Friday, November 30, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME, Fighting Well and Driving Badly

This was the same bar where my partner, Jerry, beat up one of the toughest guys in the neighborhood, who was a well-regarded up-and-coming professional middleweight boxer Vinny Ferguson.

     Many nights there was either a crap game or barbooth (an Italian dice game) in the 29th Street social club. Tony Butch's corner fruit stand was next to the club, and there was a red alarm light in the club, warning of some emergency, usually that the bulls [cops] were coming. The alarm was activated by a switch at the all-night fruit stand.

About 3 a.m., Nicky came out of the club, got into the car and went for coffee for the players. I was sitting on a milk crate, manning the alarm, when I saw Nicky stop for the light at the corner before making the turn up 29th Street. It was a quiet summer night, so I could hear Nicky arguing with the guys in the car next to him. I heard him tell them to, "pull over here," pointing towards the fruit stand.

When the light changed, Nicky pulled up just ahead of where I was sitting and they pulled up right in front of me. I stepped on the alarm and grabbed the crowbar. The calm, quiet summer night was shattered, along with their back window, when I smashed it with the crowbar and about forty guys, lookin' like wild men, came running outta' the club and were directed by Nicky to their targets.

Heads in the car were frantically turning like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. The driver first drove forward into Nicky's car, then grinded the gears for a few seconds (which must've seemed like minutes to them), then backed up fast, losing control, and went into parked cars across the Street. Finally, the driver gained control and sped off down Second Avenue.

Billy LeBrecht was a decent sort. He was a strong, hard-working guy who dealt straight with you. We called him "LaBreca the Wrecker.” He liked both my partner, Jerry, and I, and for some reason he thought I could do almost anything. He called me "the Hawk.” Before I had my license, I was driving his Nash Rambler on the East River Drive. I was in the middle lane and was reluctant to go between two cars in the lanes on either side of me. LaBrecka the Wrecker says, "go head Hawk, you could do it!" I hit both cars and sped off.

Another time he took me down Greenwich Village to see if we could pick up some girls. I met this one girl from Jersey and while I took her to one of the "clubhouses,", he sat in the kitchen drinking beer. It was about 2 a.m., and I promised her we would drive her back to Jersey. Well, the "Wrecker" is wrecked, so I drove, despite not having a license. It was a cold winter morning and she lived way out in Jersey.

After I dropped her off at her parent's house, she told me to make sure not to miss the turn at the second light or it'll be a long way before I can get on the Jersey Turnpike back to the city. Having no idea where I was, I started the trip back. As I was driving, I realized I just missed the second turn. Looking to my left, I saw what I thought was a gas station with what appeared to be a gas pump in it. There was snow on the ground ,so I couldn’t see a curb and make a quick decision to cut across the gas station onto the road I just missed. Going pretty fast, I bounced over a curb and about 20 feet into the "gas station" the car started sinking.

In a matter of minutes, the dark night was illuminated by flashing lights and the quiet was shattered by sirens blaring. Cops in brown mountie uniforms with fuckin' strings on their guns were running at the car from three directions. I exited the car with my hands held high and when they yelled, "Get on the car!" I replied, "Where do you want me - on the hood, on the roof, in the trunk, where?"

They asked me what I was doing there and anxious to cop out to an illegal turn, I answered, "I made an illegal turn thru this gas station.”

They said, "Gas station...boy, you on the mayor's memorial grounds!" Then they shined their flashlights on what I thought was a gas pump, which read, "in honor of Mayor....” His tombstone! I knew I was in trouble because instead of to a precinct, they took me to the "barracks," which is up on stilts. 

After talking my ass off for a half an hour, they were just about to let me go when I heard a ruckus outside and one trooper came up the wooden stairs holding LeBrecht by the collar, saying, "I caught this prick taking the air out of C-3's tires!"

Another 20 minutes of cajoling ensued, ending with my handing the chief honcho LeBrecht's license and saying, "Whatever it is, just send me the bill.” About a month later, LeBrecht tells me he got a bill for $800....I suggested he pay it.


DISORGANIZED CRIME is privately published. Contact Sonny Patini

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME, Sixties: Cruising in the Village

From Disorganized Crime, by Sonny Patini

The sixties in New York was an era of change and excitement. Hippies from all over the country flooded to neighborhoods like the East Village and Greenwich Village. On the southeast corner of St. Mark's Place (8th Street) and 3rd Avenue you could hear live jazz from the Five Spot Cafe. In Greenwich Village we'd go listen to the live Latin bands at the Village Gate, like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Eddie Palmieri, Cal Jaeder, Johnny Pacheco, Willie Colon and, the female who sometimes jammed with Tito Puente, La Lupe. Joan Baez was at the Village Barn; the Lovin' Spoonful up the block at the Purple Onion; Judy Collins was at the Hungry I; and Bob Dylan was at Gerde’s Folk City.

One of my hunting grounds was Trude Heller’s on 6th Avenue. The word I got was that Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello financed this joint, along with a lot of other Village night spots. Walking around Washington Square Park or down a street at 2 a.m.– it was alive with possibility. Freaks, hustlers, hippies, gays, dealers and street musicians, all players in a carnival-like atmosphere.

An old TV series called "Naked City" said there are 8 million stories in the Naked City. To me, the "City" meant Manhattan and its clubs, nightspots– even the apartments held intrigue. Whenever I went anywhere, as soon as I came back and saw the city's skyline, I got a feeling.... a certain energy. It was like listening to Al Green singing Love & Happiness!

I talked to any decent-looking girl I could, eventually concluding from my track record that I had a twenty-percent chance of getting laid. My approach and conversation was civil; if they didn't want to be bothered, I went on. As soon as one of my friends, "Nicky the Count," got a car, the "Village Route" was a nightly affair.

One night I rode down to the Village with the "Count" and we picked up this professional-looking woman. I asked her what she did for a living, and she said she was a "sex researcher.” Being used to cashiers, I never ran across someone in that line of work before and asked her what type of sex research she did. She said right now she was in the middle of a project researching the correlation between the size of a man's penis and his race and ethnicity. "Really!" I said, "what did you find out?"

"Well," she replied, "so far, the research shows that Native-American men have the longest penises and Mexican men have the thickest.”

I said, "That's interesting.”

Then she asked, "By the way, what's your name?"

I replied, "Tonto Rodriquez!" Later that night she accused me of false advertising.

Another night we took this fine-looking female to a coffee shop. Now the "Count" was a tough bastard, but he wasn't the sharpest pencil in the box. We're sitting down at a table, and Nicky is trying his best to look cool and sophisticated, smoking a cigarette like Maurice Chevalier with his fingers under the cigarette. We usually gave phony names to these girls, so when the girl asked Nicky what his name was, he replied, "Dino.....Dino Valenti."

She said, "That's a nice name; how do you spell it, with an ‘E’ or an ‘I‘?"

He was dumbfounded and looked anxiously at me for help. I was enjoying the moment and just stared at him. After an awkward silence, Nicky regained his composure, gave her a debonair look and replied, "Valenti.....Valenti, with a V!"

Privately published. Contact:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


As my M.S. work wound down, it seemed appropriate to look for something different, better. I was at the top of my class at Penn State that year, and I had those fine GRE scores to try to cash in. I applied to several universities more eminent than Penn State, got accepted by most, got financial offers from some, and ended up going to Harvard University’s Division of Engineering and Applied Physics (DEAP), with a Harvard Fellowship for the first year and a U. S. Public Health Service Traineeship for succeeding years.

As it turned out, I had been well above average at Cornell, near the top at Penn State, and merely middling at Harvard. On the other hand, though I did not end up impressing Harvard, Harvard did not end up impressing me.

In DEAP at Harvard

My professors ranged from the inspiring to the depressing. The most famous prof came in, wrote equations illegibly on the blackboard, mumbled in a monotonic British accent, and did not seem to care whether we learned anything or not. His book on fluid dynamics was considered a classic. The best professor I had was Professor Howard Emmons, who taught a course on transport phenomena, delivering lectures of rare clarity on material of genuine utility to me. He hadn’t written a classic book. Such a nice man, too.

I came to Harvard planning to do my doctoral research on a device that I had invented, the variable-slit impactor with photocounting. It measured an important aspect of dust or mist particles (aerodynamic diameter) and did so with a convenient counting method (detecting light scattering events). It was not clear at first how to optimize its performance nor how to analyze the data it obtained in order to compensate for significant inherent imprecision. The device, its optimization, and its data analysis became my topics.

Although the device was novel, it had its limitations and never became a commercial instrument. The data analysis techniques I worked with (data inversion) became the source of several papers I wrote subsequently, on this device and other measurement instruments. Some of that work made me proud. In another field, similar theoretical work led to a Nobel Prize for the developers of the medical CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scanners, which needed related sophisticated data inversion techniques to make sharp images out of smeared data.

By 1973, I felt I had done enough lab work and computer analysis. I had gotten married a year before, was working part-time outside the lab, and I waved good-bye to my dissertation advisor. A year later, writing at home, after work, I finished the dissertation and got my Ph.D.

At the Harvard graduation ceremonies, where many degrees of many types were awarded, the undergraduate speaker presented his speech in Latin. The graduate students and their guests were perplexed. Only other undergrads seemed to be understanding it, laughing together at certain parts. Later we found that only they, but not the other graduates and guests, had been given translations. A tradition, it turned out. Cheap trick.

My dissertation advisor did not end up getting tenure at Harvard, but got a full professorship at a fine engineering school. Not many years later, he committed suicide, reportedly from disappointment with his career.

Lesson learned: it is more important to balance the whole life than optimize a segment of it.

Harvard YAF

During this period at Harvard, 1969–73, I was very active in Harvard’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. Activities included writing, public speaking, organizing, and hosting a radio talk show on Boston University’s FM station, WBUR-FM. Almost all my friends were drawn from our political minority group. We would not just sit down and shut up. Some of these allies went on to have media and public affairs careers: Bill Kristol, Dave Brudnoy, Dan Rea, Avi Nelson, Don Feder, Bob Biddinato.

Radio Days

From 1972 to 1976 I had a half-hour talk radio program on WBUR-FM. Around 1976–77, I did a lot of paid part-time four-hour talk-show work on a Boston commercial AM radio station, too. To me, science was my vocation, my likely meal ticket; public affairs media activities would remain an avocation. The summary firing of the staff at my radio station, WITS, when it went from talk to music, confirmed my decision. Fun, patriotic, but not to be relied on.

Science is a bit more honest, too. One liberal Democrat talk-show host was leading a boycott of coffee because the price had risen too rapidly. He led it while drinking ... coffee. He was amused, but I was not.

Science is less subjective, too. My radio station bosses in those days gave me several rules for radio success that today’s most successful radio host, Rush Limbaugh, ignores: he uses fewer guests, fewer calls, long opening monologues.

Sometimes you’ve got to break the rules.

Monday, November 26, 2012

MY PENN STATE YEARS: Politics, Fame, Love


Another lesson I learned at Penn State was the emptiness of “fame.” I was the head of a conservative student political organization, Penn State Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), that was particularly active and that grew rapidly during the 1966–1968 years, partly to counter the activism of the school’s left- wingers, especially as it related to the Viet Nam War. Many people knew me on campus. Those who were merely acquaintances would strike up much the same conversation, which got to be a bore. No one asked for an autograph, mind you, but it became clear that being “known” was not all that hot. Of course, being known as a liberal might have been better.

Our YAF chapter did run a successful campaign that got me elected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention (Miami, 1968). The effort was masterminded by Don Ernsberger, a friend who went on to become educator, book author, and the assistant chief of staff to a Member of Congress. We put posters up in almost all of the ten counties of Pennsylvania’s 23rd Congressional District. I had written weekly opinion pieces for the local paper in the neighboring town of Bellefonte, and during the campaign we issued a half-dozen position papers that also ran in a few local papers. Two out of the five who were running were to be elected. I was the second highest vote-getter, partly because my name appeared near the top among the five candidates on the ballot, the positions assigned by lot. I have the certificate on my wall, indicating I received 16,193 votes on 23 April, 1968. Not bad.

We had a party that night and listened to the election returns. We celebrated. I was so happy, I backed my car into a tree. I still dislike backing up.

As an elected delegate, I got to participate in the Republican National Nominating Convention that nominated Richard Nixon, who went on to beat Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. I personally preferred Ronald Reagan but did not think he could win, and my constituents preferred Nixon. The powers-that-were in Pennsylvania wanted our governor, Raymond P. Shafer, to get our votes, as a favorite son, to help in nominating Nelson Rockefeller eventually; but they recognized quickly that my motivation was ideological, not political, and that there was not much they could offer to give me or threaten to take from me that would move me. A handful of others in our delegation joined me in going against the governor. The other delegate from the 23rd C.D. seemed to have caved in, by the way.

I also learned that Miami in August had the climate of a steam bath, without the charm.


For much of my stay at Penn State, I generously shared my apartment with my then-girlfriend, Laura. She was perhaps even more of a political activist than I. Attractive, smart, creative, rather off-beat, a libertarian-conservative Jewish girl from Long Island, she was my partner in much that I did while there. “Off-beat”? She had a pet mink, Yang, who was tame and friendly, going against the stereotypes of the breed. Less off-beat, I had a “beautiful young cat, UFO, “Uninhibited Furry Object.” UFO became lost or stolen, alas.

One year our YAF group put together a team to compete in the Penn State College Bowl quiz competition, something like today’s Jeopardy game. Scores of teams entered, but Laura and I, along with Don Ernsberger, Anton Ness and Jay Clenny, won hands down, giving us a nice public relations boost. I still have the trophy.

I moved to Cambridge in the fall of 1969. After she moved to nearby Boston, Laura and I got together frequently, but lived apart. I don’t think we discussed marrying. We had “gone steady” but had not become engaged. By 1971, I was engaged to C, my future wife. Eventually, Laura married a physicist friend of mine, a talented and good-looking political ally, but that marriage didn’t last. I hadn’t been invited to the wedding. I think she became a lawyer thereafter.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME: Patini's Post-Pigeon Period, Delores and Sympathy Sex

Chasing girls replaced chasing pigeons. Abandoned tenements, lined up like they were bravely awaiting the firing squad, provided empty apartments that we made our clubhouses. We furnished the clubhouses with the couches and tables decorating the lobbies of the new high rise buildings in the neighborhoodthe kind that housed the "Moniques.”

Of course, it wasn't too long before chains and bolts were added to the decor of these lobbies. We changed the location of the parties frequently; the mob had floating crap games in their clubs and we had floating clubs for our lap games. The carpentry instructor in the Boys Club workshop, Hughie Knora, helped us build a portable bar that we moved to the different apartments. With a vast collection of "donated" 45-rpm records and an ol' phonograph, we were ready to do the dances of the day– the slop, lindy, cha-cha, mashed potato, huly-guly and of course, the grind.

The Uptown girls and the West Side girls were the usual females we partied with and, like flying pigeons; we caught our share of strays. The parties became pretty popular, so when most of the tenements were torn down, we continued the parties in various friends' apartments.

One night we held a party in Frankie Sneaker's sister’s house and a different group of girls we'd just met came. One was a fine Spanish girl named Dolores, from 43rd Street and Tenth Avenue. I told my friend, Howie Storm, to keep putting fast records on the turntable because I was the only one dancing fast, and I wanted to keep the other "ghees" away, especially Joey LaScala, who was my main rival and was eyeing her.

Dolores was wearing shades, and I was sitting on the couch next to her after our last dance…when there was a commotion at the front door. All the guys went down the long hall of the railroad flat to see what was going on. It seems the boyfriend of one of the girls at the party found out where she was and was upset about it. He brought a few of his friends to say what he was gonna' say or do what he was gonna' do.

Just before I was about to get up to join my friends, I turned to Dolores and saw she wasn't moving. I asked her if I could see what her eyes looked like under those shades, lifted them up and started kissing her.

When the girl left with her boyfriend, everybody came back in the living-room to see that Dolores and I were now a pair. Taking her back to her building, we were sitting on the stoop about one in the morning when she looked past me and said, "Oh, no!" Without looking, I knew this can't be good - it wasn't! Her old boyfriend showed up with a couple of his friends, who by the looks of him, he didn't need– and he didn't!

Despite both the explanation and objection of Dolores, he knocked the shit outta' me. The next night Dolores called me up and told me to take a cab, which she'd pay for, to the American Hotel on East 86th Street. She lived with her aunt, who was a hooker, and her aunt told the date she was on to rent a two-bedroom suite so Dolores and I could sleep together. I believe it was sympathy pussy for the beating. I accepted!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

CHAIRBORNE RANGER AT WAR, Ft. Detrick, 1965-66

From TING AND I: A Memoir...

Ft. Detrick, 1965-66

Frederick, Maryland, was a pleasant small town, and Fort Detrick was not a bad place to spend the rest of our two years in the “little green world.” A nice feature was the town’s proximity to Hood College, a school for women, a mile away. Some Hoodies would date soldiers; others not. Since most of us at Ft. Detrick had finished college, we were more datable than the average guy in olive drab (or khaki, depending on the season). Several of us jointly rented cabins in the nearby Maryland woods, to which we would invite some of the Hood lovelies for “labo” punch parties, labo being the chemically pure 190-proof ethyl alcohol used in the labs that somehow made its way into our punch bowls.

I eventually fell nearly in love with one of the Hood coeds. Still not over being in love with Tina, and occasionally seeing an old flame in New York City, I was not as much in love with this very nice young woman as she was with me, though I think well of her to this day. For my last hundred days in the U.S. Army, she gave me a desk calendar with a quotation for each day. One I never forgot ran:

Much that I sought, I could not find.

Much that I found, I could not bind.

Much that I bound, I could not free.

Much that I freed, returned to me.

—Lee Wilson Dodd


If I were writing this as a novel, that would be yet more foreshadowing.

The Army was a good place to get stronger. I reached a muscular 185 pounds and could do 18 chin-ups and lots and lots of push-ups. Our intramural teams did well in football and basketball. One team we named the “Nads,” which puzzled many until they heard our team cheer, “Go Nads, go!” My vocabulary was not enhanced by my Army years. Altered, but not enhanced.

That added strength helped when best buddy John and I achieved the pinnacle of our Army careers, “FTA” written in olive-drab spray paint in eight-foot-high letters on the water tower that dominates the base, a task accomplished during one foggy evening. FTA ostensibly stood for “Frederick Turtle Association,” but the cognoscenti knew that “F the Army” was an alternate reading.

Proudly, I quoted to John the boast of the poet Shelley’s King Ozymandias, the pedestal of whose shattered statue read:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Not wanting to get into trouble, John and I took the more prudent course and made our motto, “If nobody knows, nobody tells.“ We got away with it.

Ozymandias did not make out as well:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

After getting our security clearances (Top Secret, I believe) and perhaps enduring some inoculations, we joined the ranks of biological warfare researchers. Neither John nor I worked in the innermost, fenced area, where actual biological warfare agents were tested. No bubonic plague or tularemia for us! We worked with simulants, such as Bacillus globigii, which would make you only a little sick if you mishandled them.

Chairborne Rangers

My work was testing, and eventually improving, the Large Volume Air Sampler (known for short as the LVAS). It drew an enormous flow of air, directed it past electrodes to charge any particles present and to deposit them electrostatically on a wetted rotating disk, the special fluid flowing from which was then captured and directed to sensors that could be made specific for biological material (though not for particular disease organisms). We designed and tested a pre-filtering device for weeding out the excessively large particles that were of no respiratory threat. It was a type of impactor, not wholly dissimilar to the variable-slit impactor that became my dissertation topic eight years later. More foreshadowing.

The work was interesting enough. I linked up with the Penn State investigators associated with the LVAS device and went to work at Penn State’s Center for Air Environment Studies once I finished with my army service, 17 November 1966. Given a November 1966 air pollution incident on the East Coast, my choice seemed particularly wise.

If there is a career lesson in this, it is that planning helps you set your general direction, but circumstances present the paths from which you will choose.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME, Patini et al. are "Up on the Roof"

My friend Alfrie LoBrutto and I were walking down Second Avenue when we both saw a ten dollar bill on the ground. Alfrie immediately pounced on it and I yelled out, "Hagzies!"

Al asked what that meant, and I said it meant he had to split the sawbuck with me. He smiled and said, "Don't worry, Sonny; I was going to split it with you anyway.”

You didn't have to remind him to take the high road - he traveled it. We both spent a lot of time together from the riverfront to the rooftops. One wintry day we were on the roof with the pigeons, cleaning the snow off the coop, and we saw a young cop standing on the corner. By his rigid erect posture we concluded he was full of himself and could use a little deflation by way of a 29th Street snowball, which consists of a beach-ball-sized snowball packed around a center of ice.

We made our way to the corner roof, lined him up in our sights and dropped the bomb on him. A perfect hit! Now, instead of a flatfoot, he looked like “Bigfoot.” He charged into the building but was no match for two inner-city utes (did I say “youths“?), especially because in the row of roofs that was our escape route, there was one low roof right before the last high roof that we'd leave a rope dangling down from so we could pull ourselves up to that last roof. Having done just that, we saw him right behind us in hot pursuit. He hung from the ledge and jumped down to the low roof.

As soon as the cop's feet touched the ground, Al and I ran over and pulled up the rope. Then there's a moment...when this rookie realizes two things...he's trapped, and we know it!

We're bombarding him with snowballs as he zig-zagged in slow motion because of a foot of snow. Laughing our asses off, we dropped the rope down and ran like hell down the stairs of the last roof on the avenue. Thank God none of the birds on the roof were stool pigeons!

"On the roof is peaceful as can be..."– that's a line in a song called "Up on the Roof" by the Drifters. On some warm summer nights we'd sleep on the roof, and in the winter we'd huddle in the "shanty" with some neighborhood girls. The shanty was a wooden shack we built to keep warm– sort of our log cabin on Tar Beach.

Al LoBrutto, Eddie Schultz, Johnny Kennedy and myself were some of the kids known as "chasers.” Basically what a chaser does is help out the owner of the coop. Al chased for his brother Petey on Second Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets. Eddie chased for Johnny Volastro on 29th and Second Avenue; Johnny chased for Lynch on Second Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets, and I chased for Richie Agnello on Second Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets.

Richie Agnello was a sweetheart of a guy who was a housewrecker - no, not someone who fools around with married women. A lot of neighborhood guys got work demolishing old buildings before cranes and implosions took over.

Men who flew pigeons had their own little society and customs. It was customary to bring coffee up to anyone's roof you were visiting. If someone caught one of your birds, you could get it back, depending on the type of "catch" you had with him. There was a "quarter catch", a "half-dollar catch" and a "kill catch.” Naturally, the "quarter catch" was with the guys you were cool with, and the "kill catch," where you were supposed to actually kill the other guy's birds, were with your enemies.

One day the guy who flew pigeons directly across the street from me, "Guinea Tom," caught one of my favorite birds, a copperhead tiplet. He hated Richie, so we had a "kill catch.” Tom looked across at me and said he was going to release the bird because I wasn't the one he had a beef with. He released the copperhead into the air and the bird flew across the Avenue and landed on my coop - then tipped over on all sides.

"Guinea Tom" had chopped off the bird's claws before releasing him leaving just two skinny stubs. Vowing to kill this heartless bastard, I started asking around for a gun. Richie heard about it and talked me out of it, but the next time I caught one of Tom's birds I pushed the birds head back in between its wings, held up the bird in front of him and acted like I pulled its head off. Obviously, the roof wasn't always "peaceful as can be...."

From Disorganized Crime, by Sonny Patini, privately published. For more information contact him at

Monday, November 19, 2012


From TING AND I:  A Memoir...

We saw each other once or twice that summer. Tina was scheduled to go to the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. Her father was going to take a sabbatical to teach at the college in Sheffield, England, joined there by Mrs. Su. I was working at IBM in Kingston, NY, as a junior physicist. Briefly, as it turned out.

In the fall of 1964 I received a terse communication from the Defense Department:

Greeting: You are hereby ordered to report.... 18 November 1964....

“Greeting,” not “Greetings.” Short, not too sweet, legally binding. I would be off to war, sort of.

Only months before, in June, I had nearly signed up with the U.S. Army Security Agency for a three-year hitch that would include more Chinese-language training at the Monterey Army Language School, then off somewhere to do top-secret communications activities, using the Chinese I had learned. I was three days away from enlisting in this program when my parents told me of a help-wanted advertisement they had seen from IBM in Kingston, NY, seeking–among others–physicists. My parents thought a career in physics might hold more promise than one emphasizing my Chinese-language training. (They also probably thought that my outgoing, iconoclastic, smart-alec personality was ill-suited for undercover activities. They would mime furtively looking over the top of a newspaper they were reading to suggest being a spy was not really my style.)

Yes, IBM wanted me, called me back immediately after the interview that day with an offer I couldn’t refuse, as Kingston was only seven miles from home, and I had no other offers. I liked the people I worked with there, got involved in measurement standards work, to which I brought my physics training and an interest in statistics, and chugged along. Non-working hours often found me lying in bed listening to Peter, Paul and Mary and similar folk singers, often with tears in my eyes. I wished Tina and I could be together. I still can’t hear those songs without getting sad.

Basic Training

When the Army called, so to speak, I was in fine shape. Basic training (Ft. Gordon, GA) was not too tough. As noted above, I had played, enthusiastically but not very skillfully, several sports in high school, continued basketball in intramurals at Cornell, and had boxed a bit my freshman year. I liked to think of myself as fairly tough. Not tough enough to be a Ranger or a Marine, but tough enough for the Army, as my basic-training experience confirmed.

I was, however, a mediocre marksman with the rifle, though not on purpose. It did not seem I was Infantry material, although I admired the toughness of those who were.

Testing put my I.Q. near 150, and I was part of a small group of recruits they called together to try to induce us to become officers. It would mean extending my two-year draft commitment to three years. The closing line in the recruitment film was, “Don’t go to Officer Candidate School unless these gold bars mean more to you than anything else.” That convinced me: two years and out.

Toughness, not intelligence, was a high value among our basic training sergeants, as you might expect. I was surprised by one incident, though, where a grizzled trainer addressed one of us privates as “Usarmy,” having read out the familiar identification on one side of the uniform rather than the recruit’s last name, as usual appearing on the other side.

While in Basic, I practiced the art of not being conspicuous. I headed for the central zone of each formation, what I called the “noncommittal middle,” figuring that when the first few rows or first few columns were called out for something unpleasant, I might be spared. Later in life, I learned that “flying under the radar” could be valuable. Better to be underestimated than overrated. (On second thought, maybe I was wrong: some people may successfully glide through life without much merit, making being overrated a plus.)

At the end of our eight weeks of Basic, assignments were distributed; three of us were put into the special Science and Engineering (S&E) program, being sent to laboratories, one of us to the Chemical Corps testing grounds in Tooele, Utah, two of us, John and I, to Ft. Detrick Biological Laboratories in Frederick, MD. We were pleased not to have been sent overseas, as the Viet Nam War was beginning to pull many soldiers into it. We even had a ditty that went “There are no S&E’s overseas/There are no S&E’s overseas....”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME: Patini's Parents, Pigeons, Paramour?

Believe it or not, my father worked forty years as a truck driver, delivering large rolls of printing paper for United States Trucking, and he didn't miss one day's work. It was years later before I truly appreciated the stability and work ethic of that man. There was always food on the table and a roof over our head courtesy of the hard work of a man I thought was named “Charlie” until I was about five because my mother always addressed him with, "Listen, Charlie!”

My father’s love of music impressed me and planted the seed that grew into a deep appreciation of all genres of music. He was a drummer and, along with my uncle Johnny, who played the saxophone, was in a band that often played at the Steel Pier, a popular spot in the 1930’s and 40’s along the Jersey shore. An alternating band that also played the Steel Pier included drummer Gene Krupa, who my father thought was the best drummer he’d heard up until then and predicted would soon be recognized as the best. For the younger readers: that prediction was accurate.

I didn’t understand the commotion over Frank Sinatra, but my father told me to listen to his phrasing, and I started listening more intently to all artists and their different styles and nuances. When I put on a good set of headphones and listen to Jackie Wilson’s version of the Irish classic “Danny Boy,” I get goose bumps and think to myself; thanks, Dad!

My mother was a generous woman who was ahead of her time. She had a hard life and worked as a housecleaner for the wealthy. There was a nightly ritual in our apartment…loud arguments. Living with thirty-two other families in a crowded tenement, I knew the neighbors could hear every word.

Consequently, when I was younger, I tried to get my parents to lower their voices for two reasons. One, so I wouldn’t feel so embarrassed when I faced the neighbors the next day. Two, so I could study! After awhile, I didn’t give a shit anymore and adopted the “fuck them” attitude.

Then, reading that most people lead lives of quiet desperation, I realized I had no right to feel sorry for myself. Well, if these loud arguments didn’t diminish the desperation of the other families, it did shatter the quiet. The shows happened every night without fail, so they lost their malice. The hurled insults back and forth were sort of like ping-pong, only a game. We’d start off the next day like nothing happened. It was like my childhood toy, the “magic slate”: you lifted up the cellophane and the writing on the slate disappeared. My family put the fun in dysfunctional. The one benefit to this nightly exchange was finding out information about my family tree…the insults were my!

I’m being somewhat cavalier about the effects of watching my mother stagger down the street in full view of the “stoop sitters” though…I’d feel deep shame! In later years when my mind was free of drugs, I’d spend many days and nights alone with my thoughts in a barren cell. I looked deep inside myself and became aware of the corrosive nature the deep shame had on my character. It slowly and surreptitiously disheartened me and placed a layer of cynicism in my psyche.

Always looking for the ulterior motives in people, eventually I sorta’ gave up thinking “they’re all full of shit!” It was a slow recovery process and took years, but I learned to keep the dark thoughts and suspicions suppressed, treating them as caution signs and learning to focus more on the good.

Naturally, one of the things you have more time for while incarcerated is reading. Concentrating on inspiring stories of the human spirit and people who have overcome incredible hardships to become better people, I slowly started to regain my optimism. Reading stories about people who gave to others selflessly with no ulterior motive– altruistic people– I found myself smiling. Had to go to Webster to find out what “altruism” meant, but it became one of my favorite words.

My parents may not have possessed good parenting skills, but they were warm and welcoming people who did their best with what they had to work with. Their load would’ve been a lot lighter if I wasn’t so self-centered and irresponsible. Neither one of them had a malicious bone in their bodies. All my friends knew they were always welcome in the house, and my partner, Jerry, was one of the family. When I went on a heist we would frequently “chop up” the money in my apartment…as long as Mom got her cut. The family that splits the take together stays together!

As far as the escape my mother chose to diminish the reality of her life and its effect on me, I always think of a line in an Eagles song, "every form of refuge has its price!"

As we grew into our early teens, a lot of us got into another hobby that was prevalent in the tenement areas of the five NYC boroughs, "flying" pigeons. "Breakin' in new ones" is training new pigeons to accept your coop as their new home. Opening the large wooden coop door with its sliding metal bar for a lock, at daybreak, I felt a sense of excitement. How many would I lose? I hope the beautiful colored Dunn Tieger stays. When the birds eagerly flew through the first escape route afforded them in a couple of weeks, I flew with them. Give me that vast expanse of air where the sky is literally the limit. I'd rather chance dying in bad weather than being content to die on the vine.

Pigeon flying faded as the tenements were replaced by "the projects" and high-rise buildings. It was while strolling down Second Avenue past one of these high-rise buildings on a warm summer night that I realized just how much the neighborhood was changing and becoming more "sophisticated.” The apartments in the newly built building across the street had terraces. As I walked past the public phone booth on 25th Street and 2nd Avenue, the phone rang. I picked up the phone and a sultry voice said, "Hi. I'm watching you from my terrace; you walk gracefully and those jeans fit you good!"

I said to myself, "Mingua, just what I been waiting for...a rich broad!" She told me her name was “Monique” and invited me up. Strutting into the lobby with a "dip in my hip," I announced to the Puerto Rican doorman, whom I vaguely knew from the neighborhood, "apartment 17T.” After looking at me and getting confirmation from the tenant, he buzzed me in. Getting off the elevator with horny anticipation, I rang the doorbell. It wasn't a rich broad that answered but a fake, a fraud and a part-time broad– a dude about 6' 4", who said, "Hi. I'm Monique!"

I said out loud, "ahhh, shit!" and ran down the fire stairs, trying to avoid the doorman on the way out. There was no escape - I had to pass him. He gave me an ethnic, "Que paso?"

Friday, November 16, 2012


From TING AND I: A Memoir...
Why Not Marry?

Why didn’t Tina and I get engaged, in 1964, or even get married? Lately, half of Asian Americans (second generation or later generations) marry Caucasians. In 1964 such marriages were much rarer, if only because there were so few Asian Americans. In the 1960s, some states still had laws against interracial marriage, anti-miscegenation statutes. While the occasional stare did not bother us, we believed that our children would have “marginal man” status in America, not accepted fully by some members of either race. The racial mix might have produced the loveliness of a Nancy Kwan or a child with a combination of our personal strengths, but there was no guarantee.

We were 20 and 21 years of age, too young to marry with confidence, though a long engagement might have been feasible.

Both sets of parents were against such a pairing, for reasons ranging from the practical to the ethnocentric. Tina was an obedient Chinese daughter. I was less obedient, but I did value my parents’ wisdom and greater experience. A marriage would have caused much family discontent.

In this period in America, more so than today, interfaith or interracial marriage was often discouraged. As Tina’s dear friend Deanne Gitner tells it (see more of her contribution in “Tributes”), a dutiful Jewish girl, too, was expected to find a Jewish man to marry:

Tina met Doug in her freshman year, but Tina told us (her corridor mates) that she needed to find a six-foot-tall man from China, from northern China, to keep her parents happy. We felt we understood her problem, as we were all told to find a Jewish boy and that our parents would give us trouble if we did not.
There were only two Asian women in our class in 1962, one of whom was Tina. Tina’s parents sent her away for her junior year to London to study and, probably, to get her away from Doug.


Another question troubled me: Would Tina and I have remained good to each other in the future if external forces became oppressive? I had read Orwell’s 1984 and was convinced and saddened by the protagonist’s capitulation: Winston loved Julia, but broke under torture. They were to continue with him or turn to her. “Do it to Julia,” he croaked. Love was not enough. It was too believable that one would blame the other if the conditions became very unpleasant. I’d like to think we wouldn’t succumb, but I was by no means sure.

If marriage to a successful Chinese professional who loved her would be better for Tina and eventually better for any children she would have, it would be selfish of me to stand in the way. Tina felt the same about me and my best interests. We left it that if neither had married someone else in five years, we would feel free to marry each other. I meant it. Tina suspected that this was a polite refusal. We had a communications failure.

As I have mentioned, Tina’s siblings Gene and Irene are both married to Caucasians, as is Irene’s elder daughter. The more recent the marriage, the less the controversy it aroused, if any.



Tina’s Diary, June1964

Tina twenty years later extracted the following from her diary, written at the time of our separation:

June 8, 1964

Can’t even begin to say what this year has meant to me –only, for now, that it has been the most wonderful, truly wonderful year of my life. I am a different person in many ways and have gone through experiences I never imagined would happen.
At present I am trying my best to alleviate the pain that fills my whole being: Doug and I parted last Saturday, after he met Mom and Dad, and he has not written yet. I know he thinks it is best, and rationally I think it is best. However, it is not easy to erase the memory of a person most dear....
He became my reason for being. He has influenced my thoughts and actions to a great degree. I have matured because of him and have learned so much .... It was the most beautiful thing–the most sincere, earnest, appreciative, trying, fulfilling, happiest experience....
The pain comes and goes. It is not as persistent as two days ago. It is a painful price that I gladly pay in memory of the past.
Whatever the outcome, I admire him most deeply –his spirit, his strength, his kindness. I will always. He has given me so much.

I had been Tina’s first love.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME: The Young Eyetalian Gambler

My Uncle Sam talked with an Italian accent. Like my father, he made small bets on the horses within his means. As a small child, I'd often hear him complain about a horse that "just missed," ending with the expletive "sonamabeech!" When my father asked me what beach I wanted to go to one Saturday, I quickly replied, "sonamabeach!" He bragged about that like I got the highest average in the class, and I didn't fully understand what I did that was so funny. For the next coupla' a years I blurted out things that popped into my head trying to evoke the same response...he looked at me like I had Tourette syndrome.

Both grandparents were immigrants from Italy. My grandfather on my father’s side, Batiste, was an organ grinder who lived in Long Island City. I loved to go with him when he stood on one of the corners in Queensboro Plaza playing old Italian classics by turning the handle of the ol’ worn out box, as his little monkey, Pepe, danced at the end of a long leash. One Saturday, as we were about to pass two patrons outside an Irish bar on the walk towards the Plaza, my grandfather said, “Rinaldo, statazeit! (be quiet), the Irishman Paddy Riley is a drunk and he don’ta lika us!” As we quietly passed the two, Paddy came over to Pepe, patted the little monkey on the head and gave him five dollars. His buddy said, “Paddy, what the fuck are ya’ doin, I thought you hated guineas?” Paddy replied, “I do, but they’re so cute when they’re young!”

Once I did quit school, I roamed the streets of New York City, getting "free love" from the flower children, getting high, burglarizing commercial businesses and gambling. One night I came home about 5 a.m. after winning almost a thousand bucks in a crap game at the neighborhood social club. Opening the door to my apartment I saw my father washing his face, getting ready to go to work. It was a cold January morning and feeling pretty good about myself, I said, "Da, don't go to work today; come with me; I'll take you to the racetrack," pulling out the wad of cash. He turned and looked at me with his nose running and said, "You go to the track, knock 'em dead. Me, I'm going to work!" At that moment I thought to myself, "This guy is nuts.”

When I did go to the track with my father, he’d drive me crazy. A lot of bettors have different quirks. After each race was over, my father would look at the racing program listing the horses that I held in my hand (he saw no reason to buy one when he could look at mine) and make some far-fetched distant connection to why he swears he was going to bet “en-tay” (pig Latin for ten) on the horse.

He usually bet no more than six bucks. For instance, when the first three horses past the finish line in the fifth race were the 3, 1 and 2, he said he “air-sways” to God that he was going to bet that triple because that was Aunt Mary’s old address. I asked, “What made you think of Aunt Mary?”

“I saw a picture of the Queen Mary in the News today”, he answered.

Then I asked, “Why her old address, why not her new address?”

His eyes rolled around like a slot machine and I thought I had him till he finally replied, “she’s old!”

As soon as the race was over, he’d look at the program in my hand and “air-sway” he was gonna’ bet that horse. Figuring I’d put an end to this shit, I put my thumb over race number seven and held the program. Sure ‘nuff, after he sees the two horse win the sixth race, he looks at the program believing he was looking at the sixth and started giving me the far-fetched reasoning why he was gonna’ go all in on that two. I said, “Is that right? Well, reach in your pocket right now and bet it all on the two because you’re looking at the seventh race and it didn’t go off yet!” He started stuttering like a motor scooter and ended the conversation like he usually did – good-naturedly laughed it off.


From DISORGANIZED CRIME, by Sonny Patini. Inquiries to

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Summer Vacation, 1963
In June of 1963, Tina and I were separated by the summer break. Tina worked at the University of Rochester library, and I was at the Cornell University cyclotron, “tuning up the beam.” It was hard on us to be apart. Letters helped.

A fellow graduate student, Charlie, was nice enough to agree to give me a ride to Rochester one Saturday, in return for Tina’s finding him a date for that evening. Coming out of the library that afternoon, Tina saw me and ran toward me, and that vision took my breath away. Lovely, beloved, loving—Tina was all that and more.

We could hardly wait for the fall and her return to Ithaca.

Fall semester was wonderful. Was this to be our last year together?


Forbidding Mourning

I have saved all Tina’s letters to me, as she has saved the Chanel No. 5 perfumed powder I gave her almost fifty years ago. More foreshadowing?

We knew we might only have our three semesters at Cornell to be together. Near the end of the second of these, that fall semester, for my birthday in December, 1963, she wrote:

Dearest Doug,
You asked me what I would think of these sixteen months a few years from now. My reply –now, after one year, after fifty years:
[She then quoted much of John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” including the following lines]
Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined
That ourselves know not what it is,
Interassured of the mind,
Care less eyes, lips, and hands to miss.”
Happy birthday, darling.
Love, Tina

Donne’s “Valediction” is a favorite of mine, but a poem I haven’t read for many years. I recently found my copy of Donne’s collected poetry. “Valediction” is there among scores of others, including some other favorites of mine, but its page was the only dog-eared one. I had read it to Tina at our wedding in June of 1984.

Toward the middle of the poem, Donne likens the connection between separated lovers’ souls to “gold to airy thinness beat.” The thin gold foil may lengthen and attenuate, but it never breaks apart. He ends with the metaphor of a circle-drawing compass, with its moving foot representing the lover who must travel away, while the central “fixed foot” always leans and “hearkens after it.” The poem ends, in our case prophetically,

Thy firmness makes my circle just,

And makes me end where I begun.

As Helen Keller wrote: “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we have loved deeply becomes a part of us.”

Phi Epsilon Pi

I have on my bedroom bookcase a group photograph labeled “Phi Epsilon Pi Spring Weekend May 1964.” Among two-score college students in various stages of inebriation, Tina and I are present, dressed somewhat more formally than the average. Tina is in a Chinese high-collared dress, and I am in a white shirt and tie, the tie thrown over my shoulder, in an attempt to look less formal. We are obviously happy, even though we were due to be separated within a month.

We were at Phi Ep through the hospitality of the fraternity brothers. During freshman year, the fraternities and sororities “rush” the newcomers, inviting a selected subset to their houses to hear why they should join, “pledge” the group, then selecting, from those still interested, the students they would invite to join.

I think there were fifty-odd such organizations at Cornell. So far, so good. Not so good was that they were fairly distinctly divided into Christian and Jewish houses, each perhaps having a token few of the other, “minority,” members. Phi Ep was almost wholly Jewish, as were my roommate at 5406 University Halls, Jerry Baker, and another friend and fellow debate-team member, Al Berkeley. Only a few fraternities showed an interest in me, and I preferred Phi Ep partly because this pair would be in it and partly because I did not want to pledge a non-Jewish fraternity, on principle. Quickly into the post-pledge period, I realized I had neither the money nor the interest in alcohol that would make joining appropriate. The fraternity brothers took my withdrawal graciously, and I attended an occasional party at Phi Ep, when no longer a member.

Monday, November 12, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME: DWI, Driving While Italian

Jimmy DeCarlo, another mobbed up "goodfella," connected to the East Harlem crew, had just bought a new car, and we got word in the 29th Street social club that he was bringing it around to show it off. Joe Bada Beep (no relation to Bada Bing) got the bright idea to have the younger guys, meaning Jerry and I, put loose lug nuts in the hub caps of his new car when he came into the club.

Sure enough he pulls up, proud as a peacock, and after he shows us all the car, he goes into the club for some espresso and the accompanying Italian expressions like mingua', madonna, goombah, jabonee, scutcha, chadrool, bafongool, mamaluke, bachagalupe, fuhgedaboutit, etc. A lot of Italians were called Tony, not because their name was Anthony, but because when they arrived here, their luggage said, "to N.Y.” They were also referred to as Wops because when they arrived at Ellis Island, some were without papers, and they were put in the line that said, "WOPS.”

Jerry and I go out, remove the hubcap, put a few lug nuts in and replace the cap. We go back in the club, and that's the signal for someone to say, "Hey, Jimmy, take us for a ride!"

Jimmy says, "Sure," and we all pile in the car. Jimmy has the radio on and don't hear it right away, so someone says, "what the fuck is that noise?" He shuts the radio off and the loud clunking noise is clear as a bell.

Everybody is saying, "This is a fuckin' lemon; they saw you comin'!"

Jimmy's face turns purple and he takes us back to the club.

When he gets out of the car and steps into the club for a minute, Jerry and I remove the lug nuts from the hubcap. Jimmy comes out, looking enraged, hops in the car to go back to the dealer. About an hour later, he comes back and says they fixed it.

The 29th Street pit crew goes out and puts the lug nuts back in the hubcap again. Everybody gets back in the car to confirm Jimmy's assessment of his new car’s smooth, silent ride. Going west up 29th Street, you heard, cla, clunk, cla, clunk, clakkkk! Jimmy goes off and tells us to get out right there on the Street, he's going back to smack the shit outta' that "lyin' motherfuckin' mechanic motherfucker!"

One of the older guys calms him down and convinces him to let one of the neighborhood kids, who is a mechanic, look at the car. While Jimmy is being calmed down in the club, we take the lug nuts out for good before he kills someone! Some time later we heard Jimmy got in an accident on his way to the club. When he recovered from his minor injuries, we asked what happened. He said, "I was turning; I was turning, and I fell asleep!" He had narcolepsy, and instead of DWI's, he got DWS's.

Vinny Albano, Jr., was also on the list of drivers to avoid. We were driving through Westchester County one night when he suddenly pulled into the woods. I said, "What the hell are you doin'?"

He replied, "I thought this was an exit!" We heard he, too, got into an accident– he drove through a barrier into an excavation ditch. He was really Mr. Magoo.


DISORGANIZED CRIME, by Sonny Patini, published in a limited edition. Contact him at:

Sunday, November 11, 2012


As the 2012 elections once again demonstrated, it is hard for pro-life candidates to handle the question of whether abortion is justified in the case of a pregnancy caused by rape. Two goals conflict: preservation of human life and diminution of the mother’s suffering.

“The exception proves the rule” is an adage that refers to a secondary meaning of “prove,” as in test, from which we get the “proof” in “80-proof” whiskey. A rule we can trust should hold up when tested with difficult instances, although lawyers sometimes say “hard cases make bad law.”

Let’s see if we can find a principled pro-life position that doesn’t rule out abortion in cases of pregnancy due to rape, where we are talking about forcible intercourse [Whoopie Goldberg’s “rape rape” or what Todd Akin meant by “legitimate rape“], not consensual intercourse with an under-age girl [statutory rape], or consensual intercourse regretted and redefined.

We agree that the right of self-defense entitles a woman to abort in the case where her life is threatened by continuation of the pregnancy. Given the slipperiness of the definition of “health of the mother,” I generally would not support abortion for “health,“ though it is possible that a certain level of grievous harm would seem to justify it. We do not want to slide far down that slippery slope.

Would you be justified in killing a man to spare a woman from imminent rape? You are taking a life for something short of jeopardizing another life. I would do it…especially for a loved one.

Of course, you do not know for sure that the rape would have been carried out if you had not intervened. That is a problem. Note that we do not have capital punishment for convicted rapists. That suggests we take it less seriously than premeditated murder, for which some jurisdictions will impose the death sentence. If I killed someone who had raped a loved one of mine, I probably would get a lesser sentence, based on a theory of “justifiable homicide.” Would I be allowed to go scot-free? Depends on the jury, I guess.

If you shot at someone who was about to rape, was raping, or had just finished raping, and instead hit an innocent by-stander, ”collateral damage,” would you have done something immoral? We think not. Regrettable, but not wrong. We do not outlaw that, although a jury might be asked to determine whether you had been prudent or “negligent” in opening fire.

Back to rape and abortion. Most pro-lifers would accept an exception for rape [and some additionally for incest], either because they find it moral or because it is a compromise needed to get a modified prohibition on abortion passed into law in a pluralistic society.

Perhaps the “collateral damage” analogy comes closest here, though analogies are rarely exact. An innocent life is lost in sparing the victim of rape from the additional trauma of carrying the baby to term.

Another approach is to acknowledge that one’s belief in the rights of the unborn is theoretical [or “revealed“] and the trauma of the rape victim is certain. In such a situation, theory yields to reality.

I would admire the woman who carried such a child to term, but I could not bring myself to require that by law.




IN LOVE AT CORNELL, Destinations in Flux

From Ting and I: A Memoir...
Destinations in Flux

When Tina and I met, I was pre-physicist, if there had been such a designation. Actually, I was in the “B” physics option, for those who might not be intending to go on to physics in graduate school. I wasn’t certain. The Soviet satellite Sputnik had launched in 1957, and the nation was hot for science. It looked like a way to get an interesting white-collar job, indoor work with no heavy lifting. I did not want to have the money worries my family had during my early years. My freshman year advisor, eventually a Nobel laureate, had little interest in my plans, whatever they were. It may have been clear even then that I would not be a physics superstar, but well-above-average was still achievable.

After a poor start, I got better grades and eventually graduated cum laude in physics, not spectacular but not chopped liver, either. By my junior year, I had obtained a much better part-time job, minding and “tuning up” the atom-smashing cyclotron overnight on Saturdays (and some other hours). I watched an oscilloscope, with its faint, dancing lines, and twiddled with any of a dozen or so knobs and switches to keep this beam of charged particles at a high current.

Often, however, one needed only make sure the current stayed between certain limits, and the job was about as taxing as babysitting a sleeping child. That left lots of time to study my Chinese, memorizing those little characters and practicing the words with the different tones. Many a Sunday morning, after my shift was over, Tina and I would eat breakfast together in Noyes Lodge overlooking the lake.

Tina’s pre-med coursework went well until she came to the dissection laboratory, probably in comparative anatomy. The cat saturated with formaldehyde was her Waterloo. She was often tired, too, and may even then have been showing early signs of her (as-yet undiagnosed) multiple sclerosis. At that point Tina’s sister, Irene, was studying dentistry (and eventually, orthodontia). Their parents had high expectations for the children, including Tina, but Tina herself was not really committed to medicine. That semester, she switched to Asian Studies, in which she graduated With Distinction three years later.

Tina’s parents would ultimately get their M.D. child in their youngest, Gene. He had no trouble with Brown University, Rochester School of Medicine, and whatever extra hurdles he needed to jump to become the rheumatologist he is today. He married a smart and career-oriented Caucasian girl, Christin Carter, whom he met at Brown. They now live in Ann Arbor, where he has his medical practice, and where Christy is a professor in the physiology department at the University of Michigan, as well as the associate director of a biomedical research center focusing on diabetes.

To brag a bit about my own family: Nick graduated in civil engineering from Cornell and has become one of the vice presidents of a major engineering firm. Diana became a nurse, worked a variety of jobs, and subsequently has cared for my mother at home. Cliff obtained an M.S. in biology, then to law school for a J.D., and on to become a finance manager at a car dealership in California. Chris majored in chemistry, earning his B.S. from Clemson and his M.S. and Ph.D. at Stanford. Chris is now Senior Director of Chemistry for the TB Alliance in New York City, a nonprofit research-management organization dedicated to fighting drug-resistant tuberculosis with the help of money from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, among others.

In both families, Su and Cooper, the apples had not fallen far from the trees. Our parents were all college educated, at a time when such attainments were much rarer than they are today. Both families prized intelligence and education, and it showed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

DISORGANIZED CRIME, Patini's Early Years, Contd.

Today, I’m a big fan of a more acceptable personality, Jon Stewart. He also points out the hypocrisy of society, particularly the politicians. When I see the blatant hypocrisy of these “public officials,” I think that if we’re to take a moral example from our elected leaders – no wonder society is so fucked up!

What impresses me is that Stewart doesn’t do it in a mean-spirited way. He is also very knowledgeable and articulate, holding his own on a variety of subjects with his guests. It’s refreshing to see someone call it like it is.

When I was in Utah’s Garfield County Jail during the reign of Bush, Jr., it took me two years, but I finally saved enough money to rent a T.V. I was the only Democrat there, and I caught hell for it, arguing not only with the hacks but with the inmates. I realize there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two political parties. They’re both controlled by big corporation money, especially now since the Supreme Court decision allows superpacs to contribute large amounts of money secretly without exposing the donors.

The lobbyists do the bidding of the big corporations because money grants “access.” However, to me the Democrats at least let you “wet your beak.” The Republicans want it all and begrudge you even a safety net…like it’s a fuckin’ hammock. I just get the impression they’ll let you die in the street. Constantly having a radically different position than both my fellow inmates and my jailers, I started questioning my reasoning, thinking “maybe I’m fuckin’ crazy!” That is, until I started watching Jon Stewart – he validated my opinions on topics and allowed me to regain some measure of confidence. I’m not so sure Mr. Stewart would be pleased to find out we were kindred spirits.

Both Jerry and I started hanging out with the older guys, Nicky the Count, Freddy Agnello, Richie Agnello, John Barcelo and Harry the Turk, also called “Crazy Harry” (who later unfortunately truly became "Crazy Harry"). One night while smoking pot with a couple of the other older guys in the neighborhood, Richie Conte and Junior Fitapelli, in Richie's apartment on 2nd Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, we started ad libbing the current commercials - we called it "goofin.”

Van Heusen shirts aired a commercial where a man walked out of the ocean with a briefcase and as he walks towards the camera a voice says, "Van Heusen shirts never get wrinkled.” Wearing a Van Heusen shirt myself, I grabbed an old school bag lying on the floor, went in the bathroom, turned on the shower and came walking out soakin' wet saying the same commercial line. Junior went in the bathroom, came out walking on all fours with a feather duster sticking outta' his ass, imitating the NBC peacock logo (I didn't ask him how it was attached).

Richie was laughin' so hard he said he had to shit. He goes in the bathroom, sits on the bowl, lights a cigarette, throws the match in the toilet and the next thing you hear is; “KaBoom!” He bursts out of the bathroom, running around the room with his pants and drawers down, waving his hand behind his ass. After me and Junior's shock and awe reaction, we got a pot of water and cooled him off, but he had some serious burns on his ass and balls so we called Bellevue Hospital. They sent an ambulance with two attendants who looked like they needed an intervention.

Richie lived on the third floor of a walk-up tenement with a narrow wooden staircase. The stretcher was from the Titanic, not one of the modern collapsible joints they have today. When they get to the top of the stairs, they try to get Richie to lie down on the stretcher, but he says his ass hurts too much. Amidst the chaotic and humorous scene, one of ‘em says, “lay sideways.” Richie complies and the two bumblin’ burn specialists jerk the stretcher up so fast and hard, Richie goes flying over the banister, lands on the second floor and breaks his leg.

Man, I bet he wished he “just said no!” It seems Junior, trying to find some glue for the feather duster, threw some combustible liquid in the toilet and didn't flush it. One aroma I never want to experience again is burnt ass hair. Sadly, it wasn't too long after that incident that Richie got in a fight with a couple of dykes in Bickford's coffee shop on 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue and was stabbed to death. 


Continuing serialization of Sonny Patini's memoir. Inquiries invited to

Monday, November 5, 2012


From Ting and I: A Memoir...

Chinese 102

Chinese 102 was the second semester of the double-credit, six-days-a-week introduction to Chinese at Cornell. It met at 8:00 a.m. in the basement of an ivy-covered building. Adorable, cheerful, pint-sized Mrs. Ni taught most of the spoken Chinese lessons, being a native speaker. Miss Mills, attractive, serious, taller and somewhat sterner, a former resident of China, dealt more with the written language and the grammar. The class had eight students and was rather informal. We all were interested in the language and enjoyed the class despite the early hour.

What brought Tina to Chinese 102? What brought me?

Tina and I were both in the College of Arts and Sciences, which had a foreign language requirement. I think that a few years of college language training were sufficient. The first-year courses were typically double courses, so I could meet this requirement by taking a language in my junior and senior years.

Tina entered Cornell in the fall of 1962, as a pre-med student. I had entered in the fall of 1960, intending to major in physics, which met the requirements of some of my scholarship aid. Tina had learned enough spoken Chinese, but not the written language, to skip the first semester–Chinese 101–as long as she worked on the written language on her own, which she had done. She had taken French in high school, but French was no longer the useful, “universal language” it once was; perhaps she could more quickly become proficient in Chinese. (Was there even the thought that she might one day marry someone from China?).

Why was I taking Chinese? I had studied French and Latin in high school and could likely have passed Cornell’s language proficiency test with only another year of college French. But ever since my elementary school years, when I would go a half-dozen city blocks to bring my father’s shirts to the Chinese laundry, I had been fascinated by the little picture-words, ideographs, characters, of the written Chinese language. The people at the laundry, through kindness or merely good business practice, were friendly toward me. My stamp collection and coin collection had many more examples of the cryptic written Chinese. I was curious.

In practical terms, China was a potential world power, though slow to bloom, and my Chinese might lead to an alternate career, if physics did not work out. I did take enough of the language to be able to pursue a master’s degree if I chose to and came very close to enlisting in the U.S. Army to be trained as a Chinese interpreter/translator.

The spoken language, the Mandarin dialect of Peking and of the educated classes, has a simple grammar but is hard for Westerners to master because it has many homonyms whose only distinguishing characteristics are the tones superimposed on the syllables. Mau can mean feather or cat, depending on the tone, and there are at least two more mau words with still different meanings. (A few years later, during her first marriage, Tina lived for a time with her in-laws in Taiwan; her confusing the tones sometimes led to humorous misunderstandings, with some loss of face for her.)

The written language has its own special difficulties. Some of the Chinese characters are self evident: “-” is yi, meaning “one” and “=” is er, meaning “two,” and three has an added horizontal line. But from there on, the numbers are not obvious: “+” is ten, for example. A small box is a mouth, and the word for “middle” or “central” has an added vertical stroke. Most of the ideographs simply have to be memorized. They are composed of one or more of 214 “radicals,” often combined so as to give hints as to sound or meaning or both.

A reader of Chinese newspapers can get by with between a thousand and two thousand such characters, where we ended up after the first two years. More challenging work might require memorization of as many as 5,000 characters. Contrast that with the typical educated speaker of English, who probably can read and spell correctly (or almost correctly) 50,000 or more different words.

This disadvantage of the Chinese written language is offset by the fact that speakers of different dialects of Chinese, which differ from one another as much as do the various Romance languages, use the same ideographs for the same words. They can all read the same texts. Sometimes, two speakers of different dialects trace the word-pictures on each other’s palms to communicate.

Tina and I had pleasant times each morning in Chinese 102, followed by hand-in-hand walks to whatever came next, often a coffee or tea date. When it was cold, we would each take off a single glove and hold hands inside the pocket of my coat. Bliss.

By Valentine’s Day 1963, we were deeply in love. We still are, 48 years later. I can offer reasons that we fell in love, but I’m not wholly convinced reasons explain it. Ducklings follow their mothers right after being born, but if they first are in contact with a human being instead, they will follow him, I’ve read. Would they offer up reasons for following him? Perhaps. Some mix of reason and physical attraction had put me head-over-heels in love with Tina. Still am. Character trumps all the rest, and she has proved she has it, in spades.