The Bearded Lady
On Spivy's Roof

In the old days, Holden Caulfield types like me who were imprisoned in snooty schools and colleges in the Northeast would gravitate to New York City on weekends to get drunk, seek sin and get laid. Usually the latter two experiences were only to be found not in New York but in Wolkenkuckucksheim.

We would go to Times Square and the jazz clubs on 47th Street where they served rotgut liquor in tiny shot glasses that were, as I best recall, mostly all glass and little shot. Sometimes, we'd find our way to one of tiny, dark bars with a single fixture --- a man or a woman who would sing "party songs," music that was defined at the time as "naughty but nice." There was Charlie Drew, and Dwight Fiske, and a little further up the scale, Mme. Spivy, of Spivy's Roof, at 139 E. 57th.

We'd wait an hour or so, drinking expensive shots of Old Crow or Seven-and-Sevens. Then a bright spotlight would appear, Spivy would arrrive, sit down in front of her black piano, clear her throat, and start singing.

She was a plump lady (one writer said that she was "squat like a bulldog.") She wore her hair in a tight pompadour with a white streak down the middle. She would place a tall glass of what was probably chilled gin on the piano before her. During her time on stage, she would drain a couple, but her singing --- her low, throaty voice --- would always be perfect and predictable, especially for those of us who bought her records and memorized the words of her repertoire, songs that she had written and recorded under the "Spivy" label.

"I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90s," was a favorite. "The Tropical Fish" ("How would you like to sleep in the water you drank?") Two always in demand were "Doing the Tarantella (in a suit of real bright yellow):" She would fall into splits 'til the folks lost their wits.

The one I remember best of all is "The Cat." I cannot for the life of me remember more than a couple of lines of Hamlet that I was taught in that Prussian military school. I still have trouble remembering which novels were written by the Bronte sisters and the ones that came from the pen of Jane Austen. But to this day I can recite most of the words of "The Cat," along with the intonations, the riffs (and the pauses for laughs) exactly as it has been tricked away in my memory-bag for the last fifty years. As I sit here, it comes out just so:

    On the 14th floor of a walkup flat,
    I used to keep an alley cat.
    Each night I'd take him down the stair,
    And waited while he took the air.
    He grew up fast and developed a yen
    No sooner was he in than he was out again.
    I hated to spoil his fun.
    But I knew what must be done.

    So I took him to the vet and had his profile bobbed
    And when he sat down he said, 'Hell, I've been robbed.'
    He went out that night but came right home to bed,
    And the look on his face was a scream as he said,
    'Well, you've done it,
    Now the operation's over
    No longer will I take chances with the maids...
    Now I pass them by
    And hear them cry
    There goes that pansy cat.'

Go on to
Part II

Go to the
that inspired this essay


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH

Send us an e-mail