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What is the Mafia?

November 06, 1994

Peter Maas, from "China White":

"Great," Lucano said, "They forgot the old ways. Like that (expletive) Carpati, strutting around like some (expletive) peacock, not leaving well enough alone, not staying in the shadows." Lucano's features darkened. "And also them ratfink canaries. For 50, whatever, years, it was, 'Is there or ain't there a Mafia?' Even the FBI said there wasn't no Mafia here. Well, they were right. It was Cosa Nostra. But that rat Joe Valachi took care of that, giving out the right name, spilling his guts about the initiation and everything. . . . They turned so many rats after Joe Valachi, they had to invent the Witness Protection Program, which like my brother, Father Paul, God rest his soul, said, was really a big literary agency. . . . As soon as some two-bit button man ratted, he got an agent and the next thing you know he was out peddling his story and the public was lapping it up. And that got the Feds going and they passed all them new racketeering laws and that's where we are today."

Nick Tosches, from "Trinities":

"Remember," Tonio said. " . . . When the deal goes down, we let our kind in. . . . Everybody. Tutti i coppule storte ." He gestured with a wry, ironic glimmer to the cocked brim of Joe's fedora, which Joe seemed to wear only when he journeyed beyond Manhattan. Coppula storta. Even Johnny had come to know this arcane phrase by now. It was Sicilian for coppola a sghimbescio, which referred to a hat worn at an oblique angle. This was one of the many ways in which Tonio and his uncle alluded to men like themselves. Never once had he heard them use the Sicilian word mafiusu , except to describe in sarcastic passing a gold-chain punk in the street or one of the Central Casting cafons who hung around outside the club. "We give them a better shake than they've ever gotten before, but with a dime tribute, 'a decima , on every dollar."

* To hear these authors reading from their works, call TimesLine at 808-8463 and press * and the author's category number.

Peter Mass, "China White" *7817

Nick Tosches, "Trinities" *7818

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