Wiseguys

You’ve heard of Nicholas Pileggi…? The writer…? Husband of Nora Ephron…? Diverting from my usual lean toward LIT-tra-ture, I briefly crossed over to the dark side — my dark side: the true-crime-reading side of me that’s passionate about all things mafia.

I finally read “Wiseguy.” I was not disappointed.

“Goodfellas,” a masterpiece of cinema by the brilliant Martin Scoscese and one of my favorite films about the mob, is the film based on this book.

I stumbled on “Wiseguy” in the Book Revue, an independent bookstore in Huntington, NY. An institution, this store is a holdout from the “good old days;” the days when everyone from every walk of life bought books and actually read them.

If you’ve seen the film (and who hasn’t?) and recall the superb narration by Ray Liotta — who played the Henry Hill character — then I can vouch for the fact that he got Hill’s “voice” down to a tee.

For Pileggi, “Wiseguy” had to be not only a fun experience but a breeze to write (if there is such a thing), because a very large chunk of the book is in quotations, taken right from the mouth of the highly entertaining Henry Hill.

As a journalist, Pileggi wrote mostly about the organized crime. The pace of “Wiseguy” is quick, with no dead spots (except for the murders, ha ha) and frighteningly revealing, particularly about airport security, pre-9/11.

As in — there was none. Who knew that the mafia controlled the airports. This book is a real education about who actually ran (and runs?) this city.

In this morning’s Times, I read about a member of the Colombo crime family on trial (uh, I thought Giuliani or some N.Y. law enforcement agency had supposedly busted the the mob using the Rico Law…?)

Well, they’re still around, apparently. Not as darkly glamorous as in the days of Gotti, et al., but they have a presence.  It seems that a Colombo gangster refused to appear in court in handcuffs because it was just too humiliating for someone of his stature.

You gotta love it.

In my birth family, a mob “hit” made for many a warm and fuzzy moment at the dinner table. My mom bought just about every newspaper (in the other “good old days” when people read newspapers) published in N.Y.C.

How we would bond as a family over these notorious mob rub-outs (with the exclusion of my father,  perhaps because he was 100% Italian and grew up in East New York, the turf of the mob — a fact I also learned in “Wiseguy” — and was a little too “close” to their dangerous reality.)

We read The Daily News, New York Daily Mirror, The Long Island Press, The Herald Tribune, Newsday — and on Sundays, also The New York Times. 

A mob hit was always followed by an animated family conversation, rife with details. Some of the hightlights:

There was Joe Colombo (shot at an Italian American rally in Columbus Circle in 1971);

Crazy Joe Gallo (gunned down in Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy in 1972 — after a night out with actor Jerry Orbach [of Law & Order] and his wife);

Carmine Galante, a capo in the Bonanno crime family, murdered in 1979 in the backyard garden of Joe & Mary’s restaurant in Bushwick, cigar still in his mouth;

Gambino boss Big Paulie Castellano shot on the sidewalk in front of a midtown Manhattan steakhouse in 1985 on an order by John Gotti (who then took over as head of the Gambino crime family);

Michael “The Bat” DeBatte, killed by “Sammy the Bull” Gravano in 1987 at Tali’s Bar in Brooklyn;

Anthony DiLapi of the Lucchese family, who moved to L.A. trying to get away from the mob, rubbed out by Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso.

And let’s not forget “Vinny the Chin” Gigante of the Genovese crime family wandering the streets of New York in his bathrobe, feigning insanity.

Or Joe Bananas, The Dapper Don, Big Tuna, Tony the Animal, Tony Bagels, Meatball, Fat Dennis, Vinny Carwash, The Claw, Jimmy Gooch, Cheeks or Junior Lollipops.

And the famous “Billy Batts” scene from “Goodfellas”? Remember when “Spit-Shine Tommy,” the Joe Pesci character, helped by “Jimmy the Gent,” kills capo “Batts” for insulting him in the bar?

In real life, it was the up and coming Johnny Gotti who would order the hit on Tommy.

100% true, gleaned from the pages of “Wiseguy.”

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