Friday, November 27, 2009

Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister

V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with
His Sister, Telling the Truth as He Knows It:
Parkland Hospital, December 31, 1966

So ask me how many times did I know anything, really.
in this life. Ask me did anyone ever bother handing over
anything I could use. These days almost no one recognizes me.
Up here on the sixth floor, I’m Jack Shit in a bathrobe.
And the doctors making their hypodermic rounds are claiming
everything’s for the pain, as if that’s what they’re trying to get rid of.
I’m not supposed to realize they are delivering more of the cancer
because obviously someone out there still thinks enough of me
to want me gone, especially now with my conviction overturned.
and instead of getting the Chair I’m down for a new trial out of town,
somewhere that isn’t Dallas. These last three years that’s all
I’ve asked for: let’s go someplace else and talk. I should live
so long. I’d say a few things so good, they’d stay said that way
forever. Three years go by, and I’m not your same brother. I’m related
to history now, condemned to keep repeating myself until someone finally
listens. I want to put things right. But not here.

After that sorry Oswald collapsed, I admitted doing it
to show the world that Jews have guts. Or to spare the widow Jackie
another trip to Dallas.
At the time, I was shooting for impulsive
or sympathetic – reasons enough, it turns out, to convict me anyway.
But now someone’s decided anything I said clearly should have been
inadmissible. My lawyer Belli tried to sell the jury I’m a victim
of psycho-something epilepsy – all you need to know is blackouts, Jack.
Hell, I wouldn’t buy that myself is Jesus Christ was giving it away
on the courthouse steps. It took the jury less than an hour
to figure of course I’m guilty, and what else could they say.
No one in that courtroom was expecting an order of death, but that’s
what the jury recommended. I could have gone for something lighter
that early in the morning. Death seemed a little much.

Real guts would have been telling Marcello’s guys to shoot their craps
in hell when they called me of all people, wanted me to know
some unsuspecting putz I’d never heard of in my life had failed
to leave the country fast enough or else –
by sheer coincidence, you understand – get taken out himself. Instead,
he’d been brought in by the wrong cops, unexpectedly
alive. Lee Fucking Oswald – another one of history’s three-name nutjobs.
And I could feel it slipping away, that moment
he was still their unfortunate problem more than he was mine.
They were thanking me already for remembering who
I should gladly thank for being still alive in the nightclub business.
And this is when I figure out what’s going on for myself: it’s not
some half-cocked flake on the loose by himself in Dealey Plaza.
And this is when I know I’ve got to take the play. If I don’t,
all kinds of things get taken from me, fast.
And I know people in this town who would never be able to get enough
of that: Yessirreee . . . hitting a Catholic boy’s not bad at all
but can we still get us a Jew?

I came out of fucking nowhere,
and I’ve been working my way back ever since. But there’s no way
I’m about to die even close to guilty in the eyes of the law.
I’ve been reversed for two months now, and it’s as if what happened
never happened – my part, at least. I’m almost beside the point.
I said it before: I’m history. I’ll stay written down forever
in the Warren Commission Report. Twenty-six books it took those guys
to dish out all the bullshit required to conclude what they already had
in their made-up minds to begin with: Oswald. Only Oswald.
Once they’ve got that down cold, the Ruby, only Ruby part’s a snap.

I’ve got my own Magic Bullet Theory, and this one you can take
to the bank. It’s not any single shot zigzagging through Kennedy
and Connally, opening seven wounds and breaking bones along the way
before finally emerging as Warren Commission Exhibit 399 when it’s found
hours later, pristine on a stretcher here at Parkland.
My theory says
it’s the bullet all of us have to bite, sooner or later, like our lives
depend on it – a kind of making do, getting by this shaky way
or that, even if we’d rather not. It’s nothing that goes through us
and comes out clean on the other side. It’s whatever we have to go through,
ourselves, at midnight or high noon. With no one watching.

And when a few minutes go by, or days, or years of actually feeling
free, in the clear, like we’ve dodged another round of trouble and maybe
we can get back to business as usual: here comes that unmistakable bullet
with our name on it again. Just like in the cartoons, now it’s changing
directions, about to hit us one more time in the ass. And that means
one more time we’ll have to swear we never saw it coming.

So Happy Fucking New Year, Sis. How about you try the Ritz
or maybe Phil’s for some pastrami, corned beef on rye with a few extra
kosher dills. Bagels and cream cheese, lox and green onions. I say
bring it all on. This is still America, last time I checked,
and who knows. Maybe I’m still strong enough to keep a lot of it down.
You tell them you’re there for Jack Ruby. And how much
I appreciate that. Tell them make it lean, because Jack Ruby did everybody
at least one favor in his life. Tell them what I told you:
more than ever, I’m history. But I was there for them, too.
And if your order’s not completely on the house after all of that,
you tell them, if it’s not asking for too damn much,
for all the business your brother’s done his part to keep them in,
maybe he could get finally a little credit this one time.
Only make it sound better, OK? Make me sound better. Not so small.
You’re so good to me, it hurts. Play it however you want to,

but you never even thought about any of this, let alone discussed it
with me or anyone else, until you saw that, to your surprise,
they were still open on New Year’s Eve. And you walked through the door.


From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

The Difference a Day Makes (part 4)

IV / The Difference a Day Makes
(part 4)

This morning Jack’s getting in free. When he arrives
in the basement garage at 11:19, he hears a car horn honking
from the top of the exit ramp its shave-and-a-haircut, two bits.
A phone call goes up to the third floor, where Oswald’s squirming
Into the sweater he’ll wear for the transfer: everything’s in place below,
it’s time to put this show into motion. But truthfully, so much is utterly
out of place: reporters are hopelessly mixed in with the police,
who are supposed to fall into a protective human corridor formation
when Oswald’s finally escorted to what they’re calling the getaway car
for his painstaking ride back to Dealey Plaza and the county jail
twelve risky blocks from here. And that car’s nowhere in position
at the bottom of the ramp, but Jack is: no badge, no press credentials,
but he’s on official business nonetheless, and the cops have let him
get this far at least in this roughhouse ballet of synchronized movements.

This is going like dimestore clockwork:
Oswald’s coming down in the elevator, Jack’s moving along the railing,
one hand in his pocket, the other at the brim of his fedora.
The klieg lights have cast everyone down here in their most unflattering light,
and Jack’s trying hard to concentrate on his small piece of the action.
He’ll only have a single take to hit his mark, deliver, and get lost.


And Oswald’s off the elevator, headed toward the cameras.
He’s walking Jack’s way, expressionless,
a detective on his left arm, another manacled to his right wrist
and it’s just a crazy, fleeting though, but Jack can’t help thinking
what a sharp cut of cream-colored suit the handcuffed detective’s wearing.
The gun’s out of his pocket by now and he’s pushing irretrievably forward
a few more feet until there’s nothing between himself and Oswald
in his crummy thriftstore sweater that can possibly save them.
And Jack’s holding his arm straight out as if he’s about to hand over
a gift or ask for an autograph, but instead there’s this irrevocable
pop as he unloads his single shot at point-blank range.


Two men have just gone down so close together in the crowd that at first
it’s hard telling who’s who, but one of them is smaller, down for good.
They’re giving him artificial respiration – the worst idea in the world,
considering where that sudden bullet’s lodged. They’re doing their best
to restrain the other man, giving him some half-assed third degree,
as if he’s really listening. The last he knew, he’s among friends here.
He’s pissed they’ve knocked him down, and where’s his fedora, this isn’t
the way he pictured it going. They’re treating Jack Ruby like a perfect
stranger in their midst, and there’s a sickening feeling coming on
strong in Jack’s stomach, too. He’s only trying to get away
with the rest of his life, but not so fast: there are still too many
questions, and no one’s going anywhere but down again today.


V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister


From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

The Difference a Day Makes (part 3)

IV / The Difference a Day Makes
(part 3)

The good people of Dallas are going to church or, forgivably,
staying home this one Sunday to watch the TV coverage of America’s
ceremonial grief. Today the cortege will leave the White House,
making its darker, anti-motorcade way up Pennsylvania Avenue
to the Capitol Rotunda. There’s not a chance Jack’s staying home
to be any part of that. He waited hours by his phone for someone to call
this whole thing off, but he’s long gone now. He’s been to Western Union
wiring money to his pregnant dancer in Fort Worth. The entire Carousel crew
except for Jack is out of work for the weekend, and Little Lynn especially
could use the tiding over. Jack’s hoping to use his generosity later
as the reason he’s downtown at all coincidentally with his cash
and a loaded gun. Wherever he is right now, he’s only protecting himself.
He’s carrying two thousand dollars. He’s wired Lynn twenty-five bucks.
His Western Union receipt says 11:17, and he’ll say he wasn’t even thinking
about the police station one block away until he finished his transaction
and figured it was Sunday, what the hell, he had a little extra
time to kill and his surplus curiosity and how’s he supposed to know
that the ballyhooed 10 AM transfer of Oswald from the city lock-up
to the county jail had been delayed. Let them all think Jack’s too late
for any premeditation. This is his only chance: it’s got to play out
as a stroke of dumb luck – good or bad, depending as always
on where you’re standing. Spontaneous is the word he’s looking for.


Jack’s walking down from Western Union to the station right now.
The Preludin he’s swallowed no doubt quickens his step. He’ll be there
in ninety seconds. Not that Jack really needs the extra stimulation,
but for months he’s been telling his doctor all the good it does him:
I’m a positive thinker. I don’t have any inferiority, and my reflexes
are fan-fucking-tastic.
And Jack is positive no one’s going anywhere
quite yet. Finally there’s a party in Dallas that won’t be starting
without him.
He’s wearing a white shirt, black silk tie, his best
charcoal-brown suit, black shoes, and grey fedora. Pretty spiffy
for nothing more than a casual errand. He knows exactly where he’s been
headed all along. This is one of Jack’s special detective get-ups.
He read a sidebar in yesterday’s paper: in 1901 the Buffalo, NY police,
worried about a hostile crowd, sneaked out President McKinley’s assassin
by dressing him as a cop. Surely Jack can turn that around with ease.
He’s practically an honorary cop already, so what
could it hurt to take that approach himself today, sneaking in.

Appearances are deceiving, but only if you’re willing to work at them.
Jack bathes and shaves twice daily. It’s like getting one more crack
at the same gritty day. He pampers his skins with lotions and creams.
He swims and works out when he can at the Y. He’s always operated
on the notion that what’s on the outside makes or breaks a person.
in this world. What’s inside may be an entirely different story,
and even that one changes a little every time it’s told.


What’s inside Jack’s white, two-door 1960 Oldsmobile this morning:
two sets of metal knuckles, the holster for his pistol, a paper bag
stuffed with another thousand dollars, a stash of unpaid parking tickets.
Several white handkerchiefs, for the show of sweat Jack always manages
doing the simplest things. A white bathing cap, a left golf shoe,
a roll of toilet paper, one can of paint, a Lo-Cal chocolate shake.
Days of newspapers full of Kennedy’s impending visit, but folded open
to the pages with the nightclub ads. A notebook listing the names
and numbers of cops with lifetime free passes to the Carousel.
And Sheba, Jack’s beloved dachshund, who goes everywhere with him –
to work, back home, to favorite all-night restaurants: I call her
my wife. We argue and we make the hell up
. She’s his stroke-of-genius
ace in the premeditation hole: no one would believe he’d ever leave her
waiting in the car unless really he had no idea what he was about to do.
Part of him doesn’t believe it himself, and it’s all he can do to walk away
and not look back.

But the main thing Jack hopes anyone would notice
is the snazzy wash-and-wax job. As far as he’s concerned today,
anything beyond that is one else’s business. Anybody’s guess.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Difference a Day Makes (part 2)

IV / The Difference a Day Makes
(part 2)

Jack’s too wound-up to sleep. His heart is thumping to a tune
he can’t begin to carry. Especially not here at 4 AM, but at least
Friday’s over in America. Officially, it’s a new day that finds jack
in the main office of the Dallas Times Herald, showing off
his latest sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme – the Twist-erciser,
a five-dollar exercise gimmick based on what’s left of the dance craze:
a platform the size of a bathroom scale, set on seventy ball bearings.
Jack steps us, and he swivels. He shimmies. He’s turning in every
direction at once, a squat 180 pounds of wobbling, centrifugal force.
He’s trying to get dibs on its national distribution,
so are there any questions he can answer, how many are they good for.
He’s in a crowded, smoke-filled room again, but this time Jack
is the only reason. These people need some kind of relief about now.
A few of them are laughing until they hurt, until it only looks like
crying. They never knew what this guy was going to think of next.
And Jack’s laughing too, like there is no tomorrow. He needs buyers
right now for whatever he’s selling. He can’t keep spinning this way
forever. Another night’s taking a sharp turn into the next morning
in the middle of his life, and Jack’s still going.
He’s hanging on. He’s trying not to lose his balance.


Jack’s collapsed on his living room sofa
in whatever version of sleep shear nervous exhaustion allows him.
Something happened this Saturday afternoon that turned him around
and upside down, bringing out the hangdog he keeps shut up inside
his garrulous, showboating self. He hasn’t done anything yet,
but he’s hiding out finally where no one would ever think to look.
Jack Ruby is unbelievably home, and he’s holing up here until morning.

He shouldn’t have answered the phone ringing off the hook at the Carousel.
He was only there because where else is he supposed to be.
This time the police were looking for him. They were actually asking
for the pleasure of his company. They were passing down the word
that sounded suspiciously like the word that sent him from Chicago
to Dallas in the first place. And Jack has forty thousand reasons why
he’ll still be good enough. If he doesn’t get it done, he’s as good
as dead, he’s got a feeling, stranded and uncelebrated forever
in Dallas. Maybe this can be at last his parting shot, his ticket out.
With no warning, he’s in way over his head. But he’s in, goddamn it,
he’s in.
And in a flash he sees who the cops are working for.
He can only imagine the months of rehearsing that went into this
One Show Only in Dealey Plaza. The only flub, apparently, was Oswald,
who never understood his part to begin with – one more hapless actor
asking whoever’s directing What’s my motivation? Now he’s absolutely
off the script, and who knows what he’ll say with the cameras rolling.

So here’s where Jack comes in: last-minute bit-part addition, a walk-on
to end all walk-ons. And he can be a real quick study when he has to.
It’s the weekend’s sudden acceleration: in a matter of seconds Jack goes
from knowing zero to knowing just enough to be dangerous tomorrow.
He’d rather be smack in the middle of another Carousel Saturday night,
bouncing some unruly asshole down the stairs if he had to, OK,
but that guy would always manage to pick himself up off the ground
and get on with the rest of his no-account life.


Jack’s turning over and over in his sleep. There’s no way he’ll ever
get comfortable tonight. Maybe it’s just another bad dream: this owner
he knew years ago from a competing club is slashed bad in a fight.
Jack hustles down to Parkland again to donate some of his own blood.
And when the guy wakes up, there’s Jack at his bedside,
shaking his head and whispering Well, I guess we’re partners now.
Jack’s always taken pride in working alone, but he can’t tell
if the Jack in the dream is only kidding.
And it’s getting all mixed up
with the episode of Gunsmoke on the TV Jack never turned off.
Now he’s in a crowded saloon, pushing past Marshal Matt Dillon
and his gimpy-legged deputy, Chester B. Goode. He’s looking around
desperately for the high sign from some flunky at the bar, but
before the bad guy of the week can make it through the swinging doors,
Miss Kitty smiles and drops her skirt, and everyone in the place can see
she’s packing enough heat to kill any man several times over. And Jack
is sweating a lot by now. He’s reaching deep into his pocket
for one of his Carousel cards. He need a new headliner with genuine
star power, some undeniable class, and they should discuss what’s possible
after whichever one of them gets to Oswald first.

This whole thing
could turn out all right, he’s guessing. In the bargain there’s a chance
he could be treated like some kind of hero. And he’d be saving Jackie
the emotional expense of coming back to Dodge for the trial. He can almost
see it now: there goes the Chicago Cowboy riding off into the credits,
heading north again into a long winter of television snow.


IV /The Difference a Day Makes (part 3)
IV /The Difference a Day Makes (part 4)
V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister


From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

The Difference a Day Makes (part 1)

IV / The Difference a Day Makes
(part 1)

You guys all know me. I’m Jack Ruby.
– to the policemen who wrestled him
to the floor after he shot Oswald

You can get more out of me. Let’s not break up too soon. I have been used for a purpose, but it can’t be said here. Unless you get me to Washington, you can’t get a fair shake out of me. Dallas is a homicidal town.
– Ruby, to Earl Warren

When the motorcade hits Dealey Plaza, Jack’s five blocks away
at the Dallas Morning News, placing an ad for the Carousel.
He’d be at the parade, but he’s already pushing the paper’s
Friday-at-noon deadline, and these days he has to pay up front
for everything. In the composing room a portable TV can barely contain
the breaking news. Jack can’t believe anyone would whack a president
in this kind of broad daylight.
He’s stunned but undeniably
excited, racing to Parkland Hospital. He’s always known the shortest route
to any spectacle in Dallas. There’s bound to be some serious actiongoing down there, and he wants to be one of the first to find out
if Kennedy’s going to make it. And if not, should he close the club –
it would be the gentlemanly, graceful thing to do –
and for how many goddamn nights?

He’s there in time to hear the doctor pronouncing death. A black eye
for the city
, Jack says to the man standing next to him. And why
does it have to be the weekend, when things are smoking most
in his business? A Saturday is worst of all to lose.
His ad’s already paid for, true, but surely for Jack Ruby
they can turn it into something more respectful: Closed or In Memoriam.
Whatever’s classy. He’s up to his neck in this historic moment:
no club he’s put over half his heart or money into voluntarily
has been dark for even a single night. He hope those unpatriotic
Weinstein brothers in their greed stay open for everyone to see.


It’s way past dark when Jack makes one of his trademark stops
at Phil’s Delicatessen: a dozen corned beef sandwiches, a dozen
bottles of celery tonic. He’s jawing to the counterman: In my mind
suddenly it mulled over me that the police were working overtime
So to speak. An impossibly detailed description of the suspect,
Oswald, was circulating scant minutes after the fatal shots were fired.
Seventy-five minutes later, he’s hauled out of a movie theatre,
a matinee showing of Audie Murphy’s War is Hell, and this day in Dallas
has been that kind of war: president assassinated, governor wounded,
a mail-order rifle and shell casings found in the Book Depository,
an Officer Tippit gunned down miles from Dealey Plaza, supposedly
with a mail-order Smith & Wesson .38 in the hands of this scrawny,
omnipresent 24-year-old ex-Marine. And something about Russia
and Fair Play for Cuba, and Jack is still waiting for his order
and thinking out loud it’s in-fucking-credible, how fast
they’re fitting all these pieces together. How much news there really is.
And foot soldier Jack wants in before this war is over. He’s not too proud
to buy his usual position up at the front line. From way back
he’s been an enlisted man with a bad haircut, but he can dream,
can’t he: No shit, it’s been a nightmare, Phil. And my goddamn feet
are killing me
. He means this day in Dallas. How it just doesn’t quit.


Jack steps off the elevator at midnight, and cockeyed luck is with him:
he’s being swept along through the crowded hall to the Dallas PD’s
basement assembly room where Oswald’s about to be put on display
so the rumors that this prisoner’s been in any way manhandled
can be laid to rest. In this blur of wingtip shoes that’s passing
for history’s forward momentum, no one’s about to stop Jack Ruby.

In his dark suit and customary snap-brim, Jack could almost be
a plainclothes detective. He’s standing on a table in the back,
craning his neck, making notes like a reporter. He could be mistaken
for either one, and for the moment he’s having it both ways:
the time of his imaginary life. He’s correcting the district attorney
who’s just mentioned Oswald and Castro and a “Free Cuba Committee” –
that’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Don’t these guys ever listen
at least to the news? And now comes his first good look at Oswald
himself: he seems so small, so lost in the crowd, as if
he’d be a lot happier right now giving a souped-up Chevy the gas
and gunning down Main Street until there’s nothing but the day ahead.
Even his matter-of-fact I’m a patsy is all but swallowed up
in this ricochet of questions, the crossfire of self-congratulation.

And no matter where he finds himself, this is Jack’s time of night.
A few more minutes, and Oswald’s gone. Show’s over, but Jack
is in no big hurry to leave. He likes being awake at this hour
with his usual roll of cash and loaded snub-nose in his pocket.
And this evening’s no exception. Yes, he should be considered armed
but not real dangerous tonight. He’s pressing the flesh
with the out-of-town reporters, handing out his “Jack Ruby, Your Host
at the Carousel” calling cards, and they should try to stick around
a few days, he can make it worth their time. The drinks are on him
when the club reopens, when all the Dallas hoopla finally dies down
and Jack can make it his business again to give folks a little
something they can’t get at home: a taste of pizzazz and a shot
of hubba-hubba
. And when the reporters ask can they quote him on that,
he says of course, he does it all the time himself.


IV /The Difference a Day Makes (part 2)
IV /The Difference a Day Makes (part 3)
IV /The Difference a Day Makes (part 4)
V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister


From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

Jack Ruby Talks Business with the New Girl

III / Jack Ruby Talks Business with the New Girl:
November 21, 1963

I will say this only once to you, I promise: business
is business. It’s nothing personal. All business
is good business. You heard of selling the sizzle,
not the steak? Be sure you’re only sizzle. Nothing but.
They’re hungrier than that, they can beat it somewhere else.
I run this place so clean, some nights people hear it squeak.

Smile all you want, but no life stories, ever. I never knew
a smile that hurt, but keep your real name to yourself.
And when you hear whatever name you’re going by tonight,
it’s your turn to dance. And you dance. With class. Like
nobody’s business. You make your entrance, hit your mark,
and get it done. And let’s face it: the music
isn’t much. But it’s all yours. Do what you can.

And somebody thinks he knows how to soften you up with sweet
talk or a roll of bills, remember: you always know better.
This is no business to make that kind of mistake in.
Take it from me: you don’t want to walk into anything
you can’t talk your innocent-enough way out of.

And if there’s trouble you didn’t see coming, don’t worry.
That’s what I’ll be out there looking for. I may be incognito,
just another hat in the crowd. But if you want to know the truth,
all you have to do is ask. You say Jack and I swear
I’ll come through. Say the word, and some guy’s as good as dead.
He’ll learn fast: guys like him are our business, and who we are

is really none of his. As long as you’re working for me,
you’re covered. Partners. No matter how it has to mostly seem.
Yeah, you’re the one who’s out there at point-blank range,
but I will never leave you twisting in the wind, whichever way
it’s blowing that night, alone in any of this business.


IV / The Difference a Day Makes
V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister


From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Chicago Cowboy

II / The Chicago Cowboy

I have heard stories of personalities that are notorious. That is the extent of my involvement in any criminal activity.
– Ruby, to Earl Warren (1964)

We could not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime.
– The Warren Commission Report


It was 1947. Jack heard he’s be getting a call.
After all these Windy City years, it was surely his time to go West
and he was thinking Los Angeles, maybe Vegas. He was thinking
he was that important: finally they’d let him have his own piece
of some sophisticated action. When the word came down
he’d be heading to Dallas, Jack couldn’t believe someone had him
all wrong. His talents would be wasted in a nowhere town like that.
The Chicago Boys smelled Texas oil, and they were looking
to control the wide-open gambling scene. They thought of Jack
as a man who could handle the chump change, and would he please
be good enough to dole it out as needed, making fast friends
with the Dallas police?
They promised he’d feel bigger down there,
and Jack had to admit he liked the sound of that, even if
down there was some kind of joke. He’d suck it in. He’d zip it up.
He’d be their Chicago Cowboy, as long as he got his.
He’d ask them to spring for a little velvet, something jazzy
In a white snap-brim hat. He could show them good, but
they shouldn’t count on Jack anymore to be that good for nothing.


Sixteen years later there’s not much left for Jack to think about:
the Carousel club, 1312 ½ Commerce. The half’s because he’s one flight up,
where rent’s a little lower. The stenciled message on the stairway wall,
A FEW STEPS CLOSER TO HEAVEN, wasn’t Jack’s idea. The single
rectangular room wasn’t quite the place he’d hoped for, either.
He’d dreamed of a sumptuous club-in-the-round, slowly revolving
on the top floor of a tower, where some kind of breathtaking view
was just a reservation away.

Still, by his peculiar standards,
he’s made the most of it: jet-black booths, dark red carpeting,
gold mesh curtains. Over the bar, a squadron of gold crowns
hanging from the ceiling – Jack liked the idea of working around those.
From the moment he first walked in and took over the operation,
he could see it wasn’t called the Sovereign for nothing.
And one enormous black velvet painting of a well-hung stallion in gold.
Jack guaranteed the bartender who helped him nail it to the wall:
The 3-D effect is what makes it real class. His favorite word,
class, is all he wants to be known for. This wouldn’t be a joint,
but a nightclub. And his girls would be dancers, hostesses,
. Truly a man ahead of his euphemistic time, this Sultan
of Schmooze, this Kibitzer King, with his homespun sense of nobility.
And this is his low-rent kingdom. Welcome to the house
that Jack built: If they complain about the two-dollar cover,
tell them it’s worth it just for an eyeful of the d├ęcor. We’re fucking
class on top of class in here.


Before making a go of the Carousel: the Silver Spur. The Ranch House.
Hernando’s Hideaway. Then enough of the Texas motifs. Let’s try
the Vegas. And, of course, the Sovereign. Jack had a rapid succession
of dreams that didn’t stick. But this is the one he can’t seem
to shake: the Carousel, sandwiched between the Weinstein brothers’
Colony Club and the Theatre Lounge – where every night is Amateur Night
and the Weinsteins have got Jack fuming. He’s the one paying
for professional talent, trying to keep up some thin veneer of class.
He’s been known to travel out of town just to recruit it.
He’s still trying to live up to the good name he’s made for himself.
Jacob Rubenstein’s no proper name for a night-spot operator.
The reporters and cops come here to hang with Jack Ruby, club owner,
Producer, dispenser of small favors: free drinks any time.


If you ask Jack, he just can’t help thinking of Dallas
as one gigantic Amateur Night. In his heart it’s never been a city.
Back when Chicago was nearly wiped out by fire, Dallas was barely
on the map, too green to burn. It’s still too new. There’s no fire,
there’s nothing neighborhood about it, and Jack is neighborhood
all the way: do-for-you, do-for-me. No questions. No problem.
He learned his lessons on solid concrete stoops, along miles
Of narrow fire escapes, in tenement backyard clothes-flapping breezes
where any street worth its name had something new to teach you,
like how you could finally manage to stand to your own full height
and deliver. Even as a sawed-off kid, Sparky Rubenstein delivered:
sealed envelopes, a buck an errand, for Capone’s associates.
He pushed keychains, bottle openers, knives from a cart. Scalped tickets
outside Soldiers Field, hustled peanuts during the game. He sold himself
on helping others: tip sheets at the races. Carnations in the dancehalls.
Awful chocolates in the burleyque’s raucous dark.


Jack believes in what he insists on calling his orchestra:
four sorry tuxedos sitting at the back of an otherwise naked stage.
Ever since the night a musician bit off the tip of Jack’s finger,
there’s been no love lost between Jack and the music. Still, he wants
to do it up right. He’s always looking for any cut above.
More clothes are coming off to the sound of rock ‘n roll records
all over town. But where Jack’s the master of ceremonies,
he wants everything live.
He’s making his uneasy way through the crowd
with a microphone in his hand, when bang, out of nowhere:
the drummer’s rim-shot. And good evening, he’s our host, Jack Ruby,
and we’re not going to believe what he’s planned for us this time.


The best music Jack ever heard was in Havana.
When he squeezes shut his eyes just right, he can still see
the dazzling lights of the Tropicana after sundown. Now, that
was a nightclub, cabaret, casino supreme – room after room
of posh and glitz. No other action in the world came even close.
In exchange for delivering some crates of unnumbered rifles and guns,
Jack shot the Caribbean breeze with the wheels of the operation:
Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello, and his particular heroes,
Meyer Lansky and brother Jake. As long as Batista could hold on,
there would be the fabled Tropicana, where the insignificant likes
of Abe and Barney Weinstein would be spots on the silverware.
Everyone at the table knew what was coming if Castro moved in to stay:
there goes the glittering neighborhood.

But no one can take it away
from Jack now: his few days in the Cuban sun, the bloody steaks
a cut above, the umbrella drinks he never touched, but he liked how
they were there for him. Trafficante himself nearly busting a gut
when Jack played Conway Twitty air guitar on It’s Only
Make Believe
. And Jack soaked it in, he ate it all up, this living
at last high off the hog, an honorary Kosher Nostra boy.


This afternoon Jack’s in his tiny Carousel office,
and his head is spinning. Along with the gun-metal-grey desk,
beat-up easy chair, and the hand-lettered sign on the wall – SHOW
SOME CLASS – now there’s a safe Jack actually had installed.
For the man who’s always kept his cash in brown paper sandwich bags
or wadded thick in his pockets, who’s never had a checkbook,
who never cracks a smile when he calls his money dough,
this may take some serious getting used to. He’s on the phone,
letting his attorney know he’s just in from the Tropicana
in Vegas, and he’s got the simoleons to pay off his back taxes.
And Jack is nearly giddy, for Jack. He’s off the hook again.
He can keep his doors wide open for the indefinite future.

They’d told him it was the least they could do, a small 40-grand
favor he should consider more of a thank-you for all the years
in the Texas sun. For being there.
And for a minute
he almost dreams himself out of his cash-and-carry life. Jack’s
good for it
is what they’d said. For Dallas. For business.
For the long green. Somewhere out West he’s sure he could be
a real nightclub operator. A-listed partygoer. Fedora sensation.

Confidant to the stars.
But there’s no time off for good behavior
in the Lone Star State, and the Chicago Cowboy will be right back
where he’s always been: would-be highroller in a rumpled suit,
in precarious business for himself again
a few steps short of heaven. 1312 ½ Commerce – halfway between
the police station and the county jail. A rock-and-a-hard-place
kind of thing
, he jokes nightly at the mike. The cops drink free
and barely pay attention. But except for the Weinstein brothers,
Jack’s never minded being in the middle. If there’s any action.

So plug him in and light him up. Full of his misguided sense
of decorum, he’s about to go out there again and try shooting off
his mouth full of cornball gratitude in front of another crowd
that isn’t here to listen. They’ve paid their deuce apiece
for Girls! Girls! Girls! and who’s Jack Ruby to insinuate himself
into such a straightforward arrangement?
He’s learned one thing
over and over again in his obligated life: there’s no way
he can really help himself.



From Jack Ruby's America
By David Clewell

Jack Ruby Orders the Chicken Salad

I / Jack Ruby Orders the Chicken Salad:
November 21, 1963

You know how I need it, Sweetheart: all my orders are To Go.
I’m the king of Carry-Out. Today I’m good for a dozen – half rye,
half rolls. These are heading down to the station, so pile it on
a little thick, OK? They know me there. I’m a regular
no-baloney guy making sure the cops get a decent shot at lunch.
You can’t say I don’t love Dallas, but still: give me Chicago
for cold cuts a man like me could die for – hot pastrami, corned beef,
tongue that doesn’t quit. I go for sandwiches in a big way, a handful
of good will folks can sink their teeth into. And people remember
certain things. Don’t get me started on how crazy it is sometimes
to be me, in Texas. But then I’ve always liked going out of my way

if it lets me in on the action. When you’re the one with the sandwiches,
you let other people do the talking. Just look who’s talking now,
right? I need sandwiches, I’m friendlier. So to speak. Human nature,
if you ask me. I’ve studied it. I’m talking my whole life. Go ahead
and ask me is there anything I don’t know about human nature. I’m here
to tell you mostly it’s not much: I’m talking one sorry load
of chicken salad sandwiches bagged up in the front seat of a car
in the Dallas sun. At noon. You know it won’t be long before
it goes completely bad. And we’re Texas, down here so Deep
in the Heart that it’s never been lip-smacking good to begin with.

So what do I finally owe you? Here’s a twenty. Keep the change
and get yourself something later. Something you’ve always been
meaning to. On me. I’m talking something extra: a little bit
of trouble or excitement you don’t really need. That we can live
without either one, thank you, is no good reason. I’m talking America,
getting whatever we deserve. Human nature: remember that. Remember me
to the rest of the shift. I’ll be back. I’m always coming back.
And next time, you can cut the Mister jazz. Jack is good enough.


II / The Chicago Cowboy
III /Jack Ruby Talks Business with the New Girl
IV / The Difference a Day Makes
V / Jack Ruby Spends His Last New Year’s Eve with His Sister


From Jack Ruby’s America
By David Clewell


My review of the book from 2000 when it was new makes much of this opening movement.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Game ball for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational

This is the game ball for the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, signed by most of the artists who contributed to our show, which was a smashing success and a rousing good time.

I try to remember to get people to sign game balls when they work on a group project together. I can't exactly explain why, except that I have a mystical view of the game of baseball, and imagine that the game can be used as a metaphor to describe almost anything good.

For example, if I were to field an imaginary baseball team from a selection of artists in this year's Invitational, it might look like this on the lineup card, in batting order:

Jeremy Rabus, SS
Heather Corley, 2B
Michael Hoffman, LF
Jon Cournoyer, RF
Andrew Torch, 1B
Alicia LaChance, CF
Greg Edmondson, 3B
Kim Humphries, C
Robert Longyear, P

Longyear, of course, would be the right-handed starting pitcher staff ace. The ace lefty starting pitcher would be Dana Smith. The closer would be Eric Woods. And the erratic, bearded setup man out of the bullpen, for the problematic 8th inning, would be Tony Renner.

During interleague play, we'd move Cournoyer to DH to rest his wheels and field Gina Alvarez in right (she would bat sixth, moving everyone else down a notch in the batting order).

I'm the manager of this imaginary team, of course, with Thom Fletcher my pitching coach, Stefene Russell my bench coach, and Matt Fernandes (third base) and Stephen Lindsley (first base) coaching the runners and relaying signals.

I know this is all crazy, but I believe every word of it. I can field a baseball team of anything. Anything I care about can be transposed to positions on a baseball diamond and in a batting order. I know a surprisingly large number of other people who feel the same way I do.

By the way, it's a fun road trip game. For example, field a baseball team of your favorite cities, or American states, or U.S. presidents, or film directors, or sandwiches, or alcoholic beverages. Anything. Former girlfriends (or boyfriends). Novelists. Poets, God knows - which is how this whole thing got started, in more ways than one.

If you won't more of this daft, batty stuff, then you should read my essay about the time I mailed a baseball to the Australian poet Les Murray, asking for an autograph, and he mailed it back to me in New York from Bunyah, New South Wales.

It is fitting that this poetry score and art invitational ended with an autographed baseball, because we scored and they made art to Les' poem The Sydney Highrise Variations - and this entire project began with that baseball, mailed back and forth across the Pacific Ocean, between an American rock musician and an Australian poet.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heather Corley's starving spirit is fed upon the heart

We are lucky to have Heather Corley in a Poetry Scores Art Invitational this year for the first time. Here is her piece, "The starving spirit is fed upon the heart".

I like how it combines her characteristic image of the heart with a gridlike pattern suggestive of an urban grid. This year's Invitational is devoted to a great poem of cities, The Sydney Highrise Variations, so this is very fitting.

Corley went along with our suggested bargain basement $50 opening bid for tonight's silent auction.

Robert Longyear stills the city's conversation

At the last minute, longtime Poetry Scores supporter Alicia LaChance recruited fellow artist Robert Longyear to show in this year's Art Invitational.

This is his remarkable piece, and two details from it. Its starting bid at the silent auction is a measly $50.

Robert chose from the poem The Sydney Highrise Variations the following title: “They rose like nouveaux accents and stilled, for a time, the city’s conversation.”

Robert told me, when he dropped it off, "I don't usually contribute to benefits, but the poem really seduced me".

Here is the part of the score that incorporates this line: "The starving spirit is fed upon the heart" by Robert Goetz.

Here is how the silent auction works.

Kim's and Dana's "Freud's cobwebbed poem"

Here are two completely different takes on the same phrase from Les Murray's poem The Sydney Highrise Variations: "Freud's cobwebbed poem".

Kim Richardson uses the urban context as backdrop and foregrounds the psychobiographic connotations evoked by the name of Sigmund Freud.

Dana Smith does a bit of research and depicts the part of the Sydney (Australia) business district that is specifically referenced in this line, albeit obliquely.

Kim did her piece all in one day on Wednesday after struggling for a long time with a poem she found "too male" to approach in her typically instinctive, soulful ways. Interesting, then, that she chose the most directly phallic phrase in the poem!

Dana - who is a man - worked for months at his piece, without mention of the poem's alleged masculity.

Their paintings will hang side by side at the show tonight at The Luminary Center for the Arts (Reber Place at Kingshighway, on the southwestern corner of Tower Grove Park) once I get down there and hang Kim's paintings. It's sitting in my kitchen right now.

Both will be on silent auction, with opening bids of a measly $50.


Here is the part of the score that sets this phrase to music: "Hot air money driers" by Three Fried Men.

Here is how the silent auction works: How a Poetry Scores Art Invitational works.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From below, Cindy Tower's ponderous grotto

The other day, I saw Cindy Tower walking down the street near my job carrying a painting, when I realized it must be the painting she made for our show.

Indeed, it was. And it is a beauty. Here is an image of the piece, and a detail. It's titled "From below, a ponderous grotto". I find the use of religious iconography in this squalid industrial scene ingenious and moving.

Like the other pieces in the 2009 Poetry Scores Art Invitational, this piece is titled from the poem The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray. The art will hang Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary Center for the Arts as a CD release party of our score to the poem.

Here is the part of the score that covers the same lines Cindy painted: "Inked in by scaffolding and workers" by Three Fried Men.

The art will be sold on silent auction. We begged the artsts to set their opening bids low. Cindy's opening bid is $50. It won't stay in two figures long - and I, for one, will be in on the bidding war.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How a Poetry Scores Art Invitational works

I've been fielding questions about how a Poetry Scores Art Invitational works, which is fair enough, it's evolved into its own thing.

It's a silent auction. There will be 50 works of art in the space that all respond to the same long poem. Somewhere near each piece will be a bid sheet for it listing the starting bid price. In almost all cases, that's a crazy cheap $50.

You like a piece, you bid by writing your bid on the bid sheet. You really like it, you keep an eye on the bid sheet and compete - you keep bidding higher.

So, it's this Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary Center for the Arts (Reber at Kingshighway facing Tower Grove Park). It's listed for 6-10 p.m. We'll probably close some of the bidding for some of the pieces every hour on the hour, with the last announcement being near 9 p.m. In each case, we'll make an announcement that there are 10 or 15 minutes left to bid on a set of pieces before we close them out.

We need to close bidding in stages to make the sales logistics doable. All sales will be handled that night - cash, check, PayPal or (last resort) credit card number.

Also, if there are early bidding wars, we will want to be able to announce a winner for those pieces before the end of the night, so those who don't win know they still have some money to spend if other pieces look good. I've seen almost all of the show, and most people will want to bid on more than one of these pieces.

Like I say, all sales are final that night and people will be expected to take their new art home. I haven't seen a piece yet that isn't portable. As we are wrapping up the final set of sales about 9:30 p.m., people can start packing up their acquisitions to be out of there by 10 p.m. - and on to The Royale for the afterparty.

Proceeds from the art auction are split evenly between artist, venue and Poetry Scores.

In case you wondered, Poetry Scores is a Missouri non-profit arts organization dedicated to translating poetry into other media. The Art Invitational is one of our two annual fundraisers and the occasion for releasing our poetry score CD for the year - which is the same poem the artists responded to, set to music.

This year, we scored - and artists responded to - The Sydney Highrise Variations, by the Australian poet Les Murray.

The new Poetry Scores CD (and select archival works) will be on sale at the event. All contributing artists get a free copy (and two free drink tickets). We will be playing the new CD, and previous poetry scores, on The Luminary's excellent sound system throughout the show.

The Luminary also will run a bar (cash/tips). John Eiler of Poetry Scores will provide food (free). Senor Pique of Mexico City/Ballwin will provide homemade chips & salsa for 300 (free).

Any questions? Email Chris King at brodog [that there @ sign]


The image is John Minkoff's contribution to the show, "Transients at speed," a line from early in the poem. John is a Chicago artist who also plays electric guitar in Three Fried Men, which performs much of the score.

Here is "Transients at speed" by Three Fried Men, from the score, with John on electric guitar.

Other contributors to the score include Middle Sleep (Los Angeles), Robert Goetz, Frank Heyer, Thom Fletcher, Stefene Russell and the poet. Joining Three Fried Men here and there are Christopher Y. Voelker, Carl Pandolfi and Roger Moutenot, who produces Yo La Tengo.

Three Fried Men is a St. Louis-based indie rock band that gew out of Eleanor Roosevelt, which grew out of Enormous Richard, which was a weird contemporary of Uncle Tupelo (and Chicken Truck and Bob Reuter and The Lettuceheads and ...) in the early St. Louis indie rock scene.

RFT preview from this week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

On the summit that exhilarates sick beloved engines

The Sydney Highrise Variations by Les Murray begins from the perspective of a motorist whose car has died atop a bridge, and as a poem that pointedly addresses the mentality of the 20th century, it is appropriately an automotive poem (and a poem of planes and spaceships).

Two artists contributing to our Sydney Highrise Variations Art Invitational have taken on this automotive imagery head-on. This is Greg Edmondson's piece, "Sick beloved engine", a modified Pinewood Derby car.

Greg's piece is unique among this year's contributions for being a commission. We were yukking it up at The Tap Room one night when he said he was making a Pinewood Derby car for the Pierogi show in Brooklyn.

Greg has shown all over the world, and got stuck in something of a backwaters art market as a parent with a child here. He is none too enthusiastic about showing in St. Louis, but I figured I could get him to make another Pinewood Derby car for our Invitational. And I was right!

The poem begins, "So we're sitting over our sick beloved engine," and we hang art in our shows depending on where in the flow of the poem the quote chosen for the title of the art appears. No one made art for the show titled "So we're sitting," so Greg's "Sick beloved engine" will be the first piece in the show. This piece will be the second: “On the summit that exhilarates cars” by Andrew Torch.

Andy is taking a quite literal approach to the opening images of the poem, since the "sick beloved engine" is stalled atop a bridge over Sydney Harbour and he has depicted the harbour-side Sydney Opera House.

Torch is a card-carrying Surrealist, and he has done magnificent Surrealist paintings for past Poetry Scores Art Invitationals. So it is quite a departure for him to depict such a literal scene. Of course, the architecture of the Opera House (by the late Jorn Utzon) has a Surrealist tinge, so this is in some sense a realist take on a scene with Surrealist elements. Andy might not have to tender his card.

Andy also is an antque toy merchant, and we can see his dayjob making a cameo in this marvelous piece, which he inscribed "For Les," for the poet. I intend to seek permission from the Poetry Scores board to bid on this with house money at the silent auction, and buy the box as a gift for the poet.

What is this chiseller doing in here?

It so happens my daughter Leyla Fern was playing art director to her daddy, instructing me how to carve a wardrobe box into a convertible for jer while we putative grownups had our heads under the hoods of our own imaginary cars ...

I hope Leyla will attend the Invitational on Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary (4900 Reber Pl. at Kingshighway, just across the street from Tower Grove Park); and if so, perhaps we'll bring her car and some markers, to give her something to do with all the inspiration she will be absorbing.