A statue of Joey Giordello stands in South Philadelphia.

A statue of Joey Giordello stands in South Philadelphia.

by Hugh Gilmore

Goffman, boss of bosses where I was concerned, was waiting for my report. Everything, absolutely everything, I collected by eavesdropping among the natives of the “Mike Douglas Show,” on TV. His deadline was December 16. He wanted it typed, double-spaced.

“If you’re not done typing it, turn in the handwritten manuscript. If you’re not done that, turn in your notes. No exceptions.”

I was nowhere near having a written paper. I was still gathering data and having a heck of a good time doing so. I wasn’t ready to write up my field report. My entire standing with Goffman would have to be based on his seeing my notes. Only, now, on December 9, a week before they were due … my notes were gone!

I suspected that Joey Giardello, the former middleweight boxing champion of the world, had taken them. I thought he took them because he thought I was writing bad things about him or his buddy, that week’s co-host of the show, Rocky Graziano, also a former middleweight champion boxer.

With their leather jackets and their way of talking in husky whispers out of the sides of their mouths, they had both seemed very conspiratorial that day. In and out of the Green Room backstage they came and went, as though they were planning a score, or had just placed a bet somewhere.

None of my business, though. I was only there to watch and understand how a TV talk show is put together to create the illusion that everybody in show business is part of the same social crowd, buddies, in effect, and that, like student council back in high school, they all hung out together.

I’d learned, for example, that nearly all performers who are well-known are addressed by their first names. It was a sign of respect. So Bob Hope got called Bob, the Galloping Gourmet was Graham (Kerr), and Captain Kangaroo was greeted with Bob (Keeshan).

But this is not the time for announcing my discoveries. My notebook was missing! The night it happened a boxing-themed show was in progress. As I sat in the Green Room worrying about how to get my book back, Muhammad Ali was there, along with his brother and Norman Mailer. Also present was a young singer name Julie Budd, said to be the next Streisand. Also present were three former middleweight champs – Tony Zale, Joey Giardello and Rocky Graziano. They were all joking and bantering, when not getting “touched-up” by the makeup man. I was alternating between searching my pockets and bookbag and walking around the Green Room looking for my notebook. That’s as useless as retracing your steps in a phone booth. Everybody was happy except for miserable me.

I was practically certain Joey Giardello had taken it. He’d been monitoring me out of the side of his eye all afternoon, possibly because he thought I might be a fink, a spy, or journalist – all basically the same thing in his estimation. I wondered how I could confront him about it.

Should I get my angry voice out of the closet and yell at him to return it? Go over and speak to him sideways, like I had a tip for him in the 4th race? Plead with him? This was all in front of a bunch of very famous people. I was the only nobody there. I couldn’t afford to make a scene because I might lose that last week of access I needed.

Finally, a Eureka! hit me. I’d approach him like he was my buddy, speak to him in the informal “Guy talkin’ to a guy”-way he and and Rocky used with one another. But, I’d do it in front of a whole bunch of people, so he couldn’t twist my shirt and jack me up. In front of Mailer, Ali, Ali’s brother, Tony Zale, Rocky, and Julie Budd, plus show staff, I suddenly shouted across the room, like I was from his native Brooklyn, over the backstage din: “Hey Joey! Anybody seen a notebook around here? I can’t find my skool notebook, with my skool notes in it?”

Joey kept his face still, but his eyes popped to alert. He said, still sitting, “I don’t know, kid. Ya look for it?”

“Yeah, Joey. I looked all oveh for it. Anybody seen it?”

“I’ll help ya look for it, kid,” he said, standing up. He began pretending to do a random search of all the places it could be, but basically his fake random search led him to make a beeline for Rocky Graziano’s dressing room, from which he emerged holding up my red spiral notebook like it was some anomaly he’d just found crawling across the floor of the dressing room.

“Hey, is this it, kid?”

“Looks like it, Joey.”

“Check it out, see if it’s yours.”

I checked it. “Yeah, this is it.”

“Make sure all the pages are there,” he said.

“Good idea.” I fanned through: “Thanks, yeah, it’s here. Geez, Joey, thanks. That’s a lifesaver.”

“Okay. Ya gotta keep an eye on your things. Ya never know.”

“True. Ya never know.”

When I look back, I think that was the only smart thing I ever said in my entire life, what I said to Joey. I didn’t say to him, “Joey, where’d you put my notebook?” Instead, I made the problem a more general one, a societal puzzle that reflected blame on nobody. Instead, I addressed him directly, like he was my buddy, “Joey, anybody seen a notebook?” “

“Anybody seen” was my defuser. It took him off the hook and allowed him to be a trouble solver, rather than maker. That way Joey could ease the potential threat to himself in front of all those people – that he might seem to be a cheap, sneaky thieving snoop who couldn’t mind his own business – and was, instead, a hero who’d volunteered to help a kid in trouble.

Goffman must have appreciated that I’d absorbed his way of thinking. I’d successfully done a “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” A few weeks later I ran into Goffman’s graduate assistant, Lee Ann Crawford, who said, “He must have really liked your paper. You got the only B+, the highest grade he’s given out in several years.” Thanks again, Joey!

A final note. Despite it all, Joey Giardello devoted a lot of time, money, and effort in the later years of his life to helping raise awareness and money for research into Down’s syndrome. He and his wife raised a child born with Down’s. He was truly generous in helping several foundations in this manner and tireless in his support.

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