You would walk down Kingsbridge Road to Jahn’s just shy of the corner of Fordham Road. There it was another galaxy from Poe Park up the street where some junkies had decided to make their kind of commerce the best you could then do in that part of the Bronx. It was a long time ago.
Jahn’s expensive ice cream parlor products were way out of place in the rapidly changing sole New York City borough attached to the nation. The main talk when it came to the Bronx in those years was about arson, heroin, and murder, certainly not topics for the coffee with cream milk set. At Jahn’s you could pretend you were somewhere else. And that’s how it felt when we filled the booth that day.
So we sit. The guy who invites me says to the waitress, cup of coffee with cream. He then takes a cigarette from his pack of Benson and Hedges–quite fancy, longer, expensive–strikes a paper matchbook with a paper match, lights up, takes a drag, puts the cigarette in an ashtray, grabs a cloth napkin and then pulls a full set of his false teeth out of his mouth and places them in the napkin.
The subject of course is politics and a campaign. He has big ideas, creative, smart. There is a minor problem. Some years back the police had the nerve to crash down the door of the hotel room in which the papers reported the man who loved coffee with cream and Benson and Hedges cigarettes and whose false teeth wound up on the table inside a napkin was doing you know what with a woman described by the scribes as shapely and blonde. Sex was not the issue. Conflict of interest was. The room was rented by a real estate mogul with business before the city and the fellow described above, a city employee with decision making authority, might have exercised a bit more care.
So now he was sitting in a neighborhood thought likely to die as the smoke of arson made its way north from a South Bronx on fire. On his mind? Politics and campaigns.
Many in this political business are like degenerate horseplayers. It’s always on to the season, the next face-off. They could have two broken legs and they’d find crutches to limp to the starting gate.
The guy in the story? He drank himself to death short of 60. The dough to put him into the ground was collected. To the end he talked, and ate and drank politics.
We are going through a time in this town when the political crimes are different. They include breaking the law and breaking the law of having your own mind, speaking it, and not agreeing with some windy elected’s conclusions less about how we should be governed but more about how we should live.
The fires in the Bronx today come from bullets. Public officials seem most concerned about the next race, and the right rhetoric. The man with no teeth was interested in doing some good. He was not perfect. He was a failed mortal and he knew it. If we can understand that again, maybe we’ll be able do some good. New York needs it. Badly.