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A Man of Respect
Anthony Casso was raised within the confines of a Mafia culture, mind-set, belief system.
The youngest of three children, Anthony was born in Park Slope's Methodist Hospital on May 21, 1942. He had a brother, Michael, born in 1936, and a sister, Lucille, who was born in 1939. His parents, Michael Casso and Margaret Cucceullo, met in a bakery the Cucceullo family owned on Union and Bond streets in 1934, and it was love at first sight—egli ebbe un colpo di fulmine, struck by a lightning bolt, as Italians say.
This was the height of the Depression. Hard times were the norm. The world was starving. Men with hostile, gaunt faces filled with anger crowded soup lines and shamelessly begged. A mass exodus of able men left South Brooklyn and searched far and wide around the country for work, money, and a way to feed their families. Anthony's father, Michael Casso, however, managed to prosper during these hard times, for his best friend, Sally Callinbrano, Anthony's godfather, was a respected capo in the Genovese crime family, and he had substantial influence on the nearby Brooklyn docks. Michael Casso and Sally had grown up together and had been best friends since grade school. They played ball together. They stole together. They watched each other's backs. Sally made sure Michael Casso worked every day, that he had access to the regular pilfering that went on at the docks, as a matter of course.
"It fell off da truck" was the phrase commonly used for their stealing. The shipping companies accepted the practice; they had no choice. They wrote it up as "dacost a doin' business," as a retired dockworker recently put it, an old-timer now eighty.
Each of Anthony's grandparents emigrated from Naples, Italy, one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden, and dangerous cities in the world, between the years 1896 and 1898. They were a part of the mass exodus of Italians from the Mazangoro. Hardworking, industrious people, Casso's grandparents prospered—the Cucceullos opened a bakery. Casso's paternal grandfather, Micali, opened a bowling alley on Union Street and Seventh Avenue. Both the Cassos and the Cucceullos prospered, and eventually attained the elusive American dream. The effects of the Depression were not that dire for them. Fewer people went bowling, but Michael Casso Sr. managed to make a living, and the Cucceullos' bakery was always busy. Most everything on the shelves was gone by midday. The bakery was ideally located near the Gowanus Canal where there were thousands of blue-collar workers, and Union Street was a main artery with a good deal of traffic. A busy trolley line traveled in both directions.
Michael Casso and Margaret Cucceullo's union proved to be a good one. They were ideally suited for each other, deeply in love, and they would stay together till death parted them. Anthony Casso's childhood was a happy one. All his memories of his early years are good ones. He was showered with love from both his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. His father never hit him. Anthony wanted for nothing. One would think, considering how cold and mean Casso could be as an adult, that he'd been brutalized as a child, beaten and regularly put upon, but just the opposite was true. Even today, he says his best friend in life was indisputably his father.
Michael Casso was a bull of a man, as powerful as three average men. This was a genetic trait. He had the rock-hard body endemic to southern Italian males, and his regular working at the docks, stressing and straining his muscles, helped build his impressive physique. Anthony's father was a calm, easygoing man; he rarely, if ever, got angry and rarely raised his voice, but he was a fierce street fighter, one of the toughest men on the Brooklyn docks.
Michael Casso's nickname was "Gaspipe" because he always carried an eight-inch length of lead gaspipe that he used like an impromptu blackjack, or held in his huge, large knuckled fist when he threw a punch to add bad intentions to the blow. Anthony would, years later, inherit his father's nickname and become known through Mafiadom as Gaspipe, never Anthony, though he did not use a gaspipe as a weapon. It is no accident that most all street guys have nicknames. This was a simple though clever way to confuse law enforcement as to the true identity of any given made man.
Anthony Casso's first conscious recollections of the Mafia were Sunday outings with his father. He was seven years old. They'd get dressed up, get in his dad's car, a big, shiny Buick, and drive to his godfather Sally Callinbrano's club on the Flatbush Avenue extension and Bridge Street. They'd make their way straight down Flatbush Avenue toward the Manhattan Bridge. The young Casso very much enjoyed this time alone with his dad, just the two of them in the car cruising along. The year was 1949 and these are some of the warmest memories Anthony has of his childhood, him and his father slowly driving along Flatbush Avenue. Little was said during these private outings with his dad. Just the fact that his dad would take to him Callinbrano's club was, Anthony knew, an honor. Michael Casso was, in a very real sense, introducing his son to a secret society, a far different place from the straight world.
Sally Callinbrano was a prominent force, a highly respected capo in the Genovese crime family. He was a thin, distinguished, gray-haired individual. He was always in an impeccably cut suit, starched white shirt and silk tie, glistening leather shoes. He was perfectly barbered. A huge diamond pinkie ring adorned his right hand.
"He was a class act all the way," as Casso puts it. After the murder of Albert Anastasia in 1957, Callinbrano essentially took over his rule of the International Longshoremen's Association Union, ILA Local 1814, a powerful position that guaranteed prestige, honor, and money. Lots of it.Gaspipe. Copyright © by Philip Carlo. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.