I awoke this morning at 4:30 AM. This is my common practice. Maja, my fluffy, feline companion, sits close to the foot of my bed about then and begins to shiver her neck, left to right in rapid fashion. This exercise sets her three metal tags to jangling. An insistent eight bars’ worth of jangling means, “Get up and feed me, Pop. I can’t open these dang cans on my own. You should know that by now.”
Now, I love my cat. Too many, although not all, muscled men say they can’t abide cats, and that they far prefer dogs. They further tell us that dogs communicate with men as friends-to-friends, whereas cats don’t give a hoot about anything but their food. I refuse to enter that conversational boxing ring, that figurative battle that can never be won. But I will say that I suspect that most men who drive dusty pickup trucks believe that a little cat sitting back in the bed would look far less than representative of their tough, tattooed owners, and even further less like friendly bodyguards. That statement might actually result in a sudden climb in hits to this website, as the battle rages on.
But to climb back onto the track my pretty cat travels. She’s black and sleek and oftentimes an accommodating, sweet puff of comfort. (e.g. She remains close by my side whenever I’m feeling lonesome or ill.) And, what the heck, I don’t mind rising from my bed at the early hour of 4:30 AM. After all, I’m retired. I can always return to bed, pull the straw blankets over my head and pretend to be a child for an hour or more.
But this day being Monday — I had to squint my eyes and look to my newfangled mobile phone to note the day and time — I decided to take a friend’s advice and don a positive attitude, and as my friend tells it, thereby ensuring that I make the most of my day. Now I admit that I know precious little about what folks mean when they say, “It’s all about attitude.”
Sure enough, if you’re standing on the wallflower sidelines of a barn dance, and gorgeous, sumptuous, delicious Becky Sue Patroni is standing nearby flicking her eyelashes in your direction. And your friend Bobby Joe Bataglia whispers that fact into your ear. And all you can say, over and over and maybe even over again, is “Aw shucks now, Bobby Joe. Becky? Everybody loves Becky Sue. She’d just tell me no, thank you, and then leave me all alone and sadder than before I asked.”
Well, even these days, when I admit to being the old Italian guy who lives down the street, and inside a house that smells like provolone and pepperoni. Even nowadays I know better than to hold such a negative attitude as I held that night at the barn dance. I sure lost a lot of Italian loving that way. I hear tell that Becky Sue Patroni moved from the marshlands of South Jersey, from where we all hail, and straight into the Big City of Trenton. Today, yes this very Monday, right smack dab in the center of that metropolis sits Patroni’s Pizzeria. Someday, maybe I’ll wander up that way and try a slice. Sure enough, I’ll have to ask Bobby Joe if he’d drive, because I never got my driver’s license. Don’t much need one unless you’re planning to move from The Land of Reeds and Mosquitoes.
Like I said at the head of this article. Here’s how best I thought I might don a positive attitude today. First, I cooked a hearty breakfast of scrambled egg whites, one slice of unbuttered toast, one scoop of tasteless yogurt plopped over one-half of a sliced banana. Not the same as your traditional South Jersey morning meal of eggs cooked in bacon grease poured from an old coffee can, fried potatoes, two fat links of fried sausage, and a side of buckwheat flapjacks. Certainly not that hearty, no. But, you see, I’m diabetic, so salt and anything carbohydrate — turns fast to sugar — is taboo. Oh woe is I! I should move to Sicily; my ancestors know how to eat and stay healthy longer.
When I was a little kid of seven or eight — a skinny, brainy runt of a human being, I remember a rainy day when Dad and I took a bus to visit my Grandmom’s house. There my Dad and I congregated with my Sicilian aunts and uncles. I sat in an overstuffed chair that smelled of the sweat of laborers. Across the room was a staircase that led to the house’s second floor. Hanging all along that staircase’s railing were pairs of my aunt’s under panties. Today I realize that back on that stormy day in 1957, an aunt couldn’t expect her lacy garments to dry outside. Gas dryers weren’t yet a reality, at least not for poor Sicilians.
I clenched my fists around the mahogany arms of the stuffed chair where I sat, and with my fingernails I scraped off years’ worth of wax applied one coat on top of another. I squeezed and scraped because my nerves buzzed and spit fire through my neck and upper back, then down through my arms and legs. My grand famiglia was busy shouting, and this upset my little boy emotional equilibrium. Uncle Johnnie, always a cigar stub between his lips, raised his voice higher than that of his wife, Rosa. Rosa wept and begged someone, anyone, to lend her a handkerchief. Johnnie, I decided, acted as if the more air you shot from your lungs when you spoke, the more righteous your statement must be.
In the meantime, my Uncle Antonio, one of my namesakes they told me, screeched his opinion of President Eisenhower at my Dad, Rosario. Antonio’s spit flew through the air so far and fast that it hit one of my aunt’s pair of panties. I didn’t think my aunt would notice, but I jumped up from my chair, held my tiny fists high, approached Uncle Antonio and challenged him to a fight. Of course, I was defending my Dad, but somewhere deep inside my underdeveloped mind I understood that by being around this famiglia sostenendo, I was becoming one of them.
All the boisterous voices became too much to bear for me. And it wasn’t just the volume that offended me and hurt my ears. Not at all, because at that young time in my life, I understood my famiglia’s native tongue. I knew who was insulting whom and in what manner. I didn’t yet know the word jugular. But I knew that their words felt like knife stabs between relatives. When my Dad asked me to come with him to visit Grandmom, I said yes, and I felt excited by the prospect. Even the most lonely child realizes that family should be a place where a positive attitude is shared by all.
I still cherish many of the memories I today associate with mi famiglia. I can even chuckle at the distant sound of their shouting matches. Letting off steam, Sicilian style.
But I don’t enjoy that kind of behavior today. Too much negativity became a part of me as I was a part of them. I did not become a screamer, but I did become — for a long while — a believer in the notion that every argument must be won. These days, I try to avoid seeing differences between me and another person. Instead, I try to see the things we hold in common. That’s how friendships are built.
As usual, I’ve veered off the straightaway and turned deep into a tangent. So, let’s return to my proposed positive attitude.
I told you that this morning I arose early and fed my baby cat. I hoped that after a 7:00 AM meeting, I’d be able to take a walk, and along the way snap some pictures. My hope was dashed, and so too was my pre-determined insistence on maintaining a positive attitude. The weather report informed me that rain would fall, beginning late this afternoon. For a while, I sulked. But this time not for long. Instead, I cleaned myself into a presentable state, picked up my camera, and walked through the gray clouds, and eventually through the beginning sprinkles. My goal: To find a and snap photos of beauty common in my neighborhood on a rainy day. I found plenty, and through the process of looking for and finding beauty, I acquired a more than positive attitude. I feel grateful to have had this day. Grateful for this rainy day.