By John Cirillo
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Full disclosure: I must admit that after planning a spontaneous Fleet Week “buy-a-round-for-the-military” salute for the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, when the day arrived I began to approach it with some skepticism. Call it spontaneous combustion. It was over 80 degrees; the city was sure to be on overload with heavy traffic leaving city early for the long weekend; and how does one plan a spontaneous celebration in the first place, and on a full, three-stop schedule no less? Had Cigar outsmarted himself with the Rudy’s to O’Lunney’s to Oyster Bar Triple play? But to continue the ritual, we marched on.
Part 1 of the possible nightmare gone-bad held true: instead of walking from Grand Central Terminal at Madison Avenue to Rudy’s on Ninth in Hell’s Kitchen, I chose to hop in a cab to avoid the heat. A half hour and $17 fare later, I made it to Rudy’s, but at least I wasn’t sweating. What’s the ad line: “Never let them see you sweat?”
As I walk toward Rudy’s, there’s my first military sighting of the day, two uniformed officers – Jimmy and James – and they’re invited to the “opening ceremony.”
Waiting at the bar is Tony Connors, the former New York Daily News features editor supreme. Next on the scene, Morgan Stanley ace Dan “Riles” Reilly, former Fordham sports comm student and buddy. Two outstanding men – all hands on deck – for the tribute.
Enlisted men James and Jimmy, (or was it Jimmy and James?) were true to their word, despite a previous commitment, the duo arrived to for the first round. Judy is behind the stick with Yolanda on break. I have a famous grilled hot dog – Nathan Gottlieb’s character Boff would be proud – because I didn’t have lunch, and needed something to soak in the spirits.
Now, we’re cooking.
Three Navy boys stroll in next – Chuck, William and Kevin – and the threesome does a collective double-take when welcomed to New York by our greeting party and told about the buy a round tribute. Yolanda, back from her break, pours three shots of tequila with a slice of lime, a Jameson for yours truly, and we toast their service.
Now were are really cooking! Riles is at the lens, Connors talking up a storm, and veteran Nick, who was serving at the Pentagon on the infamous date of 9/11, joins the fray, and we go outside for a photo op in front of the world famous Rudy’s Pig.
Rudy’s manager Danny DePamphilis arrives, so now with Riles we have Dan-squared, and New Mexico Navy vet Rachel, who appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show the night before, joins the party.
The two Dan’s and Tony C get acquainted, and then Danny D and yours truly put some finishing touches on Sir Nathan’s book party to launch The Zero Tolerence Game and “The Gottlieb,” date to be determined in the coming days.
So, now I’m an hour late for more planned spontaneity, and it’s off to O’Lunney’s Pub in Times Square, where Dublin Danny is at the helm. When 100 sailors navigate into O’Lunney’s, I become concerned about budget constraints, but their ship sails upstairs, where Fleet is hosting its annual party. I “flag” down Danny, and he directs me to the far corner of the bar, where four Marine Corps youngsters are holding court, and living a slice of New York. They are genuinely grateful for the round of Cuervo Gold shots. Service men seem to enjoy tequila. With Dublin Danny joining the proceedings, it becomes a day of Dan-cubed.
Enrique, Robert and their two Marine mates strike up a wonderful conversation about New York steaks, New York-style pizza, and Spanish sections of New York. Robert explains that the Marines celebrating Fleet Week go out in groups of four, one is the “designated driver,” so to speak, to be sure that the partying is orderly. Terrific, respectful, idea.
Next stop, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, a flurry of activity in the Saloon, where Jose is in command subbing for Lieutenant Alex D., who has a well-deserved night off. After a quick bowl of the GCOB’s exquisite New England Clam Chowder, and a glass of Chardonnay, I make the 6:52, and am at home by 8:00 PM. What a day! I kind of like spontaneous combustion.
Our next military ritual: Memorial Day Parade in Chappaqua on Monday, when we will miss Viet Nam vet Michael Greene’s march, his bride Laurie reports that he’ll march in Aiken.
But will salute the vets for service to country with the locals, kids and many canines who will watch with us on the corner of Kings Street as they parade down the hill. Maybe we’ll see Bill and Hillary again this year.