Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Letterman.

4 May Letterman Late Show

On May 20, 2015, David Letterman’s final show will air on CBS.  Events such as this are not altogether uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to write about one of these things.

The reason: To me, it is anything but “one of these things”.

In fact, two nights ago, I had a dream that Mr. Letterman was walking across the street from me, and I wanted to go up to him, shake his hand, and say “thank you”.  I was unable to reach him, so I scribbled a note in red ink (not sure why the ink was crimson, but hey, it was a dream) and handed it to a Late Show staffer who happened to be close by. They promised to get the letter to him.

I was not able to meet David Letterman in that dream, but I have met him twice, and was even interviewed by him.  I shook his hand, made him laugh, received a compliment from him, and he even handed me a sponge.

All of that is very high on my lifetime thrill meter.  Super-amazingly high.

I was a huge admirer of Johnny Carson.  I enjoy Jay Leno.  I love Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.  But, for me, David Letterman is king, and always will be.

This was the only show, be it on NBC, or CBS, that I would watch EVERY night.  For years it was community viewing with my buddies, then, I watched with my wife, then with the wife and kids.  Now, the kids are adults.  We all still watch.  Always the same. Always Letterman.

I won’t rehash all of the crazy skits, but, things like the Velcro Suit and the Alka-Seltzer Suit were just not the norm on television.  Having a run-of-the-mill, middle-aged, Brooklynite named Calvert DeForest appear regularly as a hapless, and generally un-scripted, character named Larry “Bud” Melman was pure genius. That was taken to the next level when Calvert played “Bud”, who in turn played “Kenny the Gardener”.  You couldn’t get stuff like this anywhere else.  Stuffy types didn’t get the joke.  They watched other shows.  Those of us who loved Letterman felt like we were part of some “in crowd”.  The more ridiculous it was, the better we liked it.

I have been to so many Letterman tapings that I’ve lost count.  I’ve been to the big anniversary shows too.  My wife, my buddies, and I were in the front row for a big anniversary show at Radio City that included Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, and a host of others.  We stood in line for hours to grab those seats.

There used to be a stand-by list for tickets, where show staffers would call you on the phone if seats opened up.  To get tickets, you had to answer a David Letterman trivia question.  I never got one wrong.

I used to work security for Saturday Night Live just when Dave was beginning his NBC show. I was about twenty years old.  One time, he was exiting the building at 30 Rock, through a revolving door, just as I was entering.  I nodded at him, and smiled, through the glass.  He did the same.  I count that as “meeting him” and always will.  I went full-circle in that spinning door just so I could watch where he was going outside the building.  A tiny car pulled up.  A VERY tiny car.  And old.  Someone got out, pushed the front seat up, and Dave squeezed into the back, with a couple of others.  There were at least five people jammed into that little vehicle.  I guess I had expected a limousine.  Letterman got into a car that looked like it would normally carry me and my buddies.

That made me smile.

A couple of years later I REALLY met David Letterman.

I was on line outside the show, as usual, with my fiancée, and our friends.  A staffer came up to me and asked if I had a good story about a recent snowstorm that had blasted New York City.  I had absolutely nothing of interest to report, so of course I immediately said “Yes.”

Our whole group was ushered inside and seated in a prime, reserved location.  We were the first audience members in the studio, so the room was even colder than its usual, famously freezing temperature.  Paul Shaffer and his incredible band were not yet even on stage to warm up the crowd.  The sound system was playing “Another World” by Joe Jackson, and I truly felt like I was in another world.  I knew that I was going to be interviewed by David Letterman.

I had no idea what his line of questioning would be, but I had seen the show enough to know that it would, at its core, have little to do with whatever I had experienced in that blizzard.

Our segment was entitled “The Winds of February”.  I learned this as it began.  He interviewed a man sitting in front of us.  I knew there would be three audience interviews, but I didn’t know if I’d be next, or third.  While Dave questioned the first guy, I saw on the monitor that they had a scrawl on the screen that read “Part One: The Storm Gathers”.  I paid no attention to what the guy was actually saying, as I readied for my part.  When Dave came to me next, he asked where I was from.  When I answered “Brooklyn” I got a big cheer. I knew the New York crowd was with me.

Then, before we continued, and as a bit of a shock to Dave, I decided to introduce him to my girlfriend (and now wife), Joanne, who was seated beside me, as I stood with Letterman.  The crowd chuckled at the change of pace, and Dave seemed to get a kick out of it (how much of a kick will be revealed later).  He shook hands with Joanne, said “Very nice to meet you”, and was quite pleasant about it all.

Then, he asked me about my snowstorm experience.  I remembered that “Part One: The Storm Gathers” scrawl that they had placed in front of the first guy on the monitor, so I just began by saying “Well, my story picks up just about where his leaves off…”

That was all it took.  The crowd got it and howled.  Dave stopped a bit just to laugh at my joke.

I had made David Letterman laugh.

I forget most of the rest of the interview, but sure enough they put something up below my face that read “Part Two: The Storm Descends” (or something like that).

After Dave interviewed the third guy, and as the show left for commercial, he returned to me, shook my hand again, said something to me about how he appreciated how I helped the bit, and got the joke.  Then he handed me a coveted “Late Night with David Letterman” sponge.

The letters have faded, but I still have it.

Here’s the best part:  About a month or two later, the show did a bit called the Late Night Emmy Awards.  There was a category for “Best Audience Member”.  In typical, brilliant, Letterman fashion, guess who won?

“And the winner is – Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend.”

Yes, Joanne, who did nothing but shake Dave’s hand and smile, won the “award”.  They had an elderly woman come on stage to “accept”.

“Dan O’Connor’s girlfriend is away in France and unable to accept in person,” said the announcer.

Absolute genius.

As I write this, there are but a handful of nights that will include the opportunity to watch a new episode of a talk show featuring David Letterman.

I will watch every one.

Thank you to Mr. Letterman, and to everyone who has ever worked for him.

This will never happen again.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

TRUE GANGSTER STORIES (Part 2)

29 Apr

For part one of “TRUE GANGSTER STORIES“, scroll down to the post from March, 2015.

“Hey, I’m Sonny.  My father is in the Gambino Crime Family.”

This was the opening line of a neighborhood Brooklyn jackass when he tried to impress a girl.  He used it on a 15 year-old who, years later, became my wife.  Maybe it worked on the dimwits, but it repulsed at least as many.  He may as well have worn a sign that read “Wannabe Gangster”, but he’d probably have had to borrow it from his clown father.

This particular father was a real tough guy, and Mafia enforcer.

At least, in his mind, and amongst a crowd of impressionable teenagers.

Young punk Sonny would start trouble with everyone.  Then, when he had to fight to back up his instigations, he would show up with his bigger, older cousin to do battle for him.  If that failed, he’d be back with his father.

No one we knew ever saw that father fight a man his own size or age.

Real “mobster”.

In my prior gangster blog post, I referenced an old Brooklyn health club a couple of times.  Sonny’s father had a memorable moment in that gym one day.  While pumping iron, he mentioned to another member that he had been in that weight room on the night of the famous New York City blackout (July, 1977).  He said “It was pitch black when the lights went out.  I couldn’t see a thing.  Couldn’t even find the stairway.”

The other guy said, “How black can it get in here? I’m pretty sure I could find the stairway.”

“No, you couldn’t.”

“Yeah, I could find the stairway.”

Boom.  Weights flying everywhere.  Fucking this.  Fucking that.  Walls being punched as everyone looked on.  Sonny’s dad did his best Lou Ferrigno-becoming-the-Hulk impression, as he raged all over the gym.

Important note: He did not approach the other weight-lifting adult male or challenge him to a fight.  If the other man was a young boy, the intimidation would have been full-on.

Word is that Sonny is doing life in prison, and his cousin died in jail.  Not sure what became of the dad, but I’m guessing it wasn’t pretty.

He loved to describe himself as “Limo driver for the Gambinos”, which could only mean one thing; he was not a limo driver for the Gambinos.

You know the guy in the neighborhood who calls himself a “car service driver”? Now HE might be driving for the mob.  I knew one of those.  Let’s call him “Mac”.  Mac was an Italian/Jewish-American, and as a non-full-blooded Italian, he could not become a full-fledged member of the Cosa Nostra, even if he so desired.  But that didn’t preclude him from lower-level jobs, as long as he could keep his mouth shut and know his place.

Mac began by picking up customers – initially mostly well-off, older Jewish women from Long Island – and transporting them (and their checkbooks) to some of the backdoor, illegal gambling houses in Bay Ridge or Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  When driving those ladies, he was Jewish.  In the casinos, he was an Italian.

After several weeks of chauffeuring, the powers that be had grown fond of Mac.  He did his job and kept his mouth shut.

“Can you deal?”

Mac was offered a spot working the Blackjack tables.  The secret casino had seven “21” tables and 4 for Poker.  The bosses noticed that Mac had an eye for catching mistakes and before long he was a pit boss.  The former driver was raking in the cash because he was on duty seven days per week, eleven hours per day.

One night, “The Shiek” walked in.

This was the highest of rollers.  He owned an unknown number of gas stations and whatever he needed was provided by Mac and his staff.  Mac was now in charge of extending credit, and The Shiek had the rare privilege of being offered unlimited credit.

It was a bad night for the gas tycoon.

He couldn’t win a hand.  The Shiek wound up staying at the casino for three days.  They fed him anything he wished.  He was permitted to nap and bathe.

By the final night, the mob boss who ran the gambling house also was the proud owner of two gas stations.

When that big boss, and family don (a famous gangster whom Mac, decades later, still refuses to identify), decided to visit one of his casinos, everything stopped.

He would enter, as in a movie scene, with a beautiful woman on each arm, and a pair of enormous gorillas behind him.  Mac would hurriedly, but politely, ask all seven gamblers seated at a given table to please stand and wait for an opening at another.  Mac would then escort the boss to his now-private table, where he, and his entourage, could play as they wished.

Mac is one of many regular Joes who never hurt a fly, and certainly never killed anyone, yet provided for his family by working for the New York Underworld.  He is a lot like the character Salvatore Salerno in my New York gangster novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  The way Mac respects and protects the identity of his former boss is similar to the way some characters in SONS will not even mention the name of their don in public.  They merely touch the tips of their noses when referring to him.

A lot of this stuff is amusing, but it’s important to understand that the mob is no comedy show, and if you choose to involve yourself, you may have to pay the ultimate price. (Continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

I had a childhood friend I’ll call “Lenny”.  He was probably the best all-around athlete with whom I’ve ever played sports.  Could catch and run with anyone.  When we played football, be it tackle or touch, when he received a kickoff or punt (or, in Brooklyn street football, a “throw-off”) there was probably a 50% chance that he was returning it all the way for a touchdown.

We used to sucker guys from the neighborhood who didn’t know us too well.  We’d be tossing the football around in the street, throwing it weakly, dropping it here and there.  Soon enough, they’d want to play us 2-on-2.  We’d put a little money down.  I’d be the quarterback, Lenny the receiver.  We pulled it off so many times.  We only lost once.  It was a great gig.

Apart from his athletic prowess, Lenny was a scholar.  A computer wizard in the 1970s.

Then, within a brief span, he lost both of his parents.  He turned to drugs.  Next, he owed money.  Money borrowed from the streets.  Before long, he was gone.  Just gone.  I’ve heard different rumors about his demise, but to me, my friend Lenny just vanished.  Forever.

Another friend-of-a-friend had a similar issue with owing money.  He went around asking everyone he knew for cash to pay back his street lenders.  He asked everyone except his own family – he was too ashamed.  None of his pals could afford the amount he owed.  He was found, in pieces, in the trunk of a car on Bond St.  No head.  It was probably somewhere in the Gowanus Canal, with all the others.  After that, his entire family moved to California.

Rules had to be followed.  Yes, the mob sold drugs, but there were certain areas that were “off limits”. Maybe they were too near a church or school, or too close to the home of an important boss.  Fred sold drugs for the Mafia.  His problem was that he kept selling them in the “off-limits” areas.  He’d been warned, but would “slip up”.  A meeting was called.  Fred left his house in a fancy suit.  He wanted to make a good impression.  At the meeting, he was relaxed by the other attendees.  He got another warning, all very friendly.  The meeting officially over, he changed into his sweat suit to make a meal for the boys.  With the important business concluded, his clothes changed, and there no longer being the threat of him wearing a wire.  They killed him as the pasta boiled.

There was a baker in Brooklyn who also happened to be a “numbers runner” for the local crime family. This was basically an illegal lottery.  The runner would collect the money from a bettor, and, ideally, turn it in, with the chosen numbers, to his boss.  If the bettor’s number came up, he won, otherwise he lost.  Oftentimes these numbers runners would hang onto the bets and never turn them in.  The odds were with them.  Usually, the numbers wouldn’t come out.  It was a longshot bet.  The runner would just pocket the bet with his bosses none the wiser.

The problem was, sometimes the bettors did win.  This particular time, a man had bet $50, playing the numbers in his wedding anniversary.  He hit for $25,000.  Adjusted for inflation, his score was worth almost $200,000 in today’s currency.  The baker – the runner who never turned the ticket in to the crime family – was on the hook to pay the winner.

Nobody ever saw him again.  His wife stood in front of their home screaming when he never came home from work.  Did he flee the country?  Was his head floating in the Gowanus?  No one knew, but the next day the closed bakery went up in flames.  The authorities never determined who torched the bakery, but soon after, a local kid was given a new nickname.

The Flame.

Right near that bakery lived the fella who was dating the daughter of the local boss-of-bosses.  She became pregnant.  It was assumed and arranged that they would be married immediately.  One the eve of the big day, not only did the groom call off the wedding, he broke up with his expectant fiancée.  I’m not sure what this man thought would come of this, but shortly after, he had his face sliced open from ear to mouth, then, on the other side, from mouth to ear.  Many assumed he was permitted to live because he was still the father of the unborn child.  The two up-and-coming gangsters contracted for this particular job had earned their own new nicknames.

The Surgeons.

Then there was The Butcher.  Scary name, but not what you’d expect.  The Butcher was a family man, and neighborhood good-guy.  He was a great husband and father who had served our country quite honorably in the armed forces.  He worked in the meat department at the A & P supermarket.  Then, just like that, he was laid off.  All he knew was honest work, so he applied for a job at something called Meat Kingdom.  It was a thriving local business, their management knew he was a top-notch butcher, so he got the job.  It was only then that he learned that Meat Kingdom was owned by a super-famous gangster (and one who would soon be rubbed out in one of the most famous hits of all-time).  The big gangster’s son ran the shop’s day-to-day business.  The Butcher happened to be father to one of my best friends.  That friend had a very realistic, and quite creepy-looking, rubber rat.  One day, the Butcher – always one for a good laugh – brought the fake rat to work.  He placed the creature in one of the meat lockers and waited to see how the prank would play out with his co-workers.

You could probably finish this story for me.  The junior gangster, son of the big boss, and manager of the store, came upon the toy rodent.  The young mobster screamed like a cheerleader, wet his pants, and almost backed into a working bandsaw as he rushed to escape.

The backfired prank actually had the butcher concerned for his safety, and the future of his family.  Having the don’s son make a fool of himself in front of all of his employees is not something that the Butcher intended.

Here’s what happened after.

Nothing.  No broken legs, no sliced face, no “meeting”.  No apology required.

The employees, after some time, figured that the Butcher escaped punishment because of a combination of things; he was not part of “the life” – just an ordinary citizen, he turned out to be the best meat-cutter they had, and maybe most of all, how could pants-wetting junior explain to his father the reason for any punishment?

Interesting fact about that Butcher: though he was a regular guy, and law-abiding citizen, his own father had been a collector and enforcer for a well-connected Brooklyn loan shark.  He remembered that his dad always carried a tire iron on his person, and never entered or exited his own apartment through the front door.  He would use the fire escape of an adjoining building, then, walk across the rooftops, leading to the fire escape of his own apartment.

St. Agnes Seminary was located on Avenue R in Brooklyn.  Grades K-8, girls only.  My cousins attended in the early 70s.  Two of their young friends happened to be the granddaughters of the biggest crime boss in New York.  A bit of a war broke out and there had been kidnapping threats against the two little girls.

The police were never involved.  Instead, the girls showed up at school each day with a parade of black cars.  Their “private security guards” were permitted to be posted all over the school grounds, and always outside the classrooms of the threatened children.  Word was that this permission was granted due to a sizeable donation.

My cousins found it to be fun and exciting because the gangsters brought them along for a pizzeria lunch almost every day, and paid for the whole thing.

Kids born into a mob family are different than those who aspire to be gangsters.  Those children of gangsters know nothing different.  By the time than can make decisions for themselves, they’ve effectively been brainwashed.  The outsiders trying to get in have made their own decision.  I’ve known both kinds.  A kid used to live next door to me.  I’ll call him Petey. He was a decent kid, but not a friend of mine.  Maybe he tried to act tougher than he was.  He hung with a bunch of wannabe gangsters a bit older than he and I.  They pretended to be “connected” but were basically big-talking morons.  Petey had a younger sister who was a very sweet girl.  I felt bad for her, always surrounded by those fools.

One time Petey came around in a car with three of these goons.  I was standing on a street corner with one other friend.  They called me over to their vehicle.

“Listen, did you take anything from Mrs. Freiberg’s yard?” one of them asked me.  Mrs. Freiberg was my landlord, and I lived in the basement.

I told them I had no idea what they were talking about.

“You sure?” asked one obese faux mobster.

“Yeah. I didn’t take anything from the yard.”

“Hmmm,” he said, with Petey looking down.  Petey wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“What was taken?” I asked.  Not sure why I cared.

“We planted some marijuana in her yard and it’s all gone.  We’ll look into it further before anything gets done,” said Chubby.

I wanted to say, “Gets done?  Who the fuck are you to threaten me?” But it was just me standing with one guy who wasn’t much of a fighter, and there were four of them – three who were quite a bit older. Almost men vs. boys.  I said nothing and they drove off.  I made a mental note to tell my older brothers – who did not live with me – but would’ve been there anytime I needed them.  I wonder how tough those guys would’ve talked if a couple of big guys their own age had been with me?  My brothers, Ed and Kevin.

Nothing ever came of that stolen marijuana situation.  I assume Mrs. Freiberg just dug the shit up and threw it away.  As for my neighbor Petey, a year or two later he was shot in the back of his head in Manhattan.  Dead.  I still feel bad for his little sister, wherever she may be.

Sometimes our mobsters seem to have better international relationships than our government.  This became evident to a friend of mine who attended the funeral of a prominent Canadian gangster, north of the border.  He wandered around the funeral home, reading the cards on the huge floral arrangements.

“Deepest sympathy, Detroit.”

“Condolences on your loss, New York.”

“Loved and remembered, Chicago.”

There was a ten year-old boy whose step-father would always bring him to a bar in Astoria, Queens.  The kid was allowed to sit right at the bar, amongst the grown men, drinking his Shirley Temples, while the step-dad did his business in the back room.

Sometimes two men would come to the boy’s house.  The same two well-dressed men – every time.  The stepfather’s name was Fritz – everyone called him that.

For whatever reason, these two men called him Frank.

It turns out that Fritz (or Frank) did a lot of “favors” for these men.  Much of the time it involved transporting weapons from New Mexico to New York City.

One day, the favor they requested would have had Fritz testifying in court as a witness to a major accident that had occurred.  The thing was, Fritz had never witnessed the accident in question, and was quite adverse to court proceedings of any kind.

For the first time, he refused their request.

The outcome: Fritz immediately packed up his entire family and left New York for the southwest.  No one who knew them has seen them since.

Well, I may have.

I will conclude this blog with the words of some mystery man whom I would be in contact with almost every evening, for a time, in The Borough of Churches.

During my first year at Brooklyn College, I was on an emotional roller-coaster.  Things weren’t so great for me.  I was quite depressed, but tried to keep a happy face.  It wasn’t working.  I had a Sociology class and I figured I could make something out of it.  As an assignment, based on my suggestion, I transformed into another person.  There was a neighborhood kid who was always picked on.  He wasn’t the best-looking guy, and had some hygiene issues.  He sold the New York Post on the street.  I stopped shaving, showered a lot less, stayed away from my friends, and got a job selling the Post.

I would sell the evening edition, after school, out near the Verrazano Bridge, right off the parkway exit.

The newspaper sold for 25 cents.  Each evening a long, black sedan would come off the highway and stop in front of me.  The windows were nearly black.  The rear window would roll down just a crack.  I could never see who was in that car, but the transaction was always the same.  There I was, looking borderline homeless, holding the papers, many times in the rain, with plastic over them and nothing over me.

He would slide a five dollar bill out the window crack and I would stuff the newspaper through it in return.  He never accepted any change. He paid twenty times the price of the New York Post. Every night.

Then he would say only one word, and roll his window up.  It is the same word I will sincerely pass along to all who have taken the time to read this blog.

Grazie.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Richard Anderson, Ernest Loperena, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.

TRUE GANGSTER STORIES (Part 1)

23 Mar

Long before Gangsta, there was Gangster.

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

Most people I know enjoy a good mob story; especially, the TRUE ones.  As a former police officer, I have no love for lifelong criminals.  The world would be a wonderful place without them.  There is a certain fascination with gangsters, though.  The REAL ones, anyway.  Those who won’t bring harm to your loved ones – unless your loved ones are part of “The Life”.  The ones who keep their bloodshed exclusively in-house gain a certain respect from me, even though I’d put them behind bars in an instant.  I’ve seen the workings of the mob through the eyes of a Brooklyn kid who lived among the legends, and then, much later, from my perspective as a New York police officer.  My New York friends and family have a seemingly endless supply of mob stories, as well.  Actually, there may not be any true good guys or bad guys.  Only differing shades of gray.
I, along with my late cousin, Peter Randazzo (who had even more tales than I) have a novel called SONS OF THE POPE.  It is fiction – but based on things all too real.  It is the story of a family-within-a-family.  It spans five decades of New York.  It, as the best-selling title ever from its publisher (Blood Bound Books) has achieved something that doesn’t happen often – an option for television for an indie novel.  More on all of that, and some pretty big name praise for the book, at the end of the post, but how about some REAL organized crime stories – FOR FREE – from the mouths of the Brooklyn folks who were there?  None of these incidents appear in my novel. That is chock full of the better ones. Unless an incident is already public knowledge, names have been changed to protect – everyone.  Feel free to add your own stories in the comments section for all to see!

If this post draws interest, I will add additional true mob stories in a series, perhaps weekly, so be sure to “follow” this blog to be notified of the latest updates!

It might now be relevant to include a quote from the first page of my novel as we begin:

“Though inspired by certain true events, SONS OF THE POPE is a work of fiction.  Because as many a New Yorker will tell you when asked about organized crime…There’s no such thing.”

(To be continued below SONS OF THE POPE link).

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

“John Gotti is my uncle.  He’s gonna kill your whole family.”

I’ve heard that, or some variation on it, countless times.  Sometimes Mr. Gotti was their cousin, or their aunt’s ex-boyfriend, or their girlfriend’s neighbor.  The smarter ones would use John’s older brother, Peter Gotti, as a more realistic curveball.  This was when I was a cop in New York.  Mind you, I was working in Suffolk County, Long Island.  My precinct was 30 miles from John Gotti.  Seemed any punk who was unhappy with being locked up, somehow thought the cops would shudder in fear, and open up the jail doors, at the mere mention of their fictional connection to a famous mobster.  I can only image what the NYPD cops heard.

Years before, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, if I happened to have the upper hand in some street fight, or even just an argument, I’d get Carlo Gambino or “Big Paul” Castellano thrown in my face as the man who was going to do me in.  That’s right, the alleged head of an organized crime family was going to execute a 15 year-old boy because he happened to have someone in a headlock.

The point of all this is that the big mouths who are quick to tell you how “connected” they are, or boast about who they “know”, and who is going to be dumping you in a swamp, are always completely full of shit.

If you have a confrontation or altercation with someone, and they dust themselves off, give you a steely-eyed smirk, and quietly walk away, THEN you might have something with which to concern yourself.

My wife watches the VH1 television series MOB WIVES, and whenever I have seen a bit of it, my mind has been blown.  Some of these ladies may actually be connected to alleged crime families (or were – before they were excommunicated), yet they are the complete antithesis of a true gangster, in every way.

The late Vincent “The Chin” Gigante – a man who, to downplay any relationship to the criminal mastermind the government accused him of being, spent decades walking the streets in a bath robe and staring into space – can you picture his reaction to watching an episode of MOB WIVES?

Seems all they do on that show are scream at each other, call one another “rats” or “cop-callers”, and boast about their affiliations with “the lifestyle” – oh, and they do this all ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!  Back in the day, this would not have stood a chance of happening.  In fact, in the early 1970s, the makers of the film THE GODFATHER made a deal with legendary wiseguy Joseph Colombo, whereby the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” would not be uttered in the movie – and that motion picture, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, was FICTION. Shortly thereafter, Colombo was shot, paralyzed, and eventually died from his injuries.  Word on the street was that he was targeted because he was bringing too much unwanted publicity to the five crime families of New York.  This was the guy who thought THE GODFATHER was bringing too much attention to the Mafia – and HE was likely gunned down for doing the exact same thing.

Now, think about MOB WIVES one more time.

I lived in the heart of the Joe Colombo/Joey Gallo stronghold for a part of my youth.  I lost my parents before I turned seven, so I bounced around a bit between families – both mine and the territories of the “Five Families” of New York.  I always, however, lived in Brooklyn.  From 1960 through 1990.

Joe Colombo’s Italian-American Civil Rights League offices were directly across the street from the apartment in which I lived, on Fifth Avenue.  I could see it from my bedroom window. Right around the corner, on President Street, was the entry into Joey Gallo’s territory.  Many believe that Colombo was shot (in 1971) because of his many television appearances in connection with his Civil Rights League.  Too much of a spotlight brought to the families.  Most also believe that Joey Gallo was behind the shooting, though he did not pull the trigger himself.  A year later, Gallo was murdered in a restaurant in Manhattan.  Bob Dylan even wrote a song about him.  “Joey” appears on my favorite Dylan album, DESIRE.

Did you know that the mob even controlled gumball machines?

Joey Gallo’s crew used to give neighborhood kids a quarter to smash any gumball machines that were not owned and operated by their gang.  Well, one day, a shoemaker on Smith Street caught three kids in the act of destroying the machines in front of his store.  He managed to grab one as they fled and began to inflict some street justice.  I guess he didn’t count on the other two returning to help their captured friend.  Return, they did – and the three of them handed the shoemaker one of the more serious beatings the neighborhood had seen.  The kids made their bones that day.  Instead of the 25 cent piece they would normally receive for the routine machine-smash, they each received a stack of crisp bills.  Within days, the Joey Gallo gum machines stood in front of that shoe repair shop.

As a child, my own Italian wife, Joanne, growing up near Court Street, was told by her parents, “Do not go too far down President or Carroll Streets.  That’s where the gangsters are.”  The many law-abiding Italian-Americans went to great lengths to steer clear of the trouble.

After Gallo’s murder, his sister Carmella declared, over his casket, that “The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

This may have run through the minds of some of my childhood friends as they sat, one late night, on a street corner in Sheepshead Bay.  They were in their early teens.  A black car pulled up, and two well-dressed, burly men got out.  They walked up to the teens and said “Yous might wanna go somewhere else.  It ain’t safe here.”  Now, these kids usually would have risked a smack in the teeth by responding in some smart-ass manner, but they had the street sense to know this was the big leagues.  They retreated into the alleyway behind the buildings.  Within the hour they heard the shots fired, screams, then, a bit later, police sirens.  That meant, to them, that they could emerge.  They ambled from the alley to find people surrounding a bloodied man on the sidewalk.  He was in front of a restaurant and a health club.  They recognized the woman kneeling over his body as a young lady they knew from the neighborhood.  For reasons known only to her, she was wiping his blood on her arms and face as he died.

“The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey.”

Those same kids, in that same back alley, had an incident happen in broad daylight, as they played a game of Wiffle Ball.  The stores and restaurants along a certain section of Avenue U would have their back doors open into small yards that were fenced in from that particular alley.  There was a restaurant there that had closed down and was converted into a “social club”.  The kids were often given five bucks by the club members to run to OTB (Off-Track-Betting was a legal form of wagering on the horses in NY at the time) and bring back copies of The Racing Form (also known as the “scratch sheet”).  The kids had earned their cash, brought back the Racing Forms, and were now onto their Wiffle Ball battle in the alley.

They thought they heard fireworks.  Maybe some M-80s or “ash cans”, they figured.  Then the men from the social club began to scale the back fence and spill into the alley, completely disrupting their ball game.  It was a shotgun hit in the club.  The kids later learned that the victim was the father of someone they knew fairly well.

Remember that health club I mentioned, outside of which the young woman was wiping her dying boyfriend’s blood all over herself?  As a kid, I “worked” there.  It was also featured in the documentary PUMPING IRON, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou (“Incredible Hulk”) Ferrigno.  When I say I “worked” there, I mean I had a handshake deal with the owner.  I would come in at the end of each day and put away all of the weights that were strewn about the floor.  I would keep the place tidy, and in return, I could work out any time I wanted. That is how Brooklyn operated back then.  That’s how an orphaned kid, without a cent, could secure a prime health club membership.  Also, see nothing and say nothing.

The Story of Muscle Matty:

Muscle Matty might’ve been the strongest guy I’ve ever met, in terms of physical power.  Sometimes it would take two of us kids to hand him the dumbbell he was going to pump with his ONE hand.  We were in awe of him.  He was a monster.  Unfortunately, he was also a monster of a different kind, and we had no idea.  It seemed Muscle Matty had a thing for under-aged boys.  Word was, if the boy wasn’t interested, Matty might just take what he wanted anyway.

Who was going to stop him?

This may have been one of those cases where the mob actually did some good.

Matty apparently came upon a boy he fancied in a public restroom.  The kid wanted no part of him, but the muscle-man forced himself on the child.

Unfortunately for Matty, that kid was one of the quiet ones who knew better than to boast about the connections he had.

Maybe a week later, Muscle Matt’s body was found with his own severed penis stuffed in his mouth.

Lest anyone think my claim is that only Italian-Americans can be gangsters, I can assure you that I am well aware that there are gangs and gangsters of almost every ethnicity.  It’s just that the Mafia has risen to a strange level of popularity in American culture.  My own father, at the age of eight, in 1931, was almost accidentally gunned down – most likely by Irish-American gunmen.  He was just a kid walking down a Brooklyn street at the wrong time, when one of those machine-gun-out-the-window-cars we have all seen in the movies turned a corner blasting at somebody.  He dove under a parked car for safety.

“You shouldn’t hang around here, Eddie,” said one of the local toughs as everyone dusted themselves off.  My father ran straight home, never bothering to survey the aftermath of the drive-by.  He also knew, at that tender age, to be “in the wind” by the time the coppers arrived.

In fact, my father’s first cousin, Helen Walsh, was, at that very moment, gun moll, and accomplice for Irish/German-American gangster, murderer, and cop-killer, Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  Miss Walsh was in the fifth floor Manhattan apartment with Crowley and his partner, Fats Duringer, as they waged a gun battle with 300 New York City police officers, before finally surrendering.  15,000 people found their way to the scene of that incident that day.  My cousin Helen wound up testifying against the two men, and both went to the electric chair.  Needless to say, I am not proud that my own blood was an accomplice to a cop-killer, and also had the distinction of becoming a “rat”, or a “canary” – “singing” to the feds.
Well, we all have family members who go astray.  But, the reporter who gave the tip that brought them all down was named Joe O’Connor.  Shared my family name.  Way to go, Joe.

Two-Gun Crowley was immortalized by the character Cody Jarrett, as portrayed by James Cagney, in the 1949 film, WHITE HEAT.  I never met my cousin Helen, who lived her life out on Long Island – never uttering another word about her times with Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley.  I did know her sister, Margaret, who was all too willing to share details about the entire story.

Currently, if one does a YouTube search for “Two Gun Crowley”, footage of his arrest is available.  After he is wheeled out, wounded, Helen Walsh can be seen being escorted, and arrested, by police.  So too can Fats Duringer.

I wonder, is there any chance my then eight year-old father, wasn’t just “accidentally” in the sights of those machine-gunners?  Could this have had anything at all to do with his high-profile gangster cousin and whatever the heck she was up to her elbows in?  Could he have been a pawn – or part of some message to her and Crowley?

Probably not, but I’ll never know for sure.

I have some amazing, true mob stories all set for the next blog post, so please stay tuned!

If you’d like to read a novel that Amazon reviews have compared to gangster classics such as THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, and THE SOPRANOS, take a FREE peek at SONS OF THE POPE.  It’s available in a new, second edition paperback, and for Kindle or Nook.

It has a 4.9 rating (out of 5) on Amazon.com.  4.4 on GoodReads.

It has been optioned for television by brilliant creative forces behind incredible shows such as DEXTER, NURSE JACKIE, RECTIFY, RED WIDOW, and CONSTANTINE.

Remember AL PACINO’S incredible performance in THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE? Well, the man who wrote the novel upon which that film was based, ANDREW NEIDERMAN, has praised SONS OF THE POPE, and his quote can be found on the back of the book.  Mr. Neiderman has also written all of the books in the VC ANDREWS series for over thirty years.  He has sold over ONE HUNDRED MILLION books.

New York Times best-selling author, KEVIN O’BRIEN, who has brought readers to the edge of their seats with ONLY SON (optioned for film by TOM HANKS), THE NEXT TO DIE, THE LAST VICTIM, and UNSPEAKABLE, called my novel, “A rich, epic chronicle of murder, the mob, and miracles.”

JOHN LOCKE, who was the first self-published author to sell over ONE MILLION novels on Kindle, felt so strongly about SONS OF THE POPE that he ran a contest for his readers to win copies of the book.  He bought those contest copies with his own money.  Mr. Locke’s DONOVAN CREED thriller series and EMMETT LOVE westerns have proven so popular, he became the first author ever to sign a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.  He retained all editorial rights, and control over design, content, and pricing.  In the publishing world, that is unheard of.

Take a FREE peek at what those three New York Times best-selling authors are all excited about.  See what might spur a top television producer and director to option an independent novel for television.

Have a look at SONS OF THE POPE.

Thank you.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

These true stories would not be possible without the help of Paul Smith, Ken Angelos, Deborah Joyce MacDougald, Nora Ball, M.a. Tarpinian, Michael Musumeci, Marc Sheer, Thomas Pirics, Jason Altman, Maureen O’Connor, & Joanne O’Connor.

UPDATE: Ariana Grande’s Latest Response. One Week Later.

29 Aug

BRAND NEW UPDATE (08/29/2014) – ONE WEEK AFTER THE ARIANA GRANDE INCIDENT.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE FROM MS. GRANDE AND HER REPRESENTATIVES?

THE ORIGINAL POST, THAT SOMEHOW BECAME A NEWS ITEM, IS RIGHT BELOW THIS ONE.

How has Ariana Grande responded to the disappointed MTV contest winners?

That is the question I have received most over the past week.  There have been a lot of questions, and I’ll try to answer them all here at once. This has actually become too big to even handle by a family without the power of a public relations army working for them.

I never imagined that our little blog post would be read by hundreds of thousands of people, in almost 200 countries, but somehow, it has.  Many of these people have asked if Ms. Grande has reached out to the fans she walked out on one week ago. These are the most popular questions:

“Has she invited everyone to re-do the meeting?”

“Has she mailed the explanation letter she talked about writing?”

“Has she tweeted any of the fans who were there?”

“Has she called anyone on the phone?”

We have waited a week to answer these questions, as we didn’t want to rush into anything, and my daughters had faith that she would maybe just make a two minute phone call, so they could all explain their side, get past the whole thing, and the girls could concentrate on buying and enjoying her new album.

Our family has been bombarded with interview requests all week – and up to this point have granted NONE.  We had no desire to make this a bigger issue. Those few who have labeled us as “fame hungry” may not realize that we wrote a post, out of frustration, on a blog that used to get maybe 3 hits a day. We didn’t follow up until now, and we didn’t sell any interview to anyone. We just wanted to speak out for fans everywhere – even those who now hate and harass us.  Treating contest winners as an annoyance is not really cool.  This was not a case of interrupting a celebrity on the street, or in a restaurant, and it was not a large scale meet and greet of hundreds of people.  It was three contest winners, with one guest each. That’s it.

Ariana has tweeted that she was saddened by the contest-winning artwork that featured a drawing of her and her departed grandfather.  We do not dispute the fact that she may well have been so affected, but this is important to note, please:

EVERYTHING in the original blog post occurred BEFORE she saw the artwork that featured her and Mr. Grande.

EVERYTHING.

The “only a selfie allowed” warning.

The confiscation of any gifts intended for her, including one fan’s contest-winning CD of violin versions of Ariana songs.  That young man poured his heart into that, and traveled across the country to hand it to her.

The lack of banter with anyone – not even asking their names, or if they were the contest winners (as opposed to the guests).

The ordering of security to be sure all non-selfies were DELETED.

Heading off to leave after spending just seconds with each winner.

ALL OF THIS OCCURRED BEFORE ANY ARTWORK WAS PRESENTED TO ARIANA GRANDE.

She was already walking away from her fans when my daughter Jen mustered up the courage to approach her with the artwork.  Jen and her sister Kelly had recently lost their own grandpa, and their intention was to tell Ariana that they loved her and that they felt her pain because they knew what she was going through. They wanted to say “We feel you as a person right now, not as a superstar, because we know the pain in your heart.”

They assumed Ms. Grande was aware of the artwork because it won the contest for Jen, and, as with the other young man’s violin CD, it came from a place of love. Jen wanted to give Ari the originals to keep.

The other piece of artwork featured Ariana and Iggy Azalea, and it was this drawing that Ariana was looking at when she ordered all pictures deleted. She had not seen the grandpa drawing yet.  When she did see the grandpa drawing, she walked out.  Remember, she had been on the way out already, before Jen walked up to her with the artwork. She had taken the fan selfies and was on the way out.

We believe that Ariana was affected in some way by seeing the artwork, we are not challenging that. It’s just that nobody knew it at the time, and it doesn’t really explain everything that went on before it.  The fans were treated horribly before that final few seconds.

So, to answer the above questions, there has been no contact at all from Ms. Grande to the fans in the week that followed.

We received a midweek phone call from Mr. Joseph Carozza, vice president of Ariana’s Republic record label.  The girls looked at me as if to say “We knew Ari would make this right.”

Here was the sum total of the phone call: Mr. Carozza asked me to update the blog by writing that we now understood why Ariana acted as she did – because of her being in mourning.

When I asked him why I should do that considering that everything noted in the blog occurred BEFORE she saw the drawing, he responded that this post had become a legitimate news story and that it was Ariana’s album release week, and the story was making her uncomfortable.

I told him that I was sorry for all that, but that my girls had been affected too – as they were receiving death threats.

He reiterated the notion that Ariana had wanted to contact the girls after she had walked out on them, but that MTV had no way to deliver the “letter” she talked about.

I reminded him that MTV knew exactly where the contest winners were staying for all three nights – as they had placed them in that hotel.  They also had everyone’s phone number (that’s how Mr. Carozza got it to call us in the first place), home address, email address, and quite literally – their picture IDs and social security numbers.

Perhaps the Ariana letter could have been sent over to the hotel when MTV had the VMA passes driven there two days after the meet and greet?

I suggested that maybe Ms. Grande could phone the contest winners personally, for two minutes, just to have each side make nice, put it all behind them, and I could update this blog with a happy ending saying how Ariana reached out and acted like a true star. I could then write that the girls were excited to buy the new album.

He refused.

We still waited several more days, in the hope that, within all of her promotional fan interactions, she might still call, tweet, or send a note to the original winners, as part of her weeklong album release fan experience.

Didn’t happen.

I called Mr. Carozza as a final reaching-out gesture to see if any contact might happen soon, before writing this follow up.

No, it will not.

There is a happy ending to this, though. The happiness is not with the spurned contest winners, but with the fans who have met Ariana Grande since this blog became news.  She has gone out of her way to meet many fans, with cameras rolling, surprising them at America’s Got Talent and the Today Show. Giving them VIP passes – on national television, singing happy birthday to one, hugging them all, taking Vines with them, doing repeated live chats, and telephone Q&A sessions. She also has tweeted several of them personally, and posted repeated tweets about how she loves all of her fans.

The ones who earned a meeting with her through difficult contest entries, and follow up phone interviews, have received none of that.

They have been forgotten by Ariana Grande and her huge publicity machine.

They have no voice in this world except for this tiny blog page. I’ve been asked why I wrote it to begin with – well, Ms. Grande is famous for (rightfully) defending her family when they have been wronged. I chose to do that for my daughters, and the other contest winners. It’s that simple.

But the happy ending is that, at least for now, some fans are being treated as actual human beings.

That was the point from day one.

For the few who call our family “liars” regarding all of this, I put this offer out there: Every one of us will take a public polygraph exam if Ms. Grande will agree to do the same.

Every word I have written has been the absolute truth.

We don’t have a corporate spin machine to twist the story, we don’t have the power to tell magazines and websites that we will refuse future interviews with them if they don’t slant the story our way, and we don’t have millions of fans who believe everything we say.

We just know that if we tell the true story, there will be no guilt in our hearts.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KellyyPatricia 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Meeting Ariana Grande, Then and Now.

26 Aug

PLEASE READ NEW POST (CLICK PRIMAL SCREAMING HEADER ABOVE) FOR ARIANA’S LATEST RESPONSE (08/29/14) – Thank you.

****NEW – 09/12/14 CBS RADIO INTERVIEW WITH A CONTEST WINNER. KLUC LAS VEGAS 98.5****
PLAY “ZOO PODCAST 9/12” AND FORWARD TO APPROX THE 60% MARK. THANK YOU.
http://kluc.cbslocal.com/2014/09/12/september-12th/

“Oh, Dad – I might be able to meet Ariana Grande today!”

That’s what my 14 year-old daughter, Jen, exclaimed to me on a January day in 2011.

Both Jen and her older sister, Kelly (then 19), were such big fans of Ariana. They enjoyed her in her role as “Cat” on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious”. Thought she was so charming and funny. But what they enjoyed even more was her singing. She wasn’t a pop star back then. She was a funny and talented supporting player on a comedy show. But my daughters watched Ariana’s homemade Youtube videos of her using her beautiful voice while singing other people’s songs. They showed the videos to my wife and I, and we were naturally impressed as well. We also watched “Victorious” with our girls. We knew Ariana Grande was destined for stardom.

On that day in 2011, Ariana tweeted that she was excited that she would be visiting the Titanic exhibit at the Las Vegas Luxor hotel.  We live 20 minutes outside of Vegas, so Jen practically begged me to drive over to the Luxor and wait outside the Titanic exhibit – for however long it took – so that she might see her idol.  Kelly wouldn’t be able to come because she was already at work. Of course I said “yes”. The one rule I had was that, if we saw Ariana, we had to wait until she finished enjoying the exhibit and was ready to leave. I’m not one for intruding on anyone, celebrity or not.

If Ariana were to tweet something like that today, there would likely be hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans waiting for her.  On that day, before she was a superstar, there was only Jen.

Jennifer O’Connor was an “Arianator” before it was even a term.

We waited on a bench near the Titanic exit for hours. I read a book while Jen kept her eyes on the gift shop.

“Oh gosh. There she is,” said Jen. She was actually shaking.

We watched from a distance as Ariana, her mom, and one or two other folks paid for their purchases and began to exit. First Ariana stopped to slip on a hoodie she bought in the shop. Then they moved toward the exit. Ariana spotted Jen smiling at her. Jen didn’t have to say anything.

“Hi,” smiled Ari, “Do you want a picture?”

“Yes, please. I’m such a fan of yours. I saw your tweet and hoped I could come down and meet you.”

“Aww, that’s so cool,” replied Ariana, “What’s your name? Check out my new hoodie! Do you like it?”

They chatted for a minute or two, and then posed for a photo. Ari threw up a peace sign. I took the picture.

“Can we do that again, please?” asked Ariana, “I think I probably looked terrible in that one.”

Of course I re-took the photo. Ariana never asked to see or approve of either picture. Jen deleted the first one, without being asked to do so. She did it out of common respect. As they said their goodbyes, Ariana hugged Jen, and Mrs. Joan Grande actually thanked us for coming to meet her daughter. It was a wonderful experience, and Jen has told the world about it for years.  Ariana Grande was one of the nicest celebrities we have ever encountered – and between originally living in New York, then Vegas, and our frequent trips to L.A., we have come across a lot of them.

Flash forward to August, 2014. Ariana is a superstar. But surely she is still the same sweet girl where it matters most – in her heart. Maybe, maybe not.

“PEPSI, MTV, AND VH1 ARE GIVING YOU THE CHANCE TO WIN AN AMAZING TRIP TO LOS ANGELES TO HANG WITH ARIANA AND WATCH HER PERFORM LIVE AT THIS YEAR’S (MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS).”

That’s how the contest was advertised.  Contestants had to produce some art and say why they loved Ariana so much.  They also had to follow and hashtag MTV, VH1, and Pepsi, label it as #ArianaNOW, and a few other things.

Jen spent days working on artwork of Ariana, wrote why she loved her, and amazingly, became a finalist. She was then interviewed via phone by an MTV rep for the second stage of the competition, and a few days later was announced as one of the two MTV winners (there was another winner through VH1). All winners were permitted to bring a guest to L.A., so naturally Jen chose her older sister (another Arianator).

The winners were placed at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood. They were told to get to the L.A. Forum in Inglewood for a 5 PM meeting with Ariana. They had to provide their own transportation. Jen and Kel arranged for a taxi to take them. They know that Los Angeles traffic is horrific so they left extra early from the hotel so that they wouldn’t miss the event that they were so excited for. Jen brought her winning artwork because she wanted to give it to her idol. She also wanted to remind Ariana of their prior meeting by the Titanic exhibit, when it was just Jen, Ariana, and that cute hoodie.

Jen and Kel got to the Forum early, as traffic wasn’t as bad as they had been warned. They were not allowed inside, or even permitted to wait in the safety of the parking lot. Fair enough – though probably not hospitable or decent, it was never promised that they’d be let in early. At least they knew they wouldn’t be late, and miss the chance to “hang” with Ari.

Turns out, they were never permitted in the building at all.  An MTV staff member in a big tent said “You can’t stay here. I don’t know where you can go, but it can’t be on the property. Also, this neighborhood is unsafe so be careful out there.”  At some point later, they were allowed into the parking lot, where all the winners and guests stayed, being shuffled from table to table as more “important” people appeared.  They waited till around 7:30, outdoors, for the meeting with Ariana. They were all hungry and cold, and despite a huge party barbeque going on in the tent beside their benches, they were offered nothing but a bottle of water the entire time.  Still, no problem – that’s life sometimes.  Some folks care, some don’t.

Here’s where it gets shady:

Jen and the other MTV winner (a young man of 16 who traveled across the entire country for this meeting) were interviewed on camera by MTV to be broadcast at a later date. Before the camera rolled they were told they would be asked what it was like meeting Ariana, and they had to PRETEND that they had already had said meeting – even though the interview was taped BEFORE Ariana ever appeared. They were told what to say, almost word for word. I know Jen feared that if she refused to do this, she would not meet Ariana (though she was not told that).

That, my friends, is known as a RED FLAG.

After the bogus interview, Ariana was set to appear. First, she did an on-camera interview. We don’t know what it was about, but I’m wondering if she also faked that the meeting had already taken place.  She then approached her fans without a smile – just an icy look as she toyed with her hair.  She was surrounded by 8 to 10 assistants.  Ariana stood by, with a blank stare, as the rules came fast and furiously from a staffer:

“You are not to present Ariana with any type of gift or anything. Give them to security and they will get them to her. You can take a selfie with her, but nothing else.”

Remember, these are not kids who interrupted Ariana during dinner at a restaurant, they are pre-screened contest winners who poured their hearts into their winning entries. The 16 year old boy had recorded a CD of beautiful violin cover versions of Ariana songs. It won the contest for him, and he wanted to present it to her.

It was taken away by security.

Ariana Grande, the superstar, then walked toward her three contest-winning fans.

She spent perhaps 15 seconds with each of them. That is not an exaggeration. They took an approved photo with her and that was it. No small talk. No banter. No “I can pretend I care a slight bit for you because you support me, you tweeted about me and my projects thousands of times, you buy my music, and you traveled so far, while paying for your own taxis, three days of meals, new outfits to meet me in, and federal and state taxes on this prize. Let me hear the one sentence you’ve always dreamed about telling me.”

Nothing. That was it. Don’t be fooled by the sweet smile in the photos below.  Ariana gave that grin for each picture, but then it was gone again. She never bothered to even ask anyone their name. She didn’t inquire as to who the contest winners were, as opposed to their guests, or what they created to win the right to meet her. Shocked by all this, Jen, whom Ari had been so kind to in 2011, walked up and said “Ari, here’s a photo we took together in Vegas at the Titanic…”

Ms. Grande glanced at the photo on Jen’s phone and said, “Let’s redo that picture.” She said nothing else, so Jen retook the photo. No peace sign from Ari this time.  Then Jen took out one of the drawings that won the contest for her.  Kelly snapped a photo of her smiling little sister giving Ariana the drawing.

“Delete those pictures, please” was all Ariana said.

“Can I just keep the one of my sister showing you the drawing?” asked Kel.

Ariana turned to her security and ordered, “Make sure she deleted those.”

Then, Ariana Grande walked away from her prize-winning fans without even saying goodbye.

That was it. That was HANG WITH ARIANA GRANDE, as the contest ads had screamed.

The MTV reps on scene seemed startled, but at a loss for what to do.

“Sometimes celebrities are like that,” was all they could muster, “So what are you guys doing for the rest of the day?”

CRYING would turn out to be the unspoken answer for most of them.

What did MTV, VH1, Pepsi, or Ariana Grande do to rectify this disaster? So far, nothing.

The weekend continued. On Sunday, the winners received passes to the MTV Video Music Awards (which was part of the prize all along). They were seated three rows from the back of the top balcony, possibly closer to the sun than the stage. I had told them to expect that, though. The fact that one of the winners was somehow awarded better seats than the others, seated among industry insiders, and given wristbands for he and his guest for free food and drink during the show is a mystery that was not specified as a prize, and was likely just another MTV oversight – along with letting all the contest winners out of the car that brought them to the show in a Sizzler parking lot several blocks from the Forum. They were told to hoof it to that same lot after the show, in their new outfits and shoes. How glamorous.

Do you think that MTV might have offered to place the winners up close in the pit in front of the stage with hundreds of radio contest winners? You know, to make up for the terrible meeting experience? Nope – they stuck ‘em up in the rafters.

Polite texts were sent to several MTV reps, and tweets to both Ariana and her mother, desperately asking for something to be done. Some type of re-do, or perhaps a meet n greet with some other, more fan-friendly, celebrity.

All were ignored.

It is understood that this was a meet n greet. Nobody expected Ariana Grande to become their best friend, or to even spend 15 minutes with the group of contest winners (though that wouldn’t seem to be an insane request), but 15 seconds each, followed by barked orders to delete photos, and an abrupt exit, doesn’t seem to really epitomize such an event either.

Jen and Kelly have encountered many celebrities, just passing on the street, that have spent more time with them than Ariana did with her contest winners.  These include Ashley Tisdale, Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSync, Brandon Flowers of the Killers, Brad Garrett, Nicolas Cage, Weird Al Yankovic, Ariana’s “Victorious” co-stars Leon Thomas and Mikey Reid, and many more. Every one of them kind and engaging.

Jen met Ari’s “Sam and Cat” co-star, Jennette McCurdy, at an event and was knocked out by how sweet she was. She asked Jen questions about herself and chatted about a variety of things. Jen tried to move along to give time to other fans, but Jennette actually called her back to talk more about her artwork.  Same with Miranda Cosgrove – a complete sweetheart.

In 2003, Jen and Kel received an opportunity to meet a superstar even more famous than Ariana Grande. They met Britney Spears. Wanna know how that went?

Britney invited our two girls into her dressing room at MTV’s TRL. She spent between 12 and 15 minutes with JUST THEM and her assistant Felicia.  Then Britney invited my wife and me to come in as well.  We all took a bunch of pictures, from any angle, while Britney chatted with the girls, looked through pics of their memorabilia, happily personally accepted a gift bag they had brought for her, answered any questions they had, gave them each a signed copy of her CD (which was released that day), and personally made sure that Jen and Kel could watch the live taping of TRL in the studio, even though they were both too young according to MTV policy.  Neither Britney, or any member of her staff, ever asked to see any of the pictures we took. In fact, her security guard remained OUTSIDE the entire time we spent with her.

That is a true superstar who loves her fans.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to be as gracious as Britney, but 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

Jen also once won a contest to spend the afternoon with Disney star Ryan Ochoa (“iCarly”, “Pair of Kings”…) at Knotts Berry Farm. We expected that Ryan would be there for an hour, maybe two, and that would be fine.  He showed up with his dad and his brother and they stayed with Jen for EIGHT HOURS.  They wanted to stay longer but I insisted that they had done more than enough and I was actually embarrassed at their kindness.

Then they set our whole family up with front row seats to a taping of “Pair of Kings”. We met the entire cast after the show. They were all amazing and friendly.

Ryan Ochoa and his family have become our friends now. We see them whenever they are in Vegas, and sometimes when we are in L.A.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to become friends with any of the contest winners, or to spend eight hours with them, or give them any type of tickets for anything.

Some might say she was having a bad day.  But what about the day after, and the day after that? The fans were all still in Hollywood, awaiting the VMAs.  All involved knew that very well. Could Ariana have met them again? Could she have just sent them a personal tweet, or had a letter driven to the hotel?  A signed CD? Could she have sent out a general tweet about meeting some huge fans?

None of that has happened.  The contest winners have been completely ignored.

Nobody expected Ariana Grande to spend a whole hour with them, or give them her phone number, or even follow them on Twitter.

But 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

We’re waiting to see if Ariana, her mom, MTV, VH1, or Pepsi will do anything at all to rectify the injustice done to these disappointed fans and their guests.  It’s a terrible thing to be treated that way by your idol.

They deserve something.  Maybe five minutes with a celebrity who cares.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KelleJansky 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Jen and Ariana. Titanic exhibit, Las Vegas 2011.

Ariana blog 3

Jen and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

Ariana blog 2

Kelly and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

Ariana blog 1

Jen and another contest winner being interviewed by MTV, BEFORE they met Ariana.

Ariana blog 7

Our entire family with Britney Spears at MTV studios, NYC, 2003.

Ariana blog 5

Jen with Ryan Ochoa at Knott’s Berry Farm, 2011.

Ariana blog 4

Who Says A White Guy Can’t Like Funk Music?

25 Feb

I have been enjoying Black History Month in the way that most excites me.

Sure, I appreciate the African-American scientists, inventors, civic and political leaders – but the innovators who pluck my strings the most are the musical masters. Yes, my 3 favorite bands of all-time are the pale, but prolific, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin – but I know quite well that they all formed out of a love for black music. Most everything we listen to today has come by way of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

Right now, though, I want to express my thoughts on one particular genre;
BIG, FAT, BONE-RATTLING, FUNK.

There are many sub-genres within funk. I want to focus on the nasty stuff from the early 1970s through the early 1980s.

Full disclosure: On the outside, I am very white. An Irish-American former New York police officer. About as far from Rick James as a person can get.  However, funk is all about the feeling.  It’s inside you. I feel I am qualified to write a few words on the subject because
A) I have yet to meet a person who owns more funk CDs and vinyl than I. They number in the thousands.  You, the reader, may indeed have more, and if so, I can only hope we will meet someday.
B) I can name a whole lot of folks who have been members of Parliament/Funkadelic, and not just the obvious ones.
C) I am well aware that the Commodores could bring some of the ugliest (in a good way) funk to ever fill a wax groove, yet most of the world knows them for the syrupy ballads. I still own my original 45rpm single of “Machine Gun”, and it is in mint condition.
D) I have been retweeted by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Freekbass.

I also will not be trying to gain false credibility by peppering this blog with terms like “thang”, “dat”, and “y’all”. I feel the funk, but I don’t really write the funk.  To do so would be disingenuous.

Over the past 25 years or so, I have heard very little “new” funk of the type I like, the aforementioned Freekbass being a notable exception. Not sure why this great musical monster has all but vanished, but I hope that somewhere, some kids are listening to the classics and putting their own spin on them.

For those kids, I humbly offer a few tips on what would get this funk lover (and countless others) to give their songs/albums a listen.

What follows is a bit of goofy fun, but is also oddly true. So, let’s get “on the one”, shall we?

SONG TITLES. Featuring some of the following in your song names, would have me greedily snatching up your music:

Use parentheses. A song title that follows this theme: “This is our song (but this is what you probably call it)” is pure gold.

Toss in a title that ends in “A-Zoid” or “Zilla”.

Mention creatures such as worms, maggots, birds, mice and dogs.

Use the wonderful apostrophe. Movin’ – not Moving.

Exxtra letters are funkalicious. Toss in a “Bbam” or a “Ffloor”. Bonus points for multiple Z and X use. “Foxxy” tops “Foxy”, and the triple X “Foxxxy” is the nastiest of all.

Name a dance after your song.

Have a part 1 and part 2. Pure brilliance.

Make a song a “Theme From” record. There need not be anything tangible that the theme is actually from.

Toss an abbreviated year in your title. “Mudd Splatter” is not nearly as cool as “Mudd Splatter ’74”

Don’t limit yourself to “funk”. “Fonk”, “Funck” and “Fungk” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Write a song about the tip of an iceberg.

Exhaust all possibilities of outer-space references. Name things after planets, stars, galaxies, basically anything celestial. When you run out of space junk, start on the underwater stuff.

In addition to aliens and aquatic life, fill your record with munchkins, elves, chipmunks, grannies, and clueless, straight, bean-counters. Every creature in your funk world should be able to speak.  The voices will range from the deepest bass to shit only a dog can hear.

The following words are like precious metals: Sticky, Sweaty, Nasty, Greasy, Gooey, Chunky, Fat, Hot, Smoke, Jam, Thump, Stuff, Robot.  Add additional letters as desired.

Instruct your listener to do something.  It can be Dance, Work, Ride, Jump, Hump, or another thousand different things.

Incorporate any variation of traditional Universal Studios monsters into your song/album/band name. Dracula, Frankenstein (or his Bride), Wolfman, or Mummy.

Make a song title one long word. “Can’tgetmyjamoncauseIgotnobread”. Feel free to use that one.

Multiple exclamation points make for bad prose, but hot song titles. Use them!!!

Name a song after a Disney character.

OTHER STUFFF: Wear colorful clothing; from African-inspired garb to Martians on acid – just bring the color! Black cowboys are good too.

Consider donning something along the lines of a long dinosaur tail, big yellow chicken feet, pastel hair and/or a gargantuan hat.

Have a guitarist who sounds like he could comfortably play in a major rock or metal band.

Have a bassist who sounds like he has at least 12 fingers.

Individuals might consider a single, descriptive name.  Bootsy, Sly, and Sugarfoot have already been claimed.

ADVANCED CLASS: Create a large family of side projects.

WHEN YOU HAVE “MADE IT”: Have two identical groups, with all of the same members, recording brilliant albums for two different record labels, under different band names, at the exact same time.

Well, there you have a list of funk tips from a white guy who can’t play a single instrument. You’re welcome.

It is also important to remember that, before anyone was “Gangsta”, they were “Gangster”. The latter term was proudly used in song and album by funky masters such as George Clinton, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and the man who broke down all barriers, Jimi Hendrix. Hell, even Heatwave used “Gangster” in their groove!

Your pallid funkateer (me) knows a little about Gangsters too, and I’ve written a book about them. You can grab a FREE peek, and see some great reviews and big name praise by following the link below. If a book can have the funk, I promise you that Sons of the Pope has it.

It’s on the one.

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357272093&sr=8-2&keywords=sons+of+the+pope

Hey, thanks.

21 Nov

You, my cyber friend, are super-smart. Congrats!

Well, at least you are probably more intelligent than the average person. I once read that people who read blogs regularly are supposed to be in the top 15% of brainiacs or something. I’ll take any positive reinforcement I can get. There is likely some study somewhere that says those who stare at tree bark all day are on the verge of wizardry, so the grain of salt has been swallowed as well.

Regardless, I thank you for stopping by this blog. As I write this, it is the season of Thanks here in the U.S.A., so I’d like to mention something for which I am quite thankful.

Naturally, I am grateful for all the usual suspects: the health and well-being of my children, the contributions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, our brave military, wonderful volunteers the world over etc. I am thankful for all of that every day, as are most of us, so this Thanksgiving I also want express gratitude to some other folks who have enriched my life.

People who actually give a shit.

Now, your list might be different than mine. Doesn’t matter. There is no right or wrong answer.

Do you know when you read a book, listen to an album, or watch a movie or TV show and you just know that those involved really gave it their all? You can tell, right in your gut, that they covered all the angles, sweated the details, hashed out all the minutiae (even if they hashed it out internally – losing sleep in the process).

I want to thank all of those people for having the pride and determination to not cut corners, hurry through the process, or simply rush out product.

As your list is possibly flowing through your above-average brain and hopefully giving you some happy thoughts, here’s part of mine:

Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Ben Foster, and the entire cast and crews of Dexter, Breaking Bad, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Also, everyone involved in The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

There are more, but since statistics show how smart you are, you are also more likely to bore easily, and if I’m nearly as smart as you, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of that.

I would love to know if any of my list overlaps with your own.

These folks have brought me such joy over the years, and I have such confidence in their genius and work ethic, that just the thought of any of them can bring a smile to my face. Yes, most of them have had some lesser moments, but probably not from lack of effort. Perfection seems impossible to me, but the goal of it should be what drives us all.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I knew kids who were always under the spell, and the hoods, of their cars. I was never much good with my hands (other than in sports), but these kids – wow! For every minute I saw them actually driving their cars, there was an hour of me seeing them under them, feet protruding, then emerging smelling like pit row.

They weren’t millionaires, award-winning novelists, or musical geniuses.

They were giving it their all, busting their asses, and striving for perfection.

I thank them.

I thank the kid who stays in the batting cage after hours because, though he has almost mastered the line drive, he can’t get that bunt to hug the line.

The landscaper who angered his buddies in the truck because he went back for the ladder at the last minute to even out that misshapen palm tree?

Thank you.

Though I don’t pretend to be Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury, I do strive to be like those Brooklyn kids under their cars, and the proud landscaper, when it comes to the stories and novels I write. I can’t guarantee that you would like them, but I can unequivocally promise that I put everything I had into them.

Here’s what both encouraged me and knocked me silly: My first full length work, a 5 decade Brooklyn suspense novel called Sons of the Pope, was published by a wonderful indie house called Blood Bound Books. It became their fastest and biggest seller ever. No, not Stephen King numbers. Probably didn’t sell what one of his does during his lunch break, but it did mean that someone liked it. My hard work had paid off – not in dollars – but in the fact that I brought people – complete strangers – enjoyment!

Here’s where I nearly hit the tiles: Some of the folks who praised my book include writers and directors behind Dexter (yes, one of the shows mentioned above as my idea of brilliance), True Blood, the V.C. Andrews novels, Nurse Jackie, Sleepy Hollow, the Donovan Creed novels, Rectify, Red Widow, Unspeakable, Terrified, Only Son, Sister Sister, and The Devil’s Advocate. I even got a 5 star review from Rock Over America! To a frustrated musician like me, who can’t play a lick, having a music magazine review a book was more than I could ask for.

A man who has sold over 100 million novels, Andrew Neiderman, said, in writing, that my career was one to watch.

Whaaaaaat?

John Locke, who was the first author to sell over one million self-published e-books, actually ran an online contest for his readers to win copies of Sons of the Pope. My book!

Double Whaaaaaat?

Me – a kid from Brooklyn, who had lost both parents by the time he was seven years old, and all grandparents by the time he was eleven – had somehow, in some odd quest for that perfection we can never grasp, managed to receive kudos from some of the most talented people in the world.

Dean Koontz – Dean Freaking Koontz – recently sent me a note saying he was going to be reading my short story, The Binding, from the anthology, Blood Rites, because an Amazon review compared it to his writing.

No matter what happens from here on out, I will always have that note. For that, I am thankful.

To you, the reader of this (probably overly long) blog post, I am just as thankful. You could have been doing any number of things, from reading one of those books from the cast of Jersey Shore, to working on a cure for Arachibutyrophobia* (if you don’t have to Google that, you’ve just joined the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock on my Awe List).

So then, I am thankful to you, dear blog reader. I am thankful for anyone who bought, borrowed or read any of my books or stories. I am thankful to those well-respected creative types who’ve had kind words for my work, and I am thankful to those, on my list and yours, who really, really care about the work they do.

If you celebrate it, please have a wonderful and HAPPY THANKSGIVING! If you don’t, just have a joyous and uplifting NEXT THURSDAY!

* Arachibutyrophobia – Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.

Books, albums, and DVD/Blu-rays have always been my favorite holiday gifts.

My AMAZON author page: http://www.amazon.com/Daniel-OConnor/e/B00B7N4USM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1359501792&sr=8-3

http://www.amazon.com/Sons-of-the-Pope-ebook/dp/B00ALI11WM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1377620004

Amazon 4.9 stars
Goodreads 4.4 stars

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