Tuesday, April 10, 2018


It was a vacant lot that sat between to apartment buildings in the middle of the block. If you passed it, you wouldn't notice it much except to say it is vacant. But for such a sight, the sparsely growing grass somehow mixed with crushed stone, as a grayish cast was evident. But come Sunday afternoons in the late spring through the early fall: it was a hangout for old Italian men. The lot was an arena to contest personal skills, maybe brought over from the old country.

About 6 older men would appear, with rolled up sleeves and Di Napoli cigars perched in their mouth, mechanically tossing a small black ball toward a gaggle of larger balls that sat at the other end of the court. As they tossed each time with surgical-like precision, with mechanics like a major-league pitcher, a slew of Italian curse words help it along, where it would finally rest at or in some cases next to the aimed at balls. A chattering of laughter and Italian emoted from this small crowd, as they applauded or derided the attempt of the rivals roll.

These wonderful old gentlemen had carried their love for life from the dinner table to the Bocce court, a glass of wine in hand.

Sometimes if I was outside at Bocce time, I would lean against the chain-linked fence and try to figure out what the rules were, but at 7 or 8-years of age, I never understood it because my observations inevitably led to the cast of characters that brought the game alive. There were fedoras worn to block the sun, di Napoli cigars to perfume the masculinity of the sport, and the red wine to toast its poetry.

In my fascination one Sunday afternoon, after my macaroni dinner with meatballs, braggiola, salad, and roasted chicken, and a couple of slices of orange from the pitcher of grandpa's wine, I headed downstairs to that magical world of my childhood and once again came upon the Bocce game in progress. One old gentleman was in fine form, letting off a slew of words I did not understand, and one stood out the most. I decided to ask Dad what it meant, and so returned to the apartment and found Dad half asleep on the couch watching the Dodgers. Mom was in the kitchen cleaning up and so I announced loudly:

"Dad, what does %#*)^# mean in English?"
Dad jumped out of his skin and Mom came running with a wooden spoon yelling:

"Where did you learn to say that?" laying the wooden spoon across my butt suddenly. "DON'T YOU EVER USE THAT LANGUAGE IN THIS HOUSE (Whack) you understand me? And if you do I'll give you the rest!" (Whack)

To this day I have yet to use it, however, I do incorporate similar sentiments when addressing frustrations on my own. Bocce was a lesson learned from the wooden spoon, a lesson many a young Italian-American boy learned.

My parents did love me, and I have the wooden spoon BUMPS to prove it. However, I learned the distinction between Bocce and baci.


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