Articles by: Marc edward Dipaolo

  • Life & People

    Sex, Catholicism, and the Blessed Virgin Mary


    Quakers, huh?


    I wondered myself what I had become in that bone mosaic passageway in the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione. What was “
    ” doing to me?  What was it turning me into? I was on sensory overload. In a few days I had seen some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art, I had explored two of the major cities of my homeland, and had immersed myself in the history and theology of my religion.


    For years, I had wanted to know who I was. Why was I Catholic? Why was I born Italian and not some other nationality? What does it mean to be Catholic? What does it mean to be Italian? Oddly enough, growing up in the predominantly Italian-American
    Staten Island had not helped me find myself. All I had ever been able to do was define myself in opposition to others, primarily because it was they who had distanced themselves from me. I had encountered two kinds of people in my life: people who hated Catholics (non-Catholics who blamed them for all the problems in the world) and people who loathed Catholics (ex-Catholics with a chip on their shoulder about a priest who gave them crap when they were a kid over birth control or some such). The moment it was discovered that I was religious, that was it for me. People were afraid of me politically because they feared that my Catholicism made me too apt to vote Republican.  Religiously, others seemed to feel that I was a fool because I was not an atheist.  A few protestant alarmists saw me as a potential threat to the national security of the
    United States
    because Roman Catholics had a history of being terrorists in protestant countries – after all, British Catholics had tried to blow up Parliament and kill Queen Elizabeth I.  Romantically … well … let’s face it … religious people aren’t sexy. They just aren’t. So there went my high school dating years.


    And my glasses and allergies didn’t help my self-esteem or the way I was perceived, either.


    The only people who ever accepted me completely were my parents and my brother. And now that I was on the cusp of adulthood, the prospect of leaving them terrified me. Did I really have to go out into a world that seemed completely hostile to everything I held dear?


    I was hoping
    would be the place to go where I would be understood. I was hoping that
    might be the second home I was always searching for. My hopes were partly dashed by weird sights such as bone mosaic, and the persistent (and disturbing) imagery of the Slaughter of the Innocents. The language barrier was a bigger problem than I expected, and the centuries of history, while making the country fascinating and far more delicious than the 200-year-old United States, meant that I had a lot of catch-up learning to do before I could even hope to assimilate. Were these really my people? Or was I just an American after all?


    One thing I certainly did appreciate was the visibility of religious symbolism.
    ’s Puritanical obsession with the inherent evils of idolatry and public displays of faith had long angered and bored me. What was the good of having a multicultural nation if every culture was afraid of showing its true religious, political, and artistic colors? Words could not describe how glad I was to finally find myself in a country where it was not considered obscene to have a statue of the Virgin Mary out in public. As ever, Mary was a comforting sight to me, and she did make me feel at home.


    I had been raised to think of God as a fairly aloof male figure who looked something like Charlton Heston. The fact that God was the man and Mary was the woman would factor rather strongly in my future tendency to pray more to her for intercession than to pray directly to God the scary patriarch. After all, I got along better with women, overall, than I did with men.


    Naturally, because I received so many of my first impressions from things I saw on television as a child, my love for Mary began when I had seen a mini-series called “Jesus of Nazareth.”  I have no idea how young I was, but I was fairly young.  In the series, a very beautiful actress named Olivia Hussey played Mary.  Hussey did not have a large part, and most of the time she represented Mary in a very mysterious, inaccessible way.  However, there was one moment in particular that was very visceral and very human, which had made an enormous impression on my young mind.  While Mary had been a silent sufferer and somewhat aloof figure for much of the miniseries, she collapsed into tears and wailed in agony when Jesus’ corpse was lowered from the cross.  The image of Mary clutching Jesus’ body to her chest as the rain poured down upon her was memorable, to say the least.   I remember thinking, what must it be like to lose your only child? Even back then, I knew it was a nightmare. She felt pain, so she could understand my pain. God probably couldn’t feel pain, so how could he understand mine?


    So I prayed to Mary, because she knew pain and knew what it meant to be human.


    * * *


    “I wasn’t raised a believer,” Eileen said.


    The two of us stood in front of Michaelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in the
    . A pane of glass separated us from the massive statue of the Blessed Mother holding her dead son in her lap. I didn’t like the fact that the glass was there. I felt a distance between the holy family and myself. On top of that, the barrier happened to have a distracting glare reflecting off its surface. The time I saw a duplicate of the Pieta in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in
    had moved me far more. I was able to stand right in front of it and look at the serenely beautiful face of Mary, and the oddly graceful corpse of my God. That statue has stayed with me ever since, and seeing its genuine counterpart under such circumstance years later was an odd anti-climax.  Apparently, some nut had attacked the statue and chipped off a part of it a year or two before, and the glass was a recent measure to protect it from defacement.  I suppose it was a necessary security measure, but I didn’t like it.


    Eileen, on the other hand, was still moved, even if she disliked the glass as well.


    “I had no contact with religion,” Eileen continued. “And one of my friends, who was Born Again, was trying to tell me a few years ago about the wrath of God. I didn’t buy that. It didn’t sound right. None of it did.”


    "I understand," I said.


    "But that doesn't stop this from being the greatest work of art I've ever seen."


    We returned to
    the next day, and another week of classes followed.  The classes were either held in the lobby of the Locanda Garibaldi, or on the road as we examined various churches around
    or took day trips to places like Assissi.  After the recurring imagery of the Slaughter of the Innocents, the students began to notice a new staple of several churches – the Blessed Augustino Novello, a Franciscan friar who seemed to have the same powers as Superman and would fly and catch children who fell from the top windows of burning buildings.  Mark Newcomb and I were the biggest comic book fans, so we always cheered when we came across a picture of Augostino Novello doing something really superheroic.


    “Yeah!  Augustino!” I’d shout, confusing Olansky (who probably thought I had emotional problems by this point).


    Mark Newcomb would raise his arms in the air like Superman taking off.  “Da-da-da-daaaaa!  The Blessed Augostino Novello!  Fighting for Faith!  Hope!  And Love!  And the greatest of these is LOOOOOOVVVVEEEE!”


    While I listened to Olansky’s lectures, Eileen was free to roam
    and make plans for her next weekend trip, which would not be
    . She was planning on going to see
    , and she kept urging me to change my mind and go with her. She tempted me by reminding me that Dante’s tomb is in
    , and he was my favorite author. But I had to see San Marco in
    , and neither of us would budge just for the sake of the other.


    Each night, the two of us always ate dinner together with Colin and Drusilla in the Locanda Garibaldi. Each night we’d have a different meal, and each night Colin would wind up with a plate that looked twice as good as mine. My food was always great, but it was still funny to all of us. I was thankful that genuine Italian lasagna tasted totally different that my mother’s, so that her lasagna could remain “undefeated,” even after I tasted the cuisine of the motherland.  It was not inferior, only different.  Colin would get angry any time Drusilla glared at him for eating meat and would respond by further insulting her vegetarian sensibilities with tales of his deer hunting expeditions. While I was sympathetic to Drusilla’s sensitivity to animal rights, I have to admit I was squarely on Colin’s side as I chewed on my meat-filled lasagna.


    “That Drusilla’s a piece of ass,” Colin said, “but she’s so liberal it makes me not want her. It kills the whole sexual attraction for me, her whole annoying vegetarian, Unitarian, Commie, feminist, pro-gun-control, holier-than-thou crapola.”


    “That’s funny,” I observed. “I always found Commie vegetarians kind of hot. And Drusilla looks like Liv Tyler, too.”


    “Hey,” Colin said, “you’ve already got one girl on this trip. Leave the annoying pinko to me.”


    “I’m just saying, if I was you, I’d stick to topics we had in common. She’s pretty and worth getting along with. Yum, yum, yum.”


    “I think she has a boyfriend,” Colin said sullenly. “If she didn’t, I just know I could bend her to my will. One night with me and she’ll be singing the praises of Ronald Reagan and the NRA ‘til morning.”


    “Well … okay, then. Good luck with that … whole … enterprise,” I said.


    Every night after dinner, I would walk around
    with Eileen. Sometimes Colin and Drusilla came with us and sometimes they didn’t. At the time, the Sylvester Stallone movie “Daylight” was playing at a local theater dubbed in Italian. Since it was a disaster movie, dialogue was not important and we all enjoyed it. We also went to see Madonna in “Evita” two nights in a row because we loved it so. Joachim went with us the first night and announced that it was the worst film he had ever seen.  He also pointed out that the Italian subtitles in the English-language print of Evita did not provide a particularly accurate translation for the native Italians.It’s funny how Joachim can speak with perfect conviction about a subject, no matter how profound or how minor, and sway me almost every time. But I still liked “Evita,” even after he was through with me. 


    It was great spending all this time with Eileen, but I desperately wanted to be alone with her on a date. I wondered what it would be like to have dinner just with her and nobody else. But something like that had to be arranged. There were too many people around us and it was too much of a habit for us all to get together every night for food.


    For months prior to this trip, I had fantasized about having an affair in
    . Would I meet a saucy Italian bar wench or a bookish British tourist? Would it be a short fling or would I be meeting my future wife? I had thought it all nonsense, as things never work out for me, but how that I had an opportunity to fulfill such a fantasy, I found myself afraid. I had such a nice friendship with her. Why would I want to ruin it? For the opportunity to kiss her? To make out with her? There would almost certainly not be sex, considering both our personalities. Was it worth the risk?


    A few evenings later, I returned to my bedroom in the Locanda Garibaldi to greet Colin with a sullen face.


    “I don’t know what to do about Eileen,” I said.


    “That makes two of us,” Colin replied.


    It was clear Colin was not overly interested in the conversation, but I needed to talk to him. “I think she knows I’m attracted to her.”




    “She’s pushing me away.”


    “So don’t hang out with her anymore.”


    I sighed. “But the weird thing is, I think she likes me. At least, I think she does. I’m getting mixed signals.”


    “I don’t know, Marc. She spends a lot of time following you around, but that might not mean anything. She might just want to be your friend, or some gay crap like that.”


    “I’ve just been talking to her for two hours in her room,” I said. “For a while, it was a great conversation. She talked to me about why she loves medieval art and how her dream is to one day become a coach for the Mets.”


    “That’s great. You hate baseball and medieval art.”


    I smiled. “I thought I did, but she’s so enthusiastic about these things that it rubs off on me. I see the beauty of the art and the excitement of the sports through her. You know what I mean?”




    “Anyway, we got to talking and I was so excited by her that I tried to move in closer. I wanted to kiss her. But the last time I tried to kiss a girl, she didn’t want me to and I chased her away.”


    ,” Colin said.


    “Exactly. I didn’t want that to happen again, but I didn’t want to be a wuss and ask to kiss her. That’s lame.”


    Colin was beginning to pay closer attention to what I was saying. “What did you do?”


    “When the moment seemed right, I lightly brushed her cheek with my hand and told her she was beautiful.”


    “What happened?”


    I dropped down onto my bed and stared up at the high, white ceiling. “I think it embarrassed her. I don’t think she’s used to that kind of attention.”


    Colin laughed. “That doesn’t sound too good for you.”


    “Well, she spent the last half hour telling me how she never wants to get married or have kids, and since the only purpose of dating is to find someone to marry, she doesn’t have much use for that either.”


    “THAT was her response to you telling her she’s beautiful?”




    “Then to hell with her.”


    I cleared my throat. “I think she’s trying to protect me from falling for her because she knows we can’t be together.”


    “She’s right,” Colin said. “You’ll regret this down the line.”


    Then I remembered the plaque next to the four hundred skeletons in the bone mosaic: What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will be.


    “I don’t care about the future,” I said. “All I care about is right now.”


    “She lives in
    and you live on
    Staten Island.”


    “If I’m too scared to make a move in this situation, where there’s little to lose and a lot to gain, then how can I hope to be brave when the stakes are higher?”


    “You’ll probably never see each other again after this trip is over.”


    “All the more reason to act as quickly as possible,” I said.


    “It’s not worth it.”


    What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will be.


    “I’m tired of being afraid of living,” I said. “I’m going to do it.”


    Two nights later, as I was sitting in Eileen’s room, I said to her, “How it is somebody as pretty as you has no boyfriend?”


    It was ground we had already covered, of course, but this time I wasn’t going to let her convince either of us that she wasn’t good enough for me. If anything, I wasn’t good enough for her, but I couldn’t let myself think that way or I was doomed from the start.


    Eileen smiled and looked down on the bed. “I don’t know. I just don’t. I haven’t been on a date since I was nineteen.”


    “Five years?”


    Eileen nodded, a little sadly. “I don’t have much use for dating, anyway.”


    I paused. I had been planning to do this for days, and I was finally ready to do it. “Would you mind if I asked you to dinner? You know, just the two of us.”


    “I’d like that very much,” Eileen said softly.


    The dinner date happened several days later. We were oddly formal with one another at the outset, typical of two people who had very little experience with romance. Neither of us knew what we were doing, so we were very forgiving of one another. After we got to the restaurant, it became pretty clear to me that Eileen was not the sort of person who responded well to gentlemanly gestures like opening doors or buying flowers. This put me more on my guard, because those traditions had always helped me demonstrate my feelings in the past, and now I was no longer able to use them as a crutch. So I decided to be natural and just talk to her as I had been all along.


    I made no romantic moves towards her last night because she didn’t seem ready for them, and the time wasn’t right. I wanted our relationship to evolve slowly and naturally.


    The evening was so enjoyable that I was only partly disappointed that I didn’t get a kiss.


    I still didn’t know exactly where I stood with her, because she was so eccentric in so many ways, but I knew she wouldn’t agree to the date if she didn’t feel something for me.



  • Life & People

    SCARY STUFF!!! The Bone Mosaic on the Via Veneto

    The next day, Eileen led us to the bus on the outskirts of Siena that led directly to Rome. It would be a three-hour trip all told, and she knew the best subway stops to take to reach our hotel from our point of arrival.

    Our hotel in Rome was in a filthy, rather urban area, which made Colin extra nervous. This was one of the few times he had ever left his small-town home in upstate New York, and he was not doing well at making the adjustment. It seemed to help him, however, when the hotel room was prettier on the inside than it was on the outside. In fact, unlike the Locanda Garibaldi, this hotel had bathrooms in every bedroom, a fact I came to appreciate, as I have a tendency to get up at night and I don’t like to travel far.
    It was raining that Friday and, since we’d had bad luck with the rain thus far, we didn’t want to waste the day. To appease Colin, it was only the two of us on this leg of the journey. Sadly, two hopeless idiots with a map and no sense of direction meant we spent much of the day wandering aimlessly trying to figure out where the Coliseum was. We did manage to stumble on some of the more humble exhibits, such as the Discus Thrower statue in the Roman Baths, but I was annoyed when we met up with some of the others at the Pantheon.
    Naturally, Eileen had seen about even major landmarks in the three hours that it took Colin and me to find one. I promised myself that, argument or no argument, we’d be traveling with the expert tomorrow.
    Colin chose this point to once again mention the Cabella Cappucin site Joachim had suggested to him. I shrugged. “Why not?” I’m curious. I don’t know what the hell it is, but I’m curious.”
    Eileen overheard the suggestion and found herself curious enough to want to join us. Colin didn’t mind because, for once, she was joining his expedition and not the other way around.
    We found it within twenty minutes, under Colin’s direction, because he refused on two occasions to tell Eileen its exact street.
    “I just want to take in the city, Eileen,” he said. “If you spend all your time making straight line journeys from point A to point B, you miss out on a lot.”
    “That’s true,” I agreed.
    “If you spend all day lost, you miss out on more,” Eileen countered.
    It was only after we arrived that we discovered its true name and location ... the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione on the Via Veneto. We found out later that it was a favorite tourist attraction of the Marquis de Sade. If we had known that before going ... we still would have gone.
    From the outside, the building looked like a hundred others in the area. The only thing interesting about it was it had two rows of steps leading diagonally to the entrance on the third floor. Colin headed up the stairs first, with Eileen and me following behind.
    Colin went through the door and came back and second later with an embarrassed look on his face. “I need a translation.”
    I stepped past Colin into a dark, candle-lit room. Standing before me was a balding, bearded monk in a dark brown habit. I felt as if I had been instantly transported back in time more than four hundred years. Somewhere outside, a car horn honked.
    The monk silently pointed to a basket by the side of the door, which was labeled with a card that said “Donations” in English and Italian. Figuring it out, I pulled a few bills from my wallet. Not feeling much like doing the math to figure out how many lire equaled a reasonable entry price in American dollars, I just guessed and carelessly dropped a few of the smaller bills into the basket. To this day I have no idea if I was generous, cheap, or about right with what I paid.
    The monk gestured down a long, narrow corridor on the right, and the three of us headed that way. I had heard Colin correctly when he used the words “bone,” “mosaic,” and “tomb” to describe the place we were going, but nothing prepared me for the view I was about to receive. Running along the ceiling of the corridor were patterns made from every bone in the human body. There were rows of diamonds made from sets of jaw bones, flowers designs were made from teeth, and lamps of bone hung suspended from the ceiling by leg bones.
    As we walked along the hallway, we looked to our left to see the first of several chambers. In each of these chambers were walls of jawless human skulls stacked one on top of the other – hundreds of them, their empty eye sockets staring at us and through us and away from us. In a second chamber, three complete skeletons dresses in monks’ robes stood before another three displays of skulls. In yet another chamber there was a throne made up completely out of what could have been shoulder bones or pelvic bones, or the like. I didn’t know enough about the human body to identify what I was looking at, and I was glad for it. I could pretend it was a strange Lego, or something. After all, on one level, what I was looking at didn’t appear human at all. You don’t mourn a dead thing that doesn’t look human. The problem was, I knew it was human.
    On the ceiling of the final chamber, the skeleton of a five-year-old child hung suspended from the ceiling, clutching in its hand a giant scythe made of bone. I looked up at it, trying not to think of abortion or crib death or any dead children of any kind. I tried not to think of the Holocaust or of my dead relatives or of my own mortality. I tried not to think of move stars who I had always loved who had died recently.
    “What the fuck is this?” Colin exclaimed. He eyes were wide and a smile of shock, horror and amusement was spread across his face.
    “This is the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen,” I said.
    “Talk about Slaughter of the Innocents,” Eileen whispered.
    Colin pointed to a plaque on the wall beside us. “This says these murals are made from the bones of four hundred monks that died during the Black Death.”
    Well, that explains it, I thought. If I had to live through the Black Death, I’d be crazy, too – maybe even crazy enough to build something like this.
    That was when I noticed a sign being held aloft by one of the skeletons. “What you are now, we once were. What we are now, you will be.”
    “That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever read,” Colin breathed.
    Not knowing what else to do, Colin and I laughed off the tension. I remembered back in high school there had been a class trip to see Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s movie about the Holocaust. Marissa Glasser was angry that some students had laughed during the scenes of torture, wondering what kind of people found such tragedy amusing. I was not one of the ones who had laughed, but I had tried to explain to her at the time that laughter was – at times – a defense mechanism to deal with fear and pain. I found myself proving myself right there in the monastery.
    As I laughed at the four hundred dead monks, I felt insanely guilty, but I just had to do it, or go mad with fear and horror. I wondered what Marissa Glasser would have done if she were here with me in the monastery.
    Eileen didn’t keep her reaction a mystery. “Come on, guys, stop.”
    “It would be a great pledge location,” Colin observed. “Lock the new guy in here overnight and see if he gets through it without trying to escape or kill himself. If he does, then he’s in.”
    “Too right,” I said.
    We mingled among the dead for at least ten minutes, drinking in the sight of death, talking about how creepy it was, but not finding a way to get ourselves to leave.
    “I’ve had enough,” said Eileen. “I’ll meet you guys outside.”
    “No, no,” I said. “We’re coming.”
    Before we stepped out the door, Colin and I made sure we got post cards of the displays. We didn’t know why we were paying to keep that sight with us, but I know I wanted to remember exactly how it looked in the years to come.
    Two days later, when we would see Joachim again, we laughingly reproved him for suggesting it to us in the first place.
    “What the hell was that, Joachim?” Colin needled.
    “Cabella Cappucin separates the real Catholics from the ones who are just kidding around,” he said. “I know a lot of Catholics who walked out of that room as Quakers.”

  • Life & People

    My First Trip to Italy in 1997: Passegiata


                One of the first things I remember about the flight to
    was the fact that the stewardess was beautiful. She was tall, olive-skinned, and had a beauty that was both sultry and aristocratic at once. You could also tell that she was a warm person by the way she spoke to the passengers, switching back and forth between English and Italian, depending on who she addressed.

                I was sitting with my junior-year dorm roommate, Colin Donovan, and we were both lucky enough to have her check on us several times. I wasn’t yet 21, but I asked her for a Bailey’s Irish Cream. Without double-checking my age or even giving me a questioning look, she got the drink and handed it to me with a smile.

                Now, I’ve had, for as long as I can remember, a desire to photograph anything beautiful – women, art, scenery, and milestone events in my life. During my last year of High School,
    started referring to me as a “little old lady” because of my penchant for shoving a camera in his face. But I wanted to remember him, and what he looked like, as I got older. The same held true for this stewardess. I had brought at least 12 rolls of film with me, ready to document every aspect of this trip. I wanted the first photo I took to be of this woman.

                It was the sort of thing my father would do a lot when we were on vacation. He’d ask an extraordinarily beautiful tour guide in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., to pose with his children just so he could have a picture of an extraordinarily beautiful tour guide in a flowing, 19th century dress. More often than not, these pictures would come out overexposed – an act of God that probably annoyed me almost as much as my father.

                But I didn’t have little kids with me to pretend the shot was for them. I sat in my chair, holding my camera, waiting for the stewardess to walk by. There were several problems. For one thing, the “Buckle your seat belts” sign was lit. Also, the stewardess had been doing less and less walking by of late. I was sitting right in front of my two teachers and tour guides – Doctor Eric Olansky and Joachim Sanchez – and I was intimidated by her beauty. After all, there was no way of knowing how anyone would react, especially the stewardess herself.

                “What’s up,” Colin asked, wondering why I’d gotten so quiet.

                “I want to take a picture of the stewardess.”

                Colin smiled at my eccentric desire. “Are you going to sneak one as she walks by?”

                I shook my head. “I don’t want to take a picture if she doesn’t want me to. I’ll ask her.”

                “That’ll be great,” Colin laughed. “If you have the balls to do that.”

                “Will you take the picture?”

                “Sure, if you take one with me and her.”

                “I’ll try.”

                “But you’ve told me you were going to do it, so don’t you dare back out now or I’ll never let you hear the end of it.”

                “I’m nervous,” I admitted. “But I’m gonna do it.”

                Of course, another agonizing hour passed without any sign of an opportunity. I was not the sort of person who mad such blatant passes at people, and, in order for me to do anything exciting or out-of-character, I have to do it on impulse. Once I start thinking about it, it becomes something I have to do. Anxiety gradually builds within me until I start to sweat at the forehead and a desperate look comes to my eyes.

                Well, it wasn’t going to happen this time. I had been too timid in my life so far and I needed to be more aggressive. This would be one little test. She was a stranger and if she recoiled at the suggestion, I wouldn’t have lost much. The stakes were low, but I was still scared, so I knew I had to do it, or I would never have the courage to walk up to a woman at a bar.

                “Excuse me?” I said as she walked by.

                She stopped. “Yes?”

                “This is my first trip to
    and I want to remember the flight over. Would you mind taking a picture with me?”

                She eyes the camera, confused. “What do you want a picture of?”

                “Us,” I said, gesturing back and forth between her and myself.

                “Oh.” She straightened, her expression still puzzled, but in no way judgmental. "Come on, and we can go in the back to get the others.”

                Colin stood from his aisle seat and let me out into the open. Then we both followed the stewardess to the flight attendants’ station at the back of the plane. There were two other stewardesses sitting down drinking coffee when we got there.

                “He wants to take a picture with us,” she said.

                The male attendant bowed out of the picture, but not before offering to take it himself. I was glad because this allowed Colin to be in the shot as well. It could have easily been an awkward moment, but the woman was so classy and understanding about it that the whole thing went very smoothly.

                Colin and I thanked the attendants and then returned to our seats. I was relieved that it was over and cheered that the first minor event of the trip was a happy one.

                As we came into a landing, a view of some of the greenest, most majestic land I’d ever seen greeted my eyes through the plane’s window. On drives to State University of New York at Geneseo, I had noticed some very nice land just off the highway, with the occasional farm and herd of cows dotting the landscape. But those views were seen on ground level, from the highway, while now I was seeing the greenery of
    from the sky, with no highway in sight and no farms. It almost seemed untouched by civilization, and it was beautiful. I took a photo of it through the window, which I assumed would not develop well.

                The plane came in for a landing, and shortly thereafter I was able to pick up all my bags and head out into the airport with Colin and the twenty-two other people in my group. I was surprised when my passport was not immediately checked and we seemed to make it out of the airport in record time.

                After we emerged from the airport in a city area, I got my first shock. I had no ideas where the rolling hills went, but they couldn’t have been too far away because I had seen them only five minutes before the plan touched down. Still, they were nowhere to be seen, and the street was no more attractive than a busy section of
    . Even the airport exterior was odd, because it had a space-age modernism to its architecture.

                “I’m not liking this,” said Colin, and I agreed.

                Or Professor (and tour guide), Eric Olansky, knew exactly where he was going, so he led our tour group across the street, into a building, down some stairs, through a few large chambers filled with fellow travelers, and viola, we were on a train. He had worked things out with such speed, efficiency, and precision that all we had to do was keep the back of his head in our line of vision and chase after it. But he was fast and had very little luggage, so it was tough keeping up.

                My luggage had wheels, so while I had a lot of stuff, keeping up was fairly easy. It was only when we hit the odd staircase that I had trouble because I had to carry one suitcase and two carry-on bags up and down the stairs. This didn’t bother me much because it meant I dropped back to where the pretty blonde in our group was. She had the second most luggage of all of us, and Colin and I would take turns helping her get her stuff around. Colin had noticed her before I did, which was no surprise because he always kept his eye open for someone to pursue. This was one of the rare instances where we both singled out the same girl. The last time that had happened was not pleasant, and I didn’t want any trouble during my first trip to

                It was very surreal speeding through a foreign country. I’d get to a place and not even be sure how I’d gotten there. To this day, I can’t remember what route we took to get to the train tracks. All I know is we got there in record time.

                We took one train for about twenty minutes before getting a transfer. On the ride, Colin sat next to the blonde, whose name was Eileen, and talked to her about music. He asked her if she liked Billy Joel and she said as far as she was concerned, the Beatles was the only band truly worth listening to. Colin’s eyes grimaced when his face didn’t. I wondered if that meant he’d lost interest in her. I wondered if I had a chance with her. Then I shook my head. That was absurd. She was way too pretty for the likes of me.

                At the next station, we found out we barely missed the train because of delays we’d hit during our flight. Since it would be about a half hour before anything happened, we left our luggage in one large, dusty room, and then went off to find food.

                It would be my first time buying something in another language. I tried to prepare what to say as I scouted out what was essentially a glass counter filled with cookies, pastries, and cold cuts.

                My American comrades’ Italian had been limited to the equivalent of “one” and “thank you.” They would each point a clumsy finger through the glass at what they wanted, say “uno,” and then pay for it. Seeing that this worked, and not wanting to do anything to show up my friends, I fell back on “uno.” Once I finished the transaction, I found myself disappointed that my first conversation with a local in
    had been rendered in cave-man Tuscano. Still, I was tired and in no mood to worry about pronunciation and idiomatic expressions.

                The food wasn’t filling because I didn’t buy much, but it was good for the present. The dirty walls of the bathroom had Italian graffiti written on them. I knew enough of the language to recognize “for a good time call Francesca” and “Death to fags,” “AIDS is God’s judgment,” and “Dante was right.”

                It was comforting and disappointing to see that
    was a lot like
    after all. I wondered then if graffiti was the same all over the world. Was it all racist, sexist, and phrased the same way?

                Several stopovers later, we reached the outskirts of
    . There was no way we could continue on as a group because there were too many of us and the cabs and buses were too small to hold us all at once. Colin wanted to wait for a cab, but I raced with Joachim to find myself a bus. I wasn’t in the mood to wait any longer and I wasn’t comfortable enough using Italian money to figure out things like tips, which I’m not very good at giving in

                As I ran across the street to reach the bus, I found myself remembering Olansky’s warning to pack light. Even with the wheels, the bags were becoming a drag. Still, I had been warned time and again to pack light. I ignored the warnings deliberately, expecting to suffer at least a little bit, and I knew it would all be over soon.

                The bus was crowded before the eight of us piled in, and our collective baggage made it worse. We slid our tickets into the machine, which stamped them. The bus then sped away from the street corner, traveling with such speed that I felt myself swaying drunkenly back and forth, even grasping hard onto the support poles.

                The bus must have, at some point, passed through the medieval walls of
    , but I was too busy trying to stay on my feet to notice. When the bus slid to a stop, Joachim told us all to jump off. He took quick stock to make sure we were all there and then gestured to the main street of

                “We better move quickly,” he said. “It’s passegiata.”

                With that, he charged down the cobblestone streets into what looked like the fastest flowing river of people I had ever seen. My group rushed against the grain, barely dodging locals and fellow tourists whose only concern was remaining on their own courses. Everyone in my group was able to negotiate the crowd more skillfully than I was because I had the most luggage of all of them. Eileen had wisely chosen a cab whereas I had not. How was I to know that passegiata, whatever that was, was going to be going on when we arrived? How was I to know that the uneven street floor would play havoc with the wheels on my luggage, constantly tipping the suitcases over on their sides if I moved too quickly?

                The people of
    kept sailing past me, waiting for me to get out of their way, laden as I was. And none of them minded jostling my bags and causing them to tip over.

                On the fifth time my bag fell, I bent over to right it and sensed before I straightened up that I had lost my group.

                I was right. Before me, roads diverted out into two directions, and I couldn’t tell which way my group went because they had been concealed from me by the crowds.

                As tired and sweaty as I was, I decided not to panic. I really wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed, and I remembered it was called the “Lontano Garibaldi,” so all I had to do was ask somebody where the place was.

                I stopped one man. “Mi scusi, sono Americano. Dove Lontano Garibaldi?”

                He did not know what I was talking about. A person walking by heard the question and gestured towards what looked like the way I had come. Still, I was so disoriented by the waves of people that I figured I might have gotten myself turned around. Maybe it wasn’t the way I had come from.

                I trusted his advice enough to walk several blocks in that direction until I spotted a very familiar statue. The thought crossed my mind that it would be wise to wait at the statue for rescue. I heard somewhere that that is what boy scouts are taught. Stay in one place until rescue comes. But I wasn’t a boy scout and I was tired of being rescued. I wanted to find my own way.

                I asked a teenage girl where the Lontano Garibaldi was. She didn’t know.

                Two other people I stopped were German tourists. They didn’t know.

                One man was visiting from
    and didn’t know

                Yet another directed me even further along my present course, which I was sure was the wrong way. But with the third person pointing in the direction I was facing, I decided to trust to the advice of the three natives.

                Still, I wanted to be sure I was understood. I double-checked.

                “Lontano Garibaldi e il Piccolo Hotel.”

                The man’s eyes lit up and he again pointed ahead, the direction that he also happened to be traveling in. Before he could get too far ahead of me, I raced to catch up with him and said, “Cammina con me, per favore?”

                He nodded and walked me to the correct street. He pointed down the street, nodded, and then continued on his way. As I walked towards the hotel, I noticed that it was called the Hotel Villa Piccola and it was on

    Garibaldi Street


                That was when I started to panic. I went into the reception area of the hotel and tried to communicate with the woman at the front desk. She was a slightly round woman in her 50s with graying hair.

                I decided this was not the time to be grammatically correct or bashful about my attempts to speak the language. Even if I mangled my sentences and peppered them with English words and phrases, I would make myself understood.

                “Buona sera. Sono studente. Ho andare a Italia con il professore. Desidero camminare a Lontano Garibaldi. Il professore in l’hotel e io am here. Dove Lontano Garibaldi hotel?”

                The woman didn’t quite understand yet.

                “Posso telefono l’hotel Lontano Garibaldi? Il mio professore posso aiutarmi?”

                The woman reached under the desk and withdrew a phone book. She leafed through it and found the hotel pages. The pointed to an ad for the Locanda Garibaldi and asked me if that was the hotel I meant.

                I nodded, not realizing until she started dialing its number that I had gotten the hotel’s name wrong. There was no Lontano Garibaldi. There was only the Locanda Garibaldi. “Lontano” meant “far away.”

                She got the hotel owner on the phone and explained to him what had happened. He then went off to tell someone the news. A few moments later, she handed me the phone, and Olansky’s right-hand man, Joachim was waiting to hear from me on the other end.

                “Ciao, Marco. Where are you?”

                I told him what happened and explained to him that I was too lost to find a way back on my own.

                “I don’t know where the hotel is,” said Joachim. “Are you with someone who can tell me how to get there?”


                I gave the phone to the woman and she then offered Joachim the directions. After she hung up, she invited me to wait in the lobby. She had been so helpful that I felt bad that it wasn’t her hotel I was staying at.

                Of course, it seemed like it took Joachim forever to arrive. After thirty minutes, he appeared in the lobby, clearly surprised that I had wound up on the other side of the city from where I had been lost.

                “Olansky, of course, is ready to give you a big speech when you get back.”

                “Cool,” I said.

                “How the hell did you get all the way here?”

                As we left and thanked the receptionist, I began to explain to him what happened.

                I suddenly felt safe and knew that I’d be okay because Joachim was with me. Passegiata was over and he was able to walk with me at a reasonable pace, so that my luggage wouldn’t keep tipping over as I walked.

                It was true that, in many ways I failed, but at least I tried to find my way and kept my head without really getting upset. It also taught me that, while I didn’t know enough Italian to prevent myself from getting lost, I knew enough to get myself found.

                Maybe I wasn’t all that incompetent after all.

  • Life & People

    The Multiple-Choice Test

    "It was sometime in the spring, towards the end of my time in kindergarten. The twenty little people in my class, myself included, were being given a long, multiple choice test. We didn’t know exactly what it was for at the time, but we knew at it was some kind of Intelligence Quotient test. We were not yet old enough to adopt the cynical attitude of junior high school students, that any test that doesn’t count towards the grade is not worth taking, and we had a child’s eagerness to do well and to please the adults, so we attacked the long, complicated test with gusto. We were spread about the room with one empty seat between each student to discourage cheating. Our desks were full desks in miniature, not the awkward and uncomfortable chairs with the arm rests attached reserved for high school students and most college classrooms. The classroom, unimaginatively dubbed B5, was brightly lit, thanks to the presence of long, fluorescent ceiling lights and large windows on the left side of the room with the cream-colored shades pulled up all the way to let the maximum amount of daylight in. The room was decorated with posters that featured the letters of the alphabet, the months of the year, a color wheel with ROYGBIV labeled clearly, epigrams like the unattributed “To thine own self be true,” and a strategically placed American flag and portrait of President Reagan in the front, right-hand corner of the room next to the immense chalk board.   


    Mrs. Spector stood at the front of the room, watching the students closely with an expression that meant little to my five-year-old brain. Was she bored? Distrustful of us? Eager for us to do well and worried for us? I wasn’t very good at reading faces. I also had no idea how old she was or any thought of how old she was. She could have been anywhere from twenty-five to fifty, but my kid brain assumed that there were only a handful of possible ages people could be: five, forty, sixty, and one hundred. She wasn’t five, sixty, or a hundred, so I assumed she was forty, but she was probably around thirty-three. She had short, blonde hair, cut in the spiky style popular during the eighties. She wore a white, buttoned-down blouse, a knee-length black skirt, and a black leather vest. She didn’t always walk around carrying an enormous ruler that she used to point to words on the blackboard, but whenever I think of her, I think of her holding that ruler. As I took the test, I would look up at her occasionally, observe her clutching the ruler and standing with perfect posture beside the blackboard, and then I resumed my work on the test.


    What I didn’t know at the time was what the test was for and who was administering it. I would find out years later, when I researched the program as a reporter for The Staten Island Advance. I did a lot of background digging, and pieced together a reasonably reliable chronology of events that led to the forming of a program for gifted youngsters. As it turned out, educators had designed it to select the members of the first-ever Advanced Learners, Early Childhood (ALEC) Classroom. ALEC was an initiative created by the Staten Island school district in response to pressures from child advocate groups, who lobbied for advanced education for gifted youngsters throughout the late nineteen-seventies.  One of the head lobbyists was Carol Kasparian, founder of Concerned Citizens for the Education of Gifted and Talented Children, who was glad to see that the school district was finally taking steps to identify the roughly ten-to-fifteen percent of each school’s students that might be gifted, and ship them off to the three Staten Island schools that played host to ALEC, my school, PS 54 in the community called Willowbrook; PS 29, which served the neighborhoods that comprised Castleton Corners; and PS 42 in Eltingville. The district was not happy to make the concession, as it would wind up costing them $60,000 per gifted class each year, and the District Superintendent had decided early on that, at the first opportunity, he would try to end the program, claiming that it was too expensive.  He would finally succeed in killing it off seventeen years later, and was unapologetic about it when I interviewed him on the topic. However, in 1981, ALEC was just getting started, and I had my crack at getting into in it on the ground floor with my fellow classmates. Those who scored the highest in my school would win the right to have Lillian Phillips as their first-grade teacher. Mrs. Phillips had studied methodologies for teaching the gifted at Columbia University, which emphasized special projects and field trips, discussion classes and experimentation, not learning by rote. Unfortunately, the entrance exam to get into the program was about as staid and unimaginative as one could get. 


    Carol was not happy with the selection procedure for ALEC, feeling it was exclusionary, favoring good test takers, instead of many genuinely gifted students who were too bored or reclusive to perform well in class, and did not take into account skills that can not easily be measured by a multiple-choice test, namely, critical thinking, writing skills, artistic aptitude, a good ear for music, and other signs of a right-brained individual. 


    So, I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I did know enough to get very angry at the test I was taking.  If it was meant to examine my intelligence, it wasn’t doing a very good job. The questions were absurd, and many of them didn’t include the real correct answer as an option. I raised my hand, and Mrs. Spector approached. She stood over my desk, a tall, drink-of-water of indeterminate age, holding the ruler lazily at her side. “Yes?”


    “Do we have to fill in the little circles next to the three answers they give us, or can we write the answer down next to the question?” I asked.


    “It is a multiple choice test, Marc. You have to fill in the little circle next to the right answer and leave the wrong answers blank. You can’t write a different answer down.” 


    I looked back up at her, noticing the small brown birthmark next to the left corner of her mouth. “But the right answer isn’t there.”


    “Of course it is there,” she said.


    “But it isn’t.”


    “Just take the test, Marc.”


    She walked back to the front of the room.


    I looked down at the question again.


    23) How many times does a clock chime between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.?

    a) 4 times

    b) 6 times

    c) 2 times


    The answer wasn’t there. I thought about it. The grandfather clock in my parent’s house chimed on the hour the number of chimes of that given hour. Two chimes for two o’clock, three chimes for three o’clock and so on. It also chimed once on every half hour. Therefore, between one o’clock and three o’clock, my clock would chime once at one o’clock, once at one thirty, twice at two o’clock, once at two thirty, and three times at three o’clock. So the clock would chime 1+1+2+1+3=8. The answer was eight. It wasn’t on the darn test. So I wrote the number eight in the margins next to the question and added the explanation “because of the half-hour chimes.”   


    The next few questions were pretty easy, so it was smooth sailing until I hit question 42, which also lacked a proper answer.


    42) If Mary Johnson buys chocolates for $3 and bubble gum for $2 and spends $4 on a dress, how much money total does she spend on candy?

    a) $5 

    b) $9

    c) $6


    Well, a dress isn’t candy, so I knew not to factor in the $4, which meant that choice b) was wrong. And choice a) would be right in a world where there was no sales tax, but everyone knew that you buy something and you have to pay sales tax. So that would bump up the price to five dollars and change. Would the answer be rounded up to six, and be choice c)? New York sales tax was something weird like eight-and-a-quarter cents for every dollar, so the answer would, technically, be around $5.46. And there was no $5.46 listed. So I raised my hand, and Mrs. Spector approached.


    “Yes, Marc?”

    “Do we round these answers up?”

    She peered down at the test question, and gave me a quizzical look after reading it. “It is a simple question.”

    “But do we leave out the sales tax, or not? If we leave out the sales tax, the right answer is there.”


    Mrs. Spector smiled. “There’s no sales tax in this question.”

    “But what kind of a world has no sales tax? That’s not a realistic question,” I complained,

    Six-year-old Mitchell Sherry chimed in from two desks away. “There’s no sales tax in Delaware. And no tax on food in New York.”

    Mrs. Spector looked sharply at Mitchell. “Concentrate on your test. No listening in.” She returned her eyes to mine. “Take the test. I can’t help you any more. I’m already talking to you too much. Just answer the questions.”

    “I don’t like this test.” I slapped my pencil down in an attempt to be fierce and demonstrate my anger, but it made a weak slapping sound, not the thundercrack I was hoping for, and then rolled limply off the desk. I didn’t make a move to pick it up. 

    Mrs. Spector sat on her heels beside me and gingerly picked up the pencil with her free hand, depositing it neatly back on my desk. “Well, this is the test we’re all stuck with.”


    I grumbled and went on to complete the test.


    Four weeks later, Mrs. Spector gave us back the results. It was an official-looking paper intended for our parents to read, and written in an incomprehensible legalize. There were also a lot of graphs involved, which I have never been good at reading. After we were dismissed, we stood outside the school, alongside the gated playground, waiting for our parents to come pick us up. An army of cars were already parked around the school, and parents were honking their horns, gesturing wildly from passenger seat windows, and shouting their kids first names – which wasn’t very helpful given the number of Jennifers and Michaels running around on the loose. My mother was a little late, so I had time to stand outside and look over my results. There were a lot of percentages involved that I wasn’t getting. That’s when Mitchell Sherry strolled to a stop next to me.

                “So?” he asked.  I held the form out to him. “What does my result say?”
                He plucked my paper from my hands and read through it. “Oh, this isn’t right.”
                “What?” I asked.
                “It says you didn’t get into ALEC.”
                I blanched. “You mean I’m not smart?”
                “Of course you’re smart,” Mitchell retorted. “What five-year-old kid has sales tax on the brain? Besides me, that is.”
                “It isn’t so special, knowing about sales tax.”
                Mitchell pointed at Smiley, who was inside the playground, jumping up and down with glee next to the monkey bars. “Smiley obviously got into ALEC, and you are a whole lot smarter than him. If he got in … I don’t know. Maybe ALEC isn’t all that great. Or maybe there was some kind of secretarial error somewhere.” He handed the paper back to me.
                “I don’t understand.” I crumpled up the paper, dashed it to the ground, and shoved my hands in my pockets, angrily.
                Smiley bounced his way over to me. “So, Marc? You get in?” When I didn’t deign to answer him, Mitchell replied. “No, he didn’t. But we’ll be in the same class.”
                Smiley’s face fell. “You didn’t make it in? That’s got to be a mistake.” He was so concerned for me, and outraged on my behalf, that I felt bad for internalizing the nickname he had been given by the other kids in the class and always thinking of him as Smiley instead of as Demosthenes Margaritis.
                “I’m just not that smart,” I concluded.
                “You know you’re smart.” Mitchell patted me reassuringly on the shoulder. He was a good sport, despite my maudlin mood and my inability to be happy for him that he got in the program. “I’m sorry about it all.”
                My mom’s silver Impala pulled up half a block away. It was easy to spot, even from a distance, because the paint jobs on the Impalas that particular year of issue were defective, so the paint peeled away in spots to reveal a series of ugly, rust-colored circles the size of apples. It gave mom’s car a silver and rust-polka-dot look that was grotesque enough to be a car clowns would drive in the circus. I said a half-hearted goodbye to my friends and moped off in the general direction of the car, eager to complain to my mom about how stupid the test was and how stupid I felt.   
                I have hated multiple choice tests ever since."

    * * *


    My wife Stacey looked up from reading my story, "The Multiple-Choice Test."


    "You're amazing," she said. "What ... did you write this in a half hour, or what?"


    "I dunno," I said.  "An hour.  Two?  Didn't time myself."


    "Who writes something this good that fast?" she asked.


    "So you liked it?" I asked, fishing for more compliments when the one I'd just heard should have more than satisfied me.


    "You know I did."


    "What was good about it?"


    "It was great.  A lot of fun."


    "You have a favorite part?"


    "I just like reading about your childhood.  And I don't know how you remember all this."


    "I remember most of it very well," I said.  "The rest I fill in."


    Stacey started to say something, but then stopped.


    "What?" I asked.






    "Well ... I do think you made the kindergartners too smart."


    "That's how I remember us talking," I insisted. "We were gifted, after all."


    "But the multiple-choice questions don't make sense."


    "How so?"


    "Kindergartners can't read.  Or do math on that level.  Maybe 1 + 1 = 2.  Maybe that.  Not doube-digits and sales tax."


    "Kindergartners can't read?"


    Stacey smirked.  "Of course they can't."


    "Wait a minute, wait a minute."  I paused.  "I learned to read in the first grade.  I read a story about a kid who woudn't eat his beets and he had a dream about fighting giant living beets.  I think it was called 'James and the Beets.'  That was first or second grade.  So how could there be verbal questions on the ALEC test?"


    "That's what I'm saying.  There couldn't have been."


    "They must have been multiple-choice picture questions.  Or maybe the teacher read the questions aloud and moved through the test slowly with us."


    "So you made those questions up?"


    "Nah. That was a real test I took.  Must have been in the fourth grade, then.  But I do remember that the ALEC test didn't test my strengths - writing, drawing, reading comprehension.  It was all math and logic.  Very sciency, not very artsy.  I remember that for sure."


    "Okay, I'll go with that.  But they weren't these particular questions."


    "They were of that ilk, but designed for kindergartners."




    "So when I was retested in the third grade and given more creative writing, drawing, verbal, and audio-visual questions, I passed.  If I had been given more math questions, I never would have gotten into ALEC, not even in the third grade."


    Stacey nodded.  "Well, you didn't get in as a kindergartner, but the story had a happy ending.  You made it as a third grader."


    "Yep. I made it into Hogwarts as a third grader.  But the story doesn't have an entirely happy ending..."




    to be continued... 


  • Life & People

    The Leprechauns in the Record Player

    Staten Island, New York. Once Upon a Time… (circa 1980)


    (Author’s Note: I’m about five-years-old when this story takes place.)
    I was not sure if leprechauns enjoyed the simple pleasures of cookies and milk, but it was the only meal I knew how to make without my mother’s help, so it would have to do.
    With two chubby hands, I laid a plate of thirty chocolate chip cookies on the carpeted floor in front of the record player, hoping that there was enough food to satisfy however many leprechauns were busy at work inside the machine. I then scampered quickly back into the kitchen, poured milk into seven paper cups – managing not to spill too much of the beverage onto the breakfast table – and then made several trips back and forth between the kitchen and living room, each time gingerly placing a paper cup before the record player and crossing my fingers that every single cup would remain standing on the soft, plush carpet.
    Once again, I had some small anxiety that I should be providing more milk, and worried that the cups would be too big for leprechaun hands, but I was doing the best I could with the information I had. When Grandpa DiPaolo, had explained to me that morning that record players were operated by hordes of little men who lived inside the machine, and whose sole purpose in life appeared to be to stand ready for whenever I (or my mom) felt the urge to listen to an Elvis Presley vinyl record, grandpa had been very earnest in his claim but very sketchy in detail.
    The conversation had begun innocently enough. It had been early that afternoon and I had been dancing around the room blasting “Maybe I Know” by Lesley Gore when grandpa, a skinny fellow with white hair, a white moustache, and black-plastic rimmed glasses who was dressed in white slacks and a white, button-down shirt, came in and politely asked me to lower the volume. My younger brother was taking a nap, and shouldn’t be disturbed. The music softened and grandpa settled himself into the plush love seat across from the record player, casually scanning the rows of books jammed together on the shelves nailed up on the wall next to him. I followed his gaze and read off some myself – The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, Jane Eyre, The Time-Life Book of Sharks. These books, like most of the books in our household, were mainly works of literature, history, and zoology, with a liberal smattering of books on the movies – genre criticism, Hollywood tell-alls, surveys of the careers of various movie stars and directors. I had never read any of these books, but my parents liked them so much that I knew some day I would. In the meantime, I could enjoy the glossy color pictures in them whenever I flipped through them.
    “So, Marc,” Grandpa began in a faraway tone as his eyes glided over the tiles.
    “Yes?” I was always taught to say “yes” and not “yeah.”
    “You like listening to old music?”
    It took me a second to understand the question. “You mean mom’s rock albums?”
    “‘Rock Around the Clock’ and the like.” Grandpa returned his eyes to my round face. I had no way of knowing it, but my thick, curly hair was as out-of-control as ever, standing up in large clumps at the back of my head.
    “It’s not old,” I declared, still standing awkwardly in front of the record player, my eyes cast down on the floor. “Mozart is old. This is new.”
    Grandpa smiled thinly. “Mozart is really old. Why not listen to new music?”
    “Like Blondie or Bruce Springsteen?”
    Finally leaving my post next to the record player, I sat beside my grandfather. “Who are they?”
    Grandpa chuckled. “Never mind.” 
    I frowned and a silence came between them.
    “Your parents will be home from the Poconos tomorrow,” Grandpa ventured.
    I nodded, my eyes returning to the record player.
    “Got something on your mind?”
    I shifted in my seat and looked down at my feet, which were invariably dressed in white tennis socks. “Yes.”
    “Is it a secret?”
    “I want to know how record players work.”
    “You know…why does the record start spinning when you put the needle on the record? And why does it stop spinning when you lift it? And how do you get all those voices on the record? And why do records all have different music on them when they all look the same?”
    Grandpa smiled enigmatically.
    “Do you know?”
    “There is one thing I do know.”
    And that’s when Grandpa explained that there were leprechauns in the record player. According to Grandpa, they were the ones who made the record spin, who made the lights flash under the sign that read Stereo Control Amplifier, and who made the sound come out of the speakers. Naturally, I had asked a stream of questions. How many were there? How big were they? What did they eat? Did they get any days off? Did they ever get to leave the record player? Do other appliances have leprechauns in them, like televisions or electric can openers? And if leprechauns exist, does that mean fairies exist, too?
    With each question I hurled at Grandpa, the man’s face grew ever more amazed and amused. He offered an array of explanations ranging from somewhat vague to completely vague, consistently annoying me with his lack of scientific data. Thanks to my dad, I knew a lot about the animal kingdom, especially about sharks, and everything I knew was very scientific. I knew that sharks could perceive prey by the electrical field generated by its beating heart or by the vibrations that a fish or human makes in the water while it swims. And I knew a lot about the different species of sharks, too. (My particular favorite was the funny-looking Hammerhead shark.) What I wanted was similarly detailed information about leprechauns’ biology, psychology, and social mores, especially since I had heard somewhere that they didn’t exist and I was somewhat dubious about their presence in the record player. But Grandpa did insist.
    And so, that evening, I found myself sneaking downstairs past my bedtime, after I suspected that grandpa had went to sleep (and knew that my brother was still asleep, since we shared a room) and provided the leprechauns with a little after-dinner snack gleaned from a store-bought bag of cookies and a half-empty carton of milk purchased yesterday from the deli up the block. I kept the lights off, not wanting to wake Grandpa or to scare the little green men away, and hid behind the sofa with an unlit flashlight and a camera, awaiting the arrival of the miniature workers. I rested on my belly, rolling the flashlight over in my hands as I looked at the camera.
    The camera was a simple point-and-shoot variety that I had never touched before in my life, but it looked like the world’s easiest thing to use. I was eager to obtain photographic proof of the leprechauns because I suspected that the other kids on the block would not believe my tall tales if I could not produce evidence of my encounter with the fantastic. Besides, even at that age, I was discovering a love of photographs and was excited at the prospect of taking my first snapshot.
    And so, I waited for the little men to emerge from their wooden and plastic home. And I waited. I yawned. The grandfather clock chimed midnight and I counted the gongs, wondering when they ceased how I had only managed to count eleven. I decided that I must have missed a gong somehow. “Where are these darn guys?” I whispered to myself.
    I felt foolish laying there in the dark, clutching a camera and flashlight, staring through the gloom at a plate of cookies and seven Dixie cups. By one in the morning, I was beginning to think I had been conned. But I waited a little longer, remembering the fairy tale of The Elves and The Shoemaker. Of course, in the fairy tale, the elves didn’t come out until after the humans were asleep, so perhaps this was part of it. I knew that I would miss them if I went to sleep, but if I awoke to find the cookies eaten and the milk drunk then I would accept them as proof enough of the leprechauns’ existence. I would feel a little disappointed at missing a personal encounter with the little people but, as mom would say, “What can you do?” So I lowered her head to the carpet and went to sleep.
    The living room light snapped on at four-thirty in the morning, waking me. I lifted my head groggily from the floor, trying to see through the sleep mucus that clouded my eyes. There was a red blotch on my face where the carpet had scratched against my skin. A bemused Grandpa stood over me, looking back and forth between the little girl and the after-dinner snack in front of the record player, which remained untouched.  “I woke up to go to the bathroom, I check on you, and you aren’t in bed,” Grandpa said flatly.
    “I wanted to feed the leprechauns,” I muttered. “I wanted to thank them for working so hard.”
    Grandpa sighed and picked me up off the floor by the elbow. He let go of me when he felt that I had found my footing and was standing under my own, half-asleep power. “I was just kidding with you. You’re a smart kid. I thought you knew that.”
    I looked back at the record player, half expecting to see a legion of emerald gentlemen come crawling out from every nook and cranny in the music-maker, shouting in unison, “We exist! We exist! Don’t say that! We exist!”
    Grandpa rubbed my head affectionately. “Come on. You didn’t really believe all that, did you?”
    “You told me that they used to work sixty-hour weeks but now they only work forty because they have a union.”
    “I made that up.”
    “And you said that they were in all Japanese record players.”
    “They aren’t in any record players.”
    I stared up at my grandfather. “They aren’t in any record player?”
    “They aren’t anywhere. Leprechauns don’t exist.”
    “Leprechauns don’t exist?”
    “Leprechauns don’t exist.”
    “That’s what I said. Now you really need to go to bed.”
    “What about all that other stuff?”
    “What other stuff?”
    “You know. The other stuff you don’t see. The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, angels, souls, ghosts. All that stuff.”
    “Well…” Grandpa paused.
    “Do they exist?” I asked.
    “No. All that stuff is made up, too.” Grandpa renewed his attempt to urge me towards the stairs and my upstairs bedroom, but I was too lost in thought to notice.
    “So you lied to me when you made all that stuff up,” I said suddenly.
    Grandpa looked mad for a moment, but then stopped himself from speaking. A moment later, he said, “I wouldn’t call it a lie, Marc. It was just a nice story to entertain you. All these things are nice stories for kids to cheer them up. But I guess you’re too old for them now. You’ve figured out that they’re just stories, so I guess it would be wrong of me and your parents to keep telling them to you. You’re just too sharp for the rest of us.”
    I looked extremely dubious.
    “Are you okay there, pal?”
    I scowled.
    “Are we still friends?”
    I broke away from my grandfather, briskly scooped up the plate of cookies in my right hand and one of the cups of milk in my left. “I guess I’ll eat these myself, then.”
    “Can I have one before we go back to sleep?” Grandpa asked.
    “No. You’re a jerk. I’m not giving you any cookies.”

  • Life & People

    Dear Mr. Brontosaurus

    As a college teacher, my mother taught at a city university which, after a large shakeup that included a merger and the institution of the revolutionary multicultural policy of open enrollment, became New York City Technical College. Looking back on her career now, it was very much shaped by the changing fortunes of the humanities majors from the sixties through the eighties. 


    In the eyars immediately following the launch of Sputnik, things had been different.  Thanks to the Cold War, and fears that the Russians were getting an edge on the United States in terms of technology and the overall strength of the intelligentsia, the American government subsidized higher education to an amazing degree, and the humanities majors benefited from the initiative as well as the sciences.  My mother’s scholarship was probably a result of such monies. Unfortunately, by the time she finished graduate school, and began looking for a teaching career, the bottom fell out of English departments in higher education, especially in the City University and community colleges system. Open enrollment meant that colleges were made available to everyone, including those who had been cursed with dreadful grade school education, those who were new immigrants, and those who had gotten their GEDs. The democratization of college, and the end to elitism, were noble goals, but those, effectively, led to the watering-down of the literature curriculum at her college, and many others. The degree of remediation required to try to teach these legions of new students basic writing skills to enable them to survive life in even a two-year-college, let alone a four-year one, was considerable. There was little way colleges could expect students with little to no ability to read or write in English to be able to understand the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne or Herman Melville, so my mother only managed to teach “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Young Goodman Brown” for the first couple of years of her career before she wound up teaching basic grammar and the four-paragraph essay to remedial writing students for the bulk of her career at New York City Technical College. I haven't talked to her much about it, but from where I was sitting, she appeared to like teaching the material, but found the grading tiresome in the extreme.  In fact, despite her short number of hours in the classroom, minimal committee work, and no scholarship expectations, she worked like a mule grading and regarding a dozen essay assignments granted to upwards of two-hundred students a semester. The commute from our family home in Staten Island to what she dubbed “glorious downtown Brooklyn” via the eternally traffic-jammed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway left her drained much of the time, and often horrified at the prospect of actually having to cook dinner and do housework every night after returning from work. 


    (One would think that dad would have held up his end here, but he didn't, really.  He had too much fun hanging out with me when mom was at work.  Playing Stratego.  Going to the park to look for Preying Mantises.  Watching his favorite old Hammer horror movies on our brand new, cutting-edge-technology VCR.  It was fun.  But not for mom.)



    Some of my most vivid memories of mom from childhood involved her sitting on the couch, surrounded by piles and piles of little blue examination books, grading essays with a red pen while the daytime soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live played on mute with the closed-captions on as a minor distraction from the drudgery of the grading task. She would have enjoyed the job more had the essays been better, and had she not had the same students upwards of three semesters in a row after failing them repeatedly. Technically, students were supposed to be expelled after failing remedial writing twice, but it never happened, so she sometimes complained of having the same student four or five times. Eventually, she would pass such a student on, but she had deep reservations that such a student belonged in college when they would turn in a four-page paper on the death penalty that looked like this:
    Professor CD                                                   Icepick
                                        The Death Penalty 
    i don’t like death penalty.
    I was absen allot this class, cuza my nu girlfriend. I met her at a bar called gogos. She had a tattoo over her az. it said daddys trash. i said whose ur dady. She said you are. and u can iamagine, professor, the great sex we had after that. in the bar bareassemt. i put her pantez in my mouth and my cok inside her az right under her tattoo. i cummd. It wuz cool. and we fuk allot. Evr sinz. On cars and in barassments and in alleys and in all sorts posishuns.
    That is why i am absen allot.
    I need an a in the coarse. Please give it to me so i can take over my father’s gas station while he is in jail.
    Thank you.
    It was demoralizing for my mother, being forced to grade hundreds of papers of this quality throughout the semester, and a lot of them tended to blur into one another. However, looking back, this essay from Icepick did make an impression on her. She never forgot it. When Icepick complained about the F she gave him, he said, “How did I fail, man? I know how to write!” Icepick had lots of gold teeth and my mother was frightened of him.
    “The essay was on the death penalty and you didn’t write about that topic.”
    “But I wrote a good story about me and my girlfriend. You fail me you tell me I can’t write, I feel bad about myself, you know? That’s not good to not make me feel smart, you know? Instead, I feel like crap, you know? Like I can’t write, you know?” 
    “It doesn’t matter if you did a good job on another topic,” my mom explained. “I gave you one and you didn’t follow directions. If you go to the hospital to have your gall bladder out and the surgeon does a really great job removing your lung, he shouldn’t get credit for that.”
    “But come on, is what I’m sayin’. Is all, you know?”
    “Icepick, even if the assignment had been ‘Sex is fun,’ it still isn’t a well-written, long enough, or grammatically correct essay.”
    “But come on, is what I’m sayin’.”
    “No, Icepick.”
    “Is all I’m sayin’, you know? Come on.”
    “Aw, man! Whatdafuk, man?”
    “No, Icepick.”
    Mom never showed me her students’ work, but she would sometimes give me a handful of blank examination books to doodle in and write in. For the most part, I didn’t write cohesive stories, or even do more than draw funny shapes and color them in. Still, I remember one time when I took a stab at storytelling. I wrote an adventure story called “The Streets are Cracking.” I used an impressive array of Crayola crayons to draw a scene of a little stick man walking along my idea of a city block, which boasted a cartoon tree, two houses, and a straight line across the page representing the street. On the next page, I drew a big crack appearing in the street and gave my stick man a shocked expression. I flipped another page, and picked the most bizarre color I could find from the box of 68 crayons – Periwinkle. So, on the next page, I drew a big Periwinkle demon hand reaching up from the crack in the street. The second-to-last page saw the hand drag our hero back into the hole in the ground. I couldn’t figure out where the story should go from there, so I thought that was a good place to end it. 
    I showed the story proudly to my mother.
    “Very good, Marc. I have a student named Icepick who wants an A for a terrible paper. If I give him an A for what he wrote, what does that mean I should give ‘The Streets Are Cracking?’ A++++?”
    I had no answer for her, but it sounded like she was praising my work, so I smiled.
    On another day, I decided I would use one of the blue books to write a letter to my favorite dinosaur, the brontosaurus. As it turned out, my letter was pretty short, and only used up half of the first page of the blue book, because I realized that I couldn’t think of all that much to say that a brontosaurus would be interested in reading. So I decided to make it about him, instead of telling him about me. This is what I wrote:
    “Dear brontosaurus,
    Watch out for the Tyrannosaurus Rex. He has sharp teeth and is a meet eater. You are a plant eater and have no teeth. Be careful.
    I found an envelope large enough to put the blue book in and wrote on it my name and address in the return address section. In the recipient space I wrote,
    “Mr. Brontosaurus. 
    The desert. 
    The past. B.C.”
    Then I put my zip code after B.C. because it was the only zip code I knew. 
    By the time mom was done teaching, doing the housework, and grading papers, she was often too exhausted to do anything more than watch television. Her eternal favorites were Jeopardy!, Mystery!, and Masterpiece Theater, but she spent the eighties checking in on shows like Dallas, Quincy, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Matlock, Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Amen, and 227, as well as miniseries like North and South, The Thorn Birds, and Jesus of Nazareth. I enjoyed watching all of these shows with her, sitting Indian style on the carpet in front of the television set, as she lay spread out on the couch next to me. I would always make it to the end of each show, but she had a tendency to doze off with ten minutes left to go of everything she watched, so she spent years watching mystery shows like Matlock and never finding out who the killer was. In some ways, she preferred Columbo because each episode began with dramatizing the killing and the only mystery was how Lt. Columbo would gather enough evidence to arrest the killer. If mom missed the moment the killer was arrested, that wasn’t so bad, because at least she knew who the killer was.
    Even though she did watch a lot of TV, she also found a lot of time to read, and I always liked watching her reading, even when I was too young to read myself. Mom’s favorite author was Agatha Christie, and she had the entire mystery collection. She read the books voraciously, going through them at an amazing clip – sometimes one or two books in just one sitting – and there were roughly eighty books, which meant that, by the time she finished the eightieth book, she had forgotten the first one, and went through them again. Of all of the Christie detectives, mom’s favorite was Miss Marple, the little old lady who used gossip and a social network comprised of cooks, nannies, and dowagers to solve crimes. Mom liked Hercule Poirot a lot less, since she found the little Belgium effete, fussy, and annoying, but she really hated Tommy and Tuppence and had not a kind word to say about them.
    “Well who are Tommy and Tuppence?” I asked one time.
    “What?” mom asked. She was tone deaf and a little hard of hearing.
    “Who are Tommy and Tuppence?”
    “They’re terrible!” she cried.
    “They are so terrible I can’t describe them.”
    “Are they two little boys? They sound like Tom and Huck.”
    “No, they’re a married couple.”
    “Who solve crimes?”
    “Yes and no. They may be spies.”
    “Spies? Really?”
    “Well, not really. They’re just terrible.”
    I shrugged. “Well, they’re not famous. I would have never heard of them if it wasn’t for you. I’ve seen Poirot movies on HBO, so he’s famous. So I guess the world agrees with you. No movies for Tommy and Tuppence.”
    “They don’t deserve their own movies!” mom said emphatically.
    And that was the last time we ever discussed Tommy and Tuppence.
    At a certain point, mom started to miss the hardcore literature she had read as a graduate student and began to feel guilty about the reading list for her comprehensives that she never completed. While she had no intention of finishing her doctorate, or writing a dissertation, she decided it was time to hit the classics again, and drew up a nice, long reading list. In one summer, she read seventy-five books. This feat literally amazed my Uncle Al, and he has not stopped referencing it since he first heard of it. During a recent gathering of the extended family my uncle, who looks a bit like both Jackie Gleeson and Paul Sorvino, started praising my mother to her cousin Linda, and her husband, Ron Telli.  
    “You know who the smartest person I ever met is?” Uncle Al asked. “My sister. She is so smart. She read eighty books in a summer. It was ten or twenty years back now, but I still can’t get over it. I couldn’t read eighty books in a lifetime. I’ve read one book. Rush Limbaugh’s The Way Things Ought to Be. Great book. But that was all I needed. My dad read two books in his life: the Bible and The Godfather. But my sister! To have that patience! That love of reading! I get bored too fast. I can’t even read to the end of the list of eighty books she made. I read the first ten books, didn’t recognize any of the titles, and I stopped reading the list. Compare that with my sister!”
    Ron, who is the spitting image of Ben Gazarra, nodded appreciatively, but didn’t seem to be making enough of a fuss over my mom to please my uncle. So my uncle took his praise up a notch, at Ron’s expense. “I bet you haven’t read eighty books, Ron. You’re not a reader.”
    “Speak for yourself! I read.”
    “You read? Sure, you read.”
    “Linda and I read ourselves to sleep every night.”
    “We do,” Linda confirmed.
    “In fact,” Ron elaborated, “she always reads the ends of her books first, to see if she likes how they end, and then decides if she’s going to make the commitment to read the whole book. She almost always chooses to read it, but sometimes she switches to another book and checks that ending. She does this until she finds an ending she likes. It annoys the heck out of me, so I’ve started stapling the last chapters of every book in the house closed so she can’t read them.” He mimed the act of stapling with his hands as he said this.
    “Which winds up being a problem even when I do cave in and read it your way, because when I get to the end, I tear the pages to shreds trying to get the staples out and then I don’t know how the books end,” Linda added, miming pulling the staples loose and tearing the pages apart from one another.
    Uncle Al looked unconvinced. “Okay. You read yourselves to sleep every night. I still bet you aren’t as smart as my sister.”
    “This isn’t a contest, Al,” Ron said in a low voice.
    For most of my early years, the only books I dared to read were the ones I was assigned in school. Sometime around third grade we started getting assigned books like The Secret of NIMH, Little House on the Prairie, and Ramona the Brave, and we were asked to choose books to read on our own. Most of the boys opted for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the girls picked A Wrinkle in Time. The books I was most eager to read were Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Dracula, and Frankenstein, because those were the books I’d seen wicked awesome black-and-white movie versions of thanks to PBS, but each time I tried to read one of them as a book, I found the language was too difficult.  In fifth grade I read about forty pages of Frankenstein before realizing that I hadn’t understood a word and gave up.  My attempt to read the Book of Genesis in the Bible around the seventh grade also went badly because I thought the writing was too simple.  I also didn’t think it was as entertaining as the creation segment from Fantasia, and was annoyed that the creation story didn't mention any dinosaurs at all, let alone the brontosaurus, so I gave up on it around the time God put enmity between the daughters of Eve and the serpent’s descendants. 
    Whatever problems I had with serious literature as a fifth-grader, I still read a bit.  Whenever I did have to read a book, I sat in the overstuffed armchair next to the plush couch mom laid down in and we read together for several hours. She was always a faster reader than me, so the one time I beat her to the end of a book was a big accomplishment. I’m not sure exactly how old I was when I started regularly reading next to her, but my best guess puts me at around the time I was eleven or twelve. Around that time my books of choice were entries in the Wizard of Oz series, which I got into because I loved the film Return to Oz (and despite the fact that I hated the film The Wizard of Oz because Dorothy was too old and I thought the songs were cheesy). There were fourteen books in the Oz series and I had bought the whole series with my allowance money, because I wanted to have the whole collection of L. Frank Baum books the same way that mom had all the Agatha Christie books. (There were several supplemental Oz books by Ruth Plumbly Thompson, but they were $6 instead of $3 and not in my price range, so I didn’t buy any of them.   Well, they were, but I got $5 allowance a week and getting a book by Thompson meant saving up for a week, when I could buy a $3 book instantly.  I used my allowance for instant gratification and never saved for anything.) 
    Unfortunately, my collecting mania was stronger than my desire to read and I only actually ever read five of the Oz books, The Wizard of Oz (which, again, is far better than the film), The Road to Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Tick Tock of Oz, and The Emerald City of Oz. The Road to Oz was cool because it featured a sailboat that cut through desert land, but my favorite single moment occurred at the epilogue of The Emerald City of Oz. It ended with a bankrupt and evicted Auntie Em and Uncle Henry leaving Kansas behind forever and moving permanently to Oz with Dorothy. Once they get over the initial shock that Oz is a real place and not a figment of Dorothy’s imagination, and they settle in, they point out a truth that Dorothy herself never picked up on: every animal in Oz can speak except Dorothy’s dog Toto. Wondering if Toto can talk, but chooses not to, Dorothy kneels beside her dog and says something like, “If you can talk, you must not like it. But please just let me know if you can or not and you never have to speak again. Can you talk?” At this point, Toto reluctantly barks, “Yes,” and scurries away. 
    I give that moment the award for the cutest moment in the history of literature.
    In addition to the Oz books, I also actively read a lot of television tie-in books, especially those related to my favorite shows: V, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I remember the V book Prisoners and Pawns by Howard Weinstein, which featured my favorite subordinate villain from V: The Series, Lydia, in the spotlight. I also remember that Lydia got to have herself some sex in the book, and it was the first time I’d ever stumbled across a sex scene in a book. (There was no sex in the Oz series that I remember.) As tame as it was, since most of it was implied or happened “off page,” I remember getting a lot out of that sex scene in Prisoners and Pawns. I also remember being terrified by a Star Trek novel called Demons, by J.M. Dillard, which involved Captain Kirk and the gang getting taken over by monsters. I also took to collecting a series of books that novelized Doctor Who episodes, most of which were little more than shooting scripts with some description of setting and facial expressions strategically inserted by "author" Terrence Dicks. The reading level on those books was actually too simple for me, but I liked Doctor Who too much to care. And, in some cases, the novelisations were of "lost episodes," so it was my only access to certain stories that the BBC failed to archive.  Otherwise, the only Who novels that awakened my interest were those written by Ian Marter, an actor from the series who was a better writer than Dicks.  Marter was also was one of the first to write an original Doctor Who adventure that was not based on a televised episode, the fun spy romp Harry Sullivan’s War
    I also enjoyed the Dungeons and Dragons books that were part of the Endless Quest series, most of which were by someone called Rose Estes. Designed to be multiple potential narratives in one book that gave control of the plot to the reader, the Endless Quests offered readers the opportunity to choose which story they wanted to read by giving directions to the hero. The early Endless Quest books were primitive and limited and featured silly moments like this:
    – page 13 –
     “You come to a fork in the road. On the left path you see dragon tracks. On the right path you don’t.
    If you want to go left, turn to page 22.
    If you want to go right, turn to page 23.”
    I decide to follow the dragon tracks and turn to page 22. This is essentially what it says.
    “You see a dragon and you don’t have a shield. He roasts you alive. The End.”
    So I went back to page 13, checked the other option, and then flipped to page 23 to continue the story on the winning path.
    Books that came later, many of which were also written by Rose Estes, got more sophisticated and were better at offering multiple fruitful storylines rather than an illusion of choice created by a series of choices that lead to death and essentially one right way of reading the book to get to the end. 
    Doctor Who eventually had its own version of the Endless Quest book, The Rebel’s Gamble, which was over 1,000 pages and gave me weeks and weeks of reading fun. It was about a member of General Lee’s army who, thanks to an accident in the space/time continuum, gets a hold of a history of the Civil War from the future and uses it to warn General Lee of his defeats in advance, thereby changing the course of the conflict. The reader plays the roles of the Doctor, Peri, and Harry Sullivan, and works to put history back on course and ensure a victory for the North. Very cool stuff. 
    So I did a lot of reading as a kid, and a lot of writing, which led me, essentially to where I am today.  A writer who tries to read as much as he can, despite his really busy schedule.
    So how did I get into reading? I had a mother who read in front of me regularly, leading by example. She encouraged me when she saw me reading. My teachers assigned me fun and exciting books. I saw movies based on classic books on Masterpiece Theater and I had a hunger to read the originals. I had friends in school who read. It all added up.
    But I think I owe most of it from watching my mom reading on the couch. It is a great image I will always remember. 


  • Life & People

    Marc and Cathy Go to Grad School


    My mother was the first member of her family to go to college, so it was a big surprise to her father when she wanted to go. “Why would you want to go to college?” he asked. “It’s a breeding ground for degenerates.”


    He was probably referring to the drug, free love, and antiwar protest scene of the average 1960s era college campuses and he was, probably, worried that his daughter would get caught up in that scene. However, she told him firmly that she wanted to go and that was that. She loved literature and she wanted to study it, but she didn’t want to move away from her family to get the degree, so she wouldn’t be abandoning her roots. The argument was over, he supported her decision without any further protest, and she was off to college. Thanks to her high GPA and obvious financial need, she was granted a full scholarship to NYU, which provided her more than enough money to earn her BA, MA, go to
    , and come within striking distance of a doctorate in English. She loved the travel abroad, and she adored literature, especially the works by the Russian writers, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. She didn’t much care for her 18th Century British Literature Professor, Bruno Muench, who had a tendency to read from yellowed notes and lecture the class.  He was also persnickety about proper footnote and bibliography formatting.


    Mom may well have managed to race across the academic finish line and get her doctorate if not for two major obstacles. When she was in her second year of her bachelor’s degree, her mother died suddenly. She never fully recovered from the loss. At the wake, she was inconsolable, but her maternal grandmother and her aunt did their best to cheer her up. Her grandmother said, “It is a shame, Cathy, that your mother died so young. If only you hadn’t gone to college. That might have changed things.” Mom’s aunt nodded in sagely agreement. After all, it was an old, Southern Italian superstition that there was a finite amount of good luck in the world, and any time good fortune comes – say, in the form of a college scholarship – that windfall would use up some of the good will of the Fates, and something bad was bound to happen – say, the death of a parent.


    This was not the kind of encouragement that would have spurred her on to the bitter end to get a doctorate.


    The second major obstacle was me. Shortly after she married my father, she found out that she was pregnant with me. (In fact, she was already pregnant on her honeymoon in Disney World and didn’t know it, or she might not have gone on
    Space Mountain so many times.) She had reached the stage in graduate school when she had finished all of her courses and it was time for her to read several hundred books to prepare for her comprehensive knowledge exams. Of course, she was an expectant mother who was working for peanuts teaching part-time at
    Fordham University while her husband was making minimum wage in the mailroom of a law firm. So she went to the chair of the English Department and asked for a leave of absence, during which she can gradually read all the books on her reading list and still support her family.


    The chair of the department said soberly, “You can rest when you are dead.”


    “Well, I’m not that tired,” my mother replied. She then left the office and withdrew from the program.


    However, she was fortunate enough to find full-time employment at a city university which, after a large shakeup that included a merger and the institution of the revolutionary multicultural policy of open enrollment, became
    New York City Technical College. She taught composition, remedial writing, and first-year literature courses there for more than twenty-five years.


    Like my mother, I was interested in literature and teaching, but found myself taking an indirect, almost accidental path to getting a doctorate. Sadly, it was not through a scholarship. I had finished up my bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York at SUNY Geneseo with a major in English and a minor in Medieval Italian Studies. (The minor was my way of studying my heritage and learning what it meant to be Italian besides liking pasta, opera, and the Rocky movies and chafing at the usual annoying Mafia stereotypes.) Taking somewhat after my Gothic-fiction-obsessed father, I wanted very much to be a novelist and my goal was to write the fourth best vampire novel ever written (after Dracula, Carmilla, and I am Legend,) but the fourteen creative writing programs I applied to all rejected me. So I found myself moving back in with my parents, without a job, and with no clear career path. Mom was sympathetic. Very sympathetic. Up to a point. When she found herself doing my laundry as I slept until every day, she decided it was time to take action. She said to me, “If you want to write, you should apply for a job as a reporter at The Staten Island Advance.”


    “A reporter?” I asked. “You want me to be a reporter? All they do is muckrake and make fun of Catholics and complain about the president.  It’s boring, depressing, and really politically biased.”


    “At least you’ll be writing,” she said.


    “I can’t be a reporter.  I’m not a Democrat.”


    “At least you’ll be writing.”


    “Bah,” I said.


    “Remember your job at McDonalds?”




    “Remember how you quit after just one day?”




    “So? If you’re a reporter, at least you get to use your brain. You get to write.”


    “I dunno. I want to write fiction.”


    “Fine,” she said. “Don’t apply. Don’t get a job. Continue staying up all hours of the night watching movies and sleeping ‘til .”


    A month later, I was working at The Staten Island Advance.


    But that is another story. (Until I have the opportunity to regale you with that one, I will reassure you that I liked reporters, and reporting, infinitely more than I expected to.  And I found out that I was probably something of a Democrat after all…)


    While I had given up on getting an MFA in Creative Writing, I had really enjoyed college, so I took weekend Master’s degree classes at the local
    College of
    Staten Island
    . This was also at my mother’s urging. The program was designed for High School teachers who needed thirty credits beyond their master’s degrees to get a raise from the New York City Board of Education. It also serviced older men and women who liked to be part of book clubs who decided to enroll because they figured it would be like being in a book club, only they would have to write a ten-page paper to get grad school credit for it. I was kind of an anomaly. I was there to get an MA in English right after getting my BA, so I was the youngest student there. One of the first professors I met at CRC was a man named Dr. Bruno Muench, who had taught my mother decades earlier, but who had since given up his policy of reading his lessons off of yellowed notepaper.


    Dr. Muench had a mischievous smile, a wiry build, and loved wearing boldly colored bow-ties.  He loved teaching the graduate English courses because he felt that the older students were more serious than the younger ones, who were “just going to college because their parents forced them to.” He did have an impatience for the high school teachers, who tended to be too worn out by teaching and family obligations to take the graduate work seriously. He also suspected that they were lazy and not all that smart since he didn’t have much respect for Education majors. So it isn’t surprising that he singled me out within a couple of weeks as one of the more enthusiastic contributors.


    To make sure that the students did the reading each week, he assigned a one-page reaction paper to accompany the first four works, Gulliver’s Travels, the Complete Poetry of Alexander Pope, Candide, and Oronoko. Before we began reading each book, he made it abundantly clear what he loved (Pope made him cry every time he read it) and what he had very little time for (he hated Oronoko and said that he only taught it because he needed to include a women novelist for politically correct reasons). When I began reading Oronoko, I kind of expected it to stink because Muench said that it stunk, but I found myself enjoying it. So, for my fourth reaction paper, I explained why I felt it was a good book and why it deserved to be taught. I was, in effect, strongly disagreeing with what he had just said in class. The lesson after he collected our reaction papers, he began by asking, “Okay, who’s Marc?”


    I wasn’t sure why he was asking, so I sheepishly raised my hand. “Me.”


    Muench looked at me for a moment and then looked at the class. “Marc here is a true Franciscan. St. Francis said that the truly holy person can see God in everything. Marc is clearly someone who likes to find the positive in all he sees. Which is why he was able to find some merit in that dreadful book Oronoko.” He looked at me again. “Good work.”


    Towards the end of the semester, Muench took me aside and told me that he had continued to enjoy my writings and that he felt I should go on to get my doctorate after I finished my Master’s degree at the College of Staten Island.


    “You’re a reporter now, right?” Muench asked.


    “Yes. I’m enjoying it.”


    “You should be a college teacher. It’s your calling.”


    “Really? I would like to teach college. It is what my mother did, and my father has been teaching

    at a junior high for ten years now.”


    “So there’s teaching in your blood.”


    “But I hear the job market for English teachers stinks.”


    “You’ll get a job,” Muench assured me.


    “But the statistics are against it, aren’t they?”


    “Forget it. You’ll get a job.”


    “Okay, but mom tells me that grad schools can be really unhelpful and make it difficult to finish up. Her friend John had a terrible time in the last leg of his studies because his advisor thought his dissertation was too liberal – too much ‘new wave’ literary theory and post-modernism – and wouldn’t pass him. Of course, five years later, post-modernism was in vogue, but he’d already left grad school.  And she didn’t finish NYU because the chair of the department wouldn’t give her a pregnancy leave.”


    Muench looked interested. “NYU? I taught at NYU. When was she at NYU?”


    “She went to
    in … um …1965?  I think.  Around then, I guess.  I think.”


    Muench did some mental calculations. “Lawrence Blackstone was the chair.  Sounds exactly like something he’d do.  He had his moments, but nobody liked him much.  Well, never mind. You wouldn’t be happy at NYU anyway. They put obstacles in your way deliberately so that only the ones with no lives and no family and Asperger's Syndrome make it to graduation. I know exactly where you need to go.”


    “Where’s that?”


    Drew University. Taught there for a year. Friendly group of people. They actually mentor instead of push their students away. And guess what? They teach fairy tale criticism there and have an expert in Gothic fiction and another expert in fairy tales. So you can study all that trash literature you love so much and continue being its greatest advocate.”


    “Um … thanks,” I said.


    “And I’ll write you a great recommendation and we’ll be sure to get you a scholarship.”


    “Cool,” I said.


    “Just do me a favor,” he said.




    “You like comic books, too, right?”




    “You can advocate all you like for Gothic fiction, fairy tales, and even Oronoko. But please don’t ever stomp for the value of teaching comic books in college. You’ll water down the curriculum way too much.”


    “Okay,” I said. “That sounds fair enough.”


    I was accepted into the Drew PhD program that fall, vowing that I would complete the PhD program, not just for myself, but for my mother, who was so cruelly treated so many years before.


    In the end, I did get my doctorate.


    And I never would have received it if not for my mother and Dr. Muench.

  • Life & People

    Fictional Italians: Ten Hall of Fame Entries

    The Honor Roll:

    1 and 2. Rocky and Adrienne Balboa:

    One of the coolest screen couples ever. They teach us to

    fight for love, for our dreams, and for self-respect. It is great to watch their love story unfold over the course of the six Rocky films. Each and every Rocky movie is good, on some level, and the first film is one of the best ever made.





    3. Cabiria

    Giulietta Masina's character from
    Nights of Cabiria is a sweet, feisty, marvelous character. One of the best performances in film.




    4. Columbo

    The hero of the working classes, taking down the evil, upper-

    crust snobs who underestimate him because he's a frumpy,

    cigar-chomping immigrant. Brilliant. Inspired.



    5. The Huntress (Helena Bertinelli)

    An obscure but cool super heroine

    who fights the Mafia and is part of

    the great comic book Birds of Prey

    by Gail Simone.





    6. Iron Man (Anthony Cerrere Stark)

    When he's good, he's great, as in the Marvel Masterworks and Ultimate Iron Man by Orson Scott Card. When he's a(n) anti-hero/villain, as in the various Civil War books by writers such as Mark Millar and J. Michael Straczynski, he's really formidable. He's also got a new cartoon movie out, The Invincible Iron Man, which is very good. It is a little slow, a little solemn, but Tony is great in it, and the film itself has a lot of excellent moments.


    7. Michael Garibaldi from
    Babylon 5.

    Created by J. Michael Straczynski and played by Jerry Doyle (okay, he's an Irish-American actor, okay...), this was the first major Italian character in space after the supposedly multi-ethnic Star Trek franchise went three series without a single notable Italian character who wasn't some one-off red shirt. A funny, tenacious crimse-solver, he loves prosciutto, Looney Tunes, and he hates unsolved mysteries ... they give him gas.






    8. The Flying Zucchi Brothers.

    Appeared in a couple of episodes of The Muppet Show. A human canon circus act. Much cooler than the other Italian Muppet ... Rizzo the ... Rat? RAT!!!!





    9. John Abruzzi from Prison Break.

    While I'm not a fan of the pervasive portrayal of Italians as gangsters, I can't argue with this compelling villainous character, played by "The Blonde Guy From Fargo," Peter Stormare. Classic cliffhanger television featuring a classic comic-book-style villain. Wicked!

    10. Super Mario

    (honorary mention: Luigi).

    Not just Nintendo Entertainment's corporate logo, Mario is a fun, 2-D computer buddy from my childhood. I spent many a long hour playing Super Mario Bros., Mario 2, and Super Mario World in junior high school and college. He made me feel good to be Italian as I stomped flat evil mushrooms, kicked turtles into bon-bon men, shot fireballs at dragon-men, and leaped over cloud-like Flurries. Cute stuff. Not offended at all... Never saw the movie Super Mario Brothers, though. Let me know how it is...







    Honorable Mention: Sebastian de Rosa from Alien Versus Predator.

    (Played by Raoul Bova) An Italian archaeologist? Who can read runic symbols and act as a sort of "Van Helsing" wise-man, exposition character in a horror movie! That's the greatest news I've heard in a while. For once, an Italian with a brain in his skull. Look at him in this picture, translating ancient languages! And he's handsome and funny. Thank God. So, Michael Garibaldi laid some great groundwork for Italian characters in sci fi. And thank you, Shane Salerno, for creating such a cool character. (It had to be you, my friend.)

    Some trivia courtesy of The Internet Movie Database: When Lex asks Sebastian how to say "scared shitless" in Italian, he replies "Non vedo l'ora di uscire da questa piramide con te, perché mi sto cagando addosso." Translated, this literally means "I can't wait to get out of this pyramid with you, because I'm shitting myself."

  • Life & People

    Griffin and the Night Visitor

    “Marc, do you believe in ghosts?”

    My friend Griffin asked me this question one night after defeating me at a round of Spades, and I must admit it took me by surprise. I’d known him for fourteen years and he had never once expressed any interest whatsoever in anything weird or supernatural. He was a really down-to-earth guy, if a little secretive. In fact, not only was he uninterested in ghosts and monsters, he would sometimes tease me for being interested in such things myself.

    (“You like Harry Potter, huh?” he’d ask. “What are you, eight?”

    “It’s good. You might like it,” I’d say.

    “No, I’m too old for that stuff. I’m nine.”)

    So Griffin wasn’t much for horror, science fiction, and fantasy, yet here he was asking me the ultimate nerd question – do ghosts exist?

    I knew there must have been some special reason he was bringing it up.

    “I don’t know,” I said, honestly.

    We were sitting in his living room having a couple of beers. Talk Soup was on TV.

    Griffin took a swig of his Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. (By the way, he looks like Kiefer Sutherland.)

    “Back when I was in college in Albany, I rented out a room in this old apartment, and it turned out to be haunted.”

    Now, Griffin did have an excellent sense of humor, and was very good at regaling me with funny stories about his wild nights out drinking, or his crazy family, but he was never one to put me on. So I took him seriously when he said he saw a ghost back in his college days. But I didn’t know what to think about this sudden revelation.

    “Really?” was the best I could manage for a reply.


    Griffin was quiet for a moment.

    I waited for him to continue.

    Griffin remained quiet.

    “So what was it like?” I asked.

    Finally sure that I wasn’t going to start making fun of him about this, Griffin began speaking more freely. “Every Tuesday night this thing would come by at around 1:45 and wake me up. I’d go to bed around 12:30 because I had 8 a.m. classes but it would usually take me a while to drop off. And I’d just be getting into a deep sleep when the ghost would show up and wake me up.”

    “What did it look like?”

    Griffin seemed as if he were trying hard to recall. “I’m … not … sure.”

    “Was it like in the movies? Kind of transparent and all white or all green?” I suddenly thought of Ghostbusters and remembered how most people think that I look like a little bit like the head Ghostbuster, Egon. But I shelved those thoughts and listened for Griffin's answer.

    “I don’t know what color it was.”

    “Was it transparent?”

    “I couldn’t see all of it. I remember there were arms that put pressure on my chest and held me down, and I think there was a face.”

    “What did the face look like?”

    “Well … I can’t describe it really. I don’t know if I could see it exactly. Maybe there wasn’t a face.”

    I was confused now, wondering why he wasn’t sure if it had a face or not. “But you could feel it?”

    “Pressing down on me, yeah.”

    “Like an attack?”

    “No. Not an attack. It just pressed down on me.”

    At this point, I couldn’t resist. “Was it a sexy woman ghost?”

    “No … definitely not.”

    “Oh, well.”

    “I don’t know what sex it was.” Griffin got quiet again after saying this.

    “Did anyone else see the ghost?” I asked.

    “After I moved out, I met someone who had the apartment before me. Before I even said anything to him he asked me if I saw the ghost every Tuesday night.”

    “He saw the ghost at the same time you did on the same night?”


    “I wonder if that’s something like the exact time the ghost died. Did you check any of the local newspapers about the history of the apartment? Maybe somebody died tragically in that room on a Tuesday night at … what … 1:45?”

    Griffin shook his head.

    “Did you find out anything else?”

    “Nah. Somebody else moved in after me and I heard that he didn’t like the place. He left pretty quickly. But I didn’t find for sure out why he ditched out.”

    At this point, I was wondering how it would be possible for two, maybe three, people to see a ghost every Tuesday night at the same time if ghosts didn’t exist. “You felt a pain in your chest, huh? Did the school serve the same bad mac and cheese every Tuesday for dinner and you all kept getting heartburn?”

    Griffin was a good sport about this. “No. No mac and cheese.”

    “I don’t suppose there’s any chance that there’s some kind of weird gas leak or something in the water that might have caused you to hallucinate this?”

    “I wasn’t hallucinating.”

    “Did you get somebody from the gas company over or someone to inspect the house to make sure?”

    Griffin made some kind of gesture that could either have been “Of course,” or “of course not.” I wasn’t sure how to interpret it and didn’t ask again for clarification. Either way, he added, “I wasn’t hallucinating.”

    I decided to choose my next words carefully. “Um … you were in college at the time. I don’t suppose those were nights when you’d gone out to a party?”

    “I didn’t drink on Tuesday nights back then. I had an a.m. class the next day. I’d drink a lot on Thursdays and miss a lot of classes on Fridays, but I was stone cold sober when that damn thing would drop down on my chest every Tuesday night.”

    “And you stayed in that apartment the whole semester?”

    “Yeah. I had wanted my own apartment because I was sick of annoying roommates. I was so excited to have my own place. Privacy. No loud, dirty guys all the time distracting me from school and having their girlfriends over 24/7. Finally, I had my own place. Then, bam! Every Tuesday, that ghost shows up.”

    I suddenly realized what was interesting me most about this exchange. It wasn’t that Griffin felt he saw a ghost. It was that he was so kind of … casual about it. His whole attitude about the experience seemed strange to me. It occurred to me that, if I ever had such an encounter, I’d likely be terrified and run away without looking back, not keep living there until my lease ran out.

    “You don’t sound like it scared you at all,” I said. “It wasn’t scary?”

    “Not really.”

    “Was it exciting seeing proof that ghosts are real?”

    “Nah. I wasn’t really excited.”

    “So, what was it like?” I asked.

    Griffin scowled. “It was annoying. I just wanted to get my sleep. I had an 8 a.m. class the next day and I could never get up in time for it because the ghost kept keeping me up all night. It really pissed me off. Killed my GPA and everything. Stupid ghost. It was great when I moved out of the apartment the next semester so I could finally get some sleep.”

    And that was it. That was the whole conversation. And Griffin never spoke about the ghost again, leaving me to wonder what, exactly, our exchange meant. What did it tell me about Griffin? About me? About ghosts? Or was it all too trivial to mean much of anything? It certainly was a strange conversation. And sometimes, now that a few years have passed since that night, I wonder if that conversation even happened at all, or if I had just hallucinated it after having some bad mac and cheese.

  • Life & People

    The Man With Two Girlfriends


    The Place:

    The Time:

    The Date: January 13, 2005


    I am sitting at home in my two-bedroom garden apartment in Kutztown when the cell phone rings.  I don’t have a land-line because I can’t afford one, so the cell phone is all I have, and this is a bit of a problem considering the cell phone reception is only 85% reliable inside the apartment building.




    “Hey, Marc.  What’s going on?”  The voice on the other end sounds tired and depressed and male, and had a slight upstate-
    New York
    accent, so I knew it was my old college roommate, Colin Donovan.


    “Colin!” I roared.  For whatever reason, about ten years ago I decided it would be cool to greet people by roaring their name and punching the air with my fist.  Most people seem to like it, because they aren’t usually greeted with such fanfare, although I sometimes encounter people who look at me like I should be committed.  But that’s okay.


    “I gotta talk to you, man.  I got a problem,” Colin said.  This was no real surprise, as Colin only calls me once a year to ask me for advice when he’s having a relationship problem.  Why he thinks calling me for advice on relationships is a good idea, I’m not sure.  After all, depending on your definition of the word “girlfriend,” I have had anywhere between one and five in my lifetime, which is a rather pitiful record all told, if I don’t say so myself.  But he always calls me hoping for some pearl of wisdom, and the conversation usually stretches on an agonizing three hours because I’m not good at shaking myself free from conversational quicksand, like other people I know.  My friend
    , for example, was very good at saying, “All right, I know you’re probably busy, so I’ll let you go,” just when the person on the other end was about to launch into his third tale of woe.  It is a quite effective strategy for him and works most of the time.


    “What’s wrong, Colin?” I asked.


    “You know how I’m dating Maureen?”




    “And I’ve been dating her for two years, since I broke my engagement with Drusilla.”




    “Well, Maureen’s really sweet, and really smart, and really religious, and my parents love her, and she’d make a great wife.  And I’m happy with her.”




    “But the only problem is, she’s not that attractive, and the sex isn’t very good.”


    “Um … okay.”


    “And, here’s the thing … I’ve also been seeing this girl Trixie for about six months.”




    “And Trixie is even smarter than Maureen, and hotter, but she’s really a mean person and likes to keep me at an emotional distance.”


    “Ah,” I said.  “So they both have big pluses and big minuses and you care for them both and you can’t choose between them.”


    “I can’t, man.”


    “I know it sounds real cheesy and all, but what’s your heart say?” I asked.


    “It isn’t telling me nothin’, man.”




    “I know.  It’s crap, man.  Crap.”


    There was a pause.  Then Colin said sadly, “You think I’m a bad person.”


    “I didn’t say that,” I said.


    “I told our friend Doyle about this last night and he yelled at me for an hour for being a bad Catholic, a bad human being, and a womanizer.”


    Colin was referring to Ethan Doyle, our mutual friend from college, who had always seen himself as far more religious than me, and he was currently correct, as I had been an agnostic since graduation.  He would have been a lot harder on Colin, a lot faster.  So far, I was reserving judgment on Colin as a human being until I heard more.


    “Oh,” I said.  “So I guess Doyle did a good job of covering that ground for me, so I don’t have to say any of that.”


    “Do you think he’s right?” Colin asked.


    “Well, I did have a dream last night in which I was scouring the DVD section of Wal-Mart when Jesus Christ approached me holding a copy of The Complete Films of Woody Allen boxed set and told me to stop associating with adulterers or I’d endanger my immortal soul.  So I said, ‘I don’t know any adulterers.’  And he said, ‘You’ll be getting a phone call tomorrow.  Just tell Colin Donovan to sod off and hang up on him.’  And I said, ‘Okay, Jesus, but I kinds like the guy, even if he is an adulterer.  He’s got his charms – like


    “That’s not funny, man,” Colin said.     


    “Sorry, Colin.” 


    I cleared my throat.  “I dunno.  Maybe I’m being too innocent, or something, but why not go with Maureen?  She’s nicer, and a good personality is more important than a good body, right?”


    “But I’ve had the best sex of my life with Trixie, man.”




    “The best.  I’m telling you, she’s taken me places … holy crap, man.  It’s like … whoa.  Just imagine it.  We just have sex, then take a break, then have sex, then take a break.  And it isn’t boring sex, man.  It is really good sex.  I’m kinds wondering what I’ve been doing all these years.  The sex of the past pales in comparison and seems like about as much fun as grocery shopping.  But sex with Trixie is like going skiing in the Alps after having a dinner of filet mignon with a cabernet sauvignon beside a roaring fire in a four star restaurant, man.”


    “Um … okay … then go with her.”


    “But she’s so cold, dude.  Cold as ice.  Maureen is so sweet.  If I dump Maureen, and go with Trixie, Trixie has this emotional wall up, dude.  Then she won’t let me in, the relationship will crumble, and I won’t have Maureen.  I’ll be alone.”


    “Then stay with Maureen,” I said.


    “But Maureen’s boring, man.”


    I finally felt like I had enough information to make a Marc deduction – that is to say, pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes and jump to conclusions based on little evidence.  “Wait, wait, wait.  Hold on there, Hiawatha.  You don’t really like Maureen at all.  You just don’t want to be single.  She’s your backup in case Trixie doesn’t work out.  You’ll still have someone to play mini golf with after Trixie leaves, even if she’s only mediocre.”


    “Oh, I don’t know that that’s true, Marc.”


    “Sorry, Colin.  I’m just guessing here.  I haven’t met either of them or seen you with them, so I have no context for this conversation.”


    “Well, maybe you’re right.  Maureen is boring.  I don’t like her.”


    “Then break up with her.  You aren’t being fair to her if she’s in love with you and she’s just a spare tire to you.  That’s pretty crappy, dude.” 


    “But I may wind up being alone if I play this wrong.”


    “You may be alone anyway if you get caught.  Why not make a decision and stick to it before fate makes the decision for you.”


    “I think I’m kinda hoping that fate makes the decision for me.  I hate having breakup conversations.  I feel so bad for the girl I break up with.  She cries and all.”


    “She’s gonna cry a lot more if she finds out you’re cheating on her.  And then she’s going to attack you with scissors.  And you’ll have ruined her faith in guys, so the next guy who comes along, who’s actually nice – say, someone like me – can’t get anywhere with her cuz you messed her up in the head by being a cheese ball.”


    “So you think I’ll definitely get caught.”


    “I think it is only a matter of time.”


    “I haven’t been caught yet.  And
    was with Gennifer Flowers for years before Hillary found out.”


    “Yeah … how did he manage that?”


    “And James Bond never gets caught,” Colin observed. 


    “But he has a ready made excuse because he’s a spy,” I said.  “He’s staying at the Hotel Roma in room 44B with a gorgeous Spanish woman and says, ‘Sorry, I have to go to Lithuania this afternoon to fight SPECTRE and then he leaves, walks down the hall to another hotel room, and has sex with the Spanish woman’s sister.  It works out great for him.  But then he leaves the Spanish woman’s sister and actually goes to
    to fight SPECTRE.  What’s your cover?”


    Colin said, without a trace of pride, “I tell them both I’m involved in community theater and putting on a play, but I’m not really.  So each one thinks I’m at a rehearsal when I’m with the other.”


    “Hmmm… What’s the play?”


    “Pal Joey.”


    “And what happens when they want to see the play?”


    “I’ll just tell them the financier backed out and the play doesn’t have the money to open.”


    I almost lowered the phone in disbelief, but didn’t.  “Dude, you are a liar and a half.”


    “I know.  I’m a bad person.  You hate me, right?”


    “I don’t hate you.  The feminist in me feels bad for the two women, and the guy in me is jealous because I’ve never juggled two women at one time because I have a hard enough time getting one woman, let alone several, but I don’t hate you.”


    “So what should I do?” Colin asked.


    “I can’t advise you on this, man,” I said.  “You’re the one walking the minefield.”


    “But you have an opinion.”


    “I say break up with Maureen no matter what, because you obviously don’t love her, and try to win over Trixie’s cold heart.”


    “I hop I can do it.  But Trixie is so frustrating.  There’s that wall there.”


    “Why do you think there’s a wall there?” I asked.


    “I don’t think she trusts me.”


    I couldn’t help it.  I laughed.




    “She shouldn’t trust you!  You aren’t trustworthy!”

    “So I’m sunk?”


    “Okay, here’s my theory.  If you break up with Maureen, and give yourself wholeheartedly to Trixie, and don’t tell her about Maureen, but be completely and wholly faithful to Trixie from now on, she will, on some level, figure out that you have become more committed to the relationship, and she will respond by letting her guard down.”


    “You think?”


    “She may know you have someone else and that may be why the wall is there, too.”


    “You think?”


    “I may be wrong, though.”




    “Let me ask you a question… are you enjoying the adventure of having two girlfriends?”


    “No, man.  I have a whole bottle of Tums every day.”


    “Then do yourself a favor and fix the situation before you drive yourself crazy, dude.”


    “Okay,” Colin said.  “I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something soon.”


    “Great,” I said.


    “Okay, now that that’s done with,” Colin said, “have you seen any good movies lately?  I hear that the new independent film Junebug is totally awesome.”