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From the Field
Commedia Dellí Morte?
By Michael Wilk

Americans are fascinated by organized crime.† Since the halcyon days of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and† Meyer Lansky, Mafiosi have been the subject of countless Hollywood films, from the early talkies "Scarface", "Little Caeser", and "Public Enemy", through comic fare such as "Brother Orchid", "Robin and the Seven Hoods", and "Some Like it Hot", to mythic "family" films like "The Godfather", "Once Upon a Time in America," and "Goodfellas". Mario Puzoís career was, essentially, his Mafia-themed tomes "The Godfather" and "The Last Don," just as Jacqueline Susannís trashy showbiz sagas "Valley of the Dolls" and "The Love Machine" were her bread-and-butter. The Mafia is so firmly entrenched in American folklore that it has now become warm and cuddly and reassuring, like "The Waltons" or "Ozzie and Harriet". "The Sopranos", that monstrously popular "family" TV show, offers humor and bloody violence in equal doses. And, of course, the seemingly endless stream of Mafia-themed comedy films such as "Married to the Mob", "Oscar", "Get Shorty" and "Analyze This", rake in handsome box office returns. Oh, those lovable Mafiosi! Who said crime doesnít pay?

Which now leads me to my own personal experience with "family matters". I live in Howard Beach, New York, which is the home of its most famous resident, the recently deceased John Gotti.† Mr. Gotti, or "The Dapper Don", as the press has tagged him, was a pretty amazing figure. From small-time car thief to chieftain of the powerful Gambino crime family in just a matter of years, Gotti ruled newspaper headlines for months in a government investigation which led to his imprisonment in 1990. The daily articles, of which entire paragraphs were devoted to what suits Mr. Gotti was wearing in court, were akin to the "What will Vanna (White) wear tonight?" bus ads for "Wheel of Fortune". Articles of Gotti Sr.ís woes with the less savvy, Sonny Corleonish Gotti Jr., reassured the American public that even Mafia chieftains have problem children, too. Gottiís daughter, Nancy Sinatra lookalike Victoria, even penned a novel which brought in substantial profits. A made-for TV biopic starring Armand Assante aired a few years ago. Only in America.

On the morning of Saturday, June 15, yours truly had gone to the library, then stopped into Petco to purchase dog food. Having left Petco at approximately 11:15, I drove out of the parking lot and turned onto Cross Bay Boulevard, and thought that I had accidentally wandered into the Rose Bowl Parade! I had unwittingly become part of John Gottiís funeral cortege, which was on† its way to Mr. Gottiís home. In front, behind, and to the left of me were dozens of long black limousines, and the flower arrangements! I donít think the combined Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx Botanical Gardens have this many flowers! A giant martini glass, a horse (the whole horse, not just the head, mind you), a huge phallic cigar and sundry others, all executed in what appeared to be hundreds of thousands of carnations. I was hoping to see a gigantic portrait of Connie Francis done in carnations, but was disappointed. If these grotesque flower arrangements had been made in jest, the Anti-Defamation Leagueís phones would have been ringing off their hooks. I immediately thought of the "Darktown Strutterís Ball" number from "The Dolly Sisters", which featured caucasian showgirls in blackface, sporting headdresses of enormous playing cards, dice, and even oversized watermelon muffs, and the "Springtime for Hitler" number from "The Producers", which featured showgirls sporting huge beer steins and pretzels over their breasts! Shopowners and employees were standing outside their stores, watching this very surrealistic funeral procession wend its way down Cross Bay Boulevard. I donít even think JFK had this kind of turnout! Not wanting to ruin the visual effect of the funeral cortege with my modest little blue car,† I made the next available right turn off Cross Bay Boulevard, and made my way home. I could hear police helicopters buzzing overhead (shades of "Apocalypse Now"!) and drove back to my apartment, where I finally let out a big guffaw. I actually did haul out my Connie Francis "Souvenirs" cd collection, and listened to the great Connie belt out† an impassioned "Mama", "Al Di La", "Senza Innamurata", and others. I then took a stroll over to Beach Bagels (they make great bagels!) to have a bite to eat, and overheard a customer say, "Didnít they ever see a funeral before?" Not like this one. Fuhgeddaboudit!

About the Author
MICHAEL M. WILK lives in Howard Beach, New York. He is a professional artist working for the US Postal Service. His online reviews can also be found at