If only Willie's rug could talk, what a tale it would tell

MICHAEL OLESKER

October 29, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The great dice game at President and Fawn was not without its historic import, so forget about the election for a moment. This is about the semi-famous Willie the Rug and where he put his money the night the cops showed up.

Willie the Rug gets his name from the thing on his head. He paid $245 for it some years back and admits that, for such money, he should have gotten something with a part. In all fairness, it looks like a piece of linoleum dropped on Willie's head from the 37th floor of a modern building.

"I think it might be time to give it up," Willie the Rug declared yesterday, glancing into a restaurant mirror and slipping everything forward, to give himself a lower hairline. "Even the tape is starting to wear out."

Understand something: We are not talking of a mere toupee here, but a piece of survival equipment.

"You take the night at President and Fawn streets," says Willie.

Everybody gathered at this abandoned warehouse for a game of dice known to be considered illegal. Money was scattered about, and greed was in the air, when suddenly a door was flung open and the police made a previously unscheduled appearance. Willie had 11 $100 bills in front of him, which he did not intend to lose. Swiftly, he lifted his toupee, slipped the $1,100 underneath it, and patted everything back into place.

"They're gonna find it," a pal whispered.

"Shut up," Willie said.

Everybody was taken to Central District, where Willie began to sweat from the top of his head. This went on for about seven hours, by all accounts, through police grilling and mug shots and so forth, while Willie worried his whole caboodle might be washed down his face.

When everybody got out of jail that night, only Willie was exultant.

"I'm broke," said one player.

"Not me," said Willie, peeling away his toupee and revealing the salvaged $1,100.

"Split it," somebody said.

"Kiss my elbow," Willie didn't quite say.

So now the case came to District Court, where Judge I. Sewell Lamdin fined each of the dice players $240.

"Two-forty," said a disbelieving Willie the Rug. "Where am I gonna get $240?"

"Try looking under your wig," said the judge. "You might have something left there."

Some disgruntled craps shooter, attempting to plea-bargain his way out of a jam, had slipped word of Willie's hiding place.

For reasons of professional honor -- and not ego -- this hurt. Whereas most men in toupees, in a sad attempt to recapture their youth, wear their hairpieces for reasons of vanity, Willie does not.

The times he's blown his cover, so to speak, are numerous. Once, in Las Vegas, he was beaten badly at a craps table and, in a final, brave gesture, ripped off the hairpiece and flung it across the table, shouting, "Here, shoot this."

Across from him, a man with a toupee of his own witnessed this gesture, took off his own lid and threw it on the table, with a stack of chips.

"You're covered," he said.

Willie immediately threw snake eyes. But the guy scooped up both toupees, handed Willie's back to him, and declared, "You're crazier than me. Here's your rug back."

All who know Willie say it's time to part ways with the thing. Occasionally, he will lift it in public, revealing a fine, handsome head in need of no store-bought assistance. In fact, it is only by accident that Willie first began wearing it.

"Twenty years ago," he was saying yesterday. "we were all kibitzing around at the Surf Club. One of the guys put this thing on my head, and I thought I looked like I was 20 years old."

He got, shall we say, attached to it. There is a story, confirmed by Willie, that he owed a certain bookmaker $4,000. The bookie pulled a gun and demanded his money, but Willie said he was broke.

"Leave your rug," said the bookie.

"Shoot me," said Willie.

On the other hand, there is this: One night at the Carousel Club, a date, more than slightly tipsy, told Willie, "I want to run my fingers through your hair."

"Here," said Willie, removing it from his head. "Take it home with you."

Once a man reaches that point with his rug, it is time to part ways.

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