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Door George is George Deutsch. But don't let the name fool you, he's more Slovene than anything else.
He was born after the war, the same war everyone was born after, in a home straddling Collinwood and Euclid, directly adjacent to Muldoon's Saloon. He cultivated his aptitude for boyhood in the nostalgic wealth of all those things most of us still associate with Norman Rockwell: soda fountains, white t-shirts, baseball.
George was addicted to the Indians before he even knew what addiction was, let alone cocaine. He just knew he loved the sport. He took the #1 bus down St. Clair to the old stadium any chance he got. He saw Ted Williams hit his 500th home run in 1960 and Early Winn win his 300th game in '63.
"It's only because both of those games happened to fall on a Sunday," George remembers. "And on Sundays my mother—God bless her—she let me ride down by myself."
When the Vietnam-era reared its psychedelic head and inhaled, George donned a uniform and shipped off to Panama. The U.S. was maintaining and defending the canal zone during that time. George's job was chauffeuring the U.S. General around, and there he acquired a knack for hospitality. In the equatorial heat, he got comfortable rubbing shoulders with monied men, thuggish powerful men.
"I met two Panamanian Presidents," George says, "But I was never in harm's way. I'm a disabled veteran, but I'm no hero."
That's one interpretation, though it doesn't jive with the letter of commendation he received for rescuing a group of elementary school children from a burning bus. (George still has the picture, naturally).
He returned from Panama in '72, back to Cleveland's East Side where crime and its organized varietals were on a glamourous rise. Like everyone back in those days, George began gambling in a concerted, daily way.
"That was a solid 15-year period," says George. "I knew Danny Greene and the people who killed him. All the gangsters. I never hurt anybody—I was on the fringes—but I gambled pretty good. The racetracks, the poker games."
Collinwood was a festival of moderated depravity, in George's recollection. Brazen illicit activity up and down the main streets. He played billiards against the best in the country at Waterloo Pool Hall—"A pool hustler's life is hell..." reads a sign in his current apartment, "but somebody's gotta do it"—and made a nightly pilgrimage to the after-hours poker game on E. 156th St, where the Northeast Shores Development Corporation currently holes up.
"We were playing Hold 'Em before Hold 'Em was ever on TV," says George.
He got a gig working for Al Spencer at the Crazy Horse on 13th and St. Clair when the gambling reached a breathless climax. And through Al, George met the other Spencer, Tim, who gave him the job at the Circus.
In short order, Door George became not only the face of the Circus—the face of the Flats—but also the soul.
"Here comes George Brett in the club—I recognized him right away—and I showed him to a chair and got him a complimentary drink. I ran the tables. And if I said somebody got a drink, they got a drink."
In the Hustler bathroom, Door George is half-seated on the sinks with his head cocked in what the uninitiated might mistake for a parody of 'fond recollection.' Chris Brown's "Don't Wake Me Up" is blasting overhead and an upbeat announcer is imploring us to keep it going for a dancer of unseen endurance and felinity.
"This was '87, and the Kansas City Royals were in town," George goes on. "This was the year after Buckner let that ball go through his legs in the World Series. And, well, I didn't recognize Buckner, but I recognized Brett. And somebody was giving Buckner a hard time on account of that ball going through his legs.
"And I took care of them, moved them to a more private table and got them drinks. And Brett, he appreciated it. He asks me 'Can you come to the ballgame tomorrow night?' And I say, sure.
"Next day, here comes a limousine and an envelope with $100 and two tickets to the game with a note thanking me for looking out for them." George raises an index finger, the story's not over.
"From that day on—I never saw him again in my life—but every time the Royals were in town, sure enough, I got an envelope with $100 and two tickets, up 'til the day he retired. That George Brett, now there was a classy guy."
As a bathroom attendant, Door George's interactions with athletes and celebrities aren't necessarily quantitatively changed. It's the quality that's different.
"A year-and-half ago or so, a girl runs back here and into that stall there," George points to illustrate. "And, even though the management hates it, the girls are always coming back here. But this girl, she didn't work here.
"Ten seconds later, here comes Dennis Rodman. You can't miss him. I mean with the earring and the purple hair and how big he is. Here he comes around the corner, and I guess he had made arrangements to meet her in the stall. But I wouldn't let him go. He started thumping me," George pokes the air in front of his face.
"And I thumped him right back. I almost wish he'd hit me. Maybe I would've got some money out of it. But Rodman was asked to leave and then someone from his entourage came back and gave me a fifty. They were really nice about it."
George doesn't even know why Rodman was in town. Doesn't matter much anyway.
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