Friday, September 24, 2010

The Boy Who Wore the Hell Outta Sports Coats

I have never spoken of this before, but there's no use continuing to pretend that I wasn't briefly involved in organized crime when I was four years old and living with my parents near what was later renamed Los Angeles International Airport, but then called Ballona Creek Field. In those days, parents weren’t so obsessive about exposing their children to great art, music, and literature before they began their formal educations; there were no such things as preschool enrichment programs, and my parents, living on the modest salary Hughes Aircraft paid my dad, wouldn’t have been able to afford to enroll me anyway. Indeed, rather than spending money on me, they liked the idea of my making money for them. When they saw a Help Wanted advertisement in the Westchester News-Advertiser, a biweekly throwaway that I later delivered, for “boys who wear the hell outta a sports coat,” they nearly knocked each other over grabbing for the phone.

I have been able to surmise, retroactively, that my employer was what would later be called a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization that was losing some of its key leaders to attrition, and wanted to appear vital by being seen to recruit “fresh blood”. At my job interview, with organization human resources capo Alfredo D. Pugliese, I had to show myself to look really good in the attire they provided, and to be able to mumble in a way that members of rival mobs would find disarmingly adorable. I was one of three children the Organization wound up hiring, the other two being three-year-old Ronald Siegel and his cousin, 20-month-old Caroline Siegel-Weiskopf.

We almost immediately began accompanying various senior executives of the Organization to such public events as Teamsters Union cookouts, and “meets” with the senior management of other organizations like our own. I rarely understood a word of what the men said to one another, as much of it was in either Yiddish or Italian (the forward-thinking Organization welcomed both Italian and Hebrew members), but I didn’t really have to. At the beginning of the meet, they’d stand me on a table in my Italian white linen sports coat and I’d mumble, “Maybe you don’t unna-stan’ so good. We ain’t askin’, pally. We’re tellin’.” Everybody would chuckle and agree that I was adorable, swarthy men with gleaming hair and pinkie rings would pinch my cheeks approvingly, and then actual negotiations would begin while I played with an Etch-a-Sketch or colored in a coloring book. Ronnie was usually content to suck his thumb, and little Caroline to nap or play with a doll.

I am obviously in the center foreground of the accompanying photograph, taken outside Zucky’s, a Santa Monica delicatessen popular at the time with organized crime. Directly behind me is consigliere Harold Finkelman (father of the noted artists’ manager Manny), with Ronnie on his lap. Organization capo di tutti Giovanni Spaventevole, in the sunglasses, maintains a firm grip on an oblivious Caroline even while gesturing menacingly at the paparazzo who snapped the photo.

I think the guy in sunglasses at the far left of the image was named Gino. I can’t remember the other bodyguard’s name. I do remember, though, that right after this photo was snapped, the two of them shoved the paparazzo’s camera up his…well, you know…after removing the film.

Within a year, I was in kindergarten, and my career in organized crime was behind me, unless you count the six months of human trafficking I did in 2003. I didn’t have to wear an Italian sports coat for that, or put grease in what remained of my hair, as it was all done on line.

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