A BUM LOVE STORY
Viola and B. Prune
reverently continuing the tradition of
Viola and B. Prune
reverently continuing the tradition of
Viola B. Prune (reverently continuing the tradition of Damon Runyon)
WHEN SALLY DETROIT CAME TO NEW YORK to visit her sister and turn over 50 pounds of bay scallops, little did she know that she would fall in love and get the ride of her life. While her baby sister Alice had pursued the dreams of the upwardly mobile, Sal was the wandering gypsy of what remained of Nathan and Adelaide’s nuclear family, and never stayed in one place long enough to get anywhere but gone. When she left her parents’ quaint upstate home at 18 she did not know that she would not stay in any one place longer than six months for the next 17 years.
She wasn’t from New York anymore than to acknowledge the graves of her parents and the comfortable Chelsea digs of her sister; she was from New Orleans, Taos, Austin, Seattle, Woodstock, P-town, Hialeah, Hot Springs: Sal was from the longest route between any two points. And what moved her most was the feeling something was gaining on her, and so she accommodated her instinct and kept moving, from one place and one friend to the next. Like a fix hungry junky in search of good conversation, she zigzagged the country. She would blow into town in “Sam and not Dave”, her trusty 100,000+mile-Mustang, and alight at a friend’s house cranked up with energy from the road. With all the traveling she did, she might not see any one friend for a number of years, so there was always plenty of mind scat on the mysteries and quirks of the cosmos to get down on, and this was, in a sense, what had kept her going so long.
Every once in a while though, during a particularly tough transit, her energy would crash and Sal would disappear from the lives of those who were expecting her the most. It was during these lulls, in what she called, “bouts with white line fever” that she checked into Alice’s for extended recuperations. And so this is where she disappeared to in the long grueling summer of 1979, when the NASA Sky Lab project had broken apart and was circling the globe until it would come cascading back to Earth, The Big Bookie upstairs only knew where. Needless to say there was a betting fever among the gamers of the world to pick exactly where the huge floating boulders of technological death would land. Normally this was the kind of action that would have set Sal’s sporting blood ablaze, but she found her sense of adventure and humor about the fates had been left with P-town’s tourists on Commercial Street, and “Sam and not Dave” had died in front of a Mafia pizzeria in Providence, Rhode Island, and refused to be reborn for less than 500 clams, and she had no clams, only scallops she hoped to convert to lettuce that would get her down on the nose of a “sure thing” running at Belmont, that would take her all the way to Philly, where she had a connection for enough Maui Wowie to get her to Miami, where she could hook up with her friend, Raoul, who would line up a charter boat all the way to Havana, if she decided not to go to Ibiza instead.
It was a stagnant time in the evolution of Sal’s imagination. The prospect of making book on where Sky Lab would land was a prospect that for some reason she found less than stimulating, and she had to admit that between her and Raoul, they hadn’t come up with one new shred of evidence in over a year to corroborate what they had witnessed picnicking on the grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza almost sixteen years earlier.
So Sal moved into Alice’s with nothing but a bag of stinking scallops and a grand depression, and though living at her sister’s was fine for security, it did little to cheer Sal up or boost the enthusiasm she needed to recharge her anima so she could, quite frankly, give a damn about anything other than the one spot she chose to sit in, day after day, like a recalcitrant slug, cultivating and hatching the Great Egg of Boredom, until all the implosions of injustice in the world simmering inside of her memory bank erupted and blew her back out into the world.
But as the days went on Sal grew increasingly drained by the alarm clock running her into consciousness at the ungodly hour of 7:00 in the A.M., and grew weaker still as she watched her sister put on makeup and heels and slump out the door to get mangled in the subway, only to return in the same mindless state, but now bearing tales of middle management mediocrity and sore feet. If she had had her normal energy she would have exploded, but since she didn’t, and she could ill afford to pitch a bitch to the one remaining soul on the planet who would have her in this state for more than a fortnight, she got up at 7, walked her sister’s dog, Blooper, sent Alice off to the corporate corral with faked enthusiasm, then exhausted, climbed back into bed.
And though her energy was the lowest she could recall since Nathan had thrown boxcars one too many times for his own body, Sal did her best to retain her well earned reputation as a guest’s guest. She was, in a manner of speaking, a chip off “good old reliable” Nathan’s block. That is to say, while her father’s culinary skills were not widely known, there was a period when the young Nathan and Adelaide moved from the teeming jungle of New York City to the small Hudson River community of Rhinebeck to build a family, and it was here that Nathan Detroit threw his vast restless craving for action into creating gourmet delicacies to sooth his longings for the bright lights. And yes, little Sal was right there at his apron, right there helping her father whip up feasts for her grippe ridden mother and I baby Alice. This knack for gastronomy, was perhaps the only legitimate legacy Nathan had left his oldest, and even at her lowest, Sal could, by rote, perform like a virtuoso. And so Sal got up again at a quarter to ten and went shopping for fresh vegetables and fruits, arcane spices and mouth watering sauces to go with the succulent young lamb, veal, fish and chickens she picked out from the markets along Ninth Avenue, and then return home in time to move Alice’s car,
Now normally Alice had to park her car in a garage or spend hours at night perusing the streets for a parking space that would give her 24 more hours of legality, and thus had little time to serve herself more than a frozen t.v. dinner or have a pizza delivered from 27th street. From her point of view, a sister who would park her car, take Blooper on long walks through the neighborhood, and cook her dishes that made her taste buds applaud, this sister was an angel and there was no debate.
But before you get the idea that Sal was a regular bargain, you must first know that Sal was a very maudlin lush on the average of three nights a week. On those nights, which she couldn’t control once they were upon her, she could be counted on to become quite aggressively surly and bitter, and not willing to inflict herself upon host or hostess, Sal used these forays into alcoholic self indulgence to hop into “Sam and not Dave” and head for the next destination on her spiral map. Many a friend from Bangor to Baja mourned these episodes and tried to remedy them, but alas for Sal, the only solution (she bitched incessantly) was the solution of love.
Now not many men who were looking for a Buddhist bum alcoholic poet who claimed to be on the grassy knoll the day J.F.K. was murdered met Sal’s impeccable specifications, and so in the 35 years she had been on the planet, she had yet to have what some jerk coined a “meaningful relationship”, and this was a very sad fact indeed. More than anything else, she wanted to give up the romance of romance – she was a Buddhist – but she couldn’t give it up until she had it first. That she couldn’t have it until she let go of it, that she couldn’t let go of it until she had it: well, “some kettle of fish” as Sal would say.
And so, when Sal fell in love, for the first time, the only time, to a man she called her soul mate, her twin, her lover, her partner, there was much reason for all to rejoice. And the man she chose, well, everyone could see that he was the genUine article. Though he lived on the streets, he was no down and out bum like his compatriots, all who would have jumped on the first tangent smoking to Jersey, the most likely excuse, the quickest analgesic and the cheapass brand of wine. Unlike them, he was there by choice, by will, by goddamn blood know-how. He wasn’t on the street corner because he was there like the mountains are there and the moon is there; he was a conscious being – a gen-Uine article — and the bums knew it and worshipped him, and the straights knew it and avoided him, and he knew it and celebrated him, and Sal knew it and loved him, and for a while it was fine.
His hair was thick, long, braided in dreadlocks. He had cocoa skin that glistened with sweat, tight taut skin rippling over muscles and limbs that moved with the swiftness of a tiger pouncing in for the kill. From the intense jungle dark of his eyes down to his bare toes that dug in and out and into the pavement, he gave off the vibe of “D0n’t mess with me.” Only his smile was at all approachable. Like a rainbow breaking through thunderstorm, he was a reflection of whatever light surrounded him, He was the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. He had the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He was Sherlock, Ganja King. And he could fly, he could sing, he could tap dance his way out of a wet dream. Shee-it! Don’t talk about Jazz, he was jazz, he was scat, he was fuckin’ poetry in motion. He could soar with the visions and straddle the edge, he could do it all, see it all. “REVOLUTION,” he yelled to an audience that was lost to him. “Revolution is all in your minds.” He’d walk among the weeping winos, doped-up drifters, halfway house welfare wastes, poking them in the ribs, tickling their fading soul, lifting their gutter ridden spirits up to the ground, up to the earth that they lived on. “In your minds you’re losers,” he’d yell, the Billy Graham of hoodoo, “but this ain’t the street man, this is the ever lovin’ motherhumpin’ edge of the gutter itself, you dig?”
Sherlock had great visions for the bums of the world – already in the few weeks he had graced the corner of Ninth Avenue and 29th street with his fine animal presence, he had gotten the brothers comfortable couches to sleep on, a table to play cards on, and a television which plugged into the lightpole along with a fan to draw the cool breezes from the river over their sweat drenched bodies. And he had started a business for the brothers — a car wash. The bums would run a car wash. No sooner did Sherlock conceive it and it was done. He found an abandoned Horse, one of those wooden barricades used by the police for closing streets off, and placed a gigantic cardboard sign saying CARWASH $1.00 on top of it. Then he opened the fire hydrant in front of the light pole and watched approvingly as the water gushed out. Now let it be understood that this hydrant was situated right in front of a stop light, so when the light turned red the cars not only got wet, they got got.
Sherlock convinced Get-away-Eddie to be the main man in charge of collecting the money, because if anyone needed a bath, it was he. He smelled so foul, so rank, he just naturally earned the name Get-away-Eddie, though after the advent of the Carwash no one had to hold their nose when they addressed him as such. And all could see that Get-Away-Eddie’s sense of esteem had risen at least five notches since he had been elevated to the ranks of manager-entrepreneur of such a wholesome establishment. There was now that great missing ingredient, pride, in Get-away-Eddie’s hustle. And with pride, life itself, as the much maligned liberal of the New Deal ilk proselytized, took on a new, more significant meaning.
As an ungrateful middle aged couple from Long Island shrank in their Riviera, water spraying all over their windshield, Get-away-Eddie would leap on the hood ye1ling,’”ou owe me a dollar! Carwash is a dollar!” in his smoothest soft sell.
“Oh no,” they’d silently moan in the car, wincing and twitching, “Oh No, not me — I’m not going to be shook down by some low life bum. This is ridiculous!” But before the light could change and the ungrateful customer could zip back to Mineola, Big H (so named not only for his hemorrhoids but his lack of preparation in closing a deal), Sweet William, Holy Harold (mouthing the sweetest OMMM this side of Siddhartha), Fatman, Loose Lester and Juice would leap up on the hood of the car and join Get-Away-Eddie all screaming and yelling in practiced unison, “Carwash is a dollar! Your dollar or your car!”
A dollar was always handed through the crack in the window, the light changes, and the now grateful customer speeds off vowing never again to shop at Macy’s, never to go to Madison Square Garden, never to drive across 29th street again.
Now Sherlock knew this wasn’t exactly what anyone would call Revolution, but nobody could argue with the fact that when he and his baby brother, Sweet William, arrived on the corner of 29th and Ninth, there was not one soul who was able to do more than piss & moan, puke & cry, and bitch about the hand fate had dealt them in the Great Game Life. And then the Carwash and everything changes as if by Magic, and now the brothers are one in their own mindless scams, but for the first time with a sense of not only pride and humor, but now add guerilla ontology. GUERILLA ONTOLOGY, That was the key.
Sal met Sherlock on a fine half-crazed full moon Saturday night early in September and in the middle of Pisces, when things tend to get fuzzy and people tend to get drunk. She and Alice were returning home from a dinner party at a loft in Soho where 10 very serious people sat around discussing the difference between fate and karma. They sipped white wine and apologized to each other for interrupting, “But didn’t you think that was a fascinating point? If karma,” said one, “is being born a mongoloid, then it would be inconsistent to say fate was responsible for being on a plane that crashed — which means, of course, that if 275 people all karmically deserved to die on a 747 over, let’s say, over Idaho, there is an extremely precise intelligence operating cosmically and . . .”
At this moment, Sal, who had been interrupting with ridiculous comments all evening, ranging from “Your mother’s a duck” to “I see the fnords”, returned from the kitchen holding a coconut cream pie that she had baked for the party, and smashed it in the speaker’s astonished face.
“Sal!” Alice cried out in horror, and leaned over and grabbed his sister’s menacing arm. “Chop-chop, Sally!” she whispered, giving her sister her own signal that it was time to get gone.
But Sal wasn`t ready. She was just starting to warm up and have fun with the turkeys. “Lookit,” she bellowed, and poked her finger at the pie splattered philosopher, “Lookit: was that your karma, my fate, or the pie’s destiny, huh?”
The philosopher drew himself all the way up to his full height and glared at Sal through whipped creamed lashes. “I suppose you think that was funny,” he disdainfully spat.
“It’s been known to get laughs,” said Sal.
“Chop-chop,” Alice repeated in a prayerful whisper.
“It’s not funny,” the philosopher fumed .
“Funny,” Sal says, “I thought it was.”
In the car riding back to west 29th street, Alice broke the stony silence that had engulfed the siblings and began to talk a-mile-a-minute in a high pitched squeaky voice that was on the Jersey side of hysteria. “Oh, Sal, that was so PERfect what you did, I can’t believe it. That was the funniest thing I ever saw in my life. I was saying to myself, ‘oh you can’t do that, you can’t do this’, I was embarrassed, Sal, please forgive me. I don’t know what makes me think I have to be proper and polite like a little munchkin all the time – I suppose I get that from mother — Oh, why can’t I throw pies, Sal? I want to throw pies. I know I can do it. Big specks of chocolate shavings inside his nostrils, HAH! We should go on an adventure, Sal. We’ve never done anything together before. I mean it. I’m serious. I’ll give two weeks notice. What do you think, Sal? What do you think?”
If Sal thought anything, she didn’t show it. She slumped down in the passenger seat and pretended to be passed out sleeping. The moon was full, the fine Spanish brandy she had been hitting all evening was just starting to reveal it’s poetry, and the loose threads in the J.F.K. hit were finally coming into reach. Alice’s jag, with which Sal was all too familiar, would have to run its course without Sal as an audience.
“I know you can hear me, Sal. You can’t fool me. You think you’re so cool, but let me tell you something . . .” Half the time her baby sister romanticized her, half the time she attacked her. Sal couldn’t tell which was worse. “I’m not as square as you think, Sal. And I would offer a lot to our adventure, ’cause believe me, there are things that I know which you don’t have any idea of.”
“Ya-Ya,” Sal muttered, “you’re tops in my book, Toots. How ’bout when we get home I tuck you into dreamland and walk your Blooper?”
This seemed to pacify Alice, because she smiled at Sal tenderly. “You’re a cutie-pie, Sal. I’m sorry I got so emotional. Do you think it’s got anything to do with the moon?”
Full moons, it’s been said, are for lovers and madmen, and Sal and Sherlock were among the latter stalking the former, when, because of a dog gone gonzo, their paths happened to cross. As soon as Sal and Blooper got outside for their nightly stroll the dog started baying at the moon and running in circles. “Sing it, Shep,” howled Sal, momentarily forgetting the pooch’s name. That was when the dog broke loose from I her and tore down the street. Sal chased ` after him, but couldn’t catch him. He had gone down to the corner of the block and was howling at the sleeping bros by the Carwash.
“Aw, man, let sleeping dogs lie,” Sal muttered as she walked among the somnificent bums after the dog. An old Charlie Chan movie was on the Late Late Show, and Sal started talking to Blooper like he was Number One Son, until she could get close enough to collar him. That done, she stepped over a black man passed out on the sidewalk. His hair was encrusted with vomit and matted: Sal stood there and stared at his head and muttered with a mixture of fascination and disgust, “that’s the worst case of mange I ever saw.”
“Don’t be fooled by his permanent,” said a voice behind her, and Sal turned around and was momentarily blinded by the smile illuminating out of the mist of the overhead street light. “We’re gonna enter him in the Kennel Show at the Garden next week. He may not look it, but that boy’s a blue ribbon underdog.” The man gently took Blooper’s leash from out of Sal’s hand and tied the dog to the lightpole.
Sal was transfixed. She couldn’t get over it. Bathed in sparkling white light was the man she had dreamt of. She felt an electric shock jolt her being. Her adrenalin raced. Her heart stood up for a solo; like Rassan Roland Kirk, music poured out of every orifice in her body; ba-da-doop, ba-da-doop, quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow (so slow, for a moment there she thought her heart had stopped until she heard what sounded like her voice, from a very far distance, saying) “Who’s we? You got a mouse in your pocket, or what?”
“We,” said Sherlock, “the people of the streets, the poets of the pavement, bearers of the torch of jazz anima, high flying, low living, right on, freedom loving, true speaking disciples of light. And you, my pounding vision, the Queen of Eros, I presume?” He dropped to one knee and bowed in front of her like one of those knights of Camelot Sal had given up dreaming about.
For the first time in a Midas’s age Sal’s tongue was like the fallen tree in the forest that no one had heard. She was speechless. The heat in her body rose up to her neck and filled her cheeks like an inside straight, and though as everyone knows, Sal was not the type to pass up good conversation, words were as unnecessary in this conversation as pictures are at a convention of the blind. They knew everything that was in each other’s minds, and they bopped and twisted and hot licked each other’s souls with their eyes as percussion, ba-da-doop, ba-da-doop, ba-da-doop, ba-da-doop. . .And when they were naked, Sherlock buried his head in the Mother womb of her soul, and then rose slowly to his feet as she gently pulled and caressed the reins of his dreadlock up to her lush swinging melons, and he was as happy as a baby on a good tit, sucking and licking the dark black grapes of Sal’s vineyard until he knew the difference between the cheap ass brand of wine and that heady stuff, known to the Gods as nectar. FULL MOON! FULL MOON!
The cheeks of Sal’s wondrous rump spread out on the hood of none other than her own baby sister’s baby blue Toyota, and her legs spread wide, reaching up to let the man in the moon pedicure her tootsies with creamcheese kisses from Heaven, as Lancelot plunged his mighty sword into the deep ever lovin’ hole of time. And time did not stand still one moment: No, it rocked and it rolled, and somewhere deep in the heart of Texas gushers went off, A-rabs bought and sold, profits quadrupled, taxes froze, little old ladies from Waukegan woke up in the middle of the night touched by the memories of long gone Johns and shivered in the knowledge ! that one moment is endless in time; quark begets quark, memory begets memory, Sal begets Sherlock, Sherlock begets Sal, you beget me, I beget you. . .EUREKA! It could go on forever!
But nothing is forever. Already the sun is up and peeking through a dark cloud as it climbs over the Empire State Building, and a drizzle, really more like a mist, begins cleaning the crud from the still sleeping City of 8 million stories; and OH YES, this was one of them. At least one of them.
They were locked together, yin and yang, man and woman, one lump of God’s very own clay. Tantric mythology still in the process of creating- up and down, up and down, in and out, in and out, they were on Automatic Love, living the dreamless sleep of the innocent, the waking dreams of the searcher, and everything was everything, and the rain fell, the rain fell. . .
Get-Away-Eddie would later swear that it was at the exact moment the gyrating couple screamed EUREKA that the cab appeared out of the mist and sideswiped baby Alice’s baby blue Toyota with Sherlock and Sal still going a mile a minute on the hood. It was due to Get-Away-Eddie’s quick thinking (”Whiplash! Whiplash! Get the numbers, boys!”) that the bros responded; they dropped the snickering and catcalls (”Go get ‘em`Sherlock!” “Look at that bush!” “He’s fuckin’ her brains out!”) that had marked their uninspired performance as audience, and leaped into action. “Whiplash Case! Jump him, Jack!”
Five screaming jive ass Jehovahs leaped on the case and tore after the cabbie, who hadn’t bothered to acknowledge either the sideswipe or the red light on the corner. Yelling outloud the numbers of the license plate and the cab’s medallion, screaming curses like “You motherhumpin’ honky,” they followed the cab a little down Nine Avenue, until it picked up speed crossing 28th Street and was lost from sight.
As Get-Away-Eddie, Big H, Holy Harold, Fatman, Loose Lester and Juice ambled back to the corner of 29th, telling and retelling what they had witnessed, Sweet William walked two steps behind them, thinking and putting together the scam. “Listen up, boys,” he called to them, but they were all lost in the agreement that Sherlock’s cock should sue for whiplash. “YO, bros!” he hollered, “I’m talkin’ business here, I’m talkin’ BIG business.”
Holy Harold turns around and smiles beatifically. “I want to thank you for sharing that thought with me, William.”
A scowl darkens Sweet William’s face as the others turn around to listen. “I’m talkin’ BIG business, and I don’t want you chumps to cross me. Ya see, what we’re gonna do with this information is sell it. Whoever owns that shitassed Toyota will pay pretty numbers for this information, and I’m not talkin’ two-bit, I’m talkin’ serious cabbage. We’ll fuck ‘em where they breathe.”
Sweet William, the baby brother of Sherlock, was considered a skunk by many in the know, but this was overlooked because his brother was so highly respected and vouched for his character, and because hardly anyone could believe that one with such a sweet face could be so vile. It was true the boy was beautifully cherubic; an angel in lizard skin pants with a habit picked up in Nam. His hero was Judas Iscariot, his ambition was to be the baddest pimp in Manhattan, his motto was “Fuck ‘em where they breathe,” and his scotch was DEWARS WHITE LABEL.
So he obviously didn’t take it too well when he got back to the car and relayed his plans to his older brother, and Sherlock said to him, “uhuh, bro, this is my woman’s baby sister’s car.”
“What chu mean, YOUR WOMAN?” Sweet William countered. “You ain’t never seen her white ass before last night, brother. You crazy? You lettin’ a slab of gash go to y’head,” the sweet one laughed derisively,
Sherlock’s whole demeanor changed instantly. Whereas before, with his arm nestled around the cooking Sal, he looked like a contented lion, now, at the inference that he was pussy-whipped, at the insult to Sal, he sprung out at Sweet William and bounced him off the car. William whipped out a knife, long cold blue steel waving in front of his glazed eyes, as the bros moved back and formed a silent circle around the seething brothers. The air was so tense, and the bros so surprised to see flesh and blood stalking each other, that no one remembered to get down on the odds.
“Would I take out my own blood,” Sweet William cackled as he slashed the air in front of him. “Would I take out my own righteous big mouthed bro? He lunged towards Sherlock, and faster than the eye could see, Sherlock’s leg came from out of nowhere, like a one legged matador dodging the bull, he kicked Sweet William in the back of the head, then chopped down on his baby brother’s wrist, and drove his other fist into his stomach. Almost before the knife hit the pavement, Sherlock had Sweet William spread out on the ground, shaking a fist in his face.
“YOU BEEN ON ANGEL DUST AGAIN, WILLIE?”`
“No-No,” Sweet William whined.
“YOU LIE! You LIE!”
Just as Sherlock started to pound the family crest into his baby brother, Sal grabbed his arm and said, “hey lookit, he is a snake and I am a pacifist, and this is just a cheap scam. But I can see that business is business – this bum is just looking to make an immoral buck. So what’s so unusual about that? I’ll talk to my sister Alice about being the chump in this deal, and everybody, will live happily ever after.”
Everyone stared at Sally. Sherlock unclenched his fist. Fatman shook his head in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. It was not every day that the bros heard such a sporting gesture from anyone, let alone a woman.
“Thank you for sharing that thought with us,” said Holy Harold as he stepped out of the crowd and bowed to Sal.
Juice started slobbering, “I for one cannot sell anything to such a straight ahead forward broad. You,” he said to Sally, “are not just a broad, you are a fine lady, and you definitely know the score.”
“Indeed,” said Sal. And the bros cheered. As if one, they began celebrating the inclusion of Sally Detroit into their low rent beings. That is, all except Sweet William. He glared first at Sherlock, then at Sal, then at the excited bros swarming around the loving twosome, and without saying another word, picked himself up off the pavement, and slithered off towards Eighth Avenue, with his tail between his legs.
“You win him in the lottery?” Sal turned to Sherlock and asked.
Sherlock shook his head in resignation, then grinned rows and rows of great white teeth at Sally. He flashed his eyes around at the bros, and as if by magic, they all, one by one, filed past Sally, turning and mumbling as if they were verbally bowing to Royalty, Nice to meet ya, yer Highness.
And so it was that Sally Detroit was accepted into The Brotherhood of both the lowest and the highest common denominator known to both man and beast. She stood there next to her soul mate. The corner was empty except for the lovers. Without saying a word they kissed each other long and hard. Then they broke apart, Sal walking to Alice’s with the dog, and Sherlock heading west to the river, and another long hot day had begun. `
For a few glorious weeks, love was all Sal could have wished for. Hand in hand walking under the lights of Broadway, the handsome young couple argued conspiracy, talked revolution, sang evolution, and drank the sweet essence of love and wine.
Alice couldn’t believe the change in her sister. All her old energy was back, but now there was something more, something Alice had never seen before: Sal’s usually gruff demeanor was replaced by a gawky girlish coquettery that was strangely discordant with her vocabulary. “He’s no mutt, mon,” seemed to Alice genuinely funny when accompanied with the batting of lashes and a blush to the cheeks. And so despite her reservations about Sherlock hanging out in her apartment all the time, Alice was so grateful for the return of Sal’s spirits, she let her doubts pass and became vicariously involved in the sweet smell of romance filling her apartment.
As for Sal, when Sherlock was not around, she took long clove scented baths, washing her hair with fresh herbs and spices. She bought sequins and carefully strung them together to make glittering panties, and then danced around the room with nothing but these panties on while Bob Marley and the Wailers blared KINKY REGGAE out of the speakers, and a fat joint of ganja dangled from her overripe lips. Queen of Eros was the best role she had ever been handed. “The role I was made for, the role I was meant to play in Paradise,” Sal proclaimed proudly. And Alice, seeing her sister genuinely happy for the first time, had to agree. But still, something was wrong.
Was there trouble in Paradise. Ah-ha yes, brothers and sisters, Trouble was this Paradise’s middle name. For it seems that this tale is shaping up to be a story overbooked with siblings, not only siblings, but siblings doing business, and as everyone knows, money and family and true love seldom mix.
For no stupider move was there than the promise of cash made by baby Alice to Sweet William, though at the time that she said, “l’ll give you some money when I collect from the insurance company,” everyone thought it was a very generous above board deal. “I know I don’t have to,” Alice graciously told him, “but considering the circumstances, your brother and my sister, and considering the fact that if it weren’t for you and your friends’ quick thinking there would be no insurance claim, I’d like to give you . . .” Her voice trailed off. What should she give him? A hundred? No. seventy five? Forget it! Flashing her most ingratiating smile, her middle management training came to the foreground, “I’d like to give you 50 dollars.”
“Make it half the whole pot,” the angel in lizard skin oozed.
All of a sudden Alice started to feel an utter distaste for not only Sweet William, but for Sherlock, and all the bums on the corner. “Forget the whole thing!” Alice hears herself scream at him. “You’re not doing me any favors, William. You’ve got it backwards. I got the license and medallion from your brother. I was only going to give you money to be nice.”
It was the absolute wrong thing to say. Sweet William grabbed her wrist and pulled her to him. “Is that so, Mama? Well, I tell you what, seein’ as you bein’ nice to me, I be nice to you too. I’ll shove my big black honker up you until you be beggin’ me never to stop fuckin’ you ever. Jus’ like you’ sister did. And you be moanin’n’moanin’ Oh William, Oh, sweet William, fuck me where I breathe, fuck me where I breathe . . .”
One of the things that Sally didn’t know about Alice was that the girl had been working for three years towards a black belt in karate. Of course, Alice had never planned to use what she knew except in an emergency and Sweet William qualified as just such an emergency. Alice kicked the lizard in the nuts, and when he doubled over, hit him with a punch to the nose. Blood squirted every-which-way as William screamed and rolled over on the ground. Without looking back, Alice ran for her apartment. Disgusting prick, he put his hands on her, that fucking asshole street bum junky creep . . .
As you can see, not a simple love story at all.
But then what love story is simple these days? Not with Shakespeare, the Soaps, movie stars in Hollywood, not with sappy paperbacks of the genre, or even with a boy and his dog. Because love, as everyone knows, doesn’t live in a vacuum, or in vitriol, or on a pedestal, love gets down and dirty with need and greed, expectations and fantasy. Love has a way of mixing in with the laundry, and more things than dirt come out with the wash. Love is part of life and life takes vision, and when four people have conflicting visions, well, as Sherlock says, “WATCH OUT.”
Sal’s vision, for example, took under consideration the possibility that the world would either end or it would get cold and they would freeze their asses off outside on the street. To her way of thinking, it would be none too soon to head south to Hialeah for the season, parlay the ponies and do some long overdue legwork with Raoul in the Cuban community on the J.F.K. conspiracy hit. Naturally she planned on taking Sherlock and Alice, and if not Alice then Alice’s baby blue car.
To Sherlock, Sal’s plan seemed like a counter-revolutionary pipe dream. A masturbatory exercise in jerking off the past while the present turned flaccid. Sal did not take kindly to this opinion. She had spent too many years on the run, too many years looking over her shoulder that now to be told that the crick in her neck was no more than a paranoid delusion that gave her the impression she was FREE when she wasn’t FREE, anymore than the birds in the sky heading south for the winter were FREE to change their path, was an insult. She was conning herself, Sherlock said, conning herself into believing she was a full fledged partner of the wind, when in fact,what she was was a ship without a course, a battle without a plan, one of those quantum leapers who advocated the pursuit I of free will, but were so eaten up in their commitment they couldn’t see that the only thing they were committed to was “not to making a commitment.” Sherlock took a deep breath. “What you got to say about that?”
Well, what could she say? These very same thoughts had crossed her mind on more than one occasion, but they had passed so quickly she had never really taken them seriously. She was always too busy being chased by assassins, or chasing down assassins, or avoiding the Warren Commission, or avoiding agencies of the U.S. Government she was certain would be hazardous to her health. She was always too busy hanging out where the loose lips show off their legerdemain, too busy searching for the answers to her questions to ever consider what she would do with these answers if she ever got them. What Sherlock was saying was true; she had no plan. And Sherlock did.
Dig it: In Sherlock’s forays out and about the great streets of Manhattan, he sensed that his rep was now proceeding him, and his time, The Time, was now ripe to put into action one great mass movement to devalue the dollar and restructure the coin of the realm. Restructure it in a way that would benefit all the citizens, not just the chosen few who have it handed to them on a silver platter and not just for those who are willing to sell themselves for it, kill for it, cheat for it, lie for it, live for it, and eventually die for it like a starving mule blindly lumbering after an unreachable carrot on the end of a stick tied to the top of their head.
“Your dead Kennedy,” Sherlock said, “be another carrot on the stick. Ideal bait for the idealistic mullet to get hooked on. That whole hit was nothing but a diversion for the masses, a diversion so they wouldn’t notice that they had lost their country. ”Politics is economics!” he roared. “What you tell me you saw in Dallas only confirms what I say. Your dead President got caught in the middle of a power play. Fat cats out to get fatter, an’ it don’t matter which side win, because we here out on the street, we Lose!”
Sherlock had a vision: he saw, as a first step, hundreds and hundreds, (could there be thousands) of bag ladies and bums changing the petty cash that was there for the begging into brand new crisp 10 dollar bills, Then, with the finest enactment of Guerilla Ontology heretofore dreamt of these self made bums and bumettes would line Fifth Avenue (from 59th Street to 42nd) the whole week preceding Christmas, and hand out 10 dollar bills to those beings who, as Sherlock said, “looked like they were made of cash.” He envisioned Juice, Lester, Fatman, Big H, Holy Harold, Get-Away-Eddie and countless others mouthmg “I Believe You Need This More Than I Do,” to the astonished self proclaimed aristocracy. “It blow their minds,”Sherlock pronounced. “And once their minds be blown, we move into Step 2 without resistance.”
“Naw, naw, my love,” said Sal. “I hate to be the one to rain on your parade, but my experience tells me you will be disappointed. A bum is a bum is a bum, and what point for these bums to blow their Tokay and freeze their kazoos off to teach the rich a lesson that they will ultimately drop on their servants as a show of their beneficence on the day of baby Jesus birth? It is like the field niggers supporting the house niggers while The Boss cops all the kudos. Where, my love, is the percentage in this proposition? I for one cannot see it. Bums get along better with warm sea breezes and fast horses, with sporting propositions which promise to overcome the dissident cognizance in their brain pans and perpetuate a jingle in their pockets. Bums do not need to hear the muse’s bells tolling while they pour ketchup on their socks and dream of fillet de boeuf in truffle sauce: that is counterrevolutionary! I for one am more able to be noble where the weather is warmer and there is a fish on the line. It may be rice and beans to you but I cannot concentrate on this work of living unless bottom line survival is covered first. And though I am by no means demanding a lock in this world, when the temperature dips below 39 degrees as it did last night, the odds dictate that if I do not follow my own instincts I will be bellying up to sucker, with you, my dear booster, left as the vortex of my blame. And I cannot, in all conscience, blame you for anything other than loving me.”
On this note they kissed. Fell into each other’s arms and had mad passionate love in the middle of Alice’s livingroom floor. But at the conclusion there were no cooing love birds. Only two plaintive souls taking each other’s measure as time slipped away. Sal lit up a thin black Sherman as she slipped into her kimono. Looking over at her toothpick-dangling mate changing into his coveralls, she realized that they had reached an impasse. She did not want to stay and he did not want to go. And unless she wanted to risk another “Thrilla in Manila” before baby Alice returned home from her middle management miasma, the decision, for now, would have to be considered a draw.
Two nights earlier, Alice, quite understandably, had come to the end of her rope and had declared the apartment HER apartment, to be shared with no being other than Blooper. Enough was enough! Alice had no sympathy left for the situation she was mired in. It was bad enough that the Insurance company had blatantly ignored all five of her letters, but now the baby blue Toyota was starting to rust where its fender had been side- swiped, and if that wasn’t enough, her carburetor was kaPut and needed to be rebuilt. These things she could live with, but she could not deal with Sherlock dealing ganja out of her spare bedroom, and she could not live with all of Sally’s loud drunk late night long distance phone calls to Raoul in Miami. But most of all, she could not live with Sherlock’s punk angel dusted brother threateningly strutting back and forth 29th street in front of her apartment both night and day. The lizard had sworn revenge, and while ordinarily one would think Sherlock could exert influence over Sweet William. This was no longer the case. The Ganja King was not only in the midst of executing his “coin of the realm” scam on Fifth Avenue, he was in love. And love, as thick and wonderful as it is, tends to obscure the baser realities of the jungle.
In was on a cold clear day in November when Pluto and Mars were conjunct in the pre-Thanksgiving heavens, that the shit, as they say, hit the proverbial fan. Spurred on by a growing sense of being victimized, fed by the paranoid thoughts that he was being laughed at, and triggered by the need for fresh green to feed his growing freebase jones, Sweet William woke up on this fine crisp November day and tasted not turkey, but the sweet taste of revenge. Sporting brand new glittering pimp skin threads that blatantly, like a neon sign, advertized, I have not only scored, but sold the devil my soul, not only once, but twice, and had my soul returned as nonexistent as when I sold it. You all be chumps and I be in the know; this is a brand new ballgame- and I be calling the shots, Sweet William arrived at the entrance to Alice’s brownstone. He flew up the stairs to what he believed to be her apartment, but somewhere along the way he made a mistake and instead of stopping at the second floor, went up to the third, and arrived at the domicile of Gibby and Fawn Lipschitz and their two children, Bunny and Chip. Naturally, since Gibby was off doing whatever it is that advertising executives do with their down time, and Fawn was well into her own career as an editor at Cosmo, there was no one home to tell Sweet William of his error. Had he stopped one flight lower, at the right apartment, he would’ve been surprised by baby Alice, who was off for the day, lying in bed trying to cure a bad case of the middle management lifecrisis blahs with the Collected Stories Of Franz Kafka. As it was, he easily picked the lock of the Lipschitz’s apartment, and then waltzed in to pillage and rob. Anything of value that would fit in his knapsack was grabbed immediately, and let it be noted, of this there was plenty. Anything that looked like it might have sentimental value, bric-a-brac, objects d’art, pictures in frames resting atop the mantle – were quickly given the old forearm smash. Any other bum might have noticed that the two red-haired buck-teethed younger Lipschitz’s in the obligatory family portrait bore no resemblance whatsoever to Alice or Sally, but Sweet William was not just any other bum. He was higher than the World Trade Center and not nearly as safe.
Downstairs, baby Alice, half sleeping, half thinking she is a cockroach, hears a loud crash from above her as William turns over the Lipschitz`s priceless porcelain miniature tea collection, but Alice thinks it is only Bunny and Chip whiling away a Saturday playing Ringalevio off Fawn Lipschitz’ new dining room table.
As fate will have it, at the exact moment of the teacups demise, the Ganja King himself steps out the door of Bobby Gleason`s gym not two blocks away and bumps smack into Fatman and Loose Lester. After numerous where have you beens and questions concerning the coin of the realm scam, Loose Lester remarks that Sweet William, flying high, is boasting revenge and last sited heading towards Alice’s apartment. In no more time than it takes to relay the message from the right to the left side of the brain, the high cat of scat has his fast feet moving down Eight Avenue and across 29th street, determined to put a stop to these shenanigans once and for all.
Sherlock bounds up the steps two at a time, until standing in front of Alice’s silent door he takes into his computer the noise coming from above and ascertains his brothers mistake.
Slowly, one step at a time up the staircase, he hisses, “Willie. I’m comin for ya, Willie. You fucked up again, bro you not even in the right place. You in the wrong place at the wrong time but I’m gonna make it right for you.”
William, as an answer, hides in the entrance foyer with a glass framed print of a Matisse still life, and when Sherlock steps gingerly into the Lipschitz apartment, bangs it over his head. CRANK! The Ganja King goes down for the count as the lizard glides out the fire escape and makes his get away while Sherlock is left on the floor moaning in tongues.
Is there any intelligence behind luck, or is luck (and the lack of it) the incalculable random factor in the universe? Sherlock doesn’t know and was not even thinking about the answer to this question as he stands up and gazes around at the mess he is in, then staggers out the door and into the hall.
“Oh, my God,” groans Alice in disbelief as she looks up the stairs at Sherlock.
But before she can say another word, Fawn Lipschitz, with Bunny and Chip in hand, comes up the stairs behind her and starts screaming, “AAHHH! Thief!” And then Bunny yells, “Thief-thief”, and little Chipper starts howling like a Junior G man, “Stop thief, stop in the name of Love!” and Sherlock, being nobody’s but his own fool, sees that this is not the time for explanations, and takes it on the lam, up the stairs to the roof, so he can find Sweet William before the cops come down on him and throw him in the slam, l
And so it is that when Sal comes home later that evening, after getting plastered and losing her last bit of scratch on the ponies to Benny the Bookie at the corner newsstand, she encounters two very shady looking men in beige trench coats pacing the living room and talking to Alice in low serious tones.
She does a bleary eyed double take, then quick as a whip smells a rat and turns around and heads back to the door.
“Sally, wait, don’t leave,” Alice says, taking her by the arm and leading her over to the couch where she introduces Lieutenant Max Fatbach and Sargeant Wayne Wanger to the astonished Sal,
“We’d like to ask you a few questions, Miss Detroit,” Fatbach deadpans,
“Like what?” Sal suspiciously growls. “Who killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy? Don’t ask me, I know nothing!”
“Miss Detroit,” Wanger laughs, “you don’t understand.”
“Right,” snarls Sal. “I don’t understand. Lookit,” she points her finger at Wanger’s nose. “I told everything I know to Mark Lane. If you wanna know what I know talk to Mark Lane. I don’t talk to Feds.” She whirls on Fatbach. “What are you, C.I.A., F.B.I., or D.D.T.?” barks.
Opening his trench coat, Fatbach tells her proudly, “Detectives, 10th Precinct, N.Y.P.D.”
“HA! Sal roars. “With a man such as our dear departed Jackie-boy you would think they would send me men of superior rank. Even Raoul gets Captains. You would think they care enough not to send me flunkies, but do they care? Do they care?”
It is at this point that Lt. Fatbach whips out his little black notebook and starts looking mighty interested in what this drunk has to say. Alice, realizing Sal does not know what she is talking about, puts the collar on her big sister and leads her out of the room, and back to the kitchen where she trys to pry open Sal’s mind with a cup of strong black tip of the Andes gold. But it takes more than one cup of the thick black brew to connect, for Sal is well into her cups over a nag named Lazy Lady who laid down on her at 8-1, with a four length lead in the stretch. It is at the bottom of the third bitter cup of coffee before she understands the gravity of the situation, and then she turns all her rage on Alice.
“You rat! You skunk! I cannot believe my own sister turns in my own lover on a bum rap that he should not take!”
“But Sal–” . “You are worse than dirt to me. You are lower than Sweet William.” Sal picks up a loaf of hard Italian bread off the counter and moves threateningly towards her sister. “I will make you the aborttion that mother intended,” Suddenly Sal stops. Stares at the bread. Then at her sister. Sal drops the bread to the floor and begins to cry.
“The Lipschitz saw him and they knew I saw him too, so I couldn’t lie, Sally. I wouldn’t be talking if I didn’t have to, but there’s thousands of dollars worth of damage upstairs, not to mention what’s been stolen. Don’t you understand, little Bunny and Chipper are in
shock. It was terrible, Sal . . .” Tears start to run down Alice’s pink fleshy cheeks. “I can’t believe Sherlock is guilty any more than you can, but he was there,” Alice cries.
The tears from her sister somewhat sober Nathan and Adelaide’s eldest and she staggers over to Alice and hugs her. “Please say you understand,” Alice begs her.
But Sal can only squeeze her sister harder and mumble, “fine kettle of fish, a fine kettle of fish this is . . .”
Presently, the two sisters get their act together well enough to return to their gentlemen callers, and it is at this point that Sally Detroit summons up all of the eloquence that runs in her bloodstream and pleads for the innocence of her beloved. In passionate verbiage she talks about the fine sterling character of the missing suspect and assures Wanger and Fatbach that there has been a mistake.
“I hope you’re right,” Sargeant Wanger smiles kindly. lf your friend is innocent tell him to come down to the station and tell his side of the story. We’re not the bad guys, Ma’am, we’re just trying to get to the truth.”
“Before you get carried away with your friend’s innocence,” Fatbach interrupts, “I think you should know that we’ve been watching those guys for a while and though we haven’t got the goods to make our case stick in court, we’re certain that all the crime in this neighborhood can be attributed to them.”
Wanger shrugs at his partner’s words. “You have to understand our frustration, Ma’ams. It’s impossible to get a conviction these days with the liberals on the courts and the overcrowded jails. You nab somebody for robbery and they’re back out on the street in a matter of hours committing more crimes.”
Fatbach scowled. “lf you want my opinion, and this is off the record, the only way to stop crime in this neighborhood is for the people who live around here to burn down that halfway house.”
At this remark Sal looses her cool and slams her fist down on the coffee table. “A cop is a cop is a cop,” she growls.
“If there were no criminals you would be out of a job and would have to go into the only business you know — which is crime — on your own.” She stands up. “Do not feed me any more of your vigilante logic, Lieutenant Fathead. I for one have heard enough!” She picks up her coat, struts to the door, and stalks out into the cold dark night.
When she is gone all feel somewhat embarrassed, and Wayne Wanger, who has been thinking what a nice, sweet, shapely girl Alice is, thinks that Fatbach has taken the “good cop-bad cop” routine too far once again. But there is nothing to do except to stay in type and try to smooth things over. “Perhaps,” he allows, “there has been some mistake? Could there be anyone in the vicinity who looks like the suspect?”
“Oh, yes,” Alice brightens. And she proceeds to tell the detectives about Sweet William, about the car crash, and how he has been threatening to get even, believing her to be in Fat City at the expense of his labors. “But,” she adds somewhat mournfully. “I know what he looks like and it wasn’t him.”
They are back at square one, and no one can come up with a new angle, so the detectives decide that it is time to depart for other witnesses. Fatbach is all business, mumbling that they will catch this one. In his head three witnesses is a definite conviction, he says to Alice, and he will expect her to finger the culprit when he is caught.
Wanger, as usual, is a little more humane; at the door he suggests Alice try taking the cab company to small claims court, and then hands her his card and tells her to keep in touch.
When they are gone Alice feels a strange sensation growing inside of her, but she cannot pinpoint what it is. She has never before, felt simultaneously both so bad and so good.
If one were to describe the next three weeks of Sally Detroit’s life in one word, that word would be anxiety. Somehow she sensed that the love of her l life was gone like sand slipping through the fingers of time. And though Fatman, Juice and Loose Lester passed her numerous notes assuring her that Sherlock had not flown the coop, but was hot on the trail of Sweet William, Sal had spent too many years living by the dictum, “Nothing is alright and there’s not a thing to worry about”, to believe in the permanence of anything, least of all, love.
For instance: take the case of Alice Detroit and Wayne Hanger. Now there was a combo that not even Sal had counted on. It was too much to fathom that her sister had fallen in love with a cop.
“I do believe Wayne Wanger may be Mr. Right,” Alice beamed.
Sal was in shock. She could not believe what she was hearing. One week before their case was to be heard in small claims court she learns that Alice has blabbed everything to Wayne Wanger. To a cop. “Do you not realize that this copper will double-cross you. He will swoop down and bust Sherlock when he shows up to testify in your behalf!”
“He will not!” Alice defiantly stated. “Wayne is a man of honor and I won’t hear you slamming him.” `
It is at this point that loud screaming and arguing explodes in the once peaceful abode of Alice Detroit. The straw has finally busted the camel’s hump, and the finger pointing sisters have been forced into playing that old-old game of who owes what to who over what, and there is no winner in sight.
It is true that Sally killed all of Alice’s spiders so she could sleep without fear of getting trapped in her dreams and it is true that when Daddy-Nathan was doing 5-10 in Atlanta for deeds that are best left unmentioned, Sally was there, cake in hand, representing the family on visiting day. But it is also true that when Mommy Adelaide came down with the grippe, it was baby Alice who stood by the bed for three years, and it was Alice who took care of the funeral arrangements, and it was Alice who put the little white clapboard house in Rhinebeck up for sale, although it was Sally who came back and upped the price by having the house declared an historical monument. And when the scratch was all gone it was Sally who satisfied baby Alice’s itch by paying off her last two years of Mount Holyoke College. Not that anyone could deny that it was Alice who encouraged Daddy-Nathan to take up sculpting as rehabilitation, but it is a known fact that if Sally hadn’t taken his entire life’s work of 200 ceramic woodpeckers, had them stamped MADE IN JAPAN, then shipped them to her friend Serbu in Morocco, who stuffed them with hashish, and shipped them back to the States just in time to cover the dirge, Nathan Detroit would have been a nameless slab of meat doing the deep six shuffle all by his lonesome in Potters Field.
“Well,” Alice pouted, “if it hadn’t been for me Mommy and Daddy would have-”
“Enough!” Sally exploded. “The past is the past and this is the present and you are a stool1ie!”
“I am not,” Alice squeaked.
“We will leave it up to him to decide,” Sal said, then spread her arms wide, looked up to the ceiling and bellowed, “NATHAN. NATHAN DETROIT. It is your daughter Sally here. It seems we have a bit of a problem.”
“Oh, please,” Alice interrupted. “You aren’t gonna start talking to Daddy again. You promised me, Sal, you said, ‘no more spirits’!”
“NATHAN DETROIT! Lookit,” Sal instructed the ceiling, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to do, I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, NATHAN, but this cuts it. She has fallen for a cop and turned stoolie, she has–”
“I’ve done nothing of the sort!” Alice barked up at the ceiling, then shook her head at the realization that Sal was drawing her into Good Old Reliable BS again. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME AGAIN!” she yelled at Sally. “I’m not going to talk to spirits.” She picked up her coat, put it on and slung her pocketbook over her shoulder. “And I’ll tell you something else, Sally, if I were going to talk to spirits, I wouldn’t talk to him!” With that, Alice Detroit looked up at the ceiling and hissed, “I’ve got a date and YOU can’t stop me!” She walked to the door, opened it, turned back to Sal and stuck out her tongue, then slammed the door behind her.
Sal stared up at the ceiling on disbelief. “WHAT? WHAT? DID YOU SAY SOMETHING, NATHAN?” For a moment there was silence, then Sal slowly repeated the words she heard in her head: NEVER SAY NEVER in the 5th.”
In the three days before the court case Sal looked both high and low for any of the brothers who could relay a message to Sherlock, but she could find no one. Not Fatman, or Lester, or Get-Away-Eddie, or Juice, or Big H, or even Holy Harold, who had become a Hari Krishna when winter came on and regularly worked Penn Station. At Gleason’s gym the results were the same, though she met a man named Zev who offered to take her to “Fanta Se” for Christmas dinner. At the corner newsstand, Bennie the Bookie reminded her that she was into him for 50 smackers, but in the spirit of the holidays, told her he would let it ride in the Skylab pool, if she would pick a spot, then invited her to have lunch with him at Toots Shore’s. This was an offer that warmed Sal’s heart, but her compass was kerPLOTZ, and even if hadn’t been, at the moment, she had no time for such offers; she had to save Sherlock. So, with less than a sawbuck to her name, Sally Detroit, a hoofer’s hoofer if there ever was one, trudged gallantly through the north wind to the east side, and then up Fifth Avenue looking for bums to pass the word to her man.
But no bums on Fifth, no familiar faces, though once she thought she recognized Truman Capote, and another time she was sure she saw the ex-widow of her beloved Jack Kennedy. This vision she concluded, was an hallucination. Three days of canvassing Fifth Avenue had proved to her that all her visions were hallucinations. It was at this point that Sal gave up. She had one dollar and one subway token, a token she would have to use to meet Alice downtown at 6:30 for the court case, a token she would use to end her hallucination of eternal love.
She took the dollar out of her coat pocket, pulled up her collar and listened to her teeth chatter in the wind as she bought a dog with the works from the Sabrett man on the corner of 59th. She needed nourishment to go on. There was no faith left, no hope.
Without waiting for her change, Sal lunged into the frank, letting the mustard, kraut and onions take over her senses. It was at this point the peddler dropped two dimes, a nickel and one big fat l0 dollar bill into her hand.
“What?” Sal gawked.
“Change,” the Sabrett man winked. “You need this more than me.”
“You need this more than me,” the man repeated.
“Where is he? Where’s Sherlock?” Sal demanded. “You’ve got to get a message to Sherlock. Tell him to stay away from court. It’s a trap!”
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, lady.”
Out of frustration Sal grabbed the peddler by the collar and started shaking him. “Lookit, you bum, tell your boss – the one who instructed you to give these away” – she waved the 10 in the man’s face – “tell him court is a trap!”
Just then, just as the peddler began to defend himself, the long arm of the law appeared and came down on Sal’s shoulder.
“And what have we here?” asked a beet-faced Irish cop. “A mugger, perhaps?”
“She’s crazy – she’s crazy!” the peddler screamed. “She keeps talk–” ,
“Hey, lookit,” Sal interrupted before the Sabrett man could blow the whistle.
“I give this bum a 20 for a dog,” she waved the 10 in the officer’s face, “and this is what he gives me back, Clancy.”
“She lies!” the outraged vendor yells.
“Do you want to press charges?” the cop asks.
“No-no,” Sal mugs. “It is Christmas.”
She turns to the Sabrett man before he can protest and says, “keep the change. For you and your boss, from Sally Detroit. You need this more than me.” Then without another word she whirls away from the cop and steps into one of the empty hansom carriages that line Central Park. “Once around the Park, James,” she instructs the driver, and goes galloping across 59th street.
Meanwhile, back at middle management, Alice stares blankly at the reports sitting on her desk, as her mind, like an instant replay on Monday night football, reviews the testimony, that she, with the help of Wayne Wanger, has prepared and rehearsed. For the past few weeks she has been floating on Valiums and living in Q a fantasy of a Catskill vacation with this very same Wanger, paid for with the 950 dollars she is suing for and expects to collect.
But on this day, with the trial a scant few hours in front of her and her Valiums gone, doubt and anxiety have punctured her mood and stained her pink crepe blouse with sweat. All of a sudden it occurs to her that the cabbie might not be the “white haired honky with ruddy cheeks pushing 50” that the bums described. The cabbie might be young, black or even female. And then where would she be? In jail for perjury? Broke and humiliated and certainly dumped by Wayne Hanger, who has no idea that she has been planning to lie? What should she do? Sweat runs down her blouse as her paranoia runs rampant, and so caught up is she in all the imagined etceteras, that when she looks at the front page headlines of the good old morally reliable Post on the way to the courthouse, she does not recognize the angelic looking corpse in the picture, under the screaming words, “MOB HITS SCUMBAG” as the body of Sweet William.
Sal recognizes the lizard at once. She has just spent her last 25 cents to feed her tabloid jones while riding the subway downtown, and though she usually consumes this rag from the back forward (starting with the race results), she notices the front page of the man sitting next to her and immediately turns the paper over and realized the corpse is her own true love’s sleazy brother.
Now if one were to put two and two together, as Sal so often does, one would realize that the murderer could not be Sherlock, for Sherlock is not the type to pack a piece, or any hardware for that matter. But one would also realize that the cops, who are already looking for Sherlock, are not going to take into account that the Ganja King lives by The Code of the East, not the West, and he will immediately beearmarked as a Number One suspect for the rap of Murder One. This logical deducting of course, does nothing for Sal’s already overworked paranoia, and she realizes that that if Wayne Wanger ties in the information baby Alice has given him with the picture on the front page of the Post, Sherlock is a goner. ” When 6:30 rolls around the two Detroit sisters are standing face to face in front of the courthouse. And though neither is in the other’s good graces, like good soldiers they put away their differences, join forces and march down the courthouse corridors in the direction of room 23, where baby Alice’s case will be heard by an arbitrator.
But with destination only two door down, doubt and apprehension slip into Alice’s mind and decide to use her body for a trampoline.
“What if,” she turns to Sal, “what if Get-Away-Eddie’s wrong? What if the cabbie’s young, or black, or a woman?”
Sal shook her head in disgust. Her sister was starting again.
“What if we testify we saw a ‘honky with white hair’ and the cab driver is somebody else? I don’t want to go to jail, Sal.”
“Quit whimpering!” Sal snaps. “How many times I gotta tell you, play the cards you are dealt and don’t worry about the draw until you look at your hand. You understand?”
Alice shook her head. No, she didn’t know what Sally was talking about. She hardly ever knew what her sister was talking about.
“The cabbie is wild!” Sal exploded, then grabbed the frozen Alice and dragged her down the hall and into the room.
And there he is, EUREKA, a fiftyish looking white haired honky with ruddy cheeks. “That’s him!” Sal yells. “That’s the bum who hit my sister’s car!” She then turns to the other two men who are seated around a rectangular table. “I’d recognize him anywhere,” she says.
A handsome young man stands up and introduces himself at this point. “I’m George Jay, the arbitrator,” he says, and Sally thinks he looks very much like a tennis pro she once knew in Boca Raton. The other man, a shyster-lawyer type, reminds her of a huge hairy chicken, a “gorilicken”, she thinks to herself, as he stands up and introduces himself.
“Lou Spitsky, lawyer for the Big Apple Cab Company.” He offers his hand, and Alice tentatively shakes it.
“Alice Detroit,” Alice squeaks.
George Jay smiles at Alice. “Since you brought this suit, why don’t you begin by telling your side of the case.”
Alice takes a deep breath, then begins to recite the story she has rehearsed. She says she and her sister are in the habit of getting up very early in the morning to walk the dog, and on this day they were out exercising their constitutional in the rain when a cab comes barreling across 29th street — obviously going too fast on the slick pavement — and slides into her car and makes such a mess of the side that the cheapest it can be fixed is for 950 dollars. She pushes three estimates across the table to the arbitrator.
He nods, and Alice goes on to say that it is lucky for her that her sister is a poet and always carries a pen and notepad, for when the cab smashes her Toyota, Sal writes down the medallion and the license number while she tries to get the cabbie to stop. Looking up at George Jay with a very wistful expression Alice explains that if she had not been on the scene there would be no way in the world, on her salary, that she could afford to fix the car. “I’m still paying off the bills on our mother’s funeral,” she adds with a slight moistness of the eyes.
George Jay asks Sal if she can corroborate this story and she nods. But before she can get a word in edgewise, Spitsky interrupts.
“Your honor,” he says, “on the work sheet that the cab drivers keep it shows that this cab was in the vicinity of 29th and Ninth at about the same time as the accident, and therefore we see no reason to refute Miss Detroit’s story and are fully prepared to make full restitution.”
A1ice’s mouth drops open in surprise, Sally mutters, “wha-wha-wha?” as the cabbie snarls and flings Spitsky a dirty look.
George Jay looks puzzled. “Then why are we here?” he asks all the participants.”
The lawyer shrugs. “Mr. Blatt wanted to tell his side of the story. He claims it’s his due.”
Everyone in the room turns and looks at the cabbie with a tolerant but exasperated grin.
“Yes, Mr. Blatt?” George Jay politely questions.
“I wanna tell you,” snarls Blatt, “there is no way I hit her car. Yeah, I was in the area, that’s how they got the numbers of my license and medallion, but I swear on The Holy Mother that I never hit her car. What I think happened was that she got into an accident, and when I go by she decides to blame it on a hard working driver and collect on the insurance. It happens every day!”
“Mr. Blatt!” squeaks Alice, very indignant.
Blatt ignores her. “I’ve been driving a cab 22 years and yeah, I’m not gonna tell you I haven’t had accidents, who hasn’t. But in 22 years I’ve never had an accident I didn’t report. Hey, I’m no dummy, that’s hit and run, that’s how ya get fired.” He turns to Alice, and in what she thinks is the most sincere tone she has ever heard, says, “If I had hit your car, lady, I would’ve reported it. My boss wouldn’t have blamed me, these things happen every day. But hey, Beno Blatt does not flee the scene of an accident EVER! I do a good job. I have a lot of pride in what I do. You think it’s easy driving a cab in this city! I’ve been robbed, stiffed, insulted, had my life threatened two hundred dozen times, but do I quit? No, Beno Blatt does not quit. And do you know why, I’ll tell you why. This is my city and I love it, this is my job and I love it. So why am I going to jeopardize the things I love the most and not report this make believe accident? It don’t add up. I’ve been driving this cab for 22 years and not once have I been accused of anything like this.”
Alice smiles at him sympathetically. “Oh, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you weren’t doing a good job, Mr. Blatt. I’m sure you’re an excellent driver. But what probably happened is that in your haste you probably didn’t realize you hit me.”
Blatt makes a face. “I didn’t realize I hit you! Are you loony? C’mon, lady, I’ve been driving a cab for 22 years, and I don’t know when I hit something?”
“What I meant,” Alice squeaks even higher, “was that in your great big Checker you probably didn’t even feel it when you hit my teenie-weenie Toyota–”
“CHECKER! Did you hear that? She said CHECKER! Blatt’s eyes lit up. “I don’t drive a CHECKER, lady!”
Alice stares blankly around the room, stalling for time, realizing that she just well may have blown it.
Spitsky looks sheepish. “He’s right, Your Honor, there are no Checker cabs at our garage.”
Alice tries her best dumb ingénue smile on George Jay, and under her breath curses all the bums on the corner.
“Are you sure you saw a Checker?” George Jay asks.
“I saw a bright yellow cab hit my car. Isn’t that a Checker?”
“Everyone knows that a Checker is yellow,” Sally pipes in.
Blatt explodes. “Where are you from, lady?”
“I am from Taos, New Mexico,” snarls Sal. “What’s it to ya?”
“Aren’t Checkers yellow?” Alice asks coyly. “That’s what I saw, a yellow one. It was definitely a yellow one.”
“They obviously don’t know what a Checker is,” notes George Jay.
Blatt explodes again. “Can’t you see they’re trying to con you? Whatta ya mean she doesn’t know what a Checker is, everyone in New York knows what a Checker is!”
“Of course everyone knows what a Checker is,” Sal retorts. A Checker has the little sign that lights up on the top that says “On duty Off duty”.
Blatt leaps up out of his seat. “They’re lying! They’re both lying!”
“Please sit down, Mr. Blatt,” says
George Jay, then turns to the Detroit sisters and says, “a Checker is larger than a normal cab, and it has big checks on the side. All cabs are yellow, except for gypsies.”
Alice shakes her head back and forth. “Oh, well, I definitely did not see any checks, did you Sal?”
“They’re lying,” Blatt fumed. “Look at them, they’re lying through their teeth. I can’t believe it, after 22 years of driving a cab my reputation is in these liar’s hands.”
George Jay tells Blatt to calm down, then looks sympathetically at the sisters and asks, “Do you, by chance, have any other witnesses?”
“Indeed we do,” Sal pipes in. “You see, on this corner where the accident occurred, there were, at the time, a whole group of bums living on couches and chairs on the sidewalk. In fact, there were even two bums making love on the hood of the car at the time of the accident, but we didn’t think they’d make such good witnesses, so we didn’t bring them. Do you want us to go back and get them?” Blatt flinches.
George Jay and Spitsky laugh as though they had heard a great story. Spitsky says, “that’s perfect. lsn’t that New York for you?”
“Only in New York,” George Jay agrees.
The two sisters, the lawyer and the arbitrator are all smiling, enjoying a warm moment of camaraderie, but this is the last straw for Blatt.
“YOU BELIEVE THEM! And 1*m being framed!” Spitsky starts to say something, but Blatt turns on him and screams “BENEDICT ARNOLD!”
George Jay glares at Blatt and waves his contempt aside with the brush of his hand and the rattling of papers. “I’ll review the evidence and make my decision in private. You all will be notified by mail within two days–” He stops, smiles at all parties and says, “No. The day after tomorrow is Christmas. Give it four days. You’ll have a decision in four days. Have a good Christmas.”
The case was over. There was no winner proclaimed, no loser proclaimed, no instant gratification for anyone. On the way down the hall towards the exit, Blatt sidled up to Sal and hissed, “if I ever saw a liar before, you take the cake, lady.”
Sal stopped and slowly turned to the cabbie. “It takes one to know one, chump. You are as guilty as Leopold and Loeb, and you will have to answer to your Holy Mother, if you have one. But do not feel bad, Blatt, when you go to confession to purge your sins, just remember; Justice is a pipedream.” With that said and done, Sal whirled and headed down the hall after Alice.
Victory, however empty, was theirs. They would win the case. They knew they would win the case. Alice was proud of herself, proud of Sal. “I always told you we could work as a team together,” she told Sal as they left the courthouse.
“Ya Ya,” said Sal, starting to feel blue.
“We have to celebrate. You have to come with me to meet Wayne. Please, Sal. He’s a good guy. He kept his word. Nobody showed up to arrest Sherlock. So you were wrong. You don’t know everything.” Alice was starting again.
“Gimme a buck for a dog,” Sal said.
“I aint had much nourishment today.”
Alice stopped, looked in her purse, and pulled a 10 out of her wallet. “I don’t have anything smaller than this.”
Sal grabbed the bill. “That’ll do,”she said, walked over to the Sabrett man and said, “You need this more than me. One with everything.”
The hot dog vendor looked at her blankly, and started fixing her frank.
“You’ll ruin your appetite.” Alice peered over Sal’s shoulder. “We’re eating at a French place.”
“No Frogs tonight,” Sal muttered. “I got no appetite for nothing but dogs.”
“Well, then you have to spend Christmas Eve with us. Please, Sal, promise you will.” The vendor handed Sal her frank, then wordlessly handed her her change. “Promise, please promise!”
Sally ignored her sister. She offered the change back to the vendor. “You need this more than me.”
He stared at her, puzzled. ‘Hablo no Inglis.”
Sal turned away from the vendor to Alice. “I’ll do my best, kid. I really will.” She bear-hugged her sister. “C’mon, I’ll walk you to the subway.”
“But what are you going to do?” Alice asked with concern.
“Go back to the digs and take a hot bath. I got some thinkin’ to do.”
“He didn’t show. He promised he would show.”
“But you didn’t want him to show.”
“NO,” said Sa1. “1 didn’t want him to get busted.”
Right before the entrance to the subway Sal spotted a seedy looking Santa ringing his bell for the poor. “You go on,” she told Alice. “I’m gonna tell Santa what I want for Christmas.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Ya Ya, I’m tiptop, Toots.” Sal forced a grin. “Give Wayne Wanger my regards. He is a gentleman, and as Nathan would say, a mentsh.”
“Oh, thank you, Sal, thank you for everything!” Alice squealed.
“Ya Ya,” Sal mumbled, gave her sister a hug and pushed her towards the subway. `
Then Sal walked over to Santa Claus, dropped a dollar in his bucket, and said, “all I want for Christmas is my true love, you bum.”
Santa stopped ringing his bell. “And that you shall have, Your Highness.”
“Santa to you,” Fatman smiled. “He’s around the corner waiting. First right, all the way down to the end of the block at the bus stop.” Fatman resumed ringing his bell and chanting, “Alms for the needy… Alms for the needy, Alms for the needy…” Then he reached out and stuck a crumpled note into Sal’s open palm and closed her fingers into a fist around it.
“Fatman, you darling Claus,” Sal sparkled. She reached up and tweaked his beard. “You’ve lost weight! You’re such a puny Santa. Remind me to buy you a cow.”
Sal was floating. Love did work! Justice was not a pipedream. You had to believe. You had to have faith. There was no other way to live. “Dreams come true,” she laughed, and began singing, “SHABOOM, SHABOOM, ya-da-da-da-da-da-da-da . . . life could be a dream, Sweetheart.”
As she turned the corner a black limousine pulled up beside her, and low and behold, who should pop out but Lt. Max Fatbach.
“What is this?” Sal jumped.
“Miss Detroit, please get in the car. We don’t want any trouble.”
Sal stared at Fatbach, then involuntarily turned and looked longingly towards the bus stop. “What is this?”she repeated.
“Get in,” Fatbach said, as he took hold of her wrist and opened the door.
Sal got in. The jig was most definitely up. It was all a trap. They were going to nab Sherlock. Maybe even shoot him down like a dog.
“Miss Detroit,” said another agent in the car. “I’m Jake Greenspam, and I’d like to talk to you about Raoul.”
“In fact, I might as well quit beating around the bush,” Greenspan allowed. “I don’t want to talk to you about Raoul, I want you to talk to Raoul for us.”
“We’re going to take a little trip, Miss Detroit.”
“You’re not F.B.I.!”
“Secret Service,” said Greenspam. “And you’re going to introduce me to Raoul.”
“What are you talkin’ about, mon?”
“We’re going to take a little trip. we’re going to talk about John Fitzgerald Kennedy, one of your favorite subjects.
You and Raoul are going to tell us about your picnic on the grassy knoll. We’re going south to the banana belt, Miss Detroit.” Greenspam nudged Fatbach, who signaled the driver to take off. “We’re going to San Salvador, Miss Detroit, we’re going to spend Christmas in El Salvador.”
There was only one chance for Sal to escape and that was at the corner. At the light in front of the bus stop. Right in front of Sherlock. Bringing the Feds down on Sherlock.
Sal opened up the wadded note and read painfully to herself, “IF YOU LOVE ME AS MUCH AS I LOVE YOU, IT’S NOW OR NEVER”. She looked out the window, but Sherlock didn’t even notice I her. He had his back turned. He was handing a pretzel vendor a wad of bills to distribute to the masses.
“Now or never,” Sal mumbled. `
“Exactly,” Fatbach smiled.
Then the light changed and the limonene sped away towards the airport, the small figure of Sherlock vanishing from sight.