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a fishing expedition with a nasty dude in camelot

BEING A CREATURE OF HABIT (well, sort of) (um, not that often, re­ally, but oc­ca­sion­ally), I turn first to tried and true Merriam-Webster when looking up de­f­i­n­i­tions for new (and some­times old) words and phrases. It’s still one of the best on­line dic­tio­nary re­sources, even if I do find more ap­pro­priate de­f­i­n­i­tions for my needs in other dic­tio­naries. Such is the case here re­garding the term “a fishing ex­pe­di­tion.” And I trust we all know what a nasty dude is.

Using Merriam-Webster, I found a legalese de­f­i­n­i­tion of a fishing ex­pe­di­tion as “an in­quiry as by the use of dis­covery that is un­nec­es­sarily ex­ten­sive or un­re­lated to the law­suit.”

That did not fit my needs.

Con­tin­uing, MW gives a second, more gen­er­al­ized de­f­i­n­i­tion: “an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that does not stick to a stated ob­jec­tive but hopes to un­cover in­crim­i­nating or news­worthy ev­i­dence.”

 

They would go from pocket to pocket until they found the one where I had my money.

 

Closer to what I was looking for, but it still sounded too lawyerly.

My second source is the Free Dic­tio­nary, and their de­f­i­n­i­tion is more of what I was looking for:

“An open-ended in­quiry or in­ves­ti­ga­tion, often un­der­taken on the pre­text of a minor or un­re­lated matter, whose real pur­pose is to un­cover em­bar­rassing or dam­aging in­for­ma­tion, as about a po­lit­ical op­po­nent.”

We also use the terms in other ways …

 

My Cousin Vinnie was a ve­hicle for Joe Pesci, who was on his way to stardom fol­lowing his riv­eting per­for­mance in sev­eral movies, such as in Good­fellas (1990) and JFK (1991). But the movie was stolen by Maria Tomei as Vin­nie’s girl­friend, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Sup­porting Ac­tress.

It’s an east coast thing

In the movie My Cousin Vinnie, New Yorker Ralph Mac­chio and friend are dri­ving through Al­abama. They make a food stop at a con­ve­nience store and hit the road. Shortly after they leave, an­other car—almost iden­tical to theirs—pulls into the parking lot where they were and a couple of young men enter the store, rob it, and kill the clerk.

The two East Coasters are brought in by the po­lice for ques­tioning, un­aware that a crime was com­mitted, un­aware that they are the sus­pects. So the Al­abama po­lice of­ficer, as­suming that he has the right men, without ex­pla­na­tion or pre­amble asks Mac­chio, “When’d you shoot him?”

Of course, Mac­chio doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “What?”

The of­ficer re­peats his ques­tion, “At what point did you shoot the clerk?”

I shot the sheriff

Mac­chio then does a very East Coast thing—he an­swers the ques­tion by es­sen­tially re­peating the ques­tion.

Mac­chio says, “I shot the clerk?”

Struc­turally, it’s a de­clar­a­tive sen­tence. But there’s an in­flec­tion in the speak­er’s voice that adds a ques­tion mark, turning the sen­tence from de­clar­a­tive to in­ter­rog­a­tive. 1

The in­flec­tion in his voice—the way Mac­chio phrases the words—should tell the cop that the sus­pect ques­tions the ac­cu­racy of the cop’s ques­tion.

Any­body from Bal­ti­more to Boston would un­der­stand that Mac­chio’s re­dun­dancy was not a ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the of­fi­cer’s state­ment, but that it ques­tions what he is hearing!

Ex­cept that it is re­gional.

And the Al­abama po­lice of­ficer does not share the cul­tural un­der­standing.

He hears Mac­chio con­fessing.

 

But I did not shoot the deputy

So the cop af­firms Mac­chio’s state­ment with a “Yes!” then re­peats his ques­tion: “When did you shoot him?”

Mac­chio is still clue­less. He does the same East Coast thing: he re­peats the cop’s ques­tion with that in­flec­tion.

“I shot the clerk?”

The of­ficer doesn’t know that the sus­pect doesn’t know what the of­ficer is talking about. If he did—if he did not merely as­sume the sus­pect’s guilt—he might have heard it dif­fer­ently. But that would have changed the plot of the movie.

In­stead, the Al­abama pa­trolman now has the sus­pect con­fessing to the murder.

Twice.

Without co­er­cion or even lengthy ques­tioning.

For the Al­abama po­lice, it’s now an open-and-shut case. The pros­e­cu­tion and con­vic­tion of this mur­derer will be a slam-dunk. You have to see the movie to find out what hap­pens.

From here, the rest of this post is anec­dotal.

And it’s all true …

 

John Peipon on a fishing ex­pe­di­tion off the coast of Martha’s Vine­yard in 1984. He had just seen Daryl Hannah as a mer­maid in the movie Splash and was in­tent on catching one for him­self. Un­for­tu­nately, she was the aquatic ver­sion of Maggie Thatcher and John dis­creetly (and wisely) threw her back in.

Fishing in Camelot

Vispi’s was a paradox among bars in my part of North­eastern Penn­syl­vania in the 1960s and ’70s. During the day­time hours, it was the closest thing to a gay bar that the Valley had. Or at least, the closest thing to a gay bar that straight guys like me would know about.

Men who had to don a guise of ‘nor­malcy’ to main­tain their day jobs would stop at V’s on the way home from work and relax among their peers. 2

But once the happy hours were over—and back then, happy hour hap­pened in the late af­ter­noon for pre-dinner imbibing—a change took place. By 9:00, Vispi’s was the hottest sin­gles bar in town!

For boys and girls.

On Wednesday and Friday nights, it was often wall-to-wall people. I never un­der­stood the ap­peal: there was no live music, just a jukebox. The drinks were rel­a­tively pricey for the area, and the decor was a wee bit on the gay side once you un­der­stood what you were looking at.

Hell, it wasn’t even that cozy a spot once you did con­nect with a girl and sat down to talk and get to know one an­other.

Nonethe­less, for years Vispi’s was the place for sin­gles to con­gre­gate.

To add to the place’s al­lure, it was also one of the area’s busiest after-hours joints. Penn­syl­vania law re­quired the serving of al­cohol end at 2:00 AM, at which time V’s locked the doors and stayed open well into the wee hours.

In 1973, I was a full-time bar­tender, and knowing where to go at 2:30 in the morning to sit back and have someone wait on me was es­sen­tial to main­taining my sanity.

So it was that I dis­cov­ered Vispi’s.

I be­came a reg­ular.

 

Arthur, his courtiers and knights, and Camelot, as seen by a 14th-century il­lus­trator. Vispi’s Camelot looked nothing like this, of course—but if we added a parking lot it might. Some of the king’s fol­lowers look they would have been quite com­fort­able there for happy hour.

A really nasty dude

In 1974, I was on a first date with a beau­tiful woman (let’s call her Angie) and we went to a nice Italian restau­rant with an­other couple (who we’ll call Mike and Donna). After dinner, we headed to Vispi’s. It was Sat­urday so the place wasn’t packed.

I was dressed ap­pro­pri­ately for a date: rea­son­ably tight black slacks, a mid­night blue shirt—top three but­tons open to show off a hip­pyish bamboo neck­lace with bits of pol­ished an­thracite (dig that)—and a gray sports coat. Al­ways a gray sports coat.

As I knew the place best, I went looking for a table for four and found one in the back. It was a mess, lit­tered with glasses, nap­kins, ash­trays, etc.

I started pushing some of the crap on the table to one side, making it easier for the wait­ress to clean up when she ar­rived.

Just as my friends got there, I was ap­proached by three guys I didn’t know. There were two guys no­tice­ably bigger than me, and I was 6′1″ and 185 pounds at the time. But the third guy—this little guy, a re­ally nasty dude!—was the problem.

He pointed at me and said, “He took it! I saw him!”

And in my best non-macho, Macchio-like voice I said, “I took your money?”

 

In hind­sight, Nasty Little Dude re­minds me of Joe Pesci when he is playing a nasty guy, and they don’t come much nas­tier than Tommy De­Vito in Good­fellas (1990). Pesci was so fright­en­ingly good that he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Sup­porting Role.

He put it in his left pocket!

As Angie ar­rived, these guys told me that this had been their table, that they had just fin­ished, and been seeing their girls to the door when I ar­rived. They claimed that they had left some money on the table.

The nasty guy pointed at me and said, “He picked up your twenty and put it in his back pocket. I saw him!”

I looked at them and said, “There wasn’t any money on the table.”

And Nasty Little Dude re­peated his claim, “He put it in his back pocket. The left one.”

I said, “I picked up a twenty-dollar bill and put it in the left pocket in the back of my pants?”

As a ques­tion.

Just like Ralph Mac­chio.

These guys were like Al­abama cops: “Yeah!” said Nasty Little Dude.

There wasn’t any money on the table, and I hadn’t picked up any­thing, let alone put some­thing in one of my pockets, but the two big guys be­lieved Nasty Little Dude.

 

I was a bar­tender. I knew that people who’d been drinking often think they leave money on ta­bles and bars when they didn’t.

 

I was a bar­tender. I knew that people who’d been drinking often think they leave money on ta­bles and bars when they didn’t. But once they be­lieve that there had been money—their money—and that it was missing, they re­main con­vinced that someone took it. Being under the in­flu­ence, they rarely mind ac­cusing others of having swiped it.

At this point, I be­lieved that Nasty Little Dude be­lieved what he said.

I also knew the sit­u­a­tion could get ugly.

I also knew that Mike would not be a good man to have in my corner—he couldn’t fight his way through a pack of 12-year old girls. 3

But I was raised to be nice (meaning I was a wuss who was often scared of his own shadow), so I said to the three guys, “Okay. Watch!”

And I reached around to the left pocket at the back of my slacks—ex­actly where Nasty Little Dude said I put the twenty—and pulled the lining out.

Nothing there.

That should have been the end of it, right?

Ex­cept Nasty Little Dude changes his story: “It’s in his right pocket!”

And I looked at the two big guys and I said, “So now I picked up a twenty-dollar bill, and put it in my left pocket, then moved it to my right?”

Just like Ralph Mac­chio.

So, being the nice, co­op­er­a­tive wuss that I was, I reached around to the right pocket at the back of my slacks—ex­actly where Nasty Little Dude said I put the twenty this time—and pulled the lining out.

Nothing there.

Now that should have been the end of it, right?

“It’s in his front pocket!” blurted Nasty Little Dude.

Had I been more sea­soned, wiser, less a wuss, I would have now in­ter­preted this as a fishing ex­pe­di­tion: they would go from pocket to pocket until they found the one where I had my money.

Had I been less a wuss, I would have told the three to “F*ck off.” They’d had their shot at my money, and they’d failed.

In­stead, I said, “Yeah. I have a twenty in my front pocket. It’s what I brought to spend.”

Sure enough, Nasty Little Dude said, “See! I told yuh!”

At which point these guys then wanted me to give them my twenty!

I no longer be­lieved that Nasty Little Dude be­lieved what he said. I now thought I was being shaken down.

At which point I did say, “F*ck off!”

The three guys started moving to­wards me.

At which point I heard someone say, “Hey, Neal! Every­thing al­right?”

The three guys turned around and saw three other guys staring at them. And not in a friendly manner.

At which point I said to the three guys, “Are we done?”

The three guys looked at each other, re­al­ized that the odds were now 5-3 against them, and they left.

I went over and thanked my rescuers—all of them local bar­tenders or bouncers—and bought them each a drink.

 

It’s been forty years and my memory isn’t what it used to be. So back in the ’70s, did I drink Jack Daniels be­cause Keith did? Or did Keith drink Jack Daniels be­cause I did? It’s tough get­ting old.

I could have asked for anything

At the bar, I or­dered a double Jack Daniels to stop my hands from shaking. And it wasn’t fear now. I was pissed off at my­self be­cause I had let some bul­lies get the best of me!

Again.

I was pissed off at my­self that I re­verted to my scared-of-my-shadow former-self.

Again.

Hu­mil­i­ated, I swal­lowed the whiskey and went back to Angie.

Here’s the weird part: de­spite acting like a wuss and em­bar­rassing my­self by not ending the whole thing after the first pocket, Angie thought I was mar­velous!

She thought I had han­dled the whole thing with as­sur­ance!!

I was her hero!!!

I could have asked her for any­thing (anything!) and she might have just gone and done it right then and there!

I never saw Nasty Dude again

I never found out whether Nasty Little Dude and his bud­dies were drunk and be­lieved that I had taken their money, or they were bul­lies who saw me as a target and thought they’d scare some money out of me.

If they were bul­lies, it worked.

I was scared.

I was shamed.

I never saw Nasty Little Dude again.

I never saw Angie again

Yeah.

It’s true.

I was shamed.

I never saw Angie again.

That’s how much of a wuss I was …

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   I typed “an­swering a ques­tion by re­peating the ques­tion” into Google and not one of the first ten en­tries ad­dressed this usage. In­stead, I found ar­ti­cles like “Ques­tion Dodging” and “Re­peat the Ques­tion to Buy Your­self More Time to Come Up with a Bril­liant Re­sponse.”

This seems to con­firm the cul­tural thing: to Google, an­swering a ques­tion with a ques­tion is a form of avoid­ance Or else I need to type better queries into search en­gines.

2   After the Great Flood of ’72, Joe re­dec­o­rated the place and rechris­tened it Vispi’s Camelot Lounge. Its new look prac­ti­cally screaming Gay! Didn’t bother any of the straight sin­gles who flocked there on Wednesday and Friday nights, the tra­di­tional sin­gles nights back then, back there.

3   Not that I would know what it’s like to fight my way through a horde of pre-adolescents!

 

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neal, in case i forget re­mind me never to go into a gay bar with you.

I have a few Vispis tales , but I don’t write as good as you.

Try …

Just found this story. I worked therefor a few years up to when they closed. Reg­ular hours and after hours. I could share but it was a long time ago. I thank you for sharing.