My Misspent Youth
My youth wasn’t nearly as misspent as my adult life. I was a young dreamer who clock-watched during school and spent more time playing a baseball card game, Strat-O-Matic, than doing homework. That said, a 1960 mob movie I became enamored with around age 10 would serve as an epiphany much later in life.
The movie was Pay or Die, starring Ernest Borgnine. Unbeknownst to me, it was based on an actual person, the first Italian Lieutenant on the NYPD, Joseph Petrosino. Million Dollar Movie used to play the movie at least once a year at the same time every day for an entire week. I’m sure I watched it every night possible until they no longer aired it. It was a good guy versus bad guys theme, and I always felt sad at the end of the movie when Borgnine’s character was killed in Sicily, where he’d gone to infiltrate the Mafia.
At some point during my early 40’s, when I was living in the same Little Italy section of Manhattan where much of the movie took place, I was waiting for a loan-sharking customer in front of a tiny triangular park between Lafayette and Kenmare Streets. My customer was late and I was pissed off. Killing time, I read the plaque on the fence and was floored by the inscription: Lt. Petrosino Square. The subject of the movie I’d once been enamored with as a kid wasn’t a fictional character. And there I was, one of the bad guys, standing on holy ground doing exactly what Joseph Petrosino had fought against and eventually died fighting. I was shamed from the inside out. The mob will never be glamorized in any of my novels. It isn’t much in the way of redemption, but it’s the least I can do.
Charlie Stella is one of the most respected writers of mob fiction today. His first six novels all received critical acclaim: Eddie’s World (2001); Jimmy Bench-press (2002); Charlie Opera (2003); Cheapskates (2005); Shakedown (2006); and Mafiya (2008). Stella’s seventh novel, Johnny Porno (2010), is the first original to be published by Stark House. Charlie was born in Manhattan and raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn. He lives in New Jersey. Visit Charlie’s website.