The movie The Godfather was released when I was in third grade. The morning after I saw it, I announced in school that my father was in the mob. My teacher summoned my mother and confronted her with the lie.
My mom sighed wistfully and said, 'My husband isn't in the mob, but I wish he were. Have you seen the mansion the Fegorettis live in?' The Fegorettis were the only other Italian family in town. Mr. Fegoretti wore sharkskin suits, diamond rings, and worked odd hours. Mrs. Fegoretti had enormous hair and cursed loudly at Little League games.
I was raised in a Waspy suburb renown for its famous architecture and intolerance to anyone who had more than two vowels in their last name. My mother snuck the family into town under cover of her blonde hair, blue eyes, and icy Scandinavian demeanor. And since my Danish mother had beaten any hint of ethnicity out of my Sicilian father, we were accepted into the community.
Things were not so easy for the Fegorettis, who made quick hash out of neighborhood sensibilities by littering the yard of their mansion with religious statues and filling the evening air with the smell of sausage and peppers.
When Mr. Fegoretti was killed in a mobland slaying, Mrs. Fegoretti had a nervous breakdown and we inherited their son Joey. Joey was always in trouble—shoplifting, fighting, dating divorcees—but my parents loved him because he was warm, funny, and he was always giving them expensive kitchen appliances and enormous packages of meat.
Joey, my brothers, and I spent hours watching The Godfather and decided that any circumstance in life could be effectively dealt with by quoting a line from that movie. For example, when my mom would yell at me for giving her guff, I'd say, 'It's not personal, Mom. It's business.' And that would shut her up.
Fast forward to 2004. Joey took me to Vegas and tried to show me a good time by setting me up with a girl. 'I've been trying to nail her, but it turns out she likes broads,' he said. 'So, I'm giving her to you.'
I met the woman for dinner and was shocked to see that she was tastefully dressed and rather prim. I was expecting something along the lines of a prostitute.
'I'm not gay,' she said, 'But I couldn't think of any other way to get rid of Joey. I only went out with him as a novelty. He sent me 10 pounds of steak after our date. Can you believe it?'
Despite my dark, devilish good looks and my last name, I'm not a good representative of the Italian American community. I can't cook, I don't wave my arms wildly when I speak, and I'm not particularly warm and loving. But there was something about the way the woman reduced my beloved Joey to a cultural stereotype that got my Italian up.
So, I turned to The Godfather for a response. But at that moment I could only think of two lines from the movie. And one of them—'No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day'—didn't seem appropriate for the situation.
I threw my napkin down like a gauntlet. 'No one comes to Las Vegas and talks about a man like Moe Green like that!' I exclaimed. Then I marched out of the restaurant, not making eye contact with any pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders—just like a mobster would.