Time to clamber back into The Wayback Machine yet again — today we’re setting it for 1976; destination — the Suburban Transit Bus Station in New Brunswick, NJ (sidebar — We used to answer the phone “Bourbon Transit”; insert light snicker here).
I worked there ~30 hours/week, cramming that in with varsity athletics and a VERY half-assed attempt to actually GO to a few classes (I cut 67% of my college classes — I was competing with a few other notable slackers, and the competition was FIERCE!).
I usually worked the 1PM to 11PM “second shift” on Fridays, along with my friend Will, who was THE most laid-back black dude on the Planet Earth; I think he only BREATHED in & out twice/hour!
Anyway, we used to meet at the bar right next door to the bus station on Fridays to eat lunch and have a coupla beers BEFORE work — working at a bus station is categorically NOT something that you want to do WITHOUT getting your drank on first! We’d meet at the bus station at 11:45AM — the weekly paychecks rode down on the bus from North Brunswick — the “Local” that went into NYC.
We’d grab our checks, have Agnes cash ’em for us (she was “The Boss” — think Joan Fontaine in “Johnny Guitar”; it may have been Suburban Transit’s bus line, but it was AGNES’ bus station…), then we’d go next door and “get our heads right” for ~1 hour before the onslaught we referred to as “the genital public”…
Now — if none o’ you mooks has ever BEEN in an urban bus station, or actually RIDDEN on an urban local bus, I would advise you to do so — the people-watching is INCOMPARABLE!
In addition to the ever-changing cast of vagabonds that came & went through the doors, there was a “cast of regulars” — there were several hookers that lived in Jersey but worked the 42nd Street “circuit” (you could always tell a hooker — she’d ask when the last bus left NYC that evening, and when the first bus left out in the AM).
If they were having a GOOD day, they might rent a room and stay through to the next morning; if bidness wasn’t so good, they’d hit that last bus out in the evening (actually, early morning — 2AM) and sleep in their own beds, then get up at around noon and go do it again.
There were a PILE of guys that went into the OTB betting parlors in midtown, and another pile that went to one of the various horserace tracks in NY — you could tell THEM too, ’cause they always came in with their NYC newspapers open to the sports page, pencils over their ears. There were a couple of pimps that accompanied their girls — these guys worked some scams of THEIR own too.
And there were a couple bookies; guys that carried bets for the local riff-raff, and went into the city to be close to the action; it’s one of them that I’m gonna talk about…
I can call up this guy from my memory banks like it was yesterday — imagine “Huggy Bear” from Starsky & Hutch, and you’re pretty much there with me, looking over my shoulder.
Personality-wise, imagine “Foghorn Leghorn”, O.K. — got it? This guy would hit the door of the bus terminal with both hands, pushing it wide open, come striding in like he owned the place, mouth going a mile a minute.
Agnes would visibly “wince” at the sight of him — he would immediately command “center stage” as he strode through the small terminal on his way to the Men’s room all the way in the back. Then he’d saunter up to the glass and order a round trip ticket to New York, usually from Will — Will would slide it through the small opening under the bulletproof glass, then old Foghorn (I never DID learn his name) would turn around and announce his plans to his captive audience of patrons — “I gots me some STRONG action today at Belmont Park — who wants in on some of my winners?”
He would then proceed to ALWAYS bum a cigarette from some poor bastard, and go talk to “Lou” — the broken-down alcoholic Dispatcher over in the far corner; Agnes would roll her eyes at us and shake her head in despair…
So me and Will are hanging at the bar, eating our grilled cheese sangawiches and drinking our beers in pre-shift silence; Will never talked too much anyway, and today was no exception.
In strides Foghorn — he walks past our booth and raps his knuckles twice on our Formica tabletop as he swaggers by with some PYT black girl on his arm; she couldn’t have been over 18, I’m guessing he was late 20’s. He sat down on an open stool at the bar after parking his lady friend on a stool directly to his right — he ordered drinks for both of them, in-between his incessant, 85 decibel blathering.
You gotta understand something — a guy like this is just a TRAINWRECK — on the one hand, you do not WANT to look at him, see him, acknowledge him, or listen to him; on the OTHER hand, he’s just too loud, too boisterous, and too colorful to ignore!
Anyway, he is in rare form this day — making his “proclamations”, carrying on with exaggerated hand motions as he blathers to the patrons (even that ALL of them moved AWAY from him within five minutes of his parking his ass on the stool) and the “captive” bartender, who keeps checking his watch to see how much time he has left before HE can clock out and start drinking hisownself!
Meanwhile, his (new) lady friend is clearly “out of place”; she wears a look of bewilderment, wondering what she’s gotten herself into…
Now HERE is where it gets BETTER, boys and girls! About 10-15 minutes after he and his young lady friend show up, who walks in the bar but his WIFE!
Yep, this dude’s married — wore a ring an’ ever’thang. We didn’t KNOW that she was his wife when she walked in, but it was pretty easy to figger out, ’cause suddenly the air got as thick as 3 week old cottage cheese.
She parks it to the right of our duo, with one empty stool in-between her and his lady friend to her left. Can you say “squirming”? As she calmly orders a drink and lights a cigarette, PYT looks like her barstool has become a short order griddle!
Is Foghorn concerned? Hell NO he ain’t! He begins stroking PYT’s hair, shoulders and back in an exaggerated show of affection; Wife glances over at them both, then picks up her drink. PYT squirms, Foghorn reassures, Wife drinks.
What happens next happened INSTANTLY; and yet, as I play it over in my head, it seems to have happened in slow motion. Foghorn takes a small automatic pistol out of his coat; he holds it up for all to see, then he slides it down the bar, where it stops just in front of Wife. Did we really see this?!
Foghorn then begins to banter: “My Baby LOVES me — my Baby would NEVER do anything to hurt me!” (See “Brass Balls” entry below). Wife looks down at pistol. Wife looks over at smiling Foghorn and squirming PYT. Wife looks down at pistol again — then grabs it up with her left hand in a FLASH, points it at forehead of Foghorn, and pulls the trigger!
Bang — the SOUND! Jesus Henry Christ — the SOUND of that pistol discharging in that narrow bar was like a 90 caliber CANNON! The smell of gunpowder hit our nostrils just about the time that Will & I BOTH take respective swan-dives under the table; I still have a faint rug-burn mark on my left cheek.
Foghorn slides off the barstool, and we get to see him convulsing on the floor about 8 feet from us — he’s flopping around like a mackerel, the heels of his brogues rat-a-tatting out their last Morse Code message on the tile floor. His sphincter relaxes, and our nostrils are greeted with the smell of shite now mixed with gunpowder.
PYT is screaming as ONLY a black woman CAN — “Lawdy lawdy LAWDY!!” After maybe 30 seconds, Will and I cautiously poke our heads up like a coupla prairie dogs — Wife had put the pistol back down on the bar and calmly picked up her drink — I believe she DID finish it in the 90 seconds proceeding Foghorn’s demise and the arrival of New Brunswick’s finest scuttling through the front door to usher her, handcuffed, into an awaiting squad car…
“M’ah Baby LOVES me” — looks like Foghorn lost THAT bet!