The first time I heard of Nostradamus was the night we whacked out Joey Flowers behind Barboza’s butchershop. It was back in the alley near where Salvi Two Noses’ mother used to grow her tomatoes. Maron, those were some unbelievable tomatoes! St. Peter himself couldn’t get tomatoes like this! But anyways, I’ll never forget it. I seen this book lying there on the ground with a picture of this spooky bastard on the cover. It looked exactly like Phyllis Diller! So I picked it up and took it home and that night in bed I started reading it. I still had the jitters from the hit — Joey was a big guy and he put up a real struggle — and I thought the book might relax me and put me to sleep. But it was all frigging poetry! Still, it was intriguing. Part of the first thing I seen said:
When the yellow brothers make their forced peace,
The long silver coach signals imminent bloodshed.
On my mother’s grave, it was practically unreadable — like Chinese caricatures! Then it hits me: yellow brothers… Chinese… Not for nothing, but there’d been a Tong War in Chinatown that same week, only it was all called off when Guiliani threatened to confiscate all their firecrackers. Freaking Guiliani! Anyways, that’s what the “yellow brothers making forced peace” must’ve meant. I couldn’t believe it. So now my mind’s going in every direction. Bang! Boom! Then I remembered that Dino Gigante’s consigliere had just turned up at some landfill — at a couple of different landfills at that — and Gigante wasn’t none too happy about it. He was on the warpath. Could that be the “imminent bloodshed” part? And everyone knew he didn’t go no place without his silver limo… Was that the “long silver coach” Nostradamus was talking about?
Anyways, I didn’t get much sleep that night. The next day I showed Billy the Weasel the book and he turned white as a ghost. He was a paranoid about Gigante to begin with on account of he’d stiffed him on that hijacking operation a few years back and he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So he reads the bloodshed part and becomes convinced it’s talking about him — he’s gonna get it from Gigante!
Well, he read the whole frigging book cover to cover over coffee and some zabaglione in his sister-in-law Angeline’s kitchen. You’d kill your own mother for zabaglione like this. And her coffee! Maron! Anyways, from what he could figure, his best bet was to lay low while he tried to figure Gigante’s next move — some story about “striped cloud of opprobium” and whatnot. You see, it was all there in Nostradamus, he just had to interpret it!
But then somebody must’ve blabbed and word got out in the neighborhood that Billy was reading Nostradamus!! You see, as soon as Gigante found out about it he’d pick up a copy of Nostradamus himself and figure out what was going on! It was all over for Billy! I mean, this was like a nightmare, right? Well, that really threw some scare into Billy. He’s shaking like a scared frigging leaf. He figures it’s either him or Gigante. I mean, he wasn’t going to risk his life in some faggy poetry-interpreting contest! So he decided to whack Gigante outside the King Kullen’s by Rockaway Beach that afternoon.
Only on the way he stopped off to get some breadsticks from Patriarca’s Bakery — you know, to take the edge off. My God, these were some breadsticks!! They were baked right there! And the smell! Anyways, at the cash register he spots a paperback of Nostradamus! It was right there on the counter! Well, naturally he couldn’t resist. So he picks it up and turns to the part about the silver coach and the bloodshed again to get psyched for what he was about to do. Only in this version it wasn’t about no silver coach, it was about some silver friggin fish!! And in some footnote he seen that the medieval French for “fish” and “coach” are similar! I think the coach was “cabriolet” and the fish was “gabrillette” or “gabagool” or “capicola” or some bullshit! Nostradamus was making up a pun! What a kick in the ass! This was no time for frigging puns!
Now Billy don’t know what the hell to do! Does he whack Gigante, or call up a Nostradamus scholar, or what? Then the cashier explains that “silver fish” is also usually interpreted to mean some kind of submarine — which is amazing, on account of subs weren’t even around in Nostradamus’s day. Not that it cleared up nothing. Anyways, Billy decided to cool his jets and lay low. Then two days later Gigante’s limo turns up at the bottom of Sheepshead Bay! With Gigante at the wheel!! That’s what the silver sub business must’ve been about! You couldn’t write this stuff! It just got crazier and crazier.
Well it was bound to happen, but pretty soon all the wiseguys were big into Nostradamus. He was the biggest thing going. You couldn’t show your face at no meetings unless you knew at least a couple of quatrains by heart. Some guys tried to fake it, but they didn’t last. One time Johnny Calumbino’s son made some crack about how his teacher said Nostradamus was a big phoney. Everybody just looked at him and said nothing. I never saw him after that…. People got very touchy about the whole thing.
Toward the end it got to be too much. I still remember the night Jimmy Peaches let off some steam about some version of Nostradamus’s prophecies he thought was badly translated — only he doesn’t realize he was talking about the same translation that just happened to be Frankie the Bunion’s favorite! Peaches could be a real motormouth when he was drinking. Anyways, Frankie just sat there smiling, only inside he’s thinking how he’s gonna give Jimmy payback… Well, the minute Jimmy went to the can I said I had to go home and feed my fish â€” which was a lie on account of my mother feeds them — and I ran in and told Jimmy he’d better apologize to Frankie the Bunion right away. And he did, saying he was really thinking about an earlier edition — the one with the wordy preface. But it didn’t do him no good. “That preface might be a little wordy,” Frankie says, real ominous, “But you might’ve spoken a few too many words yourself from time to time, right Jimmy?” Then he put his feet up — that was always the sign — and they took Peaches away. He didn’t even get to finish his zeppolli! Maron, you never tasted zeppollis like this!! On my mother’s grave! He didn’t get to take another bite! There was still sugar all over his face!
Next thing I know Nostradamus was a big sore point with everybody. Then a new translation came out tying everything Nostradamus said to the whole millenium bug, which turned out to be a lot of bullshit, but whatever. It was all about how the world was gonna go up in flames and whatnot — but supposedly just after that the Kennedy’s would be resurrected and it said there be “a thousand day reign of the little Camel” — only in French it comes out “Camelot”! A new Camelot! That’s all we needed was to see that pretty boy googatz Peter Lawford all over the place again! A thousand days of him is a thousand days too many! I remember years ago he used to promote those candygrams on television and I ordered one for my mother for Mother’s Day and all the chocolate was rock hard, the sonofabitch! You never tasted candy like that! It was like hunks of frigging wood! My mother still mentions it! I’m turning red over here!
But it wasn’t just him. The Kennedy’s brought up a lot of sore points with all the wiseguys. So now you don’t know what to say. Do you forget about Nostradamus or do you make fun of him or what? It got very complicated.
Then one night I’m hanging out with Marty Tits and he’s got a copy of this book on that whole new Bible Code book thing. Forget about it. He says it turns out the whole Bible is a some jumbo word search and if you find your name in it you got major problems — not that he would know how to spell Marty Tits in Hebrew! But anyways, by then everybody knew Junior Gotti was big into those wordsearch books, which he would do to pass the time while under house arrest. He was a real whiz with those things. So when he heard about the Bible Code it became the new big thing overnight. Suddenly Nostradamus was ancient history. It was like he never existed. Still, if you ask me, Peter Lawford should watch his rear. Am I right?