Rowdy Roddy

22 Apr

Oh moon of Alabama
we now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good ol’ mama
and must have whiskey, oh you know why…

Hey amigos:
When she left, just after she packed the little bed into the car, she said: Good. I hope you get to be the barfly you always wanted to be in Key West.
Only I never wanted to be that.

Key West is three parts for me. DuVal Street is the pandemonium and all the fat tourists in khakis and sandals, looking for Margaritaville and cheap t-shirts, pedaling away their lungs on rented bikes. The Truman Annex is the fancy district, the million-dollar homes facing port side (west) where all the mammoth cruise ships dock. And then there’s the southern part of the island, just below Julia Street and Whitehead, where Papa had his yellow house. The old, almost unspoiled part. There’s a great joint down there, the Blue Heaven on Thomas Street; if you get the chance, hit it. It’s got feral chickens running all over the place and they serve a juiced up margarita that’ll knock you to the mainland. They have a huge sign on the front door: “We will no longer turn away hungry people.” And they don’t. Through the early 20th the joint has hosted cock fighting, gambling, and Friday night boxing matches refereed by Papa himself. And that’s where I ended up, just before travelling up North to look for work. I sat at the bar next to a man named Roddy who lived on Big Pine Key, but came down to the end of the line every day to drive an island tour bus. One of them streetcar looking things, you know? Tourist trap shit. Anyway, he lived in a trailer on a piece of land littered with mango trees. He had a fifteen-year-old daughter with severe retardation and a wife who smoked Blue Owl cigars.
–Close to Mangrove Mama’s on Sugarloaf, is where I’m at, he said.
–I know where that is.
–They got the best conch fritters.
–They do. What’s yours?
–I ain’t heard that in ages. That’s old-fashioned talk, he said. Like book-talk. Dash Hammett shit, son.
–Yea, well, I watch old movies. Well?
–Scotch then and God bless ya.
I snagged his round from the barkeep.
–Hey, you know that old Joe E. Lewis line, dontcha? he said.
–Joey Lewis? You mean Joe Louis?
–No, no. Joe. E. Lewis. He was a comedian and a singer. Hung out with Sinatra and them guys.
–Joey Lewis?
–Joe E. Lewis, he said. E. For a middle initial. Anyway, you know that line…you prah-ly don’t. He had a great line, it go: Scotch and water? I said I was thirsty, not dirty.
And he let out an asthmatic Tommy-gun laugh which segued into a horrible cough.
–At’s good, I said.
–Oh he’s got a million of ‘em: A friend in need is a pest, and then there’s: I went on a diet, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in 14 days I lost two weeks.
He exploded again and turned red in the face, and chased the demons away with the two shots I bought him.
–You know what they did to poor ol’ Joe. Seriously now, they done him up.
–Who?
–Machine Gun McGurn.
–Capone’s goon?
–Yeh. They got ‘im in bed one night. McGurn and his henchmen. They cut his goddamn throat.
–Jesus. What for?
–Seems Joe was foolin’ around with Machine Gun’s girlfriend, but really–officially–they pinched him for refusing to perform at the Green Mill, ’cause he was offerred more money from some other joint. The Green Mill was Capone’s place.
–Officially!
–Yeh, right? Anyway, he lived. But it took him a few years to learn to talk again.
–Jesus. How’d we get on this?
Roddy exploded into his gurgling laughter again.
–I don’t know, man. Who cares. Demon alcohol.
We drank at the bar and a dog came up. He was the most raggedy thing I’d ever seen. Roddy threw him some peanuts and then kicked him along to another table. There was a man with a small harp up on the podium doing some bluegrass tune. The heat and rum were working me good.
–That right there is some Hayseed Dixie, son, Roddy said and laughed his laugh. –Last year I had a job in Pensacola, did somebody’s kitchen cabinets, some rich folks you know, and they give me a ticket to Earl Scruggs and Bad Livers. Seent them at the Bayfront Auditorium, you know where that is?
I told him I’d never been to Pensacola. I liked the Blues, though. Told him that. The only bluegrass I knew was Allison Kraus and Nickle Creek. He said: Who?
We drank.

–You look like that guy, that movie guy…Christ, what’s his name.
The barkeep came around with two fingers for each and beer chasers. He wiped down the bar with a rag. He lit Roddy’s cigarette.
–The hell’s his name. He was in that, uh…Christ. The one about Al Capone, speakin’ of. With DeNiro. DeNiro plays Capone. He takes that fuckin’ baseball bat…
–The Untouchables.
–Yeh. That guy…that Spanish guy. The good guy. The hell’s his name.
–Andy Garcia.
–ANDY GARCIA. That’s it. That’s who you look like.
–Everyone says that.
–Yeh. Only, more like his brother. Like his long-lost brother.
–Yea.
–Yeh. RANDY Garcia, the brother who never made it…
–The brother who never amounted to anything…
–Yeh, yeh, and he started in with that nasty laugh again: –The brother who’s gotta work three jobs for a livin’…
–That’s it.
–Where my money, you cheap Hollywood sonofabitch you…is what you say ever’ yaar at Thanksgiving. And he laughed that gurgling horror and I thought Old Faithful was going to explode out of his chest.

–My great great grandaddy was a goddamn pirate, you know.
–Was he?
–He was.
–Get anything good?
–Yeh. A nasty case of the clap from some chippie in Cuba…
And Roddy exploded again.
And we drank.
Later, I found out Roddy was one of the deck hands for Mel Fisher, when Mel Fisher was bringing up those 40 tons of gold and silver off the Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Four hundred and fifty million dollars, is what Roddy helped hoist up from the sea.
–The Atocha Motherlode.
The Atocha Motherlode.
Mel Fisher was a poor, Indiana chicken farmer turned treasure hunter who came to Key West and in 1985 ran into the biggest find ever sunk by a hurricane in the Dry Tortugas.
–That bastard is still being worked on by Uncle Sammy, Roddy said.
–Is it?
–The goddamn Bank of Spain. Treasure is still floating to the surface.
–Jesus.
–But Mel got his due.
–I know.
–Ever been to his museum?
–No. It’s too close to where the cruise ships come in with them old, norovirus hags.
And Roddy laughed his cancerous, phlegmatic whoop into the next morning.

(Author’s Notes)

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4 Responses to “Rowdy Roddy”

  1. Geoff 23/04/2009 at 5:39 AM #

    Alex,

    When in Key West, were you able to check out the “original” Sloppy Joe’s — a little hole of a bar called Captain Tony’s? The new Sloppy Joe’s cashes in on Hemingway, but you go around the corner and get the original dive, and it feels like home. Like Hemingway.

    *
    When I lived in Chicago, I used to hang out at The Green Mill quite a lot. If you ask at the bar, there’s a big scrapbook you can look through that includes the Joe E. Lewis stuff, along with everything else. There’s also still the somewhat-hidden trapdoor behind the bar that was used during Prohibition. I always thought it was cool that the Green Mill was modeled in part (at least the name and the original front) after The Moulin Rouge.

    Lots of great stuff here. Thanks for the words — the fiction, and bringing back memories. G

  2. (S)wine 23/04/2009 at 12:17 PM #

    yea, everything’s been bastardized. i’ve never set foot in the “new” Sloppy Joe’s. it’s repulsive. that and Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” full of fat tourists with ballcaps on singing that insufferable song and sipping on weak drinks. no thanks.

  3. Matt 25/04/2009 at 1:38 AM #

    I love the uses of ‘-‘s for quotes. They molest my eyes and tickle me in places normally payed to see.

  4. (S)wine 25/04/2009 at 6:31 AM #

    Matt, I am over-educated, this is non-sensical, and I ain’t laffin.

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