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Sopranos Week: Ode to Paulie Walnuts

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<em>Sopranos Week</em>: Ode to Paulie Walnuts

Peter Paul Gualtieri—Paulie Walnuts to his colleagues and friends—has been a loyal soldier in his Northern New Jersey crew for decades, yet he never gets his due, or more accurately, what he believes he’s due. According to Paulie’s “official biography:”

... at seventeen, he became an enforcer for Johnny Boy Soprano. Thereafter his movement up the ranks was steady, albeit punctuated by the occasional prison stretch and an army hitch abbreviated by a Section 8.

Despite his many years of service, Paulie has never gotten the bump he feels he deserves, and now finds himself working for the son of Johnny Boy Soprano. He’s not getting any younger, and it pains him to have to struggle to make ends meet while young guns like Christopher Moltisanti seem to skip higher and higher in the family’s organizational flowchart. When Chris briefly served under him, Paulie relished being someone’s boss for a change, taking his cut, fair and unfair, just as Paulie has to kick up percentages to Tony. Christopher has a drug problem (which Paulie firmly believes are best served with a “tough love” approach) and was engaged to a rat , but it didn’t stop “Tony’s nephew” from eventually being handed his own crew and sparking more resentment in poor Paulie. It burns Paulie when he has to fight for every scrap against the likes of Ralph Cifaretto or Vito Spatafore. Hell, he even suffered at the hands of paroled senior jailbird Feech La Manna, but at least Feech got shipped back to the can. Granted, Paulie’s still standing while a lot of the guys that made him gnash his teeth are dead or in jail, but the guy still can’t seem to win.

It irks him that when the boss lies in a coma, he’s still expected to kick part of his take up to the worried Carmela. He’s even toyed with the idea of jumping ship to the New York family, only to realize that Johnny Sack was just playing him and the NY boss Carmine Lupertazzi didn’t really even know who he was. Once again, his best-laid plans were torn asunder. With each year, his bitterness seems to grow, but he certainly doesn’t seem the type who would become a rat for the feds; he once wished that Big Pussy was still alive so he could whack the rat bastard again.

His hot-headed nature often gets him into unnecessary scrapes, such as when he and Christopher went to collect from a certain Russian for an ailing Silvio, without knowing of the Russian’s military past; he and Chris had to ask Tony’s help when the Russian escaped from them in the snowy Pine Barrens. (When Tony told Paulie over a garbled cellphone that the Russian once worked for the Ministry of the Interior and was credited with killing 16 Chechnyans, Paulie gravely informed Chris, “The guy killed 16 Czechoslovakians. He was an interior decorator.”)

Like his nickname, Paulie is tough to crack, but beneath his tough guy persona, he’s a complicated man. He has his superstitious side, and even got upset once when a psychic seemed to give him a message from one of his many victims. He’s admitted to seeing a psychiatrist, but when Tony made a similar confession, Paulie was put off because Tony’s shrink was a woman (which Paulie said “don’t compute”). He also gives regularly to the Catholic Church, but boils when their “protection racket” doesn’t assure Paulie of a good afterlife the way his “protection” brings to others. When the local parish seeks more cash for an annual festival at a time when Paulie feels particularly put upon, he tells the priest, “Well it seems to me the church has plenty in its coffers for all those pedophilia lawsuits.”

You wouldn’t know it from his appearance, but Paulie also is a bit of a germophobe, hesitant to tie shoelaces which may have brushed a men’s bathroom’s floor, a place Paulie considers especially unsanitary. (When his co-workers mocked his compulsion, he told them, “Go in the ladies room, you could eat maple walnut ice cream off the toilet.”) He’s got an eye for fine art, rescuing a painting of a Napoleonic Tony with the late Pie-O-My from a fire and hanging it in his apartment; when Tony saw the painting on Paulie’s wall, he didn’t seem too happy about it. He takes pride in his Italian heritage: outraged by what a coffeehouse chain had done to drinks perfected by his ancestors, he swiped an old piece of brewing equipment, just on principle. He’s even interested in current events. “So what was the story with Princess Di?” he once asked. “Did the Queen have her whacked?”

When we last saw Paulie, he was still having problems raising enough money to keep his beloved mother Nucci in her nice retirement community of Green Grove. Hell, he once murdered one of her friends just to take her stash, though her slight of Ma made it easier to snuff her out. Then, to his amazement and chagrin, Paulie learned that Ma wasn’t really his mom, but his Aunt Dottie, a nun who was impregnated by a WWII soldier on leave. Always prone to overreact, Paulie disowned his mother. He eventually reconciled with her, only to learn that his own health was failing as well: He has prostate cancer. Poor Paulie Walnuts. He just can’t catch a break.

Edward Copeland is a contributor to The House Next Door and the publisher of Edward Copeland on Film and the political blog Copeland Institute for Lower Learning.