Intuition in Roaring Twenties New York City
“I don’t think you understand what I’m saying”, said Victor as they walked in the rain. “I know things and I have no idea why I know them.” The rain made his hair fall slightly over his left eye.
His friend Lawrence looked at Victor as he turned his collar up and saw the thoughtful look on his friend’s face. Victor was always the funny one of the two, but sometimes he just thought too much. It was the spring of 1921 and they walked past the newly opened Town Hall in New York City.
“It’s just too hard for me to wrap my mind around”, replied Lawrence. “Everything I know, I picked up somewhere. I don’t just know stuff out of nowhere.”
Victor had learned early on that people would not always get him. Still, in his twenties, he saw a friend in Lawrence and really wanted someone to understand him. Again, he didn’t know why. He just knew that someone had to get him.
This night, under the soft warm spring rain, they were headed towards a speakeasy. Both friends needed a drink and some company to celebrate the end of their workweek. Wearing their best suits and freshly cut hair, they expected luck.
Stepping inside, an Italian-looking man greeted the boys: “Welcome to my club. Enjoy yourselves. I’m Luciano.”
Victor, already looking around for company, replied uninterested without even making eye contact: “Victor.”
Lawrence tried to compensate for his friend's lack of manners. “Thank you mister Luciano.” He shook his hand and walked across the club to the bar.
“You can’t talk to Luciano like that”, said a worried Lawrence. “That’s Lucky.”
“That's not Lucky”, said Victor laughing at his friend's terror. Just to be sure, he peeked over Lawrence's shoulder and saw the impeccably dressed man talking to other well-dressed men. “Oh, that is Lucky Luciano.”
Lawrence smiled back: “I thought you knew things.”
They both laughed and Victor explained: “Most of the time, the things I know are not practical. I wish I knew stuff that actually helped me. Things that made us some money in this city.”
“Please tell me if you know.”
The club was big and packed. Even though it was full, the high ceiling still made it look like there was room for more people. There was smoke all around and people were dancing. Lights flashed to the rhythm of black music. The place was almost too big to be considered a speakeasy, but Lucky made sure his business wouldn’t be taken down by local authorities. Lucky had his means. He was persuasive. Not because he was a good conversationalist but because it was more practical to have him as a friend than as an enemy.
The twenties were a breath of fresh air for people who needed to express themselves. Growing tired of normalcy, a large group of young people decided to have more fun. They knew there should be more to life than just work and keeping up with the status quo.
Clubs opened the gates to freely express one's desires. Men and women both decided to let go of the restrictions imposed by society. Their clothing, music preference, openness, and style were a big statement of their values. Fashion slowly became less decorative and more functional. It allowed for more movement. It was about being free. Having agency. Being your own person.
Luciano’s club was the most popular place to be at this point. Its style, music, and audience attracted especially young ambitious people like Victor and Lawrence. People who came to the city to become somebody.
Victor took a sip of his prohibition rum while Lawrence lit up a cigarette and was staring at the girls dancing. There was a clear shift from the traditional female hourglass shape toward a more slim, boyish, and playful body type. Some women wore Chanel dresses that were designed to signal freedom. Others, who couldn’t afford those, wore dresses that were clearly bootlegs or otherwise resembled a Chanel dress.
“Are you going to talk to her or just stare until she asks for your hand in marriage?” Asked Victor taking another sip.
“That’s Neville dancing there with the brunette?” Asked Victor.
“Yeah, I think so. Just one year in from Barbados and he’s already feeling completely at home here.” Remarked Lawrence while taking a sip from Victor’s expensive drink to gain some courage.
Neville, at just sixteen, was a little younger than the two boys but somehow had an aura of a grown-up. He was an old soul and sometimes hung around with the boys. He usually had women around him because of his deep voice and his gift to tell stories that just kept you asking for more.
Victor said: “He will be giving lectures in Town Hall once he grows up.”
“How do you…”, Lawrence wanted to ask but he already knew the answer. Victor just knew. He trusted Victor’s premonition. Also, Neville was already well-spoken and taken seriously at a young age.
Lawrence walked towards Neville to greet his friend. On his way there, he kept staring at the girl who didn’t shy away from grabbing his hand and pulling him towards her. She smelled like something sweet. “Guess I’ll talk to Neville later”, thought Lawrence.
“Hi, I’m Lawrence. Pleased to meet you.”
“The girl you were staring at for fifteen minutes is called Jean. Nice to meet you. You like my dress?” They both laughed as they danced in the uptempo atmosphere. A lot of the ladies wore scarves on their heads. Everyone had their own style and used their newfound freedom to create an image that fits their personality. Jean had a scarf on her head that still showed her bangs. Behind her right ear, she wore a light blue flower.
Victor smiled from a distance. Lawrence didn’t know things like him, but he somehow just got his way every time. While looking at his friend, he didn’t notice Lucky Luciano approach him at the bar.
“Confidence is important”, said Lucky.
Victor turned around. He clearly but confidently apologized, “I’m sorry mister Luciano. I didn’t recognize you when we walked in.”
Lucky smiled at Victor and nodded at the man behind the bar. A drink was quickly placed before him. Lucky took a sip and placed a hand on Victor’s shoulder.
“Never apologize for having guts. Apologizing makes you look powerless.”
“I won’t. Thank you.” Victor smiled and steadied his posture as he was listening to Lucky. In his interactions, he always tried to level with whoever he was talking to.
“You boys still in school?”
Lucky was as charismatic as he was dangerous.
“School can’t teach me, sir. I want to make it in the city.”
Victor had some of Lucky’s character traits except for being dangerous. He was street smart but not dangerous.
“Ambitious?” Asked Lucky while slicking his somewhat wavy hair back.
“I have dreams. Building a company.”
“Sounds boring. Sounds like it will take you a long time.” Said Lucky. “You guys can have everything life offers, faster. You’re young and you boys carry yourselves as bosses. Most people around me lack that confidence. Insecure people become competition. Even if you were the one that helped them up. They can be on your team today and tomorrow they will look at you like you’re food.”
Victor didn’t know how to react. Lucky spoke with conviction and Victor just listened. He slightly adjusted the sleeve of his coat to align it with the button on the sleeve of his light-blue shirt. A little habit he had whenever he didn’t want to react and collect his thoughts.
“I‘m looking for go-getters who know who they are’”, said Lucky.
“I’m not looking for those kinds of opportunities.”
“If you paid attention, you noticed I wasn’t asking.”
Victor felt the pressure but loved the challenge. Fear wasn’t a factor. It was a reason to feel something. He’d rather feel pressure than not feel anything at all. In the smoke-filled club, he smiled at Lucky and then looked at Lawrence who was dancing and was completely oblivious of the whole interaction with Lucky.
“What’s in it for us?” Asked Victor, clearly including Lawrence in whatever Lucky was proposing.
“You even think as a team. I appreciate that in people.”
During the whole conversation, Victor just wanted to know what the meaning was. What was behind this interaction? What was there for Victor and Lawrence? He usually received some intuitive guidance to know what to do. Sometimes the guidance was right on time and practical. Sometimes it was vague.
Whenever inspiration would be vague, he decided to do nothing. He would just wait for the inspiration to become clearer. Only then would he move with solid intent.
Lucky was coming up as an influential mobster. Before this interaction, Victor wouldn’t have ever imagined discussing opportunities with the likes of Lucky Luciano. He wouldn’t have even considered taking on a role in Lucky’s enterprise. Somehow, something told him to allow the interaction to unfold by itself. If it wasn’t his inspiration that kept him attentive to Lucky’s words, it was definitely Lucky’s reputation as a dangerous man that kept him listening.
“My friend and I are nobodies at this point. There’s nothing we can do for you now.” Victor tried to get Lucky to open up more by acting incapable.
“That man over there. With the brown suit.” Lucky pointed his drink towards someone.
Victor looked at a man who was standing tall and laughing loudly with some other men. The tall man looked powerful.
“He’s strong now and has gained a lot of respect. A big following even. But the problem is that he thinks he is somebody. It’s what makes him vulnerable. You consider yourself a nobody. That makes you powerful. He will lose one day. The same day that you boys will come up.”
Victor nodded and smiled at Lucky. Flattery never worked on Victor. Money did. As a young man, he felt that wealth was the first thing he needed to become someone in New York City. That opportunity now fell onto his lap. He just didn’t know how to connect the dots. Victor aspired to become a successful realtor and then an owner of an advertisement company. He was smart enough and inspired enough to come up with creative marketing campaigns. If there was a place that could make those dreams come true, it was the city they were partying in right now.
It was this city where mob figures made their names. It was this place where entertainers came to become famous. It was here where bootleggers risked everything to hustle and get rich quickly. It was also here where all hard-earned money was spent faster than it was earned. Victor and Lawrence had never considered an endeavor outside of a legal profession. Yet, here in New York City, Victor was talking to Lucky Luciano. The Lucky Luciano.
Every nerve in Victor's body said not to consider the proposal. His logic and his senses told him not to come to this place ever again. But something inside him knew that it was ok. He ignored his common sense and overrode his vigilance. He went with the deep feeling of knowing he had always felt inside. At this point, he had no clue where it would lead him. He just knew it was something he should consider. He knew he should keep his contact with Lucky. He would let it all unfold by itself. Victor was a sincere guy and Lucky was an upcoming mob boss. It was an uncommon meeting of characters. But there was something. Victor never ignored something.
“You guys get back here tomorrow evening. No strings attached. Just have a good time and from now drinks will be on me. Impress your lady friends and try to become somebody.”
Victor wanted to say no, but he knew he would be back tomorrow. He noticed the fight within himself. However, he looked at the fight from a distance. As if two entities outside of himself fought each other. He looked at it and didn’t react. He let life tell him where to go. At this point, life took him to this club. He took the last sip of his rum. As the lights were flashing wildly and the music played loudly, Victor extended his hand to Lucky.
“We’ll be here tomorrow, sir.”
As if things couldn’t get any weirder, Lucky shook Victor’s hand, slowly lit up a cigarette, and replied with the words that Victor always used.