I can imagine my dad’s excitement leaving gritty Newark behind him and hitting the highway in his old Studebaker bound for paradise . . . Miami Beach. I can see the bathing suit postcards guiding his way and hear the ocean calling his name: M-I-L-T-O-N B-R-A-N-D, come on down!
The year was 1948 and young Milton was not welcome everywhere down here. He saw signs that said, “No Dogs Or Jews Allowed,” and got polite rejections in places that had no signs.
That didn’t deter my dad. There was enough to tantalize him in places he could go to: the racetrack, the beach, a few fine restaurants and hotels and the “after-hours” clubs my dad discovered in his meanderings through Miami’s nightlife.
It was in the portals of these watering holes that my dad’s future was carved out. Through the force of his larger-than-life personality, he made friends everywhere. A year after he arrived, he opened a bar and store-fixture business.
In his flush years my dad had many friends among the cities’ business leaders, politicians and entertainers. And he was familiar to a subculture of characters he knew from his gambling and nighttime cavorts: touts, bookies, loan sharks, party girls and of course, “tough guys.”
They all called him “Big Milt” or “Milty Boy.” He would regularly pick up the tab and dole out $20 tips. He got front row seats at the Fontainebleau and the fights and his car curbed everywhere. His name somehow jumped to the top of the page at the toniest restaurants.
Like Miami’s story, my dad’s had its share of pathos. He had a fall from grace for a while, lost his hold on the glamour life and was forsaken by many of the “fair-weather” variety. But like Miami, there was a depth of charm and character in my father that no rising and falling tides could wash away.
My dad’s last years were spent in an efficiency apartment off West End Avenue that he called his “pad.” “Big Milt” was well over what he’d lost in life and very much focused on what he had: a son and daughter and their spouses who adored him, grandkids, nieces and nephews, a job he enjoyed a few days a week, the track on weekends, his beloved Chevy (“White Beauty”) and friends everywhere he went.
My dad had nicknames for all. One of the names he especially liked was “Dr. Brown.” This is the name he always used at Joe’s Stone Crab. Some, even famous or brandishing large bills, have been told they have to wait. But anyone who accompanied “Dr. Brown” will attest to the fact that after greeting the maitre’d and being told to wait in the bar, within five to 10 minutes “Dr. Brown” was summoned to his table. Invariably, when someone in the party would marvel at the quick seating, my father would say, “You have to have the ‘Dr. Brown’ attitude.”
My brother and I jazzed up dad’s pad the week he was in the hospital knowing he would never want to spend his terminal days anywhere else. He told us he was thoroughly enjoying his “abode” and that hospice sent him only “the good-looking” nurses, as he had requested.
When he could, he sat in “White Beauty” and listened to the radio. He had visits galore and enough goodies to open a bakery. I have photos of him gaunt, but smiling from ear to ear with grandkids piled up in the bed with him.
Miami came to him in the night and he was gone with the place he loved so much. It didn’t matter what had been lost or changed. Always, his endearing spirit remains.