This excerpt is inspired by true events. Some of the characters , names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been changed for anonymity purposes. Any similarity to the names, character or history of any person is purely coincidental.
The Conclusion of Part 2 – Canada Unleashed: Montreal to Vancouver…Is coming up in the subsequent post. Thank you for your patience!
With the universe as my witness, I write because I have to. It is just how writers do things, and as we know it does not have to follow any sensible guidelines…it can be about some pretty fucked up shit. It does bother me sometimes that the focus is on the frailties of others, sometimes even of those we look up to. It’s further strange how we as people find ourselves fascinated by movies, stories…any medium where we can find ourselves sympathetic to the villains. Music, Cinema, Photography, Art…just about anything, especially when there were real lives connected and destroyed by monsters. We laugh, repeat and mimic lines (whole scenes even), over and over again…we reset the knife or a bullet to the head and chest. I’m not passing judgement, just making an observation. The way violence plays out in real life is worth a shit ton of money, only the victims loose any sleep over it…pretty messed up when you think about it. Dollars drenched with tears, there is blood on our hands. We don’t cause the accident, but we can’t look away either.
It’s very easy to romanticise the days of old in the ethnic neighborhoods of any city, you know before all the gentrification happened and ruined it all. The world governments saw a powerfully lucrative stranglehold of an oportunity to legislate control of their own brand of organized crime. In the past “problems” were handled locally along familial, ethnic, and cultural lines. Now these problems are handled administratively by jurisdictional governmental law through taxes, fees, and for profit institutions.
Go to the neighborhoods now and a fascade of the old country still exists but it does not have the same soul. If the violence was part and parcel of the family ties, part of what gave the neighborhood soul, then I guess it’s better that we have all moved on in the last few decades. Although it did not mean to start out that way, with the eventual corruption of “Respect” and the “Code of silence” by power and greed, with the responsibility placed rightfully on the perpetrators — as that “silence” evolved into sociopathy, this led to everyone singing like birds in last ditch attempts to survive. After all it was one of the most famous gangsters in modern history who said, ‘To get where I am today, I had to burn every bridge that I ever crossed to the ground’…clearly there must have never been any intention of going back. Just as black on black violence has become perversely acceptable, warehousing of the mentally ill and addicts in prisons tolerable, white on white ethnic violence being the only slight outlier, nonetheless all of it was and still is an unholy and unacceptable terror.
I must have had a lot of misconceptions about my environment at the time, but it was the “beloved” neighborhood. It’s only been in recent years that I have been able to fully understand what was really going on around me, things that I had no control over. You know how it is, one hopes to feel good about the neighborhood they choose to move into…it’s only natural to look the other way. There was so much bubbling under the surface that I did not know of, nor would I want to know for that matter. It’s just striking to think that in the middle of all this awesome culture and family and worldy seamlessness, that a large part of what held it all together was so dangerous. It was obviously a case of naiveté on my part, not in the sense of lacking street smarts, as I was aware of organized crime. I actually knew that some of my friends families (over many years) were involved in it, not any specifics…it just was just “unspoken knowledge” if you know what I mean. Gruesome violence was always overshadowed with, “they had it coming kind of vibe”. Catholics and Christians really have it lucky in this arena, you know “The Jesus Christ Option”, all you have to do is ask to be forgiven on your deathbed and whamo…heaven sent! No time at all in Purgatory, what a bargain (That is if you believe in that sort of thing), No!
In the Italian section of the city, there were no supermarkets or big box stores and it was wonderful. In the morning after a couple of espressos, I would head to my local butcher, who would hack the section of meat desired off a fresh carcass in cold storage. The cleaver would come out to section chops or ribs right in front of me. For burgers and meatballs he would grind, also right in front of me, 70% beef and 30% pork to order. The reason for mixing the pork (aside from it’s amazing flavor) was to add some fat to the ground beef. The beef was so lean, that it needed some pork fat to not come apart when cooking a burger on the grill. Assorted Dry Salamis, Sausages, Prosciuttos, and Cappocola hung from the ceiling for the taking. After a little bit of everything wrapped in butchers paper, it was time to move onto the cheese shop.
If I thought the butcher shop was great then the cheesemonger formaggi was divine. Here I would get the finest aged extra sharp Yellow Italian Provolone and while it was being sliced I would taste test the ripe Gorgonzolla, Fontina, Asiago, and Parmesano-Regianna. Grabbing a block of each as needed, the store also served as a local Latteria, so I would also get some local sourced Raw Milk, Mozzarella Di Bufala, and a bucket of Ricotta. After getting what I needed and tasting a world of flavors over a few minutes time, I would stop at the pizza shoppe right next door for a huge slice of Ricotta pizza…their specialty. The Ricotta baked onto the pizza shell was an inch thick and was cooked to exactly the right moment when the surface of the cheese would just start to thicken and brown into a carmelized slice of heaven. The pizza pulled from the oven at just that moment of perfection so as not to burn. The slice could be eaten without care from one hand as I walked to my next destination, the perfect balance between savory and sweet.
The Panaficio was right around the corner and I would purchase my desired breads and pastries. Some Scali, Focaccia, and Ciabatta for Panini’s (sandwiches) and occasional Lobster Claws and Pistachio Macaroons. Right next store to that was the Vegetable Market where I could get the best (just harvested and/or in season) Cilantro, Carrots, Onions, Broccoli Raab, Basil, Red and Green Peppers, Red Potatoes, and Romaine Lettuce. I would also grab assorted fruits: Plum Tomatoes, Olives, Peaches, Pomegranates, Green Beans, Bosc Pears, and Eggplant. Every year I would pine for the time of year, the arrival of the fresh and slightly ripened green whole figs to slice and eat the green gooey flesh…a whole bag sometimes until it gave me a stomach ache. That shit was some serious natural candy.These days some might think, what a pain in the ass to go all these places for your food. I can assure you that it was not, and is one of the best experiences one could ever have in life. Exactly the way it’s still done in many parts of the world…you got to know and talk to the people, actually see the hands that helped you to gather and select your provisions. The proprietors would clue you in on a seasonal or new gem that had fallen into their hands. We the locals got first dibs and a taste test of everything bought, and more importantly might desire to buy. I have never bought a tomato in a supermarket or big box store that had that distinct heirloom tomato taste, NEVER. The nightshade family, oh an ode to the nightshades…did you know that Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant are all in the same family as Tobacco (Nightshade Solanaceae)? Did you also know that all of these nightshade varieties contain small amounts of nicotine, even more when unripe? This is why nicotine is known to be one of the most effective and safe pesticides. This naturally stable form of nicotine is what helps keep pests away from the fruit. Oh how do I long for those days again.
There were several execution style murders right in front and in the area of my butcher shop, within the stretch of only one or two years. It was very strange how when a shooting would happen it would blow over so quick. White on white gangster crime obviously not a big priority for the police. I remember walking down the street after the bodies had already been removed, the shop owners would be outside washing their sidewalks with pressure washers as the blood ran in the gutters to the storm drains. The incidents would not even make big news…like page six at best.
I actually did not know that some of these murders were literally right on the sidewalk directly in front of my butchers’ street facing store front window. I had noticed right after the killings that the butcher shop had drawn closed steel garage doors, but because it was afternoon I just thought he had closed up for the day. The next morning while getting some stocks he told us what happened. That he was tending shop and all of a sudden bap bap bap, three shots and three dead people right in the street in the light of the day. He said it was over before anyone even had the time to register that something this crazy had happened. Their were just dead bodies lying all over the street. At that moment, a lot of shop keepers including him closed up shop for the day. Precisely the reason why his steel safety garage doors were closed so early in the day.
My flat was in the direct cross roads of the North End, in between Prince and Charter Streets. Not far from my door stoop was the Old North Church, famous for Paul Revere’s ride (“One if by Land, two if by sea”, in reference to the British Invasion of the US). Looking South was Haymarket Square and Faneuil Hall. At the time Boston’s Big Dig Construction Project was in full swing and was a major demarcation point separating the North End from Downtown Boston. It was early in 1990 and I was working two jobs to make ends meet. One was at the Fish Pier by day and the other I had begun in 1989 working at all the clubs on Lansdowne Street. I was tasked with local concert crew and band/ stage/ venue security.
Coach was dealing weed out of the flat at the time, but we were small fish, just small amounts of green to people who we were friends with (mostly College Students…none of whom lived in the North End). What was strange though was that as anyone who smokes weed knows that at times there would be “dry spells”, meaning that for many possible reasons…that a city or a whole state (or region) would have times when there was no weed to be had. The suppliers higher up on the food chain would be completely out or “dry”, unable to supply the street level dealers. This would cause minor panic within the weed community because they were unable to get their daily high. I remember one particular dry spell which lasted several months because a major dealer had been pinched by the feds for trafficking cocaine and marijuana. The thing was that Coach’s dealer never hit this dry spell so we always still had weed, but again Coach did not sell to anyone in The North End. The word that was going around in the neighborhood was that it was impossible to find a dime bag of weed, but heroin was plentiful everywhere for a mere five dollars a bag (and it was extremely potent). I’m sure you can see where this was heading, right down the tubes, and fast.
I remember one day hearing commotion outside my apartment window, dogs were barking, kids and people were whistling and screaming. So I head over to the window overlooking the street and I see a young guy who I knew was a local. He was rolling and falling onto the hoods of cars, obviously extremely high on heroin. He kept nodding out and waking up again over and over falling on to the sidewalk. Next thing I know, I see his elderly mother come around the corner with a broom screaming at him about being a “Waste” and a “Junky”. Next she starts beating him with the broom, first with the brush part then the wood handle. I was thinking this is crazy…and as usual whenever something crazy like this happened in the neighborhood, you could feel the eyes of all the people living on the street focused on what was going on from the awkward comfort of their flat’s living rooms. It was very sad, someone must have called emergency services because a few minutes later an ambulance pulls up and scoops him off the sidewalk to take him to the hospital. That’s just one example, but incidences like this were happening with more frequency.
It was normal each day to walk past the old timers sitting out in front of their stores, homes, or social clubs located in the basements of the packed together row houses. There was one guy in particular that stood out…he was often by himself sitting out in front of his building and although he was almost always alone…he seemed to interact with everyone in the neighborhood from his sharp little corner. I always greeted him everyday and he was very cordial in response. One particular day I walked by him and after saying hello, I continued on as usual. Next I went down to one of the local haunts in the tourist areas of downtown to sit and have some pints of beer.
The bartender who I knew pretty well from my patronage at his bar, was complaining that day about back pain. Somehow we got on the topic of pills, percosets to be exact, saying he needed to pick some up when he got off work. I half-jokingly asked if I could get a few as well, he affirmed and just had to make a phone call. Like ordering pizza, the only difference was that they did not deliver and that I would have to go get them from someone in the North End. Hmmm…that’s a strange coincidence. Not only that but he said that I could go get them right away if I wanted. He explained to me where I had to go and as luck would have it…I was going to get them from the guy I passed every day on the corner and had been saying hello to for like forever. Of all places to send me in the city, the bartender was an Irish guy from “Southie” (South Boston) directing me to my own neighborhood in the Italian section, the North End to pick up the pills.
I quickly finished my pint and got on it. It only took about ten minutes to walk there. So I cautiously walk up to the guy and I say, “So and so” sent me to pick something up. Without pause he yells out the name of a woman, then proceeds to tell me to go inside the door behind him…to walk up to the apartment at the top of the stairs and just knock on the door and give her the money. So I did as he said and after knocking on the door, an elderly woman opened it up and said a kind hello. I then gave her the money and she gave me a plastic bag with all the pills in it. That was it and I left just as I had come, walked back to the bar and divided up the goods, all were happy.
Sometime in the next month we decided to do it again, he made the phone call and then said I could go, but this time he had different instructions for the deal. This time I had to go inside a particular store and ask for a specific number of pills using a particular “code word”, and that they would hook me up. So I again walk over in short time and walk inside the store as instructed. There were a number of people inside doing actual business as it was the middle of the day. Again I did as was told, said the number followed by the codeword and within thirty seconds or so I was handed my merchandise. As soon as I received the goods, I noticed everyone scrambling in the store…someone ran to the store front window and flipped the “Open” sign to “Closed”, just like you would see in the movies. I thought for a second was this a raid…no…I did notice a car had just pulled up that was double parked on the one way street. Then someone ran over to me and said “off you go”…ok, that’s odd.
As I walked out the store, I noticed I was the last one out besides the store workers, who stayed behind. As I’m walking out the storefront, just as I’m about to turn right out the front door, I noticed a man get out of the vehicle that was double parked. Another man was walking toward the store with him, however I could not take my eyes of the first man, he was creepy looking. I remember vividly thinking the guy looked like a psychotic leprechaun. He had shades on and was bald on the front and top with shiny grayish blonde crown of hair from the sides to the back. I could not get the look of that man out of my head, he was all business and projected the body language of person with zero fucks given. I don’t know why I got that idea or feeling from him, but I did. I also felt the sudden urge to get as far away from the area as possible immediately. In all seriousness I was not scared just a little creeped out, again I did not know who he was but his face is burned into my brain to this day. It was also not a big scare to me because I had walked amongst gangsters before. It was common knowledge that if you keep to yourself and show respect you will “most likely” get the same in return.
Several years later, after I had already left the city and was traveling on tour with bands, I read an article in a newspaper and there were a few photos of a particular gangster who was near the top of the US Most Wanted list. The article was about, and photos were of that man (in a different incident and location), who I had cautiously passed that day near that store front. I quickly realized after some research on the internet, that it was the one and only “Mr. White” (J.J. “Whitey” B.). There is a lot more to the story for another time and another day. Not common for an Expat Icelander living in a US Italian neighborhood taking advice from an Irish Bartender in an Irish Town…while running into a famous Irish Gangster (who lived in the Irish part of town) in the Italian section of Boston. Go figure…fahget about it…what a tangled web we weave.
For those who want a larger overview, separate but surrounding this piece visit & read:
Thanks For Reading & All Your Endless Support. My Readers Are Awesome!
Cheers and Bless!
Please do not reproduce this article either all or in part without the expressed written permission of the author who can be reached via the “Contact” section in the header menu. You may link to the article if you wish, all that we ask is that you give credit to the respective author…”Christmachine” wherever you post a link. Thank you.
Copyright © 2015 Christmachine. All Rights Reserved.
©2014 – 2020 Christmachine ☕