Way before the, "FABULOUS MR. K" earned his ritzy nickname, he was just Eugene or Gene from 99th Street. He and I lived, in Brooklyn New York, between the same avenues, four blocks apart but because we went to different elementary schools, I didn't know of him until middle school.
He remained a nameless face in the crowd until we became acquainted, in September 1970, (our sophomore year at Canarsie High School).
Gene and I had nothing in common. He wasn't athletic when that was an important part of my life and because he was a quiet kid, I assumed he was a nerd. In tenth grade, we wound-up in the same English class. The teacher had given us a spelling quiz and had us arbitrarily grade each other's exams. Gene's paper fell into my hands. Curiously, he left out the "i" in three words, (convenience was one). Way before the term, "random act of kindness" was in vogue, it was simple for me, to insert the extra letters for this stranger.
In private, I told Gene what I did. Days later, he showed his gratefulness for taking his C+ to an A- by giving me a small token of appreciation. Forty-five years later, I still have it.
|GENE WAS AN AMATEUR MAGICIAN. HE BOUGHT THE (above) *BOGUS "TWE DOLLAR BILL," XEROXED TONS OF COPIES AND USED THEM IN HIS ACT AS PRIZES. *TO EMPHASIZE ITS FRAUDULENCE, THE BILL INCLUDES TERMS LIKE, "U. CAN'T CASHITT" AND "UNITED STATES OF ANEMIA."|
For the rest of high school, Gene and I were limited to passing nods in the hall. But by the time I entered Brooklyn College, we discovered that we had mutual friends.
One-on-one, Gene was funny, intelligent and had an out going personality. He was down-to-earth, generous and a caring person. However, in bigger groups, even in the comfort of hanging out, Gene melted into the crowd. He and I never became close, probably because we were both too independent for our own good?
Gene got a messenger's job that was headquartered at the World Trade Center. The money he earned greatly subsidized two major vices; being a heavy pot smoker and prostitutes, (eventually his range of vices would take a quantum leap). So despite a full-time job and living at home, he was always broke.
|GENE'S GENEROSITY INCLUDED SETTING ME UP FOR AN INTERVIEW WITH HIS EMPLOYER. WE COULDN'T WORK-OUT A SCHEDULE, SO I TURNED THEM DOWN. HOWEVER, IT MARKED THE ONLY TIME, I WAS IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, (I ONLY MADE IT UP TO THE SEVENTEENTH FLOOR).|
Gene's eccentricities influenced some of our friends. He encouraged a few guys to sell just enough marijuana to get theirs free, (I wasn't interested because I almost never indulged). He also introduced them to the 25c peep shows in Times Square and a whorehouse in midtown Manhattan called, "The Meeting Room," or as they encrypted it, "TMR."
I was never led down the TMR path. Gene was addicted to some pretty kinky stuff. His stories were indeed fascinating but I was just a good listener. He liked to call me a "milk and cookies kind of guy" because he couldn't tempt me into even entry-level meat and potatoes debauchery.
In 1975, our group decided to go, in two carloads, to some bar in the Bronx. Gene insisted that our car get diverted to Flatbush first, to a group of high-rise apartments, (Nostrand Avenue and Avenue L). He said one of his uncles was on his deathbed and he wanted to pay his respects.
Gene came down and admitted that he never had a relationship with his uncle. He showed his true mercenary colors by bragging about how wealthy the "bastard" was and hoped that the investment of this fifteen-minute visit might result in a big inheritance payday.
Gene and one of his friends (1977), became casino dealers in Las Vegas. They both influenced me, to become a craps dealer. While I was in training, at the New York School of Gambling, Gene telephoned me a couple times. He had a surprising sensitivity and a talent for reassurance. When my insecurity oozed out, he was able to relate and soothe my misgivings.
I moved to Las Vegas in January 1979. By that time, Gene had relocated to Reno. We remained in contact and he landed an impressive job at Reno's MGM. Hourly commuter flights between Nevada's two gambling meccas were $34.00 round trip. So it was easy and inexpensive, to spend my two days off with Gene, twice, (these visits were explained in detail in previous blogs).
The first time, Gene took me around "the biggest little city in the world" in taxis.
Gene's income was high for 1979, (averaging over $100.00/day in tips...I was making $20.00/day in downtown Vegas). But he was flat broke due to the expensive peculiarities I already knew of. But he had developed a new corruption that took a heavy toll on his finances...being a degenerate gambler. Far worse, Gene had no friends. He seemed content to smoke pot all day, play craps and otherwise live like a hermit...unless he needed comfort from hookers.
It was clear to me that Gene was a low-life and that he lacked a good grip on reality. Some of his coworkers called him the, "Mad Russian," (he took it as a compliment but they weren't calling him angry, they were calling him crazy). Others called him, "FABULOUS," (a short version of the Fabulous Mr. K.), because they enjoyed what they thought were exaggerated tales of his sexual exploits, (I wasn't impressed but I chose to believe those stories).
I soon learned of the desperation in Gene's life and lengths he was willing go...to make a "good' impression on me. For my only night in town, he wanted to treat me to Japanese food. After dark, we took a taxi to the bus station in Sparks.
Sparks Nevada is just east of Reno. There's a string of tiny storefront casinos, (that catered to low-rollers). But the town (less than 100,000 people) was best known back then, as the home of Nevada's biggest mental hospital.
The cab slowed as we neared our false destination. In the shadows of the back seat, Gene showed me a ten dollar bill. The driver announced, "That'll be $3.55." Before handing over his ten Gene said, "Cabbie, take a dollar for yourself and give me $15.45 change." The poor soul took the bait of the disproportionate tip. That successful "short change" gimmick marked the beginning of how our dinner was to be funded.
While looking over his shoulder, Gene hustled me into and through the bus station. We exited a rear entrance and scurried into one of Sparks' casinos. This saw dust joint had a ramp that led to gaming area. Hard to believe but true, at 10:00PM, there wasn't a single customer. Every employee was looking at us...even the short order cook watched us through the kitchen's transom.
Gene was a petty opportunist. I didn't pick up on it right away but his plan to scrape up food money called for anonymity. We left and soon found a different target more conducive to his scam.
The casinos in Sparks had so little business that to save on salaries, the craps games frequently had no supervisors (customarily there would be two) and were manned with two dealers, (instead of three).
Gene bought some chips at a blackjack game before wandering over to craps. I was unaware that he had already cased the joint as he whispered, "Be prepared to run." I was so naive that I didn't realize that he had found lazy and/or inexperienced dealers and positioned himself in their blind spot. Gene waited patiently. When a seven rolled, he "past posted" the come for $20.00, (cheating the casino with a late bet after the dice landed). He did this in two other casinos before taking me to eat.
Back in Las Vegas, my roommate was Loopy-Joe. He struggled with the same disappointment I did of dealing craps for peanuts. Joe wanted immediate gratification and when he heard how "well" Gene was doing, he decided to take his chances in Reno.
Joe looked-up Gene and they became friendly. On my second trip up there, Joe chauffeured us in his 1971, dark green Le Sabre convertible, all over, including an afternoon in Lake Tahoe.
|THE FIFTY-MINUTE VEGAS TO RENO FLIGHT COMES TO A GORGEOUS CONCLUSION AS IT DESCENDS OVER LAKE TAHOE.|
Tehe three of us were on line to cash-out our chips out at Caesar's when Gene asked a big dude in a cowboy hat if he had a green chip, ($25.00). He took the chip and did a series of sleight-of-hand maneuvers. The short magic routine ended with Gene saying, "Now you see it...now you don't." Gene turned away. The man wasn't as gullible as Gene hoped and he didn't like being preyed upon. He grabbed Gene's shoulder and spun him (hard) around and said, "I ain't no hayseed. Give me back my chip." Gene looked him in the eye and said, "Tex, you saw, your quarter vanished." Gene continued playing dumb until the man cocked his fist back and said, "I'll break your fuckin' face before I let a shit-ass wise-guy like you rob me?" Gene looked at Joe and I for support but we were dumbfounded. He handed over the green chip and bleated, "Geez, can't you take a joke?"
Gene never confided in me but the Reno, Sparks and Lake Tahoe metropolitan area is small. Something tells me his hustling must have caught-up with him. So it wouldn't surprise me if he took a beating from other cabbies, casino players, security guards etc., who also couldn't take a joke. Who knows, his unsavory antics might have resulted in a police record.
On the way back to Reno, Gene led us through some beautiful back country. Just outside town, we approached the Mustang Ranch. Gene said, "Let me show you guys around."
Don't let the stock photo above fool you...there was NO cute one. All the "girls" looked like typical, thirty-ish housewives. I was twenty-four and I came up with the snap judgment that there was nothing there for me, (plus I had little money). Simultaneously, Loopy-Joe was coming to the same conclusion as Gene grabbed a frumpy brunette and disappeared for a half hour, (Joe and I waited in the bar. It was actually empowering to have some of these less-than-dazzling ladies try to woo me into their den of iniquity).
On the way back, Gene boasted of all the Sexual Transmitted Diseases, (STD's), he had contracted, (mostly from street-walkers). This strange boy mentioned symptoms, medications and nearly made me puke with graphic tales of having "things" burnt off his private parts.
I moved to New Jersey in 1984. While dealing craps, I met an old man with the same unusual last name as Gene. He was also an eccentric, did magic tricks, made petty claims, (on bets he didn't win) and NEVER tipped. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree because that geezer wound-up being another uncle of Gene's. I was tempted to ask who profited the most by the other uncle's death but I didn't have that kind of audacity. However, he did say that Gene got married.
I knew few intimate details of Gene's life but when I shared this knowledge with old friends I found out his marriage was old news. One friend told me that Gene sent wifey into lesbian bars, to have her pick someone up who was into threesomes, (they called it Foo-Foo).
In August 1988, I returned for a weekend in Las Vegas. Gene was living there again. We spent a few laugh-filled hours reminiscing. It would be the last time I ever saw him.
|IN 1991, THE BRITISH COMEDY TROUPE MONTY PYTHON PRODUCED A RECORD ALBUM OF SONGS. THE THIRD CUT IS CALLED, "THE MEDICAL LOVE SONG." IN THIS LIVELY ROMP, EVERY STD IMAGINABLE IS SET TO MUSIC. WHENEVER I HEAR IT, "THE FABULOUS MR. K. " COMES TO MIND.|
The last time I visited Las Vegas (2009), was with my wife Sue and son Andrew. I made it a point to see another friend, Ciro the Hero. I had introduced Ciro to Gene way back when. During our meeting, I realized that Ciro had gone from hero to zero. That's when he reminded me that Gene was living in town said, "Let's call the Fabulous Mr. K."
I spoke to Gene. He wanted to get to together but my meeting with Ciro the Zero was such a disaster...and considering that Gene and Ciro were cut from the same cloth, I decided against it.
Seven years would pass. Sadly, in late January 2016, the Fabulous Mr. K. passed away. One of my Canarsie buddies told me that it was from colon cancer.
While we all tend to relate to the same people differently, Gene was a rare case in which all the old friends shared the similar, "likable but shady" opinion of him. I'd go as far to say that his deviant behavior served to unwittingly teach me by example...to do the opposite of what he did. But the bottom line was, under that superficial veneer of strangeness, Gene was a sensitive, kindhearted person. That's why I regret missing that one last chance to see him.
When I was asked if I had any recollections of him...this blog/eulogy, packed with mixed feelings, was the best I can do.