Tom Sutpen’s classy review of Sleazoid Express, by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford, certainly brought back the memories, to wit:
After I came back from Vietnam in December 1969 I got an invite to a New Year’s Eve party in Connecticut from Marty, who’d been on Gun 6 (“Bad Ass”), while I’d been on Gun Five (“Beatnik”). I took the train up from DC and met Marty in New Haven. He was living with his mom, Bella, who ran a dancing school. Like many dancers, Bella lived mostly on Miller’s High Life and Winstons. She’d had a fight with her landlord and to make a point he’d turned off the gas. Bella had three dogs. The one that sticks in my mind was Billygoat, a terrier who used to snap at us a lot , “a very nervous dog,” Bella used to say, which meant we were supposed to give him some space. Bella also had a Chihuahua, which she kept under a heating pad. In Mexico, of course, the Chihuahuas are supposed to keep you warm, but we were a long way from Mexico.
Marty and I went down to New York to see Elvin Jones at Slug’s, a club on the Lower East Side, which closed about a year later when trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot and killed on-stage by his wife. Slug’s had a two-drink minimum, which was hard to meet, because the waitresses spent all their time talking with their boyfriends. Slug’s is the only club I’ve ever been in that actually had sawdust on the floor. The waitresses, when they showed up, would empty the ashtrays by dumping their contents on the floor, which were swept between sets.
Slug’s was near Klein’s Delicatessen, which had signs on the walls left over from World War II: “Send a salami to your boy in the Army.” Klein’s served hot tea in glasses, the way they did in Russia. In one of Dostoyevsky’s novels, the characters discover that tea also tastes good cold. The invention of iced tea! And you were there!
After we saw Elvin Marty and I went back to Connecticut. A week later I was getting ready to go back down to DC when I noticed that Cecil Taylor would be playing at Slug’s. I got into New York around noon and had quite a bit of time to kill, because the first set wasn’t until 9:30. I hiked around Times Square quite a bit, which was a lot grungier than it is today, despite a heavy snowfall. It had a small, black and white billboard that said “Peace will happen if you let it. John & Yoko.”
The grindhouses at that time charged 99¢ a ticket. Striking a balance between quality and quantity, I chose the ultimate spaghetti western triple feature, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I don’t remember the name of the theater. When I walked in, the lobby was full of people just hanging out, presumably waiting to be picked up, though none of them looked much like Joe Buck. Most of them, in fact, made Ratso Rizzo look like Joe Buck, and that is not an exaggeration.
The seats were in incredibly bad shape, considering that the theater must have been “respectable” only a few years before. They were all split and cracked, like hundred-year-old leather, and the backs of most of them wouldn’t stay upright. The floor was semi-liquid. No one watched the screen. One guy in the row ahead of me I thought was going to break his back. He was sound asleep, stretched out in a broken-back seat, snoring his head off, his body arched like a rainbow.
On the screen, Clint smoked a lot of cigars and shot a lot of people. I think I came in in the middle of Fistful of Dollars and left in the middle of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I caught a cab over to Slug’s around nine and stayed for two sets. I left around two-thirty in the morning. The Lower East Side looked like the North Pole , nothing but ice. I started walking west, thinking I’d hail the first cab I saw. At every intersection I could look in all four directions and not see a single set of headlights. After about twenty blocks I figured I would save a few bucks and walk all the way to Penn Station. I arrived in plenty of time for “the Night Owl,” aka “the Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which did, and still does, leave the Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four, for the convenience of pub-crawling night owls in Philly, Newark, Wilmington, Baltimore, and DC.
If you didn’t see Times Square back then, believe me, you didn’t miss a thing.