Cool Hand Rick


Let’s face it, I am imprisoned.

Granted, I have it pretty good here, though I’ve never stayed at another prison so I have nothing to compare it to.

I became pretty familiar with the old Sag Harbor jail, though. Back in the day things were pretty wild, half the town used to stay out until 4 AM drinking and carrying on.

It wasn’t unusual to get thrown in the drunk tank, which was right outside the back door of the Sandbar (now Page’s) near Murf’s. The stand-alone brick building is still there, I think.

They used it for decades rather than transport prisoners all the way to Southampton like they do now. But it was my idea to make it functional, that is to make it a center square seat for the night’s activities.

A friend told me, in the old days, one of the town drunks worked it so a brick could be removed. One night I snuck in and found the weak one. You could drink literally in jail and even run up a tab, since it was difficult to exchange cash. I can remember being up all night and bringing my friend in the clink bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from Eddie Ryder’s luncheonette across the street the next morning. He had no sooner wolfed it down when a cop came by with a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, also courtesy of Eddie’s; Seems the police were required to provide a meal every eight hours. “Bail” usually meant if you claimed to be sober and promised not to do it again you could go home. And so, you did — until the next Saturday night.

That was the summer I met Paul Newman. It wasn’t in the Sandbar but across the street, at Jim Black’s (The Buoy). Newman liked to play pool on the tiny table there, which didn’t even quite fit — there was a tiny pool cue the size of a yard stick for when the wall got in the way. We played for money or beer, but not a lot. There were some good pool players in town.

Newman was good, too. Word is he taught himself to play for his role in “The Hustler” and made his own shots in the movie. Not to be outdone Jackie Gleason, who played Minnesota Fats, did likewise. They say the two of them had a few games “just for fun” that ran into five figures and the wee hours.

Newman hung around Sag Harbor the whole summer with his wife, Joanne Woodward. They lived in the modest house across the street from Cleveland’s, which became Federico’s.

He was a cool guy, and had those blue eyes. He was short, though. Most male Hollywood stars I’ve met are like that — five-foot five or six. They have rugged good looks on camera but are diminutive off. If they ever got in a fight with a Nazi in real life, they would get slaughtered.

A couple times the guys went by the house late at night and beeped the horn, trying to get him to come out drinking. He’d come to the door. “Naw, not tonight guys,” he’d say, and wave.

One night he couldn’t shake someone’s dog at closing time so he took the critter home. The dog spent the night on the bed and walked home the next morning. The dog became a celebrity when people found out what had happened.

Anyhow, now that I’m in jail I’ve been boning up on the best prison movies. Most people think “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” are the best, but I like all the Alcatraz movies, and even Stallone’s “Escape” movies. But “Papillon” and “Cool Hand Luke” are my two favorites. Newman is the coolest prisoner ever, even though his “failure to communicate” gets him in a lot of trouble. (I don’t think he ate 50 eggs, either.) He did say he liked the company in solitary confinement.

In “Papillon,” there is a moment when Steve McQueen walks by solitary confinement and an inmate who had been trapped in the cell for a year sticks his head out into light. He was hideous looking after a year of confinement, his teeth rotting and face peeling. “Hey, how do I look?” he asked McQueen, who is visibly taken back by the sight. “Fine,” he mumbles. Then he steps into his solitary cell.

That’s the way I feel now.

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