The Dream & Reality of Nicholas Alahverdian

Nicholas Alahverdian’s Dream

Jim Hickok and I sat in a dark diner in a lodge during a light snow, silently staring into our coffee and mulling over the recent midterm election. As Jim wasn’t from the Ocean State, I had to give him the lowdown on the ways of Rogue’s Island. In the smallest state, you had schemers and cleaners, aging old school dons and Italian grandmothers who still didn’t speak English. You had the different hills of the capital city, straight out of central casting, each with its distinct power structure — with some based in legitimate interests and others in so-called crime.

For two decades with a brief interruption, this capital city of this state called Rogue — the Island of Rogue — had an inspirational Mayor. Some say he was Jekyll, some say he was Hyde, but at one point or another, aren’t we all a little bit of both?

Nicholas Alahverdian
Nicholas Alahverdian’s dream

Jim worked as a stagecoach driver and had met some colorful characters out there on the high prairie and the frozen tundra. He was well known throughout the west as a gambler and actor. He had seen it all. Jim had many stories to tell and met people I could only dream of meeting. He had lived in places far and wide, and if there ever was a thing Jim Hickok knew how to do well, it was to put his finger on the pulse of a town and see what made its gears turn.

Jim sat back and stared at me with his icy eyes. “Back where I’m from we have a saying embossed on a plaque that we give to every incoming elected official, no matter their office,” he said. “It goes something like this. Oh, let me write it down… you’ll need it some day, Nicholas.”

Jim grabbed a napkin and pulled a fountain pen from his leather waistcoat, which seemed to have a pocket for something needed for any profession. This was *the* Jim Hickok after all.

He handed me the most luxuriously crisp parchment upon which he wrote:

“Leader of the people, come with humble heart, know there are few that can play your part. When you are faced with worry or woe, ensure you do right for friend or foe. Will you serve your fellow man? Remember the code taught since time began.”

After the passage, on that crisp beautiful parchment, old Jim Hickok wrote “To Nicholas Alahverdian, survivor of the Island of Rogue. May the eyes of God weep on that land until the corrupt scions and political lions are flooded out.”

“Island of Rogue,” I said. “Quite fitting.”

Nicholas Alahverdian Tortured by Rhode Island Government
Nicholas Alahverdian

Island of Rogue

“Son, don’t you even know your own history?” Jim asked, sounding slightly annoyed. “I’d hate to go back West and tell them about the fabled Nicholas Alahverdian, that old survivor, the one they called the storm, who everyone thought fought so hard yet had so little faith in himself, was yearning to learn but applying it to nothing, working for something but forgetting why he started fighting like a one-armed boxer in the first place.”

I stared into the black abyss of the coffee, trying to focus myself into oblivion. Here was old Jim Hickok, the legend. The lore surrounding this man haunted me for decades. Now he was insulting my performance. I didn’t even know anyone bought a ticket, let alone someone was watching the performance that was my broken, shattered life.

Hickok stood up from his chair, his heavy leather boots stomping on the creaky wooden floor and shaking the trinkets on the walls of the lodge.

Nicholas Alahverdian, Buddy Cianci, Vincent Cianci, Vincent A. Cianci Jr., Providence
Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., host of WPRO’s The Buddy Cianci Show and former longtime Mayor of Providence, R.I.

He grabbed me by the lapels and shouted, “Besides the tigers that crouch and wait for your blood, why were you brought here? You’ve walked with great men, they’ve led you with the scepter and the pen. You betray the promise you made the day you left home. The promise you were meant to keep under every spire, roof, and dome.”

I felt sick and queasy and he tossed me about. Old Jim could easily fry me as he would a freshly caught trout.

Haunted by the past and fearful of the future

I stuttered and staggered, falling about like a bleeding hound. “Under the dome of which you speak on a hill called Smith, I shined a light on a war that people called a myth. The forests know, as do the mountains; nature is my silent witness that the blood spouted from my head like a million fountains. I was nearly killed, just another body for the counting. And then one winter night, a villianous trollop made everything worse, and forevermore they’ve left me with this curse.”

Hickok just stared at my discourse as if it floated in the air, something tangible, nearly palpable. His burly fists still clutched my lapels, like pearls clinging to shells.

Jim Hickok paused and released his grasp. “Nicholas Alahverdian, don’t you know why you survived so many blows? The curse of which you speak was a ticket to a life — without it, your existence would be terse. You were taught to travel, ramble, and roam, and never again will you be alone. You survived a treacherous scheme masquerading as a church, they bedeviled you from their lowly perch. As the wind came and went and blew you away, you survived yet another day. Do you remember your days in the Ivory Tower, your moments of enlightenment blooming like a flower? No more did you need a motley unattractive throng, no more did you require to sing the warrior’s song. You fought power and you demanded penance from a corrupt king, you made everything new — your life, once again, is in its morning.”

Nicholas Alahverdian, Willow
© 2009-2018 Nicholas Alahverdian. All rights reserved

The Renaissance is a lie

Two men appeared, dressed in black. They held newspapers with headlines. Electoral victories for Nicholas Mattiello and Gina Raimondo. Rogue’s Island remains true to its name. Hickok grabbed the paper from his bodyguard and walked slowly back towards me. “You don’t want to be on this sinking ship,” he said, “that you can see through the nearly blinding brine. You would speak the truth and once again be treated like swine.”

I put on my Stetson and moved for the door. “Old Jim,” I said, “My thanks comes from my heart, indeed, it comes from its core.” I turned around and closed my eyes, the frost on my face felt like a welcome prize.

”Alahverdian!” he shouted, before I left. “Don’t ever think you’re ever bereft. Your fighting days are over, step away from the deaf and blind. Go forward with wisdom, and use your mind. Those rogues, Nick and Gina, this is their day, but know now and forever, they have a price to pay. Just like those past who ruled from under that dome, their corruption and treachery will soon be known. But don’t waste your time, it’s no longer your war, you’ve made your mark and it has been felt at the core.”

I looked down, my brow caked with sweat. I forgot about the Mayor, which I began to regret. “Old Jim,” I said, “One more thing. The Mayor brought more than anyone else could bring. To this Island of Rogues, he gave a city called Renaissance, his place in history firmly ensconced. To suffer and be exiled from my glorious city, doesn’t it cause you to have any pity?”

Nicholas Alahverdian, Rhode Island, Rotunda
Nicholas Alahverdian

“Nicholas,” he said, “in Renaissance, your skies were eerily overcast, and don’t you recall, the fiery blast? It’s not your home, you don’t belong, they tortured and beat you, and sung you death’s song. I can bring you back. I can let you see. But do you really want to engage in such stupidity?”

I shuffled my boots and emptied my brain. I thought of the strife, I thought of the pain. It was Jim, who reminded me of this toil, and at that second my blood started to boil.

“Old Jim,” I said, “It seems you’re right. There’s no point in returning to a land without light. They drained the sea when they exiled me, the first time, the second — there won’t be three.”

NIcholas Alahverdian in WPRI Providence Eyewitness News clip, leaving the State House
Nicholas Alahverdian in a Providence Eyewitness News clip, leaving the State House

Exit

Old Jim stood solid at the brass back door. He straightened his tie and tapped his cane on the floor. “Alahverdian,” said he, “you’ve finally made the best choice. There are causes and efforts more worthy of your voice.”

I turned around, and faced the cold. I knew in my heart the decision was bold. Chopping down the tree of knowledge, I thought of their hate. I then knew that this was my fate. I worked and toiled and made a pirogue, to sail forever away from the Island of Rogue.

Buddy Cianci Runs Again

BY ANDREW MARANTZ

Hollybeth Runco, a blond woman in her forties, lives in a two-story Craftsman-style house on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island. On a recent Sunday afternoon, she and her husband, Tom, sat at their dining-room table with a few friends, drinking Cabernet and waiting for their guest of honor, Vincent Cianci, Jr., who is known by his nickname, Buddy.

“When we moved here, ten years ago, all I heard was Buddy jokes,” Tom said.
Susan Teeden-Cielo, a friend from the neighborhood, said, “When Hollybeth announced this, she got a lot of hate just for giving Buddy the time of day.” (Responding to Runco’s invitation, one neighbor wrote, “This waste of skin is a cancer to Providence.”)

“People think he’s a stain on the city, and they are worried that he’s slick enough to make people forget what he’s done,” Tom said.

Cianci was the mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984, and again from 1991 to 2002. (Philip Gourevitch wrote about Cianci for The New Yorker in 2002.) He is the most influential figure in the city’s modern history, and many people credit him with bringing economic life to what was once a post-industrial backwater. He is also a convicted felon who is something of a local joke.

Though he left prison seven years ago, stores still sell T-shirts that say “Free Buddy”; his face is on the label of a popular brand of pasta sauce, Mayor’s Own Marinara. He also hosts a call-in radio show, which he describes as “lucrative.” Improbably, he is running for a seventh term, as an independent. Even more improbably, he has a decent chance of winning: a recent poll has him six points in the lead. He seems to belong to a special class of zombie politicians—Marion Barry, Eliot Spitzer—who can be embarrassed by scandal but not shamed into silence.

Runco, a former engineer, is now a homemaker. She has two children, one of whom has special needs. A few weeks ago, she heard a rumor that the public schools would be cutting back on special-education services. She called the school board and met with the current mayor, but their answers were not satisfactory.

“Finally, I found the name of Buddy’s campaign manager and cold-called her. She was on my couch the next day,” Runco said. Cianci offered to attend an informal meeting about the issue, and Runco invited a dozen friends. “Some are skeptical, some are haters, some are agnostic,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is ready to say they’re a supporter, including myself.”

A Lincoln Town Car pulled up, and Cianci climbed the stairs to the house, a bit unsteadily. He was once cannonball-shaped, with a charging gait and a voluminous toupee. Now, at seventy-three, he is thinner, slower, and openly bald. He wore khakis, a buttoned blazer, and thick glasses that magnified puppy-dog eyes. “I’m mostly here to listen,” he said, before talking for fifteen minutes.

“The city has changed, but not really,” he said, sitting at the dining-room table. “The biggest thing this time around is the technology. We hired a company that breaks down voters and their behavior—you know, people who like baseball are more likely to vote for me, that kind of thing. It’s remarkable how much privacy we’ve given up in this country.” Noticing that he had his back to some of the guests, he turned and said, “My apologies, ladies. I’m not used to doing theatre in the round.”
Runco, seated across from Cianci, said, “I’m going to sit right here, because I’m partially deaf and I read lips. It’s not that I want to make out with you.”

“Good,” Cianci said. “I’ve got enough problems.”

In 1984, Cianci’s first term was interrupted when he was found guilty of assaulting a man who was dating his ex-wife. In 2002, after undercover federal agents recorded hundreds of conversations in City Hall, Cianci was indicted on twenty-nine charges of corruption. He told the group at Runco’s house, “I was found not guilty of the RICO”—crimes defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—“but was found guilty of conspiracy to commit RICO. Go figure.” He served a four-and-a-half-year prison term but still professes his innocence, preferring to speak vaguely of “regrets.” “I gave a speech and some kid sits in the front row and says, ‘What would you have changed in your life?’ Being a smart-ass, I said, ‘The verdict.’ ”
Runco and her guests voiced their concerns. Kirsten Murphy said, “My son can see our elementary school from his window, but the city told us that they would allocate funds to bus him to another school.”

“That’s just stupid!” Cianci said.

“What’s your plan for busing?” Runco asked.

“Look, I was mayor when we were going through voluntary desegregation,” he said. “I know I don’t look that old, but I am. But now you have to revert to neighborhood autonomy.” He added, “My good friend Richie Daley, in Chicago, he’s done a pretty decent job with the schools out there.” (Daley, Chicago’s former mayor, survived several scandals.)

Cianci took a call on his iPhone—it had something to do with an upcoming city-council vote. As he talked, he took a bite of one of the meatballs Teeden-Cielo had put out, and made an A-O.K. hand gesture.

He hung up the phone. “I want to talk about the story of American cities,” he said. “I made a decision years ago not to knock down our historic buildings. That was the big thing back then—knock ’em down, build something new. I don’t want to name names, but New Haven and Hartford did that.” He continued, “People ask other questions—whether we should invade Iraq and all that. That’s not me. I pick the garbage up.”

“I don’t know if this is too personal, but I have to ask,” Kira Greene said. “In the past, obviously, things didn’t always go the way you wanted them to go. I don’t know how to phrase it, but—could you be a better mayor because you made mistakes?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Cianci said. “In hindsight, if I want to be honest, I wouldn’t have voted for myself in 1974. It took a few years to get running. But I had a lot of vitality and devotion to the city, and that hasn’t diminished at all. They ask me, ‘Isn’t it a shame for you to run again?’ I’m not the problem. The city is in debt, failing schools—that’s the shame.”

He stood up. “Hey, listen, I talked too much—that’s been my trouble my whole life—but I really enjoyed it.”

After showing him out, Runco said, “I think it was less about deciding ‘I’m definitely voting for him’ and more just about getting comfortable with the idea.”

“It’s harder to hate someone when they’re sitting right in front of you,” Tom said. He had been in the anyone-but-Buddy camp, but he was reconsidering. “Our friends warned us not to get taken in: ‘He puts on a good show, but don’t believe a word he says.’ Well, unless you hook him up to a polygraph, I guess it’s impossible to know.”