My old man never stopped writing songs and never stopped trying to sell them. He had had one hit--a follow up to the Be-Bop classic, "Salt Peanuts," written, depending on who you believe, by either Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker.
When Salt Peanuts was filling the "beat-sunglasses-in-the-dark" end of the dial, my father wrote a follow up, a song he called "Two Peanuts." Somehow he peddled the song to Charlie Parker who, strung out, or drunk, or just plain nasty, or something, turned my old man down. My father then took it to a local trio, Woody and the Termites, who happily recorded the song.
This was the summer of, I think, 1963, before the Kennedy assassination when the world seemed full of much more promise. A local radio station started playing "Two Peanuts," and playing it a lot. Before long, station after station picked up the single, and my father's little ditty jumped from our shabby little precinct in Yonkers and became a nation-wide sensation.
The old man was a young man then, just 35 or so. He decided he had had enough of working for someone else. He'd take the $2,500 he made from "Two Peanuts" and go into business for himself.
Just down the street from our tilted little home was a small empty building that had been about nine different restaurants in the previous six years. This joint my father decided he would turn into something every town needs: the last place everyone goes before they go home.
He decorated the place with some old faux armor and swords and lances and junk he had found and picked up for $75. With these accouterments in place, he named his restaurant "The Knight Spot," and he was in business.
There was one catch, or at least one primary catch.
My father decided the Knight Spot would be open 24-hours but he didn't want to hire help. He figured that between him, me and my brother, we would somehow manage. Here was his thinking. He would do the heavy-lifting, the morning rush that stretched from about 5AM to 9. He'd nap at the cash register from 9 to 12 when the lunch crowd would arrive. My brother and I would show up and man the shop when school was over, from say 3 to 11--my father's sleeping hours. Then my old man would return and the whole cycle would start over again.
Things went along fairly ok for a month or two. The Knight Spot was bringing in money and my father was feeling like he finally held a winning ticket. He didn't even question that he had a seven-year-old (me) and a nine-year-old, my brother running the place for a good portion of the day.
I, in particular, was a resourceful sort. I knew at an early age my way around a kitchen. And the Knight Spot's menu was pretty basic. Most of the customers between 3 and 11 would want little more than a burger, or a slice of pie and a cuppa. It wasn't too hard to keep the Knight Spot up and running.
One night, however, things went bad. A bear of a man came in and sat across from me at the 12-stool counter. He mulled over the vinyl menu like a Talmudic scholar and finally he announced "steak. Broiled. With onions and mushrooms. Medium well."
I turned on the giant industrial broiler in the back--it was an oven the size of the bedroom my brother and I shared. It went on with the whoosh of a Gemini rocket. I placed the steak, just as my old man had showed me, about an inch or two under the flame. Then I went off to saute the onions and mushrooms.
In just about a minute, the Knight Spot was filled with a thick viscous smoke. Apparently, I had placed the cow too close to the broiler's flames and some fat, and then the fatty steak caught on fire. Flames were leaping out of the broiler.
My brother, always a calm head, called the fire department while I ran into the kitchen with what my father called a "fire distinguisher." It was roughly the same size as I was.
By the time my father and the fire department had arrived the fire was out, the windows were open and the Knight Spot was airing out.
However, that's where the trouble began. The fire department--some wise guy my old man said--called child welfare and the whole infrastructure of Yonkers' government came around to shut the Knight Spot down.
My old man attributed the whole thing to me and my brother "horsing around" and swatted us, accordingly, in the heads.
He'd have to come up, now, with a new scheme to make his fortune.