After coming out of the U S Marines in 1965, I was immersed into Italian culture, literally, overnight. I was all over Yorkville when I was younger and embraced coming into a new neighborhood with open arms. Although, I wasn’t living in Little Italy, it was the type of neighborhood that you could get comfortable with over time.
We found an apartment in the rear end of Queens, by Francis Lewis Blvd and Jordan Street. This was a long trip bus trip from Queens and then to Flushing to catch the train to the city for work. In those days, you thought you were smart and didn’t think about the commute. After a bit of time, you woke up and started to think about where you really lived and how long the commute really was. Every time I got a chance to visit Little Italy, I was always in the car looking forward to the ride.
It was during this period of time in Little Italy that I got to meet a lot of interesting people. At this period in Little Italy, people like Crazy Joe Gallo was just getting out of prison, the FBI was being picketed by Italians from the Italians community from the upper east side, the Italian club across the street from my father-in-law’s parking lot had a film crew from the local TV stations as well as reporters from the local papers.
A day never went by that you didn’t get to see some activity. Also, the section of Little Italy had an interesting mix of generations and nationalities in this one small neighborhood. I used to get a kick out of some of the mix that would come by every day. Most of his customers were from the Chinese and Jewish trade that came from the Chinese restaurants and clothing stores from the local neighborhood.
I asked Dominick why he didn’t have a bunch of Italian from Knickerbocker Village in his lot for parking and he told me that they preferred lots closer to them and they were usually under the bridge. He did get a few of the Italian trade but those were the guys from the family and he usually gave them a preferred rate. Some times you need a favor as Dominick would explain as to why they got a better rates for an even more expensive car.
I always wondered about his friend Louie “Healthy” who would park his small economical car at Dick’s Parking Lot. Dick said that Louie did not want to create any attention to himself and would rather stay off the radar and drive this small economical car. Like I said, a lot of characters, even in the Chinese market. It was on one of those days that I met this character, Johnny Walker, with Dick.
A quick Johnny Walker story. No one seems to remember his old name and may be best for all concerned. When I first came into the family, I would often find myself down in Little Italy, close to the parking lot. It was a cool neighborhood to walk around and see who came and gone via Dick’s Parking lot on Henry Street.
One day on our walk back from the Greek Dinner Off Broadway, you would bump into a lot of people that were just part of the neighborhood. The parking lot was comprised of mostly business people who owned stores or restaurants in the neighborhood and their customers. A combination of Italian, Jewish and Chinese, after all it was China Town and Little Italy.
As we were walking back form lunch, Dominick said here ‘s a guy I want you to meet. We walked across the street as Dominick called out to Johnny and got his attention. I guest that he was Italian because Dominick spoke to him in broken Sicilian and exchanging pleasantries for a minute or so and then both of their attention was focused on me.
Johnny said something in Sicilian and I heard the word Italiano and Dominck motioned back something and I heard the word “Irisha, Irisha” and that I was going to marry his daughter “Cookie”. At that point in time, Johnny Walker looked to me and offered his hand in congratulations (in English) on the upcoming marriage. And in a split second he was off down the street.
I told my future father-in-law that I didn’t think he knew any of the Wall Street types. He said that Johnny was another old friend from the neighborhood. I said he was wearing a camel colored cashmere over coat, a beautiful expensive suit, hat, and alligator shoes. Dominick told me that he was one of the boys and had a thing for dressing very fancy.
It was several years later, when the Godfather movie came out and the subject of Johnny came up again. Dominick had mentioned that Johnny was having trouble with his son-in-law, like the guy in the Godfather who was beating Sonny’s sister. He felt bad not standing up for her in the typical Italian tradition. He said that Johnny one day met up with his son-in-law and read him the riot cat and the son-in-law was not impressed and spat in his face.
I was informed by Dominick that this boy several months later met an untimely death in Brooklyn. I always wondered if these stories that I heard from Dominick were more cautionary towards me or were in fact real. God knows that the characters in his world down in Little Italy were real.
Here we go, just one story at a time,
Marty Dougherty #greendougherty.com