It was the summer of 74′. I was driving into Tulare about an hour south of Fresno. The temperature was unbearable. Even with the windows shut you could smell the cow manure hanging heavy on the air. At Neilsen’s diner people were talking about Nixon resigning. It was a lousy week of car trouble, heavy drinking and barely just enough cash to get me through this road trip before heading back to L.A.
You could see the heat waves rising on Hwy 99. I passed a teenager with a sign that said Portland. It could’ve been Willy Loman with a sign that said ” You gotta dream boy, it comes with the territory”! I had an appointment with The Owl & the Pussy cat shop. The store was well known throughout the San Joachin valley and the owner Lucy was as beautiful and sweet as the fruit that grew in this valley.
I had a variety of styles. Mary Quant mini skirts & hot pants knockoffs. Peasant blouses and Granny dresses with the frilly pie crust neck. She loved it all, and wrote a whopping $20,000 order. I thanked her, and told her how she turned my week around.
I was rolling my clothing racks back to the car when I came upon two clean cut young men dressed in blue suits, white shirts & ties holding bibles. They stepped into my path and said, “Sir have you found god”? I told them that I had indeed found god. I turned around and there was Lucy in the sunlight waving goodbye. I pointed to her and told them, “That’s god waving to us right now”! and continued rolling the clothing racks to my car. They seemed startled with my answer, and started to walk towards her. When I drove away, I saw them through the store window. Lucy the patron saint of salesmen, and the wayfarers.
Franky Stunziata pulled up to the curb in a shiny buffed out 67 Bonneville. The top was down and it was freezing outside. We loaded the trunk with about 500 cut garments that his uncle Vinny was going to sew in his factory in Florida for a cheap rate. All we had to do was drive it down and pick up a tan while we waited for the blouses to be sewn. I never saw Stunzi driving this car so I asked him about it and he said that he borrowed it from his cousin Crazy Sal to deliver it to Uncle Vinnie in Florida. Unbeknownst to me, Crazy Sal was looking for him and his car for the past few days.
Heading out of Brooklyn we run into Crazy Sal in another car and he starts chasing us at speeds that felt like 100 mph. Stunzi’s speeding down Fulton street yelling “Oh, shit” and I’m crouched under the seat peeing in my pants. I’m thinking, “let me out of here!” since I knew Crazy Sal and his neighborhood reputation. But my world investment is loaded in the trunk!
Before long we’re speeding over the Brooklyn bridge on our way to Uncle Vinnie’s tropical paradise. We finally lose Crazy Sal & his crew somewhere in New Jersey. We pulled off Hwy 95 and backed the car into some high weeds way off the road in the dark night so we wouldn’t be spotted by Crazy Sal & his crew. We fell asleep, and deep in the night we hear a loud rumbling sound and a huge headlight coming straight for the car. It was speeding right at us. At the last moment an enormous train turned on the track just barely missing the car. Stunzi starts the car, floors the gas pedal and the car must have slipped on ice or mud because we skid closer to the tracks and the car turned. Now we’re facing the train just inches from it. We jumped out of the car and crawled away. We waited till the train passed, which seemed like it was the length of New Jersey. Pushing the car up the embankment didn’t work, so Stunzi decided to drive the car on the train tracks!
We finally got to a highway diner as the sun is coming up and I’m trying to convince Stunzi that he needs to return the car to his crazy cousin or we’d have been better off being crushed by that freight train. Finally Stunzi makes a call to his uncle Vinnie who, by the way, is Crazy Sal’s father. Uncle Vinnie is pissed that Stunzi took Crazy Sal’s car.
Later that day we drive back to New York and I drop off my garments at a local sewing contractor. We leave the car a few blocks from Crazy Sals house. Stunzi calls Sal to tell him where he can find the car. A few days later I see Stunzi. He has a busted nose and his arm is in a sling. I always have a candle lit for Stunzi cause he told Crazy Sal that I knew nothing about it.
A few years later when I was in Los Angeles I received a letter telling me that Stunzi died as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. All I kept thinking about when I was holding the letter was when we were riding on the train tracks and the car was bumping up and down. He was singing, “Who put the bomp in the bomp shoo bomp shoo bomp? Who put the ram in the ramalama ding dong?”