Toasting death at the Mecca

A bunch of people at the Mecca Café and bar in Lower Queen Anne are sporting new tattoos. That's not such a big deal in a neighborhood joint where a majority of regulars and staffers are fans of inky body art.

But the latest tattoos are different. They're small green pickles that, with one exception, are on the right-hand finger you use to flip people off, and the tats memorialize Joey Norwark, a long time regular at the Mecca who died recently.

It's an appropriate gesture for a couple of reasons, and one of them is the fact that Norwark, 56, was also known as Joey Pickles. It's a moniker Joey picked up when he was running with an Irish street gang in New York City's Hells Kitchen during his wicked youth, regulars and staffers said at a Dec. 12 memorial gathering for the man.

But there was more to Joey's life than just being a tough-guy. Joey had a soft side, and he accomplished a lot that had nothing to do with the serious crimes that landed him in Sing Sing prison for a few years at one point.

"Joey had a huge (effing) heart," noted bartender Brad Monahan, who added that Joey got a little too loaded sometimes and acted stupid "just like we all have." But Monahan wasn't in the least surprised that a memorial was held for him in the Mecca. "Pretty much everybody who works here, we all knew him."

So did a lot of regulars, including me. Joey was a buddy of mine who used to be a manager at a Seattle Housing Authority apartment building in Lower Queen Anne, and he often gave me the inside skinny about crimes in his building that had appeared in the Police Blotter I write for this paper.

To tell you the truth, it's surprising that Joey never appeared himself in the neighborhood mayhem report. "Yeah, he was a mean bastard, but I loved him," agreed Hot Rodz, a staffer who has a wild side himself.

"I saved him a couple times; he saved me a couple of times," added Hot Rodz, who described his friend as "an old (effing) Irish gangster."

But while Joey may have been mean, he wasn't uncaring. He would often give money to a local, well-known transient named John, said Hot Rodz, who added that Joey also bought food for street people in Lower Queen Anne.

Mecca bartender Mike Jones agreed that Joey could get a little wild, but he was polite about it one night when he'd been drinking Irish whiskey. He asked people at his table to move their glasses and the ashtrays, "so he could flip the table over," Jones grinned.

Jones also knows how Joey ended up with "Pickles" attached to his name. Joey was out on a run with his fellow gangsters one busy day in New York, but he was hungry because he hadn't eaten that day. The car he was in pulled over next to a bodega, but his buddies were in a hurry and only gave him a minute to buy something. "So he got like 10 pickles," Jones said.

Jones also explained why the pickle tattoos ended up on people's middle finger, with the exception of bartender Monahan's wife, Sarah, who got one on her wrist because she promised her mom never to get tattoos on her hands.

Jones saw Joey at the Mecca the day before he died, and he was in great pain from a case of gout. Jones said he called Joey a gimp because he didn't say goodbye. Joey response was to flip Jones off as he hobbled away. Others at the Mecca said Joey's usual way of saying goodbye was to flip everybody off and say, "(eff) you."

Jones said Joey ended up in prison for bank robbery. "He always told me that was the one they got him for," Jones added.

But Joey also used to be a "drugstore cowboy" and knocked off pharmacies back in the day, said Achilles Gonzalaz, one the Mecca regulars who was Joey's friend.

Joey ended up with a couple of monikers at the Mecca after a comedian on TV started making up Mafioso-sounding names. Instead of Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, for instance, the comedian suggested "Joey Bag of Donuts," and the name stuck, Jones said. The name later morphed into "Joey Bag of Powdered Donuts," both of which Joey hated.

Jones also said Joey used to be a defensive linebacker when he went to college at the University of Florida in Tampa, and he was also a carney for awhile.

Joey was married a couple times. The first one only lasted a year or two, but the second one was special, and she and a child they had together were the most important people in his life, said Rachel May, another Mecca regular who was Joey's friend.

Originally from Long Island, Joey moved from the East Coast to Mt. Vernon either 15 or 20 years ago, depending on who was talking. He moved there to join a group of mystics and was a minister, said Lulu de Souza, his girlfriend and a woman he lived with for the last year of his life. He also worked in the area for the forest service, she said.

One of Joey's favorite sayings was, "Everything is peaches and cupcakes," and "peaches and cupcakes" was a phrase everyone toasted to at the memorial.

De Souza, who organized the memorial, said she brought both, along with a big jar of pickles, of course. She acknowledged that her boyfriend was a bit rough around the edges and had a troubled past.

"He was a good guy, though," de Souza added. "He'd do anything for any of these people," she said, glancing around in the Mecca.

Joey had been sick for a long time, and he lost his SHA job shortly before he hooked up with de Souza, she said. But Joey was unphased by his illness. "He wasn't afraid of dying at all," de Souza added. "He was afraid of dying alone and not being found."

She found him around half an hour after he passed away. So (eff) you, Joey, and goodbye.

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