A Puppet of the Mob

A Cleveland TV station is covering the corruption trial of an Italian-American politician using puppets due to restrictions on cameras in the courtroom.

           The Wall Street Journal

We were sitting–my puppet Spot and I–watching the credits roll on Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, for my money one of the greatest American films ever made, when I heard a little sigh issue from his mouth, which was of course at the tip of my finger.

“Penny for your thoughts?” I asked.

“I don’t know, don’t you ever get bored sitting around the house with your finger up my butt?” he asked.

“This is your Action News 7 reporter, live from federal courthouse.”


“I enjoy our quiet times together.”

“Do you ever regret that you didn’t go further with your acting career?”

“You mean after my boffo performance as Santa Claus in fourth grade, and my cast-against-type interpretation of Felix Unger in The Odd Couple?”


“Nope,” I said without a trace of false modesty. “I’ve got a face made for radio.”

He was silent for a moment. “Et vous?” I asked, knowing that he understood me since he was my digital alter ego and thus privy to my four years of French.

He looked out the window wistfully. “I haven’t given up on my dream,” he said

“Which is?”

“To play the heavy,” he said. “I was always the effervescent puppy in those pets.com commercials. I want a . . . meatier role.”

“You’re in luck,” I said.


“Did you see today’s Wall Street Journal?

“Who reads newspapers anymore?” he asked scornfully. “Besides you, I mean.”

“I read them so you don’t have to,” I said as I folded over the front section to make it easier for him to read about the corruption trial of Cuyahoga County Democratic kingpin Jimmy Dimora. “This could be your big break.”

To say that he “read” the story would be an understatement. He inhaled it, like a black-and-tan hound on the scent of a racoon. “Criminitely!” he exclaimed.

“Have you been watching your Tivo of Mitt Romney Town Hall meetings again?”

“I’m serious–this is my chance to get back into the glamorous world of entertainment.”

“And how do you propose to get out to Cleveland, may I ask?”

He looked at me with a look I knew all too well. It’s the look you see on the face of a son who asks whether he can please please get the high-end skates that will transform him from a middle-of-the-pack peewee hockey player into a lock on a first-line defenseman spot. It’s the upturned face of a kid who says all the other kids have batting coaches–why are we so ghetto that I have to swing at a green, fuzzy tennis ball hanging from the basement ceiling?

“You’re going to drive me–right?” he asked hopefully, but with an edge, the stiletto blade of parental guilt turning in my gut.

“You know, I can’t just take a week off for no reason.”

“No reason!” he fairly spat at me. “My career–my happiness–is no reason?”

I wasn’t going to let him push me around. “What makes you think you could play a corrupt Italian-American Democratic politician anyway?” I asked skeptically.

He snorted contemptuously. “I sit here watching old noir films with you night after night–it would be like fallin’ out of bed.”

“So you think.”

“A day at the beach . . .”

“Acting’s harder than it looks.”

“Like takin’ candy from a . . .”

“Enough with the metaphors for tasks that require little or no effort!” I snapped. “Let’s see what ya got.”

He drew himself up to his full three-and-a-half inch height, inhaled, and turned . . . ever so slowly . . . to face me.

“This is . . .”–he intoned portentiously–”. . . Jimmy ‘The Icepick’ Gravano.”

“Proceed.” I was expecting some warmed-over Cagney or maybe Edward G. Robinson, not the full-bore method-acting treatment he laid on me.

“Nunzio,” he said, his voice a hoarse rasp, like a gravel driveway with a coat of sleet on it. “You’re not showin’ me the proper respect,” he began, his chin held high, his eyelids narrowed to grim slits. “I know-a you father–I gave him his job as Water & Sewer Commissioner. I know-a you brudda, I got him on as Sealer of Weights & Measures. Now you come to me . . . you say you wanna be Elevator Inspector? This issa no job for a goombah like-a you.”

I had to admit, he wasn’t bad. “You nailed it,” I said. “The delicate blend of menace and bonhomie, like the maitre’d at a hot restaurant in Boston’s Italian North End . . . you’ve got it down pat.”

“This is my famous Italian horsehead soup.”


“It’s all those holidays when mom doesn’t want to cook and we eat at Olive Garden. So can we start tonight?”

“Get a couple of head shots and be sure you have your Actors’ Equity card in your wallet,” I said as I grabbed my keys.

“You mean your wallet,” he said. “You’re the stage mom–I’m the eternal ingenue.”

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