It was getting dark by the time I got my driveway clear. Clean, precise scrapes that glimmered in the dusk. I couldn’t help to think what the boys back home might have thought about me, Charlie Casola, out here in prairie land freezing my balls off. But it beat the alternative.
I threw down a cup of salt then looked over the work. There’s something to be said about a job well done. Something few people appreciate nowadays. Then I took a look at Mr. Pistone’s driveway. What the hell.
Mr. Vern Pistone was a Bronx guy—I could just tell. And being a Bronx boy myself I tried to look out for the guy. I dug in. Nice, solid shovelfuls of Minnesota gold, thinking how funny it was how we were neighbors and all. I rubbed my back, stiffer than a Mother Cabrini nun. There’d been a segment I’d caught on the news about exertion. People’s tickers giving out on them right there in the driveway. Now wouldn’t that be something, after all I’d been through, to go out like that.
Another scoop, another stab of pain. Then I heard a voice that sounded like one of my ex-wives’.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
A group of the kiddies, all bundled up tight. The short one up front thought he was something, his red splotchy cheeks spilling out of his scrunched up hood as he yapped. But it was too cold for games.
“I’m baking a cake, morons. Now get over here and be useful.”
“That’s not how it works, old man. See Mr. Pistone didn’t pay up.”
Sounded like “piss stone”, to hear him say it. I set my shovel straight, scanning this little suburban outfit. All of them in the same clothes, same boots, same smug expressions on their pudgy faces. Little snowflakes to their mothers, but too much of rap music and television had turned them brash. I was young once, so I tried to reason with them, motioning towards the street.
“So what gives, you trying to make some cash?”
“Now you’re getting it, Pops,” said the ringleader. I’d bet my left testicle that the chubby little snot hadn’t seen tit since his mama’s. The kid reminded me of guy back home–a guy who hadn’t done so well for himself.
The snowflake sneered at my driveway. “And you know what? You didn’t pay up either.”
This would be where my ex-wife would tell me to drop it. But she was in sunny Florida with that dipshit accountant husband of hers. I tightened the grip on my shovel.
“You’re Grabowski’s kid, aren’t you?” I said to Napoleon. “What, ya think because you grew some pubes you can muscle your way around? Nah, I didn’t come up here to the arctic just to take shit from fucking Brian Grabowski’s kid. Nope. I set the curled edge of my shovel just over his head. “Look kid, just head up the road and enjoy your day off, okay?”
But these kids, I tell ya, they’d never learned. Never in their lives had someone told them no. They’d certainly never been stomped bloody by their father’s polyester-clad foursome with metal cleats after kicking around the golf balls on the green. At least I was guessing they hadn’t, because the little shits marched right over to my driveway and began shoveling snow onto the clean pavement.
That was it for me. As far as I knew the local news hadn’t said a damned thing about kicking some mouthy kid’s ass being bad for your ticker. I tossed the shovel and went for the scraper, ready to inflict some pain when Mr. Pistone’s door wrenched open.
He was a ghost of pale. His bathrobe open to the world, exposing a fuzzy of snowy chest hair while his fraying Kiss-Me-I’m-Italian boxer shorts gaped dangerously close to un-Pistoning themselves right there in the winter wind.
“It’s taken care of, Charlie,” he warbled, and a chill ran up my thermal underwear. But the kids were clueless, gushing with laughter and pointing directly at Vern the Burn while carrying on. I could’ve told them not to do that, but why bother? They had it coming, especially when they went right back to filling in my driveway. Only so much you can do for people, you know?
The little snots heard it before they saw it. The shiny Lincoln clambering down the road, its chains catching the ice as it dug to a stop. I turned back to Pistone, still at the door, his gold St. Christopher piece glinting under the porch light. He winked at me, and in that cigar smoking rasp said, “This ends now.”
The Lincoln’s doors swung open. Sinatra poured into the night. Sal Valentino eased out of the passenger side with a seven iron. Behind the Lincoln was a Cadillac, a couple of Oldsmobiles, Benny Wattenberg’s ’68 Ford Galaxy. The whole gang was there. Ralph, Eugene, Johnny, even Victor “Vegas” Triola–thought to have died in Jersey twenty years ago–hobbled out, his walker gliding across the ice.
The twerps weren’t smiling then. They knew they’d overplayed their hand. Some of them tried to run but fell in a panic. Ralph came at them with a switch that could tame a mule. Their cries pierced the wind. A few faces peered out from windows. Johnny went to handle things.
The details of what happened next are only discussed inside Moose Lodge 754. But I will say this. Those kids needed to learn some respect. To learn what Vern and I already knew: that a gang is only big and bad until something bigger and badder comes along. That there are dues to pay. An order to abide by. The code of the streets.