Friday, October 16, 2009

The Old Lime House

Just reading the menu makes me hungry. Neighborhood people ate at the Lime House. Not Vincent's, which was mostly a tourist trap. The consensus was that the food was better the Lime House. My friend Chubby worked at Vincent's. He was later the bartender at Patrick Henry's which was next to my parking lot.
There was also Little Charlie's on Kenmare Street. It was better than Vincent's too. And then Umberto's, which was great, until someone named Joe got some lead mixed in with his scungilli's.

When Joe Met The Chairman Of The Board

from Joe Bruno
I owned a car service/limousine business in the late 1970's, that I ran from my lot (Bruno's Parking Lot). But I also got a lot of work from the Downtown Athletic Club.
One time I got Jackie Cooper for a few weeks. He was one of the original Young Rascals in the 1930's movies. Had a TV program in the 50's called The People Choice, with the talking basset hound.
Around 1978, Cooper (Real name was Italian) was directing a TV movie in NY city. He was staying the DAC, which had 15 floors of hotel rooms. I was a member there. Rudy Riska got me in. You had to be recommended by 2 members, and Rudy supplied them for me.
I think Cooper liked me because I was Italian. He knew I was writing part time at the time, and that I came from Little Italy.
I'd pick him up every night around 5pm, then take him to different restaurants around town. This went on for a few weeks. Wherever he went, he sent food out to me in the limo where I was waiting for him.
One night I took him to PJ Clarke's, on 3rd Ave and 55 St. There was a side entrance on 55th Street, which led right to the dinning room area. The front entrance led to the bar.
I parked on 55th street, and sat, waiting. A few minutes later, the waiter came out and told me Mr. Cooper wanted to see me inside. I said I could not leave my limo unattended. The waiter said he'd take care of it, and asked for my key's. There was a lot close by, and me parked my limo there.
I go inside and Cooper is sitting at a table, with Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo. I knew Jilly from his bar Jilly's on 52nd Street and 8th Avenue. Just to say hello and goodbye.
I went to Jilly's all the time. A older woman from the neighborhood tended bar there. I forget her name. But she was beautiful. She was one of my car service customers too.
Cooper told me to sit down and introduced me to Sinatra. The waiter handed me a menu and I ate and drank soda.
Sinatra said he heard I was from Little Italy and did I know the Lime House, on the corner northeast of Mott and Bayard. Two entrances. The main on Bayard, and the other on Mott. It was like Vincents. Only shell fish, with a full bar.
I said I went there all the time. In fact, 10 years earlier I was engaged to a girl whose father Bobby was the bartender there
Sinatra said he knew Bobby.
Sinatra said used to go there late at night with Jilly. Near closing time. Jilly called in advance, and the place was always empty by the time he got there. Then they'd lock the doors and he's stay there until the wee hours of the morning, like his song.
I was there maybe 45 minutes and talked only when spoken too, which is real hard for me. I just listened to what they had to say.
When we were ready to leave, I shook hands with Sinatra and Jilly. The waiter got my limo, and I drove Cooper back to the DAC.
The Lime House closed down in the 80's. It's now a Chinese something-or-another.
Like everything else in Little Italy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Truth About Johnny

Saturday, May 16, 2009

JFK Jr. --- Softball Hero

As I mentioned in a previous post, John F. Kennedy Jr. not only jogged down Monroe Street and around the neighborhood, but he also played softball in a co-ed softball league from the court buildings around Centre Street. The league first started playing their games in Columbus Park across from the courts on a concrete field, but in the mid 80's switched their games to Coleman Oval, where the field is composed of the more comfortable sand and grass.
Amazingly, even though his face was regularly seen in the NY daily newspapers, JFK Jr. played in anonymity in Coleman Oval. Our neighborhood is famous for its, “Who gives a hoot” attitude when it comes to celebrities. If someone “didn't put money in their pockets", the general attitude was always indifference.
This was a co-ed softball league, and even the best softball players in this court league, were by our neighborhood standards, at best utility players off the bench. Truthfully, the best softball players tested their talents in an all-men's league, and wouldn't be caught dead playing on the same field with those of the female persuasion. I know that perception has changed over the years, but in the mid 1980's hardly anyone watched softball games where the girls were playing. This added to the phenomenon of JFK playing in relative obscurity in Coleman Oval.
First thing off the bat, so to speak, JFK Jr. was a horrible softball player, with no baseball talents at all. He threw like my grandmother, only not as hard. When he tried to hit the soft lob-in pitches, a medium-speed ground ball to short was a major accomplishment. As for fielding, if he ever actually caught a ball, it was mostly by accident. He was a natural athlete and could run decently, if not especially fast. Obviously, the Kennedy family sports talents were mostly exhibited in their traditional touch football games on the lawn in Hyannis Port, Mass.
So JFK usually was the team's catcher, where a player can do the least amount of damage, unless there is a play at the plate, and a good fielding pitcher can always fall back to home plate to make the catch and tag play.
But JFK Jr.'s lack of baseball skills certainly did not diminish his exuberance for the game. He smiled easily and seemed not to be embarrassed at his inability to play the game with even a modicum of ability.
One day I stood behind home plate against the fence watching the game. I was shocked to see the catcher on the team playing against JFK's team was a girl wearing glasses, and she wore no catcher's mask to protect her face. And being the catcher in a slow pitch co-ed league, it was obvious she had very little catching ability.
Anyone who has ever played competitive softball, even in a soft pitch league, knows how easy it is for the catcher to take a foul tip hard to the face. In fact, JFK Jr. was catching without a catchers mask too, and with that handsome face, he was inviting monumental dental problems. The fact that no man on either team saw this as a problem for the female catcher, highlights the fact not too many of these men had played a lot of competitive softball in the past. And these guys prosecuted our criminals? No wonder the New Yor City crime rate was so high.
So I walked around the fence and approached JFK Jr., who was sitting on the bench waiting his turn at bat. I said something like, “John, that female catcher wearing glasses might get hurt and get hurt badly. She has to wear a catcher's mask. And you should too.”
Immediately, he went over to the equipment bag, pulled out a catcher's mask, walked onto the field and called “time!” He handed the girl the catcher's mask and told her to wear it to protect her pretty face. After the inning was over, he took the mask from the girl and wore it himself. From that point on, I never saw a catcher in this league play without wearing a catcher's mask. Again, and some of these players prosecuted our city's criminals.
No, the catcher's mask didn't improve JFK Jr.'s hitting, fielding, or throwing. But it made his dentist a long shot to be cashing any large checks from JFK Jr. in the near future. And the female catcher's dentist too.
In a future post, I will tell a wacky story about JFK's crew carousing in Patrick Henry's Pub after a game, with Mike Maruffi as the usual foil.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Look Up In The Sky!: Danger On The KV Roofs

I mentioned in a previous blog that practical jokes were part of the everyday life in Knickerbocker Village in the 70's and 80's. Some of the jokes were harmful. Most were not. Some were atrocious and downright dangerous.
One of the worst practical jokes I ever witnessed, was on a Saturday afternoon when a groom and his male wedding party were heading from the East court to the marriage ceremony at St. Joseph's, some punk, or punks, threw a can of white paint off the KV roof. I was sitting in front of the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe St. when this happened.
Luckily, the can did not hit anyone, but the paint splattered all over the wedding party's black tuxedos. What a horrible thing to do.
I ran home, and grabbed a black dinner jack and the coat of a black suit that I had, and gave it to two of the wedding party. Others did the same, and in minutes, the wedding party was presentable enough for the wedding. Although, the “tuxedos” didn't exactly match, the wedding went off without a hitch.
I don't remember if the guilt party, or parties, was ever discovered. But if they were, I'm sure they was dealt with accordingly.
During the mid 80's, there was also some nuts throwing pebbles off the KV roof, trying to hit people walking down Monroe Street. I was again siting in front of my parking lot with a friend, when I heard pebbles hitting the street, and saw people scattering. The pebbles were coming from the A building's roof, directly above Dave's Cleaners. I looked up and saw the heads of the morons responsible. They immediately ducked back. My friend and I ran across the street, and bounded down the steps into Dave's Cleaner's. The morons were hiding on the roof and didn't see us coming .
We went through Dave's back door to the A building elevator, and rode the elevator up to the penthouse. Then we ran up the stairs and bolted through the door to the roof. Sure enough, the two teenage moron pebble throwers were still on the roof. What we said and did next I cannot reveal. But I knew the fathers of the two jerks, and I told them if they ever did this again, there was going to be a big problem.
I don't recall any more pebble throwing on the KV roofs. And I never did speak to the fathers of the two jerks.
I also observed another neighborhood rule: “Don't be a rat.”
But if it had happened again, I definitely would have went to see the kid's fathers. I knew the fathers well enough to know they would never tolerate such nonsense from their sons.
In the later 80's, some creep got his rocks off by shooting a bee bee gun off the KV roof at passersby. One day I was walking through the west courtyard with my wife, when she got hit under the right eye. Another half inch and she could have lost an eye. She was not the first person to get hit by a bee bee in and around KV.
I made the usual inquiries to the right people, and a few days later, I was told the situation was taken care of. And I'm sure it was. I never heard of anyone else getting hurt by a bee bee afterwards.
The bottom line is, a lot of nuts lived in Knickerbocker Village, but the vast majority of the people were hard-working, God-fearing people. And if there were a problem, the police were never called. There were enough good people in the neighborhood to police themselves effectively. If you get my drift.
More on KV practical jokes later. The good kind, where no one gets hurt.
Well, at least not physically.

Once Upon A Time, 1901: Joseph Jacobs Of 116 Madison Street

Madison 116 Robbery
a follow up to Joe's story where he mentioned Mike Maruffi's Bar and Grill at 116 Madison Street

Thursday, May 14, 2009

John F. Kennedy Jr.

On person who should be included as an honorary member of Knickerbocker Village is John F. Kennedy Jr. Yes, that John F. Kennedy Jr..
JFK Jr. was a member of the Downtown Athletic Club and in the late 1980's we both used to work out at the 7th floor gym, around 5-6 pm weekdays. We really didn't know each other personally, but one time he asked me to spot him on the bench press. After that, we'd spot each other on occasions. And we developed a casual gym-type relationship.
He had a solid built, but not bulky, with huge calf muscles. Maybe the biggest calf muscles I've ever seen. He constantly checked himself out in the gym mirrors too. From all angles. Flexing his muscles. Truth is, if I were that handsome and buff, I'd be doing the mirror bit too.
There is one memory of JFK Jr. that I'll never forget. Late one weekday afternoon, I walked into the elevator at the DAC, which was manned by Tony Gomez, from Knickerbocker Village. Just as Tony was about to close the elevator door, we heard, “Hold the elevator!” In a split second, JFK Jr. glided into the elevator wearing a suit, but his feet encased in roller skates. Tony Gomez told me he did that all the time.
There was a huge bar on the third floor of the DAC. Rudy Riska, the chairman of the Heisman committee at the DAC, told me it was at one time the longest bar in the world. JFK Jr, who worked as an assistant DA at Hogan Place, would stop at the bar occasionally with a few of this friends from work. Someone told him I was a sportswriter – writing mostly boxing. So if we would happen to be sitting near each other at the bar, he would always ask me my opinion of an upcoming fight. Or about the results of a fight that just took place.
One day, I'm sitting in front of the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe Street, across from Knickerbocker Village, and I see JFK Jr. and another man jogging past my lot. It seemed that sometimes after work, instead of working at out the the DAC gym, he would jog through the streets of lower Manhattan instead.
Now at this time, JFK junior was one of the most recognizable people in NY City. His picture was in the newspapers constantly. So I couldn't understand why, in God's name, he'd be jogging down Monroe Street, which by the mid 1980's was not as safe as it had been years earlier.
The man he was with I assumed to be his body guard, but it turned out not to be the case. JFK Jr. waved at me as he passed by. I waved back, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He and his jogging partner, sped past my parking lot, across Market St. and under the Manhattan Bridge.
One day in the late 80's, or early 90's, my wife was sitting in front of the lot when JFK Jr. jogged by with another man. I was not on the premises. My wife said JFK Jr. told his jogging partner, “That's Joe Bruno's Parking Lot.” My wife was real proud he said that.
I told her, “Big deal. Guess what? He can read. My name is in big letters on a sign outside my parking lot for all people to see. It fact, that sign is required by law .”
My wife chose not to accept my explanation.
Another time, I saw JFK jogging down Monroe alone. It was around 6 pm. No jogging partner this time. As he passed I said to him, “John, this is not the safest neighborhood in the world to be jogging in. If I were you, I would not jog under the Manhattan Bridge alone. A lot of nuts hang out under the Manhattan Bridge.”
And I wasn't kidding. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I walked under the Manhattan Bridge. I usually took my car to get around Manhattan, and if I had to take the F train subway on Madison Street, the other side of Pike Street, I'd walk on Madison to avoid the darkness under the Manhattan Bridge.
But JFK Jr. shrugged, smiled and kept jogging, right under the Manhattan Bridge.
Huge onions, that man.
JFK Jr. also used to play softball in Coleman Oval, on the corner of Monroe and Market. But more on that later.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Original Maruffi's Bar On Baxter And Bayard

An excerpt from the nytimes of 3/3/1996 and a follow up to the original Maruffi story of Joe's
LIVES; Bar, None, By Madison Smartt Bell
The Spring Lounge, one of the last two neighborhood bars in Little Italy (aside from private social clubs), is up for sale, which makes me scared. For years I've used the place as a rendezvous-resting place and portable office; it was also a virtual residence for a character in my first novel. The Spring Lounge isn't the only neighborhood bar I've used to shelter both myself and people who populate my books, but lately it seems as if they've all been going down like birds shot off a wire.
For sure, there is no shortage of bars in Manhattan, but the new ones are too bright, have too much glass. The bartenders are so brisk they ought to be serving double lattes instead of the waters of Lethe. In fact, you don't have to go thirsty half so long if what you want is chichi coffee -- soon enough there'll be a Starbucks on every corner, but how much enlightenment is all this caffeine producing? Coffee or booze, there's almost no one left to drink it but the gentry, and the trouble with those sorts of clients is they're too much like oneself.
The first bar I ever entered in Manhattan was at the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery. There was a blizzard; I was 20 years old, shuffling down from Chelsea in leaky cowboy boots in search of a Greenwich Village that had long ceased to exist outside of my imagination. Nothing was open and no one was on the street, no one interested in wading through knee-deep snow except for me and of course the homeless, then known as winos. When Bleecker Street ran out, I turned right and followed the winos to where they were going. Like most of the Bowery bars I later patronized, this one didn't seem to require a name. The tables and chairs were legless, which didn't matter, as the customers were sleeping in stacks on the floor, the bottommost snuffling in pools of filthy water from melted snow. There was also a bathtub-size pool table, where I was able to earn some money. I was the youngest person there by at least 20 years, but no one objected to my presence. I felt oddly at home; it was not exactly a welcoming place, but entirely uncritical. You could stay there as long as you liked. There are no bars left on the Bowery now. The last one closed at the end of 1993, foreshadowing within several weeks the death of Charles Bukowski. A nice coincidence.
Because I lived in Brooklyn, I used Manhattan bars as staging areas, and Maruffi's, on Baxter Street at the corner of Columbus Park, was a good one for sorties into either SoHo or TriBeCa. Because of its proximity to the Tombs, Maruffi's was a place where many cops unwound, and the first time I went there, they were relaxing by means of a large general fistfight. One officer (out of uniform) came over to the only table left standing, where I and my young lady companion demurely sat behind small, stout glasses of bourbon, to apologize; his friends, he said, were "a little excited." One of his friends clubbed him over the head with a shoe, and our officer roared like a bear, knocked him down, then jumped on the bar and lowered his pants to moon the entire assembly. When he had rebuttoned, he came over and apologized to us again with even more formal courtesy. But Maruffi's has been closed for years; its space is now a second-floor dining room for the restaurant next door.

Paul Maruffi Of 75 Baxter Street, 1941

The first page is not Paul, but other freckled kid contest winners of that era. A follow up to Joe's story about Mike Maruffi and the Patrick Henry bar and grill on Monroe Street. Paul had to be related in some way to Mike but I doubt he looked like Schultz

Don't Cook Tonight Call Chicken Delight

I'm following up Joe's previous post. Unfortunately I can't find the original jingle

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Art of the KV Practical Joke

One great thing about living in Knickerbocker Village in the 70's and 80's was that there was never a dull moment. Something was always happening, for better, or for worse. People knew how to have fun, and as long as you didn't hurt anyone, at least not too badly, almost every thing was a go.
A favorite diversion of the people in KV, and the immediate surrounding area, was the art of the practical joke. Now practical jokes are a very tricky proposition. Some people could take a joke. Others could not. And some of those people who could not, were quite dangerous and could become hazardous to your health. Most importantly, if you were one of the practitioners of a practical joke, you had better well be able to take a joke, if one is perpetrated on you.
I was a member of both groups.
In the late 70's, I ran a car service and limousine service from the Bruno's Parking Lot, which I owned for 27 years on 31-35 Monroe Street. At the time, I had about a dozen men working for me, doing various shifts. All lived in Knickerbocker Village. We drove numerous people from Knickerbocker Village all around the five boroughs and to the airports. In fact, the people of KV were basically our only customers.
One day I received a phone call from the NY City Department of Parks. The person on the line told me that they had a work order to construct a bandstand in front of my parking lot for a politician running for office, who was born at 31 Monroe Street. He was going to give a campaign speech on the site. I forget who the politician was. Now this was entirely possible, since my lot was the site of three buildings that were leveled sometime in the 1940's.
I told the person from the Parks Department that as long as they didn't block my driveway, I didn't see it being a problem. He told me he'd call back with an exact time when they would construct the bandstand.
Soon after, the man called me back and told me it was a slight mistake. The politician was born on 31 Monroe Place in Brooklyn, not 31 Monroe Street in Manhattan. I said fine. No harm no foul.
But the word was out. Everyone who worked for me heard what had happened. I was the perfect patsy for a practical joke.
A few days later I received a call from an official-sounding person from the NY City Department of Parks, Gentrification Division. The man said they were looking to improve the appearance of Monroe Street and wanted to plant two trees there. I figured, maybe this wasn't such a bad idea. Trees on the block provided shade and would look kind of nice. Already, the management of KV had planted a few small trees on their side of the block. They looked nice.
Then the man said, "When is the best time to come? I have a diagram of your lot, and we'd like to plant two trees. One ten feet back from the sidewalk and another 30 feet back from the sidewalk. Directly in back of the first one.” Then he said the magic words, “Inside your parking lot.”
Well, I went slightly berserk. “Inside my parking lot?? What are you, nuts?? You can't plant two trees inside my parking lot. I park cars inside my parking lot.”
“Don't worry sir,” the man said. “We'll place rubber around the base of the the trees so you won't damage any cars.”
By now I'm ready for a straight jacket. I scream at him, “I don't care about the rubber. The trees will ruin my business. I'll have less room to park cars and I'll always have to maneuver around the freaking trees! I absolutely refuse to allow you to plant any trees in my parking lot. This is an outrage.”
The man calmly said, “Sir, have you ever heard of the term Eminent Domain?”
I said sure. “But how does Eminent Domain apply to my parking lot?”
He said, “Sir, according to Eminent Domain, the government can seize any personal property if we determine it is for the greater good of the people in the area. Sir, we don't want to seize your property. We just want to plant two trees. I don't see why you have a problem with that. You are being very selfish, sir.”
By now my head is spinning and all I can see are dollar signs flying out of my bank account. There are a couple of my car service drivers in my office, and I'm trying to explain to them what is going on. They don't understand it either.
This was happening right in the middle of a work day where I'm trying to run two businesses at the same time. My mind was racing. I was not thinking straight. Most sane people would have considered the possibility of a practical joke taking place. But not me. Not at that moment. I was irate.
So I scream a few curse words into the phone, a few threats about me hiring a lawyer, and finally, I bang down the phone. Mad as hell.
As I'm steaming, figuring out my next move, a few minutes later the phone rings again. I pick up the phone and hear several men laughing in the background. Someone finally says, “Joe Bruno, you are a moron and an idiot.” And then they hang up.
They sure got me. Got me good.
Now all I wanted was revenge.
By using the process of elimination, and knowing the personalities of people in Knickerbocker Village, I figured it was one of two men responsible. I settled on my good friend Anthony, who worked on Wall Street in the daytime, and for me at the car service a couple of nights a week, and on weekends. He lived in the G Building, 10 Monroe, 4th or 5th floor, facing the courtyard. I lived in the K building, 6th floor, also facing the courtyard.
I was thinking for a couple of days how to get even. Then one night I came home, and checked my mailbox in the K building. In with the mail was a flier advertising the “Grand Opening of a Chicken Delight” on Grand and Essex. In bold letter on the bottom of the flier it said, “WE DELIVER!”
I went home giddy with anticipation. I called Chicken Delight and asked if they delivered to Knickerbocker Village. They said they did. Great. I gave them Anthony's address in the G building and my phone number, in case they called back to check. This was in the late 1970's, where caller ID was a thing of the far future.
I said to Chicken Delight, “I'm having a party for 10 people. How much chicken do you think I should order?”
The man told me about 30 pieces, 3 pieces per person. I said OK. That's perfect. T hen he asked if would I like sides with the chicken. I said, “Of course. What kind of sides do you have? “ He told me mashed potatoes, french fries, rolls and butter, cole slaw etc...
I said, “OK send me enough for 10 people.”
He asked if I needed something to drink.” I said “Sure, do you have any beer?” He said no, only soda. Then added, “For 10 people, four 64-ounce bottles of Pepsi should be enough.”
I said, “Great. How much is this going to cost. And how long to deliver?” He said to give him 45 minutes to an hour, and that the bill was forty-something dollars. I asked if he had change for a hundred dollar bill. He assured me he did.
I hung up the phone, retrieved my binoculars and sat by my bedroom window, facing 10 Monroe Street.
In about an hour, I saw two men lugging numerous shopping bags of food and soda, down the steps from the entrance to the West Court. They made a left and made a bee line for the G Building. I was laughing so hard, I almost wet my pants. I figured the worse that could happen, I was out forty- something dollars and I would eat chicken for a few days. It was worth the fun I was having.
Five minutes later, I saw the two men emerge from the G building – empty handed!
Did Anthony actually accept the food? I never thought that was possible.
In minutes, my phone rang. It was Anthony.
“Joe Bruno, I have some extra chicken from Chicken Delight. Are you hungry??” Then he started cursing me out, laughing as hard as I was.
I said, “Why did you accept the order?”
He said, “Because I'm hungry and they have great chicken.”
“How did you know it was me?” I asked.
“You gave them your freaking phone number. That's how,” he said. “You moron!”
Well, I guess that proves nobody's perfect.
I told Anthony I was not hungry, and I advised him not to choke on the chicken bones.
What he said back to me cannot be published in a family blog.
More on Knickerbocker Village practical jokes at a later date. There are tons of them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rudy Riska, Humphrey Bogart, Schultz and Me

Above, clockwise from the top left: Schultz as played by Johann Banner, Robert Sacchi playing Bogart, Rudy Riska and a book about the Heisman Trophy co-written by Riska

Thinking back about Rudy Riska, I just remembered a funny story that happened around 1979-1980.
Rudy became friendly with an actor called Bob Sacchi. Sacchi is an exact double for the actor Humphrey Bogart. I don't mean he looks like Bogart. I mean he looks exactly like Bogart with no makeup whatsoever. He even made the movie “The Man With Bogart's Face.” His roles were mostly limited to playing Bogart, but he did have small parts in Across 100th Street and Die Hard 2.
Rudy introduced me to Sacchi at the Downtown Athletic Club at 19 West Street, where Rudy was the Executive director of the Heisman Trophy Foundation, and I was a member. Once or twice a month, Rudy would invite to to dinner at the DAC, in the private dining room at the 18th floor. Rudy didn't drive, so after dinner I would always drive Rudy home to his house in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
One night I had dinner with Rudy and his guest Bob Sacchi. Rudy told Sacchi about the great Italian food at Patrick Henry's Pub, two doors down from the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe Street. It was called Ramos until when in 1973 the Ramos brothers Joe and Eddie sold it to Patrick Henry, who was the manager at the A & P on Market Street. The bartender and cook at Patrick Henry's was Mike Maruffi, who had owned the bar at 116 Madison street around the corner. And was the cousin of the 3 Maruffi brothers who owned the bar on the corner of Baxter and Bayard for 30 something years.
below, 116 Madison Street in late 2008

Mike Maruffi was a dead ringer for Schultz, from Hogan's Hero's TV program. The only difference, Mike spoke with a heavy Italian accent, rather than a German accent. Mike was a great cook, and when Rudy called him in advance, Mike would make Rudy a special spaghetti and scungilli, with red sauce.
Bob Sacci said he loved spaghetti and scungilli, so we made plans to go see Mike at Patrick Henry's the following week.
Rudy had told Bob Sacci about the wonderful views from the roofs of Knickerbocker Village, so before we went into Patrick Henry's, I took Rudy and Sacchi onto the roof of the J building, where my father lived on the 12th floor. Sacchi was amazed that you could see both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges just by slightly turning your head.
When we finally made it to Patrick Henry's, I witnessed one of the funniest incidents I've ever seen.
We didn't tell Mike who Sacchi was, and when Mike saw his face, he did a double take. Mike called me on the side, he asked me, “Is that Humphrey Bogart?”
I told Mike it was Bogart. He said he thought Bogart was dead. I said no, he had staged his own death because he was tired of acting in the movies and constantly being hounded by fans in NY City.
No way in the world did I think for a moment Mike would believe us, but Sacchi played along and Mike fell for the ruse. Sacchi even asked Mike, “You look familiar. Did you act in Hogan's Hero's?”
It was hilarious. Rudy and I had to bite the insides of our mouths to stop from laughing.
We all ordered the spaghetti and scungill. Then the roof fell in, so to speak.
A few minutes later, Mike returned to the table with a steaming hot platter for three of spaghetti and scungilli's. I mean steaming hot. As he approached out table, which was in the back of the small restaurant, Mike tripped and dropped the whole platter onto Sacchi's chest and lap.
Sacchi jumped up screaming, slapping the food from his body with both hands. This was no act. Like I said, the food was hot!
I didn't know whether to laugh, or cry.
Mike's eyes bulged out of his head. “Oh my God!! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!” he screamed.
Mike was slightly fat, and nearly 70 years old and I though he was going to have a heart attack.
But the damage was already done. Mike Maruffi had dropped a hot platter of spaghetti and scungillis on Humphrey Bogart's lap, and I would remind him of this for many years afterward.
While Sacchi went to clean up in the men's room, I went home across the street to KG and got him a set of clean clothes. We were about the same size, so it was no prolem
Mike made another platter of spaghetti and scungilli, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Because of his slip-up, Mike refused to give us a check. If I had known that in advance, I would have had a few more cognacs.
Before we left, Mike called me on the side and asked timidly, “Is Bogart still mad at me?”
I said I didn't think so, but he had the reputation of being a tough guy, and if he was still mad, I wouldn't want to be Mike Maruffi. Then I made the shooting motion with my thumb and forefinger. Mike's eyes got real wide.
You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dr. Serafin, Rudy Riska, Bob Feller and Me

One of Dr. Serafin's most famous customers was Rudy Riska, Executive Director of the Heisman Trophy Foundation for 44 years, and a minor league pitcher for the NY Yankees. When Rudy was growing up, he lived on Madison Street. The back of his building was one of the buildings in the back of the parking lot I owned at 31-35 Monroe Street. Whenever Rudy went to see Dr. Serafin, he'd call me and we'd have lunch together. Rudy was one of the true nice guys in sports.
When you walked into Rudy's office on the 19th floor of the Downtown AC, you were shocked at the pictures he had on the walls of him and famous athletes. Everyone loved Rudy. His brother Steve was a minor league pitcher for the Reds, and later an assistant warden at Riker's Island.
One night Rudy invited me out to dinner on a Friday night at the DAC at 19 West Street. (Tony Gomez, from Knickerbocker Village, was the front desk manager of the DAC.) Rudy's other dinner guest was Bob Feller, former Hall of Fame pitching great for the Cleveland Indians. Rapid Robert they called him for his 100 mile an hour fastball. At dinner, I mentioned to Feller than I owned a parking lot.
On the next Sunday morning, I was at my father apartment at JF12 in KV, when the phone rang. My father answered the phone. My father was born in Sicily and didn't know a baseball from a meatball. My father yelled to me, "Hey Joey, there's some fella on the phone. He wants to talk to you."
I said, "What fella. What's his name?"
My father said, "I don't know. Just some fella."
I grabbed the phone from my father. It was Bob Feller. Rudy had given him my phone number, and my father's phone number. It seems Feller had parked his rented car in an indoor parking lot next to the DAC and the parking lot was closed on Sunday. He figured since I owned a parking lot, I might know someone in the parking lot business he could contact to get his car, so he could drive to the airport.
I didn't, and that was the last time I spoke to Bob Feller. He's now in his 90's and still alive and kicking.
below, Rudy Riska's minor league record followed by his bio

Rudy James Riska Jr
Bats: Both , Throws: Right
Height: 6' 2" , Weight: 165 lb.
Born: 1936
Rudy Riska, former Executive Director of The Heisman Memorial Trophy and former athletic director of The Downtown Athletic Club of NYC Inc., joined the Frank McGuire Foundation Board in 2007. He retired from the Downtown Athletic Club after 44 years of service following the conclusion of the 2004 Heisman Presentation.
Following a tour of duty with the US Army Riska went on to play with The New York Yankees organization for four years and then began his career within the athletic department at The Downtown Athletic Club. He eventually went on to serve as Athletic Director of The Downtown Athletic Club. Riska also served as The Executive Director of the National Association of Club Athletic Directors of America.
Riska maintains a strong and constant rapport with several leading organizations within the community, athletic and educational fields, including the Amateur Athletic Union, The National Collegiate Athletic Directors, The Football Writers of America, The College Sports Information Directors of America, The West Point Athletic Association, and Notre Dame University Touchdown Club. Riska remains Director Emeritus to The Heisman Foundation and its many charitable youth programs