Originally published September 2011 on The Mia Connect blog.
In the summer of 1991, my friends and I walked into a NYC pub called U2’s. This local neighborhood Midtown bar attracted the young 20-somethings we were at the time, as well as the firemen from nearby Engine 16/Ladder 7. That night, the boys from Ladder 7 were out in full force, including a loud guy from the Bronx named Vinny Princiotta. “This effing guy heah, he’s the best” we were told by everyone around us. And so it was true. Vinny became a good friend and guardian angel to all three of us. He always got us home safely. He was there at the drop of a hat. He always nagged us about changing the batteries in our smoke alarms. And he always had a funny story to tell. And a heart of gold.
I always cracked up at his “Vinny-isms”. One in particular, in describing a woman friend, he said “Yeah, I love her, she’s a soup chicken.” Further inquiry into this little phrase revealed that older women were referred to as soup chickens. “Ya know, because you dont want the young chicks for soup, you need the older hens. Ya know, Soup Chickens”. At the time, as a 27 year old, I thought that was hilarious. Now, as a 46 year old and an official Soup Chicken, I still crack up. Here’s another of my favorite stories about his practical joke humor that appeared in The Baltimore Sun.
The last time I saw him was in March of 1996 when I returned to NYC to celebrate my birthday. We all had a fabulous night of catching up: laughing, crying, celebrating, you name it. And, of course, he made sure we all got home safely. The next day Anna and I stopped by the firehouse. We were much worse for the wear after a long night. Vinny was chipper as ever and when he saw us remarked “whoa, who ran YOU two over?!” We had a good giggle about the night before and sat in the firehouse, carrying on & cutting up until the alarm rang & the boys were called out. The last view of Vinny was him waving from the truck as it sped past.
The years passed and we kept in touch with occasional updates (including the birth of his little girl). And then September 11, 2001 arrived. Anna and Katie just happened to be visiting from New York that week. And we sat in the living room of my house and watched the world change. We asked each other “do you think Vinny is there?” Honestly, we were convinced that he was nowhere near the Trade Center. Ladder 7 was in Midtown – a world away (in NYC terms) from lower Manhattan.
The weeks passed, the pall over my life and in my heart continued but I was convinced that at least Vinny was safe, even though I had not heard from him. I had left a message at the number that I thought was his. Ironically, the number I had looked up was another Vinny Princiotta (who frequently received calls for his alter ego, the fireman Vinny). I finally received a call and the voice said “this is Vinny Princiotta” but I knew right away it wasnt my friend. The caller had lost friends & co-workers on 9-11 and had been on vacation at the time or he too would’ve perished. After all that, he then had to call me to tell me of my friends’ demise. I sat and cried for my lost friend and all the lost loved ones.
This is the last image of Vinny, taken just before he and his fellow firefighters ran into the buildings:
In November 2001, I flew back to the city for the memorial service. I cannot express how incredibly sad this event was – Vinny’s wife and little girl standing near an empty coffin, his fellow surviving firemen grieving, and the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace”. Surreal.
I KNOW Vinny is still watching over his family. And me too. I thank God for such a kick ass angel.
BACK ON Jan. 28, Super Bowl Sunday, the phone rang at a Baltimore County fire station, and LeRoy Edmunds picked up. This is Vinny Princiotta, the caller said. New York City Fire Department, Engine 16/Ladder 7. “We wanna make a bet on the game.”