Magazine article The New Yorker

The Comeback

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Comeback

Article excerpt

Vincent Cincotta--a.k.a. Jimmy the Peddler--was in the running to win the N.C.A.A. men's-basketball-tournament pool last week at his local watering hole, the Cafe on Clinton, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. What's significant about the Cafe on Clinton, where Jimmy used to be a regular, is that it isn't really a watering hole anymore. Two years ago, new management began running the place more as a restaurant, causing the bar regulars to dwindle. What's significant about Jimmy's being in the running for the bracket is that Jimmy is dead.

"Jimmy is very much missed," John McGill, the customer who oversees the pool, said last week, just before the first semifinal game. "And people are really excited that Jimmy might win."

The Clinton Street bracket is ten years old, although Jimmy had been drinking Dewar's-and-soda at the place since it opened, in 1988. Jimmy lived in the neighborhood his whole life; he was eighty-two when he died, in January. A death notice in the Times described him as the "last active horse and wagon peddler in N.Y.C." There is a photograph of his wagon at Jim and Andy's, the Court Street produce store where he was based after retiring his horse, in the seventies, and where he and his son Carmine took care of customers and restaurants, such as Frankies Spuntino.

When the first Clinton Street N.C.A.A. pool was drawn up, in 1999, it had six dozen regulars. Recently, a place selling really nice scones opened up next door, nice scones being a stake in the heart of a drinking establishment. Like the neighborhood bar scene, the pool has seen participation decline. This year, Jimmy was one of eight, the pot worth a hundred and forty dollars. It is the nature of smaller pools that the winner often becomes apparent well before the final game. By Saturday night, the night of the Final Four, Jimmy--listed in the pool as the King of Produce--seemed ready to clinch. McGill, who runs Two for the Pot, a nearby coffee-and-tea store, wrote on the official standings kept behind the bar, "The King of Produce will have an insurmountable lead if U.N.C. beats Villanova in the semis."

Another bracket regular is George Steele, a history teacher. On Saturday, he was remembering Jimmy's stories, about the neighborhood and the wider Brooklyn-related world, such as the one about Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Joe Pepitone being taken out drinking by a couple of guys who planned to bet against the Yankees the following day, Mantle hitting home runs anyway. Steele believed that Jimmy had heard the story from Pepitone, who had worked for him as a boy, in the fifties. "He said that Pepitone's brothers were actually better ballplayers, but they had to go to work," Steele recalled. …

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