Monday, February 11, 2008


by Chris Van Strander

An excerpt from his play, Breuckelen.

A dive-y Brooklyn watering hole. Today.

BATHTUB GIN, a 20s-era flapper, materializes and addresses everyone present.

Before you now: the sweetheart of every hood an’ trouble boy from here to Sheepshead Bay. Goes a little somethin’ like this:

Born: Jersey City—third ward. Pops ran rum—speedboats—he’d load, I’d pilot. Hittin’ on all sixes too, ‘til comin’ back—full load, Irish whisky, musta hit some jetsam ‘cuz BOOM, I’m thrown, SPLASH, (makes the sound of someone being run over by a speedboat), rolls right over me. Thought that was the big one for sure. Balled up a chunk-a my noggin, croaker said. Plate in here now. (her head)

So: so long rumrunning, hello Coney, little brick houses an’ homebrewing gin for the local jaspers. Juniper juice, glycerine—duck soup. ‘Til one night I’m lightin’ up a gasper an’ KERBLAM, whole still up n’ explodes. Thought that really was the big one. Totally blind now, this eye.

Midsta this don’tcha know I find love. Billy Cloud—Mohawk Indian—cake-eater—rivet man—know what I mean? Flopped down on Schermerhorn. Barclay Vesey Building he was buildin’. Went to visit, took me up, peep the view, gust a’ wind, fell right off. 20 stories. Now that really shoulda been the big one. Came down like a cat, lost both feet. (indicates her feet) American walnut, buster.

Sued his ass, tribe’s, whatever, used the dough to open my very own joint—right here, 209 Bedford. First broad in all Williamsburg. Local degos caught wind: “Our turf—we get a quarter stake.” Told ‘em go shit on a $3 bible. Wrong number. Danced me by my tongue off Williamsburg Bridge. Really thought that’d be the big one. But my right guy Reilly got me. Lost half my tongue and all power a’ smell.

But my club: Chez Mausoleum (this was a funeral parlor then). “Hey-a, swells! Come in an’ get ossified!” Served outta hollowed-out skulls. This whole wall was craniums, like those basements in Rome. Reilly just turned up one day with a truckful—I know better’n to ask. My hostesses: all refugee geishas. My chorus girls: Juilliard-trained. My waiters: tangoed. Jumpin’ist band in Brooklyn too: Sozzle Tom And His Incredibly Generous Orchestra. ‘Least 20 cocktails started here: the Pale Gringo; the Moister Looser; the CafĂ© Scranton. Just had to know the code word.

(She picks a single listener she’s addressing and whispers “cumquat” into his/her ear.)

Swells who got scrooched in this room, can’t even tell ya. Once when we got raided? A certain aging It girl whose career nosedived after the talkies was here as the fuck date of a certain bisexual Arabian millionaire, and they just happened to be seated nexta a certain mid-level cabinet member who was here with his secret lover, a certain Dodger third baseman—and they all ended up in the john hittin’ the pipe with a certain hatchetman in the Fanelli Massacre. Cops bust in—Brooklyn lightning everywhere. Some flatfoot sonofabitch gets all in a lather, thinks it’s the most hilarious thing in the world to start shootin’ his piece off next to my noggin. If I’d heard anything, woulda been me tellin’ myself “well, this’s the big one.” Totally deaf now, this ear.

Only thing gummed me up worse n’ that was the graft. Grand a month: DA, feds. Futzed around with more beat cops than your mother. It was me with the Chief that night. They say it was the dark but the straight dope is we’re screaming down 9th in his breezer, hopped up outta our minds, I start giving him a handjob for the ages when he swerves us right off the pier and in the drink. Now you tell me why that wasn’t the big one. Said so long to both hands in that. (indicates her gloved hands) American walnut, buster.

What’ll I ever do with myself once all this ends.

Home that night, exhausted, put on some Bix, cuppa tea, sit down… and that’s it. Just like that. Sitting down. In my sleep. In a chair.

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