"She told me to whack the chicken’s head off hard and fast so it wouldn’t feel any pain, you know. I was just a kid. I didn’t crack down hard enough with the knife and blood was going everywhere," Fast Eddie chortles, throwing his hands into the air. "I didn’t cut the chicken’s head off. My mother kept yelling ‘You didn’t chop hard enough! You didn’t chop hard enough!'" He points to his head, shakes it and laughs, "My mom broke me. She was very smart."
During Prohibition, Fast Eddie’s Polish immigrant dad sold moonshine. He’d vend the illicit corn mash to working musicians. He sold to a violinist who had a sister, Pauline. The two were married, and Fast Eddie was born in Cleveland 77 years ago, the first of three children.
The Lezuchowski family relocated to Detroit and in 1932 and purchased the Norwalk Bar. For all intents and purpose, the Norwalk, 9607 Conant, resembles any home in the area. It's purely old-school Hamtramck.
Just as Fast Eddie does now, the Lezuchowskis lived at the Norwalk. Before construction of living quarters upstairs, they shared small rooms in the back. Eddie describes the place as a "shack before 1948. My mom and dad originated it. My godfather built it. There was a makeshift bar on one side, and on the other, there was a small room and a toilet. Then after 1948 they got two toilets, and they put the front in and the bar. So the way it is now is how it was in 1948."
Fast Eddie says his pop was not the most business-minded. Still, he opened the bar because he saw no point in working for someone else.
"When Prohibition ended, my dad came home with a case of Stroh’s. He set it down and told my mother ‘We’re going into the bar business.’ We had a Coca-Cola icebox for the bottled beer. Nobody had any money. A case of beer came straight from the brewery. Things were cheap. A case of 7UP would cost you $1.25, bottles and all. Beer was 10 cents, a shot was 10 cents."
With tawny-gray hair receded Nixon-like and a slight curvature of the spine, Fast Eddie could be a retired tugboat captain. Hip replacement surgery has slowed his walk, hence the moniker. He hews a path behind the bar with a speed that rivals a mollusk, and patrons often experience moments of thirst while waiting for beers.
But they forgive.
Years of self-taught acupressure has given the man a bone-crunching handshake. He dispenses said acupressure to hands of customers on a regular basis, a gesture that has earned Fast Eddie a steady flow of regulars. The regulars — mainly retirees — seem to adore the man.
At 18, he was drafted into the Army, where he played football and boxed.
"Oh, yeah. I got beat up," he recalls of his days as an aspiring pugilist. "Oh, did I get beat up. This southpaw, he was semi-pro. He saw what I could do. He came into the ring full-speed. He knocked me out, so to speak. All I saw was spots in the air. For three rounds I don’t remember going to the corner, I don’t remember getting hit."
An Army specialized training program sent Fast Eddie to college in Illinois, and he walked with an engineering degree. He worked in Detroit for a handful of years designing adding machines. He is still with the same woman he married in 1957, and has a son, a daughter and grandchildren.
When pop died in 1940 from pneumonia, Fast Eddie’s strong-minded ma took over the joint. She became fixture in Hamtramck. "Everybody knew Pauline," beams Fast Eddie. "Everybody."
Ma Lezuchowski passed in 1961, and Fast Eddie took over the Norwalk. Though the days are now shorter (he opens at 4 p.m.) and he refuses to open on Sunday, Fast Eddie still scuffles slowly behind the antiquated Moderne bar. His strong fingers manipulate hands, collect tips and serve drinks. He tells stories of the old days, hard, kill-your-own-dinner days dating back 70 years.
"We had 60,000 Polacks here in Hamtramck working in that Dodge Main plant. Back then they’d get off work and go to the bar for a drink." He pauses, moves his head back and forth and adds, "Not anymore."
When the time arrives, Fast Eddie says he plans to adhere to tradition by keeping the bar in the family, passing it to his son or daughter.
"I’ve had offers over the years. I’ll never sell it. I’m not ready to go yet anyway." Brian Smith is music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]