Billy Martin is not the only threat I ever met in Shepheard’s. I mean, New York is not all Lindy’s cheesecake and The Children’s Zoo.
The Booking was Christian and the Lions first ever, in Summer of ’78, in the prettiest club on the East Coast, Shepheard’s, operated by the Loews Hotel Corporation in the Drake Hotel on Park Avenue and East 55th Street in Manhattan. A glittering showplace bearing an elegant Egyptian motif, Shepheards was a perfect venue for my exotic and elegant and entertaining black wife. The crowds were large and frequent.” Christian & The Lions” was a fit and a hit show at Shepheard’s. The “Lions” were her highly professional ensemble of four male Broadway singer/dancers and her-five piece band, conducted by Nat Adderly, Jr.
Trouble? It came, mostly in small doses. The guys with the cigars in the front tables blowing smoke rings up “The Girl’s ” throat, “big deal” talkers drowning out the singer, the air conditioning blowing directly down upon the overheated performers on stage, the drunk who would join her on the stage to sing or dance along, the requests (during a show in which one number alone required 4 costume changes) to sing (if she knows it) “Bring in the Clowns”… nothing too serious…just the usual show biz troubles.
Well, here was one larger dose of trouble.
I am back stage, show has begun. A “roadie” comes to me and says a guy standing in the wings is very insistent upon meeting her manager. Don’t worry, I say, I’ll get rid of him and walk up to this rather stocky mid-thirties personality who says he wants me to join him and his friend at their table.
I say, thanks but no thanks, busy and all that. He says, “You don’t understand, I ain’t no weirdo, mister”, and proceeds to open his wallet revealing scads of identification cads, as a NYC Fireman, as a decorated Veteran, as a Chauffeur, a Licensed Gunman, etc. apparently sure that, once these were revealed, I would immediately change my negative attitude.
I didn’t. But, I did say perhaps after the show, you will let me buy you both a drink. I turn to go and suddenly sense that the blunt cold steel pressing against my neck is the pistol for which I had just seen a License.
“Fuck your drink, you’re our guest. You come and sit with us now!”
With my mouth.
I say “That better be candy, you fuck, because in a minute you’re going to eat it!!!”
Then, I added, still somewhat gruffly, “But, if you put it away right now, I will join you and your friend for a while but I really can’t stay too long.”
Breathe easy, Jack. He puts the gun back in his pants belt and we walk to his friend sitting ringside. My entertaining wife, gives me a warm wink from the stage as I sit down between the friend and my armed escort. I wink back (or was it a nervous twitch) trying to have my racing thoughts direct themselves to solutions to the problem personality of my new host.
Later, I learn that others in our group have seen the discussion, but not the gun, and the seating and say to themselves, “Great, Jack’s got another couple of magazine writers covering the show.” This is reinforced by our seemingly animated conversation at the table.
The conversational thrust.
Armed Escort: (to friend) ” This is the fuck I was telling you about.. He was the Chief- got all of us burned in the 4-Alarmer.”
Friend: ” No, this is not the Chief. The Chief is bigger and fatter and younger (I resented that).”
Me: “I’d like another drink, how about another drink.”
Armed Escort: “This is that fucking Lieutenant, I was telling you about, the one in Nam. Nearly got us all blown away. Poor Eddie, no feet, no hands – this fuck did that to Eddie”
Friend: “No, I saw pictures of the Lieutenant, he was blond, very muscular, big jaw, and he was younger.”
Me: “Anybody care for a drink. I sure would like another drink.”
Each time I’d order a drink , I would try to alert the waiter and even the headwaiter when he stepped by that there was trouble here. I said once to the headwaiter: “These are my friends, I want everybody in the room to pay special attention to my friends.” He responded, “Of course, Mr. Byrne, our pleasure.”
From that moment, water glasses were filled as one brought the glass down from one’s mouth.” And, even as he passed the word, I got “right on”, “thumbs up” signs from a roadie, our electrician and the bartender. They had, by now, decided these were National Writers.
Friend (whispering to me): “Don’t worry. He’s hasn’t got it all in one piece. I’ve been trying to get him to leave. And, I don’t think he’d use the gun.”
Armed Escort: “You know who this fuck is! You know who this fuck is! I know who he thinks he is! He thinks he’s my fucking father! Well, fuck him! He’s not my father!” (me sighing relief)
“I don’t have any father, not after what this fuck did to my head!”
Me: (1. “Help!” 2. “Help, Police! 3. Now, listen, son, I want you to put your toys away and go to bed!” 4. “The beer here is warm piss, let’s go down the block, I know a place just four doors down 56th Street towards Madison that serves Real beer, Chinese Beer, Korean Beer, Japanese Beer, even Foster’s Australian Beer. And, we can really talk there, not with all this piss-ass singing, piano and drums and stuff.”
I chose No.4.
Friend: “Good Idea!”
Friend stands. Armed Escort stands, a bit hesitantly.
Friend: “C’mon let’s hurry it, we’ll get a booth”
Me: “Good idea. I’ll get the check and be right behind you.”
From the stage, Christian gives a little private nod of “goodbye” to her husband’s acquaintances. Headwaiter rushes to hold the door for them.
Minutes after their departure, into Shepheard’s came the prince of a great nation of the Arab Republics with, not one, but six government protectors from various agencies, all obviously armed.
I greet them and help seat them and begin to look forward to the return of the armed dickhead and his friend.
But, they stand me up.