By Phineas J. Stone
Last month, I was with a friend who was driving by a certain property one neighborhood away.
My buddy saw a large, portly fellow standing on the sidewalk.
“Watch what happens here, but don’t say anything,” he told me.
“What am I supposed to do?” I said.
“Just look serious,” he said. “Make it look like we just came from the bank after depositing about 200 C-Notes. That’s the look.”
My friend likes to think he’s legitimate, and for the most part he is, but he carries a Boston street smarts that goes back to earlier days when he was wasn’t so above-the-table. So, while the police aren’t out looking for him anymore, and he’s not breaking any laws, he’s still not doing all things with the heart of transparency. And when one lives on that side of the fence in Boston, it means one must be far more aware than the average Joe.
There’s a street telepathy that is critical if one wants to live amongst the other semi-legit guys and gals on the streets of Boston. It keeps the the razor sharp and the edge crystal clear.
You see, for these folks, life in Boston isn’t about live and let live.
They’ve carried a way with them that has existed here since the times of Mayor Curley, or likely even before that – but certainly after the Beacon Hill Brahmins ceded their power. That way is the idea that one has to get the other guy before he gets them. It’s an aggressiveness that old Boston had and, with people like my friend, continues to carry on.
It’s the undertones; the unsaid things. It’s the hidden motives you don’t know about, or can’t yet guess. It’s the brother-in-law or sister you didn’t know someone had. Only some people might understand what that last piece means.
Last month, as I looked serious in the passenger seat, my friend talked to the tough-looking portly man in front of his industrial-like property. Naturally, these kinds of conversations on the street are peppered with extreme vulgarities. Mr. Boston doesn’t talk like that, and we couldn’t print such things, but it’s important to know that context. It’s just how these folks talk to one another; speaking any other way would raise suspicions.
The two men greeted one another, talked about their mothers and a cousin twice-removed that they have in common, and who was serving a short stint at the moment in South Bay House of Corrections. On the surface, my buddy started talking to this guy about someone who was moving in on the area with a business proposal. It wasn’t a very endearing proposal, and the people bringing it to the area weren’t the best folks.
They commiserated, cursed the situation, and the portly fellow acted quite surprised.
“So you hadn’t heard that?” my friend asked.
“No way; news to me, but they’ll never allow that,” said the guy.
They chatted about parking problems on the side streets, and my friend said he had a fella connected to the Traffic Commission who could likely get some 15 minute spots or dedicated parking for the guy’s property. It was all greeted with handshakes and pleasantries.
That was the surface.
Far below, there was a whole different melodramatic dance going on – the Wiseguy Waltz.
Later, my buddy told me he and the gentleman had a years-long street agreement concerning that property we had visited and an adjoining property my buddy owned “off the deed” with some friends. Now, with property values in all parts of Boston skyrocketing, the gentleman had been approached by the outsiders and he’d joined up with them – pulling a double-cross and thinking he could make one over on my buddy (who was actually his distant relative) before anyone was the wiser and could act to block it. The gentleman had secretly tried to line up some support in powerful places, but my buddy had bigger fish on the food chain who had informed him of the plan on the sly through an intermediary.
Now, my friend was there to counteract.
He had actually gone out to size up his cousin, the gentleman, and see if he would come clean. He didn’t. So it was, the gentleman had tried to get my buddy before he could get him. However, it was my buddy now who was going to get him. In fact, instead of using the pull at the Traffic Commission to help the guy, he was going to use it to install ‘No Parking’ all the way around the guy’s property – making it virtually useless.
Who got who? They’ll probably both end up losing.
But that’s the dance that’s been dictated for decades on the streets of Boston.
These are the people who practice street telepathy. They don’t got to protests, they don’t say what they’re doing, and they don’t make a habit of being home to tuck their kids into bed.