A Novel About the Life and Times of the Marvelous Congressman Vito Marcantonio.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
These are a few short excerpts from my long novel "The Goodfather." The opening two posts are the book's first two chapters. After that they jump ahead, giving samples of the novel's various flavors while maintaining the narrative chronology.
Some chapters are linked to historical events covered at "marcantoniana" to demonstrate how fiction "does" history, so to speak.
This opening (Now) chapter imagines the beating and murder of Republican operative Joseph Scottoriggio. The (Now) chapters cover the Marcantonio's demise from Election Day 1946 to his death in the early 1950s. It
was the nether hour between daylight and dark.
in His way, He had built the home she lived in. But that was then and
this was now.
"Election Day" by Ralph Fasanella
alarm clock tried to help them. Didn't go off. Still, Cecilia
Scottoriggio's husband Joe dressed in a rush and stepped out the door
at around 5:45 a.m. She opened the window and looked down ten
was early November. Wind off the East River whipped around the
tenement rows on the waterfront. Blasted through the treeless gaps.
Street lanterns were still on, but there was enough morning light so
that she could see her man. Joe stepped out and crossed the corner at
the East River Housing Project was an improvement over the dump they
left behind. Sure, He made it possible with His power. But that was
then and this was now.
now, big Joe Scottoriggio was weighted down with voting machines and
a list of peoples' names he would challenge when they came to vote.
To vote for Him.
Joe knew they would come because he was once like them. Counted on to
vote every two years without fail. Counted on in the same way you
counted on the mail coming twice a day.
that was then and this was now.
was the same nether hour when, just like that, two men in suits and
fedora hats came up behind Joe who did not know.
wore the uniform of a familiar local type. A soft-shoed army of fear
merchants. A cry came up in Cecilia's chest, but they were faster
than sound. Before she could get it out one of them hit Joe.
never saw it coming.
big accountant fell to the ground; a skyscraper blasted at the base,
keeling instead of crumbling. His head hit concrete hard. They could
have stopped, the point made, mission accomplished.
Cecilia's cry broke
free, but ran into the hand at her mouth. The shadows spit two more
men into the street. They punched and kicked Joe without mercy.
hand dropped. Her voice flew downward through losing darkness. Mrs.
Scottoriggio was drowned out by a foghorn on the water, the first
cars in traffic, the slamming of a delivery truck door.
beating went on.
-- "Scotty" his friends called him -- he knew the risks.
The game was slumtown politics. There were bad people involved.
Useful ones. But the ambush came too fast, froze him defenseless. Now
he was a slab of meet on the slaughterhouse floor, every blast landing
with full fury.
saw a man run from the scene. New York was a crowded city. There was
always a witness, although getting them to gab was a separate
was over in a minute. The skunks fled. Joe rolled over, spread and
sprawled, a thick, black X herky-jerky on the blue morning sidewalk.
Cecilia watched her husband tremble on concrete and tar. The voting
machines were all over the place. Wind pushed the election cards like
stars around a cooling sun.
reached into her heart for a great bellow of grief. But the heart was
ruptured and you, you could not repair it.
the Samaritans stepped onto the scene, before the hospital, and the
police, and bigwigs of the state Republican Party became actors in
the tragic play that was now Cecilia Scottoriggio's life, a thought
entered her mind: He had done it. Yeah. He and His people and His
power had done Joe in because Joe had been strong and stood up to
Him, to them, to this whole stinking slum of an East Harlem and the
rats the city counted as citizens in the census.
This first (Then) chapter examining Marcantonio's early life and development features an introduction to the fictional neighborhood ally, and important character to the story, Rosina Fortunato.
Rosina watches 112th Street go by from her first floor window. She
watches the most crowded neighborhood in New York City pass. And that
is saying something. It
is late afternoon. Tired men and women are returning from work all
over town. And
she knows some of them. The men who line up with her father outside
the brewery gates at 91st Street and Second Avenue early every
morning. She can pick out some faces riding The El a block away, pale
with sunlight cut by shadows spit all about by the great mechanical
metropolis that already drives the pulses in her. They
are mostly like her, these people; Italians from here and from there.
Although she already knows that they don't know from that down below
96th Street. After that it's just Italians and nobody cares from
where or here. You
have Il Corso up on 116th Street and that is special
with all the tailor shops, doctors, and social clubs. After that it's
all the same. All the streets just like hers, filled with peasants
working to sprout roots in the concrete. Peasants
with peasant ways from Sicily and Calabria, Puglia. Old people from
an old country they never really left. Their science is superstition.
Their politics a two-bit tip: Bada alle cose tue. Mind
your own business. There
are no trees on 112th. The scratch of tarmac was drawn with a ruler
connecting East River docks on one side of Manhattan with Hudson
River berths over on the other. At
these docks, boats dump all that gold into trucks. Gangsters with
gats gather and lord it over. The streets connecting the docklands
funnel them into the neighborhood. They thunder past Rosina's window
towing it all to other places. No
trees, but it's a warm spring twilight, the smell of green from
somewhere pulls her out over the windowsill to look down the
sees that boy from up the street sitting on a little machine. It is a
revelation this machine. It has a large wheel with pedals the little
boy is pumping like pistons on a locomotive of the New York Central.
Nona calls her from over by the stove, tough with the little girl. It
is red, the machine, and moves the boy from the building to the
street curb and so forth. He runs it through a shallow puddle and the
black water makes wet circles on the sidewalk. A
vegetable vendor closes up his cart. He looks like a rickshaw-pulling
Chinese coolie, except he's pushing. A cloud of flies stays behind.
But that is nothing new. The machine is new. The
little boy is a revelation, too. He
is wearing shorts and knee socks and ankle boots a blue sweater. A
collar cut like a flower rings his neck. He is pale, this boy, hair
black and eyes, too. Like the dots on a domino. He has the Roman nose
you, you often see on these streets. He
owns the sidewalk, this kid. Forces people passing to change
direction. And they know him back. "Vito,"
says one and the boy answers with a command, "Move ovah!" "Vito!"
you hear another one bellyache as he jumps out of the boy's way. Nona
comes to the window. She knows what her granddaughter wants to know.
She tells her that's a tricycle. As for the boy, he's Vito
the son of Samerio. The carpenter who goes by the name Samuel for the
sake of his business. To fit in. "His
father, the boy's grandfather, came from Picerno. In Basilicata. A
few years ago, he took Samerio back there and Samerio returned with
his bride, Angiola. A year later the boy was born." "E
como un principe," says the
little girl. "Si,"
Nona says, "like a little prince." She goes back to the
spoiled like one, too."
This brief (Now)chapter is one of a series dramatizing a House committee's investigation into the Scottoriggio murder. It is drawn from the FBI's files on Marcantonio. These are available thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. Barker
moves on. Another article about a young kid and a run-in with the
poor boy," Vito calls him before stopping in mid-sentence,
repulsed by this persecution of luckless bottom feeders. He has had
I say this: People come to me for help. People who are not in trouble
do not come to you for help. The people who come to you for help are
the people in trouble, and if anybody is in need of help, and if he
can, in a legitimate manner, be helped, such as offering free legal
counsel or anything like that, I have done it and I am going to
continue doing it. I am going to help everybody and anybody who comes
to me to help him in a legitimate manner."
investigators hear something you can't fault in the man. Barker is
embarrassed with the plumbing job he has been dispatched by Southern
Gentlemen to do. "That is the point that is before this
committee,” The Congressman went on. "Whether this election of
Vito Marcantonio, accepting their charges against me - the hoodlum,
the gangster, the gorilla, the Communist and this and that and
whatever they say of me - whether or not I was elected by a free
you have an election where more people voted on the basis of
registration in my district than in any other congressional district.
You have a registration where there is a smaller falling off from the
1944 presidential year, in my district, than in any other district.
You have a situation where, despite all of these wild charges that
have been made against me, granting them all, there is still not a
charge that any single voter, in his right to vote freely and
secretly, has been intimidated. You also have the physical facts that
people came out to vote. The people did vote and their secrecy was
guaranteed. How can you get around that? Nobody questions the count."
“There has been no charge on that?”
Marc: "No, I won by 6,500 hundred votes. I say that you have no
In this (Now) chapter the novel imagines a meeting between Marc and certain familiar characters of the besieged American left as they tried to deal with the witch hunt of communists orchestrated by Sen. "Tailgunner" Joe McCarthy (R-Wis). The
Coppola business got a big bang. Marc took the hit and pressed on
with his long harangues in the House followed by votes mostly for
losing causes now.
pressed behind the scenes for relief from the investigations hounding
him but Marc's ideas were very different from his colleagues. His
high-minded hectoring had scored him many political points over the
years and made just as many enemies.
was not bored. There were attacks. Jabs and counterpunches were
needed on all sides. Marc marshaled them.
Anna Damon's apartment Marc pow-wowed with John Abt a big fish
communist. The writer Dorothy Parker was there and, Heywood Broun the
reporter who got up the Newspaper Guild to squeeze the New York press
were talking Hollywood Ten screenwriters on their way to federal
prison for not making nice with the House UnAmerican Activities
Committee. The scribes went and got Constitutional and what have you instead
of following a script written by someone else.
sat at the edge of a chair with his hat twirling in his hands. "They
are not nailing them for being communists. They are getting them for
not answering a question when asked."
think it's time to go into hiding," said Parker.
been saying that since World War I started," Broun poked her.
were none of them any good as communists," Damon said. "We
are very disappointed in the work done by party members out in
Hollywood. A few champagne benefits for Spain. They are unreliable
and egotistical, accustomed to their creature comforts."
was bugged. "Anna, you sound like you don't care what happens to
these guys just because they're not good communists."
you must meet me for tea and a chat," said Parker.
flushed radical red. "And what is your concern with these men
are friends and colleagues," Dotty spit. "People I work
with. They are not propaganda tools for me. I need people to drink
with and talk to...or I'll die.”
are good at that I can assure you," Damon told the famous
I should think they make the best kind of communists."
hearts are in the same place yours is," the writer whipped back.
"Theirs just happen to be pumping."
please," Marc growled.
was reasonable. The truth was that none of the Hollywood writers were
"Ed Dmytryk had been out of the party for at
least a year. Andrian Scott never had anything to do with us,"
mean the party has no real stake in what happens to these guys now?"
Marc was steamed. "That the communists are going to abandon them
the same way Hollywood did?"
jumped in. "The bosses are using this to roll back the unions. They
are clearing them out of the most active members and making it hard
to sign new ones. Everybody is heading for the hills on this thing.
They threaten federal prison. Who wouldn't be terrified?"
you should say something, but it should be larger than the writers,"
Abt tried to hit the soothing notes. "You can talk about them.
Their cases are instructive, but make it about the larger picture.
That's the right role for you here."
attack on the committee and its tactics?" Marc tried.
example," Abt nodded.
turned to Heywood Broun. "What do you
I don't care who or what, but attack."
November 24, Marc took to the House well, aimed and fired at the committee.
us look at this picture a moment. The First Amendment to the
Constitution provides that Congress cannot make any law abridging
freedom of speech and of the press. That means that this committee
cannot report out any law, and this Congress cannot pass any law
abridging the freedom of speech or press; and you cannot get around
it by wildly and hysterically charging a political conspiracy.
cannot evade the Constitution no matter how much hysteria, no matter
how much of a smoke screen you raise here. Since you cannot legislate
in any manner that will abridge the freedom of speech or freedom of
the press, you cannot investigate this field. That is exactly what
the situation is here. You are investigating in a field over which
you cannot legislate; consequently the activity of the committee is
in violation of the Constitution."
raised the case of Dalton Trumbo, one of the writers pacing the
plank: "Now let me be more specific, let us examine the very
questions that you asked which this witness refused to answer: One,
as to membership in a labor union; and, two, as to membership in a
political party. Both of those questions inherently involve the
persons right of free speech. You cannot get around that, no matter
what amount of irresponsible charges may be hurled at these
had been at the throat of the Texan Martin Dies since he got his
little roadstand up and used it to pillory union leaders and civil
liberty types back in the thirties. And there was that whole business
with the Federal Theater Project.
Marc knew his enemy.
seems this committee and the Congress, during the last few years,
have taken the position that democracy is synonymous with the rule of
monopoly capital, that democracy is synonymous with everything for
which monopoly capital stands; that anyone who protests against the
rule of monopoly capital, anyone who objects to what has been
transpiring under that rule, anyone who seeks a social and economic
change is subversive. Thus, you have been attempting to make
Americans conform with the patterns of the big trusts. America will
never survive if we place America in that straight jacket.
Speaker, place America in that strait-jacket and we will have the
America of standpatters, we will have the America of the Bourbons and
of the Tories. At least the Bourbons and the Tories of the past did
not use this kind of technique of red-baiting, using the Communist
bogey for the purpose of imposing fascism. It is the weapon employed
to protect the few who benefit from the program of war and
depression. It is a repetition of history. It was done this way in
Germany, it was done this way in Italy, and if I have to be alone
again in Congress, I will cast my votes against it ever happening in
the United States of America."
This post contains a video in which author Stephen Siciliano employs Cab Calloway's "Jive: Page One of the Hepster's Dictionary" as soundtrack to a (Then) chapter celebrating Marc's political lexicon.
Marc ran with Rockwell Kent, hit the streets with Dashiell Hammett,
or spoke at the National Writers Conference, he played it humble when
it came to the arts, the complex thought even. He told them he was a
simple people's politician.
he read plenty and lived a lot and, when you saw him now, you did not
think of him as being young anymore. That was a long time past,
really. The Marc was a man who had a story to tell. Or many.
the song he sang was not of himself. The aria he sang was of East
Harlem and his people there. He used the tools of Theodore Dreiser
and the research of Jacob Riis. You heard the voices of Goldoni and
Pietro Di Donato in this tale of a riverside tenement world he told
an August 3, 1939 House session, he rose to speak in support of a
slum clearance and public housing bill and he was an soaring
saxophone on a steamy evening.
into my district on a hot summer nightand see American babies
sleeping on the fire escapes, gasping for air. I am sure if you saw
that sight you would forget playing politics with human misery. Stand
on the sidewalks of New York with the people who dwell in the slums
when the siren of the fire truck is heard, and watch their faces,
observe their eyes filling with fear, and see them wonder as to which
relative, whose brother, whose sister, whose mother, whose child is
going to be the next victim on the funeral pyre of a slum fire. I say
this because these sights, and these sights alone, could stop this
disgusting political game that is being played here, with human
beings as pawns.
bill is not pump priming. It is the inexorable next step in the march
of human progress. All we ask by this bill is not prosperity, not
leisure, but to give our young Americans their share of air and
sunlight with which God has endowed our nation."
Performed at the Cornelia Street Café, New York City.