Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Excerpt from my book | DIRTY MONEY | BOSTON MAFIA

THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE


Some criminals are certainly a waste of talent. Most of the really good ones would be great at anything they tried to do, but they gravitated toward crime because they were around it at an early age. Almost all of the stories they heard from people they looked up to… who happened to be lifelong criminals… were all about the good times.
No one ever tells stories about the misery that crime has caused them… at least the men don't. They were “nurtured” by crime.
This is true most of all with the Mafia. Where I come from, we were brought up thinking that life in the Mafia was the coolest life there was. I was born and raised in Revere, Massachusetts; a town near Boston with a large tight-knit Italian population. It was also a place where illegal gambling, loan sharking and drug dealing were a way of life. To be in the Mafia was considered a tremendous achievement… like having won a Super Bowl or having been elected to Congress.
I was born in in August, 1972, which makes me part of “Generation X”. My father, Joe LaFratta, Sr., is three-quarters Italian and one-fourth Greek. My mother is Irish and French.
When I was a little boy… I was about five years old… my family owned a summer cottage at Canobie Lake, New Hampshire, which is about a 45 minute drive from Boston. It was one of best places a young boy could be in the summer. We owned a cottage right next to the lake, we had a boat and there was an amusement park right down the street that had everything… including a roller coaster.
We would spend the whole summer there as a family. It never seemed odd to me that the other kid’s fathers were only there on the weekends, but my father was there all the time. He did not have to go to a nine-to-five job because he never had one. He would leave from time to time late at night, but he would always be there in the morning when we woke up. This was a great time in my life, and I will always look back fondly on it.
My fondest memory of those times, however, is not of the boat or of the amusement park. It is of my father and I driving to the closest farm stand, which was on a country road near our summer cottage. Whenever we went there, my dad would put a big bunch of ears of corn in a bag and place the bag in the car. He would then pick out whatever fruits or vegetables we needed for the night’s salad, put them in another bag and put that bag in the car as well. What I remember most about those shopping trips was when my father would walk back to the farm stand and go over to a coffee can that the customers would drop money in to pay for their merchandise. Like many small businesses in that rural area, the farm stand was on the “honor system”. My father, though, did things differently. He would give a quick look around, take all of the money out of the can and quickly put it in his pocket. He would then look at me, clasp his hands together, shake them up and down at the wrist in a gesture of exasperation and say: "When are they going to learn up here?"
It is important for you to know that my father definitely did not need the money that was in the coffee can… he just loved to get over on things like that. Even though he had what some would consider a warped sense of morality, my father was a good man. He has always loved me, and he would die for me without hesitation. I know for a fact that he never meant me any harm, and he did not want me to follow in his footsteps.
That said, the fact that I saw him do things that he knew were wrong and saw the smile on his face when he did them made it a lot easier for me to choose the same path when I got older. I found crime to be a means of making large sums of money in a way that also made me feel like I was in on a really funny practical joke. Dirty money is very appealing. If you are a true criminal, you see things very differently from other people. You are always watching for angles that lead to quick riches, if you’re willing to take a few risks. There is always a price to be paid, though. My father often told me: “A construction worker has to worry about getting hit in the head by a two by four, but a criminal has to worry about going to jail.”
My life is full of regrets, but it all happened in the past and no one can change the past. I had to learn from my mistakes and as it turns out, I'm a very bad student! It took me a long time to learn how to find true happiness.

Once I “got it”, though, I understood about the world we live in better than I have before, and I realized how anyone could still be happy, whether they were rich or poor or in the most miserable situations imaginable.