In fact, this is another of Pazienza's charms. And perhaps his weakness. He is from a middle-class Italian background and is decidedly above average in intelligence, even though he does say "youse guys." But boxing is a sport dominated by ghetto kids who know the ring is their only way out. So, is the Paz properly motivated? He insists he is. "I feel like a kid fighting for his next meal," says Vinny, "while people are holding my mother for ransom if I lose."
While this is more hyperbole, there is a strong undergirding of truth in his reference to family. The Pazienzas are a classic Italian-American family. Father Angelo used to be a barber and a haberdasher, but now he's retired and devotes full time to exaggerating Vinny's abilities. "There's no way they are gonna stop my kid!" shouts Angelo, who always shouts. "He has my genes!"
Dismayed by the seediness of boxing gyms, Angelo went out and bought an old, decrepit fire station in Cranston for $16,000, remodeled it himself and named it Father & Son's Gym.
Mom is Louise. She makes ricotta cheese pie and has more religious artifacts than the Vatican. There's the large print of da Vinci's The Last Supper, lots of illustrated copies of the Lord's Prayer, a statuette of Christ on the cross. She sprinkles holy water on a writer's notepad. Pictures of Vinny, which are everywhere, are rosary draped. When Vinny fights, Mom lights two candles—though she never goes to his bouts.
And it shouldn't surprise you to learn that Vinny lives at home. At the foot of his bed is a Rocky poster. When Vinny was 15, he went down to the Park Cinema, five blocks away, and saw the film. "It sparked something," he says. "A flame ignited, and it started burning." He began running the next day and never stopped. There's also a stuffed animal in his bedroom wearing a sign, I'M READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD.
Most prominent, and most telling, is a photograph of Louise and Angelo dancing. "Of course," says Paz, "they're my parents." Greater love hath no son. But Angelo, isn't it about time for Vinny to have his own place? Angelo shouts, "Where's he gonna find a better place? People don't leave good things!" Louise says, "My kids don't believe the grass is greener." Would it surprise you to learn that Vinny's 31-year-old, Doreen, lives downstairs?
Angelo says Vinny was never in trouble as a kid. Well, not exactly. The Paz kept beating up other kids for sport at Eden Park Elementary School. Once, another youngster stole Vinny's bike, so the Paz went to the offender's house and "put a serious whuppin' on his garage." Eleven-year-old Vinny got off with a scolding from Angelo. Then there was the time Vinny was caught putting slugs in pinball machines. But he didn't assault anyone. That's good.
Since his first pro fight on May 26, 1983 (he won 110 fights as an amateur), the Paz has become a full-blown celebrity in Rhode Island. Which makes him a very small celebrity. Vinny says he's "the state's only pro franchise. I have an entire state on my back."
Vinny's cousin Sal Pazienza (he's a barber, too) says, "We don't have anything in Rhode Island. I can't think of anything that happened here in the past 25 years except Vinny. Oh, yeah, the America's Cup, but we lost it. We haven't lost Vinny."
The Paz wanders into a small Cranston restaurant, grandly called Creative Foods, where they sell mainly coffee and fried doughboys. "Hey," says Vinny, "how are youse guys?" Dose guys are fine. As word gets out that the Paz is in the neighborhood, admirers crowd into the restaurant. They talk at the same time, and point and laugh and jab Vinny in his biceps, which is what people do to boxers. On the walls of Creative Foods are three pictures: Vinny Pazienza, Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Classy company. But does Vinny really belong in such close proximity to Marciano and Hagler? The Paz laughs off the inquiry: "I'm havin' fun, because nothing is more fun than winning. Although it's not a bad feeling when the check clears."