IWhat was I thinking? Year, 1997, place, Ventura County, specifically, a quiet little beach in between Malibu and Santa Barbara. I had bought my little beach pad by selling off a few shares of my Microsoft stock, 89, 000 shares that is, at $52.00 per share. $4,628,000 worth. Paid $2.5 mil for the beach house, and had a bit leftover which went in to my savings account.
Life was good, the kids were still young, Jake was 13, and Sara was 10 years old. My wife, the love of my life, was no longer with us, having suffered for a few years ago with Ovarian Cancer. After a long and difficult struggle with it, her body eventually gave up.
I had two favorite hangouts during that time. One was a Chinese restaurant we affectionately called the “Golden Vagina” (China) that had the best Karaoke in Southern California, and the other establishment was a great Italian place called “Giovanni’s Trattoria”. Not a fancy place, but the food was authentic, Southern Italian, and the prices were very reasonable. Wine was two house wines, a red “Chianti” and a white table wine that was similar to a Chenin Blanc. Both were served in decanters.
When we first moved there, I would take the kids once a week for Chinese, and once a week to the Italian place. A couple of times a month we had food delivered, especially in the wintertime. Fridays and Sundays were the family dinner dates with my children, when they were younger. Saturday night was Dad’s night out, and usually our neighbor Virginia would watch the kids, spending the night as Dad would either be singing like a Harry Belafonte at the Golden Vagina, or playing “No-Limit Holdem” poker in a backroom at Giovanni’s.
This is where the major part of this story begins, and ends. There really was a person named Giovanni, Italian for “John”. He was the oldest by five years. I always thought that his brother Mario was the oldest, because he was bigger, smarter, and just seemed older because he was the one in charge, or it seemed, worked the front end, while John, friends called him “Johnnie” was the primary chef, and ran the kitchen. As I later found out, several years after my first visit, the restaurant was not named after the older brother, but was actually their father’s name. Mr. “John” Giovanni Bonocchi Sr., had originally started the restaurant in Los Angeles, in Brentwood, and when he died, their mother Maria moved to Silverstrand Beach with the two boys and their sister Francesca.
The mother, Maria, was the real strength behind the success of the original Giovanni’s Trattoria as it was her recipes handed down from her mother, and her guidance in the kitchen that people raved about. Not a year had passed when she opened the restaurant at Silverstrand Beach.
One by one, as the children entered their teens, they worked for their mother, waiting tables at first. Being five years younger, by time Mario began his first job waiting on tables, his older brother Johnnie was working besides their mother in the kitchen. Of course, all three kids had some experience in the basics of Italian cooking, just from helping Mom cook at home, which she rarely did. Even as children, they grew up in the restaurant. But the minor roles they played, were just that, sweeping the floors, washing dishes sometimes, and other “chores” but mostly playing outside, especially in the summertime.
Mama Bonocchi and sister Francesca died in a plane crash in Italy when the boys were 25 & 30. It was a tragic loss, not only for Mario and Johnnie, but also a loss for the community. Some thought the restaurant might close without the guidance and kitchen skills of their mother. Johnnie was already a Master Chef in the kitchen (his mother taught him well) and Mario who had been taking some business and computer classes at night at the local college was the perfect front end person, so, after closing for a month for the mourning period and funerals (combined) they opened back up to a huge increase in patronage, mostly the regular customers, but enhanced by the publicity of their family tragedy, new customers, people from as far away as Orange County increased the overall business by 30%.
This is about the time that the kids and I moved to Silverstrand Beach. Even though we quickly became “regulars” it was busy enough on Sundays that we had a standing reservation for our Sunday dinner. I had learned early-on when we first started going there for dinner, that if we didn’t make a reservation, we were SOL.
In contrast, Friday dinners at the Golden China was always without a reservation because the place was so huge. I think the seating capacity was about 200 people. Mr. Garyoke, as the kids called him, (nickname for “Gary who owns the Karaoke place”, which they got from Dad) began saving us the same table after our fifth visit, which the kids thought was pretty special. By the time my kids were old enough to babysit themselves, I had become close friends with Garyoke (the owner of the Golden Vagina), and with Johnnie & Mario.
Saturday Poker Night in the back room at Giovanni’s was always a blast, win or lose, and a wonderful distraction for the Beach Bum life that I had assumed. I was and I am a better than average player. I probably won 50% of the time, which I considered pretty damn good. When I won, there were never any sore losers amongst our small gathering of players. We were all close friends, and we were all fairly well off financially.
Buy in was small. $5 grand with a limit of two re-buys of $5 grand each so the most one could lose in a night was $15 grand. Our games always started with nine of us at the table. The dealer usually was one of the kitchen staff, a young Italian gal related to the two brothers.
This was not like a typical tournament, with multiple tables, just the one table with nine of us, and usually three or four friends watching, waiting for someone to bust out. One night, some holiday, I can’t remember now what it was, there were six dudes watching and waiting for their turn at the table. Two of them never got to play, but they sure enjoyed themselves anyway.
If you did bust, as I said, you had two re-buys, and after that third bust, you automatically had to give up your chair to someone else. It was always first come first served, so you had to show up early (I was always early, having dinner first). If you were one of the few who had to watch the game and wait, you were given a number, ten, eleven and so on, in the order that you showed up late.
One time I WAS late, actually number thirteen (the latest) and I ended up the major winner at the end of the night, which typically was four o’clock in the morning. The table shrank as individuals would exhaust their re-buys, so usually by the cut-off time of four AM, there was only three of us left at the table and in the room.
I mentioned that I won 50% of the time…….80% of the time I was one of the last three remaining. On a good night, if you happened to be lucky (good) at our little game, you could go home with at least $75,000. Like I said, fun, and a distraction. Win or lose, we all had a great time, talking about every subject under the sun, drinking, joking around, smoking fat cigars, like your typical poker night.
Our hosts had one of those pull down 8 by 10 screens and an old projector, and they were always showing some old X-rated 8mm film like “Debbie does Dallas”. Now THAT…….WAS a distraction for some, but not for me. Pretty sneaky for the brothers to have those old movies playing while we played poker. The one and only time that I WAS distracted for a bit, was an old movie that started out like it was an old Frankenstein movie, until the part when Miss Frankenstein started giving Mr. Frankenstein a blow-job. I lost big time that night.
Note to self: Both coffins had a false bottom. Underneath their mother and sister’s bodies were a half a million dollars worth of Heroin and Cocaine. U. S. Customs didn’t take the bodies out to inspect the caskets, and they didn’t find any discernible weight issues. After all, the two caskets were the best money could buy, solid copper as I a neighbor of mine who had attended the dual-funeral had suggested.
No wonder that the Bonocchi Brothers both drove a Ferrari. “The restaurant business has been very very good for us”, Mario once said to me. In reality, although a popular place for Italian cuisine, there was no fucking way that they made Ferrari type money from the place.
I had known the Bonocchi Brothers for about two years when they had a falling-out with each other. It got down to the two brothers fighting one night in the kitchen. Pots of sauce were flying, at one point, when Mario picked up a huge meat cleaver, several of us stepped in and stopped the fight. We escorted Mario outside as he was yelling out, “I’ll kill you Mother-Fucker”. As far I know, those were the last words he said to his older brother.
One warm summer night, had to be mid-week because no one was there, I was sitting on my patio by myself, smoking a bowl, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline, when I heard footsteps approaching the patio from the street side of the house. It was Angelo Lucchese, a really close friend of Mario’s. I had only met Angelo a handful of times when I was either at Mario’s house, or at this favorite dive bar down the street near my place. “Angelo, how are you brother”, I said to him as he turned the corner walking towards where I was sitting. “Great, Tomas”, he spoke in his heavy Italian accent, pronouncing my name the Italian way. TOE-MASZ.
Angelo was carrying something that I couldn’t quite make out until he was sitting down on one of the other patio chairs. I’m sure you have seen, especially at Christmas, those huge gallon-size plastic jars filled with stuff like those round cheese puffs. Angelo had brought this gimongous jar over to my house, filled with bud.
I had smoked his shit before, and it was righteous shit. He proceeds to unscrew the lid as I commented, “Angelo, that is the largest amount of weed in one single vessel that I have ever seen in my life!”. Angelo responded by saying that he had five times this much at home. I thought to myself, “He’s GOT to be dealing, with that amount of weed”.
Let me stop myself for a minute and briefly describe Angelo. The first time I met him, I was with Mario at some dive in Ventura. Mario and I were sitting at a table in the back of the bar near the pool table. We had put our quarters up on the rail of the pool table each waiting for our turn. In comes Angelo, thru the back door the smoking patio. First impression? Mafia. The way he was dressed, all in shiny gaberdine black, with his shirt open about four buttons or so, a large gold chain with a Cornetto Devil’s horn hanging from it. Most commonly worn by Italian men to protect their genitalia from the evil eye.
Mario stood up to give Angelo a masculine bear hug, they kissed each other on both cheeks, so I did the same. Now, I’m not of Italian descent, not even close to resembling an Italian dude. But for some unknown reason, Angelo thought that I was Italian, possibly from Northern Italy. Since that first-time meeting Angelo, I kept up the charade, even talking like Marlon Brando in the “Godfather” movies. I did this bizarre charade from then on. Mario would look at me kinda strange whenever Angelo was around. One day he commented that he actually got a kick out of it. In truth, I was so fucking afraid of Angelo, I just transformed myself into a gangster.
The reason for the fear? That first night, after we sat there chatting, waiting for the current game of 8-ball to end so I could put MY quarters in and hopefully win, Angelo walks up to the pool table and pulls a couple of balls towards and into the side pocket where he was standing and quietly told these two “Cholos’” that their game was over and it was time for them to leave the table.
They were slightly reluctant to do so, which led to a very brief barroom brawl. The dude to the right of Angelo came around quickly with his Dos XX raised above his head in the first half of a striking motion, and Angelo’s leg popped up and out like a switch-blade knife, kicking the dude square in the head and knocking him down and out. The other Mexican dude just backed away from the table waving his arms back and forth as if to wave off a bull or something.
That’s when I came up with my nickname for Angelo. Angelo “The Bull” Lucchese. Oh, and yes, he was from the Lucchese Crime Family in New York, on his father’s side obviously. Gaetano Reina, the first “Boss” of the family back in the 1920’s was a Great-Great-Uncle of Angelo’s father.
While Angelo and I were playing a friendly game of eight-ball, some Mexican chick came over and poured her beer on the face of the dude that Angelo had knocked out. He had been laying there for about fifteen minutes. Regaining consciousness, he stood up, not looking in Angelo’s direction, and walked out of the bar. First impression? Angelo was a mean mother-fucker. Even the look in his eyes could make any Hells Angel dude back up.
I had to paint a sort of picture of Angelo in order to set-up this next part, continuation of my story. So, there we are, Angelo and I, sitting on my patio, sharing a joint or two or three. My Marlon Brando thing is full-on, except I didn’t stuff cotton in my mouth behind my lower lip. ”This is great weed, Angelo, so smooth, so relaxing” as I took a sip from my glass of Jameson 12-year-old Special Reserve. As I said that, I thought to myself, “Shit, Oscar time, I sound just like the Godfather. Still to this day, I have absolutely NO idea why Angelo referred to me as the “Godfather”. Was it something Mario may have said to him? Was it because I lived in a million-dollar home on the beach? Who knows.
It’s one thing to sound like Marlon Brando, it’s another whole thing when you have a dude like Angelo calling you, “Godfather”. “Well, Godfather, I do have a favor to ask of you”, as Angelo is lighting our third joint. “What’s that Angelo”, deep into my role. “You see, Godfather, I need to find a quiet secure place to do some modifications on a motorcycle, and I thought perhaps you would allow me to use part of your garage”.
At first, I mumbled on about some other subject. Not to be rude, after all, he DID call me the Godfather. It’s not like changing the subject to something mundane, like, “Man, this is great weather we’ve been having this week”, nothing like that. I think I asked him how Mario was doing. Then I asked him, “What sort of mods are you wanting to accomplish?”. “I need to mount my MAC-10 on my handlebars”, he said. For those of you that don’t know what a MAC-10 is, it’s a fully-automatic submachine gun, fairly small in architecture, but extremely deadly, capable of firing 1,090 rounds per minute, limited only by the size of the clip (generally used with large capacity clips).
“Yeah, I need to rig a mechanical device so I can pull on the trigger while my right hand is still gripping the throttle”. WTF! I thought, as I positioned my head and expression in my best Marlon Brando pose. Angelo goes on, “I have a contract I need to fulfill, and the best chance I have at doing so, is to speed up to my victim on my motorcycle, catch him coming out of his house or his place of business, and speeding away”.
HOLY SHIT I thought, this wasn’t just some wannabe mob dude that excels in bar room confrontations, Angelo was serious, and one crazy mother-fucker. How do I respond to this? How would Marlon Brando respond to this? This is way outa my league, so what did I do? I yawned, and said “This is way past my bedtime, let me think about it Angelo, my son uses half of the garage, so I’m not sure if that is a great idea”. Subject changed immediately.
We talked for another half-hour or so, and after I yawned a few more times, Angelo stood up holding his gallon jug of weed under his left arm and said, “Godfather, thank you for sharing your time with me this evening, I understand your position on this, about your son sharing the garage and all, so forget I even asked. I do have a place in Ventura that I can use”. I stood up, we hugged like to Italian brothers, and he left. I had some really interesting dreams that night.
Intended target, Mario’s brother, Johnnie. Stay tuned for the continuation of this story.
For my faithful readers that are aware that I’m finally working on “The Dead Armadillo” story, like say, a Producer, or a Director, or a Screenwriter or someone or a company that desires to option my novel, you can contact me at any time, night or day. If you are a one of those faithful readers that wish to read and follow my progress as I work on this novel, I will be posting updates as a PDF file on every new post on this website/blog. Here’s the latest of “The Dead Armadillo”
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Peace & Abide, La paz y la morada, السلام والالتزام , שלום ושמירה, Paix et Demeure, Խաղաղությունը եւ մնալը, Мир и пребывание,, 平和と遵守, 和平與恪守, Aştî û Abad, صلح و عبید, Fred och Abide, Kapayapaan at Patuloy, Frieden und Bleiben, Mir i Ostanite, शांति और निवास, Hòa bình và ở lại, Мир и Абиде, שלום און בלייַבן, สันติภาพและการปฏิบัติ, Mir in bivanje,
Dr. T. C. Saxe, DD
Strain: BrandosBellyButtonLint, harvested August 30th, 1972
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