Sunday, October 08, 2006

And now ladies and gentlemen it gives me great pleasure. But before I give myself great pleasure, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Buzz Belmondo, Professional Show Business Entertainer! Thank you very much, you’re too kind.
Those of you familiar with my work may be saying, “The Buzz Belmondo I know doesn’t sound like this?” It’s true that my free flowing accent, along with my pencil-thin mustache and conservative pompadour, have been my trademark throughout the world. Unfortunately, hearing an accent and reading one are two very different things. Consider how much of the dramatic impact is lost when you read, ‘Gib de woomon air, chicken nut bread!’ As compared to ‘Give the woman air, she can not breathe!’ Believe me, there would be a lot of ‘chicken nut bread’ to sort through if I were to write this the way I spoke.
And so to my family and friends I say, no, I’m not ashamed of my accent. It has served me well and lined my pockets for many years. Rest assured that my unique and fragmented phrasing will remain intact, but for the sake of the public’s reading enjoyment I shall be telling my story using only ‘English speaking’ writing.
My life had come full cycle, or maybe it’s just gone in circles. Most people write a book about their life hoping to turn it into a film. In my case there was a film of my life that became this book. In a nutshell, it’s a whimsical tale that is oddly loony. I take full responsibility for letting most of the nuts out of their shells, which brings up an important point.
Some of us can tell a story while others merely repeat the facts. In the spirit of fair play and profit sharing considerations, the other players in this book have been given the opportunity to provide their version of the events that took place.
It goes without saying that I’ve taken their recollections and edited them into a version that conforms more to the way I remembered it.
The pseudo-Beatnik philosopher, Terrence Hamburg, once heard someone say, “After all is said and done, more is said than done.” That being said, we’re done. All that’s left for me to do is to invite you to join me for an evening of entertainment at The Macumba Room at the Club Mocombo.


Hans Rhinehardt was a stranger in town, but he was no stranger than the rest of us. Who could blame the guy for feeling apprehensive? Three days earlier this lamb among sheep had been living with his parents in the small town of Boeblingen, Germany, just another clueless college student with no real sense of purpose. The last thing on his mind was to sell everything he owned, buy a digital video camera, and with nothing more than a dream and a canvas of life experiences as blank as the film in his camera, fly off to America. Nevertheless, here he was.
Hans sat back in the mustard colored cab and hung on as it knifed its way through the night traffic. More than a little frightened by the Cabdriver’s daredevil driving skills, Hans glanced out the side window at the smudges of evening light and the blurred buildings of the passing skyline. “If only I had gotten into a cab with cleaner windows,” he thought and realized that he was no longer in Boeblingen, known to many as the Kansas of Germany.
For most people, catching a dream is never easy. But in Hans’ case it would prove to be damn near impossible. On the bright side; at least Hans finally had a dream to chase. It was provided for him by his college Drama Professor who proclaimed that, “This was the age of digital filmmaking. Now any idiot could make his own movie!” It was all Hans needed to know.
In Germany, both friends and family were quick to point out that two things would always stand in the way of this idiot filmmaker. His failure to understand that having a dream wasn’t necessarily the same thing as having a vision, and his inability as a film Director to express that lack of vision. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back in the taxi Hans was unwilling to guess the nature of the sticky substance on the window handle and used a piece of paper to roll down the window. With the foolishness of youth serving as his safety net, Hans hung himself out the open window and filmed the passing neighborhood. He was filled with ‘Christmas morning’ excitement as he dropped back into his seat and fumbled with the playback button. What he saw on the viewing screen on the side of his camera was the first of many artistic disappointments.
“Uberprufen sie, dab Kamera is fokussiertes vorher filming!”
His words caught the attention of the Taxi’s burly, big-eared driver. “You speaking to me, buddy?”
“I was just making a note to myself to make sure the camera is in focus before I start filming,” Hans apologized.
With little regard for the traffic in front of him the Cabby kept his eyes glued on his rearview mirror. “What are you filming? Something for the folk’s back home?”
You’ve got to give Hans high marks for keeping a cool head and not showing his concern that the cab seemed to be driving itself. “Actually, Herr Driver, I’m here to make a documentary film. I’m Hans Rhinehardt, filmmaker.”
The Cabdriver looked away from the rearview mirror long enough to nonchalantly avoid hitting a double-parked car. “You’re in films, huh? You know, when you first stepped into the cab I thought you had that artsy-fartsy look about you,” the Cabby said, as he glanced at Hans’ black turtleneck sweater, trim black pants, and black Beatle boots. “Either that or you’re a burglar.”
The Cabby abruptly cut across the on-coming traffic, ignoring the honking horns and screeching tires, and did a one-eighty into a parking space. “Here you are, Spielberg, Cocktail Lane. Fifteen-fifty, excluding tip.”
On a personal note, it breaks my heart to tell you that most of what is left of the once glamorous Cocktail Lane is now covered in a layer of grime. Neglect had left the old girl dancing on the dark side of poverty. It was a condition Hans was quick to pick up on. He had prepared himself to expect the unexpected, but this he didn’t expect. The bright and upbeat opening he had planned for his film had just become a montage of decayed buildings and raunchy little shops. “Hey, I don’t… this wasn’t… there was no… what is this?”
It became clear to the Cabby that Hans could neither contain nor verbalize the disappointment he felt. “Not quite what you expected?” Too bad you weren’t here in the old days. Back then Cocktail Lane was known as the ‘Nightclub Capital of the World’. Now that would have made a great movie.”
Hans picked up his camera and pointed it at the talkative Cabby. It seemed like a good idea, until the young filmmaker noticed that the more the Cabdriver came into focus, the more dead he appeared to be. Startled, Hans stared at his viewing screen and wondered if this was a reflection of his directing style?
I’d have to say yes, if you consider pointing a camera and hoping for the best as a “style”. Veteran cinematographers will tell you that if left to it’s own accord a camera’s lens doesn’t choose what it sees, but it does have a habit of showing you what you weren’t looking for. In Hans’ case his lens had zeroed in on the wicked combination of bad lighting, a pasty face, and a much too dark toupee. A blend that gave the Cabby that “cadaver look” most men shied away from.
“You had the Club Elegant right over there, Shorty Malone’s across the street, The Loman Supper Club next to that. I’m telling you the best of the best was right here,” the Cabby remembered with a smile that soon became a frown. “Now all you’ve got are these crappy storefronts specializing in crap. Or video arcades filled with under-schooled punks. And let’s not forget your never-ending parade of belligerent panhandlers. It’s quite a come down from the old days, buddy.”
Hans stroked his chin and tried not to be too critical of his own work. But there was no denying that his idea for a film had turned out to be a lot more depressing than it read on paper. “What about the Macumba Room at the Club Mocombo?” he asked hopefully.
The Cabby flashed his dead man’s grin and gestured to a bright neon oasis just beyond their dilapidated surroundings. “Oh, she’s still standing. The old girl is one of the last of her kind.”
Had I been there with Hans and the gabby Cabby I would have pointed out that the Club Mocombo was not one of the last, but indeed the last of her kind.
Hans dusted off his trampled enthusiasm and leaned into the camera’s built-in microphone. He spoke in what he referred to as his, ‘Director’s Narrative Voice’, which if you ask me was just his regular voice only slower. “And so the adventure begins, as I have reached my destination… as well as my destiny.”
“That’ll be fifteen-fifty for the destination, your destiny can be reflected in my tip,” the Cabby urged as another fare signaled from across the street. Hans grabbed his belongings and handed the Cabby a twenty-dollar bill. Once outside the cab he thanked the driver for his kindness and watched as the taxi pulled away in mid-sentence. I don’t blame the Cabby. When it got dark in this part of Cocktail Lane some people prayed, while others did a little preying of their own.
And so it was that Hans Rhinehardt found himself alone on a trash spewed sidewalk, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. “Stories of the rampant crime in the streets and alleyways of America are greatly exaggerated,” Hans assured himself, and tried to calm his trembling. He knew he couldn’t stand there forever, so he hitched up his equipment-filled backpack and hoped he wouldn’t be robbed.
Hans kept his eyes glued to his viewing screen as he filmed his way to the neon glow a few blocks away. It was his belief that it was “art” that had shielded him from the denizens of Cocktail Lane. The poor boy never understood that during his walk from the cab his “art” had imitated his life in that no one had taken notice of him. Is that cool or sad? It’s hard to tell with art sometimes.
The young Director finally reached his destination he and stared in awe at the grand old building that filled his viewing screen. “Der Macumba Raum an der Verein Mocombo. Ein dokumentarischer film vorbei Hans Rhinehardt.”
It was about time the Club Mocombo was back in the media’s eye. Dollars to doughnuts that when all the big clubs on Cocktail Lane were in their heyday nobody thought the Mocombo would be the last one standing. Sure, dirt and time had taken something out of the old girl, and it didn’t hurt if you squinted a little when you gave her a look, but that can be said about any of us.
If you ever wanted to see a living snapshot of the glamour and glitz that once made up Cocktail Lane, all you had to do was look up at the colorful neon palm trees and conga drums that adorned the Club Mocombo’s entrance. Not that it made any difference to Hans. He of the “artistic choices, I know ye not” was too busy filming a group of cheery people on their way past the Club’s tall bamboo doors.
Guarding the tropical entranceway and ready to greet the customers with beefy open arms stood Bobo Upolu. The massive Bobo was a retired bear wrestler who I had first met in American Samoa during a triumphant tour of my one-man show, “The Return of Buzz Belmondo, For Those Of You Who Never Knew He Left.”
One of the ‘Ten Mysteries of the Club Mocombo’ was how the large and imposing Bobo was able to keep from exploding out of the tight flowery Polynesian shirts he wore. Body mass aside, Bobo Upolu was without a doubt the most sociable Doorman/Bouncer I had ever hired. With great fondness in his voice he greeted all of our customers by calling them ‘cousins’.
“Welcome, cousins! Always good to have you come by. Tonight the Boss has put together a big show for you. Lots of fun for everyone!” he would say with a belly laugh than rattled the bamboo doors. It was just one of many reasons the smiling Samoan was so popular with our clientele. Another was the fact that he stood between them and any unwanted spillage from Cocktail Lane. Many of our regulars always commented that Bobo’s skill at crushing intruders and keeping them away from our little oasis only added to his adorability.
I will always remember the first time I entered the Club Mocombo’s Polynesian-style Showroom, The Macumba Room. I found myself being swept away by the eye-popping spectacle of exotic flowers and lush green foliage, the majesty of elaborately carved teakwood tables made from the heart of the teak log, buffer by handcrafted cobra-backed rattan chairs. Did I mention the workmanship on the giant hand-chiseled Tiki Gods spread around the Showroom smiling their approval? It was a whole new world of sights and sounds that demanded attention from all the senses.
On the other hand, Hans’ world continued to grow smaller as he kept his face buried in his viewing screen. Walking backwards, he followed the last of the customers as they passed Bobo. “You are definitely going to be on the movie poster, Herr Doorman!” he called out to the miniature image of the large Samoan in his screen.
“I appreciate that, young cousin. But the Boss has rules about cameras in the club.”
“Do not worry, meine cousine. I have permission,” Hans smiled as he watched Bobo quietly closed the bamboo doors on the outside world. Suddenly aware that he was inside the Macumba Room, Hans blinked his eyes a few times to make sure the images in his viewing screen were indeed real. Actually, that wasn’t an uncommon reaction. Years ago an acclaimed Nightclub critic wrote that the Macumba Room looked like a set from one of those classic Technicolor MGM musicals. Little did he know that a couple of those MGM sets were based on our Showroom.
“Now this is more of what I had in mind!” Hans shrieked, right before his viewing screen went dark. Left with little choice, Hans looked up from the screen and into the eyes of the woman whose hand covered his camera’s lens.
“No cameras allowed in the Showroom!” Suzi Wells said in a voice that invited no further discussion. I was the one who had taught her that voice, and how to use it to get the most out of the Club’s staff. She got so good at it that it became her normal way of speaking.
When Suzi first showed up at our bamboo doors she was a seventeen years old wise-ass looking for a job. Normally I don’t consider someone with pink hair, tattoos, and nose-rings, management material. Nonetheless, I took the colorful ragamuffin under my wing and taught her the Nightclub business. Suzi was a fast learner and I was a speedy teacher, and before I knew it she had gotten out from under my thumb and became my right hand. Now here it is a few years later, and frankly I couldn’t imagine running the Mocombo without her.
In many ways the now twenty-something Suzi was the anti-Hans. The young filmmaker from Germany would readily tell you that one task at a time was more than enough for him. For Suzi it was the complete opposite. She was obsessed with multiple tasks, the more the better. It was all related to something called, ‘Excessive Activities Syndrome’. One-man bands and short-order cooks have a form of it.
There were some people at the Mocombo who whined and complained that Suzi was too demanding in her ways; to them I say, “tough maracas”. Things got done around here because I allowed Suzi’s tentacles to stretch to every corner of the Club. If you got in her way she’d run you down, as Hans was about to find out.
Trying not to look into her piercing eyes, Hans took great care as he lifted a folded letter from his pocket and presented it to his pink hair Hostess. “I apologize for the misunderstanding, Fraulein, but I have written ahead for clearance. I am Hans Rhinehardt, filmmaker.”
Suzi arched an eyebrow to show her annoyance and yanked Hans out of the path of a waiter toting a full tray of food. “All that letter says is that you have permission to film backstage and in the Boss’ dressing room.”
A self-conscious Hans shifted his weight and took a more accommodating stance. “I assure you that the last thing I want to be is any kind of a distraction. I am only here to make art.”
“Art has its place, and it’s not in the Showroom. Club policy. Bobo, get our guest a seat and something to drink. I’ll tell the Boss he’s here,” Suzi ordered.
A startled Hans almost dropped his camera at the sight of the huge doorman standing next to him. “Where did you come from?”
It wasn’t the answer Hans had expected but he wasn’t about to tell Bobo. Instead he turned and thanked Suzi for her help. “Fraulein, your assistance has been most…”
Suzi was already on the other side of the Showroom seating customers.
“I’m learning, Herr Bobo, that in America it isn’t always easy to finish a thank you.”
“Try shorter ones,” Bobo suggested as he slapped Hans on the back to get him moving across the Showroom floor.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the eclectic clientele we prided ourselves in would bedazzle the young Director. Young or old, hip or square, it made no difference. All fell under the spell of the Club Mocombo and Hans was no exception.
“This atmosphere is unbelievable! Herr Bobo, what brings so many people here tonight?”
“Same as always. Some came by cab, but most drove,” Bobo shrugged.
Again it wasn’t the answer Hans was expecting.
Bobo eased Hans into a cobra-back rattan chair as a comely waitress in a grass skirt and coconut bra placed a large fruit filled drink in front of him.
“Enjoy yourself, cousin,” Bobo smiled, and faded into the background.
“Danke… “ Hans began, but Bobo was already gone. Before he had a chance to fret about another wasted expression of gratitude the house lights dimmed and the crowd grew quiet.
“Welcome to the world renown Macumba Room at the fabulous Club Mocombo,” Antonio Marquez, the Club’s deep-voiced Announcer welcomed. “We are proud to present for your entertainment enjoyment, ‘The Buzz Belmondo Dancer!’”
The House Band picked up its cue as a bright spotlight hit center stage. Eve Sawtell, easily one of the top five most beautiful women I’ve ever worked with, stepped into the spotlight. She was a spectacularly long-legged redhead with alabaster skin, who sizzled in her sequined mini-dress and stiletto heels. Eve at one time had been part of the ‘Buzz Belmondo Dancers’, along with her ex-husband, Ronnie. As part of a messy divorce settlement Eve ended up with the act. To this day, every time I watched her dance wildly around the stage, I have to ask myself, “What the hell did Ronnie used to do?”
Eve’s eye-popping beauty didn’t go unnoticed by Hans. He gawked at her long legs and wondered if the correct term was ‘glamorous gams’ or ‘glorious hams’?” Gams or hams, what did it matter? The fiery redhead had already danced her way into his heart, via his groin area. Hans sipped away at his drink and instinctively knew, that at least for the moment, the troubles of the world were safely on the other side of the Showroom’s bamboo doors.