Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Naples shameful ghetto, McDonald's Quarters, didn't have a city council member but they did have a "mayor." His name was Splitcoat. Though I, nor any of the oldtime cops I've asked remember his real name, everyone remembers Splitcoat.
He looked like the wonderful actor Tim Moore who played Kingfish on the TV version of Amos n' Andy. Once he told Dave Dampier how he got that name. As a young man, in the 40's, he was the proud owner of a zoot suit. One of those atrocities with baggy, pegged trousers and a swallow-tail coat. He wore it to a carnival one night.
Playing the game where you throw a baseball and try to knock over a pyramid of wooden milk bottles, he would vigorously wind up, causing the tails on his coat to flap in the breeze. The attendant crowd began to yell, "Go Splitcoat, Go." The name stuck.
Splitcoat, who lived across the street from Rabbit's juke, and two doors down from the Dew Drop Inn, supplemented his Social Security check by running a card game. Although illegal, we turned our heads unless it got rowdy and dangerous. One night I received a call from hiz zonner, asking for my presence at his house.
"They won't lets me cut the pot," he complained, tears in his eyes. Cutting the pot is when the proprietor of the game takes an amount from each pot to pay the overhead. Just like they do in Vegas.
"I'm not the one to tell about it," I explained, "it's against the law for you to even be running that game."
"But, I only wants a dime a hand." he persisted. "I pays the rent, buys the beer, and cuttin' the pot a dime a hand is fair."
I had to agree. So I left the law on the front porch, and went inside and told the players to give Splitcoat his damn dime.

Splitcoat loved fish head soup and when I could turn up a few snook heads at the pier I'd take them to him. A Porterhouse steak wouldn't have been met with a happier reception. He'd start to work, getting all the meat off the bones--eyes and all-- put it in a pot with his fixin's and pretty soon it was boiling. Never worked up the nerve to try any, but it did smell good.

His language was sprinkled with Splitcoatisms. "The hurrier I goes, the behinder I gets," he'd say. Or my favorite, "Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody want to die."
I can still see him on the front porch of his hovel, rocking in his chair and surveying his domain, the squalid curtilage of McDonald's Quarters.

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