Thursday, April 28, 2016


It was a Sunday evening and as a newly married couple, we were settling into our ways. We went to bed; with the Sunday newspapers.

It was a warm summer evening and the windows were open in the two-story rental. We were living downstairs and a widowed woman was living upstairs. We knew she was gone on a trip of sorts and wasn’t home. Suddenly there was a bang from the apartment above us! Then we heard it again and then yet again. This was disturbing that no one was supposed to be up there.

THIS is what our years together have come to!
It all started innocently enough, in early July of 1971. It was one of the first Sundays home from our honeymoon, and we retired to bed with all the Sunday papers, and a few snacks. We were renting an apartment from a gentleman named Harry, who bought old homes, fixed them up and either sold or rented them. He retired to a villa in Italy when he was about 50 years old. I will mention Harry in a later story.

As we settled in, the Little Woman said she heard something. A “thump” coming out of the apartment upstairs from us, where the widow Dolly lived, and happened to be away on a vacation at the time.

I said to the Little Woman that maybe it was her imagination, and not to worry about it. Once again she heard the thump sound and again brought it to my attention. I suggested she lay off the wine on Sundays, but I knew darned well that I hadn’t heard the end of it. Already I was attuned to life at a young and tender age of living with the Little Woman.

She gave me instructions to go into the living room to see if I could hear it too. Being the really good and perfect husband that I aspired to be and did become I went out like she said. “Thump, thump, thump… ”I heard it too! I reported back immediately, because she likes immediate reports from me, and related my findings. “Should we call the police?” said she, “What have I gotten myself into?” thinks I. “No, it’s probably the house settling or some silly little thing” I responded, convinced that I was not getting away with this answer and that the police were as good as here already.

She issued new orders. “Go outside and look around,” said the Little Woman, as I dutifully saluted and went on my way. She likes the proper salute, fingers extended; thumb parallel to the forefinger, arm at a 45-degree angle, and upper arm parallel to the floor. As I began my reconnaissance I noticed that Dolly’s window was wide open, and the window overlooks the roof extension for the porch over my front door and windows. I report back, and she gave new orders, “Call the police” if she were a Brooklyn girl she would have called them “cops.” I responded, “Maybe I should climb up and look first?” “No, call the police.” Off I go to our shiny new yellow wall phone, that matches our décor and I call the police. They come, 3 squad cars full, completely surrounding the house, one decided to climb up on my trash cans, and shimmy up the pole that holds the porch roof, in which I had to cup my hands so he could get a step up on the trash can. The police finally come down and my wife is sitting on the couch as we come into the living room. “Gee officer, I’m really sorry to have to call you on a false alarm, she made me call” I apologized. “No, it was a smart thing to do, never take a chance.” Says officer Muldoon. “Yes sir, that’s what I figured.”

What was making the noise you ask? Don’t.

OK, I’ll tell you since you seem Italian, a cup dispenser fell off the wall and when the wind blew, the curtains whipped and moved the dispenser to thump against the wall.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Italians are noted for their nick-names, the names that stay with you throughout your life. No matter how tall or short, young or old you are, your religion, job and even looks have and played into the name you got despite change, in all you do, it still stays with you.

Dad had a friend, the family friend who wasn’t Italian. He was a Finn, thus the name: ‘Joe the Finn’. Joe the Finn was a genius who like so many I’ve known who died poor but happy. He was a horse player, and that was his outlet in his life, giving him joy.

You would find Joe under a car wiring a broken tailpipe, under the hood, replacing a carburetor with a large coffee can. Once they cut off his electricity and he managed to keep it on by using copper pennies somehow to complete the connections again. He was big-hearted and was ready to help. The family in turn welcomed Joe to dinner on a spur of the moment’s arrival. He once gave me a silver dollar just because I said: “Hello Joe the Finn!”

There was 9.5, my aunt that I named that. The reason was she lost the top of her forefinger to a vacuum cleaner once. I happened to be learning fractions in the fourth grade and noticed her hand. When she left I referred to her as 9.5 and the name stuck! Being she was an in-law, mom loved the name.

Then there was ‘oo Communista’, the left-wing husband to my father’s cousin, the ‘Smelly Lady’. They had no baths or tubs or even showers in many instances in Brooklyn (oo Brookileen) so they applied a face or wash cloth to clean themselves. You can imagine how often they washed and got lazy! Well this lady smelled of week old garlic, sat with her hands clasped on her large belly and smelled while her husband would be in deep discussion about the ills of capitalism and the workings of the government.

Even my grandmother had a moniker, ‘Zia’ Francesca, known for her ability to help out others, with money, advice and connections. (No, not Mafiosa, but priests, cops and lawyers and sometimes even doctors.)

My son, #1 Son Anthony even got into it, naming a friend of mine named Jim Pantileone: ‘Jimmy Pants’!

Some of the characters that were named over the years were: Testa del fungo, (fungus head) poltiglia, (mush) molto affamata (very hungry) and miserabe or miserable and the ever present in everyone’s circle of family or friends: Stoonada.

I had names for my four sisters: there was Salami Breath, La Senorena, Motor Mouth and The Pet.

Me? I was known as: Regalo del Dio al mondo!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Harry and his accent left a lot of questions.  If he wasn’t on the train or going to Rabbit Hole, he was sure on the job. Since he reported to my Uncle Joe, he would at times call into my Uncle for advice or directions as what to do along the line. My uncle would work out of Richmond Hill and his crew could be anywhere along the many miles of commuter track.

One such call went something like this one morning:
“Elloa Joe?”
“Yeah Harry, what’s up?”
“They puta hout da list a for the job assign-a-ments.”
“OK, read them to me.”
“Wella the jobba for trackaman: abullish.”
“What was that Harry???”
“The jobba for the trackaman: abullish.”
“A bull ish!!!???”
“A yea, thatsa what she say: abullish.”
“Harry, spell the word for me.”
“Ma sure, eh-bee-hoe-ella-hye-essa-heych, abullish.

My uncle thinks for a moment then like the Holy Spirit striking the twelve apostles in that room after the Last Supper announces: “OH! YOU MEAN ‘ABOLISH!”
“DATSA WHAT I SAID! Abullish!”

Saturday, April 23, 2016


The attorney tells the accused, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
“What’s the bad news?” asks the accused.
“The bad news is, your blood 
is all over the crime scene, and the DNA tests prove you did it.”
“What’s the good news?”
“Your cholesterol is 130.”

This is a story of love, and it happened in July of 1971 to me.
It started when my new bride and I arrived home from our honeymoon, stopping at England, France, and Italy. We arrived at JFK on Saturday and Sunday we spent together alone. The menu that Sunday was Pot Roast, carrots, and mashed potatoes, what could be better?
On that Monday, we were spending our first day away from each other in our new marriage.
The new Mrs. was home and I was at work, my first day back at the office as a young designer. At one point I called home and asked: “What’s for dinner tonight?” “Something Italian!” she cooed. AH! Sto mangiando stasera l'italiano! (I’m eating Italian tonight!)
I arrive home from work, the long day of work and the Long Island Rail Road plus the subway left me hungry. I am greeted at the door and I sit down to eat. There in front of me is a meat casserole, with red sauce over it. I’m anxious to eat, she cuts a slice and places it in my plate. I look at the dish and start to wonder what Italian cookbook she got this from?
“What’s the orange and white stuff in the middle of the slice?” I ask.
“Oh, that’s the leftover carrots and mashed potatoes!” Don’t laugh, it was delicious. After all these years she's still the best!

Thursday, April 21, 2016


There is a woman that I mentioned before, she lives in the rehab home with my daughter and is without legs. She is a quiet soul who is just a sweet woman and lives within herself. She will probably live a long time in this rehab home, a ward of the State maybe.

This woman has no family, no home and no friends, other than those who are rehabbing and will at some point depart from the rehab home once they are finished rehabbing.

She is free to wander the rehabs two stories or go out into the courtyard to gather some fresh air, yet she cannot go out into the public community to shop, visit or break the monotony of life in a wheelchair, with no legs.

I have invited her to eat lunch with me and my daughter, so she can have a little companionship as she eats alone in another room. It breaks my heart to see her shut off from the world and so I try to read to her every visit so that she has something to look forward to.

Her home was stolen away from her, her family has abandoned her and she is in great mental anguish, to go along with the great pain she suffers from her missing legs.

People come and go every day, I see them but they don’t see this poor woman, as they head toward their rehabbing relative or loved one. It is almost cruel. I started to ask her what her likes and dislikes are, what makes her happy, what will bring the sunshine to brighten her day.

But the biggest crime, the biggest unfairness is this: she is free to wander the builder, but is forever imprisoned in the building, a building without towers or outer walls, without barbed wire or guards! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Many years ago during my senior year of high school, the senior class received a new classmate. His name was Benny and came straight from the streets of Brooklyn with his “jitterbug” stories and nickname: The Buffer. He had close set eyes, and rather large proboscis, to go with a scarred face and tough reputation.

One day he decided to meet me and we learned all about each other. His parents were Italian/American, he was living with an uncle and aunt and his uncle owned a business that my dad’s company worked with.

Benny’s dad sent him to Long Island to get away from the streets of Brooklyn and gang wars, hoping to reform him to some kind of decency. Benny was a good hearted kid, had the latest car and talked street-wise with a heavy Brooklyn accent.

If Benny had a problem, it was that he was not a student, and how in Hell he made it to his senior year I am still figuring out. So Benny attached himself to me and I became his mentor, he needed academic help with such subjects as: Health, Gym, Shop and English, Social Studies and Math (Basic) and I some how got the call!

If he failed to graduate high school, his grandmother was going to disown him, as she threatened in Alto Italiano to make herself clear! “Joe, you gotta help me out here, you like to eat, I’ll buy you lunch everyday, whatever you like, but I can’t fail high school man, my father will kill me, my mother will get hysterical and I loose a nice piece of change when my grandmother goes.”

For ten months everyday after school, Benny would sit with me and do his homework and we would work on what he couldn’t get, and everyday at lunch time he would buy me lunch at Ricky’s Hamburger stand.

Finally, the day came for the posting for who would graduate! All the students were nervous except for the exceptional ones, and Benny was dreading the news.

“Joe, you gotta look at that list for me!”
“Sorry Benny, but this is far as I can take you, you have to look for yourself.

He goes up to the bulletin board, sees a piece of paper with the words:” Senior Graduates” Listing, and it’s a list of students, and as he scans it he doesn’t see his name!
Dejected he walks away and I feel very bad, not for anything but with all the work I did with him, you’d think he’d read the paper correctly! It was a list of seniors who needed to turn in a paper or assignment to graduate! As I looked at the bulletin board, there was the list he needed to see, the one with his name on it.

And so the night of graduation, we get our diplomas and are standing with our relatives. Benny is standing with his parents and grandmother who happens to be about 4’ 1” tall. We are all feeling awkward at the sight of Benny in his cap and gown when grandma turns to her grandson Benny and says: “You sonomabitcha, YOU GRADUATE!!!”

I never saw Benny again after the moment.

Monday, April 11, 2016


I was payback time, many years ago.

Although Dad was the model for all my good habits, or fun ones anyway, he occasionally slipped and I would pick up on it! Fongoola was not the only misnomer I learned from him. When Dad drove, he had another word that he directed at fellow drivers who: drove too slow, erratically, too fast, tailgated and or other high crimes on the highways and byways of America.

“SON-OF-A-BITCH! Did you see that?” “That SON-OF-A-BITCH just cut me off!” It was the standard he set for driver’s education, it worked because there was no road rage per se, just an exclamation of deep appreciation for human mistakes.

Once I had children, sitting in car seats behind me, I started to incorporate the ‘expression of appreciation’ in my vehicular vocabulary: “SON-OF-A-BITCH! He cut me off” or “SON-OF-A-BITCH! He nearly hit me!” Of course I intoned other vernacular to supplement my language but will not use it here. Mostly about the driver’s body part being prominent. I was oblivious of small children in the car! Shame on me!

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, I was feeling chipper as I loaded my two little children into their car seats for the customary trip to church, where my wife hoped and prayed to turn my language around on the road and off. She was going where Mom trod and never succeeded.

Into church we go, sit and about 20 minutes into things, the priest up on the pulpit leaving me in a trance, a beautiful breeze humming by and the promise of a great day ahead, my son decided to take up where Grandpa and daddy left off.

I’m holding him and he suddenly decided to say for the first time, his first curse word, and where? Why in a church, next to his mother no less.


My wife looks at me, a cold shiver runs over my body as I look at the seriousness of her eyes in disbelief and the message that infers: “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE!”

A little kid in front of us hears it and giggles. This is not good for me.

“Bitch” he says again, the kid enjoying the side sermon my little kid is employing.

Mamma looks at me again, steam was coming from her ears, nose and daggers from her eyes! If only I could have a heart attack at that moment, then she might, and I say ‘might’ feel sorry for me, but then again the look in her eyes suggested otherwise.

Now my kid is smiling, he’s making some kid laugh with my bad usage of the Kings English.

“BITCH!” Once again, my wife grabs my daughter and I take Big Mouth. She doesn’t say a word, complete silence as we put the kids in the car seats leaving in the middle of Mass. I’m not afraid of Jesus as much as I am Mamma, oh, I’m gonna get it!

I get in the car and don’t dare look at her, head straight ahead, this will be the most quiet and curse free drive I have ever been associated with, that is until the $#!+ hits the fan!

“Now you see what you’ve done? You taught this child how to swear, IN CHURCH NO LESS! How many times have I told you to watch your language around the kids? Why do you think I go to my mother’s when you work around the house, how many times have I reminded you to watch what you say in front of the kids in the car? Why is it I take the kids with me on Sunday afternoons shopping when you watch the Jets?”

I guess she really didn’t do a good job raising me, just like Mom didn’t.