In the late 1970′s and early 80′s I had a little problem with cocaine. I wasn’t the only one. In my social circle the drug seemed to be everywhere. At the parties and gatherings I attended there were more runny noses than in a classroom of first graders during cold and flu season.
At the time there was a lot of misinformation being spread about cocaine. It wasn’t addictive (bullshit). It was great for your sex life (occasionally). It was as harmless as reefer (what a crock of shit). The truth of the matter is that cocaine ruined lives and killed people. And when some genius figured out how to distill the essence of cocaine and turn it into crack, well, you’ve read the papers.
My coke connection was a guy I’ll call Gary. He had been a pot dealer for years before adding coke to his inventory. He had an apartment about half a block from Wrigley Field, and I used to spend a lot of time there, getting high, listening to Gary’s extensive record collection and chatting with his clients when they stopped by to pick up an ounce or two of weed.
I met a lot of characters at Gary’s place. He had been around a long time and had collected an interesting customer base. A lot of theater people and musicians were regulars, as were a contingent of Lincoln Avenue hippies and barflies left over from the 60′s.
The only thing that changed when Gary started dealing coke was that he began making more money. He still liked having people around and was very generous with his product. There were always joints available and a few lines of white powder and a rolled-and-taped hundred dollar bill on a small mirror he kept on his coffee table.
One of Gary’s customers was a guy named Walt, who tended bar at popular local jazz club. I happened to be at Gary’s one day when Walt called and said he was going to stop by. When Gary got off the phone, he was as excited as I’d ever seen him.
“Man, oh, man. Guess who’s dropping by?”
“I heard. It’s Walt, right?”
“Yeah, guess who he’s bring with him.”
“Dexter fucking Gordon.”
“The saxophone player?”
“One of the greatest ever. The fucking guy’s a legend. Fuck, man. Dexter Gordon.”
It just so happened that I had read about Dexter Gordon in the Tribune that morning. He was making his first American tour in 30 years. Like many American jazz men, Dexter had been an expatriate for much of his career. The expatriates left the country for many reasons – racism, greater financial opportunities, drug problems. Sadly, in Dexter’s case, it was drugs. America’s drug laws were brutal in the 40′s and 50′s, when Dexter was in his prime. Instead of treatment, addicts were locked up for years, doing hard time just for having “marks,” which are the scars left by hypodermic needles. For a better idea of the drug hysteria of the time, read “Straight Life,” the biography of another brilliant saxophone player, the great Art Pepper.
Dexter Gordon was an impressive looking man. He must have been in his late 50′s or early 60′s, but looked younger. He was about 6’5″ tall, a light-complected black man with freckles and closely cropped red hair. He looked a bit like the photos I’d seen of Malcolm X. When he spoke, his voice had a growl like Louis Armstrong.
Dexter was warm, open and talkative. We discussed all sorts of things, the upcoming Chicago Jazz Fest, baseball (he was a Mets) fan), a recording date he was planning, his performance that evening. He spent about three hours with us. I don’t recall everything we talked about, but I do remember that Dexter snorted about two grams of coke.
The man was snorting coke as quickly as Gary could dish it out, and, as I mentioned, Gary was generous with his drugs. I did my share but couldn’t keep up with Dexter. He wasn’t a Hoover, he was a Black and Decker Industrial Strength Wet/Dry Vac. Even Gary was impressed by the amount of coke Dexter was putting away.
It was a pleasant afternoon, one I’ll never forget. When it came time for Dexter to leave, he thanked Gary profusely for his hospitality and invited us to his show. He said he’d leave comps with the bartender.
Due to extenuating circumstances, I didn’t make it to the show, but I made it a point to read the Tribune the next morning to see if there was a review of Dexter’s show. There was indeed a review. I don’t remember the exact wording of the review but it went something like this.
“I am in awe of Dexter Gordon. His career, once derailed by drug addiction, is back on the fast track. The show he put on last night was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Now that Dexter has put his drug problems behind him, his playing is better than ever,”
It did my heart good to read that Dexter Gordon had given up drugs and straightened out his life. Good saxophone players are hard to find.
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I once knew a boy named Sue. He was an Asian kid who went to my high school. His actual name was Soo, but I’m proceeding phonetically here.
There were a lot of funny names in my school. Many of the students were immigrants or children of immigrants, whose names consisted of odd combinations of consonents and vowels, strung together in ways that the Anglo-Saxon mind had trouble deciphering. I don’t have a copy of my high school yearbook but, if memory serves, the roster of students’ names would have baffled a Harvard linguist. I doubt if William Safire could pronounce half of the names correctly.
My name, Milo Samardzija, was near the top of the list of tongue-twisting appellations. It wasn’t the worst, by any means, but it was close. There was only one teacher that ever got my name right on the first try and that was because she was descended from the same part of the Balkans that my family escaped from. The rest of the school’s staff mangled my name for weeks or months before getting it right. One old fart, a drunkard who to tried to teach English, never got it right. He eventually gave up, resorting to saying Hey you or pointing at me when my participation was required.
It was during high school that I grew to hate my name. I envied people with names like Smith, Jones, or Johnson. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to have a name with only one or two syllables? I had a distant relative in Milwaukee who changed his name from Rade Samardzija to Rudy Summers. I remember asking my dad if he had ever considered changing or shortening our last name. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “That’s a stupid fucking question if I ever heard one.”
As bad as I felt about my own name, I felt almost as bad for other students who had unpronounceable or awkward names, like Aphrodite Baffalukis, Predrag Bielopetrovich, Shlomo Finklestein, Scotty Queerman, and George Shitz. We were brothers and sisters united in humiliation, fellow travelers on the road to ridicule. How we got out of high school with our sanity and self-esteem intact is beyond me. In my case, I don’t think I did.
Things only got worse when I was drafted into the US Army. If educated high school teachers couldn’t pronounce my name then what could I expect from barely literate drill instructors? But, again, I wasn’t alone. There were plenty of others in my basic training company with terrible names. I remember one guy in particular, an Armenian, with a name so complicated that it took the combined efforts of two sergeants and a Second Lieutenant to just come close to pronouncing it. In the end, they resorted to calling him Alphabet. The poor kid was so traumatized that he eventually deserted, defecting, I believe, to Huimanguillo, Mexico, Ikaluktutiak, Canada, or somewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I caught a huge break a couple of years ago when the Chicago Cubs drafted a young pitcher out of Notre Dame named Jeff Samardzija. When he made it to the big leagues last year and radio and TV announcers began broadcasting his name, it changed my life. Suddenly, people began pronuncing my name correctly – on the first try. I was no longer a Hey You, Alphabet, Whatchamacallit, or That Guy. I was a somebody, with a real name, a name that, at least on the North Side, was not so strange after all. It was a life-changing experience, liberating me from the purgatory of the bad-name-afflicted. I hope Jeff Samardzija has a long and successful career with the Cubs and never does anything to dishonor the noble name of Samardzija. After all, if someone with the fine, upstanding name like Bartman can be brought down, it can happen to anybody.
One thing about having an odd name is that it made me appreciate other odd names. In fact, I’ve become a connoiseur of awkward appellations. I’ve even compiled a short list of some of my favorite names, in various categories, that I take pleasure in hearing and saying. I’d like to share them with you.
- Politics: Dick Devine
- Football: Terdell Middleton
- Baseball: Pete LaCock
- Exotic Dancing: Ineeda Mann
- Statesmen: Zbigniew Bzrezinski
- Rock ‘n’ Roll (tie): Howard Futterman and the Amish Playboys and Skid Marx and the Excrementals
If you, faithful readers, have any favorite odd names, feel free to suggest them in the comment section of this blog. We just might post them someday.
Milo’s still recuperating from his operation, so we’re re-running his Memorial Day classic…
Memorial Day is a wonderful day for politicians. There are graves of fallen American soldiers scattered all over this country and the photo opportunities for Senators, Congressman and Governors are endless. No career political hack can resist the opportunity to wrap himself in the flag and be photographed at a soldier’s grave site on Memorial Day.
For other folks, the best thing about this holiday is that they don’t have to work on Monday. It’s an extra day away from the office or factory, another day free of the indignities that come with working for a living.
Memorial Day has an entirely different meaning for veterans, especially combat veterans. Military personnel who have been awarded the CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge), which is given to soldiers who have personally fought in ground combat operations, often have mixed feelings about a holiday that was created to honor the dead.
Chances are, if a person has a CIB, they’ve seen and done some terrible things. They have spent time in the Inferno. They have experienced true horror. And the absolute worst of those horrors was seeing friends die. The ghosts of Alpha Company still haunt my dreams.
Some combat veterans, including me, are uneasy with the overly sentimental veneration of America’s fallen soldiers. It’s too little, too late, and the sentiments are usually off the mark.
It makes me uncomfortable when I hear politicians exalt dead soldiers, or read editorials comparing them to saints, calling them God’s warriors, elevating them to the status of angels with assault rifles. The image of the American foot soldier as a noble warrior, different than all the cruel, heartless bastards that came before him, is a false one.
The truth is, the American foot soldier is a bad motherfucker, a highly-trained, superbly armed, brutal and efficient killing machine.
A lot of the soldiers in my outfit were tough kids, urban and rural poor boys, before they went into the service. A few months in the jungles and paddies made them even tougher. Spending three weeks at a time on Search and Destroy missions, sleeping in muddy foxholes at night, waiting for the next bit of Hell to arrive, and wondering if your next breath will be your last, has a way of bringing out the beast in a man.
After three weeks in the bush we’d be sent to a relatively safe firebase to relax and unwind. Those seven days were spent trying to forget the terrors of the previous three weeks. We drank heavily, smoked copious amounts of weed, and visited the whores who set up storefronts near every American firebase.
The liquor and drugs helped us escape the grim reality of our lives. The intoxicants made it possible, for a short time, to forget some of the things we had seen and done.
The young whores made us feel human again. The act of love, the skin-to-skin contact, the primal connection between a man and woman, helped soften the rough edges of our memories.
True, these were coarse comforts, frowned upon by church, state and the general public, but they were all we had. A few drinks and a piece of ass made an intolerable existence somewhat bearable.
No, we weren’t knights in shining armor. I doubt we would have been welcomed in polite society. We were just common foot soldiers, flawed in so many ways. But we were young and valiant, and did the best we could.
Here are a few lines from a Rudyard Kipling poem called “Tommy,” about British soldiers. I believe it captures the ambivalence that some civilians have for the military, why dead soldiers are honored, and living ones not so much.
“An’ if sometimes our conduck ain’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barracks don’t grow into plastic saints,
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute,’
But it’s ‘Savior of our country” when the guns begin to shoot.”
As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of Memorial Day. It brings back too many bitter memories. But I can understand how the holiday can be a comfort to people, especially those that have lost friends and loved ones in wars.
So, go ahead and celebrate Memorial Day any way you like, and I’ll celebrate it in the old military tradition.
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While Milo recuperates, we’re running one of his classics…
It was Mark Twain who claimed: A proficiency at billiards is a sign of a misspent youth.
If that’s the case, then my formative years were a colossal waste of time. Between the ages of 15 and 18, if I wasn’t in school or at home, I could be found in a poolroom called The Club on 5th Avenue near Broadway in Gary.
At the time I didn’t consider playing pool a frivolous activity. In my neck of the woods, learning to shoot pool, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and acquit yourself honorably in a street fight were hallmarks of a well rounded education.
I never did become a good street fighter (something about a yellow streak), but I did excel at smoking and drinking, a skill set that has served me well to this very day.
I also became a pretty good pool player, not great, but good enough to hustle a few bucks now and then. I played all the games, 9-ball, 8-ball, straight pool, rotation, one-pocket, and pea pool but my money game was snooker. At the tender age of 17 I won $52 in a marathon snooker contest against an old man we called The Admiral, because he always wore one of those cheesy yachting caps favored by Elvis and Count Basie.
I lost interest in playing pool around my 18th birthday. There were three reasons I gave up the game:
I got seriously interested in girls. It’s tough enough to get laid under any circumstances, but it’s almost impossible when you hang around a poolroom all day.
I had gotten as good as I was ever going to get. I had hit the proverbial wall and rather than trying to break through it or go around it, I decided to avoid it altogether.
I came to the realization that being a “pretty good” pool player would have absolutely no effect on my future. Why waste any more time with such a silly game.
Boy, was I wrong about reason number three.
About 12 years later I was living in Chicago, scuffling to make a living as an editor, proofreader, and freelance writer and failing miserably at all three. Desperate for work, I answered a blind ad in the Chicago Tribune looking for an editor for a sporting magazine. To my astonishment, I got called in for an interview.
Let’s call the person who interviewed me Bob. He was the owner and publisher of a group of poorly written, cheaply printed magazines that dealt with fringe sports like archery, table tennis, pinball, and, lo and behold, billiards. The position I was interviewing for was managing editor of Billiards Gazette.
Bob was an odd little man – twitchy, shifty eyed, and affected. The walls of his office were covered with autographed photos of celebrities, like Sinatra, John Wayne, and Raquel Welch but I noticed that all the autographs seemed to be signed by the same hand.
He considered himself a titan of the publishing industry, a first cousin to Bennett Cerf. In reality he was a low-rent hustler. His publications were mainly vehicles for attracting advertising revenue. I doubt if circulation of any of the rags was more than 2,500 and those went mainly to the specific industry. I don’t recall ever seeing any of them on a newsstand or gracing someone’s coffee table.
Still, I desperately needed a job, and running a shlock magazine seemed to be as good a gig as any.
After a few moments of idle chatter, Bob asked, “Do you know anything about playing pool?”
“As a matter of fact I do.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why would I lie?”
“To get this job,” Bob smirked.
“You’ll just have to take my word for it.”
“No I don’t,” Bob said. “I’d rather see for myself. You have to know the game to run my magazine. Let’s play a game of 8-ball.”
It turned out that Bob had a pool table in his warehouse, a Brunswick that was in pretty good shape. He also had all of the accessories: chalk, hand powder, a bridge, and a rack of cues hanging on a wall. Now by that time, I played pool only four or five times a year, usually on tavern tables and usually when I was drunk. I was still a decent player but nowhere near the cocky young pool shark that I was at 17. I assumed Bob had to be good.
Nervous, I was relieved that Bob won the lag and went first. He broke, ran a few solids but missed a bank shot on the 4-ball and it was my turn. I suspected that he missed on purpose. It wasn’t that hard of a bank shot and he seemed to be a better player than that. But the purpose of the game was to see if I could play, not to show off Bob’s skills.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, “he said, stepping away from the table.
I took a deep breath, stepped up to the table and played the game of my life. Like Toni Kucoc used to say, I vas in da zone. I didn’t miss a shot and some of them were tough. I made long cuts, bank shots, and a combination. I felt like a kid again, on my way to beating some chump out of a few bucks. When I leaned over the table to line up my final shot, Bob reached over and picked up the 8-ball. He looked at me, nodded his head in approval and said, “When can you start?”
I ran the magazine for nearly a year. It was one of the more interesting periods of my life. I met a lot of pool hustlers, earned a decent buck and heard some great stories. My favorite story concerned Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman.
Gleason was a genuine pool shark. He learned to play as a kid on the mean streets of Brooklyn. As he used to tell it, his skill at pool helped him survive some very tough times. Paul Newman learned to play pool during the filming of “The Hustler,” one of my all-time favorite movies. The director had hired Willie Mosconi, arguably the greatest player ever, to coach Newman. Newman actually became a pretty good player under Mosconi’s tutelage. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
Shortly after Gleason’s death, Newman was interviewed by a reporter who wanted to discuss the film and Newman’s memories of Gleason. The interviewer asked if he and Gleason had ever played pool for money.
“Yes, we did,” Newman replied. “And I beat him two out of three games. I won the first two games for fifty bucks each and Jackie won the third game for five hundred.”
A classic hustle, if you ask me.
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Like the rest of the USA and the world, my family has been affected by the “Big Meltdown,” a term I prefer to recession or depression. My wife and I are both self-employed and we hit the financial bust-out perfecta. She’s in real estate and I’m in advertising. You know what happened to the real estate business, and the ad business is not far behind, especially when several of your clients are also real estate agencies.
A lot of our recent family discussions have been about ways to cut spending. We include our two daughters, 16 and 21, in these discussions because we figure it’s important that they understand the rotten financial situation we’re in. Not much gets settled at these family round tables, but at least everyone gets a chance to voice an opinion and present money saving ideas.
Mom: How about we cut out cable TV?
Kid 1: (Indignantly) No way. I’m not giving up MTV.
Dad: (Also indignant) I can’t believe you’re asking me to give up watching the Bulls.
Mom: What if we sell one of the cars?
Kid 2: You can’t be serious. Do you really expect me to ride the el and buses everywhere I go?
Dad: (Reasonably) Now, now. Let’s not get upset. We’re simply discussing options.
Kid 1: Here’s an option. Why don’t you and Mom quit drinking so much wine?
Dad: (Angrily) Don’t be a wiseass.
Mom: Ungrateful brat.
Kid 2: Now who’s upset?
Dad: Let’s all calm down. (Pathetic attempt at humor) Here’s an idea. Let’s sell the cat and dog to the Korean restaurant down the street.
Mom: (Aghast) That’s a horrible thing to say.
Kid 1: That’s not even close to funny, Dad. It’s just gross.
Dad: Just lightening the mood, trying to make everyone feel better.
Kid 2: Want to make us all feel better? Quit smoking. What do cigarettes cost anyway?
Dad: (Grumbling and obscenities)
In the end, we came up with a money saving solution that satisfied almost everyone. Dad got taken off of the health insurance policy. Being self-employed, we pay for health insurance out of our pockets, a little over $800 a month. That’s a lot of money right now or any other time. By removing me from the policy we save nearly four hundred a month.
Fortunately, I have a health insurance option. As a veteran of the United States Army, I’m entitled to care and treatment at any veteran’s hospital in the country. It’s one of the perks of having risked life, limb, and sanity for my country. The only problem is that veterans’ hospitals are not considered to be in the top echelon of medical facilities. I can see the conversation with my doctor now.
Me: I need brain surgery, Doc.
Doc: That’s too bad.
Me: And I need a septuple heart bypass.
Doc: That’s a shame.
Me: What’s the prognosis?
Doc: Dude, you’re probably gonna die.
The good thing, however, is that VA doctors are experienced in dealing with traumatic injuries. So if I get shot or stabbed or step on a land mine in Lincoln Park, I’ll be in good hands.
I’m going down to the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center on South Damen Avenue next week to register in the system. I’ll bring along my discharge papers and my good conduct medal and my dog-eared copy of the US Army Survival Manual, just in case things get rough. I’ll let you know what happens.
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Most of the people I knew in Northwest Indiana were White Sox fans. It was a geographical thing. Comiskey Park was closer to Gary than Wrigley Field. You could jump in your car and be sitting in Comiskey Park’s cheap seats in about half an hour.
One day in the summer of ’66 I asked the Old Man if I could use the car.
“Yankees are in town. I wanna see the game.”
“Fucking Yankees,” the Old Man muttered.
Like any diehard Sox fan the Old Man despised the Bronx Bombers, and for good reason. They regularly beat his beloved Sox, relegating them to second place or worse throughout the ’50s and ’60s. Some of those Sox teams had records good enough to win pennants in most eras, but the Yankees were always just a few games better, sometimes a whole lot better.
“OK, just drive careful,” he said, tossing me the keys to his 1964 Chevrolet Impala.
I was a few months short of my 17th birthday and had just gotten my driver’s license. Until I could scrape together two or three hundred dollars for a beater, I had to rely on the family car for transportation.
I stopped to pick up a couple of buddies, the Kaiser brothers, Dickie and Danny, and Sandy Bordeaux, who were also diehard Sox fans. We made a pit stop at Mr. Lucky’s Tap, one of the places in town that catered to underage drinkers, to pick up some quarts of Schiltz and a couple of half pints of flavored vodka before heading to Chicago and the big game.
We were excited, brimming with nervous energy. The closer we got to Chicago the more excited we became. The beer went down easy and we were tipsy by the time we neared 35th Street. All of us cheered and waved and wished the Sox luck as we passed Comiskey Park and continued on toward the Loop.
Our true destination was South State Street – the Follies Theater to be exact, one of the last Burlesque Houses on what had once been a notorious stretch of strip joints. In the days before “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” before VHS and internet porn, there were very few places where a horny young man could see naked women.
Unless you were lucky enough to have an accommodating girlfriend – which I wasn’t – you were restricted to magazines like Playboy which only showed bare tits. To see the real thing, honest-to-God live women, shimmying and shaking, baring luscious tits and fabulous asses to the beat of a four-piece house band, you had to go to a Burlesque House.
We found a parking spot and staggered up to the box office. The scabby old ticket-taker took one look at us and cackled.
“You boys 21?”
“Yes sir,” we replied.
“I’d ask for some ID but as you can see I’m real busy right now. That’ll be five dollars… each.”
“Wait a minute,” one of us protested. “The sign says three dollars.”
“I know what the sign says. You boys are getting the special price.”
We paid the five dollars… each.
Although the theater had a capacity of three or four hundred, I doubt if there were 30 people in the house. There was a noisy group of sailors from the Great Lakes naval base and maybe another dozen scattered men.
We had our choice of seats and sat as close to the stage as we could. I believe we were in the second or third row. We had saved the half pints of flavored vodka (cherry and grape) and started passing the bottles. By the time the show started we were happily drunk and giddy with anticipation.
The show opened with a 20 minute movie of a volley ball game in a nudist colony. It was a grainy, soundless movie, and the participants were mainly flabby old men and overweight women with sagging tits and wrinkles in all the wrong places. Still, we were spellbound. It didn’t matter how old and unappealing the women were, they were naked and that’s all that mattered.
When the movie ended, Dickie Kaiser said, “Hey Sandy, that one woman looked like your Grandma.”
“I don’t think so,” Sandy replied. “The movie was probably made in Sweden. Grandma lives Crown Point.”
Then the band started to vamp and it was SHOWTIME.
There were eight strippers on the bill and they all had gimmicks. There was the Tiger Lady, who wore a tiger-striped gown and prowled around on her hands and knees as she disrobed. There was Simone, who wore a French maid’s costume, followed by Nurse Nellie and Cowgirl Lil, Queen of the Rodeo.
Sad to say, a couple of the strippers had seen better days. Simone had to be at least 50 years old and Nurse Nellie wasn’t much younger. The sailors in the audience were rough on the older women, booing, catcalling, yelling for them to get off the stage. The women were professionals, however, and ignored the abuse. They were troupers and carried on in the grand showbiz tradition of The Show Must Go On.
Although all of the women had gimmicks, their acts finished in the same way. They stripped down to pasties with hanging tassels and skimpy g-strings (none was ever totally nude.)
They gave us ample views of their fronts and behinds, then strutted to the side of the stage and covered themselves coyly with a part of the curtain.
As the house band hit a crescendo, the strippers took off their g-strings and tossed them onto the stage. The drummer hit a couple of rim shots, the stage lights went dark, and two minutes later the next stripper came on.
After the sixth stripper finished her act there was an intermission while the stage was set up for the comedy act. I remember the act very well because I laughed my ass off.
The set was a hotel room and the comic, who the term baggypants was invented for, and his foil, who looked suspiciously like Nurse Nellie, were trying to pack a suitcase. The suitcase was hard to shut. It was overfilled and there was always a shirt sleeve or trouser leg popping out as they were trying to shut it. Here’s some of the dialogue as I remember it:
“Oooh, it popped out again.”
“OK, I’ll stick it in again.”
“Maybe if you push a little harder.”
“Damn, I got it in the wrong end.”
“Maybe we should grease it up.”
“How about if you sit on it.”
“Oooh, it popped out again.”
“Try blowing on it.”
“I know, I’ll get on my hands and knees.”
“Damn, that’s a tight fit.”
After the comic finished his bit, there was another unremarkable stripper and then the star of the show came on. Her name was Ineeda Mann and the reason she was the star was that she could swing her tits in such a way that her tassels rotated in opposite directions. As far as we were concerned, this was an amazing feat and we hooted and applauded in appreciation. She did the tassel swinging trick a couple of times before finishing her act with the ritual tossing of the g-string. A moment later the houselights came on and the evening’s entertainment was over.
None of us realized, as we stumbled out onto State Street, that an era was passing. Burlesque was as dead as Vaudeville. Within a year the Follies Theater would be torn down to make way for condos and townhouses. By 1970 I doubt if there was a Burlesque House left in the City. I sometimes wonder what happened to the Tiger Lady or Nurse Nellie. I hope they weren’t reduced to demeaning jobs or the welfare rolls. Although I’m sure that Ineeda Mann, with her unique skills, managed to thrive.
It was time to go back to Gary. There was a problem, however. When I got home the Old Man would ask me about the Sox game. I knew that he had watched the game on TV and would want to talk about it. The guys with me had the same problem. So, we drove to Bridgeport and found a few stragglers still hanging around Comiskey Park. We asked them about the game and they gave us enough information to get by.
The Old Man was snoozing on the couch when I got home. He woke up when he heard me come in.
“Hey, how about those Sox!” He was happy. The Sox had beaten those rotten, no-good Yankees 6-3.
“Tommy John looked real good,” I said.
“Yeah, I was watching.”
“Pete Ward hit a three-run homer.”
“I saw it, barely cleared the fence.”
“Smoky Burgess had a pinch hit.”
“Shit, I wish I could have gone with you. Must have been a great game.”
“Yeah, you would have loved it.”
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A few days ago, I went to the Jesse Brown V.A. Hospital to have a few of my vital organs checked and get my meds adjusted
When I walked into the office of my primary physician, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, I could see that he was in an uncharacteristically bad mood.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Dude, it’s been a shitty day,” he said. “The VA bureaucrats have come up with another way to complicate my life. It seems like every week they establish new procedures for dealing with vets, especially combat vets and the PTSD afflicted. You fit in that category somewhere, right?”
“Well, then, the VA insists I ask you these questions.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Are you homeless?”
“Not at the present time.”
“Do you have suicidal thoughts?”
“Do you have anger issues? Is there anyone you want to kill or injure?”
“Yes, indeed! I’ve got an extensive shit list. There are a lot of rotten fuckers out there.”
“Do you wear a seat belt when you drive?”
“Sometimes, and I usually look both ways before crossing a street.”
“Do you ever…”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Doc, but why is the VA making you ask these dumbass questions?”
Dr. Frankie sighed and shook his head. “Because most combat vets are crazy fuckers,” he explained. “HUD estimates that more than 50,000 are homeless. Their suicide rate is 50% higher than those who never served. According to the Washington Post, combat vets have a 75% higher rate of fatal vehicle accidents than do civilians. Combat vets diagnosed with PTSD commit violent crimes at double the rate of soldiers who never saw action. And don’t even get me started on the subject of substance abuse.”
“What happens if I tell you that I’m going to shoot myself or shoot someone else? What if I say I’m living in a cardboard box under the Western Avenue bridge or don’t use a seat belt?”
“I make a note of it on your computer file.”
“I don’t know. I doubt the VA knows, either.” Dr. Frankie said, with a shrug. “You know, I liked this job a lot better when all I had to do was check your blood pressure, give you some good drugs, and send you on your way.”
When I left Dr. Frankie’s office, I began paying close attention to the former soldiers who were wandering the hallways of the hospital. Sure, most of them looked like regular guys, but after talking to the Doctor, I understood that they were actually bunch of loose cannons, drunken, drug-addled, dangerous men, capable of unspeakable violence at any moment. Who knew what monstrous thoughts were squirming in their brains.
Man, I said to myself, I’m glad I’m not like those crazy fuckers.
Still, I was a bit depressed when I left the hospital, so I took a couple of the new pain killers the good doctor had prescribed for me. The pills kicked in as I was driving home and I started feeling better. The unsettling conversation I had with Dr. Frankie was beginning to fade away.
I hoped that after getting home, having a few drinks, smoking some weed, cleaning my weapons, and adding some names my shit list, I would forget it completely.
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