DESPITE the occupational hazards, such as the possibility of one's bullet-riddled corpse someday being compacted into the grille of a late-model Cadillac, legions of eager young men still aspire to a career in the Mafia.
Even as one glum-looking mob boss after another trudges off to prison in upstate New York or Pennsylvania on murder, racketeering or dope-dealing charges, there is no end to the hoodlums with gravelly voices and pinky rings scrambling to take their places.
What is it about mob life that some people find so attractive?
Is it the ability to make huge sums of money through intimidation, bullying tactics and virtually no honest work, as in the related fields of politics and law?
Is it the almost-automatic acquisition of a colorful nickname from the vegetable or marine life families, such as Thomas "Tommy the Squid" Mondelo or Vinnie "Eggplant" Terranova?
Is it that an association with organized crime practically guarantees little or no trouble from your terrified neighbors?
(Let's face it, when that nice older couple next door finds out you're "connected," they probably won't trouble you with complaints that your dog keeps tipping over their garbage cans. Or that your 14-year-old has hot-wired their Nissan Sentra and gone for a spin with his beer-guzzling buddies.
("Boys will be boys," the neighbors will say after noticing their empty driveway. "Just have little Paulie return the car when he's done. Maybe he could put a few gallons of gas in the tank if he has the money. If not, hey, we understand.")
Yet, as has been well-publicized recently, there are also some serious drawbacks to joining the Mafia, not the least of which are the endless inter-family vendettas that might result, for instance, in some hothead gunning you down in front of a busy Manhattan steak house, or knocking you over the head with a tire iron, stuffing your body into an oil drum and tossing it into the swirling waters of the nearest bay.
Just because you belong to a different "family." Is that fair? Of course not.
Another negative, quite frankly, is the constant, almost suffocating attention from law-enforcement authorities.
As a "made" man in, for example, the Gambino family, you can hardly walk out your door without the cops hassling you about this bloody underworld rub-out or that fur truck hijacking.
If it's not one thing, it's another. And even if you stick to the savvy gangster's standard refrain ("I don't know nuthin'") chances are the cops won't believe you.
Instead, they'll drag you down to the station house, sit you at a battered wooden table and grill you for the next eight hours with a bright light shining directly in your eyes. It's a hell of a way to live.
Add to all this the fact that your phone is constantly being tapped, as federal agents with headphones sitting in a nondescript florist van outside your home listen to interesting snippets of conversation, such as:
"Yeah, uh, that guy down at . . ."
"Yeah. The (inaudible)."
"Right. He, uh, he's having some kind of (expletive) cash flow problem."
"Let's whack the (expletive)."
"Thing is, he don't have . . ."
"Stuff him in a steamer trunk."
The following day, when they fish some poor stiff out of the harbor who's stuffed inside a steamer trunk -- and they listen to the tape again -- they might put two and two together.
And soon the FBI will be knocking on your door with a warrant for your arrest.
To save your own skin, of course, you begin singing to the feds in an odd and not very becoming falsetto, testifying about your former friends and their various activities, including extortion, money-laundering, labor racketeering, etc.
This will necessitate a brief stay of about, oh, 20 years in the Federal Witness Protection Program for you and your family.
For the first eight months or so, you'll be shuttled by nervous U.S. marshals from one dreary airport Ramada Inn to another until finally re-located to your new home: a run-down trailer park in Oklahoma. It probably won't even have cable.
There you will live for several depressing years until, with any luck, a tornado touches down and wipes out the whole community, ending your miserable existence on the face of this Earth.
Call me a grumpy old cynic, but that doesn't seem like much of a life to me.
2& Although to each his own, I guess.