New York. As the summer dragged on, each day seemed a bit more oppressive than the one before. As the city entered into a great financial crisis that sweltering summer of ’72, the FBI took notice of me and tapped my phone.
I lived between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue—with a tuxedo cat named Maxwell—in an apartment, 17F, on the top floor of 304 West 75th Street. For a 21-year-old kid from Kansas I was living in pretty rarefied air. I’d just returned from two years on the road performing in a couple of plays, The Impossible Years and Send Me No Flowers.
I had a doorman, elevator attendant, and Zabar’s and Fairway Market were just a couple of blocks away. A Chinese laundry on West 76th Street took care of my shirts and socks and such. And, almost every business and restaurant in the area delivered.
In the midst of auditioning for plays (more rejections than hires) and auditioning for commercials (more hires than rejections, I managed The Penny Candy Store on Seventh Avenue and West 10th Street in Greenwich Village.
The store’s owner, Joe Manganello, lived across the hall from me in apartment 17H.
That summer something remarkable happened. Late in the afternoon on August 22nd, the weather was milder than usual, the sky was blue, the smog level was low, and I was in the West Village counting candy—Mary Janes, Sugar Daddys, Atomic Fireballs, Kits, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the like; I received the phone call that caused the FBI to tap my phone for several weeks. The call was from one of my employees, a young man who was late for his shift.
When Sal phoned me, sometime around 5 p.m., he sounded sincerely sorry—but not at all confused or excited—as he explained that he knew that he was late, but probably wouldn’t be coming to work at all. Because, he said, “We’re holding up a bank.”
I tuned the radio to WCBS. This is what I heard:
I’d interviewed Salvatore Antonio Naturile (he was a slender 18 year-old, had dark hair and, curiously, a blonde mustache) for a sales job at The Penny Candy Store a few months before. The interview took place in Manganello’s apartment. Sal seemed like a passive guy, he seemed to want the job, and he could count change quickly and correctly. The variable work hours didn’t seem to conflict with anything else in his life. I hired him—he was a hard worker, polite, and always punctual. After a few weeks he learned to up-sell from penny candies to chunks of homemade fudge—chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter—the real money-maker. His register was never short more than a few nickels or dimes, which he always offered to cover.
As we spoke that Tuesday afternoon the number of audible clicks on the phone line kept increasing as his voice became a bit fainter with each of them.
“Can’t you just walk to the door and give yourself up, Sal? Come on, Sal. You know whatever you’re doing won’t work.”
“I’ve got to hang up. I think there are police at the back door. Tell Joe hi.”
He spoke matter-of-factly, as if he were reporting inventory.
Sal hung up. I dialed Manganello, 724-4881. (No area code was needed.) After lots of snapping and clicking on the line, Joe answered—I thought it was strange that I’d heard a dial tone but didn’t hear his phone ring before he answered.
“Sal just called,” I said. “He’s robbing a bank.”
“Oh, shit. God, dammit. The one in Brooklyn? I’m watching it on TV.” Joe paused; I waited.
“Close the store. Don’t worry about the register. If you need some cash, take it. Just leave and lock the door. We’ll talk when you get home.”
I took the subway, the Seventh Avenue IRT No. 1 train, north from the Christopher Street–Sheridan Square station as I most always did after closing the store. As I walked up Broadway from the subway station at 72nd Street, I saw fewer people than normal. They all seemed to be in bars or businesses—gathered around radios or watching televisions—waiting for the finale of the escapade.
When I got home, I grabbed a bottle of Tanqueray from the freezer and then knocked on the door across the hall.
Joseph R Manganello and I had a couple of gin and tonics as we watched the robbery unfold on WCBS TV. We called out for Chinese delivery from Hunan 79. We learned of the complexity of the event, the strange personalities involved, and more about that someone named John Wojtowicz who was apparently the “mastermind” of the heist. For the first time we heard that the robbery of the Chase Manhattan bank branch on the corner of East Third Street and Avenue P in Gravesend, Brooklyn was to fund the sex reassignment operation of Wojtowicz’s wife, Ernest Aron. According to CBS, Naturile’s share was to finance his two sisters’ removal from foster care and separation from their mother, who drank heavily, was abusive, and had neglected all three of her children for years.
Fourteen hours later, long after night had fallen and the last of the Kung Pao chicken had been eaten, we were still watching the ongoing coverage as it was announced that Sal had been shot in the head, point-blank. He was pronounced dead at the receiving hospital. Joe and I just looked at each other. I went home, across the hall, and went to bed.
My mother had heard about the heist on TV and she called me from Kansas later that morning.
“Honey, that crazy robbery wasn’t anywhere near you was it?”
“No mom, it was a long, long way away,” I responded.
We chatted for a while and as we were saying our goodbyes, she said, “You really should call the phone company, Stephen. There’s a tremendous amount of static on your line.”
Three Septembers later Dog Day Afternoon was released.