Legendary former Daily News columnist Pete Dexter has a new book out. His legacy will surely precede his upcoming visit to Philly.
"Then I don't know why you came here," the bartender replied.
"Because I had to see who you are," replied Dexter. "I ain't changing nothing, I'm just here to tell you."
So, Lego says, "I cracked him."
The original Daily News account, which identifies no source, says Dexter was punched twice by assailants he never saw before he left the bar. An account in Paper Trails says he was set upon by men armed with beer bottles, and lost half his upper teeth.
According to Lego and another man who wants to be called only "Max," the rest of the evening went like this: Later that night Dexter comes back with a group of six or seven guys, including what Lego remembers as "a pair of big biker looking dudes" and Tex Cobb.
Art Bourgeau, owner of Whodunit Books on Chestnut Street, was one of Dexter's running buddies at the time. He says the group went there with no thoughts of a fight. "We were there purely so Pete could have some sense of safety while he tried to work this out," he says.
Were they drinking?
"It was a typical Friday night," he replies.
Both Lego and Max say the two groups exchanged words, and Dexter asked, "Is anyone gonna jump me now?"
Max got off his stool and walked to another bar about a block away. There he recruited reinforcements and opened the trunk of his car, arming at least half the men with nightsticks, tire-irons and, he claims, one baseball bat, which he himself carried.
When they arrived, maybe 10 to 15 strong, the odds had clearly changed. The most quoted line has Cobb looking around at the men with bats and saying, "I hope this is the local softball team."
Bourgeau remembers Cobb saying, "We'll be leaving now."
In any event, Lego and Max agree that someone in the Dexter entourage said, 'We could wreck this place,' which prompted Lego to pick up a pool stick--Max says it was a bat--and slam it on the bar. "Let's wreck it right now, asshole!" he said.
Cobb started hustling everyone out the door, but the balky-kneed Dexter was quickly caught out on 24th Street, where Tommy Lego began wailing on him with the kind of weapon that can only exist some 26-odd years after a bar fight--a combination pool stick and baseball bat.
The only one in Dexter's entourage who stayed and defended him was Cobb, the heavyweight. He stood over his fallen friend, pushing away the men who were striking him, and absorbing blows with an arm that was ultimately broken in the fight.
Could Pete Dexter have died that night?
The safest answer is that the men of Grays Ferry who stood over him didn't really care if he lived or died. He'd come into one of the city's toughest neighborhoods and tried to intimidate its residents with a show of force. At least that's the way they took it.
"Write this down," says Max. "In our neighborhood, we were brought up family and friends. You watch each other's back. That's it. For us, that's what that night was about."
Cobb carried Dexter off to the hospital. And 26 years later, life has gone on. Lego has a son in Iraq who's getting married when he comes home on leave in September. It still burns him up when he sees this story retold every time Pete Dexter has a new book out. And it still upsets him that his mother died without ever seeing the son she remembered eulogized in print. For the record, Tommy Lego says his brother Francis "Buddy" Lego wasn't "stoned all the time."
"He was a really good basketball player," he says, "for Neumann. You can't do that when you're high. And when he died he was working in the Navy Yard. He was a pipe fitter. He crawled around on ships, through boiler rooms. You can't do that when you're high either."
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino