Noticing that the movie “The Cotton Club” was broadcast on television a week or so ago brought back memories of watching it when it first came out in 1984. Those were the days I still went to the movies a handful of times a year. I especially liked it because it combined two of my favorite film genres- gangster and musical. Like most Americans, I find the so-called world of mafia more than interesting. Of course, I’d prefer it from the outside looking in.
I vaguely remember in the very early 1960’s the murder of Mr. Crispino. He owned a very popular as well as profitable Norge Village on Madison Street in Austin on the far west side of Chicago. Those were the days before fancy washer and dryers were common appliances in the basement of homes and apartment buildings. Norge was the brand name of his equipment. My parents would go there armed with coins to put in the coin-operated machines. They’d take me along either figuring I would help out or keep me out of trouble in fighting with my sisters who were being watched by our grandparents.
So, it was definitely what you would call a very cash oriented business. Apparently Mr. Crispino didn’t properly pass around the cash as one day he was gunned down and stuffed in one of the big dryers. I can’t tell you if the murderer put a quarter in the slot for the spin cycle. But it was the first experience in being made aware of a mob action close to home.
Twenty years later. a Mr. Allen Dorfman was a noted lawyer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In December 1982 he was convicted by the Feds for conspiracy to bribe a U.S. Senator. Apparently someone was afraid he may be in a mood to cooperate with the Feds in getting some type of leniency in his sentence and educate them on who was giving him the dough for the bribe. In January 1983 he was shot dead in a parking lot of the famed Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood. This was only a couple of miles from where I lived. A night earlier I had parked in that same lot for whatever reason. His cold blooded murder reinforced the feeling that you never knew when your time was up.
During the 1980’s I used to get leads from the manufacturer of the accounting system product I supported. It was not uncommon to be asked by the software company to take over the support for a business whose reseller was either no longer working with the product or got into a disagreement with the customer. I had mixed feelings about those situations- on the one hand, it was an easy way to get business without having to market but at the same time it would often mean that the customer could be not so easy to handle as they either had a bad experience with the previous support guy or just jerks.
This one time I was asked to help a company in a suburb near O’Hare Airport that was notorious in the news for having so-called mob operations going on. I didn’t think much of this association even when the guy on the phone told me his company was in the asphalt removal business. Not that I knew what that meant anyway.
I showed up at the joint and it was as if I was in the middle of a scene from the Godfather. I had to go through two layers of human contacts until I got to see the boss. In the main room, the men were wearing shirts open to the navel and giant gold chains around their neck. Yes, all of them. They were tossing names around like Tony and Vito and all speech was at a shouting level.
I asked them what the asphalt recovery business was all about and one guy explained by saying, “you know” and then shrugged. The other guys in the room went into belly laughs. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking to learn too many bits of information that day Otherwise, I’d also be looking over my shoulder when I left a hotel parking lot. I helped out Tony, Vito and the others as best I could that day and hoped they would not call me again. But they did two more times and then the business vanished just like that.
I only once ever turned down a business opportunity. Someone thought they were doing a favor and recommended me to a fellow who owned- shall we say- an entertainment establishment of a certain type. Knowing that it had to obviously be busy at night, I arranged to meet with him during the day at his business location.
I went to the address given for the 11:30am appointment and all I saw was what looked like a very large wooden shack with a construction site behind it, a large trailer, and an adequate parking lot. I parked, approached the heavy door that had a sign reading “OPEN FOR BUSINESS”. I opened the door and all of a sudden I was hit with very loud music, flashing lights and a scantily dressed hostess who smiled and encouraged me to sit down while she massaged my shoulders and asked what I would like. I held onto my briefcase for dear life and told her I was, er, um, not a customer but there on business to see the owner. She smiled and went to inform him. In the meantime, I took a long look at all the happenings going on in the room and somehow kept my focus.
She came back out a few minutes later with the owner who invited me to come back to the trailer which was his temporary office. In the meantime, he led me through his operation pointing out proudly the play-by-play of the goings on and how much he made for each category of customer satisfaction. When we finally sat down to talk he laid out to me in outline form what he envisioned he was looking for in a new computer system. It had a lot to do with keeping track of payroll for his precious girls as well as the ability to levy fines for showing up late or not producing enough revenue. He was a tough cookie and a not very nice man.
He told me that I should write him a program and if he liked it he would let me name my own price. I explained to him that it didn’t work that way, that I got paid to help plan the system as I went along while he gave me feedback. He replied that he only paid for performance after the fact. We both agreed to disagree and I quickly exited his office but not before I had a good look in the adult play area one more time.
A few months ago I read in the papers where the Feds finally nailed this guy for tax evasion and he was being sent to the slammer. By the way, the Purple Hotel parking lot is sealed off nowadays as the Village of Lincolnwood has ordered that the hotel itself be torn down. My lips are also sealed. You hear that?