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October 6, 2011

From Fly Creek: Sure, I know that guy

— A decade ago, “Six Degrees of Separation” was a common party game. It was inspired when actor Kevin Bacon said that he was well tied into Hollywood: he’d worked with most of the pros there—and they’d worked with the ones that he hadn’t.

Inventive college students took it from there, creating a game which premises that everyone is no more than six interlocking friendships from knowing Kevin Bacon. Here’s an imagined example: Your Otsego County neighbor’s disaffected son left home for NYC and made a thin living for a while with a rented suit of armor.

He called himself “Sir Hal the Horseless” and stood on Times Square, hand on sword hilt, begging money for a new steed.

People laughed at the gag and stuffed coins and bills into a leather pouch at Sir Hal’s waist. The money was pretty good, and for a time the disaffected son considered a lease-purchase of the armor. But one day, a smart-ass kid, urged by  buddies, blew a big cloudof choking cigarette smoke through Hal’s barred face piece, and then he dropped the glowing butt into the leather purse. It lit a clutch of crumpled ones and a five. Hal the Horseless reacted by swinging his steel-clad torso from the waist, right arm extended.

The arm was steel-clad, too, as was the hand. Hal’s  chain-mail fist caught thesmart-ass across the left ear and knocked him right over the hood of a parked car. It was a Lexus, and in rolling over it, the kid somehow grabbed a windshield wiper and bent it right off. Trouble!

But by the time the kid’s cronies had him back on his feet, Horseless Hal had clanked double-time over to the subway entry. He disappeared from sight down the escalator; steel torso, then helmet, then ostrich plume.

Down below, Hal scraped through the special gate for the portly and the wheelchaired and clanked onto a Blue Line train. A clean escape.

Nearby strap-hangers, blasé New Yorkers, ignored the steel man stranding in their midst, and even the echoing coughs and wisps of smoke drifting out of his helm. One did say, “Buddy, you can’t light up in there.”

The next day Hal turned in the armor, sneaked out on his landlord, and took a bus west. Things would be better in Los Angeles, he’d decided. And they were, once he gave up being Horseless Hal.

He lasted only two armored days in the blazing sun of Hollywood and Vine, his own gasping breath filling and fogging the helmet, sweat pouring down armored legs and out their bottoms as if they were rain spouts. That was enough. Hal cast aside his East Coast gimmick.

He needed another, cooler shtick for out west.

At once he thought of his buddy and competitor back on Times Square. Year round, the Naked Cowboy stands there dressed only in jockey briefs, boots, Stetson, and guitar.

“Crazy nut!” Mid-West tourists laugh in embarrassment. But to prove open minds, they dump money into his tin bucket. The Naked Cowboy, still in his thirties, probably has a stock portfolio.

The Otsego young man’s further inspiration came from his own name, which was Vernon. He got thinking about George Washington and hatchets and “I cannot tell a lie,” but the ideas mixed in with the Naked Cowboy’s gimmick.

“Eureka!” thought Vernon. He’d portray George Washington, but fleeced to his skin by the IRS.

Designing the costume was a cinch: just a pigtailed powdered wig and a small barrel held up by straps over his bare shoulders. A sign at his feet would say, “Your Nation’s Daddy after the TAX MAN.”

The idea was a stretch, he knew; but everybody reveres the Father of the Country, and everybody hates taxes.

And the shtick worked generally well, especially after Vernon stapled fake gold epaulettes to his shoulder straps.

True, one day a purplefaced old lady did scuttle up and beat him around the head with her three-footed cane.

“Get out of our country, you Bolshevik!” she shrieked. “Go back to godless Russia!” As Vernon tried to shrug  her blows, the barrel strapsslipped off his narrow shoulders.

The barrel dropped on his bare feet, breaking two toes. Then the purple-face lady screamed, “Flasher!” fainted, and crumpled to the pavement.

Those who’d stood nearby saw what caused the whole incident, but as more gathered, Vernon hoisted his barrel and limped away down Vine Street.

Other than that one incident, though, business was fine; and Vernon wrote to his  Otsego parents that he had asteady acting job.

Really, he didn’t. But he did rent in a neighborhood full of acting wannabes. He shopped at the neighborhood bodega and always chatted with the amiable owner, who in turn sometimes chatted with a wiry young customer. This young man, who bought lots of yoghurt, worked as a stunt double. (Get ready!)


And there you are! Your neighbor’s layabout son knows a guy who knows a guy who knows Bacon. Four degrees! You’re practically Kevin’s bar buddy. But take a deep breath.

I, Jim of Fly Creek, know Chuck Schumer, and he knows the President who’s been a guest in Buckingham Palace. That’s THREE degrees, friends, from me to royalty. Anne and I might as well pack for our own overnight visit with Elizabeth II, “Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her Other Realms and Territories Beyond the Sea, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”

Can’t you see us? We’ll sit of an evening with Her Britannic Majesty, sipping cocoa by a cozy gas log, we in our nighttime flannels, she in her white chenille bathrobe, tiara, and bunny slippers.

Relaxed and suddenly candid, Elizabeth II will lean forward and ask us poignantly: What on earth had she done to deserve her bumbling, constantly embarrassing family? We’ll commiserate, course, and Anne will tenderly pat the royal hand.

Then Her Majesty will wipe away a royal tear, smile wryly, and tug a gold-embroidered bell pull. A liveried manservant will glide in and serve vintage port all around.

And soon we’ll all be smiling, laughing, trading stories of crazy kin.

So much for your Kevin Bacon.