Tony Bennett, Part One

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In this essay, Jonathan Schwartz recalls the desert, the late-1970's and his close friends Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.


I called her by her entire name: Sally Keeble. My girlfriend at the time, late 1970s. We were stuck in the California desert during a relentless rain.

"We've got to get out of here," she suggested. She wasn't a severe girl; 27 years old, long black hair, introspective, honest. What she said was delivered emphatically. We had come to the desert to lie in the sun, smoke grass, drink vodka, and listen to music. The storm, projected as a one day event, settled above us, as if by law. Sally Keeble was angry.

"I have an idea," I said. "Let's go to Vegas. Both Tony Bennett and Sinatra are there. I know them both, but I'll bet that Tony would put us up."

 Which was true.

"Tony, we're trapped in the desert. Could you get us a room?"

"You can stay with me. I've got the Penthouse," he told me."

"Are you sure?" I asked, as a decency.

"You want to see my show?"

"That would be terrific!" I shouted, through the phones between Palm Springs and Las Vegas.

Sally Keeble was delighted. But she cautioned: "I think I'm getting some sort of flu."

"I'll take your temp." And did, with an always carried thermometer.

"Oh, my" she said, viewing the 101 degrees.

"Tony has many bedrooms. It's a Penthouse. Many bedrooms. Thousands."

No planes to Vegas. In fact, the Palm Springs airport had cancelled everything. But, buses were running to Ontario and then on to to Vegas, where the rain had modified.

On the bus, Sally Keeble vomited, turning to me as recipient.

"It's nothing," I said, though it was indeed something.

At the front desk at the Sahara, I asked for Tony Bennett. I was viewed menacingly.

"Call him, you deeply putrid Mr. Huntington." The name on a gold pin on a gold costume below a putrid face.

"Go up," Mr. Huntington reluctantly told us, after a brief exchange with Tony.

Tony Bennett opened the door, dressed beautifully in a light blue shirt, gray slacks, and good looking dark brown leather shoes.

Sally Keeble and I were water-soaked, dungereed, tennis-shirted, vomited upon, and altogether a mess, our soggy sneakers leaving prints on a green carpet, as we entered the Penthouse. Sally told Tony that she was ill. He showed her a cozy bedroom, where she retired for the night. As she closed the door she said to me, "He resembles the singer Tony Bennett."

I returned to her about a half hour later to find her naked and vomiting on the bathroom floor. She looked up for a moment and said: "We have no business here." Meaning the bathroom (I asked her later).

In the living room, Tony was smoking grass with a very short man whose name I've forgotten. The grass, which I sampled, seemed to emerge from the very short man's pockets, and was well ahead of its time, as if Michael Jordan had been discovered on the Chicago Stags in 1949. One inhalation did it for me. I was all prepped up then, for music. Bennett first, and then, by God, Sinatra. Tony had called over and had nailed a first row seat for me at Sinatra's second show at The Sands. I noticed that Tony had taken one last mighty hit of the very short man's product. How, I wondered, would he ever do a show. He always gave us many songs, and medleys. Forty lyrics at least.

A minute or two before the curtain went up I remember thinking: I have no business here. Which made me laugh, of course, considering my astounding intoxication, annoying garishly dressed men and women sitting nearby. A nasal laugh, unpleasant. Perhaps similar to an LSD laugh. A weird laugh. How would Tony Bennett get out of this one?

I lowered my head and turned to quiet. I feared for Tony Bennett the singer.

To be continued...