Ugolini had used his savings to buy a shoe shinning kit. He set up his station on the corner of Seventh and Main. People would recognize him and ask where his cute little monkey was. He would always respond, “Whatta monkey? I never knowa a monkey.”
One day, Becky stopped by to check on Ugolini. She was concerned about his mental health now that he was on his own. She handed him an apple. His heart rang with joy as he gently fondled it for a long, awkward, minute as salvia gathered on the corner of his mouth. He was just happy to have something that she had touched. He smiled and then took several bites of the apple, as if it were a piece of her heart that she had given.
“Oh,” she surprisingly said. “I was just hoping you would polish my apple so I could put it on the shelf and eat it for breakfast.”
Ugolini slowly stopped chewing then handed the half-eaten fruit back to her. “I brung ya something else,” Becky shyly said. She pulled out a little doll she had made and handed it to Ugolini.
“I like to make dolls in my spare time,” she proudly stated. “Maybe it’ll bring ya luck.”
It looked so real. The man gently fondled it for a long awkward minute as salvia gathered on the corner of his mouth. Again, he was just happy to have something that she had touched. “Heys, yousa wanna takea a stroll?” he asked, hopefully. The shoe shiner shut down shop early that day so he could spend the afternoon in the park with Becky. They walked together while she talked and he laughed. After an hour or so, she finally asked him why he was laughing. He really had no answer so he began to converse with her.
While they were on the bench enjoying a hot dog, they looked up to find the monkey walking towards them. He was wearing tailored pin-striped suit and smoking a cigar fatter than the hot dogs that Becky and Ugolini were nibbling on. Two chubby thugs flanked the furry animal on both sides as they strutted in sync. Coincidentally, they were just as fury as the monkey. Soon, they hovered over the couple.
“Whatta you wanta froma mea, ya ungrateful monkey?” the old man snarled.
The monkey just smirked and blew several cigar smoke rings in the air. The cocky beast snapped his finger paw and one of the thugs handed him a hundred dollar bill. The monkey strolled over to Ugolini and tucked the C note into his front, wrinkled, shirt pocket and then tapped him on the cheek, as if to say, “Go get yourself something nice to wear.”
Ugolini jumped up and pulled out the hundred-dollar bill from his pocket, threw it down on the floor, and spit on it. The monkey went crazy, circling and shrieking, taking the disrespectful action as an affront to his “manhood”. He yanked off his suit coat and hunch over with his paws in front of him, ready to pounce.
“You wanna takea a shot at old Ugolini again?” he snarled as he stood up, snarling. “Come on, Mister Biga Shot. I’ma gonna takea you down oncea anda for alla.”
Ugolini wasn’t playing games. He swung his arm and knocked the cigar out of the monkey’s mouth. The angry animal screeched, and then charged at his former owner, knocking him over the bench. The old Italian threw the monkey off and then leaped to his feet like a spry Coon cat. He shuffled his feet and waved his fist cursing the short baboon.
“I’ma gonna rippa your tail offs anda shove it downs your throat,” he threatened.
He was just about to do the Linguini body slam on the little pest, a move he had learned on the streets of Genovese as a teenage boy during scraps after a neighborhood Bocce Ball loss, but before he could pounce, he was grabbed by primate’s thugs.
Before Ugolini was pommeled, Becky stood on the bench and jumped on the old man’s shoulders, thinking she would gain the advantage in height — not to mention she was the high school chicken fighting champ. Unfortunately, the organ grinders’ knees were shot and he crumbled, like a hillside in a California rainstorm. While Becky sat on his head, his face barely peeking through the bottom of her dress, the monkey scurried around them, making mocking noises while the henchmen chuckled.
That night, as Becky nursed Ugolini’s wounds, she made him a bowl of eggplant soup. He loved it. The bowl bowled him over. It was the best soup that he ever had. He looked deep into her eyes, her face beaming, and without a second thought he kissed her. She smiled and reached over and touched the old man’s face, then plucked out some stray eggplant stuck in his beard. Suddenly, a grand idea struck him; they would open their own restaurant.
Ugolini scraped up his savings from his days as an organ grinder, along with his shoe shinning cache. It wasn’t much. Becky had set some money away from the dolls she had sold. They were still in need of cash, so they went to a local pawn shop. Ugolini put up his old hand organ for collateral. He was given a thirty-dollar loan. It still left them short of their restaurant dreams.
The couple walked alongside the Hudson river.
“We’rea gonna geta our restaurant and it’sa gonna bea the besta place in the whole world,” Ugolini chimed. “People theya gonna comea from miles to trow downa youra food.”
“Yeah, sure they will, Ugolini. Sure they will,” she responded, then started crying.
The old man held her in his arms tightly. “I makea everything alright. You’ll see,” he said. “Ugolini makea the world spina round and around.”
On the other side of town, the mobsters were sitting around their bar hangout drinking booze, smoking and laughing. Chimps sat at the corner table, wrapped up in a five-card stud poker game with three other thugs. The monkey had done well for himself, lying, cheating and stealing his way to the top. He was living the American dream.
Suddenly, the door opened. The place grew quiet as they watched Ugolini shuffle in. He took off his hat and fiddled with it in his hand.
“Ia comea to speaka witha the bossa man?” he softly mumbled.
The humble organ grinder sat across from a fat Italian man, Mr. Spatero. He watched the godfather eat his meatball soup. “So, you’re looking for a loan?” the godfather asked.
“Ia got mea somea biga plans,” the organ grinder claimed.
Suddenly, the godfather spit a mouthful soup back into the bowl. “Holy mugatsa, since when do meatballs have bones?”
“Mya girlfriend she makea the besta soups ina the wholea wide world,” Ugolini proudly stated. “Asa matter-of-fact, we a gonna open a restaurant and everybody gonna come from miles around. But, we no havea the money to doa this. It isa why I’ma herea before you.”
“I’ll tell you what. You bring over some of your girlfriend’s soup tomorrow and if I like it, we’ll see what we can do to for you,” the mob boss said.
The next day Ugolini brought the soup over. The godfather was blown away by it. Without any hesitation, he put eight grand on the desk and slid it over to the old man. “I wish you success on your new business,” the godfather said. “It comes with a forty percent interest rate to be paid each week. Don’t be late. Bad things can happen.”
Ugolini was torn as he walked out. Happy he was getting the money, but bitter it was coming from an illegal organization. He despised the mob and couldn’t help but think he made a deal with the devil. He worked hard his whole life and these people just took from little people like himself. As he walked out of the hangout, he shot a glance over at the monkey slumped at the card table, eating a breaded lamb chop and sipping on a glass of Rye whiskey. Their eyes locked for a moment. Ugolini gave a disgusted look and spit on the floor. The monkey put his arm over his other arm as he lifted his fist in the air (It was the Italian “screw you” sign).
Within a month, the restaurant was up and running. Becky had done a wonderful job decorating the place, hanging her various dolls on the walls. Word had spread about the tasty food, and soon the place was packed every night. While Becky worked in the kitchen, Ugolini would walk around taking orders and talking with the customers. He was often asked about his little monkey friend. Ugolini would shrug and say, “I thinka he’s a stocka broker or something.”
Every Friday, a few of the mob boys would stop by and pick up the interest money from the loan Ugolini had acquired. Although it was a hefty fee, business was good so payback wasn’t a problem, but he would be indentured to thugs for a long time. Ugolini’s relationship with Becky couldn’t have been any better. While the pair only had one night to go out with each other at least they had money to do things like bowl, dance, or enjoy a Valentino picture show.
The monkey was falling deeper and deeper in with the mob. His tasks had become more dangerous. However, he wasn’t rising in the ranks and was becoming disillusioned. They were treating him like a second-rate gutter rat. After a long day of zipping around town running numbers, the little monkey’s till came up light. When the mob boss questioned him about the shortage the furry animal schlepped it off as if to say, “Forget about it.” After the third time it happened, some mobsters brought Chimps into the back alley and gave him the once over, three times. The beatings were a message to ensure the monkey knew that embezzling was something the mob didn’t look too kindly on, not to mention they felt it was dishonest to steal any money that had been honestly stolen.
On the other side of town, Ugolini’s restaurant was beginning to have troubles of its own. A food critic gave a scathing write-up on a linguini dish that happen to contain a dark curly hair. Ugolini claimed it was just a roach, but the critic knew a greasy follicle when he saw one. It was so disgusting that the snotty critic would battle nightmares for the rest of his life.
The scathing article in the Times leveled Ugolini’s business. The number of customers dropped to half (There was a certain amount of people who enjoyed stray hairs in their meals, mostly Asians, who found it an American delicacy). The Italian entrepreneur tried everything to boast business. He gave out two-for-one sausage coupons. He even brought in a street magician to entertain folks at their tables, but the only thing that disappeared was the money in the cash register and the magician.
For over a year, Chimps had worked his way up the mob ladder and was now in charge of the booze runs on the east side. He ran a small crew of underlings who would hijack truck shipments, steal the barrels of hooch, and then deliver them to the speakeasies on the west side. After each successful heist, the little varmint would celebrate by tearing up the town, boozed off his rocker and sporting an entourage of flapper girls. With his cocky gangster demeanor, he would throw around tips, tucking dollar bills in people’s pockets while blowing a wave a smoke in their face from the expensive cigar he puffed on. The chimp was the man about town and relished his position as a thug.
The boss wanted to expand his operations. His thugs began to step up the shake downs of local businesses. One of the businesses was Ugolini’s restaurant. As a result of the stray hair in the food encounter, the old man’s profits had slowed and he was barely making ends meet.
“Whatta ya mean yous nowa wanna twenty percenta of my profits?” Ugolini screamed at the chimp.
The monkey gave a half-smirk and shrugged as if to say, that’s just the way it’s gonna be. He then confidently puffed on his cigar, not realizing he was sucking on a sausage he had accidentally grabbed off of the table.
Ugolini reached his breaking point and charged at his old side-kick, but before he could wrap his arms around the hairy gangster, he was stopped by the monkey’s gorilla apes. They hoisted Ugolini off the ground with his legs flaying, while he screamed, “Whatsa matter for you? I takea you offa the streets and a raisea you froma a little bambino monkey and this is the way youa treata me?”
Chimps felt no remorse, or at least he didn’t show it. This was the big money. The American dream. No more dancing like a fool and begging for pennies to be thrown into his tin cup. He was going to be somebody.
The monkey was starting to have his own problems. He had been taking a cut of the shake down money to support his lavish lifestyle. The booze, tailored-made suits, and trollops came at a price, but he felt he had an image to keep up. He was burning the candle at both ends and was beginning to screw up on his job, missing mob meetings and important shipments.
It didn’t go unnoticed. Suspicion was growing with the boss and he now had some of his boys keeping an eye on the monkey. The mob boss brought him in for a sit down and started to pepper his underling with questions, hoping to trap the furry embezzler. Chimps stay cooled. He didn’t say much except for a few grunts and shrieks, and then buttered up the boss by handing him a banana. For now, the boss was satisfied. He sternly told his employee to quit monkeying around and handle business. To make sure the little sneak understood, he had his boys slap him around a bit. Maybe it was because the boys had eaten lemons earlier, but the beat down left a sour taste in Chimp’s mouth.
Ugolini had fallen months behind on his payments to the mob. The mob boss had no choice but to send some of his boys to have a chat with the old man. Chimps, now a captain, would lead the group. When he arrived at the nearly vacant restaurant, Ugolini was in the back, rolling manicottis. Becky rushed back to tell him the gangsters had entered the food joint.
The disheveled chef appeared from the back room with his arm around Becky as to ensure her of her safety. Chimps, smoking his signature cigar, approached with his paw out, signaling it was “pay up” time. Ugolini, under a lot of stress and teetering on his breaking point, huffed as he lifted his rolling pin and began waving it recklessly in the air. “Youa biga thorna in my side. Takea, takea, takea! Ugolini worka hisa fingers to the bone anda youa strolla in here with a youra little monkey paws stretching out to geta da money I makea with a my pasta anda meataballs. I raised you from just a littlea monkey nowa look ata you. Youra a biga hairy disgrace. Youra momma woulda bea ashamed of you.”
The comment cut deep into Chimps. He loved his mother, who was tragically killed while riding a pony in the circus. He shrieked then ran around the restaurant jumping on tables and throwing plates. He quickly calmed down, straightened his tie and composed himself. He approached Ugolini and held out his paw for his pay off. The old man sighed then handed the monkey six meatballs, “That’s alla I got for you now.” The chimp examined the meatballs closely then held his hand back out. Anger and rage appeared on Ugolini’s face. He huffed then grabbed two cannoli’s off the counter and thrust them at the monkey. Chimps smirked as he took the rest of the payout.
The mob boss exploded when Chimps handed him four meatballs and one cannoli. “What the hell is this?” he questioned. “Where’s my money?” The chimp shrugged, perplexed why the boss didn’t think they got a good deal. He gestured as if to say did you want meat sauce too. “You stupido monkey!” he yelled as he slapped the confused primate. “I want you to burn that restaurant down. No money, no business. Capiche?” Chimps began to shuffle out of the room with his shoulders slumped. He looked back at the boss, hoping he’d have second thoughts. “Burn it!” the big boss bellowed.
Chimps sat on a crate down by the docks, looking over the water. His mind was racing. He was so lost that he had no idea he had been smoking a banana for the last hour. What had he become, he thought. Although he and Ugolini had fallen out and gone in different directions, he didn’t hate the man. The monkey thought back to Vienna, the little town where Ugolini had rescued him from a traveling circus; the place where he was beaten and abused and forced to do handstands on the back of an elephant to crowds that threw peanuts at him. He remembered how the old man trained him to dance and do tricks for money, teaching him to play the crowd and soak them for every cent they had. He was a good man and Chimps was starting to feel some regret, but he also knew that with the mob, business was business and there was no way out, but in a coffin. They’d never let him walk away.
It was around midnight when Ugolini finished wiping down the kitchen. Becky was supposed to pick him up, but was running a little late. Suddenly, the old man could smell smoke. He quickly checked his ovens and stoves to make sure all was turned off. He raced out to the dinner room to see the front of his store blazing in flames. Escaping with his life was all that mattered now. Without thinking, Ugolini dove through the window, falling safely onto the sidewalk. He managed to roll into the streets out of harm’s way. Not far from him he heard some laughing. Looking over he saw Chimps holding a gas can with a few of his thugs. Just then Becky pulled up in a car.
Ugolini jumped to his feet and points to the monkey. “Youa! Youa stole a my dreams! Nowa I’ma gonna takea youra monkey lifea!” The monkey ripped off his coat and tie then waved the old man to come and get it. Becky screamed, “No Ugolini!”
But, it was too late. The broken restaurant owner had reached his breaking point. It was time to end it all… for good. He charged Chimps who charged right back. Ugolini planned on using the “clothesline take down” his grandmother from the old country had taught him once, but Chimps was a step ahead of him and went low. He flipped the old man over his shoulders, into the night air until a resounding thud was heard as Ugolini hit the ground. The monkey lifted his arms in victory and pounded his chest. He seemed to signal that there was more of that if his old master wanted to continue the scrap.
Ugolini slowly climbed to his feet. He raised his hands in front of him signifying he was done as he mumbled “No maas, no maas.” He reached in his pocket and revealed a shiny quarter as his agape mouth uttered, “What’s that, huh? What’s that?” He began to slowly twirl in his fingers. Chimps cocked his head as he watched the coin change positions. “Huh, youa likea,” Ugolini teased. “Youa likea the shiny quarter.” Indeed the animal did. Money was his weakness and he loved it as he felt the hypnotic effect. Suddenly, Ugolini flipped the coin in the air as the monkey’s eyes followed it, the little Italian man rocked back then planted his foot into the monkey’s crotch. The greedy mammal doubled over, gasping for some cool air to relieve the throbbing ball pangs. “The monkeys seea. The monkey swoona. The monkey fall downa,” Ugolini sneered.
Chimps put his hands in the air as if to say that he had enough. Then, with a tear in his eye, he stretched his arms out looking for a hug. The gesture seemed to touch Ugolini. Maybe the feud was finally over. He smiled, and then raced over to give his monkey a loving squeeze. As he grabbed his furry friend, the monkey grasped the old man’s ears, fell on his back, and put his hind legs on his chest, pulling the grinder down only to flip him over. Ugolini did a double somersault then kissed the cement. Lying stunned and motionless on the sidewalk, he shook his head to clear out the fogginess. Chimp’s laughing face came into focus as he hovered over the old man.
Suddenly, the organ grinder got a second wind and popped up, throwing punches in the air, looking for something to hit and ready to go another round. The monkey and the man built a head of steam and a collusion ensued. They grappled and the old dog put the monkey in a bear hug. Standing by her car, Becky watched the horrific spectacle until she could take no more. She dropped her bag of popcorn and ran over to put an end to the fight. She grabbed Ugolini and the monkey and was brought into the melee until they all fell to the ground.
Becky was thrown off, while Ugolini held the flailing monkey in his hands. It was time to end the turmoil. He moved towards the burning building and without a second thought he threw the monkey into the flames. An eerie silence filled the smoky air, broken by the soft crackles of burning wood.
The mob thugs looked on in shock as they watched their four-legged leader perished in the inferno. Ugolini took one last look at his blazing restaurant and then pushed his way past the hoodlums and into the safety of the car where Becky had already made her way sitting in the front seat, tightly bundled in her coat, and weeping. They drove away somehow believing their American dream was still out there.
Life continued in New York, at full speed. Immigrants were pouring in, in search of the American Dream. Many had made their way out west where new cities were beginning to bustle. One of them was San Francisco, where dreamers had ventured out to find gold and decided to stay. On one of the corners was a lively bar that featured top notch showgirls dancing in bubbly flowing dresses. But, the big draw was when an old man would take the stage and softly play a herde gerde to the melody of an Italian song while a monkey would entertain the audience with a playful jig then run around after and collect dollar bills in his tin cup. Ugolini had kept his name figuring he was safe on the west coast. Chimps, well, he would always be Chimps. The duo had come a long way from spare change.
In a small church, Ugolini and Becky held hands at the altar. She was wearing her own homemade gown made from the fabric of the doll’s clothes she used to sew. She also had set five beautifully dressed dolls in chairs next to her as her bridesmaid clan. Ugolini, standing more erect, looked dapper in his tux that he purchased instead of renting. Next to him, stood his best man Chimps in his own tailored-made suit and chewing on an unlit cigar.
“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the preacher asked.
“Sure. I don’t seea whya not,” Ugolini responded with a smile.
“And do you take Ugolini as your lawfully wedded husband, to love and obey?” asked the preacher.
“He’s my Ugolini,” she bashfully stated with a soft tone.
The preacher then asked for the rings so he could bless them before they placed it on each other’s fingers. Ugolini looked at Chimps who looked a little dumbfounded. He reached his little paw inside his pocket and pulled out a banana. He nervously smiled then reached in his other pocket and pulled out a bottle opener then looked at Ugolini as if to say, “I got nothing.”
The old man turned beet red and got up in the monkey’s face. “Whatsa matta for you, youa stupid monkey? Wheresa the ringa I gavea you?” Chimps snarled at him. “Oha, youa wanna piecea of Ugolini?” Chimps crotched down then waved him on. “Youa barking ata the wronga dog,” Ugolini huffed. Chimps had seen this too often and got in his four-legged stance to take on the crazy fool.
Suddenly, Becky stepped between them to prevent any blood-letting skirmish. The two were smart enough to realize that it was not a good thing to fight on the big wedding day. They had the rest of their lives for that. At the reception Ugolini got down on one knee and with his hurdy gerdy dedicated a sweet old Italian song to Becky. The off-key ditty brought a tear to everyone’s eye. This was the time when people were vulnerable, so that’s why Ugolini had sent Chimps around with the cup. They made a killing that day. Ugolini would later play a fast song and dance around, all the while plastered from the wine, where he would fall on a table and pass out. Chimps would rifle through his pockets and grab what he could.
Becky continued to make cute little dolls that Ugolini sold at his new restaurant. He was proud of his talented wife and every time he looked at one of her works of arts he’d reflect back on the life-size uncanny depiction of the stuffed Chimp’s doll she made. The same one she had concealed in her coat and slipped to Ugolini during the staged skirmish outside the big restaurant fire. The mobster never saw the slide of hand as Chimps slipped into her coat as Ugolini pretended to wrestle with a monkey doll then quickly heave it into the fire. The pseudo tragedy of Chimp’s death made him a free monkey – able to live a new life without the fear of a mob retribution for leaving the gang. The insurance on Chimp’s death would give the three of them a new start on life. And, the insurance money from the burned down restaurant was enough to open a new and better establishment. San Francisco seemed like a good place as any to live the American dream.
by Jeff Charlebois