Ricky “The Sweetener” Kowolaki was the textbook example of a storyteller. Everytime Dad would have a cookout or a party with his’ and Ma’s friends, Ricky would be there with the brightest yellow button-up you could find and his suit jacket. Everyone knew that once Ricky had more than 3 glasses of Guinness, it was storytime. He would tell the wackiest stories to us about his early days working as an enforcer for the mafia. He would proclaim that he had dinner with Richard Kuklinski and lived to tell the tale or the time when he stole 20 million dollars in whiskey and cigars only to spend the next year drinking and smoking it all away. Ricky had no problem telling these stories except for one: how he got in. How did a middle-aged, 250 pound man able hang toe-to-toe with the toughest criminal in Chicago? One day my curiosity caved and I decided to ask Ricky “How did you join the mob?”. He smiled at me, let out a little chuckle and said, “I never said those stories were true”, and with that he winked at me, grabbed his jacket, and left the party with a Guinness for the road. I was pissed! How the hell did he have the cajones to lie to me and everyone around him?!?! However, now in my early 30’s with a small daughter I understand where Ricky was coming from. He was the sweet talker, the loremaster that regaled his crowd with fantastical stories that, in hindsight, were pretty imaginary to begin with. Everytime my daughter asks me to tell her a story, I tell her “The Sweetener” who worked in the mafia and had a Guinness in his hands at every party.
Story by Koby Polaski