Category Archives: gratitude

QUESTIONING The ANSWER: How to Get Labeled the “Troublemaker” in Your Own Hometown.

 

Anybody who was born in Erie, Pennsylvania within the past century knows.

This town has an unspoken history.

What has appeared in print, alternately surreptitiously or boldly depending on the relative acceptance of the author’s credibility, has alluded more than once to what everybody has always known: this was a Mafia “mob town”.

Back when Italians and Irish were the dominant first generation immigrant population, the “connected” families were well established. One of them led the city’s government for decades. These were the days of scenes from The Godfather movies; small business fronts, numbers runners, clubs, and neighborhood networks all set up to keep everything smoothly under control.

Into this picture, my Italian father appeared as a displaced citizen. A Bostonian ward of Massachusetts, he’d found himself here by way of a night train and a native Erieite who would become his wife, twice – the first time, in 1944, and again in 1955. Having graduated from barber school after WWII, he would set up his first shop on what, in those days, was the center of the East side: Parade Street. A decade later, he would move to purchase a cement block building on the corner of East 5th & Wallace Streets, and serve a regular clientele of Russian and Polish immigrants as well as city officials for 44 years.

I can remember Dad speaking about the BB gun holes in his plate glass windows on 5th. He and Mum would discuss them, in front of my brothers and me; these were Union people, harassing him to join and follow all their rules for price fixing. I cannot remember when the BB gun holes ceased, but something happened to end them because, once they stopped, they never appeared again. The city officials, however, continued as loyal customers until their deaths by natural causes. Many a final haircut would Dad give, to each of them, in their hospital beds at Hamot, St. Vincent, and over at the Vet’s.

A dear widow and long time Erie resident told me her take on the city, recently. Her late husband was beloved, and well known. And, as secretary to an attorney’s office, she knew who all the racketeers were, by name. She said that, back then, there was no crime in Erie; the mob saw to it that the streets were clean.

Nowadays, Erie is in transition from being an industrial mecca to a vacation resort, and shows promise. But, socially, vestiges of its history can be found in a continually manifesting tribalism. Because, geographically, the city is set on the water’s edge of Lake Erie its flat terrain is laid out in the “Philadelphia grid” style of endless, square city blocks. Consequently, there is nothing to distinguish one neighborhood from another except immediate, unspoken boundaries of ghetto; those living in poverty can be found one square block away from the wealthy, investing elite who own historic villas converted into office space and executive rentals just down the street from City Hall.

So, these tribes of peoples, set apart by closely juxtaposed neighborhoods from Glenwood Heights to the upper lakefront blight, still function in parallel proximity. Even as each nationality represented continues to celebrate its heritage in the multiple summer ethnic festivals, one problem persists: Social segregation. Now, who is in control?

And, that is the first question.

In Erie, as in these United States, every citizen is free to ask that first question. Ask any question, once.

The answer given is expected to be accepted.

But, what if the answer, often the official position on any topic, isn’t acceptable?

What if there is a problem with its content?

I have always been the inquisitive child. If Why? is the question, I will be the first to ask it. Unfortunately, though an established professional in my own right, I am merely the barber’s daughter. Who will give me the straight, factually accurate response? Do I need to know it?

In Erie, you can ask; but, you cannot ask, again. If you challenge the answer you are given, what happens to you is swift and inescapable: you are labeled the “troublemaker”.

And, once branded, you had better retreat into the shadows and stay away. Control is everything to those grasping after it and, in a town where the history was all about leaving well enough alone, if you wonder you are to do so in solitude; if you doubt, you are to keep quiet; if you disbelieve, keep your religion to yourself.

To what end can we know how Erie, Pennsylvania will survive those who do?

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© 6/12/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Born at Hamot; raised on the East side; educated in the public schools; taxpaying homeowner on the West side; lifetime Erieite. God Bless Our Home, and all who dwell within it. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

The Kiss.

 

I swooned with everyone else.

Not only was he tall, strong, and handsome, Cuomo was fresh, well rested, adroit, and the picture of health. A shrewd contrast to Maddow’s incisive, rapid fire analysis, this broadcasting commentator offered a more streamlined, to the point style which appealed not exclusively to heterosexual females but to everyone on the go seeking a solid, bottom line summary of the day’s political events. The package was just the icing on the beefcake.

Frankly, tuning in was already old to me; I’d been a daily news viewer for years. Perhaps growing up in a fundamentalist sect affected my latent thirst for up to the minute real time check ins on world realities. Who knew? For the past decade following the ticker had become my thing, and what better way to finish off the day than with a face which harkened to my own beloved? It’s true; both Cuomo and my significant other are genetically similar, bearing the wide, toothy grin and broadly open eyes of either Calabria or Campania, though mine a decade or so ahead in age and, okay, we Dagos like to keep it in the family. Besides, being on call in a hospital keeps my own absent on most evenings. But, you aren’t convinced.

So, it was time. Time for the latest heartthrob of the astute and vigilant to visit Colbert Nation.

He wouldn’t have been the first. AC had already been, as had his own late night comrade, D Lemon. But, he would be a first, and inimitably so. Chris Cuomo would bring his winsome charm all the way to the mats.

They’d made it nearly to the end of predicted reparte, “getting after it” for a solid twelve. Can we even remember how it came next? No. We can’t. But, we won’t forget it, either.

Somebody challenged somebody to the floor. Who could do 100 push ups?

The ties came off. The cuffs came up.

It was brain to brawn, lean to clean, waddaya mean. Counting aloud, the audience held their collective breath.

Then, just past 40-something, the inexplicable happened. The five second delay kicked in, and the frame froze. No amount of rewind could retrieve it; the outcome was lost. Cable rarely gave out, not nearly as often as dish, but it would be the next day, on the Tube, that we’d see why.

The host had been the first to give, well, because he was the host. Collapsing to the floor, Colbert curled almost fetal, closed his eyes, and smiled like a baby in a bassinet.

Then, Mario’s youngest did what all good Italian boys do. He laughed, crawled over on top of Colbert like a puppy in a litter, hugged him, and kissed him on his face.

Did the tape stop, on purpose? Was there a mad dash to edit?

Now, it might only be the Italian Americans who will have understood. We claim no corner on the market of affection, but we do hold this court. And, I’m betting that even the most stoic Swede in Minnesota felt it, right where open meets honest and fake is the joke, right?

That’s right. It’s all there, in the heart of everyone with a will and a brother.

Swoon on.

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© 5/29/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   Thanks for the read, and the respect. Be well.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

Polar Bears.

[*formerly entitled: The Tail of Winter.]
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Boscov’s had chocolate.
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Upstairs, above the endless racks of merch ( likely special purchases from the south that didn’t sell ) three whole glass cases of it, at least a third of which: gluten free. I’d been craving since 3:30 pm, and this was the tail of winter, the flagellate, whipping us into a frenzy on the final frigid night of the year.
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Parking lot nearly empty, normally packed to the gills during the day and across the weekend, it was Thursday night, the cusp, and see above. I’d fought the craving for over four hours. At 8:02, time enough to get there before closing, the flush of rationale; hustling into the store with one other straggly woman, braving the ascending escalator, straight ahead I saw them: not confections — end of season sheet sets. My having just ordered a dog print flat and pillow shams from catalog for a resounding 93 bucks, these fleece for 19.99 tempted redemption. Grabbing a King of pale blue polar bears, I rounded the corner of packaged displays to the candy counter.
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She was stooped over the open rear of the fudge case, sweeping crumbs into a tray, when I called out. A short, ponytailed woman with a Latino accent and what would be a penchant for calling me “honey”, she had a cold.
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This, of course, was God. This was his reprimand for my weak, sniveling sin of the flesh. He would let me have the desires of my heart, but send leanness to my soul. I would eat a bag of chocolate, but be exposed to a virus likely potent enough to cause pneumonia and a reactivation of the chicken pox. I would get shingles, followed by post-herpetic neuralgia, and be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.
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In reality, selecting thirteen pieces with sugar and two without, I’d pay for everything, take the elevator down to the first floor because of descending escalator PTSD and head home in the solitary dark.
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The cold. The God forsaken dripping nose. The two sugar free were packed in their own box; I could tear open the end, where she didn’t touch, and pull one almond bark out for the car.
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So as not to break the last, number six stainless wire of orthodontia, I went for the first bite with two molars, rear left. Coasting down Peach Street, I thought of every diabetic I’d ever known and how relatively grateful they’d be to be eating something shaped right that sort of felt recognizable under the teeth. Like some chocolate with your carnauba wax? Anyone?
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But, the total price was gnawing. $34. 95? for a box of chocolate? Not even Suzanne Somers charged that much for her cancer-safe creations.
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She’d said, albeit nasally, that the sugar free was 19.95, honey, and the regular 17.95. I’d always let mum do the math. And, money was no object to addiction. But, mum was gone now, for almost twenty years, leaving me quite adrift when it came to tallying up indulgences, let alone the flat out mortal variety.
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Pulling up to the curb, I crawled out, locking the driver door, and headed in. Dispensing with the bag would prevent transmission of the virus to the edibles within. Reaching the kitchen sink, I grabbed a plastic container and poured the bag’s contents into it. Even under the LED track lighting, this stuff was the shit; dry, faded, even the white peppermint bark lacking luster, I stared at thirty four dollars of specialty confection and felt nauseous. The girl who’d called me honey had ripped me off. At this price, there should have been twice as much candy.
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After one phone call to the Boscov’s operator and the courtesy desk, I was already out the door. I-79 was a bleak vista at this hour, but a straight shot back to the mall. I’d find a manager. No; I’d confront her, quietly. No; I’d get the courtesy desk, which “didn’t know anything about the candy, let me put you through to can —” No; I’d say nothing – just dump it out, onto the counter.
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Maybe the caffeine, theobromine, maltitol had created a synergy. Maybe the dark highway, and me alone on it. But, I began to follow a different train, one which took me deeply into the psyche of the candy woman. She had a family, at least some children. She made minimum wage, working the candy counter. She was a first generation immigrant,  and she was sick.
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Just ahead of the parking spot closest to the Boscov’s entrance, I’d resolved my intention; I would speak confidentially, my voice hushed. We’d be the only two who knew what had been done, and I’d tell no one else. She needed to feed her family. And, she could have the chocolate. The receipt had indicated 9.95 for two “seasonal” candy purchases; she’d falsely categorized my purchase, too. There was the 19.99, and a grand total of 34…….my lungs filled with the purest air, swelling my chest with a powerful self righteousness that could have been true goodness on a better day.
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Then, I spied them. Sitting on the front seat. The pale blue polar bears, dancing across their fleece sheets inside the plastic see through case with the PAID sticker on it. And, mum, faintly, speaking from the world beyond, calculating out loud again, rising vocal inflections reaching the slightly hysterical, and me, seated again at the corner of the kitchen table against the wall, feet over the heat vent as she “helped” me with my math word problems. Now, listen to me!!! Nine ninety five plus nineteen ninety nine for the seasonal sheet set equals: $34.95 !!!
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My foot was still on the brake pedal.
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Turning the key in the ignition, I thanked my own for saving me, as by fire, from public humiliation and full on, single mother first generation immigrant retaliation. Every scenario ever devised by my oppressively overactive imagination converged, in a flood of expulsion. Thrust back into the present, I flew down Interchange Road to the interstate, stuffing chocolate absolution into my gullet like a starving Biafran.
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The candy was disgusting.
I’d been whipped by addiction, for the last time.
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Boscov’s had nothing on epiphany.
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© 3/7/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.