The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia

The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia

by Frank Dimatteo

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496705471
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 297,697
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Frank Dimatteo is a lifelong Brooklynite, Mafia "survivor," and publisher of Mob Candy magazine.

Read an Excerpt

The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia


By Frank Dimatteo

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2016 Frank Dimatteo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0547-1



CHAPTER 1

WE CALLED IT SOUTH BROOKLYN


To understand why the people in these stories act the way we do, you've got to understand where we came from: South Brooklyn — with a focal point on a protruberance of land jutting into New York Harbor called Red Hook.

Red Hook was a part of the Town of Brooklyn right from the beginning, in the 1600s when the place was called "Breuckelen" on the East River, and Kings Highway (still a major thoroughfare wandering through the modern Brooklyn grid circumventing long-forgotten obstacles) was trafficked by the Dutch. Three hundred years later it was a big city, consolidated in 1898 as a borough of New York City. When they built the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn grew fast, wrapping around the Narrows, through Coney Island, all the way past Sheepshead Bay to Canarsie, which were villages that were swallowed up.

It's not hard to figure out how Red Hook — originally Roode Hoek — got its name. It sticks out into the Upper Bay in a hook shape, curling across Buttermilk Channel toward the only-yards-away western shore of Governor's Island. And there's a redness to the soil, too — not that there's much visible soil left. In the nineteenth century, shipping companies built ports, called Basins. There was the Atlantic, the Erie, and the Brooklyn Basins.

By the 1900s, there were a lot of piers, where hard men could make a living loading up and unloading the oceangoing cargo ships. When the Depression came, there wasn't as much work, and times got tough for a lot of people.

People who lived in Red Hook didn't call it that. They called it "The Point," explaining that hoek in Dutch meant "point," or "corner" — not "hook." Whatever. In the 1920s and '30s, if you lived on the Point, you were probably poor.

The men who worked on the piers were immigrants, sons of immigrants, Italians and Germans and Irish, and they were all called longshoremen. They lived on the Point and worked on the Point.

Today if you go there, you see the Red Hook Housing Projects, but back in the 1930s that was the site of a shantytown for homeless guys who lived clustered in a community of shacks, and people called it a "Hooverville," named after the U.S. president held responsible for everyone being broke.

Today, real estate in many sections of the five boroughs is going sky-high, so the real estate brokers have assigned trendy names to subdivisions of the old neighborhood. Today there is not just Red Hook, but also Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, the Columbia Street Waterfront, and on and on. Back then we just called it South Brooklyn.

I was born at 113 First Place between Court Street and Smith Street in 1956. I lived there until I was five. When I looked out my bedroom window, I saw Scotto's Funeral Parlor and it was always busy, same old black hearse every time, pallbearers moving slowly and stiffly, widows behind veils with buckling knees.

When I was five we moved a couple of blocks up and over, to Sackett Street between Smith and Hoyt Streets. Now when I looked out my window I saw Saint Agnes Church, and sure enough, there always seemed to be a coffin going in and out. Even at that young age I could tell an omen when I saw one.

South Brooklyn was a mixed neighborhood, not blended, the ethnicities each having carved out their own chunk. The blacks had the Gowanus Projects. The Puerto Ricans stuck close to Smith Street. The Irish were sprinkled around. The Italians had just about everything from Court Street west.

There was very little trouble between peoples. For generations Brooklynites had the Dodgers in common. If you were an Italian and you were talking to a guy who was something else, you could always say, "Hey, how about that Pee Wee Reese?" or "How about that Carl Furillo?" And you were on the same team. Roy Campanella was everybody's hero. When the Dodgers left, the borough lost some of that, and every once in a while there was racial or ethnic bullshit.

Most of the Italian men in the neighborhood worked on the piers. The other advantage the Italians had early on was that we owned all of the stores. My favorite store when I was a kid was Helen's Candy Store, at the corner of Sackett and Smith Streets. Helen and her sister ran the place. The trick was to get Helen to smile, a very difficult thing to do. You had to do handstands. She had everything you wanted. That was where I went for my penny candy and baseball cards. Boy, I miss them.

Italians also owned the many pork stores, fresh vegetable markets, hero shops, bakeries, pastry shops, restaurants, and bars. On Court Street there was Romeo's Deli, owned by a brother and sister and their spouses. They ran it themselves, always served you with a smile and a warm word, and they treated you like family. Best prosciutto and mozzarella heroes in the history of the world. When the Romeos got old and closed, it was a great loss to the neighborhood.

Esposito Pork Store was owned by a friend of our family, Frank Esposito, the father. I bowled with him and hung out with him at the local club — one of the nicest men you'd ever want to meet. He had the best pork sausage and Italian imports in Brooklyn. Going to Esposito's was like attending a museum for great imported food. On display with class and pride were all the Italian formaggi: asiago, gorgonzola, Grana Padano, pecorino romano. Hanging from the ceiling was prosciutto, capicola, salami, soppressata, and pepperoni. When you walked in, the smell sent you back to Italy, whether you'd ever been there or not, which for some of the older gentlemen could be an emotional experience. It was a smell to make you weep for joy. The sons are there now keeping it alive.

The other big pork store was Aiellos. All of my friends worked there when they were young. If you needed a job that was the first place you checked, because they always needed someone. It was a huge store and had everything you could possibly need from Italy.

And the bakeries, each one better than the next. There was Caputo Bakery on Court Street, had the best Sicilian bread; Cam-mareri Bakery at the corner of Henry and Sackett Streets, made famous by the movie Moonstruck, had maybe the best bread in all of Brooklyn (they closed the Henry Street bakery but reopened in Bensonhurst); Mazzola Bakery has the best lard bread on earth, what can I say, they've been there for sixty years; Court Pastry on Court and Degraw Streets, where I had my first cannoli and cheesecake, and the best lemon ice. Some bakeries moved and then came back: Montelone Pastry on Court Street changed hands a few times, but they kept the same ingredients because the cookies are to die for — and they serve espresso while you wait.

Rainbow Vegetable Market was a small family-owned market at Court and Sackett, run by a father and his sons. They knew everyone by name. If you needed broccoli rabe, they had it. Escarole, they had it. The fruit melted in your mouth, and they would deliver to your house a two-dollar bag of anything. It's gone now, but not forgotten.

At Joe's Superette they had the best prosciutto balls and rice balls you ever ate. Joe got sick and passed away. Another store lost.

Union Street Market, at the corner of Union and Smith, was a grocery store that was there forever. If you were Italian and lived on the Smith Street side, that was where you went to shop or hang out.

I'll never forget the smell of Damico's Coffee at Court and Degraw. Frank and Alex were friends of the family. I grew up with their sons. You could smell the Italian coffee brewing in the morning from blocks away. It was a sad day when, with the neighborhood changing, the Damicos received a letter from the city. Stop the roasting, people are complaining about the smell. What a kick in the ass. They had to stop because the newbies, full of Wonder Bread and processed cheese food, didn't like it. I would have said, "Fuck you."

Sal's Pizza at Court and Degraw, fantastic. Johnny is a friend for a lifetime. Johnny today runs the place, trying to keep it the same as it always was, but it's a battle. The pizza is still good. If you want it the old-fashioned way or the new way, makes no difference, you still get to sit with Johnny, have a drink, and reminisce about the neighborhood. You can find me in there once a week talking John's ear off, complaining about something.

The tablecloth restaurants: Helen's, Gloria's, Angelo's, Queen. All on Court Street, all within six blocks of each other. All of them gave you good homemade Italian food made by the owners until they couldn't cook no more. I watched them all get old and go.

After dinner, you could go to Ebel's Ice Cream Parlor or Mr. and Mrs. Bauer's Ice Cream Parlor, old-school places that opened around 1900 and lasted for more than seventy-five years until everyone became too cool to go there anymore.

As a kid I remember being sent for ice cream with a dollar in my pocket, and I'd come back with a big white cardboard container, like the kind they put takeout Chinese food in now.


* * *

It felt like there was a bar on every corner. Some of the ones I remember the best are:

Butch's Inn on Court Street and Third Place. I saved Roy Roy's life there once. (More about that in chapter 21.) That bar has been gone for years, but if those walls could talk I wouldn't be here writing.

There was The Step Inn, for sixty years. My mother worked there in the 1960s. I hung out there after Ju Ju bought it. What a place. Martin Scorsese would pay a million bucks for the rights. All the wiseguys hung out at Ju Ju's. It was like a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone every night. Lauren Bacall drank there. I sat there with Punchy on many nights, but it's gone now.

And there was The Court Terrace at Court and Atlantic, run by the Gallo family. I was put there in the 1970s to help out. Got my first score from there. Again, if the walls could talk, my wife would walk.

At El Bolario, a Spanish bar on Court Street, I got my first pinch. I know it had a pool table, because I hit the owner in the head with a pool stick. It's gone now, too.

There was Guzzies Bar & Grill at Smith and Union. It's now called Red Roses. I'm not going to say anything about the place. My father always told me, "If you have nothin' nice to say, don't say nothin'." Back when it was Guzzies, in the 1970s, I hung out with Roy Roy and did a lot of drinking there. This was before drinking and driving was bad.

Our neighborhood movie house was the Rex. It opened in the 1920s, during the era of silent movies, and was later called the Cobble Hill, at Court and Butler. I used to pay fifty cents to see two movies there, a cartoon and a film of an old 1920s bike race. The bikes had numbers on them. If your ticket had the winning number, you got free popcorn. Ju Ju owned the place for a short time, and on weekends he had all the doo-wop groups there, Bobby Lester and the Moonglows. They sang "The Ten Commandments of Love." The Drifters were there, The Five Satins, The Capris sang "There's a Moon Out Tonight." Ju Ju had everyone you could think of. That theater is still going strong in 2016 as a movie house.

On Columbia Street was another movie house called the Happy Hour Theater. It closed in the 1970s. Its backyard was next to Roy Roy's club, so we used to go in at night and take whatever looked good. We made off with about a hundred movie posters, but we eventually threw them out. Later we found out they were worth a lot of money. Who the fuck knew?

Also on Columbia Street, down on the Red Hook side where everything was a little bit more run-down, it was old school. We had "House of Calzone" at the time. They only had deep-fried calzones — the only kind they made in Brooklyn. It makes a great difference in taste. Anyway, the house is still there and we still go there for calzones even though the new workers are assholes. I don't deal with them. I have my children go there for me now.

Ferdinando's Focacceria. If you like panelle, tripe, or vastedda, it's the place to go. Open since 1904. Every hood in Brooklyn has stopped in there for a meal. I try to eat there once a month. One thing that makes it special: They had Manhattan Special on tap. That's coffee soda, made with real coffee on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Defontes Sandwich Shop, in Red Hook since 1922, was a small, beat-up place, but you couldn't beat the shrimp in red sauce or the roast beef sandwich with homemade gravy. It's still open and we still eat there.

Anthony's Bar on Van Brunt Street opened in the 1940s. When you turned eighteen (the legal drinking age back then), this was the place to go. It was only a couple of blocks from the projects, but you could go in there at four in the morning and not worry about trouble.

Cafiero's Restaurant, on President between Columbia and Hicks, was an old-school restaurant with corrugated-tin ceilings and walls, a tile floor, wicker chairs, wood tables with plain tablecloths, and a small menu of homemade Italian food like your mother made. If you were Italian, there was a small back room where the boys could hold meetings — a real hood haven. Cafiero got old, closed the place, and that was the last of the old-school restaurants.


For clothes you went to Marietta Men's Wear at Court and Carroll, open since the 1940s, run by Matty and Joe. Matty just passed away. As I write this, I just went to say good-bye to him, a great man. I still buy my Ginny T-shirts there.

One of the first stores I was ever in by myself was Frank's Clothing Store on Union Street, a family-run place where all of the longshoremen and their families went for pants, underwear, T-shirts, and socks, for cheap. My grandmother sent me there when I was just about old enough to walk. I went in there with her a few times, as well, at least once for pantaloons when she was about ninety-two.

On Court Street was Pop's Poolroom, one of the oldest pool rooms around. It was on the second floor, so if there was a fight it was a bitch to get out. All of the good players shot there. It might've been a little bit too old. The pool tables themselves were worse for wear, and it was already dingy by the time I started hanging out there. There was one table that was legendary, the table that Al Capone shot a game on. When the place closed, a friend of mine bought the Al Capone table.

The other pool hall on Court (this one at Butler), was Ju Ju's. He took over for Patty and renamed the place as Ju Ju's Pool Room. It stayed like that for years, then Ju Ju eventually sold the place to Sally Balsamo, who is gone now.


* * *

All of these great places up and down the well-kept and tree-lined streets of South Brooklyn, it was a great place to grow up. Every block you walked down, there was someone you knew, guys who hung out, guys with parents who spoke broken English. As kids we were out from morning till late at night, playing "Buck, Buck, How Many Horns Are Up?" and freeze tag, hit the stick, skullzy, stoop ball, box ball, and ringolevio (which was like team hide-and-seek). We flipped baseball cards. If you had a bike, the cards went into the spokes to make noise. We made scooters out of milk crates and roller skates. We wore Red Ball Keds ("Run faster, jump higher, stop on a dime") and PF Flyers, dungarees and Ginny T-shirts.

And, yeah, there were hoods everywhere, so ingrained into the fabric of the community that you didn't even think about it. That was just the way things were. We had a wiseguy on every corner, one in every store. Sometimes it was a representative of the Gallo brothers, or Old Man Profaci's crew. The Gambino guys had a club. Fuck, they all had clubs.

Point is, someone was always looking out for you. When your mom or your grandma wanted you, they just stuck their head out the window and called you, and you could hear them from blocks away. If you didn't hear, someone would relay the message: "Hey, Frankie Boy, they're calling you."

Per capita there were more infamous hoodlums from Red Hook and South Brooklyn than anywhere else in the country. In South Brooklyn, if you weren't a family member, you knew someone who was a family member. Everyone had an uncle or a cousin (or a father) who was a wiseguy.

Even if you didn't have a blood relative who was in the Life, the hoods knew you from the block and if you did something wrong, they would give you a kick in the ass. Curse in front of a woman, kick in the ass. Didn't help someone carry groceries, kick in the ass. I got kicked in the ass all the time, at least once a week. Sometimes I'd go home and tell my parents that I got kicked in the ass, and they'd kick me in the ass again. Those were the days.

No one was kidnapped or molested. No one got sick. And the kids from other neighborhoods were scared to mess with us. Man. Blink me the fuck back right now.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia by Frank Dimatteo. Copyright © 2016 Frank Dimatteo. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Different Breed of Gangster 1

1 We Called It South Brooklyn 12

2 The Gallo Brothers 22

3 Mondo Illiano 30

4 The Original Crew 35

5 Ricky & Dee 45

6 The First Gallo-Profaci War 56

7 The Coco Poodle 71

8 Freeport, Long Island 82

9 Back to Brooklyn 92

10 The Mod Squad 103

11 Joey's Home 111

12 The Court Terrace 120

13 Screw Magazine and the World of Porn 128

14 Joey's Killing 138

15 Emily 149

16 The Shit Hits the Fan 158

17 Hitting the Streets 170

18 The Tilting Dresser 181

19 Dis & Dat Lounge 191

20 The Pinch 203

21 On the Way to New York 212

Epilogue: Reflections 220

Appendix: Al Milone's Boxing Record 221

Bibliography 229

Verbatim Conversation, Me and My Mom, 2015 231

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The President Street Boys: Growing Up Mafia 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Feels like you just having a conversation with some while reading this book .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book. Enjoyed the humorus stories. A good read for the mafia lover.