Arnie and I met at my bench. Seeing Tony LaBarca walking towards Hegeman Avenue and remembering our great talk of a couple weeks ago, we caught up with him.
"Where you walking now, Tony?" Arnie asked.
"Home, guys, why?"
"We just wanted to know. Where you coming from? Chickie's?"
"No," Tony said. "I was just visiting my cousin, John. You know him. He lives on Essex Street."
On the corner the three of us stood in front of Anthony Stabile's candy store, seconds away from Tony La Barca's home.
He was Italian, and tonight Anthony's candy store was filled with cuzhines , but when we asked him if he wanted to go inside with us for egg creams and cherry waters, he declined.
Inside, I sat at the counter, then spun around so I could hear Stabile and his friends. Arnie sat at one of their tables.
Tommy DeSimone was there tonight. He was his usual loud and obnoxious self. His eyes narrowed when he saw Arnie join his friends.
When I was with them, I kept my mouth shut and listened. All they talked about was murder. They could kil someone just to brag about it to their friends over coffee and cigarettes.
Unlike in the movies, they were not really charming, tough, rough-edged raconteurs. This was no Algonquin Round Table. Their conversation seemed to consist of who they wanted to kill, how they were going to kill them, and who in fact other connected guys had already murdered. They usually referred to their victim not by name but as "that motherfucker." Their humor was on a third grade level.
If I had ever had any impulse toward a criminal life, it was eradicated by seeing their stupidity and viciousness up close.
Paradoxically, because I knew I was not one of the toughest guys in East New York, I had needed to become extremely street smart to survive. Since they were the toughest guys in the neighborhood, they thought they were invulnerable and would never be victims, so they never had to become street smart.
Stanley Diamond was part of Stabile's new gang. He was a tall, thin handsome guy in his twenties. "Let me tell you about the time I robbed..." he began to say.
"That's motherfuckin' great!" the others chorused.
I smiled appreciatively, but I knew I was looking at dead men. The trick was to avoid being murdered by them before they themselves were killed. Tommy picked up a card, and began bragging about how tough and feared he was in both East New York and Ozone Park. He was older than us, and unlike Joe Pesci, who played him in Martin Scorcese's movie, he was a tall, real handsome, heavily muscled goombah with a tiny mustache. The actor playing Anthony Stabile resembled him slightly.
Then Arnie, trying to be part of the group, said something.
Tommy stood up, flung his cards down.