A Palooka Tale
On balmy days Mercy Beaucoup would stick matchsticks between his toes and sun himself on the roof of The Palooka Bar. And lady admirers who paid him due compliments on his tan, to them he confided without fail: "I'm like that all over."
When Edward Hemingway Jr. called Mercy a chaser of skirts, a Shinbone Lothario, he initiated a scuffle in which Mercy neglected both the letter and spirit of the Queensberry rules. On his fifth or sixth Martini Bianco Mercy would, however, admit to falling in love somewhat easily.
A sudden silence enfolded The Palooka Bar and all eyes, clear or bleary, turned to the tiny Vitasonic screen as she burst forth like Venus from the frothing waves. The beat of every blackened heart faded to cessation as Vicky Myrdal, The Düsseldorf Diva, announced her manifestation on the panel of The Ms. Delaware International Contest in Atlantic City that weekend.
"I should introduce myself," declared Mercy as some mortal replaced the divine Ms. Myrdal on the screen.
"You can't introduce yourself," objected Beardy. "She's practically a movie star."
"I expect to find myself in the vicinity," retorted Mercy.
"And who invited you and the rest of Hoboken?" queried Joe the Owner.
"I merely announced myself as a correspondent for Nouvelle Vogue. They'll have someone in the lobby show me up."
"Since when are you a scribbler at Nooly Wooley?" grumbled Beardy, not without a tinge of envy.
"I've written more than one letter to the editrix," explained Mercy.
"And how will you make her plead for Mercy in Jersey?" Affairs of the heart remained something of a conundrum to Beardy.
"This isn't a matter of conquest," responded Mercy with evaporating forbearance.
"But you're the Man with the Golden ..." Joe the Owner brought his index finger to his lips to alert Beardy that his was a line of intellectual discourse others might be disinclined to follow.
"I was legless in Bridgeport," revealed Mercy at length, "and wandered into this community production of 'The Magic Flute'. Nothing to write home about. On comes the Papageno/Papagena duet. The moment she opens her mouth, I know. Smiles at me. Like the song's private between me and her. Though she's big time now, I'll bet my last wooden nickle that the spark's still there, just waiting to be..."
"What's good and happening?" Viddi Golbranson made his fourth surprise appearance at The Palooka Bar that week. And it was only Tuesday.
"Mercy's going wooing to Atlantic City," reported Joe.
"When do we leave?" Viddi straightened his back in anticipation.
"Love isn't a spectator sport," aphorized Mercy.
A vast sadness filled Viddi's eyes. "My romantic life's on hold."
"Now why would that be?" Joe placed a Bud in front of Viddi by way of commiseration.
"I just wanna ride shotgun and pick up the stragglers," pleaded Viddi.
"You expect me to accompany you on a mission of debauchery?" boomed Mercy with indignation.
"I'll be Sancho Panzer and you can be Don Juan."
"What do you want be a bunch of wops for?" queried Beardy.
"For busting windmills and making out, my man." Viddi gave Beardy's sleeve the gentlest of tugs. "You going on a pussy posse?" concluded Beardy.
Taking umbrage at this barbaric innuendo, Mercy and Viddi freed themselves of Beardy's company with World Cup kicks to his derrière, thus upholding the name of romance in face of the cold, cold world.
"Oh no, the ticket!" exclaimed Mercy.
"You just boasted you were on the honor roll," Joe the Owner reminded Mercy.
"The train ticket. I need to get there to be there," reasoned Mercy. "The other day I suffered a slight setback playing eight-card stud with Libbi the Shyster..."
"Slow-Mo came through in the fifth race so here's the deal," offered Viddi. "I front you the lolly and you take me to the boardwalk."
"No tugging at sleeves," stipulated Mercy.
"No tugging," vowed Viddi.
"One must make small talk."
"State your name and let your sunny disposition do the rest."
"OK, no tales from the wilderness."
"And keep it classy, Viddi."
"I'm on the beam."
"All classy, Viddi."
"I'll give them all the class they can handle."
As Viddi bounded off to spruce himself up, Joe the Owner took Mercy aside for deliberations.
"'Member that cheerleaders' convention in Hoboken? You go catting with Viddi, give him snake medicine, airplane fuel, liquid plutonium, I don't care. Just don't let him within a mile of a Pernod."
Viddi strode ahead into The Lucky Stars Hotel in Atlantic City only to find the Katzenjammer Twins tending bar.
"We're launching our new sensation," announced Knold with pride. "The Bonga Wonga."
"Didn't you go to jail for that hooch in Guyana?"
"This one has peppermint liqueur, Aztec peyote, dingleberry juice, diet Jolly Cola, a double Raskolnikov Vodka, and a red cherry." "Plus the secret ingredient," confided Knold.
"What's the secret ingredient?" queried Viddi.
"A quintuple Pernod."
As The Lucky Stars Hotel filled to the rafters with apparitions of celestial beauty, Mercy Beaucoup cast his eyes about for Vicky Myrdal, only to spot Viddi adrift in a sea of elegance as he jostled in with a somewhat specious grin.
"You in charge of your faculties?" interrogated Mercy.
"Tell'em Viddi Boy's here!" Viddi gave Mercy the famous Viddi wink meant to convey that all was well, the center still held. (Viddi's great grandfather Gudsten Golbranson had poured his life savings into a block of San Francisco flats the day before The Great Quake, only to bounce back like a rubber kangaroo and open a stock brokerage in Moscow in 1917.)
"Time to mix and mingle." Viddi darted towards a raven-haired minx resplendent in a golden dress. "I shall declare myself."
"Do not declare yourself!" pleaded Mercy.
"My passion is contagious. I'm known for this."
"I'm going on the prowl."
"You're practically doing the Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Viddi tugged at the gilded deity's elbow. "What's good and happening?"
"I'm Drusilla Mignon," quoth the raven-haired one. "I speak a little Frog," boasted Viddi.
"Comment vous vous-appellez?" essayed Drusilla.
"Est-ce que vous likey-likey Lucky Luke?" demanded Viddi.
"Vous connaissez Luc?"
"Voulez-vous licky-licky Lucky Luke?" proposed Viddi.
"Vous êtes dégoûtant."
"Dago tongue whatever. You can ride my Jolly Jumper from here to Nebraska."
Mademoiselle Mignon appeared to have pressing negotiations elsewhere.
"This your idea of a romantic quest?" admonished Mercy.
"Was I to know she was some kind of chain gang lesbo?"
Whatever interest Mercy retained in Viddi's quest for romance faded like the last rose of summer as Vicky Myrdal lit up the assembly with a sweeping entrance.
Thus liberated from Mercy's stifling presence Viddi proceeded to accost a flaming-haired Venus. "Voulez-vous faire le hokey-pokey?"
"I'm from Brisbane."
"Wanna check out my thunder down under?"
"I'm in mourning."
"That's never good. Tell Uncle Viddi all about it."
"My fiancé was electrocuted on a mechanical bull..."
"Makes your hair stand on ends."
"...in a gay bar called 'Hopalong Cassidy's'."
"And this tragedy struck...?"
"'Bout time you got back in the saddle. You're ginger."
"My name's Ginger."
"But are you ginger all over, Ginger?"
Ginger Robards appeared to spot some long-lost relative and retreated into the safety of the throng.
In halting steps Mercy Beaucoup, his quest at an end, approached Vicky Myrdal.
Viddi turned to face two Arctic nymphs.
"And I'm Ulla."
"We're from Umeå."
"Viddi Golbranson, citizen of the world and friend to the people of Umeå."
"Didn't you get threwd out of that bar the another day?" reminisced Ulla.
"I was awaited elsewhere."
"That nice men in the lobby give us this new cocktail," declared Hulga. "It's called a Bonga-Bonga."
"They put five Porno in it," added Ulla.
"To Umeå!" toasted Viddi, appropriating both their glasses.
In front of Vicky Myrdal, Mercy Beaucoup found himself gasping for words for the first time in the long chronicle of his romantic exploits.
"Fifi Lamour broke my heart in fifteen different places." Viddi popped up between them like a bad pfennig. "Ditched me for a rodeo clown."
"What happened to Olla and Olga?" cried Mercy.
"They wanted a ménagerie à trout," complained Viddi.
"Couldn't you oblige, show some esprit de corps?" hissed Mercy.
"I abhor little glass figurines." Viddi pulled on Mercy Beaucoup's sleeve. "Swedish Mafia most likely."
"Oh no, not the Swedish mafia!" gasped Vicky Myrdal.
"Jump that ship while you can, Mercy," warned Viddi. "They don't care about us."
"Who doesn't care about you?" wondered Vicky.
"Hey, she likes me," expostulated Viddi. "I'm going up the Amazon!"
Vicky Myrdal let out an altissimo scream and every head, impeccably coiffed or immaculately mussed, turned as two Samoan security guards on a wagonload of steroids strode up to Viddi and Mercy...
* * *
"I'm brokering a truce," intimated Joe the Owner to Beardy. "At three o'clock Mercy is to convene with Viddi at Cozy Burger."
"He'd rather eat mothballs on rye and date your mother-in-law," objected Beardy. "Those two haven't traded a word for months."
"Mercy might be inclined to parley 'cause he'll be over the moon."
"What could trip someone like Mercy B. over the moon?"
"Libbi the Shyster did some leg work for that singer's rep. I worked it out for Mercy to pay his respects at her place round four." Joe handed Beardy the address scrawled on the back of a Valhalla Viking Mead coaster. "Bring Mercy up to speed and don't go making a pit stop at Barbie's."
Stage smile alight for that journalist from Nouvelle Vogue, Vicky -- The Düsseldorf Diva -- Myrdal sauntered to the door. Her eyes met those of a gentleman's whose stare was wide and vacant unlike that of the beady-eyed press.
"Are you Joe Cocker?"
"I'm here to confer with my friend Mercy," declared Viddi.
"Sprichst du Deutsch?"
"Bei mir bist du wohl."
"You don't look very musical."
"I do like The Shanana."
"Is he an Indian composer?"
"And Ludwig Van Brahms."
"Would you like a Mozartkugel?" offered Vicky, her smile no longer that of the stage.
* * *
Hulk the Bouncer perched on his stool at The Palooka Bar with a sulk, his barroom peacekeeping skills going to waste with everyone on parole-board behavior.
And with nine depleted Buds standing to attention in front of Viddi and Mercy resting on his seventh Bianco, the two found themselves once more on the most cordial of terms.
"Beardy sent me on a chump's errand to Cozy Burger," complained Mercy.
"Me too. Handed me that swanky address, except you weren't there and that hissy singer didn't even 'member me," complained Viddi.
"You met Vicky Myrdal?"
"It was all to the good. She insisted on belting out this Yabba Dabba Doo tune."
"What song, Viddi?"
"Going to accompany me on the trombone?"
"Lalalalalalalala. Want an encore?"
"The Papageno/Papagena duet!"
"From 'The Magical Float', you know. Then she laid on this Kool-Aid, Old Spice stuff..."
"... and starts yapping in Kraut."
"You drank port?"
"Why am I being bothered with this?"
"Beardy was tanked up to the gills," recounted Mercy. "Said someone special wanted to meet me at Cozy Burger."
"He told me he'd been to a Barbie mitzvah."
"I waited there forever and then some," whined Mercy. "Some guy named Jason with a yellow bandana wanted to show me a place called 'Hopalong Cassidy's'."
"Why would they have a rodeo bar in The Village?" wondered Viddi.
"And what else happened while I was eating my Cozyburger Deluxe by myself?"
"I sort of hummed along while she woke up the neighborhood."
"And when the song was sung?"
"You spoke of?"
"You spoke of life?"
"What other subject is there?"
"Either of you mention me?"
"You guys related or something?"
"And when the port was drunk?"
"I was at a loss."
"So what did you do for an encore?"
"I didn't even know the lyrics."
"What did you do, Viddi?"
"I stuck around."
"Tell me what you did, Viddi."
"This is getting awfully personal."
"What did you do, you two-legged case of hernia?"
"I gave her one for the Gipper."
It was a mellow evening, the unruly ones out of town or in the pokey, folks saving their money and animosity for Christmas. His services required at last, Hulk the Bouncer climbed with relief off his stool to break up a one-on-one between two regulars. Mercy Beaucoup appeared hell-bent on strangling Viddi Golbranson with his own tie.
"What's good and happening now?" shrieked Mercy, to which Viddi could only respond with a soft gurgle.
As Hulk the Bouncer attempted to disengage Viddi to little avail, Mercy's vengeful frown turned a shade of deepest scarlet and Hulk was could not but wonder whether Mercy was like that all over.