“I don’t know. I thought he was asleep.” “Did you hear him snoring? Old Balloon Lungs is renown at Hudson Palliative. Some nights he sounds like a dozen tubas on steroids.” “No, there were just little wheezes…” “I’ll go check.” Barry Balloon Lungs Baker was a hustler of the third order. He remembered the day he plateaued. It was late summer, 1989. Pete Rose had just been suspended for life because of his gambling predilections. The whole country, aside from some dogged New Yorkers, was in mourning, not just for Charlie Hustle, but for themselves. And for how far we had fallen. Barry was living in a little walk-up just off of Times Square that year. His small tour company, “Take a Walk on New York City’s Wild Side,” had been on a bit of a decline since the closing of Oh Calcutta a few weeks earlier. He had both marveled at and given thanks to the gaudy gods of kitsch for Tynan’s tacky theatrical treat. It had anchored his entrepreneurial efforts. The play’s revival at the old Edison Theatre in 1976 had added a lurid centerpiece to Barry’s promotion of “The Apple.” The fact that the provocative sixties review hung on for almost 6000 performances only added to his pocketbook. “Barry? Mr. Baker, are you with us? “Poke me. Go on, surprise me with human touch. I’m busy. Memories are hard work. I have to get all this down. Somebody might ask.” Sure, the tourists wanted to see Oh Calcutta. And they also wanted to feel the grit of New York, soak up the dark, disturbing ambience. Barry put the package together to feed their cheesy hunger. As time shot into the 1980’s, the streets were getting downright deadly. But there was such a rich, vibrant grime to Times Square in those days. Any fool could see, however, that it was going to be sanitized sooner or later. Squint Sparrow wrote Barry’s copy. Drank himself away from Madison Avenue where he had briefly interned in the 1950’s. Still, he had flair. Old Squint worked hard. Even came up with a beautiful, totally too candid slogan for the company. “Whadaya think, Barry?” The jingle rolled off Squint’s lubricated tongue. “Ticks and tocks of essential time, sink the spirits lower than wine. Ah, but rubes and boobs ascend, for tourists are ever a grifter’s friend.” Barry had to explain to Squint’s gin-soaked brain that calling the clientele rubes and boobs wasn’t a wise corporate move. “Give ‘em what they want, Squint. Never the reality.” A hand lightly touches his shoulder. “Mr. Baker? Barry?” “I want to answer you, Clarice. I’ve enjoyed being in your care. You’re a down to earth gal.” Barry wonders how it can all shut down without fanfare. “There is no heartbeat. He’s gone. I’ll notify the director.” Clarice has called it. “That’s it then. Game over. Squint, you got anything to say?” Time takes its cardinal toll, stills the heart, scours the soul. This tale is my entry to the Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes # 9 edition.