American Pie

 Having reached the beginning, starting
toward a new ignorance

–Jack Gilbert

Tony  likes Barbara. Tony is a bartender at Mazzaletti’s at 80 Pine St. in Lower Manhattan. Barbara and her husband have  a restaurant in Florida. Tony comes down to Florida one winter, bartends at a joint nearby, and he and Barbara are semi together. It is an agreeable arrangement to which Barbara’s husband does not object on account of it gives him space for certain arrangements of his own.

Winter ends and Tony does not go back to Mazzaletti’s because the horses at Gulfstream are more reliable than the nags at Aqueduct.  It’s now a couple of years that Tony did not return to the place of his birth, and on a Sunday he and Barb are at the track when the season’s long shot wins going away in the eighth, and Tony had a bet on of unusual size.

Driving home with the dough, Barb says, “Something small, maybe breakfast and lunch and you wouldn’t have to work nights.” Before long, Tony is a restaurateur. The new circumstance suits him. Business is good. His bar customers and their friends are regulars. He wonders why he didn’t think of this before.

He does not let on that he thinks being a business owner is something special until one of the breakfast eaters, a real estate guy, tells him about a property out on Route 60. A grand old house on a busy intersection were the city is growing, an ideal location for a fine dining establishment. A chop house, maybe, like Gallagher’s, or Toots Shor’s. Bring some class to town. It begins to feel right, except for where to get the cash.

A local banker, former habitué of Tony’s bar, senses opportunity. By giving Tony a mortgage on the property the banker assures himself of a prime table whenever he wants and a feeling of proprietorship when he hangs out at the bar, which would be polished mahogany with leather seats. It is an image that uplifts him. The deal is done and now Tony is hustling for the day he opens wearing a tux at the door.

There were glitches. Planning and zoning required more plumbing. A lot more. One week before getting a CO, the city informs Tony the dirt around the house that is to serve as a parking lot has to be paved. This is a big hit. The bank money has been used. Tony calls Uncle Vinnie who runs the numbers for the mob in Queens. Uncle Vinnie fronts Tony for twenty large, taking back a note secured by the lunch joint. The paving gets done and the new place opens to fab reviews.

It is a heady time. Everybody in town is coming to eat and drink. Tony feels very good. Then, six months into the operation, Tony realizes that as much food is going out the back door as is being served in the dining room. The bartenders, all old pros at the game, are working light scams, skimming some of the proceeds at the bar. Tony is familiar with this situation, having been an employee himself. He sets about correcting things.

A fancy restaurant has lots of moving parts and it takes concentration to keep the cash flow flowing in the right direction. Tony gets a handle on the deal, but then, a year on, Florida goes into the biggest recession since the thirties and Tony is in a world of hurt.

Soon, the dining place can’t cover it’s nut with the bank or with Uncle Vinnie. The bank takes back the restaurant, and Uncle Vinnie, with apologies, assumes ownership of the breakfast joint. Barb breaks off the semi relationship. Decides life in the fast lane is not a good proposition for her. It is time for Tony to duck out.

If he asks himself how it would have been if he had just hung onto the first joint, sold it a few years later for a good piece of change, he might see that he could be retired now. But overreaching is not something you plan on. It just happens.

Word is, Tony went South and is working the outside bar at the Holiday Out in Islamorada. The American dream is on  hold.



This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living is purely coincidental

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