I was born the year of the “shot heard around the world” to parents of Italian descent. My father, Felix, is the son of immigrants who came here in the early 1900’s from the slums of Naples. My mother, Francesca Cuomo, immigrated here at the age of 21 in 1947. She, like three of my four grandparents, is from the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, the same place where the mother of author Lorenzo Carcaterra is from. Click here to see how Carcaterra has written lovingly about Ischia.
I am, therefore, one and a half generation Italian-American, when you average my being second generation on my father’s side and first on my mother’s side.
South Brooklyn was the place where I was born, and I lived a block and a half from the headquarters of the branch of the Mafia headed by “Crazy” Joey Gallo. People associated with the Gallo’s were our friends, neighbors, classmates and, even, relatives.
Growing up in largely Italian South Brooklyn, my contemporaries and I considered ourselves to be 100% American. Any kid who immigrated to our neighborhood from Italy, we would deride as being a wop, a guinea, and a greaseball. I owe a debt of gratitude to an Irish-American high school classmate for calling me “wop, guinea, greaseball” and thereby giving me perspective and reconnecting me with my ethnic roots. (For some reason, Italians were not referred to as “dagos” here in the East. The only place where I was called that was in Chicago.)
I attended Jesuit-run Brooklyn Preparatory School (Brooklyn Prep). Notable alumni include Joe Paterno, William Peter Blatty (who got the idea for The Exorcist, from one of the Jesuits, who would appear as the president of Georgetown in the movie version of Blatty’s book) and John Sexton, the former NYU President and NYU Law School dean.
I graduated from Fordham College with a B.S. in psychology and from NYU’s Graduate School of Public Administration with a master’s in public administration. I would earn my law degree from Brooklyn Law School.
I practiced law for 34 years before retiring at the end of 2015. My law career ran the gamut, as I worked for small, medium and large-sized firms the first six years of practice, was a solo-practitioner the next 14 year and was in-house with a national nonprofit my last 14 year. I was a real estate transactional attorney, but the primary focus of my work (even before law school) was affordable housing. At the time of retirement, I was a vice president and deputy general counsel at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (www.enterprisecommunity.org), which was founded in the early 80’s by visionary real estate developer James Rouse, whose grandson happens to be Edward Norton, the noted actor.
While Occupational Hazard is my first published piece of fiction, several non-fiction pieces I wrote have been published. One was a piece I wrote for Brooklyn Law Review in 1981 while a law student, and several pieces I wrote about Dorothy Day, co-founder of The Catholic Worker (www.catholicworker.org), were published during the ‘70’s. Additionally, I did author and assisted in writing a number of studies and reports on housing-related topics. I also wrote over fifty book reviews for the mostlyfiction.com website under a pen name between 2004 and 2011 (http://bookreview.mostlyfiction.com/review-team/archive/hagen-baye/).
Since retiring, besides writing, I have volunteered to assist the Dorothy Day Guild of the New York Archdiocese (www.dorothydayguild.org) perform certain of the steps required as part of the process which is hoped will result in Dorothy Day’s being canonized a Catholic saint. I knew Dorothy Day and she is a significant influence on my life.
As stated in the acknowledgment section of Occupational Hazard, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos are among my favorite writers. (I think Pelecanos’s exploration of the themes of redemption and sacrifice in The Turnaround is exceptional, and it is sad that that book did not garner the attention it deserves.) In addition to Lehane and Pelecanos, I have read all or most of the books written by Robert Crais, Walter Mosley, Lawrence Block, and Elmore Leonard. And I am an avid fan of what I refer to as “The Girl” series of books (better known as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series, which series has been continued after Larsson’s death by David Lagercrantz). Lisbeth Salander is the kind of character I wish I could have created.
I love rock and roll music in general and the work of Chuck Berry. I especially love old school Soul and R&B music and particularly enjoy Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green and Aretha Franklin, Patty Labelle (who taught me just about all the French I know) and Etta James and the Four Tops and the Spinners. Special mention must be made of Gary US Bonds and his “Quarter to Three” which turned me onto to new and wondrous possibilities at a young age. Finally, I consider “Turna Sorrento” to be one of the greatest songs ever sung.
I was born a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and the negative feelings toward the city that stole my team have survived the test of time. (Serendipitously, this 2007 New York Times piece was reprinted in the New York Times the day after I wrote the previous sentence: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/30/sports/baseball/30anderson.html) And I am not shy about sharing my feelings toward that city. Click here for one of the ways I have expressed what I think about that place, with apologies to The Mamas & The Papas. (And to tell you the truth, the lyrics of the original song make no sense whatsoever.)
Despite mixed feelings about the sport’s violence, I am a boxing fan and appreciate being able to witness firsthand the career of Mohammed Ali, and I share here what I wrote upon Ali’s death in 2016.