Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of An American Hero

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Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of An American Hero

嚵 kickass ക Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of An American Hero download ꔣ Ebook Author John Positano 먅 I decidedtowritethismemoir on what would have been Joe DiMaggios hundredth birthday, November 25, 2014 We had become close friends during the last ten years of his life, despite than forty years difference in our ages I had tried to write my memo ries of Joe with the help of others The chemistry was never right, and it didnt work On his centennial, I realized that only I could write this book, with my brother John, because it is so personal Nobody knows the landscape better than the two of us I intended to write a memoir ofmy friendship with Joe DiMaggio, not another baseball book I had invited his family for dinner at Campagnola on the Upper East Side to celebrate the memory of Big Joe, as his great grandkids called him His granddaughter Paula and her husband Jim Hamra along with their daughters Vanassa, her new husband, and Valerie joined me for the celebration I felt privileged to sit at the dinner table with the people whom Joe Di loved and cared for the most in the world I know Big Joe would have been thrilled that we were having a family dinner to celebrate his birthday Since the dinner table was sacred to Joe, Dinner with DiMaggio seemed the perfect title for this memoir As we enjoyed our meal, our conversation was full of the Yankee Clipper, one of the great heroes of the twentieth century As I re counted stories he had told me, it became evident that they had never heard many of them It was a revelation to me that Joe Di didnt share many of his stories with his family When it came to his family, it was all about them He always put them first When he was with them, they were the focus, not his legend For Joe DiMaggio, kids always took precedence, no matter who else was in the room I had learned that he compartmentalized his life as a means of self preservation Joes life was a jigsaw puzzle, and only he had all the pieces He believed that if no one could put it all together, he would have freedom Joe was always in control His insistence on pri vacy is critical to understanding Joe as an icon and a man Doc, theres a differencea big differencebetween secrecy and privacy, Joe explained to me one day as we drove through the rat maze of Manhattan traffic Secrecy is when you hide something, but privacy is when you have information thats privileged, that belongs to nobody except family Thats the reason you never tell anyone about your kids, your family life, or your personal life They will use it against you if they could You always need to protect your family I have followed his advice to this day Joe had a life in Florida, a life in California, and a life in New York He made sure that no one life ever totally intersected with the others People in Florida knew certain things that people in New York and California did not, and the same was true of the other places where he spent time Thats probably one of the reasons there have been so many books and such a variety of opinions about Joe, because no one knew him completely In the end, only he held all the pieces of the puzzle, and he always kept us guessing Joe reminded me of a theory I learned in quantum physics at New York University, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle Simply stated, this theory holds that the position and velocity of an object cannot be measured exactly at the same time For Joe it was the DiMaggio uncer tainty principle regarding who he was Joe was inscrutable to journalists and hearsay biographers, because he was closed mouth about personal information He knew that the less he said, the control he had over his image His personal life was a forbidden zone To his credit, there was never a double standard, because he would not intrude into the privacy of others People who did not know him well sometimes judged him to be aloof, remote, even shy, which was far from the truth He often commented that people who had never even sat down with him for a cup of coffee could not write a book about him My friendship with Joe DiMaggio began with the heel spur in his right foot that had sidelined him for sixty five games in 1949, one of the physical ailments that forced him to retire in 1951 It led to our meeting thirty nine years later in 1990 At thirty two, I had a fledgling foot and ankle practice in Manhat tan at the Hospital for Special Surgery I specialized in nonsurgical treatment of foot and ankle disorders I credit Joes famously botched heel spur surgery and Leonardo da Vincis anatomical drawings of the foot and ankle as my inspirations for developing nonsurgical programs while I was at Yale Medical School and the New York College of Po diatric Medicine in Harlem The nonsurgical ethos was considered a unique approach to caring for foot and ankle problems Bill Gallo, the dean of American sportswriters and a brilliant car toonist at the NewYorkDailyNews, introduced me to the Yankee Clipper As Bill told me, while he was having lunch one day with Joe at a restaurant on West Thirty fourth Street, the Clipper complained about his still painful right heel, which continued to give him trou ble and affect his quality of life Bill thought I could help Joe, so he mentioned that he had a good friend who had done a lot of work on heel pain and foot disorders at Yale That was a plus for me, because Joes son had attended Yale, and Joe had great respect for Ivy League education Bill offered to see if I could help him with his problem Gallo also mentioned that I was a guy Joe might like to hang out with According to Bill, Joe looked skeptical and did not appear terribly enthusiastic Joe prized the streetwise virtue of complete discretion His friend ship with a journalist was a departure from the norm for him Gallo was the exception to the no journalist rule, because he kept his mouth shut Dave Anderson of the NewYorkTimes was another member of this very exclusive club Charlie Rose, the late Tim Russert, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Bryant Gumbel also made the exclusive and coveted DiMaggio safe zone list He would have no problem talking in an elevator in front of these journalists In his eyes, they were all honor able and maintained the highest professional standards and discretion Doc, Joe explained to me later, When you tell Gallo something is off the record, it is just that Youll never see it appear somewhere else Thats a trick you see with these newspaper fellows Theyll tell you something is off the record, then trade the information with another one of their buddies Then it shows up somewhere else Not Gallo His word is his word no tricks, smoke, or mirrors Gallo called me and asked me to do him a favor He wanted me to see a friend of his, who was coincidentally staying in the same building as my office at Sixty eighth Street and Fifth Avenue Whenever he was in town, Joe stayed at the seventh floor apartment of Atlantic City restaurateur Dick Burke, located on Fifth Avenue Dick Burke was a Horatio Alger figure, a rags to riches former street waif who, as a boy, had sold newspapers to Joe when Joe strolled on the boardwalk in Atlantic City Dick had gone on to be a big success, and eventually opened the Irish Pub on St James Place in Atlantic City, where Joe was always a welcome guest Dick Burke and his wife, Cathy, were family to Joe Since the Burkes spent little time at their Fifth Avenue place, they gave Joe a key, and 860 Fifth Avenue became Joes home base in New York The Burkes were remarkably gracious and generous to Joe, and he returned the favor When Bill told me his friend was Joe DiMaggio, all I could say was, Youre kidding me After assuring me that he wasnt pulling my leg, Gallo advised me to drop Joe a note I was eager to make the connection I gave the doorman a note, which read, Hi, Im Dr Rock Positano, Bill Gallos friend, and he asked me to drop you this note I didnt expect anything to come of it At about six forty five that evening, my assistant, Christine Albano, answered the doorbell, to find two men at the door One of them was unmistakably Joe DiMaggio, impeccably dressed in an overcoat, blazer, shirt, and tie She buzzed me and announced, Youre not going to believe whos out here and wants to say hello Who is it I asked, near the end of a long day Joe DiMaggio, with his friend, Mr Burke Her answer nearly knocked me off my feet I couldnt believe he actually had come down to say hello to me the same day I sent him the note I raced to the reception area with my hand extended and said, Mr DiMaggio, its an honor to meet you Joe, always a consummate gentleman, turned to Dick Burke and said, Dr Positano, I would like you to meet my dear friend, Mr Burke Mr Burke, it is a pleasure to meet you I matched his formality Then Joe cut in Ive heard a lot about you, Doc, from our friend Bill Gallo Thats great, Mr DiMaggio, I responded, not knowing how im portant being a mutual friend was to Joltin Joe An introduction from Bill Gallo was golden and never in question I was very careful about how I addressed him, as he was a gentleman from the old school I came to know that nothing irritated the Clipper than someone he didnt know calling him Joe Impeccable manners were extremely important to DiMaggio He gave you permission to call him Joe Mr Gallo suggested that I drop you a line, I explained I still couldnt believe it, the most famous heel and sports medicine injury in historyeven renowned than that of Achillesneeded my attention Both men went into an examination room and took off their coats When I looked at Joes foot, I saw that the surgery on his heel, per formed in the 40s, had been bungled The famous heel, the Holy Grail of sports injuries known all around the world and repeatedly men tioned in the Ernest Hemingway classic, TheOldManand the Sea, mesmerized me It was a foot doctors fantasy and dream In addition, he had a large arthritic left big toe, which was a consequence of fouling numerous balls off his foot in the batters box When they did the heel spur incision, they did a Griffiths, which is a fish mouth incision, I explained They not only removed the spur but also the fat pad, so you have been walking on bone with no cush ion I learned later that sharing ill fitting, hand me down shoes from his brothers also contributed to his heel and foot problems Wearing shoes of the wrong size is a prescription for foot disaster I recommended a special orthopedic foot strapping and a prescrip tion orthotic that would calm down the soft tissue inflammation in the area and reduce the force and tension in the tendons and ligaments of the bottom part of his heel In two weeks, he showed considerable improvement, but just treating Joe was not enough for him or me I was determined to heal him and allow him to enjoy walking and playing golf When I wanted to take X rays of his foot, which was standard med ical procedure, Joe refused to be X rayed He said, Its not that I dont trust you, Doc, but I dont want this X ray showing up at one of these memorabilia shows It could fetch a lot of money Clearly, Joe didnt trust me, even though I was a professional trying to help him I was a little insulted, but decided not to get defensive or to take him on I had to rely on reports he had his Florida doctors send, which wasnt an ideal way to treat him or to observe the progress he was making His concern seemed over the top to me, but I didnt know much about him then Now, it makes perfect sense Joe was accustomed to people wanting to exploit his name and legend to make money, and that made him guarded and suspicious In his book of life, everyone started in the negative column and had to prove himself trustworthy About three months after our first meeting, Joe dropped by my office unannounced and alone Hey, Doc, you want to grab a cup of coffee he asked As if Id refuse We went around the corner to the Gardenia Caf, an upscale Greek diner on Madison Avenue and East 67th Street That is how our friend ship outside my office began I cant recall how many people have asked me, What do you talk about with Joe DiMaggio My answer was, Everything I became like New York family to him He was as protective of me as he was of his grandchildren and great grandchildren Over time, he let me into his private zone, but, as I learned, not even family or very close associates and friends knew the whole picture That was by design I experienced his tendency to compartmentalize his life He was brilliant, even strategic, about it Napoleon would have been proud of the Clipper Soon after Joes death, I had a call from a guy named Joe Nachio, who identified himself as one of Joes oldest friends from Panama I assumed he was one fan claiming to be Joes supposed best friend I had never heard of him Nachio told me that he had known Joe since the 1930s We got to talking I was surprised by how much he knew about me Apparently, Joe Di had told him a lot about his young doctor friend in New York, but had never mentioned Nachio to me I later learned they were so close that Joe had stayed at his friends house in Panama to escape the furor following the breakup of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe As I said, no one knew the whole picture when it came to Joe I was getting a firsthand lesson from the professor himself I was initially suspicious of Joe Nachio, because Ive run into so many people who claimed to have enjoyed a close relationship with Joe and had dined with him often There were two litmus tests to the truth of these claims coffee and garlic Joes eating habits were peculiar, es pecially as to how he liked his coffee When pretenders would talk about Joes ordering a cappuccino or gulping down a double espresso with Sambuca, I knew they had never had coffee with Joe Joe always ordered a half cup of decaffeinated coffee and, on the side, a small pot of hot water Joe would mix the little pot of hot water into his decaf like a precision chemist, not one drop over the mark He never took coffee any other way As for the garlic test, though Joe was a true son of Sicily, he avoided garlic When someone told me he ate at an Italian restaurant with Joe, Id ask him what Joe had ordered When the answer was, He ate riga toni with garlic, loaded with garlic He loves garlic, I knew he had never broken bread with Joe And rigatoni was not Joes favorite pasta Joe might have liked garlic, but I believe he steered clear of it, be cause he was concerned about smelling like a dago Ethnic stereo types were stronger in Joes heyday than they are now Italians and Italian Americans were judged far harshly than in these politi cally correct times During his last decade, I became his New York surrogate son and later a buffer and an expediter, a young friend who could read his mind and take care of things to keep him in his comfort zone When he played with the Yankees at the height of his fame, he was not able to enjoy New York He had become a prisoner of his fame Baseball was Americas game, and the Clipper was front and center He was mobbed wherever he went He was as popular as the pope or the president When I met him in 1990, he was ready to regain the part of his life he had sacrificed to his celebrity At the time we were introduced, he lived quietly in Florida, visited his family in California, and spent ten to fifteen days a month in New York City, where he plugged into a circuit of excitementan abun dance of people, places, and events He was known to everyone and was a welcome guest everywhere He was one of the most recognizable figures in town Joe always referred to the boys from Westchester during our initial courting stage He met his friends at Alex Henrys in Eastchester, New York They would always fete Joe with bottles of Dom Prignon He loved the stuff One day, he asked if I would mind their coming down to have dinner with us He was a gentleman and asked my permission I was game We wound up eating at Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue There was instant chemistry These fellows acted like my doting uncles than dinner companions They treated me with the utmost re spect and generosity There was never a check to pay when the boys from Westchester were at the dinner table Joe was happy to marry his two social spheres and appreciated how we all genuinely cared about him and liked one another Whenever he came to New York, I escorted Joe around town and became the Manhattan contingent of what I called the Bat Pack, his pals from Westchester I thought the name was appropriate and ironic at the same time Sinatra had his Rat Pack, and now DiMaggio his Bat Pack The members of his inner circle included Johnny Arcaro, a retired postal worker in his early seventies, and Nat Recine and Mario Faustini, cousins in their fifties, who owned Alex Henrys Roman Gardens and catering hall in Eastchester, New York Joe called Johnny Arcaro, Johnny Power, because of his lively personality Johnny loved to dance and kept them laughing A dapper dresser, Johnny had a full head of silver gray hair and sported a sig nature pair of big, black tinted glasses Johnny used to carry around one hundred dollar bills with Joes picture in the middle of the bill instead of Ben Franklins This was his calling card If Joe had known about it, he would have been furious Nat Recines father, Henry, and his uncle, Alex, who was Mario Faustinis grandfather, had opened a sandwich shop on Courtlandt Avenue near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in 1946 Joe used to fre quent the place In 1975, when the new generation opened an Alex Henrys in Westchester, Joe was loyal to the family When he went to their place, he always sat at a table in front of a mural of weeping willows He pre ferred that the cousins meet him in New York Manhattan was where he wanted to be When I first met him, Joe had been meeting this core group of buddies at various restaurants for a couple of years The Westchester division never asked anything of Joe, but they did compete for his at tention And then I joined the group I knew people in Manhattan, and Joe was looking for a good time in town, which I knew how to find Westchester couldnt compete with Rock Positanos New York, and Joe knew it New York was his elixir of youth and his lifeline to fun I felt lucky to spend time with him whenever he was in town It was a dovere, an honored duty, to be with Joe A newly minted doctor, a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt from student loans from Yale School of Medicine, New York Col lege of Podiatric Medicine, and New York University, I was working fourteen or fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, to build my practice I had no personal life and barely saw my kids The kids did extremely well growing up, no thanks to me, but be cause they have a fabulous mother and grandmother, who were doting and supportive They had the benefit of a bilingual environment Their mother and grandma insisted on discipline and hard work I didnt have the luxury of playtime or the assistance and support of a wealthy family to help me get started Joe opened up a new world for me, and served as a tremendous source of inspiration I couldnt lose with DiMaggio on my team He was my safety net for the high wire of life A street kid from Brooklyn, I grew up in the sixties, long after Joes baseball career Though Mickey Mantle was a hero to my brother John and me, my father and uncles considered Joe DiMaggio the greatest Italian ever, and the greatest ballplayer of all time His name was a constant at our Sunday dinners at our grandparents cold water flat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn To John and me, he was an old man who sold coffee makers We couldnt begin to understand why the men in our family, who were not easily impressed, venerated him so much It wasnt until Joe and I became friends that I began to grasp the magni tude of his legend His success story and his style, dignity, and grace made him a lasting American icon I didnt have a bias, because I never saw him play baseball, hit in fifty six straight games, or win nine World Series More important, I knew DiMaggio the man, the guy who loved his family, took my clothes to the laundry, and had coffee with me in the morning, not the baseball legend who was married to Marilyn Monroe When we met, Joe was seventy six, and I was thirty two, fresh out of professional school at Yale In the course of our friendship, the great American icon revealed to me the man behind the image he so care fully crafted and protected He didnt put it out there, but he knew I would figure it out Actions, not words, made me begin to understand his very complex and convoluted personality My respect for him has only grown since his death eighteen years ago His influence on me has been immeasurable When I started to think about writing a memoir, I reviewed and bal anced the good times as well as the rocky ones Looking back today, it didnt take me long to realize that he was using his experience to smooth the way for me, to make it all easier I admired Joe despite his short comings and, like all of us, he had his own baggage He scrupulously guarded his good name, the same way he meticulously combed his hair, knotted his tie, shined his shoes, and folded his clothes, because he knew he was a role model to so many people He took his position in life seriously I came to realize that Joes isolation was his heroism Whatever he did, Joe DiMaggio gave his all to make sure he never came up short He wanted to be an example, to show what a hero was like For Joe, maintaining an immaculate reputation was important for the game he loved and his own legacy I can imagine my father and uncles shaking their heads and agreeing They dont make them like him any When I look at many of todays sports stars, I have to concur DINNERWITHDIMAGGIO is an account of our friendship as it evolved over almost a decade At first, I kowtowed to him but, after two or three years, the relationship flipped He could relax when he was with me, because he knew I would protect him and allow him to lead the type of life he wanted in New York He began to rely on me I never asked for anything, treated him with the respect he deserved, and helped him to enjoy the last ten years of his life in the place that meant the most to him Once he trusted me, he opened up with all sorts of memories and insights that were not widely known I had an unprecedented view of the inner life of a great American icon Knowing him changed me forever My memories of our times together are full of rare stories that cap ture Joes street smarts, intellectual brilliance, compassion, inflexible code of behavior, and bittersweet recollections Nothing written here was off limits, as these were conversations Joe shared with his close friends in New York, the Bat Pack, and me I feel privileged to have been Joe DiMaggios friend Having a regular seat at the dinner table with Joe qualified you as a confidant Behind his polished reserve, he was a complex man who experienced unparalleled celebrity in his lifetime He held firm to his principles and never compromised Joe valued decency above all, and remained self effacing in spite of his fame He was a natural storyteller and an adept listener, so I hope that gift shines through in Dinner with DiMaggio I want readers to feel as if they have pulled up a chair at his table at one of his favorite restaurants, ready for a memorable night with one of the last great American heroes By the time we met, I was already in the habit of taking medical notes after seeing each patient After our patientdoctor relationship ended with the eradication of his foot pain, our meetings became social I made notes every time I saw DiMaggio Keeping notes on our times together seemed important To me, he was part of history, like Julius Caesar, George Washington, the Wright Brothers, or Neil Armstrong I wanted to have a record of our conversations and Joes stories I took on the role of his New York historian I never expected to use or share these notes with others I have relied on these notes to reconstruct our many exchanges found in these pages In addition, I have handwritten pages from Joe DiMaggios dia ries Excerpts from the diary pages are reproduced at the start of every chapter He refers often to people, situations, and concerns that I have chronicled in this book His own diaries support my memory and my notes of our meetings Not until I celebrated his centennial birthday with his family did I appreciate that I had a front row view of a legendary figure that has never been made public Since so many negative things have been writ ten about Joe DiMaggio, I want to add my unique point of view to fill out and balance the portrait I had to write this book to keep Joe DiMaggios legacy alive for the youngest generation I didnt want the memory of this great man to fade Ten year old boys and girls in Little League today have to be aware that Joe DiMaggio was an important figure in our history He was my teacher I became his protector, and then his teacher The connection we made was profound He remains an inspiration to me eighteen years after his death My goal is to bring Joe DiMaggio to life with this flesh and blood portrait We could all use some heroes to look up to, especially during these crazy and challenging times Welcome to the dinner table and your seat next to Joe DiMaggio Idecidedtowritethismemoir on what would have been Joe DiMaggios hundredth birthday, November 25, 2014 We had become close friends during the last ten years of his life, despite than forty years difference in our ages I had tried to write my memo ries of Joe with the help of others The chemistry was never right, and it didnt work On his centennial, I realized that only I could write this book, with my brother John, because it is so personal Nobody knows the landscape better than the two of us I intended to write a memoir ofmy friendship with Joe DiMaggio, not another baseball book I had invited his family for dinner at Campagnola on the Upper East Side to celebrate the memory of Big Joe, as his great grandkids called him His granddaughter Paula and her husband Jim Hamra along with their daughters Vanassa, her new husband, and Valerie joined me for the celebration I felt privileged to sit at the dinner table with the people whom Joe Di loved and cared for the most in the world I know Big Joe would have been thrilled that we were having a family dinner to celebrate his birthday Since the dinner table was sacred to Joe, Dinner with DiMaggio seemed the perfect title for this memoir As we enjoyed our meal, our conversation was full of the Yankee Clipper, one of the great heroes of the twentieth century As I re counted stories he had told me, it became evident that they had never heard many of them It was a revelation to me that Joe Di didnt share many of his stories with his family When it came to his family, it was all about them He always put them first When he was with them, they were the focus, not his legend For Joe DiMaggio, kids always took precedence, no matter who else was in the room I had learned that he compartmentalized his life as a means of self preservation Joes life was a jigsaw puzzle, and only he had all the pieces He believed that if no one could put it all together, he would have freedom Joe was always in control His insistence on pri vacy is critical to understanding Joe as an icon and a man Doc, theres a differencea big differencebetween secrecy and privacy, Joe explained to me one day as we drove through the rat maze of Manhattan traffic Secrecy is when you hide something, but privacy is when you have information thats privileged, that belongs to nobody except family Thats the reason you never tell anyone about your kids, your family life, or your personal life They will use it against you if they could You always need to protect your family I have followed his advice to this day Joe had a life in Florida, a life in California, and a life in New York He made sure that no one life ever totally intersected with the others People in Florida knew certain things that people in New York and California did not, and the same was true of the other places where he spent time Thats probably one of the reasons there have been so many books and such a variety of opinions about Joe, because no one knew him completely In the end, only he held all the pieces of the puzzle, and he always kept us guessing Joe reminded me of a theory I learned in quantum physics at New York University, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle Simply stated, this theory holds that the position and velocity of an object cannot be measured exactly at the same time For Joe it was the DiMaggio uncer tainty principle regarding who he was Joe was inscrutable to journalists and hearsay biographers, because he was closed mouth about personal information He knew that the less he said, the control he had over his image His personal life was a forbidden zone To his credit, there was never a double standard, because he would not intrude into the privacy of others People who did not know him well sometimes judged him to be aloof, remote, even shy, which was far from the truth He often commented that people who had never even sat down with him for a cup of coffee could not write a book about him My friendship with Joe DiMaggio began with the heel spur in his right foot that had sidelined him for sixty five games in 1949, one of the physical ailments that forced him to retire in 1951 It led to our meeting thirty nine years later in 1990 At thirty two, I had a fledgling foot and ankle practice in Manhat tan at the Hospital for Special Surgery I specialized in nonsurgical treatment of foot and ankle disorders I credit Joes famously botched heel spur surgery and Leonardo da Vincis anatomical drawings of the foot and ankle as my inspirations for developing nonsurgical programs while I was at Yale Medical School and the New York College of Po diatric Medicine in Harlem The nonsurgical ethos was considered a unique approach to caring for foot and ankle problems Bill Gallo, the dean of American sportswriters and a brilliant car toonist at the NewYorkDailyNews, introduced me to the Yankee Clipper As Bill told me, while he was having lunch one day with Joe at a restaurant on West Thirty fourth Street, the Clipper complained about his still painful right heel, which continued to give him trou ble and affect his quality of life Bill thought I could help Joe, so he mentioned that he had a good friend who had done a lot of work on heel pain and foot disorders at Yale That was a plus for me, because Joes son had attended Yale, and Joe had great respect for Ivy League education Bill offered to see if I could help him with his problem Gallo also mentioned that I was a guy Joe might like to hang out with According to Bill, Joe looked skeptical and did not appear terribly enthusiastic Joe prized the streetwise virtue of complete discretion His friend ship with a journalist was a departure from the norm for him Gallo was the exception to the no journalist rule, because he kept his mouth shut Dave Anderson of the NewYorkTimes was another member of this very exclusive club Charlie Rose, the late Tim Russert, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Bryant Gumbel also made the exclusive and coveted DiMaggio safe zone list He would have no problem talking in an elevator in front of these journalists In his eyes, they were all honor able and maintained the highest professional standards and discretion Doc, Joe explained to me later, When you tell Gallo something is off the record, it is just that Youll never see it appear somewhere else Thats a trick you see with these newspaper fellows Theyll tell you something is off the record, then trade the information with another one of their buddies Then it shows up somewhere else Not Gallo His word is his word no tricks, smoke, or mirrors Gallo called me and asked me to do him a favor He wanted me to see a friend of his, who was coincidentally staying in the same building as my office at Sixty eighth Street and Fifth Avenue Whenever he was in town, Joe stayed at the seventh floor apartment of Atlantic City restaurateur Dick Burke, located on Fifth Avenue Dick Burke was a Horatio Alger figure, a rags to riches former street waif who, as a boy, had sold newspapers to Joe when Joe strolled on the boardwalk in Atlantic City Dick had gone on to be a big success, and eventually opened the Irish Pub on St James Place in Atlantic City, where Joe was always a welcome guest Dick Burke and his wife, Cathy, were family to Joe Since the Burkes spent little time at their Fifth Avenue place, they gave Joe a key, and 860 Fifth Avenue became Joes home base in New York The Burkes were remarkably gracious and generous to Joe, and he returned the favor When Bill told me his friend was Joe DiMaggio, all I could say was, Youre kidding me After assuring me that he wasnt pulling my leg, Gallo advised me to drop Joe a note I was eager to make the connection I gave the doorman a note, which read, Hi, Im Dr Rock Positano, Bill Gallos friend, and he asked me to drop you this note I didnt expect anything to come of it At about six forty five that evening, my assistant, Christine Albano, answered the doorbell, to find two men at the door One of them was unmistakably Joe DiMaggio, impeccably dressed in an overcoat, blazer, shirt, and tie She buzzed me and announced, Youre not going to believe whos out here and wants to say hello Who is it I asked, near the end of a long day Joe DiMaggio, with his friend, Mr Burke Her answer nearly knocked me off my feet I couldnt believe he actually had come down to say hello to me the same day I sent him the note I raced to the reception area with my hand extended and said, Mr DiMaggio, its an honor to meet you Joe, always a consummate gentleman, turned to Dick Burke and said, Dr Positano, I would like you to meet my dear friend, Mr Burke Mr Burke, it is a pleasure to meet you I matched his formality Then Joe cut in Ive heard a lot about you, Doc, from our friend Bill Gallo Thats great, Mr DiMaggio, I responded, not knowing how im portant being a mutual friend was to Joltin Joe An introduction from Bill Gallo was golden and never in question I was very careful about how I addressed him, as he was a gentleman from the old school I came to know that nothing irritated the Clipper than someone he didnt know calling him Joe Impeccable manners were extremely important to DiMaggio He gave you permission to call him Joe Mr Gallo suggested that I drop you a line, I explained I still couldnt believe it, the most famous heel and sports medicine injury in historyeven renowned than that of Achillesneeded my attention Both men went into an examination room and took off their coats When I looked at Joes foot, I saw that the surgery on his heel, per formed in the 40s, had been bungled The famous heel, the Holy Grail of sports injuries known all around the world and repeatedly men tioned in the Ernest Hemingway classic, TheOldManand the Sea, mesmerized me It was a foot doctors fantasy and dream In addition, he had a large arthritic left big toe, which was a consequence of fouling numerous balls off his foot in the batters box When they did the heel spur incision, they did a Griffiths, which is a fish mouth incision, I explained They not only removed the spur but also the fat pad, so you have been walking on bone with no cush ion I learned later that sharing ill fitting, hand me down shoes from his brothers also contributed to his heel and foot problems Wearing shoes of the wrong size is a prescription for foot disaster I recommended a special orthopedic foot strapping and a prescrip tion orthotic that would calm down the soft tissue inflammation in the area and reduce the force and tension in the tendons and ligaments of the bottom part of his heel In two weeks, he showed considerable improvement, but just treating Joe was not enough for him or me I was determined to heal him and allow him to enjoy walking and playing golf When I wanted to take X rays of his foot, which was standard med ical procedure, Joe refused to be X rayed He said, Its not that I dont trust you, Doc, but I dont want this X ray showing up at one of these memorabilia shows It could fetch a lot of money Clearly, Joe didnt trust me, even though I was a professional trying to help him I was a little insulted, but decided not to get defensive or to take him on I had to rely on reports he had his Florida doctors send, which wasnt an ideal way to treat him or to observe the progress he was making His concern seemed over the top to me, but I didnt know much about him then Now, it makes perfect sense Joe was accustomed to people wanting to exploit his name and legend to make money, and that made him guarded and suspicious In his book of life, everyone started in the negative column and had to prove himself trustworthy About three months after our first meeting, Joe dropped by my office unannounced and alone Hey, Doc, you want to grab a cup of coffee he asked As if Id refuse We went around the corner to the Gardenia Caf, an upscale Greek diner on Madison Avenue and East 67th Street That is how our friend ship outside my office began I cant recall how many people have asked me, What do you talk about with Joe DiMaggio My answer was, Everything I became like New York family to him He was as protective of me as he was of his grandchildren and great grandchildren Over time, he let me into his private zone, but, as I learned, not even family or very close associates and friends knew the whole picture That was by design I experienced his tendency to compartmentalize his life He was brilliant, even strategic, about it Napoleon would have been proud of the Clipper Soon after Joes death, I had a call from a guy named Joe Nachio, who identified himself as one of Joes oldest friends from Panama I assumed he was one fan claiming to be Joes supposed best friend I had never heard of him Nachio told me that he had known Joe since the 1930s We got to talking I was surprised by how much he knew about me Apparently, Joe Di had told him a lot about his young doctor friend in New York, but had never mentioned Nachio to me I later learned they were so close that Joe had stayed at his friends house in Panama to escape the furor following the breakup of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe As I said, no one knew the whole picture when it came to Joe I was getting a firsthand lesson from the professor himself I was initially suspicious of Joe Nachio, because Ive run into so many people who claimed to have enjoyed a close relationship with Joe and had dined with him often There were two litmus tests to the truth of these claims coffee and garlic Joes eating habits were peculiar, es pecially as to how he liked his coffee When pretenders would talk about Joes ordering a cappuccino or gulping down a double espresso with Sambuca, I knew they had never had coffee with Joe Joe always ordered a half cup of decaffeinated coffee and, on the side, a small pot of hot water Joe would mix the little pot of hot water into his decaf like a precision chemist, not one drop over the mark He never took coffee any other way As for the garlic test, though Joe was a true son of Sicily, he avoided garlic When someone told me he ate at an Italian restaurant with Joe, Id ask him what Joe had ordered When the answer was, He ate riga toni with garlic, loaded with garlic He loves garlic, I knew he had never broken bread with Joe And rigatoni was not Joes favorite pasta Joe might have liked garlic, but I believe he steered clear of it, be cause he was concerned about smelling like a dago Ethnic stereo types were stronger in Joes heyday than they are now Italians and Italian Americans were judged far harshly than in these politi cally correct times During his last decade, I became his New York surrogate son and later a buffer and an expediter, a young friend who could read his mind and take care of things to keep him in his comfort zone When he played with the Yankees at the height of his fame, he was not able to enjoy New York He had become a prisoner of his fame Baseball was Americas game, and the Clipper was front and center He was mobbed wherever he went He was as popular as the pope or the president When I met him in 1990, he was ready to regain the part of his life he had sacrificed to his celebrity At the time we were introduced, he lived quietly in Florida, visited his family in California, and spent ten to fifteen days a month in New York City, where he plugged into a circuit of excitementan abun dance of people, places, and events He was known to everyone and was a welcome guest everywhere He was one of the most recognizable figures in town Joe always referred to the boys from Westchester during our initial courting stage He met his friends at Alex Henrys in Eastchester, New York They would always fete Joe with bottles of Dom Prignon He loved the stuff One day, he asked if I would mind their coming down to have dinner with us He was a gentleman and asked my permission I was game We wound up eating at Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue There was instant chemistry These fellows acted like my doting uncles than dinner companions They treated me with the utmost re spect and generosity There was never a check to pay when the boys from Westchester were at the dinner table Joe was happy to marry his two social spheres and appreciated how we all genuinely cared about him and liked one another Whenever he came to New York, I escorted Joe around town and became the Manhattan contingent of what I called the Bat Pack, his pals from Westchester I thought the name was appropriate and ironic at the same time Sinatra had his Rat Pack, and now DiMaggio his Bat Pack The members of his inner circle included Johnny Arcaro, a retired postal worker in his early seventies, and Nat Recine and Mario Faustini, cousins in their fifties, who owned Alex Henrys Roman Gardens and catering hall in Eastchester, New York Joe called Johnny Arcaro, Johnny Power, because of his lively personality Johnny loved to dance and kept them laughing A dapper dresser, Johnny had a full head of silver gray hair and sported a sig nature pair of big, black tinted glasses Johnny used to carry around one hundred dollar bills with Joes picture in the middle of the bill instead of Ben Franklins This was his calling card If Joe had known about it, he would have been furious Nat Recines father, Henry, and his uncle, Alex, who was Mario Faustinis grandfather, had opened a sandwich shop on Courtlandt Avenue near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in 1946 Joe used to fre quent the place In 1975, when the new generation opened an Alex Henrys in Westchester, Joe was loyal to the family When he went to their place, he always sat at a table in front of a mural of weeping willows He pre ferred that the cousins meet him in New York Manhattan was where he wanted to be When I first met him, Joe had been meeting this core group of buddies at various restaurants for a couple of years The Westchester division never asked anything of Joe, but they did compete for his at tention And then I joined the group I knew people in Manhattan, and Joe was looking for a good time in town, which I knew how to find Westchester couldnt compete with Rock Positanos New York, and Joe knew it New York was his elixir of youth and his lifeline to fun I felt lucky to spend time with him whenever he was in town It was a dovere, an honored duty, to be with Joe A newly minted doctor, a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt from student loans from Yale School of Medicine, New York Col lege of Podiatric Medicine, and New York University, I was working fourteen or fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, to build my practice I had no personal life and barely saw my kids The kids did extremely well growing up, no thanks to me, but be cause they have a fabulous mother and grandmother, who were doting and supportive They had the benefit of a bilingual environment Their mother and grandma insisted on discipline and hard work I didnt have the luxury of playtime or the assistance and support of a wealthy family to help me get started Joe opened up a new world for me, and served as a tremendous source of inspiration I couldnt lose with DiMaggio on my team He was my safety net for the high wire of life A street kid from Brooklyn, I grew up in the sixties, long after Joes baseball career Though Mickey Mantle was a hero to my brother John and me, my father and uncles considered Joe DiMaggio the greatest Italian ever, and the greatest ballplayer of all time His name was a constant at our Sunday dinners at our grandparents cold water flat in Williamsburg, Brooklyn To John and me, he was an old man who sold coffee makers We couldnt begin to understand why the men in our family, who were not easily impressed, venerated him so much It wasnt until Joe and I became friends that I began to grasp the magni tude of his legend His success story and his style, dignity, and grace made him a lasting American icon I didnt have a bias, because I never saw him play baseball, hit in fifty six straight games, or win nine World Series More important, I knew DiMaggio the man, the guy who loved his family, took my clothes to the laundry, and had coffee with me in the morning, not the baseball legend who was married to Marilyn Monroe When we met, Joe was seventy six, and I was thirty two, fresh out of professional school at Yale In the course of our friendship, the great American icon revealed to me the man behind the image he so care fully crafted and protected He didnt put it out there, but he knew I would figure it out Actions, not words, made me begin to understand his very complex and convoluted personality My respect for him has only grown since his death eighteen years ago His influence on me has been immeasurable When I started to think about writing a memoir, I reviewed and bal anced the good times as well as the rocky ones Looking back today, it didnt take me long to realize that he was using his experience to smooth the way for me, to make it all easier I admired Joe despite his short comings and, like all of us, he had his own baggage He scrupulously guarded his good name, the same way he meticulously combed his hair, knotted his tie, shined his shoes, and folded his clothes, because he knew he was a role model to so many people He took his position in life seriously I came to realize that Joes isolation was his heroism Whatever he did, Joe DiMaggio gave his all to make sure he never came up short He wanted to be an example, to show what a hero was like For Joe, maintaining an immaculate reputation was important for the game he loved and his own legacy I can imagine my father and uncles shaking their heads and agreeing They dont make them like him any When I look at many of todays sports stars, I have to concur DINNERWITHDIMAGGIO is an account of our friendship as it evolved over almost a decade At first, I kowtowed to him but, after two or three years, the relationship flipped He could relax when he was with me, because he knew I would protect him and allow him to lead the type of life he wanted in New York He began to rely on me I never asked for anything, treated him with the respect he deserved, and helped him to enjoy the last ten years of his life in the place that meant the most to him Once he trusted me, he opened up with all sorts of memories and insights that were not widely known I had an unprecedented view of the inner life of a great American icon Knowing him changed me forever My memories of our times together are full of rare stories that cap ture Joes street smarts, intellectual brilliance, compassion, inflexible code of behavior, and bittersweet recollections Nothing written here was off limits, as these were conversations Joe shared with his close friends in New York, the Bat Pack, and me I feel privileged to have been Joe DiMaggios friend Having a regular seat at the dinner table with Joe qualified you as a confidant Behind his polished reserve, he was a complex man who experienced unparalleled celebrity in his lifetime He held firm to his principles and never compromised Joe valued decency above all, and remained self effacing in spite of his fame He was a natural storyteller and an adept listener, so I hope that gift shines through in Dinner with DiMaggio I want readers to feel as if they have pulled up a chair at his table at one of his favorite restaurants, ready for a memorable night with one of the last great American heroes By the time we met, I was already in the habit of taking medical notes after seeing each patient After our patientdoctor relationship ended with the eradication of his foot pain, our meetings became social I made notes every time I saw DiMaggio Keeping notes on our times together seemed important To me, he was part of history, like Julius Caesar, George Washington, the Wright Brothers, or Neil Armstrong I wanted to have a record of our conversations and Joes stories I took on the role of his New York historian I never expected to use or share these notes with others I have relied on these notes to reconstruct our many exchanges found in these pages In addition, I have handwritten pages from Joe DiMaggios dia ries Excerpts from the diary pages are reproduced at the start of every chapter He refers often to people, situations, and concerns that I have chronicled in this book His own diaries support my memory and my notes of our meetings Not until I celebrated his centennial birthday with his family did I appreciate that I had a front row view of a legendary figure that has never been made public Since so many negative things have been writ ten about Joe DiMaggio, I want to add my unique point of view to fill out and balance the portrait I had to write this book to keep Joe DiMaggios legacy alive for the youngest generation I didnt want the memory of this great man to fade Ten year old boys and girls in Little League today have to be aware that Joe DiMaggio was an important figure in our history He was my teacher I became his protector, and then his teacher The connection we made was profound He remains an inspiration to me eighteen years after his death My goal is to bring Joe DiMaggio to life with this flesh and blood portrait We could all use some heroes to look up to, especially during these crazy and challenging times Welcome to the dinner table and your seat next to Joe DiMaggio.Pries open Joltin Joes perpetually buttoned up privacy A rare, intimate portrait of a man so audacious that he left Marilyn Monroe Sam Roberts The New York Times His baseball accomplishments, impressive and historic as they are, do not alone explain why DiMaggios name still resonates as it does His importance is connected to a particular place and time in the history of the game, and the country Hemingway referenced DiMaggio So did Paul Simon A line from the early 40s song Joltin Joe DiMaggio by the Les Brown Orchestra goes like this He lives in baseballs Hall of Fame, he got there blow by blow, our kids will tell their kids his name, Joltin Joe DiMaggio. Turns out that was true Bob Costas Readers do not have to be baseball fans to be captivated by this memoir, which explores such universal themes as friendship, celebrity, aging, and mortality Library Journal starred review An unpretentious but nonetheless lyrical, memoiristic paean to a relationship that was gradually built with mutual effort and escalating warmth This is a book about conviviality but it is also a book with a searching and often melancholic heart that engages fully with love, loss, estrangement, disappointment, decline and the nature of success and legacy There is much to cherish in this book Adam Hanft Medium So many special things about Joe DiMaggio are revealed by this book his love of children, his contempt of pretense, and his iconic place in American history, all brought forth here by his closest friend in New York, Dr Rock Positano Joe was quiet, not silent, about the pivotal events of the twentieth century, and he shared them with Dr Positano Marilyn, the Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, and so many fascinating anecdotes add flesh to the bare bones of this iconic American This is an important book because Joe is the hero we need in these times Joe, as Dr Positano shows, did not compromise his principles for political correctness, hurt feelings or the favor of the crowd He was a true American original Arianna Huffington Positano renders a wholly human portrait of an American icon navigating his way through an adoring yet relentlessly demanding public Booklist starred review Joe Di Maggio brought a unique excitement to New York City, his adopted home town, which extended beyond baseball Joes great friend Dr Rock Positano conveys the excitement of DiMaggios reign beautifully in this book It is a thrill to read from cover to cover David N Dinkins, 106th Mayor, City of New York I almost felt I was at the dinner table with Rock and DiMaggio at their New York haunts Dinner With DiMaggio is a great depiction of a man and legend A must read Congressman Peter King Joe DiMaggio and Rock Positano were fortunate to have found each other A genuine hero in need of a genuine healer Each an expert in his field Rocks professional skills matched by his kindness and generosity of spirit There will never be another Joe But we are all fortunate to have the equally singular Rock still exercising his skills as both doctor and friend Frank Langella Dr Rock Positano is not only a phenomenally gifted doctor but he is a hugely empathetic companion who understands and treats the whole person, not just the injury Joe DiMaggio found in the good doctor an Italian American brother and a confidant The result is this strikingly intimate portrait of a man who has often seemed as private and remote as he is heroic Paul Simon famously asked, Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio We have the answer now You can find him right here Anthony DeCurtis, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone DiMaggio s Pizza Pasta Highland, Illinois Our menu ranges from fine pasta dishes, 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