When I think of my dad — and if you know me, you know I always do think of him – it’s often Saturday morning and Duke is surrounded by his “crew” in his regular booth at Nate n’ Al’s. But next Sunday, Father’s Day, I’ll think of Duke as he was most Sundays – in his other regular booth at Matteo’s. What can I say, he liked to eat and he loved to schmooze.
I realize I write WAY too much about my dad. But, here is a story you haven’t heard. One night at Matty’s, as we called this trapped-in-a-time-warp, Rat Pack era, Italian bistro on Westwood Boulevard, my dad was eating in his regular red leather booth; first to the right as you walked into the “correct” (celebrity-filled) room. I should mention that Sunday nights at Matteo’s was tradition among a certain show business crowd. It wasn’t unusual to see Sinatra dining with Steve & Eydie, or the Reagans, Lucille Ball or even Clint Eastwood… but to me, Sunday at Matteo’s was mostly about the comedians. On this night, Red Buttons walked in. My dad was always the first person anyone greeted. He was hard to miss. Short of stature, but big of mouth, and loudly holding court at a spot you had to pass to enter. Except for Shecky, my father called all comics he knew by their last name. It was just Dangerfield. Or Youngman. You get it. So, Buttons walks in and turns to our table, kibitzes with my dad a moment, then in a big, showy gesture, hands him a long, fat cigar. He proudly points out it’s an expensive Cuban then moves on to his own table. My dad stuck it where he put all his cigars — including his own cheap ones — in the top jacket pocket he sometimes called a “pockcoat.” Don’t ask. (more…)