Frank Sinatra as the Grandfather in "Shepherd Avenue?"

You always hope your book will make it to the silver screen, and in the case of "Shepherd Avenue" old Blue Eyes himself was in the running to play the Italian-American grandfather, Angie Ambrosio.

Oddly enough, it was a British film company that was willing to bankroll this Brooklyn-based movie if Frank Sinatra signed on for a cool million dollars.

Which might not sound like a lot of money these days, but this was quite a payday back in the late eighties.

Frank says "yes," and the cameras roll. Weeks went by, and all we could do was wait.

Would he do it? At that time Sinatra was still giving concerts, though he was far from young. He reportedly needed a Teleprompter to help him with the lyrics.

At last, word came from one of Sinatra's representatives: an extremely gracious "No." The rep went on to say that though Mr. Sinatra liked the story and was a big baseball fan, he was not considering film roles at this time.

Had he actually read "Shepherd Avenue?" I guess I'll never know. But he did know that baseball played a part in the story, so he must have read it! Hmm....

Well, it was a long shot. To this day I can't help wondering what a "Shepherd Avenue" film would have been like with Frank Sinatra in it. Guess we would have had to throw in a few songs.

Meanwhile, I can think of a few more Italian-American actors who've aged beautifully enough to fill Angie Ambrosio's shoes.

Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino...could I have a word with you?

 

 

 



comment

Frank Sinatra As The Grandfather?

You always hope your book will make it to the silver screen, and in the case of "Shepherd Avenue" old Blue Eyes himself was in the running to play the Italian-American grandfather, Angie Ambrosio.

Oddly enough, it was a British film company that was willing to bankroll this Brooklyn-based movie if Frank Sinatra signed on for a cool million dollars.

Which might not sound like a lot of money these days, but this was quite a payday back in the late eighties.

Frank says "yes," and the cameras roll. Weeks went by, and all we could do was wait.

Would he do it? At that time Sinatra was still giving concerts, though he was far from young. He reportedly needed a Teleprompter to help him with the lyrics.

At last, word came from one of Sinatra's representatives: an extremely gracious "No." The rep went on to say that though Mr. Sinatra liked the story and was a big baseball fan, he was not considering film roles at this time.

Had he actually read "Shepherd Avenue?" I guess I'll never know. But he did know that baseball played a part in the story, so he must have read it! Hmm....

Well, it was a long shot. To this day I can't help wondering what a "Shepherd Avenue" film would have been like with Frank Sinatra in it. Guess we would have had to throw in a few songs.

Meanwhile, I can think of a few more Italian-American actors who've aged beautifully enough to fill Angie Ambrosio's shoes.

Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino...could I have a word with you?

 

 

 

 

 

THERE GO THE NEIGHBOR-HOODS!

THE BLOG

There Go The Neighbor-hoods!

 

This is a scary Halloween story from long ago involving a bunch of kids known as....the Little Neckers.

Right about now a chill will be running down your spine if you’re gray at the temples and you grew up where I did on the edge of Queens, in a sweet neighborhood called Douglaston.

Little Neck was our neighboring town, and every time there was any kind of mischief in Douglaston, we blamed the Little Neckers - right or wrong.

A broken street light? Tire tracks across somebody’s lawn? It couldn’t have been any of us!

It was those damn Little Neckers, officer!

Little Neckers could be tough. They smoked cigarettes and leaned on the fenders of cars that didn’t belong to them. They took the Lord’s name in vain.

We took His name in vain too, but they did it with a lot more style, and I don’t think they worried about eternal damnation. In the afterlife I imagined I’d see Little Neckers leaning on the Pearly Gates, bumming smokes from St. Peter.

Until then, they liked hanging out at the Howard Johnson’s parking lot on Northern Boulevard, daring people to make eye contact.

Hey, what are you lookin’ at? You took your life in your hands going to HoJo’s for a fried clam sandwich.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Little Neck was a sweet neighborhood, too. This wasn’t West Side Story. We were the Sharks and the Jets, Lite.

But the rivalry was there.

Everything came to a head between Us and Them on Halloween night in 1970. We were out horsing around on our streets when suddenly a mob of Little Neckers - dozens of them! - made their way up West Drive, chucking eggs and squirting shaving cream at everyone and everything in their paths.

We had the same artillery but a lot fewer people, and it wasn’t going well for us.
One bold Douglaston girl from my class opened her door to yell at them, and quickly closed it in time to avoid being pelted by half a dozen eggs.

We were losing our neighborhood! We needed a miracle!

And here came the miracle, in the form of a skinny, spirited Douglaston boy who must have made a trip to Chinatown to get what he pulled from his pocket - the biggest firecracker I’d ever seen.

He broke from our retreating crowd, calmly lit it and tossed it toward the advancing Little Neckers.

What an explosion, ten feet in front of them! It didn’t hurt anybody but it rocked the night, and the Little Neckers scattered.

So did we, at the sound of an approaching police siren. I ran all the way home, breathing hard as I plunged through the back door.

“Did you have a good time?” my mother asked.

“Great,” I said. That was the truth. I was stoked. Fleeing from the cops! What a night! Who said Queens was boring?

“Hey, you didn’t get any candy,” my mother said.

She thought I’d been trick-or-treating. Mothers always think you’re a little younger than you actually are.

“It’s bad for my teeth, Mom.”

I never did tell her what really happened on that crazy night 46 years ago, until now. (Hi, Mom!)

And I realize now how lucky we all were to get through it unharmed. Our mothers washed eggs and shaving cream from our clothes, and the damage was undone. I saw some Little Neckers at school the next day and we all had a good laugh about it. No hard feelings.

Anyway, that was a long time ago, and of course everything has changed. That orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s where the Little Neckers hung out is long gone. Seems to me that the art of hanging out is gone, too.

Kids would rather stay inside these days, for the better reception. Everybody lives in the same wretched neighborhood now, and it’s called the Internet.

But old habits die hard. I now live an ocean away from Douglaston, and the other day I saw a smashed jack-o’-lantern on the street. A crime for which I had just four words.

“Those damn Little Neckers....”

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MUM'S THE WORD TO MAKE TROUBLE GO AWAY

I'm walking my dog past the local pharmacy when a young Englishman comes flying out to confront a traffic agent who's poised to hit him with a ticket for illegal parking. "Please don't give me a ticket!" the Englishman cries. "I was in there for just a moment, getting a prescription for me Mum!" No reaction from the traffic agent until the Englishman adds: "She's on her deathbed!" The agent smiles. I smile. My dog smiles. We all know it's a tall tale, but it's damn entertaining. No ticket.

ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

A writer reaches a new level of humility the first time he finds one of his books for sale in a second-hand bookstore.  It's like finding your first gray hair.

There the book sits on a dusty shelf, like a full-grown dog hoping to be adopted by a kind-hearted person.  And what are the chances of that happening, with all those frisky new puppies to choose from?

It's happened to me numerous times in New York City, and the really painful part comes when you open the front cover and find your handwritten inscription to one of your friends.

Yeah, that's right. Your "friend" sold the book for a quick buck, without even bothering to tear out the inscription page!

The first time it happens, it really hurts. Then you have time to think it over, and you realize that space is precious in New York City, and new books come in all the time, and there's only so much room on the lifeboat.

At least your friend didn't throw the book in the trash, right?

Now this story takes a hairpin turn - a 3600 mile turn, to be exact - all the way to the leafy British suburb of Hampton, where I live.  Check out this little bookstore, right by the local train station:

 

It's one of my favorite places, filled with rickety racks of second-hand books.  I've been going there for years, and sometimes I'm shocked by what I find.

Like the time I came upon "The Boys Of Summer," by Roger Kahn.  A book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, in a British book shop?  How the hell did that get here?

But that was nothing compared to the shock that hit me on my latest visit,  when I dropped in to browse and my eye caught a familiar yellow cover on a dog-eared paperback.

Oh yeah.  It was my 2009 novel "Raising Jake," jammed on a rack beside Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon."

I'd been second-handed in a second country, and to make matters worse, the inscription page was intact.  No need to identify my British "friend."  You know who you are!

I brought both books to the sweet little old lady at the desk.

"I wrote this one," I couldn't help telling her as I handed her my book.

"Oh my!" she said.  "Well, we cannot charge you for that one!"

A lovely gesture, but I insisted upon paying.  Hell, it was only one pound and fifty pence -  a little over two bucks. Same price for "The Maltese Falcon."

I left the shop laughing.   I'm not even upset at my British friend who ditched my book.

Because for a while there, I got to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dashiell Hammett.  First-rate company for a second-hand book.

NOT MY TYPE OF TYPE

I was in my twenties when I banged out my first novel on my mother’s portable Olivetti typewriter, and I mean “banged.”

We were like boxers from different weight divisions, that typewriter and me - my heavyweight hands coming down hard on its flyweight keyboard, the typebars jamming in clusters that had to be pulled apart whenever I worked too fast.

That poor Olivetti grew creakier by the day. I hit those keys as if they owed me money, to make sure the carbon copy was legible.

Inky fingers, carbon paper, Wite-Out... a pretty messy process. Crossed-out words, coffee rings on the pages, and (worst of all) circled paragraphs with arrows indicating their new locations, to be moved around in the next draft.

All those drafts! The endless rolling of pages through the carriage! By the end of it, I figured I’d defoliated a corner of Brazil to complete “Shepherd Avenue” in time for publication in the spring of 1986.

Then, suddenly, the process changed. Technology didn’t walk into my life. It galloped.

I gave up the Olivetti in favor of an electric typewriter with a rotating golf ball studded with letters, numbers and punctuation marks. No jamming with that golf ball! You barely touched the keys, and the letters appeared on the page. It worked like a dream.

But not for long, because I soon abandoned that machine in favor of my first word processor - a big, boxy IBM.

Whatever I wrote appeared in green light on its screen, and when a manuscript was complete I simply hit “print” and waited as the pages emerged from the printer, pristine and flawless, ready to be mailed to my agent.

“Pages.” That’s the key word here.

Because I just completed a novel on my laptop computer, and not until I typed the words “The End” did something really freaky occur to me:

This story exists only in the form of light! It’s a blackout away from oblivion!

Well, not really. I’d “backed it up” on a few systems, and now all I had to do was e-mail the link to anyone I wanted. Five seconds later they’d have the novel, and they could read it on their computer screens.

Which is exactly what was bugging me. Sure, they can read it on their screens, but they can’t really touch it. That’s what thirty years of progress amounts to - look, but don’t touch.

Can you be touched by a story you cannot touch? And can you truly call it a book if it’s never existed in the form of paper pages?

I don’t know, but here’s one thing I do know - I’m going to print out a copy of my new manuscript, just for the hell of it.

I’ll dog-ear a few of those pages, smear some ink on a few more. Maybe even set a cup of coffee on the title page, just to give it a little ring.

The ring of truth, I hope.

STOP, THIEF!!!

This old British man is standing behind me on line at the local Post Office today, a growly guy who looks like he might have thrown a few grenades during WWII. At last it's his turn and he tells the clerk: "Aw need a passport renewal form!" The clerk's face lights up with that delighted look civil servants get when they know they're about to disappoint you. "You have to go to the main Post Office," he tells the old man, who snarls: "You wasted my bloody time!" - and walks out with a copy of the Daily Mail under his arm. "Sir!" the clerk calls out, "aren't you going to pay for that newspaper? Sir!!" The old guy ignores him and waddles out the door. Probably history's slowest getaway, and nobody stopped him. You go, old man!

HE WASN'T NOTHIN' BUT A HOUND DOG, WITH A FANCY NAME

This morning in the park a frisky black dog got a little too affectionate with my dog, and growling ensued. The owner of the black dog - a chubby bearded guy, smoking a pipe - strolled casually up to his hyper-humping pooch shouting: "Elliott! That's enough, Elliott!"
And while pulling Bailey away from the amorous Elliott, I couldn't help wondering:
1) Who the hell smokes a pipe these days?
2) Who the hell smokes a pipe in the morning?
3) Who the hell names his dog ELLIOTT?
Then I remembered - this is England! It all makes sense! The more ridiculous the name, the more regal the hound!

EYES WIDE SHUT

I'm in the fourth kilometer of a 5-K race last Saturday, pushing myself as hard as I can, when suddenly a runner gives me a hard elbow as he passes me.

This is very unusual in these polite British races, and before I can summon enough breath and New York City attitude to say something like "Hey, what are you, blind?" I see that he's got a rope around his wrist, attached to the wrist of a guide runner.

And on the back of his shirt are the words VISUALLY IMPAIRED.

Yeah, he's blind. And he apologized for bumping me. And suddenly I was glad I'd been too winded to say something stupid.

THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING THERE TO REMIND YOU

Every picture tells a story, but sometimes the story waits a long time to be told.

Thirty years, in the case of this long-lost photograph.

towers  corrected.jpg

That's me back in 1986, preparing to take part in a race from the Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. A hundred miles of running and biking, on one of the hottest days of that year.

It was one of those "Our Man In The Race" assignments for the New York Post. I finished -- barely -- but that's not the story.

The story is that while I was trotting to the starting line at Liberty State Park, photographer David Rentas snapped this shot just as the sun was rising behind the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

What a shot. Look at the shadows, reaching all the way across the river.

Never dreamed I'd be standing longer than those towers.

The photo wasn't published with my story, but I kept a copy for myself. A copy I'd forgotten about, until I was digging through a drawer the other day in search of something else.

That's when I stumbled upon this fading black and white relic. Quite a jolt.

Ever notice how often you see those towers when you least expect it?

I was recently watching "When Harry Met Sally" and there they were, visible in the distance when Sally drops Harry off at Washington Square Park.

And the towers stand tall during the opening credits of "The Sopranos," as a cigar-smoking Tony makes his way from the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey.

Movies, TV shows, photographs....you see the twin towers, and the reaction is always the same. A sharp intake of breath. A tingle across the shoulders. A sense of disbelief that never fades.

It happened. It'll never un-happen. At a certain point, there's really nothing more to say.

Well, maybe just one thing.

David Rentas, you captured quite a moment.

IT'S A FUNNY OLD WORLD, THIS

I'm walking the pooch around the block this evening past little attached brick houses with tiny Christmas trees lit up in the front windows, and people all warm and cozy inside with their tea and their mince pies - a classically British suburban scenario - when suddenly I see an old Englishman in a flat cap walking toward us, whistling a familiar tune. What the hell is that song, I ask myself, and suddenly the words come to me: "We'll take Manhattan....The Bronx and Staten Island too..."

SANTA NEVER ASKED FOR MY OPINION, BUT....

Childhood ends the first time you sit on Santa's lap and see those wire earpieces connecting his beard to his head.

You can't help running across two infuriating breeds of people at this time of year: wine experts and cheese experts. I'd get a haircut from Donald Trump's barber before I'd give either of them the time of day.

My all-time favorite Nativity scene was the one on Houston Street in Greenwich Village, outside St. Anthony's Church. Neighborhood rascals kept swiping the infant Jesus, so eventually the little guy was bolted into the manger, right through his navel.

My grandmother never asked, "Did you get a nice Christmas tree?" Her only question was, "Did you bargain with the guy?" If you didn't bargain, her Christmas was ruined.

Bosses who stay at the office Christmas party longer than fifteen minutes deserve whatever happens to them.

If you don't attend the office Christmas party, you cannot file expenses for the food and drink you didn't consume. I tried that once and got a remarkably sarcastic response from payroll, along with a big red REJECTED stamp.

Romances that start at the Christmas party burn out faster than a Fourth of July sparkler.

A Christmas story almost got me fired from the New York Post. I was handed a photo of a cute little girl ice skating at the Rockefeller Center rink and told to knock out a caption. "Look what this lucky girl found under her Christmas tree - brand new skates!" I wrote. Turns out the girl was Jewish, and her enraged father called the paper, vowing to sue. I charmed my way out of it, but it wasn't easy.

George Bailey was a wonderful guy in the Christmas classic film "It's A Wonderful Life,"  but if he'd never been born Main Street in Bedford Falls - excuse me, Potterville - would have been a lot more fun on Saturday nights.

And speaking of "It's A Wonderful Life": Even with rimless glasses on her nose, her hair shoved up under a man's hat and a dowdy outfit, Donna Reed does NOT look like the homely old maid she was supposed to be if George had never been born. What a face!

Nothing ever made my nose happier than that electrical smell generated by my Lionel trains as they chugged around the tracks.

People who wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping also did their term papers the night before and lie to the dentist about how often they floss. I applaud them, one and all.

My wife is right. The best thing about Christmas is the lights, and she ought to know. Check it out - people who visit us at night might run the risk of retina damage, but believe me, it's worth it:

xmas lights.jpg


IT'S GOOD TO BE KING

Now, this is what you call a fireplace.

The guy in the green shirt is stoking the blaze in the kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, once home to King Henry the Eighth.

That's easily a forty-log fire, and back in the day it was kept burning 'round the clock,  because you never knew when the king might crave a roasted pig or two in the middle of the night. 

From what I hear, old Hank wasn't an "I'll be fine with a sandwich" kind of guy.  And nobody on his staff wanted to mess with a man who thought beheading was little more than an extreme haircut.

This 500-year-old palace is breathtaking, beautiful and overwhelming. Jaw-dropping brick work. Manicured gardens. Rooms with ceilings as high as the clouds.

Believe it or not, there's actually a dining room where select guests were permitted to sit around and watch King Henry gobble down his meals, so they could see how healthy his appetite was.

Lucky guests, eh?

Like any true-blue New Yorker, I start out being awed by the grandeur of a place like this, and then the awe morphs into resentment toward people born into royalty and its ridiculous excesses.

Why them?  Why anyone?

But this time, a funny thing happened.  As the heat from Henry's hearth warmed my hands and face, my mind took me to another place, 3500 miles from here.  A two-family brick house on Shepherd Avenue in Brooklyn, the place my grandparents called home.

It wasn't a palace.  They didn't even have a fireplace, and their garden was a small dirt patch with a ragged privet hedge.

My grandfather, Charlie Carillo, was a plumber.  Probably never made more than nine or ten grand a year, and managed to raise five strong kids on that money.

A lot of the credit for that went to his wife, Millie, who could stretch a buck from Atlantic Avenue to Highland Park. (Trust me, that's a long way.)

Every night at ten o'clock, they observed a ritual.  Charlie had a lifelong sweet tooth, so Millie would bring him a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. 

He didn't demand it.  He didn't even ask for it.  The goodies would simply appear in front of him, just as the closing credits of "Bonanza" were rolling.

His wife served him because she wanted to.  She didn't fear him.  She was grateful for what they had, and she loved the guy.

Know what that made my grandfather? A king.  A real king.

Take that, Henry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THERE'S A REASON THEY CALL IT A PAPER

I probably shouldn't do this, but I'm going to let you in on a secret about the newspaper game:

Reporters are childish people. And God bless them for that trait, because it's what sustains that sense of wonder the best ones never lose.

I was as childish as anybody in the tabloid playground when I wrote for the New York Post. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn't sleep when I knew I had a good story appearing in tomorrow's paper.

So instead of waiting for tomorrow, I'd go out just before midnight and wait at Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village for the New York Post delivery truck to arrive.

It was just like they do it in the movies - maybe the only part of the newspaper game that's accurately portrayed in the movies. The truck pulls up, a bundle of papers hits the sidewalk and the vendor cuts the cord with a blade.

You stand ready with the right change, pay the vendor, grab a paper and start ripping through it to find your story. You hope for an odd-numbered page, because even-numbered pages are often missed by the reader. (Didn't know that, did you?)

And there it is, your story, with your name above it in bold-faced print. Something that didn't exist yesterday exists today, and you've got it right there in your hands.

In your hands. Three important words.

Newspaper reporters are getting fired left and right these days in an effort to save money, as publications hurtle toward an all-online destiny. In other words, paperless papers.

Funny idea, firing reporters to save a newspaper. Kind of like getting run over by an ambulance.

The point is, you can do a lot of things with a story in an online publication, but you can't hold it in your hands.

I'm thinking of Mike Pearl's hands. When it came to big trials in Manhattan there was never a better reporter than Pearl, who was a veteran when I was a rookie.

But boy oh boy, he had a rookie's enthusiasm right until the day he retired. Many chilly nights Pearl shivered with me at Sheridan Square, waiting for that first edition to hit the sidewalk.

Pearl was meticulously dressed, dapper and stylish, but there was a funny thing about his hands - they were always ink-smudged from his daily journeys through the Post, the Daily News and the New York Times.

He also got them dirty establishing his legendary "Wall of Shame," featuring his favorite front-page stories. To me, Pearl's wall was as essential a New York landmark as the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.


Could an online reporter create a wall this glorious?

I know, I know - I sound like a typical ink-stained wretch, longing for the good old days. My earliest published stories have turned brown with the years - the old newsprint is literally crumbling at the edges, something online reporters won't have to worry about.

And don't I have a hell of a nerve, complaining about online publications in an online publication?

Hey, nobody has to tell me that things will never again be as they were.

But see, I'm still a newspaperman at heart, even though I left The Post more than twenty years ago. Childish as ever, and proud of it.

WASH AND SWEAR

This is a photo of my soaking wet laundry on the clothesline, where it's been hanging for three days and three nights.

Every time it's almost dry, it starts raining. So I leave it on the line, thinking the rain has to stop some time.

Silly me.  This is England!

Oh, the sun comes out, all right, but it's just a tease, a little peek, and when I go outside to gather my clothes the sky darkens and opens up again, and I'm back to square one.

Three days, going on four.  I'm running out of patience, socks and underwear.

See that shirt hanging in the middle of the line, with orange lettering? That's a Pepperdine University t-shirt.  Got it from my sister, whose son is a freshman at that beautiful college in sunny Malibu, California. I'm hoping that shirt will be dry by the time he graduates.

Pardon my dramatics, but it's inspired by this British autumnal weather.  It's often beautiful, but you sometimes reach the point where you wonder if you'll ever see the sun again.

Now at last I fully understand that classic George Harrison song, "Here Comes The Sun."  It could only have been written by a rain-soaked Brit in squishy shoes.

On top of everything else, it's a tricky rain. Sometimes it seems to have stopped, but then you step outside and there it is, a drizzle that's invisible to the naked eye, settling upon your hair and your eyebrows like a zillion tiny insects.

It's the kind of weather that makes mentally unstable people want to shoot themselves.  Luckily, the gunpowder is too damp to let that happen.

So, what can I do about my eternally rain-soaked clothes?

Well, one option is to bring them inside and hang them on radiators, over the backs of chairs and off the edges of tables.  A lot of Brits do this, which is why so many English homes resemble a Salvation Army "Everything Must Go" sale on rainy days.

But I'm not going to do that.  I've waited this long. The rain has to stop some time. It has to. It has to!!!

Doesn't it?

 

 

 

TWO-ONE-TWO, I'LL ALWAYS BE TRUE

Manhattan is a lover that never calls the next day. This golden island always gives more than it gets, and if you don't want it, well, look behind you, pal - the line of suitors stretches from river to river.
 
Sorry to get so emotional, but I moved to London three months ago and when you leave Manhattan, it's not just a change of address - it's a break-up.

Forget Tony Bennett singing about San Francisco. New York is the city where you leave your heart.

This torrid love affair started when I moved to Greenwich Village in 1981. Back then you could afford to live in town without being a Wall Street honcho.

I had a basement apartment on Morton Street for $350 a month. My windows were level with the sidewalk, and I became an expert on footwear.

I was so excited to be in the Village, I could barely sleep. I was always out, afraid I might miss something if I went to bed.

Whenever my energy flagged, I drank coffee at Joe Junior's diner and took a walk. Didn't even talk to anybody. Just took a walk, and came home fully charged.

That became my pattern for the decades to follow. Feeling low, or defeated? Can't think of anything to write? Take a walk. Catch a bit of a crazy conversation between two strangers. Absorb the life force from the streets. It always worked.

So I'm excited to return for a quick visit to see my family and walk the city streets. I'm looking for a Moment - something to tell me that Manhattan and I will always be friends, even if we're never together again.

And it's my rotten luck to arrive in the middle of a heat wave.

This is Manhattan at its worst. Soft wads of gum on the sidewalks, garbage simmering in the sun, odors from the corner drains rising straight from the pits of hell.

And everybody seems pissed off.

Was I kidding myself all along about this twelve-by-two mile enchanted island, or am I just getting too old to appreciate it?

I'm walking down Broadway, tired and depressed. It's steamy and sticky, and all I want to do is dive into any store and hug an air conditioner.

Then it happens. The Moment.

A crowd is gathering for Stephen Colbert's Late Show debut. A male-female cop team stands outside the studio, arms folded across their chests. The guy is big and muscular, not a man to be taken lightly.

I look at the name tag of this enforcer of the law and suddenly, my spirits soar.

CROOKS. I swear to God, the cop's name is Crooks. Imagine the abuse he put up with, going through the Police Academy.

I go up to him and point at the name tag. "You get sick of hearing this, I'm sure," I say, "but your name makes my day."

He laughs. We laugh.

And just like that, Manhattan and I are back on track. It's going to be a long-distance relationship, but I think we can make it work.

 

GODFATHER KNOWS BEST

You can have a lot of fun with the Brits if you’re a New York City Italian who looks a little dangerous.

Which is what I am.

It’s been a sunny summer and I’ve been doing a lot of outdoor work in the garden. I’m good and swarthy, I make a rich red pasta sauce and my expression at rest is a slight scowl.

To the English, these traits make me a Mafioso on the run.

You can’t blame them.  They get their ideas about these things from the movies, as do most Americans.
    
Name ends in a vowel? He can cook? Gotta be connected!

To clear the air: the closest I ever came to a mob connection was in the late 80s, when I was covering John Gotti’s trial in downtown Brooklyn for the New York Post.  

At one point I looked up from my notebook to see the Dapper Don staring at me from across the courtroom. The deadest pair of eyes I’d ever seen, peering right into mine.

My palms went damp, the pen slipped from my hand and I realized I never would have made it as a criminal, despite the tax advantages.  

Anyway, the Brits are fascinated by guys like Gotti and “The Sopranos,” and one English guy in particular kept asking me what mobsters are really like.

“I don’t know any,” I told him.

“They must have lived near you.”

“No, I lived in Manhattan. Mob guys don’t live there. They have big cars, and they hate parallel parking."

“Well where do they live, then?”

What the hell. It was time to have a little fun.

“Okay,” I lied, “I had an uncle in the mob.  He’s dead now, so I can tell you this - he always insisted upon a house in the suburbs. Not too fancy a suburb, either. Didn’t want to attract attention, you know?”

The Brit was transfixed at this point.  All he could do was nod.

“And wherever he lived, one thing was absolutely essential.”

The Brit hesitated before daring to ask,  “What was that?”

I put my arm across his shoulders and looked left and right before giving him my best deadpan look.

“The basement had to have a dirt floor.”

At first he seemed puzzled. Then it hit him.  He swallowed hard and went pale.

“Bloody hell,” he murmured.

I gave his shoulders a squeeze and winked at him. “Don’t tell nobody.”

Since then he never asks me about the Mafia anymore, and whenever I pass him on the street I smile and make digging motions.  

He doesn’t smile back.  Ayyyy,  some people have no sense of humor.

IT'S NIL-NIL, AND NOBODY'S WINNING

My days as a sports fan are long over, but over on this side of the pond a funny thing has happened:

I still don’t care about sports, but I’ve become a fan of British sports fans.  I absolutely marvel at them.

They are without a doubt the most patient people on the planet, rooting their hearts out for a game in which scoring happens about as often as a total eclipse of the sun.

There’s plenty of almost-scoring in soccer (which is called “football” over here), but to my impatient New York eye it’s just a lot of frantic guys in short pants, endlessly chasing a ball that goes out of bounds every eleven seconds.

I was walking past a pub near our house the other day when suddenly, the place erupted with hysterical screams and cheers.  Heavily tattooed Brits were hugging and high-fiving.  I ducked inside to see what had happened.

Peace in the Middle East?  An end to world hunger?  Oh, no. Something much rarer than that.

On the TV over the bar, somebody had just scored a goal late in a soccer game, bringing the score to one-nothing. (I beg your pardon - make that “one - nil.”)

The guy who’d scored was so excited he ran down the field, ripped off his shirt and slid on his belly into a pile of his equally delirious team mates.  

Their excitement reached near-pornographic proportions.  I doubt their wives got much attention that night.

Admittedly I come to this issue with a strong American bias.  Back when I did care about sports I enjoyed basketball, with its endless scoring.

Rack up those points! Run up the score! Three-pointers and slam dunks galore!

I don’t think basketball could ever catch on big-time here in England.  The Brits would find all that scoring....somewhat crude.

Which I guess is why Brits love cricket.  It’s extremely civilized, and about as exciting as a license renewal at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If you think watching baseball is like watching paint dry, watching cricket is like coming back the next day to stare at the wall and make sure the paint is still dry.

One guy, the bowler, does all the work.  He’s a combination sprinter-pitcher, running toward the batsman before hurling the ball.

Situated all around the bowler are his team mates, guys in long white pants who stand there for hours like figures on a human sundial.

They’re waiting for the ball to be hit to them.  Basically they’re statues with a pulse, conserving their energy in case the bowler drops dead from exhaustion and has to be replaced.

Once again, I tip my hat to those fans who appreciate the intricacies of these games.

But what are the chances of me getting excited about soccer or cricket?  Pretty much zero.

I beg your pardon.  I meant to say “nil.”
   
Next time:

GODFATHER KNOWS BEST

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