Category Archives: vacation destinations

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

 

 

Colleen Ahern.

 

CHAPTER 43.

 

The bookstore was the warmest place to be on the coldest November day.

And, her north wall would not endure another, whole year without its large calendar being adequately replaced.

She’d stared across the livingroom at the space between the levelored windows, for the last time, determined never to stare at that wall again for the rest of her life, unless the block calendar with its proverb for each month was within direct sight line from the sofa.

Last year she’d waited too many weeks, and the bookstore’s selection of remaining 2018 samples had come up short of expectations. Settling for some poolside garden setting theme, only to find its color scheme too purple for the room’s palette, she’d just left the previous December, with its simple:  “Be Kind And Carry On” as place holder for the entire year.

Now, time was truly of the essence. The second winter storm would be upon them by late morning, bringing freezing rain to crust the waning first snow. And, the bookstore had confirmed: their 2019 shipment was racked, and ready.

This year, the store had chosen to place the large wall variety on a rotating spindle display. After several revolutions, there at last was her proverbial, boldly colored favorite. But, just above it – a stunning series, images of Italy. Though talk of a trip to whomever would listen had been ongoing for at least the past five of a total seven since retiring, she’d likely not soon be getting to Italy.  Tucking that one under her arm, she added the flat art favorite, and then spied Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, in cartoon, offering monthly Yoga for the year. No senior woman worth her own salt should be without this vitally hip exercise aid heading into the cusp of the close of yet another decade. Up came Ms. Ginsberg, to join the rest.

Calculating that the Yoga calendar would work near the mirror opposite the railing barre in the loft and the views of Italy would make the music room pop, she wended her way toward the check out, all three securely in hand. Rounding the corner just beyond the recipe books, reading glasses, and Godiva, she could already hear the familiar deep basso resonance of the former radio host turned store clerk addressing the needs of an unseen patron just ahead of both herself and a smiling gent who said nothing.

Peering around him, she could just see to whom the clerk repeatedly spoke. A tiny woman, her tightly pulled grey hair almost white around her head, seated in a rolling cart chair, barely able to see above the counter upon which were placed several, thick hardbound novels.

She could clearly see the books. One John Grisham. Two John Sandfords. No, three. Another, by an unknown woman. Her weight shifted from one faux leather boot to the other. This could be awhile.

No. There was no interest in the stuffed Grinch promotional exclusive. Yes, to a contribution toward the elementary school book drive. Would points to her store membership be welcomed?

She was not processing the content of their exchanges, only watching both, hearing his voice fill the otherwise empty room and hers barely audible above it. The silent gent turned, smiled apologetically, then took an alert on his smartphone.

Another woman approached, from behind, wearing a necklace with roped silver, her outfit its complement. She wondered where the woman might be going after a solitary bookstore visit on this Thursday morning. Two more patrons appeared, behind her. They were a line of six, ahead of the ice storm which would surely glaze upper Peach Street within the hour.

She turned to the woman in the silver necklace, commenting on her outfit. With a gesture toward the counter, she made mention of their mutual future as aging women – including anecdotal references to her own father, nursing homes, and the anticipated final third of life without dependents. Was she also single?

No; the woman was a mother of four.

Nodding with respectful envy, she bowed her head slightly and resumed her stance facing the counter.

The tiny woman was finally paid in full for her $160 order. Slowly, she stood. The store clerk handed her the plastic sack of hardbound novels. Could she get that? Would she need help? The bag of books settled into its spot on the seat of her rolling cart, as she bent to secure it. Oh, I think I should be fine, in tones of seasoned familiarity.

And so, she spoke. Perhaps he might call for assistance, to help the woman get everything to her car. The booming basso cut into the quiet, summoning available help, as the tiny woman moved away from the check out counter toward the exit.

The space cleared, she was up. He opened with the promotions and the school book drive. Hastily, she added the stuffed toy for her grand niece, thinking of the twin siblings due any day. Having taught public school for 25 years, for her the book drive a no brainer: Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Was she permitted to return any one of the calendars, if unopened? Paid in full, she too moved toward the door.

The tiny woman was still seated, large burden in her lap. There was a soft expression on her face, a faint smile at each corner of her mouth. Her eyes were quietly alert.

In less than a breath, she felt her spirit enter the woman’s body, hover, and return. Approaching, she spoke to the woman. Would she like some help?

They were quickly joined by the bookstore manager, complete with laniard and peeping walkie talkie, who pushed the woman in her cart out thru the door as she held it and over to a blue, four door sedan parked at the front of the store. The walkie talkie’s peep crescendoed and the two women relieved her, chatting already and gathering the car keys which, of course, were manually required to unlock the doors.

Had she been a teacher? No; but she was often asked if she were. This was her reading for the whole winter! Well, who wouldn’t believe it? Folding the rolling chair cart, just able to lift and place it in the backseat, the woman crept down into the driver’s seat and turned, smiling.

What was her name? Colleen. Colleen Ahern. Was there anyone to look in on her? Yes; she lived behind Mount St. Benedict, happily well cared for and won’t you have a lovely Thanksgiving!

You have a wonderful winter!  Carefully closing the door, she stepped away.

In a rush of hope she crossed the lot, manually unlocking her own door and settling into her front seat. Tail lights lit, the blue four door sedan sat idling for several minutes. She watched the woman wait until she was sure her engine was sufficiently warmed, then turned to arrange her packages on the passenger seat. When she looked back, the parking spot was empty. The sedan was already moving onto Peach Street, ready to coast all the way to Harborcreek before the storm descended. Before any threat of isolation could lurk. Beyond any doubt or fear, a stack of novels waiting to become her world, one for each month of the year’s end and up and over and across to the new one.

Carry on, Colleen.

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© 11/15/18   Ruth Ann Scanzillo            All rights those of this author, whose name – not Colleen – appears above this line. Thank you for respecting authentic stories.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

Bring It To The Table.

 

He probably had no idea.

But, many women crushed on Anthony Bourdain, myself included.

Given what we have now been told about his life, his worth, and the scope of his experience, this fact may have come to bear no importance to him. Like everything he’d touched, women were likely a “been there/done that” episode in an otherwise keenly focused and ultimately vital social intention.

Because, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t just a fantastic chef. He was an explorer, a journalist, and a visionary. He may also have been, in spite of his rugged earthiness, rather an idealist – receiving, with private reflection and no small frustration, the socio-political realities he encountered.

And, he found them all.

From the rapid fire race of the planet’s cosmopolitae to the cramped corners of primal civilization, Bourdain covered the story – by boat, rickshaw, taxi, mule and the boots on his own feet. And, he reached the very heart of it all, at table.

There is something about the art of not just preparing good food, but in the eating of it. When this man sat down to share a meal, be it finger fried or stew pan steamed, he brought his open mind. And, as his interviews sat with him, they ceased being subjects and became friends. And, so many of them had, until he came along, never been seen or heard by anyone outside of their tiny place in the sun.

In many cases, neither had the culture they represented. And, this was Bourdain’s fascination. He didn’t just bring his appetite. Anthony Bourdain was hungry. He really, genuinely, wanted to know them all, and everything about their lives.

And, they told him.

They told him, both through their food and the act of sharing it. By coming to the table, the story itself unfolded – unprovoked, and unrestrained. It spoke candidly, about the political upheavals of the day and the ancient history in a single pot of oil. It openly expressed the views of its people – their ideas, their needs, their hopes for survival and preservation.

I don’t know what happened in that hotel room in Paris. We are long past the proving of any of it. And, maybe that is just what Anthony Bourdain wanted. Beyond marketing and media ratings, release to our eyes and ears his legacy. Let the story tell itself.

But, do pass the mushy peas.

Please.

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©9/16/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo    All right those of the author, who wonders just how many private islands there are. Really.   Thank you for respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com