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"Hey, good evening, Frank. How’s the Farrell column going."

"Going pretty good today, Pipes. Just finished. I know it’s late, but I just felt like coming out for awhile. Say hello if you were working."

"Coming down here, 4th Street?"

Pipes’ smile showed he was kidding. Pipes and I were long time friends and his stomping grounds were his club on West 4th Street. We grew up, went to school and lived out our lives in these narrow streets of downtown. Known in song and story as 'the Lower East Side'. Until our lives took different paths. I went into the newspaper business and he got a little connected with the clubs.

"Yeah, where else am I going to find you, Pipes? And you always say the same thing. '4th Street?'"

The streets were narrow because they were old, and twisty and laid out in no pattern at all. That’s the way old New York City developed from the water’s edge between where the East River and the Hudson join. As it grew the wealth spread uptown and the new streets got more organized, they met and crossed at right angles, mostly.

But downtown stayed mixed up and over the years the neighborhoods kind of melted closer  together and shaped themselves into a curious little town within the city. Years ago, I don’t know exactly when, it became known as Greenwich Village. Even now, in 1962, with the Cold War still going on, and muscle cars tearing up the roads, and the new Corvettes making the scene, and rock and roll invading music, the Village kept its original neighborhood influences. A little mob, a little art, a lot of individualism and protest. West 4th Street was a little mob. Mostly mob backed clubs and pizza parlors and hotdog wagons at the curb with the original black cobblestones peeking through where the street blacktop was worn away. Pipes was part of the 'little mob' street.

"Well, it’s always good to see you, Frankie."

"What are you doing out here, Pipes? You’ll catch cold… least have a coat."

"Nah, I’m okay for a little."

He was the right guy to say ‘for a little’, because he was little. Short, that is. His natty black tuxedo made him look a bit thinner, but he was thick, short and in very strong. Like a fire plug. Pipes was a bit sensitive about his stature. He had started at the club as a bouncer and proved to be the best bouncer around. Not too much rough stuff after he became known, more the sheriff in town keeping order and civility. The owners liked that because ‘safe’ was a good way to attract tourist money  in exchange for their own darker shades of cash. So, they made him an owner, 10 percent, and he loved it. He loved the club atmosphere anyway and could display his singing pipes whenever he felt like. He had a mildly rough, warm way of expressing a song that folks liked. That’s where he got his name Pipes.

To me he was Angelo, but I called him Pipes, too, because he took some pride in that.

He was standing at the door to the club under the red awning that ran down to the curb. The edges of the awning were twisted with silver tinsel all the way to the street. A touch of tasteful seasoning, not gaudy. He watched me glance at the mild glitter.

"Just a little, Frank. What do you think?"

"Looks nice, Pipes. It’s the season." I met him with his warm familiar handshake.

"You got anyone nice for the season, newsboy,…..this year?"

"No, been too busy to look much. Seen some beauties, but haven’t tried."                                                                                                                                            

"Verna is here again, Frank. You know, I think I’m in love with her."

"Think? Anyone who knows you….even a little….can see that."

"No, I don’t show stuff like that."

"Well, anyone that listens when you sing together."

"I just sit in to play the piano for her."

"And sing, Pipes. You play and sing. The two of you are like cream and sugar."

"Naw, get out of here."

"You can't kid an old kidder, Pipes. We know each other, remember?"

He pulled open the door and motioned for me to go in. Vito, the car catcher, was just handing a stub to a shiny new 1962 Buick Riviera and his over-dressed date. Buicks, even a Riviera, didn’t quite make the classy cut. "Come on in. You’re full of crap, Frank. I got a nice little table for you. I got a number to do with Verna. It’s not love. I’ll even buy you a drink, the first one."

"I’m not full of crap, Pipes."

"You want that drink? Then, be quiet" And he was gone, but I still didn’t believe him. I could tell by the way he looked at her when they said a few words before the song. By the way he sang, low key, letting her have the lead. I took a sip of my drink and, then, noticed that Verna was singing to Pipes. The two of them together in their own little world. To hell with the customers, but I’d say the customers got a bargain, a touching performance they weren’t even aware of. But I was. When the set ended, Pipes came to my table and sat down. He propped his chin in his hand and shook his head. "You know, Frank, I have to admit it, I do love Verna. And I only know her a couple of years."

"That’s long enough, Pipes. You sounded good tonight.....together."                                                                                                                                      

"But what if she doesn’t love me. All those 4th Street guys after her."

"What 4th Street guys?"

"You know who I mean, the big shots around here."

A waiter came to the table. "Pipes, there’s a guy over there that’s trouble."

"Okay, Scotty, I hear him."

"Can you…?"

"I’ll be right there, Scotty. I know him. I’ll take care of it."

Scotty still looked worried. "It’s the cop."

"I know who it is. Go."

"Whose the cop, Pipes?"

"Local precinct cop. Sergeant. He keeps the block clean and quiet, but he gets loady sometimes. And loud. You stay here, Frank. I have to take care of this."

 The club was small and I could see the stir around a table across the room. West 4th Street clubs were not prize-winning designs, they were old houses taken over and tables packed in wherever they’d fit. Just a small showroom floor for whoever was the entertainer or band or piano player. Little Pipes was standing at the cop’s table talking to him and the cop was arguing back. The cop stood up a bit unsteadily, his tall figure reflected in the glass panes of the French doors behind him that closed off the overflow space. If there was ever an overflow. 

Pipes held up his hand in a calming motion and the big cop swung. Pipes’ fist shot out like lightning before the cop touched him, hit him hard in the face and the cop flew backward into the French doors. Broken glass and splinters of wood flew all over. Pipes waved two of his regular bouncers over and they picked up the cop and dragged him outside. Then, he waved to the waiters to get the backroom workers and motioned for them to clean up the mess.

In a minute, he was back with me, rubbing his knuckles and shaking his head. "Dumb shit he is."

"What now, Pipes?"

"Oh, nothing. He gets that way sometimes. He’ll get over it and want to come back. And I’ll let him." He smiled and shrugged. "Gives me a little workout from time to time, but he’s okay."

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I’m okay. He just spoiled my mood. We were talking about love and when I was singing with Verna, I guess I was in love. Then he acted up."

"So, are you in love with Verna?"

"Yeah, Frank, I guess I am."

"Does she know it?"

"I don’t know"

"C’mon, Pipes, walk me out. I’m going." Actually, I had just seen Verna going out with her coat on. We walked out and Verna was standing under the awning waiting by herself, tall and attractive, her silver gown shining out from under her coat in the soft light. Young Vito was standing aside like he didn’t know what to do, like he had no car to retrieve.

"There she is, Pipes. Why don’t you tell her and see what happens?"

"Ah, no, Frank. Look at her, she’s at least a head taller than I am. And so…...what would she want with a little guy like me. She’s so …..beautiful. Yeah, beautiful."


"But me? I don’t know, Frank."

Verna turned and saw us talking by the door. I stayed quiet and she continued looking at us. Or was she looking at Pipes?

"You might never know. Go, Pipes." And he went down to her. I just waited….and listened.

He looked up at her. "Verna, what are you waiting for?"

"I don’t have a ride, Pipes."

"You always have a ride."

"Not tonight, Pipes."

"Too bad. Well, let me call you a cab."

I think my eyeballs were going to flip a complete circuit. But Verna spoke.

"I was hoping you’d help me out."

Pipes stared up at her and pointed to his chest with his thumb. "Me, Verna?"

"Yeah, Pipes, you."

"Well, yeah, ….sure, I can drop you off home."

"Except I want to decorate my Christmas tree." She looked down at Pipes and bent her knees a bit so her silver gown brushed the sidewalk. And made her a tiny bit shorter. "I need help putting the star on....up on top, you know?"

Pipes had a great big smile when he was happy and he had one then. "Yeah, Verna, sure. I’ll take you home and….Vito, Vito bring my car." Pipes crooked his elbow and held out his arm for her to take, but Verna slid an arm around his shoulder and gave him the slightest hug. Vito held the car door for her.

I watched them drive away in Pipes’ elegant new Thunderbird and Pipes’ hand waving as they went. There wasn’t any Cold War or protests or trouble at all to disturb their new love in that season. Verna and Pipes had found their Christmas present.

Their love went happily on as they sang it together in January. In February, Verna moved in with Pipes, into his luxurious little apartment on the top floor of the club building and their love lit up the city around them. Spring came with the few trees on the city streets sprouting tiny green buds with maroon edges. One warm night as Pipes and Verna walked visiting friends out of the club, a jealous suitor for Verna, waiting in the night, stepped under the red awning and shot them both dead.

I miss my friend, Pipes.....and Verna was a bright star in his sky, too.

My life is a little emptier. But Verna and Pipes found a wonderful love. Their love wasn’t long, but it was sweet and true, a discovery that lit the cheap little world of West 4th Street with a warm glow.

That’s more than many folks ever find in little old New York.

                                                                           The End 

Bio: Who ever ran over a whale and what happened? I grew up in the endlessly fascinating New York/New Jersey Metro area. It was a big playground united by tunnels, trains, bridges and ferry boats. My adult territory grew until my zig-zag adventures took me half way around the world. What intrigued me were the revealing behaviors of people I met, the unexpected. Except for running over the whale, everything was people action, all kinds, with all kinds of results. I think that shows up in my stories and books. Life is not neat, everything doesn't turn out just so





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