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Poetic License: Drinking buddies

By Staff | May 17, 2017

(From Sanibel Joe’s Songbook)

We nicknamed him “Negative Phil”

because he had learned

to substitute the military form

of denial for the simple word “No.”

At three o’clock every afternoon,

he sat in the same corner stool

at Dresner’s Other, a bar on 88th

and 2nd welcoming each new arrival

with a nod and lift of his beer stein

and if they responded, added

“at ease, men” then waited

for a reciprocal nod, an offer of drink

or conversation.

Negative and I,

hit it off from the start and we became

friendly dueling-banjos factoid mavens,

playing barroom Jeopardy:

“First player to play for three New York teams?”

“Who is Waite Hoyt, of course.”

“Quarterback against the Giants

when game broadcast

was interrupted by Pearl Harbor?

“Who is how can I forget Ace Parker?”

“Comedian composer of ‘Sam, You Made

The Pants Too Long”

“Who else but Uncle Miltie”

Some of the other regulars

told me he spent a lot of time

in the Yorkville library reference room

looking up questions

with which to trap me.

I didn’t mind, our bouts entertained

the regulars, occasional patrons

and Freddie the bartender, all of whom

joined in occasionally

with trivia traps of their own.

But when we ran out of questions,

he would begin talking about the city

in the good old days and how things

would never be the same again,

Jimmy Walker and LaGuardia,

they were real mayors and characters

and everyone was an American then

and not this minority crap,

affirmative BS, something

for nothing, Vito Marcantonio

giving Puerto Ricans 29 dollars airfare,

putting them on welfare

so they could keep re-electing him

to Congress – until one day I corrected him,

“Eighty dollars, Negative,

my mother paid eighty dollars to come over

on the banana boat from Puerto Rico.”

His face flushed for a few seconds,

then with the biggest s— eating grin I’ve ever seen

he asked me, “So you know Roberto Clemente,

Rita Moreno and Herman Badillo?

I lied and answered,

“Negative, Phil,”

and we never played Jeopardy

or drinking buddies again.