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There's Something About Geno

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Durante wore canvas Top-Siders, duck pants, a shirt with epaulets, and a necklace that vertically spelled out geno in block letters. It was almost pretty in Ambrose Channel, even if to our left we could still see Brighton Beach and Shore View Nursing Home, and to our right was the sewage treatment plant on Knapp Street. Everyone stared as a beautiful 34-foot mainstream yacht floated within 40 yards of us. There were two black couples on the boat and a few children. "Look at that hull," Durante said with admiration. "You could sail to China in a boat like that. What the fuck are blacks doing with a boat like that?"

"Dad, knock it off," Eugene said.

"Sorry, but I'm just posing the question," Durante said. "I love black women. Black and white, it's a beautiful mixture. You don't think if it's good enough for De Niro, it's good enough for you or me?"

Teddy woke up, badly sunburned, and made himself a sandwich. Like Eugene, he has been working in the New York Police Department. Eugene said he had just put in for an assignment in the 70th Precinct, host to the Abner Louima incident. "They're getting rid of all the scumbag cops," he explained. "The Seven-Oh's going to be the cleanest squad in the entire force, the best place to train."

"Now I can see how you used to be a social worker and backpacked around Europe," Teddy said. "You got that idealistic philosophy."

"My own fucking son is a pig," Murphy shouted over. "I got a little granddaughter who's smarter than him. The other day, I bought her a present, and I says she only gets it if she tells me the Eleventh Commandment, and without a blink she says, 'Thou shalt not snitch.' I said, 'Now, that is a good girl.' " Then he got on the subject of asbestos suits against the city and disability claims people had filed for stunt-scene injuries.

I asked Teddy and Eugene if they ever thought it was weird to be working as cops given the sorts of characters their fathers knew and love to reminisce about.

Times were different back then, Eugene said.

"Most of the shit I saw you don't even know about," Durante said to his son.

"And I don't want to know."

Everybody was playing it for Durante, running through their wiseguy routines. At one point, I had the biggest fish of the day on my line, a baby sand shark that was more than two feet long.

"Look at that shark making a bitch out of you," Murphy said as I tried to reel it in.

"That shark's making a bitch out of you, Eric," Teddy said.

"The shark's calling you his bitch," Eugene said.

When I finally got the shark out of the water, Murphy suggested Teddy shoot it. "Teddy, get your piece," he said. "You got your piece on the boat?"

Later, Durante caught an eighteen-inch-long sea bass. "I recognize-a that fish," Eugene said.

"I recognize-a that fish," Durante said. It was the punch line from a story about Dominic Aniello, a kindly old man he used to bring fishing. The backstory, as they call it in the business, went something like this: They were betting on the day's biggest blackfish, but hardly anything was biting. Dominic finally caught one and put it in a bucket. While Dominic went to use the toilet, Durante put the fish on his own line.

"Look what I got," Durante had said as Dominic emerged from the cabin.

Dominic shook his head sternly: "I recognize-a that fish."

When Durante dies, he will leave behind things in large quantities, and they will be perhaps the most substantial proof of his having lived. All of his fanaticism toward movies and the mob and hanging out at Elaine's are to him a struggle for permanence, each in a way affording an opportunity to affix himself to a moment in history more indelible than himself. "Collecting is how you make a passion out of a mild interest," Durante said one night. We had left Elaine's and were driving downtown, the Thursday-night circuit. He splashed some cologne on his face, from a travel-size bottle he kept in the glove box, and offered me some.


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