by Connectedly Philly…
I was in the Park when I heard the news about Wags Wagglestein, my attorney. Next thing I knew I was headed downtown. It had been a long time since I had been down to Mulberry Street, and suddenly I was feeling nostalgic.
I remember my very first time in New York. It was the 1980s and I’d called Wags to let him know I was there to meet my new publisher and sign a contract.
“Don’t do anything,” Wags screamed over the phone. “Don’t sign anything, don’t say anything, don’t even scratch your balls. As your attorney, I advise you to Not Even Scratch Your Balls. Help is on the way. I’ll be there by suppertime.”
Wags and I go all the way back to the very beginning, before the time of TJ Max even when we were both living in New Orleans. Wags was always like that. He did whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Wags Wagglestein was rolling thunder.
Of course, Wags didn’t make it by suppertime. Dinner with my editor went fine and anyway, we were just hammering out some final details. The contracts had been signed months ago.
Next morning though, just like clockwork, there was Wags pounding on my door. I could be in New Orleans, New York, or in Timbuktu for that matter, one thing you could always count on: Wags would be there pounding on my door first thing in the morning.
Wags and I were in one of our moods that day. When we were together, we were always in one of our moods. I was staying at The Plaza, so that’s where our journey began. I’d always wanted to stay at The Plaza, ever since the movie Arthur.
We liked getting started first thing in the morning. There are evening drinkers and there are afternoon drinkers, Wags and I were morning drinkers. There’s just something about building up a full head of steam early in the morning that helps you get your locomotion on. Catching our breath by noontime, by early evening we were well on our way to becoming bulletproof.
We were on foot that day. Truth is, we were always on foot. Getting trapped inside a taxi cab or the on the subway was a real buzz kill, so we always preferred walking. If you fuel your mind and body properly, no bridge is too far. We of course had no destination. Just like in O. Henry’s Green Door, it’s all about the adventure, not the destination.
I remember we’d wandered off into the East Village, somewhere around Avenue A, when suddenly Wags decides he wants to go to Little Italy. He says he has a hankering for some clams, but I get the feeling our troubles are only just beginning.
Somewhere along the way we hook up with some freaks from the circus: a clown, a few midgets, a fire eater, even a bearded lady. Wags was a mobster. Not in the mafia sense. He was a mobster in the way that people always gathered around him, like a mob.
Next thing I know, Wags and I and our long trail of circus freaks are on Mulberry Street. Of course I had heard of Mulberry Street, but I had never actually been to Little Italy before. If you haven’t either, and you’ve waited until now to check it out, be advised that if you blink you’ll suddenly find yourself in Chinatown. These days, when they say Little, they mean little.
At some point I guess we got lost because all of a sudden everything is in Chinese. That’s when we saw it, this big red glowing neon sign almost calling us like the devil himself. Padrino’s, it said. We were lost for sure, it was getting dark, and that neon sign was like a buoy calling us to safety. We took the bait.
Wags and I always had a knack for finding places off the beaten path, like the Abbey in New Orleans, the Red Rooster in Chicago, and Jalroux’s in San Francisco; so it didn’t surprise me one bit that we had just walked in to the belly of the beast itself. The Mob. The Mafia. Ever heard of it? La Cosa Nostra?
This was the real deal. Padrino’s had a big bar, mirrors, and little statues of Roman emperors. There was red velvet everywhere and red, leather booths up against the wall. It was something right out of a Martin Scorsese film. The only thing missing was Joe Pepsi and Robert Dinero. It was the exact sort of place Wags and I, two Southern boys with more bluster than brains, tended to wind up in on a regular basis.
One thing was for sure: this place was old. Really old. The bartender told us it had been there since WWII. And there was opera, real live opera, going on in the back. Well, an opera singer. Same thing.
“Padrino,” said Wags. “You know what that means, right?”
I did not.
“It means, Godfather.”
“That means this is the place.”
“You know, where they strangled Luca Brasi.”
“Yeah. I recognize the bar.”
I doubted it. But who cares; it was good entertainment.
The thing is, Wags was the kind of guy whose imagination often got the better of him. Once, when we were in Dallas, he was positive he’d figured out who killed Kennedy. In Detroit, he said he knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, and in New Mexico, he was sure the people at the bar were actually aliens; the bartender, a government agent.
Anyway, so there we are at this Italian restaurant in Little Italy, and conspiracy theories or not, it actually seems like the kind of place where mobster types might really hang out. Why not? We were in New York, after all, and the Mob is real.
“I bet this place has seen some serious shit go down,” said Wags. I bet he was right.
The booze was flowing and Wags and the circus freaks were really going to town. Someone pulled out a beer funnel while the fire eater threw back shots of flaming hog’s breath. I could tell the bartender was not amused, and I began to worry we might be getting in over our heads. There was an old woman seated at the other end of the bar and that’s when Wags said to me, “Do you know who that is?”
I did not.
“That’s John Gotti’s mother.”
“Seriously. I recognize her from TV.”
Could be, I guess. She did have big hair and a mountain of gold jewelry. Why not?
Next thing I know, Wags is tossing one of the midgets around and making out with the bearded lady. Things are getting out of hand quickly and I decide this is as good a time as any to go to the bathroom. I had no clue what would be going down upon my return.
By the time I came out of the bathroom, the whole place had broken out into a bar fight. Seems sucking face with the bearded lady was the last straw. On top of that, the fire eater had set the bar aflame and now not only the bartender but two toughs from the restaurant were in the middle of a knockdown drag-out with Wags and his mob of circus freaks.
If all this wasn’t enough, it was at this very moment I noticed that John Gotti’s mom wasn’t breathing anymore. I gathered at once she was choking and rushed to her aid. Whatever it was, whether it was the sight of me grabbing this old lady and bouncing her up and down like I was humping her from behind, or whether everyone in the bar truly was concerned, whichever it was, the fight stopped all at once and suddenly there was silence.
The next thing I know, the old lady spits out a chicken bone. She starts breathing again. Everyone at the restaurant, the bartender, the two toughs, even the owner himself, come rushing over to make sure the old woman is all right. It was at that moment, with everyone patting me on the back and thanking me that I realized: I had just saved John Gotti’s mother’s life. Needless to say, drinks were on the house.
As usual, I have no idea how we got home that night. I like to believe that the mobsters at Padrino’s got us a cab and even paid for it. Why not? It’s the least they could do, what with me saving the Godfather’s mother’s life and all. Wags never got tired of that story. He used to tell it all the time down at the Abbey on Decatur Street.
I was thinking all about that night so many years ago, still looking for Padrino’s, when finally I came upon Mulberry Street. I looked all over Little Italy, but Padrino’s was nowhere to be found. Finally I called my sister, who set the record straight. The name of the restaurant was not Padrino’s, but Forlini’s. Furthermore, it wasn’t on Mulberry Street, but Baxter. Last but not least, it wasn’t even in Little Italy, but just across Canal in Chinatown. With this new information in hand, I found the place in no time.
While I might have remembered the name and location of the place wrong, what I can say is that my memory of the inside was spot-on accurate. It was exactly as I remembered, like something right out of Goodfellas.
I got there about sundown. I bellied up to the bar, ordered a drink, and as God is my witness I swear it was the same bartender. I asked him if he remembered me, but of course he did not. I asked him if he remembered that night long ago, when the big fight broke out with the circus freaks. He said he did not. He did not remember any bearded lady, either.
Then I asked if he remembered the night when someone saved John Gotti’s mom from choking. “John Gotti’s mom?” he said. I knew he had no idea what I was talking about.
“Yes,” I said, “the elderly woman with big hair and a mountain of jewelry on. She was sitting right here and she started choking. I saved her life.”
“Wait a minute,” said the bartender. “You’re the guy?”
“Yes,” I said. Finally, he remembered.
“Hey,” he shouted to the two men at the end of the bar. “Hey. This is the guy who saved Myrna’s life that night, the night she was choking on a chicken bone.”
They all came over to acknowledge me. Even the owner. Next thing I knew, I was the center of attention. And same as that night so long ago, drinks were on the house.
Turns out the woman whose life I saved wasn’t John Gotti’s mom after all, not even close. Her name was Myrna and she was a fixture at the bar. No one was aware of her even having any children.
Of course, everyone remembered the night Myrna almost died, and the good Samaritan who saved her life. At least, I got that part right.
I made a bunch of new friends that night. Forlini’s would become a tradition for me, every time I came to the city. One thing, though: these guys weren’t mobsters. They weren’t Mafioso’s. Heck, they weren’t even Italian. The two toughs at the end of the bar, Alberto and Pedro, were in fact from Mexico, and worked at Applebee’s. The bartender, Jerry, was from Jersey.
I’m really going to miss Wags. I’ll miss all his crazy stories and conspiracy theories, but I’ll do my best to keep his spirit alive. I’ll be sure to keep the stories coming, like the time we were in Phoenix and…
About the Author
Philip Loyd loves fat chicks and cheap beer, though not necessarily in that order. His first novel, You Lucky Bastard, is represented by New York Literary Agent Jan Kardys. Loyd lives in Dumbass, Texas. Find out more about Loyd at http://PhilipLoyd.com
Support your fellow author by sharing this story through social media… Rock on!!!