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Punch line fails, but Oscar Goodman’s downtown dinner is a winner

Updated June 10, 2021 - 5:07 pm

Oscar Goodman took his dinner series crowd on a cruise down Fremont Street during his appearance at the Plaza on Wednesday night.

The journey turned into a spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

With such dignitaries as Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Raiders owner Mark Davis and Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top in the room, Goodman embarked on a tale from decades ago that involved Ruby Goldstein, a “wise guy gambler” and buddy of Lefty Rosenthal. Goldstein was forever accused of illegal sports betting and bookmaking.

Ruby also had a speech disorder (a stutter, or stammer) and was known as “R-5,” because he always pleaded the Fifth.

In his days as a defense attorney, Goodman repped Goldstein (naturally), who was under investigation by the Los Angeles Strike Force, a multi-agency team of federal, state, and local investigators. Dick Crane headed up the Strike Force. Crane was otherwise noteworthy as a member of the Crane Plumbing family.

Gentlemen are familiar with the “Crane” logo stamped on urinals, for instance.

So, Crane was taking time away from his duties to tend to his ill mother in Connecticut. Somehow, Goodman had learned of Crane’s family crisis before Crane took his trip back east. Goodman offered the law enforcement official a deal, saying “I’ll call a truce, this weekend, if you don’t raid any of my clients, and I won’t pull any shenanigans. Then you can go back to Connecticut to be with your sick mother.”

Crane agreed to that, in Goodman’s recounting. The Goodman family then planned its own trip, to Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley. It was ungodly hot during that drive, with the entire Goodman family — parents and four kids — crammed into a station wagon, or a suburban. Goodman could not remember which. But he did recall, while accelerating through the story, “It was 125 degrees and we had four rotten, stinking unbelievably bad children in the back.”

The clan didn’t make it to Scotty’s Castle.

“We got to, I guess, Pahrump,” Goodman said. He actually spun the station wagon/suburban around, and drove back to Vegas.

The phone in the family home was ringing. It was Ruby, in a panic, having been arrested by Crane and his agents.

Everybody was busted, Ruby told Goodman, through his speech disorder. Goodman of course was furious at the turn of events.

“Crane was there, and I said, ‘After I had my deal? You dirty rotten — I’m going to bury you!’” Goodman said. That statement actually went to a grand jury, as Goodman was accused of threatening to murder a federal officer.

“When I said I would bury him, I meant in court,” Goodman said. “I couldn’t believe what he was doing.” The accusation against Goodman went nowhere with that grand jury, as he aptly said, “They flushed it down the toilet.”

All of this led to the culmination of Goodman’s story, and the entire dinner presentation.

“The whole thing was beautiful because Ruby, when he was being booked, he was put against a white background, and all these serious FBI agents were there with their cameras and their notebooks,” Goodman said, setting up the crescendo of this careening trip down memory lane. “And Ruby looks at them and says, ‘But, but officers! I didn’t even know the girl!’”

What followed was dead silence. Even the crickets stopped chirping.

Several seconds passed, with those around the room looking at each other, and someone called, “It requires a little more setup, Oscar!”

That got a laugh from everyone but Goodman. During the Q&A that followed, a voice from from the crowd asked, “So, was there a girl?”

“NO!” Goodman answered. “I mean, there are some dumb people here! I was saying that Ruby was being arrested for gambling violations. They were taking his picture, and he said, ‘I don’t even know the girl!’”

Plaza owner Johnathan Jossel, seated next to Davis (who also wasn’t getting this punch line) said, “It didn’t work the second time, either.”

The joke’s bombing was funny on its own, even the next day. Goodman said during a phone chat Thursday, “There were a bunch of squares there!” Goodman also jabbed at Davis for showing up during the talk, saying, “Everyone should be late to the first Raiders game at Allegiant Stadium!”

The owner laughed it off, and later mentioned he’d not met Gibbons. That happened, too, as the night wound on. Don’t be surprised to see the ZZ Top front man performing, somehow, at a Raiders game.

Dapper at dinner

Remarkably, Wednesday was the first time I’d met developer J Dapper, whose company owns historic Huntridge Theater. The native Las Vegan is eager to see the place reanimated, obviously, and says the amount of support he’s received since closing on the property on March 31 has been remarkable.

So has the work on the venue, which is being cleaned, renovated and prepped for activity in about three years. The folks at the new SoHo Playhouse of Las Vegas are planning to bring performances to the theater in the fall of 2023, with Dapper making the venue available for original productions and concerts.

In the interim, Dapper has turned us on to @thehuntridgelv Instagram page. It’s loaded with terrific, vintage photos, including a shot of Tony Hawk nearly upside-down on a skateboard on a half-pipe during a show in the mid-1990s. Also posted is the Huntridge marquee for Foo Fighters with “OTHER STAR PEOPLE” from Sept. 18, 1997. Maybe Dave Grohl and the band can be convinced to perform at the reopening. Just a thought, but it is a good one.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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