Thirty summers ago I was stuck in New York waiting for a doorman job in Gemany. My pockets were empty and my rent was a month late. Many of my friends worked at Danceteria on West 21st Street. I ate at the BBQ on the roof and drank for free. The owner was a fan of my poetry and John never criticized my glomming off the bartenders.
I finally received the phone call from Germany. A one-way Lufthansa ticket awaited me at JFK. I needed a little money in my pocket to pay for taxis at both ends and hit up a number of friends for $20 each. At Danceteria I ran into John, who was speaking with the bald ex-owner of Mudd Club. John reached into his pocket for his donation.
“I’ll be saving money by getting you away from my bar.”
“I don’t drink that much.”
“7-8 drinks a night add up. Not that I mind.” John was in a good mood. The Bush Tetras were performing at midnight and they packed the club with good-looking women and men after good-looking women. “Have you ever been to Germany before?”
“No.” No one in my family had been to Germany since the Great War.
“Hamburg’s where the Beatles found their magic.” John had played bass in a garage band during the 60s. He was a Beatles fan like most of the people our age.
“That seems to be the only thing anyone knows about Hamburg.” My knowledge of Hamburg was no bigger than his, except I opined a hunch. “I think Dracula shipped out of Hamburg.”
“Dracula didn’t ship out of Hamburg.” A young drunk in a suit said loudly and added with conviction. “He left for England out of Varna.”
“I stand corrected, thanks.” I turned back to John, but he was confronted by the drunk. “Don’t I get a prize for that answer.”
“This isn’t Jeopardy.” John had little patience for annoying customers, who made up half the clientele of Danceteria.
“Yeah, but I got it right, you asshole.” The drunk pushed John hard and I stepped between them. No one laid a hand on my benefactor.
“You two queers.”
“Thanks for the compliment.” He could have called us ‘sissies', but queers was too old school for someone his age. I clenched my fist. “Now why don’t you leave us alone.”
“I know who you are, you fucking asshole.” The blonde-haired drunk pointed his finger at John. Spit flailed from his mouth and his drink slopped over the rim of his glass. The junior exec was a hang-over from the happy hour frequented by 9-5ers. “You own this bar, you wop.”
John’s eyes went steely black upon hearing the ethnic slur. The owner from the Mudd Club laughed like he had a hit a helium. John turned to me.
“You want to make $100? Smack this guy.” His offer sounded like an order from Don Corleone.
“Yo, guy, take a walk.” I said it nice.
“I ain’t a guy, you stupid Mick.”
John gave the nod.
A short right caught the drunk on his right temple. He never saw it coming. I grabbed his arms before he could hit the floor and tossed him to the bouncers. No one saw any of it, but John, Steve, and me.
“That was nice.” John gave me the c-note with a pleased smile.
“A lucky shot.” I stuffed the bill in my pocket and my hand ached from the impact on the drunk’s head. I was done for the night.
“What about a drink?” John dragged me to the bar. “It’s on me.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I ordered a screwdriver. It was the fifth of many more. My bon voyage fund stood at a little over $200. I put the cash in my wallet. At the end of the Bush Tetras' show John paid my taxi home.
"It's time to call it a night."
"I have a plane tomorrow."
"You have a good trip and I'll see you when you get back." The bouncers helped me into the Checker. John waved good-bye. He knew how to make a man feel unwelcome and I left with my head against the window. It was time to head home, of only for tonight.