My dad suddenly passed away in 1995. I had only shared a few candy-coated stories that were highly entertaining to him; in particular, "FREDDIE THE FINGER." So because of my perceptions, he missed-out on being amused by the bulk of my adventures. That's when I realized, he was short-changed. A year went by and that's when...in dad's memory, I started to write (poorly) those events.
In 2001, after a twenty-five year hiatus, I had a chance meeting with my friend and high school football teammate CHARLIEOPERA. We rekindled a long distance friendship with occasional get-togethers and regular communication. Coincidentally, Charlie was a successful crime novelist.
|CHARLIE STELLA'S LATEST OF EIGHT BOOKS IS CALLED, "JOHNNY PORNO."|
I told him I already wrote some down. Charlie read them and said, "You need to sharpen your skill as a writer but your subject matter has universal appeal."
He was right. It is embarrassing to re-read what I wrote ten years ago, (I'm a work in progress with a long way to go. So for those of you who stuck with me, I apologize for making you suffer through my fledgling, "learn as I go" years).
The root of my scribblings can be traced to when I had pen pals as a kid. As I got older, in my travels, I became an avid letter (and post card) writer. Usually, I got a positive response to my humor. However, in so far as my technical skill was concerned, my teachers (through high school) let me squeeze by without ever smacking me in the face and informing me that I writted poorly.
In 1973 at Brooklyn College, incoming freshmen were required to take an introduction to English Composition, (English 1.2). I earned a "C." But more importantly, the professor made it clear that I didn't have a firm grasp of writing fundamentals and that any teacher who failed to point this out to me in the past had done me a disservice.
At the end of my sophomore year, I took Creative Writing 11.1 and earned a "D." I tried every last-minute trick in the book I knew to persuade that professor into giving me a "pity-C." He only sighed at me in his own futility; how did you get this far in life without any concept of the rules of grammar. It was at that point I realized I had no talent as a beggar.
I was slipping through cracks until my junior year at college (spring 1975). That's when Sociology 39.0, a.k.a. "Deviant Behavior" was brought to my attention. This course had a reputation of being both entertaining and an easy "A."
Professor Mark Tunnicliffe, in his late thirties, was a walking sideshow freak. This chubby, hippie-type had a slight limp, uncool black horn-rimmed glasses (as thick coke-bottles) and dressed like a slob. His greasy, unkempt (light black or dark brown?) hair gave him a crazed look and his bird's nest beard usually had visual crud in it, (when I saw that stuff, my knee-jerk reaction was...three-week old mashed potatoes).
The first of many weird things he had us read was an article (I can't remember the author) concerning, male-to-male...non-homosexual sex, (remember this course was called Deviant Behavior). During the semester, he made so many references to the article that it became not only laughable but an apparent, if not obvious invitation to all takers.
Tunnicliffe did make the course interesting. He had a few guest speakers and none was more eye-opening to the generally naive student population than transsexual Raechel Hart, (the former Raymond Hart).
In our darkened, semi-circular lecture hall, (not unlike a corner of the Roman Coliseum) Hart (around forty) appeared, along side Tunnicliffe, in the spotlight, "on stage" below us. While she was being introduced, the class recognized that despite her teased-up plantinum blond hair, revealing cleavage, short skirt and glittery off-white go-go boots that she was a train wreck.
Rae had some 8x10's of her circulated through the class prior to being interviewed by our professor, I can still picture how natural she looked as Raymond, a decent looking and seemingly masculine twenty-year old, (in his all-white, navy uniform).
The other "before and after" photos of her specific body parts as well as diagrams detailing the process of hiding (tucking away) his genitalia and creating hers...was disturbing and easily forgotten.
Beyond the initial shock of the subject matter, Raechel's explanation of her ordeal was mostly unspectacular. She came off like an uneducated knucklehead and her broken, raspy voice was far from feminine...and a lot further from alluring. It didn't take long for us, (the audience) to get the impression that Ms. Hart was an unfortunate, confused soul, looking to capitalize on her situation and pick up a few dollars.
Tunnicliffe had guided her towards discussing the social mores that effect the mindset of a potential transsexual. But she frequently went off on tangents so the bulk of her lecture concentrated on her travails to psychologically become eligible for the operation as well as her personal difficulty in obtaining the necessary funding.
At times, the intimate details of her life were shocking. I was so rattled by her nonchalance over the surgery that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Then her presentation ended with a question and answer period.
Raechel seemed uninformed on the major issues of her own case even when only her opinion was required. When she was asked about the discrimination she had endured by switching genders at the workplace, in church or socially, she was cavalier in saying, "You mean like public toilets? I always use the ladies room."
She was equally elusive when asked about clinical particulars...such as whether her procedure needed scheduled maintenance But towards the end, the questions degenerated to sexually oriented areas. That's when her suddenly boastful, robust and clear answers were preceded by either an unlady-like leg crossing or a suggestive adjustment of her hormonally enhanced breasts.
My friend RS asked the most notable of these tawdry questions, "Can you achieve a female orgasm?" Raechel side-stepped the issue and crowed, "I can get nine-inch penetration."
At the end of the school year, Tunnicliffe assigned a project in lieu of a final exam. He said we were to do something deviant and write a paper on our experience that fit into a framework of requirements.
A week before the paper was due, I was still stumped for an idea. My friend RS told me he already did his deviant behavior by going with seven friends to the Kingsway Theater and trying to get his entourage in for half price. The baffled woman at the ticket booth called the manager. When the manager poo-pooed the idea RS said, "It's a Tuesday night, your showing "MR. MAJESTYK" and the theater probably has less than twenty people inside. You can see we're not drunk or crazy...we just want to see Charley Bronson. Plus, we'll spend more money on candy when we get inside. So if we go shoot pool instead, how do you profit from it? Think about it, isn't a little something for you, better than nothing."
The manager spouted on about "the principal" but reluctantly agreed. He led RS's group to the box office and explained the plan to the ticket lady. She punched up four tickets and said, "Ten dollars please." RS smiled and said, "We changed our mind, nobody wants to see this shit."
RS's story sounded pretty deviant to me but I guess he wrote a bad paper because I later found out that he got a "C."
I was clueless on how to attack this assignment until some guy at Brooklyn College tried to bum money off me, to buy a knish from the food vending truck parked between Ingersoll Hall and Boylan Hall.
My plan was simple and partially inspired by Professor Tunnicliffe.
My preparation included; not shaving or showering, wearing my shit-kickers, (beat-up sneakers for lawn mowing), torn jeans and an unwanted tee-shirt that I purposely stained for the occasion.
The big day was a sunny, seventy-two degree day in late May. I draped an old, army winter coat over my arm, got on the Canarsie Line subway and headed for the Port Authority Building in Manhattan, on West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue.
During my ninety minute sojourn into the city, I knew my "uniform" was effective because many commuters on the train were giving harsh stares...and that was before I crushed-up an extra sock and put it my left shoe, (to insure a consistent limp), put on the coat and the coup-de-grace, I smooshed a big dust-bunny into my hair.
|TOO BAD I WASN'T CLEVER ENOUGH TO HAVE A PICTURE TAKEN OF ME AS "AQUALUNG." FYI...THE DUST-BUNNY WAS CAKED-IN ABOVE MY LEFT EAR.|
I definitely looked like a Ratzo Rizzo when I limped out of the Port Authority's men's room and made my way to the main concourse. The final piece of my vagrant's ensemble remained hidden in my pocket. It was a dented, army surplus cup that I only used when I went camping. I grasped the tin handle and knew as soon as I took it out of my pocket for all the world to see...that I was officially, a beggar!
I positioned myself at the bottom of an escalator as a never ending stream of potential donors hurried by. I knew all I had to do to get started was flash my cup but my hands remained rigidly in my coat's deep pockets. The sneers I got from the passersby did not help...within fifteen minutes of pretending to be a statue, I gladly gave up.
Instead of getting back on the subway and going home, I decided to go outside, in the hope that the fresh air would boost my morale into taking a second shot at panhandling. The new found bravery I expected never came as my dignity didn't allowed itself to be soiled. That's when I came up with another stupid idea.
My friend RBOY was a hot dog vendor on 50th Street. After I took the extra sock out of my shoe, I held the coat and walked uptown, in the hope that RBOY'd talk me into giving my mission another try.
The first thing RBOY said to me was, "I hope you didn't come all this way for a freebie." Before I could counter he added, "Hey, you know you got some shit in your hair?" I explained my story. I showed him my extra sock, put on the coat and held out the tin cup. He said, "You're nuts! Go home and forget this Skid Row insanity I bet you'll come up with something better than this."
He was right, I felt ashamed to have even considered begging and went home. But along the way, I came up with the ultimate solution.
The train wasn't even back in Brooklyn by the time I mapped out the whole final paper in my mind. I was going to write...on, begging for money at the Port Authority. The key was, once I realized that I felt the same idiotic emotions whether I begged or not, the rest would be an easy bullshit story to write.
A wise man once said, "If you're gonna lie, you may as well tell a whopper." My deviant behavior paper was exaggerated as if I begged on two separate days. On day-one, I said I dressed like a stinking bum. On day-two, I said I was clean and dressed neat. I even went as far to create a chart that broke down my two, hour-long begging sessions not only by total money collected but I also included an itemized breakdown of each piece of money I was given. Then I made broad assumptions of why a tramp would make more money and a neater beggar would get more pennies, a slug, a subway token, a Canadian quarter and no paper money.
My ploy worked, I got an "A" on that paper. But that wasn't the true prize. The true prize was Professor Tunnicliffe's added statement next to my grade, "You write well. Come see me!"
At the end of the class, I sheepishly approached him. The non-homosexual, male-to-male sex article and Tunicliffe's supposed open invitation was still in my mind as I arrived at his desk, (I remained awkwardly a few feet away). Luckily he only complimented my paper and said, "That was the most enthusiastic 'A' I have given in a long time. But let me ask you...in two hours, did you really take-in $16.90? And did anything else strange happen?" Out of paranoia I said, "Yeah, exactly $16.90." Then my bullshit gland excreted, "Well, actually, I under-exaggerated because just before I was going to leave on the second day (when I was dressed neat) a fourteen-year old Spanish street urchin threatened me with a tiny pen-knife and told me to get away from 'his spot.' I didn't include being scared off by a two-inch blade in my paper because I was afraid you wouldn't believe me."
|I'M THE BIGGEST WIMP IN THE WORLD BUT I DOUBT I WOULD HAVE EVER LET A KID SCARE ME OFF WITH ONE OF THESE.|
Tunnicliffe mused, "Territoriality, I hadn't considered that...fascinating..." Before he could continue I interrupted, "Gotta run, my ride is waiting."
I came away from our little chat with two impressions. The first was, I might have given Tunnicliffe the inspiration on how to supplement his professor's income. And secondly, his praise marked the first time I ever thought I had the potential to write. Later in life when I finally took the plunge and started writing, I added the embellishment factor which has taken me to the lofty literary heights that you enjoy today.