The Hoboken Eel

The Hoboken Eel was a man who made a brief, but flamboyant, appearance in Tribeca some years back.  A tall, hefty man in his early 60’s with gray hair.  Slavic surname that I can’t remember.  Local gossip had him as a retired city fireman and city engineer and a Marine war hero from WWII.  A prodigious drinker recently separated from his long suffering wife.  Him hiding from her and his family.  Her looking for him or perhaps better said, his pension checks.

At the first of the month he would appear in McGovern’s Bar, dressed in a nice suit, cleanly shaved and neatly combed.  It being the first of the month and having cashed his numerous pension checks with one of the McGovern brothers, he would waltz in with a beautiful call girl, being suave and congenial, buying drinks all around, regaling people with all kinds of stories real and imagined. All the girls were very young, well dressed, most often black or Hispanic and more than slightly amused at one, their client and two, at the dive he had chosen to take them to.  On one occasion, I heard Peter the bartender  say softly to one such girl, “You are, without a doubt, the most beautiful whore he has ever brought in here. 

To which she demurely replied, “Why thank you very much.”

On the second week the Eel would appear late at night, or rather early in the morning, reeling from drink, a week’s growth on his jowls, his suit stained and disheveled and a different woman on his arm, usually older and almost always high on something.  His stories changed to harangues with few people listening to the content but all watching his wild gestures and antics.  He’d go into the old wooden phone booth and have long ranting conversations with someone he was very angry with.  Walking by one night, I noticed as he screamed and cried into the receiver that he held the lever down with his other hand.  Returning to the bar, I mentioned this to Peter, who gave me a look and asked, “You’re just noticing that now?”

On the third week he would arrive at the bar in the early mornings completely out of his mind on vodka, wearing an old threadbare suit of mismatched parts, his hair like Einstein, face bright red covered with a sprouting grey beard and a very trashy street walker in tow whom he would more often than not, try to pedal off to some of the drunken clientele leaning into their drinks.  On one such night, the local band  was taking a long marijuana break outside and the Eel walked up to the piano and standing up, knocked out a very respectable boogiewoogie number.  He continued for several more numbers, then absentmindedly wandered off to the phone booth and “called” someone to yell at.  Meanwhile, his  hooker “friend” worked the bar and was escorted to the ladies room a few times.  (The ladies room being the only place in the joint with a lock on the door.)

On the fourth week, the Eel would appear at any time day or night dressed in a torn T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and flip flops (no matter what the weather). Shuffling through the door huge belly first, he’d be dragging a plastic milk crate from a piece of twine he’d tied to it.  In the box were various and sundry articles found in his journeys, books, coffee pots, broken toys. He’d try to cage drinks from the customers and try to get the owners, bartenders and customers to lend him some money or buy him a drink, usually without much success.

But, come the new month and the cashing of that month’s pension checks, the Hoboken Eel would transform once again into the dashing man about town.  New suit.  Beautiful girl.  To all the world, a worldly man of class and manner (or, at least, reasonably presentable to his chosen playground).

This pattern continued for several months with slight variations.  I heard that  his wife had found out where he was spending all his time and money and had taken to calling the McGovern brothers with, at first, polite inquiries and, later, angry recriminations and threats..  She even made a couple of surprise late night appearances hoping to catch him with most of his pension money intact.

I haven’t seen him in years now and have wondered if he ever returned to the relative quiet of his suburban home and watchful wife.  Or maybe he just found another quiet bar in another quiet neighborhood that she couldn’t find.

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