How did having his pharmacy broken into lead to Angelo Pricolo meeting his idol?
When you get the 3 am phone call you know it’s not good news.
Break-ins often represent a checkered history on the part of the offender and multiple repercussions for the business owner. Hours of follow-up with police, insurance company and staff will necessarily await you as you try to get the pharmacy back to a normal functioning position.
Arriving at your workplace alone in the early hours of the morning, with sirens wailing and embraced by deserted streets, an uneasy feeling wraps around you. Unsure whether to enter or not, curiosity finally gets the better of you. After a few tentative steps you convince yourself there is no way anyone would hang around for the party that is sure to follow.
The full assessment is really only made when staff start arriving and the police and security guards have moved on. On this particular rainy July day we were still able to open on time. The theft was targeted and brief, the damage mainly a consequence of the point of entry, the glass front door.
Although a quick clean got us trading on time, work continued to restore the damage. By end of trading that day after an industrious effort the shop looked almost the same for customers. We even had new glass fitted to the front door.
As I started to fill out the insurance claim form it occurred to me that the signage on the front door was another expense that should be included. The insurance company once notified sent out a sign-writer and so unknowingly my real adventure began.
Biaggio was their man and he was unassuming and pleasant enough. Within a few days he had measured, quoted and returned to adhere the precut lettering to the pristine new glass sheet.
While he was focused on his sticky letters and I was enjoying a rare quiet patch, I commented on a photo of Robert DeNiro in the newspaper. Evidently not totally focused, he picked up on my obvious affection for the Hollywood blockbuster method actor.
Of all the actors in the world no other creates and radiates more mystique than DeNiro. He stared in all my favourite movies from The Deer Hunter to Taxi Driver, Scarface and the epic Godfather, the only movie ever where the sequel emulated the original movie’s success to win best picture at the Academy Awards.
“Are you talking to me?” “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” “E chistu esti pi tu” (and this is for you). Biaggio correctly picked up on an unhealthy infatuation with the motion picture legend.
“Would you like to meet him?” Someone interrupted my fantasy with a reality which could not be promised. Certainly not by the signwriter. I ignored it and got back to my fantasy.
“I can organise it, do you want to meet him?”.
Lots of thoughts rushed through my head. Who is this guy really? He is Italian… is he a wiseguy? Why doesn’t he mind his own business…maybe I should make him an offer! But what if he is telling the truth?
“What, you know DeNiro?” I fired back.
“No, but my daughter’s best friend is the mâitre d’ at the new Nobu restaurant that he is in Melbourne to open next week. The article you have been reading. She can get us a table to the opening night and he’ll be there.”
“Bullshit, just put the letters straight”.
I took some convincing and retained a heightened level of skepticism but even on the off chance Biaggio could come through with the chocolates I was willing to succumb to the excitement of a possible meeting. That afternoon Biaggio called to confirm we had a table.
I had just had an argument with my then wife-to-be that put my relationship on shaky ground. This was just the tonic I needed to impress and re-establish a strong bond, so I invited Larissa to Nobu. I knew I could entice her. She loves Japanese, especially that black cod I take exception to, but that’s another story.
So here we are, six people who don’t know each other, prominently seated at the razzle-dazzle opening of Nobu, dining with James Packer and Hugh Jackman. Me, some guy who sells sausage casings and the signwriter are making small talk with our partners, while the biggest wiseguy of the motion picture screen is on his way.
It’s 10 o’clock. Larissa ordered the cod, we all have had lots of drinks and lots of laughs but DeNiro still hasn’t shown. Doubts started to appear for all of us but only for me the hunger to meet my hero manifested with my hunger to get some real food. The two hungers combined to create a super-hunger.
Nobu is situated below the big Melbourne gaming house on the river and entry is via a long downward staircase. With the fuss of eight people entering a mid-season home and away baseball game between two low ranked teams (that is very discreetly), he descends the staircase.
The baseball cap was the only identifying factor as DeNiro wore the visor so low over his eyes he risked falling down the stairs of his jointly owned restaurant. They were scurried into a private dining area. We had the closest table. Immediately Biaggio was elevated to the best signwriter in history.
Shortly after his arrival DeNiro ventured out to greet a few celebrities on the A-list. His family stayed behind, quick to get hold of the menu. They ordered for him. I think he got the cod too.
The restaurant was buzzing. Waiters were very attentive, Nobu himself the master chef came over to say g’day much to Larissa’s joy. She complemented him on the cod, I lied and said it was fantastic. The mâitre d’ spent some time with us too, I think some were wondering just who we were and how we got that table.
DeNiro went back to his dugout and enjoyed his meal and the evening slipped away as I enjoyed the company of my wife and new friends, stealing not so discreet glances at Bobby DeNiro.
Biaggio’s wife felt my pain, it was palpable. So close but I still haven’t met him.
“Ok, do you still want to meet him?”
Relaxed with not much food, hours of waiting and consuming too much bongo juice my courage peaked with her question. She seized the moment and my hand, and led me to the sacred enclosure. Waiters converged but to no avail. We were too fast and she was too driven. We were in the tent.
I imagine we caused a feeling of unease but were oblivious to it all.
“I just wanted to say I’m a big fan Bobby. Really love your movies, you are great,” I babbled.
But as Biaggio’s wife reached for her mobile phone for photographic evidence she was quickly prohibited by DeNiro’s protective partner “No photos, no photos”
So although we were unable to get the photograph, the image remains vividly etched in my memory complete with audio. There he was Bobby DeNiro, looking up at me, head tilted, mole showing, mid-mouthful and armed with only his fork. He could have been reciting from any of his films when he said smiling “Thank you very much”.
That was it. We were ushered away effortlessly as we were complete. My mission was successful, thanks to Biaggio’s wife and her swift thinking. Bobby was just a guy having dinner with his family, nothing fancy, but he made my day.
So who would have ever thought that the signwriter would bring me to my Mecca. How could I have ever imagined when the phone rang at 3 am it was the alarm that introduced me to Robert DeNiro and that a would-be robber may well have reconciled a relationship that produced my boys Leo and Oscar.
The culprit or matchmaker, however you prefer, was apprehended and soon after released. Three months later he broke into the pharmacy again. He was identified, charged and subsequently jailed.
This time the neon light was damaged during the crime and needed electrical work. I quickly called the electrician and waited for the epiphany that never came.
Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.