Monday, August 17, 2015

Act II Episode 10 - Croce and Brenner at the Anch

Jim Croce and David Brenner at the Anch

Jim Croce got out of Lynda Van Devanter's black '61 Nova convertible, stepped onto the Bay Avenue sidewalk and walked up the steps of the historic Anchorage Tavern. After pausing on the top step on the porch to turn around and look at Ocean City’s skyline across the bay, he entered the Anchorage through the heavy wooden door with the ship's port hole for a window. It was cool and dark inside with the late afternoon sun light coming in the two other large round wood porthole windows that permitted an unhindered view of Great Egg Bay across the street.

The dining room was busy for late lunch but the bar was practically empty and Buck the bartender was standing around polishing beer glasses he had taken out of a new box on the bar.

The day time bartender is the lowest rung of the bartender totem ladder, usually a young guy, while the night time bartenders, especially those who worked weekends, were the most senior on the staff and made the best tips.

Buck the bartender was young then, but was an experienced bartender who knew the ropes and was just filling in the day time slot until one opened at night.Buck knew Croce from other days he came around, so he knew what he drank and opened a long neck Bud beer before Croce could ask, and said, “No, Andrew's not here.”

Croce knew Andrew Carneglia and his mother and late father from their South Philly neighborhood and when he made one of his frequent forays to the shore always made it a point to stop by and pay his respects - and usually get a fee beer from Andrew. Croce also had a girl friend - a waitress who worked at the Lobster House in Cape May, who he occasionally stayed with, but he liked Ocean City and Somers Point better because of the vibrant music scene. Croce was one of the regular guitarist and folk singers who played at the Purple Dragon Coffee House and at Shriver’s Pier in Ocean City.

Croce knew Andrew from when they were kids and they played sand lot baseball together. They used to call him “Andy Anchorage” because his family owned the Anch, but since his father died and he had taken over the business they now refer to him with more respect as Andrew.

Croce just shrugged and put his guitar and beer down on the empty bar and went over to the juke box in the corner and for a quarter played three songs – the Skylinners “Pennies From Heaven,” Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” both band he had earlier seen at Tony Marts, and Johnny Caswell's version of “Carolina On My Mind,” which was one of a number of Caswell records Andrew had put on the juke box special.

Croce then went over behind the two pool tables and sat on the red mahogany wood flap that was pulled down over the shuffle board when it wasn’t being used, so people could sit on it or use it as a table for their drinks. He sat on the shuffleboard top with his back to the wall, and with pen in hand scribbled out some more lyrics to his new song.

When the songs on the juke box were over and the room got quiet again, Croce picked up his guitar and started working out some chords of his new song, which was about the drill sergeant him and Lynda’s boyfriend “JJ” had when they were in basic training at Fort Dix.

After a while Croce looked up and there he thought, was Jesus Christ himself. Tido Mambo, the leader of the Upsetters, who had changed their name to the Messiah’s of Soul, lived upstairs in one of the rooms above the Anchorage. Since it was an old wood clapboard hotel with no insulation, the sound of Croce’s acoustic guitar drifted upstairs through the floorboards and rafters and brought Tido down to see who was playing guitar in the bar.

“Jesus Christ!” Croce exclaimed, “who the hell are you?”

“That’s Tido Mambo,” Buck the bartender said as he emptied some beer glasses out of some boxes stacked on the bar. “He plays at Bay Shores.”

“You the guy who comes out of the coffin?” Croce asked.

“Yea, that’s the guy,” Buck said.

“What ya playin’ there,” Tido asked.

“A song I just wrote,” Croce said. “Wanna hear it?”

Before he could answer the front door opened and Andrew came in. Croce saw him as Andrew darted into the old wood phone booth behind the front door and closed the glass doors.

“Sure, let’s have it,” Tido said.

“Wait a minute,” Croce hesitated, “I want Andrew to hear this one too.”

After a minute or two Andrew came out of the phone booth, looked in the dining room to make sure everything was okay, poked his head in the kitchen door and then walked around the bar to the back of the room to shake Croce’s hand and give Tido a nod of recognition.

“I got a new song I want you to hear Andrew,” said Croce, as he began playing the opening cords on the guitar and singing “Big, Bad, Leroy Brown.”

About half way through the song Tido moves over to the little Tom Thumb piano against the wall and plays a few notes to accompany Croce, and when he was done, Croce smiled and his face beamed, as he said, “What da’ ya think?”

Andrew moved over to the bar and sat down, lit a cigarette and ordered a drink from Buck, “I really like it Jim. You may have a hit on your hands there.”

Andrew didn’t drink or smoke much before his dad died, but now he was running a bar and at 21 years old, had to make a lot of decisions. His whole life had suddenly changed, and his lifestyle did too.

Telling Buck to give Jim and Tido each a drink on the house, Andrew took out a pen and began writing numbers on a piece of paper while Jim and Tido went back to the song with Tido helping out with the cords to go with Jim’s lyrics.

Although a few bar customers came in and sat by the front door, the rest of the bar was empty except for Jim and Tido back in the corner and Andrew supervising Buck as he emptied boxes of small glasses, when David Brenner came in the front door.

Brenner, like Croce knew Andrew from the old South Philly neighborhood. Although Brenner was actually from West Philly, and grew up in the Jewish hood, he often wandered into the Italian market area and played basketball and sandlot baseball with the Italian kids, and sometimes got into fights with them at weekend dances when school was in session. Andrew and Brenner started out antagonistic, but when some other kids ganged up on Brenner, Andrew came to Brenner’s aide, and after that they became good friends, though they hadn’t seen each other in a few years.

As Brenner made his way to the back of the bar Andrew got up and gave Brenner a hard handshake and a hug, and ordered Buck to give Brenner a drink.

“I heard you’re in charge now,” Brenner said. “Sorry about your dad; he was a good man. I was here last summer for dinner in the dining room and said hello to him but you weren’t around, and I’m glad to see you’re doing okay.”

“Yea, I’m okay,” Andrew said. “Just getting to learn this bar business. I now know how to make a Harvey Wallbanger. What are you doing?”

“I’m a director of the Investigative Reporting Team at KYW TV 3,” Brenner said proudly, “and we’re down here on a story.”

“What story?” Andrew asked.

“I don’t know yet, we’re still poking around.”

“Jim there is from the old hood,” Andrew said looking over to Croce, “and he’s got a new song he just wrote.”

“Everybody's got a story and a song,” Brenner said, dismissing the idea with a wave of his hand. “We’re looking for a real newsworthy story that will get public attention and improve our ratings – that’s what it’s all about – ratings.”

“The real reason I came to see you,” Brenner said, is to find a good, really good restaurant, because I got to take my secretary’s family out to dinner for letting us stay at their house and I want to really impress them.”

Brenner then named a few of the better restaurants that had been suggested – Crab Trap, Mac’s, Chi Chi’s and Harry’s Inn, but Andrew recommended Daniel’s.

“Danny Antolini will be in the kitchen," he said. "Danny owns the joint and he’s the best around, and if you go, say hello to Bobby Chic the piano player. He’ll play some requests for you and is really good too.”

“You got a good thing going here,” Brenner said. “Are you making any changes?”

“Changes are in the works,” Andrew said. “I’m keeping the dining room the same, but the bars' going to be different. We’re getting a lot younger crowd at night now, and making more money on the beer than we are on the pasta and wine.”

Andrew then went into a long but interesting story about how, on the previous Good Friday, when most of the bars were closed, including the Anchorage, three guys came in, bartenders from different bars in the area.

“I left the front door unlocked and these guys came in and since I was there I served them,” said Andrew, “and they stayed for a few hours and had such a good time they started coming back and sent a lot of the younger college kids over.”

As Buck the bartender continued to open boxes of little glasses, clean them and stack them on a shelf below the bar, Andrew continued.

“Gregory’s up the street started serving seven little draft beers for a dollar, so I started doing it too, and now we get a lot of the college kids coming in here before they go up the street to Bay Shores, Tony Marts and the other places that have live entertainment and more expensive drinks.”

“Looks like you got live entertainment here too,” Brenner said with a laugh.

“Yea, Croce and Tido, what a combination,” said Andrew, shaking his head as he ordered Buck to set up seven beers and show Brenner how they hold all seven at once, beers they shared with Croce and Tido, who were still playing around with the cords to the song.

Then Andrew snapped is fingers and said that, “I might have a story for you.”

“Check this out,” Andrew said, getting up and opening a little closet door under the steps revealing a large black safe that almost took up the whole closet.

“This was here when we bought the place, but dad never opened it, but I did.”

“Well, what’s in it?” Brenner asked.

“There were three things in the safe,” Andrew said. “A baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a hand drawn map of Atlantic City with different locations marked out, and Dutch Schultz’s wallet.”

Andrew went on to explain that, “A handwritten note in the safe, from a Mrs. Coyle, the wife of a former bartender from the twenties and thirties, said that Schultz brought the safe in one afternoon, and later that night when the place was raided by police, he threw the wallet behind the bar. It’s got a couple of identifications, driver’s licenses with his photo and other people’s names, including Arthur Flegenheimer, but it belonged to Dutch Schultz, who fled from the cops and never came back.”

“Wow,” said Brenner. “Does the map tell you where he hid his loot?”

“I don’t know,” said Andrew. “I can’t decipher it.”

Brenner then said he had to go, but would run the Dutch Schultz safe story past his boss and maybe come back and do something on it, but said he was more interested in Judge Helfant.

“I can’t get into all that,” Andrew said. “David, you can do a story and leave town but I got to live and work here and these are my neighbors so I can’t upset the applecart.”

Then Andrew said quietly, off the record, that one of his bartenders got pinched one night for drunk and disorderly, and went before Judge Helfant at his midnight court and got fined what he had in cash on him at the time, and there was no record of it. But that court pays for the summer police and keeps the taxes down on those who lived there all year ‘round, he explained.

“And they don’t usually bust local guys,” Andrew elaborated. “They usually give the locals a ride home and only hassle the college kids from out of town who get drunk and out of hand.”

Brenner got up, thanked Andrew for the deep background on Judge Helfant and the dinning tip on Daniels, shook hands and promised to get back to him on the Dutch Schultz story.

Andrew then went back to jotting down numbers on pieces of paper on the bar while Tido Mambo played the little Tom Thumb piano with two keys that didn’t work,  and Jim Croce played the guitar and sang his new song: "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Well the south side of Chicago
Is the baddest part of town
And if you go down there
You better just beware
Of a man name of Leroy Brown

Now Leroy more than trouble
You see he stand ‘bout six foot four
All those downtown ladies call him "Treetop Lover"
All the men just call him "Sir"

And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Now Leroy he a gambler
And he like his fancy clothes
And he like to wave his diamond rings
Under everybody's nose

He got a custom Continental
He got an Eldorado too
He got a 32 gun in his pocket full a fun
He got a razor in his shoe

And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Well Friday 'bout a week ago
Leroy shootin' dice
And at the edge of the bar
Sat a girl named Doris
And oh that girl looked nice

Well he cast his eyes upon her
And the trouble soon began
And Leroy Brown had learned a lesson
'Bout a-messin' with the wife of a jealous man

And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than a-old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Well the two men took to fighting
And when they pulled them from the floor
Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle
With a couple of pieces gone

And it's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

And he's bad, bad Leroy Brown
The baddest man in the whole damn town
Badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog

Yeah he was badder than old King Kong
And meaner than a junkyard dog.

Scott MacRae and Buck the Bartender
Image result for Buck the Bartender The Old Anchorage

No comments:

Post a Comment