Philly The Voice – June 1960
But what I like is a nice sausage sandwich; the sweet sausage with a lot of peppers and onions. So I’m gonna to stop at the Golden Pizza on my way down the Feast. The Saint’s Day’s the same as my birthday and the Feast always ends on the Sunday after. This year they both fall on a Friday and it’s a nice night, just right for the middle of June. So I come down MacDougal Street – you can’t move with all the people – and there’s a few guys outside the pizza joint passing remarks about the tourists and the bohawks and saying like, “Hello, sweetheart,” to the girls passing by. They say to me, “Hello, Charlie Ten-Pin,” that everybody in the neighborhood calls me ’cause I work in my Uncle Cosmo’s bowling alley on West Third Street. And ‘cause I bowl a ball, believe me, that hits that one-three pocket like a bomb and always leaves the ten-pin standing, I can’t understand it.
One of the guys says to me that Tommy Sacks and Dennis O. was by looking for me, and they said they’re gonna be down the Feast by the bandstand around nine-thirty. I go in to get my sandwich and while I’m waiting, what? I gotta listen to Mario Muscles that’s just off the boat less than year while he scrapes the peppers and onions around the grill and tells me about the fourteen broads he laid in like the last three days. But the sandwich is beautiful and I go to take it outside and eat it nice, with a napkin over the curb, ‘cause I don’t want any grease on the Ban-Lon, right?
Around nine-fifteen I come past the playground on the corner of MacDougal and Houston. And Houston looks even wider and yellowy-bright with all the side streets small and dark. Even the colored lights and flags don’t make Sullivan look anything but canyony, like any neighborhood street. The church is the whole length of the block from Sullivan to Thompson, and every year along the side they build this life-size Nativity at Christmas, and every year some clown steals the Baby Jesus.
When I pass the church doors I could see Father Albert and a couple of young priests and a few old ladies on the steps. I can see Father Albert’s took off the socks he mostly wears under his sandals, but he’s got a pair of baggy chinos on under the brown Franciscan habit thing. He looks at me like, you know, stern, but the hell with him. I got nothing to say to Father Albert since the time two years ago when he don’t let Philly on the C.Y.O intermediate basketball team. It’s the beginning of the season and we’re all in a line to put down our names for the team: Pianoforte, DiCicco, Orlando and like that, and then Philly says, “Costello”. Father Albert looks at him very sharp and says, “You’re not from this Parish. You can only play for your own Parish.” So Philly comes from over St. Veronica’s, and they ain’t got any C.Y.O. teams – which means you can play for another Parish – but everybody knows what it really is is that Father Albert don’t want any Micks playing for his team. So I says to him, “What’s the matter with Costello, Father? That’s gotta be an Italian name. What about Frank?” He looks very nasty and says, “Don Francesco’s name is Castiglia.” What a ball-breaker; a priest calling a racket guy ‘Don’. I don’t know though, maybe he ought to show these guys some respect, the money he takes off them. But even before that I don’t like Father Albert since the time Frankie Arcone comes in the shower and throws evergreen on everybody’s nuts, and Father Albert’s running all over the place with a towel yelling, “Quick, let me rub it off!”
But it’s nice just walking through the Feast, you know, just when it’s getting dark, with the nice smells and the little kids going ‘apozz’ cause they don’t wanna go up the house, and the women in the doorways yelling at them and complaining about the tourists. Only none of the young ones got their housecoats on. You could stop and throw away a few nickels on the toss or the wheel. Although, God forbid you should win anything. Two years ago, on my sixteenth birthday, was the first time I got really, but I mean really, polluted. I win this bottle of chianti off one of the wheels and drink half of that on top of five Seven-and-Sevens and around ten bottles of beer. I woke up three o’clock in the morning on the stone bench under the billboard on Sixth Avenue, corner of Charlton Street, with puke all over my new Stetson Italiano wing-tips from Siegal Brothers, and feeling like I never want to put anything in my mouth for the rest of my life.
Another thing is you could walk through the Feast and you could see a lot of people you didn’t see them for a long time. Like tonight I run into Tony Galli that went bohawk. I remember Tony when he was this real sharp, real good-looking guy, then, boom, one summer he’s all raggy jeans and sandals and hanging out around The Gaslight and The Fat Black Pussy Cat with all these Bronx bagel babies that wear white lipstick. But he could come down the Feast and nobody’s gonna give him a hard time. And there’s always a bunch of the Irish guys come from Philly’s old neighborhood around Hudson Street over near the river. I remember around ’52-’53, when Philly and me was maybe eleven, when there was the last big Irish-Italian war across Seventh Avenue. After that everybody started hanging out in Dirty Waters and didn’t fight anybody but the bohawks and Puerto Ricans. Dirty Waters, if you don’t know the neighborhood, is this soda fountain luncheonette on Bleeker Street, next door to John’s Pizzeria. Its real name is the Village Confectionary, but one time a few guys from the neigborhood went in there and the guy behind the fountain wipes the counter with this filthy rag he grabs out of the sink underneath and Eddie Mooch starts calling the place Dirty Waters. The owner and his wife they hate that name, but they always did all right out of the people that went in there – no matter what they called it. And what are you gonna do, tell people you’re gonna meet them down the Village Confectionary? Forget it. Philly started hanging out in Dirty Waters when he was like fourteen-fifteen ’cause he said it had a great jukebox, and then he was always around the South Village in general and don’t spend much time in his old neighborhood. Mainly he used to say it was ‘cause there’s nothing in the world more beautiful than sixteen year-old Italian girls and nothing scaggier than sixteen year-old Irish girls. Although he hadda admit that sometimes the Irish girls last better and don’t fat up after the first baby the way the Italians do.
And the East Side comes over to visit, like we always go over to their Feast in September. There was never any trouble between the two neighborhoods since the time the Fourth Ward tried to come and take over Thompson Street. What a joke! They got ambushed in front of Connie’s when they thought everybody had hid. There was even a few pieces around that night, but none of them went off. But like you never get real gang wars in Italian neighborhoods ‘cause the racket guys don’t stand for it. They see some punks walking around in like club jackets or anything, they grab them and give them a smack in the head and tell ‘em, “What’re you, tryin’ to give the neighborhood a bad name?” Anyway, that was a few years ago, but still it’s like a little formal meeting between foreign countries. You know what I mean?
In fact, when I get about two-thirds of the way down the block between Prince and Spring I can see Tommy Sacks and Dennis O. standing on the sidewalk next to the bandstand drinking beer with three guys from the East Side. One of them leans out over the curb when he sees me.
“Hello, Charlie Ten-Pin. How are ya? I didn’t see you since the last time you come down the ‘A’s with Philly. What’s the matter, you don’t like Hester Street no more?
“Whataysay, Nicky Blue?” I says to him.
I reach in this bag of zeppole that I just bought and grab one for myself and then offer the bag around to Tommy, Dennis, Nicky and the two guys with him. One of them his name is Angelo and he’s some relation to Tommy Ryan that owns all the jukeboxes and cigarette machines. You ever buy cigarettes and get matches that say Tryan Cigarette Co., that’s Tommy Ryan’s machine; only his real name is Tomas Eboli. The other guy with Nicky is Bobby The Indian who’s this real stone-face guy that don’t have a lot to say, and what he says he says very quiet. That’s now. I was in Seventh-Eighth Grade with Bobby and, believe me, he was a very noisy kid.
“’Ey, Charlie,” says Nicky, “we come over to see your Feast. You gonna buy us a beer, or what?
I look in the bag and wish I asked the guy to put more sugar on the zeppole, and that I didn’t meet anybody for another five minutes. “Maybe later,” I says.
“’Ey, what a scumbag,” says Nicky, smiling at me.
“How could you put one of them in your mouth after last Sunday?” says Dennis, looking at the zeppole. Then he looks at the East Side guys and says: “You hear about that? About Ralph Cammaratta?”
“What?” says Angelo. He knows Ralph ‘cause sometimes Ralph does some work for Tommy Ryan.
“These guys come over from Jersey. You know, young guys, they can’t get served where they come from? And one of them starts getting smart with Ralphie’s niece. Right on her own doorstep, the balls these guys got. So after a while she gives him a smack in the mouth and – you believe this? – the guy hits her back. Ralph caught the guy later in the middle of the Feast and he sticks his head right in Joe Barretta’s hot oil-vat.”
“Jesus,” says Angelo, “what happened to the guy?”
“What happened to the guy? He got burned. Whataya think happened to guy, jerk-off?”
“What about Ralph?” says Nicky.
“What?” says Dennis. “Who’s gonna say anything to Ralphie Cammaratta around this neighborhood for looking after his own niece?”
We don’t anybody say anything for a minute, then Tommy laughs, sort of nasty-like, and says: “Jersey! What balls.”
After another little while Nicky says to me: “’Ey, where’s Philly? He don’t come down the Feast no more? He’s too uptown for his old neighborhood, or what?”
“He’s coming down tonight. I seen him in Googie’s on Monday. Who says he’s getting too uptown for the neighborhood? Who?”
“Take it easy, Charlie. Nobody’s got a word to say about Philly. I wish him all the luck in the world.”
I gotta believe him. Nicky wouldn’t lie to you. If he thought bad about anybody he’s gonna tell them to their face. I’m wondering what I’m getting so excited about when Nicky steps into the street and gives me like a little poke in the gut.
“Charlie Ten-Pin, you know what I’m doing in September?”
“What?” I gotta laugh at this guy, right?
“I’m going to college. Whataya think of that?”
“College?” says Tommy. “Whataya going to college for?”
“Whataya mean ‘what am I going to college for? I’m going to college to go to college. Whataya think I’m going to college for? Jerk-off! St. John’s, over in Brooklyn. Good, heh?”
I says to him: “What? You gonna wear like a button-down collar and a beanie? You’re gonna look great.”
“’Ey, be nice! Who does that anymore? Last year Georgie Basile and two other guys from Power Memorial started St. John’s and some of these fraternity jerks grab them and want to know where’s their beanies and what fraternity they’re gonna join. Georgie drops the guy with one shot, boom! After that the fraternities can’t get anybody but creeps to join, and everybody wants to hang out with Georgie and them.”
While I’m laughing I look up toward Spring Street and I see this light-blue Caddy stop at the corner. A guy gets out – we all know him – he’s Vito The Animal, and he moves the police roadblock thing that’s across the top of the block. The Caddy turns into Sullivan Street and comes down slow towards us, and Vito puts the police thing back where it was. The Caddy stops on the other side of the street, a little up from the bandstand. When the door opens everybody gets a little quiet, and then starts talking louder than before. It takes a long time for the guy in the back seat to get out ‘cause he’s so fat. The guy is Ralphie Cammaratta’s brother, Vinny, that everybody calls Throat ’cause he’s so fat that his neck like sticks out in the front of his face. He stands there a minute smiling over at the old guys up on the bandstand while this kid about eight, nine years-old gets out of the Caddy and stands next to him. When Vinny Throat walks across the street it seems like he makes a lot of noise ’cause all his clothes flap on him like flags at the ballpark.. He wears his hair cut very short for a neighborhood guy, and he’s got this thing around his neck; it’s like a piece of gauze with strings attached to each corner and tied up behind. When he gets close you could see he’s all shiny from sweat, and the piece of gauze is dripping. He’s coming past us when he stops and looks at Tommy very sad. When he gives Tommy a little smack on the side of the head I could see a big circle of sweat stain on his shirt under the armpit. And the smell off him…Jeez! The kid is looking up very sharp and rat-face like at Vinny when Vinny says to Tommy, “You and Philly better keep singin’ good, kid. What you pulled the other night, if you wasn’t Tony Sacharelli’s pisane… Don’t let me have to come lookin’ for you, kid.”
“Ey, Vin, no problem. I see you next week, like I said.”
“Next week, all right. The week after, God help you.”
He don’t hardly look at the rest of us except he nods like at Angelo before he walks away with the kid into the empty lot behind the bandstand where they got some of the concession stands set up. Dennis looks at Tommy Sacks like ‘what…?” and Tommy just heaves a shoulder, irritable-like.
“I hadda leave a little paper in a gin game down the Bella Napoli the other night. What could I tellya?”
He lights a Lucky and throws the match after Vinny Throat’s back as Vinny and the kid go back across the street. They got a slice of pizza each, a bag of zeppole and Vinny’s carrying three bottles of beer and a soda. He gives a bottle of beer each to Vito The Animal and Chunz, the other guy in the Caddy, and him and the kid go to sit on the stoop opposite the bandstand and eat and drink and listen to the white hair and baldy guys playing their old Italian opera-type tunes. Vito and Chunz sit in the Caddy sipping beer and looking up and down the street now and then. I’m standing there with the rest of them, looking at my shoeshine and about to say, ‘how ‘bout a walk around the block’, when this voice behind me says, “Is this the Feast of St. Anthony, or are yous all waitin’ for Confession?”
There’s Philly, none of us saw him before, looking over Nicky’s shoulder at the Caddy. I step off the curb and then I look down at my hand and I’m wondering why I still got the greasy zeppole bag all crumpled up, I didn’t throw it away. I drop it in the gutter and go to shake hands with Philly, but he bends down, picks up the bag and goes over to these garbage cans in front of the house next to the empty lot. He picks up the lid off one of the cans and drops the bag in and says, just like that little girl on the television ads: “Sam Lemonson does it. Mayor Wagner does it…” Everybody cracks up.
Like almost always Philly has a nice clean handkerchief he carries in his hand, only, believe me, he ain’t no junkie. He lets it drop from the right to the left and holds out his right hand to me. I go to shake it and he gives me a little jab combination to the head.
“Happy birthday, Charlie Ten-Pin. Sweet eighteen and never been… What?
“Ey, Philly…” I got nothing else to say.
Then Philly he holds his hand out again, flat with the fingers spread and Nicky shakes it good, like they ain’t seen each other for a long time. Which, for all I know, they ain’t.
“Hello, Nicky Blue,” says Philly. “The last time I seen you was down St. Gennaro’s; you was on top of the greasepole, drinkin’ out of a gallon of guinea red.”
“Ey, Philly The Voice,” says Nicky, “howarya, ya filthy Mick?”
Philly shrugs, does some more with the handkerchief, and then puts it in his pocket. He’s wearing these sharp English mohair pants with a ten inch rise and inverted pleats, and monogrammed grey-on-grey short-sleeve from Al Kaplan with a three and a half inch lock collar. Like everybody but me he’s got his shirt unbuttoned with the tails out loose over his undershirt. Philly’s the only one don’t wear a Cross on a chain around his neck. He don’t wear a watch or any rings either. Philly ain’t a bad looking guy, you know, he takes after his mother for color. She’s part Italian and dark, and when Philly and me was kids she was something to see, believe me. His old man’s dead five-six years now but he was big and sandy with all Irish freckles. Last Easter a few of us go to see Philly and the guys on the Alan Freed show at The Academy of Music over in Brooklyn, and they got this picture of Philly outside. It’s all fuzzy-focus like, with his collar up and a bomb across his forehead, There’s this Brooklyn jerk-off in front of us, one of these jadrools in a motorcycle jacket, and he says, pointing at Philly’s picture, “Look at that fairy.” I mean, I hadda hit him, right?
So Philly’s standing in the gutter. He’s got on hand on Tommy’s right shoulder and the other hand on Dennis’s left should, and he goes, real high:
“Whee-oo, whee-oo, Flor-ence, I-I love you so,
Oh, oh, oh, you’re an angel, from the heavens up above.
Oh, oh, oh, oh oh, Florence, be true-oo-ee-oo to-oo me.”
And Tommy holds that nice second tenor Ahhh, and Dennis gives the doo-bom, doo-bom right down low, like Sherman Garnes. One of the old guys up on the bandstand – he’s got this white moustache and a straw hat, he must’ve got it off Garbaldi – he looks down very, you know, reproachful like.
“Ey, you kids get to have this bandstand all to yourself in half an hour. Why don’t you take that noise over the bocci court?”
Philly stops singing right away and gives the guy a blast of ‘Vidi Pagliacci’ or one of them in a that fake-opera voice, only smaller. He stops.
“Sorry, Pop,” says Philly smiling at the old guy.
“Go on, you sing later,” says the old man. Philly keeps smiling at him and goes to give himself a smack on the jaw.
I’m walking over with Philly to the empty lot and up to one of the stands selling beer and soda and watermelon. I’m looking at Philly and thinking that away from the guys he don’t look so full of laughs. But he catches me looking at him.
He puts away his handkerchief and pulls out a roll of paper money and says to the guy behind the stand: “Gimme seven beers, please.” He pulls off a twenty and gives it to the guy. He gets his change and he’s about to pick up four of the bottles when the guy waves a piece of paper and a ball-point at Philly and his face looks a little embarrassed like.
“Philly, do me a favor? For my niece, Angela…”
Philly dries off his hands and writes on the paper: ‘To Angela, with best wishes, Philly Costello.’ He don’t really smile at the guy when he gives him back the pen and paper, though he moves his mouth a little. As we’re going back to the street I says to him, “What’s the matter, Philly The Voice, you don’t like bein’ a star?”
He goes like he’s gonna crack my head with two bottles and some beer runs down his hand.
“This is the neighborhood: you’re a star, you’re different. Who the fuck wants to be different around the neighborhood?
But it’s getting real nice now. It’s dark but you could only tell it was night if you looked up above the lights over the street. There’s still people yelling what they got to sell but it don’t sound like yelling when it’s all mixed up with the music and everything. The old guys have got off the bandstand and there’s just Bobby Palladino up there by himself playing records. There’s some people dancing in the street in front of the bandstand, mostly girls dancing with each other. We’re all sitting opposite on this little loading bay, except for Philly and Tommy and Dennis. They’re standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of us singing ‘Tonight, Tonight’ nice and quiet. I’m still drinking beer but just to have something in my hand.
Then I see there’s three girls come over to lean on the Caddy to listen to the singing. They all got scarves around their head cause it’s Friday night and they’re gonna wash their hair in the morning and go around all day Saturday with the curlers in while they go to the launderette and look after their little brother and like that. And then they’ll do the comb-out and get dressed for the dance in the Church Hall around the corner on Thompson Street. Every Saturday night they go in there, past the statue of St. Sebastian with all the arrows sticking out of his chest, and everybody dances around under the backboards and the basketball nets that look weird in the blue light. And Father Albert goes around with a flashlight during the slow dances making sure nobody’s doing The Fish.
I know all these girls a long time. One of them is Jeannie Barase. She’s one of these kind of fat girls that can be smart with the guys without looking like she’s coming on. She’s got her sister Francine with her that’s kind of skinny, and last year Philly makes me ask her to come with me on the bus trip to Bear Mountain ‘cause she had to go by herself the last two years. They got Marie Volpe with them that some people says she’s a whore ’cause they heard she let Johnny Puzio make her give him a hand job once over Leroy Park. Philly and them had the same four-five bottles of beer as the rest of us and they’re going a little ‘apozz’ doing that Lewis Lymon song ‘I’m So Happy’, with Philly doing a four-corner cross-over dance step and snapping his fingers from side to side, except his right hand fingers don’t snap ’cause he still holding the handkerchief. When they finish the song Philly laughs like and picks up his beer. He goes over to the girls; they’re leaning on the Caddy with their arms folded like they’re all afraid their tits are going to fall off.
“Hello, Phillip,” says Jeannie.
“Ey, whataya say, Jeanne Barase?” says Philly. “Hello, Francine. How’s Mother Cabrini treatin’ you? Ey, Marie, I didn’t see you for a long time. Howareya?”
“You never come around the neighborhood anymore, Philly. Everybody says you like it better uptown.” Jeannie says this very sweet, like Sister used to talk just before she got the ruler going on your knuckles.
“What’s the matter, I can’t come down the Feast no more? Besides, I gotta see Charlie Ten-Pin on his birthday, right?” They all laugh, the girls.
“Happy birthday, Charles,” says Francine, and they all laugh some more into their shoulders.
“Yeah, yeah,” I says. Girls! God preserve me.
All the girls from around the neighborhood they’re a little funny about Philly. I mean he went out for two years with this girl, Claire, from around Grove Street, but she broke up with him and he got very moody. I see him sitting around Dirty Waters all the time listening to ‘A Thousand Miles Away’ on the jukebox and I gotta ask him what fucking James Dean movie he thinks he’s in. It’s the only time I nearly had a fight with Philly since we was kids. And now, since he made records, they all like to know him and fool around the block and everything, but they’re a little scared about what goes on uptown. Like two of the girls from the neighborhood they went to see Philly and them when they’re doing this Dick Clark Show in a television theater up on Forty-sixth Street, and after they see him in a coffee shop with a colored girl from that group the Tren-tones. They don’t know what goes on. I mean, they don’t mind mulanyans on a record, but one hanging out with a neighborhood guy is weird for them.
So I look over and I could see Nicky and Angelo, they’re on either side of Marie, and they look like they think they got chances for later. That Puzio, what a scumbag he is. The only time in his life he gets a girl to touch him and he’s gotta mouth all over the neighborhood. I seen him once – I’m at this dance with Philly and some guys at Manhattan Center up on Thirty-fourth Street. He comes into the toilet, Puzio. I swear to God, he’s got on this silk suit from that tailors on Eighteenth Street some of the guys go to when they can afford it, with a custom-made white-on-white from Al Kaplan, silk tie, Florsheim wing-tips, nice hat from Dobbs and this vicuna overcoat, hadda cost him six hundred dollars. I’m wearing my high school graduation suit from Barney’s Boys’ Town. You know what he says to me? He says: “Ey, Charlie Ten-Pin,” he says, “lend me two dollars.” What a scumbag! But Marie, she’s not paying any attention ‘cause the music on the bandstand’s stopped and all of sudden all you can hear is Philly singing like nothing I ever hear:
“Ask me for the world, does it seem much?
Ask me for the moon, dear, and I’ll reach out to touch,
And leave it before you, for you, dear only, But please don’t ask me to be lonely…”
Philly’s got his eyes closed and the only way you could tell he was even there is he’s kind of conducting Tommy and Dennis with his hand with the handkerchief still in it. Everybody’s sort of stopped and the girls that were dancing in front of the bandstand’ve come over and they’re all crowded around the Caddy so that Vito The Animal and Chunz are looking around like ’what the hell is goin’ on?’ Vito looks over at Vinny Throat who’s been away awhile in the Feast with the rat-faced kid but now they come back and they’re sitting on the same stoop. I see Angelo lean down and whisper something in Marie’s ear, but she don’t even look at him but just sticks her elbow in his ribs and keeps listening to Philly.
“…great big e-e-eyes of blue,” goes Philly, and Dennis comes in low: “doo-bie, doo-bie, doo…”
“Ask me for the stars, I’ll put them at your command;
Ask me for the diamonds, I’ll put them on your hand.
Do anything for you, for you, dear only, But please… don’t ask me to be lonely.”
And then Philly points at Tommy, and Tommy he sings this high staccato “Don’t ask me to be lone—ly” and he nearly sends the last “—ly” right over the goddamn roofs. Philly laughs when they finish and him and Dennis and Tommy they slap hands like the coons do, and they can none of them stop laughing for a minute. Then Philly he takes the handkerchief and shakes it out by the corners and twirls it into a roll and hangs it around his neck. He goes and sits, sort of collapsed like, on the loading bay and goes: “Ey, Charlie, do me a favor and get us a few beers.” He gives me another twenty and I go to do it.
The music on the bandstand’s started again, but quieter, and a few people are dancing again, but mostly they’re drifting away home and the guy selling the beer, I could see he’s just about to close up; it’s nearly twelve. When I come back with the beers I see Vinny Throat is standing talking to Philly over his fat gut. The kid is still on the stoop and don’t look any tired or whiney the way kids get when they’re up too late. He looks like we used to look just before the racket guys got ready to set off all the left-over firecrackers – the ones they couldn’t sell to the jerks from Queens and Jersey – on Houston Street on the 4th of July. Vinny’s talking the way these guys always talk: soft and nasty, except when they say something that though they say it to you they want everybody around to hear it.
“So, everybody says you’re doin’ very good,” says Vinny.
Philly looks very tired all of a sudden and shrugs. “Yeah. Okay, Vinny.”
“Everybody says you’re doin’ very good except one t’ing.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” says Philly, and I can’t tell if he’s really tired, or what. Vinny leans down as much as he can with that belly on him and he says to the side of Philly’s head: “Whataya wanna let Jews handle your business for?”
You could tell Philly don’t want to show that he can’t stand the smell off Vinny, but only just he don’t want to.
“Jews was the ones that give us a break. That’s who mostly runs the record business. What can I tellya?”
“Who do t’ink runs the fuckin’ Jews? What is it wit’ you, you don’t ask your own to look after you?” Vinny looks like he wants to get mad, or like he wants Philly to think he wants to get mad, but he says: “You’re from the neighborhood, right?
Philly looks over at me and I wish he don’t.
“Do you believe this guy?” says Philly. “From the neighborhood! When I first come around here I can’t get a pinochle game in the Bella Napoli cause I’m a Mick. That faggot priest you got down the block won’t lemme play for his goddamn Wop basketball team, and the first girl I ask to go out with me, she says her father would kill her if she starts goin’ with an Irish guy. Why is an Irishman like a banana? ‘Cause he’s born green, lives yellow and dies rotten. You know how many time I hadda hear that dumb fuckin’ guinea joke?”
Philly’s started to talk real loud and Vito The Animal and Chunz get out of the Caddy. I wish Philly’d took a little easy on the beer. Vinny looks very sad.
“Ey, Philly, whataya getting’ excited for?” he says. “Your mother’s Italian –“
“Sicilian! Half!” says Philly, very bitter.
“Philly! Be nice. I used to live in the same building on Carmine Street with your mother’s cousins. I remember you when you was a kid at Pompei. But you do business uptown, all of a sudden you want to do it with Jews. What is it with you?”
Philly looks at Vinny for a long time. Then he looks at Vito and Chunz. He takes the handkerchief off his neck and folds it up again. He stands up off the loading bay and walks in a little circle, then he looks at Vinny again.
“Whataya want?” he says very loud like, and he reaches his roll out of his pants pocket and throws it on the sidewalk in front of Vinny. There’s got to be five hundred dollars there. “When I’m runnin’ a delivery bike, twenty-two cents an hour, for Balducci’s, do they wanna manage me? When I‘m shapin’ up on the Hemingway ramp down the docks, do they wanna take care of my business for me? Yeah! Now, one and a half hit records and – marone – my mother’s Italian, I’m from the neighborhood and what am I doin’ dealin’ with Jews?” He points down to the ground, Philly, and he says: “You want my money? Why don’t you take it? Do me a favor, just take it and don’t break my fuckin’ balls.”
Vinny shakes his head and says, very quiet: “Ey, Philly, you’re makin’ me look very bad here.” He stands there for a minute and Vito The Animal and Chunz come over and stand either side of him. I’m praying to God they don’t start, ‘cause if they do we’re all going to have to jump in and then, not only we’re going to catch a beatin’, but that’s it for showing a face around the neighborhood again.
Finally Vinny says to the rat-faced kid, “Guido, do your Zio Vincente a favor. Pick up Philly’s money that he dropped.” So the kid stands up real sharp like and walks very straight to where Philly threw the wad. He bends down and picks it up and hands it to Vinny. Vinny counts it and then reaches over and unbuttons the pocket on Philly’s shirt, the one that has the monogram. He tucks the money in the pocket and buttons it again.
“Take it easy, Philly The Voice. It’s a shame I ain’t gonna see you down the Feast no more.” He looks down at the kid. “Come on, Guido. You’re mother’s gonna kill me keepin’ you out so late.” Vito The Animal opens the Caddy door and the kid jumps in. Vinny has to back in slow like, and when he finally gets his fat ass on the back seat he hits the window button and the window rolls down, and he looks at Philly again, very sleepy.
“Say hello to your mother, Philly. Tell her Anne Garbarino’s cousin, Vincente, was askin’ for her.”
The window rolls up again and the Caddy does a U-turn up on the sidewalk by the bandstand. We’re all watching it go off toward Spring Street when Philly says: “Who’s goin’ ’round Milady’s with me?”
We’re walking down Prince Street near the corner of Thompson, and Dennis is saying about the time New Year’s before last when Alphonse the bartender in Milady’s caught us drinking out of our own bottle three o’clock in the morning, and what he would’ve done to us if it wasn’t New Year’s. Everybody laughs except Philly. We get to the bar and Tommy’s halfway in through the door when I look back and see Philly stop. “Ey, Philly…? I start to say, but Philly puts his hands on his knees, bends down and pukes his heart into Thompson Street.
NOTE: This story, written over 40 years ago – before, I may say, I ever saw the film Mean Streets. It was originally intended to be a chapter of a novel that was never completed. A good deal of its background material was recycled – or, to use a phrase of Raymond Chandler’s, ‘cannibalized’- into non-fiction form for the “Notes of a Footnote” memoir particularly in the chapters 6, “Dirty Waters” and 7, “Shopping For Clothes”. In it there are included several Italian expressions as used (and/or corrupted) by people I knew during my South Village neighbourhood days. These have been rendered phonetically as well as my aging ear remembers them. The story is supposed to have taken place during the evening of June 13th 1960.