Nicholas Molnar: This begins an interview with Mr. Richard Mack on April 20, 2012, in Somerset, New Jersey, with Nicolas Molnar and ...
Gerald Carlucci: ... Gerald Carlucci.
NM: Thank you, Mr. Mack, for having us at Sophie's Bistro and The Den.
Richard Mack: Thank you for asking me to do this interview. Let's see how it's going to go afterwards.
NM: Could you tell us, for the record, when and where you were born?
RM: I was born in the Bronx, New York, November 23, 1933.
NM: Could you tell us a little about your family history? Let us start with your father's side.
RM: My father's side, my grandfather came from Russia. He first came to the United States, I guess, in the early 1900s, and he came alone. Then, my grandmother--and we're not sure whether they were in Russia or they were in Poland. My father always used to say it was depending on which way the Cossacks were going when they were going after the Jews. So, they were either in Poland or Russia. Then, after my grandfather had gotten a job, he was working--what a lot of the Jews at that time did, they went up to New York State to the Catskills, and they were working on farms there, because at least they could get food. They were growing chickens, raising chickens; they could get their eggs. They could have cows; they got their milk. So, at least they were getting some sort of food, and they were probably getting some pay.
My grandfather saved up enough and from his--I'm not sure if it was his relatives or my grandmother's relatives, who also helped them get my grandmother back here. Now, my grandmother, she was a big, strong woman. She had to be because she had my Uncle Phil, my Uncle Max, my Aunt Frieda, my Aunt Yetta, and my father. So, she had five children, and my father was very, very young at that time. He was the youngest. So, she got them from Russia [or] Poland, and they went to Holland. They thought they were going to catch a boat from there, a ship from there to the United States, and they couldn't leave from there. So, they went to England, and they got a passage, third class or steerage, whatever it was. My father always tells this story that he was a little kid and he used to like to sing and dance, so he would go up to the upper decks and he would be up there. He would sing and he would dance, and they would throw coins to the little Jewish boy. He would have some extra money and he would give it to my grandmother, and they were able to buy extra food or something on the ship. Then, when they came to New York, I think at that time my grandfather had already established himself in New York City, and they had an apartment there.
My father's older brothers and sisters, they all went to high school. I think my father was the only one that did not graduate from high school because he ran away from home. He tells the story that he ran away from home before he was thirteen years old, and he came back at thirteen, so he could be bar mitzvahed. My grandfather was an Orthodox Jew. So, he had to come back to be bar mitzvahed.
I have to tell you about my grandfather. What my grandfather did--do you know the elevated [railway] in New York City? You come down the stairs and right--well, here are the stairs like this, and you could put a little store in there. He had the newsstand there. He sold newspapers and magazines and candy. He had a little potbelly stove in there. He would get up at six o'clock in the morning, and he would go to shul, the synagogue, and he would say his prayers. Then, he would go and he would open up his newsstand, because all the people would be going at seven o'clock in the morning to catch their subway. He would sell his newspaper for a penny a piece, and that's how they made their money. Then, when he became a little ill, sometimes my aunts would help out there, too.
I always used to love to go to New York to visit them. They were living in Brooklyn at that time. The reason I would love to go there [was] because he would always take me into the little place there, and he'd give me candy and he'd give me a comic book. My grandmother, what she would always have--the Russians, they drink tea, and they would drink it out of the glass. See, I'm drinking my coffee out of a glass. But they used to have these little metal holders and the glass would sit in that, so it was very hot. Everyone in the family drank tea, and they used to take sugar, lump sugar. They put the lump sugar in their mouth, and they would sip the tea through the lump sugar. That was the sweetness. But what they used to do for me as a kid--I didn't drink tea. Everyone had seltzer, the seltzer bottles which you pressed the handle down and seltzer would come out. Well, everyone had seltzer. My grandmother would take jelly or jam, and she'd put the strawberry jam in there. I'd have strawberry soda. So, it was really great. We used to love going to New York for that.
My grandmother, as I said, was a big woman. She would also help my grandfather out. She was also very, very well dressed, had her hat, her nice coat, her scarf, her pocketbook. I think almost to the day that she died--and she must have been in her late eighties--she used to work in a senior citizen's home to help other people who were younger than she was. She was very good that way. I'm trying to think what else about my grandmother. Oh, as I said, she was the strongest person in the family. She ran the family, really.
I had one uncle who moved out to California, married, and went there. That was my Uncle Phil. My Uncle Max married. His first wife died, and his second wife Mary--we always used to laugh about it because she was Romanian--she was a very nice woman, but when you have Jews who came from Russia and Poland, that was a different Jew that came from Romania. Their cooking was different. I'm not sure, because my grandmother and grandfather and my mother and father all spoke Yiddish. They all spoke English in the house, but the only reason they would speak Yiddish is so that the kinder, the child, the children, shouldn't know what they were saying. Then, I have my Uncle Max. As I said, he was the one who married the Romanian. It was interesting because her cooking was different than what we had. They had two children, my cousin Harold and my cousin Sylvia.
Then, we had my Aunt Frieda. My Aunt Frieda, she was married to a printer who made a lot of money. He did very, very well, had a little room that was half this, maybe as big as the bathroom. He had his printing presses there, but he did very, very well. He treated my aunt very well. But my aunt thought that he was having an affair, and she wanted a divorce. She didn't like him. That's really what it was. At that time, you couldn't get a divorce unless you committed adultery. So, they set up something where a maid came in and took pictures, and they faked adultery. She was really a mean woman. What she did is, with that, she wouldn't allow him to come into New York. Now, that was the silliest thing because his business was in New York, but she really didn't follow up on it because she kept getting money from him. So, she was smart enough there.
Then, my aunt moved out to Arizona. She moved out there because their only son Irving had asthma, so they moved to Phoenix. There was a picture in Life magazine of a woman who looked like Annie Oakley and they were camping some place in Arizona or Nevada--I don't remember where it was. They showed a campsite there, showed her holding the gun and the hat, and another man was there. The family was very, very upset because she was with another man who she wasn't married to. She had worked in Las Vegas for a while, but most of the time she was living in Phoenix, taking care of her son. I think this happened after her son graduated from high school. When he graduated from high school, he then moved in with my grandmother in Brooklyn and he went to NYU [New York University]. He went to medical school there; he became a doctor. He was also very selfish and very self-centered. As a matter-of-fact, later when he got married, he was in the Air Force as a doctor, and they moved to Highland Park. My father helped him set up an office right here in New Brunswick. So, that was the only relative that we had who was living in New Brunswick. He had three children. This is all on my father's side.
I'm trying to think who else. Then, my Aunt Yetta. She was deaf, beautiful, had a wonderful sense of humor, wore a hearing aid, and she had some of the nicest men. It sounds funny for me to say that, but she had some of the nicest men as companions, as friends. One man in particular had a Greek bakery. He would come every Sunday, because that's when we would go to visit my grandmother. He would bring boxes of all the Greek pastries, the baklava, and all things like that. My aunt wouldn't marry him. Why? Because she had been married before, too. [laughter] Later on, when I got divorced, my mother said--and my mother wasn't talking about her side--she said, "No one in our family ever got a divorce." Well, that's just foolish. People did get divorces all the time, or they just said they were divorced and they moved in with someone else.
Then, I guess, my father was the youngest. My father, as I said, ran away from home when he was twelve, came back to be bar mitzvahed, and then ran away again. But with all this, you see that my father, even though he didn't have a high school diploma, he was able to read, to write, and he did a lot of reading. He spoke Spanish because he used to--one of the things he said that he wanted to do in his lifetime--this is when he was living in Phoenix, because he had emphysema--he learned how to speak Spanish, not that he was absolutely fluent in it. You know how certain people have an ear for language, he had an ear for language.
Anyways, what he did was that he went down to Florida during the--well, the [Great] Depression came along at that time too, but he was down in Florida during Prohibition. He was running rum from Miami, from Bahamas to Miami, but at the same time, he was working as a waiter in the Flagler Hotel, which was in Miami. [Editor's Note: Henry M. Flagler (1830-1913) was an industrialist and real estate developer in Florida.]
GC: It's beautiful, that hotel.
RM: Well, I don't know if it's still around, the Flagler?
GC: That's not in Miami. That's in St. Augustine.
RM: No, no. This was the one that was in Miami at the time. I'm talking back in 1928 or 1929, something like that, might have been '30. Because Prohibition didn't end until 1933. That wasn't his main way of making money. They used to go over on these boats and bring rum back--actually, it wasn't rum. They would bring scotch back, because you couldn't get any of that here because of [Prohibition]. Then, he worked as a waiter there.
Then, in the summertime, he would go up to the Catskills. You've probably heard about the Catskills, all the comedians up there and all the people who went into show business from there. What people used to do at that time--my father was working as a waiter, and he would work as a waiter during the day. In the nighttime he was working, you had to entertain the guests who were there. So, you had to do two things; you were a waiter and you were an entertainer. It's like how many people today who are actors in New York City [also] work as a waiter or a bartender until they can get a job in the theater some way. Well, that was the same thing that they used to do. My father used to do song and dance. You probably don't know him, but there was a man up there by the name of Mischa Auer, a Russian, tall, thin guy. He later went to Hollywood and he used to play these bit parts as the Russian, always the Russian. It would always be a comic part. He was the straight man to my father. My father used to do the comic.
I really don't know how my mother and father met. My grandparents on my mother's side were the Bravermans. Oh, I have to tell you, it's another thing. Our name isn't Mack. Our name is Makanoff. It's M-A-K-A-N-O-F-F. In 1955, in June of 1955, we officially had our name changed from Makanoff to Mack. The main reason we did that--actually, it was my father's doing--was because my father--we moved to Highland Park in 1934, I think almost right after I was born. Everyone knew my father, because he was in show business, as "Manny Mack," and they used to call him "Little Manny Mack," because he was short and [he performed] song and dance and [was] happy. My father was always very active with all the different shows that would be going on, that they would produce here in New Brunswick and Highland Park. Everyone, as I said, knew him as Manny Mack.
I was registered in the school system when I first went to Nathan Hale School in New Brunswick here as Richard Mack. I guess it was in 1941, we moved to the Bronx. When we moved to the Bronx, my father said, "Well, our whole family knows [us as] Makanoff." So, he says, "We're going to go back to be Makanoff." I can remember driving in my father's [car]. I think he had a 1941 Pontiac at that time. We're driving. I'm sitting in the back seat, and they're teaching me how to spell my name, M-A-K-A-N-O-F-F. I was registered in the school system in the Bronx at that time as Richard Makanoff. We only lived there for about a year. Then, the Second World War started December 7th of '41, and we moved back to New Brunswick.
We moved into--isn't that funny how I remember a house number?--it was 168 Rutgers Street, but I lived there for a long time. So, when I moved back here, I went to Livingston School. That was from kindergarten to sixth [grade]. Then, I went to Roosevelt Junior High School, which was seventh, eighth and ninth grade, which was in New Brunswick, across from the library in New Brunswick. Is it still called Roosevelt? No, it's not a junior high school. Now, it's something else [elementary school], I think.
GC: I don't remember.
RM: You don't know New Brunswick.
GC: I know what you're talking about. I don't know the school though.
RM: I don't know the name of it either. It's right there. That's where I got into a lot of trouble. I was always a very fat kid, and friends of my aunt and uncle told us that there was doctor in New York City that gave thyroid injections or whatever it was, I don't know. It was something, a growth hormone. I was short and fat. So, my mother used to take me into New York to this doctor, where I would get injections and pills. They weren't diet pills, which were mostly amphetamines, I think. My mother had me on a diet, and I did lose weight, there's no doubt about it. But when I was thirteen, I weighed almost two hundred pounds, and I was five inches shorter. I was only about five feet. They had to take--I remember, they took me [to] Barneys, Barneys in New York, which is that famous men's clothing store. At one time, the main thing that they used to sell were to short, fat Jewish kids. [laughter] I shouldn't say that, but that's where I went. I had my bar mitzvah suit there.
Another side [story], you start talking and you think. We weren't religious. The only reason I was bar mitzvahed was because my father's father was still alive, my grandfather. My grandfather was so proud that I was going to be bar mitzvahed. As a matter of fact, he gave me--in the Jewish religion, you have a tallit, a shawl, prayer shawl, and you have a tzitzit. Tzitzits are the [tassels]. It's funny, the Mormons also wear a garment underneath their clothes. Well, the tzitzits are the strings that come down. He gave me the tallit, the prayer shawl, and the tzitzit. He gave me a Bible, and he gave me a tefillin. Now, tefillin are little boxes and they have prayers in the boxes. One goes on the head over here, and then it's tied around and comes around. They tie it around your arm. There's another box there. When you do your prayers in the morning, you're supposed to--what they call laying tefillin. What you're doing is you're putting this on. You're putting it on and you're reciting your prayers.
I have only worn them once in my seventy-eight years. I'll always remember the time that I wore them was because of my ex-father-in-law--not that he was Orthodox in any way, but you're supposed to name your daughter. You go to a synagogue and you name your daughter. When my daughter Randi was born, I had to go to the synagogue with my father-in-law. The rabbi who was there was Rabbi Raymon, and he was the rabbi for Highland Park and New Brunswick. You might see there's a Hebrew school in Highland Park. I think it's called Rabbi Raymon Hebrew School, and there's a synagogue in Highland Park, which says that it's Rabbi Raymon's synagogue. He's dead now, but this is in his honor. I talk about a lot of Jewish things and I'm not religious at all, but growing up in a community where we were all Jews and we were all friends and we all did this, you went along with it. He had thrown me out of Hebrew school to teach me to learn enough Hebrew to be bar mitzvahed, and I hated it. I didn't want to go there, didn't like him either. So, when he saw me there--here, I am, I'm a father--he took that tefillin and he put it so tight I thought my arm was going to fall off. He was getting even with me. That's what it was. Okay, that was a side thing.
For my being bar mitzvahed, we didn't belong to a synagogue, we had no affiliation, except we had a lot of Jewish friends. So, I was going to be bar mitzvahed, no synagogue or anything. At that time, my mother and father were instrumental in bringing Rabbi [Julius] Funk, F-U-N-K--he was the head of the Hillel at Rutgers University. As a matter of fact, you might see his name up at the Hillel there too. The first Hillel at that time was on Church Street in New Brunswick between Neilson and George Street and all those buildings. I think there's a parking lot there now. Because we knew him very well, he took me in and he gave me private lessons, so that I could be bar mitzvahed. I was bar mitzvahed at the Hillel. I was the first and only one who was bar mitzvahed at the Hillel because then Rabbi Raymon went to Rabbi Funk and said, "You can't do that. You're cutting into my money that I get from bar mitzvahs." [laughter] So, this is what happens. Everyone has their hand out, one way or another. So, that's where I was bar mitzvahed. But at that time, I said I was very heavy. I weighed two hundred pounds, only five-foot tall, bought my suit at Barneys.
Bar mitzvah was the last time I really went to [the synagogue]. The only other times I go to synagogue is when [a] friend was bar mitzvahed. Then, after their bar mitzvah, they're married. After they're married, you go to their children's bar mitzvah and other things like that. Then, later, you go there for the funeral. That's how you go to a synagogue.
As I said, I was going to this doctor in New York, and then my mother said, "I'm not going to take you all the time. You have to learn how to do it on your own." I did do it on my own. I used to love going in, because I'd take the train into 34th Street. At that time, the train station was Penn Station. One of the things that I'd always do is go over to Nedick's, which was on the corner of 42nd Street, or other places, too, and I could always buy a hot dog and an orange drink. [laughter] Then, I'd go into Brooklyn, take the subway to Brooklyn.
I used to read all the time. I just hated going to school. This was in the ninth grade, and I started to play hooky. I would walk in one door and walk out the other. Sometimes, my father would drive me to school when the weather was bad, and this was in junior high school. So, as I said, I would walk in one door and walk out the other, go over to the library, take out a book, and sit there all day and read. Or that might be the day that I might go into New York, so I would sit there and then I would walk down to the train station. If I didn't do that, my father knew all the managers of the RKO theaters in New Brunswick. There's the RKO State, the RKO Rivoli, the RKO Albany. So, I would go in there and [they would say], "Oh, go ahead, Dickey, you can go in." So, I would go into a movie, and I would see a movie. If I didn't want to watch, I'd sit and read.
The principal was Principal (Roland?), and assistant principal was (Kelley?). He was a tough, tough man. Half the time, I was in Mr. (Kelley's?) office sitting detention. Finally, they called my father and mother, and they said, "You know your son isn't in school. Where is he?" My father and mother didn't know where [I was]; they thought I was in school. I had played hooky for about forty days, and they said, "Well, we're going to have to leave him back because he's not going to school." My father said, "Well, my sister-in-law is a school teacher. She works in New York City. She commutes. On weekends, she comes here, but she can't commute every day, and she'll tutor him. If he doesn't pass his grades, then you can leave him back, but not until he doesn't pass everything." Well, my aunt did tutor me, and she helped me. She did tutor me, but she also was there to make sure that I did my work. So, I passed everything.
My father's best friends and my best friend, who is really my best friend right now, is Ray Fogelson. Ray is my best friend. They lived in Rumson, New Jersey. I guess Ray was also having some sort of problem in the school, too, and my Uncle Bill--he really wasn't my uncle, but they were my godmother and godfather. When I was born, we were living in Red Bank, New Jersey, and we were living there because my Aunt Pearl and Uncle Bill were there. They said, "Manny and Leah"--Leah was my mother's name--"come out here, it's nice." They loved it. My mother and father say I was conceived in Red Bank and born in the Bronx.
Anyway, Bill said, "We're going to go around, we're going to look for a private school for Ray." My father said, "Do you know we have to put Dicky in a private school, too?" So, we start looking around. We went to Lawrenceville, we went to Peddie, we went up to New York State to some of the schools up there. All of these schools--a few things. One, I'm talking about 1948. They were expensive at that time. You can imagine [that] you have to pay as much there as you do in college now and more, and not just state universities. So, the one place that my Uncle Bill found was Solebury School in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Actually, all it was was a barn. When I graduated, I think there were only nineteen in my graduating class. That was after we had joined with Holmquist, which was the girl's school down the road from us.
Bill liked it; my parents liked it. It was a very, very liberal school, an artsy school, knew that we would get a lot of attention there. That was probably the best three years that happened for me education wise because I was at that school. I made the best friends. I mean, to this day, I have my best friend Ray, who just retired, he taught at the University of Chicago, and Nick Simon, who taught at the University of Delaware. As a matter of fact, I just wrote a card to another good friend of mine, who I think of him only as the quarterback on the football team, (Bob Acheson?), who lives out in Colorado. I made the best friends, and I still remember them. I was the head of our fiftieth-class reunion, which was like eleven years ago. We had almost ninety-percent of our graduating [class]--of course, we had a small graduating class--who were there, plus kids who were a year ahead of us and a year behind us because we were all pretty close. For nine months, I wrote everyone hand-written postcards reminding them of the reunion. We had a grand time; it was wonderful. [There were] not as many for the fifty-fifth, and for the sixtieth, I really got pissed, because there were only two of us there, just Ray and myself. But, anyway, that was the best three years. I had a wonderful education there. I was certainly by no means the brightest or anything like that, but there are just certain things that you learn in your life and learn about oneself and life.
Later on, when I graduated from college, after I went to Washington and Lee [University]--also, that's, as I said, the second time I was a bad boy--I never studied. My freshman year, I got through; it was okay. My sophomore year, I was a proverbial sophomore, the true wise fool. Because I had done fairly well my freshman year, I thought I could get by in my sophomore year. They put me on academic probation. They said, "Well, take off six months, come back, you can come back." My parents were afraid that I was going to be drafted into the service. How could they draft me? Because by that time, I weighed 221 pounds; I was obese and they couldn't take me into the service. So, my father starts taking me--my father and my cousin, who was working for my father at that time--and we went up to Bard College. You couldn't see me there with a paint brush and long hair. Bard wasn't the place for me at that time. This is before hippies, but Bard, I didn't go to. I could have gone there. Then, there was another school that I went to up in New York State to look at. We had gone to a person who specialized in getting people into colleges, and he was the one that recommended these different schools. Finally, there was one, Pennsylvania Military College, and my father said, "That's it."
Now, I went there. I started there, I guess, in February of 1952, might have been '53. No, it had to be '52, February '52, '53. No, February '53. I was there two-and-a-half years. But there, because you had all these restrictions, you had to get up at a certain time, you had to go to class every day, you had to eat dinner at a certain time, you had to march at a certain time, you had to wear a uniform, you had to have all this crap. You had a study hall, and you had to be in your room. They came around, and they checked on you all the time. So, as long as you study, you can pass all your grades. As a matter of fact, in my junior year, I won the award--I'm proud of certain things--my junior year, I won the (Henry K. Hyatt?) Award for having the highest class average in my junior year. It was just funny because we had to go to graduation, and the night before, I went out with some of the seniors and some other people, even though I was a junior going into my senior year. We had a little too much to drink, we had snuck out to do this, and we came back and I was hungover. I said, "Oh, I'm not going to go to the baccalaureate service." They said, "Oh, no. You have to go." I said, "Why do I have to go?" "Because you're going to get this award." [laughter] Oh, my gosh. I was so hungover, and I had to go.
Anyway, that was a good thing, my going to Pennsylvania Military College, because it kept me--it's the best thing for me to be disciplined. If I'm disciplined, I'm okay. That's the reason I loved the service, because then later on, I went into the service. Well, I was accepted into law school and I asked for a two-year deferment when I graduated, so then I could--well, it was more than that. I wanted a three-year deferment. I wanted to go to law school and finish. So, I graduated in June of '55. I was going to go to Rutgers Graduate School for business administration, and that was being run out of Newark. I was going to take accounting courses at the same time. I went to Rutgers and I was all set to start there, and as I'm walking back in Newark, I stopped in at Seton Hall. I called up Pennsylvania Military College, told them to send my transcripts to law school here, to Seton Hall, and I was accepted there. So, I went to Seton Hall for the first six months of '55. Then, I went into the service.
The reason I went into the service, at that time, is because they had offered--you could go in for six months, and then stay in the Reserves for seven-and-a-half years. That was a great deal for me, because then I could come back. I went in in March, I said I could come back and I could start again in the fall in law school. It was great. In the meantime, in December--I got married December 18th of 1955. [We] went on a wonderful, wonderful honeymoon; we went to Mexico. At that time, I'm talking 1955, the dollar was very, very strong, and the peso was very weak. So, you could go to five-star hotels and the best places. The only thing that cost a lot of money was airfare, but you could do all of this. As a matter of fact, in 1955 at that time, they didn't even have jets. I forgot what kind of plane it was, but it was a four-engine plane, no jet. Another great thing about it is that on the way back, they had messed up on our reservation, so they had to put us into first class. It's so nice when you fly first class.
As I said, I went into the service, and I went down to Fort Benning for my basic infantry officers course, because I graduated as a second lieutenant and I did my--I think it was six weeks of ROTC summer camp. I did that. Usually, you do it in your junior year. I did it in my senior year. So, when I graduated in June of '55, about a week later, I went down to Fort Meade, Maryland, and I did my six weeks training there. Then, I came back, went to law school for September, October, November, December, January. Then, I went into the service.
I had to be at Fort Benning, Georgia. When did I down there? I guess it was in March. I had to be there March 4th, if I remember. How I remember dates, I don't know. Basic training for officers was great. You walked in every day, you were an officer. It's a lot easier to be an officer than it is to be an enlisted man. As I said, l loved the service, loved the service. While I was there--I mean, you can't tell by my military bearing now, but I was in very, very good shape. I came in, I was in the top ten in my class. The company commander, who was regular Army there, he wanted me to go regular Army. Now, I couldn't see myself being regular Army in any way. I said, "Well, I'll tell you, if I can get the Army to put me into law school," which they could do at that time, "then I would go to law school." Then, I would come back and I would put myself--I would sign up for three years, and boy, what better a place to be in the Army than in the Judge Advocate General's Office. In the meantime, I was in the infantry. I couldn't get what I wanted. I had a two-week furlough, and I knew that if I stayed in and I did go RA [Regular Army] that I would be sent over to Korea. Korea, at that time, was one year, and you couldn't take your wife. Here, I'd just been married, and I didn't want to leave my wife for a year. I said, "I'll tell you what. I'll go to Europe. Send me to Germany, if I can be assured that I can go to Europe." I didn't know anyone in the Pentagon there that could give me these orders that I wanted, so I couldn't get it. But I thought that would be a great thing because in 1956 to go to Europe, even though being in the infantry--and at that time, you were going to be out in the field for three months and then come back. But I'd have thirty days' furlough while I was there; I could travel all over. You'd have certain weekends you could travel. It would have been wonderful to be in Europe at that time, but it didn't work out.
So, I came back and went back to law school. While I was going to law school, Peter was born. Peter was born in 1958. I can remember that I used to be up late studying, and I would give Peter the late bottle at nighttime, because I was up. But I really didn't like law school. My big excuse was that my father took ill; he had a gall bladder attack and he couldn't work. So, I went in, and I took over the business and started to work for him. Then, later on, after he recovered from that, I stayed there, because I didn't want to go to law school anymore. Then, my father had emphysema, and his emphysema was very bad. So, during the wintertime, he would go to Phoenix with my mother, and then they moved there permanently. When they moved there permanently, I took over his house, which was on the corner of Harrison Avenue in Highland Park and River Road there. We moved in. As a matter of fact, it was Peter, Randi, Paula, my ex-wife, and myself.
I was running the One Eleven Wines and Liquors, Manny's Den at that time. It was gay at that time. The restaurant wasn't going. By that time, we had already declared that we were gay. This was in '67-'68. It was a good life. I worked a lot of hours. We were open days seven a week. My ex-wife would complain that I never knew the children, which wasn't true. Of course, it was only a matter of what she wanted rather than what I wanted. I just had a wonderful life. Even though I later divorced my ex-wife, I have to say that I had, in many ways, a good life growing up, being with my children in Highland Park, and things that we did. I didn't like--and a lot of those people are people that come in here to our restaurant. It's a certain attitude that Highland Park--I'll show my prejudice. I would call them the "Highland Park Jews." There were certain things you had to live up to, you had to have. You had buy certain clothing, you have to do this, you had to do that.
We were very fortunate, my ex-wife and I. We had discovered the Caribbean, and specifically, the place that we discovered was an island off of Saint Martin called Anguilla, A-N-G-U-I-L-L-A. We were so happy with that island. Now, it's one of these islands that the rich and famous [live], but when we went there, when we got our little house, which was being built, we had no electricity, we had no running water. I can remember going there--Peter and Randi were in college both--they came down for Thanksgiving. We brought these big coolers for everything for Thanksgiving, frozen turkey and all these other things. As I said, the only thing we had, we had a stove, we had propane gas. As Anguilla said, they had just gotten big generators, two of them. They were so proud they had two Rolls Royce generators, and they were setting up electricity for the island.
Where we lived on the island, there was no electricity yet. So, we used candles, we used kerosene lamps, we used things like that. Also, where the generators were, they had an ice house. They could produce electricity to make ice. They claimed that they had the coldest ice in the Caribbean. We used to go down, we'd buy our ice, put it in there, and keep everything cold. We had about twelve people to our house for Thanksgiving dinner, some local people and people that we knew from down there. It was wonderful. They put a tank on the outside where we would have a generator. We never put a generator in there because we knew electricity was coming in, but actually it wasn't a generator, it was the pump for the water. You needed a generator or you needed electricity, so that the water would be pumped through the house. So, they put a big tank there, and they would bring a truck and they would fill the tank with water. We would use that water for our drinking water, some for drinking water, and some we would take for flushing the toilet. The old story is, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." That's what we did. To shower, they talk about a two-minute shower. There wasn't even a two-minute shower. You just had one bucket, and that's what you used for your shower.
But it was a wonderful, wonderful way of living. You went to bed early because [there was] no electricity. [You] couldn't read too well. You'd get up early when the chickens would start crowing, and there were a lot of free range chicken that were going around, plus the free range goats that were there. It was a wonderful way of life, to live that way with the simplicity of everything. It was good. You could be there for three weeks. You could listen to BBC. You could pick that up every once in a while. This was later on when we got electricity, but we never read a newspaper. We hardly ever listened to the radio or anything like that.
Talk about little islands like this, over the years, what happened was that they got electricity, and then they got television. Originally, you would drive--oh, thinking of driving, we sent a car down there. As a matter of fact, it was Peter's old car. For the license plate, they gave you a number, and you would go to this guy who had a little board like that, piece of wood. He would paint it black, and then he would put the white numbers on it, and that was your license plate. Ours was probably, at the most, three digits. That's how few cars there were on the island. So, we had a car there. You'd drive along, and people have these houses that had shutters--no glass windows or anything like that--they had shutters. You would drive along, and all you would see would be that blue light coming out where the television was. They were getting some sort of cable from Saint Martin, which was like ten miles away, twelve miles away. What a lot of people were watching, there was porn on there. So, they were watching that late at night. So, what would happen is that you would get a lot more children that were being born on that island. [laughter]
Later on, as the island became more affluent with more hotels being built, with more banks coming in there, with another gasoline station coming in there, with all the condos that were being built, with all the grocery stores that were being opened, with all the other stores that were catering to both the tourists that were coming in and also the island people who were there, people were able to go to the bank and get a mortgage. They were able to go to the bank and get a loan to buy a car. So, there were more cars on the island. There were more homes that were being built. A lot of the people who were on the island there--the men were always off the island working and they were sending money back. They would either be here in the United States or down in Curacao or they would be in Aruba or they would be in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Or a lot of them, because it was an English island, would go back to London, to Slough, which was an area in London there. They would save up enough money. They would work there, they would get pensions, and then they would come back to Anguilla, where they had land and where they had built a house, and they would retire. It was a very, very nice life for the locals, as well as the people who were living there. Where did I get to so far?
So, this is all basically on my father's side we've gone [through], got me through private school, which I loved, and my best friends. We went through--oh, the service. I was stationed in Georgia. When I was down in Georgia there, when I graduated from my basic infantry officer school, I went to Fort Riley, Kansas. In Georgia, the only battles that I fought were the battles of the Okefenokee Swamp. [laughter] The last thing that we did when we were going through our basic, we had to go out for a week and we had to do what they call escape and evasion. We had to be out there, we were out there for three nights. Well, we were out there for a week, but three nights were escape and evasion. You had to go from one place to another place, and you had to go through enemy lines. You had to really know how to read a map. You did most of this in the nighttime, you didn't do it in the daytime, because you would be seen, and then the enemy forces would take [you]. They even had a prison camp. They would take you, and they would interrogate you. Some people said it was tough. I was very fortunate. You learn, when you can do certain things on your own, you learn that you have a lot more confidence in yourself, too. Being in the service, I certainly had a lot more confidence in myself. I made it through and I was proud of myself for doing that and getting through all that. But as I said, that was the only war that I ever fought. What was the line? Esperanza? What's the made-up language the English started? I forgot what it's called now. [Editor's Note: Richard Mack is referring to Esperanto, a language constructed by L.L. Zamenhof in the late nineteenth century.]
NM: I don't know.
RM: That's what the escape and evasion enemy forces used to speak. They wore different [uniforms]. It was a good game, a lot of fun. Then, from there, I became a platoon leader in a heavy weapons company at Fort Riley, Kansas. When I reported there, here I am, I'm in my summer dress uniform. As a matter of fact, they introduced me to the general, the head of the First Division and everything. Right away, I became a war hero. They start putting all these medals on me of what the First Division had done when they were over in Germany. They had just been what they called gyro-ed back, about a year before, from Germany to Fort Riley, Kansas. I'm standing there, and they're putting braids on here and braids on here and these medals on here. [laughter] I never knew what any of this was.
The people who run the Army are the sergeants. They're the ones who know all the men, what's going on. I made a point of trying to learn about all the men, about all the equipment, because one of the things is that I had to teach classes there, too, and you had to teach the equipment that you had. As I said, I loved doing things like that. One, I like teaching, and, two, I liked the discipline that went along with it, but you're always tested in one way or another. The sergeants or the men, they were going to test their new platoon leader. The way they tested me was that everything was mounted on jeeps. Here we are, at Fort Riley, Kansas, and you're going out into the boondocks there. I never knew a jeep could go up at an angle like that and then come down again. They just wanted to test me on what my fear factor was on it. As I'm talking to you, I was amazed at what these jeeps could do. I had no fear; it was just something that was very interesting. So, they had respect for me. I certainly had great respect for all of them.
I always remember certain stories. I was on duty, the weekend duty there, and I get a telephone call from the police in--what was the little town out there? I forgot the name of the town outside of Fort Riley--and said, "I have a couple here, and I think they're part of your company that we found them copulating"--these are the words they used--"in the drive-in theater." So, I said, "I'll come right down." I got my driver, and we drove down to town there, to the police station. Here is this sergeant and his wife. I said, "Why did you have to come here, go to a drive-in movie and mess around?" He said, "We finally got a babysitter for our kids. It was the only place we could be alone." [laughter] So, I told this to them. They said, "Okay, let them go." They were sorry. These were little stories. As I said, there were no wars in Kansas at that time, so I didn't have any problems there.
It was great, because once again, you're an officer, you'd go to the officer's club. I wasn't living on post; my wife was out there with me. We had rented an apartment in Manhattan, Kansas right next to--I guess, Kansas State is there. It was great because I'm back in college. I'm in the service and I'm back in a college environment, which I had just gotten out of. So, it was really great. It was nice. As I said, once again, I was asked if I wanted to go regular Army, and I told my wife, I said, "Oh, well, I can be in here. I can make a career out of this, because I love teaching." She said, "If you stay here in the Army, I'm going to leave you." I should have known at that time. I had to wait another thirty years before I did it. [laughter] But it was good.
Someone was talking about if you have any regrets in your life, or if you feel, "I regret I didn't do this," or "I should have done this," or "I did do something that I shouldn't have done," in retrospect, I had a wonderful life. I might have fucked up here or there, but everything turned out, as far as I'm concerned, great, even going through hard times financially being in business. I remember when we have to move from Albany Street, when J&J [Johnson & Johnson] came in and were knocking down all those buildings. We were literally evicted from there. In the meantime, at that time, I bought a building a building at 104-106 Church Street. Do you know the corner of Church [Street] and George Street? I think they sell clothing. Then, next to that, there's a sub place there. [Editor's Note: From 1944 until 1979, Manny's Den, officially One Eleven Wines & Liquors, resided at 111 Albany Street.]
RM: Brunswick Subs or something. Well, I owned that building. Then, on Church Street over here, they back to one another, I owned that building. We were going to move into that building. We were going to build a restaurant on one side and we were going to build a gay bar on the other side, on the Church Street side. The city wouldn't allow me to move my liquor license there, because there was the liquor license, which is where the brew pub is, Harvest Moon. So, there was another restaurant-bar in there. Because I was too close, they said you had to be three hundred feet away. But, of course, later on, they changed it for George Street, the downtown area. You could have as many bars as you wanted, and they could be closer than three hundred feet. So, I had those two buildings, and I was mortgaged up to here.
Then, I bought the building down on Hiram Street, which was right around the corner from where the Frog and the Peach is. As a matter of fact, I bought two buildings. I bought the building that I was in and then the building which was next door to me. The building that I was in when I first moved in there--as a matter of fact, Jim Black, who owns the Frog and the Peach, was doing work for me. He didn't have the Frog and the Peach at that time. We had all brick walls, and we took all the plaster down. We cleaned all the walls, and it was really a good-looking place, because you had all this brick in there. So, we moved there. [Editor's Note: From 1980 to 1988, Manny's Den or The Den was located on Hiram Street.]
Then, we had four apartments upstairs, so I rented those out. I had Mrs. C, who was a heavy-set black woman. Her apartment was the only apartment that I didn't fix up exactly, like I did all the others, mainly because she didn't want it fixed up, and if I fixed it up, I would have had to raise the rent and I didn't want to raise the rent. She was like the mother of the building. As a matter of fact, the only work that she did was she would come down and she would take coats, be the coat-check woman, too.
In The Den, there was always be one person around who certain guys or girls could come to her and get some sort of motherly advice. Originally, it was my mother who used to be there all the time and do it, and then Mrs. C came along. Then, there was a Betty Black, who was there at one time, and Mrs. C.
I had two college students, two guys, who were in one apartment, and Mrs. C in another. I had another man, who taught at Rutgers University, who was in that apartment. The fourth apartment, which was a nice big apartment and open--well, there were a few different people who were in there, very nice. I don't know. One of them committed suicide, but he didn't commit suicide in the apartment there.
But that was the best of two worlds. Of course, here I'm paying all these mortgages. I was paying at that time--for the loan that I bought the George Street building, where the sub place is, I was paying twenty-one percent interest on that loan. That would have been usury at one time, but you were getting that much out of CD [certificate of deposit]. So, the banks, that's what they were getting. I had to pay that off as soon as I could, because it's difficult to pay twenty-one percent interest on something.
Then, Peter was going to college, my daughter Randi was going to college. Now, both of them--Peter had a scholarship there for his room and his board and some other things, because in his junior and senior year, he was the head dorm advisor there. My daughter was working. She had gotten a part-time scholarship for working in one of the places there for the school. So, that helped out a little bit.
I can remember I was so broke that the deal that I pulled was that in the liquor business, you have to pay your bills every thirty days. If you don't pay your bills in thirty days, you're put on COD [cash on delivery]. What I had done for that Christmas, I bought huge amount of liquor, and I stored it. I knew that I was going to go on to COD. The only thing that I would have to buy extra would be beer, so that, I could always buy and I would pay for it. I would have plenty of liquor that I needed. I didn't have a packaged store running at that time--this was on Hiram Street. When I was on Albany Street, I had a packaged store, and I sold a lot of wine. I was in the wine business at that time and did very, very well with the wine business and learned a lot about wine. Anyways, as I said, I was so broke I had to do this. Fortunately, they didn't charge interest. So, all you did was that you had all the merchandise, I could use all this merchandise, and eventually, I'd have to pay them off. Then, they tried to pass a new law. What they did was they said that if you don't pay within a year's time or whatever, we're not going to give you a liquor license anymore. The wholesalers have more power with the Alcoholic Beverage Control than a retailer. So, I then had to go out and find money to pay them off, but that's how broke I was. I needed the money just to pay--oh, we used to go away every January. We would go away and we would go down to Saint Martin or to Anguilla, first to Saint Martin then to Anguilla, and I couldn't get away, but we had already bought our tickets. So, I sent my--now, I remember how I got the money--I sent my sister-in-law, ex-sister-in-law, and my wife down. The reason I now remember how I got the money was that my brother-in-law gave me a mortgage on the building, a bigger mortgage, so this way I can pay off the liquor companies, and that's how I did it.
GC: Why did you have so many buildings that you bought?
RM: I bought them because I wanted to move into them. Here, I had bought the two buildings, I had architectural plans, I showed it to them, and the City Council just didn't approve my moving. Part of [why] they didn't want me moving there was because it was a gay bar. That was it. They didn't want to have a gay bar on George Street there. It was going to be a restaurant definitely. The reason it was going to be a restaurant--at that time too, it was going to be an Italian restaurant, and we were going call it--what the heck were we going to call it? RPM. The reason we were going to call it [that] was Randi, Peter Mack, my daughter and [son] Peter. They were going to be running the place at that time.
So, here, I had all these buildings. Eventually, I started to rent them out. I rented out the one on George Street there, and then I sold it twice. The reason I say I sold it twice is because the first time I sold it, the guy gave me a very good down payment, sold it for about 375,000 dollars. I have to admit that I bought it for 21,000 dollars. I got a hundred thousand dollars down. Then, he couldn't meet the mortgage, and I had taken the rest of the mortgage at 275 back. So, I had to start suing him for the money. In the meantime, he wasn't paying the taxes or anything. So, I'm paying the taxes, I'm paying everything on it, and I have to sue him. He goes into bankruptcy, so I got nothing. I have lien against him for 275 and for everything that he owed, but it didn't make any difference.
Then, later on, I sold it to the guy who put the sub place in there. He did a very nice job of fixing up the place. He used my old plans. Some of it didn't get in there. He did a good job there. So, as I said, I sold it twice. In the meantime, every time I sold it, I had to give half of the money to my ex-wife, but that was beside the point.
Eventually, what happened, we were being evicted from Hiram Street, where we were around the corner from the Frog. As I said, I bought another building next to me because I had planned on expanding into that and making that into more of a dance club. We had a beautiful patio in the back there. As a matter of fact, Peter had built the patio. I had the other building; I was going to make that into a dance club in there. I was planning on buying the other building next to me. At that time, places were inexpensive. As I said, I bought a building for 21,000 dollars. A number of years later, because of what was going on in New Brunswick, I got 375 for it--well, I didn't get 375, but anyway. That's the same way with when we moved from the building that I owned there. I got, I think it was like, four-hundred-and-some thousand dollars for that building. But this building cost me that plus, and not including what we had put in to fix up the building. [Editor's Note: In September 1988, the Hiram Street location of The Den closed. In March 1989, The Den reopened at 700 Hamilton Street in Somerset, where the interview took place.]
As I said, I was fairly fortunate that as soon as we opened up here, no lie, there was a line around the block for people when they found out that The Den was opening up again. The only problem that we were having here, the first few months, [was we] had too many people coming in. We had to have a count, and we had to stop so many people coming in. That should only be someone's worry in business, that you have too many people, but times changed, times changed tremendously. We had to put--for the bathrooms over here, we used to have someone standing out here all the time. They couldn't take water into the bathroom or any drinks into the bathrooms for two reasons. One, we knew right away if people were buying water, they weren't drinking liquor or anything. Why is that? Because they were all on cocaine--or, I shouldn't say cocaine--on other stuff. At least if they were on cocaine, it would give them a high and they could drink. It would be all right. We didn't want this being a drug place. It's difficult to try and control that, and even try to control it out in the parking lot. You had to have people out there, too.
As I said, it was going very, very well. Jokingly, we used to buy beer in fifty-case lots. You could see I have a big storeroom there. The larger amount you buy--like, we'd buy Heineken and Corona in seventy-five-case lots because you get a better deal. [To] be honest, if you can save two cents on a bottle, that adds up at the end of the year. As I said, we had a big storeroom [and] we could buy that way. I was buying water in fifty-case lots, because people weren't drinking; they were just taking dope and drinking water. Then, they would bring in their own bottle of water. They thought, "Oh, it's okay to bring in a bottle of water." Then, we had a cover. You can't live on the cover alone; they have to drink, too.
Then, times started to change. We were talking about earlier how much it cost to have cable in your house. On average, people just have HBO and they might have their computer on it; it's costing them a 150 dollars a month. They have a cell phone that's probably costing them fifty, seventy-five dollars a month. I don't know what else. Years ago, the only thing a person had was his landline telephone. What a lot of people used to do, they would work during the day, they would go home, they would eat, they would shower, they would shave, they would take a nap--because a lot of people didn't even have TVs in their house. [Where] they would get a TV was in the bar. So, people would then come out. Singles don't go out to the bars until after ten o'clock at night.
So, when we were on Albany Street and we had a restaurant going there, we had a wonderful restaurant going there. We'd be filled for lunch. We had all of J&J coming in. We would have all the people from the courthouse coming in, the lawyers, the doctors, the business people. I can remember Bobby Johnson, who was [from] Johnson & Johnson, he was in marketing there, and they were doing the marketing for Micrin, the mouthwash, the blue mouthwash. They were doing the marketing for that, and they would be sitting around in our dining room there. He would bring in all his group there. At that time, everyone drank during lunchtime. I mean, a two-martini lunch was nothing for these men. They would have two martinis, they would have a beer with their hamburger, and then they would have a stinger afterwards. Then, they would go back to work, and they almost all did that. I used to have--because of the wines that I was buying, J&J had a--well, some of the people who worked there would have a charge with me. I was bringing in very, very good--well, I'm talking a long time ago and talking about the '70s. I was buying wines at that time that are selling for a 150 dollars a bottle now for ten, fifteen dollars a bottle. I'm selling them at that price. So, these are the great [wines]. As I say, times change, all these different things, but that was on Albany Street when we were there.
With dinner, then, what would happen is that people would come in for dinner. We'd stop at like ten o'clock for dinner. We would just serve sandwiches and cakes. My mother used to do all the baking. My mother, little short woman that she was, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth all the time and her hair piled a foot behind because she wanted to look taller. My mother would be [there]; my father would be there, too. My father always used to walk around with his tie and a red vest on, and he was always greeting people, great personality. My mother felt it was like her home, and she used to do the baking. She would go home at three o'clock in the morning with my father, my father would go to sleep, and my mother would start baking. She used to make the best chocolate cake, the best apple pies, and we would be selling them all the time. We had to supplement because she couldn't do all the baking, but she did that.
My mother would always be sitting in one corner in the back of Manny's Den there. At that time, you had to be twenty-one to drink, but there were a lot of kids who were coming in who were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old, and my mother, she called that the children's section. She would keep them all over there to keep them away from the older predators who were looking for the younger guys. We knew that they weren't drinking. Then, my mother would walk along at the bar, and people would be sitting there. She's short, and she says, "I can see everything that's going on," and she'd hit them like that, "Keep your hands to yourself." [laughter]
We had a player piano in the place there. You'd have a lot of people that would come in and would sing, or people who would play the piano and people would sing. That's one of the things that the ABC [Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control] said when they came in and they wanted to close us down, that there were men who were singing songs to men. They would look at another man and he would sing this song to him. These were all regular songs and they would be singing. They said that men were drinking tall drinks through a straw, or they were drinking drinks with their pinky out, or they were wearing fluffy sweaters and tight pants. Well, first of all, the time was that they were wearing pants that were more narrow, and they were wearing these angora sweaters that were very, very fluffy and things like that. They would have men making eyes at other men. This is what a homosexual was. They would walk with a swish and a sway, and they would talk with a lisp. Because of that, you were allowing an inordinate number of homosexuals congregating in one place. [Editor's Note: In 1965, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) suspended the liquor license of Manny's Den, also known as One Eleven Wines & Liquors, for permitting "apparent homosexuals" to congregate at the bar. Mack and his parents challenged the suspension, and the case went the New Jersey Supreme Court. In 1967, in One Eleven Wines & Liquors, Inc. v. the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control 50 N.J. 329 (1967) 235 A.2d 12, the New Jersey Supreme Court struck down the ABC's anti-congregating rules, thus legalizing gay bars in the state.]
I knew when we went to the [New Jersey] Supreme Court--as a matter of fact, Theodore [Sager] Meth, who was the attorney, our attorney, had taught me when I went to law school, Ted Meth. He was great, really was great. But I knew when we had won, when the court asked the state attorney who was there what is an inordinate number, and he said twelve or more. As soon as you put a number on something like that, I knew that we won. Because you can't put a number and say that twelve guys walking around with their pinkies out and wearing tight pants and fluffy sweaters and talking with a lisp and drinking drinks out of a straw were homosexual. Even if they were, you had twelve of them there. We had asked--this is with the ABC much earlier--if we owned a clothing store and we had twelve men that came in like that. They said, "That's a clothing store. They don't have anything to do with serving alcohol beverages." We are a very, very Prohibition country, very Prohibition. In Europe and all over, they don't even have an age limit on how old to drink, and when it comes to wine, wine is a food; it isn't considered an alcoholic beverage. But here in the United States, everyone has their hand out. They all have to be making--well, you have an Alcoholic Beverage Control. What the hell do you need an Alcoholic Beverage Control for? It's just so you have extra people who are working for the government doing something. You don't need Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Then, I remember over the years--I've been in business too many years--that over the years that the ABC agents, they had a union, so they went down and they wanted to carry guns. Now, why does an ABC agent have to carry? All he does is comes in, checks my liquor license, checks my bottles to see if the alcohol content is correct, checks the bottles to see whether there are any fruit flies in them. By the way, even if there is a fruit fly, it's dead, so it can't harm you, and a fruit fly can't harm you anyway. So, what they say is that the bottle is contaminated. I could strain it and get all the flies out, but that's beside the point. So, they wanted to carry guns. As soon as they carry a gun, they get more money. So, everyone wants to make more money on this.
Where was I going with all this? We had food at Manny's Den at that time. Then, when we won the case in '67--I forgot one other thing--we declared ourselves as gay. Then, I went to Ted Meth, who was our attorney at that time, I said, "What we can do is that we can start, instead of a playboy club, a gay boy club." In the gay world, there was a book--I think it's still out--they call it the Damron's guide to all the gay bars in the United States and in other countries [Damron Men's Travel Guide]. We thought what we would do is that we would open up a chain of bars. We would call them all Manny's Den or The Den, and what we would do is that we would charge like twenty-five dollars or whatever it was to get a key. Each bar would have a back room, where that's where club members could go in there, and they would get more private service than the people who were in the other bar. So, we opened one up; we started that in New Brunswick on Albany Street there.
Then, I sent two men down; they were running the place and I was the moneyman. We opened up a bar in New Orleans. My father was living in Phoenix because he had emphysema, so I sent two men out there. There was Sam Jones and Jerry Coti, and they went out there. I was in the process of opening one in Chicago. What a life that was for me. I would leave New Brunswick, I would fly down to New Orleans, and I'd spend three or four days in New Orleans. Then, I would fly from New Orleans to Phoenix, and I'd go to the bar there. The people who were there, Sam and everyone, were really good. Then, I would go from there to Chicago, trying to negotiate. The nice thing about it, my best friend lived in Chicago, so I would stay with Ray there and we'd go out to dinner and other things. Of course, Ray would care less because he's an anthropologist and he didn't care about whether you're gay or straight or anything like that, very liberal too. Then, I would come home. I was missing out on my own business here in New Brunswick.
Eventually, it's difficult for a husband and wife and it's difficult for a gay couple to run a bar, especially when there are so many other people. As a bartender, being honest, you're being hit on a lot of times. You're behind the bar, who do they see? They see the bartender all the time. If you're a good-looking bartender and you're sociable and everything, you're going to be hit on. One, they like being hit on. Secondly, even though they might be a couple, what someone doesn't know isn't going to hurt them. So, there'd be some extra sexual [inaudible] one place. Unfortunately, that happened in New Orleans. As a matter of fact, the older fellow who was down there--well, New Orleans, they really picked him up on entrapment. He was in what they call the tearoom in one of the local open bathrooms that are down there, and they had a policeman there who enticed him. Nothing happened, it was only a solicitation, but they were going to get him for soliciting. So, that wasn't too good for that couple down there. In Phoenix, Sam went back to San Francisco. Jerry, I don't remember what happened. Jerry, I think, came back to New Jersey. He just went out there to build it and fix it up. It was just too much for my father to have control over it and run it. But my father did go from there to New Orleans, and he closed up the New Orleans place. I was just left with The Den on Albany Street--not just left.
Look, I can't complain at all. I really didn't make much. People say, "Oh, he's got so much money and everything." No, no money. I became property poor. You said how come I own [all of these properties]. I owned all these pieces of property, and out of just dumb luck, I bought them and the property kept going up, so I made money on it that way. Even coming out here, as a matter of fact, we almost had this place paid off in the first ten years, which is damn, damn, damn good. Of course, we were doing good business.
Then, when Peter came into the business, he came in the same way I came in with my father. My father had made me a partner. I didn't have to put in any money. He made me a partner because I was working it and he was going Phoenix all the time and he was getting a certain amount of money all the time. Our accountant and I said, "Okay, I'll buy the place for so much money from my father and this a way of showing that I'm paying him off." Tax wise, it was good that way too. It was good doing it that way. Of course, I never stopped paying because my when my father died, my mother always needed a little extra here, there, so we just kept paying it. It was no big thing.
Then, when Peter came into work--when Peter graduated from college, he was trying to find what he wanted to do. He was staying at home, and he was doing substitute teaching. He had learned bartending from us, and that was another thing that he was doing while he was up in Geneva going to Hobart there. He was working as a bartender in one of the better restaurants there. So, he did very well. So, he came in, and he was working. At that time, I had a manager, Art Leery. Art was a very nice man, had been married, had two very nice children, but he liked young men. So, he had a young boyfriend. Art also liked Dewar's Scotch, so he used to drink a lot of Dewar's. You're not drinking on the job. A bartender shouldn't drink on the job either. At the end of the night, if you want your drink, fine, you could have a couple of drinks, but while you're working, you're not drinking. Art used to like to drink a lot. Before I knew it, at the end of the night, he was sitting down at the end of the bar, and someone else was bartending. Peter kept telling me about this, because he was spending a lot of time in the nighttime there. At that time, I was spending more time commuting back and forth to Anguilla, especially in the wintertime.
So, then, when we moved here, Art had left by that time--but when we moved here, Peter and Danny were the ones who were really like the general contractors; they did a lot of the things there themselves. It was a cold, cold winter, I remember. What happened was that I felt that Peter certainly deserved, no doubt about it, to be a partner. So, he became a partner at that time. Then, later, we just gave him all the stock in the business, and he owns everything outright. The way I make my money is that I own the building, so I get the rent from the building.
Then, while we were here--actually, while we were on Hiram Street, I started a pension plan for the employees. Basically, it was for myself, but at the same time, you had to put in for all the employees. It was only a limited pension plan. It was like for ten years or something like that. Well, at the end of the ten years, the stocks--and I'm not saying that I was that smart, because I was very, very conservative--that we had invested in, which was almost all Vanguard Mutual Funds, had jumped so high in value that--it sounds crazy--I had to pay extra because we were over the amount that we were supposed to have. So I had to pay back to the government some money. So, Peter got a certain amount, he was there. Danny got some. Donald West, who was here, got some. Did you know Mark Simoncelli, who was the manager here for a while?
GC: That is Steve Kelso.
RM: Steve Kelso, right.
GC: I never met him. I was going to interview him. (Lori?) gave me his contact information.
RM: Mark was like my third child. I used to laugh. I have a son, a daughter, and a homosexual. Marky came to work when he was seventeen years old. Anyway, he got money, and it was great. I came out very well, too. I have to admit that my coming out at that time, if I had 400,000 dollars that it came out--just looking at what I have now, I have like 900,000 dollars. That's what the market has done and certainly not by any brains that I had in doing all this.
The same way with the pieces of property; we sold off the property and we were lucky there. Then, we have this piece of property. This property here is owned for tax purposes also as a limited liability corporation. So, I own the majority of the stock in it, and then my wife and I give a certain amount. We give twenty thousand dollars--I think it's each. I'm not sure if it's each or between the two of us that you're allowed to gift in stock to my son and to my daughter, so that the more they will own in this, the less taxes that will have to be paid eventually. This is the way a lot of people get around it, but by no means am I in that same bracket that Mr. Buffett is in. [laughter]
As I said, I had a very, very good life. I have no regrets in anything that I've done or anything like that. To get more personal, now I have to get back on my mother's side, the Braverman's side. Well, the Braverman side, my grandmother and grandfather--now, my grandfather was a little guy, very mild mannered, very nice, always dressed in a jacket and tie, was not religious either, by any means. My grandfather always said that during the high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he said, "Maybe I should go to the synagogue, just in case." So, there was a synagogue, the reformed synagogue. He always used to make a joke of it--probably the only joke my grandfather made--he says, "They used to be closed for the Jewish holidays," because what happened was that a lot of Jewish businesses on the Jewish holidays would close. That synagogue, they were so reformed that they would also close on the Jewish holidays, but they were open. What my grandfather resented was the fact that the only way he could go there, he had to pay [to] be a member or he had to pay a certain amount of money. My grandfather was always of the opinion you didn't have to pay to be a Jew. He said it was bad enough being a Jew, you didn't have to pay to be one. [laughter]
What my grandfather used to--I said he's a small guy, very mild mannered, and he used to sell seltzer. If you ever saw the seltzer cases, they come like this, I think there were only six or eight bottles in a case, two across. My grandfather would put it on his shoulder, and he would carry it up three flights of stairs to anyone who was living in--this was in New York City. If you ever go into an antique store or you go into a store and you see a seltzer bottle, there might be a name, because my grandfather had his name--a lot of people did--you saw Braverman on there. That was my grandfather. [laughter] Anyways, my grandfather, during the summertime, later on when he was getting too old to carry that around--as a matter of fact, I think he also sold ice, so he used to carry--no, that was my other grandfather that did that, because I remember my grandfather had to show me his leather shoulder thing, where he'd put it on his shoulder, so that he carried the ice like that.
During the summertime, people wanted to get away from New York City. It was too hot; they wanted to have some sort of vacation. A lot of the Jews were working in the garment industry. A lot of the women might have been doing the sewing. The men might even have been out doing sewing and working in the factory in one way or another. It wasn't [just] the garment industry; it was other kinds of industry. I had mentioned earlier that they used to have farms up in the Catskills. What they later became, they became butter and egg and cheese people, and they would have their own truck and they would go from one place to another selling butter, eggs, cheese, milk and stuff like that.
You had a lot of people who were working in different kinds of industries. My mother was always a secretary or bookkeeper. My aunt was a schoolteacher. My other aunt was a fashion designer. My other aunt--interesting what she used to do--when a new fashion would come out, as soon as it came out, she would go to the store and she would see it. She would draw it up real fast, and then she would go back and she would go into one of the garment places and she would have them made up, because that way they could steal the design right away. So, that's what my aunt used to do. Then, my Aunt Bertie, she was the youngest. As a matter of fact, she was also a secretary. When they started Social Security down in--well, they were setting up between '34 and '35--she was down in Washington at that time working for the Social Security. As a matter of fact, another aunt on my father's side was also doing that. So, these were all jobs during the depression that people were able to get.
What my grandmother and grandfather did, they had rented a piece of property--either they rented it or they owned it--up in the Catskills, and this was around Lake Huntington. That was closest little town, which was only a few miles away. The business that they would get through the people coming up would be relatives, or as they say in Yiddish, mishpocheh, that were a friend or a cousin through marriage, people that they knew that would come up to the hotel there. They would cook for them. They all had a room. There was a lake nearby; they could go swimming. They had fresh air. It wasn't as hot up there. It was nice. They would have their phonograph; they would have music. They all had a good time.
My aunt, who used to do all the fashion designs, she met my uncle, my Uncle Elmer, who was a socialist assemblyman in New York State. He had some property up there. As a matter of fact, I guess what they did was they bought this piece of property in Lake Huntington, and it was the first piece of property--it was a huge amount of acreage, but they bought more acreage later on. It was right on the lake, and it was an old farmhouse there with all these extra rooms around and one big kitchen and everything. They started their little hotel there, and then they had some other little bungalows around there and another place they called "The Annex," which was right there. Then, eventually, they built this hotel, which was up on top of the hill, and they called that the Green Acres. That became very lucrative.
I was born in 1933. On Memorial Day of 1934, my mother and father took me up to my aunt's and uncle's hotel. My mother used to work as a bookkeeper. I was going up there every year until I was nineteen years old. I started first just as the little kid that was running around. My Aunt Rose, who was the owner, was there. My Aunt Sarah, who was a schoolteacher, she worked there in the summer, and my mother was there. So, I had all these people who were looking after me. I used to love to swim, so I was always in the lake down there, rowing, canoeing and swimming, fishing.
Then, they started a day camp, which was part of the Catskills thing to have day camps in all of these hotels. I started to work as a very, very junior counselor there. I guess I was about twelve years old. Then, later on, I became a busboy in the children's dining room. Then, I became a waiter in the children's dining room. Then, I became a busboy in the main dining room, and then I became a waiter in the main dining room. The year that I graduated from prep school, which was 1951, I made fifteen hundred dollars. Can you imagine fifteen hundred dollars? That was paying for my room, board and tuition at Washington and Lee almost, at that time.
You'd work ten weeks up there, and you got a big salary. You used to get room and board. Well, what room and board was--the food wasn't bad. I guarantee the food they gave you, the worker's food, you weren't getting steaks or things like that. Then, you had a dormitory room with a cot, and I think there was one bathroom and maybe two showers in there. You got clean sheets and towels once a week. You got paid twelve dollars and fifty cents a week. At that time, with the twelve-fifty a week and with some extra little money that you got in tips, you could live very well. I used to go into work at seven o'clock in the morning, you'd serve breakfast. Then, after you served breakfast, you might have an hour to rest up. Then, you'd go back and serve lunch. You'd be finished by three o'clock. You'd then go out and you didn't have to go back until six o'clock, seven days a week. You would make an average of at least 150 dollars a week in tips. So, there's your fifteen hundred dollars at the end of the summer, which was very, very good. The majority of people who were working up there were all college people. They were going to college, they were going to graduate school, they were doing something. They would not just be the waiter; they were also a bellhop or something like that.
Now, as I said, my father used to do that too, and then he met my mother. They got married. Then, of course, my mother was always working for my aunt in one way or another, or her mother and father. So, as I said, I went away every summer to the Catskills. I had wonderful vacations. That was another thing I used to love--as long as you're working, you're keeping yourself busy. Then, you used to party all the time, so it was great. It was nice.
That's how I learned the restaurant business. My father had always been a waiter or a maître d', and he knew the restaurant business. That's when they decided to open their restaurant, Manny's Den, down in New Brunswick. We had that [restaurant] open for a number of years until '67-'68. Then, Peter opened up the restaurant here [Sophie's Bistro in 2002], and he's been very successful, extremely successful. It's great. I don't get paid; it's all Peter's business. I just thank him all the time for allowing me to work here and all I can eat and drink. I'm taking advantage of it, too, as I pat my belly. [laughter]
GC: Do you want to talk about the Supreme Court case in the second interview?
NM: Yes, we could do that in the second interview. So, we're going to have to schedule a second interview. I do have some follow-up questions. You mentioned that your father left home when he was young.
NM: It sounds like you still had close relationship with his brothers and sisters.
RM: Oh, yes. My father always used to tell this story. My father was always on his own. My father used to tell the story that he used to hang around where they were living--I guess they were living in the Bronx. I'm not sure. I think it was the Bronx, but I'm not sure. He made a lot of friends with people who were in the Jewish mafia or things like that, because they all grew up [together]. That's what they were all doing. They were gangsters. There were a lot of Jews who were gangsters. My father used to say how he had to go to school and he couldn't cross over to where the Irish were or the Italians were, whatever it was, but they all, in one way or another, got along.
My father was also a gambler. Now, he wasn't an addicted gambler, but he did like to gamble. My father would tell the story, since he had been on his own for such a long time--I shouldn't say for such a long time--because, actually, my father got married, I think, before he was even twenty-one, but I'm not sure. What happened was that he had traveled around to Florida and up in the Catskills and in New York, and he used to gamble. My father used to like to play craps, and he used to like to play Blackjack and stuff like that. He would come home, and at that time, a lot of men, they all wore hats, suits, tie, shirt, etcetera. My father got home late one night, and my grandmother says, "Manya, where have you been? You've been out gambling again." My father said, "No, I haven't. I haven't been gambling. I don't do anything like that, nothing." He'd go like this, and he'd pull off his tie and throw it down. He says, "Search me." What he used to do, he used to put all the money in his tie. [laughter]
My father and mother got married fairly young, but my mother and her sisters always lied about their ages. One of the reasons they all lied about their ages [was] because the first sister, my Aunt Rose, she got married first. This is on my mother's side. Then, my mother got married. Then, there was my Aunt Bess and my Aunt Sarah. My Aunt Sarah, she was never going to get married. She had met some men, but no one was good enough for her. Unfortunately, she had a bad hip, so one foot was longer than the other, so she walked with a limp and she was always very self-conscious about that. She was also very self-conscious because she had joined some Communist clubs while she was going to school at Hunter College in New York for teaching. Unfortunately, she was blacklisted because of that. She couldn't get into the New York City school system, so she worked for yeshivas, Jewish schools, not teaching Hebrew. She taught on the English side. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, this is the aunt that tutored me. She also lived in France for a year. She studied at the Sorbonne. She used to talk French with a Jewish accent, [laughter] just a little bit of an aside there. My French was terrible because--I did well if I just had to read it but to speak it. My aunt spoke French with a little bit of--I shouldn't say Jewish accent--New York accent.
When I went to Washington and Lee, I was put into an advanced French class. The professor that I had there was born and raised in Lexington, Virginia, one of these old southern families, did speak with a southern accent, and here he's teaching us and everything was in French. We're doing the whole class in French. He spoke French with a southern accent. So, I have no ear for language. My father could pick up language like that, and I couldn't. Anyways, we're talking about how my father was young when he married and how we were in the restaurant business, and we learned all about the restaurant business because of the hotel and restaurants like that. I lost my train of thought. I guess I am getting tired.
NM: We were talking about your mother's side of the family.
RM: Right, and the ages. So, we never knew who was older, my Aunt Bess or my mother. The reason they would do that was because they would say, "Oh, well, Bessie is the younger one, she wasn't married yet." My Aunt Bess and my mother looked exactly alike, and my uncle, he was very, very dapper. He only bought Hart Schaffner and Marx suits. He had a women's dress store. He was one of these men that [was] also very good looking. Women loved him because he dressed so well, he looked so good, and he knew exactly what a woman should wear. He would size it properly for them. But they would come into New Brunswick to visit us, and my aunt and uncle would be walking down the street and everyone would say, "Hello, Leah," [but] this is my aunt Bess. They couldn't tell the difference between my Aunt Bess and my mother. They both wore their hair up high and they both wore three-inch heels, so that they would look taller. As I said, we never knew who was the oldest one in the family. My Aunt Sarah, she was going to be the old maid of the family. My Aunt Rose was running the hotel. My Aunt Bess used to work with her husband Al in the dress store. My mother used to do the baking for my father in the business. My mother had two miscarriages and one [stillborn], and they used to call me Jesus Christ, because I was the only one that was alive and stayed alive. [laughter] Between my aunts and my uncles, I had my cheeks pinched so much. I had one of my aunts that took a bite out of my ass one time. [laughter]
NM: How did your family originally relocate to New Brunswick and Highland Park?
RM: The reason they came to New Brunswick and Highland Park was my father was working for either Prudential or Metropolitan, I don't remember which insurance company. It started in Red Bank. At that time, they had what they called a book, and they would go to different people, they would sell the policy. No one paid a lump sum. They would pay a quarter a week or something like that. Then, he had to go out to collect from all these people. Then, he was transferred from Red Bank to New Brunswick. When he was transferred to New Brunswick, that's when we were living in Highland Park. We only lived in Highland Park a short period of time because we needed a house which had more room. We moved from Highland Park to New Brunswick. We were living in New Brunswick on Delevan Street, which was between Jones and Nichol, right where NJC/Douglass [is located]. It used to be NJC [New Jersey College for Women]. It's now Douglass.
RM: We were right there. All of our neighbors, as I said, they were all Jewish who lived in that whole area there. We were living in a two-family house. The most wonderful people lived upstairs from us, the Vargos. They weren't Jewish but wonderful. They used to do a lot of babysitting for me, too. But the reason we moved there was because in the wintertime, my grandmother and grandfather, who had the hotel during the summertime, would come and live with us there. My aunt, who was a schoolteacher, she used to commute every day, and she would live with us. So, I'm trying to think; we must have had three bedrooms. My mother and father had a bedroom. My grandmother and grandfather had a bedroom. I don't remember if I slept in the same room with my aunt or not. For some reason, I thought that she might have slept on a couch. It sounds bad, but, I mean, she used to sleep on a pull-out couch.
She would take the bus every morning to the railroad station, go into New York, do her teaching, come back. The reason she would do [was] it was easy for her, because it was like teaching half a day. As I said, she was teaching at a yeshiva, and they would teach the English courses at one time and the Hebrew courses at another time. So, she was able to commute like that.
As a matter of fact, what happened, my father gave up the insurance business. Then, what we had done is that we moved to--for a short period of time, we moved to Livingston Avenue. The only thing I remember about Livingston Avenue--and I just went past there the other day. I wanted to try to remember the number of the house that we lived in, which was another two-family house, and I couldn't see the number on it. I wanted to remember because I remembered Rutgers Street, 168. That, I remembered. The only thing I remember about that place is I had my tonsils taken out while I was there. I could remember that the only redeeming thing about having your tonsils taken out, they said you can have ice cream afterwards, so it would cool your throat. [laughter] As a matter of fact, the same person who did my tonsils--you had one doctor, he was the family doctor. He would make house calls if you were lucky, or you would go to his office, Dr. (Glasser?). Dr. (Glasser?) was also the one that--he did two things; he took my tonsils out and he took my hemorrhoids out. [laughter] What a comparison. It went from here down to there. [laughter] He was our family doctor, at least into the '60s. We moved to Livingston Avenue just for a short period of time.
What was happening, during the war, my father was working--it was prior to the war, we moved to the Bronx for about nine months. The war started in 1941. Then, we came back to New Brunswick. We moved to 168 Rutgers Street. Then, my father was young enough that he could have been drafted at that time. He was working at the OK Tire Company. I'll tell you where that was. That was a gas station, and they also used to do recapping of tires. So, that was in the category where you could stay out of the service. My father used to run the recapping part, and so he stayed out of the service. Also, the good thing about it was that he was able to get all the gas that he needed, too, because in the summertime, we used to go up to the Catskills. So, we had a car, and he was able to get gas that would get him up there and back again. Where the OK Tire store was--when you're coming up Albany Street in New Brunswick, you go underneath the trestle, you're going into French Street there, and the hospital is on the right hand side, the railroad is on your left hand side, and then it becomes Joyce Kilmer Avenue there. Well, right on that corner, right there, it's I think part of the hospital, that's where the OK Tire store used to be. It used to be right up against the railroad trestle there.
My father worked there until--I don't remember what year it was--but then he went into--when we moved back to New Jersey, he went into the liquor business. He was a partner with a fellow by the name of (Willy Ackerwitz?). He used to call him "Willy the Thief," but that's another thing, all these little people you know. [laughter] What happened was that where the train station is right now--if the train station is right here, there's that big building right over here. As a matter of fact, I think that's almost right next to where the trestle is right over here. Well, there used to be buildings right here, and his bar was right there. There was a street that was right along there, and the buses from Camp Kilmer with all the soldiers would come down that street, they would all get off right at the railroad station, they would come right past his bar, or if they were going back to Camp Kilmer, they would go right past his bar. So, he had a long bar; it must have been about sixty feet long in that place there. They still had wooden kegs at that time. They used to put the wooden kegs in big buckets with ice in there to keep it cold. They were doing business so much there they would put the tap down like that, never turn it back up; they would just keep filling glasses all the time, because there were so many soldiers there.
Unfortunately, what happened was that when my father went into business with Willy at that time--he'd bought out Willy's partner--my father wasn't good enough to find out that there were two ABC marks against them, and if you have a third one, they would close you down and take your liquor license. What happened was that my father was running--my father was very, very straight, very straight. My father even paid his income tax. I told this to Peter, you know, father's son. My father always said, "I love paying income tax, because if I'm paying income tax, I'm making money," and it's true. One way or another, you are, except when you retire and you say, "Where is the money going if I have to pay income tax?" They were doing very, very well. Willy [did] just cheap stupid things. He was allowing prostitutes to be in there, and my father always said, "I don't need them coming in and taking money away from me." He said, "I want to make the money. I don't need a prostitute coming in, pulling a soldier out, and the money he's giving her rather than paying for a bottle of beer from me." [Willy] was allowing that and doing other things and serving after hours and selling after hours, etcetera. So, the ABC came in and closed him down, and my father was out of business. He had to do something, so that's when he started to work at the recapping place. He worked there for a while. Then, he got another partner. Are you from New Brunswick?
GC: I'm from Long Beach Island. I go to school at Rutgers. I just graduated.
RM: Because there used to be a judge here in New Brunswick, by the name of Judge Rubin, and his brother, Benny was also always in the liquor business, too, and nightclub. They used to own a bar out on US Highway 1 called the Rainbow Inn. So, Benny was always getting partners, and he figured he'd bring in a partner. He wasn't making any money, so he'd bring in a partner who would pay him a couple of thousand dollars, and that's how he made his money, by bringing partners in. So, my father was working there for a while, but he says, "Why do I need a partner that's going to be stealing from me?" Benny would go in there and take money out of the register.
So, my father left there, and then that's when he went into One Eleven Wines and Liquors. That was in 1944. The partner that he had there was just one of the nicest--you would never know that this man was one of the biggest bootleggers in the State of New Jersey, but there were a lot of Jewish people who were bootleggers at that time. It was a way of making money; that's all. As I said before, we're the only Prohibition country in the world, and this was during Prohibition.
So, my father's partner Harry--there was a brewery down in South Jersey called Hammonton Brewery. I don't know if it's still there. But we're talking 1944, '45, and Camp Kilmer was still open. Here we are on Albany Street, and you have to get beer and you can't get beer. If you wanted to buy liquor, it was still hard to get liquor. You had what they called a tie-in. If you wanted a bottle of scotch, you had to buy a bottle of rum, and who's drinking rum at that time? So, because Harry (Spitzer?) had been a bootlegger and knew the people from Hammonton, they came with a tractor trailer filled with Holland beer. That was the brand. They had these skids and rollers. They'd park the truck right on Albany Street there--it was a hundred foot. The beer just kept coming in, coming in. We had high ceilings there, and they just kept piling the beer up and piling the beer up, right up to the ceiling. Then, retailers who were in New Brunswick, other bar owners, would come to Harry to buy beer from us because we had all beer; we were like the storehouse up here. My father and Harry had three trucks running. These trucks were little jeeps. Jeep was still making the jeeps made for the Army, so they made these little trucks. He had three of these trucks out there, and we used to deliver it to people. At that time, we had routes where we used to deliver it to people. If they weren't home, we would leave two or three cases there and leave a bill just like the milkman, and then next week, we would go and pick up the empties and leave them three more. Those little trucks were going all the time. We would deliver until ten o'clock at night. People wanted a bottle of this and that, great.
Then, as I said, they were doing very well. My father and Harry helped some other people out in New Brunswick. There was the Rivoli Music Store that did a huge amount of business with Rutgers University, but he needed money. So, Harry and my father loaned him money and became a partner with him there. I worked there a couple of years during Christmas, because you have to let the partner's son work there. Then, my father bought Harry out. Harry felt he had enough. As I said, he was very dapper. He would come in every day wearing his jacket and tie, and he would work there. My father, being younger, used to put in much more time, especially in the nighttime there. As a matter of fact, when we had to buy Harry out--remember I told you the story of how I bought a lot of merchandise and I put it in my storeroom and I didn't pay any interest. When my father bought Harry out, what he did, he didn't have the cash for it, so he bought a huge--at that time, we were doing a big packaged business--bought a huge amount of stuff and he never paid for it. When I say never paid for it, he didn't pay for it at that time. We borrowed the money from--as a matter of fact, I told you about Dr. (Glasser?), who had been our doctor for such a long time. He didn't trust anyone, but he loaned my father a certain amount of money. I had to take one of these trucks and fill it up with all the merchandise because he wanted that as security. I put it all down in his basement there. I didn't trust him, so I kept a book on everything that was in there, because I didn't want him going down there and pulling this and pulling that. But my father in, I'd say, eight months' time, less than eight months' time, paid him off, so the business was his, free and clear.
Fortunately, I think the only time that we were having a slow time in business is when the ABC tried to close us down, and a lot of the gay people were afraid to come into the bar at that time. It was difficult to be running a business where you didn't have a restaurant going. All you had was the bar, and you had the packaged store going. There were a lot of people, straight people, who didn't want to come in because they were afraid that there might be some gay people--their genes might have been left here and, "I don't want to be caught with any of that. It's going to rub off on me," even though there wasn't anyone there. So, our business was very slow, and that's when I bought my father out.
GC: Did you buy him out before 1967?
RM: No, it was around that time, yes.
GC: Was it before the legal case?
RM: Oh, no. The legal case started in around 1965, yes. What we were looking at is '67 there. That's when the decision came down.
GC: When did your father buy out the bar? He bought the bar in like 1944.
RM: In 1944, that's when [he started the bar], and he probably bought it out--it probably was in the late '50s. Yes, it was the late '50s, because it was in the '60s that it started to become gay. As I said, we had the best of two worlds when it became gay, because here we had a restaurant going, we had all these people who were coming in for lunch and dinner, we had all the people who were coming in after ten o'clock--I said is when singles come out--and we had a lot of the NJC, the Douglass College, people coming in. We had a lot of the Rutgers people who were coming in, who weren't afraid of the place being gay. It was a happy, fun place to be with people singing--you couldn't dance. That was the worst thing. If you had two men or two women dancing--two women was okay, but two men couldn't dance, no dancing.
DC: Did you enforce that rule?
RM: No, no. After we won the case, we divided--remember I said we were going to make a gay boy club--so we made one side, which was the dance side. We said at that time, "What do we care whether two men dance together or women dance together?" The only thing was that we would tell people that if you wanted to go in on the dance side, you're going to see men dancing together and women dancing together, and if that's going to offend you, then don't go in. So, we didn't want to offend anyone by seeing the homosexual in there. So, that's what we did there. Now, it's the biggest thing when you have all the kids, they don't care if it's men or women dancing together, not at all. When we moved from George Street to Hiram Street--when we moved down there, we still had a lot of people coming in from the college, and everyone was dancing together.
There was another point that you had while we were in business there. I don't know if you knew this, but there was a time when New Jersey had lowered the drinking age to eighteen. [Editor's Note: In New Jersey, the legal drinking age was eighteen between 1973 and 1983.]
GC: No, I didn't know that.
RM: Yes. It was only on for about two or three years. The most hypocritical thing is that Vietnam was going on at that time, you could be drafted into the service, you could fight over there, you could be killed over there--I mean, even to this day--but you couldn't drink and go into a bar. You could vote at eighteen, but you couldn't go into drink in a bar. As a matter of fact, even on a lot of the Army posts, if I remember--I'm not sure at that time--but you only had 3.2 [percent alcohol by volume] beer, which was lower. It's silly, the things that happen.
It was the best of two worlds because we were very conservative. We tried to keep things very straight. We always tried to say that there is no difference between a straight person and a gay person, a heterosexual or a homosexual; the only difference is what two people do in the privacy of their own home in their own bed, that's it. It was no problem. My parents, as I said, were always very, very liberal about it all.
The way it became a gay bar--that was another thing I didn't bring up. There was a bar down on Albany Street that was a gay bar. To be honest with you, none of us knew that it was gay; it was there for a number of years. Here, we had this wonderful little restaurant going, which was as cute as could be, and my mother, as I said, would do all the baking for the place. A lot of her original dishes that she had gotten when she got married--all these orange dishes with white polka dots--we had high ceilings, we had a shelf that we put all around the place and we had all the dishes up there, we had paintings on the walls, we had all these little knickknacks all over the place. It was really a very homey, neat, nice place. Food wasn't great; it was just very good, nice food. As I said, we had a player piano. Sometimes, an organ that we had there, a group would come in and play the organ and a drum, a little trio group.
What happened was that the gay bar was closed down, and some of the guys who were going there just came up the street. They would come in; it was after ten o'clock at night, and a lot of these guys knew the place anyway because they were all beauticians. I don't want to stereotype people, but the school was right across the street. So, they would come in for lunch, and then they would come in at night. At night, they would really meet. During lunch, they were all students or straight. At night, they then became more gay and they would meet their friends and they would listen to the--we had a jukebox and they would listen to music there, or someone would be playing the piano.
I think some of the customers--we had this one guy, Jack Parker, he could play. He was a very good pianist. He was good to the extent that he had a good ear, so he knew what a person was singing and what key, so he could put in the right key and play for them in the right key. We had this one fellow, Eddie (Foley?), who had a very good voice and he had black hair--wore it high and puffed on the side like that--had a black beard, very angular, and the mustache always trimmed, used to work for Revlon out on [Route] 27. [Typically], he would go in in the morning, go to work in the morning, come home, eat, take a nap, shower--he didn't have to shave, he had the beard--then he would come down and he wouldn't come in until eleven o'clock at night. He would sing a couple of songs, and everyone was in love with Eddie. He was good looking. Eddie could have taken anyone home. If it were a straight bar, he could have taken any woman home. As a gay bar, he could have taken any man home. Eddie played all these little tricks with the way he would sing, the way he would look and things like that. Then, at two o'clock, he would go home. On weekends, they might stay out a little later. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, when we would close up, we would all go over to his house. He had a partner, just a roommate, who was older than he was. We would go up there, we'd have breakfast. My mother and father would go up there. We became very friendly with many, many of our customers, even my wife and family did too.
Randi, my daughter, will tell you about Billy Virginis, who was the first one that came into--I always say, "Billy, you were the one who made Manny's Den gay." Billy is still alive, even though I think he's HIV infected, but he's still alive. I got a Christmas card from him this past Christmas, too. He would come in. He was a hairdresser. I remember that one time he did my wife's hair, he did my daughter's hair. He'd do my mother's hair all the time. He used to love to do my mother's hair, as I said, because they would do the beehives. I don't know if you knew that at [that time]. My mother had a lot of hair, and she wore it that way. [laughter]
As I said, it was a pleasure going to work. Why was it a pleasure? You're going into a bar, you're serving people, you're having a good time, you're hearing all this music, you have good food there, you have good drink there, you have nice people who were telling stories. Gay people can really tell a lot, not funny stories, but funny lies. I'll tell you about one guy. Billy Virginis, I said I don't know how he's still alive because he was extremely promiscuous, but that's beside the point. So, it was a great place. Gay people don't fight. What, are they going to hit you with their feather boa or something? On part of the gay side, you also have those people who are the leather people, and they're the biggest sissies going. Did you ever see them? They come here every once in a while.
GC: Actually, no. I haven't seen the leather crowd here.
RM: Okay. I'm not sure; did they call themselves the bears or something? I don't remember.
RM: Yes, they come in every once in a while.
GC: Oh, yes, I remember.
RM: They have meetings here or something like that.
GC: There's a big, huge guy that came in when I was working the door one day, a big, huge guy, tattoos.
GC: Big. I was like, "Oh, man. I would never want to mess with this guy." As soon as he opens his voice, you're like, "Oh." [laughter]
RM: [laughter] Yes, I know. As I said, it's the best of all worlds that we had here. It was wonderful. It was great.
NM: You mentioned before we started the interview that you had worked in Manny's Den. Were you in the original that closed down?
RM: I was in the original one. I was there from the beginning. [laughter] I tended bar. I'll tell you how I tended bar. I was tending bar all the time there, and I used to come home every night, and I would take the tips that I made. Now, as an owner--and they knew that I was one of the owners there, even though my father was there--that they wouldn't tip me as much. But, at that time, we used to have--there was one guy [who] used to come in all the time, Tom (Clark?), who would come in every night. If we would call last call at twenty minutes to two, he would come in at twenty minutes to two, maybe a few minutes earlier, and he would always have a Grand Marnier. Then, if he could, he would try and sneak in a second Grand Marnier. It was a 1.75, and the quarter that he would get, he would take and he would flip it on the bar, so you would hear it click. I didn't have a coin in my pocket, because he wanted to let everyone know what a big tipper he was, twenty-five cents. But I used to take all my tips, and I would bring it home, and I'd put it in a big jar. Over the years, I'd saved up. In 1975, because we were still on Albany Street at that time, I had saved up enough money to buy a Lincoln Continental. I walked in, and I paid cash for it. That was the last new car I ever bought. [laughter] Oh, no, I did buy a new Ford later on, but I paid cash for it. I remember walking into the car dealer on [Route] 18, my wife and Ed (Foley?), the one who had the beard and sang all the time--they were very friendly--they were the ones who went out and picked out the car. It's one of these limousine cars that you see. It's black, it had these little lights on the side, it had the windows that opened up here, had all leather, because we had little Westie at that time, and we wanted a car that he wouldn't scratch up, so we had leather. Of course, he left all his white hair all over the car. As I said, it was the best car I ever owned. Here I walked in, and I paid--I think it was something like ten, eleven thousand dollars that I paid for a 1975 Lincoln Continental. It was great, just from the tips that I made.
NM: At what age did you start working at the bar?
RM: I started to work there when I was twelve years old, less than that, from the day that my father went in there in 1944--eleven years old. As I said, my father used to do another thing, and I used to do the same thing for Peter and Randi when they would come down and clean the floors on Sundays. He would seed the floors. When he would leave on Saturday night, he would throw coins on the floor, so that when I came in to sweep, "Oh, I found a quarter, I found a dime." [laughter]
NM: Were you working in One Eleven Wines and Liquors as well?
RM: Yes, it was all one.
RM: One Eleven Wines and Liquors is the corporation. As a matter of fact, here, right now, where the liquor license says One Eleven Wines and Liquors, DBA, doing business as, The Den and Sophie's Bistro.
NM: What do you remember about New Brunswick during World War II?
RM: New Brunswick was a wonderful town during World War II, until I guess the '70s when they started to revitalize and other things like that, the gentrification that you had. New Brunswick, I can remember at that age, and we lived on Rutgers Street from 1942. My mother, we would take the bus--I think it was twelve or fourteen--take it right down Livingston Avenue, right into New Brunswick. You used to have--well, originally, it used to be Friday nights that they would be open late, all the stores. Then, I guess people wanted to get home on Fridays, so they had Thursday night, but you would go down on Thursday night.
I remember there was a drugstore. As a matter of fact, where Tumulty's Pub is right now, right around there was Thode's Drugstore. It had the tile floor, like we had in here, and it had a soda fountain in there. My grandmother and grandfather were still living with my parents. This was before we had moved there. They weren't kosher, by any means, but there were certain things, they wouldn't eat pork, they wouldn't eat bacon. But my mother would take us down to Thode's, and the big thing was to have a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with mayonnaise and have one of the sodas, the Coca-Colas.
New Brunswick is a wonderful town. There are lot of businesses. As I said, on the shopping nights, the town was packed. Then, you had, on Friday and Saturday night, you had all the theaters, you had the movie theaters. I mean, how many times do you go into a movie theater where you would wait in line to wait for the show to stop and then a thousand people would walk in again? I'm talking about the State Theatre. I mean, the State Theatre had its mezzanine and its balcony there.
GC: It is huge. It's absolutely huge.
RM: Yes. You had the State Theatre. You had the RKO Rivoli Theater, you had the RKO Albany Theater, which we used to call the--that was the place that you had all the cowboy movies going. You had the Strand Theater, which was right on the corner of George and Albany Street, where that building is that goes like that. That used to do, many years later, The Rocky Horror Show. Then, you had another--you had the Opera House, which was on Liberty Street. That burned down. You had all these theaters, and they were always busy because people didn't have television at that time; there was no television. That's the big thing, you have a date, you're going to take your date to a movie. Then, you would go into one of the ice cream parlors to have a malted milk or an ice cream soda or something like that.
People were part of the Cub Scouts and the regular scouts. You would go to Wolfson's, which was right on the corner of George and Livingston Avenue, right out there. That was a department store, and they had all the scouting outfits you would get. All the churches would always have something going there; that's where the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts met.
In downtown New Brunswick--come Christmastime, New Brunswick was packed, again. I can remember, I used to work at (Meyer's?) Toy Store, which was on corner of Church and Neilson Street. There's a bar right there; Old Bay is there. I used to work there at Christmastime. If I weren't working at the Rivoli Music Shop, I would be working there. Usually, they'd put me up in the storeroom, and I was always bringing stuff down. I remember I worked there when I was seventeen years old during Christmas there.
There wasn't an empty store in Brunswick. You have the Roger Smith Hotel, where the--what's the name of that hotel across the street from--Heldrich, The Heldrich. That used to be the Roger Smith. That was the big thing. On Sunday morning, my father and mother would take me there for lunch; it was wonderful. Years later, when I became a Rotarian, a New Brunswick Rotarian, New Brunswick Rotarians used to meet at the Roger Smith, all the way upstairs in the penthouse there.
Thinking how times change again, the Rotary Club, at that time, a hundred, 150 Rotarians; now, forty. New Brunswick, you had George and Albany Street, which were the main thing over to George and Livingston Avenue and then down to New Street a little bit further. Then, you go down closer to the river, you had Neilson Street there. In that area, three synagogues were down there because there were a lot of Jewish people who lived in that area there. You had a lot of Jewish people and Greek people that lived there. It was wonderful. I mean, no one worried about walking down those streets there. It was wonderful. You had the bakeries down there. You had John's Clothing store down there. You had butcher shops--this is all on Hiram Street there. You had hardware stores. On Albany Street, where J&J is now, you had a Ford dealership that was right there, right in downtown New Brunswick. New Brunswick was a wonderful place to be. You had the high school. Unfortunately, it's all knocked down, and now the old high school is now the middle school. Then, they built this huge high school over here.
Prejudice-wise, black, white, Hispanic--there weren't any Hispanics here at that time. You really didn't have [prejudice]--at least I never saw it here, not a lot, especially when I went to private school. Then, it became a completely different thing. Of course, once again, when I was going to private school, I went to a private school that there wasn't a black [person] there. The only person who was of any color there was (Abdul Razak Suleiman?), who was Saudi Prince, so he might have been a little bit darker skinned, that's all. But, it wasn't until, I guess, I went down to Washington and Lee in Virginia that I saw [prejudice]. New Brunswick was truly a wonderful little town. As for blacks at that time, you didn't have that many blacks in town. What happened later was that down in the Hiram Street area, where the old Den used to be, because of populations changing, people moving from New Brunswick to Highland Park to Edison to East Brunswick, a lot of the blacks would move down into these areas and would find less expensive housing there. The same way that what's up on Livingston Avenue now, where it used to be "white middle class," you now have Hispanic middle class that are living there.
As I said, New Brunswick was a wonderful [city]. It was a treat to go into New Brunswick. I can remember my father--I would love to go there when he was in business. We would go in there, and I would get a soda. Then, we would walk up to the bank. When we'd walk up to the bank, you knew everyone on the block. You knew every merchant. There was another thing among the merchants. If you were a merchant and you went to another [store], you'd always get a ten percent discount, except if you were going into one of the big department stores that were in New Brunswick.
The high school, my gosh, when it came time for football, the stadium would be packed on Friday nights because they would have night games. As I said, you didn't have any problems. You could walk home, because I lived down off of Livingston Avenue, and I could walk home from the game. You didn't worry about gangs coming after you or anything like that.
There certainly were a lot of people who were churchgoers and religious Jews who were going to their synagogues and everything, but I don't think you found any true prejudice. There was a lot of hidden prejudice, where you weren't going to go into a certain shop because you were Jewish or a certain club because you were Jewish. I'm trying to think when I joined the Rotary Club. Even then, there were a lot of Jewish people in the club, yes; didn't have any blacks, the Rotary Club. Of course, when I started in the Rotary Club twenty, thirty years ago, there weren't any women there either. So, we see how things are going different.
The merchants all got along very well together in New Brunswick. As I said, I loved to walk on the streets and just going past one store to another store. You'd go into the newsstand, and everyone at the newsstand knew you. Everyone would get the newspaper, and you could buy your candy there. You'd go into certain stores, the luncheonettes, where you would get your hotdogs and things. It was just a wonderful place to live, in New Brunswick. Of course, you had NJC on one end, and you had Rutgers at the other end. Sometimes, there was--what do they call it, "town and gown," but no big deal there.
NM: Were there a lot of Rutgers students or NJC students walking around the city?
RM: Yes, there were, because at one time they didn't have as many cafeterias for the students. So, they used to get, I don't know how it was, but they used to get some sort of voucher or something or other, or certain restaurants would do it where Rutgers students could go in there and they would get discounts on the food that they were buying at that time. You had that.
NM: Thank you for that great description of New Brunswick. Your memory is exceptional. [laughter]
RM: Unfortunately, because of everything that's been going on, I forget about what was in certain places in New Brunswick. As much as I like to see progress and I know that you have to have it, we have just lost downtown areas. I mean, New Brunswick still isn't a downtown area. The majority of the people who you have downtown now are college students. They're going to the bars; they're going to the restaurants. You have a day group and a night group. You have the day people, who are either at hospitals--I mean, the hospitals have grown tremendously--you have people who are at the hospitals or are working in downtown. There are a lot of big office buildings there, so people come out and they'll have their lunch or something like that. Then, they leave in the evening. As a matter of fact, Peter said that he was over at the Frog and the Peach the other night, and they have this happy hour that's over there. He says by six o'clock there are only three people that were at the happy hour at the bar there. Why was that? Because people came in, they had their happy-hour drink, and then they left and went home. A lot of people aren't living downtown. There are a lot of the apartments down there. I'm sure that a lot of people who live there are using the restaurants and other facilities, but what else is there for people in downtown New Brunswick besides a restaurant and a bar?
As I said, at one time, come Thursday night, New Brunswick was--just to take the bus, I remember my mother and I, you would have to stand, because every seat in the bus was filled to go downtown. It's just not there anymore. The only way [is] you get in your car and you go out to Highway 1 or [Route] 18 or whatever it is to go to a store there. But New Brunswick was crazy during that wartime too, because you had Rutgers University, you had J&J, you had Squibb, you had Mack, you had Camp Kilmer. So, you had a lot of different people who were in this area and were around at that time. It was certainly very diverse, very diverse.
NM: Towards the end of the war period, were there a lot of soldiers who would go downtown on a Thursday night?
RM: No. If they were coming to town on a Thursday night, they were just going into one of the bars. I'm talking about, from 1944--my father's business started in '44, December of '44, so the war continued on. The war in Europe had ended at that time [May 1945]. It wasn't until August of '45 that they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and then the war ended in Asia there, in Japan.
NM: What do you remember when the war ended? Was there a celebration in New Brunswick?
RM: I wasn't here; I was up in the Catskills at that time. I tell the story, the thing I remember is that I heard someone yelling, "The water is over, the water is over." I thought that the lake had overflowed, and I couldn't believe that the lake was overflowing. Here we are on top of the hill. I was concerned with the other buildings that were down below. Then, I heard that the war was over. I remember my aunt and everyone was overjoyed because my cousin, he was still in Europe; he hadn't come back yet. As a matter of fact, he was very lucky because he got through the Battle of the Bulge, which was early  in Europe. The celebrations that went on there, the champagne that was opened. When you celebrated, you celebrated with champagne. I can remember my aunt giving all the champagne, everything that she had left that you could have, and people were drinking and partying. My aunt, I think she even had a midnight buffet for that too, to keep people going, who very happy. I don't know what was happening in New Brunswick at that time.
The only time I do remember is when, unfortunately, they had the riots in Newark, and they had the riots in Los Angeles, all in that time. They were starting to do some of it in New Brunswick. The Den was open at that time, but I think because my father had been in business for such a long time and so many people knew him and so many of the local people knew him that there was no problem. No one came along. We had big windows. No one came along and tried to break our windows. No one came along to do anything like that. Even in New Brunswick, the police were very good about keeping people under control, not in a strong-arm way, but in good ways. So, as I said, I was here for that. My mother and father were here at that time, too. We were more concerned of listening [to] what was happening in Newark than what was happening in New Brunswick, because New Brunswick was quite calm. I think that the ministers in many of the churches were very good with explaining things to their parishioners. It was excellent, no problems at all. I'm going to bring in a menu for you, so you could order something.
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