The Adams hotel
(Miami Beach, 1956)
With his left hand, Freddy had just finished popping open a full can of spinach and crushing it with his fist and pouring it down his gullet. With his right hand, he was busy beating Neil Friedman’s oversized buzz-cut head to a pulp with the nearest available city bus. The bus spilled an endless black and white crowd of cows, monkeys, rhinos, and hippos wearing ballet skirts out of its elastic windows and into the swaying city street.
In his six-year-old mind, his “Olive Oyl (real name Ellen Weiner)” was safe until the next Popeye Show.
Popeye was the six-year-old’s mentor. One of them…
* * * *
In the mid-50s, Freddy’s family moved to Miami from New York after the passing of his father. The remaining Deutsch family had left Rockaway Beach forever, while Freddy was still in the midst of fighting for his Ellen. Thanks to the wisdom and guidance of “the Sailor Man,” Freddy, and Freddy alone, would always be the victor in the ongoing battle to win the hand of girl-next-door Ellen, who he had happily chased through her plate glass back door for a bloody finale.
He just could not hand Ellen over to the big clumsy Bluto-ish hands of Neil Friedman. Ellen was Freddy’s first whatever-it-is-that-six-year-old-boys-fall-in-love-with.
There wasn’t enough spinach in the entire world to heal Freddy’s heartbreak when his family headed south.
So, what to do….
* * * *
Here he was, in the TV room, next to the tropical garden at the rear of the hotel, ready to turn off the TV. There would be no more vegetable-fueled ass-kicking until tomorrow.
Freddy kept twirling the knob on the TV, and caught a few minutes of Kiss of Death, starring Richard Widmark in his role of the laughing murderer, Tommy Udo. Freddy froze wide-eyed as Mr. Udo gleefully pushed an old woman in a wheelchair down the steps from the second floor landing.
Wow! The laughing killer Tommy Udo is much meaner than Bluto. Luckily (?), for six-year-old Freddy, Tommy Udo, the psychopath, from that day on, would become another one of the boy’s closest “imaginary friends.”
* * * *
Mr. Udo called down from the second floor.“Hey, Freddy. We’re pals, you an’ I. Ain’t we? Whattaya say we take a little stroll down to the lobby? It’ll be fun. We like ‘fun’, don’t we, pal?”
It was Dinosaur Walk Time! Freddy went to fetch his pet baby alligator from his room and take it for a stroll through the hotel lobby.
To get to his family’s hotel room, where two modern “dinosaurs” (an alligator AND a crocodile) ruled the bath tub, he had to walk from the Palm Garden television room in the rear of the hotel and pass through the front of the Adams Hotel lobby. The Adams was an old art deco hotel now converted to long term apartments.
Freddy stood quietly in the lobby of the Adams Hotel, with his 10-inch dinosaur on a shoelace leash. He waited for Al, the desk clerk, to entertain him.
Tall, thin Al, dressed in a long-sleeved white dress shirt, black bow tie, and slacks, sorted mail while looking through his thick glasses at the tiny lobby desk. Al was always working, but happy to talk to the boy. He brought Freddy chocolate covered coconut patties every day and talked to him about “Little Al,” the dinosaur. Because of Al’s kindness, Freddy may have missed his father a little less.
“How’s Little Al today, young man?”
“Hi, Big Al! Little Al ate hamburger for breakfast!”
“Better than eating our guests!” said Big Al.
“Do you want to see him fall asleep when I rub his tummy?”
“Not now, Freddy. I’ve got to sort the mail.”
“Someday, I’ll learn to write a mail, Big Al!”
“You mean a letter? I’m sure you will.”
“I’m going to take Little Al for a walk. We’re hunting smaller dinosaurs today!”
“Have fun, you two! Take a coconut patty with you, Freddy!”
“Thank you, sir!”
* * * *
Welcome to Geriatric Park
Freddy called his pet dino “Little One” until he met Al the desk clerk. (Hey! He was only six years old; give the kid a break!). Al, was a perfect name for an alligator (though he was most likely a South American Caiman, which may have been a crocodile). Al the Alligator! Brilliant!
Little Al lived in the bathtub of their sunny garden view apartment with Freddy, Freddy’s mother, and Freddy’s older brother, Bob. Bob’s baby crocodile, named Tick Tock lived in the tub with Little Al. The five of them were probably the only critters under the age of ninety-five years old staying at the Adams.
It was 3 p.m. Al and Tick Tock, were relaxing in the tub surrounded by old hamburger and dino-poop.
It was time to go to the ground floor room, take Al for his daily walk, and sunshine on the hot Miami sidewalk fronting the hotel lobby.
Tick Tock hissed as Freddy picked Al up from his home in the tub. Today, they were both dressed as fin-backed “dimetrodons.” The boys had used scotch tape and cocktail umbrella parts from the nearby Pickin’ Chicken to make both of the reptiles’ sporty fins. In just a few minutes, Dimetrodon Al would kill many plastic soldiers, in full view of many horrified ancients overlooking the front lawn of the hotel.
Al the caiman led Freddy through the old art deco lobby. The aging furniture inside was filled with old male ‘duffers’ wearing old-duffer hats. There were blue-haired female residents with their routine comments of, “Are you my little Ronny?” “Eddy?” “Rosie is that you?” “Is that you, my husband, Morty?” Thankfully, some of the hotel’s permanent residents recognized the boy, and said, “Good morning, little Freddy!” “How’s Little Al today?” “ Ooh. He is getting bigger, isn’t he?” “Get that goddamned thing away from me!”
Yes, Al was no longer that cute these days. He would soon reach a lethal ten inches long and was already perforating Freddy’s ankles regularly with his rows of needle-like teeth.
Cave Boy and beast pulled a left turn out of the front doors and along the front porch lined with white Adirondack lounge chairs.
As master and dinosaur strolled, Freddy barely noticed a woman behind them who let out a weak chirp. Squeak? Was that a shriek?
As they trampled through the prehistoric jungle of gardenias toward the front lawn, Al suddenly stopped. He began to chew and—“Hack. Hack. Hack—” finally spit out a small parchment-like portion of the chirping old woman’s ankle.
Nobody else seemed upset, except Little Al, who hissed when Freddy tugged on his leash. They continued to stomp through and crush the primeval forest of ferns near the lobby sign.
Freddy and Al stopped near one of the stone planters. Al quietly stalked the smaller, and/or weaker dinosaurs like stegosaurus, triceratops, and even the eighty-foot plant eating diplodocus which all somehow resembled three-inch green Anole chameleons. Al ate a palmetto bug instead.
After Al lunched and sunned on the lawn for ten-seconds, they sneaked quietly, with caution, back to their room.
This was a dangerous trail, on which they tried not to disturb the prehistoricals slumbering and slobbering in the lobby’s overstuffed chairs.
* * * *
The next morning, an entire army of green anole chameleons, attracted to the smell of bacon, hung all over the apartment’s window screens. Bacon and eggs were “good for you” in the 1950s. The smell of fresh Holsum bread drifted into the Deutsch’s window from the nearby bakery.
Freddy ate his breakfast at the breakfast nook in their apartment. He was going to get a string and lasso Little Al, when suddenly a heavy knock sounded at the door. His mom opened it and there stood Freddy’s friend, the other soon-to-be-the-smaller-of-the-two Al’s. Al from the front desk.
“Mrs. Deutsch? Can I talk to you?”
“Of course, Al. What about?” Freddy got up from the nook and hid behind his mom’s dress as she stood at the sink.
“Well, we’ve had a complaint from one of our long time residents. Your son’s pet alligator bit the ankle of an elderly woman yesterday, so we really can’t let him walk his pet through the lobby, near the guests. We really don’t even allow pets in the hotel, so Freddy will have to keep Al in the room or give him away.” Big Al peeked at Freddy. I’m so sorry, Freddy. You know that I like Little Al, too.”
“All right,” Freddy’s imaginary friend,Tommy Udo, said from the second floor landing, “Who’s the canary that made it so my pal here can’t take his alligator for a walk through the lobby anymore? Who’s the lousy rat? I wanna have a friendly little chat with the stool pigeon, ‘cause me an’ Freddy we’re pals. Ain’t that right, kid?”
Freddy suddenly asked, “Who’s the lousy rat?”
“Rat?” Al the clerk asked. “Does Freddy watch many James Cagney movies, Mrs. Deutsch? Where did you learn to speak like that, Freddy? Listen, son, I’m not allowed to tell you who it was that made the complaint. Your ‘Little One….'”
“Give my pal a break, four eyes,” said Udo. “He’s only a kid!”
“Button up, Udo!” Freddy shouted up at the ceiling. “There’s already enough heat down here in the kitchen!”
“Huh?” they all said.
“Little Al is getting to be a big gator, and you two almost gave one of our 85-year-old residents a heart attack. Did you know that little Al took a piece of her ankle off? So no more ‘dinosaur walks’ Freddy,” the desk clerk said with a pointed finger. “Listen, I’ve got to get back out front. Sorry to bother all of you. Good day.” Big Al looked up, “Nice to meet you, Mr. …uh…Udo.”
“Likewise, I’m shua!” said Udo, from another dimension. “Any friend of Alligator Boy is a pal of mine.”
Al didn’t really hear nuttin’, see nuttin’, or smell nuttin’, but he did feel a chill when he looked up at the ceiling.
* * * *
When Freddy slept that night, he was visited by his imaginary personal raven-haired pagan goddess friend. Bettie Page wore the same leopard-skin bikini that she was wearing on the holy pinup calendar given to Freddy by his strange Uncle Louie.
“Wow! We alligators sure have fun in Florida!” said the lucky, smiling reptile who was about to turn Bettie’s sweet caramel colored tush into its favorite everlasting chew toy.
In the vivid airbrushed dream, the alligator was poised to bite, as Bettie talked to Freddy in breathy Goddessese.
“Freddy, you must learn how to express yourself through the fine art of letters. Ask your brother Bob to teach you. Oh, no. I dropped my towel. Could you please pick it up for me?”
Freddy could swear that he smelled his goddess’s delicious peanut butter and jelly perfume.
Bettie spoke to him almost every day.
“Freddy… your big brother … knows… dirrrrrrrty … words.”
“Dirty words? Like soil? Mud?” Freddy said out loud in his sleep. “What do you mean Bettie?”
When Freddy awoke that morning, he followed the advice of his goddess, and asked his brother Bob to teach him how to write a dirty word.
“Bettie told me that I should learn how to write. She told me that last night, after she dropped her bath towel….again. Do you know that she has no wee-wee? She always…”
“Who? She what?”
Mom turned from the stove and said to Bob, “Bettie Page, is the girl on Freddy’s calendar. The one in the leopard-skin bikini? — with a big gator always trying to turn her tush into saltwater taffy. Bettie is another one of your brother’s imaginary friends.” Damn that Uncle Louie.
Bob said, “Huh?”
Freddy whispered in his ear, “Bob! I need to learn how to read and write.”
In the Goddess Bettie’s exact words, Freddy wanted to say, “Big brother! Bwana Devil! I must learn how to express lofty platitudes and reveal my deepest feelings and my most secret desires and inner thoughts to the world. Oh…Can you pick up my towel?”
Instead, he whispered, “I can’t spell! I can barely write ‘See Spot run’ with my broken Crayons.”
“I can teach you to spell,” said Bob.
Next, Freddy needed to find out who had complained to Big Al about Little Al.
Freddy heard the voice of the murderous Tommy Udo, from above, “We’re gonna tell dat lousy weasel, in no unsoitin toims, exakly—”
“Zip it you monkey! I’m warning you!”
“Huh?” Bob was looking up.
“Bob,” whispered Freddy, “is mom listening?”
Bob moved his head in the negative.
“Good. Now, listen. Tommy says that, first I need to write a letter to the fink.”
Now Freddy was sure he could hear Tommy Udo say, “… Then we’ll push the old bat’s wheel chair off of the landing on the second floor and snap her old turkey neck. Heeheeeeheeeeeeheeeeeheeeeeeheeeeeheeeeee. Ain’t I your best pal? Ain’t we gonna have laughs, you and me?”
Freddy turned to Bob and said, “Tommy said that we should make certain that the stool pigeon who ratted, uh, fibbed on me, knows that I’m really, really mad and… sniff… she made me cry! Then we’ll push the old bats’s wheelchair off of the landing up on the second floor and snap her old turkey neck. Heeeeheeeeheeeeheeeee….”
“What’s a stool pigeon? My pal, Tommy, said that ‘the old fossil sung like a canary and may know a few other tunes from the Hit Parade.’ What does he mean?”
“Do I know this Tommy?” brother Bob asked. “Is he your friend?”
“Tommy also said that I should ‘leave warning notes, just to make sure the other geezers know that I mean business.’”
The message was clear. Bob knew what his little brother was asking for and offered to teach him to “write his ‘favoritest’ word.”
* * * *
“It is a very powerful word,” said Bob. “I guess. Almost as powerful as doo-doo. Certainly more powerful than pee-pee. The older kids say it all the time. They usually say it when they are mad.”
“What does it mean?”
“I dunno, but it’s also called a ‘dirty word.'”
“What’s a ‘dirty word’?”
“I dunno, but Mom scolds me whenever I say it, so it must be a bad word.”
“Oh, I get it. A bad word like poopy. It’s worser than poopy?”
“Worse than horse poopy!”
“Worser than Frankenstein poopy or elephant poopy?”
“Yeah, even worse than tyrannosaurus poopy!”
“Worser than brontosaurus poopy?”
“Yeah even worse than house-sized Godzilla poopy!”
“It’s easy to write. Gimme your crayon. Here’s how you write it… F-U… ”
(In the words of Freddy’s third bestest imaginary friend, Boris Karloff)
“Within in one hour little Freddy had become a mathter (master) of Crayola calligraphy, writing thith magical and powerful word with the thkill, color, and beauty befitting an illuminator of medieval texths.”
* * * *
Freddy was geared up to deliver the lucky note to… Hmmmm. So which old witch AM I writing this letter to? He thought.
Big Al, the clerk, had the day off. There was no one at the front desk to help the kid put all of his poison-crayon letters into the mailboxes.
The rat could have been any one of a hundred fossil relics in the Adams Hotel.
The kid figured that if he delivered a note to every room, it would eventually find the stoolie. So he grabbed his package of brightly colored construction paper and wrote nearly a hundred notes in his best penmanship using his many-colored crayons. The penmanship wasn’t too bad considering that more than a few teachers at his new Miami school had tried for months to teach him how to write with his right hand. As Tommy said, “If his hot little teach, Miss Broadstern, had opened her baby-blues or even watched the kid handle his gat in the boy’s room, she would have seen that my little pal is a ‘southpaw’ and a pretty good shot.”
That morning, the young scribe’s masterpieces were distributed under every door, throughout the six floors of the Adams hotel. The odds were excellent that the note would reach the guilty party through sheer numbers alone.
“He thtarted at the creaky top floor of the old hotel and worked hith way, methodically, down to the ground floor. An evil note thlipped beneath each and every door…. To the young mathter Freddy, it did not matter if the room’s occupant was thtill breathing.”–Boris Karloff
Later that afternoon, to avoid embarrassment, the family was moved across the street to the Plymouth, the Adams’ “sister” hotel. The Plymouth was designed for the short-term, high end tourists. They showed movies out by their pool a few times a week. And, it was at that pool where Freddy met Angie, who was a dead-ringer for his lonely Ellen who waited for him back in Neponsit.
( Imagine poor little Ellen, shedding tears at her window in Neponsit, as time and snow buried the memory of her lost hero. Not very likely.)
Back in Miami, Freddy was falling in love again. Despite his six-year-old love at home, He would have gladly crashed through another sliding glass door for Angie — mostly because he was always a dumb accident prone kid.
After the two children played in the hotel pool, Angie’s parents left them alone together (“how cute”) and Freddy chased Angie’s white tush around her hotel room, for reasons still unknown to a six-year-old.
* * * *
Freddy Deutsch’s Comments about the Adams Hotel:
* Most of our family time in Miami was magical and I began to love Miami with its endless summer.
In the daytime, we visited the Monkey jungle, the Parrot Jungle or the Seaquarium. We took Everglades boat rides to watch the Seminole Indians wrestle smelly bull alligators in the mud at the Indian village.
During the week, I even went to a mostly outdoor school where they did try to teach me, a lefty, to write with my right hand. Mom, who spent many of her lunches schmoozing with Milton Berle’s mom at the Saxony, would pick me up after school and walk me over to Fred & Angie’s for a slice of Miami’s finest pizza. Later in the day, we would all play at the Shelbourne Hotel’s giant pool.
On many warm evenings, we would gaze at Saturn, the moon, and the stars through a telescope in the park outside our hotel for five cents a peek. We either ate dinner at Wolfie’s Deli or strolled past gleaming suits of armor on our way to enjoy meals at Pickin’ Chicken.
When I returned to Miami with my new family in 1960, I first saw the famous Coppertone billboard over Miami Beach. I was sure that the girl up there on the billboard was my Ellen or perhaps Angie. The “original Coppertone girl” was named Cheri Brand. To me, that girl was my Ellen, immortalized.
* * * *
The Tillis family
After my father had passed away, the surviving family was invited to come down to Miami by my mother’s brother and her close friends, the Tillis family. Mr. Irv Tillis, the spouse of my mom’s best friend, Gertrude, was sales director and general manager of The Diplomat Hotel (a movie star favorite). Because of Mr. Tillis, we were treated like royalty at the Shelbourne Hotel. There I’d learned how to swim by “accident” when I missed the “target” inflatable raft from a high diving board. We swam and played there every afternoon.
The Tillis’ had a teenage daughter we called “Cousin Eileen.” One day in 1956, she showed my brother and me a record called “Love Me Tender” by Elvis Presley and took us over to a small auditorium where, after Elvis performed (solo), people were allowed to come up on stage, hand the future King a dollar and then shake his hand. It seemed to have been a fundraiser or telethon. We all went up on stage, shook his royal hand, and walked back into the audience. Elvis also signed Eileen’s record for her.
* * * *
“Like a six-year-old knows from hot!” my Uncle Izzy would say.
I knew that Ellen was cute, though I didn’t know why. She was cute enough to encourage me to chase her around the back of her house with enough passion to lead me right through a heavy plate glass sliding door that she had quickly and quietly closed behind her. I was blind with 6-year-old lust and I still proudly bear those scars today.
Ellen Weiner was the neighbor girl from across the street. Our parents probably thought, “Oh, how cute,” when they set up a sleep-over for the cute little playmates. I did chase her cute tush around the bedroom for reasons unknown to me.
Neil Friedman was the neighborhood bully. He was the big, but blond version of my nemesis Bluto, until one day, dressed as a towel-caped super hero, I leaped on top of him from the roof of his own house. I knocked him down in his driveway and bloodied his nose (from that day on, after he had crumbled beneath my muscular 40-pound frame, Neil Friedman never bothered me again. That’s how I found out that big bad Neil was a “bleeder”) .
On my last trip to Rockaway Beach before moving to Queens, I saw Ellen Weiner one last time. We were about to drive away from our old house, when I spotted “a rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem.”
It was Ellen. My mom waved her over.
She stepped over to our Chevy wagon to say goodbye. A giant fat Cyclops was peering into the car window, chewing gum like a cow and squinting like my hero Popeye.
Rather than Brigitte Bardot, or the Coppertone Girl, my little girlfriend, at eight-years-old, looked like the wall-eyed Hollywood character-actor Jack Elam, except for (I swear) her blonde chin whiskers.
I put my head down and rejected this coarse looking “stranger” who was once the lovely golden damsel-in-distress. The goddess for whom I had risked my life and even once for whom I had considered eating spinach.