Leon Panetta, Osama bin Laden, Ted Balestreri, Underpants and Prawns
March 15, 2012
Two of the more powerful men that you'll meet were messing with one another in front of a couple hundred other folks.
This wasn't a discussion on which way to rub the antlers at the Moose Club, though, but a back-and-forth in front of a decorated, mixed assembly at 20th annual Ted Balestreri National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation dinner at Spanish Bay last Friday.
While elite power-brokers looked on over butter-poached lobster, filet mignon and jumbo prawns (pictured above), their ribbing somehow found its way to the topic of men wearing pants without drawls underneath.
Here's how it went: Ted Balestreri, a partner in Sardine Factory who raised that fertile seed into a Cannery Row Company real estate dynasty that today owns a big fat chunk of New Monterey, was teasing Dick Marriott (yes, that Marriott) about showing up to the exclusive Monterey Peninsula Country Club in shorts, a clear no-no.
After he was asked to change, Marriott retreated to the parking lot to change.
"He dropped his pants right there," Balestreri said.
"Good thing I'm not Italian," Marriott retorted. "I had some underpants on."
From there the two only rumbled on. As Marriott commanded the mike he told a joke that had even Balestreri shaking his head.
The accelerated version goes a little something like this:
A man shows up to a rural, traditionally Democratic region, the only Republican to ever campaign there. Seeing no stage, he mounts a pile of bovine you-know-what. "That's the first Republican speech I've ever heard," says an onlooker after the speech. "That's the first Republican speech I've given," the politician says, "from a Democratic platform."
Balestreri had his own series of zingers—but before we touch upon that, there was more underwear insight.
Ed Marinaro, former football-player-turned-star of Hill Street Blues, spoke long enough to implicitly (and explicitly) endorse both concussion-causing violence in football ("We like violent stuff, or we'd be watching more soccer") and less boxers ("You gotta try going au natural, Dick, it'll change your life").
Now back to Balestreri's thoughts:
• "It's easy to raise money for a good cause when there's people like this in the room…Everybody's a celebrity here. [One guest] came up to me and gave me $5,000 before the bidding. I gave it back and said it wasn't enough." (He was kidding.)
• "This guy's a CEO, so you have to explain slow."
• "I'm down at Marriott's golf club. This guy owns 230 hotels, and he can't keep the gnats from eating me alive?" Later he bid $1,500 to not have to attend Marriott's reputable Richard E. Marriott Golf Invitational.
• Soon he was introducing U.S. Secretary of Defense and longtime friend Leon Panetta. "What can I tell you about a guy who can't keep a job?" he asked. "I've seen him trying to drive a walnut tractor, then he's back to be chief of staff [for President Bill Clinton], then back at walnut farm, then running the CIA. Cloak and dagger…I told him, 'More like knife and fork.'"
• "Those CIA badges, the secretary of defense credentials," he told Panetta as he gave him a plaque from the National Restaurant Association, "food service is what you need. When you really need a reservation, this is the only thing that'll help you."
• "Leon started in the restaurant industry. He liked it so much he swore he'd get a government job. Now he's secretary of defense with the largest budget and 2 million military…and he didn't finish his dinner."
Then Panetta had this:
• "You know, Ted bleeds when he has to give something up. He happened to be bragging about his wines, saying I'll open up this [$10,000 bottle of 1870 Chateau Lafite-Rosthchild] 'when Panetta gets [Osama] bin Laden.' I said, 'You're on, Ted.' He didn't think anything about it, and I have to be truthful: At that moment I had some information. Later I told my [assistant] to call Ted and tell him he owes me a bottle…and he said, 'Son of a bitch set me up.'"
• “My parents had a restaurant in Monterey. I washed dishes. My parents believed child labor is required.”
• "I was at a Congressman's dinner in New Jersey and one of them was telling me I had done it the New Jersey way: 'Put a bullet in his head. Put him in a bag. Dump him in the ocean.' And Dick, that's with or without underpants."