Born in 1942, Salvatore “Sal” Lucania was not only raised but educated by the streets of East Harlem. Dropping out of his Catholic high school at 15 after punching out a priest, a formal education was not Sal’s future. As such, it would have been easy to fall into the trappings of “made man” status in the mafia, like his cousin Charles “Lucky” Luciano. But Sal had a different vision of the future, if he could just escape the confines of his neighborhood and defy the ways of the people in power: the bullies, the “ruling class,” local government corruption and his own mafia family culture- in order to create a different life than the one fate might have otherwise intended.
“I was born an outlaw in outlaw culture. I refused to be forced into the powerless class of the ordinary, law-abiding citizen. I always saw things from outside the box because I was born outside the box, so I was free to think for myself.”
THE GANGSTER’S COUSIN is a wonderfully different take on the usual Mafia story.. From his humble beginnings in New York and across four continents, Sal’s memoir takes the reader on a sometimes exciting, sometimes poignant, and often humorous adventure as he finds himself in unbelievable situations and meeting an array of unique and funny characters along the way. Follow Sal’s unique perspective and find out why he strives so hard to stay ahead of a different type of criminal class–the the people who make the rules.
From The Book:
I started bootlegging Channel No. 5 Perfume in 1959, when I was sixteen years old. I got into the business through my cousin Carl, who first introduced me to Cue Ball Kelly in 1959. Kelly owned the 7-11 pool hall in Midtown Manhattan. He was also the ref for Brunswick’s T.V. Pool Tournaments.
He was short, Friar Tuck bald, stocky, and 50ish, with bright blue eyes. His complexion, like his hair, was cadaver gray.
Besides running the pool hall, Kelly was in the bootleg perfume business, the subject of our meeting that day. Arranged by my cousin Carl, a member of the Gambino Family, this meeting was to kick off my “business career.” Kelly had only one line of perfume, Channel No. 5, which at the time sold for $25.00 an ounce.
I was excited but nervous. It was very unusual for someone my age to be given this opportunity. This was my way out of the limitations of Harlem. These men were high rollers to a boy like me.
The two-landing walk up was dimly lit by a nineteenth century alabaster light that hung from a long dirt-encrusted chain. It must have been gaslight, I thought to myself. The wooden stairs creaked, and the stair well smelled like an abandoned warehouse.
It was strangely quiet as I approached the opened green swinging doors of the loft. When I stepped into the hall, all I could see was a fog of cigarette smoke and patches of light. When my eyes adjusted, I was surprised at how crowded and large the hall was. There were about 20 ornately carved walnut pool tables that had a Mark Twain era look about them.
Six were in action, but action was what this joint was all about. There were at least 30 guys in the hall watching different games. You could see by the seriousness of the people watching the matches that this was a high stakes place. “The Hustler” should have been filmed here.
“Hey Butch,” Carl called in a loud whisper. “Over here!”
I loved Carl. He was my father’s first cousin, 30 years my senior. Out of respect, I always called him Uncle Carl, as I did all of my older relatives.
Carl’s charm was his self-assured attitude “Know what to say, who to say it to, and you can get anything you want done,” Carl would say. He was right, except for one thing. You also needed access, but Carl always had access.