May 18, 2018
"and don't tell me about Tough Guys. Because as soon as these Tough Guys get caught and are facing hard time they sing better then Pavarotti"
(Boss of Bosses, conversation between Paul Castellano and Aniello Dellacroce)
First, lets explain some terms. Paul Castellano was a boss, or Godfather, or leader of the famed Gambino crime family of New York. He was the official successor to the previous Godfather Carlo Gambino who was known by the FBI (Federal Bureau of investigation) as "the smartest of them all", and a "real gentleman".
hard time - refers to long sentences in harsh prisons.
Sing- refers to confessing and telling all about other Mafia criminals. I.e. as soon as these tough guys are facing the prospect of serving long harsh prison sentences, they are willing to "sing" i.e tell all about the other gangsters and get them convicted in exchange for reducing their own sentences.
Pavarotti - refers to Luciano Pavarotti, famous Italian operatic tenor.
The context of this conversation as recorded by the FBI.
Paul Castellano grew up tough on the streets of Brooklyn, NY. The son of poor Italian immigrants he wanted a better life for himself. He turned to crime and did some brutal things to prove himself. However early on he already became known as "The thinker", a guy who not only used his brawn but also his brain.
He was noticed.
When Boss Carlo Gambino was about to die he surprised everyone by choosing Big Paulie the Thinker over other more veteran Mob tough guys. This caused some friction in the Gambino crime family. Neil, (Aniello) Dellacroce was passed over and became underboss.
Castellano was known for trying to make the organization less violent. He still ordered murders "when necessary", he still used violence and intimidation tactics but he kept things to a minimum and under control. This man was certainly no saint, no choir boy. In fact the Catholic church refused to have anything to do with his burial. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to grant Castellano a Catholic funeral, citing his notorious life and death. (Feuer, Alan )
Castellano had his rules; no killing of police officers, no killing of innocent people, no killing of families, only the criminal target. I am not sure if he always kept to this. He had another rule: no drug trafficking. He would say, If you deal you die, no exceptions.
Regarding the above mentioned conversation, (admittedly a movie line but based on FBI recorded wire tapping), the Boss was accusing the underboss Dellacroce that some of his men were dealing in drugs and as such should be handled.
The underboss became upset. He said there have been talks on the street. Some of the young thugs no longer felt that the Boss was suitable to lead. He was becoming too White Collar, he was becoming too soft. Heck, said Dellacroce, these are gangsters, though guys, this is how they work, you gotta understand that, they are confused by all this white collar (proper business) stuff.
But the old and wise Boss responded angrily.
Tough guys? Challenging me? I who grew up poor on the streets of Brooklyn during the depression! I who rose from nothing to become head of the organization! These guys think they are tougher than me!
They do not understand anything. I would rather make two hundred million with no risk in legitimate looking business than five hundred million in drugs and have the police all over me. I know how to handle this business. I learned it the hard way. These guys think they are tough?
The Godfather warns that with this "Tough guy" attitude this entire "Thing of Ours" (Cosa Nostra) will fall apart.
There is a lesson here, a very valuable lesson. While being tough is important in all aspects of life, and in fighting and in business, it is equally or more important to be wise.
Recently I was having coffee with a dear friend, a Krav Maga legend, and he reminded me, never wear a Krav Maga T shirt in public. You are simply inviting an challenge.
Was he afraid of a fight? Was he afraid of a challenge? Certainly not, he faced the enemy in Lebanon in the North and Gaza in the South and terrorist gangs in between. He is certainly tough but he is also wise. Do not invite a challenge. Do not give people a reason to attack you. Be smart, stay out of trouble.
And yet I can just hear the young voices; hey, we are tough guys, you gotta understand that. You are an old man now, you don't understand.
But the old man understood, quite well. You see the old man was once a young tough guy but the young guys have yet to be old and wise.
And as Big Paulie said, as soon as these guys face real trouble, as soon as they are caught, and they will be caught because they are thinking with their brawn and not with their brains, then all their toughness will disappear and they will sing better than Pavarotti, i.e. they will give it all up. The real tough guy knows to keep a low profile, and a closed mouth.