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.
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.
It 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.
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.