Dante Schwartz was the son of Gertrude and Morris Schwartz, and the brother of Dana, Dina and Donna, the tap-dancing triplets who almost made it to the second round of the grand championship dance competition of the Tappity-Tap-Tap Fest. Had it not been for Dina acquiring a wicked case of poison sumac located mainly between her toes and erupting full-blown on the very eve of the competition’s second phase, the Schwartz girls might well have won hands down and gone on to the third round, which in all likelihood they would have won too, by a landslide, and from there God only knows how much fame and fortune would have come their way.
And then there was Ronald and Donald, born ten months apart, who had their own unique talents. Ronald was a courier for a numbers operation, and Donald trained the scruffiest of dogs to do the most amazing tricks. Ronald’s lucrative affiliation with the underworld went unrecognized of course, due to the illegal nature of his occupation. He passed himself off as a super-duper paperboy and recipient of very big tips. That’s how he explained his bulging wallet to Morris and Gertrude. Donald’s talent was channeled into a covert operation as well, and although his “business” was by no means illegal, it certainly would have been forbidden by Morris and Gertrude, they would have been totally aghast if they had any clue what was going on.
Donald and his Dogs
It was Dante who tagged Donald “Dog Boy” and it was Dante who drummed up all the business for Dog Boy’s once-a-month Really Big Show where the doggies did their stuff, come rain or shine, in the back yard of the Schwartz family’s red brick row-home, or in the event of bad weather, in their basement rec room. These Really Big Shows went on when Morris and Gertrude took off once a month for Allentown to spend the day with Morris’ aunt and Gertrude’s mother who were next-door neighbors. If they had known, all hell would have broke loose because both of them hated dogs to such a degree that at least once a week dinner conversation between the two of them centered on, was indeed consumed by, just how much they hated god damned dogs and why.
During these conversations the Schwartz children giggled and kicked one another under the table. Sometimes they would even initiate or instigate a dog conversation between their parents. Leaning back in their chairs, teetering on the two back legs, with their mouths full of mashed potatoes, they listened on the verge of hysteria as Morris and Gertrude railed on and on against the entire dog population, and they tried hard not to gag or spew out their potatoes in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Many times the potatoes flew and many times one of the Schwartz kids had to be slapped hard on the back to prevent choking. It was all the more wonderful and hilarious when a Really Big Show was scheduled for the very next day.
Donald had a very strict conscience and he protested strongly when Dante first put forth the idea of the Really Big Shows.. It was bad enough that he was secretly training a bunch of mangy strays in the back yard, and bad enough that he was pilfering treats from the kitchen cupboard in order to entice his dogs into ever more superb performances, but to hold shows for the public every time his parents went to Allentown, and God forbid, to hold them in the basement if it rained, that seemed criminal. But Dante had great powers of persuasion, was gifted with words, and with very little effort once he got rolling, was able to convince Donald that he and his amazing dogs deserved public recognition.
“After all,” said Dante, “how could it be called wrong if in the long run it was beneficial to the canine community at large. Justice. Retribution. Reward. That’s what Donald’s doggies needed. A chance to rise above their mangy station. An opportunity to excel in the lime light. Some decent treats from the big barrel in the pet store instead of stale saltines from the kitchen cupboard. Rhinestone studded collars. Neat little wool jackets for the winter time. Flea and tick powder. Worm pills. Maybe even inoculations someday. Who knows where it could lead. How far it could go. David Letterman, Barnum & Baily, Moscow.”
Gertrude, Dante and Morris. Gertrude and Morris feeling confident that Dante, being the most responsible of all their children, will hold the fort until they return from Allentown.
Donald was sold. What was a minor deception compared to a major altruistic goal. Two days later, ten minutes after Morris’ big black Buick pulled out of the driveway headed for Allentown in a driving rain storm, the Schwartz’s basement rec room was full of barking dogs and hyperactive children. Ronald was the doorman and bouncer. He collected admission, a dollar a head, and threatened to break the knees of anyone who tried to sneak in or was caught messing around with Gertrude’s nick-knacks which were displayed on shelves all over the basement. Gertrude was heavily into ceramics.
Dante was the Master of Ceremonies who, after a twenty minute monologue, most of which was political and only vaguely humorous to a few intellectual types who happened to be present and could understand what the hell he was talking about, introduced the opening act: “Dana, Dina & Donna, The Three D’s; Delightful, Dynamic, and Determined to dance, dance, dance their way into your heart. Give them a big hand folks.” Anyone caught booing the sisters was smacked in the head by Ronald. It was an awful long dance, and even though the girls were truly talented, they didn’t have what it took to grab this particular audience. Ron ald was growing tired of smacking kids in the head, so he motioned for Dante to cut the music which Dante was about to do anyway, and which he did abruptly right before the Three D’s were about to go into their final grand finale. There had been a few teasers previously, followed by many disappointed audience members voicing their exasperation quite audibly, saying things like “Oh no, not more,” and, “Just when you think it’s over!”
Dana was so humiliated by the general lack of appreciation and the unconscionable behavior of Dante and Ronald that she threatened to blow the whistle and tell Morris and Gertrude exactly what was going on when they were not around. Dante responded to her threat by telling the audience that Dana wore falsies and threatened in turn to tell Morris and Gertrude about her secret infatuation with a member of a motorcycle gang. That shut her trap quickly. She and the other two D’s stomped up the cellar steps in their tap shoes, shouting the vilest of profanities down at their brothers and the rest of the low life losers in the audience. If they hadn’t needed money for cigarettes, Dina and Donna would never have popped that pop corn and gone back downstairs to peddle it for twenty five cents a bag. But as Dina put it, “Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.” Donna was in full agreement with Dina, and followed at her heels with a gallon of cool aide in each hand saying, “I hear ya, baby, I hear ya.” Dana, mortified by what Dante had revealed to the audience, refused to help her sisters with the refreshments, threw a stack of paper cups down the basement stairs and shouted, “Yous are all a bunch of assholes!”
The show went on to be a success, with encore after encore provided by Donald and his Dogs, until, alas, they ran out of time and had to forcefully usher out the audience in order to, as Dante put it, “spit-shine” the basement before Morris and Gertrude got home. Dante swept, Donald mopped, and Ronald ran around with a can of Lysol, spraying away the tell-tale odor of dog, which was easier to get rid of than the dogs themselves, who hung around until the very last minute, and who then, upon seeing the big, black Buick pull up and one of Gertrude’s’ black stockinged legs get out, took off at high speed like a single entity, except for one malnourished pup who lagged and moseyed, lagged and moseyed, looking back over his rump, earnestly hoping for one last treat from Dog Boy.
Morris and Gertrude went to bed early that night without the least suspicion that anything out of the ordinary had gone on while they were away. As they snored away in their king sized bed under the purple sateen comforter that Gertrude had ordered through Spiegal catalog, the kids held a business meeting around the dining room table. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways of improving the show and increasing profit. The thirty seven dollars they had made that day, after being split three ways, was chicken shit. The triplets were dissatisfied with the meager ten bucks they had made by selling refreshments as well. And, they also believed that they deserved some kind of gratuity for that opening number they did from Oklahoma. Everyone agreed that raising admission would not be feasible. It was hard enough trying to get a single buck out of some of those kids. Two shows instead of one, however, might be the answer.
It was Ronald who suggested that the first show be a kiddie show for ages six through twelve, and the second show be geared toward a more mature audience of thirteen and up. Dante reluctantly agreed, after much pressure from his siblings, to eliminate his monologue and use his talent instead for Public Relations and Advertising. It would be his job to psyche up the neighborhood kids well in advance of the next show by spreading the word through discriminatively and strategically placed flyers and posters. In fact, he would start selling tickets the very next day, better to get that money off those little suckers right away before they had a chance to blow it on something else. Ronald agreed to distribute the flyers along with his newspapers, and to reach the older kids, he would go the route of the grapevine, dropping the word in pool halls, pizza parlors and hoagie shops.
The triplets would still be in charge of refreshments, and whatever they made they, of course, could keep for themselves. They would not be needed as an opening act for the kiddie show; in the interest of time it would be best to get the little ones in an out as quickly as possible. They could, though, if they so chose, open for the second show, but with no percentage of the door. This meant that they would have to rely on gratuities alone if they expected to be compensated for their time and energy, and yes, of course, for their remarkable talent, first and foremost. It was vigorously recommended by the brothers that they work on a more sophisticated routine, drop the Carrousel crap, and loose the goofy polka dot costumes. The triplets, more than a little indignant, didn’t make any promises, but agreed to take the advice of their brothers into consideration.