The Operation Family Secrets trial is underway, The Sopranos season ended with a lot of publicity, and Hillary Clinton successfully parodied that final Sopranos episode. Well, because of all this attention drawn to Italians lately, I recall one particular Italian man I met a long time ago in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. I have met Italians who are American, Italian immigrants, and Italians who try to project the mob lifestyle, even though I know that some are just wannabes. We have them all in Chicago. This man I met, looked like the stereotypical Italian mobster gathered with some “associates,” but they just could have been his family. He was a middle-aged man dressed in a dark blue suit, bright red tie, and he had a gold pinky finger with an enormous diamond. Balding head with salt and pepper hair. He looked like a real mobster and was obviously the power holder at the table. One of the stories he told began, “This gumba called me the other day …” When he finished it, everyone at the table laughed. I didn’t exactly hear the whole story, so I couldn’t tell you if his story was actually funny or they merely laughed at the boss’s joke.
I was sitting at the next table with my running friends after our track workout. Every Wednesday evening, we went to the track, ran some speed work, and then went out afterwards to eat pasta, and drink a few beers. About ten of us sat there drinking and being loud. We always felt especially proud when someone would ask the management to tell us to be quiet. But not on this night!
At first, we didn’t really notice the people at the neighboring table. We told jokes and funny stories as we usually did. Actually, our two tables got into a game of one-upmanship. I don’t like to brag, but I was usually the loudest and funniest one at the table. Finally, the Don at the next table points to me and says, “Hey, kid! You think you’re funny, don’t you?” “Well, you heard how I made everyone laugh, didn’t you?” mimicking him fearlessly, but it was just false bravado. Well, suddenly our two tables got very quiet. “How funny are you?” “Really funny!” “Come here. I want you to make me laugh!” And he smiled a really big smile, so big I could see that no food stuck was between his teeth.
As I walked over to him, I recalled a story that Bob Hope once told: “I worked in some mob-owned nightclubs. They didn’t pay you. But if you were good, they let you live!”
Well, I seemed to have gotten myself in a very similar predicament. He tells me, “Tell me your best joke. And you better make me laugh.” Of course, I didn’t tell him my best joke, but I did tell him one that always got a laugh and he laughed, along with everyone else at the table. “Tell me another one.” This time he laughed a little more. I can’t even remember what jokes I told him. I told him a few more jokes and only then I hit him with my best joke. You have to build up to it, right?
Well, he really laughed and laughed. And he slapped me on the back. It really stung! So he says, “You’re really funny, kid. You should be a comedian!” “I am,” I said. “Didn’t I just prove it?” He smiled at me and then said, “Okay, go sit down.” When I sat down, both our tables continued telling jokes and laughing and drinking beers. His table left way before ours. I figured he probably had to get up early to go to the office in the morning.
When we asked the waitress for our check, she told us that the gentleman who sat next to us had already paid it. “You are so funny!” I told her. But we actually ate and drank for free that night. How funny!