Sunday, February 26, 2012

Whoopi’s Big Night

It was Nostalgia Night at the Oscars in the Modern Era year, 2015. Huge laser light shows and movie-studio 3-D holograms lit up the sky over Hollywood causing one jumbo jet to mistake Ventura Boulevard for LAX. This, besides causing untold human offings and other carnage, created white-limo and Maserati constipation all the way back to Malibu. (The headlines in the following day’s papers dealt only with the traffic jam.)

The ceremony itself was being held in the Hollywood Bowl whose breastworks had been augmented and back-lit to look like a bigger-than-life Acropolis. Five huge wind machines also created the wild but unnerving feel of Woodstock before that still-famous rain storm. The emcee, Whoopi Cushion, debuted her resurrection year with in-group bum swabbing and conservative-politico bashing. After all these years on The View, her sucker-punch lines and buddy-butt licks were so well anticipated that the derisive laughter and whoopi-whoops well preceded the ending of her sentences. She was trolloped-out in her trademark dreadnoughts fright-wig and a sequined halter atop Calvin Klein jeans with exposed (and lifted) gluteus maximus ... as was the fashion rage then.

The evenings’ entertainment featured Yooni and John Tush on twin chartreuse pianos, body-oiled and bedecked in harlequin loin cloths ... and to keep with the show’s fossils theme. Maya Angelglue read a poem called Dinosaur Droppings; and Sharon Stonehenge did the bunny hop with Meryl Strep-Throat to the kazoo music from The Boyz ‘n the Hood Meet Frankenstein. There was also a 45 minute film segment devoted to Hollywood's blessed life styles featuring tutorials on barn-yard marriages, hamster hemorrhoid cures, and the best places to buy smack for quality and quantity.

President Hillary Clinton sat frumpy and smirking in the front row flanked by Susan Saranwrap and the lap-dancers from Showgirls VII ...  her Willie having long ago been bundled off to a Sonoma sanitarium to cure his numerous STDs. Sylvester Satonone, Steven Spielmore, and Harvey Cryandtell opened the awards program by reading, in unison, the Screen Actors Guild’s Contract with Chicago, giving each other special Oscars and platinum-plated Bentleys. The Oscar ceremonies concluded 46 hours later with the statuette for “Best Editing of a Music Score of a Politically-Correct Short Subject by a Blond Yenta.” It, of course, went to Barbara Triesandfails.

© Copyright,  George W. Potts   

Friday, January 27, 2012


Not Tinker's ... but close

The neighborhood bar … the altar upon which so many lives and livers have been sacrificed. There is a visceral and universal appeal to the neighborhood bat cave ... a place where one can get crocked in the company of like-minded sots ... a place where one can go to erase the chalk-board tally of one’s misspent life ... a place where anonymous trysts begin and end ... a place where comfort trumps aesthetics ... a place where struck-up friendships are as shallow as the conversation ... a place to flee to when life needs to be relished under a whiskey haze. A place where "everyone knows your name."  Once, I too had a neighborhood bar. It was called Tinker’s.

It was a rather nondescript 1960’s singles’ bar, easily missed unless you were looking for it. If you were, it was on the southwest corner of 74th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. It had two large windows with green-and-white striped awnings facing Second Avenue, framing a dark entrance, and had another large window on 74th street, around the corner to the right. A red neon sign hung at the corner. It said simply “Tinker’s” and, after my hike up from 63rd Street and York Avenue, it always gave me a Pavlovian thirst. As you entered, on your left was a large mahogany bar which began perpendicular to a brick wall and then curved around to run about twenty feet parallel to the back-bar shelves and mirror.

The five-foot space that remained between the front window and the bar was filled with the stools of the regulars. Looking out the front window, you could watch the world saunter by. However, because of the low light levels inside Tinker’s, the world couldn’t watch you unless they stopped to peer in. The tap room to the right of the bar was filled with small tables and spindle chairs ... except for the far back right corner which had Naugahyde-covered benches and some more tables. That is where you sat if you didn’t want to be noticed or if the rest of the tables were occupied. The well-worn wooden bar floor had fresh sawdust spread on it weekly for that old-world charm, usually on late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

The aisle that was formed between the bar and the tables led directly to a small rear hallway where there was the public dial telephone on the left and, on the right and rear, were the camphor-caked rest rooms with cigarette-filled plumbing fixtures. The small kitchen was located in the left-rear corner, off the bar and enclosed by this rest-room alley and the service bar. It contained an old cast-iron grill (on which were made some of the best hamburgers on the upper East Side), a French-fryer, a tiny refrigerator, and a paucity of other equipment (such as a glass-washer-steamer that look like it came right out of a doll house). Tinker’s was a study in minimalism.

The jukebox, next to the service bar, was one of Tinker’s best features. It generally was playing softly in the background ... usually the latest pop hits ... but also opera, Gregorian chants, jazz, and many, many old classics (such as Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and even Billy Holiday). If the bar patrons weren’t playing a song, then the bartender or waitress would pluck a quarter from the till and play six favorites. Without looking up, you could often tell who was serving drinks by their selection of their music A goodly amount of baraphernalia festooned the walls and ceiling -- some hats, a few pictures of sports teams, a few odd banners, and a bat (which served dual purpose of decoration and protection). Ashtrays were sprinkled everywhere since smoking was still a favored pastime. In warm weather, some tables were also set out on the sidewalk. The window to the right of the entrance was somehow opened which connected the inside and outside patrons ... like in a Parisian cafe.

After I was separated from my first wife in 1964, Tinker’s became my regular hangout for about three squandered years. There, I escaped the failure of my marriage and my lack of career progress. (What did T.S. Eliot say? “Malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s way to man.”) I used Tinker’s as the center of my meager social life. There, I was accepted but not embraced as a regular. This was fine with me as long as I could do my own thing. Occasionally I would go to other bars such as Dick Edward’s (where I took my second wife on our first date), the Green Derby (I usually went there just for lunch), P.J. Clark's (where my second wife and I spent the evening before our wedding), TGI Friday’s (the bar most convenient to my apartment), etc. But it was Tinker’s that was my “home turf”. I often went there to get together with old college buddies and tell war stories. But, I would usually go there right after work, have a burger and a beer, smoke some cigarettes, and then try to get lucky. Sometimes, I was even successful. But, if by ten o’clock nothing seemed to be developing, I would use the back wall phone to call a female from my “little black book” and shamelessly ask her to meet me at Tinker’s. Then, for the price of a few drinks, I could often find comfort for the night.

It took me a while to notice an important social-psychological phenomenon of the single bar scene at that time (I assume it still holds.) It was that unattached women would not go into such a bar until after the sun was down. Not being female, I can’t explain this pathology. But I did eventually learn to take advantage of it. This meant that early-on I wasted a lot of bar time between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM in the summer time. Things were generally dead at Tinker’s during this twilight period. But there was a trade-off. If you didn’t get there early enough, you didn’t get a bar stool by the front window ... which then made it a little harder to get noticed. But if you got there late, the only seats left were the Naugahyde benches ... which were the equivalent of being banished to Coventry. However, in the winter, when the sun set early, the bar was usually crowded with eager young women, often by 6:30 PM, and so one’s entrance timing became a much simpler calculus.

“Tinker” Ward ran the bar. (I never knew his Christian name.) He was about five-foot-six, slightly built, even a little effeminate. Rumor had it that Tinker’s father actually owned the bar and occasionally he would come in to check on things. But it was Tinker who handled the money. Once a night he used to plunder the cash register for a wad of bills which went right into his wallet. Bar talk had it that Tinker’s grossed about $30,000 per week which, in turn, suggested that it netted about a half a million dollars a year. This was a considerable about of money at that time ... particularly since so much of it appeared to be tax-free. (I figure I contributed about $3,000 a year to that largess ... much too much for someone paying child support on a meager banker’s salary.) Tinker also had two brothers who appeared from time to time to taste the bar’s various potables. I also believe he had one somewhat attractive sister who, like many Irish woman of the day, drifted through life as a shadow. I never met or even saw Tinker’s mother.

Tinker managed the bar in a no-nonsense fashion. He issued crisp orders like a drill-sergeant and seemed to be on top of everything. But he also knew how to make his patrons feel welcome. He let his regulars run bar tabs. But he never let you reach into his pocket too deeply. He kept a clipboard of these tabs and you had to settle things every week or two at the most. I spent so much money there that sometimes I even had to pay my tab in installments. But as compensation for your loyal patronage, about every third drink was bought by the bartenders. They did this by rapping on the bar twice quickly while serving you your next refreshment. And they always poured drinks with a heavy hand. The bartenders and waitresses, be they male or female, were universally good-looking and of loose morals. I never hit pay dirt with any of the female employees, but it was pretty clear others did. The male barkeepers usually ended up the evening with the most nubile of the besotted females. Tinker himself would sometimes cut out an awestruck heifer.

At this time of my life I was suffering from a slipped disk in my lower back. I suspect it arose from the emotional turmoil in my life that surrounded my separation and impending divorce. I had been advised to have an operation where the two vertebrae surrounding the offending disks would be fused with some bone splinters taken from my hip. I resisted this medical suggestion, but was forced to wear a back brace for about a year. In the morning I would strap on this contraption under my pinstripes and go to work, sweating profusely on my walk to the Lexington Avenue subway near Bloomingdale’s. I would have to stop every few blocks to lean against a lamp post to ease the incessant pain. When I got to work, I could sit and earn my keep without discomfort. It was standing and moving around that was difficult. But, there was some solice from this affliction ... it kept me out of the draft and Viet Nam.

A little over a year after my wife and I had separated and I had moved to New York City from Scarsdale ... and after it became clear that there was no possible reconciliation ... I got a notice from the draft board telling me to report for active duty. (I suspect that my father-in-law ratted me out.) When I informed the Selective Service of my bad back and sent them my doctor’s note and X-rays, they were quite skeptical and ordered me to report promptly to Fort Jay, on Governor’s Island, off the lower end of Manhattan, for a battery of neurological tests. One crisp fall morning, I took a short ferry ride there and made my leafy way to their medical center, full of dread for my military future and my predictable (and likely bloody) tour in the Far East. When one of the Army’s frowning white-coated majors found no reflexes in my left leg and also measured significant muscle atrophy in this same leg, I was told I could leave without further testing. I had my life back! I got my 4-F rating in the mail a few weeks later.

Despite this malady, I still made my painful trek up to Tinker’s most week nights. There, with each drink, the pain in my back abated. After about four libations, I was again hale and hearty and I was back in grace. It was as though I had no ailment at all! At the end of the evening, if I had no companionship for the night, my pain-free walk home became my only solace for all that money and time ill-spent. I would amble down Second Avenue, then east on Seventy-Second Street, and then right on First. There I would often stop at Dorian’s Red Hand, a slightly more elegant Irish bar, a few doors down from Seventy-second, for a quick once over of its remaining female talent. This of course was a desperate move, but for the price of one beer I occasionally met a female who was as desperate as myself and I would spend the night with some nameless and faceless female. But, most often the chickens had already been plucked, so I would continue my trip down First Avenue to my favorite pizza parlor around Sixty-fifth. There for fifty cents I would wolf down a couple of steaming cheesy slices to line my stomach for my boozy slumber. Next, I turned left down Sixty-third, past the original TGI Friday’s, and hung another left to end up at the York River House at Sixty-third and York. I would usually exchange a few jokes with the doorman and then went to bed ... dreading my next morning’s walk to the subway.

Copyright ©  George W. Potts

Sunday, January 8, 2012

La Gioconda

The young Leonardo da Vinci had long been fascinated by the human body. By the age of twenty-three, he had already “borrowed” five paupers’s corpses from the Firenze town undertaker to dissect back in his garret. The fact that he had free access to the town morgue and had routinely sent its mortician large baskets of bread, Borrolo, cheese and olives did not excuse either man from this ghoulish misfeasance. However, Lenny did dispose of the human offal and rotting body parts with some dignity, wrapped in old artist canvas and buried in a land-fill near Pisa.

Moreover, Lenny’s addiction to anatomy did produce a remarkable understanding of our bodies’ kinesthetics, skeletal structure, and muscle layering; and his notebooks on these subjects were a legacy to all the artists and sculptors who plied these noble trades after he too had joined the worms. In fact, if all the artisans of Tuscany in the sixteenth century had pursued such corporeal cognition with Lenny’s equivalent zeal, there wouldn’t have been an unopened grave in all of northern Italy.

One day, the most prominent merchant-prince of Lombardy, Ferrari Gioconda, approached da Vinci to paint a portrait of his daughter, Mona Lisa Gioconda, on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday. Since da Vinci was the most highly regarded portraitist in all of Europe, Ferrari wanted to use this painting as an indication of his vast disposable wealth, of his lofty social status, and of his daughter’s vestal purity. He intended to display it prominently in the window of his carriage shop in Firenze surrounded by votive candles.

Lenny accepted this commission with great enthusiasm since he had often secretly noticed this very maiden’s budding bosoms. He arranged for her to pose for him at his studio on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school and all day Saturdays. During these sessions he would casually leave body parts from his dissection experiments lying around in lewd positions to purposefully shock her tender psyche. He also gradually convinced her to shed more and more of her drapery so that he might better capture her charms.

It wasn’t long before Mona was enthusiastically spending the whole of her sittings in her “birthday suit” (the original source of this vernacular). And, when returning home, she would often devote her evenings to scrubbing Venetian red and burnt umbra smudges from her torso. Lenny’s painting too was of the fully-nude Miss Gioconda ... and it was in a frenzied panic that, during their last weeks together, he over-painted her comely torso with a thick gouache representing her heretofore abandoned garments. The enigmatic smile that da Vinci carefully etched on Mona Lisa’s visage (fascinating art lovers down through the ages), was nothing more than his homage to her oft-repeated, post-coital glow.

© Copyright, George W. Potts

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Gumption Trap

Why do I have to do my daily duties?
Why must my life be defined by the work I complete?
Can’t I be judged instead by my ideas, my moustache?
Why are small gains often just as difficult as big ones?
Is Pirsig’s gumption the greatest gift or curse of all?
Who keeps the grand ledger of all the labors we render?
And when they do, do they also consider it a chore?

©  Copyright, George Potts 1996

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The July of Fourth

Hosea Husted, a somewhat overweight ten-year-old, loved the 4th of July. To this precocious Pennsylvanian, it was the most exciting day of the year ... a day full of cherry pie and cherry bombs, malted shakes and coiling snakes, Rocket salad and sky rockets, canards and petards, baked cod and punk rods, string beans and string salutes, Romano-cheese spaghetti and Roman candles, tomatoes and torpedoes, bottled pop and bottle rockets, soda crackers and firecrackers, M&M’s and M-80s, lady fingers and lady-finger salutes ... a day to indulge one’s passions to the fullest. And the devil take the forequarters.

Food and explosives were Hosea’s fixations. He was a budding cook and an accomplished chemist. “Hosey,” his mother’s nickname for him, loved to fiddle in the attic with his Mr. Science set, augmented with chemicals he had bought at the local drug store, cadged from the High School lab, and cajoled from the local farmer’s supply store. He had fulminate of mercury. He had lots of nitric acid, the starting point for most explosives. From this he could make gun cotton (nitric acid and cotton balls), TNT (nitric acid and toluene), nitroglycerin (nitric acid and soap). He had blasting caps (with which his cousin Harry had blown out an eye.) He had sulfur flowers ... from which he made stink bombs. He had aluminum, iron, and copper powders for his sparkling fountain displays. He had metallic sodium and potassium, kept airless by immersion in mineral oil. With either of these (and some water), he could burn a hole through a car hood.

While his grade-school buddies played with whistlers, grow worms and sparklers, Hosey liked to play with dynamite (nitroglycerin contained in diatominous sand for safety’s sake). He made, and often sold, a full range of fireworks, but his specialties were ash cans (a small amount of potassium nitrate and powdered charcoal in a silvery tube with a belly-button wick) and torpedoes (the same mixture but in a gold-painted ball without the wick ... exploded by the spark from two BB’s struck together when thrown against a hard surface.) From this commerce, he thus got the money he needed to buy more volatile chemicals and his favorite foodstuffs.

On this particular nation’s birthday, Hosey awoke early and spent the morning in the kitchen and the attic. He was making a special ice-cream cake for the Elk’s club outing at Centennial Park. This was a bring-and-share picnic where most of the town families came together to engage in minor competitive sports, ate themselves into a stupor, and, finally, lazily laid on their blankets watching the dusk’s fireworks (over half of which being constructed in Master Husted’s pyrotechnics lab). Hosey made this iced, icy, spheroid dessert with a thin smile on his face ... as he remembered how he and his father had been cheated out of the blue ribbon in last year’s three-legged race. This would have been the first award that the male Husted’s had ever won, but the antlered judges had decreed that their leg binding had come loose as they crossed the finish line. Both senior and junior Husted left last year’s festivities seething, ... well before the fruits of Hosea’s labor were hurled up and burned up in the evening sky.

Now, Hosey brought this concoction to the park packed in dry ice at the same time he delivered five wooden cases full of display rockets. He placed this cake in the middle of the primary picnic table among the potato salads, the apple-crumb cakes, the coleslaws, the fried chicken, the head cheeses, the baked hams and picnic shoulders, the herring salads, the green and orange Jell-o molds (with marshmallows), the chili and beans, the Shoo-fly pies, the Swedish meat balls, the miniature franks bathed with a mixture of catsup and grape jelly, and the pot roasts slo-baked in a melange of mushroom soup and powered onion soup. These were pretty much the limits of culinary creativity for the matrons of this Keystone hamlet, so Hosea’s contribution stuck out like a Mercurochromed thumb. When asked what it was, Hosey said that he had found the recipe in a French cook book and that it was called a bombe extraordinaire.

Now you, kind reader, have probably jumped to a conclusion as to what was buried inside this confection. To do so would be wrong. Except for the slightest taste of Cordite, everyone enjoyed this bombe to a fair-thee-well without consequence. However, when Hosey’s sky rockets were set off later that evening, instead of spectacular displays of multi-colored stars and echoing reports, the spectators were showered with Castor sugar, sifted flour, Dutch-processed cocoa, granulated yeast, and Calumet baking powder. You see, as I neglected to tell you earlier, Hosea Husted was also quite dyslectic.

© George W. Potts

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Easier Bunny

Reginald was a journeyman Easter Bunny. He had apprenticed for two years in western Tasmania and took a remedial skip-hopping course in Liverpool before landing this plum of an assignment in Banff, Alberta. Within 24 hours of unpacking his portmanteau in this pine-scented paradise, Reginald knew he was “home”
It was early September so Reggie had a full six months to prepare for the first Sunday after the first Friday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. According to his “Lagomorph Day Timer,” Reggie was supposed to spend the rest of September making peeps, those yellow and pink marshmallow chicks with those little black-dot eyes. However, being a bit of a procrastinator, he squandered his first fortnight pub-crawling this rapidly-emptying tourist haven looking for “the wound that never heals.” (He was a rabbit you know.)

He eventually connected with an ash-blond groundhog, named Matilda, whose defenses were dulled due to the impending onset of her hibernation. Reginald then wasted the months of October (supposedly, jelly beans and cellophane-grass production time), November (decorated chocolate viewing-eggs with bucolic internal dioramas), and December (spangled straw Easter baskets with purple and yellow ribbons) taking this woodchickie’s internal temperature with his peniometer and popping tequilas con Seven Up.

By mid December, both Reggie and his perpetually-damp swiv-mate had fornicated themselves into a deep coma, augmented by extended hangovers and Nature’s own seasonal tropism. They awoke only once in early February when some gentlemen in top hats and tails removed Matilda from their den briefly to hold her up to a leaden winter sky in some homo-erectus shadow-seeing spring ritual.

Reggie awoke in a terror-sweat in late March to the thumping of the Grand Bunny on the stump outside this sex warren. Quickly realizing that Easter was only days off, he tried to tweedle-talk his way out of this very bad box. But the Grand Bunny wasn’t buying his patter and he demoted Reggie on the spot. He then hustled Reggie onto the next jumbo jet to Stuttgart with some papers indicating he was to report to the chief chef at a famous German culinary school called “Hass und Pfeiffer”.

© Copyright, George W. Potts

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Evacuation Day

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts they celebrate one obscure holiday which is conveniently concurrent with St. Patrick’s Day. It is called “Evacuation Day.” On this day, the state government closes down ... allowing its many pols and solons to gather at their favorite watering holes to celebrate the banishing of snakes from the ole sod. Once there, they donate a parcel of liquor taxes back to the treasury from which they draw their sustenance. Incidentally, the reason Massachusetts is called a “commonwealth” is that the Pilgrims believed “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need” ... a tradition that lives on in this state unto this day.

Evacuation Day was named to honor the purging that supposedly saved the life of Paul Revere’s mother when she had come down with the croup the night before her son’s famous ride. Her doctor, Elias DeBakey, gave her a double dose of ipecac and prune juice. Then he bled her with leaches; sweated her in a log-cabin sauna; gave her a soapy water enema; and finally, had her down a triple dose of bromide expectorant. She was “evacuated” so completely that she dropped nearly a third of her body weight. But, despite all this bad medicine, she survived ... and the people of the Bay State chose to honor this miracle by declaring this day an annual holiday.

The Irish, when they are not blowing each other up, spend a good deal of their time writing blue-ribbon prose; and, as already noted, have an affinity for amber liquids. On Evacuation Day this tropism becomes an obsession. Brass-railed bars with names like “Galway Bay” and “Glacamora” fill with corpulent-visaged Celts downing tuns of Harp lager and Guinness stout. And, at the tables, sit hoards of green-tie trenchermen devouring nitrided corned beef, bilious cabbage, boiled Bliss potatoes, and Irish soda bread. In the more radical of these establishments, Erse is spoken to cover the intrigues and cabals being planned, abetted by the bravado of booze.

These Sons of Erin, having sated and slaked themselves, finish the day with some sort of melee. On this day, a bloody nose or a broken tooth is a badge of honor. But the belligerents know it’s time to go home when they start seeing leprechauns prancing among the pots of shamrocks on the bar top. Then, after everyone has left, the leprechauns really do emerge, belt down the bar spitsies ... and, invariably, start their own brouhaha. But when in turn, these elves start seeing even littler people hidden among the mosses and detritus of the clover pots, even the leprechauns call it a day.

© Copyright, George W. Potts