In case you hadn’t noticed, I have a vowel at the end of my name. Growing up, I spent a lot of time hanging out on the West Side of Buffalo. During the 50s and 60s it was a predominantly Italian section of this distinctively blue-collar city. Almost everybody had a vowel at the end of their name.
When I was a pre-teen (before I thought it uncool to hang around with my Dad) my father would take me to a place called Prospect Park. It was a community hangout where all the old Italian men would sit for hours and play poker on sunny Sunday afternoons.
The stakes were not high; usually the games were played for nickels and dimes. No one was going to get rich, but it was just a way to pass the time with old friends. It was one of my favorite times. I sat for hours listening to the old-timers yell at each other in a mostly-Sicilian dialect. It’s amazing how much better insults sound in Sicilian!
Occasionally, visitors in big black Cadillacs would come by. When the cars pulled up and parked, no one took notice. Except me. It didn’t seem to faze anyone else that these visitors all came dressed in silk suits and never talked to anyone. They were not nasty, just aloof. They would sit down and play a few hands and then leave. No one made a big deal out of them being there; though they were treated with deference and respect.
My father made sure to keep me close to him when these men came. I assumed he was afraid of them. He wasn’t. But he knew who these men were and how they made their living. He didn’t want me to be corrupted by them.
One day I asked him who these strange, quiet men who drove big cars were. He said they were mobsters. I guess I looked kind of puzzled (in those days boys my age were still naïve) so he described what these men did for a living. He said they were bad men. They hurt people and intimidated them. They took what didn’t belong to them and destroyed those who wouldn’t do their bidding. He made it clear to me that these men called mobsters had no desire to make anyone’s life better except their own. They were brutish, self-serving individuals who made their living at the expense of others.
If this description of these mobsters sounds familiar to you, then you know where I’m going with this.
Our leaders in Congress and The White House are accusing average Americans, who are asking questions about what our government is doing to our future, of being mobsters. We’re accused of shouting down our critics and shutting off debate, when exactly the opposite is happening. We’re not trying to rush through health care legislation; they are. We’re not twisting anyone’s arm to pass a bill that will dramatically alter our way of life; they are. All we ask is that the entire bill be read AND debated; openly and without restrictions. Is that thuggery? I hardly think so. No mobster ever debated anyone about anything without having a baseball bat in one hand.
I’ve been around mobsters, and not the ones you see in the movies. I’ve not seen one at any rally or Tea Party until the Service Employees International Union thugs showed up.
No, the American people are not the mobsters that they are accused of being. The only mobsters I recognize are the ones doing the accusing.
In retrospect, I can’t imagine my grandfather and his “amici” would ever allow these Washington mobsters to sit in on their poker games. It just wouldn’t be “onorato” to pick the pockets of those who want to pick ours.
But then again, maybe it would. I can see the wine glasses being raised now and shouts of “Vendetta” filling the warm summer air.
Revenge sounds so much sweeter in Sicilian!