May 19 2010 11:25am
He Walked Among Us (Excerpt)
“Kapplemeyer’s?” said the Bimbo. “For the tenth time, Jimmy, what the hell are we doing in the Catskills in November?”
“Scouting talent, kid,” Texas Jimmy Balaban told her, as he turned the rented Buick off the highway at the splintery old wooden sign and up the drive that might have been last paved when George Burns was still playing straightman to Gracie.
“Here?” said the Bimbo, whose name was Sabrina.
“Matter of instinct, babes,” Texas Jimmy muttered,”The nose knows.”
What was he supposed to tell her, that since Kapplemeyer’s Country Club Resort Hotel was the kind of dump that Texas Jimmy Balaban ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead in, he had reason to hope that Marsha’s divorce dick wouldn’t think to look for the live item here either?
You’re getting too old for this shit, Jimmy, he told himself as he pulled up in front of the hotel.
Yeah, sure, that’s what he had been telling himself at moments like these for about twenty-five years. You’re getting to old to get married again, you’re getting too old to get cleaned out again in the divorce courts, you’re getting too old to chase young pussy, you’re getting too old to dodge house dicks and keyhole peepers. Right. Learned my lesson. Never again.
Indeed, Texas Jimmy had had no intention at all, well hardly any, of chasing after any nookie on this trip to New York. He really had come to the Apple on business, but only to secure some bookings for a couple comics he already had under contract. All he had done was hang around the hotel bar for a few drinks, he hadn’t been looking for any action, not really.
But let a pair of formidable young knockers like Sabrina’s heave into sight, let a pair of juicy red lips start cooing seductively after he had just happened to mention that he was a hot-shot talent agent from Hollywood....
How was he supposed to know that Marsha’s P.I. had followed him out from the Coast with his microphones and cameras? Well sure he had slipped the house dick fifty bucks to let him know if any wise-guy came nosing around his room! Didn’t everyone do that? Look at the shit he’d have been in if he hadn’t!
“You get off on this sleazing around, Balaban,” wife number two used to tell him. ”It’s the sneaking around in crummy motels that gets your pathetic pecker up, If you weren’t looking over your shoulder for detectives and divorce lawyers, you’d never be able to raise a hard-on!”
Well Tanya had had the disposition of a speed freak wolverine, and Texas Jimmy would have been hard-put to remember very many situations when impotence wasn’t the least of his problems, but in his more philosophical moments, he had to acknowledge that she sort of had a point.
A state of contented monogamy with a wife and kiddies and the whole nine yards was impossible for Texas Jimmy to imagine as other than the moral equivalent of condition terminal in Sun City. On the other hand, a romantic streak, or an instinctive self-knowledge he knew better than to examine, kept him from simply leading the carefree bachelor life of the disconnected playboy.
Not that he enjoyed being tailed by divorce dicks, not that he had enjoyed the financial consequences of his first two divorces, but he had to admit that the tummelling of it all did indeed probably do much to maintain his edge. In this, he knew, he was like the comics he managed. Comedians with sex lives that a Jewish mother could love were few and far between, and of the dozen or so in Texas Jimmy’s stable, eight of them would be going through some kind of crazy tsuris at any given time. It wasn’t that doing stand-up comedy was a sure ticket to the rubber room, but that you had to maintain that edge to stay funny. Like a top, once you stopped whirling and twirling, you tended to fall on your ass.
Kapplemeyer’s Country Club Resort Hotel was five rambling wooden stories of faded pastel green with forest green trimming. A sagging covered porch ran across the front of the building. In the summer, no doubt, the beach chairs would be filled with gorked-out old folks and the rusty green lawn tables laden with the cloyingly sweet hi-balls and planter’s punches favored by same, but now they were deserted, making the place seem even deader that it probably was.
“Jesus Christ,” observed Sabrina as an ancient bellman in a musty puke-green monkey suit emerged from the main entrance and tottered down the stairs.
Inside the lobby, a gray-haired and stooped clerk managed to remain standing behind a heavily-revarnished front desk. A dining room behind closed glass doors to the left. On the right, the open entrance to the hotel nightclub, labeled “Kapplemeyer’s Fabulous Sunset Room” in peeling gilt letters. Three old duffers in leisure suits and two old ladies stuffed into hideous pastel capris comprised the lobby life.
“What are we doing in this shithole?” Sabrina hissed in Jimmy’s ear as they approached the desk.
“I told you, it’s business,” Jimmy snapped back.
“Yessir,” said the desk clerk in a tired wheeze, “can I help you?”
I hope so, Texas Jimmy thought, observing the ever-more skeptical pout souring Sabrina’s bee-stung lips. He had taken the precaution, didn’t everyone, of schtuping the hotel desk in New York twenty to book this room for him. Tell ’em that I’m a big time agent from Hollywood don’t want to be disturbed by no papparrazi, their discretion will be appreciated, had been his instructions. It was the truth, wasn’t it?
“I’ve got a reservation,” he said. “Name of Balaban....”
“Texas Jimmy Balaban?” said the desk clerk, emerging from his coma.
Jimmy smiled patronizingly, glancing sidewise at Sabrina, whose eyes had widened, whose pout had softened. “The one, the only,” he said.
“We’ve reserved the Presidential Suite for you, Mr. Balaban—”
“Hey, I didn’t—”
“—no extra charge, of course, compliments of the management.”
Sabrina breathed a wordless Wow. That had been the point. But the freebie upgrade had been more than Jimmy had hoped for.
“Well I do appreciate it,” he said. He leaned closer, nodded in the direction of Sabrina, slid a twenty across the desk, winked at the clerk. ”But if anyone asks, I’m not here, the room is registered to Joseph P. Blow, get me?”
The Presidential Suite was a living room with a bay window overlooking the deserted tennis courts, a big bedroom with a king-sized bed, a monster bathroom with double sink, tub, and separate shower stall. The air within, however, was stale as Joe Miller’s Joke Book, the plush living room furniture exuded a dusty odor, the first rush of water in the toilet taps was a rusty brown, and there was a tell-tale rime at the water-line in the toilet bowl. Kapplemeyer’s probably managed to rent it out to full paying guests about as often as Frank Sinatra topped the bill at the Fabulous Sunset Room, which did much to explain why they had comped it as an upgrade to the big time agent from Hollywood in the off-season.
“Not bad, huh?” Jimmy said as Sabrina pranced around the living room.
She came to light on the couch. Jimmy stood over her gazing down her cleavage.
“You weren’t shining me on, were you?” she said. “You really are a big-time agent from Hollywood!”
Texas Jimmy smiled at her. ”Would I bullshit you?” he murmured.
Sabrina took both of his hands in hers. “You know what I’d like now?” she said softly.
“What?” Jimmy purred.
“Could we...could we have some champagne, I mean it would be perfect, just like in the movies...”
“Why sure,” Jimmy said. “I’ll call room service. Why don’t you go into the bedroom and slip into something more comfortable.” He winked lugubriously. ”Like nothing at all....”
Sabrina giggled and departed. Jimmy called room service.
“A bottle of champs.”
“The best in the— Uh, something classy that don’t cost an arm and a leg, know what I mean?”
About five minutes later, room service arrived with a bottle in an ice bucket and two glasses on a silver-plate tray. Jimmy glanced at the label, saw that it was Moet and Chandon, a famous French brand, gave the bellboy a good tip, and took it into the bedroom.
Sabrina was stretched out across the bed on her back with her arms and legs wide open wearing only a great big smile.
Jimmy popped the bottle, did the honors. “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” he said Bogartwise, clinking glasses.
Only much later, when he took a second look at the label on the now-empty bottle, did he realize that they had fobbed him off with some knock-off version of the real French stuff that had been bottled in California.