Episode 18: The Happiest Day Of A Girl’s Life

Black Comedy

By Michael G. Glab

© 2013

— Eighteen —

[What’s the difference between a wedding and a riot? We’ll find out in the next few installments of the serial e-novel, “Black Comedy.”]

It’s still hot on Saturday, April 6, 1968, even though the temperature at the time of Anna Dudek and Anthony Pontone’s wedding at St. Giles Roman Catholic Church is only 49 degrees. A cool front passed through the Chicago area early this morning, well before the sun rose. But, yeah, it’s hot.

In the morning, for instance, snipers engage the cops in a shoot out at the Cabrini-Green highrises. Dozens of cops crouch behind squadrols and private cars, exchanging gunfire with dozens of snipers up on the balconies. For some moments, the area around Larrabee and Division streets sounds like the worst of the news film footage from Vietnam.


The Balconies At Cabrini-Green

The cooler air temps may have led to a slight easing of the madness on the West Side. The setting of fires, for one thing, seems to have ceased although most of the more than 200 buildings torched within the last 36 hours still are smoldering. Nearly a thousand people have been made homeless so far. Ten have lost their lives — again, so far. And the running count of people arrested in the riot zone now stands at 2500, give or take a few hundred which, when it comes to the Chicago Police Department counting bad things happening to black human beings, is about as accurate as things will get.

More than 22,000 fully-armed personnel have fanned out over the battle zone. Ten thousand five hundred Chicago Police officers in riot gear are working twelve-hour shifts. Governor Samuel Shapiro has sent in sixty seven hundred Illinois National Guardsmen. And President Lyndon Johnson has ordered 5000 regular U.S. Army troops into Chicago. The Army is setting up camp in Washington Park on the South Side. Convoys of armored personnel carriers and tanks are shuttling back and forth between the south and west sides.

Mayor Daley has been flying over the riot zone in a helicopter with Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn. The Mayor is shaking his head and saying, repeatedly, “I never thought this would happen here.” Commissioner Quinn, for his part, continually points out young black kids running into and out of Madison Street stores with shattered front windows, carrying radios and and TVs. “Look at that,” Quinn says. “Look. Look. You see that?” Quinn, the school snitch, and Daley, the flustered principal.

It is during one of these flyovers that Daley notices cops seemingly doing nothing to stop the kids from looting. “Why aren’t the policemen doing anything about it?” he wonders. He says the word policemen in his own version of Chicagoese: p’leess-minn. Quinn shrugs his shoulders, an innocent look on his face. Quinn thanks his holy God that Police Commissioner James Conlisk will bear the brunt of Daley’s wrath. Just to make sure, he points out a few more looters.

Mayor Daley

“How Could This Happen Here?”

It’s at this moment that Richard J. Daley, the democratically elected mayor of the nation’s second largest city, declares war on his own constituents. Daley carried some of the precincts in these West Side wards by 10-1 margins in the 1967 election. These are his most loyal voters. It is now that Daley first articulates his order for police to shoot to maim looters and shoot to kill anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand.

Meanwhile, Governor Shapiro declares the residents of the West Side to be in a state of insurrection, thereby giving his National Guard soldiers license to fire upon them at will.

Chicago, like much of the nation today, is at war with itself.

Lyndon Johnson

“Mr. President?”

“Yes, Dick?”

“We’re In Trouble. We Need Some Help.”

Anna and Anthony’s wedding might very well be the only one celebrated in the city today. That is, if one can actually celebrate anything while tanks and armored personnel carriers are rolling through Chicago’s streets. But God forbid anyone would even consider postponing these nuptials. Tree, for instance. She wants the whole thing over and done with as soon as possible. And Al, of course, has never been one to let distractions like civil warfare move him off his planned course.

And what of Anna? Shouldn’t she expect Saturday, April 6, 1968, to be the most exciting day of her young life?

Father Jerome will perform the ceremony at St. Giles. The pews on the bride’s side of the aisle are packed. None of Al Dudek’s family, friends, and associates are about to let those pozzo coloreds stop them from going about their business. Anthony’s side is even more populated. And, for the first time in the long history of Mob scions’ weddings in Chicago, a passel of scraggly hippies and — Madonna! — a couple of Negroes are among the guests.

When the two Negroes first climbed the front steps of St. Giles church, Anthony Pontone’s driver reflexively reached inside his suit jacket and fingered the handle of his holstered .38.

Now, the two Negroes march into the church with every single eye upon them as if they are the bride and groom. They take their seats on Anthony’s side and act as though the other nearly 500 guests aren’t staring at them with mouths agape.

St. Giles

St. Giles

Fr. Jerome climbs up to the lectern to give his sermon. He peers out over the assembled multitude and when his eyes land upon the two Negroes, his own jaw drops. He stands there staring for what seems an eternity. He stares so long that a murmur arises from the congregation. Like a character in a sitcom, Fr. Jerome finally shakes the cobwebs out and says, “Ahem, well then….”

The congregation has to wait another uncomfortable few moments for him to even remember what the hell he’s going to talk about, so shaken is he. Fr. Jerome is a big one for incorporating current events into his sermons. Say, for example, this wedding is taking place on a Saturday in December and the Bears are about to about to face, oh, the Green Bay Packers in an important game the next day. Half to three quarters of his sermon will be about the game. Then there was the time, just a little over a year ago, the Sunday after McCormick Place had burned to the ground, when his entire sermon resembled nothing so much as an arson investigator’s report. He commented that the fire had forced the cancellation of the Four Seasons show at the Arie Crown Theater. He even held up his tickets and said, crestfallen, “The Lord works in mysterious ways”!

The Four Seasons

Poor Fr. Jerome — He Missed The Four Seasons

The Dudeks’ neighbors, Charlie Solari and his wife Josie were here that Sunday. They’re here today. Charlie Solari, a firefighter stationed at the Chinatown firehouse, actually battled the McCormick Place blaze. It turned out to be the most profitable working day of his life. Anna will explain this all later, when she points out each of the guests to Anthony at the reception.

So, Fr. Jerome is up on his current events.

Today, though, he makes absolutely no mention of the mayhem on the West Side and more than a hundred other cities around the country, nor does he refer to the death of the nation’s most prominent black leader that started it all. No, today Fr. Jerome falls back on that old wedding sermon chestnut, the marriage at Cana. Fr. Jerome hurtles himself into a feverish rapture by recounting Jesus’ first miracle. He is thrusting his fist into the air and nearly shouting as he gets to the part about the jugs of water being transformed into wine. For God’s sake, the guests might be excused for thinking Fr. Jerome is recounting the final touchdown in a Bears’ miraculous comeback victory over those Packers. Perhaps he hopes his histrionics will make the congregation forget the riots and the assassination. And he’s right. By the time he finishes even Al is asleep.

The reception is being held at Nuovo Mondo Italian Restaurant & Banquets on Division Street, a block east of Austin Boulevard. Nuovo Mondo is a mere 200 yards from the border of Oak Park. Even though the rioting is taking place some two and a half miles to the east, there is an Oak Park police squad car blocking every major entry street to make sure marauding bands of Negroes don’t invade the leafy suburb. The Oak Park cops needn’t have bothered — there’s been plenty to burn and loot in the West Side ghetto.

Nuovo Mondo is part-owned by Tony the Fist Pontone. He is providing the reception hall free of charge in exchange for a healthy discount on all his meats from Al’s company for the remainder of the the year. That healthy discount amounts to a simple four words uttered by Al when Tony’s kitchen manager calls him up to inquire about his bill: “Doan worry about it.”

Black limousines pull up the the front entrance of Nuovo Mondo, disgorging their occupants: the newlyweds, of course; the rest of the wedding party; Anna’s parents; and Tony himself and his bride, Marlena.

An all-star cast arrives in lesser — but still pricey and shiny — vehicles. Mickey Finnin and his wife pull up in their brown Lincoln Continental. Alderman Rocco Bianco — a confirmed bachelor (some have whispered that he’s a swish) — pulls up in his rakish red Corvette. State’s Attorney Eddie Halloran and his wife Kathleen get out of their burgundy Oldsmobile Toronado. A slew of Buick Electra 225s of varying hues lets out the likes of State Senator Renaldo Nitti and his wife, Meat Cutters & Boners Union local president Tommy DeMio and his lovely bride, Teamsters local boss Jerry Piombino, restaurant mogul Andy Silverberg, auto dealer partners Nicky Capizzi and Mort Aronson, and a raft of lesser lights. Even Harry Aleman and Tony Spilotro are here.

(And, irony of ironies, when Anna was making out her seating arrangements, she placed Aleman and Spilotro at the same table as the widow Eva Mondi. One of Tony the Fist’s boys caught the gaff as he walked around the hall prior to the reception, sweeping for bugs planted by the G. He simply switched the two place cards with two from another table. He was, after all, concerned that the two hit men might be a tad uncomfortable sitting with the woman whose husband they’d assassinated not six months ago. He obviously didn’t know Aleman and Spilotro well.)

Nuovo Mondo’s red-vested parking valets are having the day of their year, their pockets bulging with fins and ten-spots. They’re running like track stars trying to keep up with with the big-tipping connected guys and pesci grandi.* And then a clunky little beige Ford Falcon splutters up to the curb. The woman on the passenger side opens her own door because none of the valets has dashed up to do so. Her door makes an excruciating, rusty squeak. The driver, a man, gets out and waits for a valet to approach to collect his keys. He waits and waits and waits until finally the valet with the least seniority slowly ambles up as if attached to a large rubber band and holds his palm open six inches below the man’s hand — the valet clearly does not want his skin to graze the man’s. The man lowers his hand to bring it nearer the valet’s so as to make the exchange of keys easier but the valet maintains the six-inch space. Finally, the man grasps what’s going and on simply drops the keys into the valet’s hand.

Ford Falcon

A Lump Of Coal In A Parking Lot Full Of Diamonds

The man from the Falcon does not dig into his pocket to slip the valet a fin or a ten-spot. He has no fins or ten-spots in his pocket. In fact, he is carrying precisely $2.63 on his person, as much as he carries on some days and more than on most. “Psh,” one of the other valets stage whispers to his colleagues, “whaddya expect from a shine?” The man from the Falcon pretends not to hear this comment.

He and the woman, the same couple who drew unabashed stares in St. Giles, enter the lobby of Nuovo Mondo. They both pretend that they’re not being gaped at openly yet again. It’s unheard of for a black couple to enter the lobby of Nuovo Mondo. It’s bordering on madness for one to do so today.

There is still the hint of smoke in the air outside the banquet hall.

Now the guests are taking their seats. Joey, who has already begun sneaking gulps from wine bottles — not Chianti this time but Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He stumbles up to the wedding party’s dais and puts his arms around Anthony and Anna. “Yer married,” he says as if he’s breaking the news to them. Anna smiles at her brother. “Yes we are. Thank you, Joey,” she says. Anthony is about to thank him when Joey expels a monumental belch. “Sorry,” Joey says, and he stumbles off to find another unattended bottle of fine wine to slurp.

Anthony, of course, has been absent from the neighborhood for several years, learning to become a journalist, and then, consecutively, a dissenter, a radical, and finally a revolutionary. He leans nearer to Anna. “Who are all these people?” he whispers.

“Okay now,” Anna says, “pay attention.”

To be continued

A Helpful Glossary

  • Pesci Grandi: Pronounced PESH-ee GRAHN-dee, literally big fish, used to describe men of accomplishment and status.
  • The G: FBI agents or representatives from the US Attorney’s office. Short for government.

Join us Monday for the next installment of “Black Comedy.”

All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.

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