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Mob Memories

Wednesday, March 10th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Not since college have I boarded a train bound for New York City with plans to return later the same evening. That was the thing about school in upstate New York: Proximity to the Big Apple. A quick two-hour ride on Metro North from the Poughkeepsie train station and you were in Grand Central, in the heart of the most famous city on earth. Lots of the kids — mostly those who were native New Yorkers and hip to the club scene — made a weekly ritual of it. Most of us non-science majors never had classes on Fridays (after learning that valuable lesson first semester freshman year, of course), so many a students would make a three-day weekend out of the city jaunt. After all, Poughkeepsie didn’t have a whole lot to offer beyond the Vassar walls.

I never was and never have been a club kid — though I’ve been seen once or twice in places like Polly Esther’s in San Francisco — so the draw of New York City during college for me was instead limited to the excitement of the big city itself and to destinations like the Met and Yankee Stadium. Outside trips into and out of JFK or LaGuardia, I really only went to New York a handful of times while at Vassar — a Yankee game or two, the Met here and there. And this one time when a few friends and I thought it would be fun to check out some clubs. Little did we know the adventure that would unfold.

There was this girl I was really into at the time and a friend of mine wanted to facilitate our having fun (a far more loaded and complicated story than that, perhaps for another time). So this friend and the girl and another girl and I took to the town. The problem was, none of us really knew anything about clubs or the cool places to be for a group of college kids to hang. I still don’t know New York well enough even to describe where exactly we ended up, but suffice it to say I was sketched out by the neighborhood. But there was a club, and that’s what counted. The friend and I were older than 21 at the time, I think, but the girls were not. So our plan was simple: Send in the girls first while we waited around the corner, then we’d follow. Apparently girls who enter a club by themselves as opposed to with guys are more likely to be admitted. Phase one: Success. The under-drinking-age girls were in.

Then it was our turn.

We approached the intimidating man of a bouncer, showed him our IDs, and waited for him to wave us in. Instead, with piercing eyes and slow, deliberate moves, he looked us up and down and told us we weren’t dressed right for the club. We argued, but it was clearly no use. The girls were just inside the door and had already paid their twenty-dollar-per-head cover. They nervously watched to see what would happen next.

No matter how much we pleaded, the bouncer would not budge. So we decided to call the girls back and abort the mission. It took some quick thinking to explain to the bouncer that we had dropped off the girls and parked the car. He didn’t believe us at first, but when the girls began to ask for their covers back, the bouncer changed his mind and decided to let us in. I can only guess that he would’ve rather made eighty bucks for the club than nothing at all.

We paid our covers and entered.

What happened next was more of a feeling than an actual event. When we got past the entryway and into the club, we knew immediately that we were out of place. I felt as though all eyes were on us, and is if the music had somehow stopped its beat. It hadn’t, but our instincts said to turn and run.

We decided that would probably be worse, so we resigned ourselves to pretending like we did fit in, and to trying to have a good time.

The problem was obvious: This was an insiders’ club and although inside the building, we were blatantly out. I don’t have evidence to prove it, but we came to agreement (softly under our breaths) that this was a club belonging to and frequented by members of the Russian Mafia and whoops, we had inadvertently stumbled into their joint. To this day, I still don’t know how we picked that place or why.

But we stayed for a time, had some drinks, and danced a little out-of-place dance. The drinks didn’t sooth the tension. And things didn’t get any better when another somebody who didn’t belong began moving in on she who oh shit, turned out to be the woman of somebody who did belong. I don’t remember all the details from that point, but as a large man approached the encroaching man and began to shove him around, we thought that was a good cue to make our exit — before we wore out our welcome (if you could have called it that).

We scurried out into the still New York night air, exhaled in relief that we were OK, and started on our way. But not before the other outsider came flying out the door of the club. Yes, flying. As in, someone literally threw him out. Apparently that wasn’t enough of a lesson not to mess with these mobsters.

The large man who had not approved of the outsider’s moving in on his woman was the next to emerge. I’ll spare you the graphic details of the next few moments, other than to say they seemed to go on forever and ended in a bloody mess with the man’s head being banged repeatedly on the hood of a nearby car. We were terrified and thought better of sticking around and trying to help. In retrospect, maybe we should have tried to help the guy, but maybe his beating was also a warning to us.

That was the last time I went to that place, and enough of a warning never to return.

So here I ride on a New York City-bound train many years later, no longer a Vassar student, and coming not from Poughkeepsie but from my new home in Saratoga Springs. The trip today is not to see fine art or baseball or to discover an underworld of the Russian Mob, but to interview for a new job. Much less dramatic, I know, but also quite a bit safer.

As I walk around the city today, I’ll stick to the beaten path, and appreciate that a day trip to the Big Apple is again just a two-hour train ride away.

// 10:55am

Tags: anecdotes

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 an old friend // May 9, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    boy, that seems like a long time ago. 🙂