Biff America: Cool like Fonzie (column)
Jimmy O’Rourke was so cool we called him “Smoothie.”
He was in his late 20s, I was in my teens, when we met at a local greyhound dog racing track where I worked. When asked his occupation, Smoothie would say “gambler” but, even then, I knew he had a job at a gas station.
Smoothie gave us a glimpse into the life of an unencumbered, unchaperoned adult; he was like us but with money, no school to skip or parents, teachers or coaches to whom to answer.
He had what was then called a “shag haircut,” later known as a mullet. He drove souped-up Chevy Nova with the flap of Zig Zag rolling papers taped to the back window. His decision to affix Captain Zig Zag (a declaration of pot use) onto the back window of his car was both brazen and foolish. At the time I thought it rebellious — soon after, I considered it stupid.
After I got off work at the dog track, Smoothie would hold court in a local bar and regale many of us, at least 10 years his junior, with tales, credos and colloquialisms. I’m sure many of Smoothie’s sayings and idioms he stole from others, just as I have appropriated them for myself. Some of those adages are seen in this publication and others. Full disclosure, when I say someone was “as pretty as a bucket of nose hairs” or “strong like bull, smart like tractor,” I should give Smoothie a footnote.
I would try to remember some of Smoothie’s proverbs and use them as my own. Because, at the time, I thought he was “cool like Fonzie” (stolen from “Pulp Fiction”).
Smoothie was a ladies’ man. I say this even though I never saw him with a lady. But that said, he did seem to have a cool rejoinder for any members of the opposite sex he encountered. He called waitresses “sweetheart,” cashiers at the track “doll,” and I once saw him step aside allowing an older lady shuffling by, with the aid of a walker, to make a bet and say, “After you sweet cheeks” (in retrospect she was the only one of them remotely flattered).
There was one comeback that I heard Smoothie utter that at the time I thought was so cool that I filed it away and vowed to use it when the occasion was right. We were sitting at the bar celebrating a long-shot win that Smoothie claimed he had bet on. Smoothie was buying perhaps because he won or maybe because some of us were under age.
The bartender was a tough looking Boston gal. She wore tight jeans, a blouse with the shirt tails tied in a knot showing a hint of midriff and an unlit cigarette tucked behind one ear. To my young eyes she looked both beautiful and scary.
“Wadda-ya-want ta-drink?” she asked. Smoothie took a drag of his Tiparillo, blew the smoke out of the side of his mouth, and said, “A pitcher of beer for my friends, and a cup of your bath water for me.”
I honestly don’t remember her response, but I’m sure I would have recalled if she had poured the beer over his head. I have a good memory for stupid, useless stuff so I didn’t need to write Smoothie’s line down.
It was not long after that, I moved away from the East Coast and never saw Jimmy (Smoothie) O’Rourke again. But as I aged a little and my brain began to make inroads on my hormones, a few things came to mind. We didn’t call him Smoothie until he told us that was his name. Though he hit on gals all the time I never saw him with one. If he was as cool as we all thought, what was he doing hanging out with teenagers?
But all that said, I don’t mean this as an indictment of Smoothie. This is more an observation of how a young (or narrow) mind is easily influenced, captivated and misdirected. This influence can be spiritual, political, sexual or by the faux confidence of a powerful personality.
This is also an observation of how our times, sensibilities and values have changed for the better. If I heard someone asking for a glass of bath water now, I would feel embarrassed for them and sorry for the disrespected bartender.
In most ways this country is getting more enlightened. Yes, we have recently taken a few steps backwards. But the recent attention and condemnation given to the once-ignored status-quo of bad behavior by my gender is encouraging.
I have no idea whatever happened to Smoothie. For all I know he evolved into a Dr.Phil-like modicum of correctness. Or perhaps, more likely, he is now living and working in Washington, D.C.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.HolPublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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