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Friday, December 2, 2016

Obscured American: Marty the Electrician, Plumber and Ex-Mortician

As published at Unz Review, 12/3/16:

Within the shadow of 920-year-old Norwich Cathedral squats the 767-year-old Adam and Eve Pub. Both are spooky, inevitably. A decade ago, I was minding my own business, nursing a pint of Old Peculier, when the mugs above my head started to rattle, the ashtray flew off the bar and Lord Sheffield whispered in me ear, “Spot me a whiskey, mate?” “Sam,” as the ghost is now known, was mortally wounded in 1549 by a butcher during Kett’s Rebellion. At 28, he croaked in the Adam and Eve.

In the US of A, it’s rare to find any building that wasn’t built last week, but there’s plenty of history here too, and even my shithole of a neighborhood bar, the Friendly Lounge, has its lore.

It’s owned by two brothers, and their father was the legendary Felix DiTullio, better known as Skinny Razor. He showed Little Nicky Scarfo how to slaughter. Many Mafia targets were last seen being ushered into the Friendly, never to reappear. Maybe they have a centuries-old well in their basement too, just like the Adam and Eve?

Now, the Friendly is a scandal-free establishment, with nothing more exciting to happen recently than the appearance of ex-Phillies Garry Maddox.

“He must have some broad in the neighborhood?” someone whispered.

“No, Garry ain’t that kind of guy.”

Maddox ordered an eight-dollar drink, left a ten-dollar tip.

A year after Lord Sheffield's death, John Skelton's "The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng" was published. No priss, the Diss native didn't shy from an ale and piss splattered portrayal of contemporary life, and his Tunnyng gives us a rare glimpse of plebian carousing in 16th century England. (Another East Anglian, Robert Greene, born 1558, bequeaths knowing tales of hustlers, thieves and blackmail artists.) Check out these lines:

She breweth noppy ale,
And maketh therof port sale
To trauellars, to tynkers,
To sweters, to swynkers,
And all good ale drynkers,
That wyll nothynge spare,
But drynke tyll they stare
And as she was drynkynge,
She fyll in a wynkynge
Wyth a barlyhood,
She pyst where she stood;
Than began she to wepe,
And forthwyth fell on slepe.

Elynour Rummyng "lerned it of a Jewe" to thicken her ale with chicken shit, but that entire passage must be fantasy.

While others are disgusted, such good, solid types having such a great time makes me want to get pissed also. We're only here to stare at each other and palaver. Let's head to the Friendly, then, and b.s. with Marty.

Don the hunter died without saying goodbye, Felix is hobbling along after his foot operation, Tony got fired for allegedly stealing, Manon landed a better job, the sad Eagles just choked away another one and Marty, as you shall see, will be on the first stool as you walk in. At 74, the raspy-voiced man works even on Thanksgiving, and he downs a few each evening.

When Marty speaks of gravy, he means marinara sauce, by the way, and “managut” is a South Philly word.

I’ve repeatedly urged Marty to visit Sicily before he keels over. “Go next week, then come back and tell us about it. You’ll bawl like a baby, man, soon as you land!”

Once, Marty showed me on his cellphone a beaming, bare-breasted lady sitting on her living room carpet. “Would you leave this?”

Just a few days away from his New Jersey lay is out of the question for Marty.

I was born in 1942. I was raised in the 50’s, when all the girls were church mouses.

I’ve been coming to Friendly Lounge on my own since 1962. Prior to that, I’d come in with my dad on Saturday, because of the spare ribs. They had the best spare ribs in the city. Even the Chinese would come here to get them.

This place wasn’t a go-go bar per se. Around 1970 or so, we started getting dancers on Friday night. They would dance on top of the bar. There was also a little stage. One girl used to shoot ping pong balls out, and puffed a cigar.

I’ve done plumbing and electrical work for 50 years.

I had uncles who were in various trades, so I started hanging with them. One of my buddies, his father used to come in here. He was a master plumber, so that’s how I learned plumbing.

I work every day. I’m a one-man band. I do everything myself. I’ve never met anybody who can do it as good as me, and I can also do it quicker. I don’t want to get a call in the middle of night, “Hey, your guy who was here. The faucet is not working right.”

I’ve always had a voice like this. I can’t make obscene phone calls. I went from a little boy, to this voice.

I’ve been married five times. I’m just a guy that’s not happy. I got them home. I know they’re there. I’m back out at the bar, looking for another one.

You’ve got to remember, guys my age, we grew up at the beginning of free sex, drugs and rock and roll, and I tried to take advantage of it. We opened the door for free sex.

Ah, many, many women took on the attitude of guys, back in the day. They wanted to be out there and get laid also.

I’ve probably been with 130, 140. No exaggeration. That’s probably cutting it short.

I'm the very first person in the world to admit, if there's anybody in the world who should have gotten AIDS, it should have been me.

As far as unplanned pregnancies? Every one of them!

Yeah, I got three inches cut off, so now I’ve got an even nine.

I have seven children, by three women. I have 19 grandkids, and seven great grandkids. I’m in touch with my kids every day. I don’t want to hear from them, but one or the other will call. I’m good friends with them all.

Financially, none of my kids, none of my ex wives will ever say I was bad. I was a good provider, horrible husband, good boyfriend, and probably a better father to kids that weren’t mine. I was their father figure.

I’ve always had girlfriends. I just married one off last month, in Florida. I’ve got one in upstate New York. I’ve got one over in Jersey. I still do pretty good as far as pussy.

I don’t use Viagra, or Cialis, or any of that other shit. How do I do it? I stick it in.

I’m not like I was ten years ago. That’s why they’re safe across the country now.

Some guys get nothing because they try too hard. I’ve never, ever in my life chased the cherry. I let them come after me.

Back in the day, people like Marco, Joe Mazz and all the pretty boys would try. The girls would look at Marty and think to themselves, Why isn’t he trying? What has he got? I had a wife, at home. I got nothing. That turned girls on. I didn't lie to them and say I was single. I told everyone I was married. The girls wanted the forbidden fruit, too.

I like very petite women, with long hair. Very skinny. I’m not a titty guy. Big boobs look good in swim suits and sweaters, and that’s not my playground. I’m a butt guy.

If they’ve got a little butt, they’re tiny and they’ve got long hair, they’ve got it going.

If they’re not my type, I don’t bother with them. I have no curiosity or interest at all.

I have this set of rules that I’ve followed all my life. I’m not a guy who walks around horny. Ninety percent of the time in my life, I had a wife at home. If I left the bar by myself and went home, I’ve got a piece of pussy at home. If a girl turned me on, I fuck the old lady thinking of the girl that turned me on. A dick has no conscience.

I’ve turned down more pussy than you can think. I have a set pattern. Every one of my wives, turn them around, other than the color of their hair, they all look the same from the back.

I’m very specific. Ask anybody who knows me. My first wife was Irish, black hair, 4 foot 9, very white skinned. Every one after has been under 5-3.

It’s not that I have a philosophy. It’s something that I’ve found that works for me, and when you find something that works, you tend to use it. I’m not saying it’s right, wrong or politically correct, but it works for me.

Each of my kids resents me for one thing or another. I’m not perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be. They’ve all got their issues with me, but as far as being their father, I’ve always been a very good provider, but I was always on the move.

I’ve always provided for my family. I’ve made a good living in the course of my lifetime. Money was so easy to make in the 60’s and 70’s, and rent was cheap. My first apartment was $75 a month, and Patty and I had a really nice apartment, at 6th and Wharton. This was in ’63, ’64.

I’ve done everything I wanted to do. I bought cars, boats, motorcycles. I’ve had about eight boats in my life. I lived in Florida for 27 years. There’s no sense living in Florida unless you’ve got a motorcycle and a boat.

I’ve lived in California. I’ve been to Canada, England, Mexico. Me and one of my wives, we were going to go to Rome for my 62nd birthday. I like biblical, religious stuff. I wanted to see the pyramids, the catacombs, stuff like that. But she died on me, and I didn’t go. I lost all interest.

I have a hard time speaking English, let alone various languages.

Timmy Cigar and I got into an argument with Adrian one night over the word “irregardless.” I never knew it was not a word, and I’ve been saying it all my life.

I lived in south Florida for 27 years. The only thing I know of any Hispanic language is “si.” That’s about it.

I’m a very one-dimensional person. I’m a creature of habits. I eat primarily Pat’s Steaks, after work. It’s not so much cheesesteak any more. It’s a pork sandwich with cheese on it.

When I want variety, I go to the Chinese restaurant at Broad and Federal, Mui Chung. I just call, they hear my voice and they know exactly what I want, and it’s ready by the time I get there.

I listen to all these people with the health food, and I’ve watched all the health food gurus, and the exercise gurus, died!

My teeth didn’t fall out. There is a perfect reason why I have false teeth. I had a bad motorcycle accident back in ‘74.

I had beautiful bottoms and fantastic implants, but my gums have shrunk over the years. Had to get rid of the implants. Now, I have big fuckin’ teeth.

When I go home with a chick, I pop my teeth out, I pop the eye out and I pull off the wig.

I’m not Italian, I’m Sicilian. The reason I’ve never been there is because there’s nobody I know. I’ve got family there, but I don’t know them.

To go back and see how the world was built, in old world traditions, that’s pretty amazing. I watch National Geographic every now and then, and I see how modern people are existing and dwelling in cities that are centuries-old, and how they’re adapting. I find that fascinating.

People today, their houses have a bathroom for each kid. I’m sure my Sicilian ancestors, there were probably four or five families, with three or four kids each, all sharing the same outhouse. Unless you’re extremely wealthy, there was no such thing as a 2,000-foot-square house. Only Americans need that much space.

South Philly was all Italian. You had your Irish on 2nd Street, and other types on 30th, but in between, it was all Italian. There were fights or disagreements between different factions of Italians, whether they be Sicilian or Calabrese, or whatever. That’s what made South Philly so interesting.

The way my mom prepared her pasta and meat dishes was totally different than other Italian sects would do it.

We always had a secure area here, in South Philly. We had our own market, on 9th Street. It was just a fantastic place to grow up.

The 9th Street Market started out around 1915. South Philadelphia around the turn of the century was primarily Jewish. The Italian influx didn’t really come until around 1915 to 1925.

When I was living with my parents, I grew up eating fresh vegetables, freshly killed meat. I never ate anything frozen other than ice cream.

Good Italian cooking is dying off. It’s not the same. You go to Villa di Roma when Kaiser and his kids ran it, it was good, it was fantastic. And there was Big Ralph’s and various Italian eateries. It doesn’t appear that it has changed, to new newcomers, but people who grew up here, they know the difference in the way things are made today from 50 years ago.

Today, they use convectional ovens, microwaves and not the old wooden ovens or the gas-fired appliances.

It’s the ingredients. A pot of gravy, I guarantee you, if you go to Villa di Roma, he still makes a pot of gravy the exact same way he did when he was twelve-years-old, but the ingredients have changed, therefore the results have changed. That’s why you don’t see too many old mom-and-pop Italian restaurants anymore.

With governmental regulations, you can’t have this, you can’t have that and expect it to taste like 50 years ago. I like deep red gravy. Most gravy today is pinkish. It’s not the restaurant owners that are cheating. It’s the FDA governmental regulations saying you can’t eat tomatoes raised in pig shit.

My mom and dad raised me strictly on Sicilian food. Until my mom died at 93 in 2000, she was making her own pasta, making her own gravy, every week. My mom would make gallons of gravy every Sunday morning, and she would put it in pails and refrigerate it, until the kids came over. “Come over and get your half gallon of gravy. Here, grab a couple pounds of ravioli, or meat balls, roasted pork, this, that, spaghetti, whatever it is that you like.” My mom used to make it all herself.

A couple weeks before she died, she was up at 3:30, 4 O’clock, Sunday morning, making gravy.

She'd roll out her dough, and by the time she went to church, then came back, it'd rise. She'd make managut. It's a long shell, stuffed with cheese. My mom would bake it, then put gravy over it.

My grandfather came to visit us from Sicily. He stayed here for three or four weeks. My father must have cooked him breakfast, because I can remember daylight behind the old man.

The only regret I have in my life is that my father didn't live long enough. He died when I was 19-years-old. My dad worked a lot. I didn't know him as a man. I only knew him as a father.

You can go out and have a beer with your old man when you’re 23, 24 years old. You don’t have to sit around the couch and listen to him moan and groan about work.

My father was in the funeral business. We had a funeral home. I did that for many, many years, into my 40’s. I’d do my other work in the daytime, do bodies at night.

A funeral in Europe is a celebration of somebody’s life. It’s not that they have died or expired, or got killed, it’s a celebration of their life.

In Europe, they put the grandkids on the body of the deceased. It’s your granddaddy. Say goodbye. Give him a hug.

America, they sweep it under the rug. Oh, that’s bad, he died!

Only in America do they hide death. They make death into something evil, but it’s not. Everyone of us, unless you’re an astronaut, is going to die on this planet. You’re going to need a funeral director.

The rest of the world celebrate the deceased’s life at a funeral. They talk about all the good shit the guy did, what a nice guy he was, or what a prick he was.

I’m very jaded when it comes to death, but I’m very respectful.

Party while you can. You'll throw a seven before you know it.

If you dig the above, do consider supporting this blog!

What may seem offhand is actually a lot of work. The piece above is the result of three separate meetings, with the first dating back to November 3rd. A few times, I texted Marty but he was too busy to meet.

My Postcards book will definitely come out in January. Among the blurbs is one from Chris Hedges:

Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America is a collection of some of the most brilliant observations penned on the terminal decline of the American empire. He gives a voice to those rendered invisible by a bankrupt corporate press. He has an unflinching honesty, refusing to romanticize the poor while also writing with great empathy about their lives. He lays bare the predatory evil of corporate capitalism, the death of liberty engendered by our security and surveillance state and the human cost of our system of inverted totalitarianism. He would make George Orwell or Joseph Roth proud. There are few writers in America I admire more.

None of it would have been possible without your continuous help, so many thanks, as always, and I will certainly keep doing this!!!


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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.