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Friday, June 24, 2011

Whitey Bulger is Like, Basically My Uncle

Saddest Part: He really needed to update his headshot

As it turned out, FBI Most Wanted, South Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger packed up his game and headed out west.

Man, we should have checked there first! Such has been the route of romantic dreamers for almost a hundred years!

Unhappy childhoods, broken engagements and yes, even murder charges have long sent the tired and poor (by poor, I mean: without taxable income) Pacific-bound to reinvent themselves.

Much like Chris McCandless of "Into the Wild" who battled his discontent with the material world by following the setting sun and settling in an abandoned, threadbare public bus in Alaska, alone except for some books, pens, and curious wildlife, Whitey took residence in a northside Santa Monica apartment. If not for the toney zip code, cache of weapons, hundreds of thousands of dollars in US currency, and a female companion whose love of Whitey was second only to her penchant for plastic surgery,  Krakauer could have been writing about Bulger.

In the same land where Bernie Schwartz became Tony Curtis and countless others became less ethnic or whatever else the viewing public might have found more palateable, Bulger adopted the alias of Charlie Gasko and thus, became less felonious.

Like the early Hollywood players who had that je ne sais quoi that sent them searching, Whitey Bulger found himself in Tinseltown for reasons that can momentarily elude us...

Oh yeah:

He butchered at least ninenteen people. "California, here I am come!"


Okay, it's 1994 and Feds are closing in on you. You take leave of South Boston, and using several misdirections- look-alikes, fake paper and money trails, and false sighting reports- you lose them.

With enough money and false identification to set you up, you find an apartment in Santa Monica, where for all its opulence, there's almost as much shade-pulling, mind-your-own-business and don't-ask-any-questions as Southie.

You're 64, the age of retirement. You've got ammenities. Companionship.

Now what? Sit back and enjoy, right?

Problem for Whitey:

You are cooped up with a companion who by virtue of the fact they would be your companion, and you're a killer, doesn't make for a very fit companion.

For example, like the rest of us, you seek solace in TV, maybe turning to TV Land and the Donna Reed Show. Longing for the rewards of domestic bliss, you look over to find, in contrast to Reed's "Kids, supper is ready!" and kissing Dad on the cheek,  menthol-hauling Catherine Greig, burgeoning brown edges overtaking her dye job, who occasionally might begin a conversation with:

"Hey Whitey, remember when you chopped that guy's fuckin' head off?"

For Greig, too, hasn't she removed herself  from the sisterhood of  "Sex and the City"?  I mean, I can't see Mr. Threaten-to-blow-up-your-house-if-you-look-at-another-guy finding endearment during Supper-club banter.

More, I think they have both moved out of the realm of  "Okay, he's got a bad temper, but he's a sweetheart when you get to know him..." or "Deep down he's a good guy"; My God, he's not even eligible for "He's a complicated man".

Every sweet song or movie  can't ever apply to them. Can you imagine trying to buy a fitting Hallmark Card for the man who cohorts say felt better after torturing and killing his enemies (and by enemies,  I mean: once friends)?

It might also be difficult to take in the home of Healthy Living when much of your business was devoted to reversing the process.

Sure you could limit movie-viewing to the gangster genre...but just as it's too painful for the former quarterback to watch the game he can no longer play, I would imagine that for Bulger it would be so bitter-sweet to watch someone else crank a vise on someone's head until their eyes popped. And for Greig to watch another mob moll drag her finger nails down some "whore's" face for looking at her man, would be just too much.


Most difficult for Whitey must have been leaving his family whom he loved more than anything in this world...

I know because he was my uncle; at least, legally he was my uncle. When my actual uncle died in the 70's, he was one of several men randomly (and unbeknowst to them) selected to pass on their identification to Whitey. Bulger's friends at city hall had stolen the paper work of the newly deceased, leaving their next of kin wondering why their father or husband had accrued thousands of frequent flier miles nearly twenty years after their death.

I realize it's not the same, but still, whether he's a rotten human being, only waggishly connected by a misappropriation of files, you gotta stick by your people.

That's what Whitey taught me: You gotta stick by your own because the world is sick...and to reinforce that point, he killed nineteen people: "You see? I told you the world was bad!"

But if there's one thing you've got to admire about Bulger, it's his family loyalty.  "Always honor and protect your family..." he would say. And the way he best illustrated this was by harming others families and justifying it by suggesting they "friggin' deserved it."

Bulger comes from a culture that places articulating how much you love your family (preferably, violently) above actually doing it- shit, man, that requires honesty! You don't talk about the cousin's drug problem; Don't worry where Uncle JoJo got that new Cadillac; Your relative wasn't killed, he drowned- couldn't swim (especially with his head cut off). And God help the person outside the family who points out the dysfunction...especially if they're right!

I guess if Whitey was going to be out of contact with his family, the least he could do was take refuge in a place where denial is as cherished a family value as in South Boston.

When Charlie Sheen insisted he wasn't on drugs, Bulger was said to be so homesick that he was bed-ridden for days.


How dare those-in-the-know call Whitey a rat. Okay, he did give up names to federal agents and police of people who did what he ordered. Yes, he did sell people out to save his own ass. And you bet he killed people for doing the same, calling them "rats."

But this is hypocritical, not being a rat. And no one said anything about that. In fact, it's clearly mentioned in the handbook that hypocrisy is perfectly acceptable.

And where does all this animus come from?  It's not like Whitey didn't suffer...

He faced personal attacks by federal agents using the media to lure him out of hiding. Headlines read:

- Bulger seen in gay bars
- Whitey has bad breath
-  Southie Mobster has dandruff
-  South Boston Thug Mangled Victims

Talk about cruel and unusual punishment? If he is gay and was out cruising, do you realize how tough it would be for him to live down the bad breath and dandruff thing? (Even with the hunky photo of him in the leather vest).


Maybe he's heartless and maybe he doesn't deserve to ever see the light of day...

But at least he's not petty.

At arraignment, when asked if he knew the charges agaisnt him, he replied in unwavering Southie-speak: "Yeah, well, like, basically..."

No lawyers obfuscating things or itemizing the charges.

Yeah, I hear you, man...let's cut to chase over here...

When the judge sentences him, I hope he takes this into consideration. As well as his being a good sport when fictionally  depicted by Peter Boyle (" The Friends of Eddie Coyle") and Jack Nicholson (" The Departed").

The poor guy wasn't even invited to the premiere. He probably drove up Wilshire to Westwood Village and crouched down as Greig drove the car past Fox Theatre as the red carpet filled with stars.

They returned to their humble apartment in the Princess Eugenia complex, watching re-runs and having to wait for the movie to come out on DVD like every other schmuck.

1 comment:

  1. You can take the boy out of Boston, but you can't take the Boston out of the boy. Well done, Paul.