Paris is the city of love, light, and literature. I went there prepared to hate it.
Historical Paris has an eternal place in my heart. I’ll talk your ear off about the absinthe glories of La Belle Epoc, Hemingway scribbling in the Closerie des Lilas, and Mesrine escaping La Sante prison in broad daylight.
But my image of modern Paris was an urban hell full of rude waiters and yapping poodles. I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
The Almighty Gaylords are a Chicago street gang involved in guns and drugs. I wrote two posts on them: an overview and a look at some recent gunrunning arrests. A member of the Gaylords got in touch to bring me up to date about the gang’s fortunes.
He told me rumours of the gang’s demise are exaggerated. The Gaylords are alive and well and spreading across the US, with new chapters in places like Florida and Indiana.
It’s true that there’s no longer any central leadership, and individual areas in Chicago like Addison and Sayre Park run as separate gangs under the Gaylord banner. This fragmentation fooled outsiders into believing the Gaylords were on the skids. In reality it introduced enough flexibility to keep the gang alive after it was pushed out of its traditional Chicago inner city territory by demographic change. And it gave Gaylords who left the state the freedom to set up fresh chapters in their new homes.
The media paints the GLs as a gang of soft-bellied old racists mourning the loss of white Chicago. The truth is different.
When you hit the Georgian capital Tbilisi in 1992 you stayed at the Metechi Palace Hotel. Everyone did.
You got a taxi from the airport. It cost $5 and the driver spent more time negotiating bribes with the roadblocks manned by young men with AK-47s and leather jackets than he did at the wheel.
The city was a wreck, smoke-black from the recent fighting. Out the taxi window you saw the shops embracing free enterprise by selling Malaysian exercise books, Korean playing cards, fake Camel cigarettes, leather jackets from Turkey. The bookshops that sold only Soviet engineering texts and copies of the twelve century Georgian epic poem, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, that everyone in the country already owned. The Stalinist-style parliament building, half destroyed in the fighting, its supporting columns eaten away by RPG rounds. The street vendors selling orthodox icons, nesting dolls, glassware, ornamental daggers, the family silver.
The last time Chicago street gang the Almighty Gaylords hit in the media was back in August 2011. Early morning police raids scooped up nine gang members for illegal gun possession and sales. The tv news helicopters broadcast footage of stocky middle-aged men sitting around suburban gardens in their underwear while cops searched houses.
The days when the Gaylords were local boys defending a shrinking island of white inner city Chicago against multiculturalism were long gone. Now the gang was an amputated limb of its former self, a group of fortysomethings with prison records who’d made their peace with rival Hispanic and black gangs to sell drugs and guns in suburban places like Addison and Elmhurst and Villa Park.
The 2011 raid took out the Gaylord’s main faces, including James Grace aka Mega, the 40-year-old leader of the gang’s Addison faction. And he’d been turned in by one of his own.
Crazy Joe Gallo got a bullet in the head in April of 1972. I wrote a post about it here. He was celebrating his birthday in the early hours at Umberto’s Clam House when gunmen came in through the back door and started blasting.
Joe overturned the table and made it outside but died in the street. It was the end of the Gallo brother’s dream of forming their own Mafia family.
But back in the 1950s that dream was still alive. Joe, elder brother Larry (the brains of the outfit), and younger bother Albert (‘Kid Blast’) were up and coming foot soldiers in the Colombo crime family. They ran their own corner of Brooklyn for the family, collecting debts and protection money, and hustling any opportunities that came their way.
The three brothers were the Mafia warlords of their block. They had money, guns … and a real life lion in the basement. And a little person club-owning friend to walk him through the Brooklyn streets.
If you get lost in the woods, leave a trail of breadcrumbs. Don’t stay out after dark. Don’t talk to strangers.
The schoolboy is walking along Warsaw’s ulica Naruszewicza with two friends. It is the afternoon of 22 January 1957. Snow is on the ground.
The three boys are on their way home from St Augustine High School for their dinners. St Augustine is a good private school, one of the very few in Communist Poland. Its students are the sons of important men.
The schoolboy is fifteen-years-old. His dark hair is combed back from his forehead in a pomaded shell. He carries his school books in a brown leather briefcase. He wears a herringbone overcoat and winter boots with white laces.
It is 13:50. At the intersection of Naruszewicza with ulica Wejnerta a tall man with a briefcase approaches the boys.
“Which one of you is Piasecki?”
The schoolboy steps forward. The man takes a piece of paper from his case and shows it to him. The schoolboy silently accompanies the man to a nearby taxi rank on Wejnerta. He does not look back at his friends.
Sitting comfortably? Then put a new cigarette in its ivory holder and refresh your whisky and soda. Get the servants to stoke the fire because these old houses can get so cold at night. And make sure your service revolver in the desk drawer is loaded. Captain Grimes is coming round tonight to discuss the accounts.
The little matter of those post-dated cheques in the mess tin. You might be forced to take the gentleman’s way out. Or you might be forced to shoot Captain Grimes.
The wealthiest stratum of British society has always prided itself on loyalty and devotion to duty. But too many of the aristocrats, trust fund beneficiaries and members of the officer class who sit at the apex of Britain’s social triangle have a moral backbone like a bit of wet spaghetti. From Rupert Bellville to Simon Raven, the Earl of Erroll to John Aspinall, the most respectable part of the country has churned out black sheep on a production line scale.
So put away that portfolio of artistic French photographs and leave answering the love note from your brother’s wife until later. Let’s take a stroll through the last one hundred years of bankrupt aristocrats, corrupt golden youths, and frankly untrustworthy remittance men. Books and the odd flick will be our signposts.
We’ll start gently, with some flawed heroes. Let’s go back to the days when we still had an Empire … .