Rants and Raves

Boston Bulletin: Tony Soprano Syndrome

Thursday, Aug 18, 2011 11:18 am

By Leslie Schultz

When James “Whitey” Bulger was finally rounded up by the FBI in June after 16 years on the lam, a local reporter hit the streets to get reactions from residents of South Boston, Whitey’s old neighborhood. Some had terrifying memories to report, of course. One business-owner recounted Whitey brandishing a gun and explaining that the man could either pay Bulger protection money or watch his entire family get wasted. (Remember, Whitey is the guy that Jack Nicholson’s character is supposedly based on in the film “The Departed.”) The ending to this recollection is implicit; the businessman’s alive to tell the tale.

Of course, from what the FBI tells us, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of similar acts of terror attached to Bulger’s legacy. Some allegedly ended not with regular protection payments, but with cold-blooded assassinations or fatal addictions developed while running drugs for Whitey’s gang.

Nevertheless, not every Southie resident the reporter interviewed spilled vitriol. Some recalled his friendly smile when they greeted Bulger on the street. Others told of little favors—a bag of groceries delivered to a sick relative, a youngster’s muddy sneakers casually replaced with a spotless new pair—that remind us even the cruelest criminals sometimes make feeble attempts to balance their karma.

But the best, the most original quote the reporter captured that day came from a middle-aged woman cornered in a Southie convenience store who, like so many confused souls in that colorful neighborhood, seems to have bought Bulger’s PR of the gangster with a heart of gold. When asked her thoughts about Bulger’s character, she just shrugged and said, “He was a mobster. So what? Everybody’s got an occupation.”

 Leslie Schultz is the founding editor of New Paris Press. She can be reached at newparispressfb@gmail.com.

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