Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

East Third Street Flash

March 9th, 2008

I took over Paulie Banana’s studio apartment on East Third Street when he went off to Europe. Beyond the reflected glory of being the place of the guy who developed frozen bananas on a stick, it had the distinction of being across from the Hell’s Angels.

The time and locale came to mind a short time ago when I mentioned Vinny to a chum. He was not the head of the New York City Angels, but nobody messed with Vincent Giroalamo. He was the biggest, meanest, hairiest, toughest Angel.

Pic Click Trick: Click on an image for a larger view. (Vinny’s is from an uncredited newspaper scan here and his plaque adapted from elly & ben’s here. )

He’s the one I met first…and survived.

My high-school chum Isabel lived and worked in the the city. She said I could visit from friends’ place in Princeton and stay with her on that block while I went on some job interviews. She said it was the Angels’ block but that they liked her and it shouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps she didn’t consider all the nuances.

I arrived one afternoon, wearing a blazer so I didn’t have to lug it in my small suitcase. I also had a portfolio under one arm with my newspaper clippings. My appearance didn’t precisely accord with the tenor of the neighborhood.

She wasn’t home when I tried her doorbell in the late afternoon, but Vinny was across the street. He approached, much like Godzilla, with stiff, slow, determined steps. God, he was big, and I’m not a small guy.

Vinny also had the distinction of being the gang member who didn’t own any shirts. He was hairy, very hairy. He wore his colors — the Angels’ denim jacket — with no sleeves either. Sizzling heat or bitter sleet was the same to Vinny. No thanks, no shirt.

Big VinnyIt doesn’t take long to cross a Manhattan side street and Vinny was belly to belly with me. As I recall, he said in his brick-shaking bass, “What the fuck you doin’ here!?” I could have panicked, but looked directly at him as I went with the simple truth. I was staying with Isabel while I looked for a job. She and I had gone to high-school together. He thought that over for a few (long to me) seconds. Then without a smile, he said, “Any friend of Izzy’s is okay by us.” He turned and walked back.

That evening, Isabel said I had done the right thing. If I had tried to leave or looked away, he might well have laid me out for trespassing.

A week or so later, I was starting a job, amusingly enough at the dilettantish Museum of Modern Art. I agreed to take over Paulie’s apartment.

I have lots of Angels stories and may put a few down, but short-term I remember Vinny. He and I ended up getting along.

At that time, the drink of the New York Chapter was Yago sangria. Vinny usually had a bottle in hand or nearby. He was a demonstrative fellow and was known not bother with the cap, biting the neck to open the bottle. He did that one time when we were leaning against a car. He took a good chug and passed it to me.

After my turn, I asked him about a story Isabel had told me about some jail time. The way I heard it, the Angels and rival gang the Breed came into a Cleveland motorcycle show from opposite sides of the exhibition space. They got into it immediately and Vinny led the attack with chains, killing a couple of the Breed. After it settled down and the arrests and trials were over, Vinny and a couple of other New York Angels received a few months prison time for the murders. I asked Vinny how that could happen. He got briefly pensive, and then he did smile. “We got good lawyers,” he said.Vinny’s plaque

Another evening, we were chatting and drinking like that. He pulled out a big Baggie filled with a carnival of capsules, caplets and tablets of many colors, mixed uppers and downers. He had huge hands and took out a palmful fromthe bag. He swallowed them, took a deep hit of Yago and suddenly turned serious. “You know, Mike,” he said, “I just can’t seem to get off anymore.”

If I knew what happened to him, I had forgotten, but I clicked around for info on Vinny yesterday. I found that he died in a fight with another gang in California in 1979. There’s a plaque in his honor across from the East Third Street clubhouse.

Another Angel had told me that Vinny was a good Italian boy, one who visited his mother in Brooklyn regularly.

Handguns and Raw Nerves

April 27th, 2007

Cross-posted at Left Ahead! and Marry in Massachusetts. This promiscuous cross-posting is a first for me, but we ended up kicking the handguns issue up and down the hall in our podcast. Previously, my regular blogs had a related post.

Sometimes I go out of my way to offend people and other times it just seems to happen.

If you picked up on the Bubbling Cauldron podcast this week with the handguns discussion, you might want to head over to the original comments and counterpoints that led to the topic.

I originally stifled handgun remarks as long as I could before posting. As well as our podcast, this led to very different and rather unstereotypical rejoinders at Scratches, a chum’s blog. As I, he also bubbled over here and here and here.

You might not think of it from our posts and comments, but we actually are fairly civil, even in our disagreements. He and I share a profession, but come from sufficiently different backgrounds to make discussions sometimes tense and often unpredictable. We don’t go for how ’bout them Sox or the like.

I see a gate opening, leading to a long journey here. I still find America to be socially slow. Here, I see a progressive opportunity to work actively to make major changes in our handgun-loving culture.

Over at Scratches, Uncle has a very different perspective. Yet, it’s not the stereotypical, “Don’t you dare touch my guns!”

I suspect each of us would welcome comments on the subject. We concur that the Democrats have been absolute cowards about addressing this and the related issues of violence…on the street, at home, in the schools and elsewhere.

I see this as the time for change.

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Guns in a Less Simple Time

April 22nd, 2007

Cross-posted from Marry in Massachusetts.

The political carrion beetles feasted following the Cho massacre at Virginia Tech. Right, left, libertarian, pro or anti-gun, and on and on grasped single grains of information and grew huge plants, no whole orchards, from them.

Disclaimer: I had one and then a second post on my eldest son headed to the campus the evening of the murders. That was not what a parent wants to ponder. In mine, you won’t find blame for anyone.

Reading buckets of ink or electron coverage of it, I find myself reacting to the excessive and multi-directional gun-control comments, as well as the lack of musing on the class issues.

I claim fair-use to the Rosemary Wells phrase from her Max’s First Word early reader. I also strongly recommend this series. Both the kids and adults involved in reading them can tolerate the hundreds of repetitions.

I am also sorry if a cartoon image seems inappropriate in relation to this horrific occurrence and its aftermath. Yet, this reflects the self-absorbed and comic nature of gun debate that has already followed.

A future post deals with the obvious class undercurrents. First though, the arguments about guns brought Max to mind. Throughout the book, despite the entreaties and guile of his sister Ruby to speak other words, Max will only say, “Bang!”

Indeed, on the early afternoon following the Blacksburg tragedy, wing nuts, reactionaries, righty pundits and their ilk were filling the internet and broadcast pipes with screeds about how gun ownership has nothing to do with mass murder using guns. Browning forbid that they found anyone suggesting tighter restrictions on handguns.

Even some not so berserk chums, like here, give reasoned apologies for handguns, tying ownership to libertarian ideals. No discussion of the standard, moot arguments follows. You can find those in internet searches in general or Technorati ones in particular. You can find the National Rifle Association comic-b0ok treatment of in-school murder by guns. Also, likely the guy most in need of asbestos underwear this month will be Salon’s Washington bureau chief, Walter Shapiro, following his call to Repeal the Second Amendment.

Pertinently, Australia had a very similar massacre by guns that led precipitously to a fix that seems to have worked. In addition. they had a similar wild-west type of mentality even in city dwellers that they faced and overcame. Europeans quickly had to drop Aussies from their ridicule about a gun culture and concentrate exclusively on us among first-world nations.

An overview of mass shootings in the United States is here. About a third of the way in, you find this as well:

Australia had a spate of mass public shooting in the 1980s and ’90s, culminating in 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 35 people.Within two weeks the government had enacted strict gun control laws that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

Yet, in the same this-but-that article, some folk including a criminologist say that gun availability is no biggie, certainly not a cause. This seems to be an abortion-level hot button.

Thus, we return to the American stalemate. Well over half of the population in every poll favors more gun control and fewer guns. They are not the loud ones that politicians hear or from whom they get contributions. That’s simple enough.

Supposedly we now have more handguns than Americans. In itself, this suggests that were we to implement vastly stricter gun licensing, permitting and punishment for violations, it would take decades to reduce the number of guns to even the number that would accommodate one or two rifles or shotguns per hunter and a handgun for domestic protection.

It is difficult to seriously consider the extreme anti-gun-control types’ arguments in light of U.S. death and injury figures due to handguns. Consider the graphic in today’s New York Times. Nearly 30,000 Americans die annually from being shot, and over 64,000 are injured. From 18 to 40, the most common deaths are black men being murdered. Over that age, it is white men killing themselves with handguns.

The wheezing argument that the violent types would use a knife, club or whatever is not convincing, particularly so for mass murders by gun, easily available gun.

Short of having walk-in or drive-in psychologists on every corner like convenience stores or gas stations, migrating from a bullet-centric culture seems the most workable. Clearly, this is not a simple or politically popular solution, even with the poll figures favoring gun restrictions.

I rather doubt that the Cho massacre will lead to the national soul searching and directional change that Australia experienced. It may more such horrors to tip the debate.

I think of my own family and friends. My beloved grandfather did not kill animals for sport (although he ate them). His son and his son’s sons did. My many great-uncles did too, but I think more for the fraternal experience and beer instead of the 14-point buck they stalked. Several of their sons and one long-term friend were life-long law enforcement types — county or state police or sheriffs. None of them would be without a pistol in the bedside table drawer.

Yet, at the same time, they each and all have faced the calls for adults, teens and even toddlers who died from accidental gun discharge. While they all favor having a gun for that extremely unlikely home invasion, they decry when someone is enraged or otherwise temporarily out of control, has access to a gun, and uses it on another. Those people shouldn’t have had guns. Then all of the good intentions of proper training and weapon storage become meaningless, and, of course, undercut the NRA positions.

Yet, even I was not prepared to see some of the right-wing articles and blog posts postulating the all-American gory glory if only every student on the Virginia Tech campus has been armed and trained to use guns. Boy, or boy, some wrote, that murderer wouldn’t have stood a chance.

As a boomer, I grew up on such westerns. Those were simple times for my immature mind and emotions. White hats, black hats, good guys, villains…that was simple and satisfying. The good guys had to win, even if they took one to the shoulder and even if they had to shoot it out with the bad guy.

I confess that I understand the appeal and feel the emotional pull of such binary theatrics. However, most of the world has evolved beyond the wild-west drama. Most countries, except for a few Asian ones and numerous non-democracies, have also outlawed or not used capital punishment for decades.

Many of the libertarian bent deride those who would reduce handgun ownership and restrict acquisition and require registration. Some say those folk are anti-Constitution and pseudo-progressives.

I confess that there are status quo components I would defend and keep. As you might imagine from this blog, Massachusetts same-sex marriage is one of those.

I understand that those who want to retain the privilege, or as they say right, to a handgun in every nightstand see that as a status quo worthy of fighting to maintain. I disagree strongly. We really don’t need to look beyond the tiny number of folk who claim to have prevented a crime because they carried a handgun versus the daily murders and accidental firearms deaths — nearly 100 Americans a day.

In an ideal world, every gun owner would be of pure heart, sound mind, excellent marksmanship, and not susceptible to the emotions that would have him turn his weapon of protection to an tool for murder. Then again, in an ideal world, we’d have no criminals and no need to anyone to own a handgun.

No one should wait patiently for either ideal.

Over the past several years, I have noted numerous areas in which we as a nation are socially slow. Gay rights and same-sex marriage are among these. Handguns for all is yet another.

It may take 30 years for us to accept the need to moderation and act on it. Hmm, that may be the same time period for same-sex marriage.

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Blacksburg Outskirts

April 18th, 2007

Cross-posted from Marry in Massachusetts

For those who asked about Son #1 coming to the Virginia Tech campus on the evening of the massacre, he reported it was surprisingly unremarkable. He is staying just off campus and training in a Tech facility. He is well.

He and a co-worker shared the Ramada with other guests including ABC and CBS news crews. As he put it also, “They’re loud late.” That is the entitlement I recall from my own news hound days.

As a parental unit, I was concerned with his well being. Beyond that, his vignette from this training included:

The boss of the group of co-workers I am visiting lost a family friend, Prof. Loganathan.  She asserted that in India death is such a commonplace that she is not struck by it the way the Americans are, and proved it by being relentlessly merry all day.  It was a little disconcerting.

That is indeed a culturally different perspective. It may well relate to her religion as well. In our heart of hearts, we all know from childhood that each of us is a terminal patient here.

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Shock of the Real

April 17th, 2007

The Virginia Tech massacre has folk scrambling to identify. Of course, for those who loved or at least knew the dead or injured, we risk the worst sort of pretension.

I have my own minor connections and I sense the drive to claim this as a touchstone. Perhaps that need is more empathy than undeserving ownership.

As a nation and larger world, we certainly live in the post-tragic era. The calliopes of TV and cable and now internet news blare and blur real and imagined horror. For their purposes, every death is a tragedy, whether of by predictable drug overdose or a genocidal slaughter. There’s no need to distinguish if it fills time or space and brings in advertising.

When we do confront an event of true tragic proportion and nature, we can fail to grok and honor it. Such with the dozens of dead in Blacksburg.

I ended up turning off the local news as it cranked up its own cynical calliope. One station, for example, scrambled to pull B.U. students off the rainy streets. The reporter was actually asking the stupidest of provincial questions — What did it mean to them? Could it happen here? Us…us…us.

Well, it wasn’t about Boston or Boston University or who texted a friend at another Southern college to get likewise trivial comments.

My own pause-generating moments were only a little less trivial. I don’t know anyone who attends Tech, but my oldest son was flying and driving there on the evening of the murders. He has a new job that uses Tech facilities for its training.

A parent does not want to know that his son is heading into the mouth of hell, even if the day’s murders have finished, almost certainly. Yes, parents are like that.

My frame of reference on Blacksburg is now totally tarnished and skewed. I spent much of my childhood in Southern Virginia, not far from there. We spent time there and went to Methodist Youth Fellowship retreats on the campus. About the ages of my two youngest, I recall the beauty of the campus and the area. The students seemed huge and very confident to a teen.

Those visions are of another time in that place.

So, my eldest did send email to let me know that he would arrive late in the evening and did not anticipate any problems related to the massacre and its aftermath. That is partial reassurance.

I can only project what it must be like to have a child headed into a combat zone for more than a year.

Let us accept and reflect that the murders in Blacksburg are tragic. No matter how often and how badly the news outlets have misused that word, it is apt here.

This may lead to the level and kind of introspection and other examination that can do two things: 1) Help those dealing directly with the effects, and 2) Lead to decisions that may prevent another such tragedy.

We can never know what the young people murdered yesterday might have done. Some may have brought happiness or healing to many. Given the school, some may have become inventors or entrepreneurs bringing ease or creating wealth and jobs. Some may have become humanitarians. We can never know and the surmising is itself tragic.

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