An offer he couldn't refuse

September 1, 2006

The author relives his experiences with a patient whose connections are real. Turns out he may have made a meaningful connection himself.

Doc," said my secretary on the intercom, her voice sounding wobbly and two octaves higher than usual. "GiGi wants to come over. He has a bruise somewhere."

"Sure, let him use the back door."

GiGi was the 29-year-old son of a local underworld figure and acted the part. Arrogant, brash, and violent, he was both a caricature of himself and the real deal. He did have some likeable qualities: For instance, he had a certain compassion for the poor and would sponsor holiday dinners, baseball teams, and trips for disadvantaged kids. But I wasn't sure if those things represented another side of GiGi, or if I was just looking for his good side to salve my conscience.

The "bruise" that GiGi had was a six-inch laceration on his arm, the details of which I never asked and he never told. I stitched him up, accepted his hand and a big denomination, and wished him well. My knee-knocking staff ushered him out the back door toward a big, black, shiny car.

"See you, GiGi," I said as he was leaving.

"It's Gi now, Doc. Just one Gi."

In a certain Italian dialect, the name Frank becomes "Cheech." And my patient was so nicknamed. However, his adoring sister had an overbite, and Cheech morphed into GiGi. GiGi's father, also named Frank and known as "Smiley," was low-keyed but respected and feared. While GiGi was all uppercase, bold letters, Smiley was definitely lower-case.

Smiley's wife, Rose, was the water to his oil, the sweet to his sour. She was pretty, as neat as a librarian, and oh so hopeful. If ever she had an opinion, no one was privy to it. She sort of lived her life in parentheses: reserved, observing, loving, nurturing, isolated and protected.

Rose and Smiley seemed an unlikely pairing, but I suspect she was drawn to her antithesis. I'd always thought she'd go for book smarts; she chose bookmaking instead. Go figure. What she lacked in character assessment, though, she compensated for with genuine caring.

It was, therefore, particularly difficult for her to see her son follow his father. But follow him Gi did. He was a collector, enforcer, salesman, thief-whatever job needed doing. While slight of build, Gi lacked for neither courage nor dexterity. Good sense, however, was another matter. As they say, a "situation" arose, some bad things happened, and Gi drifted off to the big house to serve an 8-to-12 year sentence.

While in prison, he landed a job in the infirmary because, he said, "I look good in white." He dutifully served his time, which was sprinkled with episodic sabbaticals to solitary for, one suspects, some quiet reflection. His third try at parole was successful, but he was required to do some halfway house time and six months of supervised community service.

At her son's suggestion, Rose called my office and asked me whether I could help Gi perform his community service. After a prolonged pause, I sputtered, "Sure, have him come over some night."

Now, I'm sure you understand that Gi wasn't really interested in community service. When he stopped by, he said, "Just put me in, Doc. Do what ya gotta do. I'll come twice a week and sign something."