TEN DOLLAR STORY - ROBERT CAPORALE
The T-Bird Lounge is a social networking relic from another era.
If you can’t find a ten dollar story in a joint like The T-Bird, you better give it up.
You step in and sit at the sticky mahogany bar and order a Sam Adams. The bartender just stands there drumming his fingers on the bar and staring down at you. You order a draft and snag a couple pickled-eggs out of the jar on the bar. The caged Motorola above your head is silent, grainy and the picture flips. While the bartender draws your beer, you glance into the streaky mirror behind the bar sneaking peeks at the tortured faces of the denizens of midday beverage.
Before long, this tawdry bloated battle-ax of a woman with a blue ribbon in her hair spills her scary ass onto the stool next to yours and says, buy a girl a drink?
You could easily buy the pitiful old scullery maid a beer but instead you hear yourself say, Beat it, sister...you’re bothering me. Just then the door swings open and an intense blast of sunlight rolls into the dark murky cafe. Everyone squints and moans until the heavy wooden door slams shut and the last of the brazen sunlight recoils back outside leaving only a single laser beam of light shooting through the keyhole. Direct sunlight is the mortal enemy of all cold blooded lounge-lizards.
Give a girl a break, the scullery maid pleads.
You give her the once over.
I wasn’t always this pitiful, she says. There was a time you would have fell to your knees and begged to get into Betty’s pants.
Not my type, you say.
Betty was everybody’s type back then...even Father Flannigan.
You smirk, nod.
When my Rocco was alive, I had it all, Betty says. He got it for me: Colt .45, creamsicles, beer nuts, Skybars, chocolate éclairs...Rocco was the best....he worshiped me...I was the Queen of Atlantic Avenue...I miss Rocco.
What happen to your Rocco?
His monkey killed him.
Rocco was the organ grinder down on the steel pier. He worked under the pink Ferris wheel for years. He was famous. The tourists loved Rocco and Gus.
Gus was Rocco’s monkey; a mean little piss-ass of a dysfunctional monkey. Gus and Rocco had a drunken quarrel one night over the percentage of their take. Gus thought because he did all the work; dressing up like Captain America, dancing around and doing slapstick comedy that he should get a bigger cut than Rocco. According to Gus, all Rocco did was crank the damn handle. Gus thought that you didn’t need a special talent to crank a handle; any dimwit with an arm could crank a handle.
Rocco reminded Gus that monkeys can’t take out a vender’s license. That’s when Gus flipped-out and threw a bottle of Chianti right at Rocco’s head, killing him dead.
Maybe Rocco is not dead, you tell Betty, maybe he’s just hiding.
I watched Rocco thrash around on the kitchen floor in a puddle of wine choking on his own blood. A piece of broken bottle lodged in his neck and severed his...you know...his larry...something X...his windpipe. The police accused me of breaking the bottle on the Formica table and sticking it into Rocco’s neck during a violent domestic dispute. I told them that Rocco was my golden goose; why would I kill my golden goose? I told them Gus the monkey did it. They did not believe me. They asked me where was Gus? I told them he jumped out the window. The cops chuckled and told me they’ll put out an all-points-bulletin to pick-up the armed and dangerous steel pier monkey. You guys are a real funny, I told them. A damn riot. The cops talked to my neighbors; they heard screaming and arguing coming out of the apartment. I tried to explain to the cops that was Gus’s high pitch squeal. The cops believed me even less.
You’re sure it was Gus who murdered Rocco?
It had to be Gus. Rocco didn’t cut his own throat. Plus that little devil monkey turned and smiled this creepy green-toothed smile at me just before he jumped out the window onto the fire escape. That monkey set me up. That monkey ruined my life. I was innocent of all charges and still got 15 to 20; I did eighteen years in Rahway Prison for women and believe me it’s not like in the movies. It’s no lesbian picnic. It was a nightmare. I was in my prime when I got locked up...now look at me.
What happen to Gus? you ask.
Parts unknown...but if I ever get my hands on that little bastard of a monkey...
You finish your beer, wipe your mouth on your sleeve. Good story, Betty, you say. I’ll give you five bucks for it.
Ten...along with a shot and a beer.
I own all rights?
Deal, Betty says.
You motion to the bartender, a shot and a beer, you say, for the reigning Queen of Atlantic Avenue.