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.


Stephen Siciliano

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

(Now) Election Day (1946)

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.

Sure, in His way, He had built the home she lived in. But that was then and this was now.

"Election Day" by Ralph Fasanella
The 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 stories.

First Avenue.

It 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 104th Street.

Sure, 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.
And 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.

And 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.

But that was then and this was now.


It was the same nether hour when, just like that, two men in suits and fedora hats came up behind Joe who did not know.

They 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.

He never saw it coming.

The 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.

But they didn't.

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.

The 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.

The beating went on.

Joe -- "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.

Cecilia 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 business.

It 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 confetti. 

Dark stars around a cooling sun.

She reached into her heart for a great bellow of grief. But the heart was ruptured and you, you could not repair it. 

Before 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.

But that was then and this was now.

(Then) The Spoiled Boy (1908)

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.

Little 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.

The 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 sidewalk.

She 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.

"Rosina," 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 Marcantonio.

"He's 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 stove.

"And spoiled like one, too." 

(Now) "I Say That You Have No Case" (Dec. 1946)

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 law.

"This poor boy," Vito calls him before stopping in mid-sentence, repulsed by this persecution of luckless bottom feeders. He has had enough.

“May 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."

The 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 election.

"Here 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."

Barker: “There has been no charge on that?”

The Marc: "No, I won by 6,500 hundred votes. I say that you have no case."

(Now) The Hollywood Ten (Nov. 1947)

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.
He 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.
He was not bored. There were attacks. Jabs and counterpunches were needed on all sides. Marc marshaled them. 

At 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 barons.    
They 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.    
Vito 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."
"I think it's time to go into hiding," said Parker.
"You've been saying that since World War I started," Broun poked her.
"They 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." 
Marc was bugged. "Anna, you sound like you don't care what happens to these guys just because they're not good communists."
"Congressman, you must meet me for tea and a chat," said Parker.  
Damon flushed radical red. "And what is your concern with these men Dorothy?"  
Dorothy Parker
"They 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.”
"They are good at that I can assure you," Damon told the famous writer.
"Then I should think they make the best kind of communists."
"But they don't."
"Their hearts are in the same place yours is," the writer whipped back. "Theirs just happen to be pumping."
"Ladies, please," Marc growled.
Abt was reasonable. The truth was that none of the Hollywood writers were communists anymore.   
John Abt.
"Ed Dmytryk had been out of the party for at least a year. Andrian Scott never had anything to do with us," he said.
"You 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?"
Broun 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?"
"Congressman, 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."
"An attack on the committee and its tactics?" Marc tried.
"For example," Abt nodded.
Vito turned to Heywood Broun. "What do you
Heywood Broun.
"Attack. I don't care who or what, but attack."
On November 24, Marc took to the House well, aimed and fired at the committee.
"Let 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.
“You 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."
He 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 witnesses."
Marc 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.
"It 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.

   "Mr. 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."

(Then) The Poetry of Marc (Aug. 3, 1939) (Text and Video)

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.

When 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.

But 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.

But 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 the country.

At 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.

"Go into my district on a hot summer night and 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.

"This 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.