Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Josh's Lost New York


© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Like Ice


An ICEBERG SLIM appreciation

This originally ran, in different form, on my associate Richard Jaccoma’s then-website, Spunk.com, in June 1997. Like my Jack Ruby and Winedale pieces, it’s appeared all over the map.

A mere 20 years ago, in the 1970s, the “canon” of Negro Lit—Black American novelists in print—seemed preposterously thin, scattered and barely represented at mainstream bookstores. A handful of chosen authors received literary knighthood, but no matter how you sliced it, James Baldwin’s lofty intellect landed squarely in the liberal white establishment. The one-hit wonders, like Ralph Ellison’s 1952 Invisible Man, or Claude Brown's 1964 best seller, Manchild in the Promised Land, were grounded in the Queen's English—as was the great Richard Wright before them, whose lean, mean prose hammered home the Negro experience to generations of college Caucasians.

Iceberg Slim burst forth in 1969 as a savagely gifted storyteller, whose paperback novels sold in unprecedented numbers in the ghettos. Iceberg Slim was the nom-de-pimp of Robert Beck, whose seven books sold six million copies by the time he died in 1992, at 73. (This figure according to his publisher, Holloway House.) Beck briefly graced Tuskegee Institute’s 1930’s college rolls at the same time as did Ralph Ellison. Beck dropped out, having chosen his calling—for which Tuskegee offered no degree. Years later, had it come to a streetfight of words, Iceberg’s “masterworks of pimp profanity” could have cut down Ellison’s milquetoast prose in a Harlem minute.

He wrote flagrantly in the pre-Ebonics lingo of Chicago’s South Side—which even today repels the upwardly mobile Black middle class. Iceberg’s books contain glossaries of underworld Negro slang that went out with minstrel shows and burnt cork blackface. The Norton Anthology of Black American Literature—newly christened by Black Harvard professors proclaiming a breakthrough, state-of-the-art “canon”—doesn't even mention his name in its vast index.

Like the painter Grandma Moses, Iceberg Slim was reborn an artist after age 40. His third, and harshest prison sentence—10 months in steel solitary at the Cook County House of Corrections—finally crushed the pimp right out of him. Vilifying past predatory values, he exorcised his demons into folklore, leaving a seven-book legacy. Pimp: The Story of My Life, contained bookend warnings against the life. But Iceberg’s masterpiece only bolstered pimp liberation amidst the blaxploitation movie craze. In Times Square, for instance, a hundred fur-coated Superflys lorded over a thousand streetwalkers, taking renegade control of 8th Avenue. For them, Pimp declassified the sorcery of whore control, became a textbook for wannabes, and lent ethnic pride to the hideous profession.

Pimp still holds as perhaps the greatest chronicle ever written on male-female relations. In the flush of literary success, white feminist-journalist types sought out interviews like intellectual groupies. Pimp philosophy, Iceberg believed, might be adapted to mainstream relationships.

“My theory is that some quantum of pimp in every man would perhaps enhance his approach to women,” he told the Washington Post. “Because I think it’s a truism that women gravitate to a man who can at least flash transient evidence of heelism. . . Women are prone to masochism, anyway. I think if you are able to manufacture a bit of ‘heelism’ in your nature and give them a sense of insecurity as to whether some voluptuous rival might come along and steal you, then you are a treasured jewel.”

The thrill, Iceberg told the L.A. Free Press, came during youth, where he described “a vacuum that is filled by the joy of learning the intricacies of being a pimp. . . For really, what is the bedrock of all male aspiration, if it isn’t cunt and money? Now here the pimp, what has he got? All kinds of beautiful girls, who bring him cunt and money. Kiss and suck and love him. . . .on the surface, of course, because beneath, they really pray for his ruin.”

An underlying trait common to career pimps, Iceberg found, was a hatred of mother. “I've known several dozen, in fact, that were dumped into trash bins when they were. . . only four or five days old.”

Pimping was a black man's hustle—Iceberg claimed he never saw a white player in his league. Whites were rare, he explained, “Because there’s so many other areas of chicanery, which are much more lucrative, that are open to white fellows.” Iceberg reffered to white women, in the historical sense, of course, as “alabaster supercunts.”

Black pimps of yore (denied entry into the corporate death culture they enjoy today) chose to use their superior intellect to enslave women, avoiding the sucker’s work-a-day world. But controlling 10 women at a time could really fray a fellow’s nerves. One must summon endless schemes and deceptions to stay one step ahead of his treacherous charges: “A pimp is happy when his whores giggle,” Iceberg wrote. “He knows they are still asleep.”

One wrong turn, and Candy Man Dan could “blow whoreless.”

Iceberg told the Washington Post he retired from the life at age 42 “because I was old. I did not want to be teased, tormented and brutalized by young whores.” Girls raised on TV, brainwashed by its tease of material wealth, could no longer fall for the cheap glamour once utilized by Iceberg’s generation of pimps. (In those days, a pimp could tack upon his hotel walls yard rolls of satin from the fabric store, and dazzle the bitches.)

At the age of 55, with four young children, he said, “Now my ambition is to be as good a father as I was a pimp.” Anxious to feed those four hungry beaks, as well as cushion their future, the middle-aged dad wrote, gave lectures and stayed square. It was tough adjusting from Big Daddy to just plain daddy. At first, his infant daughters were like “little whores,” he said. He had a morbid fear of being kissed by them, and would only pick up his kids with their backs toward him. Through grit and determination, and the aid of his new wife, Iceberg eventually fit in—comfortably niched in Los Angeles halfway between Ward and Eldridge Cleaver.


Iceberg Slim’s second novel, Trick Baby, abounds with the preposterous racial torments that Blacks and whites alike once rained upon the poor mulatto or octoroon. Any such person, it was once assumed in the ghetto, must surely be the offspring of a black prostitute and a white trick; thus the title Trick Baby (talk about your snap judgments!).

Trick Baby is the story of his prison mate, the great Chicago con man Johnny O’Brien, of Irish-African blood—known as “White Folks” to his friends, “Trick Baby” to his enemies. Looking like the twin of Errol Flynn, Folks could have entered white society, but spent his early career on Chicago’s South Side, preferring to flimflam his own people.


Iceberg’s prose did indeed grow loftier in sophistication as his success increased. One of the journalistic sketches collected in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim, shows him humbled before the Black Panthers:

“Nigger, you kicked black women in the ass for bread. How many you got now?” comes a young Panther. Rather than chop him down with his “still-remembered masterworks of pimp profanity,” Iceberg admits to himself that the Panthers are “superior to that older generation of cowards, of which I am part.” He leaves with “genuine tears rolling down my joyous old nigger cheeks.”


After Iceberg Slim became the American ghetto’s best-selling author, he released a masterful performance album of poetry called Reflections in the early ’70s. The timbre and meter of his voice is so hypnotic, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how he sweet-talked hundreds of wavering females into the world’s oldest profession. Such a demonstration, in fact, is reenacted for your listening pleasure on the opening vignette, “The Fall.”

We can only speculate that Iceberg’s literary education in prison included the discovery of poet Robert W. Service, whose meter he emulates. Service wrote doggerel epics at the turn of the century, like “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” As Service wrote of what he knew—the Klondike and the Gold Rush—so did Iceberg write what he knew, using the form made popular by Service.


Holloway House, the independent Black publishing group in Los Angeles, which has published Iceberg exclusively in paperback, since 1969, features Iceberg’s seven novels as its flagship titles. Holloway spokesman Mitchell Neal brazenly told me that books by Black authors were unavailable during the ’60s—not only dismissing black establishment writers of the era, but poets (Leroi Jones), playwrights (Ed Bullins, Melvin Van Peebles), show-biz bios (Sammy Davis’ Yes I Can!, Pigmeat Markham’s Here Come Da Judge!) and numerous political manifestos. But he was not far off the mark, as bookstores had not yet initiated the “African-American” section. (Which smacks of segregation, and begs the question, why not have a White People section? Or add a Colored Only water fountain to the African-American aisle?)

In the 1970s, Holloway represented an alternative Black literature in paperback—Iceberg Slim as its flagship author, followed by the oeuvres of Donald Goines (16 titles), Odie Hawkins (16 titles), Joe Nazel (10 titles), Rae Shawn Stewart (five titles), and a spectrum of black westerns, mysteries, crime sagas, biographies. A half-dozen different pimp memoirs, for instance, followed on the heels of Iceberg—who remains America's true pimp-laureate.


© 1997, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman


From Pimp: The Story of My Life

A good pimp doesn’t get paid for screwing. He gets his pay-off for always having the right thing to say to a whore right on lightning tap. I knew my four whores were flapping their ears to get my reaction to this beautiful bitch. A pimp with an overly fine bitch in his stable has to keep his game tight. Whores constantly probe for weakness in a pimp.

I fitted a scary mask on my face and said, in a low, deadly voice, “Bitch, are you insane? No bitch in this family calls any shots or muscles me to do anything. Now take your stinking yellow ass upstairs to a bath and some shut-eye. Get in the street at noon like I told you.”

The bitch just stood there. Her eyes slitted in anger. I could sense she was game to play the string out right there in the street before my whores. If I had been ten-years dumber I would have leaped out of the ‘Hog’ and broken her jaw, and put my foot in her ass. The joint was too fresh in my mind.


I knew the bitch was trying to booby-trap me when she spat out her invitation. “Come on, kick my ass. What the hell do I need a man I only see when he comes to get his money? I am sick of it all. I don’t dig stables and never will. I know I’m the new bitch who has to prove herself. Well Goddamnit, I am sick of this shit. I'm cutting out.”


She stopped for air and lit a cigarette. I was going to blast her ass off when she finished. I just sat there staring at her.


Then she went on, “I have turned more tricks in the three months I have been with you than in the whole two years with Paul. My pussy stays sore and swollen. Do I get my ass kicked before I split? If so, kick it now because I’m going back to Providence on the next thing smoking.”


She was young, fast with trick appeal galore. She was a pimp’s dream and she knew it. She had tested me with her beef. She was laying back for a sucker response.


I disappointed her with my cold overlay. I could see her wilt as I said in an icy voice. “Listen square-ass bitch, I have never had a whore I couldn’t do without. I celebrate, Bitch, when a whore leaves me. It gives some worthy bitch a chance to take her place and be a star. You scurvy Bitch, if I shit in your face, you gotta love it and open your mouth wide.”


The rollers cruised by in a squad car. I flashed a sucker smile on my face. I cooled it until they passed. Kim was rooted there wincing under the blizzard.


I went on ruthlessly, “Bitch, you are nothing but a funky zero. Before me you had one chili chump with no rep. Nobody except his mother ever heard of the bastard. Yes, Bitch, I’ll be back this morning to put your phony ass on the train.”


I rocketed away from the curb. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Kim walk slowly into the hotel. Her shoulders were slumped. Until I dropped the last whore off you could have heard a mosquito crapping on the moon. I had tested out for them, “solid ice.”


I went back for Kim. She was packed and silent. On the way to the station, I riffled the pages in that pimp’s book in my head. I searched for an angle to hold her without kissing her ass.


I couldn’t find a line in it for an out like that. As it turned out the bitch was testing and bluffing right down the line.


We had pulled into the station parking lot when the bitch fell to pieces. Her eyes were misty when she yelped, “Daddy, are you really going to let me split? Daddy, I love you.”


I started the prat action to cinch her when I said, “Bitch, I don’t want a whore with rabbit in her. I want a bitch who wants me for life. You have got to go. After that bullshit earlier this morning, you are not that bitch.”


That prat butchered her. She collapsed into my lap crying and begging to stay. I had a theory about splitting whores. They seldom split without a bankroll.


So, I cracked on her, “Give me that scratch you held out and maybe I'll give you another chance.”


Sure enough she reached into her bosom. She drew out close to five bills and handed it to me. No pimp with a brain in his head cuts loose a young beautiful whore with lots of mileage left in her. I let her come back.






Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

Josh on Forty Doo-Wop: I hate this cliche, but: You talkin' to me?

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, April 19, 2010

Winedale Nation

Originally ran in the Dallas Observer, Nov. 9-15, 1995. The Winedale was my longest running gig, about 15 years. I no longer play there.


In 1992, when I began performing Monday nights at the Winedale Tavern on Lower Greenville Avenue, it was Skid Row’s royal palace in Dallas. There, some patrons behave as if released from Parkland Hospital’s observation ward directly to the Winedale; others, as though sprung from the dog pound. The audience is the show, and favorite evenings are those in which gorgeous, albeit demented, young girls sit interspersed with babbling, nose-bleeding derelicts. No matter where I’m booked, I try not to miss this engagement.

Playing for the homeless seemed a noble cause, when I filled in one night for local songwriter-emcee Bob Ackerman. I agreed to cover one more Monday—but have extended my run three years.

Opened in 1985 by local restaurateur, Lota Dunham, the Winedale was conceived as a red-tablecloth “class” establishment. Indeed, it initially drew the Dallas Opera, being close to Nero’s, the opera company’s favorite Italian restaurant. But as the Dallas Opera began its slow decline in the late 80s, the Winedale began to attract a more derelict element. One can imagine Lota’s trepidation, her dreams of polite society sipping Pouilly Fuisse giving way to a posse of dust-bowl panhandlers and Reagan-era homeless, who celebrate the art of alcoholism. Gone were the tablecloths. The Winedale became the Last Stop for those banned from every other bar on Greenville Avenue. The only beer joint on Greenville open at 7 am. No poor bastard became truly homeless until he was banned from the Winedale.


The quintessential Winedale man of this era was Lance. Though homeless, he had a debonair gait, like a movie pirate. In fact, he had one eye. When on the rebound, he carried himself with dignity, wore an eyepatch, bathed, slicked back his hair. Although he slept outdoors behind dumpsters, he managed to assemble a natty outfit. In this mode, Lance could actually score a slow dance with one of the Winedale’s femmes fatales.

But just as often, he was on a downslide, lost his eyepatch and exposed an empty black socket, a grim abyss within his head. There was a shrivelled mess of skin around this black hole. Without the eyepatch, this cockeyed look was downright menacing to women he stared down. The socket had a hypnotic effect, and women found themselves staring back helplessly, before turning away in revulsion.

A hard-looking 42, Lance estimated he’d been in jail 250 times. These included overnight drunk tanks, three-day weekends, 10-day psychiatric observations. His longest stretch was three years at Rahway, New Jersey. “Do your time in a county jail,” he advised, “stay away from the Federal pen.”

A Monday or two might pass without Lance. Then he’d proudly saunter in, freshly sprung from Lew Sterrett Justice Center.

“You don’t seem like a bad guy, Lance,” I’d say. “What could possibly have put you there this time?”

“Tickets,” was his stock answer.

It was known that Lance held a job in construction during his youth, and that he was competent. Building contractors, impressed with his suave demeanor, offered construction work. Lance graciously accepted jobs, toasting a beer to salvation. But he never showed up. He was determined to live off the streets, banishing the work ethic forever.

“I’m sitting here because I ain’t all there,” he would often say at the bar, pointing to his brain.

_____________________________________

Early on during my tenure at this deceptively humble shotgun bar, I noticed Winedale bartenders burn out fast. In my first six months, four were committed to convalescence or rehab clinics. I regretted losing barkeep Tim Nelson, a scrappy little red-bearded fellow.

“A round of waters for the house, on me!” I’d announce, through the PA, after the crowd had drummed along on the bar counter, to my acoustic guitar “Wipeout.”

“We’re outta water,” Tim would bellow. “But the first drink’s on God.” Free beers were served to Jezebels twice his size. He struck out with all of them.

At first, Tim ascribed to good bartending theory: If you miss a customer trying to order his first beer or two, you lose him for the night. Once he’s had two, he’ll likely stay for four or five. But this strategy was abandoned while Tim disappeared to the bar next door, downing more shots each week. (The Winedale has no hard liquor license.) Long before Last Call, he slumbered on the silver beer refrig, curled up in fetal position, hands angelically tucked under his head. Rouse him awake to order a Coke, he’d glare at you like you were insane. He eventually left the asylum to the inmates, letting gutter alcoholics fetch their own beers on the honor system.

The day after Tim was mugged while wandering disoriented up Maple Avenue, his friends arranged an “intervention,” committing him to the V.A. rehab hospital. He stuck with the program, and began to excel at landscaping chores.

Screamin’ Sadie, my second Monday night bartender, feared no man. She described half of her job as being “a professional escort to the door” for the unruly. Sadie eighty-sixed an average of five guys per Monday night, swiftly and without incident. She was a strict elementary school marm presiding over older men with arrested developments.

But the customer who caused her the most turmoil was an elegant, bejewelled Highland Park matron who always came undone during my acoustic rendition of “Tequila.” She danced the length of the bar, Egyptian Pee-Wee-style, fishing out her tits. Winos went bonkers, more showing up each week. But our gal Sadie felt inclined to uphold some specific TABC license required when both beer and boobs are served. Citing bureaucratic regulations, Sadie evicted her each week, soon as the tits debuted.

Next week, her Jaguar rolled up to the Winedale curb. The mystery dame never fraternized with our old hippies or wino regulars. Aloof and silent, she awaited her cue—the opening chords of “Tequila,” originally played by Glen Campbell in The Champs.

By the fourth week of her midlife crisis, “Tequila” became my most popular request. “Go, baby, go!” clapped the winos. The lady stripped starkers this time, before Sadie could banish her for good (“We could lose our license,” Sadie explained.) To the groaning regret of many a derelict, bulky pop art collages were suspended low from the bar ceiling. They prevent countertop slut dancing to this day.

The pressures took a fast toll on Sadie, who began to escort regulars out the door for imagined infractions. After six weeks, she cracked worse than Tim. Tanking up on shots next door, she returned plastered, crawling along the bar, her own breasts dangling out of her blouse, screaming “Fuck you!” to anyone who dared order a drink. She was promptly relieved, the management graciously arranging a long stay in a rest home. She was last reported doing fine, excelling in arts and crafts.

My third barkeep, an Irishman who came to America to work, was gung-ho to replace Sadie. He was a personable, cheerful rugby player in top shape. He cracked within a month, and booked passage to Asia Minor, which he planned to cross on foot.

Next came Pedro, a hardened, humorless pro who worked other shifts at the Winedale. His sideline business was stenciling house addresses on sidewalks. “Everybody needs their address painted, but don’t do it themselves,” he said, boasting that he’d cornered the market. He came to work in freshly pressed Arrow shirts, with a trim goatee and splash of witch hazel. An Aramis man.

Pedro prided himself on his utter refusal to ever “take shit from anybody.” Yet Pedro adopted a generous “three-strikes” rule of crowd control. Some bum got two chances. He might whisper sweet nothings in some mortified lady’s ear. He might jump on stage, or emit some hair-raising yelp. Hyperactive dancers who looked like they might screw themselves into the floor got a strike. Whatever, Pedro issued an order to stop. By the third violation, Pedro threw his thumb up for strike three and hollered, “You're outta here!” He’d scale his side of the bar, arguing chest to chest with a grizzled old offender. “And I don't take no lip!” came Pedro, finger-poking his man out the door. Last words were always reserved for the perennial wino’s threat, “I’ll be back!”

For a while, it was argued as to whether the Winedale should become a “one-strike” place—because once troublemakers demonstrate they’re willing to take strike two, they’re on a roll. As musical eminence of this humble environment, I felt obliged to remain uninvolved—other than playing “Howdy Doody Time” during bouncings. It was honor enough having a guy like Lance in the audience who’d spend his last few bucks nursing a couple of beers to hear me play some blues. This meant sacrificing a $4 room at the men’s shelter and sleeping under the I-30 bridge. A quarter flipped into my tip jar from a homeless gent touched me more than a crisp hundred from a doctor or rich redneck.

The Winedale sisterhood included young regulars Nellie and Tara, who were fairly skilled at glomming drinks. They never paid or tipped. They smiled upon impoverished men as long as it took to fish out their beggar’s change to order the girls beers. Then they abandoned the suckers for the pool table.

Nellie, a top-heavy Brunnhilde, was the daughter of a once-renowned Dallas bar owner. A testament as to why children shouldn’t be raised in bars. By the end of the night, she’d slink out with a different vagrant, her eyes cast down in vacant disgrace. Next week she’d return with a black eye, bruises or stitches on her head. As soon as one black eye healed, she had an uncanny penchant for acquiring another.

“Fell off my bicycle,” was her stock answer.

Tara, her bosom buddy, hadn’t a clue that she was indeed attractive. With a low self image and slumped shoulders, she turned haughty and sarcastic toward males. Nellie and Tara performed an ongoing routine for my benefit, a mock invitation to their hot tub back at the house. But they were often evicted as nuisance tenants, moving from apartment to apartment like two alley cats with suitcases.

Tara and Nellie often took barstools adjacent to the plywood stage, dreamily pencil sketching themselves naked by their imaginary hot tub. Blushing, they dropped deranged pickup lines in my tip jar (“Hey, baby, I'd like to eat the peanuts outta your shit.”). Tara deposited sketches of genitalia into my jar. I tried to persuade them to stalk Horton Heat instead of me.

Whenever I announced a Ladies Choice “Dance With Lance,” it was Tara who obliged him. The Winedale’s top drink scammer, 21 years old, blushing on Lance’s shoulder, misfits at the high school prom they never attended. Lance’s song was “Sleepwalk,” a slow, crotch-grinding chestnut I played in Greenwich Village with doo-wop group City Limits. (Our diesel-dyke impresario of several lesbian cabarets once professed, “I kissed my first goil to that song in high school.”)

Follow-up Winedale dance announcements included a Necrophiliac’s Choice, as well as singalong sections isolating just the ladies, then just the men, then the ex-cons, those out on parole, those with one eye or leg, etc. This was no joke. The Winedale resembled the Howdy Doody Peanut Gallery, shot to hell.

Pedro never cracked a smile at my smart-ass routines. Though he’d outlasted my previous three bartenders, I noticed his patience thinning. He was Born to Bounce, especially older, enfeebled violators who came for the music, not the beer. Order a water and he would begin the umpire schtick. Ultimatums came quicker. He communed with a few scowling cab drivers at the back of the bar, relating how he bounced out truckers and bikers twice his size, at previous bar jobs. The cabbies returned with tales of customer altercations that led to fist fights and macings. Pedro’s corner turf became a separate Winedale nation from my acid vaudeville show up front.

“Lance could make something of himself,” Pedro often complained, “but he don't want to work.” If Lance arrived without the eyepatch, Pedro disapproved. He considered this uncouth grooming, improper etiquette during his shift. He reminded people that he ran this bar, and how all the street people knew not to mess with Pedro. But he usually kept his distance from Lance. “That guy can take care of himself. I wouldn’t want to mess with him.”


The Winedale is a shabby oasis, detached from the club circuit. I prefer its sublime natural acoustics to most rock clubs. If a stranger interrupts my set making unrealistic demands (“Play some Smothers Brothers, godamnit!”), a protective layer of hobos will form to my defense.

“Play your own shit!” cry my alcoholic defenders, deflecting James Taylor requests from SMU students. My three ultimate taboos: James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Jim Croce. This unholy trinity comprises the musical illiterate’s microscopic vision of what someone with an acoustic guitar is supposed to cover.

I always felt secure that if I ever ended up overnight at Lew Sterrett Correctional Facility, some guardian hobo from the Winedale would surely be there. Most likely Lance, who saw jail as a paid vacation from the streets. He awoke behind a dumpster most mornings, happy as a lark, amazed to open his eyes and hear the chirping of birds. “Always thankful no one waltzed by with a crowbar to bash my head in,” he told me. He ripped tubes from his body when he awoke in hospitals, propositioned nurses and chuckled his way down the back stairs with stolen drugs—anxious to make Monday at the Winedale.

Lance claimed to have shared a cell in Texas with David Crosby. If his drug and legal problems weren’t enough, Crosby must have been bombarded by Lance’s song lyrics. He pulled crumpled sheets of paper from his trousers, rattling off fresh verses composed in jail. Full of real-life hardship and hobo angst. He’d break into a thumb-popping hard sell, slinging lyrics at me while I was onstage, in the middle of a guitar solo or between songs. Since Crosby, Stills, Nash & Lance never materialized, he hoped to join forces with me.

A few homeless regulars, disenfranchised though they were, felt compelled to go to bat for my career. One old leprechaun, reminiscent of Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, showed up with a million-dollar record deal in the works. He enlisted backing from McDonald’s, whom he alleged had finally warmed to my anti-jingle, “Thanksgiving at McDonald’s in Times Square.” The McDonald’s leprechaun claimed to be tight, in his pre-wino days, with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Every week he returned with progress reports and recording studio dates. Then someone recognized the wino from his days handing out discount Chicken McNuggets coupons in the West End. His sphere of influence ended there.

Called on the delusion, he cackled so hard, I thought he’d need a straight jacket. Lance, who himself had some TV deal in the works for me, wasn’t charmed, and punched the poor guy out, which sent him scurrying off from the Winedale forever.


Pedro’s nerves disintegrated slow but steady, like shock absorbers on a New York taxi. One night a young girl got onstage to sing “Roadhouse Blues.” It was her first time onstage; she dreamt of being a folk singer. Some little stone freak hippie in front became overly taken with her. “She’s great!” he exploded, continuing to applaud after everyone else finished. “She's great. . .and I suck! She’s great, and we all suck! This place sucks. You suck, I suck, and fuck us all!”

At surreal moments of truth like this, when someone was about to go over the edge, the whole bar would come to a hush. Pedro took charge, hands upon hips, not about to take shit. “All right, pipe down.” (Strike one.)

“She’s great!” came the little freak, stalking toward Pedro. “You suck!” he ranted in some meth-driven rage. “You suck, she’s great, she’s better than all of us!” he went on, now jabbing his finger.

“You’re outta here!” came Pedro, hopping over the bar.

“I suck!” continued the odd outburst, with passive aggression. The guy insulted himself profusely, which confused Pedro enough that he shrugged and headed back behind the bar.


Lance was inevitably banned from the Winedale. Though he behaved commendably on my night, he apparently crossed over the line, prompting another evening’s bartender to brand him persona non grata. If one Winedale bartender saw fit to ban a customer, all other bartenders upheld the decision. Lance, sans patch, may have whispered one of his hair-raising sweet nothings into women’s ears at the bar. (“How ’bout lettin’ Lance in yer pants? Any chance?”)

Thereafter, Lance began to appear like an apparition at the door each Monday night, peering in like a pauper at a Christmas store. “Hang in there, Lance,” I’d announce through the mike. “This ain’t no Shangri-La, this ain’t no promised land. It’s just the Winedale.” A round of Amens grumbled from the privileged class inside. But a tear fell down Lance’s cheek from his one good eye. Cold, weather-beaten, having lost weight, he was too cowed to enter. My wife, who considers Monday a school night, had come on a rare visit. He gingerly tipped the front door and whispered to her, “Is it okay if I open it a little, to just listen?”

With Pedro’s threshold for tomfoolery down to one strike, more regulars received permanent evictions. Especially music fans. Stripped of citizenship at the Last Stop on Greenville Avenue. Winedale Country was off limits. Banishment from the London Tavern, Service Bar, Nero’s or Simply Fondue was taken in stride. But Winedale banishment was a humiliation most found hard to accept. Excommunicated winos and old hippies paced before the window each Monday, pining to come in, awaiting forgiveness, shouting their favorite requests from outside.

I spoke up for Lance, but Pedro wouldn’t budge. Ironically, it was another bartender who banished Lance, and neither Lance nor Pedro had a clue as to why.

“Speak to Pete,” Pedro shouted to Lance outside, “clear it up with him; until he says yes, you can't enter.”

“What’d I do?” Lance would ask week after week, from the door. He claimed not to know the bartender who banned him, couldn’t fathom the infraction. But Pedro held steadfast.

I played “Thanksgiving at McDonald’s” each week for Lance, who beamed at the door with other undesirables, high-fiving each other. Among my sidewalk audience was Ray the Poetry Mugger. A Black street hustler, he cornered yuppies on Greenville Avenue with his tip jar, jabbering psycho poetry as they stared vacantly. Stalking college coffee houses, he’d hold a whole table hostage with an epic like The Days of Your Week (“Monday is a work day, berserk day, get up early wash yo’ shirt day. . .”)

Phoebe Legere and Josh at the Winedale

I often bring travelling guest musicians. A recovering Texas blues guitarist made the pilgrimage. “Give this man a hand,” I told the audience, as he strapped on his guitar. But he’d fallen off the wagon that night, and fell, mid-song, off the stage. He collapsed in sections, out cold from a combination of beer and hard dope.

“Is that the blues?” asked two ingenuous SMU boys, hovering over his body, seeking musical knowledge.

“Not exactly,” I said. “B.B. King don’t collapse onstage. Now, give this man a hand.”

Pedro began giving me the brush off. Whenever I ordered a drink he’d say, “Get it yourself.” When I finally got my own beer, he saw this as the ultimate affront to his authority. A three-strike offense. The worst infraction a musician can commit against a club is to help himself to a beer. Might throw off the books. He rallied his corner of the bar against me. A Mexican who ran illicit cockfights began flipping cryptic hand signals my way. I knew one of us—me or Pedro—had to go.

Then Lance appeared at the door. It was winter, and he’d bottomed out with the shakes. He stared into the bar mournfully. I was whipping out final songs of the night, before two dozen hardcore customers. Suddenly, Lance began a game of cat and mouse. He opened the door. Pedro put his hands on hips. Then Lance took one step over the border line of public sidewalk into the establishment. Pedro shot out his thumb: “Outta here!”

At this moment, the crowd started rooting for Lance. I began my oft-played bouncer’s march—“Howdy Doody Time” (sung to "Tra-La-La-Boom-De-Ya"):

(spoken)
Say, kids, what time is it?
It’s Howdy Doody time!
It’s Howdy Doody time
It’s Howdy Doody time
Bob Smith and Howdy, too
Say howdy do to you
Let’s give a rousing cheer
Cause Howdy Doody’s here
It’s time to start the show
So kids, let’s go!

The whole bar, rather than hushing, became the Peanut Gallery, and I was Buffalo Bob Smith. The joint went bonkers, all the winos clapping and singing along. Especially Lance, a demonic, overjoyed grin on his face, stomping an Irish jig. He danced into the Winedale singing, “It’s Howdy Doody time, it’s Howdy Doody time!” Pedro, summoning reserve strength at the end of the night, bolted over the bar, locked an arm around Lance’s elbow and backpedaled him out. A weakened, underweight Lance danced madly backward, belting out the chorus. He fell in the gutter.

Satisfied that he bounced the guy, Pedro regained his authority, brushed his hands of the affair. He took his position behind the bar. And who should come goose-stepping back in, but Lance, more berserk with Howdy Doody than ever. The rafters shook with choruses of Doody.

Another shoving match. But this time, with the entire Winedale Nation’s energy against him, the bartender didn’t win. Pedro’s shoulders went limp, his resolve defeated. He backed down. He took shit. Lance was home free. It was truly Howdy Doody Time at the Winedale.

Something in Pedro died that night. He mumbled under his breath. He told me I was through playing the Winedale. But he was fired the next day.

After a month of soul-searching, he recovered somewhat and was rehired to work other shifts. Word has it he’s been raising chickens (he won’t take shit from poultry).

_________________________________________

My current bartender, Steve Vail, has been with me two years running. His stock warning to panhandlers: “This is not a soup kitchen for the alcoholically impaired.” The demographics have changed a bit over the last two years, shamefully upscaled. But even a poorly attended evening can take a sudden surreal twist.

Not long ago, a tour bus pulled up at midnight unloading 50 French gynecologists. They were impeccably dressed in smart designer outfits, in Dallas for a vaginal summit. How they happened upon the Winedale I’ll never know, but they lustily revelled in their discovery of an authentic American dive.

I’d luckily brought my Silvertone and Dan Electro guitars, drenching them with Texas blues. One doctor spotted the first 50 beers with a hundred dollar bill. The next 50 longnecks were popped open on credit. By 2 am, ties loosened, sweat circling beneath their pits, they’d danced and enjoyed life, bons vivants free from the constraints of the medical establishment. It was the only night I ever saw bartender Steve get looped.

When the last of the gynecologists had boarded the departing bus, tearfully waving au revoir, Steve realized they stiffed us on the beers. And as peculiar to France’s frugal anti-tipping tradition, there wasn’t one penny in my or the bartender’s tip jars. Feeling diplomatic nonetheless, I was glad they chose the Winedale for a taste of America, over the plastic tourism of a Hard Rock Cafe.

Rarely does Steve have to bounce anyone, as he is beloved by all and doesn’t need to assert much authority. Once I saw him take out his black midget bat when a sinewy mental patient refused to leave. Steve gave him his three strikes, but the guy wouldn't budge. He just presented his head, called Steve’s bluff, awaiting the crack of the wood. When Steve wouldn’t strike, he left disappointed. Steve already excels as a sailboat skipper.

Lance collapsed dead on Christmas, in a construction foreman’s car. It was the first day of a job he actually showed up for.



© 1995, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

For more on the Winedale, click here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

The Golden Dollar was a hideout for thieves, pickpockets and con men. The National was booked solid with hookers. What's not to love?

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jack Ruby: Dallas’ Original J.R.

The following originally appeared in Hustler, March 1991, in slightly different form.

artwork by Joe Coleman

Dallas Homeboy Was Standup Club Owner to R&B Musicians

Jack Ruby would have turned 80 on March 25, 1991. I tried to gather a round table of former Ruby strippers for this occasion. After much detective legwork, I could not turn up one aging broad—all of Ruby's girls had vanished into the smoke of assassination lore. What follows instead are reminiscences of friends, foes, musicians and acquaintances who were still at large.


He is frozen in our consciousness as the charging, black-suited patriot who gunned down Oswald on national TV two days after Kennedy’s death. Ruby believed he avenged his president's murder, saved Dallas’ reputation in the eyes of the world, made the Jews look good and spared fair Jacqueline the horror of a murder trial.

Jack Ruby has figured in countless conspiracy theories, works of fiction and history books. He remains a star player in the American mythology of the JFK Assassination. A librarian at the Dallas Public Library refers tiredly to the huge assassination file log as “the Kennedy junk.” In 1990, Ruby’s executor-attorney was asking $130,000 for the .38 Colt Cobra that killed Oswald, along with some mundane possessions, like an undershirt Jack bought at Sears. (Who the hell would desire Jack Ruby’s undershirt?)

An international glare came upon Jack Ruby’s dark little corner of Dallas night life on November 25, 1963. His second-rate strip joint, the Carousel, became the world’s most famous burlesque. Yet few customers ventured in after Ruby hit the front pages.

“Anybody coulda killed Oswald, the way people’s feelings was running at that time—it didn't surprise me it was Jack,” says Dallas Deputy Sheriff Lynn Burk, who knew Ruby well, and was present when Oswald was captured at the Texas Theater. “I’m surprised some policeman didn’t kill Oswald first.”

“He stuck by what he did,” says Captain Ray Abner, who was Ruby’s personal jail guard. “He said he loved Kennedy and that he was glad he did it. But I believe Jack just intended to wound Oswald. Spend a couple years in prison, sell a book and movie rights. He was a small figure who came up from the Chicago underworld. He was a guy who wanted to be a big-shot.”

On Ruby’s last day as a free citizen that November morning in ’63, he was a paunchy, balding, 52-year-old burly-Q operator. He had oily, slicked-back black hair, a cleft in his chin, five-o’clock jowl shadow, and he wore cuff links, a tie stickpin and diamond pinkie rings.

The Carousel was located on Commerce Street, one flight up, between a parking garage and a short-order restaurant. Strippers’ 8x10s hung over the entrance. A $2 cover allowed horny patrons entrance to a square, barn-like room with dark-red carpeting and booths of black plastic. Jack Ruby’s stage was the size of a boxing ring, with a five-piece bump-and-grind orchestra, but no dancing. The bar was boomerang-shaped, finished in gold-plated plastic and gaudy gold-mesh drapes. The black barkeep, Andy Armstrong, was Ruby’s right-hand man. Overhead hung a gold-framed painting of a stallion, which Ruby believed had “real class.”

Obsessed with “class,” he operated from a dingy little office in the back with a gray metal desk and small safe.

Terre’ Tale, a Dallas strip queen of the ’60s, had a dozen routines. The crowd favorite was an Uncle Sam act in which her boobs marched in time with a hup-two-three-four soundtrack. She met Ruby when innocently answering a Carousel newspaper ad for a cocktail waitress: “The black bartender told me to come back with the sexiest outfit I had. When I came back, they sat me down next to a guy with more arms than an octopus. I didn’t even know the Carousel had strippers. I’d never seen a strip. The girls laughed at my reaction. ‘When Jack sees you, he’ll have you on amateur night this Friday.’ But Jack Ruby was nice to me. ‘Does your body look as good as your face?’ he said. ‘No, I have two kids,’ I told him. Then he told me he could make me a star, put me in an apartment, send me to the beauty parlor every day.”

Terre’ Tale refused Ruby’s offer, but a few years later she was headlining the Colony Club, two doors down from Ruby at 1322 Commerce. Abe Weinstein’s Colony club was Dallas’s most reputable burlesque from 1939 to 1973. Ruby envied this deco cabaret, which seemed to possess the elusive class he so craved.

“My club was a nightclub,” says retired owner Abe Weinstein, now 83. “His was just a joint. I had big names; he had nobody. When he came from Chicago to Dallas in ’47, he came up to my club right away. He was told there’s a Jew runs a club, that’s how I met him.”

Ruby, whose God-given name was Rubenstein, ran a few music spots before opening the Carousel right next to Abe in 1960. Ruby was a tremendous pain in the ass, bottom-feeding off the Colony’s action for three years. “My relationship with Jack was bad,” says Weinstein. “He threatened to kill me one week before he killed Oswald. I’d had him barred from the club. He tried to hire away my waitresses and employees. Here’s my opinion: Jack Ruby killed Oswald because he wanted to be world-famous. If he’d have killed Oswald before the police got Oswald, he would have been a hero. But it was no great thing to get him in the police station.”

Ruby was particularly jealous of amateur night at the Colony and the lines it drew. There was no such thing a jail bait—girls in their mid-teens could hop onstage and strip.

“I started when I was 15,” recalls former stripper Bubbles Cash in her North Dallas jewelry-pawn shop, Top Cash. “If you were married in Texas, you could do anything your husband said you could do. I married at 13. I told my husband I wanted to be a dancer and take Candy Barr’s place as a star in downtown Dallas. The ladies were like movie stars, glamorous, classy. The first time I took my clothes off onstage was great. I wore a red, white and blue dress, and when I unzipped, everyone went crazy, and my husband was proud. It was amateur night.”

Eventually Ruby ripped off the amateur-night idea, sweet-talking local secretaries who’d never gotten naked before an audience onto the Carousel stage.

Bubbles recoils at the mention of Ruby, whom she never worked for: “I was told by Abe don’t even go near his place. The Carousel had a bad connotation; the girls weren’t on their best behavior. They did some hookin’ outta there.”

Weinstein, who lives alone with his memories, has almost no contact today with any of the strippers who graced his establishment. “I had the biggest stripper, Candy Barr,” boasts Weinstein. She was another figure associated in myth with Ruby. Abe pronounces her name with the same emphasis one would use for a Milky Way candy bar. “I named her, started her in the business, managed her. She packed the house every night.”


Abe claims Barr never worked for Ruby or had anything to do with him. But according to sax player Joe Johnson, Candy Barr came after hours to Ruby’s Vegas Club, in the late ’50s, to strip. “All the girls came over to the Vegas to strip,” says Johnson, who led a five-piece R&B group there. Johnson worked for Ruby six years, starting in 1957. His trademark was belting out sax solos as he walked along the bar top. “I was part of a family. Ruby was the best boss I had in Dallas. After he shot Oswald, the FBI followed me everywhere I’d play. I got six pages in the Warren Report.”

Legendary Dallas-born Big Texas Tenor, David “Fathead” Newman, took hometown gigs at Ruby’s Vegas and Silver Spur dives, when on leave from Ray Charles.

“The thing I remember most about Jack Ruby,” chuckles Newman, “were the stag parties in his clubs. Whenever the striptease dancers came out, he’d want the musicians to turn our backs, ’cause these were white ladies. He’d say, ‘Now, you guys turn your backs so you can't see this.’ But the strippers would insist that the drummer watch them so he could catch their bumps and grinds. So, Jack says, ‘Well, the drummer can look, but the rest of you guys, you turn your backs on the bandstand.’”

Ruby’s penchant for barroom brawls kept him in minor scrapes with Texas law. Deputy Sheriff Lynn Burk, a dapper 67, remembers the frontier days of Naughty Dallas. He was a frequent lunch mate of Ruby’s, and still has Jack’s Riverside phone number in his phone book. Burk ironed out some of Ruby’s barroom troubles.

He first entered Ruby’s music joint, the Silver Spur, in 1953: “Jack was stayin’ open late; there was suspicion he was serving liquor after hours.” Working undercover, Burk visited the club with a pint of whiskey and poured himself a shot, in the wee hours. Ruby politely told him to take it outside, thus abiding by the law. Burk was impressed.

Pre-Kennedy Assassination Dallas had small-town camaraderie, whereby the Texas Liquor Control Board supervisor could meet for lunch with a burlesque owner. Ruby often brought sandwiches by the dozen up to police headquarters. Free drinks went to servicemen, even reporters, who Ruby ingratiated himself with. That’s why he wasn’t seen as out of place in the basement where Oswald was transferred.


Burk says he enjoyed Jack’s stories about a fighting childhood on the East Side of Chicago. Ruby had been a Chicago ticket scalper, then sold tip sheets at a California racetrack. He came to Big D after the army discharged him in ’47 with a good-conduct medal and sharpshooters rating.

Burk recalls that Ruby was a good fighter who lifted weights and sparred with former lightweight champ, Barney Ross, who appeared as a character witness in Ruby’s murder trial.

“When I was assistant supervisor of the Liquor Board in Dallas, a man called one day, wanted to know what we did to proprietors who beat up customers. I said you come to my office, and if we prove a breach of the peace, we can suspend his license.

“So this great, big man, well dressed, comes in, some executive with LTV. Said he was down at the Carousel, he’d gotten separated from some friends. He thought they might have entered the Carousel; so he went up and paid admission, walked around, didn’t see ’em; so he asked for his money back before leaving. They said no, wouldn't give him his money back. He said, “Well, I’m not staying.’ They said, ‘Well, we’re not giving your money back.’ Then he said the proprietor knocked him down. He got up, and the proprietor knocked him down again.

“I said, ‘I’ll get Jack Ruby down here; you identify him.’ I called Jack. I said, ‘Come on down, and come to my office first, you understand?’ Because the complainant and the supervisor were sitting in the other office.

“I said, ‘Jack, there’s a man in the next room you beat up at the Carousel.’ He remembered. I said, ‘We’re goin’ in there, and you be the most humble damn man ever walked into that damn office.’ So we go in, and I say, ‘Mr. Smith, this is Jack Ruby.’ Jack said, ‘The first thing I wanna do is apologize.’ The man said, ‘Why did you knock me down the second time?’ Jack said, ‘You’re a lot bigger than I am,’ and described a fight where he knocked a man down once who got up and bit his finger off. Ruby showed his missing finger. He said that was the reason he always hits a man a second time. He said, ‘You can bring your whole office to my club; I'll feed them and give them drinks—I’m just sorry for what happened.’ The man dropped the complaint.”

Abe Weinstein tells this anecdote about Ruby’s temperament: “There was a famous Dallas society doctor that lived in Highland Park. He was a good customer of mine, never bothered anybody or fooled with the girls. For years, every time his wife left town, he’d come up to the Colony. Then a month passed, two months, I never saw him. I called a meeting with the girls, but nobody seen him.

“One day I’m walking by the Adolphus Hotel on Commerce, and I ran into Dr. Ross. He told me there’d been a doctors’ convention in town. A colleague from Los Angeles stayed with him, and Dr. Ross showed him the city. Took him up to Ruby’s place first, and he didn’t like the show. Dr. Ross walked down the steps and said he’d take the guy next door for a real show. Jack Ruby happened to be standing behind and heard the remark. When they got to the bottom of the steps, Ruby grabbed Ross by the neck and knocked out all his teeth. He couldn’t report it to the police because he was a Highland Park society doctor—what was he doin’ in this joint?

“But that’s Jack Ruby, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If you went into his club, he’d never seen you before, and said, ‘Jack I’m hungry; I don’t have a place to sleep,’ he would feed you and give you a place to sleep. But if he didn’t like you, he’d stab you in the back.”

Virtually all the strippers who worked for Jack Ruby have evaporated from the city of Dallas. Just try searching for a Double Delite in the phone directory. “I didn’t live 47 years by talking about it,” spat one ex-husband of a Ruby stripper, who hung up.

“You’re talking three generations of strippers back,” explains Shane Bondurant, a 1960s burlesque star who now preaches at the Rock of Ages church. Ms. Bondurant once twirled a ten-gallon Stetson hat from one boob to the next, whilst spinning two pistols at the hips. She used 24 live snakes in her act, and made headlines when one of the two lions she kept in her trailer park bit her leg.

Like Bubbles Cash, Terre’ Tale and Abe Weinstein, Ms. Bondurant knows the whereabouts of not one single Ruby girl: “I would figure most became prostitutes, addicts or died. A stripper’s career is ten years, and the few who survive afterward must be quite strong and pull their lives together.”

Ruby’s girls were not that strong. There were suicides that became part of the conspiracy lore. Baby LeGrand, whom Ruby wired money minutes before killing Oswald, was found hung by her toreador pants in an Oklahoma City holding cell in 1965. Arrested on prostitution charges, her death was ruled a suicide.

Tuesday Nite was another suicide. And in August 1990, worldwide interest was stirred by the latest conspiracy theory: The son of a Dallas cop claimed his father shot JFK, and presented a plausible scenario of evidence. His mother had worked at the Carousel, overhearing Ruby and her husband discussing the planned assassination. She was then given shock treatments, and is now allegedly too ill to speak to reporters.

Certain Ruby girls showed great devotion for their boss. Little Lynn liked Ruby enough to show up at the jail crying after Ruby was imprisoned. The 19-year-old, blue-eyed stripper carried a Beretta pistol in her scarf to give him. She was arrested at the entrance.

Shari Angel, once billed as “Dallas’ own Gypsy,” also kept a candle burning for Jack Ruby. In a 1986 Dallas Times Herald interview, the former Carousel headliner tried to raise money for “a medal or monument for Jack. He was a wonderful man.” Angel described him as a mother hen to the girls, who took them to dinner and bowling. She married the Carousel emcee, Wally Weston, who later died of lung cancer. After years in an alcoholic haze, she found Jesus and pulled herself together. “You know,” she told the Herald, “I’ve seen [Ruby] hit a man—I mean a real hard shot—and then pick him up and feed him for a week. He was big-hearted. If I could just get a monument to him, then maybe we could finally lay him to rest.”

Angel once again relates Ruby’s attack-repent ritual of belting some guy out, only to turn around and “feed” him. Needless to say, the city of Dallas never erected a monument. A little-known literary gem, Jack Ruby’s Girls, was published in 1970 by Genesis Press in Atlanta. “In Loving Memory of Jack Ruby,” read the dedication by Diana Hunter and Alice Anderson. “Our raging boss, our faithful friend, the kindest hearted sonuvabitch we ever knew.” This reflected the love-hate relationship of a half-dozen strippers profiled within.

There was Tawny Angel, who Ruby fell “insanely in love with,” tripping over his speech. Until her, say the authors, Jack Ruby-style sex encompassed only superficial one-nighters with “bus-station girls, trollops and promiscuous dancers.”

“Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club was in the heart of a city that never took the Carousel to its heart,” wrote the authors. “Dumping” champagne was a Carousel ritual. Girls accidentally spilled bottles of the rotgut stuff, marked up to $17.50 from a $1.60 wholesale price. Jack Ruby beer went for 60¢ a glass, and it was shit. He encouraged the bar girls not to drink it, just to waste it when sitting with suckers in the booths. Ruby didn’t allow hooking, claimed the authors, just the false promise of sex so they could hustle champagne.

Jack chiseled money from customers, yet loaned money to friends. He beat, pistol-whipped and blackjacked unruly patrons down the stairs. Spend money or get out—that was the attitude of the man who avenged President Kennedy’s death.

“I never believed there was a conspiracy between Jack and anyone,” states Deputy Sheriff Burk, never before interviewed about Ruby. “Because Jack Ruby had two dogs he thought more of than anybody. If he had any idea he was gonna kill Oswald, he woulda arranged for those dogs. It was a spontaneous outburst—he was over at the Western Union when they moved Oswald. It was timing.”

Not many folks came to visit Ruby in jail, according to Ray Abner. Immediately following the arrest, Abner was assigned to guard Ruby’s jail cell for over a year. He kept an ear on phone calls, listened to the arguments between Ruby and his sister Eva, watched him shower, heard him break mighty wind, even must have smelled it.

Ruby’s cell was isolated from the rest of the prisoners, near the chief’s office, with full-time security. “Jack liked special attention,” says Abner. “He felt like they oughta prepare meals the way he wanted ’em. I ate strictly jail food, same as the prisoners, and I insisted he do the same. None of the girls came to see him. Just his lawyers, his sister Eva and his brother Earl. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversations; so I’m pretty sure he wasn’t involved in any conspiracy.”

Ruby was riding high in the months after he shot Oswald. He doted over his daily shipment of fan mail, over 50 letters a day congratulating him, calling him a hero. “But after a while,” Abner remembers, “the fan mail dropped off, and he got depressed.”

Ruby was convicted, and he died of cancer in January 1967 while he was awaiting a retrial. In the meantime, those who made their living in his champagne-hustle world had to go elsewhere for work. Jack Ruby’s Girls documents the pilgrimage of two strippers after the Carousel closed: Lacy and Sue Ann applied for jobs at Madame De Luce’s upscale whorehouse in the Turtle Creek area of Dallas. But Madame believed Ruby “ruined” women as potential prostitutes. All tease, promise, but no fuck is what Ruby taught them. The reputation as a Ruby Girl was a stigma for those who tried to become hookers.

Jack Ruby didn’t allow that type of hanky panky in the Carousel. “This is a fuckin’ high-class place!” he would remind any doubting Tom, Dick or Harry, as he kicked them down the stairs.


© 1991, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Josh's Lost New York


(photo by Vince McGarry)

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ten Favorite Books on New York

I’m sometimes asked what my favorite New York books are. These became favorites after I wrote Tales of Times Square. I never read much about New York before that. I was too busy experiencing it.

The Telephone Booth Indian, by A. J. Liebling (North Point Press, 1990)
After completing my own ten-year study of the neighborhood’s secrets, I was amazed to find Liebling’s chronicle from fifty years earlier (it had been out of print since 1942). The title refers to Bud Abbott-types who occupy telephone booths along Broadway as their office. The origins of the hat-check biz, the Brill Building, backstage at Olsen & Johnson’s Hellzapoppin', the Count de Pennies. A trip through the Great Whore of Babylon—Times Square.

Up in the Old Hotel, by Joseph Mitchell (Pantheon, 1992)
Like the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, this ultimate masterpiece on New York was written by a transplant from North Carolina. Devoid of fancy writing, this collection brings the previously out-of-print books of Mitchell’s New Yorker career—McSorely’s Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor, Joe Gould’s Secret--into one volume. Sublime.

Dreamland, by Kevin Baker (Granta Books, 1999)
The great American novel about Coney Island. I always wondered if such a book could be written—and this one came through in spades. The re-imagination of how the midget city came about, told by Trick the Dwarf, is so brilliant, if it’s not all true, it should be.


Skid Row, U.S.A., by Sara Harris (Doubleday, 1956)
From the back cover: “It tells how decent people become alcoholics, prostitutes, criminals.” And from Judge John M. Murtagh’s afterword: “Most of us are hardly aware that such persons exist. . .” Unforgettable voices from the Bowery of the 1950s are captured here forever.

New York in the Thirties, as photographed by Bernice Abbott (Dover, 1973)
I often sit hypnotized by these photos, perhaps the most profound ever taken of the city. If only I could be set loose in this time and place, for just 24 hours. I’d probably head straight for Hubert’s Flea Circus on 42nd St., catch a matinee at Minsky’s Burlesk, get a rush-hour shoeshine at Penn Station, dinner at Lindy’s. . . (None of these appear in the book, however.)

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro (Random House, 1974)
There are very few biographies in which you walk away feeling like you actually know the person. Robert Moses reshaped the infrastructure of civilization—for better, then worse—like no other man before or since. (Talk about leaving your carbon footprint.) This 1300-page monster of a book is a whole course in subterranean politics, civics and geography.

Walter Winchell, by Michael Herr (Knopf, 1990)
A screenplay that reads like a novel, this portrayal might be even better than The Sweet Smell of Success—which originally outted Winch as the monster he became. W.W. was the Oprah of his day. And it all happened in New York, not Chicago.

This Place on Third Avenue: The New York Stories of John McNulty (Counterpoint, 2001)
A Daily News rewrite man who moved on to The New Yorker. He drank a bit, and these charming 1930s stories take place in working class bars along the Third Avenue elevated subway.


Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire, Richard Snow (Brightwaters Press, 1984)
Even more than Olde Times Square, Penn Station and Ebbets Field, it’s hard to believe the original Coney Island really existed. The place where hot dogs, roller coasters and amusement parks were invented. The eighth wonder of the world prophesied the 20th century to come. The postcard photos are their own acid trip.

One can only imagine the size, diversity
and quantity of his bowel movements.


Dining in New York With Rector, by George Rector (Prentice-Hall, 1939)
Son of the founder of Rector’s, the famous Broadway restaurant that closed when prohibition hit town. An historical travelog of 1930s New York, George Rector eats his way across the city in this hardcover restaurant guide. Erudite, literate and hungry, he reviews some 200 restaurants, of which only several survive today (Sardi’s and a number of hotels). “Will the sight of personalities of the day in their informal moments add pleasure to your dining?” he asks, revealing the eat-abouts of O. Henry. To him, it was “the art of eating” and “the art of drinking.”


© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman