You can have a lot of fun with the Brits if you’re a New York City Italian who looks a little dangerous.
Which is what I am.
It’s been a sunny summer and I’ve been doing a lot of outdoor work in the garden. I’m good and swarthy, I make a rich red pasta sauce and my expression at rest is a slight scowl.
To the English, these traits make me a Mafioso on the run.
You can’t blame them. They get their ideas about these things from the movies, as do most Americans.
Name ends in a vowel? He can cook? Gotta be connected!
To clear the air: the closest I ever came to a mob connection was in the late 80s, when I was covering John Gotti’s trial in downtown Brooklyn for the New York Post.
At one point I looked up from my notebook to see the Dapper Don staring at me from across the courtroom. The deadest pair of eyes I’d ever seen, peering right into mine.
My palms went damp, the pen slipped from my hand and I realized I never would have made it as a criminal, despite the tax advantages.
Anyway, the Brits are fascinated by guys like Gotti and “The Sopranos,” and one English guy in particular kept asking me what mobsters are really like.
“I don’t know any,” I told him.
“They must have lived near you.”
“No, I lived in Manhattan. Mob guys don’t live there. They have big cars, and they hate parallel parking."
“Well where do they live, then?”
What the hell. It was time to have a little fun.
“Okay,” I lied, “I had an uncle in the mob. He’s dead now, so I can tell you this - he always insisted upon a house in the suburbs. Not too fancy a suburb, either. Didn’t want to attract attention, you know?”
The Brit was transfixed at this point. All he could do was nod.
“And wherever he lived, one thing was absolutely essential.”
The Brit hesitated before daring to ask, “What was that?”
I put my arm across his shoulders and looked left and right before giving him my best deadpan look.
“The basement had to have a dirt floor.”
At first he seemed puzzled. Then it hit him. He swallowed hard and went pale.
“Bloody hell,” he murmured.
I gave his shoulders a squeeze and winked at him. “Don’t tell nobody.”
Since then he never asks me about the Mafia anymore, and whenever I pass him on the street I smile and make digging motions.
He doesn’t smile back. Ayyyy, some people have no sense of humor.