What’s in a Name?

My dad was fascinated with Cosa Nostra. He read everything he could find, fiction and non-fiction. When I lived in Philadelphia he pestered me with questions about the activities of the local dons and their henchmen. I kept telling him that I didn’t travel in those circles, and it was dangerous, potentially lethal, to have inside knowledge. I remember once talking to a neighbor who casually mentioned when and where the next hit was going down. I asked, “How do you know?” “Oh,” he replied, “my sister married a mobster.” A great title for a book, I thought. Imagine my surprise the following week when a body showed up in the trunk of a car in the location he mentioned.

My repeated efforts to deny any first-hand knowledge did not deter my father, so I dutifully clipped all information I could find about the hits, the battle with the New York mob for control of Atlantic City, the fight over whether to get into the drug racket. Angelo “the Gentle Don” Bruno enforced a no drug policy. Loan sharking, prostitution, numbers were all OK but no narcotics. And he enforced his rule. I was working across the street from the church where his funeral was held. We kept taking breaks to play Spot the FBI. We lost count after the first ten.

My favorite incident was an attack in a South Phila. restaurant in which Nick Scarfo Jr. took eight bullets and lived. If I recall, Papa Scarfo was in prison at that point. The shooting happened at Dante and Luigi’s, where I’d eaten dinner a couple of weeks before. The best part? The shooting happened on Halloween and the gunman wore a Batman mask.

The day after the killing, the newspapers published a photo of Junior with the bullet holes drawn in. A woman wrote to the paper saying that she had left the page open on the table. When she came back, her five-year-old was wielding a pencil. She asked what he was doing. He replied, “Connecting the dots, of course.” The paper published another picture entitled “Nicky Dot to Dot.” I don’t think anyone was ever charged with the crime, even though the restaurant was full of patrons. The consensus was the hit man had to be a member of a Phila. crime family because the New York mobsters and the FBI were better shots.

Daddy was particularly fascinated by the nicknames. Besides the Gentle Don, Phila. had Philip “Chicken Man” Testa and Steve “Steakie” Vento, which I think trump Vincent “the Chin” Gigante (New York) and Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi (Boston). Our local Connecticut folks didn’t do too poorly in the name department, either: Anthony “the Genius” Megale (he wasn’t) and William “the Wild Guy” Grasso. Not wild enough to escape a Mafia execution.

The number of monikers that refer to food may or may not be a comment on the nature of the business. These names are brought to you courtesy of One Wall. Artichoke King, Benny Eggs, Big Tuna, Cheesebox, Joe Bananas, Joe the Grocer, Johnny Sausage, Peanuts, Tony Tea Bags, and Yeast Baron.

All of this Mafia naming came up because just after Christmas I read a wonderful story about a man who finished his father’s investigation into a 1975 Providence, R.I., break-in that netted some $30 million. The Pro-Jo story concentrated on the reporter’s dogged pursuit of the truth and the son’s triumphant conclusion. I loved the fact that the son heard the Bonded Vault caper as a bedtime story.

Once again the cast of characters provided me with the most fun, especially Frank “Cadillac” Salemme and a New England favorite, former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, himself later a convicted felon. My favorite name of that crew was Louis “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, or maybe “Baby Shanks,” the former referring to his way with the ladies, the latter to his way with a knife, not with veal shank unless he’s cutting the meat. Check out the link with the rest of the Patriarca family.

Just for fun, I put my dad’s name into the Mob nickname generator. He came back as George “The Jury-Tamperer” Petry. Love it!

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2 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Betsy “the Mangler” McMillan ROTFLMAO

  2. Bye-Bye, Whitey « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] My father was never much interested in the New England mob, except for the Patriarcas, who occupied our area of Connecticut. His focus was always Philadelphia and New York. “What’s in a Name?” […]

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