Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Message To Soupy

I was really saddened to learn last week of the passing of one of my all-time favorite entertainers, Soupy Sales. If you were an American growing up with a television in the '60s, Soupy Sales was a name you would know. His unique brand of comedy, with its trademark pies in the face, took the country by storm for a few years. I just loved the guy, and if you want to get a taste (pun intended) of his humor, do a video search with his name. You'll be able to see samples of the old tv shows.

Anyway, I have a Soupy Sales story. No, I didn't have him in my cab. But maybe this is the next best thing...

Back in the early '90s I was in the habit of taking a break in my shift every night at about 9 p.m. at a typical New York bagel joint called "Hot Bagels" on 2nd Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets. I liked the place because not only did they have great bagels, but it was in a convenient location and there was always a parking space across the street. Those are important factors in the choice a cabbie makes for where to take his break. I would go into Hot Bagels and get my sesame or poppy seed bagel and a cup of coffee and be back in the cab in five minutes. Time is money in my business.

It's quite common in restaurants and other shops in New York to see autographed head shots of celebrities displayed on the walls like trophies. It's as if to say, "Hey, this isn't just any coffee shop - this is the coffee shop where Liza Minelli comes in to get her rice pudding!". Usually there are many such celebrity photographs on display and I've always found it interesting to check them out.

So the very first time I went into Hot Bagels - I believe it was in 1990 - I noticed right away something quite unusual. This place didn't have numerous celebrity head shots on its walls - it had only one. Staring out at me from his place on the wall directly behind the cash register was the smiling face of Soupy Sales.

I asked the fellow behind the counter why, out of all the celebrities whose pictures might theoretically be on the wall, would Soupy Sales be the one to be so honored. He told me that Soupy lived in the neighborhood and comes in regularly to get his bagels.

Wow! I was impressed. Perhaps it was this even more than the convenient location and easy parking that kept me coming back to Hot Bagels. I started to think about what I would say to Soupy if we should ever be there at the same time. I remembered a particular song he used to sing and I decided to incorporate some of the lyrics in the song into a bagel shop context, just as a personal homage to Soupy, should we ever be there at the same time. But, unfortunately, we never were.

Still, the decision to create this effect on Soupy was active in my universe and intention is senior to the obstacles of the material world, right? So I came up with a new idea. As time went by I had gotten familiar with the fellow behind the counter, a friendly, Moroccan man named Raz. I decided to use Raz as my conduit to get to Soupy.

The song I was fond of was a ridiculous thing called "Bakalafaka" (pronounced ba-ka-LAF-a-ka) that was typical of Soupy's comedy. The lyrics that I remember went like this:

Bakalafaka, bakalafaka,
They whisper it all over Turkey.
Bakalafaka, bakalafaka,
It sounds so romantic and perky...

...and it goes on using this nonsense word, "bakalafaka" throughout the song until the end where it's revealed that no one knows what "bakalafaka" means.

So I told Raz, a cheerful guy, about Soupy and how big he had been in the USA in the '60s. Raz, having grown up in Northern Africa, had no idea that his customer was so famous and seemed quite pleased that a person of this stature would come into his shop. So I knew he would help me with my plan. After a few more bagel stops I laid it on him.

I wanted Raz to tell Soupy that he wanted him to try something that's new in his shop that's delicious and goes great with bagels. It's called "bakalafaka" and it's imported from Turkey! And then watch for Soupy's reaction.

Raz thought this was a great idea and was eager to get it right. I knew the potential stumbling block in this caper would be the word "bakalafaka" itself. For one thing it sounds like the name of a real food that might be available in a bagel shop, "baklava", the Middle Eastern pastry. And for another thing, it's got five syllables, and that's a lot of syllables to remember. Both Raz and I were concerned that he might screw it up, so what Raz did was to write "ba-ka-LAF-a-ka" on the wall. He told me he would rehearse it and when he had it down cold he would lay it on Soupy.

I couldn't wait.

However, the next three or four times I went into Hot Bagels someone else was behind the counter and I began getting worried that maybe Raz had returned to Morocco after humiliating himself in front of an angry American comedian. But finally there he was. He greeted me with a huge smile and great excitement.

"I did it!" he exclaimed.

"You did? Wow! What happened?"

"His eyes opened up, real wide! And then, BIG smile! And then he says, YOU WATCHED THE SHOW!!!"

Ah, Soupy Sales. I loved that guy.

Come back to us, Soupy.

And when you do, don't forget to click here for Pictures From A Taxi.


Mike E said...

Hi Gene, terrific blog! Great way for me to kill a few hours while I should be studying for my nyc hack exam -- which I expect to take on Friday..


Real cab driver said...

You missed your chance to have the guy do the Soupy Shuffle in front of Soupy?

However, you can still teach the guy how to do the Soupy Shuffle. You must remember how to do it, right?

G.S. said...

I confess I do not know how to do the Soupy Shuffle, although if memory serves it was a left to right, right to left thing. I can do the Mouse, however. Hey, I do it in my house, yeah.

NYC taxi photo said...

I only find the name soupy sales familiar, but nonetheless... one thousand thumbs up my friend, great tale!

april said...

He was right in between Sandy Becker and Sonny Fox, wasn't he - like what's between the bagel! Wouldn't you know I also love poppy and sesame, but garlic and everything often rule. Imagine a mouthful of those greeting Soupy: the breathalafaka would've surely done him in.