My dad was never one to hold a grudge. He was kind and forgiving, always friendly and generous. He didn’t have a temper and I can’t remember him ever raising his voice, except for the time I turned his golf cart over, while he was in it. Throughout his life my dad was gracious and caring with love for all of mankind. But there was one exception. One man my dad loathed with outright disgust. A man who was adored by millions but despised by my dad for close to sixty years.
According to my dad, it happened on a cold and rainy night in Manhattan sometime in the mid-1940s when he was about twenty. He was late to meet some friends at a diner close to Times Square, so he took a shortcut down an alley near 43rd and Broadway. He said he was walking quickly with his chin tucked down into his overcoat to protect his face from the freezing rain. That’s why he didn’t see a stage door swing open just a couple of yards up ahead. A moment later, a skinny man bolted through the doorway and without looking collided right into my dad. Both men lost their balance, righted themselves, and then stared at each other for a moment. Dad said he immediately recognized the skinny man and was about to apologize when the man threw a right hook that caught my dad square on the chin sending him down to the sidewalk. “Watch where you’re walking, pal!” the skinny man shouted. As my dad struggled to regain his composure, the skinny man disappeared into a car waiting on the other side of the alley.
I was a teenager the first time my dad told me that story, and over the next twenty years I would hear him tell it another dozen or so times. The details occasionally changed, the year, the streets, the weather, the number of friends waiting at the diner. But he never wavered from the fact that for no good reason a very recognizable man punched him in the face in an alley near Times Square.
One afternoon, when my dad was well into his seventies, the two of us were in Atlanta having drinks at a hotel bar. My dad refused to wear a hearing aid so I was fairly certain he couldn’t make out Frank Sinatra singing “My Way” softly in the background. We sat silently for a while, nursing our drinks and enjoying the atmosphere. Then I noticed a spark of alarm in my dad’s eyes. Suddenly he leaned forward, aimed an ear toward a speaker housed in the bar’s ceiling and listened intently. A moment later, his suspicions confirmed, he rolled his eyes and murmured, “Jerk.”
Each month, the Man About TOWN will share his Upstate rendezvous, which may or may not involve cocktails.