64. The Mob

Really, New York Times? Two full pages?

The occasion of the assassination of Mafia boss John Calli was irresistible to the New York Times, which printed a two-page detailed listing of mob killings going back to Albert Anatastia in 1957, with all of the particulars of each of the “whacks.”


In the general culture, and seemingly for Italians in particular, there are ambivalent feelings about the mob. Of course, it is a terrible, terrible thing, but it’s been generalized to be an unfair smear on the reputation of our people. At the same time, however, there seems to be a certain romance to some of its prominent fictional representations, whether Don Corleone or Tony Soprano or Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas, such that even the New York Times couldn’t resist its lure. A recent trip to South Philly quickly turned up two mob references in a shop window. img_0976With more time, I could have found many more.

My father, for one, did not believe that the Mafia actually existed, at least in America. He was amused that in years past, people would sometimes be afraid to go into Italian neighborhoods, which he saw as places where grown men were instructed by their mamas to be sure to wear rubbers on rainy days to keep their feet dry. (A brilliant display of this is the Car Talk episode where Mrs. Magliozzi comes on and nags Tom and Ray, probably in their 60s at the time, to wear undershirts to avoid catching cold.)

The only connection I’ve personally ever had to anything remotely Mob-related is that my great uncle Louis Rago’s funeral parlor handled Al Capone’s burial in Chicago. For all his disbelief in the Mafia, however, my father did have the crackpot scheme that he should attend the Providence funeral of New England capo Raymond Patriarca, for the sole purpose of confusing the FBI, which he assumed would be in surveillance at it. He imagined them saying, “Well, we know who all these other wise guys are, but who is that elderly professor who has managed to stay off our radar all these years?”

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