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Lucky’s Big Strike

Most every day a frail, cane-wielding old lady possibly in her nineties was seen on the same bench in the park-—appearing about 10:00, and about two dozen sparrows were ganged thick In the nearby shrubs, waiting for the broken crackers she provided faithfully.

In fact, this was one of their best feeding stations, it was so regular a source of food.

Saturday, July 8, 1964, Suite 47A, Carlton Arms Apartments, Manhattan.

“Lucky darling, are you sure you should be going out alone?” Lucretiza Tisdale’s "baby" seventyish sister, Natty, asked her as she watched her slowly pulling on her shoes. “If you could just wait until after my doctor’s appointment, which should be over by noon or so, I could go with you. I really don’t like you going alone anymore like that. Something terrible could happen. Then what would I do?”

Natty waited, rocking her true darling, a twelve year old poodle, in her arms. Two sisters, never married, know each other's ways so well after having lived with each other all their lives--so she already knew her sister's response but had had to say something--after all, Lucretiza was her sister and still worth a considerable fortune.

Lucretiza gently shook her head. She scarcely smiled at the thought, “Something terrible could happen.”

What? Rape? Robbery? Murder? Abduction? At her age? All she could do was feed sparrows now—all the rest didn’t really matter. Besides, her sparrow friends couldn’t wait for after 11:00. That would really disturb their Schedule. They would all be wondering what happened to her. As long she was able to walk, She was going to meet them with crackers-—on time too! As she went out the door, her shoes on and her winter coat pulled on over her nightgown, despite the sweltering heat and humidity outdoors.

Her sister clucked her tongue. “You’re too weak in your legs to be doing this, Lucky! What a stubborn old thing you’re turned into at your age! You know Daddy wouldn’t let you go if he were still with us!”

Lucky smiled faintly at this parting shot as she used her cane and slowly moved toward the Art Deco embelished elevators of the Fifth Avenue apartment tower. It was just like her sister (twenty years her junior, from a second marriage of their father) to say something like that. Natty was always trying to run other people's lives for them, she reflected. That was Natty's way--since all she had was that dog of hers to care about.

As for the dog, Daisy (its name) was no friend of hers. It still barked at her as if she were a stranger! Its eyes too struck her as vacant--as if the creature had no brain whatsoever and didn't need one to bark or eat its imported Caspian Sea caviar!

“Please take me down, Sylvester,” she greeted the gold-braided, uniformed attendant in the elevator door.

She called all the elevator boys that, so they didn’t correct her, and smiled at her the same. Obviously, she couldn’t tell any of them apart anymore, and whoever Sylvester really was, nobody knew—-obviously, he had long vanished—somebody guessed back in the Twenties when people had odd names like that and danced on the wings of prop planes flying over Manhattan and who parted their oil-slicked hair in the middle of the foreheads, wore round lens in their eyewear and partied in secret bars called speakeasies which were always being raided by the cops during something called Prohibition.

She got down to the ground floor without incident, and then went out, with the doorman holding the door to make sure she didn't get crushed (it would take nothing much to do that, they figured, to snap a twig of a body like hers).

He was a“grand boy,” she always told him, as she went out, and Georgie beamed to hear it, since he was nearing retirement age himself and only security guards, not specially uniformed doormen, would be kept on to look after the “residents” of the Carlton Arms after the scheduled reorganization and refurbishment was completed after the hostile buyout by Holiday Inn.

There was an Italian restaurant right on the corner across from the park. The park, only three blocks from the Carlton Arms, was the farthest point her legs could be made to go, so the eatery was convenient.

She went in the wide open entrance under the striped awning.

Joe "Noodles" Tuccia the proprietor had known her for years and took her five dollar bill and gave her the bag of crushed crackers, which she stuffed into her purse.

“Thanks, Antonio,” she said (she called every Italian “Antonio.” “You’re a grand boy.”

“Antonio” in turn winked at her, wished her with his Brooklyn accent a good day with the “boids” in the park, and went back to his clientele-—Mafia like himself and their various nephews and sons and grandsons on the pay list. He had to smile a little at the old lady—-she had no idea what kind of racket his place was. Imagine! Feeding sparrows at her age! She reminded him strongly of his dear, departed grandmother back in Pamplona, Sicilia--a landmark in her own country, since she lived to age 105. She even wore black head to foot like his grandmother.

The Big Apple had all types. The old gal was definitely one of a klnd, he thought. So he always looked out for her, sending a lounge lizard of somebody's worthless nephew to shadow her, just in case some street gang punk thought to knock her down and snatch her purse or something. Of course, she had no idea he was doing that extra service for her. Five bucks wouldn’t cover it. He gave her shadow twenty each time from the till.

How she ever got across the street safely, no one watching her could possibly tell. She was too slow to do it while she was in the clear. She always walked the rest of the way (over half the avenue with eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic) after the light changed.

Her shadow, having gone to college and been "civilized," happened to have bit of a weak stomach and couldn’t take the sight sometimes, fully expecting to see her squashed flat at any moment By one of the beer trucks that used that drag. He had to look the other way until he had to see one way or the other if she was still alive-—and there she was, right on the other side-—somebody had No doubt scooped her up and deposited her on the opposite curb. Of course, he hadn’t seen who had dunnit, but he didn’t see no way how she could have made it so quickly and in one piece.

“Thank you, Horatio,” she said to her tall, well-built Boy Scout, as if she remembered the name from a Shakespearean play when she was a little girl and her daddy took her to the theatres on Broadway.

“Horatio” wasn’t his name and he wasn’t a Boy Scout, of course, but he always smiled and then vanished, quickly as he had come. He wouldn’t take any tip either from her. She was grateful for that. The supply of five dollar bills her sister slipped into her purse for her needs was drying up for some reason. She meant to speak to her sister about it, but always forgot. Besides, she had never dreamed she should “ask for money--not even during the Thirties when stockbrokers like her Daddy were selling apples on the street. She was worth millions still, she thought. Her father-—head of a Wall Street brokerage firm until his fall from a window in 1929--had lost one hundred million dollars but had an account in Switzerland that paid her thirty million dollars (with her sister receiving ten million).

The sweet, little birds didn’t know or care how much money she had, Lucky mused as she pulled out her bag of Crushed crackers and began to feed them, greeting each one by name. She usually had twelve birds in her little family, so she supplied them with the Holy Apostles’ names. Not a religious person herself, she nevertheless had resorted of late to her simple childhood prayers (forgetting she wasn’t a church woman). She prayed to Jesus, and asked him to forgive her sins and such, and even added the sparrows’ names, for Him to look after them “after she was gone.” She felt that would be soon—any day now. Her sister? Would she care for them? “I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen,” she thought. “Natty cares only for herself—always has!” No, she just had to hope and pray the Little Lord Jesus who she faithfully prayed to every night at bedtime would take care of her sparrow friends when she was gone. “Bart,” short for Bartholomew, hopped up on her finger for his piece of cracker. She looked at the fearless little bird—-and prayed a little prayer for him (at least she thought it was a “him.”). James, John, Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Simon, Jude, Matthias, Philip, Thomas, and the second James. She had named them years and years ago, so the names came without her even thinking about it. If a sparrow ever dropped out of the company of the Apostles from an accident with a beer truck, she didn’t know. The number remained same, with another sparrow filling the spot of its predecessor.

No sparrow named for Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus to the Romans? She couldn’t bear the Though of naming a precious little bird with that name, so she used the one that came to mind—Matthias— Though she didn’t know how she had stumbled on the name given to Judas’s successor. She went though her bag of soda crackers, dispensing every piece, unaware that two lovers were Making love on the same bench during their lunch break. When she was finished, her Apostles always knew it instantly and flew off to their next feeding station, Which was quite a distance away. She didn’t know where they went, just that they always Faithfully returned to her on the bench, 10:30 every morning, though she missed a day now and then due to illness or doctor’s appointments she couldn’t put off.

She rose, with her cane’s help, and slowly moved toward the gate of the park and the busy street. Her Boy Scout would always meet her there and helped her across, for she couldn’t walk fast enough on the light—-not since she broke her hip back in 1937 and it hadn’t set right).

He wasn’t there as she waited. That was strange. She couldn’t stand there all day, or she would Fall down on the spot. Her legs wouldn’t hold her for very long. So she started across on the next light.

Lucky's shadow saw it all happen--in slow time, as if in a filmed rerun. He knew it was going to happen, but couldn’t possibly reach her in time anyway. The beer truck that had her number didn’t even see her and kept going. There were some fender benders as people swerved and braked around the body, which was just a small. flattened, dark stain on the concrete-—something like a leaf pressed on a page of a book with some red ink spilled around it.

Lucky's shadow heard the sirens of approaching cops and hurried back to Joe’s Pasta Palace. What was he going to say? That old lady was like an institution in the neighborhood. Everybody knew her, and what she did in the park every day—-as long as they had all been hustling in those streets, far as he knew. It was a shame somehow-—going like that! Squashed like a "boid" on the pavement. Oh, he had always known it would probably happen like that—it wasn’t a pretty sight, just the he same.

And that cane of hers! It had flown, in the impact, a good hundred yards, landing just a few feet from him.

Shaking his head, he picked it up, and then took it with him to show to "Papa" Joe as proof the old lady wasn’t coming round anymore for soda crackers.

A little misty-eyed despite the clientele staring at him, Joe hung the cane up in a special place on the wall, next to the late John F. Kennedy’s gold framed picture (while a presidential candidate he had received a hefty contribution from the boys at Joe's) which pictured him in a Sioux Indian chief eagle-feathered headdress visiting the Rosebud Reservation located somewhere between New York and Frisco.

Robert Kennedy, of course, they all hated for going after Hoffa, but understood younger brothers sometimes got out of line, and you can't blame an older brother for that. The next day, and the next, the sparrows returned faithfully to Lucky’s bench. They kept coming back all that week.

Lover boy and his girl (a front office typist at the same Swedish flatware import business that was a front for money laundering for the Mob) returned day after day, but then they too didn’t show up-—finding another spot perhaps More to their liking than this bench that attracted so many hungry, chirping birds.

The second week without Lucky came, and the number of the Apostles began to diminish. John got run over by a Yellow Cab on 42nd Street. Philip drowned in a fountain at Rockefeller Center when he went To take a bath. Birds were always drowning there if they ventured too far from the edge. A Belgian waffle, dropped on the fairgrounds at the World’s Fair, attracted Matthew, but he too was run over by a soundless, battery-driven service cart. Peter flew in an open window by accident At the Waldorf Astoria—and a bellhop called to the rescue of a frightened socialite from Boston—knocked him down out of the air, after cornering him in a bathroom. Holding the still fluttering bird upside down, he took him out into the hallway, stuffed him in a maid’s trash bag and that was Soon the end of Peter, who suffocated. So it went. All the Apostles perished, like sparrows do in the Big Apple, sooner or later.

Yet strange things happened. The rattled socialite turned o n her television, not thinking that she Didnd’t watch such things. She happened to get in on a Billy Graham broadcast from the World’s Fair, It was about somebody called Joseph in the Bible. The favorite son of Jacob, the story went, He was hated by his older brothers, who threw him in a well, then sold him to Arabs who took Him and sold him in Egypt as a slave. He was favored by God, who raised h im up from Slavery and even prison (after being falsely accused by a woman) to become prime minister Of Egypt. She remembered her own false accusations, that sent a former butler at her Home in Palm Beach to prison for five years—and answered the invitation at the end of The message to clear her conscience—and became a true-blue Christian! In fact, she Left her club life and the lifestyle of people who never answered a door for themselves or picked up Their own mail and went to work as a volunteer for the Salvation Army in a soup Kitchen for the poor in a Boston mission.

Similar things happened with the other birds’ deaths. Chains of events began that led To dramatic conversions. Lives were transformed. Somehow, Lucky had hit it big With these particular sparrows. Unwanted, unnoticed, unloved by everybody in New York Except for her, the sparrows had somehow found favor with God Almighty. He had Used them mightily in her behalf—so her own death, so much like an insignificant Sparrows—was not suffered in vain.

Even Joe, unable to bear the sign of the cane on his wall, closed the Pasta Palace. He moved down To Myrtle Beach with his wife, and retired. Next he started going to church, and Was baptized and even rose to deacon, supporting missions of all things. He wasn’t The same old Joe at all—the last twenty years of his life—all because Lucky had Made her last big strike when she went on July 8 to feed the birds.


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