One of the Spanish guys who’d hang out all weekend at the Tulsa gas station on Henderson Street was in the Tunnel Bar for a six pack of beer and a pint of rum. Sal Jr. was the bartender. As he was handing over the change, the customer asked, “What ever happened to Bobby?”
“Bobby? Bobby who?”
“Bobby with no legs.”
“Oh, him. The city took him away to a hospital.”
“That’s too bad. He was always good for a laugh.”
– – –
It was late summer in 1977. Sal Jr. had been working at the Tunnel Bar, just outside of the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City, for some months and was by now rarely surprised. But then Bobby walked in and asked for $9.00. Maybe six years before, Bobby had landed on his head after falling the five feet or so off of the shipping dock of Blue Comet, a trucking outfit that’d been next door. After ripping through the accident settlement in a week in NYC (returning with a monkey in a cage), Bobby had been homeless. Sal Jr.’s reply was short, “Get lost.”
Bobby left, but quickly walked back in, now with a cab driver known as “Yatch” in tow. Yatch said, “Hey, this guy gotta pay me a $9.00 cab fare. He told me that you owed him money and would take care of it.”
“You c’n see the guy’s a bum. If you think that I owe him money, you mus’ be as crazy as him. You been beat and that’s that.”
Yatch said, “I didn’t get beat. When a guy didn’ pay me ten grand for sports, then I was beat. This is just one of those things.” Yatch put a twenty dollar bill on the bar and ordered a drink.
– – –
Jimmy, a warehouse worker who once had a fairly substantial sideline in the illegal numbers business, was drinking one night in the Tunnel Bar and started to talk about Bobby. “He walks in in one day and asks me, ‘I got a gal doin’ tricks in the car, y’ interested?’ I asks him what she looks like and Bobby says, ‘You know her.’ And so I says, ‘I know her? Who is it?’ Bobby says, ‘My mother.’ An arm just shot out and sent my fist right into his jaw and I tell him, ‘You slimy skunk. Don’t ever come anywhere near me again.’ And you know, as disgusting as it is to think of, there were guys that stopped by here special for that action.
– – –
It was December. Bobby lay in a car for three days at the Tulsa gas station. An ambulance had been there to take him to the hospital. He’d screamed that he didn’t want to go, that he was being kidnapped and so they left him there. Now a motorcycle cop rode into the gas station, stopped and got off the bike.
Banging on the car window, ”Open the door. NOW! Listen! Here’s how it works. Sign this paper saying that you were offered help and refused it. If you don’t sign, I’m bringing the ambulance back and making sure you get in.”
Bobby signed. The police officer left. That night, the temperature went below zero. By the next morning Bobby’s legs were frozen and had to be cut off.
– – –
These were the Reagan years and nobody – double amputees, mental patients, what not – stayed in the hospital for very long. One day, an ambulance pulled up to the Tunnel Bar and lowered a wheelchair with Bobby in it down to the gutter.
The winos latched onto Bobby. They’d push him over to someone about to walk in the door of the tavern and ask for money on Bobby’s behalf. As soon as they got enough for a bottle of Thunderbird or Night Train, they’d leave Bobby and go to Burke’s, the bar up the block. Bobby then would bellow like a cow being slaughtered. Sal Jr. caught on to this scheme and would watch out the window. To stop customers from being hassled, whenever he spotted any of the bompies with Bobby, an irate Sal Jr.’d run out threatening violence. The other winos then steered clear of Bobby. Without the hope of anyone going inside to get a bottle, Bobby, too, stayed away and remained at the Tulsa station.