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.

from Rosemary’s Mother by Jimmy Breslin (from the book The World According to Breslin, edited by Michael J. O’Neill & William Brink)

The woman I live with, the former Rosemary Dattolico, has a mother who believes that we are not properly using punishment as a deterrent to crime. It is her view that many punishments now on the books are not effective, particularly the firing squad. She opposes the firing squad because it is too quick and doesn’t hurt enough.

“They should try things out,” the mother says. “Say, you take two or three of these savages up to Central Park and put them in the cage with the leopards.”

She suspects everybody and forgives nobody. To her, every chance encounter out in the streets is a chance to be mugged. The other day, shopping in Queens, she saw three teenage boys at a bus stop. She folded her arms and hugged her purse to her midsection. The teenagers stared at her.

“Ma, do you have to do this?” the former Rosemary Dattolico said to her mother. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Ooohh! They could come jumping out like savages,” the mother said.

The former Rosemary Dattolico called to the three boys. “Will one of you young men kindly come over here and steal her purse so she’ll be happy?”

The three teenagers stepped out into the safety of the streets.

“They should be tortured just once, then they’d leave us alone,” the mother said. To her a loose shoelace is a prelude to strangulation.

(from the column in The Daily News, December, 1976)