Photo Source: Lisette Model
I had never seen Tom so worked up, an’ if you’ve ever spent any time around him, you’d know that that’s saying a lot. He’s the kind got something to say about everything from the sun rising to the sun setting, an’ once he starts, you can forget about getting a word in edgewise, if you had planned to do so. Lot of people walking by see the little guy getting all worked up making a point, pointing and flailing, they think he oughta be sent down to Bellevue. But those of us who know Tom know that that’s just how he is. He ain’t got a hurtful bone in him. He’s just got strong opinions, an’ he ain’t afraid to speak ‘em, is all.
It was one of them terrific cold mornings, the kind where the wind come howling across 44th an’ makes lighting a smoke or even holding on to a cup of coffee murder. I had started selling papers to the morning commuters heading to an’ fro Grand Central when Tom come strolling up Lexington Ave. Just seeing him I could tell that he had probably walked the 40-odd blocks from one of his favorite flop dives on the Bowery, an’ he was hot as a pistol.
For the obvious reasons, we call him “Tiny Tom.” On a good day he comes up to my hip. But what he don’t have in size he makes up for in heart an’ Moxie. I heard Tiny from across 44th. “can’tbelieveitcan’tbelieveitcan’tbeLIEVEitCAN’TBELIEVEIT!” he kept muttering, flailing his arms an’ almost jumping every few steps. He almost slipped on a patch of ice on one of his little leaps, in fact. I knew I was in for a little what-for as soon as Tiny got across the street, an’ I wasn’t disappointed.
“You ain’t goin’ beLIEVE what happened at Slim’s!” Tiny yelped as he leaned in on a fire hydrant next to my stand and picked up a Herald Tribune. “The Sub tried to turn the joint into a cabaret lounge!”
Now, like I said about Tiny, he ain’t got a hurtful bone in him. He’ll talk to anyone anytime, an’ he likes finding out what the other guy knows. In fact, one of the reasons he likes Slim’s so much is the clientele. It’s on the Bowery, so they get all kinds’a people what would be called bums an’ couldn’t get in a lot of places in other parts of town. Negroes, Chinese, guys that dress up like dames…Slim’s got ‘em all, an’ Tiny will talk ‘em all up. Like I said, Tiny may look like he’s got a screw loose, but if you know him, you know him, an’ you know he likes everything an’ everyone an’ wouldn’t hurt a flea.
What Tiny DON’T like is having things change so much so’s he’s caught off guard. When that happens, an’ esPECIALLY when it disrupts his routine at the bar, if you catch my meaning, he ain’t very happy. Slim is there most nights, but sometimes he takes a night off to dry out. On those nights The Sub – he’s Slim’s cousin, in case you don’t know – runs the joint, an’ The Sub has some crazy ideas.
“So I’m sittin’ there at the bar,” Tiny went on as the morning rush started to pick up. “The Sub is pourin’ drinks an’ slingin’ hash, an’ I’m talkin’ up The Tudor, an’ we’re all havin’ a grand time. An’ you know what that crazy son of a buck Sub does next?!?”
“Go on,” I says.
“You ain’t goin’ beLIEVE what that crazy Sub does next. He steps outside, an’ before we know what’s goin’ on he an’ another fella are rolling in a piano!”
“A piano?!?” I ask.
“A piano!” Tiny says. “All of us regulars, we’re sittin’ at the bar an’ our jaws drop. An’ The Sub, he goes ‘Surprise! I thought the joint could use a little livening!’ An’ I’m thinkin’ to myself, ‘livening?!? THIS place needs livening?!?’ An’, as if on cue, y’know Freddy, guy dolls himself up and calls himself Frieda? Well, he’s there, an’ he gets up an’ yells ‘Oh, what a GRAND idea!’ An’ he sets himself down at the piano, an’ he starts singin’ an’ playin’ them old Tin Pan Alley songs like ‘Down by the Old Mill Stream’ an’ ‘Swanee!’”
The sun was fully up, an’ foot traffic was getting heavier, an’ Tiny was on a roll. “An’ that piano didn’t do too damn much ‘livening’ in the joint, since Frieda was the only one listenin’ to it, an’ he was PLAYin’ it! I managed to hold on for about an hour, an’ then I couldn’t take it no more an’ I left an’ went o’er to McGirk’s. Imagine that! ‘Livening!’ An’ you know me. I really like Slim’s. It’s a good, honest, respectable joint, an’ you get all kinds here. People is people, an’ I like people a lot.” Tiny paused for the first time, just for a moment. “But I don’t want alla THEM kinds – the kinds that make all that racket ‘livening’ up the joint!”
Tiny stayed around ‘till I was done selling my papers, an’ then he and I went our separate ways. I went down to get a drink on Bleecker later, an’ passed by Slim’s on the way. Slim was back at the bar, an’ so was Tiny. An’ the piano was on the sidewalk collecting snow an’ garbage.