Tony Ambrosio's Unsuccessful Life of Crime Is Finally Looking Up by Michael Drezin

It takes a lot to teach hapless petty thief Tony Ambrosio a lesson; by Michael Drezin.

Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. No need to be. No one who ever made it big, made it big being honest.

Honest or not, indications are Anthony Ambrosio will never make it big in crime because he doesn't have what it takes. He pulls mostly minor scams like selling weed that isn't weed, or bootlegged CDs where the cover doesn't match what's inside. And he gets caught like flu in winter. Tony's always getting caught.

He does his time without complaint, 'cause that's the way real men do time. And then he starts the cycle all over again. No thought about what went wrong, or how to do it better. He does the same thing, in the same way, every time.

He can't see that a life of crime is not for him because Anthony Ambrosio, Tony to his friends, is not an honest man. Not even with himself.

And so when he told himself he had enough money for a fine meal at the Actor's Crib (insiders call it the Crib), a five star restaurant in the heart of NYC's theater district, it turned out he did. It's just that it wasn't on him.

Upon the direction of management Alberto, the waiter, called the police. When they arrived Tony was arrested and until he was able to see a judge, he spent an afternoon, evening and the next morning in jail.

Anthony Ambrosio aka Tony Ambrosio aka Little Tony of Arthur Avenue, has been arrested like 100 times before. Pull a job. Get arrested. Tony was so regularly arrested he knew what to expect for dessert any day of the week whenever he was jailed.

Tony started his life of crime at age 14. Beer, his first heist. Problem is, he got regularly caught doing it. His mentor suggested he bring his own shopping bag, but by then Tony was banned from most places that sold alcohol.

Years later, when he graduated to burglaries, it took only one try to realize a yellow Dodge with a bumper sticker saying Proud parent of a Harvard graduate was a poor choice for a getaway car.

It's not that Tony had bad ideas. It's more like he had no ideas. Like an impulse purchaser, Tony was an impulse desperado who never kept his impulse in check.

Could be he was raised that way.

Tony's mom supported her and Tony by playing poker. Most often, she did so wearing a low cut leopard print blouse while chain smoking Evet's filtered cigarettes. She played in high stakes games held in the private room at Gino's (Fine Italian Cuisine) in the Little Italy section of the Bronx. It was mostly a men's game, but anyone who could afford the five thousand dollar minimum could play. Big fat cigars were banned ten years ago because they stunk up the restaurant, and except for Francesca these were no smoking games. She knew the dangers of smoking, everyone does, but she felt she had a realistic perspective on her habit. It was the same as her realistic perspective on life. Nothing bad would ever happen to her.

If she thought about it at all, I'm sure she wasn't happy her son was sent to the principal's office nearly every day, but boys fight. What could she do about boys being boys? She didn't do much in the way of cooking, or cleaning, or any of the things formerly known as woman's work, but she always left Tony money for McDonald's, or pizza, or the like. Tony never lacked for anything that up to twenty-five dollars could buy.

Besides poker, Francesca had a talent for attracting well-to-do men. It was just such a man who, in return for intimate companionship, staked her to her first major league poker game. That was maybe ten years ago, but even in early middle age, she was eye candy. She had a trim figure and an oval face framed by long, formerly dark, brown hair. If there was any flaw in her package, at least in my view, it was the unoriginality of a woman with tip over bazookas having brassy blond hair. The fact that she wore black framed glasses toned it down some, but not enough for men who liked a reserved looking woman.

Still, anyone thinking Francesca was an uncaring mother would be wrong. She was teaching self-reliance to her young son, same as her parents taught her. In that effort, although she didn't know it, she was getting help from her boyfriend Joey Sanitation.

Joey was in private sanitation, that is, he collected business refuse while the city collected residential garbage. The industry was heavily regulated in New York to rid it of the mobsters who once dominated the field and who, through front men, still do. Joey was too advanced in his legitimate career to break the law the way street thugs do, but not too old to tell stories of his own, earlier days, when a street thug was exactly what he was.

Tales of crimes and tales of survival in prison, make for interesting listening even if you are not an impressionable 14-year-old. (If incarcerated, find a guard to bribe. There will be one. From special meals to skipping out on your work detail, they make life easier.) Joey was someone Tony could look up to, a substitute for the father who left too long ago to be remembered. With Joey Sanitation as inspiration, Tony lived his life the way any 14-year-old on his own would. He did whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.

First time Tony was arrested for shoplifting, his first time out, a security guard reached into a jacket pocket and found items not paid for inside. When asked how they got there, he had a simple defense.

"I borrowed the coat," he said.

And he's the kind who needs someone to blame, and so when he got arrested for not paying at the Crib he blamed his waiter for believing he had money to pay for dinner at a place as expensive as that place is.

The thing is, when he wants to, Tony can make a decent enough living dumpster-diving for information to sell to identity thieves. But making money, having it on you, and spending it are three different things.

No talent or special skill is required to buy things with money. A child can do it. The thrill for Tony, the excitement, is in getting over, in getting something for nothing. If you don't understand that, you're either too square to explain it to, or not being honest with yourself.

Still, some might argue, given that Tony did order and eat, no gun to his head, his waiter could reasonably assume he would pay when the time came. The way Tony sees it, that's a mistake. Not his mistake. It's a mistake in the way restaurants are run. Tony came to this insight by way of life experience, which taught him that placing trust in people almost never works out well. He thinks restaurants should be run like stores. There they make you pay before you get the merchandise. They do that for a reason. Clearly, it's not Tony's fault the Crib isn't run that way.

And using that logic, that impeccable logic, Tony was certain at the conclusion of the Crib's case against him, he would be a free man.

"It's not like he asked if I could pay, Your Honor. Is he not, thus, as guilty as I?"

But the judge did not consider the guilty waiter theory much of an excuse, and he sentenced Tony to thirty days of dishwashing at the cafe.

Alberto, as witness for the prosecution, hearing of Tony's defense, was deeply offended that a man of honor, such as he, would be accused of being a negligent waiter. But what could he do? He was not long in this world before he realized dishonest people abound.

Tony fulfilled the obligations of his sentence with admirable diligence. For 30 days he arrived on time, kept to himself, scrubbed dishes for eight hours and then left.

At the end of his sentence, Tony told himself he had enough money for a fine meal at the Crib, and he ordered one. He ordered lobster prepared in clam sauce. No wine to go with it. Coffee was fine.

When he was through and unable to pay, Alberto was, once again, directed to call the police. When they came, Tony was arrested and once again blamed Alberto, witness for the prosecution.

And once again Alberto was offended at Tony's attempt made to sully his good name, but what could he do? Waiters do not get to pick their customers. Alberto was satisfied that he lived his life doing unto others...

It was high noon when Tony was released from the Bronx House of Detention for Men. Like checkout in a hotel, his time inside was up, his probation sentence to be served. As the gate clanked closed behind him, after walking through the cement yard and past the barbed wire fencing, he looked up at the cloudless sky and then down the block where children, five or six in all, ran under water spraying from a capped fire hydrant. A time and temperature sign brought to the community by Third Avenue Bank read 89 degrees. A Mr. Refreshment ice cream truck was approaching, its bell ringing the same few sounds over and over, and all looked right with the world except that not ten feet away a purse snatcher was plying his trade on the oldest-looking, shortest (under four feet), whitest- haired, most wrinkled, bony fingered, four-eyed woman in oversized pink-lensed sunglasses Tony had ever seen. Her silver-tone cane fell to her right side as she struggled with her assailant to hold on to her purse, and what Tony guessed were the proceeds from a cashed Social Security check inside.

Tony suspected she was fighting, as best she could, to hold on to her food and medicine money and that part of her rent not paid by the government. He and Tony were in the same line of work, but Tony had standards. Stealing from the elderly was permissible, but doing so violently was out of the question. That's just wrong, was the way Tony saw it. Problem was, Tony wasn't much of a fighter. So he walked on by, called 911 from a safe distance, and hung up satisfied he made the world a better place for being in it. Before he left, he heard a police siren in the distance.

Tony hopped the turnstile and took the number 4 train to Times Square. In the city he walked past the places where the peep shows used to be before Times Square was ruined by becoming a family-friendly destination. He stopped to remember the girls he saw- on film for 25 cents a peep. Where are they now, he wondered. A short time later, after waking past some of Broadway's oldest and most famous theaters, he was at the Crib.

As required by his sentence, for 30 days Tony arrived at the Crib on time, kept to himself, scrubbed dishes for eight hours and then left for the day.

When his sentence was up, Tony was very hungry and so he ordered lobster, stuffed with shrimp and scallops and accompanied by a fine Chardonnay. He had baked clams to start. He skipped the coffee. Being pleasantly looped, he saw no need for coffee to kill his buzz.

But by now Tony had learned his lesson. Take care of others (at least those that can help, or hurt). This time Tony left a generous tip that he removed from a nearby table just as Alberto was delivering the cheesecake. He slipped it into Alberto's outstretched hand. In brotherhood with a fellow employee, of sorts, Alberto forgot to leave a check.

Well, better late than never. Twenty-two years after beginning life, Tony learned something new. Who knows. Could be he'll learn all kinds of lessons. Like plan an escape route. Wear gloves. Bring your mom's DNA to the job.

The friends of Anthony Ambrosio, the ones who call him Tony, hope, however unrealistically, that someday he will succeed, that he will be at the top of his game and that the FBI will consider him to be a most wanted man, his face on posters, a major player in the minor leagues of crime.


  1. Great character study. I found myself reading the entire thing in a thick Italian accent. Thanks for sharing you story with us.

  2. Amusing character.. 'stupid crimes,' the problem with Tony is he lacked a long term strategy. He could have learned from his Mom who was at least somewhat successful on the scam front. I liked the guilty waiter theory.

  3. Great story. Very well written. Enjoyed reading it. Please publish more.

  4. Criminal stories? Try humor. I though it was hilarious.

  5. Very fun read! Poor Tony can't face the fact that he is, in fact, a good guy.

  6. A likable criminal, seems like he's starting to learn a few tricks despite himself!

  7. Very memorable character. Could see a lot of adventures for him.