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

Lesson Learned Inside An Italian Restaurant

Italian Restaurant
Soft, red and dim on any autumn evening

Today I have a battle plan.

The plan is not to plan what I’m about to write here. Instead, I’ll let loose the wild — some might say mad — and disconnected thoughts that have been racing through my brain since last Wednesday evening.

I will not — no I shall not; there is a difference — edit and polish before I surrender this set of buzzing signals to whoever might choose to touch my copper wire with wet hands. That mixed and senseless metaphor serves as evidence that my battle has begun. I’ve mounted my steed. My helmet is pure Roman. My shield accentuates the taut muscles of my imagined chest.

Drool, all ye who dare to enter.

This plan, no plan of mine, I’m certain, runs counter to the current and popular notion that I should be working here to establish my “brand,” my “platform.” I told you not so long ago that I am not a brand. But as I tried these past few days to shoo this wasp who refuses to fly away and let me relax, I agreed to admit to myself — and to the small world I inhabit here — that I have no brand, unless owning too many years and too much gray hair constitutes the label on my can of minestrone.

And the thought of minestrone yanks me back to where I thought I might begin today. A not-so-distant memory. (Oh no! Oh yes! I’m just another old, nostalgic man who wants to talk about the good old days.)

Food. Nourishment. Friendship.

Last Wednesday evening I enjoyed close company and delightful conversation with a friend. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant. Whenever I discover an Italian restaurant whose food I haven’t yet tasted, I give it my Smell Test. If I were as formal as many of my tasteful friends and delicious enemies consider me to be, I’d have named it the Aroma Test. But to me aromas always entice, whereas smells own the power to remain neutral, or even to stink.

Anyway, maybe two years ago, I gave this particular Italian restaurant my Smell Test. I walked just far enough inside the main dining room to meet another pretty hostess and ask to see a menu.

My snooty snort test has nothing to do with the menu, mind you, but I cannot — not without embarrassing myself — tell my greeter that I came in just to sniff the place.

So I breathed in deep, and was glad to lose my mind again as it traveled backward in time, back to Mother’s cooking, or back to the heart of South Philly (where I gulped down many aphrodisiac lunches and gained not an ounce when I was young and often featured at parties as The World’s Greatest Dancer).

Therefore, thereby and without question, I knew I’d like the food my friend and I ate at this establishment last week. And I love my friend, so I also knew that she would complement the cuisine.

And if you accept my invitation to read this, gorgeous lady who so entertained me, please handle Anthony with care. I lie when I write, it’s true, but only about myself, and never about you.

This restaurant glows soft, red and dim on any autumn evening. The chatter of strange neighbors is well-dressed, polite and hushed. A room inside of which a man who would like to be a European of the 1920s can hang out with the local Hoity Toits Who Favor Candled Crystal Chandeliers to Plebeian Incandescent Light Bulbs.

I’ve always preferred dark restaurants to the open, airy, California kind. When I was young, this preference was born from that sinkhole we name a lack of self-confidence. Now that I’m old, I just enjoy believing that the sags and wrinkles that invade my face are softened by the misty light. Picture Wisdom At Rest. An oh-so-gentle, understanding, velvet melt inside my tired eyes.

My friend and I spoke. That is to say, we talked. Truth is that I led with lots of questions, both because her life’s details fascinate me, and because I like to avoid talking about myself. (Writing about the same presents an opposite problem.)

I suspect that because my manner is stiff and stuffy, bordering oftentimes on the pedantic pose that sexy women find irresistible, our conversation at first took on a heady tone. My intellectual way of stretching my stiff arm outward, fingers up and palm facing forward, as if to say, “Please keep your distance.”

But something unexpected happened between us. I’m sure that my friend became the catalyst, although exactly what she said or what she did — a tilt of the head?, a sly smile?, a clever word or two? — to alter the chemical combination that floated between us, I cannot say. But I began to laugh. I laughed at the silliness that is Anthony V. Toscano (and don’t forget the “V”). And folks, I swear, it wasn’t drink that poisoned my pose, because I did not imbibe one drop of the evil grape.

My friend can’t know this fact as I commit it this minute to a state of almost permanence, but after she dropped me off at the entrance to the drawbridge that when lowered allows me to cross my dragon’s moat, I continued to laugh. I entered my foyer, waved away my butler, stumbled my dizzy way upstairs, tossed my clothing onto a table and a chair, and sat down to giggle and groan, as I stared at my not-so-chiseled chest and hoped that the little pop that is my belly would somehow deflate by the next morning.

Oh woe is I, alas and what a pity! The following morning arrived — more correct to say that I survived the nightmares that all that garlic induced — and the little pop still lived. The chest continued its insistent journey toward Earth’s core, and the soft glow of evening became the tragic light of day.

Still, as I stared red-eyed into the bathroom mirror and thought about weeping with and at my reflected image, I reminded myself of how much better it felt to laugh.

Is there a brand hidden somewhere inside this wire of mine?