HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Yes another year has slipped by. So it's a good time to stop and give pause to what we have learned from the past and use that knowledge to best prepare for the future.
We should take a cue from the ancient Romans who prayed to the god of new beginnings, Janus. Janus is uniquely depicted in statues as having two faces; one looking forward to the future and another looking back into the past.
THIS STATUE OF JANUS IS ON DISPLAY AT THE VATICAN. THE MONTH JANUARY IS NAMED FOR HIM.
A worshiper of Janus would have seen the key to a brighter future as the understanding of fellow human beings and the willingness to embrace their diversity. Through honesty, hard work and respect, we could make the necessary changes to make our ever-evolving existence better.
I believe, down through the years, Janus has been watching and testing me. Because the series of funny events that I am about to share with you, has helped my personal growth, made me stronger and able to deal with the human condition. Oddly, these experiences all seem to happen in January.
In January 1974, "THE EXORCIST," was the hottest new movie. While still in its limited engagement, theaters clambered to show it as often as possible. One frosty, foggy Wednesday night, two friends and I got an impulse to drop the "nothing" we were doing and head into Manhattan to see it."THE EXORCIST," GROSSED $441 MILLION. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR TEN OSCARS AND WON TWO. "THE STING," BEAT IT OUT FOR BEST PICTURE. I SAY, IF THE DIRECTOR LEFT IN THE SPIDER-WALK SCENE, IT WOULD HAVE WON THAT OSCAR TOO.
We drove past the tri-plex at 10:30PM. Through the eerie mistiness, the line of people waiting to get in, stretched down the block and around the corner. It reminded me of a wake for a prominent person. One friend jumped out of the car and found out that the 11:00PM showing was sold-out. He also discovered that the line we were looking at, was for the midnight show. He volunteered to wait for tickets on our behalf while we parked.
Joe Vanilla was not one of my friends in the car. But soon our inside joke of praying to the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces, (Joe Vanilla) was invoked. Of course, without him at the wheel of his hot pink El Dorado, our prayers were obviously not answered. We cruised the east twenties in vain. We finally settled for a spot so far away that if a taxi went by, we would have taken it.
At 11:15, we got back to the theater. Only ten others were behind my shivering friend on line. He pointed out an employee, (wearing a parka), stationed at the back and said, "That usher is telling new people coming up that the last showing is sold-out too. He also said to us that it would be difficult for groups, even couples to find seats together."
The usher was right, the three of us were forced to sit separately. I think sitting next to strangers made the movie spookier. Whatever you might think of the Exorcist...even if you never saw it, you have to believe my audience was captivated...while we got the crap scared out of us.
The throng of people exited the theater in a combination of excited chatter or in a mild form of catatonia. I left through the main entrance and lost my friends in the shuffle. Under the safety of the bright marquee, I looked to the left in anticipation that my friends had gone out through the side doors. When they didn't appear, I began to feel abandoned. A shuddering twinge of fear bolted through my body when the stream of exiters evaporated.
I looked back into the vestibule and saw a solitary, sobbing girl wandering back inside. At the same time that I guessed that she was lost too, I got a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned...and it was not either of my buddies...it was a ragged beggar. I was reminded of the movie's subway scene when a panhandler tried to bum loose change from Father Karras. I was so startled that to this day, I blame the death of my hair follicles on him and his satanic, toothless smirk. Luckily, seconds later while my thumping heart was still in overdrive, my friends whisked me away.
The next day, I proclaimed the Exorcist the greatest movie ever made, (I still put it in my top three). On my recommendation, Joe Vanilla and his girlfriend double-dated with another friend of mine (Woodrow "Woody" Konigsberg) and his sexy, witch-like, bipolar girlfriend, (Pessie Burkalter).
Joe and Woody were my first two friends that were sexually active. Joe was a true to life Fonzie. He was just as cool with girls as he was in finding perfect parking spaces.
Woody despite being a good-looking guy was extremely hen-pecked or as we used to say in mixed company, "Pessie-Whipped."
Joe drove to the same theater on the much busier Friday night. He lived up to his legendary status and pulled his "Eldo," right into a spot, three storefronts down from the theater. They still waited an hour on line but Joe and his girl managed to sit together, in the middle, towards the back. Woody and Pess also sat together but against the wall, about ten rows from the screen.
When I reflect on Woody's relationship with Pess, I'm forced to think that they both had something special to offer in bed. But Pessie had the upper hand. Frequently while we were hanging out, Woody would announce that he was having such a good time with us that if Pess (insert profanity here), called, he wouldn't leave. She knew all our phone numbers and during so many inopportune moments, the phone ringer of doom would toll for Woody.
Once, we were at Canarsie's, Frolic Tavern debating where to watch the Superbowl, when the bartender called out, "Is there anyone here named Woody?" He took the call and argued a strong case to stay with us...but he lost. Woody was ashamed as he left with his head hung low.
In public, she was the ultimate high-maintenance girlfriend. Her demands were constant, difficult and/or expensive to fulfill. She treated him like dirt and would swear on her mother's grave to hold-out sex from him, if he didn't chauffeur her around or perform any other doggie trick she wanted.
This situation didn't change while they watched the Exorcist movie. As told to me by Joe Vanilla, his audience was just as rapt as mine. During the scene when the mom discovered that her daughter was possessed, the dead quiet was broken by Pessie's familiar nasal whine. From more than twenty aisles away Joe heard, "Woody...I want popcorn!" A tsunami of angry shushing pulsated from that section of the theater. After a few seconds of peace Joe clearly heard, "Woody! I don't give a flying f***! I want popcorn...now! Or else!"
Joe guessed that her barbed ultimatum was impaled by the typical carnal lure as he watched Woody slither up the aisle. Soon he accelerated because strangers loudly whispered insults to his manhood as he went by. Woody couldn't hide and ran the last few feet to sanctuary. When he returned, despite opening the door a minimal crack, many entranced viewers were disturbed again. Then even if they weren't certain it was him, his popcorn bucket served as a beacon to identify Woody, so he was targeted with another dose of verbal abuse.
Later in the film, the audience was riveted on the first head-to-head meeting between the devil and Father Marrin. Then the utter stillness was broken by another demand by Pess, "Woody, I'm thirsty!" Like a trained seal, Woody shot straight up. He excused him self as he squeezed through the row of pissed off neighbors and scurried towards the lobby, on his latest mission, amid a barrage of catcalls and obscenities.
In the next five years there would be a lot of changes. For me, I relocated to Las Vegas in January 1979. On the other hand, Pessie and Woody's tumultuous relationship stopped and re-started enough to qualify for the world's most break-ups in, The Guinness Book of Records. They were still together when I moved out west.
In January 1980, I had an apartment behind the Aladdin Casino on Harmon Avenue, (near the present day Hard Rock Casino). On a night off, I was shocked to get a phone call from Janice Burkalter...Pessie's fraternal twin sister. Janice didn't resemble Pessie in looks or personality. She was pleasant but not pretty...someone (not me), once said that she looked like Telly Savalas... with hair.
WHO LOVES YA, BABY. ARISTOTELIS "TELLY" SAVALAS, (JANUARY 21, 1922 - JANUARY 22, 1994), WAS A PROMINENT CHARACTER ACTOR IN MOVIES. HOWEVER, HE IS PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS TV's, "KOJAK."
I was surprised that Janice wanted to meet me for a drink. I didn't see the harm. Plus, she was only a mile away at the Flamingo, so I agreed to meet her. But Janice conveniently omitted that she was with Pessie. Pess and I were enemies. For as long as I knew her, (since I was thirteen), I recognized that she was evil. I'm sure, we never spoke or even acknowledged each other. However, people mature and during this meeting, she was surprisingly civil as she and her sister quizzed me about where the best discos were and other non-gambling places to go.
In a short time, the conversation dried up. Pessie took me aside. In a mean spirited tone she blurted, "Do you think Woody is gay?" I was shocked! How preposterous! I figured he must have given her, her permanent walking papers and her vanity couldn't handle the finality of a real rejection. She was impatient waiting for my answer. I said, "You came all the way out here to ask me that?" Like the bitch I always knew her to be she said, "Just answer the effing question...is he or isn't he?" I said, "I gotta go."
Change is usually not easy to adjust to. When I left Las Vegas, I returned to New York City in January 1984. Most of my friends had moved away but Woody was still there, living in Manhattan. During our phone calls, I never brought up Pessie's assertion because he made it clear that he was dating.
In January 2009, I joined Facebook. When I reacquainted myself with one of my other old cronies, I was informed that Woody had dabbled in bi-sexuality but was now strictly a homosexual. I joked, "Pessie must have drained the last essence of heterosexuality out of him."
I was surprised but I was neither disappointed nor angry. His sexual orientation was none of my business. Like what the god Janus stands for, we must accept change as we look towards the future.
Last year around this time, Woody became my Facebook friend. I found his overall attitude to be bitter, sarcastic, opinionated and ill-tempered...I didn't enjoy his company any more. I just came to the realization that our friendship had run its course.
Woody will always be a part of my wonderful past but as I look towards the future, I think Janus himself would validate my choice to make Woody, my first Facebook "unfriending" of 2012.