If he wanted to crash a party, he could figure out a way to get in. The Traveler’s Story.
June 28, 2013
A VG Serial: Other Voices, Other Towns
The Scene: For most who wander its streets at all hours of the day and night, New Orleans is the French Quarter – quaint and intimate – possessing an aging face that is framed in the French heritage of its architecture.
The Sights: It is and forever will be a city of jazz. But New Orleans worships its past in clusters of antique shops and hideaway art galleries that share those historic streets with bars and restaurants. The streets are always crowded, and no one knows whom they will meet and who has the strangest story to tell.
The Story: In the 1920s, Pinky Ginsberg had been standing in the snow of Copenhagen when he saw a group of dignitaries pushing their way down the street. He had no idea who they were or that they were all on their way to private meeting with the King of Denmark.
It didn’t matter.
He was cold.
Pinky noticed that they all had buttoned up their coats. So he buttoned his coat, too. With his head bowed against the chilled wind, he became one of the group, tramping steadily down an ice-clad walkway that led him toward the King, boldly and confidently shoving his way past the hard, suspicious eyes of the royal honor guard.
No one said a word to him.
No one recognized him.
Inside the reception parlor, the men all began removing their coats, and all were wearing black ties and tails, all except Pinky Ginsberg, who still had yesterday’s soup stains on a hand-me-down brown suit that nobody else wanted.
The meeting with Adolph and the King of Denmark went on without Pinky Ginsberg, who was shown the back door, and who slid on his back all the way out to the street, his broken fingernails clawing at the ice that broke his fall. But he had learned a lesson, and he would not forget it.
By the time King George VI of England was ready for his coronation ceremonies, Pinky Ginsberg had polished and refined his own personal out-of-the-dark, quick-striking approach to gate-crashing. He went out and rented a tuxedo. Then, at a pawn shop, he picked up four rows of old war-time, military medals to pin on his coat.
“I looked like a battleship commander when I walked in alongside those diplomats,” Pinky remembers.
Nobody stopped him.
Nobody recognized him.
But everyone saw those medals and knew he must be somebody important, somebody whose heroics and exploits had made a major impact on the annals of British history, and they all bowed and scraped and curtsied when Pinky Ginsberg swaggered like royalty itself through the room.
Nobody threw him out. He was dressed as well as anyone and better than most. Nobody even bothered to ask his name, ashamed that they didn’t already know him, certain that they had seen his smiling face on the high society pages of London’s most famous newspapers, simply proud that he seemed to know them. Other than King George VI, Pinky Ginsberg didn’t recognize anybody in the place.
He developed quite a formula for crashing swank and ritzy parties, the kind whose doors are open only to the rich and famous, and, more than likely, to Pinky Ginsberg.
“First, I find out if it is formal or informal,” he says, “and then I dress accordingly. I always show up outside at least twenty minutes early. I wait until a car pulls up and several people get out to go in, then I walk in right along with them, talking earnestly with whomever seems to be the most talkative. I don’t stop or ever look back. If I did, I’d give myself away.
“Once inside, I never mingle with the good looking women. They have plenty of attention already. I just look around until I find a lady who is unattractive and neglected, and I spend all my time with her. When the hostess sees me giving the wallflower so much attention, she no longer cares who I am. She just wants me to hang around long enough to make her guest happy, and a little attention makes anybody happy.”
Of course, that was the problem with Adolph Hitler’s little party. He had no homely, neglected woman for Pinky Ginsberg to look after. He had no women at all. Pinky had gotten himself into all sorts of trouble that night, trying to make small talk with Rudolph Hess, speaking his broken-down, hap-hazard German with a Brooklyn accent.
Pinky Ginsberg had crashed the Super Bowl, Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, forty-four World Series games, the oval office of ten presidents, the wedding of Franco’s daughter, and the royal palaces or headquarters of Egypt’s Nasser, Russia’s Khrushchev, Cuba’s Castro, and Red China’s Chou En Lai. He doesn’t do that much anymore.
“In the old days,” Pinky says, “if you got caught, somebody would just smile and shrug apologetically, pat you on the back, and throw you out the back door. Now, I’m afraid, they’ll smile, pat me on the back, take me out the back door, and shoot me.”
His gall through the years not only let him walk beside the rich, it made him rich as well. It helps to bend elbows with the right people. They let him in on a lot of good deals, some better than others. All he ever needs is an ante. Pinky Ginsberg has always been able to find one.
He made money, or so he said. He managed to lose it all, which is obvious. As Pinky points out, “I just never had the sense to fear a bad man or a good woman who turned out bad.”
His heart was always too soft. He has always been an easy touch, and a bad woman who was good to him could make a sucker of Pinky Ginsberg by the time her lipstick was smeared, and he never even cared. A few good times were worth an awful lot of hard ones. Everybody likes a good loser, and they loved Pinky Ginsberg.
On a yacht one night, an acquaintance – a big man in the steel industry – grabbed Pinky by the arm and whispered, “I need five grand quick. Can you help me? I’ll pay you back tomorrow. I swear it.”
Pinky nodded. He reached into his wallet, pulled out the five thousand dollars and handed it over without a word. The big man in the steel industry took a deep breath, hugged Pinky and hurried away. “I won’t forget you as long as I live,” he said.
That wasn’t long. During the late, dark hours, someone put a bullet through the big man in the steel industry and pitched his lifeless body into the ocean. So much for Pinky’s five grand. Pinky probably could have dug the last few hundred dollars out of the man’s pockets, but, frankly, he just wasn’t willing to dive that deep. Being broke was better than being twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea.
On one occasion, gambling backed him into a corner, so Pinky ambled on down to a pawn shop, he says, and hocked his massive diamond ring, which he always did when he needed cash in a hurry, and that’s the only time to need cash. The pawn shop was his bank. But when he returned to get the ring, he found a shop full of policemen. It had been robbed. The massive diamond ring was gone and gone for good.
He has never forgotten his Baby Doll. That’s what he called her, and that’s what she was: soft and tender and warm and beautiful. Pinky just couldn’t do enough for her. So early one morning, in the romantic glow of sunrise, he gave her his house. That night, she kicked him out. The house wasn’t big enough for the two of them, she said. She broke his heart, but not for long. He shrugs, grins out loud again and confesses, “God will heal any heart if you just give Him all the pieces.”
Pinky Ginsberg is getting ready. He leans back in his rumpled bed, closes his scrapbook and closes his eyes. “I’ve crashed every important gate there is,” he says, “except the gates of heaven.” He pauses. “And I hear old St. Peter is a tough sonuvagun to con.”
Pinky Ginsberg has done a lot of unusual deeds to raise money for charity, especially for kids. He has pushed a peanut down the street with his nose, stuck his head into a lion’s mouth, had a cigarette shot out of his mouth, been shot out of a cannon eight times, and dropped from an airplane five times, jumped off a hundred-foot bridge into cold water, even sat on top of a flagpole for four months and thirteen days, or until enough money had been tossed into a barrel below him to send two thousand poor children to summer camp.
Pinky hopes those few and isolated moments have not been misplaced in the Lamb’s Book of Life. But just in case, he is making plans as I leave him.
He needs to find out if heaven is formal or informal, and he hates to do it this time, but Pinky knows he’ll have to get there at least twenty minutes early.
It works every time.
“I haven’t been to church in a long time,” he calls out as I step into the dimly-lit hallway. “Maybe St. Peter won’t recognize me.”
Or maybe heaven has a homely, neglected wallflower who’s just standing around with an empty wine glass and waiting for the man who grins out loud.
Chapters of Other Voices, Other Towns: The Traveler’s Story, are published daily.
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