Gay Talese was getting ready to pack when a telephone call interrupted him.
His longtime friend, the mobster Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, had just died of a heart attack in Tucson on Jan. 1. He needed to pack; his flight would be leaving New York soon.
So he didn’t have time to talk to me, a student reporter. Even as I begged him to give me a few minutes for an interview, the sound of another telephone could be heard ringing in the background.
But finally, we talked.
Well, sort of.
He talked; I listened. And then he hung up the phone before I could tell him that I would be at the funeral, too.
The next time I saw him, he was leaving SS. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church. He wore a blue pinstriped suit, a crimson-red handkerchief and a fedora. I walked up to him to introduce myself, but it took me a few seconds to get his attention because he was chatting with another man. He remembered me, but said he didn’t have time to talk.
So he shouted, “Call me at the Sheraton in Tucson,” then disappeared into a car.
But there was no time to call him because The New York Times called me. They wanted Bonanno’s story to run in the paper.
Tomorrow. My story. In The New York Times.
I felt so good after writing. It was unbelievable. I was going to have a byline in The Times.
Foolishly, I thought Talese would be willing to talk, so I searched for his hotel. The good news: there were only two Sheratons in Tucson. The bad news: the phone would never ring when I called him at his hotel with the tape recorder on.
It took almost an hour before I finally got through, and Talese remained the elusive interview.
“I have to go in five minutes. Can we talk tomorrow?” he asked.
Apparently, third time wasn’t the charm with him.The next day was different, but not in the way I could have expected.
The tape recorder didn’t work, again. He didn’t answer at the time we had scheduled our interview. And he said I had made a mistake in my Times article. It said that he had collaborated with Bonanno on the book “Honor Thy Father.”
“I don’t collaborate,” he said.
I thanked him for pointing out the mistake and for reading the article. I understood where he was coming from; good journalists think for themselves and are responsible for their own work.
And then came the most surprising thing of the entire week: he complimented me. He had liked the details in my story, especially the quotes included from Bonanno’s children that no other newspaper got. It felt as if he’d recognized me as a journalist.
And finally, after I had chased this man for a week, he said the magic words: Ask me anything you want.
— Yolanne Almanzar