Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Vinnie's Pizzaria: Pizza Pies and Mafia Ties.

This is one of those "strange but true" stories. The kind of story if I were to tell someone at a party they would give me a skeptical look and reply ," Com'on Joe, you're bullshitting me." However, I'm being completely honest. Besides,would I lie to you? (Perhaps if it were a matter of national security I might have to. But that's besides the point.)

Anyhoo, this happened in the mid 1980's. I was married at the time and my then wife Bari and myself would take her nieces Sara and Annie to see their father at his pizzeria. He and Bari's sister Sandy had a particularly acrimonious divorce, so the onus of the responsibility to insure that Vinnie saw his daughters rested squarely on Bari and my shoulders. The two girls didn't seem very anxious to visit their Dad, for reasons never spoken, and I always felt as if Bari and I were practically dragging them to his pizza shop kicking and screaming all the way.

The moment the four of us arrived, Vinnie was a charming and gracious host.We always ate for free thus putting Vinnie up a couple of notches in my estimation.(Hey, I'm a guy. Feed me and you pretty much have a friend for life.)He always asked me about my family even though he had never met them. And I must admit he made every effort to close the gap that existed between him and his two daughters, but Sara and Annie were kind of standoffish. This I always attributed to their mother Sandy who would go to great lengths to tear him down as a father whenever she could. I know this for a fact because she went off on a anti-Vinnie harangue one time in my presence. With information I culled from the other family members, Vinnie may have not been a nominee for Husband of The Year,but denigrading him constantly to his daughters was going a tad overboard in my opinion.

During these visits, I couldn't help but notice these well dressed Italian guys in their mid to late twenties who drove up to Vinnies Pizzeria in black Trans Ams wearing open silk shirts and gold necklaces, hanging around as if they owned the place. I naively came to the conclusion these were friends of Vinnie's who came by to just shoot the breeze. In a couple of years though, I would discover a scenario more sinister than I could have ever imagined. The kind of scenario I though was found mainly in books or movies;not in real life.

By 1987 my five year marriage to Bari was over and done with,even though we still dated each other in between relationships with other people.(I know, it sounds totally bizarre. But it worked for us as far as we were concerned.) One day, Bari called me asking if I had read the newspaper.She said if I hadn't to buy one immediately, that I would be shocked when I read it . Damn if she wasn't dead on the money. I about fell on the floor upon reading that Vinnie's Pizzeria was closed because he had been arrested by the police for his involvement with a drug trafficking ring ran by the Mafia.His pizzeria was where the illegal narcotics were being sold from.

In order to spare his precious carcass from serving serious jail time, he turned government informant. This in turn meant Vinnie, his new wife and child had to go into the government witness protection because from that day fore ward he was on the Mafia's hit list for rolling over on them. According to the newspaper article, a couple of days after Vinnie closed his shop, a tough looking man walked into the pool supply store a few doors down from his shop and asked if anyone had seen him. When the manager said that he hadn't,the tough looking man nodded his head and replied," Don't worry. We'll find him."

This was a little hard for me to digest. Vinnie in league with the Mafia? And I mean, I realized he wasn't quite on the up and up. Especially the time he regaled me with stories about him paying off The Board of Health with envelopes containing cash and lunchs on the house. All in exchange for them turning a blind eye and not bothering to inspect his restaurant. As for the reason Vinnie became involved with the Mafia, I never found out the hows or the whys for that matter.

Now, I didn't feel all that sorry for the man. I'm a firm believer that when you make your own bed you have to lay down in it. However, I did feel sorry for his wife and child who due to Vinnie's poor judgement were forced to uproot their lives, have their names changed and live in some undisclosed location far from family and friends unable to ever see them again.

But I felt especially sorry for his daughters Sara and Annie. They not only would reconcile themselves to not having any contact with their father,they had to endure unmerciful teasing from their classmates.For not only was Vinnie a figure of criminal notoriety, according to the newspaper everyone interviewed for the article said they thought Vinnie's Pizzeria served the worst food they ever ate.

As for myself, I remembered the meals I had at Vinnie's as being fairly tasty according to my finely tuned taste buds. But then again, maybe my judgement was clouded because the grub was given to me gratis. At least that's what I think.