It’s Not HBO, It’s Our Neighborhood

We are slowly working our way through the current season of The Sopranos, about three weeks behind, courtesy of tapes graciously recorded by my father’s golf partner in Long Island and handed off to me in monthly visits with my parents. (“You don’t have ‘On Demand?'” scoffed one of the kids I tutor, upon finding out that my closest access to HBO is two degrees removed from me and outside city limits.)

We know someone huge was whacked last week, but somehow have avoided finding out who. It will be a tremendous relief when the season ends and our obsession with this incredibly well written, well-acted, well-directed highly charged mob drama can dwindle to manageable levels.

However, life tends to overlap with art around here, as we live in an extremely Italian neighborhood that is rumored to be home to several Mafia figures. I have become wary of stereotypes, having met gay men who sleep with women, unassuming math teachers with raging coke habits, yoga-obsessed punk rockers, sixty-year-old pothead Jewish grandmas, and hippies with no love vibes whatsoever. Therefore, I prefer to think that people are legitimate businessmen until proven otherwise, and have been particularly reticent to even entertain the possibility that any of the local businesses are fronts.

So when Rebecca mused that Fortunato Brothers might have a Mafia connection, I was incredulous. Fortunato Brothers is the café down the street where I take my morning espresso. Sometimes I even take it in the morning.

In a world where bars you love sometimes close and the L train sometimes does not run, Fortunato Brothers is an oasis of continuity. On weekdays, the girl who changes her hair color very frequently serves me espresso. On weekends, the very muscular guy serves me espresso. In the evenings, the guy who makes eyes at me and never lets me pay serves me espresso.

There are the other regulars. The guy with the longish hair and flowy pants who always comments on my outfit, but half in Italian so I can’t really understand him. The extremely short man who is about eye level with the counter. The very flirtatious firefighters. The guy with the large collection of incredibly obscene t-shirts displaying an amazing permutation of oral-sex double entendres. The old guy who sits by the double door and tells me which side is locked today and which side I can exit through, and laughs when I push on the wrong side. The fellow who injured his hand in a “hedge-trimming accident.”

Was this neighborhood hub and purveyor of fine coffee, gelati and pastry was nothing but a front for some kind of illegal activity? It pained me to hear of my beloved coffeeshop derided (or exalted, depending on how you look at it) in this sensationalist manner. “You know, Rebecca,” I sniffed, “just because a lot of Italian guys hang out there, and they appear to be of working age but do not have day jobs and yet do not seem to be hipsters with night jobs, and they have expensive cars, and they double-park these expensive cars and then make jokes with the cops that frequent Fortunato Brothers about getting tickets, (“Hey, what are you gonna do, give me a fucking ticket? [Laughter all around]), and they have huge wads of cash in their pockets all the time, does not mean that they are in the Mafia. You watch too much television and have absorbed its defaming cultural stereotypes.”

You can imagine my chagrin when this was the first hit in a Google search of “fortunato brothers mafia.”

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