BA-BOOM! "I BROKE this guy. I musta took, in a six-month period, maybe a hundred thousand off him. Soon he went broke, and whadda ya think this guy did? He killed himself. Went into his garage and turned on the motor. It’s un-fucking-believable the way some people are suckers.”
"I pull up behind the van and they come out and throw the body into the back of the van. We drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge and head to the Sicklerville Road. My job was to drive the crash car in case the van got stopped on the way. In case a cop stopped them, I was to smash into the cop car so they could get away."
"He says, ‘Come on. Take a ride. Maybe you’ll remember something when we get up there.’ I figure there’s something wrong. I’m scared, really fuckin’ scared…. The four of us walk out. Now I go for the back door. Salvie says, ‘No. Sit in the front.’ Holy shit. I reach for the front door, but at that point I don’t know whether to fuckin’ run. . . . But I open the door and get in the car."
Ba-boom! It’s every time you turn around — whether you’re swindling a corner pharmacist out of his life savings, or helping to transport the remains of Salvatore Testa to their penultimate resting place, or worrying that you’re about to be killed because you neglected to kill somebody else. Your life is a thrill a minute. You get a cool nickname. You get broads. You get cash. You get guns. Day and night, you get to hang around bars and restaurants. You get to say "Ba-boom!"
You get to say it a lot.
And when you say it, nobody laughs at you, because the main thing you’ve gotten — the biggest single thing, the thing that encompasses all the other things — is respect.
Well, O.K., certainly not "respect" as in "respectable." And not even in the sense of the word as it was laughably romanticized in The Godfather, where it defined a code of outlaw honor. But neither is the word used here as a euphemism for a fear of the simple savage act. The complex savage act, maybe; the orderly, systematized, complex savage act, the unemotional, unstoppable savage act (whether committed or merely threatened) that serves a sensible, admirable goal — making money. Money always equals respect, at least in that it spares you the disrespect that falls on all those who have none.
Certainly there are less hazardous ways of making money. Most of us make our money in the usual meek, risk-free, lawabiding ways (and "us" I mean Americans, although this is true also of Italian Americans, honest). But as a group, urban Italians in this country demonstrate a certain skepticism where institutions are concerned, a less-than-civics-textbook faith in the go-to-school/get-a-good-job ethic. A City University of New York study released last year estimated that me in five Italian-American high school students in New York City drops out before graduating — worst among white ethnics, third worst overall. When that skepticism becomes truly profound, well… let’s just say that every ethnic group deals with it in its own horrible way.