Category Archives: personal testimony

history of personal belief and transformation

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

 

 

Full Service!

 

Crossing traffic was difficult to impossible just beyond the I-90 Interchange on 97. Yet, though Country Fair’s prices were consistently 5c below the average at this juncture, the Kwik Fill directly across was prepared to compete – and, the sign said Full Service. Since my windshield wash hadn’t been spewing any fluid since the inspection, and I was heading north, this was a no brainer; Kwik Fill would get my business.

I pulled up next to the open pump. The service representative, bundled in jacket over hooded sweatshirt, was pumping gas for a vehicle on the opposite side, but tapped on my passenger side window. When I rolled it down, he asked me what gas grade I wanted. I told him I would also like him to check my windshield washer receptacle, as it may be blocked or leaking. He walked away, to complete the sale on the other side, and then returned, asking again if I wanted to fill the tank. I said yes, and popped the hood, feeling the pump nozzle enter my car’s gas receptacle.

By now, he had come around to the front of the car. Again, I declared that I wished to have the wash receptacle checked for leaks. He called out: “I can’t tell if there is fluid in the bottle. All I can see is the top of the bottle – it’s an entire bottle!” He seemed impatient.

I asked if the spouts might be blocked. He said that this was possible. And, he disappeared again – to serve another customer.

I looked back at the pump. The hose was draped across to my car, the nozzle inserted into my gas tank – but, the pump read 00.00

He came around again, to my passenger window, and asked if I’d like him to pour some fluid into the receptacle bottle, to test its contents. Good idea, I thought; I agreed.

While I watched him walk back to get what I thought would be a small amount of windshield wash, I saw him step across the draped pump hose. Calling out, I said: “Why does the pump read 00.00?!”  He looked at it. “Oh!” he said. And, stepping to the pump, he engaged the gasoline stream.

Then, he walked up to the open hood and poured fluid into the receptacle bottle. Three seconds later, a man in a truck being serviced called out: “It’s full!”

When I asked why the wash wasn’t reaching the windshield nozzles, he said it might be the motor. “Motor?!” I said, incredulous. Then, he said, “You’ll have to ask a service station. I’m not a mechanic!”

Walking past the passenger side of my car, he shoved a large, nearly full bottle of blue washer fluid through the window, and said briskly: ” Three seventeen, 2019 prices”. Then, he pulled it back out of the window, and disappeared.

I was momentarily confused. Was he telling me the grade of the fluid, like one would confirm lubricating oil? I stared straight ahead, blinking my eyes rapidly.

When the tank was filled, I handed him my debit card, declaring “Credit, please”. Again, he said: “3.17, for the wash”.

The bottle. The entire bottle. He was charging me for the whole bottle of washer fluid!

I said: “You’re charging me for the whole bottle?!” He said: “I have to! You said you wanted me to test the receptacle!”  I said: “You never told me you would charge me for an entire bottle to do that. I would not have done this to you.”

Again, I stared. Through my soiled windshield.

He came back with my debit card, and the receipt for the gas, and as he set the bottle on the seat I handed him my credit card. He said: “You’ll have to come in [to the store] for this; I can’t sell you a product out here, because you have to sign for it.”

Getting out of the car, I moved deliberately. The sun was bright. The air was crisp, slightly warmer than it had been for much of the winter. Following him toward the store cubicle, I took my good old time. Walking with a slight strut, head high, I felt emboldened by every woman who had ever walked the earth.

Entering the cubicle, I submitted my card for payment. Another customer stepped in, behind him. When the transaction was complete, I stopped.

“Sir, this is a Full Service station. I expected that you would take a small amount of the fluid used to squeegee windshields to test my receptacle.  Why didn’t you squeegee my windshield?”

His eyes were a piercing blue, deeply set. Round face, bulbous features. His speech was rapid, aggressive.

“Ma’am, do you see how many cars going in and out of here? I’m alone here. I’m doing the best I can!”

“I’m sure you are. But, this being a Full Service station, you should have cleaned my windshield. Instead, you billed me for an entire bottle of windshield washer fluid. ” And, backing out toward the exit: “Sir, I worked in the service industry for five years, and I would never have done to you what you did to me, today.”

I was out the door. Heading back to my car, I looked at the woman stopped behind mine, and shook my head in warning toward her. Just a small service provided to my ilk, a woman in a world of men out to make a buck.

There is an 800 number on the Kwik Fill receipt. Just above it, the following question appears:

“How Are We Doing?”

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© 3/1/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

That Impeccable Word.

 

You know, those Four Agreements….

What a tough call.

At first glance, keeping our word impeccable seems easy enough. We imagine ourselves quite separate from those who would wish ill on others, or who would do anything deliberately which could damage another living thing.

And, then, a bug crawls across the sofa, and we smash it without a second thought.

Being emotionally available, and able to express oneself, is a two edged sword. On the one hand, those of us inclined can be counted on to be, at the very least, genuine; in short, we always mean what we say because our words come – albeit readily – from the latest, authentic impulse to pass through our cortex.

The fact that others may not wish to be subject to our earnest thoughts never occurs to us until, out of nowhere, we find ourselves avoided or dismissed.

Those who keep their emotional selves locked and loaded fare far better. Nobody ever knows what they are truly thinking or feeling, so being in the presence of such a person is no immediate threat to a stable social atmosphere. And, rooms fill with people who put forth little by way of authenticity, all of them interacting and exchanging with one another without rancor or incident. The play, within the play.

Keeping one’s word impeccable, according to the author of the book cited, is really about being sure never to allow a single disparaging comment to escape our lips or our pen. This rules out any expression of frustration, agitation, offense, or other negative feeling; in short, while we may feel it, we are not to speak it.

I wonder where the author puts his feelings about others’ behavior? Does he just ruminate, in silence? Perhaps he encases them in some fictitious character, so as to flesh out his reactions to them…

Does the scale of justice tip of some inherent volition?

I seriously wonder whose role it is to expose wrongdoing. Who protects others from exploitation, from malignment, from abuse? Who, or what, calls out the offender –  a lightning bolt, from God Almighty?

My grandfather was a street preacher. He roared his judgments across North Park Row to the center of State Street. He declared his beliefs, publicly. He held forth inside, as well, from the pulpit of the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue. And, when the parents of a married woman were ex-communicated from the assembly because of their daughter’s behavior, he stood and loudly defended them. This action pronounced a reaction upon him by the one man permitted to do so; accused of “railing”, my grandfather was also ex-communicated from his beloved fellowship.

Whence the role of the impeccable word, here?

On this day which celebrates love in all its forms, perhaps we could spend a moment contemplating how we go about living in peace. Is it by turning a blind eye to corruption, to manipulation, to crimes against humanity?

Love, always. Bearing all.

Impeccably.

The ultimate call.

You tell me.

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© 2/14/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.    Thank you for respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com