Three years working in JJB and F Advertising’s Art Department on Chicago’s MagMile, I was living a job I hoped I could love forever. That was then. Came a day that poofed away my forever -- a philistine Marketing V.P. took a notion to get in my face. Literally. Four months, the weasel had been rejecting my Art Department’s concept presentations for reasons he stashed in his brain’s slimy confines. A V.P. doofus who knew nothing, visualized nothing, felt nothing about Art – that’s capital “A” Art, I could almost tolerate. Okay, sometimes. Rejections? Sure, I could stand the pain, when I knew they came from a zero-talent dummass. Art Department, here. Marketing crunchkins, there. Confrontation was bound to detonate. And it did, when that V.P. came at me nose-to-nose to spew his latest rejection decree, which was marinating in the dregs of his breakfast. Blasted out of my complacency, I realized his ozones were fermenting my corporate future. If I cared about my real work at all -- Oh, Hell, yes, I quit. And, Bingo! I was free.
Without ado, my freedom soon acquainted me with three long months of dead-ended job-hunting. For about a hundred nothing-days I made hundreds of go-nowhere phone calls to all the ad houses and creative agencies in Chicagoland. Network among colleagues? That was like begging a brother-in-law for a loan. Radio, T.V. and the newspapers were screaming about a hard-times economy prowling the Windy City. They were right. Wednesdays, I groveled through the Trib's want-ads, over and over. Saturdays, I shucked overdue bills onto a crinkly pile atop a coffee table. Like clockwork, Mondays around 9 A.M., I’d sprint into the bathroom, wait a couple minutes, and poke the flush-lever just as my landlady in the hallway would scream "eviction.” On my kitchen table sat half a box of saltine crackers and a forlorn opened can of blue-green tuna festered in my fridge.
On the last day of the last week of my unemployment eligibility, after scribbling my name on my last unemployment check, the gods smiled. They sent a gift: a “Help Wanted” ad at the bottom of the Trib’s Jobs section. “Need Artist for night work” read the top line. “Apply in person. Night time, only,” read the next two. In a microsec, I jumped into nearly clean cords in the bedroom, tugged on a blue pullover in the kitchen, pulled on socks and loafers in the living room, slipped on a black windbreaker and scrambled out the door. The want-ad in my fist, this needed artist leaped aboard a 7:05 P.M. el’ train, and headed uptown for a hoped-for interview. After my destination El platform, I zigzagged through Michigan Ave traffic and dashed up Oak Street. North on Rush Street I was wheezing hard when I located the address from the want-ad’s third line: the "Oh-Oh A Go-Go Top-N-Bottom Lounge.” Not exactly Magnificent Mile real estate.
All I could see and smell was a dark, noisy, smoke-reeking, brown brick sinkhole. From sidewalk level a black metal grille-work stairway with twinkling yellow lights snaked downwards to a murky bottom. While I peered into the depths and reckoned close to forgetting the whole jaunt, a heavy door squalled and creaked. Minutes later, sweet Fate introduced me to Papa Pito Squachese who had plodded up those squeaky stairs to sidewalk level. A cigar stub jutting from his lips, he was - I soon learned - the Oh-Oh’s proprietor extraordinaire. Before whose tiny eyes confronting the Trib Want Ad, I presented his soon-to-be newest employee in person, his night-work artist.
South of his sixties, Papa Pito looked like he hunkered on Dark Age cathedral buttresses and scared away pigeons for a living. Fleshy, wide, and five-and-a-half feet up from pavement level, he was the owner of a pink corpulent head with glistening thin hair swirls, while the round rest of him was bunched into red cotton jogging sweats. Under several chins, where a neck should have been, glittering gold chains spangled over his pickle barrel paunch. When I told him about my JJB and F Art work and that I was applying for the night artist’s position, he didn’t offer a lot of repartee. Instead, his mouth and doughy cheeks plungered up little hard noises he squeezed out from around his cigar without so much as moving his upper or lower lip. His answer he grunted in chopped utterances: “You. Name. Pearce. Yeah? Okay. Artis’. You. Hired.”
Immediately, Pito’s soggy cigar stump smooshed my jacket into my rib cage as he described his artistic commission. “You gonna paint my dancer gorls, see, so’s I don’t get no bust by no vice cops from uptown. Gotta Chee-cah-ga style ‘lections ina coupla months. Means I gonna get all kinda political fangoos an’ cops snoopin’ roun’ here tryin’ to make morals trouble for me. But you gonna help me, see. Means a cop walks by my place …” Here, Papa Pito stepped to the Oh-Oh’s steel stairway, and aped a squat Chicago beat-cop walking by. Pito continued. “He stops. He goes downstairs. He looks in at my gorls. An’ what’s he see? Eh? He sees my gorls. And dey alla dressed up!” No longer the beat-cop, Pito strutted two steps towards me. Smirking like a Quasimodo who just got lucky up in the bell tower, he poked his cigar stub into my side. “Right? But inside my place, all my customahs drinkin’ at my tables, what dey see? Dey see my gorls’ boombas an’ nookies … not alla dressed up. You unnastan’?”
Such was my commission. Plus a six hundred weekly paycheck plus all the cuisine stomachable from the Oh-Oh’s kitchen. And it was all for the cunning crafting of illusion upon warm-bodied fellow artistes. I would paint costumes onto Pito’s “dancer gorls” nude enough to seem nasty but not so nasty as to be naked. “Hey, you, artis’! You unnastan’ what I tell you?” Again, my new boss inquired.
Cutting my answer, Pito clamped a hammy fist around my left elbow and yanked me down the grated stairs below street level. Every clanking step towards the “Oh-Oh’s” entrance whiffed up booze fumes and bar room smoke. We entered the place through a squawking, thumping door. Before my eyes a dark grotto was forming that only Hieronymus Bosch could conjure. A greasy disco-mirror ball, overhead, sluggishly spurted yellow smears into the surrounding shadows. Also above, a spotlight hung down and shot a fierce light at a wooden stage measuring about twenty-five feet left-to-right and raised five feet off the lounge floor. On that stage, PaPa Pito's "gorls" presented nightly pole-dancing entertainments. Stage right, a ‘60's jukebox blared ear-warping eruptions fed on quarters that shadowy customers clinked to the yellow tiled stage floor. Customers, slouching and sipping at the Oh-Oh's cigarette measled tables, looked to be sailors, truckers, and sundry street-crawling untouchables, plus a goodly number of smartly tailored suits. Stage left was my last discovery. There, Pito creaked open a black-painted steel door. Beyond, as my watery eyes focused, I saw another subterranean cranny. This one lay at the bottom of a concrete stairway. Down those stairs was my very own thirty-foot by thirty-foot atelier d'artiste not quite radiantly lit by a lone 100-watt light bulb dangling from a crackle-plastered ceiling.
From that night in my mossy-walled studio, surrounded by stacked beer cases and wine crates, my artistic métier soon ripened to pure nirvana. After two nights of brain-straining agony, I coerced a modicum of stand-back objectivity about my work. At 7:00 P.M., a night’s commerce began when the Oh-Oh opened and my three subjects waitressed in the lounge serving drinks to the table-slapping night-life connoisseurs. After sundown up on the sidewalk, Pito stalked the pavement hawking the Oh-Oh's delights to citizens passing by. Puffing a cigar below suspicious eyes, he checked ID's and watched for political fangoos. When the right number of customers herded into the lounge, Pito clanked down the stairs. Around 10 P.M. the entertainments would begin. In one-hour turns, each waitress scampered down to my studio, shedding her waitressing togs and intimate scanties along the way. Atop a makeover stool under the ceiling light, the soon-to-be dancing lady awaited her water-color makeover. A stampeding heart with a sweaty-trembling hand, I fashioned a pigmented costume onto her nude anatomy. Here a swatch, there a swirl, a smooth-over, a few brush strokes and three minutes of blow-drying. Then voila! After 40 minutes, each waitress from neck to toes blossomed into a phantasmal danseuse in raving eye-grabbing colors. And to be sure, each appeared “alla dressed up so's we don't get no bust by no vice cop people."
Fortune did smile, albeit, a toothy fickle grin. Business at the Oh-Oh A Go-Go Top-N-Bottom Lounge rolled merrily along. Every week, crowds grew bigger, noisier, swelling to low-chic mobs. All over Chi-town’s demimonde, the Oh-Oh’s dancers became nocturnal celebrities. They were objects of rib-poking chortles in office buildings, and raved about in truck stop restaurants and up and down Lake Michigan shipping docks. By day, sly winks and throaty whispers said to get to the Oh-Oh for the hot-damndest babe shows in Chi-town. For a few weeks, Fortune’s bliss fell bountifully upon that night-loving world, but, alas, only until an October Saturday night, spitting distance from the City Council Primaries, Pito’s “Chee-cah-ga style ‘lections.”
That Saturday night began with my first artistic opus, Torchetta. “Torchie”, as she suffered intimates to call her, was a tall, sinewy, dark-haired voluptuary, who pumped iron three times a week to enhance her Amazonian physique. Nightly, her gig music of screaming trumpets and thudding drums brutally debauched Oh-Oh customers' eardrums, while she leg-pumped and hunch-humped the stage pole for fifty-five minutes. A bucking and gyrating, whirling fury she stoked her suds-slurping audiences until they moaned and gasped "Ya see that, there!" “Swear I seen it yeah.” All too soon, her music ended and she would dash away to the Ladies leaving her hung-jawed customers dry mouthed begging for drinks.
That night standing on the makeover stool, Torchie was not her usual harpy-goddess persona while she awaited the yellow primer spray I was preparing. For her dance set that night, she was to be a phosphor-yellow lust machine of golden undulating fleshy mounds and scarlet body nooks. Such was my artistic intent. About to receive orange paint spritzes onto her costume’s two generously rounded protuberances, Torchie stopped my work.
"Pearce, honey,” she smoothly muscled away my painting hand. “No paint, tonight. I’m wearing my pasties. A brown suit creep on table nine keeps goggling at my two girls, here. Says he'd pay me fifty bucks for a little smooch."
"A brown-suit, you say?" Setting the paint-sprayer on the prepping table, I’d let her remark scurry by. Curiosity soon nagged within while I recounted my evening’s pre-show ritual up in the Oh-Oh’s lounge. Eight P.M. sipping beer at the bar, I’d checked for suspicious-looking customers. A few office types in loosened ties and rolled-up shirt sleeves sat along the stage’s front tables. Four or so loud-mouthed conventioneers in chartreuse sport coats and yellow straw hats were chuckling and guzzling among themselves. Last, sprawled everywhere were a dozen tattooed, mullet-haired sleazies in tee shirts and beat up Levis. A quick head-count of the lounge crowd showed about 30-plus. Even so, near show-time, there was no telling who might rush through the main door past Pito when customers packed the audience. A brown-suited creep sitting at table nine? Not on my watch.
While I continued applying Torchie’s saffron costume, the steel door at the top landing squeaked open. Down poured the bellowing noises of the lounge-mob yelling "Tor-chie. Tor-chie. Tor-chie". Within the roaring, Pito’s voice grumped down to us. "Mus’ be a coupla hundred customahs up he-ah. Dese bums er yellin’ for youz. Get on stage."
Creamy yellow, daubed in scarlet, the Oh-Oh’s Lust Machine extended her lanky legs to the floor. Tasseled round metal pasties, she licked then mounted them in place. After flexing her shoulders to twirl her tammy-topped “girls,” she bounded up the stairs trailing steely tinkling noises. Right behind those tintinnabulations, I followed her to the yawning stage door just as it was creaking shut. Through an opening sliver aimed towards table nine, I saw that brown-suit Torchie described. He was forty-ish, shifty-eyed, wearing rimless glasses under neatly barbered hair. Elbows on the table, his chin rested on his right hand fist while his left hand fingers thrummed the table top. Fussy looking critter. Non-standard Oh-Oh clientele. Definitely, this brown suit could be trouble. He gazed at Torchie’s gold-tangerine haunches as she bent over the juke box to plink quarters down the slot. Fifty bucks a smooch. Yeah, right. There! His eyes popped wide when Torchie leaped to the stage. As the door squeaked shut, did I not just see a salivating spurt at the side of his mouth? So, began that night.
Earlier than usual, my next perpetration, Arrizelda, marched into the 100-watt light. She was a yummy taffy toned Afro princess from the city’s south side. On stage, Arrizelda danced serpentine slow-mo "smoothie-bluesy" movements. During her act, a saxophone would scream a long high whine, causing Arrizelda to float from the stage pole to the stage’s edge. There, she would perform such lovely gymnastics that made whitebeards weep and young bucks scream. Nowhere a doubt in any fevered mind, she was Arrizelda, the Oh-Oh A Go-Go’s one-and-only Love Tigress. Her elegant limbs I basted in lascivious intense pink which, here and there, I delicately feathered into place. Next, stark violet I plied to the rest of her, striped with shocks of fire-orange. Caressing swipes of citrine yellow were followed by sprinkled silver glitter. Fifteen minutes into Arrizelda’s makeover, unexpectedly, the upstairs steel door groaned open and slammed shut, raining ceiling dust on us along with howlings of the crowd.
Pa Pa Pito trudged down the cement stairs. Not a word out of him, he halted in front of Arrizelda. Like a snooty vice cop he checked every inch of Arrizelda’s pigmented body parts: head to chest to belly to thighs to shins and feet. Plus one more hasty up-down inspection of the Love Tigress. Pito grunted. From a front pocket of his red jogger togs, he struggled out a cigar, fat as his forearm, and struck a match. Between bluish-white clouds, he spoke to no one in particular. “I’m tellin’ youz. There’s somethin’ is goin’ on. We got wild bulls up dere, tonight.” Pito took a long pull at his cigar, exhaled, and murmured. “I can see youz aint doin’ no bad job o’ paintin’ Just don’t need no bust on some kinda phony morals crap.” A bar towel he snatched from his other front pocket, Pito wiped sweat trickles from his forehead. Mumbling within smoke swirls, he hefted back up the stairs. Arrizelda watched. When the door eased shut, the Love Tigress growled.
“Muthfukkah on table nan blow his jav at me one mo tam and I'm gonna kick ‘im one right in his grone. He wontin’ me t' stick m' b’hind in his face fo' fifty bucks. Sheeee-yit, I ain’ no ho." Growled she.
"Uh, table nan .... er, nine?" I asked, sensing heat trickling around my tee shirt collar. "Let me guess. He's wearing a brown suit, right?"
"That be the dude! I ain’ doin' that fool fo’ nothin’. No suh. Pito'd fah me and no questions."
Sooner than suddenly, I sloshed more violet over her thighs and citrine yellow up her backside. A lavish glob of violet I daubed where a brown-suit might pay fifty bucks to feast his eyes. Hastily blow-drying under her arms and down her torso, I finished Arrizelda’s costume. Up-close finished. Panting, I stepped back into the shadow for a final inspection. Catch that, you sewer guzzling fangoo, I mentally addressed Arrizelda’s table nan muthfukkah. Satisfied with her multi-layered costume, the Oh-Oh’s Love Tigress sashayed forth up the stairs. Outside the steel door, a saxophone chirped and squealed and a trombone meowed. Ah, yes, she was Art in motion as the saucy-smiling Love Tigress pushed the door open and kick-stepped into the white-hot stage light and her caterwauling audience. When the door squeaked shut, a whisper grumped inside my head: “Paint my dancer gorls, so’s I don’t get no bust by no vice cops people from uptown.”
Fifteen minutes late, Rita Mae pert perpetration three ambled along. Little southern sweetmeat was Rita Mae of corn yellow hair, of narrow huggable shoulders, and of womanly -- I say WOMANLY! – upwards-thrust “bazoombas” (as Pito deftly defined them). Wee-petite and such an artistic challenge was Rita Mae. Artless as a fawn, blushing shy, Rita Mae danced with her partner "Colonel Wumpy", a cross-eyed, cotton-stuffed, green anaconda with white polka dots. Guitars a-twangin’ with fiddles a-fiddlin’, and country boys croonin’ inside the juke box, this yella-haired darlin’ pranced a Texas two-step around the stage perimeter. Ever so often, she would attempt four or so leg kicks out towards the Ooooo-ing and Ahhhh-ing pony-tailed horde along the edge of the stage. Sure as hound dogs howl, Rita Mae’s jigglin’ agitated stubble-jawed truckers up from the Mason-Dixon, as well as giddy Chi-towners to drool open-mouthed, yip, and holler “gawl-lees”.
Now, near show time, Rita Mae nervously popped bubble gum watching me stir her costume’s paint fixins. Atop the makeover stool, she coochie-cooed with "Colonel Wumpy" whispering secrets to her cross eyed accomplice. I was brushing a coat of rose-red onto her every swell and feminine cache --well, nearly every-- when foot-stomping upstairs erupted as Arrizelda finished her show. Downstairs, I quickly prepped a dark crimson coat of water color. Eyes on my work and an ear towards Rita Mae’s scheming mutterings with Colonel Wumpy, I wondered what in tarnation was percolating inside her pert blonde head.
Rita Mae shifted from a left hip slouch to a right. Anxiously, she popped her bubble gum and stared at the paint buckets on the prep table. Her big blue eyes narrowed when I took up the red-dripping paint sprayer aiming for a crimson gush onto her body costume’s unpainted curly-blonde nether niche. But before that finalizing paint-over could spray home, Colonel Wumpy's tail swung around and knocked away the paint sprayer, sending it spurting and crashing against a beer case a few feet away.
"Sweetie Pearce,” Rita Mae chided. “Y'all don't need to put any squishy paint on me ta naht! There's this fella on table nahn? Sayin' he'd give me a hundurd bucks if jus’ wunced Ah dainced with mah tweedle-dee-dum all nekked. An’, what Ah mean is, mah rent's due t'morra. Oh, hell-fahr! Ah need the money."
Clink! Crash! Splatter! Tin buckets, pigment tubes, paint brushes, and a blow-dryer toppled across the prepping table. Orange drippings, red swirls, frothing green bubbles swashed over my tee shirt and splashed down my legs. I was a blubbering Rorschachian nightmare. "Rita Mae...!" I pleaded. But, damn, now the violet paint bucket clunked under my right foot, my tennis shoe jammed into it. Kicking to dislodge the stubborn metal boot, I thudded around the prepping table begging Rita Mae. "Rita Mae, no! Don't you go up there like that, Rita Mae."
Wasted went my pleadings. Four stairs up, Rita Mae smiled back at my fussin’ and frettin’. Snugging Colonel Wumpy round her, she skittered up the stairs to her anticipatin' audience. She was the Oh-Oh’s Little Wild Ridin' Hood of long golden tresses and a crimson, rose-red costume painted all over her neat little anatomy. Except for her lil' ol’ tweedle-dee-dum in naughty au naturel, that is.
Upstairs, the stage door slammed shut. Downstairs, my brain concussed. That brown-suited political fangoo was working the Oh-Oh for press bait. Using Rita Mae! Hallucinating, I imagined Torchie’s tinkle-tankling “girls” tisking me; Arrizelda yowling "Table nan. M' b’hind fo’ fifty bucks." Behind them, PaPa Pito jammed a humongous brass knuckled ham bone to my face: "Told you. No bust by no vice cop people." Tomorrow's Trib headlines flared across my mind’s eye: LUST BUST ON RUSH STREET! CANDIDATE MUTHFUKKAH CLEANS UP CHICAGO SIN PITS starting with the OH-OH A GO-GO Top-N-Bottom Lounge!" Flip the shaky pages to the obits. Now, read: "Paint-spattered body clutching paint sprayer found in garbage can behind Rush Street night spot. Victim's identification not possible until Cook County Coroner removes four yards of gold chains from around victim's head."
Frenzy raged when I heard Rita Mae’s twangy guitars and wailing fiddles. Little Wild Ridin' Hood, I pictured, a-wrigglin' in front of table nine. Colonel Wumpy philandered around Rita Mae’s bright red middle. At the critical guitar strum a juke-boxed country boy would moan "Ah jist gotta have y’all tuh mah-self, lil' darlin’." Colonel Wumpy would slither away, exposing Rita Mae's nekked tweedle-dee-dum. Smack dab ‘tween the eyes of that brown suit creep.
Quote Arrizelda: “Oh, sheeeee-yit!” No! Not going to happen. Feverishly, I dunked a four-inch brush in red ooze at my feet. I schemed. Before Colonel Wumpy hit the floor, I would leap out from the stage doorway and slosh Rita Mae’s lil’ ol’ un-painted surprise. Two quick splash-swabs and that would be that. Or so I feverishly hoped. Ignoring my bucket-booted foot, I clanked to the top of the stairs. On my side of the stage door, my nerves flamed. My breathing innards heaved. Then came that sound "uhhhh-hhmm-mmmmm.” Rita Mae's yonder music was slow-croaking to a stop. Somebody had shut down the juke box. For an eerie moment in the lounge, there was absolutely dead-calm nothing. Not a solitary belch, not a boozy "eeeeee-ha!” not a beer soused grunt. Only that solid mind-cradling silence -- everywhere. Carefully, I nudged the studio door open.
On stage, petite Rita Mae posed with arms above her head while dull yellow sprinkles from the mirror ball swished over her. She was Aphrodite. Golden tresses cascaded against her rose-red shoulders. Steadily smiling at the table nine creep, she proudly presented her hundred dollars worth of "Y'all lookee here, Mister Brownsuit fella". Colonel Wumpy lay crumpled around her spiked heel pumps. His crossed eyes stared up at light streaming downwards bathing a white circle on Rita Mae's frontal center of attention. A century-long moment tip-toed by in the darkness. Every mother's son in the Oh-Oh A Go-Go Top-N-Bottom Lounge sat hushed, unbreathing, and eye-fixed on Rita Mae’s softly glowing masterpiece. Five feet away bent over table nine was the brown-suited loner. Eyes wide like a shark’s at a feeding-kill, he stared at Lil’ Wild Ridin’ Hood’s enchanted proffering.
Came a heartbeat. Cruelly-suddenly, silence shattered. Sirens whined and yelped up on Rush Street. Footsteps clopped down steel grated stairs. A gaggle of Chicago's blue uniformed Finest with a three-man news crew galloped through the main entrance and into the lounge. Uniforms and dark overcoats swarmed towards the stage. House lights overhead splashed on revealing a hulking police captain and two cops sprinting towards – yep -- table nine. Uh-Uh, you brown-suited fangoo, I thought, choking the paint brush handle. Never mind cops. Forget news people. Ignore those complaining customers. Pito, too! And to hell with that bug-eyed brown-suited pipsqueak. Pushing the stage door wide open, I hobble-clunked three bounding strides towards Rita Mae. My third bucket-footed step hit a stage tile edge tripping me headlong onto the floor’s slick surface. I skimmed five feet towards my target. On my back I stopped just under Rita Mae. Reflex lifted the brush above my head. Oozing red pigment, the paint brush hung in the air between myself and Rita Mae. Yet, not a blue uniform nor a PaPa Pito nor a do-goody politician in the whole damned city could force me to finish the job. There was no way I could betray that exquisite capital “A” moment.
Seconds later, Rita Mae glanced down at the paint brush. “Eeee-yewww” she screamed, and jumped aside, causing her right foot to kick my hand. That sent red spatterings onto brown-suit’s face and shirt. As he wiped his chin with the back of his hand, a flash bulb flared. Standing next to a cop, a news guy with a press camera was scribbling notes on a clipboard. He snickered and tisked. For that moment had wickedly given him a Front Page like no other: a red-painted blonde-haired nymphet and her curious pink focal point down --there; she was standing over a bucket-footed deviant-looking buffoon splashed in a hundred crazy dripping paint colors; and there’s that open-mouthed brown-suited fellow with pale red --or are those pink?-- smears on his cheeks and chin. Well!, Ladies and Gentlemen of the televiewing public. One can only daresay How-Oh-How did those smears happen to get onto that brown-suited person’s face! Film at Ten? Not even close.
Slipping and sloshing, I got to my knees. From nowhere, two shadowy-faced vertebrates under Fedora hats and gray overcoats lifted me the rest of the way. Each had a black gloved fist under each of my arm pits. When they yanked me upright, the violet paint bucket fell off my foot and rolled away. The two overcoats lingered at my sides. In front of me, the humongous police captain was snarling at the humanity hustling by. The news people he pushed towards table nine and shook a finger in their faces ordering them to stay put. Turning sideways, he ordered his underling cops to clear away the curiosity-crawling on-lookers. In a couple minutes, the captain, two cops, three news people, myself, and the two over-coats under brimmed hats stood next to table nine. The brown-suit, himself, now sat with elbows on the table and his head between his two cupped hands. Close by, Pa Pa Pito was barking in a ferocious dialect. He was cut short when the captain yelled to shut up and marched towards him. Eyes gaping, Pito’s head fell back as he looked up at the hulking uniform and paid heavy attention to what that captain was yapping down to him.
Complaining, bleary-eyed Oh-Oh customers were hustling out the smoke-smogged room heading for the main exit. Soon, most had trickled out into the blue-black early morning. At the far end of the stage area, two cops were herding my creations towards the Ladies Room. Three lovely dancing maids in a row --saffron-Torchetta, violet-Arrizelda, and rose-red Rita Mae-- hesitated a few seconds outside the door. Each one glanced back and sent me a small nervous smile. Then, all three were out of sight. Watching them, I got a deep-gut inkling I was not about to see them soon again.
When I turned back towards table nine to look for Pito, he was already in front of me. “Hey, kid, we go ovah dere.” He pointed a finger towards the stage. The two overcoats nudged against me. Not far away, the captain cleared his throat and nodded to them. They eased off. Side by side, Pito and I walked. As we reached the stage, Pito started in: “Da girls. He gonna let me talk to, so’s I don’t got no problem ona ‘count a dem. Dese newsguys. He says he gonna handle so’s we don’t got no troubles outa dem, neidah. But you, kid. He says he can’t do nothin’ about, ’cept, maybe …” Hesitating, Pito reached his right hand into his back right pocket and fisted out a bloated wad of money. This he stuffed into my front right pants pocket. He continued talking.
“He says you dangerous. Look, kid. Coupla few weeks ago. My place? Was not so much. Now … we get the whole damn town …” Again, he cut short. This time, Pito reached his left hand into his back left pocket and struggled out another money bundle. Straight away, he jammed that load into my left front pants pocket. “Anyway, kid, I gotta say youz did good stuff for me.” At this, Pito shrugged his shoulders and stepped away.
The overcoats re-appeared. On my right one spoke in a crusty polite voice: “Okay, artist guy, let’s go. That is, won’t you, please?” Flashing back, I now realized the situation had come to a sort of okay neutral. A moment I wavered for a last look around. Willy-nilly, I turned towards table nine. On his chair, brown-suit wrestled out of his jacket, and stood up. Immediately, he draped his suit jacket over both his hands, and snugged the bundle in front him. On his right, the captain. On his left, two street cops. In back of him, three grinning news guys. And all of them together headed towards the exit -- brown-suit seeming to hobble a bit gingerly. Maybe, he didn’t know a lot about art. But he damn certainly received some visioning, and, Oh, yeah, was definitely sensing it. Capital “A” Art, that is. In my work, two out of three aren’t bad.
Soon, I was in the dark back seat of a wallowing limousine. The two overcoats in the front seat, we were plodding up and down early A.M. Chicago streets. Half hour later, we stopped somewhere on the far south side of the city. Outside the limousine was a chain-link fence with a huge gaping hole in it. Beyond was a railroad yard with hundreds of rail tracks flowing from the city lights and outwards into the dark beyond. A sluggish creaking freight train was trundling by. With it, came a slow-moving box car with an open side door.
Passenger side overcoat turned around. “Okay, artist man, that one’s south-bound, looks like. Get on it. Oh, yeah. Be smart. Take a couple months vacation before you decide to come back.”
“Here, compliments of the city.” Driver side overcoat handed me a size XXX- large beige trench coat. Somehow, grateful, I slipped on the coat and hustled for the box car slowly moving by. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack I was off and away. On my left, the early morning passing by outside was spraying soft red across the Chicago skyline.