In 1956, after hitchhiking from Hollywood, California to Miami Beach, Florida (see part 3 or 4 in this series) upon being thrown out of the Marine Corps now that the Korean War was over and we (gays) weren't needed anymore I got my first job in an Italian restaurant making pizza. It was a big show in a store front window and I learned how to toss it all sorts of ways so that eventually a crowd would gather and some might come in for a pizza. I quickly discovered that waiters made more money than pizza makers and started to look for another job.
I have spoken a lot about Picciolo's Restaurant at 101 Collins Avenue near the beach as it was one of, if not THE, best restaurant jobs I ever had. From the beginning Sam and Dorothy Piccolo welcomed me and made me feel at home just as their sons Don and Vinnie did. The two waitresses, who worked with about 10 waiters, took me under their wing and it wasn't long before I knew everything there was to know about Italian food from how to cook it to how to serve.
Since that time I had worked in all kinds of restaurants from 5 star like the 4 Seasons in New York to the Bageland Deli in Fort Lauderdale but Italian restaurants were always my favorites. On October 15, 1999, hurricane Irene hit and things were a bit of a mess for a few days like the phone being out. Gino stopped by a few days later and we went to buy tickets for "Chicago" which was touring and would stop at the Broward Performing Arts Center. After that we went to Big Louie's for dinner and I spoke to Sheila, the manager, about a job and she told me to come back the next day. As these things happen when I got home there was a message that the manager from Border's called and wanted me to come in to fill out the paperwork to start there the following week. Instead I went to Big Louie's where Sheila introduced me to Sergio who was the head manager and had originated the menu the restaurant had been using for awhile. I believe at that time Big Louie's had been in business about 12 years.
I won't get into the 'mob' bit as EVERY Italian restaurant in the United States is rumored to be owned by the 'mob'--sorry that isn't true but even if it was Sergio and Sheila certainly were/are not part of the mob and, as far as I could tell, though I seldom saw them neither were the owners! On Friday October 29 I started at Big Louie's and the next day I was given station 1 and I felt as if I had been working there forever. I started off working 5 days a week which didn't thrill me but I needed the money as I had been out of work for 8 months. Tips were good, the kitchen wasn't a problem, the 3 rooms that made up the restaurant were compact and close to the kitchen.
Everything was going great as I was back to going out to the theatre like seeing productions of "Torch Song Trilogy", "Chicago" and, of course, seeing movies and eating out. I was having trouble with my teeth and my car plus I got new glasses. It was if the world heard I was making money again and they were lined up to take it all. Also lined up was Gateway as I was to find out the more money I made the more money they got which would lead to problems later on but then I didn't care. I knew Big Louie's would be the last job I would have and I wanted it to last until 2001 when I hit 65 and could/would retire for good. Little did I know there was bad health news along the road.
Sadly 1999 ended on a real downer as David, Ronnie's cousin, called on December 8 to tell me that Ronnie had died. I thought of all our great times working at the Brass Rail in NYC, going to all the theatre previews on Broadway, the bars all over town and the 35-40 years we had been friends. All we did came back as Ronnie's home was in Watertown.