I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who once wrote that "two-thirds of New Jersey is under water and the rest, as we all know, is under surveillance."
As for the tomatoes, they're a big part of who we are. There's nothing like a plate of sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, good olive oil, and a loaf of bread. It's heaven. Buon appetito! Now on to less appetizing issues.
The Jersey mob is a multidimensional animal. There's always been the indigenous DeCavalcante family, which some people think is the prototype for the Sopranos. I don't agree. The last serious leader of the DeCavalcante family was John Riggi and he's been "away" (and thus inactive) for several years now.
But Jersey's always been a great locale for wiseguys from other families. The Taccetta brothers—part of the Luchese organization—were major players for awhile. I once had lunch with Michael Taccetta while he, his brother Martin, and two other guys were on trial in Toms River for racketeering. Among other things, the case involved the murder of Vincent "Jimmy Sinatra" Craparotta, who was beaten to death with golf clubs. Why golf clubs? One of the defendants explained to an informant that they used clubs rather than baseball bats because in the past they had found that bats break. Anyway, over lunch Mike Taccetta acknowledged that, like everything else in New Jersey, he was constantly under surveillance. He figured that even if he beat the racketeering case—which he didn't—the feds would just come with something else. "It's like Willie Loman said, 'It comes with the territory.' " A wiseguy familiar with Death of a Salesman! Go figure. Only time I ever had a wiseguy talk literary to me.
The Philly family, of course, has always had a presence in Jersey. Nicky Scarfo was based in Atlantic City and ran the family from there through the 1980s. Talk about wackos. Scarfo was like John Gotti in a lot of ways. One is that they both encouraged their sons to follow in their footsteps. Nicky Jr., like Gotti's son John, is currently in jail.
Which brings me to A.J. I think the kid will get busted for something stupid but violent. I've seen it already down here. Over the past five or six years the Philadelphia family has been run by the A.J.s and the Christophers of the crime family—the sons and nephews of the guys who are away. They're the MTV wiseguys, the next generation of the mob. And they are running the organization into the ground. We had, for example, Skinny Joey Merlino, who's now doing 14 years on racketeering charges. Joey's agenda on Monday, according to one veteran wiseguy, was to get to Tuesday. These guys lived for the day. They were the Me Generation. That's A.J. and Christopher, and it does not bode well for the Sopranos.
Overall, I think HBO's mob family pretty much reflects the status of the mob in New Jersey—and most other parts of America—today. Simply put, the best and the brightest of the Italian-American community are doctors, lawyers, and educators. The guys going into the mob? We're scraping the bottom of the gene pool.