Seasons Greetings from Bridgeport, U.S.A.

Seasons Greetings from Bridgeport, U.S.A.

Rushing south in the early morning hours on Lakeshore Drive, past downtown Chicago, I

arrive at the “Compound," a three flat Graystone, affectionately filled with four floors of

family, for the one day God tortures me.

After footing most of the bill for our Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner, I have to clean my

father’s house. My request to have him cohabitate with a nice Polish girl that cleans has not

been fulfilled yet. A mail order Russian bride would be just fine, too.

As I gather the cleaning supplies from beneath the sink, Pops enlists the help of

the Homeless Black Man, who lives in the unheated garage out back, to assist me.

“Dad” I tell him, “You can’t have him live in your garage, sleeping on boxes of my

college transcripts and old love letters.”

“Are you kidding me?” Pops responds, “This guy thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Three

squares a day and a roof over his head. I’m providing a public service.”

I am now in desperate need of some Dago Red wine. After my father completes his

first nap of the day, he proceeds to fry the stinky Baccala in his grey flannel pajamas.

Pops then tries to get me to eat the asparagus and eggs the local Mob Boss brought over.

I take a pass. Either Fox News or the History Channel play on every TV in the house – I

count at least six. I have no idea which remote to use to turn off or change the channel.

After the Baccala is done, Homeless Black Man fries a chicken for

himself. My mother enters the kitchen and enthusiastically yells “I'm from the south

and I LOVE fried chicken.” Homeless Black Man laughs. I stare at both my mother and

Homeless Black Man and decide to exit this extremely strange, left-leaning love fest

and head for the basement.

A miracle occurs, as behind the Oak downstairs bar, I manage to dig out New

Order’s “Power, Corruption and Lies” album from over 100 dust covered CDs. I play the

song “Age of Consent” and am transported to a runway, in the early Fall of 1985, a tall,

gawky, emaciated, ninth grader, thirteen, too much makeup, too high of h&eels, stripping

naked with strangers in the same room Andy Warhol signed Interview magazines just a

few days before. No adult chaperone, of course.

A model belts out Klymaxx’s “The men all pause when I walk into a room. The

men all pause” before she climbs up the flimsy stairs to make her walk. I can’t fill a

bra, have no body hair, yet I am drinking a vodka tonic, taking

extra care not to ruin my mascara.

“Your Silent Face” begins to play and the synthesized strings remind me of the ebb

and flow of young love.

“Leave Me Alone” plays and, left alone, I try to replicate the coveted Ian Curtis/Alison

Moyet swinging arm dance and my signature hair flip. WOOSH.

You get these words wrong
You get these words wrong
Every time

I tackle the bar in full on gas mask, smock and gloves as too many questionable

characters frequent the “Compound” and you can never be too careful. I dust my

father’s framed porn star autographs with the same feathered brush I use on photos

of my children.

It is common knowledge that most Italian-Americans, like Orthodox Jewish families, have a 2nd kitchen

in their basement. Not only do we have a kitchen, but a whirlpool tub, sauna, bar and pool table.

It's the Carlito's Way suite at Caesar's Palace circa 1980.

To access the stairs to the basement, you must first walk through my father’s bathroom, and open

a "secret" door: "The bathroom might throw off the Feds, but be sure to knock in case someone's on the

toilet," my father cautions.

The large basement is covered in thousands of photos, pool and White Sox baseball

memorabilia. We have converted the pool table into a serving table for the fried shrimp,

boiled shrimp, shrimp dip, crab dip, cod, etc. There is also a coffee stained Italian flag.

I set up the holiday ornaments and candles provided by Homeless Black Man on all of

the tables. I do not ask where they came from.

Pops takes a second nap during a John Wayne movie; "You seen this?" he asks me, then dozes off again

while I clear clutter. There must be twenty-three remotes. I light

candles and re-vacuum in an attempt to mask the old man, cat and dog scents. I pour myself a

second cocktail, cut flowers and drape table cloths.

A picture of my recently departed, godfather Joe, eating spaghetti, is blown up,

framed and sits atop the end of a long bingo table. He will be joining our

Christmas Eve dinner tonight. He never left, or got off the phone, one time, my whole

life, without telling me he loved me first. Not one time.

I change the stereo to Christmas music and start to greet our family guests. My

father has neither showered, nor awoke from his second nap, yet the house fills with

relatives and small children, including many godchildren.

My great-grandmother was from the "old country" and used to fit two hundred people in

two rooms on Christmas Eve. The body heat helped. Forget a kids "table," we were relegated to eating in the cold

hallway, siting on the splintered stairwell, where one could see their breath. Older cousins would show off cigarettes that

they stole from their mother's purse and that they couldn't wait to light up in the alley. To even suggest that one of us kids

needed to use the restroom inside my great-grandmother's tight quarters on this special night, the most special night of the year

for my family, may have resulted in a murder. "All they had to do was give you a look," my father told

me. There were no "explanations" or "reasoning."

I am happy that this year, the annual holiday “Beefs” have been avoided, which means everyone is on

speaking terms, and there are no conflicts that I know of yet.

I keep a rag in one hand and a Windex bottle near as I pour drinks and start to

carry the four pounds of pasta downstairs. “You look like Grandma” my cousin shouts.

I catch myself in the mirror – grateful to have avoided her Mediterranean Raccoon eyes -

apron on, rag in hand, a steaming mountain of pasta opening the pores on my face – and

do admit I look a little like her tonight. Needing to serve more pasta, I climb the

steep green carpeted stairs leading not onto a Catwalk, but to a bathroom. Better knock.

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