A Mob Fairy Tale: The Little (Bleepin’) Red Hen

SHEEPSHEAD BAY, New York. This working class neighborhood in Brooklyn has given birth to more than its share of professional comedians, including Larry David, Andrew Dice Clay and Elayne Boosler, but it is also known for a different kind of wise guy; members of La Cosa Nostra such as Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera of the Bonanno crime family. “This is a nice respectable area, okay?” says Gaetano “Joey Pockets” DiSalvo, an enforcer who collects loan sharking debts in and around Coney Island. “You wanna spit on the sidewalk, go to some dump like Manhattan.”

 

And indeed, there is sharp contrast between the hardened men who leave their homes here with grim faces every morning and the smiling padres who tell their children bedtime stories every night at the same addresses. “Every kid should have a childhood, you know what I’m saying?” says Tony “The Icepick” Gravano as his dandles his daughter Theresa on his knee. “You miss out on childhood, I don’t know how you’re gonna become a teenager.”

“And if some mook messes with you, I’ll stuff him in a dumpster and send him to a landfill.”

Tonight “Joey Pockets” takes over from his wife Maria, who has been promised a “girls’ night out”; a “mani-pedi” party with her friends at “A Touch of Class II” nail salon on Voorhies Avenue. “I don’t know if Roman numeral II means they’re better or they just came later,” Maria says as she hustles out to her Cadillac Escalade. “I didn’t pay too much attention in World History.”

“We already owe China a shit-load of money — I’ll tip her 10%”

 

Mr. Pockets allows this reporter to sit in on the touching scene between him and his daughter Gina as soon as bath time is over. “Most reporters are perverts,” he says with an upraised eyebrow of skepticism. “Still, it’s nice to get your name in the paper in case you get wiped out one night in Little Italy eating linguini and clam sauce.”

“Tell me the one about the Little Red Hen,” Gina says as she hops into bed, her hair still shiny from her Cry No Tears shampoo.

“You really like that one, don’t you?” her father says softly as he tucks her in.

“Yes, daddy,” Gina says as she wiggles herself into a comfortable position on her side, looking up at her father with adoring eyes.

 

“Okay,” DiSalvo begins, as he has on many nights previously. “Once upon a time there was a Little Red Hen, who knew she had to work very hard for the good things in life.” The career criminal, who has thus far spent time only in state and not federal jails, gives his daughter a serious look to make sure she is absorbing the moral lessons he is trying to impart. “The Little Red Hen wanted some corn in the summer, so what did she do?”

“She planted some in the spring,” little Gina says, echoing her father’s emphasis on long-range planning and deferred gratification.

“Thass right,” her father says. “And who did she ask for help?”

“She asked Foxy Loxy, but he said he was too busy.”

“Good girl. So she planted it all herself. Now, once you plant corn, you gotta water it right? The Little Red Hen couldn’t water it all herself, so what did she do?”

“She asked Turkey Lurkey if he’d help.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said he didn’t want to get his feathers wet and told her no.”

“You got it. So she had to do it all herself. After she was done, the weeds came up–a lot of weeds!”

Gina smiles at this familiar passage. “I know what happened next!” she squeals.

“What?”

“The Little Red Hen asked Puppy Wuppy to help her weed the corn, but he was too busy playing with a ball.”

“So what’d she do?”

“She got a hoe and did all the weeding herself!” It is clear that little Gina identifies with the hard-working heroine of the story, and her father smiles down approvingly at her.

“Ab-so-freaking-lutely,” her father says with pride. “Now the corn grew and it came time to pick it, so what did the Little Red Hen do then?”

At this point Gina’s memory falters, or perhaps she is simply tired after a long day of second grade, First Holy Communion classes, and bocce lessons. “I forget what comes next, daddy,” she says with a yawn.

“The Little Red Hen asks Kitsy Witsy to help her pick it, but she gets turned down again because the damn cat is chasing a mouse–so she picks it all herself.”

“It’s so unfair!” Gina says, responding to the dramatic tension that makes the story her favorite. “Then what?”

“Well,” her father begins, “it’s time to cook the corn, which is hot work in the kitchen, right?”

“Right. You have to grease the pans, and mix the corn up and everything.”

“So the Little Red Hen is really, really tired by now, so she asks Crowsie-Woesie if he’ll help her out. But you know what he says?”

“He’s a boy so he doesn’t have to help with the cooking?”

“You got that right. So she takes care of it all by herself and the corn bread comes out just perfect. The smell of it wafts out the window, and who should smell it but Foxy Loxy, Turkey Lurkey, Puppy Wuppy, Kitsy Witsy, and Crowsie-Woesie, and they all come runnin’ and when they see how delicious it looks, they all say ‘Can we have some a dat, Little Red Hen? And what does she say to them?”

Little Gina’s face brightens visibly as she takes on the role of the poor, overworked hen. “She says ‘You didn’t plant the corn, and you didn’t water the corn, and you didn’t weed the corn, and you didn’t pick the corn, and you didn’t cook the corn, so . . .’”

Her father waits with anticipation, and the little girl draws out the suspense with an extended silence. “So what does she say to ’em?” her father finally asks her.

“You don’t get no fuckin’ corn!” she says with an outburst of laughter that causes her father to give her a great big hug.

“That’s my little girl,” he says with a wink at this reporter. “She ain’t never gonna take no guff from nobody!”

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