WHENEVER I HEAR Archie Bunker mix a cliche or mangle a metaphor I am reminded of Googie Salvatori, who dominated the petite underworld of our neighborhood in Denver during the early '30s.
Mister Googie's real name was William Hutchins and he uas born in Sicily, Neb. -- but he had adopted his Italian mother's maiden name shortly after she divorced his father. Liking neither "William" nor "Billy," she chose to call him Gugliemo, which quite naturally was shortened to Googie by his neighborhood gang. But when he became a man of substance (i.e., the head bootlegger of East Denver) he insisted on being addressed as Mr. Googie, and no one would have dared omit the "mister."
Needless to say, Mr. Googie had other pretensions which logically derived from his status as a pillar of our community (he was, in fact, the only pillar of that rather unstable, polyglot ghetto). One of his more engaging conceits was his attempt to speak "better English than nobody around here." With painstaking deliberation, he would frequently awe his underworld colleagues and ordinary neighbors with what he chose to call $5 words.
He was, however, unable to pronounce most words with more than two syllables and thus frequently found it necessary to chop off a syllable or two. How well one remembers an outdoor political caucus during which he told some 70 captive listeners that he was running for captain of District W "because I'm worried about all these girls of the femine sex that's getting to be juvile linquents."
He pronounced "femine" as if if were fee-mine, and, like many gangsters, he was inordinately worried about the chastity of all the fee-mine girls in his family -- his sisters at first, and then his two daughters. Their chastity was so well guarded that no one would risk inviting his teenage daughters to the high school dances, although both of them were extremely attractive and patently anxious to be asked.
Aside from his deep concern about juvile linquents of the femine sex, Mister Googie fretted a great deal about "all these here commonists and athists that's trying to take over the Democrat Party -- just like the caplists took over the Republic Party."
Once in a while, whenever he really hated someone, he would tab him as a dirty commonist-athist-caplist; but the only local person he ever singled out for that multihypenated distinction was Max Fresquez, the only declared Republican in the Curtis Park area. Fresquez was, in all our eyes, a bona fide capitalist because he owned two drugstores and bought a new Buick every two years. He was also a member of the police commission and thus a natural enemy to all hard-working bootleggers like Mr. Googie.
"With this guy Fresquez in there," Mr. Googie once told my father "you can't even make a decent living no more. Some damn Republic cop always knocking you up. Besides which, that bastid he didn't even close his two stores on Mother's Day."
It was Fresquez' failure to close shop on Mother's Day that finally galled Mr. Googie into direct action. Accompanied by his two most loyal rumrunners, Celestio Brancusi and Ben Martinez, he picketed the main drugstore for three hours with huge home-made signs: "This Fink Doesn't Like Mothers" and "Only Athist-Caplists Hate Their MOM." Since it was a hot afternoon and many presumed mother-haters were thirsting for Max Fresquez' large and inexpensive root beers, the picketing was a dismal flop. Celestio finally convinced Mr. Googie that it was a lost cause.
"Okay, man," he said with heavy but philosophical resignation, "A goose of another gander is the same to me."
No one -- certainly not Celestio -- had ever tried to fathom the deep and mysterious turns in Googie's language or thought patterns. He had no doubt been heavily influenced by his mother's old-country propensity for proverbs and earthy figures of speech, many of which he had semi-translated and then absorbed into his own special brand of English. One of his most memorable feats of schizo-proverbia occurred when Guido Mancini quit rumrunning for Mr. Googie and took a better job with a bootlegger in another district.
"That Guido," he complained, "is like the dog in the manger who you lead to water and he don't drink it."
One of his cronies suggested that "you mean a horse which you lead to water -- don't you, Mr. Googie?"
"Listen, smarty, don't tell me what I mean! I said dog and that's what I meant. A dog's gotta drink water like any other beast of burden."
Intrigued by such unique contributions to the linguistic ambient of Curtis Park, where most of us would congregate for long hours of enforced leisure during the Depression, my brothers and I invented a game that consisted of unscrambling the proverbs which Mr. Googie had solemnly created from un-whole cloth. Those which still come to mind are the following:
You can't judge a man by the birds of a feather that he hides in his closet.
A stitch in time will get you nowheres.
It's better to love on the other side of the hill.
Never look a gift horse on the bush.
Two summers don't make a swallow with moss under its feet.
A rolling stone is worth two in the bush.
Don't take candy or starve a fever like an old fool.
Mr. Googie was equally adept at scrambling ordinary phrases, often adding new dimensions to old cliches. He converted tight-fisted into right-fisted; rabble rousers became babble rousters; knucklehead became bucklehead; primary elections were primate elections; tightwad became tightwaddle; second hand became second hat; and jitterbugs were flitterbugs. Thus it was entirely possible to imagine Mr. Googie condemning a rival as a "right-fisted, babble-rousing tightwaddle that's always wearing second-hat clothes, and the lousy buckle head ain't got the chance of a Chinese snowball in the primate election."
I have finally realized (after three decades of pondering the matter) that "he ain't got the chance of a Chinese snowball" was Mr. Googie's amalgam of, "He hasn't a Chinaman's chance" and, "He hasn't the chance of a snowball in hell."
Once, during a petulant outburst against some black children, he grumbled about "them little black pick-a-lillies that's always hanging around Curtis Park." Had they been white children, he would have probably called them "ragged little muffins." Having somehow convinced himself that his own bootlegging activities were socially acceptable, he considered all children potential "juvile linquents," and most of us were understandably resentful of Mr. Googie.
I, myself, once called him a dirty old root-beggar.