Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Here You Go...the Daood I Remember

I changed names for this story, so the key is: Kas: Daood Gallagher’s: Khyber Pass North Mary Gallagher: Serrill Headley December, 1997
The Day The Raiders Won
They can’t fix the Super Bowl, can they? They wouldn’t, would they? Every year about this time, I start to wonder again about Super Bowl XVIII. Kas had been so sure. “Put every cent you’ve got on the Raiders,” he’d said. “Bet your rent. Your paycheck. Rob a bank. Put it all on the Raiders.” That was Kassim, twenty-one and cock-sure. He had one blue eye and one brown eye and bragged about his arsenal of guns. He seemed like any other six-foot gorgeous Ivy-Leaguer at Princeton until he opened his mouth and the most mind-numbing fanatic nonsense came out dressed up in a vaguely British accent. He claimed to be a Shiite. It’s certain he had been raised in the Middle East by his father’s relatives until his mother decided enough was enough. But his reasons for no longer attending class were various and changed from day to day. Perhaps he suddenly realized caliphs didn’t have much cachet at Princeton. In any case, he’d taken on the night-shift at his mother’s bar, Gallagher’s, at 17th and Callowhill in Philadelphia. I worked the day-shift. “This is one fucking sure thing,” he said while I cashed out. “Believe it. You are a fool if you don’t do it.” The rowdy Saturday night crowd was already pushing and shoving at the bar. “You American women act so take-charge. But you lack courage. Particularly you older ones. You are afraid.” “Damn right I’m afraid. Who’s going to pay my rent when the Redskins win. You?” “They won’t win. I promise you. The Raiders are a sure thing. Trust me.” “Right. There’s a little missy who comes here every night who trusts you and God help her. And there’s that forty-something who drinks too much because of the little missy and she trusts you. And there’s your mother who’s always picking up the pieces. Trust you and get fucked is what I say.” “What the hell. I am a man. You’re just women. You’re ninnies, the pack of you. And here are your magnificent weekly wages.” He reached into his shirt pocket and handed me a little yellow envelope. “How did you do on tips this week?” “Rotten. Day-shift gets stiffed as you know.” “All the more reason. Give me back the envelope. I assure you, I will give you double on Monday.” “Tell you what I’m gonna do, slick. I’ll give you fifty bucks. Put it on the Raiders. But I’ll personally run your ass back to Baghdad if they lose.” I drew two twenties and a ten out of the envelope and handed them over. “Why not the whole thing?” “Because I think you are full of crap.” “Yes. I am. That is surely true.” He smiled his dazzling behold-I-am-God smile and patted my hand. “But about this, I promise you. It’s a sure thing.” By the time I had my end-of-shift drink and figured out--was I short, long or for once had the right amount in the till, Kas was collecting wads of cash from a clot of admirers at the end of the bar and ranting about spreads and his sure thing. I figured it would be worth fifty bucks to have an interest in the game. Raiders, Redskins, who cared? Now I cared. I planned to watch it with the choir from my church. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Center City, Philadelphia. So famous. So beautiful. Such a magnificent choir. Most of the members were closer to rich than poor. And a particularly salient feature was that St. Mark’s had always been tolerant of gays. Which meant three-quarters of the communicants were not saddled with screaming infants. As a matter of fact, the clergy, as far back as anyone could remember, had been carefully selected for being quietly but definitely in the closet. It was a well-dressed crowd, a literate crowd, a witty crowd. A crowd that was well-mannered even when utterly and totally shit-faced. And any Sunday afternoon, it was a crowd devoted to getting snockered from end of mass to dinner-time. The Super Bowl lent a slightly more festive air to this solemn Sunday tradition. A motley assortment of tenors and basses, a couple of unrequited altos and at least two borderline-alcoholic sopranos gathered in George Whitcomb’s living room to watch the game and get gloriously drunk. Connie was unrequited and I was one of the borderlines. I was nearly the last to arrive. Connie and Martin had come directly from church to set up the buffet, tableware and ice chests. Not that George cooked. He made telephone calls and mountains of food showed up at the door. When I walked in Martin was berating George for being parsimonious, mean and ungracious. “I don’t see why you don’t uncork the good stuff, George. You’re rich. We’re your friends.” George was rich, it was true. He lived on the tenth floor of a big apartment building at 12th and Chestnut where drunks and panhandlers sat on the front steps. But when you got inside (after frantically buzzing the concierge to open the door before the havenots got impatient and helped themselves), it was obvious the lobby was well-kept. And the elevator worked. George’s two-bedroom apartment had high ceilings and huge rooms. And he’d filled them with comfortable though wildly expensive antiques. Connie sat in a base-rocker covered in tapestry. Martin sat on the floor at her feet, seemingly enthralled by her wit and charm. Connie was in paradise. The tableau made me cringe. I don’t know what Connie saw when she looked in the mirror. But I thought she looked like a woman in a Renoir painting. Connie apparently didn’t think she deserved anything better than a self-absorbed narcissist like Martin. I found a bottle of generic booze on the sideboard. It said bourbon. I sloshed some in a glass and sat on the floor near the buffet of food. “Okay, you tightfisted SOB, you leave me no choice.” Martin said to George and stood up. No question, Martin was attractive. He had a little too much weight around the middle but he turned himself out like a fashion ad. Connie drained her wineglass and watched him thread his way through the drinkers, the munchers, the sleepy, the bored. He stood in front of George with his hand outstretched. “I’ll have the liquor-cabinet key, Ebenezer, and be quick about it.” It was their game. George the passive, Martin the masterbastard. Connie liked to play the game too since it was Martin’s favorite. “No. No key.” George shook his head like a stubborn little boy. George might have pulled off his naive-youth routine at one time, but his gray beard and baggy eyes made it ludicrous and sad now. Martin pulled him out of his easy chair by his jacket lapels and gripped his shoulder with one hand while reaching into his jacket pocket with the other. Then he let him drop back into his chair. “No more cheap shit, guys.” Martin jingled George’s keys. “We’ve got Chivas.” He unlocked the bottom double-doors on a corner cupboard, left it standing open and offered refills all around. “You’re a nasty brute, Martin.” George slumped in his chair. “Is anybody watching this?” Charlie yelled from across the room. He sat in front of a huge television set. The pregame show was over. “Yeah, me.” I butt-bumped across the carpet to Charlie and the TV. “I’ve got fifty bucks on the Raiders.” “You haven’t.” “Oh yeah. Got it down with Kassim.” Charlie was a sweet elegant man with a rich baritone voice. And he was one of a handful of my friends who had actually been to Gallagher’s. He worked nearby at the main library and occasionally brought his fellow librarians over for lunch. We served burgers and hotdogs and sausages with the shots and beer. The cook was an old friend of Kassim’s mom, an alcoholic retired sailor who religiously went into detox once a year courtesy of the Veteran’s Administration. But he was a great short-order cook. And he got Kassim out of more scrapes than even Mary Gallagher knew about. The lunch crowd was a mixed-bag. Construction workers from a nearby site, a gormless regular who sat at the end of the bar and played with himself, a few pissed-off guys who had lost a round at Family Court (which stood next to the Library and looked so like the Library that both wife-beaters and bookworms were confused), and sometimes Charlie and the librarians. We all watched General Hospital as though it were Moses reading from the tablets. “That Kassim is really beautiful,” Charlie said. The big game had finally started. Charlie loved football. “Yeah, well. He’s poison. Godforbid you ever make a move on him. He’d have your balls for souvenirs. You’re an infidel. I’m an infidel. We’re sewer sludge. I also think he runs dope.” “And you gave him fifty bucks?” “You betcha! He knows something. He says he’ll double it. Maybe the game is fixed! You think it could be fixed? Kas is so sure about the Raiders. Maybe it’s fixed.” “Pulleeze! Fix the Super Bowl? Nobody’s going to fix the Super Bowl. That’s ridiculous.” “Ohmigod! Lookit that!” The ball had taken a very weird bounce into the endzone and Jensen had fallen on it. The extra point kick was good and The Raiders were off and away. Not many of the people around the TV were Raiders fans. The Redskins were closer to home. Charlie’s hometown was Washington and when the score got really one-sided in the third quarter, he lost interest. But I was elated. No one else cared much. Conversation was loud and silly. Martin enjoyed abusing George more than watching football. And now Connie sat at Martin’s feet and kept his glass filled. She also had switched to Chivas. I rarely drank anything but Jack Daniels. But when someone put a Manhattan in my hand I realized I’d been missing heaven. It was wee-hours before I felt I’d properly celebrated my riches with my new favorite drink. I stood up to go to the bathroom and fell down. “Oh my!” Heaven had its downside. “George, can you make some coffee so’s I can go home?” I sat where I had landed for a moment. “Let’s switch to Champagne,” Martin stood at a window which looked down on Chestnut Street. He had just popped the cork on a bottle of Dom Perignon. “Coffee,” I said and slowly stood up and moved toward the bathroom. “Me too,” Connie said as she rolled over on the floor and pulled on George’s trouser leg. “George, we need coffee.” “Forget George, Con,” Martin said. “He’s down for the count. You make the coffee.” When I came out of the bathroom, I joined Martin at the window. He offered me the bottle. “No more. Where’s the coffee?” “ Connie’s doing it. Look! Isn’t that fabulous!” Snow was falling steadily and all the street lamps had halos. Martin put his arm around me. We watched the snow. I too had thought Martin was a great catch at one time. He encouraged that sort of thing. He was very attentive and complimentary. But I knew he never had and never would go to bed with a woman. He kissed the top of my head. “How are you getting home?” “Walking.” “Now?” “Now.” “It’s after two.” “So.” “It’s dangerous.” “I have a plan.” The coffee smelled wonderful. I went into the kitchen to see how Connie was doing. George was asleep in his chair with his mouth open. Everyone else had left. “Let’s hear your plan,” Martin said from the kitchen doorway. “The three of us walk me home to Fifteenth and Pine and we incidentally get sober in the bracing snowy air. Then Martin walks Connie up to Walnut and 19th and calls a cab for himself from her place.” “Or stays over, as the case may be,” Connie said. “Or stays over,” I echoed. “You kidding me? I’d never get out alive.” “You’d never come out the same.” “Whatever. Okay. It’s a plan. I see nothing wrong with its basic premise,” Martin drained the bottle of Champagne. “Come on Con, where’s the coffee?” George stirred in his chair. “I want you all to leave. You’re awful people and I hate you.” “Right. By the way, George,” Martin threw the keyring onto his lap. “What about you giving a Valentine’s party? We can talk about it at choir practice.” Connie handed around coffee cups. George declined. “I despise you all, Go to hell,” he mumbled and nodded off again. It was three o’clock when we struggled into our coats. Connie tried to put a scarf around Martin’s neck. “No, by God! No scarf. What am I? A sissy? What are you? My mother? Get away from me Con. You smell like an absolute brewery.” “Me? I smell? You really are a vicious hopeless old faggot! Why are you so mean?” “What I do, sweetheart, is treat people the way they want to be treated. You and George want to be humiliated. I do it for you. For you. You want me to.” “Come on. Let’s go.” I pushed Martin and Connie toward the door. They could trade insults for hours. The coffee had helped. Or, as they say, I was still drunk but very alert. Connie fussed with Martin about his hat, his scarf, the buttons on his coat. George remained in his chair. No wave. No goodbye. No acknowledgment we were leaving other than to give us the finger. When we got outside, it was as though the town had transformed itself. At least five inches of snow lay on the ground. It was an undisturbed virgin expanse of white. Martin scooped up handfuls of snow and tossed them in the air. “Whee!” We walked and threw snowballs and giggled and slipped and slid. Our street shoes turned the snow into glass. We hadn’t quite gotten to Broad Street, not even two blocks when Martin slipped and fell. He went down with a thud. I walked on ahead, leaving Connie to help him stand up. “Hey! Come back! He’s hurt! He’s hurt bad,” she yelled. By the time I had walked back, carefully picking my way, Connie was sitting in the snow with Martin’s head in her lap. He had fallen face first and his nose gushed blood. Blood was all over the snow and on Connie’s coat. His upper lip was raw and oozing blood. Martin was out cold. “Oh God! What’ll we do? I can’t lift him up,” Connie was in tears. A man across the street hurried toward us. “Can I help?” “Oh yes! Thank you. Our friend fell down.” Martin opened his eyes. “Jesus! What happened!” “You fell, my friend,” the man said. “Wait until your head clears. Here, let me help you.” The man easily hoisted Martin to his feet and handed him a handkerchief to hold to his nose. “Where are you going?” “Back to the Wharton Apartment building,” I said. Connie and I offered to help but the man had no trouble guiding Martin along the way. The concierge took one look at us standing at the door and ran to open it. “We had an accident. Call George Whitcomb and tell him we’re coming up,” I said. Our Good Sam stood outside until we were safely in. Then he smiled and waved and headed back uptown. George was standing at his door when we got out of the elevator. “What happened?” He was cold sober. “Martin fell and got knocked out,” I said. George helped Martin out of his coat. His nose had stopped bleeding but his lip was puffed up to twice its size. “Oh dear! Come in here. Oh poor Martin. I’ll get a towel. You just lie down right in there on the bed.” George led Martin to the guest room and helped him lie down on the four-poster. It had a featherbed on top. He went to the bathroom for a wet towel and gently bathed Martin’s face. Connie had climbed up on the bed and sat by Martin. I stood at the foot of the bed. “You’ll just stay here tonight, Martin,” George said. “No problem. I’ll get a cab for the girls.” “What in the world time is it?” Martin raised his left hand to look at his watch. “Oh shit! That fucker took my watch!” He frantically reached into his pants pocket. “He got my wallet. That son of a bitch! He ripped me off!” Martin started to cry and leaned against Connie. I crawled up on the bed and began crying too. Connie put her arms around Martin and tears fell down her face. George stood in the doorway, sobbing. Very shortly we all fell asleep. George curled up on the floor. The deep pile on the rug kept it from being the act of self-denial that sleeping on my floor would have been. About noon the next day I called the bar. Kas answered. “Where in bloody hell are you? I had to come in myself. It’s Monday. People were lined up at eight ayem.” “Had some trouble last night.” “You could have called.” “No. Actually I couldn’t. Sorry. I’ll be in later to pick up my winnings.” “Fine. You do that.” “Fine.” Kas did pay off, which I knew he would. And he also fired me. So I had a hundred bucks instead of fifty and no job. I survived. So did Gallagher’s. But I’m still wondering. The Super Bowl couldn’t be fixed, could it?

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