Legendary former Daily News columnist Pete Dexter has a new book out. His legacy will surely precede his upcoming visit to Philly.
Last week Pete Dexter walked into a Seattle bar. "Vodka and orange juice," he said.
Just four words, but anyone who's lived in Philly and heard the story of Pete Dexter knows the drink should not have been ordered. Not by Pete Dexter, and not for Pete Dexter. Not since an incident that occurred roughly 9,208 days ago.
For Dexter there's never been anything terribly romantic about tracing a pool cue's arc across a Grays Ferry night sky. But that event has taken on a kind of luster in the retelling--as if his book Paris Trout, today considered one of the great American novels of the last 50 years, is what came spilling out of his head when the pool cue struck him.
The night he was beaten near to death is Dexter's signature biographical moment--the instant in time when his already colorful life story entered the realm of myth.
Dexter, so the story goes, was a hard-drinking Philadelphia newspaperman who met up with a bunch of Grays Ferry toughs. They were upset by a column he'd written about a drug-related death in the neighborhood. They beat him with baseball bats.
Dexter suffered a broken pelvis and enough broken skin to warrant 60 stitches. He recovered from his wounds, and--this is important--stopped drinking. Then he proceeded to become one of America's best fiction writers.
There are, though, problems with the story.
For one, Dexter himself says the incident doesn't look so important to him through his 63-year-old eyes--he didn't hear a redemption song in the sound of his own pelvis cracking. Then there's the matter of the baseball bats.
Tommy Lego, the guy who struck Dexter, doesn't remember hefting a bat. He says he picked up a pool cue he kept behind the bar.
Lego is talking now for the first time because the dead kid in Dexter's column was his brother, and because all these years later he never got the satisfaction of seeing the brother he knew rendered in print.
But this story is getting ahead of itself just when it's time to slow down and watch.
Click here to hear Pete Dexter talk:
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