“There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”
The first time I laid eyes on Art Malanowski and Hunny Van Horn was the day Hunny won the first New York Lottery payout of one billion dollars.
Normally Timothy Callahan and I are settled in bed and ready to be cheered up by Jon Stewart at eleven, and then we try to stay awake for Colbert. But a colleague of Timmy’s in Assemblyman Lipshutz’s office phoned earlier and urged Timmy to catch the Channel 13 news at eleven. He said, “You’ve gotta see this to believe it,” but refused to say what it was.
So we tuned in, and even before Hunny spoke, I said, “I do believe I detect what Johnny Carson used to call a hint of mint.”
“And then Ed would guffaw and say, ‘I’m not touching that one with a ten-foot pole!’”
“And Johnny would get that look, and say, ‘Mmmnn, a ten-foot pole!’”
“And the audience would crack up.”
I said, “Don’t you miss those days?”
A female reporter looking fresh out of communications school was doing a live stand-up outside Art and Hunny’s house on Moth Street in Albany’s North End. With its tar-paper-shingled front porch and aluminum awnings on the two second-story windows, Art and Hunny’s place looked a good deal less minty than Timmy’s and my Crow Street townhouse, with its Albany Historical Society bronze plaque next to the front door and the discreet rainbow stickers on half the Toyotas and Subaru Outbacks parked legally up and down the block. But the house on the television screen was in the old working-class North End, where predictability was harder to come by.
Huntington Van Horn, the reporter was saying, was the man who had purchased the unprecedentedly lucky winning ticket at DeMaestri’s Variety Store, two blocks down the street at the corner of Moth and Transformer. Hunny was sharing his spectacular winnings, the young woman said with a smile, with his “longtime partner,” Art.
“It’s good,” Timmy said, “that Albany TV reporters no longer refer to people like these two guys as admitted homosexuals. Of course, by the looks of Hunny and Art, they would have a tough time denying it.”
As the reporter went on to describe how the August twelfth drawing was the State Lottery’s first Instant Warren — making some fortunate player a Warren Buffet-like billionaire overnight
— the picture showed Hunny and Art earlier inside their house.
They were leaping about and flapping their wrists, shrieking with joy, uncorking champagne bottles and exchanging air kisses with others in the room. One of the celebrants was a middle-aged black man with large breasts, a heavy beard and a single rhinestone-studded earring dangling from his left earlobe and extending down to just above his collarbone. On this spectacularly lucky day, could the sparklers have been actual diamonds? Also prominent in the party crowd were two identical, nicely sculpted Caucasian youths of about community college age on whose T-shirts were printed the words wAnt soMe?
We soon saw more tape of lottery officials earlier in the evening exclaiming over the Instant Warren drawing, and reporting that ticket sales were the heaviest in the lottery’s history, and going on about how beneficial the lottery was for state educational programs. Then we were back live with the reporter. She was up on the front porch now and moving determinedly past the porch swing and through the open front door to the scene of festive mayhem in the Malanowski-Van Horn living room.
It was a little hard to hear the reporter over the Village People’s “In the Navy” blasting from somewhere outside camera range, but it was apparent that she was moving toward the man of the hour, who was now at the center of an undulating and somewhat disheveled all-male kick line. With their arms draped over one another’s shoulders, the dancers were having trouble keeping their champagne in their glasses, and some of the bubbly splashed onto the well-groomed reporter as she approached Hunny.
He was a short stout man, about sixty, I guessed, with a frizz of gray-blond hair around a bare pate that glistened in the TV lights. Hunny’s pale blue eyes were bright with merriment, and there were two smiles on his blocky face, a broad one of his own, and the other the scarlet imprint on his right cheek of an apparent congratulatory smooch from somebody who was wearing lipstick. Hunny had on dark jeans that looked brand new, a caftan-like lavender shirt and a blingy gold-colored amulet on a necklace that looked phallic but could have been a doggie treat or a cucumber from the damaged-farm-produce bin.
As the reporter closed in on Hunny, he spotted her moving toward him and broke away from the kick line and, in instant full Norma Desmond mode, came vamping at the camera, intoning tragically, “I am ready for my clooose — up, Channel 13!”
The room erupted in hilarity, and the reporter smiled agreeably, if maybe not quite getting the joke.
Riveted, Timmy said, “There we are. Our people. We’re on TV. But I don’t see Gore Vidal anywhere.”
“Or Eleanor Roosevelt. I hope straight viewers don’t get the wrong idea.”
Now the reporter was yelling into Hunny’s ear, “So how does it feel, Hunny? Being the state’s first lottery billionaire?”
Grabbing the mike, Hunny shrieked into it, “Oh, girl! How do I feel? I feel like I just had a date with…oh, who’s that hot number who almost won American Idol?”
Somebody in the room yelled, “Susan Boyle!” This brought down the house with cackles and groans.
“Listen, girl,” Hunny said, “I have to tell you, I just feel like the luckiest old queen in Albany, that’s how I feel. I would have been floating on air just to win a thousand dollars, which would have been really in cred ible. But to win a million dollars is just…it just doesn’t seem real!”
4 Richard Stevenson
“Billion!” several voices shouted out, and Hunny did a take and clutched his chest and faked a heart attack.
“God, I’m richer than Madonna,” Hunny blurted out, recovering, and then was struck by another sudden thought and cried, “Oh, Madonna, honey, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that! Girl, nobody is richer than you are! If you’re watching, I’m still your slave, and even if I’m almost a rich as you are now, I’ll never be as fabulous as you are!”
This produced gales of laughter, as well of cries of “That’s for sure!” and “Yes, you are! Yes, you are!”
Still mesmerized, Timmy said, “Oh my.”
I shared his amazement. “This will go down in the annals of Albany television news.”
As somebody passed Hunny a cigarette, and a hand with a lighter appeared from off-camera and lit it for him, the reporter asked, “What are your plans for your fantastic winnings, Hunny?
And what about work from now on? Are you planning on keeping your job at BJ’s Warehouse?”
Spraying smoke and droplets of champagne at the reporter, Hunny yelped, “Girl, are you kidding? I’ll miss all my friends at BJ’s. In fact, I’ll probably give them each a million dollars when I kiss that freakin’ zoo goodbye. But me get up and drive out there at six in the morning five or six days a week anymore? No, no, no, no, no, no, no!”