My American Father
My American father laughed as he told me he nearly became a trainee Roman Catholic Priest.
Instead he built a career as a Wall Street Trader. A lifestyle which ensured he knew the best of restaurants, the best wines, the finest cuts, a discerning palette, and led him to believe life would be good if he opened his own. He chose the neighbourhood he grew up in & he had contacts there, and he thought that would help.

In the afternoons, just before staff lunch, when the cutlery was being laid out, and the crisp white table linen smoothed down, the wait staff and Maître d’ would talk.

“Why are these glasses real crystal?”
“Why is everything the best of the best?”
“Why do we have a 3-inch deep, 30 foot long genuine Italian marble bar?”
“Why the highly polished Steinberg full Grand that plays itself?”
“Why the wine cellar with oak panelling?”

But seriously …did you hear me? Why those crystal glasses? Not even the Ritz, not even the Soho Grand, and yet in this neighbourhood, in Brooklyn, in the fringes of civilization, and in a section that wasn’t even gentrified.

My American Father got a kick out of hearing me talk. “Hello,” I’d once asked, “are you the manager?”… Time Out New York in my hand turned to the ‘Eat Out’ section, pen mark drawn around the listing with the word ‘new’ in a little black box next to it’s name. “Do you need a waitress? Can I give you my resumé…?”

“This is my English daughter” he would say, “she worked for the Queen…say ‘Puttanesca’” and I would. It would entertain his clientele. “Pooter…neska,” I would say, as the other wait staff cleared tables. To be frank, I could hear no difference, but it was as entertaining to his clientele as if he brought in Tony Bennett for the night. The customer who owned the building told me, “You’re a good kid, you’re not an embarrassment.”

“Sit down,” My American father would say at the end of the night… “try this”…”pick what you want, go on chose something...come on sit down, let me make you a Cosmo…” What would I like? I’d sit on a stool next to his, where he’d perch during evening service and would drink a Cosmopolitan. Every night, “sit down; I’ll make you a Cosmo.” He'd get up…

Dollar bills were taped to the walls to bring prosperity and blessing, but friends of his neighbourhood acquaintances would brashly inquire to those new faces that walked through the door, “what do you want?” They’d leave, so would I if I hadn’t been met by him that first day. The restaurant served as their private club.

“Is there anything you need? I’ll help you out; I’m your American Father…
what do you need?”

He gave me a:

* Casiotone keyboard
* Super deluxe gold special edition Electrolux canister vacuum cleaner
* Arranged an apartment for $900 per month, and then an even better apartment
when expelled from the first, when told by landlord I had “too many black
friends” for the neighbourhood


* a silk tie

It was a hundred dollar silk tie that his wife chose and brought in one night, the night she made a special journey from Connecticut to meet his English daughter. The pattern was ‘gin and tonic under a microscope’ but it looked like daisies to me.

Everything has gone now, except that tie. I nearly lost that too. “Please return my tie,” I asked, “that’s a hundred dollar silk tie”. I shouldn’t have lent it out to the kid for his job interview. Please return it. I was laughed at for the dollar value I’d ascribed it. It’s my sentimental tie, I should have said, and I would have if I’d been honest, “it’s the only thing I have left from my American Father.”

The crystal wine glasses had to be sold, the cutlery was returned, the piano bought by some bargain hunter. The building owner kept the fixtures and fittings, marble bar, panelled wall’s, cellar….

On my last day at work my American Father said this to me, “anything you’ve seen and anything you’ve heard, forget about it…it’s a myth…
but if you need anything, call me…I can make things happen”.

I called him a month later because I missed him, just because. But, his line was dead, there was no trace. His cell phone, his home line, nothing
he’d been cut off.

(Note: The above story 'My American Father' is one of a series of eight short New York stories that comprise the written work for the series Brooklyn / Bognor pt. 2)

You may also like

Back to Top