"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Mookie Grillo–How A Down Neck Goomba Won Over The City Of Newark

Errol Impellizieri was a successful businessman who grew up in Newark, had a house in Mantoloking, and was building a “mansion” in Matawan for his wife. No matter where he moved, he was still a Nicky Nork. In Newark if you didn’t have a house in Neptune, you had one at Omaha Beach. If you had a little bit of money, you moved to Mantoloking, your wall-to-walls were a little bit thicker, you had more convertible furniture, but you were still a hot-combed, manicured, goomba with a high-roll collar.

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Errol's father ran a smoke shop in Newark when he was a kid, the kind with girlie magazines in the back behind the cigars. Errol kept his eyes open when he wasn’t whacking off in the can with a copy of Pussy Cat, and learned enough about sales, inventory, customer demand, and product to get him started in the production end of the Jersey porno business. 

He moved up in the porno world, then got Mookie Grillo’s  father – his brother – to bankroll him with some family money. He set up Errol Productions, fronted with a lot of soft porn, but as hard core as you could get in the late 50s. He got into mail order, sex paraphernalia, and rubbers; then built a roofing business which made him a millionaire.

With piece of the profits, Errol had built the Matawan mansion. Out of sentimentality, he fashioned the back patio to look exactly like the Down Neck house he grew up in as a kid. He even bought the back siding and patio storm door from the owner of his old house, laid down a plastic grass carpet, and build a vinyl roof just like Down Neck.

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Errol's oldest child, Flora, went into the roofing business with her father, but they soon began to squabble. He wanted her to be in charge of the Central Jersey operations, but she refused, saying she had had enough of his Nicky Norks when she was growing up, and wanted to try her luck farther south, on the Main Line. Her father gave in, and she took over the Philadelphia office. A few months later she was caught in flagrante with a Maytag sales rep in a motel in Neptune. Her father had heard of her fling and had her followed.

The pictures the private eye had taken of the motel surfaced a week later in the Jersey Journal – Errol was always big news. The paper had juxtaposed a picture of the motel with one of her back patio – the motel in Neptune was a commercial version of her house in Matawan – and basically said “once a guinea, always a guinea”. She had been dévoilée and never made the news again.

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Errol's wife, Angela, never got over it, but rather than sulk, she made it her business to rehabilitate Errol's name. She became involved in charity work and, with Errol's money, worked her way down the Jersey Shore towards Philadelphia. 

By that time Errol had made his millions, and his wife spent more and more of it for good causes. She financed the Angela Errol wing of the Lower Marion Mother of Mercy Hospital, the Angela Errol Pavilion of the Upper Darby Little Sisters of the Poor Convalescent Home; and finally, her goal of acceptance and reconstruction of the family name complete, the Angela Errol Pavilion of the Bryn Mawr Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Fed up with his daughter and his wife, Errol  showered all his attention on his nephew, Mookie, and got him a half-show job at the Newark Redevelopment Authority. He apologized to Mookie for not being able to get him a no-show job. The Authority’s payroll was already stretched because half the people on it were no-shows and no work got done by the other half. Lou Bazano, the Executive Director kept adding no-shows because they kicked back half their salaries directly into his pocket.

After six months of Authority bullshit, Mookie wanted some action, so he and two of his goomba friends from Down Neck, Billy, Harry, and Lou Petrucci, started up their old car dumping business. They got rid of cars down at the port for Nicky Norks who got in debt from too much rococo furniture and needed the insurance money to cover it. They made a few bucks, and it beat hanging out Down Neck.

In recent months, however, there was a space problem. When Mookie got started dumping cars, you could drop them over the side at any pier. Now, it was hard to find a spot. The economy was picking up, Port Newark got more commercial traffic than ever before, and freighters were tied up at half the piers. Goombas from the North Ward had started dumping cars, and the field was getting crowded; and Nicky Norks were using the port instead of the Meadowlands’ to get rid of small shit. Dumping an Olds one night Mookie said he saw three pieces of a bedroom set he lifted off a truck sticking out of the water at Pier 47.

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Some nights you had to drive down to the end of the dock to find a place to get rid of your car. It was dark down there, much of the the wooden planking was rotted out, and it was a long way back, particularly if you had to leave in a hurry. On one night they passed pier after pier with no luck. Fifteen through twenty-five had freighters and tankers tied up. Twenty-six was where the furniture was dumped. Twenty-eight was the goombas’ dump.

“There’s a lot of fish down there”, said Billy.

“Are you crazy? It’s a fucking underwater junkyard”, said Lou.

“It’s the reef effect. I saw it on TV. Dumped cars is like coral reefs after a while. Fish like to hang out there. You could scuba dive”.

“And what do you think you would see? Fucking eels? There ain’t nothing down there but used scumbags and sofas.”

At Pier 31 Mookie could see two cars, the front half of one is hanging off the edge of the pier; the other, a Cadillac, is maneuvering for position to push it into the water. Mookie recognized the car and the driver, another goomba from Down Neck, Joe Fanucci. Fanucci had let his kid brother do the dumping to give him some practice; but the the kid jumped out too soon, knocked the shift lever into reverse on his way out and jammed the transmission solid.

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Fanucci gently nudged the car up to the back bumper of the goofball’s car. “Don’t take its temperature, asshole. Push it!”, yelled Harry.

But the Caddie was not much bigger than the Pontiac, and Fanucci couldn’t move it. His back tires whined and smoked, and splinters from the wooden dock shot out from behind. Lights went on in the Greek freighter docked at the next pier.

While they all stood around thinking, Fanucci went over to the warehouse behind the dock and climbed into a fork lift that was parked near some empty crates of whisky. In a few minutes, he got the engine started and in a cloud of black diesel smoke floated towards us.

Fanucci positioned the fork under the rear bumper, fiddled with the levers in the cab, and gunned the engine. Instead of lifting the rear of the car, the fork swung out from underneath. The lift whirled in a complete circle, the fork slicing towards Andy who jumped like a Cossack to avoid the prongs. Andy went for Fanucci, who shut the door of the cab. “Try it out first, you asshole. Why do you think there’s different levers?”

Fanucci figured out the levers, moved the forklift back into position under the back of the Pontiac, and began to lift. As he did, the car began to slide forward and slowly tip farther over the edge of the pier. When the back wheels were about to go over, Fanucci stopped the lift and hollered, “I can’t go no more. I’ll go over with the fucking car”. The two huge prongs of the fork were too wide for the Pontiac, had gotten impaled on the fenders, and were sticking out like cow horns. The front wheels of the forklift were now off the ground; the front end of the Pontiac half-way down the wall of the pier and suspended over the water.

“Everybody move back”, Fanucci yelled. “I’m jumpin’ out”

The cab of the forklift, however, was perched high up over the engine, and to clear the door-guards and the wheels, Fanucci would have to jump more than four feet sideways. Fanucci was even fatter than Charlie Broglio, who, after Mookie’s uncle had gotten him a job with the Sanitation Department, found he couldn’t fit into the cab of the garbage truck. “He don’t even fit in the truck”, the supervisor said to Mookie’s uncle. “Get him the fuck out of here”.

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Fanucci revved up the engine, opened the cab door, and put the forklift in forward. The Pontiac groaned and whinged as it went over the side, pulling the forklift down on top of it. As both vehicles went down, the rotten guts of Port Newark came floating up – scummy tires, chunks of mattress, slimy, rotten shoes.

The next day, the story of fat Fanucci went around the Housing Authority. By the time it made the rounds and came back again, everything had gotten all twisted. It was not just some goofball’s car that got dumped but a connected guy’s car that Harry had stolen. He had sold it to a Nicky Nork who got cold feet when he found out who it belonged to and paid Fanucci to dump it.

According to the story, it was not Fanucci’s brother who had fucked up the transmission, but some dickhead from Queens who was just visiting him; and when he had told Fanucci that he had done a lot of dumping in his day, he implied bodies not cars even though he had never dumped more than a refrigerator.

Fanucci had been so fixated on setting up a car-dumping pyramid scheme where he would take a cut each time a goofball’s car went over the side and wouldn’t have to do it himself, he didn’t catch the innuendo, and wouldn’t have been impressed if he had. Fanucci had a reputation for dumping live bodies in the river. The cement shoes went on before the goofball was dead.

Besides, the dickhead who wanted in on the car dumping didn’t even have a driver’s license. He had gotten it pulled by the NYPD not only for causing three crashes on the B.Q.E but because his double dickhead uncle tried to fix the citations like they were parking tickets on Mulberry Street. Not that you needed a license to dump cars, Esta Drucker said; and you certainly didn’t need brains if Mookie, Harry, and Andy could do it.

It was all bullshit. If it had been the day after bowling night, none of it would have ever come up.

Mookie was a Down Neck legend – a goomba through and through, a shifty marionette with all the right moves – the no-show job, dumping Caddies at the port, nickel bags in the attic, errands for the silk suits – and soon he was wearing his own Gucci and gabardine.  That’s what was so good about the mob in Newark – they rewarded loyalty and patience.  Mookie missed his old crew; but without him Harry and Andy got caught and sent up.  The Port Authority cracked down on illegal dumping and added patrols to the night watch, and the insurance companies caught on to the scams and started harassing Mookie’s former clients.  It was a new world, the blacks were taking over, and anyone wanting to business in Newark had to learn their way of hustle and muscle; but after one of Alderman Jackson’s biggest rivals was found in the salt marshes of the Meadowlands, Mookie and the guineas were open again for business.

Mookie is well into his eighties now, but still remembered by the old folks.  He spends most of his time in Florida with his grandchildren who know little about his past.  “Better they don’t know”, Mookie said. 

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