ELTON JOHN and THE GOOD PICKLES
Right. So we pulled into the city at nearly 6 p.m., traffic lighter than usual with the Yankees out of town, and right off I’m scanning for a parking lot when Mr. K starts in on me. “Whadya doin’?” he asked. “Park on Seventh—right on the street. It’s free parking after six.”
“I wanna garage it,” I said.
“Are you crazy?” Mr. K turned to look at Hank Magitz who didn’t look back. “Is he crazy?” he asked Magitz.
“I don’t wanna chance it,” I said as I looked around. There were no lots anywhere.
“You’re worried someone’s gonna steal this piece of shit?” Mr. K chuckled. Told me he’d been parking his DeVille on the street for thirty years and no one ever touched it. Of course they didn’t, I thought.
In the backseat, Magitz was still staring out the window like he’d just gotten out of the hole and hadn’t seen daylight in a month. He had no thoughts on subjects as mundane as parking.
In the front, drilling a toothpick into his gums, sat Leon Kleinman, a.k.a. Mt. K, a.k.a. Leon the Gent, a.k.a. What’s-the-soup Kleinman. Of course, no one called him these names to his face. Not twice, anyway. At his behest, I turned the corner and pulled into a tight spot. It wasn’t easy. “Am I close enough to the curb?” I asked.
Mr. K nodded. “I think we can walk to the curb from here.” Then he steered us down 35th Street and up Broadway. Three blocks from the Garden, he came to a halt in front of Mr. Broadway’s Deli. “I’ve gotta eat something,” he said, and he was through the door. We walked through the artificial air and delicatessen bouquet and right past a line of people queuing up to be seated—Mr. K led us directly to a corner table in the back, sat down with his back to nothing but cushions, and opened the menu.
“Excuse me, sir!” said the headwaiter. “That table is reserved.”
Mr. K slowly looked up from his menu, one eye squinted shut. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“I don’t care if you’re the Queen of England,” said the waiter, indignant. “That table is reserved. Now if you’ll please come with me—”
Without turning my head, I saw Magitz reach into his pocket, but Mr. K stopped him with a slight gesture. He smiled at the waiter, that scary smile of his—the last thing a mouse sees when it looks up at the cat. “Listen,” he said. “You don’t know who I am, and I don’t know who you are, so be a good guy and send our waitress—we’re in a bit of a hurry—we have a concert to catch.”
The waiter’s face reddened as he began to retort, but Mr. K was already helping himself to a big scoop of coleslaw, cool as the other side of the pillow. “And send the pickles,” he added, a mouthful of slaw. “The good pickles.”
I watched the waiter made a beeline for the kitchen. Less than a half minute later, the double doors swung open again and out marched the waiter, the cook and the manager. They hurried toward us.
Mr. K was already on his second helping of slaw. I was on my first. Magitz hadn’t even touched his water. He just stared.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Kleinman!” said the manager. He put his hand out to shake Mr. K’s and grasped it with both of his own. “The waiter is new. He meant no disrespect.”
Mr. K nodded. Then a waitress appeared out of nowhere with two flotillas of pickles. The good pickles. She smiled coquettishly and asked if we were ready to order.
“Try the pastrami,” Mr. K told me. “It’s the best in the city.”
Less than an hour later, we were at the Garden’s front entrance. Elton John was playing. All around us middle-aged couples, straight and gay, queued up for the show. I turned to Mr. K. “How are our seats?” I asked.
He looked at me sidewise. There was that smile again. Magitz shook his head like I’d just farted. Then the ticket-taker said, “Tickets please.”
Mr. K leaned forward and half whispered, “Tell Mr. P that Mr. K.would like to see him.”
Nonplussed, the ticket-taker punched his walkie-talkie and called for “Mr. P.” A minute later, a huge guy in an MSG Security uniform came to usher us in. We were escorted to the floor and across the half-court divide and directly to the first row, front and center. All seats were occupied. “Lemme see your tickets,” said Security to two gay couples. Then he examined the four tickets under his flashlight and shook his head. “You’re all back one row back,” he said, shoving the tickets into his jacket pocket.
“But these are our seats!” one of the four protested, clutching his partner’s hand.
“You wanna see the show on not?” asked Security, suddenly looking even bigger. As the four vacated their seats, Security turned to Mr. K and said, “Enjoy the show, sir. I’ve got you covered like a blanket.”
Then out came Elton. He opened with eight tracks from his new album Peachtree Road, then did a half-dozen from the three-decade old Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Backed by original members Nigel Olson on drums and guitarist Davey Johnstone, Elton was charismatic and mesmerizing, and New York City has always been kind to him.
“I don’t do this song often,” said Elton right before the encore, “but it’s been 25 years since he was killed and playing in this house reminds me of my good friend John.” And then the band played “Empty Garden,” Elton’s tribute to John Lennon.
The show lasted nearly three hours. As we headed up 7th, I wondered if I’d find my car where we left it, but there it was.
“Great show,” I said as I strapped in.
“You liked it?” asked Mr. K.
“What’ not to like?” I said.
“You know,” said Magitz from the backseat, his first words that whole evening, “we oughta do something nice for Elton. How’s about I take care of that guy who whacked Lennon?”
Mr. K chuckled. “Somebody got him already.”
“Godamnit,” said Magitz. “Some guys have all the fun.”
© 2005, Aardwolf Publishing