Like most afternoons in the late 90’s, I was sitting in The Crab Shell, a local hangout in Venice Beach at the end of Washington Blvd. I was chatting with David Smith, a drinking buddy in those days. He’s gone now.
The great thing about The Crab Shell was that it had a 2nd floor patio where we could watch all the goings on and the girls in their tiny bikinis was an added perk of course. It was an exciting time in my life, living in Venice Beach you never knew what to expect!
On this particular day David and I were talking the usual crap when I noticed a brilliant white Rolls Royce Silver Cloud convertible pull up and double park outside The Sunset Saloon, another pub, opposite The Crab Shell. A large man got out, immaculately dressed, expensive shades and started walking in our direction, waving to David.
I never thought of David as knowing anyone with class (just an opinion I’d formed over years of casual conversations). Of course I’d yet to meet the guy about to enter the bar….
David stood and whispered into my ear,
“Don’t say anything stupid Alan, I’m warning you.”
“Me?” I whispered back quickly as the man approached.
I was known in some tiny, tiny circles to be somewhat cynical and a tad sarcastic… but on this day I felt nothing but politeness welling up inside.
“David! How are you my friend? Long time.” Said the stranger, giving David a bone-cracking hug.
“Tony…how are you? Sit, sit, please” he said moving the bar stool.
“Tony…er…this a friend of mine, Alan. Alan, this is Tony”
Tony eyed me up and down before shaking my hand.
“Alan! Good to meet you. I’m Tony. Tony Gambino.”
“Er…likewise, nice to meet you..Tony”, I said stopping myself from saying something like “Gambino huh? Like the New York Mafia Gambino crime family?” David’s facial expression silenced me before I could.
“So Alan…where you from?”
“I’m from Ireland. You?”
At that stage I could have sworn David’s head was about to explode… sudden increased blood pressure don’t you know.
“Well Alan, my family is from Palermo, Sicily. So, tell me about Ireland, the land of the potato and whisky right?”
“Right. A seven-course meal in Ireland is a potato and a six-pack of Guinness.”
At that, he slapped me on the back and bellowed with laughter. David joined in nervously.
So we chatted for a while before he shook my hand and went outside with David for a “private chat”. David came back a few minutes later and sat down as I noticed Tony getting into his car and leaving.
“Seems like good people” I said to David innocently.
He looked at me seriously.
“Ah he is. He’s looking at some serious time soon. Big court case involving his family.”
Before I could finish my sentence, David nodded
“Cousins I think.”
“Huh….” Was all I could muster at the time.
A few weeks later I was in the same pub with some friends, when I spotted Tony coming in with David and so I gave them a wave. Tony smiled and shouted down the length of the bar,
“Ah! Mr. Potato Head, how ya doin’?”
Me being myself, I gave it little thought before screaming back,
“Spaghetti Face, how the hell are you?”
I swear you could hear a pin drop in Malibu. Poor David actually started shrinking before my eyes. Tony marched down the bar and stopped beside me. People seemed to disappear through the cracks of the floorboards.
“What’ya say?” He boomed.
All I could do was swallow hard…nothing came forth for several seconds.
“Er…spaghetti head….I think it was…”
He slapped me so hard on the back that if I’d been wearing dentures they would have flown through the windows and knocked someone out across the street. He laughed and laughed and laughed. I could see David begin to grow once more as everyone joined in the merriment.
“Alan. You’re a funny guy. I’m going to laugh at that for a long time. Nobody’s ever said that to me….here…let me buy you a drink.”
And so we drank and drank and laughed. Then Anthony Gambino left..to go where? I never knew. I never saw him again.
So Tony, if you’re still around come visit me in the west of Ireland….or maybe don’t!
Just another day in Venice Beach.