Last February the president of a private jet charter service invited me to dinner at the Oyster Bar. I was dying for a good plate of oyster followed by a pan-friend lobster stew.
“You don’t mind if I bring my girlfriend and her daughter?” Enos liked to compartmentalize his world.
“Most certainly not.” I had met his lover once.
Cheryll was a very nice woman, but Enos had a hard time committing to her. At 50 the portly executive still thought of himself as single. “Why would it bother me?”
“Just I don’t want to hear anything about a diamond ring.” My boss constantly bugged Enos about upgrading his girlfriend to a wife. Richie Boy was fixated about selling diamonds. He had a lot of expenses.
“You and I go back before I was diamonds.” My cousin Ty Spaulding had introduced us in Hawaii. “The Oyster Bar is about eating fish, oyster, and lobster. I won’t say a word about diamonds.”
I had sold a big diamond the week before. I had enough money to quit work for a year. April 1 was scheduled to be my last day at the diamond exchange, although Richie Boy thought that I was kidding.
“Perfect.” Enos was a good man with a better appetite. “I’ll see you there a little after 6.”
“I won’t be late.” The Oyster Bar had the best shellfish in New York. The vaulted tile ceiling offered the illusion of timelessness and at 5:50 I descended from the main floor of Grand Central Terminal and spotted Enos at the entrance to the subterranean restaurant. He had gained weight and more than a few pounds, but his curly hair had lost none of its spring.
“Good to see you.” The big man greeted me with toothy exuberance. He was wearing a tailored suit. Business these days was good as long as you dealt with the rich. “I like the tan. How’s the family?”
“Everyone’s good.” I had just returned from a month-long visit to my kids in Thailand. “How’s your dad?”
“Holding on? What about yours?”
“Frank sadly passed two Novembers ago. Don’t say sorry. He had a good life.”
We walked inside the restaurant.
“My father loved oysters. He used to eat fried clams from Wollaston Beach and wash them down with a chocolate milk shake without a belch afterwards.”
“I wish I had that stomach.” Enos tapped his bass drum girth.
“Where’s your girls?” Enos’ woman had a daughter. I couldn’t remember how old.
“They’ll be coming later.”
Enos and I sat at the counter. Tables were for out-of-towners and dates.
“Cheryll’s daughter is a vegan. She doesn’t eat fish.”
“No oysters either?”
“None.” Enos came from a good Jewish family, but nothing was too tref or unclean for his palate. The ancient waitress approached us with menus. My portly friend waved his hand. “Mind if I order for us?”
“Not at all.” It was his call.
“Clams casino and a glass of Reisling for my friend. I’ll have water.” Enos had stopped drinking and drugs three years ago. It was either cold turkey or a cold grave. He looked better above ground.
“I have a question.”
The waitress brought an Austrian Riesling, blessed by the sun shining on the Danube’s northern slopes.
“What?” Enos asked, as if I needed a loan.
“This is a dietary question of religion.”
“Meaning a Jewish question.” The waitress placed the clams casino between us.
“Yes.” I had been the sabbath goy for two decades and considered myself a scholar of Judaica. “It’s a simple query. Bacon is tref and clams are tref, right?”
“Right.” Enos lipped the delicacy with pleasure.
“So in physics and mathematics two negatives make a positive, right?” I picked up one and popped it in my mouth. The combination was a sin of delight.
“Right.” The first plate of malbecs arrived at the counter.
“So if bacon and shellfish are both tref if you eat them together, does that make them non-tref?”
“According to my calculations, yes, although my father would say no.”
Enos popped two oysters into his mouth. He might have stopped blow, but he was eating a little too fast for a man approaching 280. “They’re a mitzvah as long as we eat them before my girlfriend’s daughter arrives. She’s a vegan Nazi.”
“Vegans hate us.” We were omnivores and devoted the next twenty minutes to devouring the clams casino, a dozen Malpecs, and a lobster stew.
As the waitress took away most of our plates, Enos’ girlfriend arrived at the counter. Cheryll kissed my host with love. Her twelve year-old daughter also liked Enos, which in many ways was better than loving him.
“This is Naomi.” Cheryll introduced her precious offspring. “She’s an actress in training.”
“Hello.” Acting is the world surrounded by nos. Her skinny daughter might have been small, but her eyes exuded a toughness hewed from a thousand refusals. She pointed a finger at my plate “Did you eat dead food?”
“We had a bi-valval feast.” The Malpecs came from a winter cold Atlantic ocean.
“You’re a bad man.” Her neo-ingenue eyes were trained to seduce casting directors. Her scrawny beauty would blossom into stardom with the right training and her succubus eyes disregarded my age. I was simply another old geezer to wrap around her accusing finger.
“You couldn’t believe how bad.”
Enos and Cheryll were deep in conversation, happy that I was diverting the little monster.
“I was brought up along the coast of Maine. Every summer a whale would get confused in the shoals and end up beached on the sands as the sea retreated on the tide. The fishermen fought off the sharks and cut off the best pieces of whale meat for their families.”
“You ate whale?” Her eyes widened in horror. She was no longer acting.
“And it tasted good. No, actually it was the best thing I’ve eaten in my life.” The story was a lie based on a A WHALE FOR THE KILLING by Farley Mowat, but I had eaten whale meat in Boston’s Haymarket back in 1970 with a hippie friend. We agreed that it tasted better than beef, but once was enough for a lifetime and I didn’t tell this to the little precious actress.
“You’re worst than bad.”
“Fucking evil.” Those two words got her mother’s attention. Her daughter and I smiled without explanation and I lifted a finger to stop them from asking why she had used such a bad word. Enos resumed his conversation with Cheryll. He was good around other people’s children.
“I like your conviction. You want me to give your headshot to a casting director?”
“You know someone.”
I mentioned a name. The woman was the biggest casting director in the city. The skinny waif flip-flopped with delight and her mother thanked me. She dreamed of Naomi in the movies.
“Thank me, if something happens.”
Enos winked at me. He thought that I was lying to help him with Cheryll, but I did know the casting director. Naomi caught the wink.
“You really know her?” She was used to men using her mother.
“Yes.” Enos wasn’t a bad man and tonight he would be happy with Naomi asleep in the next room while he was on top of her mother.
“Send me your headshot and info.” It was the best I could do and I ordered a plate of Blue Points.
Naomi said nothing, but her eyes condemned my badness.
I smiled back at her.
The Blue Points made me think of the Great South Bay and I felt like a million dollars
It wasn’t every day a twelve year-old girl called me ‘evil’ and Naomi knew bad, because like all girls she was made of sugar and spice and everything nice and certainly not from oysters or whale.