Wild but true Stories from America and around the World –Chapter 2 Bill Honer

Chapter 2

1969: Watching the Moon Landing with Mobsters

In 1969, Maureen and I were living in Forest Hills Queens. It was the night of the Moon landing; we decided that we needed to see this historic event on a larger television than the small one sitting in our living room. We found a lounge on Queens Boulevard that had a good television set and very few patrons.

The room was dim, with a beige satin dropped ceiling. The seats were oversized white leatherette and were very comfortable with their huge cushions. Sinatra was singing “There’s a Small Hotel” on the juke box. Other than the two men seated at the bar, the place was empty. I ordered two Schaefer’s, our New York brew of choice.

I tried to be discreet in observing the two men, who were wearing black suits and white shirts with the top button open. The large hands, heavy eyebrow ridges, and long sideburns indicated likely ties to the mob. One said, “Hey Mizzooch. I bet you five bucks you can’t name the seven dwarfs!”

The other gangster looked at his colleague carefully to make certain that he wasn’t bull-shitting him. He wasn’t. “Joey!” he yelled to the bartender. “Did you hear what Sal said? I get five bucks for naming the seven dwarfs. Okay, you animal. Listen good — Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy…”; he proceeded to name them all. Sal opened his wallet to withdraw a five dollar bill, saying “I didn’t think you were that smart, go figure.”

Meanwhile, Maureen and I sat quietly sipping our Schaefers. It was likely their only civic duty was a monthly visit to the office of their respective parole agents. Rather than making us nervous, their presence had the opposite effect. We felt safe and secure; no one would be robbing or fighting in a “connected” establishment. In the early seventies, there were three streets in the Bronx — Fox, Simpson, and Tiffany — which were known to be very rough. Police statistics revealed that a person living on those streets had a one in eighteen chance of becoming a homicide victim, not even a twenty-to-one shot!

On the other hand, persons living where the Mafia did, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, had a one in twelve hundred chance of becoming a crime victim. Maureen and I continued to talk softly, although it was more fun to overhear the mobsters’ conversation.

“Hey, Sal, my cousin said to me that he thought he seen you working at a store on West Thirty-seventh Street. I told him he gotta stop eating those mushrooms.” said Grizzooch, as he gave those present his best Cro-Magnon smile.

Sal laughed “Working? Ya gotta be kidding me. I ain’t worked since that time in the fifties when Louie got us that job painting one of the bridges. I think we lasted three days. This friend of Lou’s comes over with an Irish guy and says that Mike here is our crew chief and that if we got any questions, all we gotta do is ask Mike. So me being a smart ass, I say to him, “Listen, Mike, do you think Ericco can get that pig he’s riding’ home first in the sixth at Aqueduct?’ So the Mick just looks at me with a hard stare and says, ‘This is a bridge, not the track, so get to work.’

“I look surprised and says, “You mean this ain’t the track? I must’a taken a wrong turn and I’m in the wrong place. Thanks for telling me.”

“You shouldda seen the look on the Irishman’s face when I walked off. He started yelling ‘Where you going?’

“I yelled back, ‘I’m going to the Big A, where the fuck do you think I’m going?’ Even the bartender laughed at that one.

The evening passed quickly and pleasantly, with a few more mobsters arriving. The juke box appeared to be dedicated exclusively to Frank Sinatra. Then the bartender raised the television volume as the first astronaut from the earth was stepping onto the surface of the moon. Even the two gangsters appeared awed at this historic moment.

“Hey Mizzooch! Look at this.” said Sal.

“Sal, you see something like this and then you wonder how they can tap a phone?” said Mizzooch. Such was the relevance of the moon landing to the Mafia.

(Bill Honer is an independent world traveler, consultant, former government analyst, social worker and host of the cable television program “Social Issues.”)



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