Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When Punch is Served...

By Brian Wask

“Goodbye boys. I die a true American!” – Bill “The Butcher” Poole

Pawel Pulaski came to the U.S. from Poland by ship in 1861. During the voyage a woman eight months pregnant was raped. The monster left her and her unborn child to die in the cramped bowels of a damp hull. A deckhand discovered the woman face down suffocating in her own placenta. Though the woman departed while giving birth to a healthy girl, she was able to identify the attacker. The baby was named America by a collection of midwives. Pulaski was elected judge and jury and set out to find the fiend among the ship’s mechanicals and inventory. What happened next has been dramatized over centuries. Each legend agrees he returned to the cabin covered in another’s blood. Some said he had guts between his teeth. In an illustration, presently kept at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, drawn by Brunon Machowski, the ship’s resident artist, Pulaski’s face is painted like a clown, the mote of red around his mouth represents blood, the hand behind his back holding a partially devoured human leg.

After traveling the Yankee states for a year, learning English from the oral histories of freed slaves, and Americanizing his first name to Paul, in 1862, Pulaski, inspired by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, enthusiastically joined the North in the war between the states. He personally promised Jefferson Davis’s faux-presidential head on a stick. He tagged along with Colonel Ambrose Burnside's infantry in Rhode Island. Pulaski had such admiration for the Colonel's patriotism (Burnside would soon be a general) he mimicked his appearance– Ambrose's unique style of facial hair would later be called sideburns. In December of the same year General Burnside’s army was hammered by General Lee in the Battle of Fredericksburg, where the nineteen year old Paul Pulaski lost his left leg. He recovered in a makeshift Confederate hospital beside the Rappahannock River. There he continued to work on his English by listening to the wounded southerners surrounding him and transcribing what he heard. Some of them killed northerners with bayonets. A powder bomb took a Confederate soldier’s sight. He promised God he’d never fight nobody or nothing ever again in return for his sight. An amputee Yankee soldier finally departed after weeks of decomposing from infection. The hospital mourned together. Never mind what flag they fought for. After learning to walk with a wooden prosthetic Paul Pulaski gathered the few things he still had, registered an ID with a new last name– he took the name from a dead Irishman– and left with one leg in the night.

In July of 1863, Pulaski, now known as Paul Cody, finished his long haul to New York, settling in a Lower East Side tenement. The final draft of the Conscription Act passed congress; the government could now draft men eighteen to forty-five to fight in the War. It was hell hot and the street sewage ankle deep. The public was dispirited, insisting the draft infringed on their individual freedoms. Paul Cody sat and listened from the doorway to his ground floor tenement. Sad dogs slept nearby. Souls sunk like fractured ships. Orphans begged and coppers beat them with clubs. The Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies gathered at the Five Points, cracked skulls and severed hands. Sometimes at night Paul Cody left the tenements and limped west to the Hudson River, along the way passing rumbles outside Bowery brew houses. At the river, strolling the planks, he’d listen to wharf rats pillage anchored ships, often followed by loud gun fights that lit up the dark like the stages of Broadway. During a flash of light he could see the brown ridges of New Jersey. One night a hussy called Mazie drunk stumbled into a turf war between local thugs in Paradise Square and was bludgeoned to death with a cast iron claw-hammer. The police force came in numbers but retreated just as often. The gangs ruled the slums and there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. Then John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and, in Paul Cody’s words, “The country died, leaving a population to debate between the innate delusions of right and wrong.” His English was still okay.

For ten years Paul Cody auctioned live stock on the polluted river. Ships came and went and the brew clubs of the 4th Ward spilled into the streets until the Westside of the Bowery sank into the harbor, feeding the river death and disease. He gathered the few items he managed to keep from thieves and slept against a wall just above the Bowery in Cooper Square for several weeks during the Fall. Before the first snow Old John McSorley, the owner of the Old House at Home on 7th street, offered him a job watching his horse during the day, while Old John, between pouring ale, fed the baker’s oven wood so his saloon remained toasty. The city was predicting a cold winter, a confidence plan the government conspired to collect charitable donations from its wealthier citizens. Without heat Old John was certain customers would find another alehouse to drown in. The winter sales were better than ever so Old John hired Paul to watch the horse full-time and gave him a room for nothing above the saloon. Because the horse slept peacefully most of the day the horse-watcher enjoyed considerable time drinking ale in lieu of pay. One day a German bricklayer, fixed to a window next to the entrance on most nights, called out to Paul but instead called him Punch. From then on everyone called him Punch. Over the years Punch Cody continued to document the stories he heard at McSorley's but most of these journals remain illegible.

Nov 17, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buck “Buck Tooth” Jones, Prolific Writer and Inventor, Dead at 109

By Brian Wask

Big City, Collectico– Buck “Buck Tooth” Jones, most known for his groundbreaking part-novel/part-recipe, Misery is Luxury (1956), and the inventor of the word ‘knockerbombed’– to be hassled by secret societies and/or covert operatives– was found dead Sunday at his home in Pandora, Collectico. He was 109. The cause of death is so far unknown but speculated to be old age. He is survived by his great, great grandson, the genetic scientist Charlie “Charlie Horse” Jones, his great granddaughter, the archaeologist Sally “Sally Boy” Johnson, and his wife Betty “Betty Days” Jones, also 109. His loved ones will not bury Tooth’s body but instead have him stuffed and erected beside his father, grandfather and great grandfather at the family compound in Pandora. First, they plan to take him on his favorite underwater roller coaster ride one last time.

Born during the newspaper wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, Buck Tooth published his first novel at the age of three (Goodbye Diapers) and went on to release 607 more books on subjects ranging from the eclectic scent of owl urine (That Smell in the Night, 1917), self-induced nightmares (The Computer Took My Eyes Away and Wont Give Them Back, 2002; Get That Creamed Corn Away From Me, 1952) and scavenger dogs in the slums of South Africa (Skeleton Crew, 1960). He worked as a pseudo-journalist for Hearst during WWI and, though only nine, helped Pulitzer’s defense during the libel suit filed against him by Theodore Roosevelt in 1909. A few years later Buck Tooth was investigated for his ties to Italian Anarchists on the Lower East Side of New York City. He went on to chronicle the investigation and the authority’s amoral tactics in 1926’s half-novel/half-needle quilting instruction manual Blow Me!– he’s been credited with coining the phrase.

He met his first and only wife Betty during a trip to North Dakota’s Badlands in 1933, and soon after gave her the nickname Betty Days, as in, “Hopefully, Betty Days lie ahead.” He alluded her existence was only a figment of his imagination during a lecture on sliced bread and Richard Nixon at Columbia in 1973, and latter admitted he was only kidding in an article titled “Why Would Anyone Believe Me?”, published the next year in the December issue of Harper’s. It was Betty Days who convinced him to try creamed corn on his sixty-third birthday at a fall-out shelter forty miles north of Interstate 80 on the sunless plains of Kansas. Nineteen sixty-four’s To Hell with Americans and Their Lawnmowers was supposed to be a commentary on The United States’ fear of communism compared to his own fear of creamed corn, but was instead regarded by the Christian Right as unpatriotic and pornographic, with hints of pedophilia. He vowed never to publish again but sure enough Betty Days convinced him otherwise and ten years later he was the winner of the MANN-GODD Prize for the memoir/wordlist collection, I'm Not Getting Any Younger. He was quoted by many as saying, “If it wasn’t for Betty Days I’d be nailing all kinds of women.” And though there’s been several accusations of infidelity against him, there was no proof he was anything but absolutely faithful to his wife of seventy-five years.

In 1977, after a three year period of publishing twenty six fiction and non-fiction books concerning everything from Korean manicurists (She Got The Homemade Special) to the avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson (The Big Ship is Sinking) and different kinds of fish (Wet and Ugly), Buck Tooth Jones catapulted to world-wide recognition when he set out to prove Jesus Christ was actually a woman. With his great granddaughter Sally Boy he left for the middle East and eventually southern France, where he claimed to have recovered the corpse and announced its anticipated arrival in Washington, DC. The media was alerted and prepared a monstrosity of equipment to capture the occasion on the runways of Dulles Airport, shutting down all incoming and outgoing flights for three days. Upon his arrival, in front of an estimated six hundred-thousand, the power went out and the pine box holding the body of the Lord was abducted by a secret organization of Vatican Operatives. The event was labeled a hoax and Buck Tooth’s career was considered done. The irony was he predicted the event and the same outcome in a previous book, This Is What Will Happen In DC (1970).

For the next ten years Buck Tooth confined himself to the family compound in Pandora, writing books and dancing to Cole Porter songs with Betty Days on the veranda, overlooking Dry Harbor and the rest of the blue world beyond that. He built the Earth’s longest and tallest roller coaster with his own two hands and could be heard calling out to the night white moon by sailors anchored in the harbor. He dismantled the ride before the public could see it, but according to those lucky enough to experience the Highway to Heaven, it reached the clouds and at night during the highest peak you could touch the stars if you really wanted to. When, in 1987 Buck Tooth finally left the compound he delivered 254 manuscripts to his publisher in New York. Within the next year they were released, some in several volumes, ultimately resulting in 306 books total. Each sold in the tens of thousands, but God’s a Jackhammer (The World is His Sidewalk), Photos of Nothing and Hello Again Diapers did much better, selling a million between the three.

Buck Tooth spent the last twenty years publishing a number of books, some two hundred ultimately, and helping his great, great grandson Charlie Horse Jones in his endeavor to develop an intravenous anecdote to greed. It was Charlie Horse’s life project mainly but when it became known Buck Tooth was involved donations from all over the world flooded the institute where the experiments were taking place. It was probably the greatest blow to Buck Tooth’s will when most of the money donated disappeared and was never recovered. In an interview with Esquire magazine three years ago, when asked about the vanishing donations, Buck Tooth said, “I figured that would happen.” His last book, Don’t Need Pants Where I’m Going (2008), sold just under three thousand copies. It was assumed by his most loyal fans this failure would closely precede the end of the world in 2012. If so, Buck Tooth’s estate doesn’t have long to release the estimated five hundred un-published manuscripts the legend left behind. It would be a travesty if the world ended before that.