picking through the remaining whoozits and whatzits from a box of memories, i came across the ring.
the first time he walked into scrap bar in late 1986, he was wearing a huge scimitar, sheathed and belted at the waist. up, by the entrance, he drew it out and commenced threatening everyone in the place with it. because the ceiling was so low (six and a half feet at this point), he had to hold it out in front and not up, cutting the room in half before him, alarming everyone in the already crowded bar. Tarzan announced, “i come to keeel everybody.”
he was owner/partner in a middle-eastern cafe down the block, closer to bleecker street, on the same side as my place. he was arab-turkish or turkish-arab?—?it wasn’t an issue then. the soviet union was still the mortal enemy. it was around the time that ronald reagan said, “we start bombing in five minutes.” you can look it up.
he was pretty drunk, but in good spirits and i felt reasonably confident i wasn’t going to get killed, but was concerned with what an accidental swing of the sword could cause. i slowed him down, fed him beers and talked about business on the street while reminding him that, “if you kill everybody, i’d go out of business and then we couldn’t have these nice talks.” he sulked and became sadly apologetic. “ok, i keel nobody today,” he said. “thank you,” i replied.
for a few months, Tarzan became a fixture in the bar, hoping to catch the attention of a young woman, or outright propositioning them, depending on how drunk he was.
the ninth precinct considered scrap bar a haven for drug-dealing and prostitution. i was told this by the neighborhood beat-cop who helped screw our corrugated-tin ceiling into place. his name was officer lou and he did this while in full uniform. the police and their relationship to its neighbors was a lot different then. he’s also the one who told me we were on the “list.” when i asked him what to do about it, he said, “nothing. everyone else is on the list, too.”
some months later, Tarzan made live TV news when it was reported he was holding his wife hostage in the apartment above his store, after emptying six chambers of a handgun into the sky, (something fairly common in the middle-east), forcing a police standoff that would close macdougal street for hours. i would learn about this from greg, my friend who was tending bar that day, when he called to tell me about it while i watched it on the news. pretty surreal. the police instructed him to close and lock the bar doors and stay inside. greg worked a long shift that day.
around midnight, officer lou acted as negotiator and calmed Tarzan down with a chicken salad sandwich. he released his wife, who we found out volunteered to be his hostage, explaining it was all a cultural misunderstanding and didn’t want the police to storm the place and get anyone killed.
a week or so later, Tarzan returned to Scrap Bar and apologized. as a neighboring business, he probably did this with all of the places he inconvenienced. he seemed sad. for no reason i can imagine, he handed me a ring and insisted that i accept it as a token of apology and friendship.
i would never see him again.
a couple of months later, word would come that he was murdered on a street corner in the lower-east side.
i was told that he never saw it coming. he was executed gangland-style with a bullet to the head.
“tarzan became a kennedy,” was all i could say.