As the sweltering summer of ’72 dragged on, each day seemed more oppressive than the one before. New York City continued its descent into a massive financial crisis, and that August the FBI took notice of me and tapped my phone.
I was living in a building 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 a year 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, businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood delivered most anything I had a hankering for.
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—a Tuesday—the weather was milder than usual, the sky was blue, the air was clean, 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 afternoon that caused the G-men to tap my phone for a few weeks. The call was from one of my employees, a young man who was late for his shift.
It was about five that afternoon when Sal phoned me. 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 weekly register was never short more than a few nickels or dimes, which he always offered to cover.
As Sal and I spoke, 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, man. 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 needed in those days.) After lots of snapping and clicking on the line, Joe answered—I thought it 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. If you need some cash, take it from the register. 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 almost always did after closing the store. As I walked up Broadway from the 72nd Street station, I saw fewer people than normal. I learned later that many folks were in actually in bars and businesses—gathered around radios or watching televisions—waiting for the finale of the escapade.
Home, I grabbed a bottle of Tanqueray from my freezer in 17-F, and then knocked on the door of 17-H across the hall.
Joseph R Manganello and I drank 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 a later report by CBS, Naturile’s share was to finance his two sisters’ removal from foster care and separation from their mother, who—they reported—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, CBS said. Joe and I just looked at each other in silence. I went back, 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 wearily.
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.