A Boston Story

Good business for the neighborhood



A guy who used to be an assistant district attorney in Boston told this story to me. He was a student of people who stood up to the thugs and slimers and bullies of the world. The slimers in East Boston, he says, take aim at a little restaurant owned by a guy from Calabria. This guy had come over when he was 20 and worked his ass off to get enough money to start the place, and the food was terrific, and he was a good guy, so the place did okay. He wasn’t rolling in money, but he had enough to get married and they had two kids. The veal there was out of this world. Veal marsala, veal piccata, veal osso bucco, veal braciole. O my God, that braciole. I wouldn’t eat at all the day I knew I would be going there for dinner, and I would eat so slowly and happily that Luca would come over and ask if something was wrong. Something is so not wrong, I would say, and he would laugh and go back in the kitchen. We did this a hundred times.

So one day the slimers send two guys to collect insurance from Luca. They scare the waitress, and she gets Luca. He’s annoyed because they scared the kid and she’s a good kid earning money for community college. They make their pitch, and he tells them to get lost. Luca is a pretty big guy—he’s only like 40 years old, and he still has his muscles. They tell him there will be trouble. His wife tells him to call the cops, but he says he will handle the matter, bullies only know bullies. A few nights, later a guy comes to smash the windows at night but Luca is waiting for him and takes all his stuff including his wallet. Why a slimer would be stupid enough to carry a wallet is a good question. Next day, the next layer up of slimer comes to have a chat with Luca. He’s like the district supervisor. He’s a quiet guy who says he just wants to do business. Luca tells him he doesn’t need insurance, he has regular insurance, and he dislikes men who pick on people in their own neighborhood, and scare kids, and send punks to smash windows. The supervisor thinks this over and then says he would hate to see anyone get hurt. Luca says he would hate to see anyone have to take a trip downtown with the two cops who are standing there looking in the window, see those two cops? The supervisor thinks this over, and Luca says have the soup while you are thinking. Two nights later, the supervisor sends three guys to trash the place, but Luca is waiting and this time he has five cops not in uniform and two of them played college football and one has a baseball bat. The three slimer guys leave. The district supervisor comes by a couple of days later and tells Luca that this whole thing is bad for business, and Luca again says, very politely, that he doesn’t care for the business. He left Calabria to get away from this sort of thing, and he will be damned if he will pay a penny to bullies and thugs, and if the bullies and thugs would stop to think about it for a minute, they would see that actually protecting the neighborhood from real problems would be good business, for example, all the people who lived under the bridge and the old people who were stuck in their old three-flats without any kids to come visit them, that would be good business, instead of this sticking up regular businesses and scaring waitresses who were doing honest work. Have some soup while you are thinking. The supervisor has the soup and then the piccata, and then he goes and reports that Luca is to be left alone. Six months later, the supervisor gets shot dead on Trenton Street for who knows why. Luca caters the funeral for free and no one says anything to him. The waitress quits six months later and does so well at Bunker Hill that she gets into Boston College and eventually goes to law school and becomes a lawyer specializing in catching slimers in East Boston. So it goes, as your man Kurt Vonnegut wrote. So it goes.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Brian Doyle, an essayist and novelist, died on May 27, 2017. To read Epiphanies, his longtime blog for the Scholar, please go here.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up