For those of you who’ve been coming to this bar almost since day one (and I thank you!), you know about my friend and colleague… the man I call Tony. Tony’s that wonderful, one-of-a-kind character right out of Damon Runyon, who makes Yogi Berra seem like a linguist (Yokohama for Yarmulke, perennial vision for peripheral, etc.) who is eighty six years old and still going strong. And given his toughness and unique slant on life he clearly elicits, “We’ll never see his likes again.” And I mean that.
Raised in the real Hell’s Kitchen back in the 1920’s and 30’s, he’s seen it all, done it all, and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near slowing down. After his time at the track each day he still drives himself in from Yonkers… at least a forty minute trip … and he still takes his place at the door where he charms our customers. He’s now our official greeter, seater and story teller. And what stories there are! Just mention people like Frank Sinatra, Al Capone or the great Rocky Marciano, and Tony will have a connection and a tale to tell. In fact, speaking of the latter, Tony’s mother used to cook for Rocky at his training camp. Go figure!
Anyway, for a trip down memory lane, here’s one of Tony’s stories that’s one of my favorites…
When Tony was a youngster, his family had sent him to Turin, Italy with the hopes of giving him a proper education in a seminary. A noble thought and a hell of a long way from Hell’s Kitchen! Well, without going into detail here (and no surprise to anyone) after a couple of years and a yeoman’s effort the concept simply didn’t take, and Tony eventually found himself back in New York. Some things are not meant to be and this was one of them.
Now cut to his first day of school at this point (back in “improper” Hell’s Kitchen), where he promptly was given a Hell’s Kitchen welcome by promptly getting his ass kicked up and down the street. Why? Well, not just because he was the new kid in town, even though he’d lived there before, but because in the European schoolboy tradition he’d made the mistake of wearing short pants and knee socks. And at that time, in that neighborhood, and in front of that gang of toughs, he might as well have worn a skirt and a fucking tiara. Pow! Bang! Boom! Welcome home, Tony!
Okay, so now it’s day two. Tony has to make his way back to school but this time to ease the heckling he put on long pants. But it didn’t matter. For as he rounded the corner to where the gang was (picture the “Dead End Kids”), “Sissy!” got shouted again with menace and again the gang formed a circle to have some fun with him. But just as Tony had dropped his books and readied himself for a fight (Tony was far from a sissy, I assure you), a new guy by the name of Vinny stepped to the fore. He put his arm around Tony, walked him off to the side of a building where they both exchanged words in Italian, and just like that the whole dynamic changed. Vinnie then walked Tony back to the gang, gathered the crew around him, and uttered these words which Tony will never forget. “See this kid here, you’se guys? I wanna’ tell you somethin’. Nobody, I mean nobody ever lay a hand on him again. You’se got that? I mean never or you’ll have to deal with me!”
Well, whatever it was they’d said in Italian a simpatico had instantly formed, and Tony was now in the “witless” protection program. For the boys dared not defy young Vinnie… later to be known as “The Chin”… the eventual head of the Genovese mafia family. That’s right, this was the young Vincent Gigante, all of maybe thirteen years old, already having what it takes to muscle a gang. A mobster in training!
By the way, for those of you not familiar with “The Chin”, this was the guy in the 1990’s dubbed by the press “The Oddfather” for wandering around in a bathrobe and PJ’s muttering to himself incoherently, feigning senility for FBI surveillance til in 1997 he was finally tried and convicted. He died in custody in the year 2005.
“Chin” was also the blatant inspiration for Uncle Junior doing the bathrobe thing on The Sopranos. Remember?
Anyway, as far as our happy ending goes here, after Gigante had cleared the path Tony never again had a problem in The Kitchen… but just to make sure his pants always touched his shoes!
It’s not only fun but a privilege, dear reader, to work with this guy named Tony, his adventures are endless and so is his zest for life. I can learn from that!
Over and out from bar-land… see ya’ next week-end. (You’se guys got that?)