My father became a staunch advocate for the folks who lived near the new social club. If a man had a meddlesome neighbor, Dad stepped in and brokered the peace. If a few neighborhood punks had graffitied a storefront, Dad forced them to scrub it clean. And if a house was robbed or vandalized, Dad hunted down whoever was responsible and forced them to make restitution. Dad was no fool, and understood early on the importance of currying favor with the community. Just as he needed respect from the elders in his world to achieve his goals, he also needed support from the rank-and-file—the men and women who would do business in his neighborhood.
Word of the new social club quickly spread. People came from up to ten miles away to meet their newly anointed street boss. Most of the people who dropped in were hoping for an audience with my father; if so inclined, he might be able to help them with some problem in their lives, whether personal or financial. No dispute was too small or too large; the boss had free reign to intervene. Often, as a sign of his gratitude, Dad also bought cases of groceries and expensive cuts of meats and distributed these goods to all the neighbors in Ozone Park. Aside from being generous and considerate, Dad also did his fair share of campaigning, which would help him later on as he rose up even higher in the life.
There were perks to the position, of course. At holiday time, men from the neighborhood would express their gratitude to my father by dropping by with homemade pies and other delicacies that their wives, girlfriends, or mothers had baked. In exchange for their support, my father would throw a party every July 4, with enough free food, amusement park rides, soda, cotton candy, and entertainment for thousands of people; neighbors would invite family and friends from as far away as Staten Island and Manhattan. This event grew larger with each passing year, and featured one of the most impressive displays of fireworks in the metropolitan area, no small accomplishment given the challenge of securing the proper permits. Somehow, though, this never presented a problem for my father, perhaps because so many of the local cops chose to look the other way. As a general rule, they were more than willing to turn a blind eye to activities at the social club, especially where my father was concerned.
The July 4 bash was the talk of the town, from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and from Staten Island to Central Park. The turnout of revelers and spectators, whose numbers often included FBI agents in unmarked cars, taking notes and snapping photos, was astounding.
At one such celebration in the late 1970s, the fireworks display went awry. A man stationed on a nearby rooftop had accidentally dropped a lit cigarette into a box of explosives, setting the roof on fire. Flames spread quickly to a neighboring building.