Suddenly, early last year, the word was out on the street: Marty was back in action. He simply walked across 96th Street, from the north side to the south side and descended into a remarkably similar sunken chamber beneath a supermarket. He turned on the lights—"Ah, the old fluorescent glow felt good," he says—set up his tables and within a few hours, plickety-plock-plick, the place was swinging.
To reclaim the class players, most of whom had become fixtures at a club of rival stature on West 73rd Street or at a new spot on West 56th, Reisman dusted off his trusty Hock Special and announced that he would take on all comers for as long as will and wallet survived. Dodge City was never more wide open; there were midnight raids, ambushes at dawn and shoot-outs that lasted 18 hours or more. And when the smoke cleared the old Master was still standing, 73rd Street had become a drug rehabilitation center and 56th Street had sold its tables—to Reisman.
Reassuringly, Reisman's II is Reisman's I all over again. Oh, there is a window that extends above street level but not so intrusively as to dispel the old subterranean feel. The trappings are the same right down to the waste can that catches the drippings from the overhead pipes. The walls are adorned with the same faded blowups: Marty and Pope Pius XII, Marty relaxing in front of a pagoda in Hanoi, Marty on a camel before the great Sphinx of Egypt. And the undercover peddlers are not only back in force, but they also have a hot new specialty item hidden under their coats, cut-rate jars of Maxwell House coffee.
Chinese waiters still battle math professors. Richard Holman, editor and publisher of the
Wall Street Transcript, is still trying to master the loop drive. And there is still the impressive array of talent, ranging from fiftyish Leah (Ping) Neuberger, a former world mixed doubles champion, to top-rated whizzes like Roger Sverdlik and David Philip, a recent intercollegiate champion.
And of course there is Marty, wheeling, dealing, devilish Marty. No host is more accommodating. What's your pleasure? Depending on your skills—and bankroll—he will play you straight or sitting in a chair. He aims to tease. Casting aside his Hock Special, he will play you with a trash-can lid, a book, a Coke bottle, a light bulb, his horn-rims, his shoe, your shoe—anything that is handy. One skeptic with $500 to burn did not believe there was a man alive who could beat him playing with that electrical conduit cover lying over there. He was wrong.
If Ping-Pong palls, there is always gin, poker, chess, backgammon, Scrabble. You name it and Reisman will produce one of the house specialists, killer sharks all. Arm wrestling has been temporarily suspended because the resident crusher is on a leave of absence necessitated by a three-year prison sentence for bank robbery.
Note to aspiring challengers: the minimum required to get Reisman's "adrenaline flowing" is $100. (Also, beware the coin-tossing dodge. This is not merely the usual and primitive up-against-the-wall stuff. Reisman and crew throw their coins whole blocks, from manhole cover to manhole cover on Broadway between 96th and 97th.) If you are lucky, Reisman will do some of his exhibition routines, like standing a cigarette on end at the far side of the table and then blithely breaking it in two with a forehand smash.
That is a number Reisman perfected while touring with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1949-50 as a halftime attraction. Sergio Osmena Jr., the governor of the island of Cebu in the Philippines, was not aware of Reisman's trick skills when he invited him to his estate for a series of friendly money matches. Otherwise he surely would not have agreed to a divertissement in which the only way Reisman could score was by knocking off a matchbox set up on the governor's side of the table. Compared to the cigarette the matchbox was as vulnerable as J. Arthur Rank's gong, and in no time Reisman rang up a $3,500 lead.
Then Reisman learned a lesson about greed. During a break for a snack of dried monkey meat, one of the governor's aides drew Reisman aside and suggested that, ahem, it might be better for international relations if the host's sporting nature was not taxed to the extreme. Reisman agreed and discreetly threw a few games without endangering his $3,500 bundle.
Afterward, Reisman recalls, "Sergio was almost happy and insisted that I return. Which I did, several times. Take a little, leave a little, I always say. It makes for a longer life and some good long-term investments, too."