Thursday, May 14, 2009

Movies and the Modern Mobster

So, I happen to be a big fan of gangster movies. The Godfather, Goodfellas, White Heat, The Public Enemy… I’m seen ‘em all. Maybe it’s some sort of a detective thing – in-depth research, you know? At least that’s what Esposito and I tell Beckett when we knock off early to catch the latest one opening day. Hey, she’s got her mystery novels, we’ve got our mob movies.

But one thing I learned on the job is that I’ve got nothing on the guys themselves. Mobsters love mob movies. They’re the biggest fans of the genre out there – pull a search warrant on a made guy and you’re gonna find the whole collection. And not only do they love ‘em, they try to live ‘em.

For example, when we pull some of them in for questioning, the paperwork’s a nightmare. Everyone’s got at least five nicknames: Shortstop Johnny, Frankie the Big, Jackie One-Time, Red-Eyes Rudy… The list goes on and on. Now, if that sounds like the restaurant scene from Goodfellas, that’s because it IS like that restaurant scene from Goodfellas. All those palookas saw that flick and started modeling themselves off it.

When you think about it, it’s not entirely surprising. Us cops have to attend the Academy, we have manuals and mentors and procedure – gangsters don’t have any of that. There’s no procedure or code of conduct, because that’s the point of being a gangster. There aren’t any mentors, ‘cause you’re too busy gunning your way to the top. Far as manuals go, there’s Puzo’s original Godfather book and gangsters (like most people) would rather see the movie than read the book…

As result, you’ve got a bunch of swaggering mobsters who model themselves after a bunch of actors. Actors who were just doing what a writer put down for them to do. A writer who was probably just putting down a modern version of those gangster movies he loved growing up. So it’s a vicious cycle of people making it up as they go along. Like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

So when you start dealing with these guys, what you find is a series of DeNiros and Pacinos imitations. Everybody’s full of bluster and big talk, but not the sharpest switchblades in the drawer. I mean, they can quote you lines from those flicks verbatim, but they can’t stop from brag about their crimes or remember not to pull off a truck hijacking in front of a security camera. Good for us, not so good for them.

Me, I think gangsters must have been a lot scarier before Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson got involved. Back then they weren’t compelled to parade around or talk endlessly about the “good old days.” The real gangsters, the guy who started everything back in the 1920s, weren’t interested in being some movie star ideal, living a glamorous life and getting a book deal out of it. The old-timers, they just wanted to get rich and not get caught.

Once this whole mythology rose up, that’s when things got complicated. See, movies end after two hours (well, three if you’re by Francis Ford Coppola), but real life goes on much longer. So being flashy and living a high-wire life is great for the biography, but they all end up the same place – in jail or dead.

Of course, those same gangster movies always end with the guy either dying or being arrested. So maybe these new guys can’t help it, that’s just what they expect. When’s the last time you saw a mob movie where the mobster got away with it? Result, is they simply couldn’t imagine it going otherwise in their own lives.

That’s probably another reason I dig on those movies – the bad guys always get theirs in the end. Doesn’t happen that way in real life, but I appreciate the movies letting me pretend that it could. And making the bad guys think there isn’t any other way, that’s useful too. Sometimes it makes my job just a little bit easier – when you’re stuck for hours in an interrogation room trying to convince Jackie “Short Eyes” Altasante to confess, it helps to have Hollywood on your side.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Tie and The Two Week Anniversary

I guess I’m what you might call a romantic. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised with two sisters who forcefed me romantic comedies since I could crawl or if it’s a reaction to working a job that tends to show you the less glorious side of life. Probably both, plus the fact I live in a city with some of the most beautiful women in the world. I'm telling you, when summertime hits, it's a challenge just to drive down the street and keep your attention on the road rather than the sidewalk...

All this is just to say that when I fall for a girl, I tend to fall hard. And fast. Which Esposito pretty much thinks is insane. To hear him talk about it, a relationship is something that fills up your calendar and basically just stops you from having any fun in life. Of course, this is coming from a guy who has girlfriends about as often as we elect Presidents.

Anyhow, I recently started seeing this girl and… well… I fell like I always do, hard and fast. We’ve only been out about four times, maybe five if you count the night we met, but apparently people don’t count that. But I think you could. Anyhow, it’s going really well. She’s smart and she’s funny and she’s really, really cute… and even though it’s only been, uh, two weeks we’re already doing the whole girlfriend and boyfriend thing.

So when she gives me a tie to celebrate our (two week) anniversary, I’m going to wear it – even though it’s not really my usual style. It’s sort of more… risk-taking than my normal wardrobe. By which I mean it’s bright neon blue with rainbow dots. Explosive might be a polite term to describe it. It’s not the typical thing I, or anyone who isn’t employed at the circus, is gonna wear to work.

So, of course, when I show up the next day I immediately get busted on by NYPD’s finest fashion police. By Beckettt, by Esposito, hell even by Castle – which is pretty rich coming from the guy who showed up on a recent raid wearing a bullet-proof vest with “WRITER” stenciled across it. They’re giving me static not just about the tie, but about the fact that I’m getting an anniversary gift for being two weeks into a relationship. Apparently the gift at the two weeks is being whipped and blah blah blah. But I ignore them. And you know why?

It’s ‘cause if there’s anything I’ve learnt on this job, it’s that life is short and unpredictable. One day you’re on top of the world and the next, you’re a corpse found rolled up in a rug. One moment you’re talking with your best friend in the laundry room, the next she’s stuffing your dead body into a dryer. Or maybe you’re just that person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and never came home again.

Point is, when you meet someone you really like, you gotta to go for it. ‘Cause who knows what the hell will happen tomorrow. And if the cost of having somebody special is wearing a tie that’s so bright it gives off radiation, so be it.

Besides, despite all that crap I took off him, Esposito’s the one asking if my girl has a hot sister or hot roommate or hot co-worker. And that’s how Mr. I-Don’t-Need-A-Relationship got scheduled for a double-date with me this Friday. He may talk a tough game, but at the end of the day he’s a little bit of a romantic just like everybody else.

Well, the sort of romantic whose idea of a perfect double-date is us all hitting the racetrack to lose a few hundred bucks. But hey, it’s a start.