tough guys sing

May 18, 2018

Carlo Gambino

"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 than Pavarotti"  (Boss of Bosses, conversation between Paul Castellano and Aniello Dellacroce)

First, let's 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 the police all about other Mafia criminals. i.e.  as soon as these Tough Guys are facing the prospect of serving long harsh prison terms, they are willing to "sing", i.e. tell all about the other gangsters and help get them convicted in exchange for reducing their own prison sentences. 

Pavarotti - Refers to Luciano Pavarotti, famous Italian operatic tenor.

Born: October 12, 1935, Modena, Italy, Died: September 6, 2007, Modena, Italy

The contents 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 to a minimum and under control, this was the smarter way, less conflict, less attention from the police and other organizations. Work smart not tough. This man was certainly no said, no choir boy as they say. 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.   

Castellano had his rules; no killing of police officers, no killing of innocent people, no killing of families (of criminals), only the criminal target himself. 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, the Boss was accusing the under-boos 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, Tough Guys, this is how they work, you gotta understand that, they are confused by all this White Collar (proper business) stuff.

These are pretty tough, and insulting, accusations. After all, in this business one's success is based on having a Tough Guy image. Now the leader is being challenged. 

But the old and wise Boss responded angrily. 

Tough Guys? Challenging me?! I who grew up poor on the streets of Brooklyn during the Great Depression! I who rose from nothing to become the 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 business than five hundred million in drugs and have the police all over me. I know how this business. I learned it the hard way. These guys think they are tough? 

The Godfather warns that 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.

Being tough is important, and that is part of our Krav Maga training, you don't want to be in pushover, not in business, not in any aspect of life. You need to be tough, to stand up for yourself, to demand the service you pay for, to demand the respect that you deserve, not to let others mistreat you. But, it is more important to be wise, to pick and choose your battles. That is a lesson my parents taught me when I was still a child; pick your battles.

Recently I was having coffee with a dear friend, a Krav Maga legend, my instructor of many years, and he reminded me: Never wear a Krav Maga T shirt in public. You are simply inviting a challenge. Somebody will choose to challenge you. Do not stand out.

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 choose you as their victim. Be smart, stay out of trouble. The best fight is the one you avoid.

And yet like the old Mafia Boss, I can hear the young voices, the tough guy wanna bees, 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. The old man contains the young man experience, but the reverse is not true. That is why the young must learn from the old.

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, .e. they will give it all up. The real tough guy knows to keep a low profile, avoid unnecessary conflicts, and keep a closed mouth. 

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