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I was about twenty-three at the time, living in one of the blandest bachelor apartments in Westwood, working in an office cubicle, and daydreaming about places in Travel & Leisure magazine. My father called one afternoon with a no reply command to come to his apartment.
“I have something to discuss with you.” Growing up with gangsters involves many face-to-face meetings because the telephones are tapped. It is of no consequence what I happen to be doing at 7:00 PM that night– if Dad has something to discuss, we have to meet in person.
“What about?” I ask.
“What did I say? Didn’t I say we have to discuss it here?”
In those years, my head was waxed with false perceptions that Daddy was what Daddy told me – in the oil business. It did not occur to me that all those meetings at his apartment, in restaurants and parks were because he did not want any uninvited listeners from the FBI or other government agency.
After clearing my passage with the receptionist, I rode up the elevator to his Century City Park apartment. After peaking through the peephole, and asking if I was alone, he opened the door. I greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, and he asked, what kind of out fit is that. My attire on any given occasion should be a colorful coordinated double-breasted pants suit.
“I have some zucchini and rice in the refrigerator –will you make your old dad that vegetable dish? My father didn’t cook anything beyond boiled eggs, and broiled fish. I nodded and started for the kitchen.
“Wait a second, I’m not through talking–sit down. Well– I’m finally able to do what I’ve wanted to do for some time. It hasn’t been possible until now; I’m sending you to New York. Can you take a week off work?”
“I will of course-but aren’t you going?
“No. I’ve lived New York in the best years and wouldn’t go back if you paid me a million dollars.
“Why? Because I did it all, and now it’s your turn.” I moved closer to him on the couch so I could wrap my arms around and kiss his cheek.
“The first thing you have to do is get a new outfit. You won’t go to Manhattan in those jeans-for crying out loud. You’re staying at the St. Regis Hotel… I have it arranged, the guy owes me a favor and I had a bit of a windfall this month. Your mother and I stayed there. ”
“When? Where is the St. Regis?”
“Don’t interrupt-don’t you think I know where to send you? As I was saying, I booked a week for you. Now, I have it all set-up. You’ll have a driver, and do not get into a cab or any other car, you stay with the driver I hired, do you hear me Luellen?”
“Can’t I walk?
“You can walk after he takes you to the places you want to go. Do not argue with me, I know what I’m doing. You’re just a little naïve about New York. Anything can happen; it’s a jungle and you’re little red-riding hood. A fella will walk pass you on the street, clip your purse, and you’ll never know, a guy will carry your bag for you, and you’ll never see it again.”
The year was 1978, but I cannot remember which month. It was still cold enough to wear the mink coat he had given me for this occasion. I wrapped that mink around me everyday for a week. The Hotel Valet was familiar with the name Smiley, as was the hotel manager and the driver he hired was a double agent. He was also a bodyguard. The black Lincoln continental never left my sight.
The St. Regis is on West 55th, a few short blocks from Tiffany’s. That was my destination of choice, not for the diamonds, but a glimmer of where Audrey Hepburn sipped coffee and nibbled on a doughnut. I didn’t really care where the driver led me; I was visually climaxing on the traffic cops, the horses in central park, the side walkers streaming in one band as if all connected, horns blaring, lights flashing and the hi-rise silhouettes against slices of the sky.
My father expected me to have lunch at the World Trade Center, dinner at La Cirque, and in between long drives through Little Italy, Central Park, and Riverside Drive. My breath stopped when we were launched into the sky to have lunch at Windows on the World. While sipping my first Manhattan the city spun me around and for the first time I realized I was a real nobody-that I’d been no where– if I hadn’t been to Manhattan, and the impression cut off my short tail of confidence. The psychological departure that turned me from Daddy’s little girl into Luellen the woman will continue.
Windows on the World for anyone who has not been there supplied even the sourest puss, a great big slice of hope, because you were on the same level as the tallest building.
I wish I would have saved the matches or the napkins from that day. The fact that my father and Bobby Short are both gone, the World Trade Center is gone, and I am still a nobody amplifies the memory.
The night I went to see Bobby Short I was seated at a table, and while I tried to inhale the glitterati of the evenings crowd, I was ineffectually blowing cigarette smoke into the thick stream of smoke lingering above our heads. The room was New York jammed every table a colorful mixture of cocktails, handbags, and beautiful arms adorned with strands of gold. I had been on the town in Hollywood, seen movie stars up close, and dined with them. This crowd generated more mystery. Their body language was fluid; they did not purposely draw attention, because they were not there to be discovered by Lefty Lazar, or Robert Altman.
Bobby Short was a nightclub piano player after everyone went home. You could picture him sitting at the piano, as you would Will Rogers on his horse, long after the image was diluted. His eyes tap-danced with the eyes of the audience; they were all together. I was young, naïve and impressionable, and that is why my father sent me so I would get the impression.
During the day we were driven around by the tight lipped body guard, and we watched New York. It wasn’t until we met Al Davis (not the Raiders Owner) but a man who owned a distillery in Kentucky and liked my father enough to buy him a new Cadillac. Dad told us we were to meet Al at the Carlyle for Sunday Brunch. There is a stage like ambiance walking on 5th Avenue on a Sunday in New York. New Yorkers dress for a walk and I was again impressed at how sophisticated everyone looked so early in the morning.
Al Davis brought along a tall good looking man, that reminded me of a run around guy; he does everything he’s told and is of good temperament until somebody insults his boss. He poured Champagne, made phone calls, and Al Davis was WC Fields liquored by the time the eggs benedict arrived. He was not only a prankster, and a tease, he was bloated with years of drink and laughter, and anything else was just not worth his time. Knowing that my father was not going to walk in and surprise us, allowed us to feel slightly deserving of fanning that freedom. Al’s associate moved closer to me, and taunted my feminine prowess, which until that particular day had not been taunted by any friend of my father’s. It was then that I felt like a woman in New York. I have not felt that particular brand of womanliness since. No offense to any other gentlemen that spoiled me on occasion. It was that Sunday in New York, sitting in a booth, with worldly older men that made the lasting impression my father didn’t anticipate. During the brunch Al kept repeating, “ Don’t tell your father, he’ll have me shot.”
Several weeks later Al and his friend were in town and asked me to join them at a nightclub for dinner. Was I to tell my father, or just go along. I decided to go. We ended up going to Pip’s, an exclusive night club in West Hollywood. That evening, I tossed my adolescence around and swirled on the dance floor with frightening vulnerability. I didn’t get home until very late. The next day, my father called.
“ What time did you get home?”
“ I went out with Al Davis, he kept me there.”
“ I know where you were, and I know who you were with, and everything else you do. Don’t you ever accept an invitation from one of my friends unless I am with you! What kind of idiot are you? Haven’t I taught you anything? I cannot be responsible for a guy like Davis if I’m not there! I’m too upset to look at you; don’t bother coming to see me. ”
I returned to the Carlyle one more time to see Bobby Short, but I have never enjoyed a more outrageously mischievous Sunday in New York like that day with Al Davis.