COLUMN THIRTY-TWO, APRIL 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
PAWN TICKET ALVIN
(Drawing by Mark Christopher)
As a self-proclaimed existentialist, Pawn Ticket Alvin said he cared only at that final moment when caring became an absolute necessity. In the '60s, I once saw him wait until the final moment before he got up to do anything about a friend who was threatening to jump out the window. I, of course, remained totally paralyzed. It's only now that I can claim enough wisdom to judge that the final moment is often when it's entirely too late to care.
"Oh, well, I didn't really know him that good!" Pawn Ticket Alvin said somewhat morosely after the friend had jumped.
We were on the 12th floor, but Pawn Ticket and his friend were just playing a joke on
innocent, gullible, square-assed me. There was a four-foot-wide ledge four feet below the window and Pawn Ticket merely reached out and helped pull the friend back in as their laughter echoed through the air shaft. The friend explained:
"Pawn Ticket is like a South Vietnamese helicopter pilot. If the gadgets befuddle you, just pick out the ones you really think will work."
Pawn Ticket was one of those guys you saw carrying television sets and hi-fi components down East Tenth Street and across Avenue C in the three a.m. darkness of the Manhattan of those days. He also was reputed to've carried large air conditioners and small refrigerators.
"All for the cause of my favorite charity!" Pawn Ticket would laugh. "A small junk habit!"
Pawn Ticket Alvin was exceedingly strong for a man with a hole in his arm. The trouble was, he said, that he had discovered that methadone keeps you functional but heroin gets you high.
I met Pawn Ticket in the early '60s, when he was living in a Gramercy Park Hotel suite with two beautiful women and a Saluki, the kind of dog that Arabian sheiks lie down with. One of the women invited me in and I took off my coat and threw it over Pawn Ticket's bed. When the woman introduced me to Pawn Ticket, I got along with him famously for about the first 15 minutes, but, as soon as I learned that Pawn Ticket's chief role-model was Benito Mussolini, I knew he wasn't mainstream. The next thing that happened was that the Saluki started peeing on my coat.
My arrival had interrupted Pawn Ticket as he was poring over the layout of an apartment he was planning to burglarize. The apartment contained a Robert Rauschenberg original which Pawn Ticket had seen through the window while walking down the street. That spot on the sidewalk became Pawn Ticket's showroom. Pawn Ticket's M.O. was to keep bringing prospective buyers to that spot on the sidewalk so they could see the painting, too. In that way, Pawn Ticket finally found a buyer willing to pay Pawn Ticket's price.
Pawn Ticket claimed to be a burglar of the most refined taste. He also claimed to be a poet and a bass player, although I can't name any bands that he ever played with. He said he liked to jam around a lot, but the truth is that he often used his bass case to deliver quantities of drugs. It seemed to me that the musicians who jammed with Pawn Ticket didn't care if he brought along his bass so long as he brought along his bass case. As a matter of fact, there were some heavy weekends when Pawn Ticket, making the rounds of Manhattan's music rehearsal lofts, didn't have any room in his bass case for his bass.
Pawn Ticket always vehemently denied he was a dealer. He insisted he was a burglar. Peddling drugs to him was more of a social obligation. For Pawn Ticket, his role as a Johnny Appleseed of drugs had begun some ten years before, when he roomed with a rabbi's son in a slum tenement on Stanton Street, in one of Manhattan's cancelled neighborhoods. In the fifth-floor walk-up he shared with Pawn Ticket, the rabbi's son operated his own version of a bodega. The flat Pawn Ticket shared with the rabbi's son had a red geranium painted on the apartment door.
One day, a cop was going through the building knocking on each door. He was asking questions about a burglary which had occurred in one of the other apartments in the building. At the moment that the cop knocked on the door with the red geranium painted on it, Pawn Ticket and the rabbi's son were in their slum apartment smoking up the profits with a couple of friends. The place reeked with the aroma of marijuana.
"Who's there?" the rabbi's son called out.
"Police!" came the reply from the other side of the door.
Immediately everybody in the apartment began trying to swallow all the drugs they could get down and whatever they couldn't swallow, they threw out the front window. On the sidewalk below, there was a rain of hashish, marijuana, opium, junk, speed, cocaine, psilicybin, librium and every other controlled substance that was in recreational vogue in those days. A Puerto Rican walking to his home down the block was suddenly hit in the head with a piece of hash.
"What's this?" the Puerto Rican said, stooping to pick it up. "Dope!"
The partner of the cop knocking on the door with the red geranium painted on it was waiting behind the wheel of the patrol car, which was parked downstairs in front of the building. The partner happened to be looking through the windshield when the rain of
Even the cops
overlooked the tank of laughing gas hanging on the wall
whatever it was fell on the sidewalk and he saw the hash hitting the Puerto Rican. The partner got out of the patrol car to take a closer look.
By the time the cops broke down the door with the red geranium painted on it, the apartment that Pawn Ticket shared with the rabbi's son was squeaky clean. Of drugs, that is. Except for a tank of laughing gas hanging on the wall over the kitchen sink. In their haste, Pawn Ticket Alvin and the rabbi's son had overlooked the tank of laughing gas. The cops ended up overlooking it, too. They must've thought the tank was part of some kind of old-fashioned hot water heater hanging over the kitchen sink. After all, it was such an old and outdated building. The tank might even still be in that kitchen if the building hasn't already been torn down.
What finally happened was that the cops couldn't come up with a charge that would stick against Pawn Ticket and the rabbi's son. The last time I saw Pawn Ticket, he was peddling some guns to a Puerto Rican businessman during the police strike. He planned to steal the guns back, he told me. He was in an expansive mood. He took me to a local Lower East Side bar, bought me a drink and started telling me about a high-jumper friend of his.
"Once," Pawn Ticket said, "he jumped from Denver, Colorado, clear to San Francisco, California!"
Pawn Ticket was always good for a laugh, but he wasn't so good a friend that I would've trusted him with the key to my apartment. On the other hand, Pawn Ticket wouldn't have needed a key, so he really wouldn't have cared. That is, he wouldn't have cared until the final moment. Wouldn't that've been too late? ## NEXT: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ: PART 11
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