Sunday, August 30, 2015
FAMILY, GANGSTERS, & THE LAW--FROM CHAPTER VIII--CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
“Is that you, Norman?” a voice asked.
“None other,” I replied. I was back in my apartment in Greenwich Village and happy to be there, though things would become desperate soon enough.
“Do you know who this is?” the voice inquired.
“I do now; it’s Leslie. How’ve ya been?”
“Excellent. I’m down in Florida packing and I came across your poetry and I wondered...”
“Still here, still slugging it out. Where ya moving to?”
“California, lock, stock, and barrel. I’ve gotten remarried. O, of course you couldn’t have known...”
“Known what?” I inquired, but this time my back stood up a little straighter and my ears attuned themselves to listen closely.
“Ron, it was a tragedy. One day I took the kids to the beach and left him sleeping and when I came home...when I came home and went into our room he was dead.”
“Dead. He took an overdose of...whatever he took an overdose of...I don’t know. The kids took it hard at first, but they’re fine now, just terrific. And I’m a new bride. Wish me luck.”
“Yes, sure, good luck. Who’d you marry?”
“I’m sorry, I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t. I can tell you he’s a very powerful person who guards his privacy, and mine.”
“Hey, say no more...if you’re ever in town gimme a call...if he won’t mind. I still value all my parts in working order.” She laughed and said goodbye and I never heard from her again. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.
Shortly thereafter, I had my own brush with death. I was tossing and turning in my bed, trying hard to avoid waking up. Jean had left for work hours before and I had literally nothing that I had, or wanted to do at any point that day. And so when the phone rang I was pissed. I grabbed the receiver and growled into it, “Yeah, what is it?”
“Hello Jack, this is Harry,” said the voice sounding like he knew my voice and me.
“You got the wrong number,” I said and hung up.
No sooner did I cradle the phone when it rang again and again; more pissed, I picked it up. “Hello,” I barked.
“Listen, Jack, don’t hang up on me again, you hear? This is Harry, and we’re comin’ up!”
“Hey, Harry or whoever the fuck you are, you got the wrong fuckin’ number, Do You Hear!? This ain’t Jack. Now leave me the fuck alone,” I said, and hung up again. This time I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up and cursed the emptiness. Within seconds the phone rang for the third time. “Yes, who the hell is this?”
“Listen, you idiot motherfucker, don’t hang up again. We know you’re inside and unless you open that fuckin’ door in five minutes we’re gonna break it down and come through. Now, open up!”
I began to get concerned. “Now you listen, whoever this is,” I began, my voice more modulated and reconciliatory, “I am not, nor have I ever been, Jack. My name is Norman, Norman Savage. Do you hear me, do you understand? You have the wrong number.”
“I don’t hear shit,” the voice who called himself Harry said, “but hear this: You’re surrounded.”
“Surrounded!? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yeah, surrounded, just look out your windows, both directions and then pick up the phone again and do it quickly.”
I got off the bed, put on some clothes and peeked through the blinds, first on University Place. Sure enough, the entire block, from 10th. to 11th. Streets was lined with police officers who were not only looking up at my windows but were pointing rifles and guns at them as well. I went and checked the other window. There were cops in the street, behind cars, in the windows of the office building across from my apartment and, when I looked up, they were on a rooftop as well. They all had guns pointed at me. I went back to the phone. “Listen, first off you got to know this is a mistake.”
“Mistake my ass. Open up, now.”
“O.K. just give me a few minutes to rinse my mouth.”
“Ya got two.” And this time he hung up.
I got out of bed and quickly took my insulin shot. I didn’t know what to expect but knew whatever was going to happen was not going to be a testament to my bravery. I went into the bathroom, rinsed my mouth and pissed. My mouth felt like it was stuffed with foul-smelling cotton. I went as silently as I could to the front door and looked through the peephole. There were six or seven of them, all in plainclothes and all of them in the classic stance, bent at the waist, arms outstretched, one hand secured the wrist while the other hand clutched the gun pointed at my door. I took a few steps back to think of what I should do in the best and safest way. Obviously, they had made a mistake, but they didn’t know that! I knew that many mistakes found their way onto a coroner’s slab. I went back to the peephole. This time, they had put black masking tape across the opening. Uncontrollably, I began to shake. “All right,” I shouted, “I’m going to open the door now, and I’m putting my two hands on the side of the door.”
I unlocked the door, turned the knob, opened it slightly, put my two hands on the side of the frame and pulled the door, slowly, toward me. The first guy who saw my face said, “That’s not him.” As soon as the door stood ajar however, they rushed toward me, pushed me aside and stormed into the apartment. My place, not exactly The Palace of Versailles, took all of a few minutes to search. They still opened up my two closets, checked the shower, and even opened drawers, without finding who it was they were after. After the initial reaction by the first person saying it wasn’t me they were looking for I was able to calm down a bit and take in what was happening to me and by whom. I could discern that there were at least three levels of law enforcement there, city detectives, and what I took to be F.B.I. and D.E.A. I thought I could tell the F.B.I. by their dress and demeanor which was conservative and reserved. The D.E.A. reminded me of cowboys. One of the guys wore a buckskin jacket with tassels and a western hat with a feather in the brim. A few had beards and one a mustache. Later, before they left both the F.B.I. and D.E.A. gave me their business cards while the city dicks just went away. Both groups were upset with the results. The city cops did not seem that interested, although they all looked disappointed that they couldn’t kill someone. They were certainly primed for it.
I sat down at a table I used to eat my meals on. Sweat had broken out all over me.
“Do you know this man?” a tall guy said to me who wore a suit, white shirt and tie and showed me a photograph.
“No, I don’t.”
“How about him?” He showed me another picture of the same man, this time without a beard.
“How about this one?” This time he showed me a picture of the guy walking down a street with Jean.
“I know her of course; we’re living together,” I replied, the pieces starting to fall into place.
The cops were still looking into everything in my apartment, even turning over papers on my desk. One cop had noticed a scale in the kitchen, and he was holding it in his hands. The scale was one that Paul used to measure cocaine on and there was, I knew, some residue of the drug on the lid.
“What’s this?” he asked.
I looked at him holding it and said, “I’m diabetic, I need the scale to weigh my foods.”
“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding,” he said and laughed.
“Is it his?” the one questioning me asked.
“No, I don’t know him, or what you’re talking about or what this is about.”
“She’s never mentioned him to you?”
“Well, she should have. He’s a sick and dangerous man, very dangerous. He hurts people. Hurts them in ways they don’t recover from, ever. I’d suggest that should she get in touch with, or see him, you should get in touch with me right away. That is if you like life as you know it now.”
I looked up at him and in my most believable voice said, “Sure will. Don’t want nothing to happen to me. I will, right away. Let me have your card.”
He looked around at the people in my apartment and said, “Sorry we had to do this, but we thought...Anyway sorry. And like I said, do yourself a favor and call me should he come into your life.” With that he started to walk out of my apartment followed by the rest of them and the last one to go out closed the door. I waited a few seconds before I went to the refrigerator and drained some orange juice. I didn’t know if it was fear or whether I was really having an insulin reaction. I decided not to take the chance. After I got showered and dressed, I went out to use a pay phone to call Jean.
It cost the city, State and Federal governments a lot of money that day but that shows how badly they wanted him. It also cost me a job. Jean had become friendly with a person who managed a restaurant/jazz club that, at the time, was on University Place. I’d interviewed well for the position, before I became Public Enemy #1. An incident like mine has a tendency to spread quickly. When I went in to see him a few days later, he was much more invested in my status as a desperado than my value as a keeper of his cash. He wanted to hear about what happened but when he didn’t respond to my question of whether or not I got the job, I merely turned and left, without describing it or threatening him--something he too might have liked.
No matter how much my heart and mind were telling me how misguided and foolish it was, I was desperate, desperate to effect something, anything, that would help me change the course my life was taking. And so, when my father suggested I accompany him and my brother down to their new place in Miami to look for a business venture, I went with them. Primarily, we looked at two food stores, both in Miami Beach. They were a gourmet shop that enjoyed a stellar reputation and catered to wealthy customers and a kosher delicatessen that also was well known, had a sizable following, and sold excellent provisions. Each was doing very nicely but could do more business, my father thought, if the “right people” watched over the proceedings. In my heart I knew I was not the “right person.” And I told them so. Each for his own reason, tried to convince me otherwise. I would have been hard pressed to turn it down if it came down to an immediate decision. Luckily, for all concerned it didn’t. Each of us is selfish, and driven by fears and demons of our past and present, we’re ill equipped to help ourselves, much less each other. Secretly, when I saw that the negotiations for both stores take turns for the worse, I was pleased. One day, when we knew that this endeavor would bear no fruit, I was sitting smoking a cigarette with my father on the terrace of our apartment. My brother was not there, and he and I had a chance to talk for a moment. I’d always hungered for the kind of honesty that I felt had never been achieved between us and tried to begin by saying that I felt it really was the best thing this had not worked out. I was struggling with my own demons and tried, before my mouth would work, to order then in some kind of comprehensible logic so that he’d finally understand what I’d been experiencing since I was old enough to remember. But then it gushed out. I could never say, “no” to him, I began, which didn’t serve either one of us very well; feelings of never measuring up to him; my difficulty in carving my own way in this life and with him being an overpowering presence in business would restrict if not inhibit my life; a love I craved but never felt had put me on an impossible road of trying to balance everything before I would act, which had led me back to a fool’s safety of alcohol, drugs, and inaction; my competition and mistrust of my brother and that if I now had only him to rely upon it would lead to “no good” and disaster for us all.
My father kept trying to interrupt and each time he did it made me all the more anxious, trying to speed up my thoughts and explanations. I’d always felt, around him and later my brother, that I needed to say what I wanted in the briefest amount of time and then indulge both of them with their usually long-winded explanations or counter-arguments or outright dismissals of my feelings. When I stopped to catch my breath, he asked if I was through. I just looked at him knowing I could have spoken for the next hundred years and it would make no difference. Inside, I felt what I’d felt so often when trying to do this sort of thing: defeated. He took my silence as his cue to begin. First, he said, he would not be in the store all the time, but would just be involved when he wanted to be; he enjoyed the challenge of enlarging the business and would busy himself with doing that; he wanted to sell his store in Brooklyn, but still have a steady source of income in Miami; and he thought I’d be perfect to do the public relations necessary to increase profits while my brother ran the day to day retail operation. He knew the differences between Bobby and me and was not worried about this working out for all of us.
Inside of myself I knew that most of what he said was bullshit. What he probably wanted as much was to have a business and us down there so he wouldn’t have to be with my mother twenty-four hours a day. I decided to reiterate some of what I’d just told him, and that I disagreed with his belief about “this all” magically working out. “You mean,” I said, “Bobby is going to do the back breaking day to day grind of being in a store while you and me go to have lunch with some people or organization that will, maybe, choose to do business with us? You think that that will sit well with him? C’mon, will ya.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he finally said. And then, in the next breath, he told me about a business he’d seen in Boca Raton that could be a real, “moneymaker.” I looked at him, a bit incredulously and replied that if it was money he wanted to make, he’d be better off investing in Chrysler. It was when Chrysler was contemplating bankruptcy. I told him that there was no way the government would let that happen. He asked how I could be so sure. I stated the obvious: Reagan was the president, Ioacoca the chairman of Chrysler and Frank Sinatra, the chairman of the board, and the world, was a friend and common denominator between them all. There was no way, I felt, that the government, declaring some kind of national crisis was not going to offer Chrysler the sweetest deal going to get back on its feet and, “for the good of the country,” right itself. Buy a chunk of it now, I advised. They’re a Holy Trinity of sorts. You didn’t have to be brilliant, you only had to know how the world always worked. He looked at me interested but decided not to pursue the opportunity. Coming from anyone other than a bona fide millionaire (let alone coming from his crazy kid) was advice not worth even looking into.
Before I’d left for Florida I began to experience pains on the soles of my feet. As soon as I returned to Manhattan I saw Dr. Hazan, my podiatrist there. The thought of any physical malady stemming from my diabetes was enough to throw me into a panic. Enough to know I had diabetes. Enough to suspect and fear that one day diabetes will kill me, probably prematurely, but an infection that could lead to amputation through me into a tizzy. It forced my head to go into my body, a dirty messy diseased ridden place, and, although I never allowed it to stay too long, it still exerted a powerful hold on what I thought about, felt, and ultimately did or didn’t do.
The fantasies that began with a little white dot under the calluses on the soles of my feet worked its way up the ladder until I was in a hospital ward with my toes first, then my ankles, and finally my legs chopped off. In a matter of seconds, I saw myself being wheeled by some dull and bored nurse down a sidewalk. I’d be wearing a piss bag and ask them, beg them, to turn off any life support system, or not bring me to my next dialysis appointment or, preferably, administer that shining narcotic to allow me to comfortably fade away.
Dr. Hazan was not that dramatic, nor was he an alarmist. Trained at The Joslin Clinic, he knew diabetes well. He understood that the more a diabetic gets upset, the higher the blood sugar has a tendency to rise, inhibiting the healing process. Circulation is a major issue with diabetics, especially to the extremities such as the hands and feet. Amputations are alarmingly high in diabetics. Diabetics can also develop what is called neuropathy, a numbness in the extremities which makes the feeling of discomfit or pain more difficult. If one isn’t vigilant in checking for cuts or infections, they might not be able to feel there is anything wrong. Since not enough blood containing white cells needed to fight infection gets to those areas, the chance of that infection turning gangrenous in a short period of time is great. Then, if that happens, the only thing to do is say “goodbye” to part of yourself. Believe me, that’s not even funny.
Dr. Hazan told me how he wanted me to treat these ulcers and he wanted me to see Dr. Bernstein. I told him I would, and I did. He had me coming back once a week until the infection cleared.
One week before I was scheduled to see Dr. Bernstein I was home, reading The New York Times when I noticed an article about the craze of video games. For some reason, I read it with great interest. Perhaps, it was the fever of those “hooked” or the dire warnings and predictions from the staid brand of psychologists and sociologists that they trot out every time a new fad is mentioned or a new drug ingested, that got my juices flowing. Whatever it was, I wanted to know more.
That evening Jean and I went to Chinatown for dinner where, among the throngs of dinner patrons, stands one of the oldest video parlors in Manhattan with, at that time, the only live dancing chicken who, for a quarter, played tic-tac-toe with you. On a weekday night, the joint was packed. There must have had between fifty and seventy-five machines in a store no bigger than fifteen hundred square feet. Through the cigarette fog, all you could hear were the sounds of Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Defender, and the quarters upon quarters that were dropped into them. “Let’s eat,” I said to Jean, “I’ve worked up an appetite.”
I was beginning to show Dr. Bernstein more “looks” than an ambivalent chameleon. Each time I had a higher “high” and a lower low than any previous visit. “Present a moving object, it’s harder to define.”
“They’re not really what I’d call “diabetic ulcers,” Jerry said after I told him what had been going on with me, and he took my vital signs. “If they were,” he continued, “you’d hardly be able to walk. The podiatrist whom you’re seeing, who is he and what did he tell you to do?” He seemed satisfied with what I told him and then called in one of his nurses to draw some blood.
“I’d like to speak with you after,” I said.
“I wouldn’t dream of letting you go so easily.”
When I was called, I jauntily went into his office. I still had a tan from Florida and was focused and confident. “How am I doing?” I asked smiling as I sat down facing him.
“You look better than the last time I saw you, that’s for sure. What happened?”
I told him of the aborted business query in Miami Beach, with one result being the cessation of drug taking and the near elimination of drinking. Then I ran by him the new adventure, a video arcade. He listened patiently and smiled. Though I wanted to justify my desire, I saw no need to go further but finally said, “Maybe it will be another chapter.” I felt so easily cornered and defensive, even, or especially, by silence. “Jerry, I’m nervous enough, say something.”
“I wish you luck. Just stay out of my neighborhood. Seriously, you look and sound good, I wish you luck. On another note, are you still taking the Mellaril?”
“I never really started. Besides, right now I’m nervous, not depressed. I’m nervous nervous nervous Jerry, you hear Nervous. When I wake up and when I try to go to sleep. Can you give me something for that? Valium? What?”
“No, not Valium. I wouldn’t want you to start taking any benzodiazaphams, but we have had success dealing with anxiety with a newer tranquilizer, Ativan. Take one in the morning, one in the afternoon and you can take one or two an hour or so before you go to sleep.” He paused. “Have you read anything recently that you’ve liked?”
“Yeah, Selby’s latest, Requiem For a Dream. It’s fucking terrific. Great stuff. It’s about three junkies, four really if you count this Jewish mom of one of the characters, all chasing their own gods of fame, of money, of memory and the impossibility of actualizing that dream their way. Powerful stuff.”
He wrote down the name and asked, “Have you been writing?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I’d like to see you in a month or, if something comes up before that, call.”
I took the prescription and left. Seeing him in a month was not going to be a problem, and I couldn’t see myself having any other problems before then.
It took quite awhile for the brakes to take hold and work, but once they did I was determined to make my life work as well. And so, I pushed. And pushed. And pushed harder. I gathered energy that I knew was there all the time, only now I turned it around. I was able to throw the switch from a negative to positive outlet. I “cooked.”
Months before, Tommy Sig had introduced me to Happy, a man who ran/owned an Italian Social Club in the West Village. Knowing how men like him looked askance at drug taking, I limited myself to alcohol the times I met Sig there. Recently, since I’d stopped that downward spiral, I began to stop in there regularly, after becoming friends with him and some of the others who patronized the club.
Happy was a short rotund man in his early sixties who, from years of smoking cheap cigars and drinking expensive whiskey talked with that sound of phlegm gurgling in his throat. He was quick, smart, and had a wonderful sense of humor which he was free with in dispensing comments upon those who found a home with him and, occasionally, his family. I met people like Tony Tires, a man who owned a gasoline/tire exchange somewhere in the neighborhood. The exact location was never disclosed. I played gin with Johnny the Bug, said to have something to do with the demise of Bugsy Siegel. John was in his early eighties, and no one really enjoyed playing gin with him. He still had that competitive streak. But I played with him and, one day, I asked John if he knew of a place I could take my parents for dinner. He suggested one in Little Italy and told me to, “Have the brains; they do brains good there. Ya want me to make the call for you kid?” I brought the phone around to him and watched as he said a few words into the receiver. When I did take my family and Jean for dinner there, no check appeared after our meal. Happy, who watched each transaction, whether monetary or those between people, wryly observed me. After seeing me over a period of time he said to me, “I can tell you don’t have to run things by you twice.” I looked at him and didn’t say anything. He smiled and added, “You don’t have to say nothing but I know.” I smiled and shook my head to acknowledge that I knew he knew.
Jean and I obtained cost breakdowns for the machines between buying them outright or leasing them. I called Stretch, my uncle whom I still owed the hundred and, since he owned a commercial real estate agency, thought he’d help in obtaining property. He didn’t. Instead, he told me all the things I couldn’t do. I moved on. The hardest obstacle to clear was New York City’s zoning laws. It seemed that when Mayor LaGuardia hammered to death a pinball machine, the city zoned only two areas, Times Square and Coney Island for video arcades. A video arcade consists of any establishment having over four machines, the one in Chinatown being “grandfathered” in. In order for a place to be profitable, you needed to have over four machines. You needed to create “a scene,” a spot for people to hang out. The profit margin was so large that when we spoke to those who defied the zoning laws to open places anyway, they told us that going to court to battle the city was well worth it, despite their lawyer fees. This country’s built around “due process” and I wanted my “due.”
After traveling to places in New Jersey and Connecticut and all over New York City and the surrounding boroughs, we found the ideal spot sitting in our own backyard, The New York Studio School on Eighth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It’s one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, connecting the East and West Village. There are stores end to end, a movie theater, tourist trade, New York University and it’s many dormitories in and around the street and, young people having the potential to be or who already are, video fanatics who clutch their quarters like hot rocks.
The Studio School, once a thriving province of artists in the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties, was now a dismal dwelling holding few students and less cash. The administrators of “art” are only snobbish when they have the bread. This school didn’t and the president faced facts. No more parties in The Hamptons until his profit picture improved. Enter us. The school had two entrances. One led into a duplex retail store on the street level and the other led downstairs into a basement. I knew I could put at least a hundred machines there while the upstairs store could sell comic books, which were just beginning to come into vogue again at the time. It would be a cash cow that could be milked by more than Jean and myself, which was part of the plan.
The same attorney whom I was in Handelsman group with and who had helped get me the job at Oren & Aretsky, introduced me to an attorney who represented other owners of video arcades. It was his opinion that because it was Eighth Street, we could get a license as a movie theater, much in the same way as those twenty-five cent porno movies in Times Square. Instead of throwing a quarter in and seeing “tits and ass,” you’d see a Martian battling a spaceman. A movie’s a movie, the reasoning went. We could fight it in court for three to five years and probably win, but even if we didn’t, the profit would far outweigh the liability.
Brasz had gotten very friendly with the Graffiti Artists, like Crash, Lee, Daze and A-1 of the early Eighties. They had begun to get artistic legitimacy by having shows in the rising indicator of social style, a gallery in the Bronx. Also, they were becoming noticed and represented the owner of the more prestigious galleries on East 57th Street in Manhattan, Sidney Janus. Brasz took me to the Bronx for one of their shows and introduced me to them. Instead of using canvas to paint on, they used the sides of trains and buildings and handball courts and abandoned schools, such as one in particular that held one of the most striking paintings I’d ever scene. Houston, a conceptual artist, had gone into an abandoned school and, after you navigated the debris that led into the auditorium in the basement, you came upon a three dimensional painting of The Hulk. It seemed to be coming at you. We spoke and arranged to meet at our location and, after seeing the potential that the space held, agreed to design the interior for us. It would be his New York showpiece.
Our next problem was money, personally and otherwise. For the first problem, Jean borrowed five thousand from a bank to see us through a few months time. The second problem took care of itself. The attorney friend I had asked if we needed a financial backer for our venture. If so, he was the one, he suggested. We looked no further, but there was another hurdle which was not articulated but I knew was the most important, permission.
I knew enough from my father, and growing up in Coney Island and being friendly with some tough kids that there was a tariff or tax that was extracted from those doing business in their neighborhood. I also knew from my father how those in power acted and expected those doing business with them to act as well. Since the video machine business reminded me of jukeboxes, cigarette machines, and other coin operated ventures, I knew that somehow, some way, those who profited off them could not be far behind.
Happy said I showed good judgment by coming to him. He wanted no part in the operation and, although he was trying to put one of his kids “in action” didn’t suggest to me I take him in. He did say that a gentleman, who was said to walk around from time to time in his bathrobe, might have something to say on the subject, whether or not he knew what that subject was. All that was really important was that he be given due consideration when trying to open a business of that nature in his back yard. As Happy once said, “You don’t have to run things by you twice.” Not wanting to do anything ill-fated or ill-advised, I’d call my father first.
My father and I had not spoken since we came back from Miami Beach. After we’d gotten back, I knew he’d spoken to my brother about various business opportunities he thought he should pursue now that the ones in Florida had not materialized. With me, as in the past, there wasn’t much he could offer and so had not even thought to call to offer any encouragement. Once again, he took care of more important and immediate concerns, like solidifying his cash flow from Brooklyn and trying to secure gainful employment for his younger son. This time though, I’d be coming to him with a business proposition in mind, one that I discovered, thought through, nurtured and, with one last piece of the puzzle to be put in place, ready to be actualized.
If he was surprised to hear from me, or glad, he didn’t say. He was, however, interested. He was always a better poker player than I was. We met at a restaurant near my apartment where Jean and I explained how this idea took hold and grew. After I explained the next level it had to go to for it to be approved and finalized, he suggested he speak to one of his old friends who owned a business with an old and valued Italian surname. My father, before we finished dinner, asked if there was room in this operation for my brother, should he be interested. If he wants, he can ask for himself, I replied. At that time, my conscience would have had to make room for him, even though my brain shouted, no fuckin’ way.
A few days later, my old man called me back with a date and time for meeting his friend at a restaurant in Little Italy. More and more it began to resemble Coppola’s, The Godfather. I put on a jacket and tie and arrived fifteen minutes early for the appointment. I saw no one I knew so I took a seat at the bar, took out my pack of Luckys and ordered a Chivas on the rocks and waited. The bartender, who probably looked at every new face two or three times, thought I might be all right since I laid the cigarettes on the bar like I should, ordered something without frills, and put a five dollar bill on the lip of the bar, indicating it was for his tip cup.
My father showed up with my brother. I thought that was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. Then my father’s friend and his friend, the owner of this restaurant, came in from inside the dining room and greeted us. I stood up, shook hands with them, and we sat down at a table in the outside lounge to talk. The owner called over a waiter, drink orders were taken, and I proceeded to tell them the idea and the location I thought would be profitable, if it could be obtained. My father’s friend stood up and said, “We’d like to talk to Norman, Mickey, if you don’t mind?”
“No, I don’t mind,” my father said.
I stood up and the three of us (the third being the restaurant’s owner), went through the dining room and into the kitchen where I saw one of the chefs boning a piece of veal. “Best veal in the city,” said my father’s friend. The owner placed his hand on the shoulder of my father’s friend, an indication of warmth and union. I was concentrating more on the dexterity of the chef holding the knife. They steered me around two long metal tables used for prep work and into the mouth of a walk-in refrigerator.
“Who knows about this idea?” my father’s friend asked. I told him those who I thought were important enough to tell him about. When I mentioned Happy’s name and the man who walks around in a bathrobe, my father’s friend looked at his friend who nodded that he knew Happy in a way that suggested he would not present a problem and respected that I knew about having to get the man in the bathrobe’s permission in order to do something in his domain. When I told them about the attorney who wanted to become our partner through his financial backing, my father’s friend said that my friend the attorney was, “inconsequential.” They were, however, interested in meeting the attorney who said he could get a variance as a movie theater to exist there. I should setup a meeting with him and them as soon as possible. My father’s friend put his hand around my shoulder, and his friend offered his hand to shake once again. “Some of what you heard about us is right,” my father’s friend began, “but most is bullshit. We will help you with what you need to put you in business. I’ll do it because I’ve been friends with your father for over thirty years and I’d never jeopardize that friendship with this, do you know what I mean?” I shook my head indicating, yes. “He’s a good man and he knows good people, some of whom I know too. I believe we can work together on this.” We walked out and returned to my father and brother who waited at the table. I wanted to rub my arms to warm them from the cold of the box but I resisted the urge to do so.
“Come on, let’s eat,” my father’s friend said when we got back to them. They got up and followed the owner into the dining room where a table was waiting. “You got a real smart kid,” the owner of the restaurant said to my father.
“Yeah, always knew that, sometimes too smart for his own good.”
“Well, they always are,” my father’s friend said, “try the veal paillard. They make it terrific.”
My father leaned in closer to his friend and said, “Speaking of my kid, he’s going to be all right in this, isn’t he?”
“Mickey,” his friend said, “I’d never do nothin’ to hurt you, or your kid, nothin’, ever. Ya hear me?”
“I hear you, and thanks.”
“No, thank you. We’re all gonna make money on this.”
I ordered the veal. My memories of the chef and the icebox were still vivid. Also, I saw the handwriting. In situations like this, I did like I was told.
Perhaps I should have been, but in fact was not, afraid of these men. Yes, I was respectful. Yes, I knew that their involvement would necessitate financial adjustments but, no, I never considered that they would use me as a front, or as a fall guy, or someone who did the brunt of the work without being compensated which, in reality, they would if they had or wanted to. Perhaps, my arrogance played a part. More likely, my self-destructiveness did. More to the point was my wish that this enterprise happen without regard for any voice, tiny though it might be, that might try to dissuade me from realizing my dreams. Money, though I am loathe to express it, was very much part of what drove me then and, to a lesser degree, now. I’d thought, since I was old enough to separate myself from my father and his world, that his values were not mine. His worth, measured by what he had in his hip pocket and his bank account, said all that needed to be said about him, but not me. When he’d describe others, either friends or those he’d casually meet, it began and ended with a numerical number or adjective placed before or after their name. I inherited that as well. I wanted to be “hipper,” or at least what I then imagined “hipper” to be.
In the next few weeks, I’d meet with those people at the restaurant to discuss how the negotiations with the school was progressing and how much money I thought needed to be gotten to startup this venture. There were times I went with my father’s friend to the racetrack or to pickup his girlfriend and then go out to dinner, with Jean, at another restaurant. We became, over the course of time, friends. We decided, given the work that was needed to be done, we’d open The Space Cave in April of next year. It was now October, near my birthday.
We celebrated my birthday in an unusual manner, with a bunch of people. I never liked to call attention to myself, especially in ways demonstrative or traditional, such as a birthday party, picture taking, or public speaking, without the blood of a coward (scotch, gin, vodka, cognac, or heroin), in me. This time, however, Happy, Jean, Tommy Sig and Marie, the daughter of Vito Genovese, and some of the boys from Happy’s social club took me to Chinatown for dinner. Afterwards, we trooped over to Teddys, a night spot in Tribeca for after dinner refreshments. They toasted and ribbed me about everything from my age to my girlfriend to my business venture, and I loved the attention.
For the next few weeks, we were kept busy with appointments concerning our business. We kept up with the latest video machine craze by reading magazines and calling distributors. Houston came down to the location often to plot his designs. Brasz met us on weekends to discuss his role and how best to generate excitement from where he lived and worked.
In November, it fell apart. One by one, the arcades that had been opened in the past three years started to be shut down by Bess Meyerson, the Commissioner of The Board of Consumer Affairs. Mayor Ed Koch and Meyerson were getting tough. Sometimes stances like the ones that Koch and Meyerson took were just for show and were short-lived. If you hung tough and were willing to wait for their display of “meaningful forcefulness” to run its course, you could get back to the business of making money. This was not one of those instances. I, but especially my partners, saw the handwriting on the wall. One of them consulted his attorneys who advised him against proceeding. When I met with him shortly before Christmas at the restaurant where our partnership was forged in the icebox, he politely declined to go any further. He asked, just between us, whether I needed any money. He must have seen, and gauged, just how effected I was. I told him no. He excused himself and went to the front of the bar as I ate. He came back and pressed an envelope into my hands, over my protestations. When I got home and opened it, it had thirty one hundred dollar bills with a note that read, “For Services Rendered, Much Thanks & Good Luck” without a signature. Even with that display of generosity, I landed hard, on the balls of my ass.
pgs 170-179: From Chapter VIII: JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Greenwich Village, 2015