April 12, 2017   no responses

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Preludium

In the Christian religion, Easter Sunday is the most important holiday of the liturgical year since the literal physical bodily, resurrection of Christ is the foundation of all its beliefs. Since my mother was a devout Polish Roman Catholic, Lent and Easter maintained its importance in our household while our Italian side of the family was more into celebrating Christmas.

The prelude to Easter is the season of Lent which starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after the indulgent holiday of Carnevale or Mardi Gras. My mother took us to church that day to receive ashes. Since my father was sick with Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t make it into the church, the priest gave my mom some ashes in a #6 size white envelope. When she got home, she put the ashes on him and said with some sangfroid, “Dust you are and dust you shall return!” Lent lasted forty days in preparation for Easter – a symbolic time referencing the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert and the parallel New Testament story of Jesus fasting in the desert on honey and locust, preparing himself for his ministry.

At Sacred Heart School, the nuns urged us seventh graders to “give up something” for Lent like candy, movies or TV. They handed us small cardboard Lenten Boxes that you had to assemble (Tab A into Slot B) to put coins in to save the pagan babies of China. We were allowed only one full meal per day with meat, which meant a lot of cheese, tuna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. During Lent, there was no meat at all on Fridays. So going to Howard Johnsons on Friday night for the unlimited fried clams was a special treat and didn’t seem like a penance at all.

On Easter Sunday, we were always outfitted in a new suit and hat symbolizing our rebirth and fresh start in Christ. So, weeks before, my mother took us to Robert Hall to buy a new suit, which came with two pairs of pants. She would then go to S.S. Kresges to get a new frock and an Easter Bonnet (“does anyone still wear a hat?”). You did not go to Church on Easter Sunday morning with anything old on!

Sacred Heart Parish in Newburgh New York was mainly comprised of Italian Americans so our Polish celebration at home was in contrast with the over the top Mediterranean liturgical celebration. For instance, during Lent, all the many statues in church were covered in purple cloth like ladies wearing veils to cover their heads for vanity. For forty days, the organ was silenced, no bells rung and no weddings held. As an altar boy, I loved clacking a large wooden clapper only used at mass during this season.

For Forty Days and Forty Nights all the parish repented, gave alms, fasted, and attended the “Stations of the Cross.” We cleansed ourselves of evil and the pleasures of the material world to enter the Promised Land. We had fattened up the weeks before Lent to get us ready for the fast and we all looked forward to Easter and the great celebration and feasting that began with Holy Week that started with Palm Sunday.

 

Palm Sunday

After Mass, everyone received palms in memory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey when the throngs waved their fronds to greet the Messiah. I would take my palms home and make little crosses of them. We would wear these on our suit lapels and put them around the house usually stuck onto the corners of mirror frames or over our beds. The old, Italian ladies of the parish made and sold elaborate palm crosses to put on the graves of loved ones.

 

 Monday, Tuesday and Spy Wednesday

These days were spent shopping for fish for Good Friday and Polish meats and groceries for the big meal on Sunday.  We went to Commodore’s on Broadway to buy homemade chocolate Easter Bunnies, jellybeans and the A&P to buy yellow Peeps and Paas egg coloring. Spy Wednesday was named for Jesus hiding from the magistrates and the priests of Jerusalem.

 

 Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday

The evening service commemorated Jesus washing of the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. Our pastor washed the feet of the big parish donors. At the end of the service came the stripping of the altars of all cloths, flowers, candles and adornment even the holy water fonts were drained. The door of the tabernacle was left open and the Blessed Sacrament was transported downstairs to the basement of our church to a special repository. Since no mass could be celebrated for the next two days, this is where the concentrated hosts were “reposed” in case the sick and dying needed to take their last communion. Since ours was an Italian parish our repository was quite gaudy. Lots of candles, aluminum foil backdrop, palms, lilies, kneeling angels in adoration framed the altar where Jesus was in wait till Sunday.  One very old, Italian lady, my mother called, Penny Annie, stayed all night in the basement to keep Jesus company.

After the Thursday night mass, my mother and I would visit Newburgh’s other two parish’s repositories to gain a special indulgence:  St. Francis Church for the Polish immigrants and St. Patrick’s for the Irish of course. This was called Visita Iglesia.

 

Good Friday

This is the most somber day of the calendar, the day the Lord was crucified. There was no school and my parents came home from work at noon. No music or TV or Radio could be played at home.  I think it is called “Good” Friday, because without the death of the Son of God there would be no salvation so it was good. This is a sort of ironic Christian logic not un-similar to “if it rains on your wedding day, it is good luck”.

From noon to 3 p.m. in the afternoon, the duration Jesus spent on the cross, we would attend the service of readings on the Passion. Some called it the “Seven Last Words.” During the service, all the congregation would come to the altar rail for the Adoration of the Cross, kneel and kiss the wounds of the crucified Jesus on a big wooden cross. The priest would rub the rood clean with a handkerchief after each dramatic buss. That night we attended “Stations of the Cross”, services which we went to every Friday evening during Lent. These centered around thirteen depictions of the passion of Christ hung around the church in chorological order from Pontius Pilate to the Crucifixion to the Sepulcher.

At each station the priest would stop in front of each picture and read and pray. At the 11th Station – “Jesus is nailed to the cross” – I always remembered the line:

These barbarians fastened him with nails, and then, raising the Cross, leave Him to die with anguish on this infamous gibbet.

For a long time, I thought gibbets had something to do with turkeys. We all sang that famous Bach hymn, “O Sacred Head Surrounded by Crown and Piecing Thorne”

 paschalcandle2006

Holy Saturday

This was a busy day of house cleaning and cooking that started at 7 a.m. Our home was scrubbed top to bottom and my once a year job was to wash all the windows – our Goyim version of the ritual cleaning and ridding of the Passover chametz

Mom baked a ham, boiled the eggs and kielbasa and made potato salad. In the afternoon, we dyed our Easter Eggs with the Paas brand coloring kit. You had to dilute tiny colored tablets in white wine vinegar. Like Proust, whenever I smell white vinegar, I think of Holy Saturday, my mom and times past.  We inscribed our names on the brightly pastel colored eggs with a wax crayon; Mom, Dad, Anthony, Michael and Karen. Even one for our dog, Daisy. In late afternoon, we all went to confession except for my father.

In the evening was the great Easter Virgil Service at our Italian parish of Sacred Heart Church that had to begin after sundown and lasted for three hours. We forget how much Catholic liturgical days, calendar and rites derived from the Jewish tradition. The holiday or “Holy Day” celebrations always start on the eve before and continue for eight days – Octaves.

The great Easter Vigil service was in four parts, the first being The Service of Light. At 10 p.m., dressed in my altar boy special red cassock and white lace surplice, I followed the high priest, deacon and sub-deacon outside to the rickety wooden front steps of our church. While inside the darkened church, the congregation waited in silent anticipation, holding unlit candles which poked through an upside white and green trimmed Dixie Cup to prevent drips.  I used to love it when the hot wax dripped on my hand and I would eat it off.

The celebrant after a few frustrating attempts, struck a flint to start the blessed fire to light the big Pascal (lamb) Candle made from beeswax that would burn till Pentecost (50 days later). He handed it over to the deacon for the grand procession from the main doors of the church and down the center aisle of the black, dark silent building. From the great Paschal Candle, a flame was passed from one congregant’s small candle to the next slowly illuminating the nave. As the deacon made his way down the center aisle, he stopped three times lifting the candle higher and higher intoning Lumen Christi - Light of Christ, each time singing in a higher key as the congregation responded Deo Gratias – Thanks be to God.  When he reached the main altar, the Paschal Candle was set in a large ornate golden candelabra where it would flicker fifty days and nights to Pentecost.

The second part, The Liturgy of the Word began as the deacon chanted the beautiful Exsultet or Easter Proclamation.  This was followed by seven readings from the bible, five from the Old Testament including the Exodus narrative and two from the New.

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When we got to the “Gloria” part of the mass, the church lights were dramatically turned on and all the church bells were rung for the first time in forty days. I went wild with my communion hand brass bells as the choir, accompanied with organ which had been silent since Good Friday, joyously sang out: Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Another altar boy swung his thurible in great arcs as clouds of incense wafted over all of us. Ushers, stationed by all the Lenten covered statues, holding a stick with a nail on top of it, whipped off the purple cloths.  Boo! Then the sacristan crouching off to the side, drew back a huge white sheet hanging in front of the main altar. It was dramatically torn down Kabuki style like the rending of the veil in the Great Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus died. Voila! It revealed the resplendent altar filled with hundreds of lit candles and Easter Lilies surrounding a four-foot statue of the triumphant resurrected Christ. I almost swooned from such an overwhelming dramatic and emotional experience of the bells, the music, the incense, the flowers, the heat of the candles and the almost naked muscular statue of Jesus. It was like the rock was rolled away on Easter morning and all of creation shone out enveloping us all in a Bellini St.Teresa-like ecstasy.  I believe this is where my love of theatre and special events was born.

The reading of the Epistle to the Romans was followed by the three great Alleluias, sung for the first time since Lent. Our pastor. Msgr. Celauro, read the resurrection account from the Gospel, followed by a homily and a plea for money (it being an Italian parish of course!)

After The Liturgy of the Word came The Renewal of Baptismal Vows. The water for the baptismal font which had been drained on Good Friday was solemnly blessed and basins filled. Then our Monsignor walked down the center aisle dipping the aspergillum from a brass bucket filled with the new water and sprinkled all the parishioners as we renewed our baptismal vows.

The sub-deacon chanted the long Litany of the Saints with invocations to the Virgin Mary, Apostles, Martyrs, Bishops and Doctors of the Church, Priests and Religious and us Laity.   Many of the names I never heard of – Matthias, Cyprian, Perpetua, Cyril and Fabian?

It was now time for the final section called The Eucharist. The main celebrant changed from violet vestments to a white chasuble embroidered with gold thread to celebrate the first mass in two days. If you had gone to confession this Saturday afternoon, you could now receive communion and fulfill your Easter Obligation.  It took all three celebrants to give out communion since nobody dared not receive the Body of Christ on this most holy day. There was more passing of the basket for the final collection as we all exited singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today – All-all all lea-lu-lu ia” It was 1 a.m. in the morning. And the stone was ready to be rolled away at dawn.

 

Easter Sunday

We got up at sunrise and opened our Easter Baskets. We got dressed put on our new Sunday clothes and went back to church for the Children’s Mass at 9 a.m. For most parishioners, it was difficult to understand our Italian accented pastor but I had no problem since my Aunt Mary spoke the same way! After mass, we stopped at Luna Bakery, the neighborhood Italian Pastry shop, for cannoli as dessert after our splendid Easter afternoon meal.

Easter lunch was at 1 p.m.  – baked glazed Krakus Polish Ham, kielbasa and red horseradish, potato salad and overdone string beans that looked brown – cannoli and Easter candy for dessert. We stayed in new garments even as we cleaned up all the dishes and pots. At 3 p.m. we drove back into Newburgh for a walk around beautiful Downing Park to see the spring flowers plantings. My father’s favorite pastime was feeding the corn to the ducks in the pond from a brown paper bag he bought at the park concession stand for 25 cents.

At 7 p.m. we put on our flannel pajamas as we ate left overs, cracking open our Easter eggs and eating our jellybeans and caramel filled chocolate eggs. We gathered together around the television and watched The Ten Commandments on ABC. At 10 p.m. (a late night for all of us), we all went to bed, sated and exhausted from all the  events of Holy Week. With our new clothes neatly hanging in the closet, and the taste of candy still redolent on our breaths, Christ was in Heaven and all was right with the world. Postludium  – Easter Week

Dyngus Monday

The next morning, I would get up extra early around 6 a.m. It was Dyngus Day! It was a Polish tradition for the boys to get up early so they could douse the girls with water as symbol of baptism of a new life in Christ (christening).  I am sure it was based on some sexual pagan rite too.

First I would sneak to my mother’s room and throw a spritz of water on her. She pretended to be asleep and would scream and feign anger. I then slowly crept up the stairs and doused my sister Karen who was sound asleep with a small cup of cold water and she screamed too but with not unreal anger.

 

 Easter Week

The rest of the week was filled with the debris of eggshells, foil wrappers from the chocolates, squashed jellybeans that had fallen to the floor and trampled by our shoes.  We all enjoyed variations on the leftovers. I particularly liked scrambled eggs with chopped up ham and kielbasa. We continued to water our Easter plants till they died usually around Pentecost. The following Saturday I vacuumed up the green cellophane grass which had fallen out from our Easter Baskets and somehow always found their way into the corners of our living room. We put all the holiday decorations back down in the basement. The Sunday after Easter is called “Low Sunday” after the high celebrations of Eastertide. At home and at church, what an apt name that was.

 February 14, 1979   no responses

1979

(one of the last pictures taken with my mom)

I guess a boy’s first Valentine is his mother.  In second grade our teacher announced we were going to make Valentine Day cards. Mrs. Morris was one of the few lay teachers at our Catholic grammar school of St. Thomas Aquinas in Brooklyn. She handed out multi-color sheets of construction paper, white paste glue, pipe cleaners, glitter and those funny stubby scissors that couldn’t really cut anything.

I constructed a glittery Valentine for my mom. I was proud of this crude hand-made arts & crafts token of my love for her. I carefully brought it home; pressed flat in one of my schoolbooks. When she wasn’t looking, I placed it on the kitchen table; the 1950′s kind of table with chrome legs, flamingo colored Formica top and matching vinyl covered chairs. I sat down at the table and pretended to do my homework.

My mother came back in with a frilly apron on, getting ready to cook our supper, which we promptly ate every night at 5:30 pm. It seemed hours before she noticed the big read heart I had laid out before her. She picked it up and held it at a distance. “What is this? Why, thank you.” She gave me a demure Mona Lisa like smile of disappointment. It took me a few years to figure out that hand made gifts were not as appreciated as store bought ones.

As I grew older, Valentine’s Day found me at the local drugstore. I would go to the card section and pick the biggest flowery card I could find. At that time in the card section, you picked up a sample card sort of sealed on cardboard with a code number on it. You then handed the druggist the sample and he would open the drawer below and hand you the card out of a file with the same number on it. When I got bolder I would go to the drawer myself and select the Valentine. They got more lacey as the years went on, one of them even had a little silk tuft of sachet. Next stop was the candy aisle for a large red, satin heart-shaped box of Russell Stover or Whitman’s candy.  Over at the next aisle was the toiletry section for a bottle of Jean Nate Bath Oil or a round canister of “Evening in Paris” talcum powder. Like the gifts of the Magi, I made these three offerings to my mother from her adoring son. She smiled.

1982

The next serious Valentine is usually your husband or wife. Mine was for my boy friend, Gary. Having learned my lessons, I bought him a Hallmark Peanuts card with Snoopy on the front cover, Teuscher chocolates flown daily from Switzerland and a bottle of Lagerfeld eau de cologne.  I had them displayed on my dresser in my bedroom alcove in my West 83rd Street walk up in Manhattan.  He would be sure to see them as we arrived back after dinner at Forest & Sea Restaurant. We tipsily climbed up the creaky stairs to my fourth floor studio. I unlocked the Police Lock bar of the #4A apartment door and Gary went straight to the bathroom to brush his teeth. I lay coyly on my pink chenille bedspread like a Burt Reynolds Playgirl centerfold. Gary came over kissed me lightly and saw his gifts. He opened them gingerly making sure he folded up the ribbons for future re-wrapping.  I was given that same La Giaconda smile that I remembered from long ago. Hmmm? So I went back to the drawing board. I am a quick learner.

The following year, I wrote Gary a hand written poem that I took a long time to compose.  I dropped it in the post and it arrived as planned on February 14th. I handed him the daily mail and as he went through it, he noticed one was addressed to him. I tried to disguise my scrawl so he wouldn’t know it came from me. He opened it and read the missive. He gave me a big Dustin Hoffman – “The Graduate” like grin from ear to ear – this time more Cheshire Cat than Mona Lisa.

I got nothing back that day but his generous smile. That smile funnily enough would stay with me for 25 years … each day being Valentines Day.

My Funny Valentine

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My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet youre my favourite work of art

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But dont change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day

Rodgers & Hart

 June 18, 1968   no responses

So can you guess I am standing on the parapet of the base of the Statue of Liberty? And did you notice there are no World Trade Towers?  So here I am in 1968. I took my 12-year-old sister on the Short Line Bus from Newburgh, NY for a day trip to NYC.

As you can see we visited the Stature of Liberty in the morning. We had lunch at Tad’s Steak House ($1.99) in Times Square on 50th Street. Or sirloins were followed by a matinee performance of the then racy production of the Broadway musical Cabaret (before the awful “revisionist” Roundabout Production in 1988 – UGH!).  Tickets were $4.95 for good orchestra seats for matinees shows.

After the show we ran to Port Authority to catch the 5 pm bus back to Newburgh where I was in exile.

 December 25, 1967   no responses

  Part One

O Holy Night

 

It came to pass in 1967 when John V. Lindsay was mayor in New York that I went up to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and caught the bus to Newburgh, NY. It was my first Christmas Eve home after being away at school at Cathedral College. I hurried through the station, clutching my little suitcase close to me, these being the ‘Midnight Cowboy” days in the big city.

Over Thanksgiving break I had decorated our front door of our home with two strings of big GE colored bulbs, the ones with little ridges on them giving them a depth of color. Every room of our house was elaborately decorated by my Mother. In the parlor, much to my disappointment, we had an artificial Christmas tree. This was because my mother was afraid of a fire starting ever since back in Brooklyn in the 1920′s , her two year old baby sister had caught on fire and died of severe burns.  So I used to spray the fake tree with pine aerosol to give it an ersatz scent. Ornaments  that we had collected over the years were all hung with care and lots of aluminum tinsel were draped on the bright plastic shiny branches. On top of the TV set was a manger we had bought at Woolworth’s. It had a complete set of figures made out of some hard mysterious chalk material – Holy Family, shepherds, angels, sheep, camel, donkey and Magi. Fake garland wound its way down the staircase banister along with Christmas Cards taped up all over the wall. In the bathroom was a Santa Hat toilet paper roll knit cozy. The kitchen was filled with waxen elves accented by holly & ivy potholders and dish towels. The dining room table was covered in a 1940′s style white linen tablecloth embroidered with brilliant red poinsettias with a big crystal bowl of fruit and nuts set in the center. Mr. R. H. Macy would have been proud.

Preparations for a modified traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of “Seven Fishes” started in the afternoon. First came the spaghetti with white clam sauce. My mother sort of cheated on this dish using a can of Progresso clam sauce as the base to which she added fresh clams. Earlier in the day I had to open a dozen clams using a screwdriver and hammer. I never got the hang of shucking; usually smashing the shells open with the hammer which splintered into the clam milk. It took me a long time to strain the shards out. My other job was to clean the shrimp. I spread newspapers over the kitchen table and pulled off the outer shell carapace and violently tugged off the legs. I then used a small paring knife to devein the shrimp removing that ugly black line of detritus that ran the length of their bodies. My hands stunk to high heaven of the sea. Like Susan Sarandon in the movie “Atlantic City,” I cut lemons wedges and slowly wiped the briny smell off of my hands.

The celebration started at 5pm soon as it was dark and I dramatically snapped on the outdoor lighting. Crowlely’s artificial eggnog was served spiked with some rum as we watched the evening news on TV. Dinner was served later than usual, at 7pm – spaghetti with white clam sauce, shrimp Creole, fried shrimp and flounder with Tartar Sauce served with baby peas and broccoli. We quickly cleaned up and with great difficulty, put my brother and sister to sleep. I set out a plate of almond cookies for Santa and took a bite of one so it looked like he really had been there. Then I went upstairs to put on my jacket and tie.

My father stayed home as Mom and I went to Midnight Mass at our Italian parish of Sacred Heart Church. We would have to get there by 11pm to get a good seat. The church was in semi-darkness as the choir serenaded us acappella with a ceremony of carols. At midnight, the main doors of the church opened and a solemn procession started down the center aisle. First came three altar boys attired in special red cassocks and white lace surplices – one altar boy carrying a large gold crucifix flanked by the other two carrying candles. Another altar boy swinging a thurible, sanctified the way for the entrance of our pastor as celebrant. He was followed by the two assistant priests acting as deacon and sub deacon for the High Holy Mass. They wore ornate stiff Sicilian chasubles weaved with gold threading. At last came the youngest, most angelic altar boy carrying a statue of the Baby Jesus on a silver pillow.

The procession stopped in front of the side “Mary Altar” where an elaborate Neapolitan crèche lay away in darkness. The mass began there at the side altar and not on the usual main altar. It was very hushed with no singing. Then Msgr. Cantatore intoned – “GLORIA IN EXCELIS DEO…!” The organ blasted out and the choir lustily continued the Greater Doxology – “…ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS…” The steeple bell started to peal wildly and the altar boy almost breaking his wrist clamorously rang the brass hand bells. And suddenly all of the church lights shone to reveal an elaborate Neapolitan crèche with hundreds of figures, complete with working waterfall and a river running through Bethlehem. The monsignor took the Baby Jesus off the pillow and placed it between Mary and Joseph. “…BONAE VOLANTATIS!”

Msgr. Cantatore gave the usual holiday sermon in broken English but making it perfectly clear that he was expecting big bucks in the collection basket when it went around. The ushers walked down the aisles in military precision extending their sliding extension pole baskets to reach the center of each pew. Those who had money made a great show of putting in 10 or 20 dollar bills so everyone could see. The rest of us furtively tossed our one dollar bills in or made sure our coins silently fell to the bottom of the basket.

At communion time, my mother and I waited with anxious hidden glee for the soprano, Concetta Coniglio to sing her solo. We daren’t look back up over our shoulders to the choir loft to see this bovine, hefty woman, dressed in a peacock blue diva dress who imagined herself to be great Italian opera star, Renata Telbaldi Every year she would sing “O Holy Night.” We tried to hold back our laughter as she struggled to hit the big high C at the end of the carol. The sensation was akin to fingernails scraping across a blackboard or the squeal of the Lexington Avenue Line subway car rounding the tight corner at the Union Square Station at 14th Street.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

The organ started the musical introduction as I got on the long line for Holy Communion behind Mrs. Peluso who was wearing a red fox stole with bristly hairs electrically charged from the cold. As I got near the alter rail, so did Concetta closing in on “Fall on your Knees” – the front car of the Cyclone roller coaster inching up to the perilous top before the loud cry of all the riders as they descended the steep incline. I piously knelt down at the altar rail trying not to listen to Concetta edging up closer to the bel canto precipice. Father Lombardo solemnly placed the wafer on my tongue but it sort of stuck to the roof of my mouth.  I started back to my seat all the while trying to manipulate the wafer off when “Renata” rang out that top sour note. Trying to stifle a guffaw, the wafer spit out of my mouth out and landed on the back of Mrs. Peluso’s fox stole sticking to the red fur. With the snap of a static charge, I sacrilegiously, surreptitous plucked it off the stole and put the host back in my mouth now tasting of musk and Jesus. Back in the pew, I knelt down and didn’t look up again till the end of mass as the choir sang “Tu scendi dalle stelle”.


Part 2

Fall on Your Knees

On the steps of the church after the mass was over, everybody was joyously wishing each other “Buon Natale” or Merry Christmas. It was then, like a star in the East shining down on the Christ Child I spotted Marc Burnett. I hadn’t seen Marc since we performed in the Passion Play the previous Easter where he played Jesus and I played Judas and we played each other, so to speak. I went over and gave Marc a seasonal warm hug and said hello to his Mom, Mrs. Burnett. She was leaving to go to her mother’s house to spend the evening and Marc quickly asked if I wanted to come over to his place for some hot chocolate. I gingerly asked my mother if I could go to Marc’s house for awhile. He would drive me home when we were done. She gave me a curiously knowing permission to go.

Marc lived in a large house in Balmville, one of the more upscale neighborhoods surrounding Newburgh. The night had turned frigid as we hopped into his father’s car and turned on the radio. The sky was overcast with nary a star, so it was quite dark out as we made our way through the back roads. Pretending to change one of the stations, I slid a bit closer to Marc (this was the era before seatbelts). My thigh lightly touched his as we chatted and caught up on our freshmen college semester.

Like the witches house in Hansel & Gretel, Marc’s Tudor Style home glowed with blue Christmas lights as we pulled up into the long driveway. Jumping out of the car, we ran to the front door and tumbled into the warm living room. It looked magical as a giant tree cast a rainbow of hues all across the room and our faces. Marc took me downstairs to the finished basement where he had a small pipe organ installed. He was a consummate organist and played me some pieces by Handel and Bach. I sat with my eyes closed listening in fascination. I felt like Christine listening to Lon Chaney play in “The Phantom of the Opera.” However before I could “unmask” him, Marc quickly got up at the end of a Bach Passacaglia and suggested we make hot chocolate and go to his room.

With steaming mugs warming our hands, we went upstairs and entered his bedroom quietly. He said he wanted to take a shower as he closed the bathroom door behind him. I turned off the lights and lay on the bed facing the bathroom door, imagining Marc getting undressed. I turned on the table radio on the night stand when I heard the sudden rush of the shower. I could also hear my heart beat as I smelled the iron rust like smell of the hard well water that began to mix in with the pungent scent of Irish Spring Soap. The windows of the room began to mist up with fog as the room grew hotter. The shower stopped.


After what I thought was an eternity, the door opened slowly and there stood Marc swaddled in an emerald green towel tied around his waist. With the bathroom light reflecting off the medicine cabinet mirror, Marc looked like the Resurrected Christ I remembered from the spring Passion Play. The deep green pile contrasted so well against his rosy white ivory skin set off by his fiery red hair that rose just above edge of the bath towel. On the radio, Jim Nabors was singing “O Holy Night” as Marc quietly lay down next to me. We held each other as I heard Nabors’ sing “O Night Divine.”

There was no room in the inn…

Suddenly waking up I looked at the clock radio and realized it was almost 5:30am. We ran out to the car in the cold dawn. Marc warmed up the engine as I hastily scraped the ice from the front windows. As we drove back to my house the snow began to fall and I thought of the final famous sentence from the short story ”The Dead” by Irish author, James Joyce which I had just read in English Literature class.

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

 

It didn’t take long to get to my house in New Windsor since the roads were empty on this Christmas morning. Marc turned off the car lights as we turned the corner onto Cross Street. I got out without saying a word and almost slipped on the ice in the driveway. I quietly opened the front door of our house, ran upstairs and put on my flannel pajamas without waking my brother and sister. I ran back downstairs and since I was famished wolfed down all the Santa cookies. I pulled out my LP copy of “Messiah” conducted by Eugene Ormandy with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I silently opened the lid of the stereo, put on LP #3 and turned up the volume all the way.  I plugged on the lights of the Christmas tree and put the Baby Jesus in the manger. Suddenly the “Halleluiah” chorus blared out throughout the house.

I heard a couple of th-thumps from the upstairs bedrooms as Karen and Michael came running down. Mom in her floral nightgown came out of the downstairs bedroom, while my Dad slowly walked down the staircase from the upstairs bedroom he shared with me and my brother. My father acted as Santa as we dove into the mountain of gifts, opening them up in wild abandon with gift wrap strewn all around us – toys, perfumes, pants, coats, scarves, sweaters, shirts, and ties. My mother collected up the bows for next year.

My Mom had gotten me the original cast album of  The Apple Tree which was the second Broadway Show I had seen that fall. As I was reading the liner notes, I was struggling to remove a piece of cookie stuck in my teeth. Try as I may I couldn’t get my tongue around it to dislodge it. Finally ungracefully, I poked my finger into the crevice and out came a small almond chunk with a mysterious red threadlike strand. I chuckled as I flicked it behind the Christmas Tree.

Ah-h-h! We all feigned great delight at a pair of gloves my brother received from Aunt Laura when our dog Marigold jumped up and began licking me all over. She smelled the Irish Spring Soap. I ran over the Stereo and put on The Apple Tree and played Eve’s plaintive song to Adam as sung by Barbara Harris. I hummed along to myself and cleaned up the mess and tossed all the paper into a big hefty bag and got ready for Christmas Day Lunch.

Eve:

What makes me love him?
It’s not his singing,
I’ve heard his singing,
It sours the milk
And yet, it’s gotten to the point
Where I prefer that kind of milk.

What makes me love him?
It’s not his learning.
He’s learned so slowly,
His whole life long
And though he really knows
A multitude of things
They’re mostly wrong.

He’s not romantic,
And yet I love him.
No one occasion
He’s used me ill
And though he’s handsome
I know inside me
Were he a plain man
I’d love him still.

What makes me love him?
It’s quite beyond me,
It must be something
I can’t define.
Unless it’s merely
That he’s masculine
And that he’s mine

 

 July 9, 1966   no responses

Cooking in an open fireplace in summer can cause the kitchen to become extremely hot so in Early America it was common for people to build a separate building called a “Summer Kitchen” where much of the food would be prepared during the summer months.

Well in Italian American neighborhoods, mothers would get up at 5am in the morning to cook the evening meal. The family would gather round when sun went down to enjoy mom’s pasta and bracciole. In the suburban Italian American home, like my house in Newburgh, we installed an oven in the basement so mom didn’t have to get up at 5am! And when it was really hot we ate at a table in the cellar too!

Then when I was a teenager, we got a barbecue and I was in charge of grilling. I used to love pouring ton of charcoal lighter fluid on the briquettes. I would light a match, stand back and wait for the great WHOOSH as the flames leaped in the air. I got the best white-hot coals that way until the wind blew them out. LOL

 February 1, 1966   no responses

EddiesDelicatessen.jpg image by edc3

As in most supermarkets, customers entered through the Produce Department to help generate sales. This was not unlike the major department stores having the jewelry and perfume on the main floor so the ladies hit that area first. Since the wives bought their husband’s clothes the men’s department was always on the upper less trafficked floors; unconsciously being drawn up the escalators through two or three floors of enticing women’s wear. In our store, the Produce Department led right to the Deli Department. So as you pushed your cart casually picking up some lettuce and tomatoes, you soon found yourself facing the appetizing display of the Delicatessen Department.

Harry Burns was the gruff manager of the Deli who reminded me of the character actor, Harry Morgan, the cigar chomping colonel on M*A*S*H. Nobody got along with Harry and he could never keep his help. Exacerbated, Mr. Smith, our store manager, would have to sometime relieve Mr. Burns for his mandatory union breaks and lunch hours. So after the latest clerk walkout, Mr. Smith asked me if I would do him a favor and transfer over to the Deli Department. It meant I had to join the Local Butchers Union, and pay dues but I would get a higher salary. It also meant not working with Dominic but the Produce Department was right next door, sharing the same swinging doors to the back area and I could relieve him for his breaks. I would do anything for Mr. Smith so I said yes.

The A&P delicatessen (from the German for delicacies) featured traditional items found in the old German, Jewish and Italian Delicatessens and Appetizing stores in the immigrant neighborhoods of New York City. The modern design was inspired by the old storefronts which all had a certain look. They were immaculately clean with black mirrored panels with mosaic tiles giving it a pristine antiseptic spa feel. The refrigerator cases were the most important; long gleaming polished aluminum cases looking like windows on the art deco ocean liner, SS Normandie.

From the German came all the classic cold cuts of hams, liverwurst and bologna; chains of bratwurst; white and yellow American cheese; cardboard tasting Swiss and drywall Muenster; golden skinned roasted turkeys, lustrously glazed baked hams, Neolithic Fred Flintstone sized roast beef rounds, toasted salmon croquettes, La Brea tar pits of baked beans and baked macaroni in foil cups; crab cakes with homemade tartar sauce only on Fridays. In long shiny trays were mounded two versions of potato salad – mayonnaise or German style; macaroni, tuna, chicken, egg, health, carrot &r raisin salads, Cole Slaw and for dessert creamy rice pudding, Nesselrode pie, tapioca and Jell-O mold filled with canned fruit.

From the Italian came baked spaghetti in a thick Franco-American style sauce; Spaldine sized meatballs; sweet and hot Italian sausages with glistening green peppers with onions in olive oil; peppery red capicola; leathery Mortadella with inset diamonds of green pistachios; white moldy skinned tubes of Genoa salami and sopresatta; hot and sweet pepperoni; onyx black and briny emerald green olives; – cracked, pitted or whole; marinated mushrooms buttons and dynamite proof nougat Torrone.

From the classic Jewish Deli came almost rust colored slabs of lox both belly and Nova Scotia, saffron chunks of Sable, whole golden white fish with Eddie Cantor eyes; cold smoked chubs, kippers, sturgeon and herring roll mops either pickled or creamy sauce; hockey puck sized potato or kasha knishes; sour and half sour green flecked pickles, bursting redolent of garlic; flakey corned beef and black spice encrusted, pastrami; kosher franks – cocktail and foot long; cream cheese with pimento and chives; pot cheese aka farmers cheese; iconic tawny chopped liver; boxes of Joya chocolate covered jelly rings and Turkish halvah, dried fruits & nuts and slabs of Jewish cheesecake – plain or pineapple. http://usrefrigeration.com/alpha/catalog/images/Deli%20Service%20Case%201.jpg

On the back wall hung bins holding Kaiser Rolls flecked with poppy seeds that got all over you when you picked one up; obdurate bagels – plain, sesame seed, onion, poppy and salted; sad little bialys; small Italian subs and long slender French; sour rye bread with seeds or plain and egg laden challah on Fridays for the Sabbath.

Below the Deli case was a ledge of densely pre-packaged breads from Germany; six packs of Anne Page frankfurter and hamburger rolls; bags of pistachio nuts; Polish Chrusciki dusted in powdered sugar; assorted Stella Dora cookies baked in the Bronx; cans filled with international foods – sour cherries, hearts of palm and anchovies; and varieties of mustards and horseradish.

In the middle of the working counter were two magnificent slicers with one dedicated just for slicing the Kosher-style items. At the far end stood a noisy rattling bread slicing machine while the other end held a rack of variously sized sharp knives. Underneath the ledge were racks holding different sized white bags to put the purchases in after wrapping them in brown butcher paper hanging on huge rolls. And a flip-up wooden counter shelf ran the length of the case. A swinging nautical portal door separated the public area from the back kitchen where food preparation and cleaning took place out of the customers view.

Well it didn’t take me long to figure out Harry Burns was as sweet as lobster meat with a hard shell exterior like Captain Von Trapp as played by Christopher Plummer. He had the attitude of a curmudgeon not suffering fools lightly including customers. Once he figured out that I knew what I was doing and was doing it well, he let his guard down and would trust me and made me his protégé. He would tell me ribald dirty jokes like a Borscht Belt comic.

Mr. Burns taught me how to roast 2/3 lb. chickens on the rotisserie, baking just enough to last through the day with no left-overs. I would take the birds out of the packaging and wash them in the prep sink in the back room. I gaily tossed kosher salt over them after patting down the wrinkly old lady like skins with paper towels. I pierced the gaping cavities through on a long black rod and fastened them in place like a Spanish Inquisition torturer with big iron medieval looking clips. I set the rods containing 4 or 5 chickens each in position in the oven and they revolved and revolved dripping on each other to a golden baste. When done I set them in white paper cardboard boats kept warm by an amber heat lamp so they resembled some alte cocker tanning on Miami Beach. When purchased they were put in aluminum lined bags to keep them warm like marathon runner finishers.

I had to bake huge galleons of roast beef. First I would take the 15 lb piece of meat out of its vacuum pack and wipe all the congealed blood off with my hands massaging the meat with kosher and onion salts; my palms stinging from any cuts I may have had. Sticking a thermometer in just right was an art so it would come out a perfect medium rare. It took constant watching. Once I was waiting so long on a trying customer that it came out well done. The store employees got to enjoy free dry roast beef sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise and horseradish to keep it moist!

Hams were easy. Well the hardest part was opening the tins of Krakus Polish Hams with a key that was affixed on the bottom of the can. You inserted the eye of the key on one end and carefully rolled all the way around the lid. They often broke and I used to cut my hand on the long thin strip of sharp tin that I now had to pull off with my fingers. Harry smartly invested in pliers which did the trick as I now could cleanly lift the ham out of the sharp edged tin and take it out of its plastic condom like encasing. I scored the surface with a paring knife in a nice diamond pattern putting a clove in each intersection, sprinkled on powered cloves, covered the entire masterwork in dark brown sugar, swirls of Gulden’s mustard and a jar of Hawaiian glaze oozing over all; crowned with beautifully decorated canned Dole pineapple rings and garnished with toxic maraschino cherries – done in about 45 minutes to an hour.

 

Slicing the meat was tricky. As Harry’s apprentice he instructed me very seriously and sternly on the use and safety procedures of the slicing machines. You flicked a little toggle switch to turn on the whirring blade as you adjusted it for the proper slicing thickness. Harry warned me dramatically like the Sorcerer in Disney’s Fantasia to always, always use the safety guard plate to hold the top of the meat in place with one hand as you pressed down on it as you caught escaping slices with the other; ladling them in a neat pile on white waxen paper. Concentrate on the task or the consequences may be a slice of thumb in Mrs. Schwartz’s chicken roll. Of course as the wicked young apprentice, I didn’t always listen as I waited on Andrew, one of Ralph’s roguishly handsome but arrogant friends. I kept looking over my shoulder to stare at his pecs under his NFA Tee shirt and engage him in foolish flirtatious conversation as I was slicing roast beef for his sandwich when – WHISH! – the top of my thumb caught the blade quickly. More blood than harm, Mr. Burns magically stopped the bleeding and helped me bandage it up. Andrew’s roast beef sandwich was moist that day!

I made myself tasty sandwiches at a discount for my lunch break experimenting with exotic combinations like ham and lox on a bialy or tuna and chive cream cheese on challah. I particularly liked the Braunschweiger liverwurst, very soft and was almost spreadable on bread with a soupcon of Dijon mustard. I sometimes had my break in the tiny lunch room behind the Produce case with Joe the Butcher but sometimes I would make an extra sandwich and bring it over to Ralphs’ who lived behind the store. I only took a half hour for lunch which gave me plenty of time to wolf down a sandwich and enjoy some of Ralph’s appetizing non-Kosher frank. Of course, lunch was only an excuse to visit him and sometimes I would wrap up my lunch and take it back for my afternoon break if I hadn’t had time to eat it and had already had my fill. Ralph enjoyed our tryst in a sadistic way; always threatening to tell his friend Andrew that I was a queer. I used to live in fear till I figured out that if he told him; he would have to own up to our being “pigs in the blanket.”

Waiting on customers was fun, engaging and also challenging. There were the regulars who came in every day and bought their bagel with smear or knish sliced in half with mustard. Then there was the pain in the asses who watched every move you made so you sliced everything to their precise order or to ensure I was not cheating them on weight or giving them the first slice before cutting their order. Even thought they protested that the first slice was dry and stale; they made me give it to them to taste. As I put the package on the scale to weigh they would peer up like Talmudic Scholars making sure the weight matched the price. “God Forbid!’ I made a mistake.

Slicing lox is a craft. I used a special knife that was long and thin that I dipped in hot water before I started my exquisite carvings. With voices sounding like Eve Arden or Molly Picon, I was always commanded to slice the lox on the bias as thin, thin, thin as possible. I think they thought they got more if I sliced it thinner! “Slice it thin!” shouted out Our Miss Brooks. I used to save the lox skins and wings for my favorite old Jewish lady, Mrs. Finkelstein who did Yahweh knows what with them. She carried off the little white bag holding it close as it if contained s the jewels of King Solomon’s Mines. Mrs. Gold always gave me a hard time, making me open up new pieces since she didn’t want the “stumps! or asking for the biggest rye which was sold by the piece, or making me go through the whole pile of sable for the perfect jewel. I was always polite to her as I packed the cold cuts, pressing down on them, mushing them a bit in passive aggressive glee. This was very successful with the braunschweiger!

Once again on Saturday night I had to clean the cases. This meant wrapping all the meats tightly in cellophane then putting all the now stale bread in big brown paper bags for the bakery return pickup on Monday. I ladled all the salads back into their big rotund metal tubs and stored them in the locker. Finally I would hose the case down with hot water so it was sparking clean for Monday. Cleanliness is next to godliness in a Deli. On Monday mornings, if Harry had off, I would take inventory having to weigh all the items, checking them off a huge master sheet. Then I had to tally it all up against last week’s totals, ask Mr. Smith for the gross Deli sales for the week and figure out the profit made. Good training for an unsuspecting future entrepreneur.

Within a month, the brand new Squire Village Cinema opened with the area exclusive premiere of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. For the gala opening, they had old-fashioned aeroplane up on the marquee which only lasted a week when a snow storm crushed it paper wings. I could now go to the movies right after work and walk home sometimes stopping for a “nightcap” at Ralph’s. When The Sound of Music finally came to Squire Cinema, I took Ralph to see it and share it with him. In the darkened theatre, taking a cue from Maria D’Auito at the gazebo scene where the Baron and Maria sang and kissed, I tried to sidle my leg next to his. I kept it hovering at such a humming bird hair breath width away he never felt it as I held my coat over my lap. Ralph fidgeted in his seat whenever a song came on (which only moved his leg closer to mine) and only became interested at the last scene when the Nazis arrived at the cemetary.  I ingeniously grabbed his arm when Rolf blew the whistle on the escaping Trapp family. The following month, I tried to get him to go see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by lying to him telling him there was nudity and lots of cursing, condemned by the Legion of Decency, but I ended up going alone. Most of it was over my head, but sitting in the empty matinee day theatre, I laughed out loud at some of acerbic lines tossed out by Elizabeth Taylor in a fright wig: “What a dump!’ What’s it from, for Christ’s sake?…some damn Bette Davis picture, some god-damned Warner Bros epic.” – “You make me puke!” and “You married me for it!”

 http://pro.corbis.com/images/JS1566112.jpg?size=67&uid=%7B55E93CC1-9FE6-4B5D-8B1B-89D87FC1FBEA%7D

Once in a while Ralph and Andrew would come to the store and stand behind my customers, sniggle and make lewd gestures. When it was Ralph’s turn to order, he leaned over the counter and slyly intimated that if I didn’t mark the price down he was going to tell his buddy Andrew – EVERYTHING. I made him two dry roast beef sandwiches at a good discount and threw in a container of stale potato salad from the back room at no cost just to get rid of them both.

One afternoon Ralph asked me over for “lunch.” I brought over some liverwurst sandwiches for us. I carefully opened up the sandwiches on his bedroom dresser and set out napkins and two bottles of Stewart’s Root Beer. He silently gestured me like the Gestapo to his bed. Jeopardy was playing on his black and white TV set as I unzipped his metallic fly on his dungarees. He pretended to watch the game show as he put his hands behind his head, flexing his muscles, sniggling as was his wont but now interspersed with stifled moans. Among his moans I thought I heard another snicker, I paused but was gruffly put back in place. I continued our luncheon until I heard a thither again. At that moment, the white slatted wooden closet doors whipped open and Andrew sprang out yelling, “Surprise! You’re on Candid Camera!” He had been watching all along through the interstices. Like a front runner he leapt onto the bed and gestured to me that I was to sit between the two boys. We were silent. “Today’s Jeopardy’s Final Question is in the category Theatre. He wrote The Importance of Being Earnest…” before I could open my mouth to answer Rolfe pushed my down on Andrew. They both grunted in tandem during the seven minutes of commercials. When Jeopardy’s MC, Art Fleming came back on, I took it as my cue to get the hell out of there since I completed my duties quickly. I jumped over Ralph, tripping on the rug, grabbing the dresser for balance as my hand smashed down the braunschweiger sandwich. I took a swig of Root Beer to wash my lunches down. Slamming the door, I yelled out “Oscar Wilde” as I ran back through the loading dock to the A&P.

 

Harry gave me a glare since I was late returning from lunch. Still breathless, I waited on the next customer trying to cover up my excitement with my apron. “Slice it thin! Make sure you slice it thin!” I sliced it as thin as I could so you could read the NY Times through it. I calmed down during the afternoon but still felt used and exposed but strangely excited at the same time  - feeling like a nun who had stolen a kiss like Julie Andrews looking up at Christopher Plummer in the gazebo except that it was not the Baron I who was kissing me but the Hitler Youth Rolf/Ralph.

 

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood

Perhaps I had a miserable youth

But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past

There must have been a moment of truth

 

For here you are, standing there, loving me

Whether or not you should

So somewhere in my youth or childhood

I must have done something good

http://us.movies1.yimg.com/movies.yahoo.com/images/hv/photo/movie_pix/twentieth_century_fox/the_sound_of_music/_group_photos/christopher_plummer1.jpg

Later on in the afternoon, feeling famished, I wolfed down a gall like mixture of Head Cheese dipped in white vinegar. I was angry at Ralph for putting me in that “position” and I am sure he thought he “got the guest” but who really got the guest?!  I knew what I wanted and I went for it. Ralph never came into the store again or did we ever have lunch again but I did meet Andrew a few times in the woods up by Thomas’s Rock. I now spent my lunch time either perusing the Broadway Show Album bin at the drug store next to the A&P or withthe adults – Mr. Smith or Dominick or my new friend Joseph the butcher. That “Walpurgisnacht” and for a few more nights, I would jump when the phone rang at home hoping it wasn’t Ralph blowing the whistle on me. Shortly, the Seminary would take me out of Newbugh and harms way and bring me to the Toyland or should I say Boyland of New York City. It wouldn’t take long for this Martha to come into his own and learn how to play “hump the host.”

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“I’m not, Ralph, I’m not.”

http://misedjj.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/rolfe.jpg

Finale:

I eventually left the A&P when Mr. Smith joined Grand Union Supermarket and took me along with him. I became the Deli Manager during the summers between college semesters, roaming Orange, Ulster and Rockland Counties, relieving the regular mangers for their summer vacations.  My sister Karen replaced me when I went to graduate school. Thirty years later, she is the successful manager of a very busy Stop & Shop in Wallkill, NY and will retire with pension before me!

 January 31, 1966   no responses

“Help Wanted!” A brand new A&P was going to open within walking distance of our house in New Windsor. When”my mother saw that “Help Wanted” sign hanging in the store window,  she was determined that I get my working papers as soon as I turned sixteen so I could contribute to the family income and not be a “lazy bum lying around the house”. Part of the process of acquiring your working papers was going for a perfunctory physical to prove you were in good health. You would think I was going to work in a coal mine and be subjugated to Dickensian child labor. Mamma Rose drove me into Newburgh to see an old Jewish doctor who had been contracted by the city. Herr Doktor’s dark, musty and creepy office was located across from beautiful Downing Park nestled like the witch’s hut in Hansel und Gretel. Dr. Mengele’’s high-pitched nasal voice and bedside manner would later remind of Laurence Olivier playing the mad Nazi dentist in Marathon Man. He asked some very basic health questions with an accent I could hardly understand. He gruffly listened to my heart with a stethoscope, so cold that I jumped off the soiled paper on the exam table. Since I was now standing and shuddering, he asked me drop my pants and cough for him. Like a hawk swooping down to pluck a little furry bunny in his sharp claws, he grabbed my coglione so hard, cracking them like the Nutcracker. I so quickly zipped up that I got my weenie caught in the zipper – Ouch!  My mother unclipped her red leather coin purse and gave him two dollars. Herr Mengele stamped the papers with all the diligence and brio of an SS Officer. The A&P Supermarket would be the anchor store in the mall next to newly built condo complex  called Squire Village. It was built on the open field where I once sledded in the winter and took hay rides in the fall. The architecture was vaguely colonial in style with the condos sited around a town square building with clock tower overshadowing an in-ground swimming pool for residents only (on hot summer days I would sneak in past the oiled, tan lifeguard and pretend I lived there). I submitted my application at the Newburgh A&P located on upper Broadway where training would be held till the new store would open within a month. Mr. Smith, the soon-to-be Squire Village A&P manager called to say I got the job at the minimum wage of $1.25 per hour and could I start on Saturday from ten to seven? I was so nervous for my first day at work that I got up at 5am. My Dad drove into Newburgh but I got at the store a bit early at 6:30am. Some of the overhead harsh florescent lights were on but the front door was locked. I could see two men ripping open cardboard boxes with single edge razors, stamping the contents and stocking the shelves. I waited till “ten to seven” as asked and knocked and knocked on the front door to no avail since they were so far in the back of the store. So I used a trick the principal of Sacred Heart would use. Sister Margeretta would rap the inset window pane on the classroom door with her wedding ring, symbol of her marriage to Christ, and startle us and the teacher out of our seats. So using my class ring I began rapping rapping on the window store. Finally one of the guys came to front and tried to chase me away. I started to widely gesticulate like Ruta Lee on the TV charades show, Stump the Stars, acting out why I was there. After three attempts to give him the clue, the man finally let me in. “What da ya want?” he crankily shouted. I could hardly get the words out now, my stutter being so bad. “Mr. S-S-Smith s-s-said that I sh-sh-should s-s-start today and be-be-be here at ten to seven.” The man must have thought I was an idiot. And I am sure he did when he started to laugh and say “Oh silly boy, oh silly boy, he meant you are to work from ten am to seven pm not start 10 to 7 am! “Oh”, I managed to get out, “Thank-Thank you sir.” The automatic door hit me in the ass as I shuffled out. By now my father had driven home and I didn’t have a dime to call him to pick me back up. It was too early to go for breakfast at Commodore’s, the German soda fountain a few blocks up on Broadway. So I walked over to Sacred Heart Church, sunk down in the back pew and sat through the 7:30 and 8:00 am masses. I then read every piece of literature put out by The Blue Army and the Society of St Jude, patron saint of the hopeless cases which surely was me. Suddenly the church bell rang out: 1-2-3-4-5-5-7-8-9 then 10 big gongs. I sprang up, hitting my knee on the brass clip on the back of the pew that used to hold men’s hats. I had fallen asleep from being so distraught and waking up so early. I ran up Ann Street, almost got run over crossing busy Lake Street and took the shortcut through the back parking lot separating the A&P and Grand Union. The store was now bright and bustling as I slammed into a shopper, almost knocking the two shopping bags out of her arms. I hurried past her, mumbling my apologies, right up to the office in a booth that overlooked the store like a watchtower at a concentration camp. Taking off my cap, I sheepishly looked up at Mr. Smith, who was pouring over yesterday’s receipts. At last he glared down at me through his half glasses which slipped off his nose and bounced on his chest being caught by the attached gold link eyeglass chain. “Young man, I hope you are not going to make a habit of being late. Punctuality is the politeness of kings.” I froze there still, daren’t to look up. “Master Anthony, just don’t stand there, go and clock in.” He tossed me a punch card from his aerie that I managed to catch as it floated down from Valhalla. It took me till 10:30 am to figure out how to manage the contraption. I worked till 7:30 pm on the dot that night putting in a full 8 hours. During the day, Mr. Smith, the commandant sternly warned me not to work a minute past 7:30 pm; I would not be paid overtime. As bagger and shopping cart boy, I worked diligently and was never late again the entire month I was at the Broadway store. At the checkout counter I would neatly fill the paper bags making sure to put the heavy cans on the bottom, distributing the weight and gently placing fragile items on the top especially the eggs or a loaf of white bread. I would occasionally carry bags out to the car for some elderly lady and received 25 cents as a tip. I would then on my return, push any empty carts in the parking lot up the hill in a gleaming aluminum train back to the front of the store. Mr. Smith, looking less like Otto Preminger in Stalag 17 but more like Odin since he had a glass eye, was so impressed with my work that he said in the new store I would be assigned to the produce department. Over the next three years I sort of became Mr. Smith’s pet and I became the apple of his eye so to speak. The new store opened and I could now walk to and from work from my house through the Squire Village complex. I was very lucky to have Mr. Dominic D’Auito as the produce manager. He was an Italian sly gentleman, a little younger than my father with a wicked sense of humor. He was always making jokes about the Jewish women who would squeeze the tomatoes, haggle over the prices or complain about the quality or freshness of the produce. Not terribly politically correct, he would make me laugh when he crooked his finger up to his nose to signal the approach of one of the Jewish ladies. We would then run behind the two-way mirror behind the produce case and watch the unsuspecting customer and make very acerbic comments on what she wore as she sniffed a melon for ripeness! He taught me all about the different kinds of fruits and vegetables – how to unpack them, keep the fresh, inspect them and prolong their shelf life. He took great care on how to display the produce with attention to their colors alternating them so they looked like a Busby Berkley arrangement in Technicolor. He instructed me how to use the beautifully white enamel Hobart scale; sliding the calibration bar back in forth to get the correct accurate honest price. To this day I can estimate the weight of an item just by holding it in my hand which came in handy on dates! After weighing an item, I would mark down the prices with a green crayon on a brown paper bag making sure to put a line under the price so the checkout girls could legibly read the price and know it was 69 cents and not 96 cents. Stapling the bag shut and placing it in the cart for the customer, I would always offer a polite, “Thank You Ma’am.”

In the middle of the Saturday  afternoon Dominic marked down prices on any highly perishable items since we were closed on Sundays. I closed down the department by taking all the perishables like lettuce, scallions, berries, and parsley etc. out of the cases, gently putting them in boxes and storing them in the walk-in refrigerated locker. I would then take all of the chipped ice out of the tables and drain them dry. One final Windex cleaning of all of the case windows and I was done. Sometime Mr. Smith let me take home any stuff that had been marked down since it would not last till Monday. After work I would usually meet my mom at the new Squire Village Cinema and catch the 8:00 o’clock movie. Or sometimes I would go over to my friend Ralph’s place. He lived in the condos right behind the fence behind the loading dock that separated our store from the Village townhouses. Ralph was the only kid I knew whose parents were divorced. He lived with his Mom who worked nights at a local diner so he was often alone. We would watch TV or play scrabble or wrestle.  Ralph was a tow headed tuff loner who would make me do things that supposedly he thought I did not want to do. I worked every weekend and all summer from 1964 to 1967 and got to know the guys in the Meat Department especially Joseph the butcher who would give me special cuts of meat to bring home to Mom. I would sometimes have lunch at the coffee shop next door with Mr. Smith who would always treat me to grilled cheese with pickle and fries that I always ordered. All the full time adult staff loved me but curiously I was not liked by the part time staff that was mostly my age. I often went over to Mr. D’Aiuto’s house and got to know his daughter, Maria who was a older than me and yet looked younger in an autistic kind of way; shy, demure, and protected by her father reminding me of Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda or Susan Harrison, J.J Hunsecker’s sister in The Sweet Smell of Success. He would drive me after work to his house for dinner where his wife made a big Italian dinner, my favorite being spaghetti with braciaole. They became my surrogate family and he was always trying to get me to take Maria out since he thought I was a fine upstanding Italian boy. I never got the hint to take her out or so he thought.  So on New Year’s Eve 1966 Dominic and his wife took me and Maria down to Nanuet to see the road show presentation of The Sound of Music presented in 70 millimeter. I was so excited by this since we would get to see the show as it was presented in New York City with intermission on a big screen with multi-channel stereophonic sound. It was a bitterly cold night as we drove the 30 miles to Rockland County, me sitting as far away as possible form Maria on our faux date. When we arrived I opened the car door for her and grabbed her arm as we hurried from the parking lot to the lobby. Dominic treated us all to buttered popcorn. Graciously or guiltily, I bought Maria the souvenir book as a present as well as one for myself of course! The overture finished and my heart leapt as the curtains parted to reveal the Austrian alps and the sound of  wind coming from the back speakers, the birds coming from the side speakers as the camera swopped down to catch Julie Andrews spinning around on the high tor filling the front speakers with  voice singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music.” I whispered to my Maria, “They left out the intro to the song!” Somewhere during the film I murmured they left out the songs of the Baroness and Max! (she should have known then). During the middle of “I am Sixteen going on Seventeen,” Maria reached over and held my hand. I limply held it back staring straight ahead, being engrossed in the scene and angry that I was being distracted. Little did she know I was fantasizing that Rolfe and I were holding hands, dancing from bench to bench in the gazebo. The audience clapped when Leisl yelled “Whee” in the rain at the end of the song, giving me an excuse to take my hand away from Maria.

It seemed like a long way back to New Windsor as I sat looking at the window pretending I was Maria on the bus staring out into the distance whispering “I have confidence in me.” I didn’t. We had a bottle of Cold Duck back at Dominic’s’ house to celebrate the New Year and I suspect to help grease the wheels at the supposed love match.  Dominic and his wife went to bed and left us alone. We turned the TV on watched the final hour of Guy Lombardo playing at the Waldorf=Astoria – ‘Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think.”   It was late as the cloistered Maria drove me home. With my hand on the car door handle, I gave her a quick peck on the cheek as I dashed out and down my driveway. At 2am, my home was a silent cold, dark Neuschwanstein Castle with no handsome King Ludvig to meet me at the door but only a sleeping Hexe in the downstairs bedroom. I took my shoes off and slowly crept upstairs to my bedroom. My father was snoring away in his bed as I got into the other bed next to my brother Michael, pushing him up against the wall to make room. The frost on the window lit by the street lamp make interesting patterns on the ceiling as I drifted off to sleep dreaming of my little Nazi boy, Rolfe who somehow looked like my friend Ralph. I could sleep in late till 8am tomorrow; the A&P was closed for the holiday.  I had January 2nd off too but Mr. Smith asked me if I could work from 10 to 7… You wait, little girl, on an empty stage For fate to turn the light on Your life, little girl, is an empty page That men will want to write on You are sixteen going on seventeen Fellows will fall in line Eager young lads and rogues and cads Will offer you food and wine Totally unprepared am I To face a world of men Timid and shy and scared am I Of things beyond my ken I need someone older and wiser Telling me what to do You are seventeen going on eighteenI’ll depend on you Finaletto: As fate would have it, 30 years later in Austria, Gary and I would have a private moonlight dance in that very gazebo from The Sound of Music, invited by a business colleague of ours who had access to a private estate where it had been transferred. On that very same trip I did get to meet a Mad King Ludvig look-alike at a cocktail party who I shamlessy flirted with to no avail..

 September 9, 1965   no responses

http://www.ridgwayfire.org/DSC_3712.jpg

 Most towns in rural America depend upon their local volunteers to put out fires, in contrast to the urban, paid professional fire departments. The volunteers are a very proud group of guys who respond instantly when the siren wails out across their towns alerting them to drive to the company firehouse and jump on the red pump truck to the scene of the fire. These volunteer companies would sometimes celebrate the anniversaries of their founding with parades and picnics. Every summer, fellow volunteer fire companies would come from all over the state to march in the town parade followed by a beer fest. Dressed in their finest uniforms with white cap and gloves, they sometimes hired a band to walk in front of them in order to win the prize for best participation.

**********

My good high school friend Alan Tomer held the Second Trumpet Chair in the NFA High School Orchestra. He never could knock out my other good friend and neighbor, Peter Peluso from the coveted first chair. Alan though was first trumpet in the Newburgh Combination Drum and Bugle Corps.

One day in the summer of 1965 over at Alan’s s house, while listening to the LP of Alex North’s score of the movie Spartacus, he got an emergency phone call from his band teacher, Mr. Louis Aulogia.  The Drum and Bugle Corps had suddenly lost their bass drum player to an ankle accident and there was a firemen’s parade the next day.

The Main Title of “Spartacus” blared out over the hi-fi as I was rapping out the percussion strokes on the coffee table when Alan turned to me unexpectedly and said: “Anthony you can do it. There’s nothing to it – you just bang out the beat like you are doing now. It will be great fun, and you get paid!” Of course my usual immediate response was NO. Alan kept pressing. I had just seen The Music Man and when he mentioned that I got to wear a uniform I could see myself magically transformed like at the end of the movie, marching down Main Street USA. I kept thump-thump-thumping till Spartacus finally expired on the cross and the Exit Music played and the tone arm lifted up into silence. I gave a final rap on the table and I gave in. We turned off the RCA console and for the rest of the afternoon I was in Alan’s hands as he taught me the basics of banging the drum (slowly).

The Newburgh Combination Drum and Bugle Corp was a small, historic 10 -15 piece band (the instrumentation depended on who showed up). I would get $5 to march in the Goshen Firemen’s Parade at the other end of Orange County. Our local Vails Gate Fire Department had hired the band to play for them in the parade. The next morning I went over to meet our bandleader Mr. Aulogia who was very grateful to me stepping in. He gave me a uniform and some rudimentary instruction.

And so started my marching days…

I loved my red (almost salmon) and powder blue uniform, gold epaulets and cap with patent leather visor. It was made of heavy wool so on hot days when I sweat or got caught in the rain, I smelled like a wet dog. It was a classic band uniform, a bit ill fitting on the large size. I looked like Nathan Lane playing Matthew Broderick playing Harold Hill. To complete the look, I got a brand new pair of white, cotton parade gloves, the kind with a little button snap across the palm. I loved the way the soft cotton gloves snugly felt with the three little ribs on the back outlining the span of my hand. The sound of the snap was mysteriously sensual to me – that pop when it closed encasing my hand in white innocence –SNAP!

We rode to Goshen NY in a yellow school bus. The firemen sat in the back while we sat in the front with instruments piled all around, under and over us. The parade would usually begin outside of a township and we would march in front of our firemen, who were smartly erect, carrying their company colors.  We would walk many miles up hills, around fields with nobody to play for but ourselves or the occasional barking dog, annoying kid on a bike or housewife poking her head out of the front screen door. I wasn’t allowed to ever stop playing the big bass drum strapped onto my shoulders even if no one was around.  I had to keep the beat, to keep us in step. Even when we stopped, I kept it going so we all could start on the right foot so to speak, right first, then left, right, left, right left….I always had an innate sensitivity to music so keeping the beat came easy to me.

It was always exciting when we finally entered the town strutting down its Main Street. The crowds now lined the sidewalks, clapping and shouting out encouragement. We picked up our pace a bit and the fireman stood at attention as we passed the host fire department house. Our march would end up at a park or behind a VFW Hall for beer guzzling barbecue. This was the time for the fireman to party. Being a minor, this was the least favorite part since we had to hang out and watch the guys get drunk. We would sit a picnic tables while the wives of the host company doted on them, serving barbecue chicken, potato salad, corn, watermelon and homemade pies. The guys would tell ribald jokes, smoke many packs of cigarettes and tap the bottomless kegs.

This was when I noticed Joe McDermott who was one of the butchers at the Squire Village A&P where I also worked in the produce department. I guess he had been in the back of the bus on our long hot ride over. He shyly came over and sat next to me offering a sip of his warm beer. He was a sweet gentle 40 year old man who lived in Campbell Hall with his ailing mother. We laughed over the fact that here we were in Goshen far from where we worked but had never really met. We spent the rest of day together filling the longueurs with shared sips of beer. He sat next to me on the bus going home. It made plenty of pit stops for bathroom breaks and for the emergency sudden up chucks on the side of the road.

I marched all the rest of the summer and rehearsed all winter. I learned all the great marches of Sousa, Goldman, Bigelow and Fillmore. It wasn’t too difficult to follow the notes on the scores during our midweek practice in a small place over Woolworths. Music has always been my escape and refuge so playing in the band was pure heaven for me. Standing in back, making eye contact with the conductor, watching his downbeat, I set the rhythm and pace of the march.

“And you’ll see the glitter of crashing cymbals

and you’ll hear the thunder of rolling drums

and the shimmer of trumpets.

Ta-ta-ta!

And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill

I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Pat Conway,

The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Philip Sousa

all came to town on the very same historic day”

Joe and I became fast friends and we would try to time our lunches together. We ate at 11am so we could sit alone in the tiny lunchroom with a single small window overlooking the side parking lot of the supermarket. He always brought lunch that his mother made for him, neatly packaged in a brown paper bag, sandwich in waxed paper, thermos of hot Irish tea and a piece of fruit. I grabbed a grilled cheese and fries from the Squire Village Luncheonette next door to the A&P. We talked about movies, records I had bought, books we were reading and dolce far niente. In our small lunch room sometimes though we so quiet I felt like the blind man and Frankenstein – “Friend.” Once in a while our knees would touch under the small oak Alpine table. I wondered how innocent the awkward brushing up was. I was not sure and sometimes I would place my knees precariously close hoping to be touched.

Mr. Aulogia was a great band teacher and I learned to read music more and more. I tried playing the snares but didn’t have the time to devote to it, so I branched out into playing the cymbals and the triangle. I learned that the triangle is the loudest sound in the orchestra. I was fascinated by the musical arraignment of the instruments which grew into my studying the great Broadway arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett, Sid Ramin, Luther Henderson, and Hans Spialek. Once in a while we would give a performance in the park and play more formal concert pieces arranged especially for band like ones by Percy Grainger or Frederick Fennell.

One night in midwinter, Joseph, as I now called him, asked me over for dinner to his house in Campbell Hall to meet his mother, have dinner and to stay overnight. It made sense since his place was not close by and I didn’t have a car to go home late at night. We could go to work together in the morning.  My mother suspiciously gave me her OK to go.

I went to the Squire Village Drugstore and bought a Whitman Sampler to give to Joseph’s mother, Mary. She was a frail 80 year old Irish lady who accepted my candy and excused herself to go to bed early taking the candy to her downstairs room. It was 7pm. He had brought a steak from the store which he had carefully chosen and cut. Joseph broiled the steak and warmed up small white potatoes with parsley and strings beans which were cooked to a gray color of death that his mother had prepared during the day.

Joseph lit some candles and played Jackie Gleason’s album, For Lovers Only. The steak was expertly prepared and finished off with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil. I noticed that it began snowing when “But Not for Me” started to play. I was waiting for something to happen as I watched my Anne Page vanilla ice cream melt as I began to swirl it around with my spoon, making lovely pink streaks with the Jane Parker strawberry sauce. We cleaned up listening to “Lester Lanin at the Tiffany Ball.” He washed the dishes while I dried. I felt like Cinderella in the kitchen with a reluctant White Knight. It was time for bed.He showed me to a quaint little room off the hallway upstairs near to his bedroom. There were flowers on the night stand which I guess he had set out that morning. He pulled down the covers for me, walked to the door, stood in the doorway for an uneasy moment, wished me good night and left.

All night I waited for him to come to my room. I could hear his mother snoring lightly downstairs and I jumped a couple of times when I heard a noise near my door but it was only Tabby the cat. Outside the wind blustered and howled as I read a copy of Peyton Place that I had stolen out of my mother’s closet. I pulled the quilt around me and finally fell asleep as dawn just about broke. I woke up to the smell of Eight O’Clock coffee and homemade pancakes that Joseph had prepared from scratch. Mrs. McDermott sipped her Irish Tea from a saucer, blowing across it to cool it down. I thought I felt Joseph’s leg graze me under the table but I realized it was only Tabby doing her morning stretch. We drove to work but didn’t have lunch together that day.

In the spring, rehearsals continued and our platonic A&P tete a tetes continued. Nothing happened, even sitting alone in the brand new Squire Village Cinema watching “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” It was time to take things into my own hands as I realized that I was Harold Hill and he was Marion the Librarian and not the other way around.

The firemen of Vails Gate hired us again to march in Suffern NY on Labor Day. It was a great parade held in the late afternoon with fireworks to follow that night. Sitting in the field behind the Suffern Rec Center, Joseph once again slipped me some beer. It was a hot day and long parade and I drank a little more than I was used to. We lay on the grass looking up at the sky-rockets and as I was quite lit, I reached over and took his hand into mine.

When we left later that night, I boldly followed Joseph to the back of the darkened bus and stepped over him and took the seat next to him by the window. I stared outside the window watching the houses go by like Maria on the bus from the convent to the house of the Baron von Trapp – “I Have Confidence in Me.” The drinking continued as the firemen were stumbling around down front singing “The Ballad of the Green Berets” that somehow segued into “Strangers in the Night” complete with slurred “Do doby doby do”s.

I noticed that this time his knee was definitely touching mine. I was feeling very sexy but nervous. I fidgeted with my white gloves, putting them on and taking them off.  SNAP SNAP SNAP. Emboldened by the lager, I reached over to his dark blue slacks and lay my hand on the definite rise that I had kept looking at out of the corner of my eye. SNAP Somehow I unzipped him. SNAP I could feel his hardness as we both looked straight ahead as the fireworks of the town we were passing through lit up the sky casting red, green and golden glows over us. SNAP I remembered the steady beat of the march as I held tight. SNAP I didn’t realize I still had my white parade glove on when I suddenly I felt some rockets going on down below. SNAP Startled at this quick sudden explosion, and not knowing what to do, I awkwardly took my soiled white glove off and tossed it out the window of the bus somewhere onto the passing highway. SNAP Joseph quickly zipped up, jumped up and joined his confreres. I sat there with one glove on. We arrived back in Newburgh and spoke not a word as he drove me home to New Windsor. SNAP

Music has always been part of my life. Its transporting power lifted me up and out of “my own little corner” of Newburgh to Siam, River City, Iowa or Bali Hai. I buried myself in my record collection till I could find my own Emile de Becque, Billy Bigelow or Harold Hill. It took me awhile though to realize I had the casting all wrong. In a way, I was The Music Man and I didn’t have to march to the beat of a different drummer I was the drummer. I set the pace and led the band and was marching center. Sometimes I got off on the wrong foot but I was not going to let the parade pass me by. One day I would spot that special someone, I would reach out into the crowd and grab Marion Paroo and together we strut down Main Street or Broadway.

September came and it was back to school for my senior year. I worked only on the weekends now so I never saw Joseph again who worked Monday through Friday. Pete Peluso had graduated that past June so my friend Alan got to be first trumpet. Our band rehearsals continued in winter through the spring. When I reached into my uniform jacket the following summer only hours before our first parade of the season, I discovered I had only one glove. I made a mad dash in my full uniform down to the Army & Navy Store on Broadway to buy a new pair of white gloves. Breathlessly back in time, I didn’t miss a beat – SNAP!

 August 20, 1964   no responses

My previous entry of August 6th (see below) on the memory of the smell of the Toni perms still haunts me and my thought turned to bygone scents of my youth:

Evening in Paris-

On Mother’s Day I would buy my Mom the deluxe gift package of the perfume. It came in a lovely dark blue bottle and the had a big powder puff.

Noxzema-

I remember my mother covering her face every night with it. “No more wire hangars!”

Old Spice-

My Dad’s Father’s Day gift of cologne mixed with the smell of printing ink from his factory job.

Ben Gay-

Oops!  I read this advertisement wrong and I rubbed it on the wrong spot once. Boy did it burn…

Jean Nate

Another gift for Mom – she we take a bath with the Nate bath oils and rub the essence oil all over her body. She did something with white wine vinegar behind closed doors, which I could never figure out. When I asked her she said she was making a salad…

Charlie-

This was my mother’s other cologne. Remember Bobby Short singing the jingle?

Jiffy Pop-

I love the smell of burnt popcorn in the morning.

Cod Liver Oil-

Ugh!

Nine Flags-

I loved this set of men’s colognes in sexy, phalic little bottles each named after a country: England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Italy & Brazil. My favorite was Italy with a Sorrento Lemon aroma.

 

Mimeograph Fluid & Airplane Glue-

Sniff……

 March 31, 1964   no responses

A Short Drama in Three Acts with Epilogue

by

Anthony Napoli and the Holy Spirit

Produced by the Sacred Heart CYO (Catholic Youth Organization)

Directed by William and Lillian Andersen  (a drama teacher and his over-weight wife)

Scenery by Joey Joe, the school janitor

Costumes by Beulah Politti, and her staff of old Italian ladies

Music by Miklos Rosza as adapted and taped by Fr. Dominic Leo, the parish priest.

PLACE:              Action takes place in two different areas and times:

TIME:                 Newburgh New York – 1964

                                Backstage and dressing rooms of Gallo Hall in the basement of Sacred Heart School

                             Jerusalem – 30 AD

                                 The Upper Room, Golgotha and a Tomb

CAST OF CHARACTERS

JUDAS……………………………………………………………………………………………… Anthony Napoli

Judas played by Anthony is 16 years of age with a lean, dark and hungry look similar to a young Basil Rathbone.

CHRISTUS…………………………………………………………………………………………………Marc Burnett

Marc is 17 years old with red hair, porcelain white skin and rounded muscles and plays The Christus as a  teenage Jeffrey Hunter.

MARY MAGDALENE………………………………………………………………………………….Betty Davis

Betty Davis is her real name; 15 years old but has been around. She would have played Rizzo in Grease if she were born later. – “If she coulda been, she woulda been.”

ANGEL………………………………………………………………………………………………….…Louie Falco

  Louie is a beautiful 14-year-old Italian boy who later became a hairdresser.

ROMANS, PRIESTS, APOSTLES……………………………………………………….…Teen youth of the CYO

  Boys and girls 14 – 17 years old, all straight or so we assume.

Authors Note:

It is the weeks before Easter. Anthony after attending the parish’s Passion Play the previous year is in rehearsal for this year’s production.  A passion play is a staging of the last days of Jesus Christ, usually from the Last Supper to the Resurrection.

Sacred Heart’s Passion Play is held in the school basement, called Gallo Hall. The hall was named for one of the founding pastors and is also the site of Saturday Night Bingo, School Talent Shows, Class Assemblies and Social Events.

The spectators sit on metal fold out chairs set theatre style with a center aisle facing a typical small grammar school stage.  The CYO, Catholic Youth Organization, produces the production and the cast is comprised of the parish club teens – sons and daughters of second generation Italians.

The hall is darkened and lots of colored gels should be used to set the stage. There is no scenery to speak of beside a long draped table for the Last Supper; a large wooden cross for the Crucifixion and a paper mache tomb made from a large refrigerator cardboard box for the Resurrection.

All the music is from the LP collection of Father Leo. It is comprised of cuts from the soundtracks of the film scores of Miklos Rosza’s “King of Kings” and “Ben Hur”. It has all been copied to an unwieldy cumbersome TEAC tape machine and is played over the school sound system. 

Beulah and her old Italian ladies of the church have made colorful costumes for the temple priests; plain rough canvass robes for the apostles; leather skirts for the Romans and a white cotton vestment with matching loincloth for Jesus. Wigs and beards are fashioned from strands of knitting wool and mop rope.

William and Lillian Andersen, a married couple that teaches at the local Junior High School, direct more like traffic cops. They move the crowds around the stage to make tableaux vivants. Lillian loves her pizza breaks during rehearsals. William likes to teach the boys how to apply stage makeup.

 The style of acting and mise en scene should be reminiscent of Luchino Visconti – operatic and passionate not unlike a silent movie staring Gloria Swanson and Ramon Navraro. Think Vincente Minnelli and his staging of “The Nativity” for the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall minus the camels.     

                                                                                                                                        

ACT I

SCENE ONE

Dressing Room off stage of Gallo Hall

ANTHONY

Hey Marc, does my beard look all right?

(ANTHONY looks back in the mirror and sees MARC taking off his t-shirt)

MARC

Hell, yeah it looks like Anne Marie’s pussy but upside down!

ANTHONY

How would you know?

                            (Adjusting his beard)

MARC

I know more than you think I know…

(Giving a knowing look)

Here, can you make sure my makeup is covering the back of my neck?

(ANTHONY applies some Max Factor tan makeup on MARC’s bare nape and shoulder)

ANTHONY

Let me do your back now so it will be easier later for the crucifixion. We don’t want a white pasty Irish Catholic Jesus on the cross.

(As ANTHONY’s hand moves over the small of MARC’s back, it gets quiet. MARC catches ANTHONY’s eyes in the mirror.

(BETTY DAVIS abruptly enters, dressed as MARY MAGDELENE)

BETTY DAVIS

Have you seen my jar of oil…(she stops) …Hey, what’s going…?

(Silence)

ANTHONY

W-w-w were just going over lines.

MARC

 “One of you shall betray me”

BETTY DAVIS

Yeah?  Well get it over it Mary! (She chortles)


SCENE TWO

The Upper Room

CHRISTUS

Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood of the new covenant.

                            (All share the bread and wine except for Judas)

MARY MAGDELENE

I am not worthy even to wash thy feet.

                            (She washes his feet and uses her hair to towel them dry)

CHRISTUS

Verily I say into you, before a cock crows three times, one of you shall betray me.

APOSTLES

Is it I? Lord, is it I?

              (Judas does not answer but knocks over a cellar of salt and runs off)

   (Cue the “Way of the Cross” from “King of Kings”)


ACT II

SCENE ONE

Dressing Room

ANTHONY

It’s gonna feel cold.

(He rubs his hands to warm them up as he slowly applies Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Oil lotion all over MARC’s chest)

MARC

Hey watch it! You’re dripping it all over my costume!                        

ANTHONY

What costume? (Laughs)

(At this point MARC is wearing only a white loincloth)

MARC

Do my legs too.

(ANTHONY gets down on his knees and starts to apply the lotion, starting at the calves and eventually moving up MARC’s legs)

MARC

Do I look sweaty enough? I love the way the light shines on my body when I hang up there.

ANTHONY

No, Shh! You need more.

 (Shaking the bottle to get some last drops of the oil out)

Hold on, I missed a spot.

(Applying some to his inner thighs)

(Their eyes meet)

(Silence except for the off stage music cue of the “Way of the Cross”

theme from “King of Kings”)

(ANTHONY’s hand flutters up lightly touching the outer rim of MARC’s garment. He holds his breath and his finger still. Both do not move for a few beats)

 

MARC

 Line… Line    What’s’ that line? Damn …“Into thy hands I commend my spirit” Oh yes.

                            (Breaking the freeze, he runs off almost late for his entrance)

ANTHONY

“Lord, I am not worthy”

                            (Cue the ROMANS and the TEMPLE PRIESTS)

SCENE TWO

Golgatha

CHRISTUS

They know not what they do.

(Hanging on the cross, his feet resting on a little wooden platform to hold him up)

TOWNSPEOPLE

Crucify Him!

(Shouted out very angrily doing the citizens of Oberammergau proud)

ROMANS

Isn’t he one of them?

(Some CYO macho boys dressed in leather skirts point at Judas)

HIGH PRIEST

For 30 pieces of silver, he betrayed him with a kiss!

                            (Eerily looking like Fagin from “Oliver Twist”, he spits at Judas)

 

JUDAS

I have sinned against God and Man!

(Judas runs out in great despair, hands in air like a Yiddish actor playing the storm scenne in “King Lear.”)

CHRISTUS

Into thy hands I commend my spirit.

(With a great sigh)

(Cue the thunder)

                            


ACT III

SCENE ONE

Backstage

MARC

Whew, I am glad that’s over till next year.

                            (ANTHONY helps MARC down from the cross.

                            He grabs him around the waist and lowers him)

ANTHONY

Damn you’re heavy. You smell like a baby’s bottom.

(As the descent continues, ANTHONY slips slightly and holds him tight in his arms as they gently crash onto the stage floor. They lay still for a moment like a Pieta)

MARC

“In three days I will rise again”…

             

ANTHONY

                       (Prompting him)

“Lo today you will be with me in paradise!”

(They both laugh and rise)

(Cue the Resurrection)


SCENE TWO

A Tomb

MARY

I have brought my oils to anoint my Lord but they have rolled the rock away and there is no one in the tomb.

(A blinding light shoots out of the tomb and a handsome boy appears all in white)

ANGEL

Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here? He is risen as He said!

(He stands akimbo like  Donatello’s David)

                           

CHRISTUS

                       (Suddenly appearing upstaging the Angel, hands raised to the heavens)

  (MARY draws near to Him)

Do not touch me! I have not yet ascended to my Fathter.  Remember me. I will be with you always even onto the end of time.

MARY

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

(She drops the jar, swoons and runs off stage almost knocking down ANTHONY standing on a chair with a rope around his neck)

 

(A brilliant magenta gel shining on the Risen Christ overcomes the shadow of Judas dangling from a tree)

JUDAS

I am damned!

                       (The 30 pieces of sliver roll down stage)

(Cue the “Alleluias” from the finale of  “Ben Hur”)

Fallen Angel


EPILOUGE

Dressing Room

MARC

Grab me a towel pal.

 (He tries to wipe the baby oil encrusted makeup from his back)

ANTHONY

Hey dummy, you missed a spot.

              (ANTHONY towels his back)

   (He sings softly)

“Oh Lord, I am not worthy…

Another openin’, another show

 From Philly, Kansas and Balti –mo”

Hey, I think you need to take a shower to get the rest.

MARC

My Dad is out of town– wanna go up to my house and hang? You can help me get this crap off.

ANTHONY

Sh-Sh-Sure

(Quietly ANTHONY cleans MARC off. Taking his time, turning over the towel over and over, restoring MARC’S skin from Max Factor #5 tan to his natural Carrara Marble white, He notices his blue veins, light freckles and wisps of red hair on his arms.)

(Continues to sing lightly)

“A chance for stage folks to say hello

Another openin’ to another show.

Strange dear, but true dear

When I’m close….”

(He stops as BETTY DAVIS slinks in dressed in a new Montgomery Ward A-Line dress; shorter than she was allowed to wear at school)

BETTY

Hey Marc! You were great tonight! You shined! Mrs. Andersen has invited me out for some pizza? Wanna come along?

                            (She poses in the doorway)


MARC

Wow, Yeah!      

(Stunned at the transformation from Mary Magdalene to Teen Dream)

I am starving!  Yeah lets do it.

                            (BETTY and MARC start to exit but stops…)

Hey Tone, do you mind…?

                            (A long embarrassing pause)

ANTHONY

Oh s-s-s-ure, go ahead, I am tired anyway.

(Singing under his breath)

“That’s why the Lady is a tramp.”

MARC

“Night Anthony.

ANTHONY

‘Night Judas. 

“Same time, next year?”

MARC

Huh?

                               (ANTHONY doesn’t answer as MARC and BETTY exit)

(ANTHONY stands there alone, holding the towel and the empty Baby Oil Lotion. He takes the noose off around his neck and starts to take off his shirt, changing out of his costume)

ANTHONY

(He sighs, standing like Ave Gardner as Julie LaVerne on the dock at the end of the movie “Show Boat”)

“Fish gotta swim

 Birds gotta fly…

I gotta…”

A FIGURE

(And suddenly there was a figure in silhouette appearing in the doorway, framed by the bright lights from the stage)

Where is Marc?

ANTHONY

“He is not here.”

(Silence)

(ANTHONY wipes the sweat off his brow. It is red from the makeup)

A FIGURE

Hey, you missed a spot on your back. ( he draws near)

(A drop of Baby Oil Lotion has dripped on a magenta gel and fills the air with an incense of innocence)

(Father Leo has forgotten to turn the TEAC tape player off and the “Alleluias” from “Ben Hur” can still be heard offstage)

CURTAIN

 

******************************************

2008

POST SCRIPT

The following year, Anthony decided to write his own Passion Play called, “The Road to Golgotha.”

I discovered a copy of the script in that bottomless cardboard box my sister found in the family attic this past summer.

He made Judas a sympathetic character that acts with Jesus to fulfill his plan of redemption.  How curious that it is so similar to the controversy over the recently discovered “Gospel of Judas”. Both have the same basic premise.

The CYO never performed it. 

After re-reading the script, I thought it best that is stay unpublished and remain on the bottom of the box of ones youthful attempts. However, it inspired me to write the above Pirandellian  “Mystery Play” based on true incidents.