April 30, 2020

Chapter 22 - Families and Felons

Families and Felons

I was a pretty good kid all in all growing up. Everybody said I was a pretty smart kid. Smart as I was I did make my share of stupid mistakes. I learned about the perils of a life of crime in a way that made me realize once again… never admit you are a Cannata to a stranger unless it’s a matter of life or death. Even then you should think carefully because circumstances sometimes are that being dead would be the better option. Because, as the kid that gave me my first serious punch in the nose told me… “Cannatas Suck!”
There was a business in my neighborhood by the name of the “Forest Hills Factory Outlet.” Not that I knew of any factory that was in Jamaica Plain that manufactured the goods sold there. It was big by neighborhood standards and it was a great place to go and hang around and buy popcorn and little gifts around Christmas or a sibling’s birthday.
It was also where I made one of my earliest and misguided forays into a life of crime; Shoplifting to be exact. What I lifted from the store wasn’t very memorable. It was a cheesy little bike lock that didn’t cost more than five bucks. In fact I still have no idea what it was that enticed me to try and purloin it from the store to begin with. But since everything in the store was as cheaply made as possible, and cost about $10.00 max. It didn’t exactly amount grand larceny.
Yet, by the time the adventure was over, I had been handcuffed, hauled off to the local police station… the infamous station 13… and compared to some hideous member of a national crime syndicate. I was accused of being a central figure of a vicious, insidious criminal organization that was headed by my father and supported by almost all the members of my felonious family.
I can’t recall much about the circumstances behind my apprehension, but what happened once I got to the station is forever imbedded in my memory. It was an event that once again demonstrated that no matter how well I thought I knew my family and who they were… I really didn’t know the half of them. And let me tell you, finding out that your father and oldest brother are well heeled criminals involved in car theft; racketeering and toilet papering for no good reason other than to wreak havoc on the innocent people of Jamaica Plain can be pretty disturbing.
I thought my father was a post office worker. Incredibly, according to the cop that revealed all the dirty secrets, he was just short of an insane hitman. And my brother Joe was his henchman extraordinaire. Together they made a team of nefarious hoodlums hell-bent on taking over the entire neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.
It all started once I was handcuffed, chained and manacled to a chair at station 13. That’s where they put dangerous aspiring criminals of about eight or nine years old while they waited for their parents to come, collect then and take them home for the beating of their lives. One I’m sure they would have preferred to deliver themselves, but in those days cops didn’t really feel threatened much by elementary school villains. We also had to stay locked to the chair because we were still small enough to slip thru the bars that lined the cells in the basement and escape was always a possibility for shrewd and clever little felons such as me.
As I sat waiting, one rather large cop sauntered up to me and gave me a piercing look. One that said he had my number and I’d better fess up to what he was about to say or face some serious consequences.
“So”. He said. “You’re a Cannata, eh?”
Since I had already admitted to that, despite my tendency to deny it almost every chance I had it seemed silly to try and change it now. “Yeah” I muttered. Head down and ready to put on my best imitation of a chagrined and remorseful delinquent.
“So,” he says again. “Do you know Johnny Cannata?”
“Yeah” I said again. My father’s name was. John. Although I never recalled anyone in my house ever calling him Johnny to his face, we all knew his name. Even if we were pretty sure my Dad didn’t know half of his kid’s names.
“What about Joey Cannata? You know him too don’t ya?” He seemed to be trying to catch me in some sort of lie but I wasn’t falling for it.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“I’m sure you do! You hang around with them don’t ya?!” He stated this in a tone that seemed to accuse me of something that wasn’t yet clear.
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond because even though I and my brother Joe and my dad lived in the same house, I wouldn’t exactly describe our relationship as one where we “hung out” with each other. My brother Joe was many years older than me and didn’t spend a heck of a lot of his time playing with me, although it might have been fun. And I spent most of the time my dad was home doing my best to avoid him. He wasn’t the kind of dad that liked to interact with his kids any more than necessary.
So I gave a vague and non-committal answer, “Yeah, sort of.”
“You like those guys huh?” He growled.
“Most of the time,” I said. It was a truthful answer and pretty accurate.
“Well you know what I think?” He said as he got closer to my face with a snarl.
I had no idea what he thought but my impression was that it wasn’t going to be something good. Before I could venture a guess he told me just what he thought about Johnny and Joey Cannata.
“I think they SUCK!!” he shouted as he poked a finger in my chest. “Those guys are nothing but trouble! And I think you’re gonna wind up just like ‘em!”
The finger in my chest kind of hurt but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the look on his face. Obviously this cop did not like my dad or my brother. He went on to explain just why and I have to say, it was not what I expected at all.
“Johnny and Joey Cannata are nothing but punks!  Troublemakers! They’re heading for big trouble and when I finally get a hold of them they are going away for a long, long time!”
Afraid to speak, all I could do was let my mind take in his accusations. My dad and my brother Joe were criminals?? This was news to me! I heard a lot of stories about how mean my father could be and he was prone to threatening us with “The Belt” on occasion. But he had never actually hit anyone with it as far as I knew. My brother Joe was a soldier and I knew he knew how to blow things up, but he never tried to destroy anything in our house.
I made a meek effort to come to their defense.  I used one of my patented responses that seemed to fit. “They din’t do nothin’!”
“What??” he shouted angrily! “Those two guys are in and out of here all the time. We just had that bum Johnny locked up here last weekend!! He was drunk as a bowery boy and was caught trying to steal a car! I bet you think that is pretty cool huh?”
I didn’t think it was “cool” at all. In fact it was kind of confusing. My dad already had a car. A new one too that was only eight years old. Why would he steal another one? This was getting stranger by the minute. I was doing my best to look calm but the chair I was in was slowly making its way around the room as I sat shaking in it.
“That lowlife, Johnny, is gonna end up in the slammer and Joey won’t be far behind him. I’ve seen kids just like ‘em a hundred times and they always end up the same. Looks to me like you’re gonna go the same way, unless, of course, you smarten up. I swear, the next time I see that Johnny I’m gonna smack him good!””
Now I was about as confused as ever. My dad was a lot of things but a “kid” he was not. Even worse, my dad was coming to get me and this cop was threatening to smack my dad. One thing for sure, for every smack the cop gave my dad I was gonna get two from my dad myself. The time had come for me to start defending my dad and let this cop know I wasn’t going to stand by while he laid a beating on my father no matter how much a criminal he was.
“You better not touch him you asshole! If you do you’re gonna be very sorry.” My threat might have sounded a lot more serious if I wasn’t hand-cuffed to a chair and at least 3 feet shorter but I did my best to look as serious as possible. The look on the cops face was something I’ll never forget. One half horrified and one half hilarious. He seemed about to laugh and give me a serious slap when the door opened and another cop announced my father’s arrival. I was prepared to watch my dad and this cop go to battle
To my shock and surprise the cop turned and shook my father’s hand and greeted him with a friendly hello
“How are you, Mr. Cannata?” he asked. “I’m sorry to have to make you come here but we had a problem with, Michael here. We didn’t want to get formal so I thought you’d like to come by and deal with this yourself.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I appreciate you giving me first crack at him,” my dad said as he gave me a stare that suggested the worst was yet to come. With that he and the cop walked up front and exchanged some words that had them both smiling. I was completely befuddled at this point. This cop was yukking it up with my dad. The guy he had just finished referring to as the second coming of Al Capone!
When he took the handcuffs off he whispered quietly, “Remember what I said kid. You don’t want to wind up like Johnny or Joey, you hear?”
Giving me a stern look my dad took me by the shoulder and escorted me to the car. “We’ll talk about this when we get home. I’m very disappointed in you, Michael.” He growled.
I couldn’t believe it! He was disappointed in me? I just found out that he and Joe were a mini mafia! All I did was steal a bike lock. I exploded in a rant of confession and confusion.. I told him everything the cop had accused him and my brother Joe of doing and all the names he called them.
As I finished my story and looked at him he had that really creepy look that passed as a smile. A look I rarely saw. Clearly, he found something funny about what I told him.
“Have I ever mentioned that you have two juvenile delinquent cousins by the names of Johnny and Joey on Mission Hill? No? Well that’s another thing we’ll talk about when we get home.”
When the talk, the lecture and the small but well targeted smacks were done, I sat in my room and once again realized it was true…
… Cannatas Suck!

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