Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Brooklyn: A Big Family Dinner


I am participating for the first time in the Yeah Write Speakeasy Challenge Grid.  I don’t usually like to provide a set up for my stories, but it is worth noting that the story takes place in 1971 and while I could not take notes (for reasons which will become apparent), the dialogue is almost verbatim, as the memory of this day is seared in my brain.

Your comments are appreciated.

I fell in love with a second generation Italian girl from Brooklyn. I met Vicky during our freshman year in college and she invited me to spend the summer with her family in Brooklyn. To the old-timers in her family, my staying at Vicky’s house, without our being married, was an “infamnia”; not allowed. But we were inseparable so, we made up this story about how I needed a job to pay for school, and jobs were scarce in Indiana. Vicky’s dad said I could stay there, so long as I slept in her brother’s room.

I take a taxi from the airport to a neighborhood known as “Red Hook”, in south Brooklyn.  I meet Vicky and her Aunt Mary on the corner of Court Street and Second Place.

We start walking toward Vicky’s brownstone and a man from the corner candy store runs outside and anxiously says, "Mary, are you ok?" Mary responds, “Yea, it's ok, he’s Vicky's boyfriend. He's an ‘American’.” I ask Vicky what this was all about and she explains, "In this neighborhood, the Italians watch out for each other and you are a stranger". "Ok, I say, "...but what's this about me being an American?” “Well…” she says, “...anybody who is not Italian is an ‘American’, especially a blond guy like you."

That night, the family was having a big dinner at Aunt Mary’s to celebrate Vicky being home from school.  I was nervous about meeting the family, especially Vicky’s Uncle Salvatore, Aunt Mary’s husband. Uncle Sal was Sicilian, a tough guy who worked on the docks.  He was a big shot in the Longshoremen’s union and the dock workers called him “Mack”, because he was built like a Mack Truck. I was particularly nervous because my hair was almost down to my shoulders and I was an outsider, especially now that I learned that I was an “American”.

We open the door to Aunt Mary and Uncle Sal’s apartment and say hello to about half a dozen cousins, aunts and uncles and we hear a lot of commotion coming from the kitchen. As I later learned was the custom, the women did all the cooking, serving and cleaning up. They were making lasagna, veal cutlets, eggplant and spaghetti with clam sauce and yelling about what needed to be done next. And Aunt Mary was the loudest, as she barked orders.

Uncle Sal was standing in the dining room, impatiently waiting for dinner. After we were introduced, Uncle Sal stares at me for a minute and then looks toward Aunt Mary and says: "My wife...she's a fuckin' ball breaker, ain’t she?” My mind was racing, how do I respond? I say, “Yeah.”, not wanting to contradict him.

As the women were starting to put the food on the table, Uncle Sal insists that he and I sit down and eat. I politely suggest we wait for the others. But, he commands: "Eat.", and we start in on the lasagna.  Aunt Grace sits down and glares at Uncle Sal and me, “Men are gavones” she declares. Vicky laughs and whispers in my ear: “That means ‘people with no manners’”. Uncle Sal doesn’t care what Aunt Grace has to say, but I’m worried about the impression I am making. I had already managed to call Aunt Mary a ball breaker; I don’t need any more screw ups!

By this time, almost everybody is sitting at the table. Vicky's cousin, Joe, breaks the ice: “I got a new Caddy. It's a beauty. It even has ‘climax control’.” I choked down a laugh, not quite hiding my reaction.

To recover, I suggest Joe might take us for a ride in the Caddy.  Joe looks at me incredulously, “What?  Are you fuckin’ crazy? I have a parkin’ space on the street, which is good ‘til ‘Tursday’, when the garbage men come!”

I’m completely confused! I look over at Vicky and she explains that Joe has to move the car when the garbage men come on Thursday, so he doesn’t want to lose the space before then.  I lean toward Vicky and whisper, “What’s the point of having a car, if you can’t use it.”, and Vicky just rolls her eyes.

Vicky's cousin, Jimmy Boy, comes in late. He gives Vicky a big hug and a kiss and shakes my hand. “Hey, how yous doon?” I respond “Good to meet you Jimmy”, not wanting to call someone, “Boy”, who looks to be about 20 years my senior.

Everyone laughs.  Aunt Grace scoffs at me: “No! He's Jimmy Boy. JIMMY IS HIS FATHER!” I look at Vicky, puzzled again, and she explains that “Boy” is the Brooklyn version of “Junior”.

Aunt Grace, after mocking me about Jimmy Boy, asks me if I want ice cream:  “We have vanilla or ‘chawklat’.”  I respond, “I’d like some ‘chocolate’, please.”, using, what I am about to learn, is an “American” accent.  Aunt Grace snorts, “Oh, listen to him...how high falootin’ he is!”

As the women start to clear the table, I get up to help to help pick up the dishes. Uncle Sal scowls at Vicky, “What, is your boyfriend a fag?” Vicky offers an off-handed defense: “No, Uncle Sal...you know that American men help with the dishes!” Jeez, I thought, “I can’t catch a break!”

After dinner, we say our goodbyes and walk back to Vicky’s house. I said to Vicky:  “Man, I’m so embarrassed: I came across as the 'American gavone'. Especially with Aunt Grace, who took more than her share of shots at me.  And I’m still cringing over Uncle Sal’s "fag" comment.”  Vicky snickers and says, “You did fine, the family likes you. Even Aunt Grace. That’s their way of saying you’re part of the family.  And Uncle Sal was just having some fun with you.”

© Lumdog 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012


For Christmas of 2005, I bought my 15 year old daughter, Grace, an electric guitar that she coveted.  I was happy to be able to get this for her, not just because she had been playing my vintage guitars, but to be able to get her something that I knew she would like.  She had taken classical guitar lessons, but her interest in this guitar signaled a major shift in musical style.

Though she loved the guitar, my musical preferences were un-cool.  I was a dinosaur, with my liking the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, etc.  It didn’t help that I liked some current stuff too, like R.E.M., Cake, and Wilco.

A few days after Christmas, Grace was in her room listening to Green Day.  I had heard their songs on the radio and thought they were catchy. So, I poked my head in and asked if I could listen.  She said, "Sure".  After a few minutes, I asked, “Why don’t you play these songs on your new guitar?” She looked a little puzzled and gave a smart ass response: “Because I don’t know how to play them.” I thought, “Here’s my chance.  Maybe I can show her some stuff.”

So, I grabbed the guitar and started picking out “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and then a couple of other songs. She said, “How did you do that?”  And I explained how she could listen to a song and pick out the notes and then play the chords that go with those notes.  She was skeptical, so I just kept playing. Eventually, she took the guitar from me and started to play.

I remember that day, since it was one of the few occasions where I had an opportunity to teach my teenage daughter something which was of interest to her. She never uttered a word to me, but I could tell by her expression that she thought that I was, sort of, cool, even if it was for only a couple of hours.   

I wrote this for the Trifecta Writing Challenge Week 40 Writing Challenge, where are supposed to write a composition using the word “dinosaur” in the context of something which is large, out-of date or obsolete.

Your comments are appreciated.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bad Day at the Bar

Harry penguined his way to the bar and honked: “Tequila, leave the worm!”  The bartender says, “Hey, I don’t like your attitude and you walk funny. You’re on thin ice around here, buddy.”

I wrote this for Trifextra Week 30 Writing Challenge, where we are supposed to write a 33 word composition using the name of an animal as a verb.

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Custody Fight

Mike was in for a surprise after he and Vicky decided to split after 30 years of marriage.  Although their children were adults, he was facing a custody fight. 

Two days after the split, Mike called his friend, Steve, to talk about the divorce. Steve said, “Yeah, Vicky already called and said that she needed to know whether I was on her side.”

Mike was incredulous:  “Why does she need anybody to take sides?  It’s nobody’s business.”  Steve said, “Don’t worry, I told her I wasn’t going to take sides.”   

Mike's mind was reeling, “Fuck, I thought I left junior high school a long time ago!” And sure enough, Vicky had been busy.  He got the cold shoulder from most of their friends.

The worst part was that Mike wouldn’t see Vicky's family. As an only child with very formal parents, he loved her big Italian family, with lots of hugging and kissing.  He was especially close to Vicky's sister, Jackie.

Mike saw Jackie one day in the divorce lawyer's office.  When she saw him, she smiled and stood with her arms out. Mike said awkwardly:  “I didn't think you'd even talk to me, let alone give me a hug.” Jackie replied, "You’ll always be my brother." So Mike asked if he could email her and she nodded. That night, Mike sent the email.  After a few days without a response, he knew Vicky had nixed the idea.  

Dominique, their friend from France called one day.  Dominique was originally Vicky's friend from working together as flight attendants; so the call was a surprise:  "Bon jour 'Mee-shell', como ca va?”  Before Mike could respond, Dominique said, "Vicky called me.  I am sorry about the divorce.  I do not understand her; she told me that I had to choose who would be my friend. I told her: ‘I will not choose. You are both my friends'" Dominique continued, "Vicky hung up the phone!" 

Mike understood Dominique’s confusion and thought, "Dominique is somebody with a heart."  

I wrote this for Trifecta Week 39 Writing Challenge, where we are required to use the word "heart" in the context of a person's personality or disposition.   

Your comments are appreciated.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reunion: The End

We didn’t have the talk.  So, I still don’t have a fucking clue what Sandy’s thinking. But we have our tickets.  And she wants to do the mile high thing.  Cool fucking deal!

I wrote this for the Trifextra Week 29 Writing Challenge where we are to write an amazing closing line to a story.  

I decided to write the ending to a previous entry called "The Reunion". 

As always, your comments are appreciated. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Condo

Mike had all kinds of regrets about the divorce, not so much that it happened, but its impact on the kids.  He had a lot to deal with there.  But, during the quiet times at night, when he was alone, he thought about their house; his wife got it in the divorce.  But, if she wanted to stay there, he wasn't going to stand in the way. 

He loved the house, for sure.  A beautiful colonial. The best part was the property, which was on the bay with a big yard, with dozens of grand oak trees.  But his regrets had more to do with what happened there: the times he spent with the kids in the yard, climbing on the play gym and up to the tree house, going out on the sail boat, looking for Easter eggs, planting a Christmas tree.

With all those memories, Mike was looking for a change.  He bought a downtown condo. He decorated it with art deco antiques and bought modern furntiure when the older stuff wasn't available, like couches and coffee tables. 

His first opportunity to show off the condo was unexpected.  He had a date with Michele, with whom he had a business relationship for several years.  They planned to meet at the condo and go to the history museum, a few blocks away.  Michele arrived about 15 minutes early and Mike was still in the shower. As he scrambled to pull on his jeans and grab his shirt, he asked Michele upstairs while he put on his sneakers. 

As his first visitor, he was nervous about Michele's reaction to the condo and his decision to mix two styles of furniture.  She loved it and that immediately kicked off a day long conversation about art deco architecture and house decorating.

In time, Mike's kids came over and spent lots of time there and Michele, and her kids, were frequent visitors too.

And Mike came to realize; this was home.

This was written in response to the Week 38 Trifecta Writing Challenge.   While this is a "prequel" to my earlier post called, "The Movie", it was not written to tell the story of Mike and Michele's relationship, which I expect will be the subject of future posts. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Guitar

As a teenager, learned guitar to impress girls
Objective never quite achieved

In my thirties, played guitar; my children sang
Memories, a treasure

In my fifties, play for myself
And write bad songs

I still play the old guitar that I learned to play on.

I wrote this for Trifextra Week 28, where we are to write a 33 word composition about an object that has three purposes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Reunion

I’m boarding flight 1506 to L.A.   I had the usual hassle in security. The aluminum foil in my pack of Newports set off the alarm. I really need to quit, but the whole security thing is so fucking stupid.

I haven't seen Sandy in 6 months. She called the break.  We’ve hardly talked. How is this going to work?

I find my seat, 32B, which means I'm in the middle. Shit! I squeeze into my seat. I'm a big guy, but all my body parts stay between the armrests; not so with the Michelin Man in C. And the lady in A is oozing into my space too.

Since Sandy and I split, my attention span is zero, so I pass the time with the in-flight shopping magazine. The Chia garden sculptures and the rocks where you hide your house keys look interesting. 

What’s gonna happen with Sandy? Why did she call the break?  

Ok, the Uni-Phone-Omni-Continent Outlet-Adaptor-Charger looks great. If I was going to Singapore, I'd buy this sucker. 

Man, I have to pee. The three Jack Daniels wouldn't have done it, but I had all that coffee this morning. There’s a line in back, but first class is open. Fuck them, they won't let you go up there, but I’m pretty sure that there’s rule that says I can pee anywhere.

Anyway, I won’t make a fuss; they arrest your ass for less than that these days.  I'm standing in line. I know that bathroom is small, but I'd do the mile high club with Sandy in a heartbeat. 

Good, we’re landing. I need to get away from the drifting mud slide and grab a smoke.  Now we’re driving to the gate, seems like about 100 miles. I feel like, fuck, it’d be quicker if I’d just taken my F-150 the whole way!

Walk outside.  No Sandy. Ok, I can have my smoke.

There's Sandy’s van. I get in. I get a kiss. She's acting like nothing ever happened. 
I wrote this for the Trifecta Week 37 Writing Challenge, where we are to write a 33-333 word piece using the word "flight".

Your comments are always welcome. 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Pride

The pride of lions, led by El Jefe, was hunting.
Whippersnapper lion blurted: “Why don’t we split up so we can find more prey?”
El Jefe glared disapprovingly at Whippersnapper.
The Pride resumed.

I wrote this for Trifextra Week 27 Writing Challenge, where we are supposed to write a 33 word fable.  

Your comments are appreciated.

The Puppy and the Kitten

The puppy loved the kitten and said:  "Can we be friends?" She replied:  "I don't know, we are different." He thought for a moment and said:  "Yes, but that's why I love you."

I wrote this for the Trifextra Week 27 Writing Challenge, where are are to write a 33 word fable. However, since we are limited to one entry, I withdrew this post from the Trifecta site, so that I could enter another Post, with which I am happier. 

Your comments are welcome!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Normal: Redefined


In response to an incident involving a goat and, possibly, a horse, a Florida Senator sponsored a bill in the legislature which would have outlawed bestiality.

Upon hearing this, you might ask: "Wasn't this already illegal?"

Apparently not. 

Indeed, there was no hue and cry from the other legislators to protect the critters and so, the bill failed.  The good Senator tried again the following year and this time, she shepherded the bill, making the rounds among the herd of legislators. 

Despite a monumental effort, the bill failed to pass for the second year in a row.

At this point, you might ask:  "Who could possibly be against this bill?", and the answer could be disturbing.

On the third try, the bill was passed and the word "normal" was redefined in Florida, although the crime is only a misdemeanor!

Author disclosure:  In furtherance of my commitment to objectivity in writing on my blog, I must admit my bias against bestiality...really, I swear!

I wrote this for Trifecta Week 36, where we are to write a piece using the word "normal" as a noun.