John Gotti at His Rhetorical Greatest

"This is stupidity from down the line... I can't even identify two people in the indictment -- uh, uh, the Sea , Sigmund the Sea Monster. I'm not away 100 years. I'm only away seven years. Where do these creatures emerge from?"

"All I know is one thing. I don't think I'll ever find myself in a position where I'll put my wedding money, 380 thous ... whatever it is, in the basement near a broken safe, with a bunch of old jewelry."

The Scores case, arguably, revealed John J. Gotti at his rhetorical greatest.

When Gotti is gone 100 years, people will still read his words. He's  witty, sardonic, ironic, self-deprecating. But: Is he playing for the (surveillance) camera, some might ask. Who can say for certain. He's very likely aware of the cameras trained on him -- the audio tape recording for posterity his words. (How do we know? We'll get to that.)

Some might say he was simply being himself, John Gotti being John Gotti... One gets the impression that he was who he was, no matter who was watching. The inimitable John Gotti....

Gang Land News, which broke the story, noted that it was on Jan. 29, 1998, one week after John "Junior" Gotti, the hapless son of a legend who simply didn't have the heart for "the life," was indicted for racketeering related to the Scores indictment that Gotti spoke his now-infamous words.

By then, the Gambino chieftain was serving life for murder and racketeering, and the supposed heir-apparent, who copped to a global plea deal and did time for, essentially, receiving a single $100,000 payment from Scores, had decided he didn't want to serve prison time ever again. Thus began the withdrawal defense....

Prison gave Gotti something he'd never otherwise have had: a unique bully pit....Seldom has a mob boss invited us so directly into his mind. But is it truly John Gotti we see speaking behind the glass?

High-profile figures -- especially political ones -- are known for having the ability to adjust their personality to more effectively address whoever they are talking to at a given time. To a lesser extent, this is true of all of us. Consider: do you tell a coworker what you'd tell, say, your closest friend -- or your wife for that matter?

We are all actors, in a sense, adjusting our personalities to the environment of the moment, and the people with whom we find ourselves.

Adolf Hitler, whose war for Nazi domination of the European Continent killed more than 50 million when he launched World War II with the 1939 blitzkrieg of Poland, is perhaps the most extreme case of this phenomenon: a powerful man who crafts opportunistic versions of his personality to facilitate the completion of specific objectives.

Much-maligned author David Irving, whose World War II history books are must-reads (Hitler's War, especially -- you can download free versions of that, and all Irving's books, here) succinctly summed up this phenomenon after parsing and vetting the supposed non-fictional memoirs of Hitler's paladins, among other sources. Essentially it goes like this: It's difficult, if not impossible, to "understand" Hitler (something philosophers, historians, theologians, writers and others have tried to do; in fact, Manhattan journalist Ron Rosenbaum even authored a 1998 book Explaining Hitler, it's quite fascinating) based on his most personal conversations with members of his inner circle. Like an actor, Hitler "played" his audience to gain whatever he wanted from them. Everything was out of expediency. (In other words, Hitler had no confidants, except perhaps for the architect/Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer.)

So when Hitler exploded into fury at, say, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (the favorite lackey) or, much later, in the final days, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring or Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler -- "der treurer Heinrich" (the faithful Heinrich) -- we can't say, with absolute certainty, whether Hitler was expressing a sincere viewpoint or using his manipulative will to control his underlings.

In other words, many of his actions were not personal. Only business.

John Gotti is different, of course. (Again, I'm not comparing here.)

Michael DiLeonardo, who knew John Gotti intimately, once told me that the former Gambino boss, as seen in the prison videos -- complaining about not getting family photographs during the holidays, say -- was the real John Gotti. Angry, frustrated, attacking everyone -- including his loved ones -- was simply a component of his personality.

"He was very witty -- he was very intelligent but could also be condescending, sarcastic and he had a dark sense of humor," Michael said.

"John was very frustrated" in the prison tapes, he added. "He was crippling his family because there was no one left."

I once told a member of the Gotti family, back when we messaged each other regularly, that I admired her father's speaking ability.

"He was more than that," she replied. She thought I was insulting her father -- but I was doffing my hat to him. His verbal guile had always impressed me. In another life, one in which he lived outside New York City and finished his education, I often believed an alternate-reality John Gotti would have been a helluva great novelist. ....

"Separated by a glass partition," as Jerry Capeci wrote, "Gotti (right) spoke to his daughter and brother, a reputed Gambino capo, on a telephone hookup. In an angry rant, the elder Gotti called Junior an "imbecile," an "asshole," "a babbling idiot" and much more.

"Using his words like knives, Gotti mocked his son, his son's associates and the evidence they left in a Queens basement that tied Junior to criminal activity -- some $358,000 in "wedding gifts," two guns and a list of men who had been inducted into the Mafia."

"As to the list of mobsters -- Junior's fingerprint was on it -- let alone that it was left it in the basement of a building owned by a close associate: "Maybe somebody somewhere down the line could tell me what the reason for this list is to begin with ... What do you need a list for? I don't understand that. Assume, uh, well, say you wanted to be a nice guy. Your wife was feeling under the weather, you wanted to go shopping, she gave you a list. After you bought your groceries, what do you do with the list, you put it away for posterity? To show that you went shopping one time?"

It's not a leap to say that the "Gotti prison monologs," as we dub them (technically incorrectly, but who cares?) could've been the inspiration for David Chase's burgeoning Sopranos show on HBO a year later.

It's the specificity that truly set his words apart, in our opinion.

To wit: "The derringer was my derr -- that derringer was minding it's business on top of a goddamn dresser for 10, 12 years and didn't bother nobody") in the basement "behind a sealed wall? Let's assume I keep this gun here for protection, or two guns for protection. I see some people coming, I need the protection, I got to first break the wall, [no], first I gotta go downstairs, then I got to break the wall, then I got to hope it's clean."

Now, this is why we believe the legendary Gambino chieftain never forgot he was basically on stage as he held forth in prison.

We're going to analyze the "derringer" soliloquy...

Notice the brilliant use of alliteration to deflect the near self-implication.

"The derringer was my derr -- that derringer was minding it's business... "

The derringer was his derringer, he nearly confessed. But he stopped himself, and quickly recovered by mimicking the "mmm" pronunciation, only recalibrating it from "my" to "minding"... it's a small observation, yes, a minor detail. But telling, nevertheless....