Friday, June 6, 2014

"One Degree Of Separation"

Throughout my lifetime, I have made it a point to stay as far away as I can from the Mafia.

(NOTE:  There have been claims over the years that the Mafia does not exist.  But, giving a notorious "hit man" immunity for testifying against a high-ranking member of an organization that doesn’t exist?  That simply doesn’t add up.)

Avoiding the Mafia seemed like the sensible thing to do, the way I steer clear of the Everglades because of the alligators, or avoid Australia because that “Down Under” continent houses the greatest variety of poisonous snakes of any country in the world.  What do I need that for?  I can see a wallaby at the Los Angeles zoo.  And skip the part where my head blows up like a hot air balloon and I am the recipient of a painful series of injections.

I do not need the aggravation of a run-in with the Cosa Nostra.  And during my formative and early adult years, my “success level” was a hundred per cent.  The closest I came was, for a short while I had an Italian girlfriend. 

It is stupid, of course, to believe that “Italian” equals “The Mafia.”  But that never stopped me from wondering how close I was.  It’s like, while dating a secular Jew, you discover that their cousin Moishie is a ritual slaughterer.  It’s the same thing here, except they are not killing chickens.

Like camping proximitous to toxic waste, or buying a house close to a nuclear power plant, to me an association or even a whiff of a connection with an acknowledged crime organization was simply “asking for it.”  There are a lot of people in the world.  There is no necessity of knowing everybody.

So, so far, so good.  Forty-plus years on the planet – no Mafia connections whatsoever.  And then it happened.  Not directly.  But through a bizarre and unexpected back door.

I have written elsewhere that at some point in the eighties – perhaps Major Dad was riding high, I no longer recall exactly – I had been offered and had accepted the opportunity to invest in the part ownership of a minor league baseball team.  (There were forty-one other “owners”, all of us “Limited Partners”, meaning we had no input into the business decisions (that was the “General Partners”) nor into the overall running of the team (that was the Major League affiliates’ job.)

The investment involved an “A”-ball team (the lowest rung in the minor league pantheon), playing in South Bend Indiana.  I bought in because it meant owning at least part of a professional baseball team, and also, because South Bend Indiana is just thirty-five miles from our little log cabin on Chickadee Trail in Michiana, meaning that whenever we were visiting, we could actually go to the games.  (And get free, really good seats and a discount at the “Souvenir Shop.”  Because I’m the ownah!)

I enjoyed many memorable years participating in that investment, culminating in receiving the honor of throwing out the ceremonial “First Pitch” at the beginning of a game.  (John Fogerty cancelled at the last minute.)

As it turned out, the profits from owning the South Bend team were substantial enough that the “consortium” was able to purchase another minor league team, this one, a more prestigious (and valuable) “Double-A” franchise in Erie Pennsylvania. 

No longer were we simply investors.  We were now minor league moguls!

Sometime later, I was apprised of the “backstory” of the Erie operation.  Apparently, the original stadium the Erie Sea Wolves played in was in dire need of replacement, but the city was unwilling to bankroll a new stadium with public funds.  Suddenly to the rescue came a construction company who, in exchange for a percentage of the profits, would build the new baseball facility themselves. 

Are you ahead of me here?  Well allow me to catch up.

That magnanimous construction company (reputedly, though the evidence was persuasive) was owned and operated by the Mafia.

All my life, I had determined to keep a wide breadth between myself and the Mafia. 

And suddenly we were business partners.

A “rich and fertile imagination”? 

Guilty as charged.

Ring, ring, ring.

ME:  Hello?  

THE GUY ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE:  “Hello, is this Earl?  Earl, allow me introduce myself.  My name is (“Insert Appropriate-Sounding Name Here”.)  And I am the president of the construction company that built the facility in which your baseball team the Erie Sea Wolves is currently playing.  Now, Earl.  I know that you are a successful and respected Hollywood producer.  And far be it from me to interfere in your show business activities, an enterprise in which I have no experience whatsoever.  And, of course, you can feel free to handle this matter any way you prefer.  The thing is, Earl, I happen to be acquainted with this beautiful and extremely talented young lady…

From that point on, whenever the phone rang in my office, I was seen to exhibit an involuntary flinch. 

“That could be them.”

As it turned out, they never called.  But they could have.  And if they had, I most certainly would have caved. 

You would think it would not be that difficult for a clean-living American person to avoid contact with the Mafia.  As demonstrated by the foregoing cautionary tale, however, you could very easily be wrong.

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