Along with Lynn Atherton, Ronnie Bardwell and one or two other male students from Bryan Adams High School, I attended numerous basketball games at SMU’s Moody Coliseum in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 seasons. Slightly less than half of them featured the Mustangs (Gene Philips averaged a whopping 26 ppg) of the Southwest Conference, and the rest were given over to the team we loved even more—the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA. Ah, the Chaps! Whether they were playing the Denver Rockets, the Washington Caps, the New Orleans Bucs, the Kentucky Colonels or whoever, we were there. We roared, booed, engaged in juvenile histrionics and made a nuisance of ourselves. The game over, we walked outside and decompressed. We got into the car, often Lynn’s Ford Mustang 2+2, left Highland Park and headed east on Mockingbird Lane toward our various homes in Lake Highlands.
First, however, we stopped for food and non-alcoholic libations at Campisi’s Egyptian Lounge, since renamed Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant. I have to credit Lynn for this. We didn’t go to no stinking McDonalds or Burger King or Pizza Hut, uh-uh. Perhaps we were the most incongruous of customers, but they never turned us away. Of course, there was always a waiting list. Me, Lynn, et al. were given a table from which we ordered one of Campisi’s succulent pizzas and soft drinks. It was dark, candle-lit and had a slightly ominous vibe. There were some back rooms, the interiors of which, needless to say, we never saw.
Campisi’s opened in 1946, just across the street from the huge Dr Pepper plant. Its reputation for having links to organized crime is somewhat unfair. An Italian-American family runs a restaurant, and they are automatically assumed to be taking orders from the Mafia? Hardly. And although Dallas has never lacked criminals, gamblers, gun-runners or underhanded businessmen, it’s really not a mobbed-up city. Compared to Chicago, Detroit, New York or Boston, it’s clean and untainted. The other shoe will now drop. We did have some Mafia people in Dallas then, and I surmise there are more now with the passage of 4 1/2 decades.
Some of the customers at Campisi’s were a bit shady. We heard that you could place bets at the bar and that ex-cons worked in the kitchen and as dishwashers. One of the founders, Joseph Campisi, was almost certainly involved with the Mafia to some extent. Hey, he had to maintain good relations with liquor suppliers, labor and city officials, right? Campisi and his sons—it’s now run by a fourth generation of Campisis—were flexible, you understand. He did not deny being a golfing buddy and racetrack friend of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. “The Little Man,” as he was known, had been hounded by the government for racketeering and other sins, and was once briefly exiled to Guatemala. Marcello was implicated (on a rather flimsy basis, in my view) in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963. A book published in 2013 called him the "mastermind." Jack Ruby was a regular at Campisi’s Egyptian Lounge; in fact, he ate there the day before Lee Harvey Oswald used his Mannlicher-Carcano with bad intent from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Eight days later, as Ruby sat in the Dallas County Jail, charged with Oswald's murder, he requested a visit from Campisi. He obliged, paying a 10-minute courtesy call. To some people, these facts are blatant evidence of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and then hush it up. While I am not one to close my eyes, I think they amount to no more than coincidence.
The restaurant got more unfavorable publicity on July 7, 1991. This pertains not to basketball, but baseball. After the Texas Rangers had beaten the California Angels 7-0 at Arlington Stadium, two of the umpires, Steve Palermo and Rich Garcia, went to Campisi’s. Their meal was interrupted by noise outside as two waitresses were being mugged in the parking lot. Palermo rushed to their assistance and was shot, a bullet lodged in his spine. It did not kill him, but he was paralyzed from the waist down. Palermo’s death two days ago is what spurred me to write this piece.