So I met this guy, Marty Nadler, on the Paramount Studios lot, he gave me a job writing a script for Laverne and Shirley, and I was so grateful, I agreed to marry him (like that’s doing anyone a favor) but, before we got that far, he brought me to Martha’s Vineyard.
It was April of 1976, kind of grey, and seriously cold for this Valley girl who had never spent that particular month in a place where the land was still frozen and you’d need a microscope to see tiny green buds on a grey brittle branch. But still, the island was pretty, nice ocean and all that. ...
We were walking up Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, and we ran into a short, stocky, muscular guy with a brush-cut of dark hair. He wore baggy jeans and a tan combat jacket. He pointed a finger at Marty and said with a certain quietness and lack of affect that put you in mind of Batman, “You owe me, Nadler.”
As we walked away, I whispered to Marty, “If you owe him, why not pay up?”
And then he told me what he owed Joey Montesion.
It was the summer of 1973. Marty was working as a bartender at the raucous bar (some might say it’s more upscale these days), the Lamp Post, down there in the southeast quadrant of Circuit Ave, a hood that on hot summer nights teems with neon lights, open bar doors, and patrons spilling out onto the sidewalks, patrons who may have already spilled more than they needed to down their throats.
Marty, a native of the Bronx, had made his bones on Martha’s Vineyard for the many summers he’d come here with his theatre troupe from Ithaca College, The Vineyard Players. So now, graduated, a struggling actor and upcoming standup comic in New York, Marty was intent on spending a last summer (or two or three) on the Island where he’d been carefree and foolish and the happiest young man alive.
Coming up on midnight at the Lamp Post upstairs, Marty’s shift was over. He knocked back a beer, and chatted with Joey Montesion, fisherman, mason, iconic bad boy: he’d occasionally run afoul of the law and had, apparently, done some time.
Marty liked tough guys; reminded him of his growing up years on Mousholu Parkway, the same neighborhood that produced The Fonz.
Marty proposed a dart game to Joey, Joey gave Marty a long stare. “How much ya wanna bet?”
Nadler, a habitual lunatic, said, “I’m not gamblin’ for money, Joey. That’s for losers. Let’s bet our lives.”
Joey pawed at his unshaven chin. “Our lives?”
“Yeah,” said Marty, already drawing up the classic three darts for the game. “Winner gets to kill the other guy.”
“Uh huh,” mused the man as he grabbed his own darts, squeezing them between his palms. He nodded thoughtfully. With advanced communication skills, he might have said, “That adds a certain irresistibly heightened pleasure to the sport.”
The few stragglers in the bar, aware of the stakes, formed a circle behind the players. Marty waved for Joey to throw ahead of him.
Joey assumed an expert pose behind the line and lobbed his first dart.
Marty threw his. Somewhere three feet to the left of the board, his dart boinked off the fake pine wall.
Joey threw again. Not quite a bull’s eye, but only a silly millimeter above his first dart.
Marty began to think that perhaps he should have, before suggesting the game, and at such ridiculously high stakes, practiced darts during down times at the Lamp Post. He took his second shot. This time the dart quivered with impact. Right below the red lights of the EXIT sign.
Joey aimed again. His third dart formed a triumvirate of well-placed quivers directly at the center of the board.
Marty stood frozen in place, his fist wrapped around his final dart. The enormity of what he’d done, of what awaited him, of his life about to end, shattered him like a telegram in wartime, only coming to his own doorstep, to inform him of his own passing.
Joey softly chuckled.
Marty turned to study his own personal grim reaper.
How would this alleged ex-con kill him? Hold his head under the rotgut can? Stab him with the hunting knife everybody said he carried in the folds of his old combat jacket?
Suddenly Marty remembered a few years back, needing a rifle for a staging of The Angry Gun. Everybody said, “Go ask Joey!” Marty asked Joey, who produced a rifle from the trunk of his car. “Ya need bullets?” he asked. “Oh Lord no!” said Marty. “Ya sure ya don’t need bullets?” Joey kept on asking whenever he ran into Marty during the run of the play.
Now, as the fatal tourney came to a close, Marty wondered if he should use his last dart to fling at his opponent’s face. Bing! Right between the eyes. It would only stun Mr. Monetsion, but it would give the comic / bartender a chance to skedaddle out the back door. A slam-dunk case of self-defense.
But with Marty’s bad aim and rattled nerves, he knew the dart would skid across an empty bar table. Montesion would be madder-than-hell at him, which in turn would make the comic's coming clobbering still more savage.
Marty faced the board, sighed deeply, and gave it his best shot.
It splish-splashed in the ice tray. Marty was very nearly elated; at least he’d made a big noise. He turned back to Joey to accept his fate.
The island gangsta looked grim. Then he pointed a finger at Marty, just as he did three years later when I met him on Circuit Ave. “You owe me,” he said.
Over the years he reminded Marty many more times. Sometimes he did this when I was with his targeted victim. The sight of the man gave me the willies. How would he collect his due? Would he come for Marty and force him to help bury bodies in the swamps off Farm Pond?
Then one dark and foggy night in October of 1992, Marty and our 8-year-old son, Charlie, had joined the fishing derby. Some buddies dropped them on the south shore of Chappy, planning themselves to face the heftier surf up at Wasque. Marty knew as much about fishing as he did about throwing darts. Charlie watched anxiously as his dad tried to thread a line through the little gizmos on his pole.
A menacing voice stirred through the mists. “Having trouble, boys?”
On the dark and lonely beach, Marty turned to see Joey Montesion, his own fishing rod in hand.
Then, with the gentleness of the Yankee sea salt that he was, Joey rigged up Charlie’s rod, then Marty’s, then knelt down to show the young boy, a native son who needed to learn about the tides and the sea and the creatures that gambol within it, how to cast, how to reel in the catch, how to re-jigger the line and rod.
Lesson over, Marty and Charlie positioned themselves to start fishing. Joey climbed the hill, fading into the swollen mists.
“Thank you!” Marty called after him, feeling like the bit player in The Lone Ranger who inevitably asks, ‘Who is that masked man?’
A disembodied voice floated over the thunderous incoming surf:
“You owe me.”
Joseph R. Montesion died on December 29, 2003. He is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Oak Bluffs.