Harry Denicula was one of my first bosses when I entered the hectic insurance business in the Big Apple. He was a big guy, six foot two and well over 250 pounds and had a voice to go with the stature. When he bellowed instructions to us six, young trainees, who were part of his responsibility in our company’s offices on the twelfth floor of the Lincoln Building on 42nd Street, he could be heard at Lexington Avenue. We loved him – he was tough but fair and we learned a great deal on how to conduct an insurance business in this bustling town while dealing with the toughest, wisest, sharpest and most untrustworthy brokers who were our customers.
Harry was never at a loss for words. Unfortunately, at times of his being aggregated, those words might consist mostly of the foulest you’d ever heard and some you’d never heard. We would cringe when he would be in an argumentative telephone negotiation with a broker while standing at his desk in our open office. Some of the girls working at nearby desks would leave for the lady’s room with blushing faces and not return until Harry's conversation was finished. But that was his only character flaw. It was on a warm, spring day that we six trainees experienced a momentous event - Harry got a lesson in etiquette.
We’d eaten lunch in the restaurant that was located in the basement level of our building. To get to it one had to go down a long flight of stone steps that could be accessed from the lobby and from the sidewalk outside. Also, at the base of the steps was the entrance to a subway station. When we left the restaurant and started up the steps Harry was in the lead and the six of us followed him in line. Part way up we noticed an elderly lady daintily tip-toeing down toward us. She appeared to be well into her eighties and, as a New Yorker would say in those days, was “dressed to the nines” in a flowered dress and perky hat on top of a beautifully coiffed hairdo. Although it was a warmish day she wore white lace gloves. Her careful but jaunty pace down the steps was aided by a fancy, sterling silver handled cane.
As she came even with Harry he suddenly expelled a loud and raucous burp. With no change in her pace downward, or time for consideration, the elderly, kind looking and well groomed lady turned her head toward Harry, looked him strait in the eyes, and said in a crystal clear voice that all of us could hear, “Excuse yourself you filthy bastard!” and merrily went on her way.
Harry was struck dumb. It took a second for the rest of us to break out in laughter. Not only had we all had a lesson in etiquette but some of our group who were new to this town had just experienced meeting a typical, tell it like it is in your face, New Yorker.