It’s … Retarded
After more than a decade in the P.C. doghouse, the word “retarded” appears to be making a comeback.
In USA Today recently, teenage singer Britney Spears called the controversy over her alleged breast implants “so retarded.” Rock star Courtney Love told the Chicago Sun-Times that it was “just retarded” to refer to her as Kurt Cobain’s widow. Mob hit man Sammy “the Bull” Gravano told a reporter that it was “totally retarded” for the F.B.I. not to seek his cooperation as an informant. During a recent performance at Carnegie Hall, comedian Jon Stewart’s punch line for a joke about posting the Ten Commandments in high schools was, “That’s retarded.” (They laughed and laughed.) And how about this lyric from the recent song “I Didn’t Like You Anyway” by the popular teen-girl punk band, The Donnas: “You thought I would be brokenhearted / Maybe I would if you weren’t so retarded.”
“Retarded,” of course, is a tricky one. It can be offensive. Even in casual use, it can be construed as hateful or demeaning. For this reason, it faded from use in the mid- to late 80’s, like a lot of other problematic words (“cripple,” “midget,” “gay”).
But something happened in the late 90’s. First there was Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Good Will Hunting and its promotion of blue-collar Boston townie-cool; “retaahded,” long a Southie staple, had found a new, fawning audience. Then came Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s comedy There’s Something About Mary . People had a good laugh at Cameron Diaz’s retarded brother and from that point on “retarded” was safe again. (Next up, perhaps: “schizo.” In the Farrellys’ new movie, Me, Myself and Irene , Jim Carrey plays a schizophrenic state trooper who falls for Renée Zellweger.)
Still, “retarded” isn’t ready for prime time. Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey said that she had to fight NBC’s “standards and practices” division to use the word in a sketch entitled “Sully and Denise,” which is about a bunch of hard-drinking Boston townies. They won the right to use it in late night, but not earlier in the evening. “We did promos one time, which air in prime time, and they weren’t allowed to say it,” Ms. Fey said. “So the network is very skittish about the word– and rightfully so .”
Mental health advocates, meanwhile, are troubled by “retard’s” return. Steve Eidelman, the executive director of The Arc, a national organization of and for the mentally retarded, told The Observer : “Clearly, epithets and slurs of any kind … are unacceptable.”
But they may be too late. Even “retard” is coming back, with little resistance. (“Retardo,” on the other hand, is still on the shelf.) In March, Florida Panther Peter Worrell called New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer a “retard” during a hockey game. In retaliation, Mr. Niedermayer hit him over the head with his stick and was suspended for 10 games. Mr. Worrell got nothing.
– Jason Gay
He’ll Suck Your Lungs Out
Mike (Scuch) Squicciarini is 44 years old, 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, and has a 24-inch arm, a 21-inch neck and a 58-inch chest. He used to be a regular tough guy. He ran a nightclub, broke a few noses and did some prison time.
Then in 1994, just out of jail, Scuch got a job as a bouncer at a strip club, where an agent saw him and got him started playing bit tough-guy roles in the movies and on TV– Henchman #2 in the Danny Aiello movie Mambo Cafe , Rocco Bodyguard #1 in Mickey Blue Eyes , a “large guy eating hamburgers” in a Burger King commercial, a lot of bouncers and limo drivers.
Then it happened. In 1998, Scuch landed a small role as Big Frank Cippolina on The Sopranos . And now that Big Pussy is dead, Big Frank has a good shot at being Tony Soprano’s new sidekick. Suddenly, Scuch is poised to get to the next level, to be a That Guy–a ubiquitous, recognizable movie goon.
“Just give me one year on that show, give me nine or 10 episodes, and I’ll be a household name,” Scuch said the other night. He was mowing down a plate of fried calamari at La Parma III in Oceanside, Long Island. His acting pal, 58-year-old Charlie “the Hat” Noak (6-foot-2, 350 pounds), was sitting next to him.
Scuch grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and Rosedale, Queens. He boxed, played football and set some kind of a record for the shot put in high school. In his 20’s, he got a job as a truck driver and became friendly with some union guys, who were considered mobbed-up and dangerous. Scuch said he did some “extra activity” as a legman and was being groomed to be a “made” man, when he was the manager of the Stony Inn disco on the Jersey Shore. But then one day three guys walked in, and there was a fight. Scuch threw one of the guys down a flight of stairs, nearly killing him, and got seven years for it. Now he lives with his parents in Rosedale.
Charlie the Hat had a good story about Scuch, age 21. “Some cops came in a bar and they’re drinking and they start a fight,” he said. “When they found out they couldn’t beat him, they shot him.” Scuch leaned down to show an old bullet scar on his shoulder.
“I felt like I was on fire,” he said. “Then I went down and I grabbed the guy, and I broke his back. I just picked him, threw him up in the air, bent him right over my leg, and then threw him into the jukebox. I flipped out after that happened.”
A teenage boy who recognized Scuch from Family Values , a documentary about the mob and the movies, came over and asked him for an autograph.
Charlie the Hat told a shooting story of his own. When he was done, Scuch began singing: “‘Everybody lovvvvves somebody sometime!’ That’s Dean Martin. Let’s blow this joint and go to the piano bar! We’re gonna stop at the Baby Grand, this is where all the wise guys go. Maybe you’ll meet a couple wise guys.”
Outside, Scuch got into a big white Cadillac, with a convertible top and Rolls-Royce front grille. Charlie the Hat went over to his Cadillac and discovered that he’d locked his keys in the trunk.
“Only Charlie could do this,” Scuch said.
Charlie the Hat called his wife on a cell phone. Twenty minutes passed while they waited in Scuch’s car. No wife. No keys. The air-conditioning was set at 60 degrees. Outside it was dead quiet.
“It’s a nice night for a murder, huh?” Charlie said, partly kidding. “What do you think? You could tiptoe.”
Finally, Charlie the Hat’s wife dropped off the keys, and the two men headed for the piano bar in their Cadillacs.
On the way to the bar, Scuch talked about his hair. “I will never leave my house with a hair out of place. I put a little bit of grease, a little bit of hairspray, and the rest is all me. What a head of hair, huh? Believe me, in my house, I got mirrors in every room. Every single room. And I will not leave the house if there’s a hair out of place.”
We pulled up to the back entrance of the Baby Grand piano bar and martini lounge.
“This is the hideaway,” Scuch said, lowering his voice. “A lot of the boys here don’t want to be seen. You know, a lot of mob guys.”
Inside, it was dark. There were maybe a dozen people at the bar. A piano player was singing “Kansas City.”
“This is where we hold court,” Scuch said. “We eat at La Parma III’s and we hold court at the Baby Grand. I got my own back room and my name back there. They even named a drink after me: ‘the Scuch.'”
“We got a few familiar faces in the house tonight,” the piano player said. “You may have seen him on the HBO show, The Sopranos . But we’ve got Charlie the Hat and Mike Scuch over here.” Everyone in the bar gave it up for them.
After beers and smokes, Charlie the Hat went home to sleep. It was almost 11 p.m. and Scuch was ready to head into Manhattan.
He drove 55 and turned up the oldies on WCBS 101 FM. At one point, he took his hands off the wheel and did the Jackie Gleason “hucklebuck” dance.
As we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, I asked him if he was better at playing a funny guy or a scary guy.
“Well, it’s a good question because my agent sees me as a funny, scary guy,” he said. “The guy who’ll suck your lungs out, without a question asked. Ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom. It’s all over. Now that’s a scary guy.” The Cadillac rolled down Delancey Street. “Let me put it this way. If the movie business doesn’t work out, I always got something to fall back on. I got my mask and gun at home.”
– George Gurley