Don Rosario’s Parte Femminile

Here’s one from the distant past, but the Don is yet remembered:

Church04600
Ave Maria, Ave Maria, Now push Don Bolini from his bed.

 

11 di agosto 2021

Salutos Don Bolini,

Con questa nota comes sad news to your doorstep.  Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, yesterday morning went away with the angels.  They sang several verses of Ave Maria before they pushed him from his deathbed and taught him how to fly.  You will be content to know that Rosario’s last words were meant for you.  La lettera, he groaned.  Send la lettera to my son Bolini.  I want the boy to know I was a sensitive man who endured life’s many difficulties and remained unafraid of his parte femminile.

Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, spent much breath and spirit on delivering this final message.  I think he died a little sooner as a result of all this effort, and this remains a matter of pride for those of us who knew him well.  As he spoke these words of love for you he pointed a crooked finger toward his table beside the bed, and then he was gone with the flutter of wings.

I sobbed for a few quiet moments, out of respect for the man who made my career in law enforcement when everyone else had given up on me as just another dyslexic Sicilian with a good wardrobe and the right accent.  Then I wiped away the tears and went for the lettera.  The words were still wet where Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, god rest his soul, had just seconds before scratched out the closing paragrafo and signed it all in blood.

May the good lord forgive me my sins, Don Bolini, and may you pardon me as well for my indiscretion, but I could not resist the temptation to read the lettera before I slipped it into its envelope, sealed it with your good father’s wax and gave it to Schiavo with instructions to ride day and night till he reached your gate.

The lettera is an unhappy memory, Don Bolini, but before I read the opening line I knew what my old friend would tell you.  I knew because I was there with him inside that green church basement on Tuesday nights.  If you ask me, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia endured too much for his desire to open his heart to protestants.  Had he listened to my advice and instead joined the group therapy sessions at Santa Rosa’s on Wednesday nights he might sooner have settled matters between himself and Luigi.

But I move ahead too quickly.  You must read the lettera for yourself.  I trust that you will understand your dear father’s parte femminile much better once you’ve read his story, and that his revelation of a sensitive nature will make you all the more a strong successor to his title.

All stories of love and death must own their tragic sides, and this one is no different.  Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, god rest his soul, makes mention of a further note to conclude the tale he describes in questa lettera.  But he died too soon, and I think the angels now depend on me to finish what my good friend began.  Visit me soon, Don Bolini.  You might even ride in Schiavo’s sidecar on his return voyage.  Your father’s lettera is clipped to this one, so please turn the page.

I await you con affeto e rispetto.

Giovanni Ricci,

Assistant to Don Rosario,

Capo della nostra famiglia

**************

grandPopFam1000
È tutto in famiglia.

10 di agosto 2021

Figlio mio,

You must know more than the side of me that for so many years commanded rispetto from women and soldiers.  I must tell you of mis partes femminiles, that you might rule with tenderness as well as strength.  I haven’t much time left for writing; even now I hear the soft feather beat behind the last verses of Ave Maria.  I’m hoping for at least a few more days, but who can tell?

For several tragic months, long ago now, I was the helpless victim of Luigi’s lack of impulse control.  At the time I tried emphatically to convince Luigi to attend the Tuesday-night functions of our local support group (we gathered inside a green-fluorescent church basement blessed with presbyterian shadows and catholic holy water, there to moan our twelve-step recipes for heaven’s ravioli and to hum sweet repetitions of our manicotti mantras).

Luigi resisted all my pleas for his cooperation.  He insisted that he needed no outside support and that wooden folding chairs could do him permanent brain damage.  Of course, I lost my temper with the povercito mio, and a softly stubborn Luigi retreated ever farther from my voice the more I begged, slinking back and inward as if to entertain the testicular fascinations of a wounded turtle addicted to prosac.  For six months he made himself a hermit and I suffered all the more for his clinical depression.

These were among the darkest days of my existence.  No amount of coaxing, crying or commanding could shake Luigi from his determination to shrivel up and die.  I begged, and eventually I prayed — oh yes, even I must resort to prayer in desperate times — for Luigi’s return to an active life.  I whispered Hallmark verses and quoted Playboy platitudes.  I lipsang purple dance tunes and yodelled diaper lullabies.  I chanted Gregorian renditions of Ms. Cameron’s latest pieties.

Nothing worked and I was a mess.  Even now, at this honest and nervous moment, I find that tickling this phantom of a lost time prevents me from the further telling.  I am choked and tearful and I can’t go on.  Not for a while at least.  No matter how close may come the angels.

I’ll walk away from this lettera and shiver back to my bed.  I’ll throw myself onto my flowery down comforter, clutch my lace-edged pillow and weep (you must never be afraid to weep, Bolini).  If none of this works to bring me back toward sanity, then I’ll give myself a makeover, shave my face and treat my hair to another coat of Shirley’s Copper Blush.

Soon enough I’m sure that I’ll recover from this traumatic retrogression, and then perhaps I’ll relate to you the final chapter, the one I like to call “Epilogue, Luigi Comes Home.”

Maybe later, figlio mio.  For now lonely lacrimas cloud my eyes and the words begin to blur.  Oh god, life can be so sad and femminile!

Don Rosario,

Capo della nostra famiglia

Bald Man In A Barber Shop

barbershop
Just Trim A Little Off The Sides

On a bright yellow morning in December of 1963 God taught me the reason a bald man needs a haircut, the fact that Jackie Kennedy didn’t care who shot her husband, and that I was supposed to hate niggers because I looked like one.

I was sitting inside The Buzzcut Emporium — across the parking lot from Snoozie’s Trattoria — smelling white powder puffing off the soft brush with a blond wood handle that Jimmie the barber was waving against the neck of the tall, skinny, bald man who sat in the swivel chair.

I didn’t like the way Jimmie made loud speeches while holding a straight razor close to the wiry man’s throat; and the bald man sneered and blew me a kiss. So I slumped, slouched and curled my body until I became invisible. Then I slid what was left of me back against the wall, and I leafed through a copy of Life Magazine.

I stared at the Abe Zapruder colored photos of JKF’s assassination. I stopped breathing when I reached the frame where his wife Jackie held her man still and wide open to the shot that turned one side of the president’s head into red mist.

“She was sad, but she was free,” said God. “The secret service man who climbed onto the limousine’s back bumper practiced his lines and moves ahead of time.”

I considered asking God a question about Calvin’s concept of Predestination, but the barber’s voice distracted me.

“You want I should blend the sides with the fuzz around your ears. That right?” said Jimmie.

“Yeah, that and give it a proper washing, maybe even lighten it up some for the summer months,” said the bald man. Then he pulled what at first looked like a squirmy guinea pig from the pocket of his permanent-press slacks and handed the creature to Jimmie.

Turns out the pig was his hair.

Pig, wig, what the fuck, I thought. This guy’s an independent thinker like me, or he’s a nut case like me; and in either event Johnnie Rebello was right to recommend that I write my next story about whatever might happen here on a Saturday morning.

I rubbed my hand through the mess of tight curls that sat on top of my brain, and I listened to the bell above the doorjamb jingle as a cop walked inside and approached Jimmie. That tinkling bell, I realized, appeared in far too many of the stories I wrote not to hold some mysterious significance inside my psyche. Something to do with arrival and departure.

The cop wore a hat. The kind the bread man wore in the early 1950s when I was too young by a slip to go to school. I think I was in love with the bread man. It was all about the way he smelled. Sweet and hopeful as lemon sunlight shining on baby-green grass.

The fact that the bread man’s visits interrupted the beatings my mother gave me for being a weird child who was born inside her gut and could get back inside her head anytime he wanted to go there served to deepen my affection for him.

He would knock on the door, and my mother would drop her weapon, quick stop screaming, and growl at me to suck up my tears. Then she’d start singing and smiling like a television housewife who smelled like lavender perfume even after lusty sex.

I was only four or five years old at the time, but my daily travels inside my mother’s mind led me to understand — in the vague but focused way that babies comprehend the complicated aspects of communication — the connection between the beatings and her intense sense of physical frustration. A few years later, when I learned how to make myself come, I realized what she’d been missing, and how the bread man’s visits fit into the picture.

“Come on in,” she’d say when she opened the door.

He was tall and handsome, and his fingernails were clean.

My dad was short and nondescript, and his hands were always dirty from working hard-labor jobs on the railroad. Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Line. Steam locomotives left over from World War II, dedicated to lugging tourists from Philadelphia to South Jersey and back again.

The bread man sported a fresh-pressed brown uniform and a snappy cap with a shiny black brim.

My dad wore grease-stained overalls and a pinstriped canvas hat that surrendered to his sweat.

The bread man filled the air with the aroma of sugar frosting and jelly doughnuts.

Dad stank of kerosene and coal tar.

And the cop carried no scent at all.

“Gotta stack of Wanted Dead or Alive posters here,” he said. His voice squealed past the fine hairs inside his nostrils and came out sounding like a sax gone sour. “Mind if I tape one to your window?”

“You know me, Bernie. Semper a Member of the Chamber. Here, I’ll hang one on the mirror, too. Who you lookin’ for this time?”

“Thug named Harry Felton. Guy wrote a book a few years back, then made himself drunk forever when no one but old ladies wanted to read the damned thing. Couple of months ago, he snorted down the wrong kind of cocktail and totaled a Packard automobile. Almost killed his own fat ass, and crippled his queer passenger, then escaped the hospital with the help of his agent just after we pressed him with a DWI. We suspect he went looking for an old dame named Gloria Lakeland. Seems like he had a score to settle with her.”

“Lakeland from down the road in Railsford? Did he find her?” said Jimmie.

“Yep, that’s the broad. She showed up yesterday lying in her own bed, naked, embarrassed and two days beyond dead. Her neighbors smelled her remains and called us. A note, written in red lipstick, was tacked to the headboard. Just two words: Epilogue Forthcoming. I’m not sure if I’m saying that right.”

“What’s this world coming to, Bernie?”

“I can’t answer that one. That kind of language is too twisted and high-falutin for me to want to understand.”

The cop left, and the bell tinkled.

“You’re next, kid,” said Jimmie. At first I didn’t know he was talking to me. I was too busy trying to stay invisible, and thinking about how much I hated Jackie Kennedy, to pay careful attention to the present moment.

And as far as present moments go, even back then I realized that time was a desperate concept we invented so we wouldn’t feel too dizzy and start to fall down. Being physically and emotionally tortured makes some children wither inside and turns other ones into hyper-sensitive psychics. I was a damned smart kid. Intelligence was the only thing I knew for certain that I owned, although intelligence disappointed itself by telling me that I could never be the best or the most.

“What’s wrong? Those big ears of yours not working today?” The tall bald man, who wasn’t exactly bald anymore, punched me on my shoulder and pointed to Jimmie. “Man’s talking to you, you bookworm faggot shrimp,” he said.

His trimmed and copper-toned guinea pig was sitting on top of his head. It slipped a little bit to the left as he bent down toward me. But his thin-lipped mouth tilted off to the right side of the universe, so on balance I made sense of the view.

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “I like your haircut.” I kept my facial muscles tight when I spoke, so as to be sure that my expression added nothing to my words.

Of course, I was being a wise-ass motherfucker by saying I admired his orange pig wig, but I’d learned from my mother’s beatings, and from the tough acting kids at school who spat on me and had wax inside their flat shiny ears, that given the choice between a subtly delivered wise-ass compliment and none at all, the insecure among us would always ignore the sarcasm and accept the compliment as a gift.

The tall, skinny man twitched his head from left to right, the way a spastic entertains an uncontrollable tic. He pushed his polyester shirt down deep into his permanent-press slacks, scratched his balls while he was down there, smelled the fingers he pulled out and turned toward the Buzzcut Emporium’s door.

And by force of habit I listened to the doorjamb bell tinkle.

“Climb aboard, kid. Mind if I call you kid?” said Jimmie the barber. He placed a padded board across the swivel chair’s arms. I shrugged my shoulders in answer to his question, wiggled my ass into position, and wished I wasn’t short like my dad.

“Please. Can you give me a flat top? Leave it longer right up front?” I said.

“Flat tops are for real hair, not for what God gave you. You got nigger’s wool. Only one way I can try to fix it,” he said. Then he grabbed the electric razor and I listened to it hum like an attacking squadron of green-head houseflies.

“My dad told me I don’t have to get a buzz cut this time.” I heard the pleading whine inside my voice and hated myself for begging this bastard.

“Your dad’s the little guy who works the switch house down the way, isn’t he?”

“He works hard,” I said.

“Not hard enough at controlling his wife. But look, kid, you don’t want to go through this life looking like a woolly headed licorice baby, so just let me do my job. The only reason I took you in here was because Johnnie called me from over at the Trattoria and said you had potential in spite of your looks.”

“You know Johnnie Rebello?” I said.

“Like a man knows his brother, cause that’s what we are. I’m Jimmie Rebello, but most guys call me Jimmie The Razor. You’re still a young punk, though, so just keep calling me sir.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Rebello,” I said as I watched my nigger’s wool fall to the black-and-white tile floor.

“Johnnie says you’re an author. That the way it is?”

“I write stories, but so far no one wants to publish them.”

“Well, what do you write about, kid?”

“Melancholy dead guys who live in Happyland. About them and about everything else.”

I thought about how if I ever wrote this barber shop into a story I’d have to change all the characters’ names, because no one would believe that they all ended with the same sound. Johnnie, Jimmie, Bernie, Harry. Then again, I thought, life was odd and so were my stories, so maybe I’d leave well enough alone.

“That might be your problem, kid. Trust me on this. Dead guys can be melancholy, but not here in Happyland.”

“Your brother, Mr. Johnnie, told me the same thing.”

“Must have heard it from me. We talk a lot. On the telephone, that is. I can’t convince him he should leave his favorite corner booth, walk across the parking lot and visit me here. He tells me that exercise is for fools who think they’ll live forever. Sometimes I think he’s got a point.”

“Mr. Johnnie is a wise man.”

“So I eat free of charge at the Trattoria once a month, and in return I give him a haircut to match his restaurant’s decor.”

“Like I said, Mr. Johnnie is a –”

“Quit while you’re ahead, kid. I don’t need you to praise my brother.” Jimmie swung me around in the chair. “You see the mug hanging on my mirror over there? Guy’s name is Harry Felton. He’s an author, too. Old, drunk and on the run from the law. He let a temporary need for love ruin his life. Happens to all you brooding artist types. I’d be careful if I was you.”

I stared at Harry Felton’s photograph, and then at my own reflection in the mirror. Harry had nigger’s wool, too. Gray to my brown, but his curls were just as tight. True enough, he looked lonely and just about dead. But he held his head high and winked at me.

I climbed down off the board and out of the swivel chair. I pulled two quarters out my pants pocket and handed them to Jimmie.

“Glad I met you, Mr. Rebello, sir” I said. “But I don’t need love. I need success. And the next time I want a haircut, I’ll look for Harry Felton’s barber.”

I remember leaving the Buzzcut Emporium, but I can’t be sure that the doorjamb bell tinkled on my way out.

John, You’re . . . Right Here

Dear John,

Yesterday, your wife Melinda told me that we lost you. Those were her own words: “We lost John at 3:20 pm,” she said.

Inwardly, I fumbled as I searched for some sense of equilibrium, for some sense of any kind, however mysterious, mystical, religious or just plain reasonable.

But of course, such deep loss owns no sense of reason, no purpose recognizable to those of us who are yet to be lost.

Relief was apparent in your wife’s voice as she spoke. As I squinted my eyes against no one in the room with me, although perhaps against the urge to cry out loud, I let her think that I was listening to her. I am a good, careful listener to those friends who know me, in spite of my habitual verbosity; but my silence on the line had nothing to do with listening, and everything to do with survival and with tenderness.

Yes, I heard her communion with relief, and for her release from all the pain that you and she shared over the course of many years I felt glad. Glad that finally we lost you.

I understood long ago, however, that even should I try to lose you, brother John, I could never succeed in so shielding myself from the heartbreaking pain. You are not lost, John. I cannot believe in religion — and never in the wistful myth of an afterlife beyond oblivion — but so too can I never escape contact with my soul. You are here today, touching me where it hurts the most.

Last night I spoke with brother Chris. In many ways he is the most vulnerable of the three of us who remain still attached to this planet. He, as always, is the first and the last to weep to those heavens that he imagines exist. Chris wanted to ask me questions, questions he’d never before put to me about my reflections and weak conclusions regarding our childhood familiarity with ugliness and with the hand-holding bond that such ugliness creates without intention. We talked into the deepest part of night, and I believe I helped him for at least one bitter slice of time.

After our telephone conversation, I braced myself with the knowledge that where brother Christopher is warm, I am a cold-hearted man. So it is, and there remains no use in denying the obvious.

A few hours before speaking with Chris, our brother Wayne had called me. “I called to ask if you’re all right,” he said.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I lied.

“Just want you to know that if you need to talk, I’m here,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said; and then I changed the subject fast.

This morning I awoke inside what is to an old man an unfamiliar frame of mind. Much like the young man who awakens to realize and remember that yes, he actually did it. He made love with a woman and survived.

I tried out all the war-torn, tired phrases. John is lost. John passed away. John passed on. John left us. John is in a better . . . no, that one will not work for me.

John is dead.

John, you’re dead.

John, I knew you were about to die. I thought I felt ready for the final news broadcast, but why then do I want to cry? Where is my cold heart when I need her most?

John, dear brother, where have you gone? You were younger than I. Not fair, my friend. Life isn’t meant to be fair, isn’t meant to be anything at all; I understand all of this, but please, I need some sense of fairness now, some sense of right and wrong.

In order to calm myself down, I moved toward memories, and not just the good ones. I know, I’m supposed this moment to remember only the sweetest times; but down the road toward sweetness lies more tears.

So I tried my best to recount the unjust sins each of us committed against the other, the resentments, the envy, the competition between two superior intellects who by nature of their superiority understood too well their flaws.

Yet, behind this narrative of betrayals, attacks and raging vanity, plays an insistent melody made of harmonies that only you and I could have composed.

My denials, coupled with a search for my cold heart, are of no use this morning.

John, my gentle brother, you are dead; and yes, cliche owns its proper place, because a part of me died with you, friend.

You are gone, you passed on, you left us, you left me, you son-of-a-mother-I-never-managed-to-love.

But, John you are not lost. John, you are right here inside of me.

I love you, John.

These photographs remind me of our childhood years; Wayne was yet to be born:

John, Chris, Anthony
John, Chris, Anthony
Anthony, John, Mother, Chris
Chris, Anthony, John
Anthony, Chris, John