Sunday, September 21, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 31: A BRUSH WITH TERRORISM






Late 1977

Annie, a Polish matron with boyish looks and a capacity for hard work, led our team of waitresses during this period.  It wasn't long before all of our waitresses were Polish.

The combination of Vietnamese paratroopers in the kitchen and Polish waitresses out front led customers to suggest that we must be a front for the CIA.
  
Unfortunately, we weren't even a front for a bakehouse anymore, and we sure missed the subsidy.

My own brush with international intrigue came when I hooked up with Heidi (not her real name), a beautiful German girl. 

I'd seen her around, admired her looks, and one evening she was in Tricky Dick's all alone as I was preparing a launch to the pubs.  I asked if she'd like to join me and she said sure.  After several hours out, we drove to my place and got high. 

Heidi became giggly and started talking about what she was doing in London. She wasn't an au pair like the others in her circle of Swiss-German friends, she told me.  More giggling.  Heidi said she worked for a terrorist group and was part of a two-person advance team; the senior partner was also German, male, in his 40s, and they shared an office north of London.  Neither knew the other's real name or home addresses.

I prodded. 

Heidi became hesitant, but then her tongue loosened and she said they were loosely associated with the Red Army Faction.   

Her role, she added, was strictly "research and information"; her work in London almost complete; she and her partner had received marching orders to Lagos, Nigeria, and would depart in a few weeks. 

Next morning, Heidi said, "For the benefit of both of us" I should forget her story.

I didn't push it.  I knew she'd return to Tricky Dick's and we'd pick it up again. 

That was the greatest thing about my restaurant:  it was my social life.  I never had to go out to seek people, see friends.  They all came to Tricky Dick's.  

Sure, I'd go to the pubs, mix it up with whoever was around, but Tricky Dick's was the hub.  And anyone I wanted to see would eventually turn up, and if they didn't, someone else would.

That doesn't mean to say I was fulfilled.  I knew I had to grow up eventually; transcend the unreality that was Tricky Dick's, a kind of college where I was majoring in sociology. 

But working nights was getting old.  I started looking forward to a time when I could work days, like most normal people, and have my nights free.  Part of me still wanted to be a 9-to-5 bureaucrat with a briefcase.  I was still naive.  I wanted to be a journalist; see my name in print, get an ink fix at least once a month.  

Back to Tricky Dick's, and Heidi, who returned a week later.  

We went out again, finishing back in my place.  She claimed to have inadvertently discovered that those who controlled her terrorist group were vastly different, in appearance and motivation, than the scruffy, idealistic young terrorists executing the program. 

Heidi told me that her group planned to blow up an airliner in flight a month later, sometime during the first week of December (this was 1977).  The precise day and flight had already been determined. 

I took her only half seriously; it was so far-fetched; like, sure, a 22 year-old wannabe reporter is really going to hear this stuff from a voluptuous German girl...  If I believed it, I told myself, it was because I wanted to believe it.

I humored Heidi, told her we had to try to stop it from happening:  I was suddenly in a movie, I was the good guy, my dialog riddled with cliches, and Heidi said the guy running the operation was in Stockholm and only he knew the details.  And that if she called him and asked questions, he'd get suspicious; and if he told her and it leaked, she'd be dead. 

Next day I drove Heidi to a German merchant bank and she collected a wad of banknotes, the expenses, she said, for first-class seats to Lagos.

During the first week of December, a Japanese Airlines 707 blew up over Malaysia.

Heidi never reappeared in Tricky Dick's.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 30: "COUGHING" ABDULLAH & "BURNED-OUT" PAUL





Late 1977

"Burned-out" Paul was an early evening fixture.  

Possessed of Van Gogh eyes that glowed in the dark, he favored a hairdo that alternated from long and unkempt to shaven bald.  Paul would sit over a mug of tea for three or four hours, blending in with whomever would sit with him. 

If conversation lulled, Paul would suddenly say something like, "I was thinking today, and I couldn't handle it." 

And you just knew it was true. 

Once he joined me and a couple of persons I was trying to impress.  He sat quietly as we spoke, and when we stopped talking he looked at my friend and asked, "Have you f----- any girls today?" 

Another time, sitting at a table, listening to a waitress tell me how she spent the day, Paul politely waited for her to finish then announced, "I masturbated today."

Word was, Paul had been caught smoking weed as a teenager and his horrified parents checked him into an institution where they zapped him with several kinds of experimental shock treatment.  

The good news was he stopped smoking weed.  

Paul lived with his parents up the street, and his life comprised of walking up and down Heath Drive 35 times a day; evenings at Tricky Dick's. 

We once gave him a job in the bake house, topping cheesecakes with fruit, but he couldn't hack it and quit two weeks later.

"Coughing" Abdullah was an Indian, as in Bombay, with long tangled hair, unkempt beard, dark clothes and a hacking cough that wouldn't quit. 

He forever twitched, chain-smoked and ran up a tab he could ill afford.    

Paul and Abdullah often sat together, rolling cigarettes, drinking tea. 

Paul would say something like, "I'm wearing an old tee-shirt today," and Abdullah would rub his hands together and say, "Oh, yes, oh, yes, I understand completely!" and he'd throw his head back and cough into his fist, and look around to see if anyone would take his order for another cup of tea.

Knowing full well that I might one day write about Tricky Dick's, I asked Paul (in 1977) if he would kindly pen an introduction.






Friday, September 19, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 29: BRONCO REDUX






Late 1977


To our collective surprise, Bronco finally found a real girlfriend.  

Her name was Michelle, a homeless waif who'd gone mental, someone told me, after getting pregnant at fifteen, dumped by her boyfriend and forced by her parents to submit to an abortion.

Bronco and Michelle became a regular pair, a novelty around Tricky Dick's. 

You couldn't talk to Michelle; she was in a world of her own; autism, maybe, or elective mutism.  Only Bronco seemed to connect. 

She was more clinically crazy than our usual clientele (some of them certifiable) because at least they could communicate. 

Michelle sometimes took off her clothes; Bronco couldn't control her and he'd get embarrassed. 

We'd order them both out, and Michelle would stand on the street, disrobing, and poor Bronco wouldn't know what to do. 

He'd walk away, walk back, help her on with her clothes.  

Michelle took Bronco home once and introduced him to her parents. 

"I don't think they liked me," Bronco told me later.  "I'm a dosser, you know." 

Michelle's parents apparently did not think Bronco a suitable squire for their daughter.  They snatched her as she and Bronco pounded a Hampstead pavement on their nightly search for tea and french fries, and plunked her into a mental hospital. 

For weeks afterward, Bronco talked only of mounting a rescue attempt, wild west style.

"Why don't you go visit her?" I said.

"Are you nuts?" said Bronco.  "They'd snatch me, too!"

Instead, Bronco consoled himself by writing poetry. 












Thursday, September 18, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 28: TIM HARDIN RETURNS




Autumn 1977


Tim Hardin reappeared. 

He pranced in late one afternoon, apologized for the scene he'd caused months earlier, and asked if he could come in, play a set that night. 

I wasn't deferential anymore.  I said, Sure, come on in, leave your sick friends at home.

He did.  He jammed with Gideon and everyone present was awed by the power in Tim's resonant voice, and no one needed to tell anyone to quiet down. 

That night he earned silence.  He made up lyrics as he went along, and they were the best damn lyrics I'd ever heard.   

After that, Tim came in regularly, hanging out with the wacko regulars. 

A long-time heroin junkie, Tim had first come to England for methadone, a kinder, gentler approach than cold turkey. 

We'd feed Tim a burger, pay him twenty bucks and I'd throw in a pint of whiskey. 

People came just to hear Tim sing. 

One night he had some friends with him and he tried to get the tab comped, telling the waitress, "They don't have to pay, they're with me." 

I bounded over, told him out loud he was full of shit.  

Tim laughed, and his friends paid up. 

That was the kind of relationship we grew into.  I humbled him, no deference, no BS. 

One night he played a rendition of his biggest hit, If I Were a Carpenter, and made up new lyrics extemporaneously.  Some youngsters tried to correct him, unaware that the beat-up dude on stage in a smelly army jacket had written the damn song, so he had every right to rewrite it.  

Tim would come with me during the day to pick up supplies, saying, "Hey, what say we cut into that liquor store for a pint of whiskey?" 

And I'd say, "What say we don't."

We'd go out to the pubs together at night, and he'd be obnoxious and funny and crazy as hell, leaving Mike and I in stitches with his antics.  We were always one Tim Hardin comment away from a fight.

Performing at Tricky Dick's, a guy twice Tim's size was heckling him.  Tim put down his guitar, walked over to Mr. Fatso reclining horizontally in a chair, and slapped him twice on the belly.  I thought for sure Tim was going to get whopped, but the big guy just laughed, and Tim sang on.

Tim owned only the clothes he wore and rarely changed.  I stopped driving him around because his old army jacket smelled so bad.  And when autumn turned to winter, I gave Tim the down coat I'd bought for twenty bucks in Middletown, Connecticut three years earlier.

Whenever he mustered any cash, Tim ran out and scored a gram of cocaine from Gideon, and would turn into the most generous guy in the world, cutting lines, laying them out for everyone in a room, beaming with a satisfaction that only sharing and playing music gave him. 

And as I sat in my room, rewriting my Bilderberg story, and saying, damn, this was going to get me into journalism, Tim would say, "Sure, sure," then toot two lines of white powder, slap his knee and say, "Shee-it, ain't it good?"

We'd have long talks, Tim and I, and I asked him how it felt to have had it all, glamorous lifestyle, big bucks, and now be broke.

Tim said:  "It grabbed me by the nuts, put its thumb up my asshole and scratched my brains from inside."

"I'll tell you what," Tim said.  "My drug experiences were not a drag.  I felt so good so much of the time that I will never ever be sorry.  I once shot up with Keith Richard every three or four hours for a couple of weeks."

I asked Tim to explain how other musicians could avoid getting screwed like him, and he said:  

"The music business is based, like every other business, on making as much as you can for as little effort and as little time spent.  

"There are some people who do not know how to coordinate their lives that way.  They find out something they can do that's exciting for them to do, which in my case is singing and playing.  It's the only thing I can do enough to make me feel good.  

"So, helplessly I go, feeling good and playing, not knowing that when somebody says, 'I want to make you a really fair contract' -- not knowing that they don't feel the same way about their gig as I do about mine. 

"It's a business where if you can't lie, or if you don't have somebody to tell you that somebody else is lying to you, that you're always going to lose it.  Just always.  You might stack up some bread, but you're gonna feel such a fool by the time you realize you're only getting one percent of what you're supposed to get.  You're gonna feel like such a fool. 

"My advice would be, first of all, don't go for the first deal someone offers you.  Second of all, you don't use their lawyer.  You know, I said to my first contract people, who f----- me real good, I said, 'Should I have a lawyer look at this contract?'  They said, 'Sure, our lawyer's right next door!'  Hey man, almost everybody knows better than what I did."

Tim loved to play and sing; he didn't know a damn about money.  Just give him a burger, a few shots of whiskey, a few lines of coke, a cot, a roof over his head, and a guitar and he was the world's happiest man. 

The Tricky Dick's spirit.

If you wandered in at 1:53 in the morning, you'd half expect to find Tom Waits, drunk, sitting at the piano, gargling about an old flame in Milwaukee.  

Instead you'd find Tim Hardin on the old upright, tapping the ivories and ebonies, crooning Misty Roses for "Burned-out" Paul and "Coughing" Abdullah. 





Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 27: SUMMER OF HIJINX





Summer 1977


I reported to Steve Weissman and he wrote a fine piece on Bilderbergers in Torquay and it was published in Seven Days under our joint bylines. 

Another fix of ink.  This one had me soaring.  

The comedown was a bitch. I was getting antsy with Tricky Dick's; it was taking up too much of my time, and I wasn't free to do what I yearned to do:  journalism. 

There was an economic summit in London and President Carter was in town, and I went down to sign up for press credentials. 

I loved the buzz (Press ID card, hospitality room), everything except a forum for my reporting, and I needed another fix. 

I went through a bad patch, confused, anxious, unsure, looking for a path.  Whenever I got this way in the past, I started thinking about an exit ramp: the States, that was my escape route.  But I hung tight, cold turkey.

Paul S, one of my earliest boyhood chums, came out to visit for most of the summer and moved onto the Top Floor.  His father got him a job as a gopher at Wimbledon Tennis with ABC Sports, and he quickly grew into the spirit of Tricky Dick's.  

Bruce had taken off to the states (Texas this time, forever) and I'd replaced him in the kitchen with Brad L, a Rhodesian with a sunny disposition and a Mister Universe physique.  And darn it, the waitresses swarmed to him like moths to a streetlamp.

Paul and I ran the top floor like Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John.  Every Monday night was "Gonz Night."  

But into July, whenever anyone called "Gonz Night!" it was Gonz Night, and the trend was to increase rather than decrease.

We kicked off summer with a trip to Paris.  My two brothers plus Paul and Andy L, a law student and ASL alumnus.  We hovercrafted over the channel, trained into Gare de Nord took the Metro to the Latin Quarter, and checked into the Hotel California, a large, cheap room for all of us.

After a night's carousing, I jumped up in the middle of the night, raced for the door and puked all over Paul's sneakers.  


One morning, round 8:30, prime REM time those days, I got a call from an authoritative voice asking for me. 

I initially thought it was the Imperial Hotel's collections clerk calling yet again to demand a check and threaten a lawsuit. 

But the voice identified itself as a health inspector.

"A patron of yours found rat droppings in their meal last night and brought them to us," the stern voice blasted me awake.  "We have launched an inquiry, and we must advise you that your restaurant cannot reopen until our investigation is complete.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"

The shock of it jolted me upright, and I was going "What?  Huh?  That's terrible," in a grave voice, numb with panic.

"We're going to inspect your premises in thirty minutes," said the voice.

I was still numb, trying to figure an appropriate response.

"Good morning, Robert," the voice continued.  "This is Larry Viner."

My mind was still in high gear as it raced to catch up with my heart, thumping out my mouth.  

Larry Viner, the grinning hunchback, and consummate practical joker.  He'd  got me again.


Michael bought a weight-lifting set for Top Floor recreation, and I got into the habit of doing a series of bench presses every day, creating arm and chest muscle where little existed before.  And then, with pumped up pecs and biceps, I'd run down to Tricky Dick's wearing a tight white tee-shirt to hug waitresses and eject whomever required ejecting.  

I got fanatical about it, pumping seven sets a night, until Dave W, our other chef, said, "Shit, you got bigger tits than my sister."








Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 26: BILDERBERGERS IN TORQUAY






Spring 1977


Peter Reynolds phoned me from Washington with this plan: I would check into the Imperial Hotel on his nickel a few days before Bilderberg was scheduled to begin their pow-wow, he would meet me, and we would cover the conference together for his mysterious client.

I also arranged to report the meeting with Steven Weissman for a leftist news magazine in the USA called Seven Days

I'd met Weissman at Miles Copeland's house.  Miles was a former CIA operative and extrovert from Alabama who liked to say, "You can trust me with any secret that doesn't have entertainment value." 

I had called Miles while researching Bilderberg to fish for an intelligence angle. 

He told me he knew nothing about Bilderberg, but said, "Hell, c'mon over anyway," to his big house (where his son Stewart practiced drums and Sting hung out looking to start a band) across the street from ASL in St. John's Wood.

As I was leaving Miles' house one evening, Steve Weissman arrived to interview Miles, and we were introduced.  Weissman and I stayed in contact (he came to visit my makeshift Tricky Dick's office) and we agreed to cover the Bilderberg meeting together. 

Our plan:  I'd go to Torquay, report the story; he'd stay in London, write it up.

So I trained down to Torquay and checked into the Imperial.  It was my very first stay in a five-star hotel.  I ordered room service (ham and cucumber sandwiches, a pot of tea) very posh, very English.

A pack of reporters descended on the Imperial, and I was to blame: every one of them held a copy of my Verdict story, which revealed that this meeting would take place.
Many of them were surprised it was all true.

Mrs. Hoogendoorn from The Hague appeared.  She supervised the movement of equipment from large trucks to the conference room.  Security was lax. 

One night I drank bourbon at the bar till closing, waited another hour in my room till two a.m., then descended down the stairs four floors to the basement, through two sets of unlocked doors and… I was in the conference room. 


Had I been a terrorist, I could have planted a bomb and blown to smithereens a hundred of the most important people in the western world:  David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Edmund de Rochschild, Giovanni Agnelli, Helmut Schmidt, et al. 

What I did do was have a good look around, and sift through some cartons of files.




Near the podium was a wooden gavel with a brass plaque engraved Bilderberg Meetings, Elsinore 1969.  It's mine now.

I'd heard nothing from Reynolds since checking in, and I was getting jumpy.  I'd already stayed two nights and the room wasn't cheap.  What if Reynolds didn’t show?  I'd get stuck with the tab, that's what, probably a full week's takings at Tricky Dick's. 

I panicked, went down to check out.

The cashier said, "Oh, a Mr. Reynold's called and said your room is on his bill, he expects to arrive tomorrow."  

I heaved a sigh of relief and remained.

I had to check out the following day anyway.  The Imperial was putting everyone out, including full-time guests, to make room for Bilderberg.  It was typical for Bilderberg to book a whole hotel for a conference to ensure maximum privacy and security.  I found a bed-and-breakfast nearby.

Reynolds had made his booking at the Imperial six months in advance, right through the Bilderberg weekend, and he put up such a stink that they let him stay.

Inside his room, Reynolds unpacked a case of fancy camera equipment, including three telescopic lenses.  Also, a black wetsuit, which he would wear, he said, to crawl around the hotel's exterior and spy on Bilderbergers in the middle of the night. 

His tactics seemed rather odd, but I let him carry on; he seemed to like talking about his plans.  

We had already been advised that the basement was off-limits, but Peter coerced me into sneaking down there with him and, as I took a photograph of a sign on the door that said Bilderberg Secretariat.  

A security guard appeared and marched us to the chief of security, a well-tailored gentleman in a pin-striped suit, who refused to tell us his name or branch of service. 

He was probably MI5. 

Mr. X warned us to stay the hell away from the conference area or next time he'd throw us in jail.  

Reynolds was insolent; I didn't say a word.  And, in fact, by this time I decided, the less I had to do with Reynolds, the better.  But I went out pubbing with him that night.  Reynolds got boozed on beer he told me he was dying of cancer and needed someone courageous to follow his lead, take his files and carry on the crusade.  He was intense, bizarre.

Next morning I bumped into Bill Blakemore, covering the conference for ABC News.  Steve Weissman and I had consulted for Blakemore two weeks earlier.  Blakemore said there had been a commotion around three a.m. in the Imperial's lobby.  A guest had shown up drunk, incoherent, and then passed out.  He had to be carried to his room.  

Reynolds.

I avoided Reynolds the rest of my stay, a day or two, and didn't even say goodbye when I left.

Trying to "doorstep" to William Bundy,
Bilderberg's North American Secretary
Reynolds called me in foul humor when he reached London, two days behind me.  

He never got any pictures, he said, because his fancy camera equipment didn't work, so he needed the photos from my cheap pocket instamatic.  I agreed to meet him where he was staying at the Holiday Inn in Swiss Cottage.

My brother Mike went down with me, and we met Reynolds in the bar.  He was rubbing the barkeep the wrong way, demanding a phone be brought to his table.    

"What kind of place is this?" Reynolds snarled.  "Get me a goddam phone and get it now!" 

Then Reynolds started to get borderline nasty with me.    

"You're working for me and I want those photos," he said.

"No problem," I replied.  "They're not very good, just basic shots from a cheap camera, but I'll send them when I get them developed."

"No, I need them to take back with me.  How do I know you'll send them?"

"Why shouldn't I?"

Reynolds, drunk on Jack Daniels, was growing more hostile.  He suggested we go up to his room to "settle it."

Then The Four Tops band entered the bar, and Reynolds, impressed, engaged them in conversation.  Mike and I seized the opportunity to slip out a side door, dash to the car and take off.

Reynolds phoned, wanting to meet again.  I told him, I’m busy, I'd send him the photos.  And I did send him about twelve pictures, terrible shots, illustrative of nothing. 

Reynolds phoned me from Washington at 8 a.m. my time, woke me up, and insisted I had a roll of good photos I was hiding from him.  He demanded them, saying he wasn't going to pay my Imperial Hotel bill, that they'd throw me in jail.

"Gee, I'm really scared, Peter."  

The Imperial called a few days later.  They said Reynolds had called, wasn't paying and that I owed them money. 

I told them they they could kiss my ass.  They'd told me themselves when I attempted to check out early (and pay) that the room was on Reynolds's tab; their problem was with him, not me.  

They called a few more times, finally sent a registered letter, but Tricky Dick's had taught us at least one valuable business lesson:  Never sign for registered mail.  


Years later, I exposed Reynolds's "mysterious" boss, Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby, as a neo-Nazi, and Reynolds called me up and threatened to kill me. 

(I guess that's where the queue begins.  Uh, no:  second in line to the Ku Klux Klan.)

And a few years after that, someone in Munich whopped a beer bottle over Reynolds's head and killed him

There seems to be a curse on those who wish me harm.







Monday, September 15, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 25: COFFEE & PIE (WITH A SIDE OF POETIC JUSTICE)






Spring 1977


One afternoon I chalked a blackboard to say The Idi Amin Fan Club, and placed it in Tricky Dick's plate glass window.  

This was when Big Dada was slaughtering tens of thousands of Ugandans and eating ministers who disagreed with him.  

I watched one afternoon (we were closed) as a middle-aged woman parked, ambled up to our window, eyes straining to read the sign, then came through the door to inquire about our club.

"It's just a joke," I said.

"Oh, I see," she said, disappointed and annoyed.  She returned to her car in a huff.

A reporter for The Observer newspaper also saw the sign, photographed it, and came in for cake and coffee.  

He later wrote a squib I never saw, only heard about, that likened our establishment's "dinginess" to a jungle, which, he pointed out, was appropriate, and that we were just the kind of place where you'd expect to find such a sick joke. 

He neglected to point out that our exterior was congo brown.  

A great pity, as it would have been pithy of him.



After closing one night at 2 a.m., Bruce and I hit the road. 

Destination:  Salcombe, on Devon's south coast. 


In addition to visiting this quaint fishing village, I wanted to scout the Imperial Hotel in nearby Torquay where the Bilderbergers were due to meet two weeks hence.


We drove through darkness, carousing the motorway at 80 miles per, arriving in Salcombe just before six a.m. 

It was quiet, of course; the town had not yet awakened, though the sun was up, gulls circling.  We found a small bakery serving tea and danish.  Another golden moment.

With a new day upon us, I wanted to keep moving.  Bruce was easy; he went along with anything, and by seven o'clock we were on the road again, same road, heading back the other way.

We drove into Torquay, found the Imperial Hotel, parked, checked it out, stretched our legs, and got back into the car. 

It was our intention to stop somewhere (Salisbury sounded right) check into a hotel and reconnoiter the pubs looking for pretty girls. 

We had arranged for Diane D and her fiance Ray to run the restaurant in our absence that night. 

I kept on driving, driving, driving, until, by late afternoon, we neared London. 

Bruce truly wanted to stay somewhere new, but he was never vocal about anything, and when I dropped him at his parents' townhouse, he turned and said, "Well, that was fun."  I always appreciated his sarcastic wit.

I drove home, went straight to the Top Floor and, passing a mirror, stopped to look at my reflection. 

My eyes were wired, dilated, zombie-like, I looked like a Picasso, no, a Dali.  I threw cold water on my face and went to bed (it was late afternoon) and never got up.

Next morning, Tricky Dick's was a disaster area. 

Nothing had been cleaned up; chairs tipped over, dishes unwashed.  And someone had broken into my office, busted through a panel, and looted a couple of cases of Bulmer's Apple Cider, the alcoholic sort.

I drove down to Diane's place, a shop-front turned-squat in St. John's Wood.  She was upset.  Ray had gotten drunk while working and she left around midnight, leaving the place in his charge. 

A winning strategy. 

On a binge, Ray broke into my office and he and a few friends consumed fifteen one-liter bottles of cider.  She told me he had crawled into their room about five a.m., sang Call me Irresponsible, then puked all over the bed.

I banned Ray from the place and he, feeling indignant, told others he was going to beat me up. 

But Ray was just a sad young drunk with no job, no prospects and no longer engaged to Diane, who dumped him for Chris K, a Scottish musician who played piano and sang at Tricky Dick's twice a week.

When small amounts of cash began to disappear from the cashbox, we knew Diane was the culprit. 

A Greek named Nick, who owned a BBQ chicken takeout in Hendon and used to shoot pool at TD's, poached Diane, saving me the trouble of firing her.  

Weeks later, Nick pulled me aside and asked, Why didn't you warn me about her?  

We could sometimes serve poetic justice at Tricky Dick's.



Sunday, September 14, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 24: DC & BACK (TO MADNESS)






Spring 1977


I rented a car at Dulles airport and drove to the off-campus digs of Scotty S, an AU buddy.  A couch was assigned to me; I borrowed a sheet and blanket from Stephanie B and her brother, who had an apartment nearby.  I never returned the bedding, and I've felt bad about it ever since.

Scotty took me to the Tavern and wanted to party; I just wanted a pillow.  

Next day, Mrs. Quigley answered her phone and told me her husband, Carroll, had died after a heart attack one month before.

I drove downtown to Liberty Lobby in search of new info on Bilderberg.

"We have a guy that specializes on Bilderberg named Peter Reynolds," said a Liberty Lobbyist.  "Let me try and get him on the phone for you."

Peter Reynolds possessed a gravelly voice that added years to his age.  He asked me to come up to his house for a chat that afternoon.

Reynolds, it transpired, was only a few years older than I, and he lived with his parents.  There was something odd about him.  He slouched in a sofa and toyed with a pistol while awaiting a Neil Diamond concert on TV, for which he'd wired stereo speakers to his set.

Reynolds said he was coming to Britain in two months to cover a Bilderberg Conference scheduled to take place in Torquay, a resort town in Devon.  He asked if I would help him.  I was game, hell, anything that smacked of intrigue or journalism.  That's why I was in Washington again, to stir the pot.


The "Fighting Fifth" of Leonard Hall were fighting fit, and had, in my absence, carved a reputation as the rowdiest, most lunatic floor on campus.  The windows in the TV room now had iron bars because they'd thrown out a TV set during a keg party, and the whole floor was on probation. 

I hung out there for an afternoon and generally purged myself of any further desire to be in Washington.

I got a cheap haircut on Connecticut Avenue, bought a coonskin cap for Jolie, and re-booked my departure date two days early. 


It seemed I could never get back to London soon enough.  As with school, I never wanted to complete a cycle, believing if I left something unfinished, it was still there to return to.

Returning to London was euphoric.  

Only six days to everyone else, to me it was six months' of spiritual growth and rejuvenation.  I felt sure about London, about Tricky Dick's.

My positive vibes were marred only by an ugly incident at the restaurant the night before my return. 

The pool thugs had turned nastier than usual, started a fight, and when ordered out by Clive, had smashed pool balls against the TV games and pinball machines, leaving shattered glass everywhere.  The police were called for the third or fourth time; they were growing weary of us.

I took one look at the basement mess and proclaimed the pool hall closed.  Forever.  Whatever the revenues, I wasn't going to let Tricky Dick's degenerate into a ruffian's refuge. 

Sure, we were making more money than we ever had; we were actually in black ink, a Tricky Dick's first.  But some things are more important than money.  

The games company was appalled by my stance (they had the most to lose) and they tried to change my mind.  Suddenly, they were no longer upset about the damage, and dropped their demand that I help pay for it.  They even offered to increase our take of the revenues.  

But I was adamant.  This experiment had been a financial success, but  a social failure.  I agreed only to let them move one pool table to the mezzanine, where we could more easily monitor play.

In retrospect, if we were out simply to make money, we could have turned the whole damn place into a large pool hall, with food and drink an aside.  Low overhead, high profit margin. 

But what the hell did we know about business? 

Tricky Dick's was a sociology course; it had nothing to do with business.  It was an eccentric's haven, some nights a depository for the mentally insane.  And it forever amazed me that the authorities never came along and locked us all inside, quarantined the place.  Because years later I discovered we never possessed a special license to stay open all night.  We opened late because Abe Sellar had opened late, and he opened late to hide from creditors, and because Gigi had opened late.  And no one ever knew by what authority Gigi stayed open all night.

We ran the place as anarchists. 

Many of our customers were banned from other cafes and restaurants for insufficient funds or problems related to non-conformity.  Once in a while, some authority would visit and say we had to pay something to someone for some reason. 

One guy (jacket, tie, briefcase) cornered my brother and said we owed a monthly copyright fee for playing cassette tapes on the stereo. 

Then VAT inspectors descended on us:  a shake down for sales tax. 

A rates bill (property tax) showed up addressed to Abe Sellar, requesting payment from five years earlier.

We heard that a protection racket was operating up and down Finchley Road, but they must have heard how crazy we all were, and about the Louisville Slugger baseball bat I kept under the counter with their names on it.  They never bothered us.  

Bruce S came back to work, and he shared the kitchen with Dave W, a pretty boy, cool as a cucumber, always smoking cigarettes in the kitchen when I wasn't around.  

And I hired a Canadian girl named Diane D, a take-charge kind of gal with lots of initiative.  She came with baggage; a short, barrel-chested, walrus-mustached lout named Ray, her fiancee.

As long as everyone turned up on schedule, I was free to hit the pubs early evening and oversee the whole operation, including the live entertainment, which I personally auditioned and hired. 

So I'd go out to Swiss Cottage and the Red House, mix it up, meet girls.  When they asked what I did, I'd say I was a dishwasher for a restaurant. 

When the pubs closed, we'd drive up to Tricky Dick's.  I'd seat my new friends, and strut around as if I owned the place.  And when they pointed this out to me, "Why are you telling waitresses what to do like you own the place," I'd say, "I do own the place, and I wash dishes."  

And then I'd go back into the kitchen and wash dishes, because that was my favorite job when high.  Especially on weekends, when the place was a madhouse, people screaming for their orders, asking for the manager. 

Washing dishes was safe.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

TRICKY DICK'S 23: POOL HALL






Spring 1977


I had a computer game installed.  Back then these things were unsophisticated, a notch above TV ping-pong.  Our game pinned one player against another (this was before machines themselves became formidable opponents).  

Each player ran a fighter plane down a runway, took off, and took shots at the other.  It was always in use, and I was amazed by how much money it took.

I installed a second game, and it also became a cash cow. 

Noting that our basement was as large as our ground floor, I  brainstormed a plan to fill it with pinball machines and pool tables.  We spruced up the basement and installed two American-size pool tables, three pinball machines and two TV games. 

The beauty of the deal was its simplicity:  we paid nothing:  A company called NPB supplied the gear and we split the takings 50-50.

Overnight, we were deluged with new business.  The pool hall overflowed into the restaurant; people waiting their turn to play, hungry and thirsty.  The whole place shook with activity. 

But with a downside. 

The pool hall attracted a crowd we hadn't seen before:  The mean-spirited thug. 

At first there were only a few of them.  But they soon proliferated, and the positive vibes turned negative.  

Thugs began to intimidate our regular eccentrics who wanted to shoot pool; the bullies wanted the pool hall to themselves and they didn't want anyone disturbing their play.  And when they came upstairs for a bite, they'd snarl about having to stand or wait. 

Things got ugly.  There were fights.  One guy got two front teeth knocked out.  I had to call the police a few times to eject several thugs, and the same thugs would return the next night, unrepentant, resentful and mean.

When I arrived after the pubs closed I'd be pumped up with vodka, ready to take on whatever trouble awaited me, even dishwashing, if necessary. 

I returned one night to find the staff in an uproar.  One of the thugs had turned the pool hall jukebox to full volume and it was blaring up to the restaurant, annoying our resident lunatics, and the thug threatened to clobber anyone who attempted to turn it lower.

I stormed downstairs, marched over to the jukebox and gave it so swift a kick it stopped dead. 

Silence. 

I faced the thugs and hollered, "This f------- jukebox is closed!  If anyone touches it, I'm closing them too!"  

I stormed out. 

My brother Mike, watching nearby, bracing himself, said it was the most courageous thing he'd ever seen.  And also one of the dumbest. 

But that's how I felt.  Tricky Dick's was an anarchist's picnic.  But it was my picnic, and bullies were not invited.  

Destiny, meanwhile, was calling again; plus, I'd saved some money from our new enterprise (a lethal combination). 

I wanted to return to Washington, party with Leonard Hall's "Fighting Fifth," learn something new from Professor Quigley.  It had been almost a year since I was Stateside.  I needed a fix.

The night before my trip was one of the nuttiest nights I ever experienced at Tricky Dick's.  A jazz trio played a dynamite set, the lights were low, the restaurant bustled, and I soaked it all in along with Jack Daniel's bourbon. 

At one point, the band put on animal masks, the singer was a rat, the atmosphere fully charged, and I just stood back and went, "Whoa...!" 

it was so utterly, totally awesome.  I made a mental note to get the band's phone number.  They were playing on trial and I wanted them back.  But the night went crazy, mental notes got deleted, and I never saw the band again.  

Next morning, I awoke with a pounding head, a fuzzy mouth, and a groggy brain, but I made it to the airport and boarded my flight to Washington.


As the plane taxied into position, I suddenly felt panicked.  

Why was I taking a trip at this crucial juncture?  

I felt the engines roar and the plane thrust forward, and
as the mighty jumbo left the ground I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes.