Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday Didn't End Well

Well, Sunday started off with me being so alive, and so happy to be alive. And then I started thinking about 9/11, 10 years ago, and I was sad. And then I was doing a song for some people and my brother-in-law, Tom, said thanks but he didn't need it anymore. I'd been singing for his liver to get better and for him to have a bigger straw to breathe through.
And then I got a call from New York and Madeleina said she'd get it and I said "no" because I knew it was my sister telling me Tom had died. It wasn't. It was from my friend Bill, about writing.
But my brother Mike called me at 5 PM to say Regina asked him to tell all the brothers and sisters that Tom had died.
So Sunday didn't end well.
Tom was very cool. He was a good guy. He was a lieutenant in the Navy during Vietnam, went to law school but didn't take the bar because he didn't think it was an honest living. So he worked as a bouncer. i knew of him working in New York City restaurants long before I met him. He was the one guy the mob was afraid of. In New York, all bars pay for protection to the mob. It's a good system and no bar in New York has ever been robbed of receipts, even if they have $50.000 cash, in memory. The mob will eliminate anyone who robs a bar in all five boroughs. It's one of the reasons the mob is loved in NYC: They take care of business.
But the Irish bars don't like paying the tithe. So they used to hire my brother in law, Tom, to protect them. I've no doubt he charged more than the mob did but it was the principle. So the mob would come to an Irish bar and announce that they would be getting a cigarette machine, a juke-box and paying $200-$400 a week for protection on top of those. Then the bar owner would get in touch with Tom. Tom had several brothers in the police department, all big and strong, and, as the story went--though I don't know if it's true or not--when the mob guys came back for first payment, Tom would drag them to the building roof and toss one of them off to his death with the message not to come back.
It might have been just a story, but that's the guy my little sister met and fell in love with.
The toughest guy in New York.
And he probably was.
He was 6'1". but when he was a bouncer for tough clubs he liked to slouch. He wore glasses and a stingy brim hat and would come to a table of rowdy people and say something like: "Listen, fellas, you're getting out of hand. How bout we walk around the block for 10 minutes, catch some air, and when you come back I'll buy you a drink?"
When my sister met him he was under indictment for having bit the cheek off a guy who'd just become a doctor who tried to hit him with a 2/X 4 embedded with nails he'd found while taking that walk around the block. Tommy won the case.
So I had to let my sister marry this crazy guy, who turned out to be one of the best good guys. Though not a cop the cops often relied on him: Twice he called me to say he'd been hired by the NYPD to tail a known violent felon they didn't have the manpower to follow. My job, for $200 a day? Sit in back of the building where the felon was thought to be hiding, while Tom sat out front, and get the guy if he tried to run. I was so scared but knowing Tommy was out front gave me courage. And we're talking bad bad guys. He was that kind of tough.
And you know what? He loved my sister. My baby sister, Regina. He thought about her every moment: Where you going, Reg? When you coming home? Should I wait up? What do you want to eat? Should I make food?
And he loved their kid, Tommy, my nephew, who played baseball and basketball with my kids Italo and Marco.
So he had some faults like the rest of us-- anybody who ever looks at me will find alcohol and cigarettes, so I am not going to throw stones. And our faults finally take a toll. And so a couple of years ago Tom got sick. And I was sick thinking of him being sick. I mean this guy was so freaking strong he made heavy bags beg for mercy. Just like his kid.
So I hated seeing him weak the last couple of years. And I didn't see him, really. I only went to New York once since I moved to Texas and so saw him last November for 6-7 days, when he was really sick. But he was still full of vim and vinegar. He would still scare people.
But he pushed my sister to buy a house on long Island and was happy when she did. He knew that was important. And he put a few bucks away that she probably didn't know about just so she'd be taken care of.
And when I saw him he was still full of juice, though sick.
And I am going to miss him and his hats and his humor and his strength and the way he took care of my little sister and I'm sad for her, and their son, not him. If there is an afterlife I know he's already found a heavy bag and told St. Pete: Give me the gym. Now that I can breathe again all I want to do is hit the heavy bag.
And he's probably doing it.
I'm just hoping my sister makes it through.
Yo, Tom! You did right by my sister for 30 years. That's what I asked you to do when you married her. So Thanks. Now, she's a little lost. So take care of her for a while more, okay?
And then toss someone else off a roof if you need to.
Those of us who lived in NYC understand.
I miss you already.
Just saying.
Peter G--your bro in many ways


Morgan said...

My condolences.

Kuchinta said...

Beautiful story, and deepest condolences, Peter G