A leisurely drive in Bloomfield Hills of all places and suddenly the wheel jerks, the horn beeps, the window is rolled down and the man to left my side screams:
‘Mutha-fuuuuuck! What the fuck? What are you trying to prove Asshole? I’ll fuck you up from nape to nads.’
I shift uncomfortably in the passenger seat as my driving companion proceeds to thump the back of my seat and then the dash. My soda trembles in its cup holder.
‘Hey, calm down,’ I suggest. ‘I know. He shouldn’t have cut you off.’
‘Fuck you, you fucking fuck!’
‘I’m sorry, are you talking to me?’
‘What? No, of course not.’
‘Because I’m the only one here. Sooooo…’
This verbal pugnacity continues throughout the journey. But the driver has the forty-yard stare and I know the insults are aimed at imaginary drivers as he plays out endless moments of revenge in his mind. The moment he steps out of the car he resumes being the clever, handsome, erudite man I married. He opens the passenger door for me and takes my hand.
No, this is not Joe Pesci in GoodFellas. This is my husband: recipient of academic scholarships, educated on two continents to post-grad level, hunky wearer of geek-chic tank tops, jaunty glasses and deck shoes (no socks), kind to animals and children, an engineer, a writer, a musician, possessor of an envy-inducing library of books from Ovid to Stephen Hawking to the complete collection of Scott Pilgrim novels. Yes ladies, he also has a wicked sense of humour.
But the moment he gets into that car and navigates the streets he has known all his life, all these wonderful qualities disappear only to be replaced with the rampaging ego of Jordan Belfort (minus the DUI tendencies), the unpredictable aggression of Tommy DeVito and the paranoid cynicism of Travis Bickle.
I can’t help thinking Scorsese films factor into his periodic transformation. He would argue that I am stereotyping his Italian American heritage. I would argue that Scorsese characters influence more men around the world than just the Italians. Ironically, Scorsese husband hates The Sopranos. He feels the portrayals are racist and resents names like ‘Uncle Pussy’ and ‘Phil Leotardo’ because they sound too satirical.
But Goodfellas and other works in the Scorsese canon hold an undeniable sway over the male imagination. Our Martin depicts the highest, most dubious zeniths of male fantasy. These men lead lives of feverish, drug-fuelled excess, operating outside the law without conscience. The murder of Billy Batt in Goodfellas exemplifies the very masculine bonding within an orgy of violence and vengeance. And for all the stylish/ vulgar trappings of a life ‘playing the edge’ (as my dad would say), his antiheroes always seem to be nearer than the rest of us to a primal scream, to a peculiar kind of personal freedom. It’s this same potent mix of actions without consequences and folk-hero worship that has influenced gamers (Vice City/ GTA has long tapped into the Scorsese-esque fantasy) and academics.
Marty’s men justify this hero worship to themselves and us by situating the fantasy in an era when criminals were ‘honest’. This is also the era of the hero-pimps like Iceberg Slim, the bootleggers like Al Capone, the great Gambling moguls like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. There was a code of honour among thieves; a hard-earned understanding of the law of the streets. This is why Tommy DeVito’s execution is understood among his associates. They are all Robin Hoods and the respect they command from the community is their way of giving to the poor (even though they took from them first). And even though these men rarely emerge unscathed, they are usually unrepentant. They did it their way.
Modern men who live within the confines of the law have a lot on their plate. Old men shake their heads in confusion these days. When did it get so complicated? When did it get so hard to keep their heads above water and provide even the simplest things for their families? In a 2007 journal article for Atlantis, the University of Winchester’s Leighton Grist explores the psychological aspects of Scorses’s male characters, highlighting the frequent readings of Raging Bull as a ‘psychological case study of violent masculinity’ and that Jake La Motta’s violence is prompted by ‘perceived threats against that masculinity’ (Grist, 2007). I call il mio marito ‘Scorsese husband’ when he has his sudden flashes of anger, and he hates it, but even though I don’t agree with the shouting, or the fist-slamming, I understand. Sometimes the urge to vent is just too much. Plus the motorists here drive like maniacs.
Some boys play at being soldiers. Then, when they are old enough to understand that the military grants next to no personal autonomy, the lure of the outlaw takes hold and a lifetime of Marty movie nights beckons. After the dishes have been washed, of course.
Last night, Goodfellas happened to be on TV. I smiled to myself. He caught me and sulked from the other side of the sofa.
‘Oh, shut up!’