RIP Jimmy Breslin: in memory from his novel The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

Baccala is one of the many Mafia bosses who generally are depicted as controlling sprawling businesses. He has been involved in a number of legitimate enterprises. At one time he was one of the city’s largest dress-manufacturers. He used threats, acid, and non-union help. People in the garment industry referred to a Baccala dress as “the buy or die line.” The chief assistant in the dress factory, Seymour Lipman, had a brother-in-law named Dave, who also was in the garment business. Dave sold Seymour material. It took four sets of books to do it, but Seymour Lipman and his brother-in-law Dave wound up with houses in Miami. Baccala was losing eighty cents each time he sold a dress. At the first-anniversary party for his dress business, Baccala arrived at the factory with a can of gasoline in each hand.

In another business venture, Baccala and his chief of the East Harlem mob, Gigi off of 116th Street, entered into what they felt would be a gigantic stock-swindling operation. They were doing business with, they were assured, complete suckers. “High-class Protestant people, what could they know?” Gigi off of 116th Street said. Then the high-class Protestants went to Nassau for a week. Baccala and Gigi  suddenly lost $140,000 each in the market and were indicted for illegal trading in potato futures.

After being arraigned, Baccala growled, “I shoot-a somebody, but first I gotta find out-a who I shoot-a and what for I shoot-a him.”

It cost him another $35,000 in legal fees before the indicment was dismissed.

But as money makes geniuses of all men, Baccala is known as an immensely successful real-estate holder in Brooklyn. The first thing a Sicilian in America seeks is property. This is a reaction to centuries of peasantry. Baccala’s first money went for a small house with a back yard in Canarsie. He planted fig trees in the back yard and when it got cold he covered them with tar paper and put paint cans on the tops of the trees. This, along with religious statues and flamingos on the front lawns, is the most familiar sight in an Italian neighborhood.

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