Longtime Biggest Little residents are getting a huge chuckle from Federal Hill business owners’ indignation over the fact that the neighborhood is now being viewed as a hotbed of violent crime. P&J remember the not-so-recent past when Da Hill was regarded as a quiet place full of small markets, a vending machine company, and bustling ethnic society clubs. You wouldn’t find many people raising a ruckus, primarily because they had an aversion to broken limbs or bullets to the back of the head.
Yes, those were the Mayberry days of Federal Hill, despite scurrilous yellow journalists describing the area as the hub of organized crime in New England. Raymond Patriarca would sit quietly (albeit with a stare that could melt your face and innards) at his office of the National Cigarette Service, with local residents sighing, “Why can’t they just leave that poor man alone?” when he was visited by federal law enforcement agents taking a break from bugging every phone from Route 95 to Valley Street and snapping pictures of everyone who walked in and out of the Atwells Ave storefront.
In those days people simply spoke of “Raymond,” who was on a first name basis with the public like “Elvis” or “Marilyn.” And who could argue with all the boisterous fun and kooky antics Raymond’s crowd brought to local clubs and restaurants, where one could discuss opinions of who might win a sporting contest with nickel, dime, and 10 thou bets? And where the checks mysteriously vanished at the end of a feast?
They were a colorful group of rascals with nicknames like “Baby Shacks,” “The Blind Pig,” “Joe Onions,” “Bobo,” and “The Moron,” all of whom loved their mothers and gave freely to the local Catholic Church. OK, so they all had no visible means of support and showed unfriendly dispositions on occasion — which meant most people made sure to always sit with their backs to the wall — but all the talk of “made men,” “swimming with the fishes” and, most absurdly, “The Mafia” (whatever that means?) was just a frivolous verbal accessory to everyday life on glorious Federal Hill. As Raymond’s attorneys always said, “There is no such thing as the ‘Mafia.’ ” And if you can’t take a mob lawyer’s word as the truth, whom can you trust?
And crime-free? You bet. You saw no graffiti on buildings, and the idea of a rape was a non-starter in Mr. Raymond’s Neighborhood, unless the perpetrator had a rocket ship prepared to take off for Mars, where he would still no doubt be tracked down and shorn of his wedding tackle.
So P&J can understand the feelings of today’s upstanding business owners about places like the $3 Bar, where three singletons gets you a Captain and Coke, and enough Dutch courage to call out anyone who looks at you the wrong way.
How these new establishments, which care so little about the Opie-and-Andy way of life that has forever been at the heart of Federal Hill, could now see to disrespect it leaves a bad taste in P&J’s mouths — sort of like the sapor that miscreants in Raymond’s reign tasted from a .22 caliber slug lodged in their tonsils. Those were the “good old days.”