March 19, 2017
The Good Rat by Jimmy Breslin
NY: HarperCollings, 2008
(page 12) Middle class drowns excitement wherever you run into it.
(37) RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] was born of the fervent love of punishment possessed by a man named Robert Blakey, a law professor at Notre Dame who wrote it in 1970 for the Senate Sub Committee on Crime and Drugs. He named the law after Edward G. Robinson, who played a racketeer named Rico in the movie "Little Caesar". Beautiful! Blakey thought that was exciting. He also was an admirer of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Before RICO the usual federal sentence for gangsters was five years or so. Most tough guys could do that standing on one hand. And they did. That's why there were no rats back then. You kept your mouth shut, did your time, and came home a hero. Once RICO was put in, suddently there were fifty-year jail terms. If you were committing federal crimes together with other tough guys as part of an ongoing operation, you got RICO. And if you got RICO you got a sentence that makes Siberian justice look easy.
The language of a RICO indictment usually goes something like this:
"On or about November 12, 2006, the defendants Joseph Orlando and Jerry Degerolamo attended a meeting..."
That alone is a crime. And under RICO the sentences are diabolical. For a cup of coffee, you could do decades.
But RICO also comes with a five-year statue of limitations. The indictment must be handed down no more than five years after the last criminal act in the conspiracy was committed. Anything more than that and, as far as RICO is concerned, it's like it never happened.
(46) If there is one part of life that I can recall, it is anything that happened in a saloon.
(52) Was I nervous about the mobsters? You want to be afraid of something, be afraid of being broke.
(106) Nobody taunts a bankroll.
(152) [Pep McGuire's, the greatest bar in the history of the city]
The partners opened a barren joint and filled the bar with stewardesses from the nearby airports and lugged in jockeys from Aqueduct, and soon the place was bedlam. Somewhere at the bar was Fat Thomas, drinking and yelling. There was a band, a dance floor, and people tumbling around. You had Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, saxophonist from the Basie band, drinking scotch and milk at the bar.
Into McGuire's one night walked Bob Price, the deputy mayor of the city, with Abe Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times.
They were here to catch me in what they were sure was fraud. There could be no such place as the one I had been writing so wildly about.
They came brazenly, using a city car and chauffeur.
Fat Thomas was behind the bar as they came in. Roaring. He had tired of waiting for drinks and was taking care of himself.
"Yez want a drink, fellas?" he said.
They ordered. Fat Thomas poured two big scotches and then held them up, one after the other, and swallowed both.
The he took the two men back into the office, where his friend, a man named Cousin, sat cleaning an automatic weapon used for robbing banks.
"What's up?" Cousin said.
"They wanted to meet you," Fat Thomas said.
The two remained silent. They went back to the bar and started swallowing whatever was put in front of them.
Rosenthal was dazzled. "It's all true," he said. "I can't believe it."
He spent some time in the pinwheel of lights and music and tough guys and women from everywhere, including a Lufthansa flight attendant, a German blonde of striking figure. Somewhere in the night, Rosenthal had his head nestled on her large bosom.
"Abe, she wants to put you in an oven," Fat Thomas said.
"I know," Rosenthal said. "I love it."