Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 1

Il Agita di Amore

Chapter One

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain …”

It was supposed to have been a nice, normal flight home from Las Vegas; we didn’t even have to switch planes or get laid over anywhere. So why the heck do these things always seem to happen to me? I swear, you’d think fate would cut me a break every once in a while.

“Way to go Joey. You jinxed us … again.”

“Kiss my left big toe Lucia. We would have already been home if you and the hungover Wonder Boy hadn’t made us miss our flight last night,” I said right back at the brassy red head I had called my best friend ever since middle school. Unfortunately I wasn’t sure she was still my best friend, not since she had discovered the double D’s - that had embarrassed the heck out of her when they suddenly popped up before we hit highschool - brought her an inordinate amount of admiration once we entered college.

The only reason I am even on this trip is because Lucia’s cousin Tony basically paid me to be her babysitter for the week. “I’ll pay you,” he’d said. “I’ll throw in some show tickets and some play money too; even cab fare for when she gets too drunk to walk back to the hotel. Just do what you can to keep Loopy Lucy from being a mamaluke and turning into a skid mark on The Strip. OK?”

“What about Bennie?” I asked with a smile, giving in despite my best intentions to keep my distance. I don’t know why I bothered, I already knew what his answer would be.

“Him you can lose. Preferably down an open manhole cover or to some guy named Scarface Malone.”

I laughed telling him, “Geez you love being a stereotype.” At his smile I told him more seriously, “You know the score Tony. If you keep interfering you’re only going to make her hang onto him tighter. If you would just leave it alone they’d probably break up and stay that way.”

“I don’t care what they do but they are driving my aunt and uncle crazy with this on again off again crap. Aunt Belinda is worried she is going to get pregnant before a wedding and you don’t need to hear what Uncle Nicky wants done to him. If they would just mettersi insieme and set a date he might calm down but they both want to fool around too much.” I shook my head knowing that my imagination was good enough since Nicky Moretti’s opinion of Bennie was no secret to anyone within a five-mile block of their house.

“It’s not Bennie so much as Lucia and you and I both know it. So does her dad, he just won’t admit it.”

Tony shook his head and I refused to argue about it again. Tony was, according to everyone in the neighborhood, a good guy even if he was a donnaiolo. Even my dad liked him – respected him even – which said a lot in my opinion. In fact, it was only the fact that my dad liked him that helped me to warm up to the guy in the first place. He used to scare me spitless with piercing black eyes, his Armani suits, and Bacco Bucci loafers. He looked very … Italian. But his name always gave me the giggles when his aunt said it all out when she got ticked off at him. Anthony Vencenzo Tommaso Guilio … MacGregor. That’s right, “MacGregor.” Tony is an honest to goodness Irish-Italian who was born and lived in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn before his parents were killed and he moved in with Lucia’s family.

My heritage is the opposite. I’m Italian-Irish and I didn’t even think about living in the state of New York – honestly didn’t think about the state of New York much at all – until my dad moved us there right as I started middle school. Before that we lived in places like Mobile, AL; Orofino, ID; Dover, TN; and Galveston, TX. My dad is an actuary … was an actuary; he had to retire last year after his second heart attack. Basically it was stress-related. Dad became an actuary because that’s what his father and both of his grandfathers had been but he hated it … hence the stress that led to the high blood pressure that led to the heart attacks. Ironic all things considered.

An actuary assesses risk and statistically speaking Dad was perfect for his job … calm, objective, and could play numbers the way Rachmaninoff could play piano keys. Statistics however always seem to have anomalies … and that describes my family to a tee.

My dad looks every bit as Italian as Tony but sounds like Andy Griffith. In fact the only thing Italian about Dad besides his looks is our surname and ethnic background. Dad’s first name isn’t even Italian. His mom named him Kincaid Balducci; Kinkaid was my grandmother’s maiden name. My grandfather … Dad’s dad … was run over by a train before Dad was born (another statistically anomaly). My grandmother’s in laws decided somehow she was at fault for the death of their only son despite the fact that it was his own father that sent him out to do an on-sight risk assessment; they cut her off. See Dad, according to Gran’s OB/gyn was supposed to have been a girl. Imagine the surprise when she turned out to be a he when he popped out two months to the day after the train accident. Then the inlaws tried to get custody of him. Gran basically gave them the Italian salute, cut them off, and left town to become a respected widow working as a secretary at an insurance company.

At the insurance company is where Gran met the man that would eventually become Dad’s step father. It was his fifth marriage and statistically it shouldn’t have worked … but it did; another statistical anomaly. Mostly I think it worked because Gran let Papa Ralph wear the pants in the family so long as she managed the household finances. Papa Ralph brought in good money – he was an amazing salesperson – but he was also good at spending it, and even better at giving it away to people that gave him a sob story. The sob story didn’t even have to be good, just good enough to get Papa Ralph to open his wallet. I miss Gran and Papa Ralph like crazy. Papa Ralph went like Elvis on his throne the day after getting a clean bill of health from his doctor and two months later Gran fell asleep in church and was singing with the Heavenly choir before the collection plate was passed.

Mom’s family is just as bad as Dad’s. Mom’s mother was a Hatfield and her Dad was descended from the McCoys. The family reunions I remember from my childhood were interesting I’ll say that much. One of the reasons why Dad took a job that moved us around so much was to avoid raising me and my two little brothers around all of the zaniness of our extended family. But everywhere we moved, within a few weeks someone would show up on our doorstep. An aunt here, a cousin there … our front door might as well as have been hung in the middle and revolved. Dad would eventually get fed up and simply move us again in order to escape. Mom would fuss but not much.

Eventually however Mom put her foot down and begged Dad to light some place where she could live long enough to actually get all of the boxes unpacked they’d been hauling around with them for so many years. Dad gave it a lot of thought then got the bright idea to pick a place as far from them all as he could … New York … and into a house conspicuously small and lacking in any kind of guest space.

Mom’s family stayed away because they imagined New York City was some type of modern day Babylon and Gran and her side of the family stayed away because Dad moved us into a small Italian neighborhood. Gran had never gotten over the insult from her first family and had been known, even years later, to sneer at the canned spaghetti and boxed pasta when she went to the grocery store. You could not have gotten her to step a toe anywhere near Little Italy even if the hounds of hell had been after her and chasing her that direction.

Yeah, I know it was an extreme reaction. No worse however than the day she found out our school served spaghetti and raviolis on occasion as part of the lunch program and she wrote a whole editorial to the local newspaper on how it was a crying shame that American schools weren’t serving American food anymore.

My first few weeks in our new home were miserable ones. I was worse than a fish out of water. All the kids in my new school heard my accent and automatically assumed I was just “some dumb, inbred cracker with only half a brain.” Then I got invited to our neighbor’s birthday party. I could tell it wasn’t her idea and was just standing around biding my time until I could escape when the school bully shows up.

I’d already had a couple of run ins with Donny Bonmarito but since he was the son of a local spacone with connections he pretty much could do what he liked and none of the adults would do nothing about him. That day he went too far and actually busted the lip of another neighborhood girl that I’d seen around. Everyone just stood around shocked, even the grownups that should have been all over the situation. Me, that was all I was gonna put up with because if Donny could get away with hitting the daughter of a respected man in the neighborhood he’d be all over me next like white on rice.

The pig was standing there smirking when I walked up and said, “Hey Donny, boys don’t hit girls.” Crack! I had grabbed the spalding the boys had been using to play stickball with and swung it mean and hard right between his legs. Donny let out a soprano squeal and keeled over right there. There was lots of noise about what had happened and even my Dad got a little worried for a day or two but luckily for me and the rest of us Donny’s ol’ man got sent upstate the next week and him and his mom moved to Atlantic City.

The real difference that was made was that the day after the party the parents of the girl that Donny had slapped showed up on our stoop in front of God and everyone and welcomed my family to the neighborhood. The Moretti’s are actually cool people and we had more in common with them than we could have ever have guessed. Both my dad and Mr. Moretti worked for the same insurance company, just different divisions … my dad as an actuary and Mr. Moretti as a fund manager.

My mom and Mrs. Moretti were both stay-at-home mothers and became best friends. They started and managed a neighbor garden, traded “secret” family recipes, and commiserated on the difficulties of raising twin hellions. Yep, another anomaly. My two little brothers are blue-eyed, strawberry blonde heart throbs now in their senior year at the local highschool. Lucia’s two little sistersare dyed in the wool blue-eyed brunettes a year younger than my brothers and if possible even wilder. I think the fondest desire of those two women is to see the twins marry each other. I shudder at the idea thinking what kind of diabolical menaces their offspring would be.

In my family I inherited my looks from Dad’s side of the family – brunette locks so dark in the right light it sometimes had blue highlights – except instead of his blue eyes mine were just plain brown. Lucia has these gorgeous green eyes I’ve always been envious of but her hair color … let me tell you ... she’s a natural blonde but in the last four years she’s managed to experiment with every hair color known to man and a few that wouldn’t look out of place at a manga character convention. I think the strangest was when she dyed her hair emerald to match her eyes. Every nerd on campus was after her, especially when she wore the get up that made her look like an Orion slave girl from Star Trek.

All in all New York isn’t such a bad place but the one thing I hate is the snow. You might be able to take the girl out of the South but you can’t take the South out of the girl. That’s why when it came time to go to college I worked my backside off and got a scholarship to some place nice and warm year round. USF is in Tampa, Florida and though occasionally known as the university of sun and fun, is no where near the party school that UF is which is where Lucia goes to school … or should I say went. She flunked out at the end of the last semester and the Las Vegas trip was her last hurrah before she has to face the music at home and tell her parents.

I was really concerned for her when I found out. Her dad can be tough and hadn’t wanted her to go away so far for school to begin with claiming she wasn’t ready and wouldn’t buckle down without him there to keep an eye on her. To put an exclamation point on it he told her that when she moved out she better get a good degree or a good job because she wouldn’t be moving back home regardless. She did OK the first two years but then she met Bennie, and the classes got a lot harder, she just didn’t feel like struggling or juggling to make it work anymore.

“Lucia … geez. You remember what your dad said. Where will you live? How will you live? You’ll have to start paying back those school loans now too.”

Flipping her hair nonchalantly she said, “Don’t be such a drama queen Joey. I’ll talk Pop around.”

“And if you can’t?” I asked considerably more worried than she obviously was.

“Then I’ll tell Bennie I’m pregnant and he’ll have to marry me.”

Shocked and appalled I said, “You’ll get pregnant? That’s your back up plan?!”

“Don’t be an allocco. Do you think I’m stupid or what? I said I’ll tell him I’m pregnant.”

That little piece of conversation illustrated, as nothing else had, how different we had become. Three years at college and I’m walking away with my bachelor in Finance. My spot in the graduate program is waiting on me when the fall semester starts and so is a graduate assistantship that will pay for nine of the twelve semester hours I have to take each semester. And if I’m not at school I’m at work to pay for what my scholarships don’t, including my room and board; no time to play when you are supporting yourself. And as far as guys go I can identify an anatomically correct doll but that's about it. I’m pretty sure the last real date I had was to the Homecoming Dance my senior year of highschool. I missed prom and just about everything else the rest of that year because of Dad’s first heart attack.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm not miserable or nothing. Mom and Dad helped me financially some my freshman year but medical bills, and now Dad’s early retirement, meant I had to get a brain and grow up fast. Besides, there’s the twins to think about. I guess it is a good thing they have decided to live at home and get their AA first since they really haven’t got a career path chosen. Mom and Dad need the help too since Dad can't do much lifting right now. Tony helped the boys get jobs in his firm’s mailroom on the weekends and they’ve been saving to pay for their books. Lucky for them they inherited Dad’s way with numbers and their test scores got them a sweet deal at the local community college. Tony has also been teaching them the in’s and out’s of investing. With their looks and their brains they should have it made once they’ve run off some of the wild oats they got in their systems.

Not that I’m jealous that they get the help and time to play when I didn't. I made my own choices and life has been pretty good to me too … except when it comes to mechanical things. The problem started showing up when I was very little and eventually became an inside family joke. My parents learned to avoid giving me certain types of gifts for my birthday or Christmas. Anything mechanical is susceptible to the vagaries of “Joey’s Jinx.” As an example, all of my reliable clocks are the wind up types because at least I have a hope of being able to fix them when they putz out on me; a digital clock just has to go in the trash and is a waste of money. The car I drive around Tampa is an old, junker '58 Chevy ... sucks for gas but I ain't gotta hook it up to no computer to figure out what's wrong with it either.

People outside the family don’t find it so funny; some won’t let me near their cars or things like that. I finally got my own apartment off campus rather than listen to my roommates complain about all their crap not working in the dorms. It got so bad and I got so tired of being embarrassed by it all growing up that I learned to fix everything I could. The rule in my family is you break it you fix it; as you guessed I spent a lot of time fixing things. As a matter of fact there’s not much I can’t take apart and put back together but a plane definitely falls into the “beyond me” category.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Due to unforeseen circumstances we are being directed to land at the nearest airport which in our case is in Atlanta. I’ll have more information for you as soon as I can.”

No comments:

Post a Comment