Category Archives: arts education

Finally.

 

 

You know, maybe, in the wake of the revelations regarding Harvey Weinstein, and the rush of women who have come forward, this strength in numbers might turn the tide. Maybe women will rise in human rank – whether in business, or the arts, or in politics – solely on the merits of their intellect, their talent, their resourcefulness, and their dedication to effort. Maybe those who have compromised themselves for the sake of advancement will at last be redeemed, and the best among us will finally reach positions of truly entitled power. And, that could very well change the world. Finally.

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© 10/27/17 Ruth Ann Scanzillo

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

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Butchie.

Butchie'sBowl

 

The Italians in Erie have always been different from those at the other end of Pennsylvania.

Not sure why, probably settlement patterns. Perhaps the bricklayers all ended up in our port city.

But, Butchie was typical of Erie. He was a Sicilian and Calabrese mix.

And, most of these were deeply familial, multi-generational. All associated, historically, with the mob mystique that shrouded our town for so many decades.

Many of the rest of us, whether Italian of heritage ourselves, or among the scores of other ethnicities represented in Erie’s closely juxtaposed ghettos, regarded the short, broadly smiling, muscular men of his ilk as classed alike.

Most of them worked for the City. Streets. Waste management. Water treatment. Parks and R. They were the crews in charge of maintaining what kept the city going every day.

I confess. I always thought Italian men born and raised in Erie would be workers, to the core. Never did I assume, and errantly, that a single one of them would be at all like Butchie DeFazio.

We’d met in the late 1980’s at Denny’s Restaurant on Peach Street, the old Sambo’s. He’d always come to the counter with Roberto, the tailor. Didn’t know it then, but they were both committed betting men, wagering on the horses at the nearby Downs racetrack. There’d be a coffee, and then several minutes at the PackMan over by the wall, Butchie leaning against it and deftly playing the thing like a slot machine.

Butchie didn’t say much. He liked short words, quick phrases, thick with his tough, second generation accent and attitude. He seemed like a street kid, shy but never letting on, and the first man in town to have hair implanted right across the forehead. Many others would make the attempt, and we’d find out how the pain aborted their efforts; not Butchie. Like everything else we’d come to know about him, he wanted a clean line and would do whatever it took to get it.

In 1986 Mr. Veltri, who’d taught sixth grade at Lincoln, came in for dinner and told me about a vocal music position opening up at the junior high I had attended.  Mr. Ciotti was retiring; did I want to apply? It had been over 5 years since my college graduation day, and this role as waitress had settled nicely for me; short, intense shifts, nothing loading the frontal lobe after hours…..I liked my life. But, expectation beckoned, along with a faint memory of why I went to college in the first place. I took the interview.

The panel included administrators, Personnel, the district psychologist…what were my thoughts on marching band? Obliviously, I gushed; as lead bugler, my father had led his battalion in a parade for the US Army dignitaries. I loved parades!

When the letter from the district arrived, I’d been assigned to East High School.

As music teacher to the East High marching band, choir, chorus, “stage band”, and whatever else the principal called his depository for students not destined for academic superiority, I was both energized and scared; I hadn’t been around teenagers since student teaching years before, and this was the roughest neighborhood in town. Gingerly, I stepped into the bandroom to check out my new digs.

Butchie stepped in right behind me.

Never knowing he’d been employed by the district all this time,  I was astonished to discover that, he having bid out and vacating the position to the newbie, I was the winner of his prized legacy.

Mr. DeFazio hadn’t been at East very long – maybe a couple years. Figures. He’d not been at all understood, by anyone there, any more or less than I might have been. Politically, the East side belonged to the Poles and the Germans and the Russians, after all, and the Italians should stay on the West side where they came from.

He was heading to the elementary schools, he’d said – something I would do many years later, to stay, just as he. And, then he carried on with his usual flair. Only this time he peppered his delivery with complex chord progressions; a jazz pianist, he disclosed, he had “played out” in the Erie scene for many years, all in the past, he kept assuring me.

Turned out we’d both graduated from Fredonia State University. He’d been a piano major, no less. Then, the teaching degree, same as mine. Who was this masked man, and why had I never heard him play?

I asked him to sit at the nearby piano.

He refused.

He’d stopped playing, he said. Stopped playing out. Stopped playing.

I stared at him.

And, I never, ever found out why.

Years in, when I had moved to the elementaries, he would stop in out of the blue. On his final visit, a couple years before I retired, he brought me a huge box of videotapes to use – and, did I want them all for just 200 bucks?

One time, I’d asked him to stop over to the house. I thought maybe, if he did, he could play me some Chopin. I’d heard from Mary Ann, his sister, that he played a hell of a classical piano, too. I pled. I begged. He never came.

About four years ago, after his beloved sister Judy died, he moved from his house to the Glenwood Towers. And, he called me. Would I stop over? He had some music he wanted me to check out.

He looked good. Enhh…a little sugar, he said. A bit thinner, but still vital and on it like always. He took me to the storage cages. Here were boxes filled with Fake books, sheet music, and volumes of classical literature – the Beethoven sonatas. The Brahms. My God. The man had played everything.

He insisted. Ruthie, he called me, Ruthie, take it. Take the stuff. Take the Fake books…….I left most all of those, selecting a Brahms folio and some Beethoven. It was so good to see him.

A few months ago, Butchie died. He had been failing, Mary Ann said – getting ever thinner and thinner. But, true to form, never a peep about discomfort, never a need expressed, always tough, always cheerful. The casket was closed. I averted my face, feeling utterly exposed at the funeral. Why did his death feel like a tragedy?

Mary Ann told me, a few days later. He’d played his graduating recital at Fredonia, and the family was there. She said he came out, and sat at the piano, and didn’t move. He sat, for an entire seven minutes, without placing one finger on the keys. Then, he began to play.

She said the performance was stunning. Everybody in the audience felt it. And, everybody at Fredonia talked about it, for weeks and weeks thereafter. Samuel “Butchie” DeFazio was brilliant. A master.

I don’t know whether Erie will survive. Our city has been mismanaged by proud, short sighted people for decades. Entrenchment has seeped its dulling, molding poisons into the landscape and, in spite of a whole generation of emerging talent and intelligence, its families of longest standing – and, their legacies – are threatened with extinction.

One wonders how many Butchie DeFazios have been lost in that terminal shuffle.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo   6/24/17    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Be a good person.  Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

Marshall’s.

“Oh, God. My God. How excellent is Thy Name, in all the earth.”
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Among his endless list of attributes, the new boyfriend has a far more evolved sense of style than the woman he calls his, these days. He’s left for the evening, calling back a shopping spree for later on tomorrow but, as the evening wanes, something fixates me: the Persian blue print maxi dress at Marshall’s he’d selected last week that just didn’t fit. Maybe I could alter it, like mum always did, he’d suggested – reminding us both that we still had a long way to go before we could say we truly knew each other.
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Finally, I can resist the compulsion no longer. After sufficient Reese Cup consumption, I jump into the car at, what, 8:50pm? and, cruise all the way up Peach Street in the increasing dark to the Best Buy plaza.
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Marshall’s. Where the dressing room lighting is so flattering, you buy everything you try on. Unlike Gabriel’s where, even though the merchandise was designer fare, the sight of yourself under poorly directed, cheap fluorescence made you break down and cry and go home with nothing. Gabriel’s is out of business, is anybody surprised; Marshall’s lights are still on. The place is mercifully empty. I love slow close hour; you get the whole room to yourself.
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Sure enough, as expected, the dresses are no longer in the front rack. Marshall’s. They know how to mix it up. I look around. Over by windbreakers and sportswear, a stash of flowing fabric beckons.
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No Persian print.
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The girl with the laniard and the perfect skin tells me all the rack rounds have dresses. I am nothing if not tenacious. Me, the spider with the suction cups for fingers, I am.
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Thwap, thwap through the rack. Several other deep blues – stripes; solids, with flirty bodices. Suddenly, could it be, I see the Persian. Glory Hal, there it is – in a.l.l. t.h.r.e.e. s.i.z.e.s (S;M;L). I grab eight hung garments and drag ass to the fitting rooms.
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In the immensely enhancing golden glow of the Marshall’s ethos, it takes me only as long as dress on dress off; seventeen minutes later, four dresses, and three sets sleepwear/clearance, I am beating the clock to the check out.
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Now, why does the lone, spectacled African American beauty behind the counter look familiar? Do I dare ask her the Usual Question? Have I not struck out at least twice in a week with that socially jarring: “WEREN’T YOU MY STUDENT??” No; I would let her be. This was go time. I was the Purchasing Person at 9:15pm on Thursday. This was go time.
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Patiently, and with grace, she gathers all my hangers and my garments and my TJMax Reward Card Application because she is just that good, and then she says it.
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“Didn’t you teach at Grover Cleveland?”
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DANG, how’d I miss this one?? I am slipping, for sure. Old Ms. Scanzillo never overlooks a single one, especially not the stand outs. Hearing her name, it all comes rushing in like it always does, because it always does, every face, every personality, every student, all four thousand of them.
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Tamara Baker.
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Fourth grade violinist.
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Front row. Top of the class, always on it. A real future.
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And, she says it, too. “I always wanted to continue, but there was nobody to teach me.”
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I am already there. She graduates this year, from high school. And, this summer, there will be a violin in her hands again. I am already there. No student of mine gets passed over. Not by God Almighty.
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***
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Last week, adult student, Title I Reading specialist Kim, yearned for a string quartet. Was there anybody? I knew an attorney she heard me say, a violist, named Zanita. We’d look into it.
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The next day, driving up the hill to Sacred Heart auditorium, I’d prepared to cast my vote in the local Primary. Again, the room was mine, only one other person outside of the staff at table. And, behind that table sat Elva who, every year, greeted me with the reminder that we’d played in the Jr Phil string section together back in high school. But, might I be interested? This year, her piano trio needed a ‘cellist.
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Who was the violist?
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“Zanita”,  said…..well…..God.
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~~~
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Kismet. Serendipity. The Persian blue print, size S, fits. The boyfriend, who comes to me again tomorrow like a bolt just like he did a bit shy of nine weeks earlier, after twenty five years distance and nearly five years of increasing resignation that life is meant to be lived out alone unto death, will embody the surprise, too. Somehow, and only by our Creator, even the hairs on our heads are all numbered.
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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  5/18/17      All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Be a good person. Thanks.
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littlebarefeetblog.com