During my travels, adventures and travails in 1950’s and 1960’s Cleveland, I got to know a quite few people who fit into the categories of “Rascal” and “Rogue” very well. Let me tell you about some of the most interesting ones who could be found mostly on Short Vincent in those days.
Louie the Pug
Louis Brown was his real name, but he was referred to as Louie the Pug because he had been a pugilist, that is to say he boxed professionally for a while in his youth. He had an unusual talent if you want to call it that. It was a result of his time in the boxing ring. His nose had been broken a few times which left it a little flat because the cartilage in it was practically non- existent.
Louie also wore dentures which helped to facilitate a little trick that he did. He would take out his dentures and tell a person to press on his nose. As the person would do this, Louis’ nose would flatten out and. to the horror of the person, Louie had the ability to flap his lower lip over his nose. It was quite impressive.
In spite of this trick Louie was a fairly handsome man (when he had his teeth in) and a very natty dresser. He was in his mid-50s and always wore a suit and tie. His suits were always neatly pressed and clean but there was something strange about them. All of his snappy looking suits were about 20 years out of style.
I once asked Louie’s best friend, Tony the Romanian, where Louie got those suits. He said, “They’s his.” I said, “I know they’re his, but what do you mean by, ‘they’re his?’ But where did he get them?” Tony replied, “They’s his; they wuz his back in the days when them suits was in style. He wuz in jail for 20 years after he got them suits.”
It turns out that Louie was bootlegger when he was young and beat a man to death in the course of his workday back then. That is why he was in jail for 20 years. I had a hard time believing this this because he was the most friendly and approachable grownups in the bar where he and his friends hung out.
Later on, he told me about his bootlegging days—except for the incident that sent him to prison. He told me that they used to smuggle whiskey into the country from Canada during prohibition and hide it in the caves that used to be on Whiskey Island.
He also told me that Hans, the old guy who owned the bar had a party boat on the lake, on which liquor and prostitutes were available during prohibition.
Anyway, I really liked Louie. He was very congenial and very open to good conversation and conviviality. Louie was the only one of the old guys from the neighborhood that never married. I guess the stigma of what he had done, and his long vacation away home never let that happen.
He was always after me to let him teach me how to box. But somehow, I never took him up on the offer. Maybe I thought that because of what he had done, he might have been too good at it.