A Late Lunch

by S. H. Linden


I have a friend who lives on Central Park West in New York City. It is one of the expensive buildings with a magnificent view of Central Park. On the other hand, I chose to live in Greenwich Village, which to me was very exciting in the 60’s and 70’s.

Back in those days I was a photojournalist and an advertising photographer with a small penthouse studio apartment on 5th Avenue and 20th Street. I occupied it with two other photographers, who had work space there, too. One did “still-life advertising,” and the other one was Saul Leiter, a famous fashion photographer.

You could always tell when the fashion photographer had an assignment, because on the 13th floor, which was right under the cupola, the floor was full of dazzling models, all looking in their mirrors, and waiting to see if they were the ones to be chosen. I had the exciting assignments of looking at liquor bottles. Such is life.

Sometimes I was invited to lunch in my friend’s apartment on Central Park West. We had a good time eating and talking about our adventures on various assignments since we last saw each other. After lunch I usually walked down to 57th Street to catch a cab.

Whenever I took that walk, I would usually see a man in his senior years, elegantly dressed, smoking a cigarette under his building’s awning. He was waiting for his chauffeur to bring his car around. He was always alone when I passed him, which amazed me, for I recognized him immediately. He was Frank Costello, one of the main Mafia chieftains of the first half of the twentieth century. As I passed him I would not stare but continued my walk. Eventually his big Cadillac passed me and moved down the street with Costello in the back seat.

* * *

One day I was having a late lunch with an art director in Manhattan. We chose an Italian restaurant near where the big ad agencies had their offices. It was almost empty. Lunch was over, and the chefs and waiters were back in the kitchen preparing for the dinner meals. One booth was taken at the far side of the restaurant, and Charlie and I took a booth at the opposite end.

At the far booth, four men were sitting having drinks and chatting good-naturedly. The owner of the restaurant took our drink order and served us. But his main occupation that afternoon was waiting on the men in the other booth.

I immediately recognized three of the men, but the other guy I did not know. The men in that booth were Frank Costello, Carmine De Sapio, who always wore dark green eyeglasses and was the head of the Democratic party in Manhattan, and Joe “Bananas” Bonanno, a Mafia chieftain. Good-natured laughter could be heard from time to time at the other booth. Charlie and I discussed our own business.

I noticed, however, how subservient the owner was to the men. I asked Charlie if he knew who was seated at the other booth, and he shook his head no. I then told him who three of the men were, and said I didn’t know the fourth. Maybe he was a bodyguard.

As Charlie and I ate our lunch, I could see the owner seemed nervous. He had his white towel draped over his arm as he brought Italian dishes to the other booth. I could almost hear him praying as he wiped his hands on the towel. “Please God, let me get through this dinner with them happy. I got a big mortgage, a son in college and a wife who loves me. Don’t let me screw anything up.”

Well everything was cool as Charlie and I finished our meal and waited for the owner to come to our table so that we could order desserts. But he never looked our way. He just stood almost at attention listening to each man ordering dessert. I could see him nodding yes on an order and telling Costello or De Sapio it was an excellent choice.

When Joe “Bananas” turn came, he ordered. The owner said, “We ran out at lunch time, Mr. Bonanno. Why don’t you try....” The owner’s voice was apologetic, and he suggested another dessert.

It was then I noticed the look on the fourth man’s face. He put down his fork and picked up his knife. His face was slightly red as he spoke.

“What was that you just said?” His tone of voice was loud enough to carry across the room. The owner repeated that he didn’t have that dessert. They had run out at lunchtime. He suggested another dessert, which he said was excellent.

The fourth man waved his knife and spoke more loudly this time. “YOU RAN OUT!!! DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE SAYING THAT TO, YOU DUMB FUCK!!!”

By now the owner looked ready to faint.

“YOU NEVER RUN OUT WHEN WE COME HERE!!! WHAT YOU DO, STUPID, IS GO OUT THE BACK DOOR AND RUN TO A BAKERY AND BRING BACK WHAT MR. BONANNO ORDERED!!!”

The owner never said a word. He didn’t look in our direction, either. He just headed through the swinging door into the kitchen and disappeared. In the meantime, Carmine De Sapio put his arm on the loud one’s arm and patted it to calm him down. No one from their table looked in our direction.

Charlie and I sat there waiting, hoping that no one would come through the swinging door with a .45 in his hand and start blazing.

It took about ten minutes before the owner showed up. In his hand was a plate with a dessert on it. The towel was still draped over his arm. He handed the plate to Joe Bonanno, who smiled a thank you.

After that little episode, everything was calm. Everyone finished their dessert, drank their after-dinner drinks. Frank Costello pulled out a cigarette and so did Carmine de Sapio. The loudmouth lit de Sapio’s cigarette for him.

Joe “Bananas” looked over to our table and said something to the owner, who nodded. The owner brought over two brandies for Charlie and me. We waved our thanks to Joe “Bananas” and he smiled back.

When Charlie and I asked for our bill, the owner smiled, and said it had been taken care of. And that was the end of our late lunch in Manhattan.


Copyright © 2008 by S. H. Linden

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