By Michael G. Glab
— Twenty-three —
[The battle lines have been drawn. The armies are marching inexorably toward each other. And this isn’t even Vietnam; it’s Chicago. Here’s the latest episode of the serial e-novel, “Black Comedy.”]
Sal Sanfillippo pops the top of a Hamm’s beer can, his seventh of the young afternoon. Usually taciturn, he is made expansive by all that Hamm’s. “Lookit this,” he says, fishing the six other pull tabs out of his Sansabelt pocket. “This is what the kids do wit’ these things.” He clips the pull tabs together, finger rings to aluminum tabs, which he folds over to lock on to the next pull tab in line, creating a chain of them.
“The hippies,” he explains. “They make necklaces outta these things. The friggin’ jimokes.” Now he dangles his short necklace. “See?”
Sal and his neighbors are gathered in the Dudek backyard for Al’s annual Memorial Day cookout. Al’s got his chef’s apron on, tending to his grill, a gift from the 36th Ward Streets and San boss. It is a shiny black 55-gallon drum, cut neatly in half lengthwise, hinges attached so that one half becomes a lid, a gleaming metal grate screwed on to the bottom half to create a cooking surface, and sturdy legs welded on. Either end of the contraption has “Roberto V. ‘Bob’ Vittori, 36th Ward Superintendent” neatly stenciled in white on it.
Bob Vittori is here, as is the usual gang — Mickey Finnin, Tony the Fist Pontone, Eddie Halloran, and Rocco Bianco — plus two vice presidents of St. Paul Federal Savings & Loan, the owner of the Diplomat House, the restaurant and lounge catercorner from Al’s home on Natchez, the commander of the Austin District police station and Lennie LaFemina, a hotshot young lawyer in the city’s corporation counsel’s office who lives up the block. Lennie’s the son of Artie LaFemina, boss of the Jewish Far North Side 50th Ward Democratic organization (Lennie’s grandmother was a Jew — he called her bubbe). The joke down at City Hall is the kid has such a bright future the rest of the city lawyers have to put on RayBans when he walks into the office. In fact, people already are talking about him running for office, maybe as soon as 1972.
Lennie LaFemina Has A Bright Future At City Hall
There are nearly as many Chicago cops, firemen, garbagemen, real estate agents, bakery owners, shopkeepers, auto dealers, city inspectors, and proprietors of hot dog stands and Italian beef shacks as can be found at any precinct captain rally the week before a big election. There are, too, a couple of juice loan operators, a numbers game underboss, two or three Teamsters union stewards, and a trio of guys whose vocations are unknown and wisely not asked about — it’s enough to know they drive Caddies and have that Sicilian stare down cold.
The Sicilian Stare
Many of them mill around Al’s grill, the smoke swirling around them so strong that it almost overpowers their combined scents of Aqua Velva, Aramis, Brut, Old Spice, Brylcreem, Score, Right Guard, and Listerine. Al puts out his best meats for his Memorial Day barbecue. He takes care of everybody — Italian sausage, polska kielbasa, thick T-Bones, lamb chops, tenderloins, and pork chop slabs as thick as the unread Bible on a stand in his front entrance. Inside, the cold cut plates — Genoa salami, capicola, sopresatta, mortadella, prosciutto, honey ham, baked ham, and Polish ham. Next to them, the cheese plates — Mozzarella di Bufala in whey, chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, eye-watering provolone, asiago fresco, and gorgonzola dolce.
Al loves his Memorial Day cookouts. The wives are gabbing in the house, the kids are running around all over the yard and out onto Natchez Avenue which has been kindly barricaded at either end by a couple of Bob Vittori’s garbage trucks. Memorial Day as a rule is just about the happiest day of Al’s year. Except this year, for Anna and her new husband are missing. Al’s trying not to think about it and he succeeds except for a brief lapse every twenty-three seconds or so.
Ever since he arrived, Sal Sanfillipo has been dying to tell everybody how much ass he beat at that anti-war rally last month. But that hippie piece of dirt he and a couple of other cops kicked the shit out of in front of the Kroch’s & Brentano’s on Wabash looked just like Al’s new son-in-law (and Tony the Fist’s son). Now Sal is on his eighth Hamm’s. At this point he doesn’t care whose kid that little fuck was.
“Lemme tell you somethin’” Sal says. “If we doan do somethin’ about these hippie fucks, they’re gonna turn this country over to the Russians.”
Sal takes a bite of his sandwich. “Ay Al, yer salsiccia’s d’a best, I’m tellin’ ya. Anyway, I seen enough a’these hippies for the rest of my life. The little fucks. They wanna take over the Loop, right? The commanders at roll call, they tole us, doan take no shit from ‘em, doan let ‘em get away with nothin’. Do whatchyu gotta do. And doan nobody gotta know yer birt’day, y’know what I mean?’” Sal places his hand over his heart where his nameplate would be.
“We kept ‘em in line, I’m tellin ya. I broke two nightsticks on ‘em!” Sal grins. “We caught this one little jag over by Wabash Avenue. He wanted to run into this bookstore or somethin’. I go, ‘No way, Jose. Get d’a fuck outta there.’ Me ‘n a couple of the guys, we got ‘im surrounded, right? Whaddya think he does? He takes a run at us, this crazy little prick!
“I tell ya, I hit ‘im so hard I hadda break his skull. I could hear it, like a watermelon crackin’! He’s grabbin’ and clawin’ at us like a little girl. He tore my shirt. Goddamn it, I pay six ninety five apiece for ‘em down at Kale’s Uniform and this kid tears it. Oh, I was hot!
“I started kickin’ this kid and I couldn’t stop. I thought I was gonna wear out my shoes on ‘im. My partners hadda pull me away. I think I woulda killed him.
“Wouldn’t a made any difference — one less hippie in the world, who cares? I doan give a shit.”
Mickey Finnin glances over at the Austin District commander who is listening to Sal very intently. Sallie ain’t a bad guy, Mickey thinks, he just tends to brag a lot when he’s got a few in him. Mickey figures about half of what Sal says is true. The other half is just Sal. Anyway, Mickey wants to save Sal from himself, just in case the commander is getting a little sensitive to all this police brutality bullshit that the newspapers are crying about.
“Ay,” Mickey says, “what the hell’s goin’ on with them Cubs? They gonna do anything or what?”
“That Santo’s eating too much of his own pizza,” Tony the Fist says.
“D’at’s right,” Rocco Bianco says. He adds, “Well, at least they’re doin’ better than the Sox. The Sox stink.”
“You’re goddamn right, there,” Sal says. The men, relieved that he seems to getting off his own dicey topic, all turn to him as if he’s now an oracle. “Lemme tell ya what’s wrong with the Sox,” Sal says.
The men lean another inch closer to him.
“The Sox,” Sal announces, “they got too many niggers.”
Rocco hands Sal a piece of Gonnella bread in lieu of black coffee. “Here,” he says.
“Naw,” Sal says. “D’a fuck am I gonna do with this? So, look, who gives a shit about the Sox? I mean it, we got more important things to worry about. This is gonna be one long hot summer, y’know what I mean? We got the convention comin’, these hippies and yippies, this Abbie Hoffman Jew prick puttin’ LSD in the water….”
Mickey glances at Lennie LaFemina. The kid doesn’t even bat an eye after Sal says Jew prick. This kid’s got poise; he’s going far. Still, Mickey’d like to put a lid on Sal.
“Awright,” Mickey says with a phony laugh. “That’s enough, now, eh? No more current events.”
“Whah?” Sal says. “I ain’t even started on the niggers yet!”
Mickey’s a practical man. He hopes the commander isn’t one of those straight arrows. Mickey thinks: I hope he understands that Sal’s had a little bit too much to drink.
Now the commander approaches Sal. Mickey instinctively moves closer to them; perhaps he can keep the commander from nailing Sallie. The commander introduces himself to Sal. The two shake hands.
“What’s your name, son?” the commander asks.
Oh shit, Mickey thinks, Sallie’s dead.
“Where do you work out of?” the commander says.
Mickey wonders: Have I got anything for Sal in Streets & San or the Forestry Bureau?
“I want you to call Captain O’Malley down at Austin,” the commander says. “He takes care of my transfers. We’ve got a place for you, if you want.”
Sal has just won the lottery. Every cop and half the citizens of Chicago know that, outside of the Loop, the Austin District is the department’s most corrupt station house. Hell, the weekly nut alone can amount to $200 for the vets. Mickey smiles for his neighbor.
The Kinkiest Station House In Town
Al, though, isn’t smiling. In fact, he’s thinking about Anna and her husband. Sure, he’s pissed at them. But, damn, he’d hate to think of his poor son of a bitch son in law’s skull being dented by Sal Sanfillipo’s nightstick. That could have been Anthony getting the hell kicked out of him on Wabash Avenue, the damn fool.
Now Al’s stuck in his own head: I wonder what Anna’s doing right now.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.