Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Ah Fuck" or "Black Shmack, I'm Hungry"

Over the past couple of days I've been thinking a lot about hate. I think many of us have. It just feels surreal. Everyone has been urging me to write. Keep up on my blog because I’m out of work and it’s what I’m meant to do. I’m not sure about that. I just have stories that swirl around my brain. Swirl around A LOT. 

Once again I state for the record:  I SUCK AT GRAMMAR!! There’s a lot of weird asides, conversations and internal thoughts in this one, so bear the fuck with me. I need an editor. And 25 million dollars.

So, the story I’m about to tell, is a direct response to the hate that’s been infiltrating my thoughts and dreams the past couple of days. 
This story is true. I mean mostly true. I don’t want to get into the whole James Frey/Oprah debacle. 
You see, I wasn’t there. This is my Dad’s story. It’s his story to tell, but he hates writing, can’t type, and would rather eat a big plate of good, hot food while watching sports on his rather large screen T.V. 
I get the honor of relaying it. That makes me very happy indeed.
The story  been told to me by my Dad, (like a thousand times I've asked him to tell me!!!) Dad is the most honest man I’ve ever known. Yeah, okay some artistic liberties are taken here and there, mostly because I think it still bothers Dad to really get into the meat of his feelings. You know men and those "meaty feelings.”
But, I’m telling you seriously, this is how it went down........

“Black Shmack I’m Hungry” or "Ah Fuck"

By: Gia Cerone

The year was 1961. My Dad graduated Hicksville high school. Hicksville is the real name of the town and the High School. Couldn’t make that shit up. Billy Joel went there. He is now the most famous alum. Before him, it was my Dad.
I don’t say that because he’s my dad and all cuddly and awesome. I say that because he really was a small town hero. 

Let me explain. 

At the time, my Dad was one of the greatest athletes to come out of the Long Island area. Maybe all of New York. A local baseball legend. The New York Yankees had my Dad on their radar probably starting around his sophomore year. He started as a Varsity pitcher as a freshmen. One time he pitched a perfect game. Set the record in strikeouts. Hit for average and power to save and win his own starts. Yeah, he was that good. 
When Dad pitched, the stands were packed. They needed to set up extra bleachers to accommodate the locals that came streaming in. Kids and parents from other towns. Plainview, Bethpage, Jericho, even farther in some cases. There was no doubt Dad was the real thing. 

But, there’s another thing. Dad was an amazing football player. Just like baseball, he started Varsity as a freshman. He was a running back but stayed on the field the whole time playing nose tackle. He loved the aggressiveness and the energy. See, Dad didn’t have the best home life. (That will be another story), but needless to say, he needed a way to release bad feelings and aggression. Football was perfect for that. In addition, he knew the game. Could read the field. Knew the plays. Great anticipation and insight. Insane strength. He literally would be dragging multiple guys down the field hanging on trying to stop him. So, he was that good.
One way or the other Dad was either going to go to college on a full scholarship or be signed by the Yankees. The future looked bright.

In 1960 & 1961, Notre Dame and a plethora of other colleges came calling. 
My grandfather, who I have no problem stating for the record, was a piece of shit. He didn’t give a damn about my Dad or his future, especially if it meant he would have to open his wallet, that by the way was padded pretty nicely on account of him being the best known plumber in Hicksville. Franktheplumber. He was rich as Rockafeller.

The principal of Hicksville High School was an amazingly good and kind hearted man who took a liking to my Dad. He met my grandfather a couple of times when Franktheplumber HAD to be there to speak to certain colleges that came to inquire about Dad. He immediately saw that Franktheplumber had zero interest in his own son. Not just monetarily. Just generally. It bothered Principal Mazey. Because, even, though Dad was a star jock, he was also a damn nice kid. Not perfect by any means, but kind, in a way. Not full of himself. Dad sort of lived by an inner code of “always do the right thing”. Mr. Mazey saw that. He had kids of his own, but looked at Dad as sort of an adopted Son. Dad needed him. It was a good thing.

So, because Dad didn’t have the greatest grades - (For the record, he didn't need to, many a time he was told to write his name on the top of the test and nothing else, but hand it straight back to mostly male teachers) -  he really didn’t expect or pay much attention to the bigger schools that came asking for him. Looking back, he would have loved Notre Dame, but again, he had a feeling he would end up with The Yankees (he did), so the whole thing was kind of perfunctory. Just going through the motions. 

But Mr. Mazey insisted he do it. Take it seriously, and have his head in the proceedings.
“Education Robert, is extremely important. No matter what happens, you need to at the very least make an effort to continue your education. You are a blessed young man. I will not let you throw this opportunity away. You must respect this process. I will help you.”
Dad agreed. He always agreed with Mr. Mazey. His respect for the man was unwavering.

It was a Friday afternoon and Mr. Mazey called Dad down to office. Another college was there to talk. Troy State Alabama. Dad sat at the desk with the two men from the college plus Mr. Mazey. They offered him a full ride, everything paid for. The indication of special treatment. And, hey, they didn’t care whether Franktheplumber was there or not, just get a signature! Sounded alright. Dad agreed. Troy State Alabama. They would pay for the bus ticket and everything! One of the guys even slipped Dad a fifty as they left. Alabama, well alright!
Mr. Mazey was pleased. He smiled at dad and gave him a warm hug.

“Robert, I’m very proud of you. Now please sit back down, I want to speak to you about something.”
Dad didn’t like the sound of that. When Mr. Mazey said he wanted to speak to him about something, it usually meant Dad had committed some type of high school infringement of the rules. He racked his brain. He had been relatively good lately. He had called Kathy Graw "shorty with the forty", but Kathy was so cool, she laughed that stuff off. Couldn't be her.

“Robert. This conversation is extremely delicate. I want you keep this talk between you and I only, do you understand?”
“Yes sir, what ever you say.” Dad responded.
Mr. Mazey rubbed his hands together and smiled a little bit sadly. “Robert, you are going to Alabama. Let me ask you, what or where is the farthest you have been away from New York?"
Dad paused to think, “Washington DC on the senior trip Sir. Thank you again for paying for me to go, I promise I will pay you back one day.”
Mr. Mazey Cut him off with a shake of his hand in the air.
“Robert. Listen to me carefully. How to put this delicately, Alabama is not like here. It is a very different type of place. It’s a lovely state, but it’s a bit, how shall I word this, "culturally behind". Robert, you are going to see things and experience things that are going to be very eye opening. I need to you be aware of these things. Nothing frightening, or dangerous I guess, just very different and slightly ominous. Now that sounds awful. I, I, I, don't mean it to. You see, the fact that you are going there will be a form of education in and of itself. Please, Robert, take notice of everything. Absorb what is around you. Experience things,  and most importantly, always do what you know in your heart is right. I know you know right from wrong. You are a very good young man. Follow your heart and you will do wonderfully. I have faith in you.”

Dad was kind of getting the point. He wasn’t stupid. He watched the TV. He saw the way Negroes were starting to demand equal rights, hell why not? Yet, the south was making it particularly hard for Negroes to find equality. Dad didn’t understand the fuss. He had played sports with colored kids since he lived in Brooklyn. Dad didn’t spend time thinking about skin color. If someone could keep up on the field, Dad didn’t care if they were purple. 

Quite frankly, Dad knew a ton of loudmouth assholes that gave him a hard time because he was so good an athlete, and not for nothing, he had been kind of a chubby kid. He had lost the baby fat and gained muscle. But, looking back, every douchebag that had started shit with him was white. Dad figured it didn’t matter what color you were, an asshole was an asshole. A good guy was a good guy. Granted,  he didn't personally know a lot of Negroes. But Lord knows he worshipped Jackie Robinson, his favorite ball player ever, hands down, no one even close. He loved Nat King Cole, no one sang like him. Chuck Berry was the best rock & roller out there. Screw Elvis. Dad's Mom, (before she left he and his brother, when Dad just seven), would listen to Billie Holiday, swaying her hips, eyes shut tight as she sang along to Billie's pain. (I guess that crazy, Bitch Grandma of mine knew pain as well - personally, however I say fuck her! You don't ever just leave your little kids - Sorry I'll continue)...Dad really didn’t give skin color much thought. He was going to college. In Alabama. Alabama! And pretty soon too.

The bus ride down was fine - at first. Then, it got progressively hotter and more cramped. Dad undid the top button of the only dress shirt he owned and loosened his stupid tie. His Nanny and Aunt Alice had bought them for him at Gimbals and made him wear them.

Jesus was it not getting really freakin hot?!! He had slept for a long time, fairly comfortable in the bus seat. He was a little motion sick. Not bad, just kind of a rumbly stomach. When the bus stopped outside of Virginia, Dad grabbed a hamburger and a cold Coke but only ate half the burger. Weird for him, no one ate like Dad. Besides sports, eating was his favorite. Way above girls even!!!!

A good ten hours later, Dad’s stomach had acclimated and he was officially hotter than he had ever been and starving. It was a relief when the driver said they’d be stopping really soon right inside the Alabama state line. Dad determined this was an excellent sign. He would step foot on Alabama soil, take a leak, try to get cool, and stuff his face to boot.

However, when Dad did step off the bus in Alabama, the first thing he noticed was the oppressive, intense, heat. Holy shit was it hot. Hot wasn’t the word. This was sweltering. And muggy. And bright. He couldn’t believe he could see heat coming off the beat up road. Like in the movies,  the heat looked like liquid rising off the blacktop. It was mesmerizing. It had to be 110 degrees easy. He had a hard time breathing for Chrissake! On top of that, he was starving. Starving and thirsty. (Did I mention the man was hungry?). He squinted towards the little diner ahead of him. All the passengers were streaming in. It was around lunchtime anyway, so it seemed like anyone near the area was already in the diner. Dad made his way over to the entrance. Dad recognized some of his fellow travelers from the bus.
"How long until we can grab something to eat Sir?" my Dad asked glancing over a man's shoulder. Smelled pretty good in there.
“Twenty minute wait kid.” One of them said.
Dad was dumbfounded. Twenty minutes would be too long. He had hitchhiked to the bus stop in Hicksville. Franktheplumber wasn’t around and all the rest of his relatives were working. So, needless to say, no one had packed him anything to snack on. This was bad. For Dad this was really bad.

There was a coke machine outside the little diner. So he figured he could at least grab a cold soda, but a problem persisted. He had to piss like you read about. 

While on the bus a rather large man with a bowler tie had boarded just outside Delaware and proceeded to head straight to the can and destroy it! Everyone on the bus was looking around mortified. Women were smacking their kid's hands away from their noses, shushing them as they whined, "Ewww it stinks." 
While it was humorous at the time, Dad was not the least bit happy about no food and now nowhere to relieve himself, as the line for the diner bathroom was equally as jammed as the booths and chairs.

"Shit,” Dad thought, "gotta be something close, at least I can take a leak in the woods." So that's where he headed. As he made his way into a slightly cooler, yet more humid thick of lush green woods, he completely removed his tie and stuck it in his back pocket and undid the buttons on his scratchy shirt. His undershirt, completely wet from sweat cooled him a bit, so he decided to walk just a bit farther. After just a couple of minutes, Dad looked over his shoulder and could see only a small part of the bus stop diner's roof. He found a big old tree and did his business. It was glorious! 

As he was tucking and zipping, an amazing breeze blew across the woods. Branches swayed ever so slightly, and Dad was pleasantly transfixed by the movement of the types of trees he didn't get to see up north. What was the name of those trees? He had heard their name in a song once...,

And then, well, it happened. With the miraculous breeze tickling his face came an aroma that could only be described as HEAVENLY. My Dad, so eloquent in nature thought aloud, "What the hell is that smell? Holy crap that smells good! Get me to where that smell is coming from...NOW!"

Just like that, something like out of a horror novel Dad was drawn deeper in the woods, transfixed, the smell beckoning. His "gitchy ya yas" (salivary glands as we call them at home) churning out saliva like some kind of rabid dog.
Then, like a mirage to a man stranded in the Gobi, Dad saw it.

Like a glistening, white beacon of culinary mastery. (Actually a clapboard old white shack) Above it a hand painted sign "True Bar-B-Q" and some other signs,  “do dads” and “do hickies”, Dad paid no attention to at all as he literally sprinted towards what he considered to be one of the greatest bits of luck that had ever come his way. 

-Even luckier than the day Franktheplumber brought him, once again, up to the attic to find, "somethin' that should fit ya" from the old steam trunk, only to discover he had out grown all the men's clothes circa 1922, and Dad could finally be rewarded - albeit grudgingly - with one, brand new, pair of khakis!- Yes, luckier than that!-

Dad, reaching the old screen door flung it open with zeal and immediately began to read the neatly, hand written, chalkboard menu, straight up, over the counter.
#1 - Pulled pork Sammy with collards and back fat ¢75
#2-  Full Rack with sticky sauce, cornbread, and mashed taters ¢95
#3-  Half Rack - same as #2 - ¢75
#4- Fresh Fried Chicken with giblet gravy & black eyed peas ¢85

Dear Sweet Jesus, Dad thought, I still have plenty of money left over from the $50- the recruiter from Troy slipped me (plus a $20- Mr. Mazey had given him in a good luck card, don't forget to write him back a thank you ). He could order this whole menu! The food looked to be coming out quick, and shit, he could eat it on the bus if time was getting tight!!

A man slowly made his way over and leaned in towards Dad on a worn wooden counter. 
Dad started before the man could have time to ask, what'll it be?

"Hi Sir, I'll have a #1 but can I have mashed potatoes instead of collards I've never had them so I'll just go potatoes, and..."

"Son." The man said sternly, yet quietly. Shaking his head ever so slightly.

Dad shook his head. Getting out the cobwebs. Need food, must focus. "Sorry, no, no, you're right Sir, I need to try new stuff, new experiences. So yes indeed I'll have the collards, but I'll have a # 2 as well, this way I can try everything and...."

"SON!" the man said forcefully.

Dad, startled looked up into the man’s eyes. He was a handsome Negro, maybe in his 40's. He wore a BBQ splattered apron and an incredulous look on his weary face.
"I'm sorry sir, I apologize, I'm just hungry and have to make a bus....."

The Negro man leaned closer and gripped the counter so hard Dad noticed his nails digging into the wood. Now his expression wasn't incredulous, it was more like angry frustration.

"Now listen Son, I don't know you, and I assume from your accent your ain't from 'round hear, but I'm not putting my wife and my two girls or my life on the line, for who seems like a nice northern boy with a big hunger. You ain't seen ANY of the signs here?!! Look around Son. We can only serve colored folk here! Colored.  See I wrote them signs myself "Coloreds Only." I did not however, paint all them others around lying and perched outside saying "Food for Niggers Only" and "Whites Keep Out" and "Mixing Equals Lynching". Those were acquired, not willingly, from another group altogether, that would not take very kindly to a naive white boy, no matter how hungry he be, sittin' down and eatin' some sticky ribs for a spell with all these other folks in here!"

Dad slowly turned around and realized every face in "True Bar-B-Q" was staring at him. Not a word was being spoken. He was the only white face in the place.

Dad gingerly turned back to the man. He cleared his throat and quietly said, "But, um Sir, um excuse me, but I don't mind eating with the people here, or being served by you or your employees. I'll eat it outside in the woods if ya' want. It, I mean, you, they, doesn't bother me at all......."

The man behind the counter's face softened. A thin, line of a grin. "Thats mighty nice of you to say Son, but listen to me. This here is Alabama. What that girl from that Wizard of Oz movie say? You ain't in The North no more. 'Cept she say Kansas. I see you're a nice kid, good young man. Probably going to the college right?"
Dad nodded slightly.
"Well, the man continued, it gives me peace to know there are young men like you, don't see the color of skin, and not just ‘cause they hungry or thirsty, or need to take a piss - Excuse me Ms. Flora', - (the man said over Dad's shoulder to a tiny old lady sitting in the booth behind him) but ‘cause skin color don’t mean nothin’ to ‘em. But Son, down here ev'things different. And I'm in no position to start taking a stand today, or making a point, and I'm pretty sure you not up for them things neither, the way you're  sweatin' like a whore in church, - Excuse my once again Ms. Flora - Here Son, take this cup of cold lemonade & get. There may come a day, I hope someday soon,  you will get lucky enough to try my pulled pork, and prolly drop dead where you stand it's so good, but not today. So that’s my speech for the day on racial equality’, the man said laughing with just a hint of bitterness, and shaking his head, ‘but for right now? Son, you got a bus to catch."

The man slid my Dad a paper cup of cold lemonade across the wood counter.
Dad, feeling numb, stupid and a little dizzy, reached into his pocket.
The man shook his head. 
"On me son. Keep a good attitude. You play ball?"
Dad nodded
"Which college?"
"Troy State Sir ." Dad answered quietly.
"Well good luck to you. You're gonna need it." the man said with a hearty laugh. As he did, the rest of the diners began to chuckle along with him. It kind of broke the tension.

Dad wiped his hand on his khakis and reached to shake the man's hand. The man reached out. They shook. Strongly. Smiling at each other.
"Troy can't be that bad, can they Sir?"
The handshake grew warmer, more familiar, maybe.
"Well Son, let's hope you make the difference. That's about as good and shiny as I can make it for ya'."
My Dad smiled and looked the man in the eyes one last time.
"Have a good day Sir."
"You too Son, you too."

My Father stepped outside back into the Alabama heat. He glanced back over his shoulder as he began to make his way back into the woods. Now,  he noticed the obvious signs he had missed before. Glaring. Menacing. How had he missed them? How for Godsakes? 

Almost sleepwalking he made his way back to the bus. He drank what was the best lemonade that had ever touched his lips crumpled the cup and shoved it in his pocket.
The diner at the bus stop had cleared out a lot. 

The heat, the shit eating heat. Did it get even hotter? 

Dad bought a cold coke and stared at the heat rising off the street again. He felt funny. Eighteen year old man, with barely anything to call a “home” feeling.......homesick? No. That wasn't it. Not homesick. Just sick.

"All aboard" the driver yelled.
Dad squinted through the sun and climbed the bus stairs taking his seat. Sipping his Coke, he tried to put his finger on what really bothered him about all this. He laughed to himself when he thought, "one finger isn't nearly big enough."

In a few minutes the bus was moving down the road away from a world of confusion, disappointment and enlightenment.
His thoughts travelled back to Mr. Mazey's talk. The things he had said. Things he tried to say but couldn't. 
I'm going to see things I don't like, or understand. Ominous things. Ominous.

Dad began to drift off as he leaned his head against the window watching those nice trees go by. What the hell were they called? His Mom used to sing a song about them.........right?
Poppy? Nahhhhhh. That's what he had called his beloved, now deceased, Grandpa once upon a time. Not poppy. Wait. Somethin' like popular or poopy. He was dozing now, had to be because he never saw his Mom anymore, but she was there. Mom, pretty clearly swaying her hips, eyes closed and singing Billie Holiday in front of the chipped white sink..........

He remembered!

And then the song played in his head as he drifted deeper. Finally, hungry again but sooooooo tired. Like he had just went nine innings.
He heard it then, Billie's pain, his Mom humming along......

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the Poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Dad awoke with a start.
"Town of Troy all passengers disembark. Last stop!! Town of Troy Alabama!!!"

My Dad glanced out the window. Heat still rising off the pavement. Staring at the nice  Poplar Trees.
Just two simple words came to mind.

Ah Fuck.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Gloomy Monday. Horace.

So for no particular reason I've been in a really blue mood lately. There's no explanation, no piercing, glaring, specific thing. There is no tangible, "grab the bull by the horns" and make this better kind of solution. It just is what it is. I'm not posting this for sympathy, I'm posting this to share with all of you a weird epiphany that came to me on Thursday night. 
It was late. Late for a Thursday. Like 11:00 pm. It was after Aunt Rita's Irish wake. M.O.M (my old man) and I were quite a few sheets to the wind, at a local bar, waiting for take-out to help put a base in our tummies so we could go home and continue drinking bourbon, with the hope that the food could offer us some anti-hangover solace in the morning (food and a handful of Gummy-Vites and two Excedrin).
So as we're waiting, I see (fuzzily) coming towards us, a friend I haven't seen in a long time. Too long. This friend, who I will call "Horace" (because there is no fucking way on earth I've ever interacted with ANYONE named Horace and it's keeps things anonymous) has his demons. He has always had them. I simply can not fathom what he has been through. It is glaringly obvious it all must have started when he was just a tiny boy, which just kills me. He drinks too much as well. But, see if you were around him and felt his sadness, and hopefulness all at once, you would understand immediately WHY he drinks too much. He just HAS to. HAS to. He is also, without a doubt, once of the kindest, loyal, sweet, beautiful humans you could ever be honored to call "friend". It just is what it is. It fucking IS WHAT IT IS!! You hug him and you are AFRAID to let go and just don't want to at the same time.
So we speak for awhile, he introduces me to his lovely girlfriend, who is strong and gentle all at once. I say a silent prayer immediately this will work for them. He kind of knows M.O.M. from just being local and fun. We all talk for a long time. He hugs me again for the 47th time (I'm hoping for like 76).
Then, he whispers in my ear, "Is he good to you? Does he make you happy?" I whisper back, "Completely. He is my savior." And he pulls away and squints at M.O.M. and says dead pan, without bravado, or pretense. "If you hurt her in ANY WAY, I WILL kill you. I will find you and KILL you, no doubt. I just NEED you to know that." M.O.M. smiles and grabs Horace and hugs him. "Never Horace. I would die myself first." I jump in and grab Horace by his face and smile as I stare into his eyes. "He loves me. There is not a strong enough word to describe that. And I am on board right back."
It was just a moment. And we all laughed and moved on with the conversation.
But that moment has stayed with me. It has monopolized my thoughts and invaded my every moment. I can think of it and I fill up with tears almost immediately. Not sure and not always conscience if they're happy tears or sad.
And I keep thinking. Thinking. Thinking. What IS THIS THING?
And finally, I realize, it's because that person. Horace, I mean not HIM per-sea, but what HE SAID, IS ALWAYS ME!!!
I am the one who has always says that. I can not remember the last time anyone ever said that to someone I was hanging with. (Of course, it drips with irony that M.O.M. is the BEST and needs the warning the LEAST.)
But, that conclusion has made me so sad. Why? I can not really say. I just feel really down lately and I'm trying to figure it out and I really wish someone, anyone in my past would've been as loyal to me as my friend I haven't seen in years, who is an addict and has so many of his OWN demons he has to fight to live EVERY FUCKING DAY!
Someone would KILL rather then see me hurt, kind of like I feel for so many everyday. That, hopefully, some of the things I've gone out of my way to do for others would make them cry good or bad tears.
I'll say it again. I don't want ANY of you guys to leave a comment praising me or patting my back. Do Not Do It!!
I just needed to put it out there so I could start to rid myself of these terrible, deep, deep, blues.
I wish I could get Horace to kill 'dem 'dare blues if they keep hurting me.
THAT would be somethin'.

That was for Horace. He knows who he is.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Great Beaning of '63 or The Beaning with Meaning

With all the recent death, suffering, sadness, disloyalty and  regret, I’ve been just a tad down in the dumps. Can’t imagine why. Well, yes I can, I just wrote why. So to boost my spirits I decided to lay in bed last night and think about funny things. Stories I’ve experienced or been told that need to be put to paper, then typed on ’puter then posted onto Facebook and my blog.

I need to laugh, and in turn make ya’ll laugh as well. Next to hearing applause after I sing, making people laugh is my bestest , most favorite, most fulfilling, sound and feeling ever.

But, really? You know where a shit load of “the funny” comes from? My Dad. My Dad has NO ego. Just look at what he’ll walk out of the house wearing - Pink Floyd “Buttafuco” style, worn thin pants, a “Charlie Brown Christmas”, BBQ sauce stained T-shirt, and the brightest colored Nikes he could get his hands on……four years old - but bright as the day they were purchased!! (Yeah, Dad has boxes of unworn sneaks, he waits to wear when the older ones fall apart – childhood issues, we all have ‘em).

When I say NO EGO. I mean it. He really doesn’t care what other people think he looks like. Now, it helps he is still drop dead gorgeous and is charming as hell. But most importantly, the man IS FUNNY. And, a KICK ASS storyteller. And he’s lived an interesting life, to say the least. So once again, I reiterate, when I really need a laugh I talk about, think about or talk to my Dad.

(NOTE: Mommy is a shit-load funny too, she just gets the bigger award for being able to deal with Dad’s eccentricities all these years, but that is another story…..)

When we were kids, he was an awful tease, which, it turns out, really helped to make Sissy and I able to take a joke and make fun of ourselves with ease. He would threaten to “Rip out our lungs and make us eat them.” If we didn’t do something we were told. If he saw a bruise on our arms from any of the hundreds of sports we played, he would push on it - hard and say, “Does that hurt? That doesn’t hurt does it?”

He would tickle us until we peed. Really. UNTIL WE PEED. I absolutely love that. And I don’t give a fuck if any of you think it’s weird. To laugh so hard you pee yourself? Well, if you haven’t experienced it, let’s just say you haven’t fully lived.

So I am re-telling a story Daddy tells me whenever I beg him to, which is usually at least once or twice a month. You see, it includes some of my favorite and most treasured things in the world:
1- Friendship
2- Baseball
3- Loyalty
4- Comedic Regret
5- Young Hot Baseball Playing Guys
6- Revenge

(I am prefacing this story by telling you guys I’m not going to be using correct punctuation for the conversation parts of this tale. I just suck at it. And, I find it slows me down. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to keep up. Just keep reading.)

1963. Pioneer league New York Yankees, Idaho Falls. My Dad Bob is pitching a gem of a game. He is on fire. Slider is sliding, Cutter is cutting. Fastball above 93  and moving. Seriously. My Dad was goooooood! The great Yankee left fielder Roy White once told me when I was just a little girl:

ROY WHITE: Gia, don’t you forget, your Daddy could throw a baseball through a brick wall.

I believed him. I had heard about Daddy from a lot of different family members and others who had played with him, and watched him play. Did I mention? He was gooooood.

In 1963 (and probably even a year or so before that) Daddy made two of his best friends he has ever had, and by coincidence played pro ball side by side with. 

(NOTE: My Mom will always be Daddy’s best friend. Close seconds: Uncle Jimmy Bender, Peter DeMeo, My Uncle Ronnie Zito, and Bob DeMatteo, it’s just this is a baseball story and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel badly.)

So I continue. Outfielder Steve Whitaker and Catcher Frank Fernandez. Both made it to the majors. (Both terrific ballplayers – look up Fernandez’s career, especially his hitting, such a great read for all you baseball freaks/stat-heads out there!!!)
In the beginning, Daddy hit it off with Whit right away. Whit was affable, quick to smile, charming and had an all around likeable persona.

Fernandez on the other hand? Not so much. Staten Island born. Hard as nails. Quick temper. Intense ballplayer, intense guy. Why in the world would my Dad not like him? BECAUSE HE WAS JUST LIKE HIM. Neither of them had it easy growing up. They were both from New York. They both played like it was the last game they would ever play, and they did not like fucking around. They were there to play, not talk or make nice. (With the exception of fans that came out no matter what.) Kinda’ like Kevin Youkilis and Jorge Posada, I suspect.

But, as time went on, they realized how incredibly fucking good they each were. Whit was the bridge that linked them all together, but the talent and intensity and most importantly THE LOYALTY was what KEPT them all together. So close, the three of them. They were three peas in a pod. Dad, however, had the most playtime, and on field interaction with Fernanadez, well, because he was Dad’s catcher. My Dad still talks about how no one caught like Fernandez. No fear. The man had no fear. They had that perfect chemistry. Fernandez put down the signs, Dad threw and they rocked it together. How Fernandez kept Dad calm in those days if he had to visit him on the mound, I will never, for the life of me, understand. Mommy and I laugh. Oh, do we laugh.

Once my Dad gets  (and I’m talking much more “back in the day” -  he’s calmed down a lot since them - ahhheeeemmm) frustrated, annoyed, perturbed. Well, needless to say we had a lot of weird art hung on even weirder locations on our walls in Centerport. Dad, however, would warn you……..

DAD: Walk away now I’m gonna punch that Goddamn wall.

US: ‘Kay……      (BOOM – Plaster sort of explodes)

MOM: Happy Now? Feel better you maniac?!!!

DAD: YES, as a matter of fact it did.

So we laugh, ‘cause Fernandez had to calm Dad down. In a ballpark. In 110 degree heat. On the field. With lots of people watching. And, no wall to punch. Fernandez, well, he had a gift.

On that day in ’63, Dad is pitching his gem. A guy gets up against him (from now on called #77), in like the second inning, and Dad strikes him out on three pitches. Dad thinks nothing of it. He’s in the zone. He’s feeling good. He is doing his job, Fernandez is doing his. All is right with the world.

Couple innings later #77 gets up again. Dad strikes him out for the second time! Not on three pitches, but none-the-less, it happens. Dad does not give #77 another thought. See, it was only the 2nd out of the inning, and there was a guy on first that had looped one into shallow center. Dad was interested in getting the 3rd out. That was all.

Okay. So couple innings after that. #77  back up. Fernandez throws a sign, slider, outside, Dad throws the pitch. The guys taps a little roller down the first base line, Daddy jumps off the mound, scoops it and flips it to the first baseman for the third out.

And THAT is when Dad hears it.

#77: Fuckin’ fat pig.

DAD: (In his head) Did that guy, that hack, that no talent piece of shit just call me a fat pig? Because I got him out three times, with no fan fare or showboating? Jesus Christ! No. Nonononono.

Let me digress for one moment here. If you read any of the great baseball columns written about my Dad during his career, he was most likely described as, well, “The Stocky Right Hander” , “The Hefty Righty With A Rocket Arm” “The Yankees Top Pitching Prospect A Bit Chunky, But The Real Deal”. You noticing a pattern here? Yeah. My Dad was a big guy. He had been a chubby kid, but, was always an outstanding athlete. He defended any awful names referring to his slight girth, that mean kids could come up with, with either beating them in whichever sport they were playing, or knocking them the fuck out. Because, even though Kid Daddy was a bit stocky, he was strong as fuck. And, because he had such a tough childhood, thanks to his FUCKING INSANE FATHER, he had some pent up anger that he could unleash at any moment as needed. It also made him a tough competitor. And, let’s be honest, the man loved to eat. Still does. (While we’re speaking of this, thanks for the lovely genetics Dad. Thunder thighs are all the rage.)

I continue. Daddy walks back to the dugout and he is STEAMING!!! He sits next to Fernandez, who had not heard the rather cruel and unnecessary comment #77 had made. He glances at my Dad for a moment, his eyebrows kind of furrowed, chewing like a maniac on bubble gum. But, Fernandez says nothing. My Dad sits quietly but breathing pretty heavily, for  give or take a couple of minutes just stewing, marinating, fermenting in some serious anger.

Finally Dad spoke.

DAD: You see #77?  (Fernandez glances to the outfield, nods once). Next time he’s up. I’m gonna’ hit him right in the fucking head.

FERNANDEZ: (Pauses, spits some bubblegum juice)…… O.K.

Not another word said. Not one word.

Game continues and I bet you can see where this is going.
Ninth inning one out. #77 gets up to the plate. Frank puts down no sign just kind of sits his glove a little between his legs skimming the dirt. The rage in Dad has hit epic proportions.

(In Dad’s head…LOUD) He called me a fat pig! I didn’t do nothing to him. Mother fucker!!!!

And Dad lets it fly.

Daddy explains it like this.

DAD: I let it go and I swear, I wanted to hit him dead center in the head. Now, I didn’t go full blown. I held back just a little, but within the tiny little speck of time the ball left my hand, I knew it was going to hit him straight in the fucking head. And just a like a millisecond after that, I literally saw the ball rotating in slow motion right towards this fuck’s noggin, (not unlike the way Ted Williams could see the seams, turning) And I knew right then I should have never done it, and would never do it again. ‘Cause honestly, I thought, I just killed that guy.
Batting helmets were about as sturdy as Saran wrap back then. And Goddamn if Dad didn’t bean that fucker……..hard. So hard, the ball came back to the mound after it bounced off #77’s helmet.

#77 slowly got up, and, he was pissed. He shook his head briskly, like clearing out the cobwebs, and started to charge the mound. Except, Fernandez was right there to get in front of the guy, stop him, hold him back.

FERNANDEZ: Don’t go out there you fucker. You walk down and take your base.
Dad picks up the ball and moves towards #77.

DAD: Come closer muther fucker. I’ll hit you twice as hard before you get half way to me. Count on it. Let’s go.

Fernandez guides #77 down to first. #77 is brooding, stunned, but #77 knows he made the right decision. Because #77 looks, well, scared.

The umpire almost does something, almost, but changes his mind because there are only two more outs in 110 degree heat on the field, and, Dad gets them on a double play on the next pitch anyway

Fernandez walks out to the mound to shake Daddy’s hand and they start to head toward the clubhouse together. They pause to wait for Whit. He runs in from the outfield. Everyone hits the showers. No one says anything, except along the lines of “Great game Spanky”,  (Dad’s nickname, did I mention he was stocky?) “Good game guys”, “You hit the shit outta’ that ball!”  ya’ know, regular baseball chatter.

Later on, the three of them are sitting at a local bar. Drinking ice, cold mugs of beer. Fernandez is flicking peanuts into his mouth. Dad, inside, is still feeling kind of shitty.

(Inside Dads Head: I’ll never do that again. That was stupid, that was dangerous. Can’t let my temper get that crazy. Fuck.)

DAD: (To Whit & Fernandez) Hey you guys. Know why I fucking hit that guy in head?

WHIT: No. I was going to ask, but I figured you had your reasons.

FERNANDEZ: No. And I really don’t care. You musta’ really wanted to.

DAD: (Pausing) Well, as he ran down to first he called me a fat pig.

WHIT: (Bitterly Laughing) What? NO SHIT? That stupid little prick!! He fucking said that to you? Muther fucker. Sunofabitch!

Fernandez wasn’t laughing. He was kinda’ red in the face and squinting, breathing heavy, much like Daddy had earlier in the dugout.

FERNANDEZ:  (Sputtering) That fucker called you that? He said “Fat Pig”? He said that to you? You should told me I woulda’ kicked him in the fucking dick after he went down. You didn’t tell me that? Why?

DAD: You didn’t ask.

FERNANDEZ: I’M NOT SUPPOSE TO ASK.!! That’s the game! I’m YOUR catcher, your teammate. Fuck, I’m your FRIEND!! I don’t ever need to ask!! But if you HAD told me…..

DAD: You know what’s weird? I feel bad about hitting him in the head. I will NEVER do that again.

FERNANDEZ: Spank, I got news for you, If some muther fucker ever says anything like that to you again, and, you DO NOT hit ’em, I’ll fuckin’ knock him out where he stands. I don’t give a fuck. I wish that fucker walked in here right now. He’d be done. Over. No one talks that way….

WHIT: Never say never Spank. He’s right, just throw right at his balls. Cup doesn’t do shit. Or, even better, his fucking elbow. That hurts like fuck!

FERNANDEZ: Hmmmmm. Yeah, that could work. I accept that.

DAD: Okay. The fucking balls, or elbow. Just not in the head.

WHIT: Well, let’s drink to the most precise pitch I’ve ever seen a fucking guy throw! Spanky, you couldn’t do it again if you tried!!! Actually if anyone could? It would be you!

DAD: (Laughing) Probably not guys. Probably not.

FERNANDEZ: (Chugging down his beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand) Okay. But I’ll still knock a guy out if I ever hear anything like it. I hear anything CLOSE to that! I swear to fuckin’ God I will.

And, that night they drank, ate, laughed, talked the game and cruised girls.

And, the next day, they played another game together. And the day after that. And the day after that……

It was the best time of their lives.

What’d I tell you? Doesn’t the story have some of the best, most favorite, treasured things in it, like EVER?

Friendship, Baseball, Loyalty, Comedic Regret, Young Hot Baseball Playing Guys, and Revenge.

But mostly……Friendship.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

This Ain't No "Game of Thrones", This is real. And very heavy. RIP UNCLE MICHAEL

Okay. So this one is a tough one. It is filled with family intrigue, fighting among the clans, evil parents, mental illness, and loving relationships. It aint' no "Game of Thrones", folks. It's "The Cerone Family Chronicles". Strap yourselves in, it's gonna take a little while.
I want to start by explaining that the picture below is of my gorgeous, sweet, loving yet very damaged Uncle Michael on the left. And truly, this post is about him.
You see, he recently died. Recently, meaning, March 15th. Just found out this morning. (Hang in there, it will get clearer.) The guy in the cowboy hat is my Grandfather. My Beautiful Father's Dad (and I use the term "Dad" loosely, take away the "ad" and add"ick" and that's about what you get.)
I suppose this is a good time to write the disclaimer to this piece. THIS IS MY OPINION. It is shared by a couple others in my family, but I AM WRITING IT!!! Because any of you that know me, know this writing thing is a catharsis for me. Oh, and I clearly DO NOT give one sweaty fuck if if whoever reads this doesn't like it. It is MY truth. He was my Uncle too. And the old man was my Grandfather (wooooooo hoooooo hit the jackpot on that one!!)
I also want to state, for the record, that the Grandfather "Frank The Plumber" did 2 GREAT things in his life. Super Duper, off the chain GREAT things. He created my Dad and married my Grandmother (I hate to call her "STEP" because she was so much more than that).
He married my Mimi. (The mother of the gorgeous, one on the left, Uncle Michael in the stylin' tux.)
My Dad and my Mimi, together, create enough, swirling, loving, kind, forgiving, inspiring energy in this universe and beyond, to cure famine, end war, and get the Beatles back together.
Unfortunately, we lost Mimi quite a few years ago. But she's around me a lot any way. She was a better Mom to my Dad than his own fucked up Mother who split out on him when he was seven. As the years went by, my Dad loved Mimi more than most anyone. She was so fucking special. She was just.... I can't find words. I CAN NOT FIND WORDS! That is sayin' something.
I think she could've done better than Frank The Plumber. But, she loved him and he made her happy, I guess. So that is all that matters.
Uncle Michael is the youngest. My Dad's half brother. I say "is" because "was" just doesn't seem real yet.
I was a SUPER SHITTY niece. NOT when I was younger. I was GREAT then. I would say by age eighteen, I had checked out on Uncle Michael.
You see, he was very, very mentally ill.
Can I make light of how mentally ill he was? No. But I can make it clear through comedy. He was the "No, you do not understand I AM GOD!" kind of mentally ill. The "Smoking Angel Dust is soothing to me." kind of mentally ill. "When the word splits open, and the beings from the core come out to take over, I will lead them." kind of mentally ill.
Living in Pilgram State most of his life.
In and out of other institutions.
And, more importantly, he was utterly, and completely the most kind, sweet, loving man ever.
And, I became a SUPER SHITTY niece. I gave up on him, when it got too much to visit. I didn't want to be around all those nutsy people. I didn't want to drive all the way there. I had a Springsteen show I had to see.
And, when Mimi died, it got worse. I just lost all will to even TRY and make her proud. Although, she would've understood. She was like that.
Over the years, I thought about maybe writing him. But see, we didn't keep in touch with any of the other family members that knew anything about his specifics. The people closest to him broke my heart terribly. They hurt my Dad and Mom because of money and "valuable things" and I guess they felt they were in the right. I don't and will never understand why it happened. But, in a way, it made it all so easy for me to forget about my Uncle Michael, who as you can clearly see was FUCKING HOT!!! (Sorry, I mean c'mon just look.)
Uncle Michael was creative, he had artist's heart and mind. He was the sensitive one, in a family group of very rough and tumble men. (Although, I know now how sensitive my Dad is. How he needed to put on that act to survive.)
He had 3 other brothers that were superstar athletes. My Dad, was recruited by the New York Yankees for Chrissake!!! His three brothers all received sports scholarships!! (Daddy left Troy Alabama to play for the Yankees.)
Uncle Michael, it had been whispered, could have been the best athlete out of ALL the Cerones ! But he threw it away on drugs and music.
No one understood mental illness back then. I mean look at him. Women flocked to him. He had a psychedelic painted van!! He played guitar. His hair....oh God it was long and blonde and shiny and smelled like apricot. He broke all the rules and lived to the beat of his own drummer.
And finally, the beat got wayyyy too loud and maybe that's when the voices started to yell in his head as well. And well, that was when he was done living in this reality.
My Mimi tried everything. She would bring him home to Hicksville for parties with his friends from the hospital. Some shook uncontrollably from the meds. Some smoked pack after pack of Marlboro Reds. Some just rocked back and forth, their arms clutched across their chests. And Uncle Michael would introduce each one of them, by name, to Sissy and I. We were young and knew they were a little different. But they were Uncle Michael's friends. So we just sat with them and talked. It wasn't so bad.
Sissy, in particular, LOVED Uncle Michael. Since we were little, he would always be on the floor with us playing "Don't Break The Ice" or "Barrel of Monkeys". I just remember Sissy always hugging him. Sitting on his lap. Just talking to him like it was another 7 year old. She would braid his hair and make him sing songs to her while playing guitar.
IMPORTANT: NO this story does not go south into a weird PEDO way. Uncle Michael was wayyyyy too good of a man for that. You have to be a special kind of evil fuck up for that kind of crazy.
So days, months, years go by. I get less and less guilty about not seeing my beautiful Uncle. Mimi passes. I don't give two shits about Frank the Plumber for my own reasons. And family gets weird about, as I've written earlier "valuables" And, my Daddy basically feels that Mommy, Sissy, Me, Julian, Kenny, M.O.M. (My Old Man) and his cousins and Aunt and Uncle are his family. (And Dad will be the first one to admit, he isn't good at keeping up with his truly beloved cousins. And when Uncle Jim and Aunt Alice died, Daddy went to that quiet, sad, place he goes inside himself, because of all the hurt and abandonment he has experienced in the past.)
And now, I know Uncle Michael is gone. March 15th 2013. And yes, I feel douchey.
I swear on my nephew I thought about him so much in the past. I had a job interview down Broadway in Hicksville in December of 2012, about 2 blocks from The Cerone's old house in Hicksville (it was one of the "valuables" I spoke of earlier.) It didn't look all that valuable sitting there on the corner. No trucks or vans in the driveway. No Mimi smiling, waving.
I glanced across the street at Lee Avenue school where Uncle Michael would take Sissy and I to play on the monkey bars. I showed him how I could do a drop dismount, and spin like a pinwheel. Sissy chased him around screaming, "Uncle Mikey, you can't get me." And he would say, "My girls are so fast and and talented!!" And then we'd walk, all holding hands, back across the street and eat chicken soup and swim in the pool.
I wonder how he kept the demons away during those times. Because he was pure joy. The Big Kahuna, The COOLEST UNCLE EVER!!!!
And I gave up on that. And that is something I have to live with. Because Goddess as my judge I loved him. He was so beautiful, and sick, and could be a huge pain in the ass to Frank The Plumber (which I get a sick kinda' glee out of). But he drove Mimi crazy too, which she never deserved, but she hung in there. And my Dad literally had to pull him off Frank the Plumber during one of his more rambunctious episodes, I mean really. Dad almost knocked Uncle Michael out, almost HAD too!
(Personally, I would've let Uncle Michael at Frank, but I'm a pretty demented fuck, and lord knows THAT isn't healthy.)
So that is the tale of my beautiful displaced Uncle. Who struggled, and loved, and laughed, and cried, and lived the best he knew how, pretty much like the rest of us.
He just did it with all those voices in his head and feelings most of never have to experience (lucky us.)
I am sorry Uncle Michael. I should have tried harder. I was fucking scared out of my mind of what I might see had I gone to visit. That is no excuse.
In my mind, I still see the gorgeous, blonde, tan, vibrant, free spirit that was my Uncle and friend. I know that once again that makes me a selfish cunt. I can live with that. It won't be the last time I accuse myself of living up to that moniker.
You see, it makes this all much easier. Even if it is the truth only to me, in my mind, in my memories.
I love you Uncle Michael.
Rest In Peace. You deserve it.