Max was an expert in loving women he couldn’t have. He was the type of guy who’d get infatuated with a woman after one look and Paulie wasn’t shy about telling him that. Needless to say, Paulie was confident that Max would never get too far in life. The kid seemingly contented himself to a lifetime of being a waiter, busboy, and occasional musical performer at Angelo’s. Paulie had owed his dad a favor – the kind of debt that wasn’t spoken about. Max’s dad was in the midst of doing serious time, and Paulie knew that he owed him. The least he could do was make sure poor Max had a job. When the day came for Saul Kleinman to turn himself in for Insurance fraud and name names, Paulie had been confident that his name wouldn’t be one of them. Good ol’ Saul would never do that and combine that with the fact that poor Maxy didn’t have a mother, well Paulie thought, a lifetime job was the next best thing. Max was a good kid who did what he was told. He was good with the customers and if it wasn’t too busy, he’d take out that acoustic guitar of his and croon out a decent tune or two. It was always love songs with this kid, yet in the couple of years since Paulie took him in, there had never been a single broad who stayed with Max long enough. They’d all leave once they figured out the kid had no larger ambitions. Every time a girl left him, the kid would be heartbroken. He’d spend a whole week humming nothing but “I’m Thru with Love” to himself all throughout his shift. The ones who stayed were trouble, and Paulie felt fatherly enough towards Max to shoo them away before Max fell too hard.
One night after Paulie had closed down Angelo’s to begin counting cash and receipts, he heard the distinct crooning of Max’s voice and his guitar strumming “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and that’s when Paulie knew the ship had sunk. Max had fallen and there would be another round of flirting and courting followed by stolen kisses in the middle of the work shift whenever she’d visit. Then, she’d end up spending a couple nights over at Max’s apartment before deciding that spending the rest of her life slumming wouldn’t be quite her thing. After all, most of these girls had fathers or brothers who were connected and why would they settle for a life beneath their standards? Of course it may take them a month or two before coming to that conclusion, but it always happened. Paulie tried to explain to Max that that’s just how dames are, but damned if Max ever listened and Paulie supposed that the kid had got to get laid sometimes. He just wished that Max hadn’t invested the emotions he invested in these girls.
So just as Max had come around to the 2nd chorus, Paulie poked out his head to see who the lucky broad was and mentally wager just how long she’d stick around. Girls loved that artsy shit especially when their young. Paulie remembered courting his Angelina in similar fashion only he’d sing to her in Italian and she’d giggle and then they’d both have to wait until Paulie received approval from Angelina’s father to see her with a chaperone (of course). That was back in Puglia though and it seemed a lifetime ago. As Paulie’s semi-bald head poked from behind his desk to see just who Max had been singing to through the narrow doorway, he swore he heard the same giggle he had heard coming out of Anglina’s slender mouth some many years ago. Then he saw the brown hair in a neat bun and the blue dress shaping her figure just right for that plump bosom of hers. Her legs had been healthy and meaty and Paulie was just about to think to himself that he finally started to like Max’s taste in women – these women with their Jane Fonda workouts trying to turn into stick figures just wouldn’t do for him – when he finally saw her face. It was Mary, Nick Santorino’s sister. The girl he had known since she was a baby had now grown and returned from nursing school to visit her father’s family. As much as he liked her and admitted to himself that she may indeed be the perfect match for Max, he also knew Nick Santorino – the hothead kid who had always been protective of his little sister especially since their parents had split up in that explosively messy divorce. This was bad news. Paulie needed to put a stop this and fast.
After exchanging quick pleasantries with Mary, Paulie cocked his head at Max saying, “Hey Maxy, shouldn’t you be rushing home? You got to be here fresh and early tomorrow. No excuses! Plus if you hurry home you might get there in time to watch the Honeymooners rerun at midnight.”
They both laughed that secret laugh of lovers before Max interjected, “Thanks uncle Paulie, but don’t worry I’ll be here. Mary and I are just going out for one drink and then we’re each heading home.”
Other than physically restrain Max, there was nothing Paulie could do but let the two of them go out on their date. That’s what young people do anyway, and in most cases Paulie would not have minded but the prospect of Max getting tangled up with Nick Santorino frightened Paulie. He thought about it all night even after he had shut the lamp next to his bed after giving his nightly kiss to the picture of Angelina on his nightstand.
Nick Santorino was a typical hothead who Paulie had encountered at various times as he grew up in the neighborhood. Always protective of his little sister, Nick had been only 13 years old when started getting into fights with other boys who flirted with Mary. Nick couldn’t have been older than 16 when he took on a tall High School senior who had played varsity football. Not only did Nick win the fight, the football kid had been beaten to a bloody pulp and had spent nearly 3 weeks in the hospital. Paulie asked himself how could Max even think about fooling around with Mary Santorino knowing that history. Most of the time Paulie gave Max enough credit to at least respect the fact that the kid wasn’t stupid, but this had been absolutely moronic and the sad thing is that he suspected Max knew that as well as he did.
The next morning, Max showed up bright and early so Paulie pulled him aside, and asked, “Kid, are you crazy?”
“Let go of me, Uncle Paulie,” said Max as he struggled to straighten his collar after Paulie loosened his grip.
“I just worry about you kid. You’ve got no one to look out for you and Nick Santorino is the real deal.”
“Not to worry,” said Max casually, “It’s all under control. You see Nick is out of town on business.”
“And when he returns?”
“When he returns, we’ll be extra careful. I promise.”
“You don’t think anyone’s going to tell Nick that you taking his little sister around town?”
“She’s an adult now.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“Why do you always get this way when I fall in love, Uncle Paulie?”
“Because you kids – you think you know what love is and you don’t. “
“Uncle Paulie, it’s not like we just met. We’ve known each other through the years through the same circles. She’s a wonderful woman and I love her now.”
“She may be a wonderful woman, but she could also get you killed, Max! You fall in love with a girl if she so much as looks at you the right way. I know what it’s like to be young. I used to be young too, but being young is no excuse for being stupid, my boy.”
“Maybe I don’t have as many years under me as you do, but I know what love is. I could tell you her favorite song, her favorite movie. I could tell you she likes her drinks strong but not too strong. She’s a little insecure about her body, but she has the prettiest face that I could only dream of waking up to in the morning. Someday that dream will be a reality.”
“Max, the reality is that she’s not worth risking your life for beautiful as she may be. You’re risking your life to see her right now. Would she do the same for you?”
For several days, Paulie avoided talking further with Max about this issue. It was futile to argue with young love. Kids today do what they want and fall in love with whomever they want and most of the time no harm comes to them. Max had taken to serenading Mary every night after the restaurant closed until one day Nick Santorino barged in wearing a pinstripe suit and sporting a billy club.
“I hear you’ve been seeing my little sister,” called Nick as he stepped inside.
Max put down the guitar speechless.
“No, don’t you put down that guitar. Let me hear the song. I’ve been told you serenade her every night. Is that true, Mary?”
Mary spoke hesitantly, “Nick. . .”
“Answer the question!”
“Yes, Nick, but he’s just a kid and I swear it’s all innocent.”
“I want to hear ol’ Maxy boy here sing a song. What’s wrong with that? Come on sing to me Maxy and you better not make me ask again.”
Paulie could see Max shaking as he picked up the guitar and sat on the stool. From behind the bar, there was nothing Paulie could do. The days when he used to keep a pistol within arm’s reach were done. Anyone foolish enough to try to rob Angelo’s in this day in age would be an idiot who didn’t know what would be coming to them. Besides, even if the pistol had been there, Paulie couldn’t possibly risk the wrath of the Santorino family coming down on him. He’d be finished. Still, part of him wished that pistol had been there because he cared enough about Max that he might have risked it all if the opportunity had been just right.
Max began strumming and took a stale shot at playing, “My Baby Just Cares for Me” when Nick interrupted, “That’s not the song you were just playing for my sister.”
“Oh, well that’s just a different old tune just by Cole Porter,” said Max shaking a bit.
“Oh, so tell me Maxy what’s the song called?”
Paulie stood in silent paralysis as he watched the scene unfold.
Max stuttered with the sweat pouring down his brow. He quietly said, “Let’s Misbehave.”
Nick snarled a vicious smile, “Say that again, pal, and this time louder.”
“Let’s Misbehave,” said Max awkwardly.
“Sing it to me.”
Finally, Paulie spoke up, “I think the kid’s learned his lesson, Nick. He won’t see your sister anymore. I’ll vouch for him.”
“Shut up, old man!” shouted Nick from across the room as he angled his tense frame towards Max who sat shivering in his school. Nick’s face turned a bright red with a pronounced vein protruding from the side of his head.
Max picked up the instrument and began playing the song as was requested singing, “We’re all alone no chaperone could get our number / The world’s in slumber / Let’s misbehave.”
Paulie shut his eyes at the same time he heard the loud smack of the billy club across Max’s face. He couldn’t bare to watch as more thumps hurried in quick succession and he could hear Max writhing in pain while Mary pleaded with her brother to stop to no avail. Max suffered smack after smack and punch after punch once Nick had been done with the billy club. Finally, Nick grabbed the guitar and bashed Max over the head with it after spitting on the helpless bag of bones that was Max’s body on the floor. The restaurant emptied out and Paulie called the ambulance.
Day after day, Max begged Paulie to see Mary, but Mary never showed. Paulie saw that despite the beating, Max foolishly thought Mary would come to him the second she was free from her brother. When news arrived of Nick’s arrest in an armed robbery, Max had shouted in triumph, “Finally, Mary and I could be together!”
He phoned up Mary and had her come by the restaurant. Paulie could only make out fragments of their conversation here and there, but the gist of it could be understood once he heard Mary say, “Well, all you’ve got going for you is this lousy job. I deserve more, Max.”
Soon after he left, Paulie found Max quietly crying in the basement. He pulled Max close to him and embraced him. He said, “It’s alright Maxy. It’ll be okay.”
Max tearfully looked Paulie in the eye and said, “You were right about her.”
Paulie stood with his arm around Max and said, “You’ll know when you meet the one. The magic will be there just as it was for me and Angelina.” Max nodded with authentic resignation.
Days and weeks would pass while Max sullenly hummed the tune to “I’m Thru with Love” to himself. On previous occasions, Paulie would get fed up with such sentimental nonsense, yet this time Paulie found himself humming and even singing along thinking of his beautiful Angelina as she was when they first met back when the world was young. In fact the world had only stopped being young when she died a few years ago. He imagined that that had been because he had been in love. As he counted the cash to be prepared for the week’s payout, he briefly considered the thought that maybe in a world like this it was truly better for Max to be “through with love.” Then, he shook off the notion, gave into his own sentimentality, and thought that Max will indeed find love if it’s the last thing he does and even if it is the very last thing he does, it would be well worth it.