Faces Out of Folkus

By James Penha

“Eh, you sonyamabeach,” Porky smiled to a passerby who, deaf to the words spoken from the other side of the front window, tipped his fedora enthusiastically. Porky waved back. He turned to me. “Stupidoudatowna. Minneapoli, whaddayatink?”

We played such games during the afternoons at Folkus.

I used to hope Porky would, in appreciation of the beers I nursed during the quiet hours, reminiscence about the folk singers and rock stars whose plastic-covered pictures lined the back of the bar and, especially, about the legends, living and dead, whose glossy eight-by-ten adolescent faces gazed with ours through the window onto West Third Street.

I used to prod Porky to orate on the subject of the cultural phenomenon of which Greenwich Village was, during the late Eisenhower years through the few Kennedys and early Johnsons, a pulsing center. And Folkus was somehow its . . . well, its focus.

I used to ask Porky to tell me about Simon and Garfunkel’s “first” New York appearance (aside from the gigs at their high school in Queens) at Folkus, about Phil Ochs’ last, about the pubescent Dylan sparkling the eyes of Baez. “Eh, mashoes, donevanamember. Longatime. Nizza kidd. Eezza jewhich, yaknow? Nizza kidd, dough. Hizza name izza . . . ah . . . jewhich, yaknow?

“Zimmerman.”

“Dazzit. Eezzin Calaforna now.” Now was 1980. “MallaBu, I tink.”

I used to write it all down. Later, I stopped bringing a notebook.

So we played games during the day, as I inhaled the previous nights.

At night, Folkus imitated its own glory. I watched the youngsters shiver as they mounted the stage that had supported Pete Seeger and Woody’s sprout. And Jimi and Janis. I heard a few who would rise to CBGB’s and CBS and even LA to recall the Folkus platform to talk show hosts as a let-me-tell-you-about-the-joints-I-had-to-play-when-I-was-starting-out kind of place.

During our days—Porky’s and mine—the sun raised odors of spilled-over and pissed-out beers to nose level and illuminated other photos merely thumbtacked to the mock-velvet wallpaper in the backroom. Marvin Rainwater. Ian and Sylvia. Lord Buckley. The Dillards. Mickey and Sylvia. The Rooftop Singers. Glenn Yarborough. And the unluckier ones who never thought or could afford to superimpose their names on their stills.

Porky tended bar afternoons. Aware of his resemblance to Jackie Gleason, he liked to chug a snort and nasalize, “How sweedasheizza.”

I used to ask Porky about the Mafia. “No sechating.” But I think there was, and I bet Porky knew about it. How else to maintain ownership of a bar that grossed no more than $500 a week? “Tinka watchawanna. Sa free country, eh?”

There’s a busy McDonald’s now where Folkus once stood.

We played games. From his stool at the front window, Porky sputtered out, in a voice audible only on our side of the glass, obscenities at passersby whom he simultaneously greeted with welcoming gestures and grins.

Porky’s “Guess the Hometown” game was more challenging, although since we never found out the right answers, we could always assume we had won.

“Hoho, izzacoma Mista Solomon.” I shook my head, but could not wait. Mr. Solomon’s deafness had inspired Porky’s window games. He had been a patron for years. Even before Folkus was Folkus—when it was the Greenwich Village Follies Bar. Solomon may well have shared a beer there with O. Henry or Henry James.

Mr. Solomon ambled in, raised his right cane in salutation, and leaned against the bar. “Hello, Mr. Porky,” he yelled.

“Allo, assahola. Annudda beer, eh?” Porky drafted a Pabst, set it before the suited gentleman, and said, “Eh, I justapiss innit, pops.”

Mr. Solomon took a sip, careful not to spill a drop. “Hot today, Mr. Porcini,” he shouted.

“So iizaya wife. Sheezzunda dar bar blowina me.”

Mr. Solomon nodded.

Oh, to be Oral Roberts.

Mr. Solomon finished half his beer, wiped his lips with his immaculately white handkerchief, caned a good-bye, turned, and left the bar.

“Nizzaguy,” Porky said. He returned to his window seat. A rotund lady—from Des Moines for sure—stared at Cass Elliot. “Hey, you, mama, whaddyatink itza mirror?”

A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past nineteen years in Indonesia. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award.  Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry.

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