The Amazing Roy and his acrobatic checks

New customers came to the Tunnel Bar by various paths. As the place was on 15th just outside the Jersey City side of the Holland Tunnel, I aimed to get at least a little bit of that endless traffic to flow our way by putting up signs spray-painted on scrap plywood. A pirate HBO rooftop antenna meant a TV with lots of movies and boxing. I’d get a case or two of any new stuff that the liquor companies were pushing on deep discount promotion. This way for the adventurous, there always was a novelty to explore. If the new and improved rotgut caught on, that was great and if it didn’t I’d get rid of it with a $1 a double special. This kept the heavy-hitter boozers walking in the door.

And not infrequently the State sent us customers by opening the prison gates. That’s how it was with Roy.

A guy from a large Heights family that was once in the waste management business (but unfortunately without the connections that usually went along with that trade) worked across the street at Hudson Refrigeration warehouse. One day he said that he wanted to speak to my father, the owner of the Tunnel Bar.

“My brother-in-law just got out of jail. Monday, he’s startin’ a job in the Erie Lackawanna. He’s a printer, so he gets paid pretty good, but right now he’s broke. I wanted t’ask ya to put him on the book till he gets paid. It’ll be two weeks before he gets a check. There ain’t gonna be a problem, but if there is, I’ll make good on it.”

“Yeah, sure,” my father said. “I’m glad he’s gettin’ back on his feet.”

“What limit do you want on the tab?” I asked.

“I don’ think he’ll be spending much more than $5 a day.”

“So, sixty dollars for the two weeks?”

“Yeah, that sounds just about right. I’ll try to bring ‘im on Monday to introduce ‘im, but his name’s Roy. He’s probably the only guy aroun’ here called that.”

Roy was a little below medium height and on the skinny side. He had a thin mustache and was always neatly dressed. He came in every day for a sandwich and a beer at lunch and another beer before he went home. After two weeks, right after work, Roy was in the tavern with his check. He cashed that, paid the bill and this time got a six pack to take home.

The following week, Roy again was in the bar twice a day on credit. We didn’t see him the week after that.

“What’s goin’ on with Roy’s tab? Did you say anytin’ t’ his brother-in-law about it?” my father asked.

“Nah. He gets paid every two weeks. Maybe he just didn’ feel like drinkin’ or was sick or sumtin’. I’m gonna wait t’ next week t’ see what happens.”

Roy had never been in the Tunnel Bar on the weekend, living as he did in the Heights, but he showed up that Saturday.

“Hey! Sorry I wasn’t in on Friday, but I’m not at the place around the corner no more. It was a real sweat shop! I got another job, with a big outfit this time.”

While he was talking Roy had been signing a check that he handed to me. The amount was a little more than the pay at the print shop in the Erie Lackawanna. The company name on the check was along the lines of CONSOLIDATED AMALGAMATED, something impressive that didn’t mean anything at all.

From then on, Roy only stopped in on paydays. He’d cash his check, have a couple of beers, and take a six-pack to go. This went on for maybe a month. Some checks were a little less (“Missed a day this week.”) and some a little more. (“Whew, it’s been busy! Got some OT!”)

On a Saturday morning, Roy’s brother-in-law walked in the door of the Tunnel Bar. He, too, lived in the Heights and so generally only was by on work days.

“Have you still been cashin’ Roy’s checks?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s out aroun’ the corner but . . . “

“Uhhh!”

“Whatsamatter?”

“Roy stole a box of checks from the printer. He been cashin’ checks all over the Heights. The bar on South Street got hit real heavy. Roy even took up wit’ some Black hooker, an’ he been sellin’ checks to her friends. Since I brought ‘im in here, I wanted to let you know. I’m sorry it’s sorta to late, but I just foun’ out meself.”

This was not good news. I figgered that it might have been around two grand in checks from Roy that I’d cashed.

Monday I looked up a phone number for Consolidated Amalgamated.

“Consolidated Amalgamated, Who should I put you through?”

“It’s sorta complicated. I dunno who I should talk wit. As it turns out, wittout knowin’ it, I cashed a bunch your outfit’s checks that were stolen.”

“Why did you do that!?”

“Likes I said, I didn’ know. This is a bar. We cash paychecks. Some guy said he worked there.”

“Well, who should I connect you with here?”

“Likes I said, I dunno. Let me speak wit’ whoever deals with this sorta thing.”

“Please hold.”

I was on hold for a long time. All of a sudden, a voice boomed on the line.

“FLANNERY HERE!”

“I’m calling because we cashed a number of your company’s checks that were stolen. I wanted to know what you plan to do.”

“You didn’t cash any of our checks.”

“I didn’t know that they were stolen, but, I’m sorry to say that we definitely did cash a bunch of your checks. An’ it’s not jus’ us.”

“You didn’t cash any of our checks”.

The line went dead.

The Tunnel Bar never heard anything more about the Consolidated Amalgamated checks. They didn’t bounce and no police ever investigated. We guessed that a large firm didn’t want any bad publicity and either just wrote it off or maybe the printer’s insurance took care of it.

I did see Roy again some months later. He was dirty and disheveled. He sat groggy on the sidewalk in front of the supermarket on Central between Manhattan and Franklin.

“ROY! Howya doin’?!” I said in a loud and upbeat voice.

Roy didn’t answer. He looked at me, grimaced, and then looked away.

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Go on till you come to the end: then stop.

At one point in the ’60s, Hal, armed robber and free lance enforcer for La Cosa Nostra, lived in a relatively large apartment house in Bayonne. The residents were all White — as was the entire neighborhood. Everyone in the building was White, that is, until Hal’s African-American girlfriend moved in with him.

Then and there, people were not what one might describe as particularly broad-minded. Even so, under certain circumstances they might decide that every rule required an exception or two. With the Mob at the height of its street power, very few people would do anything to upset anyone connected even by the thinnest thread. And for any unconcerned with clouds still over the horizon, Hal at 6′ 4′, a formidable 250 lbs, and staring out at the world with the Devil’s own burning blue eyes, alone was reason enough to keep quiet concerning contrary opinions.

All except for a little old guy, the place’s superintendent. Every time Hal happened by, the character always seemed to be coughing or clearing his throat: “Uf, Uf, pieceofshit, Uf, Uf”, “Ur, Ur, Ar, asshole, Ur, Ar”, “Huw, Huw, lowlifeclown, Huw” and with many, many variations on the theme.

Hal ignored the snipe for a while. One day, Hal was putting the garbage in the basement and the super was there.

“Ahuh, Ahuh, scumbag, Ahuh, Ahuh”

Hal’s right arm shot out and grabbed the other much smaller man by his spindly throat. Hal lifted the guy up, keeping him at arm’s length. Looking right into the feeble fool’s terror-struck eyes, Hal simultaneously released the grip of the right hand and slapped with the left. The super went flying into the garbage cans, collapsing in a heap.

Hal started to go up the couple of flights of stairs. Hearing the sirens, he turned around and went outside and waited for the police to arrive.

A couple of police cars screeched to a halt out front. As the officers opened the doors of the vehicles, the super yelled from the basement window.

“THAT’S HIM! THAT’S THE ANIMAL THAT ATTACKED ME!”

Hal said nothing. The police placed him under arrest.

Later that same morning, Hal was led into court. The super scowled at him from the front row. Charges were read and the supposed victim was sworn in before testifying.

The super at first provided a factual account of the morning’s doings, leaving out his own provocative mumbling. The judge and the the others in the courtroom looked at the old man with expressions of shock and sympathy. They then turned their eyes to Hal, glaring at him with anger and contempt, and then looked back to the source of the story.

Instead of following sage advice of “go on till you come to the end: then stop”, the super so enjoyed being the center of attention that the he kept on talking.

“And after I hit the garbage cans, he put one foot on my throat and kicked me with the other. Then, he picked up a shovel and beat me on the head with it. And after that, . . .”

The judge and the rest listening to the tale now were looking at the old guy with expressions of disbelief. All heads then turned to Hal, nearly big enough to be two people, but seated and silent, as if in church and not appearing at all threatening.

“. . . he took a wrench and hit me on the knee. I tried to get away, …”

The judge interrupted, “When did all this happen?”

“About two hours ago, your Honor.”

The Judge looked at the huge defendant and then — sternly — at the thin and tiny complainant.

“I don’t know what’s going on here, but if this was true, you’d be in the hospital for a VERY long time. If you ever waste the court’s time again trying to make trouble with your lies, I’LL make sure that YOU are in JAIL FOR A VERY LONG TIME! CASE DISMISSED!”

Standing, Hal allowed himself a slight smile.

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Did you ever think about becoming a fence?

One of the regulars in the Tunnel Bar was Grumpy Will, an 85 year-old gent who had done a long stretch in Dannemora for murder. One day he asked me, “Did you ever think about becoming a fence?”

“Nah, buying for a third and selling for half don’t seem all that invigoratin’ in terms of profit-margin.”

“No, NO! you buy for little or next to nothing and sell for MORE than retail.”

“How d’ya go about doing that? If someone is gonna go through the risk of stealin’ somethin’ aren’t they gonna have what it’s worth like all figgered out in advance?”

“Anybody who thinks that they are smarter than everybody else is the easiest person to con.”

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Kwan Yin by David Friedland

kwan_yin

Kwan Yin by David Friedland

I am not a prophet,
Hardly seeing the present
Either reveals or conceals, the Next.
Thus blind I sift fog for answers no hog could guess,
Two dragons sit upon a throne
Vacated by a drone
Neither wins, as Suns expire by the rate they perspire.
Thus a new sun is born
Do not mourn the end of your last sin,
Death Is not a state of growth.
If Angels rest, the rest expire upon the bed of their desire.
Neither win.
When the grey departs,
A white light warms, haunted by dark, yet light as a lark.
She comes opening as a flower before the morn,
Neither man nor mate can change this fate,
His dreams fade, for the price paid was for karmatic sins
Created by the loss of wins.

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Jungle Juice Willy’s benediction

Jungle Juice Willy — Jersey City Heights resident, longshoreman, WWII combat veteran and patron of the Tunnel Bar — had a story about a visit from a priest. (God only knows now why the good Father was in the apartment of the Jungle Juice Willy family.) Willy had given his guest a drink. The priest commented at length on what fine Scotch it was and how he’d not had anything like it since the seminary back in Ireland. He then — pointedly — mentioned that he noticed a case under an end table.

“Father, I’ve got to tell you the truth. I robbed it offa the piers. I’d like to give you a bottle, but I just wouldn’t feel right giving stolen goods to a priest.”

“Why, sure and Begorrah, my son, I’ll take that as your confession. Say three Hail Marys and an Our Father.”

At that point, the priest got up from the sofa, walked over to the end table, hoisted up the entire case of liquor, and left.

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Jersey City people often had a peculiar take on things.

People in Jersey City PG (PreGentrification) often had a peculiar take on things. Case in point:
Back in the late-’70s, an altercation arouse in a local basement (anti?)social club. Someone tried to pull a gun. Another someone correctly realized that the placing of both hands on the small of the back was not an isometric exercise and so launched an attack, pulling the armed and wannabee dangerous off balance with the left hand while using the right like a hammer to strike the head. Confused by the blows, the man with the gun didn’t complete the draw, but did pull the trigger. Echoing off of the stone walls of the small space, the gunshots sounded like cannon. Blood spraying in every direction, the pair spun about until the shooter finally slumped to the ground. The room had been dark, but just then, the lights went on. Two guys lay on the cement floor. One was the failed desperado, a portion of his scalp hanging in a flap. The other was a big kid, Bob, a weight lifter who lived with his mom a few doors down.

When the EMS got there, the troublemaker had already gotten to his feet, but was — as might be expected — quite dazed. The emergency crew quickly ascertained that though a lot of stitches were going to be needed, there was nothing threatening life. The real concern was for the strong man who they assumed to be a shooting victim. Curiously, though considerably blood splattered, there was no wound and so none was his. Finally, with the help of smelling salts, he regained consciousness. It turned out that after having heard the gun go off, when the lights lit he looked down and saw what had been a white t-shirt transformed into a canvas for a simply scarlet Jackson Pollock; Bob passed out.

THE POINT BEING: the incident was long remembered, but not for the gun, not for the fight but — with loud guffaws — for “the time Bob thought he was shot and fainted.”

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“Why do you have all these quarters?”

Even in the early days of Jersey City PPG (Post Pre Genrtrification) there really was no such thing as an unusual event. Through the Looking Glass style, everything always was wildly spinning out of control. Case in point:
Back in early 1991, two local guys show up one day with $1500 in quarters, in professionally, machine made up, sealed rolls. Seems that the pair were afflicted with agoraphobia or some other form of severe shyness, as they were looking for someone to take the coins to a bank for them. I really thought it best to steer clear, but I also didn’t want to appear not totally permeated with the foolhardiness of the gutters of Jersey City. So, I tells them that I wants a third, figgering that they’ll walk and that’ll close the curtain on what I planned as a one act drama. I’m surprised — and worried — that they real fast like — with just a quick mutual glance say “OK.”

SO, I picks up the three weighty little cardboard boxes and start walking fast to the bank, hoping to be exuding confidence. I fill out a deposit slip — in my mind I see the bank people unwrapping all the coins, demanding like a phone book of forms get completed, and maybe even calling the Treasury or the Fed, or something.

The young woman teller inquires with sincere curiosity, “Why do you have all these quarters?”

“I was saving ’em, but with Desert Storm and the war and everything I guessed that I better bring ’em in.” (This was clearly ridiculous, but as equally so as most of what we’re told in the news, I thought it’d fly.)

The bank manager strolls over and asks the teller what’s going on with all the quarters. As there’s no Plan B, I’m a little concerned. The teller repeats my improvised malarkey like she’s reciting a multiplication table. The manager nods as if it’s all absolutely obvious.

Deposit slip accepted, I get back the stamped receipt copy. I make out a check to CASH for $1000 and give it to the teller, asking for twenties.
4 people reached

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Herby the Mailman’s jail watching

Herby the Mailman lived across the street from the old City / County jail on Pavonia back of the courthouse. (My memory is that somehow or other the place had a Central Ave. address?) He had a couple of funny stories about that lockup.

1) I happened to be walking by the jail one very cold evening in the ’80s. There was a spot where the building indented, forming a somewhat half-hearted alley. There stood a very unhappy guard. The next day, I asked Herby the Mailman if he might shine any light on this curious detail. I knew that police officers who’d been on the losing side in an election were sometimes sent to walk a beat in cemeteries, supposedly protecting those beyond injury from insult. I wondered if the outdoor guard duty might be some similar punishment patrol.

“Nah, nah. The wife had me on the leash last week, so after supper, I’d sit in the front room with the lights off listenin’ to the radio and just stare out the window. I thinks I’m seein’ things, but there’s this coffee can gettin’ lowered down on a string. Some time later, a guy comes by and sticks somethin’ in the can which then starts on a return trip back up to the window. This goes on for a coupla days. Just the other night, the can goes up and the siren goes off. Since then, they’ve had the poor guy out there all night freezin his balls off.

2) Next to the jail was a boiler building that provided the heat in the winter. Even during the summer months a “fireman” (boiler operator) was on duty every night. As might be expected, there was not much to do during the warm months, so the boiler operator made like a Rip Van Winkle.

One horrendously hot and humid night back when air conditioning was considered a luxury, the prisoners — unable to sleep — were hooting and hollering. This noise interrupted the slumber of the boiler operator.

“HEY! Stop it with all the racket! I’m tryin’ to sleep.”

“IF WE CAN’T SLEEP, YOU AIN’T GONNA SLEEP EITHER!”

“Oh yeah? Well, since I’m up, I got a little somethin’ for you!”

And so on this 90 degree night, the fireman started up the boiler, heating up the radiators in the jail.

“PLEASE! PLEASE! TURN IT OFF! WE’LL BE QUIET!”

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Jersey City and TB — Perfect together?

All the Ebola hoopla reminds me of back when communicable diseases were handled with like a no margin for error policy. That was long ago. For well over ten years now, Jersey City has had one of the highest rates of Tuberculosis — if not the highest — in the State. Does any paper or politician discuss this grave threat to public health. Nope. Nobody gives it a thought.

Things were way different in the late-’70s. If you got TB, you went to Pollack Hospital and you stayed there until they decided to let you go.

One of the regulars at the Tunnel Bar — let’s call ‘im Johnny Noir — got hauled off for Tuberculosis. Once his condition improved, Noir was let out one weekend, but was told to report back bright and early Monday AM. After two days and three nights of drinking, the impatient patient decided that he wasn’t going to return to the hospital.

Noir’d given the bar’s pay phone number as contact information. After Monday morning started to get some tread wear, the telephone began ringing with calls inquiring about the health-compromised individual. Each time Jimmy Taraski the then tavern owner answered the phone, Johnny Noir just waved a hand and shook his head, indicating a no-go for conversation.

Maybe, an hour later, a police car pulls up and an uniformed officer walks in the door of the Tunnel Bar. Proceeding no further, he says, “Is there a John Noir here?”

“That’s me?”

“How we gonna do this?”

“Whad’ya mean?”

“You’re goin’ back t’ Pollack. Is it gonna be with cuffs or without?”

Not even finishing his drink, Noir jumped up and hurried to the door. “I’m going! I’m going!”

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Jersey City Heights resident goes to Greenville to buy a $2 bag of heroin.

Remember Jimmy Time Bomb’s buddy Joe? He had a story about just happening to be driving with some friends south on Kennedy Blvd., down by Lincoln Park. Stopped at a light, for no particular reason, he looked off to the left only to see some Heights guy running literally for his life with seemingly all of Greenville — each and every one waving a 2 by 4, bat, chair leg or some similar term of endearment — not far behind. Joe yells for the passenger to open one of the rear doors on the car. The newly crowned champion of track and field actually leaps in and slams the door shut behind. Joe floors it and — even with a barrage of thrown blunt objects bouncing off the vehicle — manages a safe and speedy exit.

The explanation for the unusual event was that the star of the tale — whose name I forgot — had wandered on over to the even then Wild West of Jersey City to buy one or so $2 bag of heroin. (I was told that there was a time when deuce bags were readily available and purchased by novices or perhaps the broke and desperate.) When our hero — dollar bills in hand — approached an entrepreneur, the gentleman made the mistake of fetching a bag filled with the little envelopes. Sensing opportunity, the Heightster grabbed all and booked, leaving the street dealer now NOT holding the bag. As might be expected, a chase quickly ensued.

Joe related how he’d asked the rescued individual if he didn’t think about what would have happened if like the ol’ luck well had gone dry. The answer was — as others have told me — that the road to success — after a manner of speaking — was not thinking, but instead acting immediately when ever and if ever a chance presented itself.

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Grumpy Will, TV Charlie and Billy Goat

Old Grumpy Will’s place at 212 15th, Jersey City was a hub of homosexual action down by the Tunnel Bar. This was not any first wave colony of creatives wending their way to Jersey City. Instead, these were some who’d found their sexuality in prison while doing hard time and wound up stuck outside of the Holland Tunnel as the industrial tide receded.


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Will was in his 80s and claimed to have been sent to Dannemora prison for murder. His on and off love interest was one TV Charlie, so called for his supposed expertise as a television repairman. Will and Charlie’s relationship hit some sort of snag. Stopping by the Tunnel Bar for his regular vodka and soda (on a Russian doctor’s orders), Grumpy Will related how, in an attempt to reignite the fire, TV Charlie had taken to wearing women’s underwear. (As luck would have it, Sissy from the projects later that day mentioned the theft of women’s garments off of the clothes lines.)

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A much younger Maynard type — a billy goat by Will’s description — who worked in the nearby Erie-Lackawanna Warehouse, began to spend the evenings with Grumpy Will and TV Charlie. (This same individual years later became homeless and so took up residence in the bus shelter on Palisade Ave. by Christ Hospital.) To impress their new friend, TV Charlie told of receiving a large pension check from the Navy each month. Billy Goat did find this interesting, so much so that he brought a Journal Square rough trade pair with him to meet TV Charlie on the day the check was to appear. The money was never anything more than a mirage, but the original story was so well-crafted that the duo wouldn’t now accept the truth. The tough two tied up TV Charlie and tortured him with lit cigarettes. As of course that failed to result in any cash, they then tried to hang TV Charlie with an electrical cord cut from a television set. (I don’t know if the irony was by design.) This was too much for Billy Goat who ran screaming out of the apartment, through the hall and into the street. This upset the two perps who then also fled. Luckily for TV Charlie, the wire broke before he choked and died.

A day or two later, Billy Goat bounced into the Tunnel Bar while Grumpy Will was there. Billy Goat denied any intentional involvement in TV Charlie’s ordeal. After this, Billy Goat became a regular at the Tunnel Bar, often providing items at a discount after the stuff somehow walked out of the warehouse with him.

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Paul almost got there too late.

The Boss’s mother’s house was rosy-beige rounded stone set on a low sandy hill, surrounded by pines and palms. In front, the trees thinned, giving a beautiful view of the gulf. Right now, the great golden disk was just below the horizon, but lots of light still reflected off the water illuminating the sky. The building had a large porch where they ate dinner.

Paul almost got there too late; they were leaving as he arrived. The Boss, who seemed to be in a hurry, already was up the tree-lined street a bit, but stopped for a moment to turn around and greet Paul with a smile and a wave. The Boss had on jeans, a black t-shirt, an old jacket, worn shoes and dark glasses. Paul tried to remember if the Boss began to dress like that before he started appearing in New York City or if it was after. The Boss had been going to New York a lot lately. So far, except for one homeless man, nobody there recognized him. The Boss even had managed to get arrested in Zuccotti Park with Occupy.

Walking out of the front yard were Peter and John. Spotting Paul, Peter scowled and strode forward faster to avoid him, but John slowed down to say hello. The rest followed in a line behind. Paul didn’t see who he was looking for, but wasn’t concerned. And sure enough, after Thomas, Andy Warhol, wearing the same sort of sunglasses as the Boss, came through the door. As usual Andy looked bewildered, like he’d just woke up and wasn’t sure where he was.

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