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The International Writers Magazine: About a Lockbox

Fat Talk
• Dean Borok
I’m no genius. I took an online IQ test and barely scored in the average range. Never mind that – a lot of dummies have hit success solely by virtue of perseverance. As this guy once told me, genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.


Recently, a critic named Joseph Epstein expressed the opinion that my uncle, Saul Bellow, was a writer who had good ideas but no stories, probably owing to the fact that he only ever worked as a college professor and had no life experiences beyond that to draw upon except for being cleaned out by his first four wives, which figures very big in his literature. I, on the other hand, have got stories but no ideas except for a bunch of cheap jokes.

What I have got in common with my uncle is that neither of us is taking responsibility for our writing. We both assert that we just hold the pencil and our hands are directed by a higher vibration that actually moves the object. That’s an easy cop-out, I know!

The Internet has been kind to me. I get to inflict ideas that not long ago would have been consigned to the rubbish bin. Obviously, my target audience is agents and publishers. Unfortunately, the only responses I receive are from fat guys in Queens telling me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Oh man, since I arrived in New York I have had to suffer and endless procession of fat slobs telling me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” You think I’m kidding? Fat guys necessarily come with a big set of lungs, the same as birds puff up their feathers to look larger. They’re making it entirely on blasting hot air. The baby who cries loudest is the one that first gets fed. This humungous fat dude at a Mexican beach resort told me, “I get away with anything I want because of my size”, and meanwhile I’m thinking, I know a cat 120 lbs. who could put you away.

I used to work for an obese pachyderm named Donnie, who had his job because his uncle was the boss. Donnie used to walk around all day screaming at the help and the managers. Myself frazzled from all the racket, I suggested to Donnie, “Why don’t you just talk to them in a normal tone of voice?” He smiled, “I like to scream.”

Look at El Supremo Fatman of New York City, Donald Trump, who achieved several years of Fat King status on his show, “The Apprentice” because he was so entertaining at berating or firing people who knew even less than he does. He told the guy, “Let’s see how enterprising you are. Go sell lemonade on the corner of 40th Street and Madison”. Two weeks later he tells the guy, “Maisie Brooks sold more cups of lemonade across the street, so you’re fired!” Real deep stuff like that. Anyway, the public went along with it. Lately, though, Trump went off his meds, with his Trump-ed up bleating about Obama’s birth certificate, and so he is currently out of favor, although I don’t suppose that that will hurt his real estate sales, since anybody who is motivated to buy a condo in a building with Trump’s name splashed in gold in front of it is not going to be put off by his very nasty, very public feud with the equally obese and squishy comedienne Rosie O’Donnel, which polluted the New York media for several months or years.

Anyway, Trump has been dethroned by the Fat King of New Jersey, Governor Christopher Christie, who tried to defuse the commentaries about his obesity by laughing them off. When interrogated about it by David Letterman during a studio interview, Christie pulled out a donut and started to eat it. Ha-ha! He should have pulled out a take-out order of pancakes from IHOP and eaten that. That would have been hysterical!

Maybe that’s what society has devolved to – a Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. I personally prefer to drink up my money, especially if there are no drugs around. Anyway, things are not always what they seem. If Christopher Christie is really a thin man trapped inside a fat man’s body (or possibly several of them, like one of those Russian dolls), maybe Barack Obama is a fat man trapped inside a thin man’s body, like an Eddie Murphy movie. In art, interpretation accounts for 90% of historical (hysterical?) truth. Nobody supposes that the epic rendering of The Surrender of Breda is accurately portrayed in the portraiture of Velasquez. But if art jumbles the accuracy of events in the interest of a good story, sometimes the associations it stimulates are more real that the reality.

Chess Am I making myself perfectly clear? Let me give you an example of when art trumps reality. There was a discussion page on Facebook where a group of rock and roll fanatics where slamming the movie “Cadillac Records” over its historical facts about Leonard Chess and his eponymous Chicago record label of the 1960’s. I suppose the unstated undercurrent of the discussion was really about how Chess allegedly stole all the money and screwed the artists, but the politically polite participants of the message board managed to complain about Chess without saying why.

When I noted that the film was highly entertaining, I was gently reminded that as a biopic it should have hewed closer to the facts, presumably of how much Chess stole from the artists.

I’m always being told that I “don’t get it”, which is like accusing me of reading “Pravda” and accepting it at face value instead of teasing out the real, unwritten truth. Well, excuuuuse meeee! Maybe it’s because those truths are usually so mundane and prosaic that it’s more amusing to just read the paper and then use it for garbage wrapping. Naturally, the engaging aspect of “Cadillac Records” is the wonderful blues music, and they built the story line loosely based on the “facts” around that. As one of those big movie guys once said (or screamed), “If you want to send a message, call Western Union”.

I figure that I’m as qualified to write as an authority about Chicago as anybody on freakin Facebook. I was born in the heart of the South Side (like Leroy Brown), at Michael Reese Hospital, right in the middle of what later became Obama’s power base. My uncle was the King of Hyde Park when Obama was still a baby. I graduated Ogden School, one block from the Rush Street nightclub district. When I used to walk to school in the morning, I passed in front of Mister Kelly’s night club, which advertised Lenny Bruce as its headlining act.

I graduated Sullivan High School in Rogers Park, which is today celebrated for its sophistication and diversity, although in those days it was a safe Jewish neighborhood that my mother moved us to so that I wouldn’t have to attend notorious Cooley High. I had been offered admission to prestigious Lane Technical High School, but at that time it was boys-only, and my hormonal development drove me to insist on a co-educational environment.

If “Cadillac Records” didn’t directly address Leonard Chess’ thieving proclivities, the overall tableau it presents contains brief associations about Chicago that resonate clearly within me, like Leonard screwing the girl on the leather sofa in the office of his junkyard until her father barges in and breaks it up. The father does not beat Leonard up, or even scream at him. He just shoos his daughter out of there with resigned forbearance. People in Chicago are hot-blooded, and they know it and accept it. My father’s family was in coal, not junk, but what he did with my mother basically follows that formula, and I am the result of that association.

The other thing that I loved was Leonard walking around Chicago with a pistol in his pocket. It doesn’t save him. In Chicago the people are so hardened that if you pull a gun on a man, he is likely to tell you that he is going to take the gun out of your hand and shove it up your ass. That’s what Leonard gets from a couple of non-admirers in a back alley encounter. My father also carried a pistol, but he was a little tougher than Leonard Chess. One time, when a drunken Bohemian truck driver was creating a disturbance in the coal yard and threatening people, my father calmly walked up to him and smacked him in the head with the gun, knocking him out. My father, Morrie, who was delicately described by New York Times editor James Atlas as a “bagman for the Chicago mob”, called in the cops and paid them off to lock the guy up for a few days.

The worst story I can relate about Jews with guns in Chicago is Howard Maltz, who was the brother of my friend Shelly. Shelly was a goofball and a clown like me, but his older brother, Howard, was a serious man, and we were all impressed when he joined the Chicago Police Dept., but no sooner did he start going out on patrol than he shot a black man dead in an altercation that took place in a West Side bar. It was all over the papers. Naturally, given the political atmosphere of the time, Howard was exonerated by a grand jury.

On a lighter note, when I was a kid apartments in Chicago were cheap. A gang of boys could pool their money to rent an apartment near the beach for use as a clubhouse to throw parties and bring girls over. My friend Steve and I took a place on Sheridan Road, one block from Morse Avenue Beach. For a while we had this kid, Harold, staying with us. Harold was the quiet type, and very self-contained. He kept his hair slicked down with Brilliantine and parted almost in the middle, like a 1920’s prohibition movie. He had a military-style .45 caliber automatic pistol that he used to tuck in his waistband when he went out ( I told him, “You better be sure to have the safety on, or you’re going to shoot your balls off”) and a big bag of marijuana that he kept in a lockbox, which he continually checked for signs of tampering. One day, Harold went out, leaving the box with Steve and me. After a while of drinking beer we decided to break into Harold’s lockbox, which was a cheap, tin piece of shit, about the equivalent of a kiddie toy, and smoke some of his reefer.

This is a true story. I found a hairpin on the floor that had been left behind by one of our dates and used it to open the box. They we smoked up a good amount of Harold’s stash, and I somehow managed to use the same hairpin to lock the box back up, as though it had never been opened.

When Harold returned to the apartment he immediately checked the lockbox. Satisfied that it was still locked, he opened it and realized that half of his stash was missing ha-ha! He gaped at the bag of weed in disbelief, then turned around to look at us, then back at the box.

Later, Steve, slightly in awe, asked me, “Where did you learn how to do that?”
I improvised, “New York”. But the “lockbox” was so shabby that I probably could have pried it open with my dick.

© Dean Borok March 18th 2013

Still Dancin'
Dean Borok

Anybody who wants to get a thumbnail of the changing demographic of American society would do well to take a ride uptown to the Lorenz Latin Dance Studio on 110th Street

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