Tag Archives: Dexter

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, 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 imagine 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.

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

Four Dark Passengers on the Set of DEXTER

21 Aug

“I’ve never been around so many people who made me feel normal.”

The Showtime television series Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. To over-simplify, the show is about a sociopathic serial killer who happens to be a blood spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department.  We like him because he has fought mightily to harness his murderous urges, and uses his secret burden to rid the world of those who’ve killed the innocent. To say our family are fans of this show would be a gross understatement. We watch it, re-watch it, look for minutia in the background, freeze it, quote it, add our own would-be lines to it, play the board game, buy the Blu-rays, oh, and you might find more than one character bobble-head in our home.

How then, are we to act in a dignified manner when we are somehow invited onto the set of television’s greatest drama? It seems my wife, our two daughters and I have these dark passengers inside us that we can’t fully reveal to the cast and crew, lest they think we are insanely annoying or annoyingly insane.

I have a buddy named Romeo. He has worked on Dexter since day one as Director of Photography. He also directs several episodes of this and many other shows. In fact, he is now more often than not, a director instead of a DP. He’s ridiculously great at both.

Full disclosure: Our family didn’t watch Dexter from the beginning. When I heard my friend (with whom, many years ago, I made a sort of student film – with me mostly writing and him mostly directing) had directed an episode, I finally ordered Showtime and tuned in. I didn’t know what to expect, other than a show that I knew would LOOK fantastic, since Romeo was in charge of that aspect. I watched the episode. Then watched it again. Then I gathered the family around to watch it once more.

Since we hate to see things out of order, we quickly bought what we had missed and caught up to speed the right way. Yeah, the show LOOKED great, as we knew it would, but the writing – holy F-bomb – was fantastic. As was the acting, directing, editing and everything else. It was, and is, a perfect storm of creative and talented minds.

“I just know there’s something dark in me and I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it, but it’s there always, this Dark Passenger.”

We had been to the set once before. On August 17, 2011 we were invited to the interior sets at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. It was for an episode from season 6 called “Sin of Omission” – directed by Ernest Dickerson. Romeo was DP. I won’t break down the characters for those who haven’t seen the show, but we watched them film a scene that featured Dexter, Deb, Jamie and Harrison, in Dexter’s apartment. We also toured the rest of the sets including the police station, Deb’s beachfront home and the church of the Doomsday Killer.

We talked with Romeo, took some pictures, spoke a bit with Mr. Dickerson (who was very nice to us), but mostly we remained silent. Our daughters, and the eldest’s boyfriend, had been instructed to speak only if spoken to, and to not embarrass our host in any way, or make him regret inviting us. Call it our “Code”.

So yes, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter were just a few feet away, but we let them be.

Last Friday, August 17, 2012 (one year to the day from our prior visit), we found ourselves back on the set of Dexter for an episode  from season 7. Things were about to be taken up a notch.

“I have no idea what Hammer Time is. Or how it differs from regular time.”
I gave the speech again, to my wife, the girls, and my own dark passenger: The Code: “Stay cool. Keep your mouth shut. Politely answer if spoken to. Stay out of everyone’s way.”
This was going to be a location shoot in Long Beach, where most of Dexter’s “Miami” shots are filmed. We were going to watch them film a scene at a beachfront cafe. Everyone was ready to be outwardly stoic, despite what raged within us. If Dexter can do it, why can’t we?
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
Let me write that one again:
“IF YOU GUYS CAN HANG AROUND A FEW HOURS, WE CAN PUT YOU IN THE SCENE.”
That is what Romeo said upon greeting us at the location entrance.
Four dark passengers were now tearing to get out of our bodies and go to hair and makeup as we politely said “Yes, that would be great, Romeo!”
The scene would feature Dexter, Deb, Jamie, Harrison, Astor, Cody, and…BATISTA! Plus some police extras, a few girls in bikinis, waitresses, and now – US.
Even more exciting, it seems that the shot OPENS with our family being seated at our table by a waitress before the camera focuses on Dexter’s family. We also seem to be in view behind the main action as we peruse our menus and mouth our orders to the waitress. We shot the scene maybe six or seven times and Dexter and Astor then walked right by us each time, to conclude that take.
Before shooting started, we met the wardrobe woman, who gave the girls different shirts to wear, for a variety of production reasons. I was able to keep my own clothes on. Then we chatted with Romeo as we sat at our assigned table. I asked about our fee to appear in the episode. We settled on the four of us getting equal shares of $0.00. Suddenly, my oldest daughter Kelly was tapping my arm like crazy. David Zayas (Batista) had made his way to the patio location. I laughed and told her to calm her dark passenger, but Romeo had seen her excitement and headed over toward the actor. In an instant, Mr. Zayas was at our table chatting with us! Romeo took the opportunity to snap some pictures and a couple of dreams had come true just like that.
The filming soon began and we did our little routine a half-dozen times over the course of an hour or two. None of us tripped, broke a chair, looked at the cameras, sneezed, or did anything to ruin the production, or waste the time of the cast and crew.
SUCCESS!
After our little bit was complete, the extras were being taken to the holding pen (Isn’t Hollywood glamorous?), but Romeo saved us from that and told us we could hang around a tiny production tent that wasn’t any larger than a small bedroom. It was where he would watch the shooting from some monitors and yell “Cut” and all that good stuff. As we walked in, we noticed The Chairs. You know the standard set chairs with the names printed on them. There they were, the empty seats that read: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Aimee Garcia, etc.
“Okay, we’re not sitting in any of those,” I thought – or said. Or thought and said.
“Please sit,” said David Zayas, as he appeared behind us, “Sit anyplace. If you DON’T sit in my chair I’ll be insulted.”
Kelly happily sat in his chair. I think our youngest, Jen, grabbed a more generic seat labeled “Cast”. My wife Joanne and I stood. Our dark passengers wanted to sit in Dexter and Deb’s seats. We were able to spend some more quality time with our friend Romeo in the tent between setups. Mr. Zayas hung around talking with all of us for almost the whole time we were there. We talked about actual police careers (both his and mine), he talked to the girls about school, we talked a bit about the show, but we all remained relatively calm on the outside. Then Jennifer Carpenter showed up. She quietly sat down with a novel, just a few feet from us. I looked at everyone, but they knew: “Leave her alone”.
We continued talking with Romeo and Mr. Zayas. Kelly was discussing her college education, forensic psychology and the fictional work done on Dexter when Ms. Carpenter put her book down and joined the conversation! The “Speak when spoken to” code had been adhered to and accomplished. She poked fun at the fictional aspect of the show and the complaints she sometimes gets from real-life “experts”. “We’re not making a documentary!” was her answer to them. She kidded us that we had just been in a “thrilling” scene (since it included no real action or murder). I told her we thought it was great anyway, even if it didn’t contain any of Deb’s famous F-bombs. “I tried to squeeze an ‘ass’ in there,” she laughed.
Next up was Aimee Garcia, who plays Batista’s sister, and Harrison’s babysitter, Jamie.
What a doll.
She acted as if we were all friends, laughing and joking, telling Jen to Tweet her and promising to answer the Tweet (both happened later that day). When Aimee left, she hugged us all. Such a nice girl.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Dexter himself. What about Michael C. Hall?
“I killed my brother. I killed yours, too.”
Let’s flash back one year to when we visited the interior sets. We were standing around with Romeo and some of the crew watching playbacks. Mr. Hall was approaching with a bowl of soup in his hand. As if in character as Dexter Morgan, he spotted a few strangers (us) and did an abrupt about-face, retreating with his soup. We didn’t mind, as we were not going to bother him anyway, adhering to our rules – but we found it very “Dexter”-like in a charming way.
Now, this time, he came walking toward the tent, another bowl of soup, saw us again, and did the same about-face.
Priceless.
We laughed and mentioned it to some of the cast and crew. They also found it funny, but assured us that he is a great guy, but very quiet.
“He treats us the same way. It’s just Michael,” smiled one prominent cast member.
The girls felt comfortable enough to tell Ms. Carpenter that they used to know a real girl named Emily Rose (the title character in a Jennifer Carpenter film about an exorcism). Her response? “That’s creepy. Are you still friends or did you dump her?” They asked me if it might be all right to ask for a picture with the actress. I thought about it and it seemed as though it wouldn’t be much of an imposition considering they were joking and there was no work going on at the time. I said “OK” and then Ms. Carpenter said the same before they even finished asking the question. She was very nice and took a great, smiling photo with our daughters.
A short while later, we made some real progress as Michael C. Hall approached the tent. He was still carrying soup. He saw us. His chair was empty and Jennifer Carpenter was seated in hers, right beside it.
He walked into the tent!
He sat beside his co-star and began talking with her. We didn’t look his way or try to get his attention. There were four dark passengers who were screaming to meet, compliment and maybe take a picture with their favorite TV star in the whole world, but we held them in check. It was almost beyond comprehension that we were on the set, in an actual damned scene on Dexter, and talking with some of our favorite stars, – not to mention hanging with one of our old friends – we needn’t push the envelope by breaking The Code. If we did anything to embarrass Romeo or have him regret inviting us, I’d never forgive myself and would have wished we’d never shown up.
We did make some very real progress. Michael C. Hall had become comfortable enough with the four quiet strangers to see us and still walk into the tent with his bowl of soup. Maybe we’ll meet him again someday, down the road.
Now, I am not Jeff Lindsay, author of the original Dexter novels, nor am I part of Ernest Hemingway’s family, as the talented Mr. Lindsay is. But I have written a novel that is to be published in December. It is called Sons of the Pope and you can read about it, if you desire, in earlier posts on this blog.
There is that old saying, “THE BOOK IS BETTER”. In most cases that is true. But when a team is assembled that has the talent, drive and creativity of Showtime’s Dexter, that doesn’t have to be the case. The production can be at least as good as the book.
The dark passenger inside me has a plan that includes doing everything I can to have a filmed version of my novel (be it as a series or movie) not only come to fruition, but be of the quality, and have the integrity of Dexter.
As I stood with my family, prepared to do another take of being seated by the waitress, Dexter Director Romeo came up and said “Sons of the Pope has some scenes in Florida. We could shoot them right here in Long Beach.”
“For the first time, I feel that the future might hold something different for me. It’s possible I’m just fooling myself, but I’m willing to take the risk.”
*All bold quotes are by Dexter Morgan.

TOP: Our family with David Zayas at our cafe table scene.
BOTTOM LEFT: Our girls with Jennifer Carpenter.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Me with director Romeo Tirone.