Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Mobbed Up - Part 3

As I headed with bowed head back to my car after my humiliation at the hands of the loiterers in front of the soul food restaurant, a twerp in a hooded sweatshirt rolled up beside me on his skateboard, and informed me, in a voice unable to decide on a register, that he could arrange a meet between me and a local organized crime kingpin. I looked at him skeptically, and he changed his tune. “Well, maybe not a kingpin, but like a princepin.” I urged him to go play on the freeway. He called after me. “Like you’re doing really good on your own, dude?” I suspect he’d have spelled the two yours identically if given the chance, without an apostrophe, which he’d have saved to pluralize an ordinary noun. But he was right about my having nothing to lose, unless you counted my self-respect, and I’m more than old enough to know that if you go through life trying both to get rich and maintain your self-respect, all you can realistically count on is poverty and self-respect. But just try to get into the First Class section with only the latter!

I gave the skateboard twerp the five benjamins (that is, $100) he demanded, and waited and waited, to the point of nearly concluding that I’d been played for a chump. But then, just as my self-respect was about to decline precipitously as a result of my injudiciousness, I received a text message telling me to be in the allergy relief aisle of the pharmacy sector of the CVC on Route 52 in Fishkill in two hours. I thought it was presumptuous and inconsiderate of them not to ask me if that were convenient for me, but it was probably a moot point.

The appointed hour came and went with no one in the specified place. I tried to amuse myself by comparing the active ingredients in various brands of allergy relief medication. But then, around 135 minutes after I’d received my text message, my friend the skateboard twerp materialized. I surmised I wasn’t supposed to recognize him, as he was now wearing mirror sunglasses and a Jericho Cotchery (of the New York Jets) jersey rather than his earlier hoodie, and sniffling up a storm, though it was November, and there was no pollen in the air. It occurred to me that maybe he had a cat. Addressing me now as “my man,” he said if I were serious about a new career in organized crime, what I needed to look into was karaoke.

Funded by American organized crime interests, South Koreans had developed a method of overriding the digital pitch correction being built into the most recent generation of karaoke machines. Karaoke enthusiasts who’d become accustomed to sounding really good in spite of rotten voices, could, at the click of a mouse, be humiliatingly exposed. Organized crime had contracted with karaoke club doormen throughout the tri-state area to collect “protection” money from vain singers who sought to avoid such humiliation. “It’s like a windfall, my man,” the boy marveled, and you can get in on like the ground floor.” I couldn’t see a downside, but he took pains to make me aware that there was one. Only the week before, down in Hammonton, New Jersey, one of the mob’s doormen had been beaten comatose by the husband of a woman whose version of Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful" had, according to the nightlife column in the weekly Hammonton Herald, made everyone in Jack’s Hi-Lo Room “long for temporary deafness.”

When I told him I’d think it over and get back to him, he smirked and said, in view of how much I now knew, I was either in or dead. It occurred to me I’d been foolish to expect organized criminals to be gracious and accommodating.

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