Freedom Lane – Paulie for Mayor

It was a sunny day on State Street in New Haven. Paulie, the proprietor of Paulie’s Pizza, came out of his office to bask in the sunlight that came through the windows of his beloved pizzeria, located in the city in which he was born and raised. “I love this city!” he exclaimed.

“Then love its citizens and help me out!” Tony exclaimed from behind the counter. “Sal’s off today, and we got a rush in here!”

“Sure,” Paulie said, going behind the counter and throwing an apron on over his chest. “I normally wouldn’t take an order coming from your mouth, but I can see we have plenty of lovely people to serve today.”

“Why are you in such a good friggin’ mood?” Tony asked.

“I don’t know,’ Paulie replied. “There’s just something about today that I can’t put my finger on, but I know it’s going to be a good one.”

“Are you Paulie Ventriglio?” someone asked, standing in front of his register.

“I sure am!” Paulie said, beaming. “What can I get you?”

“You’re under arrest,” the customer said. Another came behind the counter with a pair of handcuffs.

“Oh!”  Paulie said. “Who the snot is arresting me?!”

“FBI,” the agent said, showing his ID. “You’re going to need to come with us.”

“What the snot for!?” Paulie shouted.

“Cuff him,” the agent said, nodding to the other one.

“Ah fongool!” Paulie shouted as he was cuffed and led to the front door. “I have rights! Tell me what you think I did, you friggin’ mooks!” Paulie was brought outside as his customers watched.

“OK then,” Tony said, walking up to the register. “I guess that means I’m on my own today. Who was next?”

**** 

Freedom Lane 

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 14 Finale: Paulie for Mayor

****

“Can you believe it?” Helen asked. “Of all the things to ever happen around here, I would have never expected this. Nope. Never in a million years would I think that something so extreme and devastating could happen to our little family.”

“Helen,” Rose said, reaching over the corner of the table and placing her hand over her wife’s. “It’s just a new restaurant.”

Helen leaned back in her chair, sitting in a new Italian restaurant down the road from Paulie’s on State Street called “Family Business”. “But this was where Cutler’s Steakhouse used to be!” She yelled, arms flailing. “We loved that place!”

“You loved it,” Rose sighed. “The steak was always too bloody for me, and they refused to make anything cooked more than medium rare.”

“That’s the joy of a place like that. It’s the ‘shut up and eat your friggin’ dinner’ mentality that’s gone these days, and it’s ruining the restaurant business if you ask me. At least Paulie will still put a stunad in their place if he has to.”

“Where is Unca Paulie anyway?” Da’Quarius asked. “Ain’t he s’pose to be here by now?”

“Something probably came up,” Rose said. “He wouldn’t blow us off without a reason. You know that.”

“Bah!” Helen ejaculated, waving a hand toward Rose. “This place is his competition!”

“They’re entirely different,” Rose argued. “Paulie’s is a pizzeria. This place is a sit-down restaurant. They don’t even serve pizza here.”

“Excuse me,” someone said from behind Helen, addressing their waitress. “These meatballs aren’t done right. Can you ask the chef to remake them? These are too crispy.”

Helen’s eye twitched and she put her hands on the table, palms down, pushing herself up. “That’s it,” she muttered.

“Helen!” Rose called as Helen got to her feet. “Please don’t!”

“Hell yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Paulie’s gonna be sorry he missed dis shit.”

“No,” Helen said, taking the plate from the waitress as she tried to get it back to the kitchen. She put it back on the table in front of the woman who was attempting to send it back. “There’s nothing wrong with your meatballs, lady. There’s something wrong with you. If I were these meatballs, I’d send you back!”

“What?” the woman asked.

Helen picked up one of the meatballs and took a bite. “Meatballs are supposed to be crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, you friggin’ dingbat. Have you ever had a real meatball, or have you just eaten that canned shit with the asshole chef on it?” She dropped the rest of the meatball on the woman’s plate. “Eat it.”

“Please…” the woman’s date said.

“Shut it!” Helen snapped, pointing a finger in his face. “I wasn’t addressing you, junior.”

“But you bit it,” the woman said.

“Are you saying I have germs?” Helen asked. “I told you to eat the fucking meatball.”

The woman looked at Helen, picking up her fork. She cut it in half and picked up the part that was unbitten. She brought it up to her mouth slowly and took a bite. She chewed, watching Helen with a look of horror on her face and swallowed.

“How was it?” Helen asked.

“I-it’s good,” the woman stuttered, a tear spilling from the corner of her eye.

“Good girl,” Helen said, lightly tapping the woman on the cheek. “You enjoy your meal now.”

Helen turned toward her table, where Rose was sitting with her head in her hands and Da’Quarius was beaming. There were two men in suits standing there. “Da’ managers wanna talk to you!” Da’Quarius said.

“Oh?”  Helen asked. “What the hell do you dick-stains need, a lesson in customer relations?”

Da’Quarius chuckled. “Whatever Paulie is doin’ cain’t be any better den dis!”

***

“What did they do to you?!” Tony begged once Paulie was back from his trip downtown with the FBI. “They interrogate you? Oh shit. Did they waterboard you?”

“No, you idiot!” Paulie snapped. “They brought me in to talk about mob connections.”

“You don’t have any mob connections,” Tony said. “Unless… Have you been keeping your mob connections from me?!”

“No!” Paulie shouted. “Don’t be a bigger idiot than you already are! They thought I had something to do with some plot I know nothing about. I can’t stand this shit. They think because I’m an Italian-American business owner that I’m somehow connected with organized crime. This is complete horseshit! I should do something about this! I should take this right the frig down to city friggin’ hall!”

“Put your money where your mouth is then,” Tony said, taking the remote from behind the counter that controlled the TV mounted on the wall in Paulie’s main area. He turned on the local news channel and turned up the volume. “Check out the news.”

Paulie turned to watch the story the anchor was repeating with a picture of New Haven Mayor Jon Dibona in the corner. “Holy shit,” he said. “They arrested him for corruption and all the mooks who worked with him in City Hall?! Did they say what he did?”

“Mob ties,” Tony said. “There’s a lot of that going around.”

“Madon,” Paulie groaned, turning back to Tony. “What am I supposed to do with this information?”

“They’re going to need a new mayor,” Tony said. “They’re going to hold an impromptu election in a couple of weeks.”

“I don’t think that’s how government works, Tony,” Paulie said. “It sounds like some stunad is just making up the rules as he goes.”

“They said it on the news!” Tony exclaimed, coming from around the counter. “You can run for mayor yourself and do something about your predicament.”

“Me?” Paulie said. “Run for mayor of New Haven?”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “You can call the guys at City Hall stunads instead of me.”

Paulie thought for a moment. “You know, those stunads at City Hall could really use a smack to the back of the head. I think you’re on to something, Tony.”

“Damn right I am,” Tony said. “I’ll be your campaign manager.”

“The frig you will!” Paulie exclaimed. “I’d rather have Da’Quarius!”

“And I’ll be his assistant!” Tony shouted.

Paulie looked at Tony. “Fine. You be the kid’s assistant. This is going to be a hell of a career change…”

***

“I can’t believe you took the job!” Rose exclaimed, sitting on her couch at her home on Freedom Lane after her family’s eventful lunch at Family Business. “I can’t believe they actually offered to hire you just to yell at their customers!”

“I told you the restaurant business needs me!” Helen said, settling in her recliner with a smug smile on her face. “At least the two who run that place know that some people just need to be told to shut up and eat.”

“I think you’re gonna be a publicity stunt,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s a niche campaign to get people into their place.”

“What the frig are you babbling about?” Helen asked. “Never mind. Just shut up. See! It comes natural to me!”

“Shush,” Rose said, absently waving a hand toward Helen. “I want to hear what he has to say.”

“Well you go ahead and hear it then,” Helen said, getting back up. “I’m going to take a shit.”

“Tell me what you mean,” Rose said to Da’Quarius. “What’s this niche campaign?”

“You saw how slow it was today,” Da’Quarius said. “They’re desperate to get people in da’ door. Look at Paulie’s. He’s always busy as fuck, an’ he’ on da’ same street.”

“I’m not following,” Rose said.

“Paulie has two things people come for,” Da’Quarius continued. “He got da’ pizza, and he got da’ atmosphere. Nobody is like Paulie’s. You get in dere, get a slice, and watch Paulie threaten to slap Tony upside his head ‘bout a hundred times a night. You get what I’m sayin’?”

“Yeah,” Rose said.

“Da’ food at Family Business ain’t bad,” Da’Quarius continued, “but dey just like e’ry other place makin’ Italian food in New Haven. Dey don’t have anythin’ special.”

“And they need a hook,” Rose said, thinking.

“Yup,” Da’Quarius said. “They’re gonna make a runnin’ joke of Helen yellin’ at da’ snobby customers, an’ people are gonna go eat there for a chance to see her in action. Why else hire her to do dat? No restaurant wants to kick people out, but they’re gonna make a show of it.”

“I guess I should have seen that,” Rose said. “It’s almost too bad Helen thrives on being negative. She’s gonna be great to a major fault.”

“Yup,” Da’Quarius said. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he took it out and read the message. “Paulie’s runnin’ for mayor too.”

Rose nodded, and then what Da’Quarius had said hit her. “He’s what?!”

“He’s runnin’ fo’ mayor,” Da’Quarius replied, “an’ umma help him win it!”

***

“I got the tee-shirts!” Tony exclaimed, coming into Paulie’s Pizza, which was a makeshift campaign headquarters along with being a thriving pizzeria. Business had gone way up when Paulie announced his candidacy for mayor the week before, and people had come to wish him well and offer their support. Most of the East Rock neighborhood who frequented Paulie’s Pizza seemed to want him to win.

“I didn’t tell you to get tee-shirts!” Da’Quarius snapped. “What did I tell you ‘bout checkin’ with me first on dis shit?!”

“Come on, kid,” Tony said, setting the cardboard box on the table. “The Garcia brothers made them in the bodega, and I had to pay out of my own pocket!”

“Again,” Da’Quarius said. “I didn’t tell you to get ‘em, so I ain’t payin’ you back from Paulie’s campaign fund.”

“Shit,” Tony said. “I was hoping you’d suck at doing this job so Paulie would make me his manager.”

“And I was hoping you’d shut da’ fuck up ‘bout it,” Da’Quarius retorted, “but it looks like neither one of us are gettin’ what dey want.”

“At least look at the shirts!” Tony begged. “Consider them a gift to the campaign from me.”

“Fine.”

Tony smiled, opening the box. He pulled out the shirt on top and held it out so Da’Quarius could get a good look at it. “Like it?”

“Dat looks nuttin’ like Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “It looks like da’ cartoon chef from da’ pizza boxes. Paulie doesn’t have a mustache, an’ I doubt he’d be pinchin’ da’ ends of it like dat.”

“It is!” Tony beamed. “Good eye, kid. If this cartoon can sell pizza, then he can sell Paulie to New Haven.”

“Look,” Paulie said, coming into his pizzeria from the outside, flanked by reporters. “I just want what’s best for New Haven. I’m tired of turning on the news to see corrupt politicians being dragged out of office while good, honest, hard-working people are being dragged under the microscope.”

“You’re saying your alleged mob ties aren’t important to your running?” one reporter asked.

“That’s a stretch there, chief,” Paulie replied. “I have zero mob ties. Sure, the old family may have been involved with some old family business, but that’s in the past and not in my present or future. I want to put to rest this stereotype that all Italian business owners are somehow tied to the mob. Oh, and here’s my campaign manager and nephew, Da’Quarius.”

“Look,” Tony whispered. “He’s gonna use you for publicity again! How’s it feel being used?”

“Shut da’ fuck up,” Da’Quarius whispered back as Paulie approached with the reporters. “You don’t even understand da’ shit I’m gonna get away with once Paulie’s mayor. I can play da’ black nephew card for a bit. An’ get those shirts outta here!”

But it was too late. “What are you working on here?” Paulie asked, coming up to Da’Quarius and Tony. “Are those tee shirts you made?”

“He sure did!” Tony exclaimed, answering for Da’Quarius. “Little tyke just brought them in from across the street, hot off the presses!”

“I think our reporter friends should all get one, along with a slice,” Paulie said, passing out the shirts without looking at them.

“I’m on the slices,” Tony said, heading back to the kitchen.

Da’Quarius tried to take the shirts from his uncle. “Paulie,” he urged.

“What?” Paulie asked. “They’re great shirts, kid. I’m proud of you.”

“Tony made ‘em!” Da’Quarius said.

Paulie froze as the last reporter took their shirt, unfolding it to see the pizza box design on it. “What’s this?” the reporter asked, chuckling. “Pizza man for mayor? I love that headline!”

“Tony!” Paulie shouted, heading toward the kitchen.

***

“This soup is too spicy,” Gail said, sitting at a table with her husband in the middle of the Family Business Restaurant. “Is there a way I can get a bowl with out so much seasoning in it?”

“Oh,” the waitress said. “I’m going to have to check with our kitchen staff.”

“I’ll wait,” Gail replied as the waitress walked away. She turned toward her husband. “She didn’t even take the soup back.”

“There goes her tip,” her husband, Murray, muttered. “I hope she likes zero percent.”

“Who the snot said my soup is too friggin’ spicy!?” a woman shouted, barging her way from the kitchen, dressed in a housedress, a hair net, brandishing a rolling pin.

“Who’s that?” a customer asked, turning to watch.

“That’s Nonnie Helen,” their friend replied. “She comes out whenever someone complains. It’s freakin’ awesome! I keep coming in hopes of catching her yelling at someone.”

“You the one who complained?” Helen said, approaching Gail and Murray’s table, standing next to the waitress who had taken the initial complaint.

“Yes,” Gail said, keeping her composure as Helen tapped her left palm with the rolling pin. “This soup is too spicy, and I want a bowl without so much seasoning.”

“Do you know what ‘spicy’ means?” Helen asked.

“Yes,” Gail replied.

Helen sighed. “No, you friggin’ don’t apparently. Your soup isn’t ‘spicy’, it’s ‘seasoned,’ you battle axe. If you want to eat something bland, I can heat up a bowl of mop water for your sensitive mouth.”

“Excuse me?” Gail asked. “Is this how you talk to your customers?”

“I talk to the stupid ones this way,” Helen retorted. “Look, toots, I have a compromise here.” She reached over the table and took Gail’s glass of water, pouring it into the soup. She then stirred it up with her two fingers and put them in her mouth. “There. I can barely taste the seasoning. We good here?”

Gail looked toward Murray, who had a look of horror on his face. “We’re good,” she replied in a shaky voice. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ‘ma’am’,” Helen said. “Call me ‘Nonnie Helen’, bitch.”

***

“I can’t believe you did this!” Paulie exclaimed, holding up one of Tony’s “pizza man” tee-shirts. “What the hell is the matter with you!?”

“I’m helping!” Tony retorted. “The kid can’t do all the work.”

“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I got the kid in charge for a reason. He never would have signed off on this, and now the news is going to be calling me ‘Pizza Man for Mayor’. Congratulations, Tony. You single-handedly made me the joke candidate.”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Sure, I’ll give you that. But do you really want to be mayor anyway? Have you really thought about how much work you’d have to do there versus here?”

“You friggin’ stunad!” Paulie shouted. “This was your friggin’ idea!”

“I don’t remember that,” Tony said.

Paulie was about to berate his longtime friend some more when the chimes above the door rang, and another old friend walked in. “Silvio,” Paulie said, walking up to him and shaking his hand. “How goes it?”

“It goes,” Silvio said, his usual surly demeanor unchanged. He was shorter than Paulie by a foot, and his hair was dyed black and greased back, and he looked as if he wasn’t actually in his mid-sixties. “I just came by for a slice and a little conversation, as you offered me in the past.”

“Tony!” Paulie called. “Get Silvio a small pie!”

“On it!” Tony called back.

“I’ll take it to go,” Silvio said. “I have other meetings to attend to this afternoon.”

“What did you want to talk about?” Paulie asked, sitting in a booth across from Silvio.

“I see you’ve gotten yourself into local politics,” Silvio replied. “I have a friend who works for the New Haven Herald, and he says they’re getting ready to plaster some not-so-flattering story all over the front of tomorrow’s paper.”

Paulie grunted. “That would be Tony’s fault, of course. These guys just want to make me look like an asshole, like a stereotypical Italian pizza man. I don’t get what their problem is. I have thoughts and ideas about the issues this city faces, and all they care about is that the cartoon pizza man is on some tee-shirts.”

“It’s a shame,” Silvio nodded. “An honest businessman is stripped down to whatever image gets enough giggles to sell a fucking newspaper or gets dummies to stare at the evening news for a segment or two. It breaks my heart to see them do this to you, so I took care of it.”

“You what?” Paulie asked. “How?”

“I have my ways,” Silvio said, a small smirk on his face. “A little bird told these mooks to nix that ‘pizza man’ shit right now, before things get out of hand.”

“Silvio,” Paulie said, “I can’t be perceived to be in the mob’s pocket. I appreciate it, but it’s going to look bad if you’re making inquiries like this on my behalf. This is why we need a new mayor to begin with.”

“Say no more,” Silvio said, raising a hand. “I know your feelings on my business, and I respect them as always. I didn’t do this for a favor when and if you’re elected. I did this because we go way back, Paulie.”

“Thank you, then,” Paulie said. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“You didn’t,” Silvio said. Tony came out and handed him a box, and Silvio reached for the money clip in his breast pocket.

“It’s on me,” Paulie said before he could take it out. “It’s the least I can do for the favor.”

“We’re even then,” Silvio said, smiling. “I’ll see you around, Paulie.”

“Yeah,” Paulie said as Silvio left. “See you around.”

“Smart,” Tony said. “Get the mob in your corner now. They can’t claim you became corrupt if you were corrupt all along.”

Paulie turned to Tony. “GET THE FRIG OUT OF MY FACE BEFORE I SHOVE A BROOMSTICK UP YOUR ASS AND MAKE YOU SWEEP THE FLOORS WITH IT!”

***

“What the hell is wrong with all these people?” Helen asked the waitstaff, sitting in her waiting area, which was a comfy chair and a television set. “I just took this job to sit around and come out every now and then, but I already yelled at three people today.”

“Just one of those days, I guess,” Carroll, one of the waitresses replied.

“Really,” Helen said, shaking her head. “I don’t think I have it in me to be mean any more. You’re wearing too much make up, by the way. You look like a whore.”

Carroll turned and walked off to continue her job.

“Nice ass, though,” Helen muttered.

Helen turned the volume up on the TV. This is what made the job worth it: being able to watch her shows without anyone to nag her. No Rose correcting the grammar of the soap opera actresses, no Da’Quarius babbling in whatever version of English he used, and no dog barking at every goddam squirrel it saw out the window. She sighed, thinking about it. Maybe she did miss it, a little.

“Nonnie Helen,” a waiter said, coming to her area, out of breath. “I have a customer who says the garlic bread is stale.”

“It’s supposed to be like that,” Helen said.

“I know,” the waiter replied, “but I think you need to take care of it.”

“Shit,” Helen groaned, getting up. “Some days it doesn’t pay to even sit down. Show me the way, fruity.”

***

“So now I’m tit-deep in with my friend Silvio!” Paulie exclaimed, recanting the story for Rose and Helen. “I know a veiled comment when I hear it. Him showing up like that tells me he expects me to help him out if I’m elected. Shit, I don’t even know why I’m doing this anymore.”

“Nobody asked you to,” Helen muttered. “It’s like my job. Nobody asked me to do it, but I do it anyway. C’est la vie.”

“Are you really comparing Paulie for mayor to you getting paid to yell at people?” Rose asked.

“Is it not similar?” Helen asked in return.

“What can you do anyway?” Rose asked, ignoring Helen’s scowl at being dismissed. “You run a pizzeria with ties to mob families. People are going to make the comparison to you being a stereotypical Italian-American. Is this really the uphill battle you want to face before you’re even elected into office?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Paulie said. “This city needs some new blood, and I can make sure whoever follows me after the election would make a decent public figure, even if I only take office until the end of this last asshole’s unfinished term.”

“It’s a lot to think about,” Rose said. “I think you should have given this a little more thought is all I’m saying.”

“You’re probably right,” Paulie sighed. “Maybe I need to think this through with a cooler head.”

“HELEN!” Da’Quarius shouted, rushing down the stairs with his phone in his hand.

“Why the hell are you screaming my friggin’ name like I’m about to get hit by a bus?” Helen asked. “Can’t you see the grown-ups are having a meeting?”

“But you’re on da’ internet!” Da’Quarius exclaimed, rushing to the table. “I found a clickbait article ‘bout you on my Facebook feed.”

“Pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about and try again,” Helen said, rolling her eyes.

“Dere’s dese ads on Facebook,” Da’Quarius explained. “Dey called ‘clickbait’. Dey want you to click on ‘em to get you to see more ads. They look like funny little videos, but it’s not. It’s just clickbait an’ shit.”

Helen looked at Rose with her eyebrows raised.

Rose sighed. “They’re commercials on the internet.”

“Oh,” Helen said, sitting upright. “Why didn’t you say that, kid?”

“Look at dis video,”’ Da’Quarius said, giving Helen the phone as she put her reading glasses on.

“I’m supposed to see this nonsense on this tiny screen?” Helen muttered.

Da’Quarius pressed the play icon, and the video started. Yellow letters on the bottom of the screen informed her of what she was seeing. “This restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut is anything but typical. If you have an issue with the food, you might just get a visit from Nonnie Helen!”

“Who the hell made you the authority on pasta sauce?!” Helen shouted at a customer on the screen.

“Hey!” the Helen in real life snapped. “Who the hell gave them the authority to film this?!”

“Just watch!” Da’Quarius exclaimed.

The video on Da’Quarius’ phone continued. “Nonnie Helen isn’t there every night,” the text read, “but if you’re unlucky, she just may come out to address your complaint.”

The video showed one more shot of Helen shouting and waving her arm around. “Why don’t you just eat your spaghetti off the friggin’ floor, you asshole?!”

“Dear Lord,” Rose groaned, looking downward and shaking her head. “She’s on the internet now?”

“I can’t believe they pay you to berate customers,” Paulie marveled. “If you ever want to retire, I’ll take over the gig.”

“Nope,” Helen said, shaking her head. “There’s only one Nonnie Helen, and she ain’t you. Besides, you have your own customers to berate.”

“This is true,”  Paulie said.

“The two of you need to learn to be better people persons,” Rose said, getting up and walking away from the table.

“What I say?” Paulie called after her.

“Don’t worry about that woman of mine,” Helen said softly. “She’s not a fan of our brand of dinner entertainment.”

***

“Are you sure this is OK?” Paulie asked, reading the speech Da’Quarius had prepared for him. “I’m really starting to rethink this whole thing.”

“You can’t give up now!” Tony exclaimed. “Who do you think you are, Jeb Bush?!”

“Stay out of this!”  Paulie snapped. “I was asking the kid anyway.”

“Fine,” Tony said, waving a hand and leaving the office. “There goes Mister Politician, ignoring the voice of his best friend. I was going to vote for you and everything.”

“YOU BETTER STILL VOTE FOR ME, YOU FRIGGIN’ STUNAD!” Paulie shouted.

“Calm down,” Da’Quarius said. “Someone will hear you shoutin’ shit like dat at Tony an’ think you’re an Italian hot-head an’ shit.”

“So what if I’m an Italian hot-head,” Paulie groaned. “Helen can work yelling at people, and I’m supposed to reel it in.”

“Helen ain’t runnin’ for mayor,” Da’Quarius said. “Just look over da’ speech I wrote.”

“I read it four or five times already,” Paulie said, looking at the piece of paper. “The impromptu election is coming up, and this can make or break me. And I still don’t know what Silvio is up to.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout dat mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “He probably ain’t gonna do a damn thing.”

“Paulie!” Tony exclaimed coming back into the office. “The reporters are ready outside, and you have a visitor.”

Paulie sighed. “Let me guess. It’s Silvio, right?”

“Yeah,” Tony replied. “He wants to see -”

“Sorry to intrude,” Silvio said, pushing himself into Paulie’s crowded office. “I was wondering if I can have a word before your big moment.”

“Sure,” Paulie said. “It’s not like I can escape my office with all of you blocking my only way out.”

“Can we have a little privacy?” Silvio asked.

Tony stepped between Silvio and Paulie. “Whatever you have to say to Paulie, you can say in front of me and Da’Quarius!”

“C’mon,” Da’Quarius said, dragging Tony by the arm. “Let da’ adults talk.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Tony snapped. Silvio turned and closed the door.

“What’s up, Sil?” Paulie asked.

“I need you to mention a few things in your speech today,” Silvio said. “I’d consider it a favor to me and my own.”

Paulie sighed. “Look, I don’t know if I want to be doing this,” he said.  “I’m having a hard-enough time keeping my image clean without your business from my headlines.”

Silvio looked taken aback. “You think I want you defending my business in your speech?” he asked. “I’m a little hurt you think I’d want to drag you into that life. I know and respect your stance.”

“You do?” Paulie asked. “Then what was that stuff about shutting up the reporters for me?”

“I told you last time,” Silvio replied. “I didn’t like what they did to you, so I took care of it. Did you not believe me?”

“I’m sorry, Sil,” Paulie said. “I’ve been under a lot of stress, and I’m starting to think this whole mayor thing isn’t even worth it.”

“Then don’t run,” Silvio said with a shrug. “I think you can slap some sense into this city, but it might not be worth the headache. You understand, Paulie?”

“I think so,”  Paulie said. “You can’t fight City Hall if you are City Hall, right?”

“Whatever floats your boat,” Silvio said. “Don’t worry about the misunderstanding. I’m gonna run. I’ll see you on the local news.”

“See you,” Paulie said. He went back to his speech for a moment before something struck him as odd. He got up and went after Silvio, who was making his way toward the exit of the pizzeria. “Wait! What did you want me to say in my speech?”

“It’s not important,” Silvio said. “I’ll see you around.”

Silvio left Paulie’s, and his car was waiting just on the other side of the people milling around the sidewalk to hear what Paulie had to say. He got in the backseat of the car. “He gonna play ball, boss?” his driver, Carmine, asked.

“No,” Silvio replied.

“You want me to convince him?” Carmine asked.

Silvio looked into the rearview mirror and met Carmine’s eyes. “Leave him alone,” he said, looking out the window as State Street passed by. “He’s not one of us. He’s a good man.”

“Alright,” Carmine said, driving Silvio back to his club. “Whatever you say, boss.”

***

“Alright, you friggin’ morons!” Helen said, charging out of the kitchen of the Family Business restaurant. “I don’t know what’s with you people today, but I’m getting sick of all the complaints. Who has an issue with the food now?!”

“I do,” a twenty-something year old man said, raising his hand. “This spaghetti is too wiggly.”

“It’s too…” Helen muttered, fighting the urge to have a stroke just to teach the smart-ass a lesson. “I should slap you across that wiggly mouth of yours, you little shit!”

The reaction was different this time. The customer wasn’t horrified by the remark. He looked almost gleeful that she had berated him in front of his friends and the others in the restaurant. She looked around, realizing that everyone was watching her, waiting for her to do what she did. She even spotted someone wearing a Nonnie Helen tee shirt, a cartoon version of herself brandishing a rolling pin.

“I’m a goddamn comic strip caricature,” Helen whispered to herself.

“What?” her customer asked.

Helen took her apron off and tossed it on the table. “I quit,” she said. “This was fun when it was me yelling at you stunads for acting like a bunch of assholes about your food, but you went and ruined it by enjoying this shit.”

The owners were out now, a look of worry on both of their faces. “And you two,” Helen said, turning toward them. “Maybe if you could run a decent restaurant, you wouldn’t have to hire me as some friggin’ gimmick to get asses in your seats.”

“But Helen,” one of the owners said. “Everyone loves you!”

“Well I hate them!” Helen snapped. “Fuck everyone here in their stupid faces!”

Helen walked toward the door with her head held high. She only turned around for a second. “Can someone give me a ride home?” she asked. “My woman isn’t coming for three more hours.”

***

Paulie walked outside of his pizzeria to the small crowd that had gathered to hear what he had to say. He looked at them in the sunlight, and they watched with cameras or notepads. He wasn’t in his suit like he wanted. He had changed back into his polo shirt and jeans, and there was a reason he did.

“I no longer want to act like I’m something I’m not,” Paulie began. “I’m no politician, that’s for damn sure. I wanted to be mayor to clean up this city from the inside, but I know that’s never going to happen. For starters, I’m too clean to even make it to City Hall. You people think you want a guy with clean hands but let me tell you: there ain’t any.

“I made a mistake today. I accused an old friend of wrongdoings he didn’t do, even though I thought he was doing said wrongdoings while I was doing my best to do no wrongs. Capeesh?

“I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my life, but running for Mayor was by far the dumbest. I wanted to make a point, and I did it the wrong way. Just because I’m Italian doesn’t mean I’m a stereotype, other than the pizzeria I mean. I don’t have mob ties, I don’t shout obscenities in Italian, and I don’t talk with my hands.”

“Yes you do!” Tony called from the crowd.

“AH FONGOOL!” Paulie exclaimed, his hand going in an up-and-down motion. “WHO LET YOU OUTSIDE, YOU FRIGGIN’ GAGOOTZ! YOU GET YOUR ASS BACK IN THERE AND START SLINGING SOME DOUGH BEFORE I SLAP YOU SO HARD YOUR FACE ENDS UP ON THE PIZZA INSTEAD OF PEPPERONI!”

“Jeez,” Tony muttered, walking past the crowd toward the front door. “Can you believe people wanna vote for this hot-head?”

The crowd murmured as Paulie caught his breath. “Madon,”  he sighed. “Look, all I’m saying is that New Haven is too good for me. I’ve been here all my life, but I don’t know a damn thing about running it. So vote for whoever the hell you want, just make sure it’s not me. Let this corrupt bullshit take someone else’s soul from them. I prefer mine clean.”

Paulie turned to leave, but a reporter from the New Haven Herald didn’t want to end the day without a personal statement. “Now that you’re out of the race, what are your daily specials?”

“Excuse me?” Paulie said, turning around. “Are you friggin’ mocking me?”

“I just want to know what your specials are,” the reporter replied. “You know… I can use a pizza.”

“I’ll pizza you!” Paulie snapped, lunging at the reporter. The others parted as Paulie gave chase down State Street.

***

Paulie came back into his pizzeria as dusk settled. He was surprised to see his family sitting at once of the booths, sharing a pizza. “Look who’s back!” Tony exclaimed, coming from the kitchen. “It’s our new mayor!”

“Cut that shit out,” Paulie grumbled. “I made my drop-out speech before I was arrested and disgraced, remember?”

“You never actually said those words, though,” Rose said. “The news is saying that you told off a bunch of reporters and beat one of them up.”

“I didn’t beat anyone up,” Paulie said, waving a hand. “The mook tripped on his own shoelaces and fell into a rosebush, the stunad.”

“And they’re going to take you in for assault over that?” Helen asked. “It’s a crying shame what our people go through in this city.”

Da’Quarius choked on his soda.

“Calm down, kid,” Helen muttered. “We don’t want you having a fit now.”

“Dis sucks, doe,” Da’Quarius said. “Paulie ain’t gonna be mayor, and Helen ain’t gonna be yellin’ at white folks tryin’ to eat dinner anymore.”

“I hear you,” Tony said, sitting at the table and taking a slice of pizza. “Today feels just like the day the coleslaw factory shut down and my mom got laid off.”

“At least this is a decent conclusion,” Paulie said, pulling up a chair and sitting at the end of the table and taking a slice of pizza for himself. “Could you imagine it if I actually was mayor?”

“I could imagine it, Paulie,” Rose said, putting her hand on his forearm, offering the most reassuring of smiles. “I think you would have been a great mayor.”

“You can imagine that?”  Helen asked. “I keep forgetting he was even running. Some of us have our own lives, you know.”

The End

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