I am Italian. When you think of Italians, what is the one stereotype that enters everybody’s mind? That we are all in the mob. Well I could tell you if that were the case, the mob would be pretty damn crowded and pretty freaking powerful. I do contend this though, if you are Italian and you live in one of the boroughs of New York City, then there is a chance you know somebody or are related to somebody who has had dealings with organized crime. I know I sure have.
My Mafia pedigree starts at the very beginning of La Cosa Nostra. As a kid growing up my grandfather would tell me tales of his uncle, a man named Joe Adonis. If you have never heard the name, Adonis was one of the founders of The National Crime Syndicate (the precursor to Cosa Nostra.) The man’s list of misdeeds is long and distinguished. Eventually deported along with his close friend Luck Luciano, Adonis lived a life of luxury in Milan but died of a heart attack when he was taken by Italian police for an interrogation. My grandfather would regale me with tales of how his family led by his uncle Joey A ran Brooklyn, even roughing up Al Capone during his Brooklyn days. Now as a kid I fell in love with these stories. But as an adult I am not sure how involved in the mob my grandfather was, but I still have fond memories of the stories. I know that he was not lying about his relation to Adonis though.
As I grew up on the South Shore of Staten Island I began to notice more and more mob influence. There was the guy who lived down the street who spent every sunny day washing his Coupe De’Ville. Yes there was a red plastic horn and Vanillaroma air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror. That car was MINT!. The guy wore track suits with wife beaters under them. The outfit was finished with loafers and gold chains with a big gold Christ’s Head on the end. The guy never went to a job like everybody else on my street, and his house was the only one I had ever seen that had its own security cameras.
High school saw headlines like Godfather whacked outside Sparks steakhouse. “Hey his name was Castellano. I wonder if he was related to that guy in my math class who lives in a mansion on Todt Hill and has his own tennis court. Hey where is that guy who was in my math class, he hasn’t been in school since that Don guy was shot?” Another incident involved a body being found in the basement of Paul’s Sweet Shop in New Dorp. “Didn’t my friend Franks parents own that place?” The body was a of a man who took was reported to have shot at John Gotti on a Queen’s street. There was an investigation and the police were looking for another guy who was in my English class sophomore year. The same guy who’s father was alleged to own The infamous Ravenite Social Club. It was the same guy who accused me of disrespecting him after I called him out in a bar for punching a girl in the bathroom because she wouldn’t blow him. It was the same guy who would get 3 to 10 and have to pay back $14.1 million for a real estate scam that had he and his (biological) family members selling properties they really didn’t own. Real stand up guy huh?
On Staten Island, the mob was everywhere. I’d get calls from my cousin telling me he had just come from a BBQ on Lambert’s Lane. He was in the backyard of a guy named Sammy The Bull. He described it as sick and also told me that he was told not to eat all the smoked mozzarella as Mr. Gravano would get pissed. Time eventually told what would happen when Sammy The Bull got pissed. My cousin wasn’t a gangster, he was a stock broker; but he followed the mob like I followed The Giants. If there were an Alphonse Persico trading card he would have surely had it.
When I left Shaolin, I moved to the other mob haven, Howard Beach Queens. It wasn’t planned, but sometimes life lays a path for you. While I was there, I made friends with a woman. She would tell me it probably wasn’t best to talk to her if I was a cop, that her family was pretty well known and not for good things. Now in my life I had known people who talked up their families and this woman would not reveal who her family was. I had no evidence of her O.C. (that’s Organized Crime and not Orange County)connection. She had an Irish last name so I knew she wasn’t one of the Gottis. Eventually she revealed to me that there was a character in a movie based on her father. I’m not going to say which one but let’s just say I used to wonder if money from a heist of a certain German airline was still in her house. Still can’t figure it out…Jeeze, just IMDB Robert DeNiro.
Last week I was talking to my friend Joaquin “Jack” Garcia. Jack’s a big guy 6’4″ 390lbs but he’s one of the nicest, most likeable humble people you will meet. We were comparing notes about gangsters we knew in common. Haven’t heard of Jack? He was born in Cuba and since coming to this country he has become a New York Times bestselling author, and Benicio DelToro has signed on the play him in a movie. Not sure how they will handle the size difference things. He also has his own show on www.shovio.com with New York radio legend Valerie Smaldone. Oh and by the way, Jack also has the distinction of the only FBI agent to ever be offered to be a made man. Silly gangsters, Jack’s not even Italian. You might be saying well Joe Pistone did the same thing as Donnie Brasco, but the truth was (and not by any means am I diminishing what Pistone did) they were expecting it now making Jack’s job even harder.
Having grown up with the mob’s influence around me never really tempted me to enter that life. I had what I considered a healthy admiration, but never an envy. Gangsters to me were kind of like characters in fiction. They weren’t real people. They existed in real life, but their lives were not real. They did things that were bad, horrible even. They violated commandments and laws. Maybe my sense of morality was too strong? Maybe it was that when I played cops and robbers I always chose the cop? Maybe my family connection to law enforcement was too strong?
To look at the family I consider the opposite of my own I looked at the 60 Minutes interview of John Gotti Jr. that took place last Sunday. I viewed the video with the intention of hating Junior. He’s a notorious asshole and his claims that he’s left the mob behind were about as believable to me as The Octomom’s saying she just wants to be a normal mom. But while watching something struck a chord with me. He was talking about how he idolized his father and how he wanted to live up to the legend that was his dad. Now my father did not make headlines like John Gotti Sr. did, but there was more than one occasion that I would see my father ride up on horseback. His NYPD Mounted Unit uniform absolutely perfect. His leather good polished with a shine that would rival shoes polished by Tommy DeVito. His gold sergeant’s chevrons and gold band on his helmet stood out from the rest of his troops. He was just a sergeant at the time, but to a twelve year old kid, he might as well been a general. When you turn on the television and your father is leading the St. Patrick’s Day Parade down 5th Avenue and you’re not the least bit Irish, it sets a pretty lofty goal to reach.
I did identify with Junior a bit, but there is no way I can let him off the hook. He blames his choice of careers on the fact that he grew up in Howard Beach and that was the way the streets were. Really Junior? The streets of Howard Beach? The streets of Howard Beach are some of the quietest in the whole city. It’s also one of the first neighborhoods plowed when the snow hits the ground. Howard Beach might be really close to East New York, but geography is the only similarity those two neighborhoods share. Any turmoil in that neighborhood was caused by punks like you and Fat Nick Minucci. The neighborhood is not without its charm though. New Park Pizzeria (or Last Stop Pizzeria as I like to call it for its role in the 1986 racially motivated homicide) makes an awesome slice, one of the best I ever had.
Junior and pretty much all gangsters share one trait in common, they are all sociopaths. The chemistry of their brains allow them to do what normal people are not able to do, act as if heinous actions against others are okay, just because it’s their own will. It doesn’t matter what color you are either. Crip or Blood, Latin King, or MS-13, they’re all sociopaths and all cowards as well. it doesn’t take much to run with a crew of twenty knuckleheads who have the same mindset. Try walking on your own some time. The fact of the matter is the only people these entities provide protection to their members only from themselves.
I have to admit I find it disturbing when people let young men in urban areas off the hook for their actions. I often hear that dealing drugs and gangs are the only way out of the ghetto. It’s the only way they will make money, that’s why they join. Yeah well Italians have the same option but the overwhelming majority don’t follow in that path. What happened to hard work? What happened to find out what you are good at and exploiting that to the fullest? That’s how you make money, not by swearing an oath of loyalty and having your finger pricked, not by putting on a certain color bandana. That’s what I believe and that’s what I will tell my son should he ever seek an career in unethical pursuits. Gangstas and gangsters cost the good people of New York and the U.S. billions of dollars every year. Whether it’s for the salary of extra beat cop who has to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue because of increased shootings, or all the money that is paid in extortion at business who have to pass the cost on to you, or it could be for the extra money that is built into construction and waste removal by somebody who’s picture in on a blackboard in a government biulding with the word CAPO above it; it’s not about black or white it’s about green.
Well that’s it. I am done with my underworld name dropping. The reality is that I am not proud to know any of those people with the exception of Jack. The man has heart and balls bigger than most of us can only imagine. And if you take nothing else from this entry…don’t join a gang or the mafia.
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