Thinking, thinking, thinking, always thinking on my 20-minute walk to the clubhouse gym each day and the same on my return trip. On what do I cogitate? The stimulating banter at the gym as we go through our own exercise routines? What else? Heck, without the chit chat, we old geezers would be bored to death. Fortunately, we all have years and years of living experience and so never run out of topics.
Some topics are mundane, and some are profound. As an amateur scribe, I relish these discussions as fodder for my writing grist mill. The following piece resulted from a take-away from the gym: this one a somewhat heated discussion about bagels, of all things. There were some strong opinions, especially on where to buy the best bagels in the Atlanta area, and each bagel lover had his own bagel “story.” On the walk home that day, I began structuring my own bagel story from the past. The completed piece follows.
The Great Bagel Caper by Octo G. Enario
Vito Brazzi was one of the most feared teenagers around. This guy was strong and fearless. Nobody crossed him without risking peril. Vito acted as the “enforcer” for the Ditmas Dukes, one of the toughest gangs in Brooklyn during the 1950s. And yet, Vito was fair and had a softer side, fortunately for me.
I knew Vito only by sight and by reputation throughout my youth. In my late teens, my best friend Kirk became a close pal of Vito’s. This was an unlikely relationship what with Vito being an Italian American greaser and Kirk a blond, Nordic, California surfer type. Their mutual attraction might have developed because they both were fearless with dominant personalities and innate leadership skills. As Kirk’s buddy, I was drawn into a tangential relationship with Vito.
Hanging out with the guys was our favorite pastime in our late teens. We roamed all over the neighborhoods late into the night, looking for “action.” We never really found “action” but reveled in the constant pursuit of it (go figure). My set of friends consisted of wannabe tough greasers, but in truth, were goody two-shoes (I refuse to use the word wimps). We dressed and acted like greasers, but this was only an affectation. On occasion, we might think about crossing over the line of the law, talk about it a lot, but rarely if ever crossed it. If we did cross over, it was to commit minor offences (what’s below a misdemeanor?). The Ditmas Dukes, on the other hand, were real “gangsters.” They dressed like greasers and acted like greasers. While my buddies experienced rumbles in the stomach from eating too much cake, the Dukes actually fought in them, and Vito was one of their main weapons.
The scenario is now set for the great bagel caper. It is post-midnight, after my pals and I had searched for action all Saturday evening. It had been a good search, and most of us were satisfied with the evening. On the last leg of our adventure that early morning, we walked past a luncheonette that was getting its early morning delivery of fresh hot bagels. The restaurant was not scheduled to be open for a few more hours and could not take delivery immediately of the 5-dozen bagels wrapped in a giant brown paper bag. For practicality and because this was the custom back then, the bagel delivery van driver just left the hot bagels at the door-well of the shop.
As we walked by, I commented aloud that hey, anybody could just snatch the bagels—in my mind, just a theoretical observation. The bagel delivery men in the van lingered in the vicinity, wary of the group of teenagers passing so near to their precious delivery just sitting there unprotected. Their concern was heightened even further by my loud comment about how easy it would be to steal the bagels. At that moment, all the action seemed to move into slow motion, with us drifting down the street and the delivery van watching on high alert.
One of the players in the scenario broke out of slow motion and began to operate in real time. The bold and fearless Kirk, the unofficial leader of our pack, ran back and quickly snatched the bagels and rejoined us. We were dumfounded by his bold act. The theoretical had turned into reality. It was exhilarating, but mostly scary.
Unbeknownst to us, the delivery men were watching the robbery unfold and started chasing us in their van. Instinctively we all scattered in different directions. The ploy worked and each of us escaped safely.
Later we all drifted back to the route leading to our neighborhood, Kirk with the booty in hand. By this time, we thought the men in the van surely had given up the chase. As we walked along in triumph, we met Vito Brazzi and his buddy coming towards us. Kirk greeted him warmly and asked the guys if they wanted some nice hot bagels. They were pleased and walked away contentedly chomping on their half dozen bagels. We continued on to my house.
Although it was about 2 a.m., the lights in my house were on, and I found my mother still awake watching an old movie on television. My mother was always very sociable and welcoming and enjoyed hosting visitors at any hour. She was delighted that my pals were visiting and that they had brought tasty, hot bagels. She put on the coffee and set the table with cups, plates, and silverware and brought out the butter and the cream cheese. We feasted on the booty (we never told Mom where we got them) in the comfort of my hospitable home, really pleased with ourselves.
Two days passed and the incident receded into history. But did it? One evening as our group gathered, Kirk told us that there was more to the story. It seems that after we left Vito Brazzi walking down the street, eating his bagels, he was spotted by the bagel men who had not given up the chase as we had thought. The van pulled up to Vito and his friend as they were eating their bagels, and the men jumped out with tire irons in hand, ready for a confrontation. They grabbed the two teens, rammed them up against the van, accused them of stealing the bagels, and threatened to call the police. Of course, Vito denied the accusation. When he began to resist the manhandling, a scuffle broke out; the police arrived, and Vito and his friend were taken to jail.
As we listened to Kirk tell this story, we started to realize that if Vito had ratted us out to save his own skin, we would be in big trouble. Our little group spent the next few days worrying about going to jail. A week later, Kirk gave us an update. Yes, innocent Vito had spent the night in jail. However, he was released because the evidence against him was too thin, but he never disclosed our guilt. He respected the greasers’ code of silence. Our apprehension levels dropped to zero. He was our hero.
But then it occurred to us that Vito experienced a lot of discomfort that night, which we caused. Vito was pretty big, pretty strong and really tough. He might be somewhat irked and might want to seek revenge on the group that caused him so much trouble. We spent another week worrying and looking over our shoulders, waiting for just retribution. Kirk again relayed the latest update in the affair: Vito was not going to take any action against us. While annoyed, he did not think his experience to be so bad. He shook off the incident and all went back to normal in our neighborhood.
To this day, I think about the guilty ones sitting around eating warm bagels in comfortable surroundings, as innocent Vito sat in a cold, uncomfortable jail after a fight with two men. Somehow, because of Vito’s honor and munificence, we came out unscathed. Brava omerta!