Posted by: johnhourihan | December 20, 2013

The Story Of The Three Wiseguys


This is my favorite Christmas story.
Willy, Stretch and Dee-Joe Mammal were the unholiest trinity ever conceived. 1950_Ford
For instance, we called Dave, Dee-Joe Mammal because we were pretty sure of his species, but little else was obvious, and he was the wisest of the three.
The past summer, they had planned to rob a bar in Woonsocket.
Skinny Willy cased it; Stretch drew diagrams of it because he had passed mechanical drawing; and the three of them drank there 14 nights in a row to see what the busiest night was and where the money was kept.
Then, on the day of the supposed payoff, they stepped from Willy’s body-rotted, ‘49 Ford and were nabbed on the curb for being “suspicious looking characters.”
The cop told them to “get out of town,” and they came back to the Tradesman Lounge, tails between their legs, to find out it’s not a good idea to tell everyone in the bar where you are going when you are going to rob a bar.
The young Portuguese couple who owned the Tradesman had tipped off the cops. They never figured it out.
So, ’twas the night before Christmas, and we sat at the quarries in the Ford, sharing a green plastic canteen of  Old Turkey ( a combination of remnant bottles of Old Grandad and Wild Turkey), and after a few lies about women, Stretch asked me to tell “That  Christmas story” again.
No, this is true, in their mid-twenties, they still had soft spots in their hearts for this time of year – matching of course some of the more obvious soft spots elsewhere the rest of the year.
I made the family in the story Marchigiano just to make the whole thing more understandable to them. And what the heck, it was from the same general area of the world, so no harm – no foul.
There was a family, I started.
The father was a shoe worker and the mother was blessed with seven children, I told them, as Willy fired up the car again to get some heat.
They looked out the windshield at the icy black water that filled the granite quarry in front of us.
Christmas was never over the top for any of us, a carton of cigarettes or some socks or something, but they liked this story I had told them first several years before.
One Christmas, I continued, the old man spent his paycheck on the way home and there was nothing left for presents except the food money.
“Sounds like my family,” the mammal said squinting down a swig.
“If you’re going to interrupt me, I‘m not going to tell it.”
“No, tell it,” Willy said, “Shut up, Dee-Joe.”
So the mother calls Ted’s Taxi, ‘cause she can charge a ride with Beanie, and piles all the kids inside for the ride downtown.
And into Woolworth’s five and dime they march.
In the window of the store is a dining room set for, I don’t know, about six hundred bucks.
“I remember that.”
“Shut up Dee-Joe.”
“But I remember it. It was like leather or something.”
“Naugahyde”
“What’s that come from?”
It’s the hide from a Nauga. Anyways, the mother goes to the manager carrying the sign from the dining room set that says if you buy it you get a hundred bucks worth of toys free.
She tells him, “I would like to buy this.”
He says OK, and she turns to the kids. “Go pick out $14 worth of toys each,” she says and gives them assigned siblings to buy for.
“Brothers and sister,” Willy explains, having heard the story before.
So the siblings all come back with a carriage each of toys, and 14 bucks bought a lot of toys back then.
Then she turns to the manager and says, “here,” handing him the $10 grocery money. The evil manager glares at her.
“Booo,. Hisss.”
She says, “Put it on lay-away.”
Lay-away was a new concept at a time just before credit cards. You plunked down some modest amount and paid the rest over a period of time.
“No, lady, You have to buy it outright,” he says.
“That’s not on the sign,” she answers and stands her ground.
After a staring contest the evil manager says ”No,” and starts to walk away.
“Then you tell them to put the toys back,” says the mother, and begins to walk out the door as lips quiver and noses start automatically to run.
“You can’t do it lay-away,” he says, “but I’ll let you buy it, take it and give me $10 a week,” he says. “You have to pay it,” he says, weakening at the idea of being left with seven screaming kids in his store at Christmas-shopping time.
The mother gives him the $10, and the family has the best Christmas ever, including The Great Garloo robot and dolls that closed their eyes and everything..
“Then what happened?” Dee-Joe asks, knowing full-well what happened.
“Then, after a month, the guy comes in a truck to pick up the dining room set, and Christmas 1952 cost the mother ten bucks total.”
“So John,” says Stretch, passing Willy the canteen, “You really going in the Army?”
“Looks that way,” I answer.
“Do you have to take a test or something for that?”
“Not a hard one.”
“So you must have passed it, huh?”
“I guess so.”
“You must be smart, then.”
“No,” I said looking out the windshield, “just not suspicious.”
“Let’s go buy some presents for everyone,” Willy says, “Some fool company sent Dee-Joe a credit card.”
And that, children, was how the three wise guys, and the rest of America, learned to spend beyond their means and go deep into debt every year in December.

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