Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Spanish Blackjack: It’s the middle of the week and you’re in a dive bar just off Thompkins Square Park. The jukebox is rattling with trucker music. A few cute, blond and very preppy girls are playing pool against their investment banker boyfriends. You take a stool two down from an old man in Yankees cap.

“Hey kid. You gotta be twenny-one to drink in here.”

--Thanks. I’m alright. Just look young. Clean leaving and all that.

“Heh. That’s good. Clean living.”

He gets off his stool. Because he’s a small man, he has to hop down on to the floor. He walks toward you. You wonder if you can take him. He doesn’t look like he’s fought in any wars. You find yourself thinking of the opening chapter of Everyone’s Burning, where the old drunk bites a girl until she bleeds. You notice that he’s got very good teeth. He climbs up on the stool beside you. “Wanna hear a joke?”


“What three two letter words mean small?”

--Got me.

“You’ve probably heard this from your girlfriend, kid. The three words are: Is. It. In.”

Heh. Not bad. Your turn to tell a joke.

--What do people of the Greek orthodox faith call tonight?

“Greek Orthodox? No clue, kid.”


“Ha! Here’s another. Not really a joke but a test. What is two and two and two?”


“Thanks. Now this time don’t say it. Just think the answer but don’t tell me. What is one thousand forty and one thousand forty.”


“Now add to that ten and ten. What do you get? This time tell me. You have five seconds. One, two, three…”

--Three thousand. Shit. No. That’s wrong. It’s two thousand one hundred. That is a good trick.

The old man is drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon from a tin can and his name is Phillip Hellman. Phillip means horse-lover in greek. He was born on Pearl Harbor day, and is pleased you know that this was on December 7, 1941. His father was an engineer. When he died, following his wife into Neverland six months after her death, he left his four children a million dollars to split among themselves. Phillip takes his money and went to Las Vegas.

“I take fifty thousand dollars in cash. Stupid thing to do. I should have brought a check but I was in a rush. I’m good with the cards, and I was flush. I needed to get to Vegas. So I’ve got my money in my coat pocket. On the plane I get up to take a piss, and so I’ve got to take my coat. When I get back the guy sitting next to me says, ‘How much money you carrying in your coat?’ Stupid thing, carrying that much money.”

Things go well for Phillip at Spanish blackjack, the game where the player beats the house if the dealer draws a twenty-one to match his twenty-one. He gets up about eighteen thousand and decides to call it a night. He’s been playing for twenty-five hours.

“I was playing progressive. You gotta have at least ten thousand dollars to play progressive at a five dollar table. But that’s how you win. So I take my money and I get on the elevator to go up to my room. It stops on a floor and on walks this woman. She’s dressed to kill. Professional, no doubt. Out of nowhere, she starts sniffing me. ‘What is that you’ve got on?’ she asks me. I look at her and say, ‘It’s a hard-on, baby, but I didn’t know you could smell it.’

“I got together with her that night. Had her sucking my balls. Suck. My. Balls. She wouldn’t let me blow my load in her mouth, though.”

Phillip tells you about buying pot in the early sixties on Avenue A. The time he was a waiter in Palm Beach and a woman asked what the fly was doing in her soup (“The backstroke”). He keeps saying that the preppy girls have wandering eyes and encouraging you to talk to them. You wonder if Phillip is gay or only lonely, and decide that a gay man would have better breath. It doesn’t really matter. He’s bought you a whiskey and you’re willing to laugh at his stories in exchange.