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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina

JOE JELLY (11/2/21)

My good friend Dr. Rock Positano is the Director of the Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Rock is the greatest foot doctor in the world.

Not just New York, not just the USA, but the world.

Rock is also the author of the best-selling book “Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero.”

And now he’s writing another book, “Street Smarts,” which will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2022.

Rock asked me to make a contribution to his new book and here’s the beginning of what I’m planning to write.


Where do street smarts come from?

Your parents? No.

Your friends? No.

Your neighborhood? Stop there. It depends.

No one who grew up on 5th Avenue and 61st Street ever had street smarts.

From their parents, they got cunning, not street smarts.

From their friends, they got nothing and gave nothing.

Street smarts is an edge that people who don’t have the finest education develop, and that makes them competitive with anyone on the street – where it counts.

Unfortunately they don’t teach street smarts at Harvard, Yale or any college anywhere in the world.

It comes down to neighborhood.

For those of us who lived in Brooklyn on Avenue U in Gravesend, we learned street smarts from Joe Gioielli, aka Joe Jelly.

I only saw Joe Jelly five, maybe six times in my life, but I learned a lot from him.

Everything about him said danger.

It could be that Joe was insane and he was the only one in the neighborhood who didn’t know it.

It was his reputation, his blazing cruel eyes and that little creepy smile he had on his face that said, “Watch out. I may have to kill you someday.”

He was a few years older than me and I remember the first time I saw him was when he decided he wanted to play softball with a bunch of my friends and me in the PS 95 schoolyard.

Now, I may have been the worst ballplayer in all of Brooklyn.

I wore these thick glasses and when I looked up for a fly ball my glasses jiggled and I saw not one but three balls coming at me.

The middle ball usually hit me square on the head.

I was so bad that I became a perpetual right fielder.

That was the position assigned to the worst player in the neighborhood because everyone batted right-handed and so they hit the ball to left field where the best player, named Joey Depraspro, made circus catches.

I remember the day I was playing second base because our team captain George Malore felt right field was better empty than having me out there.

The thought was even after I ran after a ball I had missed, I would pick it up and throw it back like a girl, and the ball would take 10 bounces and by the time it got back, the opposing player had rounded the bases and had a home run.

So there I was playing second base and there was Joe Jelly, who got a hit and was coming toward second, and somehow I caught the ball thrown to me and I rushed toward him and tagged him at least 10 feet from the base so I screamed, “You’re out!”

He stood on the base and said, “I’m safe. You didn’t tag me.”

Of course I had tagged him, hard, but I looked at Joe Jelly’s cruel homicidal eyes and I said:

“You’re safe. I didn’t tag you.”

None of my friends argued. The street smart lesson is you don’t pick a fight with a stone-cold killer, who may be insane, over a stupid schoolyard softball game.

Joe Jelly taught all of us about street paranoia.

You don’t look for trouble and you spend your life looking over your shoulder when you’re on a dark street because you never know. You never know.

The next time I saw Joe Jelly, he got into a fistfight with our friend Cosmo Fiorki.

Cosmo was a local hero because his father ran a tiny candy store on West 6th Street near Avenue U and he sold individual cigarettes for 3 cents apiece to children, some as young as seven years old.

The fight was a doozy and Cosmo landed a couple of shots at Joe Gioielli’s face. And when the fight was broken up Joe screamed, “I’m going to get you.”

Cosmo then took off and disappeared.

Not just for a day or two, but forever.

We never saw him again, and he was wise. He became the first Italian who hadn’t committed a crime to join his own witness protection program.

He gave up his father’s “selling cigarettes to little children” fortune to save his skin and live another day.

Joe Jelly went on to neighborhood fame for being one of the “Barbershop Quartet” that rubbed out Albert Anastasia at the Park Central Sheraton Hotel. Joe Jelly was a ranking member of the notorious Gallo Gang.

And then one day Joe Jelly accepted an offer from his good friend Albee, our friendly neighborhood bookie, to go fishing in Sheepshead Bay, and he was never seen again.

His clothes, with a dead fish in them, were delivered to his girlfriend’s house.

How kind of the Mafia to, in the name of romance, tell her that Joe Jelly isn’t trying to avoid you, but unfortunately, he sleeps with the fishes.

Joe Jelly gave us all lessons in street smarts, but going fishing with a Mafia friend shows he was too confident and naive and possibly too crazy to have street smarts himself. It cost him his life. Good riddance.

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