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The Down and Outers
The Down and Outers

The Down and Outers

JPYoungJPYoung
1 Review

Long ago and far away...

They may not have really been down and out, but they certainly weren’t up and in with high or even regular society.

Their name came from Rico, who ran the downtown pizzeria they hung around in. One day Joey replied to one of Rico’s insults with,

‘We’re the Rat Pack, Rico!’

‘”Rat Pack”? They got class and dough! You punks ain’t got none a those things! You’re the Down and Outers!’

Ray sang,

But we’ve got high hopes! We’ve got hiiiiigh hopes!

‘OK Sinatra, stop breakin’ my balls.’

‘He can’t sing The Nutcracker Suite’, responded Stash, AKA Stan-the-Man.

‘You wise guys got an answer for everything…except how to be a success!’

‘Like you, Rico?’

So it went, for they did have a sarcastic comeback to every remark.

Rico would always tell them ‘Get outta here’, but they never did…they had no place to go; and everyone knew it.

The former amateur bantamweight Rico resembled a boxing referee with his bow tie, white short sleeved shirt and dress slacks. He always matched their insults but confided that they made the time pass in interesting ways. Once he let it slip,

‘There, but for the Grace of God, go I.’

Perhaps they made his family and financial problems not look all that bad…

On Rico’s upside, their presence seemed to attract customers, for no one wanted to dine in an empty restaurant...the gang made the joint come alive. They behaved themselves with the other customers and never owed Rico any money. Once when Rico’s dishwasher was sick, the gang did his job. More than a few of Rico’s customers told him they enjoyed the antics of the gang because they reminded them of their single days when they were happy and had no mortgage, responsibilities, obligations, or kids. Rico once told Peter that they reminded him of his army buddies he lost in the war.

Rico once remarked that the Down and Outers were the real-life Bowery Boys, for they were the high school punks who never grew up. Except for Joey, they lived in rented rooms in the downtown area and held jobs there, but never lucrative ones that would attract women who avoided them like the plague. They never really travelled, other than family vacations and their military training for the National Guard and the Reserves that gave them an endless number of stories.

With the exception of Joey, they had entered the real world of ‘normal’ people, but they soon returned to their local insubordinate indolence.

Ray had made his way to Bismarck, North Dakota and married; but when the marriage collapsed, he returned to the fold. Stash took a Federal civil service job in Washington D.C. but came back after he fell afoul of a psychopathic manageress, had nothing in common with his zombie workmates, and was bored by the work. Joey had never gone anywhere; he lived with his widowed mother.

Ray teased him,

You’re the man of the house? That’s scary!’

You’re scary! Your face gets you paid for haunting houses’, Joey cracked back.

None of them ever meant their insults, and everyone knew it.

There were those who said that they were failures who remained as overgrown class clowns. They regarded themselves as clever, who did just enough work to get by, but dodged debt and responsibility like they dodged hard work and punishment in school and in their military training. Like the Three Stooges as Uncivil Warriors, they were Duck, Dodge and Hyde.

Their jobs weren’t too arduous, and they prided themselves on wearing suits, just like big-shot executives. Their salaries kept their heads just above water and they had enough free time to hang around and go to the movies together; in summer they went to ball games, carnivals, and the beach.

Ray was the leader and Wise Guy Number One. He had started as a hanger-on, advanced to the clown role, then ascended to be Chairman-of-the-Board when his predecessors woke up one day and found their life was futile; then they married or left town.

He would regale everyone with stories of ‘the golden days’ of the gang’s predecessors, both those he had witnessed and those that had been told to him. Ray always looked good, for he maintained that appearance was 90% of performance and fervently believed that bluffing through the remaining 10% was what life was all about.

Joey was Ray’s foil and the clown who made everyone laugh. He wasn’t especially bright; everyone felt smarter than him, that made them feel good about themselves.

Stash was the middleman and straight man; content with his role to mostly listen but he came up with bright ideas, the occasional memorable quip and settled arguments.

Peter was the odd man out, a part-time member who lasted longer than the hangers-on. He returned Stateside after a hitch in the Regular Army overseas and worked full-time locally in the Federal civil service. He wandered into Rico’s one night and found himself joking with the three as if he had always been one of them. He was a mediator between the trio and Rico who’d confide many things to him. He kept everyone’s confidence, for Peter was the type of man anyone could open up to.

They were fun; everyone eagerly anticipated their wisecracks when they were together. Peter thought he had as much fun with them as his childhood gang, but like them, he could never recall anything memorable he could relate as an interesting anecdote to anyone else. When he was away from them, he felt he was missing something, though he probably wasn’t…

Peter would join them on Rico’s Spaghetti Night, and on the weekends to share a pizza. The gang were not only there every evening but as they worked downtown, they’d pop in for lunch or just coffee.

When Peter met Katrina, he found himself spending more and more time with her. He brought her to meet his gang; they treated her like a queen. However, Peter felt there was a strange atmosphere in the air, as if the pair of them were being sucked away from his gang into a different world…

The Down and Outers had an ‘honorary’ female member, Angie, short for Angela.

No one who knew her could call her ‘Angel’, as she was the opposite…Ray called her ’Satan’s Little Imp’.

She was a feisty spitfire, but she had a similar sense of humour to the gang. Like Ray, she may not have been successfully ambitious, but she had no shortage of big ideas.

One day she sat at the counter to bend Rico’s ear as the gang watched from their usual table.

‘Rico! I gotta idea to bring a new crowd into your place durin’ the day. Especially before and after your big lunch hour.’

‘Whaddya gonna do, Angie?’

‘Yuh see that booth over there yuh use now and then for private conversations?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I’m gonna tell fortunes.’

‘Who’s dumb enough to let yuh tellem their future?’

Women!’, the Down and Outers said as one.

‘That’s right, Rico! I can bring a crowd in just before and just after the lunch hour!’

‘You think I’m gonna let you make money in my place?’

‘No Rico, I think you’re gonna let me make you money…in your place!’

Nothing interested Rico more than making money and hearing his own name in the same sentence. He paused to mull the matter over, rather than make a remark.

‘When the women buy one a your healthy lunch-specials, you’ll lettum come see me.’

‘Whaddya mean healthy?’

‘Women love cheap low-calorie stuff like cottage-cheese, salad, vegetables and pasta without sauce, just a bit a olive oil, but yuh can charge-um the full lunch-special price.’

Rico’s mind transformed into a continually ringing cash register.

‘Don’t let her do it, Rico!’, shouted Joey. ‘It’s a punko scheme.’

Joey’s late father was a legal clerk; his mother loved watching Perry Mason and talking about the law. So did Joey, though the fact that he didn’t know what he was talking about never stopped him from expounding legal opinions. Had Joey been standing, he would have held his lapels. Peter once said that Joey’s legal mentor and law firm partner was Calhoun D Lawyer from Amos ‘n Andy.

Angie turned her head to look at the gang as if they were a pack of filthy mongrels who had just tracked mud over her freshly cleaned kitchen floor.

‘Yuh think I don’t speak Italian? You’re the punk, Joey!’

‘It’s bunco, not punko, Perry Mason!’

When Ray publicly corrected his legal expertise, Joey’s sympathies went to Angie.

‘Rico, you can get in big trouble!’

‘Silence from the Peanut Gallery! This is between me and my clients and Rico! He runs this place, not you, Ray-bees!’

Rico broke out in a smile, if there’s anything he liked better than money, hearing his own name, and a break in the routine, it was seeing Ray come off second-best.

‘Lemme tell yuh how I figure it. Your big lunch time is from noonta one thirty, right?’

Everyone nodded, including the Peanut Gallery.

From 11ta noon, and one-thirtyta two, I’ll be doin’ my stuff. You’ll give ‘em a voucher after they buy a meal, none of this coffee and donut stuff like those Red Cross Donut Doughboy bums sitting Over There, and they see me in the booth with the curtains. We’ll take ‘em off for lunch and have it as a regular table.’

‘Whaddya gonna do between noon and one-thirty?’

‘Ain’t yuh always talkin’ about needin’ an extra waitress for the lunchtime crowd?’

Rico began counting his lucky stars.

‘You can’t be serious!’, shouted Ray.

‘You’re just mad because yuh ain’t gotta future!’

‘Whaddya think, Stash?’

Stash prided himself on being fair, and Rico knew it.

‘Give the lady a chance, Rico!’

‘Yeah, give her a chance, Rico! It’s a quid pro quota!’

Nobody ridiculed Joey’s legal expertise…nobody…

‘Don’t be a sucker, Rico!’

‘Don’t be a cry-baby, Ray! Now, when can we get togetherta plan the new Ladies Luncheon Specials.’

‘What???’

‘Too bad for you that they stopped givin’ out free bowls a soup after the Depression, Ray.’

* * *

The signs were up announcing-

Starting next Wednesday!

MADAME LA ZONGA TELLS YOU

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU DON’T KNOW YOURSELF

Until the next week’s start, Angie worked as a waitress and passed out her business cards; Madame La Zonga’s details on one side, Rico’s Ladies Luncheon Specials on the other. She wore a tight too-small white waitress or nurse outfit with a low neckline. She admitted to Katrina who confided to Peter that she was cheating with a padded push-up bra and padding on her derrière that gave her suitable tips from the lunchtime crowd. Rico paid her no salary that he said was rent for use of his private booth and curtains…

When the day came, she wore a gypsy-type costume as Madame La Zonga that she would pull off and on over her waitress dress.

‘Every day’s Halloween with you, Angie.’

‘Look who’s talkin’, Ray! Why duhyuh wear that Frankenstein mask all the time? Oh, it’s really you…tall, dark and gruesome!’

One of the gang’s good points was being polite to ladies; they made no remarks that could be heard by the parade of women who came in for a session with Madame La Zonga. Amongst the regulars were Joey’s mother and Katrina, though the latter would only admit to enjoying the tuna special, what Ray called ‘spazz chow’.

Peter asked Rico,

‘Do you really think there’s anything to this fortune telling?’

‘Naaah, women just want someone to listen to them and think they and their lives are important; that’s all.’

Stash said fortune tellers were like prostitutes for women, they made them feel good in their brief time together.

Everyone was happy, except Ray.

Not only was Angie the centre of attention, but his stooges were no longer continually saying, ‘O.K. Ray!’ and couldn’t take their eyes off her tight dress.

Once when Angie bent over to pick up the dirty dishes after a group of diners left, Ray fired a rubber band into her rear end.

Angie ignored the sneak attack and brought the dirty dishes in.

‘Her butt’s so padded, she can’t feel a thing’, Ray gloated.

She paused in front of the counter, produced some money from her cleavage and told Rico,

‘One Coconut Cream Pie!’

‘One Coconut Cream Pie!’, Rico replied as he took her money and put a huge slice of pie on her tray.

Angie marched over to the Down and Outers.

‘Your pie, sir!’

She smashed the slice of Coconut Cream Pie into Ray’s face as if he were one of the Three Stooges.

The entire restaurant applauded, including Stash and Joey.

‘Angie knows the value of Pi!’, Stash quipped.

‘Ray got creamed!’, shouted Joey.

Rico gave Angie’s money back to her.

‘On the house…no, it’s on that punk Ray’s face…’

Rico was in Seventh Heaven slapping his knee in laughter; he had always had dreams of being a famous Hollywood comedian…

‘My just desserts are good for yuh! Good for yuh!’, laughed Rico as Ray went into the Men’s Room to wash up.

‘Don’t let the Men’s Room door hit yuh in your As the World Turns, Ray’, snickered Angie.

Applause and laughter filled Rico’s again.

Rico’s was twice as full the next day…

FIN

Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com, but you can buy them anywhere, electronically is a good deal). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).

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About The Author
JPYoung
JPYoung
About This Story
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Posted
22 Feb, 2023
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11 mins
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