Paul "Pole Cat" Moore in the Ring, at the Rat, and Dealing Coke for Whitey Bulger
July 10, 2013
The trial of Whitey Bulger continues at the Federal Courthouse in Boston. One of the witnesses "on deck" for the prosecution is Paul "Pole Cat" Moore, so here's a timely excerpt from All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls is, among other things, an excellent guide to Southie under Whitey Bulger's criminal empire. In this excerpt, MacDonald describes Pole Cat's connections to the local boxing world, the popular rock club the Rathskeller (or "The Rat") and Bulger's drug-dealing operations.
You can listen to Michael Patrick MacDonald's reaction to yesterday's dramatic testimony on Radio Boston.
UNDEFEATED FRANK MACDONALD
Hard hitting Frank MacDonald of South Boston met and defeated a very comparable Jose Miguel from Cranston, Rhode Island. Frank totally devastated his opponent with a series of crippling punches to the body which succeeded in incapacitating Miguel, who was of great courage but unable to fathom Frank’s awesome body attack—congratulations Frank, and corner men Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and Tommy "Stove Man" Cronin.
—South Boston Tribune
Frankie was one of the few young people in the neighborhood not being dragged down by drugs and crime in 1980. His boxing career was one of the only things that brought good news to the streets of Old Colony in those days. Frankie was fast becoming a neighborhood hero, not only in Old Colony, but all over Southie. Everyone knew who he was, and he had a nickname now, "Frank the Tank," for his "hard hitting" style that was bringing him championship titles, from Junior Olympics bouts at Freeport Hall in Dorchester to the New England Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell.
Mary and Kathy said all their girlfriends talked about Frankie’s looks, and the guys who hadn’t yet got caught up in the world of drugs talked about getting a ripped body like Frank’s. He was working out seven days a week, running from Old Colony, through the Point, around Castle Island, and back to the project, always in his combat boots from his days in the Marines—and sometimes he ran backwards. Frank was welcome all over Southie. The little kids in the neighborhood would run after him, asking him questions about his bouts and begging him to show how he knocked out his opponents. That’s why Frankie was so intent on being what they called "a stand-up guy" in Southie. That’s what they called anyone who would never snitch, even if it meant doing a life bid because of it. But in Frankie’s case, it just meant he was clean-cut. Sure, he knew all the top gangsters in the neighborhood; anyone with Frankie’s status in the Southie boxing world would. But he never got involved in their rackets, stayed away from the dust and coke they were pumping into the streets, and refused to work for Whitey, telling Ma that he never wanted to be "owned."
But still Frankie had "the boys," as we called Whitey’s troops, working in his corner as he fought his way through four years of New England Golden Gloves championships, starting out as a two-time middleweight champ in the novice class, and ending up a light heavyweight champ for the whole region in 1982 and 1983. South Boston Tribune articles always pointed out the sound advice and leadership "the boys" were giving Frank in the ring:
Following closely the instructions of trainer Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and manager Tommy Cronin, Frank pursued his opponent most aggressively with a savage body attack which . . . wore down O’Han to the point of becoming a bit careless and somewhat frustrated . . . at being unable to figure out MacDonald’s technique. Frank, once again following the instructions for his corner, succeeded in landing a barrage of lefts and rights to the jaw and head of his adversary. This will prove to have been a most excellent victory for Frankie in the upcoming bouts he is to have.
In Southie having the gangsters in your corner, in the ring or on the streets, meant that you had the ultimate protection and power. Grandpa didn’t believe that, though. He had warnings for all of us, from his own days as a longshoreman on the Southie docks, where he said he’d worked alongside some men who ended up in the Brinks robbery of 1950, "the big one." Grandpa always told us how the rule on the docks was to keep your mouth shut about the rackets you saw. He said many a time the longshoremen were lined up by the cops and asked to step forward and speak about crimes. That’s how a waitress from the local diner got killed, after she stepped forward among the silent longshoremen. She was found murdered the next day, her blood scrawled into the letters snitch all over her cold-water flat. Grandpa had another rule of his own for the underworld: "Watch out whose hand you shake," he told us. He said there was no such thing as a gangster giving something without wanting more in return. "They’ll give you a quarter for a dollar any day," he said. Grandpa had been trying to get closer to us since Kathy’s coma and had even bought a condo in City Point. He got a closer look at the neighborhood, and he kept coming around the house cursing "that fuckin’ Whitey Bulger, a no-good bum if there ever was one," and wondering if the Bulgers were even Irish at all, with Senate President Billy Bulger’s insulting Irish brogue imitations at drunken St. Paddy’s Day festivities. "They’re a shame to the Irish altogether," he said, "and what respectable Irish person would name their kid William?" he asked. "That would be like a Jew naming a kid Adolf."
Kevin started to go to the Rathskeller downtown, where Frankie along with some of the other boxers and some of the boys were working as bouncers. They were big and tough looking, and good for keeping the college students and punk rock types in line. Frank’s corner man, Pole Cat Moore, worked at the Rat, and introduced Frankie to Ricky Marino, an ex–state trooper, who became Frankie’s best friend. Then there was Kevin "Andre the Giant" McDonald, not to be confused with my brother Kevin "Mini Mac" MacDonald. He was a Southie champion too. Ricky and Paul Moore were pretty high up in what the papers in later years would call the "Southie underworld." But Frankie knew his little brother wasn’t going to get involved in their plans, no matter how much he wanted to. They were too high up to be bothered with Kevin, who despite his involvement in some of the big stuff was still just a kid to guys like these. They also had a position to maintain, and weren’t about to bring someone with Kevin’s potential into their rackets.
My brother Joe would go to the Rat too, whenever he was on leave from the Air Force. Joe told Ma it was weird how Frankie’s friends pulled each other aside when they were "talking business." We all knew Joe was the tattletale in our family—he told Ma everything—and the boys must have sensed this too. But one night at the Rat, he did overhear Pole Cat Moore telling Ricky that he’d be getting his cocaine directly through Whitey’s Colombian connections, rather than going through Ricky. Pole Cat had a job with the Boston Housing Authority, and an apartment with his brother, right next to ours on 8 Patterson Way. Pole Cat never touched the stuff. He was too into his body, coming and going from our building with a gym bag and a clean white towel around his neck. But he was starting to make a killing on the coke, by the looks of the number of kids knocking on his door day and night. Joe said he would know if Frankie was into that stuff, though, and that Frankie had never been involved in Pole Cat’s huddled conversations with Ricky at the Rat.
Then I started showing up at the back door of the Rat most nights. Ever since I was fifteen I’d gone there to see bands. Frankie’s friends knew who I was, and snuck me downstairs through the piss-puddled hallways, to where the bands played. Frankie snuck me in too, but he didn’t know I was there on weeknights, and I told his friends to keep it quiet. I hadn’t returned to Latin School since Kathy’s coma. They’d tried to make a deal with me that I could be promoted, despite all my absences, if I left Latin and went to Madison Park High School in Roxbury. "Yeah, right," I said, "and be the only white kid in the class."
Latin had been my only escape from the busing, and now I felt guilty for messing it up. I couldn’t believe I was a high school dropout. I’d always been the straight-A student Ma bragged about, along with Johnnie, and Davey. For a while I was still pretending to go to school, even after Kathy was out of the coma. I’d wander around Boston all day, freezing at bus stops when I didn’t have money for the three-hour-long coffee refills at Mug and Muffn, trying to stay awake after a night at the Rat. Ma eventually found a letter I’d written to myself about my guilt for being a dropout, and she was bullshit that I had pulled one over on her. She confronted me about it and said I’d have to go right to work the next day. She too knew high school in Roxbury wasn’t an option. That’s when I switched from pretending to go out to school every day to pretending to go out looking for a job. I was still freezing at bus stops, or getting warm at Mug and Muffn; and I still snuck out of the house at night to go to the Rat.
I had my own group of friends at the Rat. While Frankie, Pole Cat, Andre the Giant, and the rest of the gang hung out upstairs, I was down in the basement with misfits from all walks of life. Some were working-class kids, others were suburban white-picket-fence types, and others were rich. "What’s a trust fund?" I remember asking. "Ah, man, it’s nothing—just ’cause my dad’s rich doesn’t mean I am. I gotta wait on it. Got a dollar for a beer, dude?" But wherever these people came from, they didn’t like it. I’d always preferred black music—soul, then disco, and now hip-hop and rap. The words made more sense to me. But I also liked the energy and rage of punk rock; I just couldn’t relate to the lyrics about life in the suburbs, and having strict parents. Then I discovered the original version of punk, from England. I’d never thought about the fact that there were poor and working-class English people who hated the Queen, and her mother, and the whole British establishment. I could get into that. This was a movement of people who didn’t fit in where they came from, and they’d made that cool. I could get into that too.
Punk music became an escape for me, but I still had to come back to Old Colony every night. I often hitched a ride with Frankie’s friends, the whole way home not knowing what to say to men as powerful as "the boys." Other times I had punk rockers drop me off on the outskirts of Southie, so they wouldn’t see that I lived in the project, or accuse me of being a racist for living in my neighborhood. But I was protecting them too; I didn’t want them to get bottles thrown at them for being different in Southie.
"The Rat in Winter" photo by Wayne Valdez.