Phil Leotardo's destiny is Ironbound; or: Meeting Across the RIver redux
James T. Fisher June 5, 2007 - 10:05pm
We lived in the heartland of America when The Sopranos debuted; the absence of HBO could not prevent us from being in on the fun, with constant updates from ma and pals: 'Jimmy they mentioned Wyckoff!' [Carm's near-squeeze Vic Musto fled there from her N. Caldwell home on pretext of a contracting project] one of the municipalities in the county of Bergen in which we once resided. Now all these years later poor Uncle Junior is about to be evicted from the "Wyckoff Therapeutical Center" and consigned to a state mental institution.
We returned to Jersey in the interim and subscribed to HBO; the rage and cussin' always seemed to bother Charlie though he was never in the room during airtime, so we picked it up in pieces on the fly just as we had in St. Paul and St. Louie. While we were in exile on the Mississippi Jersey finally became a 'destination' in no small part due to the extraordinary geographic devotion of David Chase and company: I doubt there's a location on earth where more shades of class race ethnicity and sex are signified merely by invoking a place name. Even the one howling outrage--the filming of the classic 'Pine Barrens' episode in New York's totally wrong-looking Harriman State Park--yielded an inside joke since nearly every teenager in North Jersey eventually finds themselves wandering around Harriman and many--at least in my day--engaged there in the kind of recreational activities that often found them disoriented and saying things like: 'I told you we should have stopped at Roy Rogers.' (Paulie Walnuts' rejoinder to Christopher's plaint--while unsuitable for repeating in a family blog--ranks among the greatest comebacks in the annals of television history).
Then there was the day Charlie and I were enjoying hamburgers at Galloping Hill his favorite Union County locale; I was thinking as usual how would I ever finish this book on the Irish mob that I'd been working on for as long as he'd been diagnosed with autism, but thinking mostly about how we'd quit everything to return to Jersey for the autism services only to discover we had nowhere the near the pull to get him into one of the designer private schools. Jersey as a destination indeed! No sooner was the Garden State declared autism services capital of the world than all manner of folk that'd never be caught dead there are moving in with their autistic kids and many are flashing the long green and touting their fund-raising connections. Hey, my grandpa was born on a farm in Moonachie! no longer cut it. So here we are in December 05 pulling Charlie from his public school autism classroom; cheesy Union County educational politics left us with no other choice. The Sopes. had become a lot less fun from up close. Meanwhile right around the corner from Galloping Hill in Union the authorities are discovering a body entrunked behind the Huck Finn diner; it's corpse of a guy that had recently been acquitted (unbeknownst to victim) in a trial of alleged O.C. figures from the International Longshoremen's Association, the self-same outfit that was prime subject of book I was struggling to finish.
This guy was linked to the real-life Jersey mob family on which Sopes. may well have been based and yes, just as that cowardly baron of Westchester Uncle Philly sneeringly noted, this real-life family was once accused of failing to 'prick the fingers' of its inductees (Leotardo's 'pygmies' were dismissed as so many 'farmers' by pundits from the real 5 NYC families). But note well: when you're from Jersey the city and its ways are no great mystery. Bigshot New Yorker Phil can order Tony off his property ('Go back to Jersey') from the safety of his faux-turret; but like they say, Phil, there's no toll charged westbound over the GWB, pal: good luck finding your way.
The final Jersey thing: you can move in-state and things change. We've lived in eight of the 21 counties all north of Rte 195 but for a stint in the county of 'Whitecaps;' we moved across county lines again for a better public school and found one. Jersey is on the mainland but is not quite yet the heartland; it's fluid and flexible so unlike tribal NYC: as we say in the book (done: 'The Irish Waterfront and the Soul of the Port: New York/New Jersey, 1927-1954') it's no fluke the code of silence that terrorized the waterfront for decades was broken by a Hobokenite, Tony Mike DeVincenzo. Nor was it an accident that the greatest waterfront movie ever made was filmed in the Mile Square City too and the third leg of the trinity of all-time great television shows (Honeymooners, All in the Family now joined by Sopes.) was shot all over the Garden State and reveals its many splendors as never before.
Now Newark is on its way back in a big way: Johnny Boy shoulda lived to see this; so too all my ma's cousins and uncles that fought Newark's fires when they weren't fighting each other.