The Story of Joe Bananas


“You fellas don’t mind if I sit here, do you?” The big man wedged himself into the booth, pushing the red-haired guy further into the wall, up against the dark wood panels that lined the sides along the length of the Grand Café. Each deeply rich and beveled panel was the color of blood oak, and as hard as rock. Red Head learned just how hard when his left ear smacked against one such panel.

What the two guys - who had only one moment before been engrossed in a private and somewhat ‘sensitive’ conversation – did not know was that they were also excellent conductors of sound, at least at this particular booth. Some time ago, a small fracas on the other side evolved into a donnybrook and then All Hell Broke Loose, so somebody put somebody else through the wall. Everyone but Punjab swears it was Punjab, he denies it but nobody was willing to tell Punjab he was wrong about anything. Even the guy whose face it was that got broken, Mike O., who never hung around much after that, says he can’t remember who it was.

The panels at this table popped out of their enclosure much like Mike’s teeth.

Once repairs were undertaken, these panels popped right back it without much fuss. The other side of the wall suffered more damage, and it was added to the list of things that Owen, the owner’s husband, never got around to fixing. On the far side of the wall where this booth sat, there was nothing but studs and a sheet of cheap plywood.

Red Head looked at his partner, a slow-eyed guy with a very weak chin, and then he looked at the guy wedging him into the booth.

A Guido in every senses of the word.

The newcomer was dark-skinned and muscular; he had arms as big as engine blocks. He wore a Navy pea coat that did nothing to conceal his bulk. Wavy black hair curled around his ears, a little longer than most guys would wear it, his bright smile and obviously false good humor put both of them on edge. They were fairly bad news, but you do not survive being bad news if you fail to recognize much worse news when it sat down at your table.

No Chin, who was not nearly as smart as Red Head, starting to speak, maybe to protest, when the newcomer pickup up No Chin’s beer and drained it. The audacity alone was enough to shut him up.

“You look like nice boys, and I know you ain’t from around here, so I consider it my honor and my duty to welcome you to the neighborhood, see if you need anything, any small way we can go to show our,” he smiled even wider as he signaled the waitress for a full round of his usual at the table, “neighborly-ness.”

No Chin once more looked as if he would speak, but was cut off.

“Naw, I get it, you guys don’t want to feel beholdin’, I understand, a thing of honor, a thing of pride, of course.” They looked to each other then looked to the big man like he was speaking Chinese. “No, see, I was in no way seeking to intrude on you fine gents, when I happen to overhear your conversation.”

Both No Chin and Red Head looked to the door, which was behind the very large Italian man now speaking. No Chin started forward as if he would rise, but the meaty paw of the newcomer covered his wrist.

“Peace out, man, like them friggin’ hippies say. I ain’t here to bust your balls.”

The two relaxed not one little bit.

“Look, you ain’t from around here, so I’m just giving you the benefit of the local color, you know what I mean?” They did not, but he never gave them the chance to speak anyway. “My name is Little Sally.”

“Yeah, I know, but you should see Big Sally, he is friggin’ enormous.” He laughed at his own joke, and lit a Camel with a silver Zippo that had “F*ck Communism” engraved on the face.

“You know how they say some folk are … connected?” He looked from one to the other, Red Head nodded. The waitress arrived with three Schlitz and three shots of Grappa. Little Sally let her serve, then tucked a fifty, which was four times the tab, into her cleavage and sent her on her way with a grope of her bum as she left.

“See that lady behind the bar, the lady that owns this joint?” Little Sally’s voice had dropped in both pitch and volume, and both No Chin and Red Head leaned in to hear.

“She is better connected than it is possible to get.” He let that bit of mystery hang there for a moment, as they both looked at Bernie, a blonde woman of medium build just entering the age of being considered ‘matronly’.

“She hustles drinks from behind the bar, free-pouring and mothering a motley collections of drunks and riff-raff such as us three,” here he drained his shot glass and waited for his table mates to do the same, “and her peace of mind is assured by none other than the man himself, Mr. Salvatore ‘Joe Bananas’ Bonnanno.” This was said over their wheezing gasps of the two, as they tasted their first shot of Grappa at the same moment they realized that their very lives were not worth the price of a phone call.

Everyone knew Joe Bananas. Last year he had basically told a Grand Jury to bite his ass, and he was still walking around, a free man. He controlled the county, and had fingers going all the way to the State house. Joe Bananas lived locally, and was a legend.

“A more potent shield of protection, gentlemen, you would need from the Pope himself, you know what I mean?” Little Sally did not need to hear confirmation that they indeed knew what he meant.

“See, this place is not her only thing she got going. She works for Social Services, you know, Child Protection Services? There was this one kid, she was following a report of an abused kid and she came up against Joe Bananas himself.” At the sound of the name both Red Head and No Chin dipped their heads in unconscious genuflection.

“The father of the kid worked for him or something, and Bernie was working to get the killed pulled from the family who was abusing him, burning him with cigarette butts and keeping him chained to a radiator so he would not go out of the house. Joe Bananas talked down to her or something about the kid and so she smacked him one, slapped him just as if he was nobody. She gave him a ration of shit about how it was a child and he could not fight for himself and so she was gonna fight for him and if Joe got in her way she would shut him down and on and on.” Little Sally pulled on the Schlitz, letting it flow down his throat. “She really ripped him a new one.”

“But instead of slapping her down, or having his boys ‘remove’ her, or just ignoring her, any of which he could have easily done, instead he thanked her.” Little Sally nodded his head. “He thanked her, he did. He said she reminded him of his own mother, and he would be honored to help, and so on. And Joe Bananas was true to his word, too.”

Little Sally smiled that brilliant white smile he had. “He took that kid under his wing, and smacked a little sense into his old man. It took a little while, but eventually he came around, gave up the juice, and became more of a real dad to the kid as he got older, and the kid turned out OK. But there was more.”

“Joe Bananas donated a ton of toys to DSS, and gave them sweetheart deals on trash removal for the local office. The cargo guys and the warehouse union ran regular fundraisers for the foster homes, and Bernie there, Bernie is so protected and covered in Joe’s love that it would take superhuman effort to even get close enough to cause her a problem, and nobody would survive the experience, you know what I mean?” Both Red Head and No Chin assented, their words lost in their beer bottles. “Hey, what time you got?”

“Umm, we got to go, it’s getting late.” This was from No Chin. Apparently, he was not as dumb as he looked.

“Oh sure, I gotcha.” Little Sally stood, letting Red Head ease out of the booth. “It was great jawin’ with you guys; hope you like the neighborhood and all.” Little Sally gave as small wave to their backs as they both left the Grand Café as fast as they could. They would go case some other bar to rob.

Little Sally removed his pea coat, tossing it onto the red vinyl seat, then sat back at the booth. With one hand he signaled the waitress to come back and clear the booth. When he dropped the hand, he used it to circle the small, round, white scars that puckered his left forearm, seven of them in all. Yeah, Big Sally was friggin’ enormous.

He looked at Bernie with love, and finished his beer.

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