Tell Amy it was Only Business. I Always Liked Her.
It is time for another pleasure hike through americana. To make this hike easily, you will need to be at least 50 years of age. If you are younger, you may need to do a bit of preparation. This experience hike requires that you remember a time when televisions only had two wires connected to them, a power cord and an antenna. It will require some comfortable gear in the form of familiarity with one of the greatest American films of all time, “The Godfather”, and a tv sitcom from the same era, “Barney Miller.” Finally, you should have a working knowledge of how friends in this country used to gather together and discuss things like their favorite films, tv shows, and actors…and actually be in the same room with one another.
One of the things about good friends is the language that they develop to communicate certain ideas, which function as both shorthand for larger ideas, and code to keep outsiders on the outside. All of those qualities and characteristics existed within one of my good friends. This guy, Gene was a particularly good story teller, and always enthusiastic about telling a story. Everyone should have at least one friend like this. If not, you’re missing out. Gene came up with one of our favorite expressions which comes to mind today as I think about the horrors in Minnesota, the tragic murder of George Floyd, the epic tragedy being played out on the streets of Minneapolis and St Paul, the explanations being given by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and the revolving horror of social unrest with all the same causes, all the same participants, and the all too familiar tragic results.
I remember at my dad’s funeral, once the service had ended, no one wanted to leave. The sanctuary was packed, and as a teenager, I was sitting among hundreds of family members and friends, and no one was moving or saying a word. My dad died in his 50s, and while he seemed quite old to me at the time, the whispers around me that he was “so young.” It was the worst day of my life to that point. The silence was heavy and oppressive.
Then, someone (I don’t recall who), spoke out and said, “If William Ernest were here, he’d say, this is ridiculous.” Just then, everyone broke out in laughter. Belly laughs. To this day it brings tears to my eyes. And laughter. It was one of the best laughs I have ever had. The funny thing about it was that it was so true. Dad was more of a leader, and not a follower, and we kind of sat there because he wasn’t there to say, let’s move on to the next thing. I guess you had to know my dad, and everyone there did.
When friends get together in sadness, we share a hug, and we share a laugh. You can’t just cry and be morose. That would just be depressing. And you can’t just smile and laugh. That’s disrespectful. We are in that state of mourning right now as we think about George Floyd and his family, as we think about Minneapolis and St Paul, and the people that we know there, and as we think about our country. It is group hug time, and part of the way I look at things involves a laugh or two. If I am disrespectful, let me know. It is not my intention.
So, we have established the horror of what we are all seeing right now. We will see plenty more of it in the coming days. Let me tell you about what Gene would say given some of these circumstances.
The question of Amy Klobuchar’s appropriateness on the national ticket in the coming presidential election has increased significance today, given that she was once the prosecutor in the county that Minneapolis is in. By now, you’re probably familiar with the case. The important points are that the primary officer involved in the murder of George Floyd had been investigated at a time that overlapped her term as prosecutor. An hour ago today, she was on television explaining why it was not her decision to prosecute him because she was already a Senator…etc. At first, it seemed plausible. Then, at closer inspection, it turns out she had recommended that a case go to a grand jury, and the grand jury decided…etc. I recognized this song and dance. “It was only business. I always liked him.”
Then I tuned her out.
When you say structural racism to some, their eyes glaze over, and they call you a leftist. For those of you who are already aware, and open to the notion, you will allow me to preach to the choir. Klobuchar didn’t kneel on anybody’s neck, but she had a role to play. When she, in her official position, just gave it to the grand jury, and said, that’s the way we did that sort of thing…that is all part of the structure. Granted, she’s on the benign end of this, but she’s part of it. This sort of thing keeps happening because business as usual doesn’t make change. “It was only business.”
Now, if you remember “The Godfather”, you recall the plot to kill Michael Corleone. The part of Salvatore Tessio was played by Abe Vigoda. In the film, they refer to him as Tessio. My friend Gene used to refer to him by the name of the character that he played in Barney Miller, “Fish.” So, anyway, Tessio was an old and trusted friend of Don Corleone, and, essentially, one of the lieutenants in the Corleone crime family. The way things like this happened in la Cosa Nostra is to take someone above suspicion, turn them, and hatch some sort of a plan. This is to get past general security procedures like secrecy about travel plans. This is how a rival family managed to get Tessio to assist in the attempt to kill Michael Corleone.
One of the pivotal moments in the film is where Tessio and Tom Hagan are marching out of the Corleone family residence on the way to a meeting. Then, one of the other ‘soldiers’ steps up and stops the men on their way out, and explains that there has been a “change in plans.” At that point, Tom Hagan says, “I can’t go either, Sal.” The photo above is the moment that it occurs to Tessio that he’s a dead man. He turns to Tom Hagan and says, “tell Michael it was only business. I always liked him.”
Both of those are true. Tessio did like Michael. Everyone did. Michael was the 3rd son of Vito Corleone, if you’re familiar. Sonny was the hothead first born, and Fredo was the effete middle son. Tessio did like Michael, but this was “only business”, and business is brutal. “The Godfather” was a brutal fictional depiction of a brutal business, and the video of the officer in Minnesota who murdered George Floyd is a documentary depiction of a brutal practice. Many, many things that we have all seen in the last several days play a part in this brutal system. Amy Cooper, the dog walker in Central Park who was weaponizing her whiteness is part of the system. Hiring, training, and deployment of sadists as police officers is part of the system. And county prosecutors who make a choice to hand the cases of sadistic murderer cops to grand juries…where they regularly get declined, is also part of this brutal business.
So, when you watch this scene with Tessio, and he turns to Tom Hagan with that look on his face, and when your friend is Gene, and you discuss this with him, Tessio gives his line. “Tell Michael it was only business. I always liked him.” Then, Gene, gives his edit to the classic script in this particular way to express incredulity. Gene, as Tom Hagan, just looks and Tessio with incredulity and says, “Fish”. Now, it’s not just a simple “Fish”, but rather a drawn out vowel in a low voice, which says, ‘come on man, you should have known better’. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiish!”
We used to say this whenever someone said something about which we would look at each other and, essentially say, nah…I’m not buying that. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiish!”
And that’s how I felt when Amy Klobuchar started explaining. The first part of her explanation was perfect. She wasn’t even there when it came time to make the decision on this dirty abusive, and now murderous cop. Then, Andrea Mitchell asked her more about other aspects and she gave the “grand jury” excuse. Sen. Klobuchar, Amy, I always liked you. It’s nothing personal, but we have seen this movie before. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiiish!”
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