Friday, September 28, 2007

Video Of The Week David Coverdale/Adrian Vandenberg Soldier Of Fortune

Whitesnake was always more known for their Jaguars and Tawny Kitean, but at their heart, blues rock kept them grounded as one of the most respected bands with their peers. Here's an example as to why.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hudson County

When I first started this blog, I wanted to write this piece as a way for other's to see what "mob life" is like from a close to the source, "just-outside" point of view. After some legal consult, I've decided to write this piece under the guise of "partial fiction". Some names and places will be altered for preservation's sake. Other events that were made public at the time they occurred, will be written in full detail as I saw them personally. So let's begin. Grab a plate of squingili marina, a good bottle of vino and enjoy. Fake Jersey accents not included.

My first experience with the "underground" lifestyle of La Cosa Nostra came in the early 70's as a kid when my dad worked for a "family" run towing company out of Jersey City, NJ. If you watch the Sopranos, and know the intro song and opening, the metal bridge Tony drives over early on, is the Pulaski Skyway and the towing company sit's right underneath that, still to this day, on the Jersey City/Newark border. My dad worked nights usually, and would always stumble on stuff that "fell" off a truck. Whether it was 1000's of Matchbox Cars by the box, women's purses, cases and cases of Pop Tarts and General Mills Cereals, frozen steaks and shrimp & early day VCR's, our apartment was always filled with some sort of new items that us and our family and friends enjoyed with no attachments.

The *Dentene Brothers*, two big, bulky Italians (5' 10" 290lb approx.), ran their operation with a small group of drivers and much secrecy about their whereabouts throughout the workday. I would go with my dad in the summers when school was out and I always noticed two things when we where in the yard, the brothers were not to be fucked with and they always seemed to be in a "meeting". My dad got along with them and was always the driver they would call when they needed something "special" to be moved. On a few occasions, we were invited to their kid's birthday birthday parties and they had the most expensive toys, ponies, full bands, etc. They did it big. I'm sure my dad knew more than he ever let on, and as a 7 or 8 year old, he probably didn't want to cloud my young mind with info that would overwhelm me. This was a situation he found himself in for years to come.

After the *Dentene's* had to take a "trip" for a few years, my father located a position as a "maintenance specialist" out of Hoboken, NJ. Ponte Brothers had a huge garbage collection business that controlled most of North Jersey and part of the Lower East Side of NY. After working there about a year, my dad decided that he didn't want to stick around the "garbage" that much longer and decided to use his video camera (the size of a typewriter and probably weighed 20 lbs) to open his own video production company. It took a while for him to get it off the ground and although it never took off, he did some nice jobs, including one of the Ponte's daughters in a lavish Italian wedding. I attended the wedding with my dad to help him move lights, keep cords out of the way, etc. I was about 12 at the time and I couldn't believe the spread that was laid out for the guests. It all took place at Ponte's Restaurant in the NYC, and the food was unreal. Prime Rib, bowls and bowls of boiled shrimp, trays of dozens and dozens of baked-stuffed lobster tails. It was crazy. My dad wanted to give them a good deal since they were his employer and I think he was going to charge them $250.00. They wound up giving him $2000.00! All they asked is that they got all the taped materials and that he never told anyone anything about the ceremony, the guests, whatever. Crazy shit. Needless to say, my dad kept quiet.

He stuck around the Ponte yards for a little longer, but then walked into a job with the Maislin Corporation, a huge trucking company, that fell under the jurisdiction of Teamsters Local 560, which used to be the stomping grounds of one James Hoffa and was at that time run by notorious mafiosa, Anthony "Tony Pro" Provensana. "Tony Pro" was probably in his late 60's/early 70's at this point, so he may not have been as imposing physically as he once was but he carried a "legendary" history of criminal activity. The best story I could tell from this time was my dad telling me of a Teamsters meeting that took place in Newark, NJ at a convention hall and "Tony Pro" was speaking about the rise in union dues and the cutting of health benefits. My dad said in a room of about 600 other Teamsters workers, he was the only one who stood and raised his voice in protest when Tony asked if anyone had questions. My dad said it was something along the lines of "what the fuck are we supposed to do without benefits and were still giving YOU more?" The room stayed silent, "Tony Pro" just kind of looked at home and shrugged his shoulders and he ended the meeting moments later. As my dad was getting up to leave, one of Tony's "guys" came up to my father and said "Mr. Provenzano would like a word with you". My dad kind of had no choice and he was walked over to the side of the stage where Tony was and my dad said all Tony said to him was "you got alot of balls. I like you. Give me your union number" My dad did. A couple of weeks later, my dad got something like a 33% raise in his salary, never to be questioned or brought up again. Scary crazy.

The other connection I had was through my grandfather, on my mom's side, who lived in Hoboken, NJ. Hoboken's biggest claim to fame is that it was the town where Frank Sinatra was born and grew up in. On an eerie coincidence, my mom lived in Frank's first home some years later at the time of her birth. That house was revered like it was the residence of Jesus Christ. Even to this day, there is a star built into the sidewalk commemorating "old blue eyes" time spent there. My grandfather was full-blooded Italian, straight from the other side, from the Mt. Saint Gacomo region of Naples. He has lived in Hoboken for almost 80 years. My mom told me stories of "numbers running" and various "transactions" that used to go down back in the late 50's and early 60's when she was a girl. The worst story involved my grandfather's brother, who "stepped out" on a bad debt and was burned alive in his apartment after being tied to a mattress and lit on fire. This was the final straw in the numbers game for my grandfather, but like the mob movies say, once you're in, it's hard to get out. About 10 years later in the early 70's, my grandfather started "running" again and now it was done under the guise of him as a bartender at some of the "family" restaurants in Hoboken.

A story that stands out in my mind occurred on a Sunday afternoon in June of 1989. I was at my grandfathers workplace, Cassella's, for our weekly visit having dinner with my family. The Pistons/Lakers Finals series was in full swing and I was a little pissed off that I was missing the game. My grandfather knew I was a huge basketball fan so he told me that I could go back in the kitchen and the "guys" back there had the game on. I got up, made my way into the kitchen and and was fascinated by what I saw. There were about 15 guys hunched around a little 13 inch tv, passing money back and forth every few minutes. These were all "guineas" to the hilt. Bobby Bacalla and Sylvio Dante had nothing on these guys. All green-horns and Saint Michael medals. Greased back hair and shitty tracksuits. I knew most of their faces from being around the restaurant but seeing them all in the same place was like being in a cut scene from The Godfather. I watched in amazement as thousands of dollars moved from hand to hand on different possessions, at the end of the quarter, etc. There was an older guy, probably mid 50's who looked lost watching the game. He had a handful of hundreds, and he was cursing under his breath "cocksucker, mother fucker, pieces of shit". It was funny and scary at the same time. I knew what these guys did so there was no telling what might happen if one of them got too heated. Anyway, knowing basketball and seeing his frustration, I said to him "don't think the Pistons can't win this game. If Isiah or Johnson get hot they'll take the game". It was in LA and the Lakers had that home-court thing. He looked at me like I told him his car was on fire and said "not now kid, alright?" I backed off. Sure enough, Isiah got hot and the Pistons took the game. The old man changed his tune apparently and collected BIG when the game ended. As I was making my way back out to my family's table the old man called to me, "eh, come here!" I turned around, half in the doorway and he motioned to come over to him. I walked over tentatively and he grabbed me by the shoulder and said "you're pretty smart. Take this." He handed me a wad of bills and when I said "no, that's alright" he said "get the fuck out of here". I took it, put it in my pocket and didn't look at it until later, when I hit the bathroom. There was about $400 bucks in twenty's and ten's. All I could think to myself was, "that's four pairs of Jordans". Nice work if you can get it.

There's so many other stories I could get into but I'll keep those to myself. For now. Let's just say that your boy was approached for a "sit down" due to my age(18) and my family's involvement. I made a choice and here I am in Florida almost 20 years later. Life is good. Especially when oxygen is involved. As an aside, two months after I moved to Florida, the same restaurant that my grandfather was working for, was raided. They had arrested 8 different guys for racketeering, drug charges and most importantly plotting a hit to off JOHN GOTTI! Yeah, man, those guys were crucial. When I saw the report on CNN, I recognized one of the chef's, a bathroom attendant, a waiter, the owner of Cassella's, a couple of other guys and guess who else? One hint. I bought 4 pairs of Jordans because of him. Luckily my grandfather had left about 2 weeks earlier to work at his cousins new place a few blocks away and was out of the mix. Apparently, they fed's bugged the women's restrooms to get the plot details and had been monitoring the place for the better part of 2 years. Un-fucking-believable. I'm no Henry Hill, but I feel a Scorsese soundtrack could back this story in the right hands. Now all I need is the piano piece to "Layla" playing in the background. And maybe I should kick over a phone booth too.

Monday, September 10, 2007


9/11. Two shittier numbers put together may have never been imagined. Since tommorow is the 6th anniversary of that horrible day, I wanted to put my own two cents in about the day, what the towers meant to me and how it has affected me personally.

Growing up in Jersey, I lived in Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from New York City. What seemed like a brave new world on the other side of that grimy body of water was really just a huge stone's throw away for the residents of my town. During the day, facing the east, you could see the Twin Towers ominously in the distance, standing far and above all the other huge buildings surrounding it. At night..... well at night, the towers took on an otherwordly feel. Most of the building's would be dark with stray floors here and there lit up for cleaning crews and maintenance workers. The antenna on the top of Building 1 was lit in three red segments that stood so high in the night sky that sometimes at first glance it would give of the impression that is was an unidentified aircraft of some sort. I can remember countless trips from my grandfathers in Hoboken as a kid, laying in the back seat of my dad's car and seeing the towers out of the passenger side window, lights flickering in the distance, signalling another night ending in the big city. And another ride back to my crappy place in the world.

It's funny, after seeing the towers every day for almost 20 years and then leaving them, seeing them brought down was unbelievably heart-breaking. Never mind the horrors and the tragedy that befell the victims, rescue workers, poilce and fireman on that day and the months that followed, those heroes can never be forgotten. They were so incredibly brave and deserve any goodness that can come their way for their rest of their lives. Seeing those imposing structures come down in a destructive barrage of cement, glass, plaster, dust, dirt and debris was symbolic to how our country took more than black eye that day. We were dealt a concussion blow. Some would say we are still recovering.

Watching that day unfold at home, on a planned day off, seemed almost like I was fated to watch the entire day play out, hour by hour and minute by minute. I was in bed when the first plane struck. I was watching Sportscenter but during a commercial I flicked through the channels and hit CNN. They had that first burning tower image up on the screen and like everyone else, couldn't understand how a pilot could have lost control so bad that he hit the WTC. It had never happened before so what made today so different? The weather looked gorgeous on tv. No rain, no clouds. Nothing. No sooner than I had that thought than the image of another plane taking aim, LIVE, showed on my tv. I was......paralyzed. I knew something was incredibly wrong. I ran out the door and jumped in my car to see my dad about 5 miles from me. He was disabled and at home and I had promised him that I was going to mow his lawn and take him to lunch. My mom was at work. My wife was at work. When I got to my dad's, the buildings were raging with flames and the news people couldn't grasp the situation much like us. Within minutes, the first tower fell. I think my dad and I said in succession, "what the fuck is going on?" We started panicking. Is this the end of the world? Are we at war? In our own country? Symbolically, I ran out of my parent's front door and standing in the corner of their front yard was a United States flag that I had just taken down a week or so earlier which had gotten twisted in a rash of heavy storms that moved through our area. It just seemed like it HAD to be back up, waving proudly in the warm September Florida air. By the end of the day, we had touched base with most of our families in Jersey and New York and we started to have the events of the day sink in beyond the shock and disgust of the initial acts themselves. We knew the day was going to be forever remembered. And it was horrible to think of the reason that it would.

I made my way back to "Ground Zero" in June of 2002 and seeing the memorials, the barren buildings footprints and the sense of despair that still surrounded that area left me with a feeling of sadness that could never be taken away. I donated money, my wife created handmade pins that she sold for a minimal cost and we donated the take from the sales to the victims. We wanted to do something, and we did, but it just didn't seem like it made a difference. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there were thousands of others doing the same and that it WOULD make a difference to someone. A lot of our country has put this date and it's actions in a far corner of their minds because it didn't affect them directly. That is so wrong on so many levels, but our country and it's people have a way of downplaying even the worst acts because it's just too much of a bother to try and relieve or rehash something that can't be wrapped up in a nice, neat half an hour package. It's shameful. But it's the truth.

So to commerate the day, on it's sixth anniversary, I wanted to express my deepest thanks to the brave men and women fighting the war in Iraq for whatever reason they are there for. Every person that lent a hand, a dollar or a minute of their time during that bleak hour in our history, they deserve our recognition. I had an image of the Trade Centers tattoed on my back in October '01. It will never allow me to forget that day, even for a minute. My aunt, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 2, lost her job and her way of life and luckily on that day was able to keep her life because her daughter was sick and she needed to stay home with her. A twist of fate never forgotten. I have a small statue of the towers on my desk at work and a beautiful, one of a kind painting in my family room of the towers at night at home. I didn't lose anyone in particular like so many other's did that day. But I attached myself to the towers and it's a way to always see them in all their glory. I will never forget. The horrors of the day, the victims in all three locations, the resurgence of our people, the bonding of our communities and the love and compassion shown to all those involved in the rescue effort. And most of all, I'll never forget those two metal masterpieces. Steel and mortar can always be rebuilt. But memories are hard to erase. And mine are still there all the time.

Always remember, 9/11/01.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fish Out Of Water

I have a confession. The Miami Dolphins are my favorite football team. Have been, since I was old enough to remember. I grew up in a "Giants" household, but somehow, the aqua and orange permiated my soul. It has been a LONGGGGGGGGGGGG time since I had anything to be excited about with these guys. But I still hold out hope that someday, before I'm old and grey, or a grandfather, that a Dolphins team will hold a Super Bowl trophy once again. But I'm not willing to hold my breath. With the new season upon us, I thought it would be a proper time to put my Dolphin history on the table.

I've seen two Super Bowls with the Dolphins as participants. The 1982 season and the 1984 season. Before that, for about 7 years of my childhood, the Dolphins were kind of o.k. I was too young to remember the glory days of the early 70's (72-74)but I knew they were recognized as one of the greatest teams ever because of that time. I was 12 when they made it to Super Bowl XVII. They had the game, blew it and I was heartbroken. The next season saw the arrival of the savior(well he made the franchise exciting for many years).

Dan Marino. One of the greatest quaterbacks of all-time. Maybe the greatest arm in football hisotry. I loved Marino like every other Dolphin fan. He gave the franchse life. He was surrounded by great receivers too, in Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. In Marino's 2nd year, he led them to the Super Bowl. And once there, Marino was overwhelmed by a well-prepared and hungry 49ers team. Poor Dan, never stood a chance and never got another one.

My favorite player was always 3rd down receiver extrodinaire, Nat Moore.
Nat was a speedster in the beginnings of his career. As the years built, he lost his starting job to other younger, quicker receivers. But Nat always was the rock. Great hands, fantastic blocker, constant pro. For a long time, he held every Dolphin receiving record. He was small in stature, huge on talent. Between him, Marino and another great member of the late 70's early 80's offense, Tony Nathan, the Dolphin's offense was a well-oiled machine.

The other legendary figure that patrolled the sidelines and gave the Dolphins credibility for 25 years was Don Shula. Still regarded as possibly the greatest NFL head coach, Shula was class, passion and winning personified. The Dolphins classiness seemed to leave with Shula and Marino's partings. A sad time for Dolphin fans, new and old.

Jimmy Johnson took over the coaching reigns, the team fumbled through a few productive seasons in the 90's and since that time the team has been in constant upheavel. In plain English, they have been fucking sorry. But now their is a new coach and a new philosophy in the fold and the team just may the makings of a "class" organization again. The pillars of the team for the last 10 years have been Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor. All Dolphin fans can hold out hope that these two warriors will have one shot before their careers end at the big, shiny trophy.

This coming season holds little promise. A 37 year old quaterback, new system, new coaching staffs, huge roster turnover. But maybe the next couple of years will start to see the promise of a new day. Their grooming a new quaterback to take the reigns, the coach seems to actually be excited to be the head man (thanks Saban)and there are some new prospects that seem to have genuine talent. I hold out hope. And my son is a fan already. So I now have someone to watch the "Fish" with and someday soon, tell him what it was like to have enjoyed them in their heyday. Hopefully he will enjoy the spoils of a Dolphins title one of these days. C'mon God, give us a break, huh?