was a redheaded cop named Phil. You bet him fifty bucks one night that Charlene could drink more beer than he could. She matched him fourteen  big liter  cans of Foster’s lager. He wobbled out banging into the walls,  and you declared her the winner. But then he came back and wanted to keep going. “I  just went out to take a piss,” he said. And you said “house rules: you can’t leave the field and get  back into the game.”  He waved his gun and said he was going to kill us all. And he pointed it right at you behind the bar.  And you said: “That won’t get you out of the bet, Phil.  You’ll still  have to pay my heirs.” He opened and closed his mouth like a fish, then slammed some money on the bar and stumbled out.  And you said you knew he wasn’t going to shoot you because  you were supposed to leave one chamber empty in a revolver. And anyway a smart lush like Phil probably unloaded his gun when he went out drinking. You tried to be nonchalant, pouring yourself a big shot of Martell. And I said: “you’re scared out of your mind.” And you whispered “don’t tell anybody,” which was funny because everybody saw you shaking like a leaf. 


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Doesn’t ring a bell. In those days weird things happened every night. 


From: Krissy@….com

I dug up a picture, maybe that’ll help. We were pretty friendly.  I came to NY to be a star. Remember you laughed when I said I’d played Juliet and Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in high school in Tulsa. I get a hot flush thinking of what a pathetic little diva I must have been, although I guess we would have said prima donna in those days. I was uptown studying at Stella Adler and you said “she’ll bury you, she only likes the male students.” So I came down to Neighborhood Playhouse and you said Sanford Meisner would be mean to me and he was. So I got a job taking care of kids in a pre school and you said “you’re doing God’s work.” There was this actor who hung out at the bar who was in a play with Diane Keaton. And he said he was infatuated with her, but she was ignoring him, wouldn’t even say hello. They had this scene where he was supposed to slap her and he’d been doing a stage slap. And you said “give her a real hard Brooklyn smack, that’ll get her attention…” And he came in a few nights later, drunk out of his mind. You always said: “beware the guy who gets a head start in another store.” (You guys always called bars “stores” for some reason) And he was screaming: “you sonofabitch bastard dirty motherfucker. I took your advice. I slapped her so hard her lip started bleeding on stage. And now they want to fire me and she’s making an Equity complaint against me, you sonofabitch bastard, motherfucker….” And he jumped over the bar and tried to choke you and your partner Richard had to pull him off you. Everybody was laughing. But  you ran out after him, saying: “I’m sorry man, can I buy you a drink…”


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Is that one of those machine photos? It’s a little out of focus. 


From: Krissy@….com

Remember when your first novel came out? You  said  “I’m only writing books to tide me over until I  get a good bar job.” You were supposed to be very nonchalant about your art in those days. Not to take yourself seriously. You had three copies that night. I said I wanted one. “You’ll have to earn it,” you said. 


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

I think I’m about to get one of those hot flushes.


From: Krissy@….com

You poured  me a split of champagne with a couple of shakes of bitters. I never drank anything but beer and this was gooooood!   After closing we went to this diner across from Bellevue Hospital where the waiter gave you tons of free food for a twenty dollar tip. You had a room at the Martha Washington Hotel in the ’30′s.  It was like a horror movie, dark and creaky, old people in the lobby at 4 am. It was the smallest room I ever saw. The radiator was banging. As soon as the hot air hit me it all came up–the champagne, the eggs and bacon and rice pudding –everything. I was in this tiny bathroom and I knew you could hear me retching and shitting. Oh God, I just got another hot flush. I didn’t want to cry because everybody laughed everything off in Soho in those days. You said: “I know I’m not a great lover, but I never made a woman puke before.” You opened the window and the cold air came in. You had this Slippery Elm Bark tea, or something.  It put me out like a light. When I woke up you were watching the new cable station. “It’s a Cagney festival,” you said, really happy. We watched Cagney movies all day and then the basketball game came on. “James Cagney and the Knicks,” you said. “This is a day to remember…”


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Not by me. Well, at least  I remember the room. It was a short crawl to the bathroom. You could reach the TV, radio, little refrigerator, toaster and  hot plate without getting out of bed. One of those old people left the hot plate on one night and that was the end of the Martha Washington.


From: Krissy@….com

Once at 8:30 I was waiting for the bus to take my kids up to the Museum of Natural History and you walked right by without seeing me. You were as gray as a tombstone, smoking a cigarette. So close I could see the white crust on your lips. But I didn’t want the principal to see me talking to you, I was such a little Miss Prim…


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

Gray as a tombstone. Think I’ll steal that.  


From: Krissy@….com

 There were these three Colombian guys, who had leather jackets and watches and jewelry.  You called them “los tres majos” like the Three Wise Men in the xmas story. You guys guessed they were drug dealers probably doing business with the mafia in Little Italy. “Chocolattes, amigo,” they would say. You poured  cognac, creme cacao and heavy cream over ice and sprinkled nutmeg.  They loved it. “Cheap Brandy Alexander,” you said. “They think I just invented it. Like the Connecticut Yankee in  King Arthur’s Court…” They were always sliding rolled up bills across the bar. You would go into the little wine closet behind the bar and come out all glassy-eyed and light up a cigarette. New Year’s 1976 the bar was like rush hour. People passing drinks and money like at a baseball game. At 4:30 in the morning the place was still jammed. You were at the door yelling: “party’s over, everybody back on their head,” which was the punch line of some old joke. Finally, you got everybody out. The Three Wise Men were piling mounds of coke right on the bar. You were laughing and shaking your head. “No podemos aqui. Felice anno, amigos y adios…” They were so loaded they dropped a full bill on the way out. This bartender Louie who was in Andy Warhol movies got a straw and started snorting the floor, getting dust and ashes up his nose. It was too much for me so I left. The Three Wise Men were jumping around in the snow. One of them grabbed me, but another guy said: “es la pequenita del barman…” They gave me a dollar bill: “Happy New Year flaquita.” You had already locked the door, but you let me in. I was pretty disgusted.  I put the dollar bill on the bar. Everybody gathered around as you opened it. “It’s the size of a golf ball,” Louie said. I just walked out. I  was sure you guys were all going to die.


From: hgould@heywoodgould.com

 Some of us did. I decided to wait for natural causes. I’m a grandpa now. Even cigarette smoke makes me nauseous. Happy New Year.


From: Krissy@….com

I’m a grandma. Happy New Year to you!

 

DRAFTED/Part Three

MY FIRST PHYSICAL
Part 1
A NOTE FROM A SHRINK

It’s 1962 and I’m in a boho Garden of Eden.

I live in a sub basement in Greenwich Village. “The coolest place in the world,” my friends from Brooklyn say.

The super lets me tap into his electricity and use his phone. His wife takes messages for me. “You should call your mother,” she says. I feed his two cats. They kill mice and leave them outside my door.

I never take cabs or go to fancy restaurants. I live on diner food, peanut butter and jelly and chocolate milk.

Won’t go north of 14th. Street. Except to Birdland on 52nd. where I pay $1.25 admission to see the greatest jazz musicians in the world–Dizzy, Miles, Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, Sarah Vaughan–every week another genius.

Don’t go on dates. My friend David lives in a four story walk up in the Flower District. I’m so stoned the trip up the stairs seems to go on for hours. We sit in the dark and watch the light on the amplifier blink in synch with Wanda Landowska playing Bach partitas. The door swings open. Female silhouettes appear, then disappear as it slams shut. Something warm slides in next to me. A wisp of hair brushes my cheek.

There hasn’t been a war in nine years, but the orators of Union Square warn of world cataclysm.

“Satan has been released from his thousand year captivity,” a skinny old woman shrieks in a dense German accent. She sits under a bed sheet with “TURN TO JESUS” scrawled in lipstick. ” Gog and Magog have gathered the minions together for war,” she says. “They are as numerous as the sand in the sea…A great multitude will die untested. Only the righteous will be saved…” Brandishing a dog-eared Bible she cries: “Turn to Jesus now before it is too late.”

Across the park Morris Krieger, the anarchist, invokes Randolph Bourne:

“War is the health of the state,” he says. “It sets in motion the irresistible forces for uniformity. It coerces into obedience the exploited minorities and the individuals who are straying from the herd.” He stops and walks through to the crowd to where my friends and I stand, dazed with marijuana and Italian Swiss Colony muscatel.

“Democracy is an excuse to excite the masses,”he says. “Pursuit of happiness? Only the happiness they allow you. The happiness of acquisition and slavish obedience, the happiness of sycophancy. You have found happiness outside of their system through drugs and interracial fellowship. You are a threat to the state.”

A few benches down, a kid strums a guitar and sings in a Woody Guthrie whine:

“The General needs his War

To get that extra star.

Ford needs a war

To sell his armored car

JFK needs a crisis ’cause his New Frontier’s a lie

He ain’t never gonna give poor folks

A slice of the pie.

The doomsday warnings are comic relief for the drunks and the junkies lolling on the benches. Workers on lunch stop to heckle the speakers before returning to the grind. Even the cops shake their heads indulgently.

Meanwhile, the date of my physical looms.

“My shrink will give you a note that will get you out,” David says. “It’ll cost you thirty-five bucks for the visit.”

The office is on the ground floor of a building on Riverside Drive. I look at the names on the plaques and find: Dr. Paul Fruchtman. He’s at the end of a warren of tiny rooms. Doesn’t look much older than me. Short in a brown suit with a soft handshake and a few strands of hair across his bald head. He sits in an armchair, almost brushing knees with me and lights a pipe upside down so the window fan won’t blow it out. I stare at it wondering how he keeps the ashes from falling.

“Why don’t you want to go into the Army?” he asks.

David has told me he wants a crazy, radical answer.

“I don’t want to serve a state that exists to perpetuate the power of the capitalist oligarchy,” I say.

He scribbles on a legal pad on a clipboard.

“Do you worry about being in close quarters with other men?” he asks.

He wants me to say “yes.” To admit to being a latent homosexual. It’s a lie that will get me out, but I can’t tell it.

“No,” I answer.

“Are you afraid you might be killed?”

Another “yes” is indicated here. Another lie I can’t tell.

“No…”

He sits back, puffing on his upside down pipe.

“Tell me the truth. What is that worries you the most about being in the Army?”

I give him my first honest answer.

“Making my bed.”

He leans forward, eagerly. “Making in your bed?”

“No, just making my bed,” I say. “My father says they punish you if they can’t bounce a quarter off your blanket. Also, folding my clothes. I can’t really fold my shirts. My mother always yells at me. Sewing, too. My father says you have to sew your stripes on your shirts, he calls them blouses. We had to sew our own shop aprons in sixth grade and I couldn’t do a hem stitch and had to get one of the girls to help me…”

He raises a hand to stop the torrent.

“Okay, I’ll give you a note that you’re in treatment with me and aren’t ready for the stresses of military service. That will give you a temporary deferment, known as a 1Y. After a year they’ll call you again and I can renew the deferment.”

I rise, relieved.

“Of course there’s one condition,” he says, relighting his pipe. “You’ll have to continue in treatment with me.”

“You mean, be a patient?”

“Yes. Once a week should be enough.”

 

It’s a shakedown. He gives me a bland smile. “You’re in limbo” he says.” You can’t make the transition to productive, responsible adult life. As you get older that can become very serious.” He hands me a form. “Fill this out and bring it back” —he checks his calendar—”next Thursday, same time…You can pay Miss Rubin at the front desk.”

Miss Rubin is whispering urgently into the phone. I glide by without paying.

I can’t go out that night. The super’s cats creep through the window yellow eyes glowing in the dark. I see endless rooms of green filing cabinets. Echos of doors clanging shut. Clerks shuffling past each other down dusty aisles. A thick manila file with my name on it is dropped on a pile of files…Carried to another room. Dropped on another pile. Handed to a man in a baggy, gray suit.

He’s out there now. In a dark doorway across the street. People hurry by him with their heads down, each followed by a man in a baggy, gray suit.

NEXT: MY FIRST TRIP TO WHITEHALL STREET

 

MY CAREER AS A PETTY THIEF/PART EIGHT/Part One

I GET AN “EDGE”
PART ONE

It’s 1961 and Brooklyn is a living, breathing Antiques Road Show. We’re sitting on trillions and don’t know it. Everything in my parents’ house–from the fiesta ware, the Heywood Wakefield furniture, oriental figurines, candy dishes, Nelson clocks, Danish lamps, silver serving spoons from the “old country”–will be a classic collectible in the future. My tipsy uncle careens around our cluttered living room. “Better not break anything, Sammy…” my mother warns. “Why don’t you get rid of this junk?” he yells back.

The streets are lined with cars that in thirty years will be bid up to a half a million by Saudi sheiks. Now they’re just “lemons” with lousy brakes that won’t start in cold weather.

I give an elderly neighbor $350 for his 1957 Chevy Bel Air, I hate its mint green color so I pay Earl Sheib $39.95 to paint it black. I hate driving its “three on the shaft,” and burn out the clutch. I park it with the doors and windows open on a dark street alongside Prospect Park, notorious haunt of thieves and muggers. In a year, a vandal– or anonymous ill-wisher– will flip a lit cigarette through the back window and turn the car into a fireball.

Today, a ’57 Bel Air is worth between $55,000 and 100,000.00

My grandfather leaves me a battered leather box full of silver dollar and half dollar pieces that he had been collecting since 1928. I use them to buy gas and cigarettes when I’m short of cash. In a year I’m down to one silver dollar, which I save for good luck.

Estimated value: $100K.

I have been an obsessive game player since childhood. At the age of eight I was flipping baseball cards with my friends. Closest to the wall won. “Topping” or landing on top of another card won two cards. A “leaner,” or leaning a card against the wall brought in three. Between flipping and trading I amassed a complete set of Topps cards. Plus I had the lineups of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Giants right down to the coaches. I would lay them on my bed and replay the games for hours.

At the age of ten I took up marbles. We dug holes in the dirt called “pots.” You had to roll into the pot first and then roll out to hit and win the opponent’s marble. I wore bald spots into the knees of my corduroy pants, but won over two hundred “pee wees, immies and puries” –classic marbles which have avid collectors all over the world.

In 1963 when I move in with a woman eight years older than me my mother goes on a ritual rampage to erase my presence. She boils my sheets, gives my clothes, books and records away and chucks everything else she finds in my room, including a shoebox full of the Topps baseball cards, a bowling bag where I keep hundreds of marbles and my collection of 150 Classic Comics, which had been gathering dust under my bed.

Estimated value 75 to 100 grand.

My new obsession is chess. It entered me like a virus at the same time I got my draft card and realized I would have to stay in college forever to avoid the military. My every waking thought is devoted to openings and variations. I dream games in which the perfect move appears to me and the onlookers applaud. I study books on strategy, memorize the famous games and read about the great eccentric champions–Alekhine, Capobianco, Bobby Fisher, the Brooklyn wunderkind .The sight of a checker board tile floor sends me into a trance in which I stare at the squares visualizing moves.

My life is now about marking time until I can play chess. In the morning I doze through my classes at Brooklyn College. In the afternoon I move bodies and direct mourners at the Riverside Memorial Chapel. At ten in the evening my day begins. Still in my undertaker’s black suit I drive across the Brooklyn Bridge to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. I pull into the first open spot, knowing I will return to find one or two parking tickets, flapping like trapped pigeons on my windshield. Under the street lamps in the southwestern part of the park, a crowd has gathered to watch the chess players. From early spring to late fall, the games are on, 24-7. There are about thirty stone tables, the boards etched into their tops, each manned by a “strong” player. By tacit consent the best ones have the tables closest to the street lights. The weaker players, derisively known as “patzers,” are consigned to tables in semi darkness on the outskirts.

The dominant players act with more privileged disdain than any movie star or billionaire I will ever meet. There is Duval, an elderly Haitian in dark suit, streetlight gleaming off his smooth brown pate, who sets up ornate ivory pieces and a chess clock and dispatches all comers at a dollar a twenty minute game. “Fish!” he cries, slapping down the pieces. “You lose!” Next to him is Jimmy, hunched and intense with prematurely gray Toscanini hair. Five dollars for unlimited time, but when the loser makes a bad move he mutters “blunder,” and forces him to resign. There is Joe “the Russian.” Bald with a drooping gray mustache, he puffs furiously on Parliament cigarettes as he bullies his opponents. “Stupid move, patzer .Don’t insult my intelligence…” And Fritz, a massive black dude with a full beard, who analyzes every move. “You think I’m gonna do this so you can do that, but I’m gonna do this and you can’t do nothin’ about it…”

Every other game has an element of the miraculous. You can throw up a buzzer beater that bounces off the rim and drops in. Hit a ball off the handle that just clears the infield to score the winning run. You can make a crazy shot and sink the nine ball. Or draw a Royal Flush and beat a lock poker player. But chess is unforgiving. There are no lucky moves. The better player wins every time. The hustlers in the park know this so they can afford to be arrogant. When a player sits down and says “I’ve been watching you. I know your weaknesses,” they can roar back “I have no weaknesses!” And trounce him in twenty moves.

I am determined to get better. For months I neglect my school work, stop seeing my friends and don’t open letters from Selective Service, probably scheduling my Army physical. I immerse myself in chess, studying during the day and playing all night. A girl I know comes and sits next to me, joining the girlfriends of some of the other players in what is at that point an all-male obsession. One night I realize she hasn’t been around for awhile. But I don’t care. I’ve made a breakthrough. Suddenly, I can see four, sometimes five moves ahead. I am beating players who used to beat me. It all amounts to a few dollars a night, enough for four gallons of gas (24 cents a gallon) and a hot roast beef sandwich at the Cube Steak Diner on Sixth Ave with a little profit left over. But the prestige is enormous. I still haven’t traveled the light years to the main tables, but I’ve moved up to one that had enough spill to illuminate half the board. I am greeted as I walk into the park. I see the weaker players talking about me.

 

MY CAREER AS A PETTY THIEF/PART FIVE

I MEET THE FIXER

It’s 1960. The US is beginning its longest period of economic expansion in history. But as business booms disillusion gnaws at the national psyche.

The Russians shoot down the U2, an American spy plane. President Eisenhower disavows its mission, then backs off and becomes the first American president to admit he has lied.

There are bloody uprisings in the Asian and African colonies of our wartime allies France and Britain. We had thought of them as bulwarks of democracy and freedom, but now realize they are oppressive imperial powers.

Four black students sit in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They are arrested. Protesters all over the South are beaten, jailed, attacked by police dogs. Six years after Brown vs. Board of Ed. one quarter of our country is still a police state.

John F. Kennedy, a dashing young war hero with a hot wife, runs for President, promising change and a New Frontier. He is tied with Vice President Nixon until late returns from Cook County, Illinois make him victorious by one tenth of a percent. “The boys in Chicago fixed it,” says Mr. Leo, who runs numbers in Tony’s candy store on Eleventh Avenue in Brooklyn. “Just like Luciano fixed New York for FDR in ’32.”

My father has given me a job at the Riverside Memorial Chapel on Park Circle across from Prospect Park. He has worked himself up from monument salesman to manager, but is mortified at being in the funeral business. When people ask him what he does he says: “I play third base for the Cubs…” Or: “I’m the wine steward in the Woman’s House of Detention.”

I need a special Chauffeur’s license to drive the hearses, panel trucks and flower cars. But I’m 17 and you have to be 18 to get a Chauffeur’s license. Plus you have to pass another written exam and road test.

“Albino will fix it,” my father says.

Albino is a limo driver with connections way above his station. He is short and dark with a sharp, chin and beak of a nose. His eyes rove restlessly and his head jerks like a hungry bird’s.

On the way to the DMV I hear the story of his life. He talks in staccato bursts… “Youngest of eight. My father only had enough gas left in the tank to make a dwarf…He was a big guy,too…Everybody in the family shot up… Even in my sisters…I’m shorter than my mother for Chrissake…”

We drive over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. “We’ll go to Worth Street,” he says. ” I don’t trust those mamelukes in Brooklyn…”

He spent five and a half years in the Army during World War II. “They didn’t let me out until every Jap was dead.” He asks me if I’ve gotten my draft card. “Tell me when they call you for your physical,” he says. “I got a doctor who’ll make you 4F.”

There are lines out the door at the DMV. Only one window for the Chauffeur’s License applicants and there are at least a hundred guys ahead of me.

Albino pulls me away. “Wiseguys don’t stand on line…”

He gives me the form. “Fill this out.”

A few minutes later he is back. “Let’s get your picture took…”

The photographer is a little guy in a plaid bow-tie, eyes bulging behind horn rimmed glasses.

“Anybody ever tellya ya look like Tony Curtis?” he asks.

“No…”

“They will now…Stand straight and look serious…”

Albino takes me aside. “Got ten bucks?”

I don’t carry that much cash.

“Never mind, I’ll front it…”

My license shows up in the mail five days later.

I pay Albino back the ten. Years later I find out he told my father it cost 20 and got that plus a ten spot for his time.

I’m taking morning classes at Brooklyn College. Between the boiling radiators and the boring professors I go into a coma every morning. My Western Civ instructor, Professor Hoffman asks the class to talk quietly. “We don’t want to wake Mr. Gould.”

At two o’clock I run to my ’57 Bel Air, my home away from home. I change into a black suit in the back seat and head to the chapel. My job is to stand in the lobby and direct people to the reposing rooms. After visiting hours Albino and I load up a Chevy 31 Panel truck with mourner’s benches for religious Jews.

“Here’s a little trick, kid,” Albino says as we go to the first house. The order is for five benches, but he takes three.

A haggard old man, nose running, eyes red-rimmed complains: “We ordered five. We have to have five benches for the immediate family.”

Albino pats his arm. “Let me see what I can do.” He brings the two extra benches into house and comes back with a five dollar bill and a gleeful smile.

“Works every time.”

No one can be buried without a valid death certificate, issued either by the attending physician or the Medical Examiner. The Board of Health is very strict about correct cause of death and has been known to disallow a death certificate, causing a delay in burial. Also, religious Jews and Catholics object to autopsies, causing more costly complications.

But Albino has “fixed” Katz, a clerk on the night shift. He gives me careful instructions.

“Wait ’til there’s nobody in the room. Go to the cage and tell him you’re Albino’s friend from Riverside. Slip the certificate under the bars with two bucks under it.”

I do exactly as ordered. Katz, his face shadowed by a green visor, stamps the certificate without even looking at it and slides it back.

It occurs to me that we might be helping somebody get away with murder.

Albino agrees. “We might be at that.”

And puts in an expense chit for five dollars.

My Bel Air is what they call a “big six.” It can fly. The Brooklyn B ridge at 2am is a great proving ground.

But one night I get a speeding ticket. Next day I’m telling everybody how this motorcycle cop came out of nowhere. Later Albino sidles up.

“You wanna beat a ticket?”

He gives me a copy of the NYPD house organ, Spring 3100, a magazine distributed only to cops. “Put a copy of this on your windshield, and write Albino on the front page,” he says. “Keep your license in a little plastic envelope with a tensky folded up behind it. The cop’ll see the magazine. You slip him the license…” He snaps his finger. “Bingo, you’re outta there.” Then, in all seriousness, he warns: “it probably won’t work if you run an old lady over, or somethin’.”

That Friday night I go to a loft party in Greenwich Village. Four hours later I have ten very stoned beatniks in my Bel Air. Arms and legs sticking out of the windows, people giggling and struggling for breath under the pile. We decide to see the sun rise at Coney Island. A cop car follows me across the bridge and pulls me over. It’s a sergeant with a chest full of commendations. He looks at the squirming mass in the car.

“You tryin’ to break a college record or somethin’?”

As I open the door three people fall out at his feet.

“I’m gonna get writer’s cramp with you, pal,” he says.

He makes me walk a straight line. Close my eyes and touch my nose.

“If you were drunk at least you’d have an excuse,” he says. “You’re just a moron.”

He takes the magazine off the windshield. Takes my loaded license back to his car.

I wink at my friends. “Watch this…”

Ten minutes later he comes back with a fistful of tickets and hands them to me one by one.

“Overloading a car…Changing lines without signaling…Driving over the lane markers…One red light infraction…Broken tail light…Going 45 in a 35 mile zone. Normally, I would overlook that, but I’m throwin’ the book at you, asshole.”

He follows me as I drive everybody to the Borough Hall subway station and watches as they get out to take the subway back to Manhattan.

Then, he hands me my license with the ten still in it.

“You were lucky tonight, kid,” he says. “Next time I’ll be pullin’ your body out of a burning car.”

Next day I tell Albino the story. “At least there’s one honest cop in the world,” I say.

Albino doesn’t accept that explanation. He shakes his head in puzzlement. Then, he brightens.

“You said it was a sergeant, right?”

“Yeah…”

“That’s it, ” he says triumphantly, his vision of a corrupt universe confirmed. “Dopey me.” He smacks himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. “I forgot to tellya. Sergeants you gotta pay double, ’cause they kick back to the captain…”

AutoBARography4: GLASSWARE AND GRATUITIES

Summer 1973…It was a bad time to be a bartender.

The economy was in recession. Unemployment had risen from 5% to 9% in a year and a half. The prime rate was 10.2%. Inflation was at 7.4%.

Real Estate was in the toilet. You could buy a three-story brownstone in the 80′s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for $60,000, but they wanted 20% down and nobody had 60 cents worth of collateral.

You moved warily through the city like a mouse rushing from one hole to another. The subways were a no-go after 10 p.m. Mugging was a simple speedy transaction by which money was transferred in exchange for safety. But the hard core pros complicated it by slashing you on the arm or even the face to keep you from pursuing, so you had to run or yell for help or even fight back and that’s how people got killed.

The murder rate was up to 11.5 per 100,000. Blacks were eight times as likely to be murdered as whites. The police shot 54 people to death that year.

We had stopped fighting in Vietnam, but Nixon was still bombing Cambodia. The Senate ignored Kissinger’s heartfelt pleas and blocked funding for the attacks.

Oh yeah, and the whole country was mesmerized by the Watergate Hearings. Watching in astonishment as White House Counsel John Dean ratted out Nixon, saying they had discussed the break-in 35 times.

So now we knew that our President, who had won by a landslide in ’72, was a burglar, a blackmailer and a drunk.

But my big problem was glassware.

I was working at a place called “Maude’s” in the Summit Hotel on 51st. and Lexington. “A commercial caravansary,” W.C. Fields would have called it. A no-frills flop for the professional traveler. The guys with the dog-eared address books and smudged invoice pads…Suits getting shiny in the seat.

The Gay ’90′s red-light bordello theme played well with this crowd. They liked the all- you-can-eat buffets, the sullen waitresses in low-cut leotards, spangles and tights. But they didn’t like the drinks.

In line with the Art Nouveau knockoffs, the Tiffany lamps and the plush booths management had given us their version of period glassware. The rocks glasses were what were once known as “double old fashioned,” designed for a voluminous drink with whiskey, mulled sugar, and soda.They were as big and hefty as cut glass vases. if you threw them against a wall the building would crumble. I could empty a ten ounce bottle of soda into them with room to spare. No way I could make the “house pour” an ounce and a half shot look respectable in a glass that big.

Inverted shot glasses stood on a towel on the bar. We had to pour a shot into the glass right in front of the customer so he would know what he was getting, then pour it into the glass where it hardly covered the bottom. Piling the glass with ice just made the drink disappear altogether.

The waitresses complained bitterly. I was killing their tips. They thought I was short-pouring them to make up for my own larceny. Any hopes of a romantic interlude were dashed.

I actually felt for the customers. They would belly up, bright-eyed and expectant. But even veteran tipplers could be thrown by faulty glassware. If a drink didn’t sparkle or look generous their moods would quickly sour. It was the same volume of alcohol they got everywhere else, but it looked like a squirt in the big glass and they took it as a personal affront.

The cocktail glasses were 8 ounce “double martinis” with thick braided stems. They had a line bisecting the bowl at the four ounce mark. It was the high water mark for cocktails—we surpassed it on pain of dismissal. All the cocktails looked incomplete as if the bartender hadn’t made them properly, when in fact much skill had been employed toeing the line.

The customers would squint pointedly at their glasses while I stood there with a hapless smile, all hopes of a gratuity cruelly dashed.

It was killing the business. Hotel guests were going down the block to Kenny’s Steak Pub where the bartenders free-poured into conventional glassware, making the same ounce and a half look like the Johnstown Flood.

I complained to the the General Manager, a Cornell Hotel Management grad, but he was besotted with the design scheme.

“If we put in standard glassware it’ll ruin the look,” he said.

The bartenders were dying, too. Sure, we were the High Priests of the Sacred Fount, dispensing good cheer, sage advice and the occasional condign chastisement. But we made less money than a plumber’s apprentice.

Shift pay was $30 a night. The union deducted dues for a pension which vested after ten years, (effectively meaning never for an itinerant bartender) and health insurance which gave you the right to spend the whole day in a clinic while screeching children and croaking oldsters were triaged ahead of you.

The servers who we called “the floor” made more money than we did. So did the cooks who we called “the help.” Only the porters made less. But they had the hereditary right to plunder lost wallets and loose change on the floor. Once in a while you’d hear a shriek of glee as a porter reaped a bonanza from a dropped purse.

The bartenders huddled. There were four of us, each with a pressing need for money. I had to make my alimony. Danny had to pay his bookie. Freddie’s daughter was at Iona College. Jack was a cross-dresser and his hosiery bills were enormous. We couldn’t complain to the union, couldn’t go on strike.

The glassware issue had risen from my pocket to my psyche. I was going through life with my head down. Cashiers were short changing me. I was saying “excuse me,” and “sorry” more than I ever had in my life.

I dreamt I was in my high school locker room. The other guys on the basketball team were pointing at me and laughing. I looked down and saw that my penis had shrunk to a nub.

That night the place was dead. I stepped behind the bar, ready for another $20 shift, if I was lucky.

“Hey pal, can we get a cocktail?”

I looked up. “Irish” Jerry Quarry, the “Bellflower Bomber,”who had fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship, was at the end of the bar with his brother Mike, another ranked boxer and two knockaround pals. Big smiles, twenties up on the bar, getting a head start on the evening.

Jameson on the rocks, VO and Coke and two vodka tonics.

Was I going to short pour these guys?

No way. Let ‘em fire me.

Their eyes sparkled as I filled their glasses to the brim.

“Can I get a whiskey sour?”

I knew that clucking voice from commercials. Standing in the middle of the bar was Frank Perdue, of Perdue Farms, the largest chicken producer in the country. With his pointy head, beak nose and bobbing Adam’s Apple he looked like the world’s largest chicken.

I reversed the recipe. Three ounces of booze to an ounce and a half of lemon juice.

“How ya doin’?”

Two substantial black guys flashing gold from wrist to tooth, slid in. They were members of B.B. King’s Blues Band, I had seen them in the lobby the night before.

“Beefeater and Coke…Wild Turkey with a splash of Seven Up…Just a splash…”

“Just a splash, sir, don’t worry.”

They had never highballs like these, even when they made them for themselves.

The waitresses came up with their table orders. Their eyes widened as I made them huge drinks.

“Is that okay?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Make money my children.”

I hadn’t heard laughter at the bar in months. Everybody was all smiles. I was making people happy.

“Can we get another round?”

“You bet.”

Pretty soon the King sidemen recognized Jerry Quarry.

“Hey champ…”

Perdue looked up from his second sour and squawked:

“Jerry Quarry. I thought that was you…”

Now they were all clustered together, laughing and telling war stories.

“It’s my turn…”

“No, this one’s on me.”

Jerry Quarry leaned over the bar.

“Hey, is it against the rules to buy the bartender a drink?”

“It is strictly verboten,”I said in a burlesque German accent, while pouring myself a triple Hennessy to general hilarity.

At closing I had two hundred bucks in my pocket.

Quarry and Perdue were off to Toots Shor’s. The sidemen were tottering to a gig.

Olga, the Norwegian waitress followed me out into the street.

“You think you can get away with this?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” I said. “I’m sick and tired of those stupid glasses.”

“Well, I did really well tonight thanks to you,” she said.

“Your legs helped….”

“So I’m going to buy you a drink now. “Okay?”

“Absolutely not.”

She laughed and took my arm. She pressed against me as we crossed the street.

Oh yeah…I was a man again.