Chickie’s Dead

The Core Belief

Chickie’s dead.  Please don’t cue Curtis Mayfield while reading this blog; Chickie wasn’t that kind of guy.  The appropriate tunes for elegy would be found on Eric Clapton’s 1977 album Slowhand, specifically track #1.

I found out on Wednesday from a neighborhood fellow bartender at the ever- infamous Barfly. “What happened,” I asked Mike.  “How did he die?”

“Jesus, Alex, did you ever take a good look at him?  Chick’s body just gave out,” he said.

Although never the picture of health, Chickie’s distended stomach and ghostly white pallor contrasted with his long black hair, stark Dominican bald spot and long ‘I’m a ghost’ face. He had been a fixture in the joint for over 25 years and I just assumed he’d go on forever. Chickie gave off that kind of vibe.  He drank Madras (vodka, cranberry and orange juice) like they were going out of style in a pint glass, all the while, playing the video games available on the corner of the bar.  His ratty jeans, barely pressed blue shirts, complete with a tattered notebook and pens on the left breast pocket gave him a professorial air.  However, professors didn’t have black limos to pick them up and take them home after a night of drinking.

When I first moved to Gramercy in 1993, I noticed that on Wednesday nights, Barfly, located at the corner of 20th and 3rd, had all kinds of women in the wandering from Happy Hour until they closed.  Of course, being an uber horny 24 year, I made a beeline for the joint, trying to figure out what was going on.  Chickie was there, playing cards in a booth, talking with various people as they came by.  After a few months, we struck up a conversation, while he was playing an interactive trivia game with his latest twenty something blonde girlfriend.  As it turns out, Chickie had done some Federal Time in the early 1980’s on a ‘pharmacy’ charge in a ‘jump the shrub’ prison someplace in middle Florida with a neighbor of mine from Bloomfield Hills. 

That neighbor, Chuckie O’Brien, Jimmy Hoffa’s ‘adopted’ son, the man who drove the car Hoffa got into when he disappeared that fateful July day in 1975, was a jailhouse acquaintance.  “He would hang out with a guy named Giacalone (also reputed to have a part in Hoffa’s disappearance).  I remember those two were so big, I thought they’d both have a heart attacks when they had to drive small warehouse trucks in the Florida humidity and heat,” he said.  I mentioned I found that ironic as both, at one point in time, were known Teamsters.  “Alex,” he said in an annoyed tone. ‘You are a smart man.  I assume you know what they did in the Teamsters Union.  I shouldn’t have to explain it, especially here.”  Chick’s eyes would sweep over the bar.

Over the years, Chick and I would chat occasionally about Afterhours bars, Bloomfield Hills and his life philosophy.  That latter became advice, given to me from a friend who enjoyed playing the hip, street-smart uncle type.  Although I liked him, I was aware of who and what Chickie was.  “Alex, when it comes to women, I never chase them, they chase me.  If you want to meet a woman, let her chase you,” in between trips to the bathroom with Christine, his latest 25 year old girlfriend and Dave, the owner/bartender, he counseled me. 

Chick was also concerned about my odd attachment to the people in the Speakeasy whom he called ‘utter losers.’  “Why don’t you hang out more in here, with me,” he’d ask.  “I’ll turn you on to some things.”  I noted, of course, that Dave had begun to wear his jeans over his socks because cockroaches were always attacking his ankles.  Also, Christine had gone back to her parents in Scranton to figure out her life.  That was well over a year and a half ago.  It was the last time we talked, although I saw him and waved several times.  Perhaps it was just self-preservation or maybe I understood just how dangerous, although well intentioned, Chickie could be.  He made his life of excess seem seductive.  I don’t know if it’s because he never wanted the party to end or whether he liked to spit into the void just to get a rise out of the Grim Reaper. 

Ah Chickie, a lover of drugs, women, gambling, booze and hanging out, you will be missed.  Although now that after hours bars are gone, and the rest of the vices you so loved have been crushed by the succeeding mayoral administrations and the Depression, perhaps your exit was well timed.  


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