Monday, December 30, 2013

A Tempus Fugit Ghost Story.

"When the Tempus Fugit opened up," the bartender said to me by way of introduction, "When the Tempus Fugit opened up, all the buildings around us that are health clubs and gourmet shops and doggy day-care and nail salons, were small industry."

He wiped the teak in front of me and pulled me a Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE!) He hustled around from the back of the bar and brought Whiskey, my 21-month-old Golden Retriever a small wooden bowl of cold water.

"One of the businesses was owned by a German man, Berkholdt, I think it was. He was a flour merchant. Though it might of been Berkholdtz."

"I suppose it doesn't make a difference. They're both long gone."

He ignored my characteristic gloominess and plowed ahead with his tale.

"Mrs. Berkholdt--that's the name I'm landing on--was a big woman, and there was nothing she liked to do more than dance. Not the Charleston or the dances the flappers were doing. But formal waltz-like dancing, like she had grown up doing before she emigrated from Germany."

"This was a German neighborhood back then," I added.

"Berkholdt was quite prosperous and when the couple went to a ball, the Mrs. would gird herself with all kinds of jewelry. They were proud of their wealth--their accomplishment, and they liked showing it off.

"This particular dance happened in the summer, they might have been celebrating July 4th. In any event, it was hot as the gates of Hell in the dance hall. These were days long before air-conditioning."

I had finished Pike's number one and the bartender silently pulled me number two. He filled a small bowl with salted Spanish peanuts and pushed them in my direction. I pushed them, politely, away. As always, I am watching my weight. The last thing I need is salted nuts.

"Mr. and Mrs. B were having quite a time cutting the rug, as they say. But it was hot, and all of a sudden, Mrs. Berkholdt swoons and collapses to the floor."

"She was a big woman, I assume."

"They all were at that time. She had the arms of a butcher and the shoulders of a milkmaid. She was large, heavily dressed and dancing like St. Vitus.

"They tried to resuscitate her. An ambulance showed up, a local doctor. But she was gone."

"Dead," I said sagaciously.

He took my empty glass and dipped it into sudsy water and then into clean water. He polished it dry then filled it again.

"Berkholdt wanted her buried right away and he wanted her buried just as she died. In her dancing gown and in her jewelry. A day or two later, they were all ready to lay her to rest in the family vault in Woodlawn, in the Bronx. But just as they were about to commence with the burial, the heavens opened up."

"It poured," I added.

"It was positively diluvian. They laid her on a slab out of the rain and decided to try again the next day. Everyone left except for the undertaker. He saw her jewels and he wanted them.

"He took off her broach, removed her watch, her earrings. And wrestled a large gold ring from her finger. It was hard to get off. She had been running to fat, might have been swollen, or it could have been rigor-mortis. In any event, he ripped the skin of her finger as he was removing the ring."

I sipped at Pike's number three. "Go on," I said.

He said nothing for a good minute, instead he wiped the well-polished surface of the bar top with a damp white terry.

"Taking off the ring woke her up. She sat bolt upright and screamed. Of course the undertaker did too. And he ran away as fast as he could."


"Jesus is right," he agreed. "Mrs. Berkholdt, I don't know how she did it--she made it out of the cemetery, out of the Bronx and right to our door. Right to the door of the Tempus Fugit. Where she collapsed again. And this time she really was dead."

"That's quite a story for a Sunday night," I said. And I shoved two twenties his way.

"Cover charge," I said, "for entertainment."

"On me," he said and he pushed the bills back.

Whiskey and I walked, gingerly, home.

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