Bob Zmuda’s MR. X CHRONICLES #3

excerpted from his 1999 memoir


“What’s your best Mr. X story?” (Andy) asked.

“I dunno, I think they’re all good,” I said.

“Well, yeah, I mean the story that really sums him up.  But you’ve probably told me all of ‘em, haven’t you?”  I could tell Andy had gotten hooked on the Mr. X stories. I also saw he was trying to understand Mr. X, to figure out what made him tick, so that maybe he could invest some of Mr. X in his own characters.

“I got one you haven’t heard,” I offered.

“What?  What?” he said, sounding just like a little kid.

“The glazed-donut story. I tell you that one?”

“The glazed-donut story?  No, no, tell me, I want to hear it.”

“How close are we to this club?”

Andy shook his head.  “Doesn’t’ matter.  We can be late.  Besides, it’s better to keep an audience waiting.  Go on, tell me the glazed-donut story.”

I sat back and looked out the window at the lights flitting by and pictured that day: sunny, a few puffy clouds, a generally nice day.  Mr. X and I had picked up our cash that morning, nearly 50 grand.  It was afternoon, and, as we hadn’t even spent a dime yet, X was getting restless.

“We rolled over to Jersey one afternoon, midday maybe,” I began.

“Like here?  Somewhere around here?” Andy asked, trying to place the story.

“No, I think it was like North Bergen, Seacaucus maybe,” I answered.

At this point in my story, Kaufman did something that was unusual.  Over the years I would see him do it hundreds of times, but this was the first.  He was recording me, not on tape like Mr. X did, but in his mind.  Possessing a truly photographic memory, his eyes would take on a wide, distant look, and then the tip of his fingers would twitch lightly as if he were typing on an invisible keyboard. Years later I would witness him memorizing entire Taxi scripts at one sitting using this technique.  Not only committing his own lines to memory, but all the other characters’ lines along with stage directions and page numbers. It was just like Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond, in Rain Man. Oddly, Andy was somewhat embarrassed by this extraordinary ability and never flaunted it.  I asked him once how he did it, think it was something he had learned in a TM course.  Slightly flustered, he admitted that the ability came to him suddenly one day after a particularly bad LSD trip.  He told me that he had also seen the future on that same trip.  When I commented that that was great, he objected strongly, saying we’re not supposed to see the future.

I continued with my tale.  “Anyway, so we’re in Jersey, drivin’ along in the limo, and Mr. X sees this baker, says, ‘Driver stop over here, I want a glazed donut.  Okay, so inside, it’s midday and there’s a few people in line, so X just blurts out, ‘I want a glazed donut,’ real loud, like they’re all just hard of hearing, and this woman behind the counter, her name badge said ‘Flo’. . .”

“You’re joking. . .” said Andy.

“No shit, ‘Flo.’  Anyway, Flo is matronly, an older woman, you know, kind of stern. . . so she says, “Sir, you’ll have to take a number like everyone else.”

“You don’t talk to him like that,” added Andy, knowing enough about Mr. X.

“Exactly,” I concurred. “But oddly X doesn’t say a word.  He takes a ticket and quietly goes to the back of the line.”

“Uh-oh,” said Andy as he pulled the car over, readying for the story to go into overdrive.

“Yeah, uh-oh,” I agreed and then continued.  “So Mr. X waits, and finally he gets to Flo, and she says, ‘Okay, now you want a glazed donut?’ and X shakes his head. ‘No, I’ve changed my mind.  I want this here.  And I want those, and that.  And those over there, and all of that.  Oh, and while you’re at it, I want those racks of bread back there.  All of them.’  And Flo narrows here eyes and says, ‘Sir, please don’t joke around.  We’re a business here.’  And Mr. X yells, ‘Zmuda?  The case!’ and I step forward and pop it open. . .”

“Like usual,” Andy added, having heard Mr. X’s Zmuda, the case” line in other stories.

“Yeah, so I say, ‘Madam, this man is Mr. X, a famous writer, he’s written a number of major motion pictures, and he’s a millionaire, he’s very eccentric, and I can assure you he’s completely serious.  This case?’ I point into the case, which is open and showing all the cash.  It has over 50-thousand dollars in it, and Mr. X is ready to pay for anything he wants so please help him.’  Well, Flo realizes this is probably for real, so even though she already hates him, she starts ringing stuff up, and now the manager comes out of the back to see what the hell’s going on.  So Mr. X introduces himself while I’m lugging boxes of rolls and bread and shit out out the limo. We fill the limo, so X goes, “Get on the phone and get a truck over to pick up my baked goods.”

“You hired a truck?” Andy said, his face going slack in amazement.  “What?  You just called a trucking company and said, ‘Come over and pick up our donuts’?’

“Exactly.  And they came, a full-size fucking deliver truck.  Meanwhile, Mr.; X’s bought so much stuff we have to send for another truck.  It’s the Marx brothers.  We’ve hung out the Closed sign and cleaned out the whole front of the store.  Now Mr. X goes into the back room.  He starts buying all their back stock as well as the shit coming out of the oven  — it’s still hot – not to mention all their butter and flour and salt and sugar, everything.  Meanwhile, the owner, he’s at his calculator, and he’s in fuckin’ hog heaven, he can’t believe this guy, buying his place to the walls, damn near.

“So now Mr. X goes to work on the employees.  First the bakers, there’s like three older guys in white outfits, and he says to one of them, ‘You must be pretty hot in that, it’s hot back here.  I’ll tell you what, take off your clothes down to your underwear and I’ll give you 500-bucks.  Zmuda, the case!’  So I hand over the cash and the old guys strips down to his skivvies.  Mr. X checks him out and says, ‘Listen, for another 500, take off your underwear.’  So the old guys drops his boxers, and he’s bare-ass naked.  So Mr. X turns to the others and says, ‘I’ll give you each a thousand if you do the same,’ so two minutes later the bakers are nude, and X turns to the ladies who were working the counter and are now watching the old guys strut around naked but a thousand bucks richer.  X says to them, ‘Take off your clothes, only down to your underwear, and I’ll give you a thousand each.’  Well, they’re in their underwear, bras and girdles, in about three seconds, and I’m handing them money.  All of them except Flo, she’s the holdout.  Mr. X can’t break her.  She hates him.  A test of wills.  Flo versus Mr. X.

“Mr. X takes the challenge, he says, ‘C’mon, Flo, just take off your blouse, leave your bra and girdle on, but take off the blouse. I’ll give you two thousand dollars.’ She says, ‘I can’t do that,’ and X says ‘I’ll make it three thousand,’ and the other ladies are saying, ‘Flo, do it, it’s fine, it’s just your blouse, it’s okay,’ cause they’re standing in their girdles and bras and they’re one grand richer.  Mr. X ups the ante to four, then five.  Now Flo’s sweatin’, the manager is yelling at her to drop her top, and her girlfriend’s are saying she’s nuts  Mr. X keeps going until he finally says, ‘Flo, lemme ask you this, what does your husband make a year?  Flo won’t answer, but one of the other ladies says Flo’s husband, Alex, drives a delivery truck and makes about 19-grand.  So Mr. X says, ‘Flo, take off our top only, leave your bra and girdle on, and I will give you 19-thousand dollars.  It’s as much as Alex, your beloved husband, makes in a year.  Think of his face when you bring home that cash.’

Well, the scene is now insane.  Here’s the truck drivers loading our bread, the manager’s delirious, looking for anything else to sell, here’s three old men, nude, three or four older ladies in their underwear, and everyone is yelling at Flo to do it.  Flo is in tears, but she stands firm.  So Mr. X gets bored trying to break her and heads into the cooler, where he finds a wedding cake.  ‘I want this,’ he says., and the manager goes white and says, ‘Sorry, Mr. X, but that’s a wedding cake, it’s custom made, and I have to deliver it in a few hours, and they’re a lovely couple.’  And X says, ‘I don’t give a fuck, I want it.  Zmuda?  The case!’ and I count out another three thousand, and it’s ours now.  Meanwhile, the bakers are still nude, and they’re partying with the counter ladies on some beer we had delivered, and the manager is now about 30-thousand bucks heavier in the wallet, and he’s on the phone to the wedding couple to tell them about the tragic accident on the freeway where their cake got ruined.  And speaking of ruined, Flo is destroyed, her life could have changed, but she wouldn’t cave in to the will of Mr. X.  I say to him, ‘What are we going to do with all the food?’ and he says, ‘Fuck it, let it rot,’ so I get on the phone before we leave and have the truckers take it over to a food bank.  So now we’re done.  X goes out and gets in the limo, and I make a final pass to survey the wreckage, the party is going full swing, and the place looks like it was looted by rats, not an edible thing left in sight, like it was never a working bakery.  So I walk out the front, and as I do. . .that’s when I see it.  All by itself in the front display case, not even a crumb to keep it company, sits one. . .solitary. . .glazed donut.”

Andy was totally mesmerized.  “He’s a genius,” he pronounced finally, without irony.

In a very strange, upside-down universe, Andy might have been exactly right. Andy quietly started the car and pulled back onto the road, still absorbing the impact of Mr. X’s hostile takeover of the donut shop.  It was Mr. Z’s totally sociopathic behavior that transfixed him.  Andy was fascinated by darkness, and Mr. X qualified to be if not the Prince, then at least the Duke of Darkness.  He asked a few questions as we drove, but I could see that he had been deeply affected by the depth of depravity and the will it took to make such a commitment on the volition of one delayed donut.  But we understood that it wasn’t the donut itself, it was the randomness of Mr. X’s attack, touched off, like a drive-by shooting, but a wrong glance or a misunderstood gesture; spawned from inconsequence, it became epic because Mr. X willed it that way.  We were like two Hamas terrorists who had never done anything bigger than a mailbox bombing discussing a guy who took down city blocks with hardly a thought.

We finally found the joint, and Andy parked about a block away.

“Why did you park so far off?” I asked.

Instead of answering he reached in the back seat and pulled forward a bag.  “Look the other way,” he said.

I turned and heard him assembling a costume.  After a few minutes he spoke again.  “Okay, he said, “you can turn around.”

I looked at him, and Andy was gone. In his place was an apparition from the worst lounge on the lowest level of hell: he wore a really bad wing, sunglasses, and a mustache that Pancho Villa would have approved of.  “What’s your name?” the character asked sternly.  The voice that came forth was most definitely not Andy Kaufman’s.

“Bob,” I answered, playing along, but impressed with the transformation.

“Bob?  Bob?  Bob, what’s your last name?”



“Zmuda,” I said patiently.

“Zmuda?  What the hell kind of name is that?”


“Polish?  Polish?  Well, just ‘cause your Polish, don’t think you’re funny.”

Still in character, he gave me instructions.  “Go in the club and don’t let on you know me.  Understand, you stupid Polack?  By the way, your name is Gorsky.”

“Yeah, I understand.  What about after the show?  We meet back here?”

“Andy’ll drive you home.  You don’t know me, understand?”

“Yeah, okay.  So if Andy’ll drive me home, who are you?”

He got out the car and tossed me the keys.  “I’m Tony Clifton, ass-wipe.”

And with that, he walked off toward the club.

© 1999 Bob Zmuda



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