To readers of Laughing Matters it’s no surprise that I enjoy colorful characters. When I moved to Ocean Park in 1974, the neighborhood was filled with eccentric types. My joke was if John Steinbeck had lived at the Shores he could have written novels without leaving the building.

Among the most colorful (and charming) people I’ve ever befriended was the late Matty Jordan (born Matteo Giordano) who grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey. He lived across the street from Frank Sinatra. In fact, he was delivered by Frank’s mother who was a midwife.

After a rugged life as a trucker, Matty moved to L.A. and, in 1963, he opened “Matteo’s”, long considered a landmark restaurant on Westwood Boulevard. While tough, Matty also possessed a warmth that was endearing and Matteo’s was an instant success. Matty’s most famous and frequent customer was the aforementioned Sinatra. (His most “notorious” were mobsters Mickey Cohen and Sam Giancana)

I met Matty in 1987 via my neighbor, Lenny, who was loud, obnoxious and spoiled. His father had a seat on the Stock Exchange and thus Lenny was raised in ultra wealthy Manhattan. To his credit, he joked about having been so pampered.

A bigger spender than earner, Lenny had his car repossessed for back taxes. So, he’d pay me to drive him to Matty’s “new” luncheon restaurant “A Little Taste of Hoboken,” featuring “East coast comfort food.” For me, stepping into “Hoboken” opened a fascinating Damon Runyon-like world.

Hoboken cuisine was excellent and reasonably priced but it was the atmosphere that intrigued me. Patrons came from the Westland Shopping Center on Pico south of Hoboken, but many others were Runyonesque “wiseguys,” or wannabees. Lenny filled me on who were loan sharks, bookmakers, or operators of various scams. With vintage black and white photos of Hoboken on the walls, it felt like I’d been transported to New Jersey, but with excellent weather.

Devouring the food, the clientele was loud, chatting and arguing. Matty would often go from table to table schmoozing or hold court at his table where only insiders sat. I eventually got to sit there because of some “strings” I pulled, which I really didn’t pull.

When Lenny was turning 67, he confessed he’d never applied for Social Security. I insisted he let me help him apply. Soon, he was getting his monthly check and, in one lump sum, all his back payments. He was once again a big sport, especially at Hoboken. The wiseguys assumed I had some “connections” at Social Security. I tried to explain but next thing I know I’m sitting at Matty’s table like I’d been anointed.

On another day, one of the honchos took me aside. “What you did for Lenny, can you do for Joey?” Again, I tried to explain there were no “connections” but he insisted, “Just work your magic.” (Joey’s wiseguy fame was he took the fall for a crime he didn’t commit to protect someone higher up on the ladder.)

So next thing I know I’m driving Joey, who was thoroughly mean, to the Federal Building. Soon, he too was on Social Security, which, of course, he was entitled to. Next I actually did something that elevated my status even further only it was pure luck.

Lenny had told Matty I was friends with the owner of the Shores, which was kind of true. (My sister had dated his best friend.) Matty asked if I could get Joey an apartment, which I said I couldn’t do but for Matty I’d at least ask.

As fate would have it, the Shores’ owner said he’d give him a “crummy” apartment on the 2nd floor. So Joey, whom I didn’t care for and vice versa, moves into the Shores and my Hoboken reputation has gone from a nothing writer to a mini-big shot.

One unusually crowded day Matty asked if I would share a table with Shecky Greene. (The famed Las Vegas comedian.) For the next hour I was a combination of mesmerized and hysterical listening to the tales of Shecky’s roller-coaster, manic-depressive life. We stayed in touch and on his 90th birthday I wrote about him. (Google: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Shecky Greene.”)

Cut to 1999 and the Shores was in escrow to be sold. Management was offering tenants from $20k to $50k to move. I got an unexpected and actually pleasant call from Joey. Like it was godfather protocol, he wanted my “blessing” to take the cash to move to Del Mar to be close to the famous race track.

I wished him the best and we said our goodbyes. Perhaps somehow fitting for this tale, during the night, Joey passed away. (In wiseguy parlance, the Shores “saved 20 large.”)

Sadly, Matty passed away that same year. But his two restaurants remain. And for me, so do the memories.

Do yourself a favor and check out Hoboken’s website at: www.hobokenla.com. Jack is at jackdailypress@aol.com.

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