Paper Man

Legendary former Daily News columnist Pete Dexter has a new book out. His legacy will surely precede his upcoming visit to Philly.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Mar. 7, 2007

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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:

On Norman Mailer

On threatening to drown an editor in chili

On "perceived" and "preceived"

On Zack Stalberg

On Bruce Springsteen

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1. Ryan Hobbs said... on Dec 31, 2011 at 05:11PM

“Sounds to me like Pete Dexter got what he had coming. Takes some pretty raw nerve to publish a story about a dead kid that you don't know, saying he was stoned all the time (questionable), and then being so stupid as to go into a tough neighborhood to tell his probably still grieving brother to his face that you're not going to retract the things you said about his deceased kin. Um... hello? So he gets roughed up. Go figure. Then he comes back to same said rough neighborhood with an entourage of tough guys, including a professional prize fighter to... (wait for it)... "talk"? LMFAO!! So, local guy goes and gets his local friends and local bats and crowbars and tunes up this idiot (Pete Dexter). I'd have done the same. Hilariously, his tough guy friends all ran. All but one... Randall "Tex" Cobb. Props to you, Randall. Dumb of you to have been sucked into that whole mess, but good on you for having the balls to protect your dumbas$ friend when everyone else ran. Go Tex!!”

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2. Bob Ingram said... on May 10, 2014 at 08:05AM

“I lived at 22nd and Lombard for several years and, as much as I admire and respect Pete Dexter as a writer, I only had one slightly bad experience and that neighnorhood was nothing compared to when I lived in Fishtown, which could be a combat zone on a Friday night. In the big city, you gotta know where you are or it's on you.”


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