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.