"Leave the gun, take the cannoli." That one line from The Godfather sums up the Italian way of life.
I'm about to squeal on a few million of my fellow Italians.
These are honest, upstanding Italians, so I guess you can call this a "Half Valachi."
Here's our dirty little secret: Most Italians sort of like the Mafia.
Italians like the Mafia for the same reason Wasps admire Microsoft. Guys who "coulda been contenders" always identify with guys of the same ethnic persuasion who got to the top of the heap – no matter how ugly the heap may be.
The Mafia has been around longer than Microsoft, but the parallels between the two corporations are there. Both are winning, efficient organizations that are merciless with their competition. Bill Gates crushes competitors economically and leaves them the walking dead. The Mafia, on the other hand, goes that little extra step and actually whacks its competitors and leaves them the very dead – wedged in the trunks of cars.
Both organizations have had to put up with government interference. Both will prevail. Bill Gates and his executives have had to duke it out with the government and then paid a few billion-dollar fines and went on their way. The wise guys have done their stretch in the slammer and come back to the old neighborhood the better for it.
So the Mafia doesn't have a web site and isn't listed on NASDAQ. Big deal! The Mafia had something that Microsoft will never have – its own television show, and everybody loved it: "The Sopranos." They had the best movies ever made: The Godfather I & II.
"The Sopranos" did for Italians what "The Goldbergs" did for Jews and "I Remember Mama" did for the Norwegians.
The Italian scene – it's never what people think it is. The simple, happy, mandolin-playing people never existed; 99.9 percent of Italian-Americans would never even jaywalk, but that doesn't keep them from enjoying the tough killer reputations of the .1 percent who belong to the Mafia. For honest Italians this grudging admiration comes to them with a certain amount of paranoia.
Here's how it worked out for me:
Many years ago my advertising agency received a call from a large corporation telling us they were interested in our handling their advertising account. I checked into the company and found the chairman was Italian and from my old neighborhood in the Avenue U section of Brooklyn.
"Nothing doing," I told my staff. "If he comes from my old neighborhood, he's got to be connected and I'm not going to deal with anyone who is connected to the Mafia."
My associates persisted. "You're not being fair," they said.
"Okay, let's investigate this guy before we take his account."
So we hired a private detective to tell us all about the company chairman. The report came back: "He's clean. An upstanding member of the community. Straight as they come."
So we took the account. We did a lot of good work for the company and both our firms prospered. One day the chairman invited me out to his home in Greenwich, Connecticut for dinner. We talked about the old days in Brooklyn. He was older than I was and I got up the nerve to say, "You know, when you wanted to hire us, I knew you were from the old neighborhood and I had you investigated."
He looked at me and laughed. "You jerk," he said. "What do you think I did before we called you?"
We spent the night laughing about the Mafia.
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