Who's Sorry Now?: The True Story of a Stand-up Guy

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Overview

Everyone knows him as Ralph Cifaretto on the HBO hit show The Sopranos. But before Tony, Carmela, Silvio, and Dr. Melfi took Sunday-night television by storm, Joe Pantoliano was one of America's busiest actors, giving unforgettable performances in such films as Memento, The Matrix, The Fugitive, and Risky Business. Now, the street-smart kid who grew up in Sinatra's hometown shares the stage with the eccentric and colorful wise guys from his family and neighborhood.

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Overview

Everyone knows him as Ralph Cifaretto on the HBO hit show The Sopranos. But before Tony, Carmela, Silvio, and Dr. Melfi took Sunday-night television by storm, Joe Pantoliano was one of America's busiest actors, giving unforgettable performances in such films as Memento, The Matrix, The Fugitive, and Risky Business. Now, the street-smart kid who grew up in Sinatra's hometown shares the stage with the eccentric and colorful wise guys from his family and neighborhood.

Fade in on the projects of Hoboken, New Jersey, during the fifties and sixties. That's little Joey, running numbers with his chain-smoking mother, Mary, so they can keep a roof over their heads. When he wasn't busy staying one step ahead of the bill collectors, he was learning the ropes from "Cousin" Florie: his "stepfather" and a wise guy whose connections to the Genovese family couldn't keep him out of jail for drug trafficking. Then there was Joey's real father, "Monk," a factory worker with a weakness for gambling at the track who was later reborn as a hearse chauffeur for the local funeral parlor.

With a winning blend of humor, charm, and pure showmanship, Pantoliano tells it like it was. From a connected Jersey street kid to a successful Hollywood actor who would, ironically, re-create his wise-guy boyhood in role after role, Who's Sorry Now is an irresistibly entertaining treat for anyone interested in this true-life "Soprano" and a real stand-up guy.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Long before Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano became Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos, he was a successful actor whose filmography included The Matrix, The Fugitive, and Risky Business. And Joey Pants didn't need acting teachers to tell him about wise guys; his own "stepfather," Florie, had connections to the Genovese family, and he himself helped run numbers as a kid in Hoboken, New Jersey. This frisky memoir is full of funny acting stories and gritty childhood memories.
Bookviews
...endlessly entertaining reading... (September, 2003,/i>)
Publishers Weekly
Sopranos actor Pantoliano, who plays the belligerent and misogynistic Ralph Cifaretto, enters the celebrity memoir arena with a jovial account of his 1950s and '60s youth in Hoboken and Fort Lee, N.J. In addition to his familiar Sopranos role, Pantoliano has appeared in over 60 movies, including Memento and The Fugitive, and will make his directorial debut with the upcoming Just Like Mona. But he saves his career for future volumes, instead concentrating here on his eccentric Italian-American family and the stormy relationship and "shared misery" of his parents, Mommy and Monk. Equal space goes to his relatives, girlfriends and childhood "pals in the projects," a gang of "piss-ant grade-schoolers" who broke into railroad cars to steal whatever they found. Young Joey's grades suffered, and by junior high, he lived in a "dyslexic bubble," but wound up righting himself by acting in school plays, eventually moving to regional theater and, finally, Hollywood. Chapters are headlined with street addresses ("310 Jackson Street," "159 Palisade Avenue"), noting each of the family's evictions or moves to yet another Garden State location. Readers meet colorful characters, including cousin "Patty-Boy," local dogcatcher Uncle Popeye and wise guy Florie, who moves in after exiting the Atlanta Penitentiary ("A New York mobster in the house had serious cachet for a twelve-year-old"). The once-dyslexic "Joey Pants" writes with energy, humor and honesty, and his passionate closing chapter, with Joey attempting to break away from his clinging, cursing Mommy to become a big-time actor, is the icing on the cake. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781413203011
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/30/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Pantoliano has appeared in over sixty movies, including Memento, The Matrix, Bound, The Fugitive, The Goonies, Midnight Run, Empire of the Sun, and Risky Business. He is a regular featured player on The Sopranos.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction Kiss My Ass and Make It A Love Story

There I was, sitting in the back of a New York City detective car in Hoboken, handcuffed and wondering how the hell I had gotten myself there. "We have an outstanding warrant for your arrest, Mr. Pantoliano," the detective had said, very politely.

"You can call me Joey. What the hell did I do?"

"Multiple E-ZPass Violations, Mr.-Joey. I hate to do this to you, but the city's doing a major sweep on all EZ-Pass violators. We have to bring you in." With all the stuff I pulled off as a little runt in these very streets, I can't believe it's a measly toll-paying white box hiding behind my rearview mirror partially out of sight and totally out of mind that gets me in the end. My teenage counterpart would be laughing in my face (or perhaps pelting the car with jumbo grade A nonorganic eggs) if he knew what this old cigar-puffing geezer was getting turned in for. And not like you asked, but no need to wonder about what my mother would think - I'd never have mentioned it to her. Not my mother.

But I digress. Back in the Crown Vic, my NYPD hosts were explaining that they wanted to spare me the embarrassment because I was a celebrity. So they arranged to bring me in the station through the back to prevent the press from getting their hands on me. They were worried I'd be a Page Six byline by morning, and appeared to feel very strongly about preventing that from happening. They were nice guys, I gotta hand it to them, but don't they know that's just the kind of publicity I could use for my upcoming memoir? Not to mention it's definitely my favorite kind of publicity-the free kind. As I'm getting a courtesy drive to thebar on Tenth and Willow in Hoboken, where my twenty-one-year-old son Marco works and where I had planned to have dinner with my wife and kids, my mind started drifting. It was the same bar where we'd had our dinner the night of my father Monk's wake fifteen years ago. It never had a name as far as I can remember. It was just the bar on Tenth and Willow. What else would you call it? We had walked the four short blocks from Failla's Memorial to the bar that night, four short blocks from where I now keep an apartment that I share with Marco. Failla's Memorial Home was the funeral parlor where I had laid all my immediate family to rest-my mother, my father, my aunts and uncles, my mother's father, his father before him-the list goes on. And here I was, almost fifty-one years old, driving through the streets of Hoboken with a shiny new pair of handcuffs around my wrists and wondering if I ever really left the projects thirty-three years ago. I just knew it would end up like this, that somehow, I wouldn't escape the fate my childhood seemed sure to deliver, and I'd end up with a pair of cuffs not very different from those my "cousin" Florie wore time and time again while shackled for more years of his life than he ever cared to acknowledge.

They had to keep the cuffs on me. "Procedure," they said. At least these guys were thoughtful enough to put the cuffs in the front, and place my jacket over them so as not to alarm my two little kids upon seeing their old man in dire straits. Then again, how much harm could that scene have done? I turned out kinda okay, didn't I? My mind flashed to the time when I was eight years old and Aunt Lizzie, Florie's mother, had died. They had given Florie his own courtesy delivery, flying him back to New York from his new home at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a fifteen-year sentence, and had escorted him into the funeral parlor in New York City. I remember watching him, the solemn figure in handcuffs standing over his mother's coffin, as that still moment of bittersweet courtesy forever etched itself into my brain. My situation, of course, was a little different. After all, I was dealing with an EZ-Pass violation. Alright, multiple EZ-Pass violations, but the point is, I hadn't hijacked the Hoboken ferry along with 375 of its passengers and their cars and trucks and sent them on a short detour up the Hudson to Poughkeepsie or nothin'. Nah, that was Cousin Florie's big scam that literally sent him up the river. Me, I'd go in, get processed, pay my fine and leave. Maybe I'd be a bit inconvenienced, missing a family dinner and all. But the next day was Easter, and we'd have plenty of time to spend together. And, after all, I was on a hit HBO show, and I still had a movie career. Yeah, I guess I had done OK for a kid from Hoboken, New Jersey. So what if I got a pair of handcuffs on, I mean, some people wear them for fun.

We made a left on Willow and pulled up to the Tenth Street bar. I could see the front room of the bar was already filling up with people and it wasn't even eight o'clock yet. I thought, that's great for Marco, after all these years the place is still attracting Hoboken's finest, the liquid dinner crowd. Admittedly, I was feeling a bit light-headed from all the peculiar events that night in March, but the thing that really had me wondering if perhaps I had indeed taken the red pill was the fact that we'd actually found a parking spot right there in front of the entrance on a Saturday night. Had Frank Sinatra himself greeted us on the street equipped with a forty-piece band gutting out a passionate rendition of "Billie Jean Is Not My Lover" I wouldn't have been more stunned. Hoboken is notorious for never having available parking spots, let alone on a Saturday night. As long as I can remember, people double parked along the streets at night and woke up every morning to the sounds of car horns, the early birds alerting their neighbors to come on down and let them out so they could drive to work or just bathe in the satisfaction of having dragged that son of a bitch from Apartment 3A out of bed. It was the established routine. That should have tipped me off right then and there. But I had a lot on my mind. The ghosts of Hoboken surrounded me tonight in my thoughts, not to mention that swiftly approaching publisher's deadline.

We got out of the car and the well-mannered detectives took me in through the back of the place so the people at the front of the bar wouldn't notice. I was accompanied by Anthony Falco, captain of the Hoboken Police Department, who had tried unsuccessfully to get me off the hook. They just couldn't do that, the fellows from the NYPD had insisted. We walked into the secluded back room, past the pool table and towards the curtain separating off the adjacent room where I had sat with my sister and contemplated my father's life once upon a time. One of the detectives made a motion for me to lead the way, so I pulled back the curtain - and walked smack into a room full of shouting, hooting and whooping close personal friends and family. There were about a hundred and fifty of them.

Admittedly, my first thought was how the hell did they fit them all in there? I remember the place being just roomy enough for two dozen of us, a couple of tables and a fat loaf of sausage bread. But here they were, and they seemed to be comfortable enough. I turned back and sent a brief but kind glance towards my detective hosts, motioning to my still-cuffed wrists. "You fucking bastards." As usual, I meant it in the warmest way possible. In my world, that translates to "job well done-the both of you are decent, good-natured chaps regardless of what they must say about you." Incidentally, I think I still owe EZ-Pass some toll money. If any EZ-Pass representatives are reading this, please bill HBO, ATTN: Joey Pants's I CAN'T BELIEVE I GOTTA DRIVE ALL THE WAY OUT TO NEWARK FOR ONE FRIGGIN' SCENE Fund. Thanks.

It was a belated surprise birthday party, my fiftieth. My wife Nancy had planned a surprise party on my actual birthday, September 12. It seemed like good timing, with the Emmy Awards being in town that week because all my friends, East Coasters and West Coasters alike, would have the opportunity to surprise me and be merry, and of course to roast me to their hearts content. But September 12 wasn't what Nancy or anyone else for that matter ever imagined it would be. On the day prior, my son had stood at the river's edge, watching the second plane crash into the South Tower, witnessing the hopes and dreams of thousands of innocent lives come crumbling down, and carrying our own hopes and dreams with them. I used to stand at the same point on the river's edge as my son had, only I'd watch in amazement as the towers gracefully inched their way up to the sky. Walking into that crowded room in the Tenth Street bar, surrounded by family and friends and angels that had molded my life-the elders, the cousins, the movie stars and the celebrities-I remembered a more innocent time. I remembered that the source of my lifelong dream of becoming an actor wasn't rooted in fame or money, but in a frightening insecurity that when I died there wouldn't be any evidence that I had ever existed. If at least I could leave a film behind, there it would be, there I would be, Joey Pants, long after my last breath. As a kid I'd watch Million Dollar Movie, and see all of these old flicks and think about how incredible it was that some of those people were dead, but there they were, right in front of me, living on in Technicolor. I wanted to have that kind of a legacy. I wanted to be a Technicolor ghost.

With a cigar in my hand and good company to every side of me in the old Tenth Street Bar, I revised that old dream. The proof stood right there, one hundred and fifty independent verifications from wall to gritty wall. The true legacy I leave behind is the love and the memories that will last in the hearts of the people who know me, in the hearts of my children, in the hearts of my friends. My own heart, after all, is a shelter to all the memories, the lessons learned, the time shared-good and bad and worse-with all those lives that came before and have since gone, and to the pain of losing them. And I've lost a lot of people. I guess that's part of growing old. The heart is stubborn. Rumor has it God borrowed the first heart from an old woman in Naples and never returned it (she was definitely related to my mother; that's why she had no qualms about taking God's name in vain). Since then hearts everywhere hold tight to their possessions. Once it lets something in, it ain't never gonna let it leave. Somehow, I think, through all of it, through the Storm of the Century that was my upbringing in this quaint little town that stands in the shadows of the vanished towers, here I am, I survived, with a dream intact.

—- BRIEF INTERLUDE —-

Right about now, there's a guy sitting in his plaid worn living room reclining chair somewhere in Jersey City reading this and saying, "Fuck this, I buy Joey Pants's book and he gets soft on me. What the hell? Where's the friggin' return policy on this thing?"

I know you're out there. Just calm down, relax, and read this like the good boy that you are, unless, of course, you'd rather I come over there and show you a little disciplinary trick or two I picked up from a couple of the outstanding specimens of humanity I've portrayed over the years. You might be upset to know how natural those roles actually are for a guy like me.

NOTE TO EVERYONE ELSE EXCEPT THIS GUY: Over my thirty-year career, I've had the distinguishable honor of playing the guy you love to hate every now and again. Every time someone comes up to me on the street and says, "I hated you in that movie!" well, then I know I did my job. As an actor, I am responsible to defend these despicable characters on set as wholeheartedly as Johnny Cochran would in a court of law. Needless to say, I hereby detach myself from any of the sick and twisted personality traits and psychopathic tendencies I've occasionally taken up on screen, with two noted exceptions: their typically incessant charm (my dear brothers and sisters, some things are beyond my control) and, of course, the occasional heavy cursing. It's a hard habit to break when the words that rhyme with "trucking" and "runt" were used far more often in my house growing than "dinner's" and "ready". I mean well, and anybody who knows me knows that. Got it? Good. Now shut up and read.

—- : BRIEF INTERLUDE —-

This is a story of unconditional and unconventional love. The strongest love imaginable, the harshest love imaginable. And no one embodied that double-edged love as well as my mother, Mary "Mariacella" Centrella-or as I still refer to her to this day, Mommy. When I was a kid, if I ever asked one too many questions of her, she would turn around and ask me, in her plain, true Hobokenese, "What're you writin' a book?"

"Yeah," I'd tell her every time.

And she'd reply like clockwork, "Well, kiss my ass and make it a love story." Mommy's tender words to me, every one of which rang true.

Twenty years now, dead and gone, and the sweet sound of Mommy's voice calling me home to eat still rings in my ears like it was only yesterday.

"Joey!"

Okay, so it wasn't so sweet.

"Hey, Joey!"

At this point, I'm probably the only one on the block who's not looking up at her as she's leaning out of our fifth-floor apartment window.

I'm down on the concrete courtyard below, playing with a few of my fellow ten-year-old pals and cousins from the projects. She spots one of us. "Hey, Beaver! Where's my Joey? JOSEPH!!"

I'm definitely in trouble now, but I play it cool in front of the other kids. "Whatcha want, Mommy?" I shout over my shoulder. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of somethin'?"

"It's time to eat, you little sumanabitch! Get your fat ass upstairs!"

"Ahll-right, I'm comin'." I surrender. I may have been smug, but I wasn't dumb. Before she has a chance to clear her throat for the next sound-off, I've already double-stepped my way up the five flights of stairs and charged through the unlocked steel front door of our pocket-sized three-bedroom apartment. She greeted me with a smothering hug, a wide smile, and a smack on the face.

Mommy taught me what tough love was all about. She taught me that saying "I love you" was not necessarily the strongest way to communicate that sentiment. Mommy could masterfully wrap up her love in any number of disparaging phrases and pet names, but you knew what she really meant when the biting words came out. At least I'd like to think we knew what she meant. She showed me life for what it was, never shielding my curious eyes with a G-rated screen. She showed me death for what it was too, and not only did she withhold censorship of the event, she quite literally put my face in it.

"Joey, come along with Mommy" she said to me after straightening my tie and spitting on her hand to try and take the cowlick from my hair. Grabbing my hand, she walked me up the dark burgundy carpet of Failla's Memorial Home and up to the gold velvet kneeler in front of the imitation mahogany casket. "Say a prayer now, Joey, because our friend Danny has gone to heaven."

Danny Magliano was the guy who used to come over to our house during Christmas and take Mommy down to his car so she could pick from a wide selection of brand-new chemistry sets and basketballs and toy fire engines and all sorts of children's toys all packed conveniently in the truth. Everything in that exciting trunk had been stolen without a gun, "swag" as we called it. Danny was the closest thing to Santa Claus I ever had.

He'd been shot dead in the swamps along the Hudson River up near Edgewater Road.

Mommy and I bowed our heads for a moment of reverence to the recently deceased, and before I could say "amen," she gave me a tug on my sleeve and spoke into my ear. "Joey, look at his head." I craned my neck to look into the casket, and there he was, swag Danny, lifeless and pale. "You see that? He was shot in the head three times, and you can't even see the holes!"

"Wow!" She was right. One second of reverence for the deceased, followed by a minute of awe for the deceased's corpse. I stepped up on the kneeler and leaned over for a closer look. "Tell me more, Mommy, tell me more!"

"Jesus Christ, Joey!" she snapped. "What do you think this is, a party? Lower your voice and have some respect for the dead."

Amen. Mommy insisted on taking me and my little sister Maryann to every wake held at Failla's. We were usually the only kids there and we never missed a one. She'd dress us up and show us off. They were my favorite family get-togethers. It's no wonder that I still love a good funeral. They brought out the best and the worst in everyone. I was fascinated by death, and fascinated by the ritual surrounding it. The food, the dramatic scenes, the monumental fights, the men hanging out in the back room of the parlor smoking cigarettes and cigars and telling stories while the women stayed up front with the casket and gossiped and whispered and checked out the flowers-death stood still in the center of the room while the spirit of our family was alive and kicking all around it. But Mommy never let me forget why we were there. She always made me have a peek.

My Mommy, my dear endlessly loving Mommy, the part-time bookie, the full-time seamstress and the interminable gambler. She'd bet on anything. She bet on my father's life and on her children's future, and it was probably the only bet she ever won fair and square. My dear Mommy, she'd bet on a raindrop if she could, and for all I know she had. "Twenty on that raindrop to the right's gonna hit the windowsill first." And if she could have somehow found a way to cheat God himself ... I'll be damned if He hadn't lost an Andrew Jackson every now and then to Mary Centrella.

Which is why I'm sure the All Powerful and All Knowing had a soft spot in His Neapolitan heart, or come to think of it, more like a chip on His divine shoulder, for my dad, Dominique "Monk" Pantoliano, since he had chosen poor Monk for the thankless and altogether sacrificial task of being Mary Centrella's personal and portable punching bag. Daddy can best be described by the items thoughtfully placed in his casket when he gracefully punched out of this world: a racing form, a pack of cards, a box of cheap cigars, and his trusty black hat and raincoat. He never underestimated the value of that hat and raincoat, not when the wrath of Mommy was a sure bet no matter the weather. It was always sunny skies and clear with a 100 percent chance of rain for the Monk.

Not that they didn't have anything in common. Daddy was every bit the gambler that Mommy was, and she never let him forget it when money was tight around the house. And money was always tight around the house. My father wasn't what you'd call a man of means. Aside from gambling, he shared his professional life between the local factory where he worked as a foreman and the local funeral parlor where he was the hearse chauffeur. But with the horse track just across town, he could have been a brain surgeon with a law degree and managed the Backstreet Boys on the side, he'd still have been broke his whole life for all I'm concerned. And yet he was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, and you would have quickly forgiven his plaid polyester leisure suit wardrobe. He may have been a loud dresser, but one thing's for sure, he knew to keep his mouth shut.

For all my family's ritual gatherings and habitual gambling, it was apparent that one key habit was left out: paying the rent. Instead, they opted for the ritual of packing and moving. We had moved ten times by the time I reached high school. Any new place we settled in was rarely more than several blocks, or floors, from the last place. The notion of "home" to me was as stable and comforting as riding in a train car. You walked in and had a seat, but you never got too comfortable, because you knew your stop was coming up next. As these moves divided up the chapters of my childhood and adolescence, so they will divide the chapters of my book. In Poor Richard's Almanack, Ben Franklin pointed out that "what maintains one's vice would bring up two children." Between Mommy and Daddy, they could have raised an entire Pantoliano litter in one, and only one, charming single-family home had they played their cards right. Or in their case, had they not played their cards at all.

Mommy and Daddy. Quite the pair.

Oh? Did I say pair? Parental units tend to come in twos for most Joes I know, but I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a bona fide threesome. Three may have been company but two was certainly a bitch. Had not Florio Isabella, my other father, my honorary stepfather and third cousin to my mother, stepped on to the scene in time, I'd be sending this manuscript to my cellmate Bud's sister's husband's cousin's good friend's ex-coworker's lover who knows a guy in Scranton who knows a literary agent in Pittsburgh, and the return address would be Attica, New York, New York. And that's assuming I'd have gotten the knack of distinguishing my bs from my ds from the tattoo on my thigh proclaiming Bud's property rights. Everybody knew him as Florie, and if it wasn't for him, Tommy Lee Jones would still be looking for the perfect guy to play his sidekick in The Fugitive. The man saved my life. I mean Florie, not Tommy Lee, as much as the latter may beg to differ. Though his final days were spent making an honest but meager living delivering freshly pressed clothes in the dry cleaning business, Florie spent twenty-one out of his seventy-seven years locked up in federal penitentiaries, and spent much of the rest doing the Cajun two-step with the wrong side of the law. But the only dance he ever cared to see me in involved "tights and a fucking tutu" so that I could make a true "fairy-ass" out of myself. At least that's how my mother referred to the acting career that Florie relentlessly encouraged, straight through the day I said goodbye and headed for the Big City to find my fairy-ass destiny.

Mary, Monk and Florie. They were my angels. She tortured the both of them mercilessly, but they loved her through it all, and they all loved their Joey unquestionably.

Multiply that love by an extended family of Pantolianos and Centrellas numbering in the hundreds, and all living within walking distance, make that shouting distance, from any one of the ten addresses we called home in and around Hoboken, and you begin to understand why I consider myself blessed. Blessed that I was part of a time and a place and an immigrant culture that has long since disappeared. That would be classic Italian-American postwar pre-Yuppie urban New Jersey. Blessed that I was able to thrive on the collective strength of a supremely loving, huge and unruly, huggin' and kissin', screamin' and cryin' tribe. We were dirt poor but proud, and plenty of heart to go around.

And blessed that I got the hell out of there before they ate me up alive.

This is my love story.

-Reprinted from Who's Sorry Now by Joe Pantoliano with David Evanier by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) Joe Pantoliano, 2002. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2004

    Who's Sorry Now? Whatta book...

    This is a vivid account of Mr. Pantoliano's formative years against a backdrop which, to the urban-bred, is perversely pastoral. While the author at the same time charmed and chilled me with accounts of his family life, I felt myself hypnotized into a state of wholly unjustified nostalgia about my own rats-and-asphalt upbringing. I gobbled this up in a matter of hours, re-read it immediately and hope the *#!& he writes another one soon!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2004

    Very entertaining!!!

    This a good book about a good actor. Joey Pants has a writing style that is very laid back and yet in your face. I've never been out to that part of the country but he sure painted a very vivid picture. Joey Pants should add great writer to his resume.

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