Sometime in the late 1980’s Lucia, Noel (a male friend who no longer lives in New York, and yes he’s gay) and I were walking up Lafayette Street, in Nolita, a section of Manhattan that was called Noho then. Nolita stands for north of Little Italy, and Noho for north of Houston. We were walking on the east side of the street where there’s a fire station that would ring its bells for every event and famous people who lived in or worked in the neighborhood.
It was a hot June night. Not hot as in oppressive, I want to die weather, but hot enough. In New York, the hottest part of the day is always dusk when the heat’s had time to settle on the cement, and the buildings seem to ooze both heat and drops of hot water from the air conditioners. The steam rises both from the street, and subway gratings, and it can feel as if you’re trapped in a manhole cover or a pot of not quite boiling water. One thing you learn in New York early and never forget: heat rises.
I was wearing a blue with little pink and yellow flowers bustier dress; the skirt flowed like a Marilyn dress. Here comes the big confession: sometimes when I would a dress like that I wouldn’t wear underwear. But, and this is a big but, I had a two piece bathing suit that almost exactly matched the dress; only the flowers were a bit larger. That morning in a burst of clothing creativity, I decided to wear the bottom as underwear.
Noel was walking to my right, and Lucia to my right. The subway grating was right underneath me. The fire station bells began ringing. I couldn’t understand why suddenly Lucia and Noel were trying to tame my dress that was whirling with the blast of hot air from the subway. Their faces had turned bright red, and not from the heat.
Something made me turn around, and face three very well dressed men who were trying not to smile. Two of the men were young, very good looking; “bodyguards,” I thought before my brain had time to register exactly who they were guarding. Or maybe I really didn’t want to realize this. I thought of something clever to say, but before I could say it I began laughing. Real laughter; not girly giggles or shameful bursts of restrained laughter that turns into coughing fits. I knew that as long as I lived I would never forget this meeting. But I just couldn’t stop laughing; the six of us were standing on Lafayette Street, laughing until tears came.
And that’s how I met the man for whom the bells were tolling; the boss of bosses himself, John Gotti, shortly before he went to prison.
If Lucia comments, and she will, do not believe her version. I wasn’t just wearing underpants, I was wearing a shield of armor, a belly covering bathing suit bottom.
No I don’t approve of him or anything he did. Just getting that out of the way. But it’s a hell of a story. And I have a book of them.