Tag Archive for 'brooklyn'

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Hollywood has names for them. The “double-takers” –the ones who look familiar so you look again and still can’t remember their names. The “isn’t that,” or “wasn’t he in” celebrities. I’ll learn those categories in a life to come. Now it’s 1961 in the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park, and we get plenty of double-takers. Comedians, supporting actors, politicians–a slight thrill of recognition and they melt into the crowd.

But everybody in the world knows Marilyn. Every man has fantasized a lurid encounter with her. Every woman has wondered what it must be like to have every man in the room lusting after you. Gay men, too, I suppose, but they are still in very deep cover.

How much seed has been spilled over Marilyn’s calendar? How often has she substituted for a humdrum partner?

And now she’s coming to a funeral. She’ll walk through that door and one of us will be there to escort her.

Thirty guys are jammed into the tiny back office, each hoping to be the lucky one.

Sconzo, the day manager, originally appointed himself to the job. But he has been shouted down by the mob.

“Okay, we’ll make it democratic,” he says.

He takes out a handful of toe tags, the name tags, tied to the toes of the deceased to identify them.

“Everybody pays a five dollar entry fee and gets a tag,” he says.

There is a roar of protest, but Sconzo doesn’t waver.

“If you guys give me a hard time I’ll pull rank and you can all take a walk,” he says. “You buy a ticket for the Irish Sweepstakes, don’t ya? Well, this is the Marilyn Monroe Sweepstakes…”

“Yeah, but five bucks,” whines Aiello, a young apprentice.

“You give three bucks to that fat old hooer on Pitkin Avenue,” Sconzo says. “You won’t pony up a fin for Marilyn Monroe?”

Out come the fives.

“No owsies,” Sconzo decrees.

“But I only have three bucks on me,” says Rizzo, the grave robber.

“So go borrow a deuce from your wife,” says Sconzo.

The limo drivers in their dark coats and gray striped pants take a flyer. Earl, the handyman in his greasy work clothes, promises to rush home and put on a suit if he wins. The black porters, Marshall, Bill and Walter, right off the tobacco fields of South Carolina, watch from the doorway. Sconzo waves to them.

“You guys in?”

“Who you kiddin’?” Marshall says.” You just gonna palm our tags.”

“If you win, you win,” Sconzo says.

The porters caucus, still mistrustful, and decide to buy one ticket with all three names on it.

“If we win, we’ll pick the guy,” Marshall says.

We write our names on the tags. Sconzo puts them in a trash can and starts to draw.

“No, no,” says Rizzo, also a card cheat and a thief. “You could crimp your own tag that way.”

“Mix ‘em up,” we say.

Sconzo empties another can and pours the tags from one into the other, mixing before and after each pour. After the fourth pour he looks up.


“Okay draw…”

“Draw already…”

He reaches into the can and comes out with a tag. “And the winner is…Gould…”


A chorus of groans, a shaking of disgusted heads.

“The kid?”

“Marone, what a waste.”

I am pushed, reviled.

“He wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

A shove from Albino, a semi-dwarf with a banana nose, who fancies himself a great lover.

“Tell the truth, kid. Didja ever get laid?”

I take a beat too long to answer.

“Sure I did…”

Albino reaches up and clocks me with the heel of his hand. “Fatchim! I’m not talkin’ about a handjob under the stairs.” His face screws up and he blinks back a tear. “I’m talkin’ about makin’ love to a real woman.” And turns away in despair. “This is a tragedy. A fuckin’ tragedy…”

Cesario, a hearse driver, shoves a handful of bills at me. “Cut the crap. Thirty bucks for your tag.”

The room gets quiet. Ceasario is rumored to have mob connections.

Still, I waver. I am stung by the sneers at my manhood, my inexperience. I know that if I surrender the ticket I will be seen as a coward.

Then, Sconzo comes to my rescue.

“He won it fair and square,” he says.

Cesario turns to him. “And I’m makin’ him a fair offer,” he says.

“No propositions,” Sconzo says. He checks his watch. “Funeral’s at one. They said she’d be here at twelve-forty five. Better get out there to meet her.”

Cesario is humbled, his power broken. He pockets his money and walks out. In a second the mood has changed. Everybody is grooming me for my big moment.

“Button your jacket…”

“Stand straight and look her in the eye.”

“If you get a chance to shake her hand, see if you can put her finger on her pulse. That gives broads chills…”

Albino takes me aside with an urgent look. “When you talk to her, keep a normal face, you know what I mean, but try to imagine her takin’ her clothes off. You know like pullin’ the skirt to unhook the stockings. Unbuttonin’ the blouse…Just keep thinkin’ it, y’see and that’ll give her the idea…” He breathes a blast of expresso and Lucky Strikes in my face. “Okay?”


Mourners mill in the lobby. Nobody knows that Marilyn Monroe is coming today.

It’s a warm April day. The chapel is on a traffic circle that feeds to the park, the Parade Grounds baseball fields and Coney Island Avenue.

A charcoal Lincoln Continental Convertible, top down, comes around the circle. In the front seat, a chauffeur with a gray cap. In the back seat, a blonde wearing dark glasses. The Continental pulls up to the curb.

I’m frozen.

I hear Albino’s anguished whisper. “Shmuck! Go grab the door for her.”

Too late. The chauffeur opens the door, and offers a helping hand.

Marilyn Monroe steps out and looks around.






It’s 1961. I’m only 18, but my black deeds are mounting. I win an $800 scholarship for high scores on the State Board of Regents exams. I tell my parents I’ll use it for text books and a new typewriter, but my secret plan is to cash the check and run off to Europe where I intend to sport a beret, seduce French girls and write the Great American Novel. I see myself, standing alone on a windswept deck, while my sobbing mother reads my terse note of farewell.

I smoke marijuana and drink cheap wine every night, curing the morning malaise with a cherry Coke and an egg salad sandwich. My father tells me I look like a raccoon. To cover I make up symptoms–back pain, insomnia, nausea. My mother plies me with cod liver oil and chicken soup–I draw the line at an enema.

I am an erection in search of a home. Candidates can be of any age. Breasts are the main attraction. But I can be driven crazy by thighs swishing through a tight skirt.

I am an eclectic lecher. I nurse a frenzied fantasy for one of my buxom aunts. Somehow she senses it and won’t give me her usual wet kiss when she comes to visit. Occasionally, I am transfixed by the swinging buttocks of police horses.

NY State won’t send the scholarship check until the winner has completed at least one semester with a 3.0. Every morning I wrestle torpor and lose in freshman survey courses at Brooklyn College. In the afternoon I go to the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park where I defame the dead, the bereaved and the faith of my forebears.

NY State law requires all undertakers to serve an apprenticeship. My colleagues are young men whose families own small funeral homes. They are Italian and Irish and Riverside is a Jewish funeral parlor so the night manager, Tom Mammana, gives them Jewish aliases. Celiberti becomes “Krieger;” Aiello is “Altman;” McCadden answers to “Morris.”

But these names are too tame. The boys make up their own burlesque versions, calling to each other across a lobby crowded with mourners…”Mr. Shmatler, will you please take these people to the Gladstein room…” “Mr. Krapinsky, could you please direct these people…” “Be right there Mr. Plotzstein…” And then run into an alcove red-faced with suppressed laughter.

Still, there is some sacrilege not even these pranksters will commit. They’ll wear skull caps, but won’t say the short prayer for the dead. Because I am the only real Jew I’m elected. On Sundays funerals begin at nine-thirty and go non-stop in fifteen minute intervals until three-thirty. I stand in the family room off the chapel keeping an appropriately grave face as Shmatler, Plotzstein and Krapinsky try to crack me up. They lurk out of sight in the wings of the chapel, making faces, obscene gestures, even dropping their pants. I stare at them stony and unmoved. Before the ceremony I recite a short prayer, which the immediate family repeats after me. Then I rend their garments with a razor blade and lead them into the main chapel, requesting the mourners to “please rise,” and then “be seated.”

The families often misunderstand my simple instructions. “Please repeat after me,” I say to one man. “I’m going to cut your tie…”

“I’m going to cut your tie,” he blubbers.

“No, just the prayer,” I say.

“Just the prayer,” he repeats.

“No the Hebrew part…”

“Say the prayer already,” someone interrupts. “He’s only the brother-in-law.”

I begin the prayer…”Baruch atah adonai..”

Aiello/Plotzstein enters at the proper funereal pace. I know what he’s going to do and steel myself.

“Eloheinu melech haolam…”

As Aiello passes he turns to me and opens his mouth. Out pops a lit cigarette. He swallows it and walks on. I bite hard on my lip and finish the prayer.

“Dayan ha emet…”

Most funeral are models of decorum, but there are occasional outbursts, which test my impassivity.

A widow looks down at her husband.

“Harry, how many times did I tell you: Nobody buys pencils. Paper Mate ball points Harry…”

And is cut off by an anguished cry. “Let Daddy rest, Mama, you’ll sell the pencils…”

For weeks after that we greet each other with “Paper Mate ball points, Harry,” and answer in helpless mirth: “we’ll sell the pencils, Esther…”

One night I drink a bottle of Romilar Cough Syrup. An hour later I am whirling, aimless in the cosmos. Space winds howl in my ear. I try to open my eyes, but they have been locked shut. Then I realize:


God is punishing me for my lies to my parents, my petty larcenies and perverted lusts– my disrespect for the dead. I cling to the slimy walls of my sanity, thinking: this isn’t real, this isn’t happening. But the deceased fly by me in their shrouds, their hospital gowns, their sad pajamas. The fat lady I threw onto the stretcher. The old man with the camp tattoos on his arm. Chalk white, blue veins protruding, crabbed fingers pointing.

Somehow I am on the cool tile of my parents’ bathroom. Then under a hot shower. The same God who is sending me to hell has also provided cherry Cokes and egg salad, heavy on the mayo. I am given another chance. Henceforth, I will be truthful, honest and respectful.

But mere days later I am in an Orthodox burial shroud stuffing myself with Italian sausage.

“MARILYN FUCKIN’ MONROE” is coming to the Miller funeral.

We grab the “first call sheet.” The deceased is Augusta…Next of kin, husband Isidore, daughter Joan, son Arthur…

That’s it.

“Arthur Miller, the playwright,” I say.

“Debts of a Salesman…”

” They’re separated,” Sconzo, the day manager says.

The office is now crowded. No one is out on the floor directing the mourners. It’s anarchy. People wandering into the wrong reposing rooms. Looking in the caskets: and running out:

“That’s not my Uncle Max.”

Sconzo has been on the phone with Marilyn’s secretary. “She says Marilyn is still very close to the family,” he says. “She wants to come and express her condolences, but she doesn’t want to cause a commotion.” He takes a dramatic pause. “She asked if it would be possible for someone to meet her at the door and take her to the family room? Then, escort her to a private place where she can watch the service without drawing attention…Then, back to her car…” Another pause. “I told her it could be arranged…”

The room explodes.

Who’s gonna meet her?

“Me, who else?” says Sconzo.

Suddenly, everybody’s a communist.

“Just ’cause you’re the boss?”

“You don’t have no special privileges…”

“We have just as much rights as you do…”

“What’d we fight the war for?”

“Okay, okay,” Sconzo says with a gleam, as if he had it planned all along. “We’ll do it the democratic way.”




It’s 1961 and Brooklyn isn’t cool yet. It’s still a tributary, sending stenographers and piece workers across the bridge to mother Manhattan. Where colorful locals “tawk like dis” and mourn their departed Dodgers.

No war movie is complete without a “dese and dose” Flatbusher getting a salami from his mommy while he wisecracks in the Army. No B-musical can be filmed without a gum-popping Coney Island chorine who “knows the score.”

The Brooklyn Museum has a world renowned collection of hieroglyphs and papyri; the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens has the finest stand of Japanese cherry trees outside of Kyoto. But those joints (as we say in Brooklyn) are just for tourists and field trips.

Norman Mailer and Truman Capote are Brooklynites, not to mention poet Marianne Moore for whom the term “doyenne” was invented. But they live in Brooklyn Heights, a spit, which broke off from Manhattan Island after the Ice Age and has been trying to reattach ever since.

The real Brooklyn is a seething mass of sexual speculation. Three million people existing in uneasy intimacy with total strangers. Standing nose to nose and crotch to buttock on the subway. Adjoining each other in crowded apartment buildings where you can hear a sigh or smell a fart through thin walls. Looking at each other and wondering: “Does she want to?” “Is that a hint?” “Why is he staring at me like that?” “Should I say something?” ” What if Morty finds out?” “Jeeze, her boyfriend’s a fuckin’ giant…”

You want libidinal chaos? Try Coney Island on a summer weekend. The beach is a heaving mass of wriggling limbs, so jammed you can’t see the sand. Every age and variety of human anatomy is on display. You seesaw from repulsion to infatuation as you tiptoe between the blankets.

In my wanderings I see a clump of humanity, risen like a bush in the desert. That means there’s a hot bod on a blanket. I change course, trampling shrieking infants and dozing oldsters until I find myself on the fringe of a group of desperate men, all trying very hard not to look at what they came to see. A babe in a bikini pretends she doesn’t know she’s being watched and continues doing her nails, smoking a cigarette or, most excruciating of all, lying on her stomach while her friend spreads Bain de Soleil on the backs of her legs. She doesn’t have to be a beauty. A bit of boob peeking out of the bottom of a bra, a wisp of unshaven pube is enough to draw a frenzied mob.

Brooklyn is a place to be from, not to go to. This is proven by who dies and who buries them.

I’m working at Riverside Memorial Chapel, a funeral parlor on Park Circle across from Prospect Park. I’m a “removal man.” Every night I go to cluttered apartments in shabby neighborhoods where a very old person has quietly passed among his/her souvenirs. The deceased can lay undiscovered for days, even weeks, their death scent oozing out from under the door, obscured by cooking smells, gas leaks and general funk. Eventually, the uncashed Social Security checks in their mailboxes sound the alarm and cops arrive with crowbars. I show up soon thereafter, black suit and body bag my badge of office. I walk past stiffly posed photos of the old country, wedding pictures, Bar Mitzvah shots to a rumpled bed where a crumpled person in a cotton nightgown or striped pajamas settled in for a nap and never woke up.

I move bodies out of morgues in large hospitals. The attendant slides open a drawer on staring faces in the blue hospital gowns they died in.

I venture into Brooklyn’s vast, uncharted interior. To forgotten Jewish nursing homes in the encroaching black ghetto. The splintered steps creak. The warped screen door squeals. On the porch skeletons turn.

Is he here for me?

No Shmuel, you’re not dead yet.

The deceased is covered by a threadbare gray sheet. A friend sits by the window, nodding and licking cracked lips. They hand me a small valise and a shopping bag filled with used sundries. I belt it onto the stretcher on top of the body.

Two days later we bury them. The families show up all sleek and suburban in shiny sedans. The men are dressed for the office. The women wear dark suits, fur capes and walk in clouds of scent. The grandchildren bicker and fidget. Everyone has that extra layer of flesh that you get when you’re born in America.

A hired rabbi reads the prayers and gives a brief summary of the person’s life. It’s 1961 so we get a lot of “he/she survived the hell of Auschwitz;” or “came to this country at the age of nine with nothing but the clothes on his/her back; ” or “sent three children through college on a cutter’s salary…”

Occasionally, a cry of grief escapes like a hiccup.

“Momma, don’t leave me…”


“Forgive me Papa…”

It is answered by a brief of chorus of sobs and murmurs. The rabbi waits for silence, then concludes with the prayer for the dead. The chapel empties. We wheel the casket into the hearse. And wheel the next casket in for the next service.

Jews don’t bury on Saturday so Sunday is our busiest day. The manager is Italian, Anthony Sconzo, but he calls himself Yale Slutnick in deference to the clientele. On Sundays his wife cooks dinner for the staff, A big pot of veal pizzaiola with meatballs and chunks of sausage. Baked ziti with eggplant and mozzarella. Broccoli rabe. We eat in the back office, slipping on Orthodox burial shrouds so we won’t get sauce on our suits.

I don’t get this food in my mother’s kitchen so I am gorging myself when the phone rings. Sconzo listens for a while.

“Very funny, Angie” And covers the phone, shaking his head. “My stupid sister-in-law…” But then gets serious.

“Yes, okay, I understand…Sure…We’ll take care of it…”

And hangs up with a look of utter stupefaction.

We watch as he struggles to regain the power of speech.

“Why is this day different from all other days?” he finally gasps.

We pause, forks poised.

He rises and stretches his arms to the sputtering fluourescents, looking like Lazarus in his sauce-spattered shroud.

” Marilyn Monroe will be attending a funeral here,” he announces.

A scream issues from his limbic recesses.






It’s Brooklyn 1958 and nobody has ever heard of the “Mafia.”

The word is never mentioned in the black and white B movies (later reborn as noir masterpieces) which we see on rainy Saturdays. There it’s the “Syndicate,” usually located in a luxurious office with a view of downtown LA, the San Gabriel mountains super-imposed in the distance. In the movies, the “boss” is a sleek, well-tailored, well-spoken Robert Ryan-Albert Dekker-Kirk Douglas kind of guy. There is no one who even remotely resembles “Louie from Fulton Street.” who sells fresh fish on beds of ice out of the trunk of his Buick Regal on Prospect Avenue every Friday. Or Rizzo, a hunchback, who occasionally shows up at our apartment door, peeking around me to call my father, “Hey Boinie, I got somethin’ nice for the missus.” And, after a quick confab on the back stairs sells him a watch or a pair of earrings for my mother. My father buys a gold Rolex from him for $85 which he sells for $11,000 thirty years later.

Nobody in the movies looks like Mr. Leo, a shrunken old man in a brown suit who sits at the end of the counter in Tony’s candy store cashing checks for the black and Puerto Rican washer-ironer-folder women from the Pilgrim Laundry with a “hiya doll,” and a “how much you need sweetheart?” So, in 1963, when apostate mobster Joe Valachi tells the world that all of these men are loyal to a tightly controlled hierarchical organization modeled on the Roman legions we find it hard to believe.

It’s summer and my prowess in stickball has led me into bad company. We play in the schoolyard of PS 154; five man teams, two dollars a game and the right to hold the court. I hit the ball over the fence onto the steps of the whitestones across the street. After the game, one of the losers, a stocky kid with a husky voice runs at me. “Who you think you are, Mickey Mantle…?” I flinch, thinking he’s going to hit me, but he grabs me in a headlock and gives me a friendly nougie. “Now you’re playin’ for us.”

His name is Andrew. I’m taken by his supreme self-confidence, the knowing laughter in his black eyes. His older brother Johnny Boy drives us to the games in a red Impala convertible. We’ve been using the ten cent balls made out of two rubber spheres that split in two when you hit them on the seam. Johnny Boy opens a box of “Spaldeen” Hi Bouncers, 27 cents apiece. One piece, hard rubber, I hit them almost twice as far.

We travel all over Brooklyn, playing in schoolyards and on ruined streets in industrial areas where weeds push through the buckled roads. I see guys in knit shirts and slacks, passing money and I realize these older men are betting with Johnny Boy. I overswing and hit grounders.

Johnny Boy laughs at my nerves. “Whaddya worryin’ about, it ain’t your money…” After the game, win or lose, he takes us to Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor on Church Avenue where we get the Kitchen Sink, a sundae with 32 scoops plus syrup, nuts and bananas.

On Sunday afternoons I am invited to Andrew’s house for “dinner.” He lives with his family–brothers, nieces, nephews, grandparents– in a four story brownstone in Red Hook. We eat in the back yard under a vine covered trellis. I sit at the foot of a long table with Andrew and Johnny Boy, trying not to look at their sister Rose’s huge breasts. Andrew’s dad is at the head drinking wine out of a gold-plated goblet. There are platters of roast chicken, salad with bottles of Kraft’s French, ziti with sausage, meatballs, chunks of veal and stuffed pig skin. I rise to bring my plate into the kitchen.

“Whaddya tryin’ to do, take the girls’ jobs away? ” Andrew’s father calls.

“He just wantsa get in the kitchen with Rosie,” Johnny Boy says and everybody laughs.

One Sunday, Andrew takes me aside. “Can you meet me later?”

At midnight I sneak out and ride my bike to 19th. Street, alongside the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, which was built when the city invoked eminent domain and demolished thousands of homes. Andrew gives me an ice pick. “See that baby blue El Dorado in the middle of the block? Rip up his tires, all four of ‘em.” His eyes gleam under the streetlight. “Rip ‘em to shreds…”

I’ve never done anything like this, but the movies have taught me how. I run low to the ground like the soldiers in “Battleground.” The lights are on in the house behind the El Dorado. I scramble around the driver’s side and plunge the pick deep into the tires. They deflate and start to sink. A figure appears at the window. I duck under the car and slash the rear tire on the other side, then scamper all the way around, using the car as cover, and puncture the front tire.

Andrew crouches behind the car. He reaches up and pours something down the grille onto the engine. “Fish oil,” he whispers as we run down the block. “Every time he starts the car he’ll get this stink and he won’t know where it’s comin’ from.” He’s shaking with silent laughter. “It’ll get worse and worse and nothin’ he can do about it…”

“Who is this guy?” I ask.

“Friend of my Uncle Artie’s…”

Andrew picks me up the next day. My mother won’t let him leave without eating. I cringe as she gives him a cream cheese and cucumber sandwich on pumpernickel; chopped eggs with chicken fat and fried onions; a piece of my grandmother’s cherry strudel. To me it pales in comparison with his mother’s ziti. He wolfs it down and thanks her, politely. “You have a nice friend for a change,” my mother tells me later.

“Wanna work at my Uncle Victor’s?” Andrew asks. He takes me to an empty store on Sackett Street, near the docks. A dumpy, cross-eyed guy looks me up and down. “Make a muscle, kid.” He squints dubiously at my skinny arms. “Gotta do push ups and chins.”

His name is Walter and he’s in charge. He leans a bridge chair against the wall and sits there all day, smoking Kools, reading the Daily Mirror and taking pulls on a quart bottle of Ballantine Ale. Andrew and I sit at the curb playing Casino. Once in awhile a truck rolls up and Walter calls: “Hey guys, you wanna get this?”

Sometimes it’s racks of suits or fur coats. Sometimes boxes of .45′s or LP’s or cases of J&B scotch. Anxious to prove myself I jump into the truck and hand the goods down to Andrew who puts them on a hand truck and wheels them into the store.

At the end of the day Walter peels two twenties off an enormous roll. “Don’t do nothin’ I wouldn’t do,” he says.

I realize I’m dealing with stolen goods or “swag,” as Andrew calls it, but for some reason I don’t think I’m breaking the law.

One day a nervous guy in a bloody smock pulls in with a truck full of sides of beef. “Hurry up, I gotta get back,” he says.

We have to carry the half-frozen meat down a ramp and into the store. Andrew jerks the sides onto his shoulder. I can’t get them up that high and have to hold them below my waist, straining my back. Walter watches in amusement. When the last side has been dumped he raises my arm in victory. “Winner and new champeen…” Slaps me on the behind. “You got guts…” And slips me an extra ten dollar bill.

Walter is an ex boxer. “Middleweight,” he says. “Toughest division in the fight game in those days.” I’m a worshipful listener to his stories. He talks about club fights–”Sunnyside, Eastern Parkway Arena…”–working his way through the prelims–”La Motta, Graziano, Joey Maxim, I seen ‘em all in those days.”– and crooked managers. “If I’d have had a connected manager I woulda gone right to the top. As it was I was just a cockeyed mick from Brooklyn with nobody behind me.”

Walter says he had a hundred forty-seven fights. “You fought twice a week in those days,” he says. “Now it’s twice a year for some of these guys. But I can still do the times table– two times two, three times three. I know guys who can’t even wipe their own asses anymore.”

He puts his arm around me. “Like my stories, huh? Come up to my room one of these days, I’ll show you my scrap book…”

One morning a flatbed with a high wooden fence around it is waiting as we come to work. The driver, a big, red-faced guy lunges at us. “Snap to it…”

Walter saunters around the corner with his paper, bridge chair and quart of Ballantine’s. “Mornin’ all.”

“Get goin’,” the driver says. “I been on the road all night.”

He opens the gate onto about fifty crates of live chickens. Half-dead really, some of them already gone. It looks like they just jammed as many chickens as they could into the crates and then nailed the crosspieces over them. The clucks and squawks are subdued, but the smell is overpowering and the flat bed is slick with droppings.

I try to lift a crate and can hardly move it. Even Andrew is straining so we decide to lift them together. Chickens peck at our hands. We have to put the crates on the edge of the truck, step off, lift them again and carry them into the store.

The driver watches with his arms folded. “Why don’t you get some decent guys for this?” he says to Walter.

“”What do they weight a hundred and a half?” Walter says.” If you’re in such a hurry why don’t you give the kids a hand?”

“I loaded em,” the driver says. “You unload ‘em. That means you, too, Pop.”

Walter waves his wad of bills. “I do the real heavy liftin’ around here, pal.”

The driver stands over Walter, clenching his big fists. “Get off your ass and unload these fuckin’ chickens or I’ll throw you on the truck with ‘em…”

“Okay, keep your shirt on,” Walter says, getting up.

We watch as they walk back toward the truck. Walter looks so small and hunched, next to this big guy. Tears of helpless humiliation rise in my eyes.

Walter stops to light a Kool and the driver walks a few steps ahead.

“Hey pal,” Walter says.

The driver turns and Walter hits him in the ribs with his right. He doubles over and Walter hits him under the chin with his left. It sounds like billiard balls colliding. The driver’s head snaps up. He staggers backwards, clawing the air until his feet slide out from under him and he goes down with a crash, banging his head against the fender.

A ribbon of blood flows out of the side of his mouth.

“Musta bit his tongue,” Walter says.

I’m amazed and triumphant. A bully has been defeated.

“How’d you do that?” I ask.

Walter shrugs. “You spend eight hours a day in the gym for twenty years you better learn how to throw a punch…Hose him down, Andrew.”

Walter watches as Andrew runs water over the driver until he finally stirs. Then nudges him with his foot.

“Get to work if you wanna beat the traffic.”

The driver rises to his hands and knees until his head clears. Then wobbles to his feet. Without a word he starts taking the crates off the truck. I hold the door open for him.

“C’mere,” Walter calls sharply. “He don’t need no help.”

It takes him an hour. He’s still woozy when he finishes and sits on the running board of his truck before getting up.

“Kid’s got your money,” Walter says, pointing to me.

I have seventy-nine cents in my pocket.

“Give it to him,” Walter says.

The driver stares at the coins in his dirty, callused palm.

“Seeya next time, pal,” Walter says.

As the truck pulls away Walter turns to us with a laugh. “If he thinks he caught a beatin’ now wait’ll he gets back upstate with seventy-nine cents.”

An hour later Johnny Boy drives up with an angry man in a rumpled suit. As the man speaks to Walter we tell Johnny Boy what happened.

“They say a fighter never loses his punch,” he says. “Walter was good in his day.”

“He could have been big, but the managers didn’t back him,” I say, full of indignation.

“Nobody would touch him after he did time,” Johnny Boy says. “They caught him humpin’ his nine year old nephew on the roof. He got nine years. Sat out the war.”

The next day I can’t go back to the store. Can’t face Andrew. I’m sick with the memory of Walter slapping my behind and putting his arm around me. Of his beery proposition…”C’mon up to my room I’ll show you my scrapbook.” It takes me a week to get over it and start masturbating again.

Fifteen years later I’m working as a bartender in a mob-owned disco in Times Square. Through the smoke and the strobes I recognize Andrew at the end of the bar. He’s the guy in the suit now, but still has that knowing laugh in his eyes.

“Bartending, huh?” he says. “I woulda figured you for somethin’ better.”

No point in explaining that I’m a writer picking up some extra money.

“How’s Johnny Boy?” I ask.

“He passed away a coupla years ago,” Andrew says and then quickly: “How’s your mom? Still with us?”

“Still with us,” I say.

He turns to the two guys behind him.

“His mother was some cook. Made the best egg salad I ever ate.”




It’s September 1957 and World War II hasn’t ended. Every man I know is still reliving his time in the “service.” My Uncle Sammy was drafted at age 38 and spent four years ” talkin’ to the god damn goats” in the Galapagos Islands and running a laundry for the troops. My Uncle Willie flew sixty-seven missions as a tail gunner, way above the maximum twenty-five and was court martialed when he refused to go on the sixty-eighth. Now he can’t get a good job because of his dishonorable discharge.

My father had a good war. He graduated at the top of his Officer’s Candidate School class. As a combat engineer he won a commendation for building pontoon bridges ahead of the troops who were retaking the Philippines. Even had his picture taken with General Macarthur. Now he sells gravestones. He comes home smelling of whiskey and dozes before dinner in front of the TV. In the morning he stubs out his cigarette in the yoke of his fried egg and my mother dumps his plate in the sink. To this day I get queasy every time I see an order of “sunny side up.”

I’m fourteen and a half and I’m a careful thief. I take a quarter out of my mother’s change purse when it’s full, a cigarette out of my father’s pack of Pall Malls, but only when it’s freshly opened. I’m working at my first after school job–bicycle delivery boy at Bohack’s Supermarket on 7th. Avenue in Brooklyn. We’re paid the minimum wage, $1.00 an hour, plus tips. The store manager, Phil, is a neat little man in white shirt and tie. He wears a gold officer’s ID bracelet, engraved with his name, rank and serial number and spends most of his time laughing with the housewives. Dennis is the floor manager. He was in the first Marine wave to land on Tarawa and has an angry red trench in the side of his face where a Japanese bullet grazed his jaw, shattering his cheekbone and shearing off his ear lobe. He rolls his sleeve up over a Marine Corps tattoo of eagles and writhing snakes. (Tattoos are rare in those days and almost exclusively military.) He always has a cigarette in his bad ear. He butchers sides of beef first thing in the morning and wears his bloodstained white apron the rest of the day. He unloads the trucks, makes a change bank for the checkout clerks and stocks the shelves. Then he packs all the orders for the delivery boys. He staples the orders to the bags and when we come in he adds the perishables, milk, eggs, ice cream, sodas and beer, which everybody wants cold.

There are four of us. We work from 4 to closing. There are three new bikes with “Bohacks” painted in red on the sides of the bins. I’m the new kid and I go to a different high school so I get the old Schwinn. Dennis has welded a shopping cart basket onto its handle bars, making it completely unwieldy. With fifty pounds of groceries in the basket it’s almost impossible to handle. As I ride it fully loaded up the hill toward Prospect Park, items fall out of the bags and I have to stop, brace the bike and run down the hill to retrieve them. Once a dozen eggs falls out. I run into a small corner grocery and buy a replacement.

The other kids steal Milky Ways and Clark Bars off the shelves, but one day I see Dennis lurking behind the canned goods and I know he’s looking to catch somebody in the act. I notice that he doesn’t patrol the produce department so I take a banana off the bunch and stuff it in my school bag.

Dennis knows all the customers. He sells the good tippers to the boys, taking half of what they make. After my first week he slips me an order.

“This is a two dollar run, so you owe me a buck.”

Two dollars is an enormous tip. I climb four flights, carrying three bags full of cold cuts, Velveeta, Wonder Bread, Campbell’s pork and beans, Chef Boyardee canned spaghetti and meatballs, French’s Mustard, Miracle Whip, four quarts of Rheingold beer and a carton of Walter Raleigh cork tips. A jovial fat guy with a cigar answers the door. A woman in an embroidered Chinese bed jacket is watching TV. “Look at this kid, he weighs less than the groceries,” he says and gives me a crisp five dollar bill.

Dennis is waiting when I get back. “Where’s my end?”

I give him a dollar. He snaps it with his finger. “You little thief, I was testin’ you. That’s Jimmy Tully, the bookie. He’s always good for a fin. You should only owe me two fifty, but I’ll take the whole five to teach you a lesson.”

After that Dennis sends me to the dime tippers, the old ladies who make you bring the groceries into the kitchen and put them on the top shelves of the cabinets. He makes me stay late and mop the floors; flatten the cartons and tie them together with twine; stuff the garbage in black iron oil barrels and roll them out into the alley.

One Friday, he calls me into the meat locker. “You been a good soldier so I’m gonna give you a break.” He points through the frosty window, “See that broad?”

It’s a busty blonde in a low cut sleeveless yellow sweater green Capri pants and spiked heels. Dennis nudges me. “Looks like Jayne Mansfield, don’t she?”

I’ve been covertly eyeing her for weeks as she wiggles up and down the aisles and flirts with Phil. Sometimes I’ll walk by her just so I can get a quick sidelong look at her bra. She smiles as if she’s read my mind.

“She’s married to a fireman,” Dennis says,” but always comes in when he’s workin’ round the clock to give the all clear, know what I mean? I’ll send you over there for your last delivery in case you have to stay and give her a hand…”

I spend the next few hours overcome by fear and fantasy. At seven Dennis calls me over. “613 11th., basement apartment…Don’t say I never gave you nothin.’ “

The carton is loaded with cans and bottles. A light drizzle is falling through the dusk, the drops silhouetted in the streetlights. My hands skid off the rubber grips. My heart is pounding. I wheel the bike into the areaway and go into a gloomy alcove under the steps of the brownstone. No bell. I have to brace the carton against the wall and knock.

A man answers. So tall I can’t see his face over the door frame. Only his thick football neck. He’s wearing a gray undershirt and thick black woolen fireman pants.

“Whaddya want?”

“Grocery delivery,” I say in a quavering voice.

He steps out into alcove. His bald head glows like he’s a creature from outer space. Without taking his eyes off me he calls:

“You order groceries?”

A voice responds promptly. “No…”

“Sure you got the right address?” he says and before I can answer he finds a delivery order tucked in between the bottles. “Menino,” he reads. “703 President. That ain’t even close. How’d you get here?”

“This was the address they gave me,” I say.


I realize if I implicate Dennis he’ll deny it and I’ll be in more trouble. I’m stuck.

“I must have made a mistake,” I say.

“Yeah, you made a mistake.” He hits me in the forehead with the heel of his hand. I stagger. The back of my head hits the cobblestone wall. Somehow I manage to hold on to the carton.

He squeezes my neck so hard I think he’s going to choke me to death.

“If I ever catch you sneakin’ around here again you won’t have nothin’ to do with girls every again, you understand?”

My head is roaring. My hands shake so badly I can hardly get the carton back into the basket. A can of Del Monte peaches falls out. I run half way down the hill and catch it in the rainy gutter.

Now it’s raining hard. Mrs. Menino complains that her groceries are all wet.

Next day Dennis acts as if nothing happened. After a week he starts sending me to the better tippers. I make sure to give him half.

It’s been a long time, but I can still see the anguish on that fireman’s face.




It’s the summer of ’57. America has never been more prosperous–or more paranoid. The serpent of Communism lurks in our post war Eden, threatening to tempt us, corrupt us, brainwash us, conquer us by force or subversion. Thousands have been fired, blacklisted, even imprisoned on the mere suspicion of Communist association. John Wayne rules the Box Office battling Commie spies. Sci Fi movies warn about aliens who take over our bodies, post-nuclear insects that enslave humans–invaders from outer space whom we appease at our peril–all metaphors for the Commies plotting against us.

My woodshop teacher claims that the Panama Canal was built to allow Communist invaders easy access to the US. Once a week an air raid siren sounds and we have to take cover under our desks. When we giggle and horse around our Home Room teacher screams: “Wait until the Chinese are bayonetting babies on Coney Island Avenue. You won’t be laughing then!”

Our biggest shock is yet to come in October when the Soviets launch sputnik. Now we will live in fear of Hydrogen Bombs raining down on us from outer space.

And to top it all off the Dodgers have left Brooklyn…

I am fourteen and a half years old and ready for my first real summer job. But because I’m a minor I need the approval of the State of New York. Getting my “Working Papers” trumps Confirmation and compulsive masturbation as the true rite of passage to manhood. I feel very grown up as I buy a NY Post at the subway station. I try to mimic the same bored, weary expression I see on the other passengers.

The State Department of Labor is in a hulking gray stone office building on Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn. I am buffeted in the swarming lobby by people who know where they’re going. A Post Office cop slaps his billy club into his palm at my approach. I ask where I can get my working papers. He gestures toward the elevators.

“Go get your physical on the tenth floor.”

I walk down a dimly lit, film noir corridor, past offices with smoked glass windows, until I come to a door with a sign reading State Dept. of Labor. Typewriters are clattering in a large office. A man gets up from a desk with a surly “Can I help you?”

“I’m here for the physical for my working papers,” I say.

He’s fat red-headed guy with bloodshot blue eyes, his tie askew, a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth.

“Let’s go to the examining room,” he says.

He walks me into a smaller office where three men look up from their desks.

“Kid’s here for his physical,” he says. He pulls me toward a table. “Sit there…” Stubs out his cigarette. “Open your mouth.” Pulls my jaw down. “Wider…” Looks down my throat. “Say Ahhh…Do you get tonsillitis?”

“I had my tonsils out when I was a little kid,” I say.

He turns to the men in the office. “It’s okay, he had his tonsils out when he was a little kid..Good.,” he says to me. “That could have been a problem.”

Next, he pries my eyes open. “Wear glasses? Suffer from pink eye or wall eye…?”

Before I can answer he twists my head and pulls my ear down. “You’ve got serious wax deposits , son. Do you wash your ears?”

“Every day,” I lie.

A man rushes out of the office, head down, coughing and sputtering.

“You oughta take care of that asthma, Doctor Mulrain,” the red-headed guy calls after him. ” We may have to have you come back with clean ears so we can check on your auditory canal,” he says to me.

My mother had told me to take a shower the night before. I’m thinking of what lie to tell when I come home empty-handed.

” Stand up and face the wall,” he barks.

I obey numbly, still worrying about my mother.

” Bend over and drop your pants,” he says.

My mother had told me to change my underwear. I didn’t and now I’m hoping the stains don’t show.

“Underwear, too,” the guy says.

I hesitate.

“You want your working papers or what?”

I pull my jockeys down.

“Okay,” the guy says. “Now spread the cheeks of your ass…C’mon spread ‘em, this isn’t a fashion show.”

I’m fourteen and a half. Nobody has ever seen my ass before. I’m mortified. The red-headed guy walks up and down.

“Okay, pull ‘em up..” He turns to the men in the office. “Okay?”

“Okay,” they say.

He takes me outside to his desk. “You pass,” he says. Scribbles a note and hands the folded paper to me. “Give this to the nurse across the hall.”

This door has a sign that reads New York City Board of Health. The office looks more like a doctor’s waiting room. A chill of suspicion spreads through me. A nurse at a desk is putting on lipstick, puckering into a compact mirror.


“I just took the physical for my working papers,” I say, and give her the note.

She reads it, shaking her head. “Fat red-headed guy across the hall give this to you?”


“Did he examine you?”

“Yes,” I say and realize from her look that something is horribly wrong.

“Wait here,” she says, and walks into an inner office.

I dive for the note. It says: “Lunch? Blarney Castle?

A minute later the nurse comes out with an elderly man with a droopy gray mustache. “You’re not in mama’s kitchen now, sonny,” he says in a thick Yiddish accent. “You have to know where you’re going, who you’re supposed to see and what you’re talking about. ” He takes a gold pocket watch out of his vest pocket. “I’m going to lunch.”

“Those guys played a mean, stupid trick on you,” the nurse says.

“But the guard downstairs told me I needed a physical.”

“He was wrong,” she says. ” All we need is an adult’s consent.” She hands me a form. “Fill this out and have your parent or guardian sign it. Then bring it back or send it in…” She sees my stricken look. “Those guys are big jokers. Workman’s Comp claims, they have nothing to do all day long…They’re jerks. Forget it.”

Humiliation is felt sharply by the very young. I go out into the hall, sick with the memory of what just happened. I want to get out of that building and never come back. But in 1957 Brooklyn is still under the Napoleonic Code. Honor must be defended, insults avenged. I barge back into the fat redhead’s office to have it out with him.

The office is empty, phones ringing, cigarettes still smoldering in ashtrays, like everybody ran out in a panic. Just a typical lunch time in the Civil Service.

I go to the guy’s desk bent on retributive damage. A typewriter–I could bend the keys. A stack of forms–I could tear them up. I open a drawer. There is a fountain pen case. On a red plush bed is a Parker Pen. It’s the new 61 model, gold cap, red body, “self-filling by capillary action,” the advertisement says. It’s the coolest pen brand in the world. William Holden, the epitome of suave, is its official spokesman. This guy obviously loves the pen. He keeps it in its case on its red plush bed.

I pocket he pen and snap the case shut. The corridor is empty. The lobby is teeming, but I know exactly where I’m going. Outside, I pass the Blarney Castle on the way to the subway. The redheaded guy is laughing it up with his buddies at the bar.

I used that pen for twenty years. Every time I wrote a note or signed a check I thought of that redheaded guy trying to figure out who had stolen his precious Parker 61. When its capillaries couldn’t suck up ink anymore I put it out to pasture in my desk drawer as a reward for services rendered.




PARIS, 1961. Grown ups run the world. Nobody has heard of Vietnam. Doris Day is Number One at the box office. Every time Mickey Mantle hits a home run the Yankees send 5000 cartons of Camels to the Veterans hospitals. Men wear fedoras and couples hold each other when they dance. The big thing is to be a “non-conformist.”

Jean Paul Belmondo in Breathless is my role model. I’m going to be cool, doomed and irresistible. I drop out of Brooklyn College in my first semester, cash in my $800 Regents Scholarship and hop a German freighter to Bremerhaven. Two weeks later I’m in a fleabag on the Left Bank, wondering what do with the bidet.

A group of beautiful young girls live on the floor above me. They shrug coldly when I pass them on the stairs. I see some of them in the streets with older men, who I take for their fathers. Is this a “dormitoire for the universitay?” I ask the concierge. “It is a maison for zee prostitution,” he replies.

My plan is to follow in the great tradition of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and sit at a cafe, Gauloise dangling from my lips, adoring demoiselle at my side, writing the next Great American Novel. But the coffee makes me jumpy, the cigarettes make me nauseous and after a few weeks the demoiselles still haven’t gotten the memo.

I pick a cafe on the Boulevard St. Michel and sit for hours, nursing a cafe creme. The waiter, an elderly, vinous professional in a starched white jacket fights a desperate battle to keep me away. He puts the chairs on his tables and shouts “Ferme! ” at my approach, mops ammonia around my feet to chase me and makes disparaging remarks which I don’t understand to shame me into giving up my table to a tipping customer. I am oblivious to his efforts, although years later I remember and suffer a pang of guilt for the money I cost him.

Maurice, a Moroccan with no visible means of support, befriends me. We are a funny duo–he, short, dark and voluble in dark woolen suits no matter the weather and me in the khaki denim-blue workshirt uniform of the Greenwich Village Boho, stooping and and squinting to understand his pidgin English. One night he knocks at my door.

“We are going to the discotheque,” he says. “Vite, I have twin Austrian sisters who are”–he kisses his fingers–”magnifigue.”

Visions of giggly, buxom blondes, dancing in my head I run downstairs to find a pair of Lipizzaners in their mid-thirties. I can tell my date from her sister because she’s wearing the tinted bifocals. She looks at me like I’m a piece of blutwurst. She tells me her name, but it sounds like “gonorrhea” to me so I call her “Greta.”

We go to a restaurant with red banquettes where real French people are eating. I reach into my pocket to check my funds, but Maurice grabs my wrist under the table. I realize that in Paris “magnifique” means the ladies are picking up the check. Also, that at some point in the evening I will be called upon to perform a service. Greta is starting to worry about this, too. She plies me with oysters and white wine. Then orders biftek tartare au cheval. The waiter raises an eyebrow. A few minutes later a ball of raw meat appears with an egg yolk quivering on top of it , garnished with a scoop of mayo, some pickles, capers and onions. Everyone attacks it with gusto and the carafes keep coming so I join in. Luckily, I don’t know that cheval means horse.

Next, Maurice announces we are going to La Discotheque. This is a huge deal and everybody is thrilled. I put the words together and come up with “library for records.”

Maurice springs for a taxi to the Rue La Huchette. We make a bizarre foursome–the hyper Moroccan,two hefty Austrian twins in print dresses and me in my blue serge high school graduation suit. We never would have made the cut in a New York club, but the captain understands immediately and takes us to a booth in the corner. The room is dark. A dim light plays over the dance floor where well-dressed couples are dancing to a primitive play list, mixing Sinatra, bouncy swing and French crooners.

I am used to live music. The only time I’ve ever danced to records was at house parties so this all seems kind of cheesy to me. I can dimly make out the DJ changing records in a kind of glassed-in studio.

It’s all very decorous and subdued. The French take their fun seriously. Even the strip joints have a solemn, ritualized air about them. I’m a kid from Brooklyn used to vulgar, blatant displays. I am seeing the future and don’t know it.

After a few dances Maurice says: “let’s go to the scopi.”

He leads us into another room where people are clustered in front of a kind of movie juke box. You put in a coin and see a short dramatized film of a hit record. It’s called a “scopitone,” and only has about ten songs on it. The films last three minutes and feature quick cutting and girls in bikinis and lingerie. Maybe it’s the music or the stars–Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan are much too French for a kid who grew up on “Speedo”, and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”–but I find the whole thing incredibly tedious.

By now the oysters and the horse are fighting an artillery battle in my stomach. An elderly female attendant sits outside the bathroom door reading France Soir. I give her twenty centimes for a slug to open the door.

The toilet requires bombardier training. There are two footprints over a hole in the tile floor. The idea is to place your feet in the prints and squat over the hole. I figure that out, but neglect to move my trousers away from the target area. The attendant is lighting a Gauloise as I come out. I find a back stairway that goes past the kitchen into an alley and hurry back to the hotel. I never see Maurice or the Austrians again.

I spend six months in France and never go to a discotheque. In New York a few years later I see a scopitone in a bar downtown. It’s a cute novelty, but doesn’t last because the films cost too much to make, I’m told.

I was present as the disco and the music video took their first faltering steps on the way to revolutionizing popular culture. I never did write that Great American Novel. But I did learn how to use a bidet.

Now, twelve years later, I get a chance to work at the hottest disco in New York.



RED HOOK, Brooklyn, September 12…Until last week Barb Blasingame thought Shylock was just a character in  a Shakespeare play. 

But then her bank turned her down for a home equity loan. 

Now Barb knows that Shylock is alive and well and going by the name of Fat Funzi   of Sackett Street and she couldn’t be happier.

“Call him a loanshark if you like, but Fat Funzi saved my life,” she says.

Barb and her husband Pabu, a Tibetan weaver, have been running Yayla Rugs out of their brownstone on Fifth Avenue in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn since they left their ashram in Ashland, Oregon six years ago. 

“We were dewy-eyed hippies ripe for the plucking,” she says, “but Brooklyn took us to its bosom and gave us life.”

They prospered in this newly trendy area, selling the colorful 150 knot rugs that Pabu’s family have been weaving for centuries.  “We dealt with the newly childed wealthy,” Barb says. “They were young, accomplished and expanding their lives to include new souls.”

But then tragedy struck. Working late into the night to fill their orders Pabu fell asleep at his loom of rods. A spark from his prayer lamp, which burns clarified yak butter, dropped onto the tangle of pure mountain sheep wool at his feet. Within seconds his work room was aflame. 

Pabu was lucky to get out with minor burns, but the work room was destroyed. With their customers clamoring something had to be done. Barb went to the bank to extend her home equity loan. To her astonishment they turned her down.

“The loan officer was very sweet,” she says. “He explained that the bank was carrying so many bad loans that it couldn’t lend any more money. He also said that he had to close our credit line because the value of our home had dropped below the amount we owed, between mortgage and home equity…”

Barb did some research. She found that Americans owed $1.1 trillion in home equity loans.  As of 2007 more than 5 per cent of those loans were delinquent or in default. That number had shot up to 11 per cent in the first few months of 2008. Banks were taking billions of dollars in bad debt write offs. More than 60% of banks had tightened their loan criteria. It was estimated that $50 billion had been taken out of the credit market in the last few months.

It looked like Barb and Pabu were going to become casualties of the sub prime crisis. But then their guru Soygal Rinpoche told them about a mysterious benefactor. He guided them down Sackett Street, past Googie’s Adorables and Riskay Rita’s Unmentionables. In between Fern’s Tchotchkies and Tots’n'Tubers, which specializes in teaching toddlers creative projects with root veggies, was a storefront its windows painted black.

“I had walked this street ten thousand times and never seen it,” Barb says. “I realized I was entering another dimension.”

Inside the dark room she found a huge fat man sitting like an inscrutable Buddha on a bridge chair. 

“He said his name was Fat Funzi,” Barb says, “but I knew he was an avatar of Tsho-Gyalma, the God of Happiness.”

Fat Funzi was a man of few words. 

“How much you want?” he asked Barb.

She told him and he nodded.

“Six for five,” he said. And the deal was done.

The mob reigned supreme in Brooklyn for many years, but fell on hard times in the ’90′s.

“Giuliani put us in jail,” Fat Funzi said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Event, “but Alan Greenspan put us out of business.” 

Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve Bank, presided over the largest  expansion of credit in  history.

“Under Greenspan any deadbeat could get a loan,” Funzi said. “You didn’t need no collateral, no references. You didn’t need to come to me no more…”

Funzi gloats over what happened next. “But deadbeats don’t pay back. And if you can’t collect  with a two-by-four you’re outta luck.”

As of March 2008, ten percent of the mortgages were delinquent or in default. Banks were foreclosing on property that was worth less than their loans. Billions of dollars of mortgage derivatives were transformed into junk. Investment banks went under.  Retail banks facing huge losses, had no money to lend. 

“We were back in business again,” said Funzi.

After years of indigence the Mob was cash poor as well. But it had ways of raising capital.

Barb’s first loan  was in sacks of quarters that Funzi’s boys got from plundering parking meters. Then there was an envelope of two-dollar bills burglarized from a collection upstate. Hundreds came rolled up with traces of cocaine. 

“Funzi said they were donated by ex drug dealers who wanted to give back to the community,” Barb says.

Funzi even arranged for contractors to come and rebuild Pabu’s work room. They didn’t need an approval from the city.

“Funzi said the building inspectors were with him,” Barb says. “He took my hand in the nicest way and said: You’re with me, too. Nobody will ever bother you again.”

Barb felt she was going back in time to the old Brooklyn that existed before the settlers came from Manhattan and the Continent.

“It was like finding middens, remnants of an old civilization,” she says. “There had been a rich native culture here once.”  “With its own traditions, its own rituals.”

She says she learned some of the native language. 

“Vig was the interest on the loan. It was very zen. You paid and paid, but it never got any smaller.”

Only Funzi had power over the “vig.”

He taught me another word,” says Barb. “Gummare…It was like the Chinese custom of the second wife. Funzi said if I became his gummare he would make the vig go away.”

But Pabu said polyandry was forbidden in the Tibetan culture and Barb gratefully refused Funzi’s offer.

Then, after a few missed payments, Barb learned a new meaning for the word “kneecap.”

In the hospital, Pabu did some research. When he  came off the crutches he told Barb he had discovered a branch of Buddhism, the Vagrayana, that allowed a married woman to become the “spiritual consort” of another man.

Now balance has been restored. The debt is repaid. Pabu’s loom is clicking. Barb has  a huge diamond ring and a diamond choker so heavy she can hardly hold her head up.

“Everywhere we go Funzi introduces me as his Spiritual Consort,” Barb says. “His friends laugh and clap and everybody’s just in the best mood.”