Monday, August 13, 2012

The Karmic Hurricane

The two people in the picture are my paternal Italian grandparents.  I share my grandmother’s name, first and last, as I never gave up my maiden name.  I once stood beside her grave and saw my name carved into the stone at her head.  It gave me an overwhelming sense of eternity.  Her name and some part of her existence via genetic memory had been passed on to me through my father.  So, I have a retrospective and precognitive sense of her time, even though she died three months before I was born.  In truth, death and violence notwithstanding, life is as indestructible and immutable as time itself.

She and my grandpa came to this country at the beginning of the last century.  With other Italians and Sicilians they were part of a great flood of immigration that was a pre-storm warning of an approaching karmic hurricane. 

They came to the United States looking for new lives because our soldiers who fought and helped win the First World War told them that the streets of America were paved with gold.  They came with their hearts full of hope to join a society full of hate – as the Irish or Chinese immigrants who came before could have told them.  Dirty Wop Anarchists they were called.  Some were probably Anarchists – much like the people who want to destroy the government today.  However, most of them were half starved peasants from the old country with their lives in tattered knapsacks and their families in tow.

The hurricane gained momentum in 1919 when the Volstead Act was passed into law and became the foundation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution - Prohibition.  This despicable piece of unpopular legislation was designed to stop the use of intoxicating beverages, curb alcoholism and the social ills that resulted from it.  Once again, stupid, corrupt politicians pandering to fanatics with a lopsided agenda – not unlike the hacks we suffer today – missed the mark since Prohibition did none of these things.  What it did do was generate the greatest criminal empire in the history of the world.  Men like Alfonse “Scarface” Capone saw an opportunity to get rich through the illegal manufacture and distribution of alcohol.  They seized it gleefully.  Thus was born the eye of the storm.  

From the mid 1920’s to the early 1930’s when Capone was sent to prison for income tax evasion he ran Chicago.  This son of Dirty Wop Anarchists immigrants was one of the most powerful men in the country.  He was often called the unofficial Mayor of Chicago as he owned politicians, city officials, judges, cops and to a large extent the admiration of a public furious about Prohibition.  In no small way, Capone’s empire was built upon the loyalty, and not a little fear, of immigrant Italians like his parents and the Sicilian immigrants that faced the loathing of Chicago’s “decent” citizens every day.

As my father told the story, an often neglected part of the whole story by the way, when Italian or Sicilian men went looking for work in a garage, grocery story or restaurant they would be turned away with a warning not to come back because there wasn’t any work for their kind.  As a result they stepped into the tempest that surrounded America’s most infamous mob boss and ask for employment because their babies were hungry.  Capone gave them money to feed their kids telling them to come back and he would find something for them to do.  Accordingly, his empire grew exponentially out of the bigotry endemic in Chicago at that time.

Hurricane Al hit landfall in a torrent of blood gushing down the streets that were supposed to be paved with gold– the blood of his enemies, the blood of his friends and the blood of innocent civilians all mingling together and splattering the name Scarface across the front page of every newspaper in this nation.  The perfect karmic storm had come full circle.

To spite the era in which he lived the old man with the haunting dark eyes in the picture was the gentlest of human beings.  He was a simple man with simple needs, a decent job, a home and food on the table for his children - all of this to honor the woman who at the time of his death had been his wife of some fifty years.  You see, he believed that a man shows his children how much he loves them by the way he treats their mother.

My grandfather never saw a weapon or a bomb much less used one and never took anything that didn’t belong to him.  He was a law abiding, hardworking man all of his life; became a citizen within a few years of coming to this country and spoke English only, albeit not well.  Two of his American-born sons died in Italy during the Second World War fighting under the American Flag.  Still he was a Dirty Wop Anarchist until the day he died in the minds of many.  Perhaps that is why he reluctantly respected Capone, as did my father.  Preying upon their self inflicted weakness, Al beat the bastards at their own game taking their hate and shoving it up their ass.  You called Capone a Dirty Wop once then you never called anyone anything ever again.

It goes without saying that the bigotry that the Italian and Sicilian immigrants found so prevalent in the land of opportunity contributed to the rise of Al Capone’s murderous organization – as did the idiot politicians, the fanatics and their ridiculous 18th Amendment.  Not to mention a chronically indifferent public.  Just as it goes without saying that the hate spewing public figures on the national stage today contribute to the outbreak of mass murders which blemishes our society all too frequently.  The Bachmanns, Palins, Limbaughs and Becks who churn out hate toward other people, races, religions and political ideologies are as guilty in spirit of the assault on Gabby Giffords in Arizona or the destruction of life in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin as they would be if they had pulled the trigger in fact.

The same vile mythology underlies the prejudice and intolerance that is accepted today as it did when Sam and Barbara were alive in 1919.  It is the notion that the freedom, liberty and benefits of this great country are finite.  If those who enjoy them now ever share them with the “other” they in some way have lost them.  It is the worst kind of hate and fear mongering, of race baiting and class warfare.  People who engage in propagating this filth masquerading as patriotism for political or personal gain are not to be tolerated.  If we tolerate them we deserve them.  If we deserve them we will have them.  Prepare yourself for the next karmic hurricane.

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