For unfortunate reasons that we cannot go into, quite a few years ago, my friend’s brother had gotten himself into a lot of trouble and was awaiting trial at a Federal Detention Center in Miami. My friend wanted to plan a visit to see him but the detention center had so many rules that it turned out to be a fairly cumbersome task! For example, one could only visit if they were on an inmate’s preapproved visitation list, visitors were given a predetermined time slot, and once given the time, visitors had to be outside the doors of the center one hour beforehand. There were many items of clothing that were deemed unacceptable such as: hats, shorts, flip flops, sunglasses, hair ties, sweaters or jackets. Shirts could not be beige, black, orange, striped or have any type of suggestive language or graphics on them. No skirts or dresses were permitted either! Also, certain items were banned. No cell phones, no wallets, no purses, no bags, no gifts for the inmates, no personal items of any kind were allowed. The only things permitted were: one small ziploc bag containing quarters for the visitor vending machine, a car key and positive identification.
Our time slot was on a Thursday morning from 8am-9am. Coincidentally, it was on her brother’s birthday, so my friend was determined to take her 2 children as well, and of course her partner in crime: me! My friend’s children were 13 and 16 at the time. We lived 4 hours away, so we had to gather up the kids and get in the car by 2:30am to allow for traffic, parking and any other hazards along the way.
Who could of known the hazards we were about to face?
We arrived in Downtown Miami by 6:00am and we were all exhausted. Not much sleep was had by any of us in anticipation of what was to come. We parked on the street as close to the detention center and of course, we locked all of our personal items in the trunk because the area was riddled with shady characters! We decided we should get some food into us and sauntered into a Macdonald’s on the corner. We had to use the bathroom as well so we attempted to open that bathroom door. As soon as we discovered that the stalls were locked, a gruff voice came from behind us, “You gotta get a wooden chip from the lady behind the counter!” We turned around to find who would ultimately become our new best friend. He introduced himself as Melvin. He was homeless, of small stature, gray hair, smelling a bit like vodka and cigarettes and he by far was the most helpful person to us that day! He went on to say, “The wooden chip is given only to customers and it unlocks the door.” We thanked him, got our wooden chips and used to restroom. He then offered to watch our car for us while we were at the detention center. We agreed figuring we shouldn’t argue with him. After all, we were 2 middle aged Jewish women, what did we know from this? So we got a decent breakfast and went on our way to the detention center to wait outside the doors.
It was an unusually chilly day in Miami, so we stood on line in the cold. We had paperwork to fill out while we were waiting. When the corrections officer came out to collect our paperwork she took one look at my friend’s son and declared, “He’s not going in!” My friend, taken aback, asked why. The corrections officer, quite agitated, explained that hoodies were not allowed and he was wearing a shirt with a hoodie attached. We had our first problem! (yes there were more to come). My friend, who didn’t want to lose her time slot, responded, “Do you have a pair of scissors, I’ll just cut the hood off!” The corrections officer’s faced turned slightly red, “This is a prison, We ain’t got no scissors in here!” With that, she walked away. My friend was not going to give up that easily! It was her brother’s birthday and she decided we were ALL getting in! We started to come up with a plan. We were going to find a shirt that would be acceptable to gain entry into the detention center. We had 15 minutes until our visitation time, so we had to act fast! My friend’s son, being a typical teenager, was too embarrassed to start running around downtown Miami, so he chose to hold our spot in line while the three of us took off!
We were on a mission!
I remembered seeing a church or mission on the same street as we were driving in so I told my friend and her daughter that I would head there, and meet up with them down the street near the Macdonald’s where the homeless people were congregating. Unfortunately, the mission was locked which made sense, it was very early in the morning, but at least I tried. Disheartened, I headed back to the Macdonald’s and that’s where I found my friend and her daughter attempting to communicate in Spanish to various homeless people on the street! Her daughter was using what little eighth grade Spanish she knew, which wasn’t the best. At one point, I think my friend mistakenly asked someone if they wanted to purchase her daughter instead of asking if she could purchase one of their shirts! Time was running out, and obviously my friend was getting more and more desperate. I looked across the street and I spotted Melvin with several of his homeless friends sitting outside the bus station. I noticed he had a suitcase on the ground next to him. I pointed him out to my friend. We quickly ran across the street in a panic and asked Melvin if there was a spare T shirt in his suitcase. He nonchalantly opened the suitcase and surprisingly he responded with, “Sure, what color would you like?” He then opened the suitcase and contained within it were dozens of nicely folded T shirts in varied colors! Before we could ask how a homeless man had so many different colored T shirts, my friend, without thinking about what she was saying, cried out, “Anything that can get my son into prison!” With that he took out a crisp, clean, neatly folded blue pocket T shirt. We offered him the bag of quarters, but he refused to take any money from us! My friend almost started crying tears of joy and we ran back to the detention center. She was waving the T shirt like a found treasure victoriously in the air! My friend’s son, was frantic as we showed up only 2 minutes before our entry time! He quickly changed into the shirt, left his hoodie tucked away behind a garbage can hoping to retrieve it later and we were granted entrance through the doors. Once we got in, we were instructed to sit down in chairs and wait until our names were called. There were at least 20 other people waiting with us. We sat down and felt so relieved to have found the shirt and we began to relax.
We really shouldn’t have gotten so comfortable yet!
A woman seated next to us leaned over to my friend and whispered, “You may not know this, but if you have any underwire in your bras, you will not make it though the metal detectors. And so, the wild rumpus continued as we discovered that my friend’s daughter had underwire in her bra! We immediately went into the women’s restroom. Her daughter was quite distressed because she didn’t want to remove her bra nor did she want to do anything to ruin it. It was at that moment that the stress of the entire situation overwhelmed my friend and caused her to have a bit of a meltdown! She began to scream, “Take the bra off! Take it off now, give me the bra! Listen, I can’t take this anymore, I’m exhausted and I only wanted you to see your uncle on his birthday, we barely slept, we drove 3 1/2 hours, I had to go running through the streets of Miami at 6 am just to get a crappy T shirt for your brother from a homeless man, I’m at my wits end and now I have to take the underwire from your bra! This is going to happen!” Seeing her mother in such distress, my friend’s daughter acquiesced and handed the bra over. My friend, after quite a bit of a struggle, finally was able to remove the underwire and threw it in the garbage can. The bra was back on and we were once again ready to go! As we came out from the restroom, we noticed everyone in the hallway staring at us. My friend’s son with his eyes wide said, ” I don’t think you are aware of this, but the bathroom door is not soundproof. Everyone out here heard every word you said and I can’t believe you got me a shirt from a homeless man!” My friend’s mouth hung wide open as she recalled everything she had said in the restroom. Before she could reply, our names were called. It was our turn to go visit her brother.
And with that, we ended up having a lovely one hour visit with my friend’s brother. When we left, my friend’s son looked for his shirt but it was gone. We walked back to the car and Melvin was there to greet us, guarding our car just like he promised. To this day, my friend has the T shirt displayed in her home as a souvenir!
No one on the streets tonight Trapped in my flat I’ve been A Kingdom of Isolation And it looks like I’m the Queen The Virus is raging, a coughing storm outside I couldn’t stay in, Heaven knows I’ve tried Don’t let them in, don’t let them near me, Be the safe girl, you always have to be Covid, go away, don’t let them know Well, Now they know! Stay Inside, Stay Inside Can’t go outside anymore Stay Away, Stay Away Turn away, and Slam the Door! I don’t Care what they’re going to say Let the Virus rage on… A cold never bothered me anyway! Stay Inside, stay inside Can’t go outside anymore Wash your hands, Stay Away! It’s funny how some distance makes the Virus seem OK And the sneezes that once controlled me, can’t get me at all…. It’s time to see what I can watch To test my Netflix limits and break through No night, no NEWS, for me I’m Trapped! Stay Inside, Stay inside I am one with the Fridge and Pie Go away, go away You’ll never see me Die Here I sit, and here I’ll stay Let the Virus rage on…. A cold never bothered me anyway!
Hola, this is your dear friend, Jose’. When we last met I was telling you about the Mona Lisa Horowitz incident. The Jewish Godmother was enraged that The Italian Godfather overstepped his boundaries by intervening in her business in Brooklyn. She was determined to let him know that she was not going to put up with such disrespect! So we got onto I-278 East and headed to Don Bustamonte’s headquarters, Via Roma Pizzeria on Arthur Avenue. They were known to have the best pizza in The Bronx. The whole time we were driving the Jewish Godmother was wringing her hands in the back of the Lincoln and muttering every insult against Italian Americans she could think of. She was so upset she kept “klapping” me in the back of my head as she criticized my driving. The anticipation of eating a slice of Via Roma pizza was the only thing that kept from losing my sanity.
When we arrived, the aroma of pizza wafted out to the sidewalk as we approached the front door. Once inside, we heard Frank Sinatra’s song, ‘Fly me to the moon’ playing. The walls were covered with autographed photos of famous Italian Americans like Joe DiMaggio, Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone. There were also photos of Rome and of the Pope of course. Each table was covered with a red and white checkered cloth and had a candle and a bottle of Chianti on top of it.
Don Bubbieberger whispered as best as she could, “Jose, I don’t think we’re in Brooklyn anymore.” She then sauntered up to the pizza chef in the front and banged her fist on the counter, “I demand to see Don Bustamonte.” Upon hearing her, the chef was so shocked that he dropped his freshly made pie as he was pulling it from the brick oven; for NO ONE mentions the Godfather’s name in the front of the pizzeria. He answered, “Fuggedaboutit lady, this is a reputable establishment, we don’t talk about those things, you either order a pizza or Va via!” The Godmother started channeling Robert De Niro in taxi driver as she said, “You talkin to me? You talkin’ to me?” The chef answered, “Yeah I’m talkin to you, who are you anyway, where are you from?” The Godmother losing her patience, picked up a jar of hot pepper sauce, and flung it into his face. “I’m Don Bubbieberger from Brooklyn that’s who!” As the pizza chef doubled over in pain and grabbed his eyes, I followed The Godmother as she marched towards the back of the pizzeria. Instinctively she knew where a Don would be doing his business. Even if she didn’t know, our clue was the smell of garlic and Armani cologne that was coming through the door that was marked ‘private.’ She began pounding on the door which caused the walls to shake. As I watched the framed picture of the Pope rattling on the wall next to me, I felt a sense of foreboding. ‘Oy Dios mio’ I said under my breath. I braced myself for what would happen next.
Just then, the door opened and a very large beefy man stood in the threshold. He took one look at the Godmother, and said, “Hey, lady, the restroom is down the hall, can’t you read the sign, it says private!” Suddenly, we heard a booming voice from the back, “Who dares to disturb me during my favorite show, Let’s Make a Deal?“
“Let’s make a deal?” The Godmother said as she pushed her way past the stunned bodyguard. “I’ll tell you what the deal is you Bocce ball playing shnook!” She said to The Godfather, who was sitting at a small table. I noticed his table also had the red and white checkered tablecloth as well as a very large loaf of Italian bread. There was a glass of red wine on the table and an ashtray shaped like a gondola which held a very expensive lit montecristo cigar. Behind us was a flat screen TV playing a rerun episode of Let’s Make a Deal. He then stood up very slowly. My friends, I must tell you, the most impressive thing in the room was Don Bustamonte himself. He was not a very tall man, but the way he held himself made him seem larger than life! As the Godfather looked at The Godmother, he narrowed his eyes and said, “Nobody has spoken this way to me other than my dearest Mamma, may she rest in peace.” The Godmother responded, “I’ll make you REST in PIECES!” She snatched the lit cigar and she started to drive it towards his head!
He gently held her arm, took the cigar from her and said, “Such a bella faccia, what could possibly get you so worked up? I hate to see you so troubled. What can The Godfather do for you?” He started to twist the ring on his pinkie. The Godmother, quite frazzled, said, “Does the name Mona Lisa Horowitz ring a bell? You know the Jewish Italian girl with the cats?” He nodded and answered, “Oh yes, Sophia’s daughter. Sure, no big deal, you don’t have to thank me, I took care of it. You want something to eat? I have some lovely proscuitto to share.” The Godmother grabbed the loaf of bread and threatened to hit The Godfather with it, “I’m not hungry for proscuitto, I’m hungry for vengeance!” I noticed that it was at that moment that the Godfather’s eyes softened and he was struck by what the Italians refer to as Fulmine, the thunderbolt. He was obviously falling in love. “I’ve never met anyone like you, I’m completely captivated by your controlling nature. You’re a woman who knows what she wants and will do anything to get it! I admire those qualities because I have them as well. Who are you?” She replied, “I am Don Bubbieberger and I run all of Brooklyn and Mona Lisa Horowitz is mine!” He answered, “Fine, you can have her, as long as I can have you!” My friends, I couldn’t believe it, but the Godfather took the Godmother’s hand, started kissing it and the loaf of Italian bread fell to the ground. My mouth hung open, for no one would have predicted this outcome!
And so the plot thickens. Is there romance in the air? You will know next time we meet. Until then, this is Jose Flores de Las Gutierrez Perez de Fernandez de Leon de Jesus.
Hola Amigos and welcome back. I must say that we were all relieved when El Diablo was dispelled from the deli and life was back to normal. The Godmother returned to her responsibilities of solving the problems of her fellow Brooklynites and it was business as usual. Today I would like to tell you about the “Mona Lisa Horowitz incident.” She was a Jewish-Italian girl with quite the conundrum.
One morning The Godmother was happily rolling quarters from her recent Ma Jong game winnings. Suddenly, her daughter Francine ran into the deli in a panic. She was trying to catch her breath as she spoke, “Ma, I gotta tell you something, you’ll want to hear this!”
The Godmother was annoyed, “Wait, wait, you know I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m counting profits!”
Francine answered anxiously, “Ma, this is important! You remember Mona Lisa Horowitz don’t you? She was in last week.”
“Rabbi Horowitz’s daughter?” replied the Godmother. “Of course I remember her! She is the only girl in Brooklyn who can make Panettone from a loaf of Challah! But boy does she have problems. With genetic predispositions like that, I could make an entire living with her as my only client! Don’t get me started!”
Francine answered, “Yes, her. You know she came to you because she had a problem with her landlord?”
“Yes I know,” The Godmother said as she continued to count quarters. “She has too many cats. I told her I would fix it for her and I would pay a visit to her landlord.”
“Well things got a little more heated and apparently she was getting very close to being evicted! I suppose she got desperate and she went elsewhere for advice.” said Francine.
The Godmother’s interest was peaked…..
The Godmother stopped counting, “Who else could she go to? I deal with all of the problems in Brooklyn.”
Francine replied with trepidation, “Well you know her mom is Italian, so she decided to skip boroughs and went to the Bronx for a second opinion!”
Godmother put the coins down and slowly stood up, “What are you saying? No one crosses boroughs on my watch!”
“Ma, she went to see Don Bustamonte and he gave the landlord an offer he couldn’t refuse!” cried Francine.
My friends, let me explain. Rudolfo Massimo Bustamonte was the head of the last remaining Mafia family in New York City. Unlike The Jewish Godmother, he was a man of few words. He wielded an enormous amount of power throughout the Bronx and beyond. They say his family was responsible for the New York Mets winning the world series in 1986 and for the downfall of the “beanie baby” craze. It is rumored that he proposed a new idea for 2 Mafioso themed beanie babies, “Tony the Fish” and “Fat Paulie the Walrus” and they turned him down.
The Don, at 65 years young, was virulent, tall and considered quite the lady’s man. He was always dressed for success and his nickname was “Rudy the Romantic.”
The Godmother couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “She went to The Godfather? That spumoni loving shyster? How dare he overstep his boundaries! This disrespect will not be tolerated.” She then turned to me, “Jose’, get the Lincoln, we’re going to The Bronx!”
I looked at The Godmother sheepishly, “What are you going to do Don Bubbieberger?”
The Godmother screamed, “I’m gonna clean his clock, that’s what I’m gonna do! Better yet, I’ll clean his Cannolli!” Her proclamation was heard throughout the deli as she swung her arm across the table sending hundreds of quarters flying through the air like a swarm of locusts. Customers cowered under the tables as she stormed out the front door.
Next time we meet my friends, I will tell you what happened next. Adios!
Italian and Yiddush word glossary:
Pannetone: A sweet Italian cake/bread traditionally eaten during Christmastime
Challah: A Jewish traditional egg bread eaten on the Sabbath
Spumoni: a molded gelato with colorful layers containing candy and nuts
Shyster: a person who uses unscrupulous methods in business