BAD MAN by Peter Nolan Smith

In February of 2013 the president of a private jet charter service invited me to dinner at the Oyster Bar. I accepted without hesitation, because I was a born and bred New Englander and nowhere else in the city served a wider variety of oysters.

“You don’t mind if I my girlfriend and her daughter join us?” Enos liked to compartmentalize his world into separate entities.

“Why would it bother me?” I had met his lover once. Cheryll seemed a very nice woman.

“No reason. Just that I don’t want to hear anything about a diamond ring.” The portly fifty-year old executive was a devout bachelor

“Diamonds make women happy.”

Sandy had killed business in the Diamond District, so I wasn’t working for my old firm, but any profit went straight into my pocket. With four kids I could use the money from a sale to Enos.

“They’re a girl’s best friend.”

“And a dog is man’s best friend.”

“That’s true.” My puppy Champoo had loved me more than fried liver.

“So no talk about diamonds. Especially in front of Cheryll. She’s dying to make me an honest man.”

“Not a chance of that.” The Oyster Bar is about oyster and lobster.” I won’t say a word about diamonds.”

I hung up and later in the day traveled by subway from Fort Greene to Grand Central Terminal. I spotted Enos at the entrance to the subterranean restaurant. My friend 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 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?” Enos and his elderly parents had weathered the hurricane on Rockaway. “I thought we were goners, but the surge ended with the high-tide. The house is a wreck.”

“Any disaster from which you can walk away from is a good thing.”

“My pilots always say that about crashes.”

“True is true.”

We walked inside the restaurant. The Oyster Bar’s vaulted tile ceiling was a bastion of timelessness. Waiters in white apron were shucking Malpecs, Blue Points, Belons, and Hog Islands. Diners were happy with their meals. It was a good place to be.

“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.

“Shouldn’t we wait for your girls?”
Enos and I sat at the counter. The dining rooms were for out-of-towners and couples.

“Cheryll’s daughter is a vegan. She doesn’t eat fish.”

“No oysters either?”


The waitress handed us menus, but Enos waved them away. While he came from a good Jewish family, nothing was too tref or unclean for his palate. “Mind if I order for us?”

“Not at all.” “Clams casino to start and a glass of Riesling 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. “Then an assortment of oysters and two lobster stews.” I ordered a glass of Chardonnay. Enos had stopped drinking three years ago. He was fine with tap water.

“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 popped a clam casino in my mouth. The combined taste of pig and shellfish was a sin of delight.

“Right.” The plate of oysters crowded the counter. They smelled of the ocean.

“So if bacon and shellfish are both tref and 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 and a dozen Malpecs, and two lobster stews.

As the waitress replaced our empty plate with lobster stew, Enos’ girlfriend arrived at the counter. She kissed my host with love and her twelve year-old daughter gave him a hug.

“This is Naomi.” Cheryll introduced her precious offspring. “She’s an actress in training.”

“Hello.” Her skinny daughter exuded a toughness hewed from a thousand refusals. She pointed a finger at my plate “You eat dead food?”

“We had a bi-valval feast.”

“You’re a bad man.” Her neo-ingénue 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.

“How bad?” Naomi wanted to know.

“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.

“Not then.”

“Another time?”

“Yes, there was a fish store in Boston’s Haymarket that sold whale meat sandwiches. I went there with a college friend.” Fred was a hippie. We all were in 1973. “I have to say it was the best thing I’ve eaten in my life.” Once was enough for a lifetime and I didn’t tell that to the little precious actress.

“You’re worst than bad.”

“What’s worse than Evil?”

“Fucking evil.” Naomi whispered those two words with a biting accuracy.

“What was that?” asked Cheryll. Like all mothers she had good ears.

“Nothing,” we answered with smiles. My evilness was our secret.

Cheryll resumed his conversation with Enos and I turned to He was good around other people’s children.

“I like how you sold those two words. You want me to give your headshot to a casting director?”

“Don’t smoke smoke up my ass.” Naomi was older than her years.

“I’m serious.”

“You know someone?”

“Not just someone.”

I dropped the name of the biggest casting director in the city.

“You can get my headshot to her?” The skinny waif flip-flopped from disapproval to delight.

“Yes.” Nina was a longtime friend.

“You’re not joking?” asked her mother, who had heard the name.

“No, I can send her the information.” I had never asked my friend for a favor and this wasn’t one. I thought that Naomi had something. “I can’t promise anything.”

“I know that, but thank you.” Cheryll understood that I was doing a mitzvah.

“Thank me, if something happens.”

Enos winked at me. He thought that I was lying to help him with Cheryll and Naomi caught the wink.

“You really know her?” The daughter 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. I leaned over to the young girl and asked, “So am I still ‘fucking evil’?”

“As evil as Satan, but even the Devil has his good points.”

“Thanks.” I really meant and signaled for the waitress. “A half-dozen Wellfleets.”

Naomi’s eyes condemned my badness.

I smiled at her without saying another world

The Wellfleets reminded me of summers on Cape Cod and I felt like a million dollar, because it wasn’t every day a twelve year-old girl called a man my age ‘evil’ and Naomi knew bad, because like all girls she was made of sugar and spice and certainly not from oysters or whale.

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