Freudian Slips: December 2004

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

December 28, 2004

Seems like a liability issue for Santa Claus


Jimmy Says the Darndest Things...Xmas Special

I wanted to include some holiday cheer before the spirit of the season gets behind us. My stepson Jimmy can fill a book of Kids Say the Darndest Things with a foreword written by Bill Cosby himself. Jimmy is as innocent as the driven snow. He reminds me of the joys of parenting time and time again. Included here are some memorable lines from the youngster’s mouth this holiday.
About a week before Thanksgiving, my wife Diane approached Jimmy with a rudimentary question.
“Jim, do you want to go with us to the Thanksgiving Day parade?”
Jimmy supplied his gem of an answer. “I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders. “When is it?”
Fast forward to Christmas. All of my life, I dreamed of owning a home with an open foyer with a grand Palladian window. It is the ultimate room with a view and an awesome showcase for holiday decorations. During Christmas, we prop a lit tree and trimmings up there complete with wrapped façade presents. While stringing lights to the five foot high Xmas tree on the landing, I saw my stepson stop dead on the staircase.
“Joe, how are we going to reach the presents?”
Jimmy stood twenty feet below me with the stoic resolve of a firm believer in the magic of Christmas. He had the grandeur of an elf asking his prominent question from below.
“What are you talking about?” I returned, shaking down the tree branches.
“Why are you putting our Christmas tree up so high? Santa ain’t never gonna reach it.” On the day before Christmas, Jimmy asked permission to sleep over his friend’s house. "Mom, I got a lot of time off from school so I was thinking could I sleep over a friend's house tonight?"
I laid the cards on the table. “What do you just want to wake-up in someone else’s house on Christmas morning? When you know Santa Claus is coming, you don’t change your zip code last minute. Come on now.” The hum dinger grand daddy of them all came on Christmas morning. Jimmy didn't have to say anything for this gem. My wife decided to open up our home to the children’s father so he could share in the joy of seeing his children open up their gifts. The children’s father accepted the invitation although I got to admit it was a tad awkward. I held the camcorder to my face for most of the wrapping paper flying event. Through my viewfinder it almost seemed like I was hired as a cinematographer for a family who never disenfranchised.
I suppose Jimmy never expected his father and I to be in the same room come Christmas morning. Then again, either did I. The time came for Jimmy to hand out his gifts to his two male role models. Two equally sized gifts were handed out to each of us. We simultaneously undressed our single tiny gift. He and I each held a pen which said, World’s Greatest # 1 Dad.


The political correctness of a youth.


December 26, 2004

A Christmas Story

My mother is the most selfless person I have ever known. Her charity and gift giving rivals any store Santa Claus so maybe her recent hospitalization can be told as a Christmas story for future generations of the Tornatore family. To give readers some insight into my mother’s personality, she had a stroke right before my wedding and failed to tell anyone. Mom didn’t want to rain on my parade so she limped through my wedding day without saying a word. She has been hooked to a feed line of oxygen ever since.
Mom never let on about how sick she had become this Christmas either. I truly believe she didn’t want anyone to fuss over her and ruin everyone's Christmas. Her vital signs deteriorated to the point my brothers were forced to calling an ambulance on December 22, 2004. Despite not being able to breathe on pure piped oxygen hosed to her nose, mom was literally wrapping her grandchildren’s Christmas presents right up until the ambulance came. If the ambulance had not come for her then she would have been frying the seven fishes on Christmas Eve. You get the picture.
At the time of her emergency room arrival, my brother’s described mom as gasping for her every breath and getting nowhere. Doctors discovered pneumonia in her good lung and a partially deflated second lung. She had suffered a bad asthma attack that had been compromised by a seven week cold, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and asbestosis. Signatures flew and she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. You know your heart isn’t working for you when doctors order a catheter to save trips to the bathroom. But that’s just it. That is the irony, the irony of this Christmas story. My mom’s heart had worked hard all of her life giving of herself to others. Her kingdom heart gave until there was nothing left to give. The heart that had worked so beautifully for others, could not work for her.
By the time I got to the hospital, mom had given Advance Directives and given away all of her possessions including the kitchen sink full of dishes. She hadn’t been moved to ICU yet so I joined her in the Emergency Room. My brothers gathered around. She looked fatigued but alert, so did my brothers.
Mom acknowledged my presence almost off the bat. “Joe, you need to take back the doll collection you gave me.” She paused to catch her breath. “It’s time for someone else to enjoy those gorgeous dolls.”
Mom never rested her laurels in martyrdom but I found her statement to be so typically selfless. I have always wondered if she is human. On rarest of occasions with her guard down, Mom would weave a strange tale about a distant planet and the mother ship. Throw in some heeby jeeby psychic ability and you have a rare bird. When a nurse came in asking for blood, mom confused even him of her origin.
“What type of blood do you want?” she asked sardonically.
I saw my one brother holding a list which had already been dictated on legal pad. Her wispy voice proceeded with instructions. “there is an IRA in such and such a bank…you will find xyz in a shoebox in the closest…dig four steps out my back door and you’ll unearth...” Bile had come up out of her lungs cutting her latest wishes short.
“Mom, you have a will. Save your breath.”
“This is the other stuff, Joe.” my brother admonished. “Mom’s been at this awhile. Do you think we didn’t try to stop her? Mom feels it is necessary.”
“Where’s my checkbook?” she asks. “I need to write a check for….”
“Mom will you knock it off.” I said.
Life should always be a balance of work and play. All sense of play was gone from my mom’s life, although she seldom complained. Life had become all work and the workload and payoff was nothing more than breathing. When your oxygen is subject to taxation before consumption, life is not a many splendor thing.
I looked at my mother lying in bed, wheezing. I worry that she doesn't want to be alive anymore. She misses her late husband so. I view life cumulatively and accept things not as they are but how they align in the context of other things. So maybe this is why I am so pragmatic and a treasure hunter of irony. I probe for answers.
“Mom you aren’t going any where.” I assured. “You haven’t perfected any one of us. There is work to be done. Look at any of my brothers and you will surely see the work that lies ahead.”
She smiled as she fought for her next breath. The pathetic scene makes me delve for more irony, deeper meaning. My mother recently shared with me a short story she was working on called Taking Up Space. It chronicled the aging process juxtaposed with take-a-number hospitalization. It was mom’s angst of how people live past their prime because of technological advances iin the business of managed health care so lacking in personal care. I stared at my mother as she breathed laboriously and wondered if she thought she had become the main character in her own unfinished short story.
After hours of sedation, blood gas readings, nebulizer treatments and tests, Mom seemed to be a doctor’s order away from requiring life support to breathe for her.
Seizing a quiet moment alone with her, I asked “Mother, do you know whether you are dying?”
Mom has been a soothsayer from the moment she arrived on this planet. I guess that is why I expected more of an answer. “I am not privy to that knowledge.”
“If you were to die tonight, would you have any regrets?”
“Joe, if I knew I was dying, I would be at peace. Not knowing whether I am dying, makes me not know how hard to fight.” She answered with a forced breath.
“Tell me what is going on in your life?” she queried.
I talk to my mother a few times a week. Her question served the purpose of how she could help me out while she argued God for air. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I am embarrassed to admit mom eventually got me blabbing about all kinds of things that mattered little if these were her final hours. “An ear to God on sodium penethol.” is how I can best describe talking to my mother.
As her eyeballs rolled back in her head she heeded, “Listen, tell your friend I will catch up reading on his Website when I get home.”
I think this was mom’s way of reassuring me, a way for her to reaffirm her own life in a parable. Her breath was shallow and she retained not enough air to blow out a candle, although her sons could never jointly hold a candle to her. The sedatives created an unhealthy build-up of CO2 in her system. It seemed like I had a hard time breathing when I heard doctors ask mom if she consented to being hooked up to a ventilator.
Mom sighed, “Yes, it’s just too hard to breath on my own.”
I could see from the monitors that her heart rate spiked even asking for a machine to breathe for her. Her breathing was more like ineffective contractures. She couldn’t go on living like this. Worse, living had become nothing but breathing and rare spurts of charity and good will to others. As staff wheeled an iron lung into the room, my brothers and I said our goodbye’s one by one bedside. This was by no means hallowed ground. My dad died in this same hospital only yards from where we stood.
I looked into my mother’s eyes knowing she would miss Christmas and worrying if this would be a final good-bye. “See you on the other side of midnight…and Merry Christmas, mother.” I kissed her on the forehead.
She said she loved all of us, laid back, and readied for the intervention with dignity. The mother of four children and patron saint to so many more saw to it that the patients for a ward in a psychiatric institution would have a Christmas party paid for before she went on life support. God knows how many side deals, how many random acts of kindness she had made to make a better Christmas for which she would not partake. Her giving was always with humility and not advertisement. In her lifetime she has helped relatives, friends, friends of friends, ex-wives, strangers, friends of strangers, and enemies who were quite few. She was an equal opportunity giver and most of the time you need not ask. I made a point to tailor what I said to her because if you mentioned anything, anything at all, it would appear as surplus in your life ten fold. Mom is a genie, a Jesus-like multiplier of fish.
Doctors prescribed more Ativan and we were asked to leave the emergency room. We left not like a band of brothers but scattered like a rag-a-muffin crew without a captain. I grabbed my jacket and took a walk outside in the bitter cold. The cool winter air reached deep into my lungs. Because my mom couldn’t do the same, the fulfillment cheapened with every stinking breath. I felt something in my coat pocket tugging on my chest. I wondered what lay dormant for I had not worn this coat since last winter. I pulled out a folded piece of paper with someone’s phone number scribbled on to it. I took a closer look. It was a page torn out of Life’s Little Instruction Book Item #511 staring at me in the face of darkness. I shone it to reflect a street light. Item #511 read, “Call your mother.” I wept.
As I lifted my head from the parcel of Life’s Little Instruction Book, a man dressed in hospital clothes had just finished saying “Merry Christmas” to two nurses ending shift. He parted ways. “Got to go put this lady down in ER.”
That’s when I knew he was the horse doctor with the bad medicine and he referred to my mother. I abandoned my outdoor retreat to check on her. I could see my brother’s from a distance down the hall. By their demeanor alone, I would have known it was not going well. Despite injection after injection, my mother’s body would not relax enough to accept intubation. When I heard my mother making inhuman noises over the plunging instruments, I had enough. In 2001, I had to be put on this same ventilator machine after getting stung by a bee. I didn’t remember any of the hospital intervention until now. The struggle and thrashing brought an unwelcome fill-in-the-blank for me. I began to whimper. My one brother followed me out in the hall to comfort me.
“Joe, are you all right?” he asked.
“I can’t go back in there.” I relented. “Not until she is on the ventilator.”
As I type this entry two days later, I am watching the sun rise on Christmas morning. Christmas is about giving. It doesn’t take the pilgrimage of Three Wise Men for the world to know my mother is all about giving. There is some cruel irony in that my gift to her will be the only gift left under the Christmas tree. If this truly be a Christmas story after all, I beg for only one gift in return this year. Sweet Jesus, wake-up and pull through mom.

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December 25, 2004

Part of Life's Little Instructions


December 22, 2004

Rage Against the Machine.


The Evil Empire

With mergers and business acquisitions monopolizing the world, the free enterprise system is slowly vanishing and giving way to conglomerates. The big business of today is the bigger business of tomorrow. The mom and pop corner stores have been replaced by Walmart nation. There is little respect for a voice to be heard when shaking a stick against an evil empire. The consumer becomes lost in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. We become dependent on THEM.
This past Sunday, my wife tried to buy me a cell phone for Christmas from Verizon Wireless. We have a family plan with Verizon Wireless but there must be an embedded surcharge for us to carry different last names somewhere in the diagnostic billing code. Today would prove to be another penalty phase. For any account changes, Verizon Wireless requires my wife and I to both be present in the store with proper identification, our marriage certificate, and the mayor who united us in matrimony. Before entering Verizon, we wave to the rabbi standing in line at the Sprint kiosk. As I stood shopping for my own Christmas present, the mayor milled around the lobby until it was time for us to repeat our Verizon. The Honorable mayor told me he had to witness seventeen other phone purchases today alone so he wanted us to make it snappy.
Up until a few years ago, the Verizon account used to be under my name. Verizon convinced us it would be prudent to switch the primary account to my wife’s name since she cackles on her cell phone like a Walkie Talkie channel for free association. Verizon said since we switched user accounts it rolled over the grace date of when we would be entitled to a free phone despite my phone being not only antiquated but cracked. We could not believe they would allow one of their customers to walk around with defective merchandise but they took it a step further. They would not activate an outside vendor’s phone if purchased and there was substantial penalty for early withdrawal if we took our business somewhere else. I had the "option" of buying a Verizon phone at an inflated retail price - $199.00 for a soon to be discontinued flip phone plus additional surcharges to transfer the equipment's phone directory. Call me illiterate but I thought I read that the $199. 00 had signage next to it advertising:
The small print stipulates that the seduction is for new customers only. The loyal walked out of Verizon, hitting the boulevard with our broken celluloid dreams. I ended up with clothes from Sears for Christmas. Tis the Season. Yesterday, Diane asked me to wrap the very gifts I picked out.
Today, I received an email from a colleague, who informed that Verizon has a discount program for Communications Workers of America union members. I email her back. “Verizon is an evil empire. I doubt they will give you anything but a hard time citing contractual exceptions or this, that, and the other. Don’t believe it.”
I speak from experience because I have been Verizon Wireless or their namesake’s reliable customer dating back to1987. My first mobile phone was a bag phone the size of carry-on luggage. They charged per call if you were lucky enough to find a signal tower. The bag phone weighed as much as a construction worker's bowling bowl. How I do remember yesterday. You could wrap the phone’s umbilical cord around your neck while driving and not get cited a ticket. In 1987, I asked if they offered CWA members discounted phone service. I pointed out the lunacy of a phone being a communication device, us hailing from the same fraternity, and me paying premium prices.
The little emperor was only beginning his reign of terror but this was their 1987 explanation. “Sorry, Mr. Too-Late-You-Already Signed-On-The-Dotted-Line.” He leaned over his right shoulder. “Charlie, lock this five year contract in the vault. Call Headquarters. We bagged another one.” He turned back to me. “Do you need assistance carrying your bag phone to the car?”
Seventeen years and two hundred and four monthly payments later, I arrive home and pull the mail. The mail is the Verizon Wireless phone bill and a Communications Workers of America newsletter stacked on top of one another like two fees in a pod. The irony would be a knee-slapper on Hee-Haw if it were not for Verizon’s astronomical charges, surcharges, roaming fees, stalking fees, you name it. I believe if my wife were a mermaid they slap her with a land lubber charge. The thickness of the blood letter bill in my hand suggested triple digits.
I drop the mail and start dinner. While stuffing the raw chicken cutlets with brochutti and an aged cheese, the Verizon bill begins its pull-on-the-purse-string haunt. I keep staring at it on the island. I stop what I am doing and tear it open. I mutter over the money due. Then I call Verizon Wireless Customer Service to settle this vicious rumor of preferential treatment once and for all.
My fingers press a dozen buttons to narrow the search. I mistakenly press the number five and got a girl in fishnet stockings speaking with a Melanie Griffith for $4.99 a minute. Several minutes later, I exit from that program. I hear some piped music, as if I am on hold for a few seconds. It sounds like the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil went down to Georgia.” I punch the keypad some more and finally hear what sounds like a real person on the other line.
“We do have a discount program, sir.” a female voice says. Would you like the Customer Service direct line to help you enroll?”
"I sure do." I barely heard her over the sizzle of the chicken cutlets in virgin olive oil stovetop. I scribble a 1-800 number with a stalk of broccoli headed for the vegetable steamer.
I dial it. Verizon Wireless Employee Discounts is an automated system with only two choices. The choices are press one for “Just the Facts” or press two for “Request Fax.” This is a wireless company and the ONLY way to receive an enrollment application is to provide a fax number! You don’t say.
I was happy the discount existed although I had my doubts I would ever be faxed an application. We were sitting around the dinner table when I decided to let the family know the capitalistic world wasn’t all bad.
I sermoned, “An evil emperor looked down upon the masses with sympathy. The evil emperor has shaken his olive branches. Behold there is good news for the little guy.”
“Which evil empire? Comcast cable or Verizon Wireless?” asks my wife.
“Verizon, can you hear me now?” I answer.
"What about the evil empire in Star Wars?" my stepson Jimmy added. "They had Sith Lords on their side."
As I finish writing this entry for my website, my wife comes home from the mall. Since she had some last minute Christmas shopping to do, I asked her to stop in to The Verizon Wireless store and pick up the same application I tried to secure impersonally over the phone. I was going to beat Verizon at their own game. Diane plops down a scribbled Post-It note with a familiar number.
“Here, Joe. “Verizon says the only way to enroll for the discount is through fax!”
The blood thirsty evil empire had all the bases covered.


December 21, 2004

Tapping into my psychic ability.


2005 Predictions

The Courier Post solicited reader input for an upcoming feature article about predictions for 2005. Both serious and humorous entries were welcomed. I decided to have a little fun with the assigned newspaper reporter, who is familiar with my story. I submitted the following earth-shattering prediction that would make Edgar Cayce blush: I predict that in 2005 Chuck Darrow will boldly go where few reporters have dared to go before. To the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum in Atlantic City, NJ to cover the grand opening of "The Bee Man of Blackwood" exhibit scheduled for Memorial Day weekend. Chuck will win the box of Cuban cigars door prize and meet Joe Tornatore, who supplies memorable quips for a later Courier Post article entitled, "Man, Myth, or Legend?" The reporter emailed back a favorable response including willingness to cover the grand opening of my exhibit. Who says you need a printing press to make your own headlines? The reporter didn’t even ask me how I knew he was a cigar smoker........


December 19, 2004

How much is that Doggie in the window?


The Little Drummer Boy

This is a holiday story about a little drummer boy who received presents in time for Christmas. But it started out as a series of unfortunate events. We bought living room furniture on Aprils Fool Day 2001. Shortly thereafter, the fabric on the chair started to shed. The contagious disease spread to the couch and loveseat. For years, I fought the furniture company to stand behind their product. I finally filed a lawsuit and represented myself in court as a pro se counsel. Forget legal representation. Nobody has more invested than the wronged party. I won a decision in court but big business decided to get cute. They still wouldn’t pay me, even after a series of certified letters. After orchestrating some detective work on where this furniture company banks, I filed a motion to freeze their assets. I froze 1.2 million dollars! Only now does the company’s vice president start ringing my phone off the hook because I found a hatch into Fort Knox. Incredulously, the shrews still try to convince me to do a reselection of their existing inventory. All the legal forms I had to learn how to complete by candlelight, the trips to the post office and the cost of postage, patiently waiting for justice for three years, the unreturned phone calls, the unanswered letters, unaccounted for faxes, and they wanted me to remain a loyal customer? When the vice president asked me to reselect furniture from his company, that was the single most disgusting thing I had ever heard on the telephone. Let me temper that emotion by saying, I have never dialed up a pay by minute sex hotline either. The furniture company’s attorney finally calls me in to her office for a nice cup of coffee along with a “Please accept our apologies. Please accept this check for payment in full, and, oh by the way, would you mind signing this affidavit so the Judge can release our 1.2 million dollars before an entire furniture company collapses? I wind up with my money back and leave the attorney’s office as the reimbursed victor. To the lawyer, your coffee wasn’t that good either! I wrote an eight page short story entitled Consumer Reports chock full of humor and perseverance about this folly. For the readers of my short story, bear with me because this posting begins where that short story ended.
My wife hounds me to spend the money on this, that, and the other thing. We argue. I put my foot down and hide the money in the floorboards. If I single-handedly fought and won a three year legal battle with a corporate America Goliath, David, not his wife, would have the final say in where the money would be allocated. David had it earmarked to buy replacement furniture. The mitigating problem was how to get a living room set to match its surroundings? I had color matched and accessorized the entire room around the sage green defective furniture. Obsessive compulsive me had matching tables, lamps, picture frames, even the wicker baskets. I even handpicked the floral arrangements at AC Moore to match. The room’s former splendor would have brought pre-incarcerated Martha Stewart to a knee. Now the room was an eyesore and Martha was in jail.
Last week, my wife and I returned home from a full day of Christmas shopping. We had both taken the day off from work and had been away from home the better part of the day. As we pulled into the driveway, we couldn’t help but notice a thirty year old man ringing our doorbell. A 75 foot trailer idles in the cul de sac.
“What does this guy think he is doing?” I ask my wife.
“I don’t know.”
With it being two weeks before Christmas, my wife checks with me to see if I was having a new car delivered to our home with a ribbon around it.
“No.” I answer rhetorically. The Pat Conroy’s of the world answer a question like this oppositely, a struggling writer without royalites answers with negation.”
Our van rolls to a stop. I exit with curiosity and approach the man, who meets me halfway down the grassy knoll. “Can I help you?” I ask.
“Do you live here?” he asks.
“We are the homeowners, were you expecting someone else?”
“I have furniture….”
“Let me stop you there…you have the wrong house.” I said dismissively. We didn’t order furniture.”
“It’s not like that at all, sir. We have Thomasville furniture on the truck. Do you want to take a look?”
I look at the long trailer with Thomasville signage. “Humm...what style of furniture?”
“All Thomasville and all brand new. No scratch and dent. On the truck are mostly odds and ends, some matching items. A lot of discontinued prints but good furniture, nonetheless. Thomasville gives us rock bottom prices to move this stuff. Whatever me and the boys make above and beyond is ours. We have been doing this for three years. We travel from the Carolinas up and down the east coast.”
Irony is what this website is dedicated to so I ask, “And you just happened to stop at my house?”
He smiled. “You could say that. Do you want to take a look?”
I had my guard up but something told me to climb aboard the magic truck. “Okay.”
He walks ahead of us, giving me just enough of a buffer to whisper instructions to my wife. “Keep your cell phone on, in case I get knocked over the head with a sawed off Queen Anne Leg.”
Aboard the truck, I look around for furniture and danger. All I see is gorgeous furniture. My neighbor comes running over in bedroom slippers and my wife held her at bay in case there was a Red Light special. One guy hands me a laminated Thomasville brochure. I make a move to sit down on the sofa in front of me when I notice it’s a very regal looking piece. It appeared to be sage green in the dark confines of the trailer.
“I think that sofa will match our living room perfectly.” concludes my wife.
Diane is pointing to the very couch I almost sat down in. I ask to take a throw pillow inside to match colors. They cut the plastic and hand me the pillow. I climb down and we carry the pillow inside. The tassels on the homeless pillow wag like the tail on a doggie in the window. My wife and I squeeze the pet pillow against everything in the living room. It passes color control by matching everything to a Tiger Woods tee. I ask my wife to stay inside the house. She is pure emotion and that can cost money in a business deal. She likes the pattern though and that is what matters. I ask the trio to pull it off the truck so we can sit on it about the same time it started to rain. They recover it in plastic and the crew hauls it into my garage.
It even looks nice in your garage.” one guy says out of breath.
How many homeowners have taken the time to wall-to-wall carpet their garage, I have no idea. I had to admit that the cream carpet contributed to the showcase feel. “I think it matches the carpet.” I snicker. “Too bad we aren’t buying furniture for the garage.”
My wife emerges from the house and sits down on the couch. I join her as three Carolinians watch us nuzzle on the couch in our carpeted garage. The couch proves firm yet comfortable. My wife makes nice about the sofa and goes inside. I excuse myself and follow her inside leaving three Carolina strangers access to any tool in my double car garage. Inside, Diane has fallen in love with the sofa. Jimmy comes home from school about now and I order him to stand by the phone and dial 911 if he hears a Queen Anne leg hitting skull. Poor kid didn't know what was going down.
“Do they have a loveseat and chair?” Diane asks me.
“I’ll be right back.” I reply. “Hold that thought.”
Back in the carpeted garage, they are certain there is a matching loveseat way in the back of the trailer next to a few recliners owning a manly pattern that grandpas from Raleigh never had the opportunity to fart in. But no side chair…
“How much to release the two pieces from Carolina captivity?” I knew the retail prices in the brochure had the sofa and loveseat at just under $2500.00
“We want $875 for the sofa and $675 for the loveseat.” the head honcho says.
I go inside to discuss a deal closer with the wife. “But there are only two pieces, Joe. Drive a better bargain.”
I mastermind a plan. I say, “That is the beauty, if I can get the two brand new Thomasville pieces for way under market value then the lawsuit money I won impersonating Perry Mason, we can use the surplus to buy the Baby Grand piano you always wanted.”
“Oh, Joe.” Diane moans heroically.
I go back to the garage wondering if this is the real deal or whether one of my long handled shovels was going to be my instrument of death in a home invasion. I didn’t know what would hurt most, the Queen Anne leg club or a pointy shovel. I wanted no parts of either. The entry door closes behind me. The guys are milling about. Jimmy stands at attention near the Bat phone.
“Sorry to disappoint you. I thought we had a deal but the wife wants three pieces for the living room…” I started the good cop/bad cop negotiating ploy. “But if you want to let the two pieces go, $1200 is our absolute limit.”
“$1300.00.” the head honcho negotiates, as his cronies look on.
“How about $1250, if I give you cash? We’ll split the difference.”
“It’s a deal” he finalizes.
As we shake hands, I get in a word edgewise. “That is provided the loveseat coming off the truck is undamaged and the patterns match.”
“Can you move the diseased furniture in the living room into the garage. Loks like the garage is getting furniture after all?”
He said, “Sure.”
“Boys,” he announced, which must be a code word for action in the Carolinas. They gently move the furniture, unwrap the plastic, and set up the furniture. My wife positions the throw pillows and we don’t even know where the lumbar pillow should come to rest. The furniture looked made to order and fit for a king. We still needed to throw a leather sectional in the basement so I asked the boys to call me first instead of just stopping over the next time they are in the State.
If there is a moral here it is one of perseverance. When opportunity knocks even at your front door, please listen. Now it's time to sit around and wait for an unannounced piano deliveryman. Knock. Knock. Who is there? Baby Grand Piano. Baby Grand Piano Who?


December 16, 2004

And I thought I signed up for the US Army.


December 15, 2004


I have come to realize that any incoming email from a stranger hosting an email address with a suffix grabs my attention. I have been immersing myself in interesting projects lately and my story reached the International Property Manager for BION. My association with Ripley's Believe It or Not has always given me the jitters but International Property Manager for BION sounded so Terminator-ish.

Low and Behold, my profile and a picture of my Cyborg T2001 Series beekeeper's suit has been accepted for publication into the 2005 Ripley's Believe It or Not hardcover almanac. This is not small potatoes. It is a sack of Red Bliss potatoes in an Irish famine. This book sells millions of copies worldwide. It is part of Scholastic Books, the leaflet every school age kid in America takes home to pester their folks into shelling out $19.99 to read about the Bee Man from Blackwood, New Jersey.

I was instructed to complete some paperwork of an urgent matter and send off three preferred pictures and a synopsis using a FedEx account number to an address in the swamps of Florida no later than December 17, 2004. This must be an editor's return to work because this was the second writing deadline I had to meet by Friday.
I emailed the dubious BION Property Manager that my property was for sale. I asked for a few
reasonable demands and got little more than a sympathetic ear. I concentrated my efforts into retaining control over the exact text next to my almanca picture. If you ever receive a business email soley in capital letters, you know negotiations are not going well. Strike one for Mastocytosis sufferers everywhere. I then argued for a couple of "Blues Clues" key words for the reader to learn about my disease. Strike two for funding and research for Mastocytosis. BION finally obliged me enough to allay "send me what you got". The truth of the matter, I just finished a writing deadline at 2:23 am the previous night and still was writer weary. I had no pre-fabricated words of Mother Mary wisdom or acceptance speech cued on the hard drive waiting for a Book of Oddities to shout "Come Hither my tortured soul".
I could just let others determine my fate in print. Not a freaking chance. My wife caught me in the panicked throes and prose of preparing my Ripley's acceptance speech. I was leafing through a file so thick I once used it as a shabby step stool to change a lightbulb. A 2001 coorespondence letter appeared on top of the scrap heap. I could feel my lovely wife's lovely eyes enlarge wider than Marty Feldman's ever did.
"Are you crazy?" she pointed to the signature area of the page.
My 2001 signature included "The Anaphylactic" as a byline. I gave it a double take myself, as if the document had been pirated by forgerers.
"Uh, well you see, I was kind of working out the kinks in my nickname back then." I said sheepishly. I grabbed the document and headed for the grinding wheels of the shredder.
This admission impressed upon me as stupid, even to a wife who held my most private confidences. I began to think of my sports memorebilia business to which I answer to "The Plaque Doctor", my "Bee Man of Blackwood" cult identity which Ripley's has marketed to the hilt, and my Clark Kent existence as a family man and social worker. How many personas can I carry in my travel bag before bumping into a raised eyebrow psychologist who wants to label me schizophrenic?
Have no fear Bee Man appears and I type into the night, crafting my woeful tale to be read by millions of readers. The only advice here can't be a pawn in life. You got to be a player. Along with the pictures and a plea bargain for page layout not to have me next to Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy, I included the following human interest story slated for book shelves in mid-2005.
Four percent of the population are allergic to bee stings and some people die from their bee stings. In 2001, two separate yellow jacket attacks four weeks apart nearly proved fatal for Joe Tornatore of Blackwood, New Jersey. EMT's saved his life after the first attack. Joe's bodily reaction to the second bee attack proved worse so waiting for an ambulance was not an option. Joe stumbled into their minivan, falling unconscious. His fianceée started to drive him to the hospital but a detour right outside their housing development thwarted rescue. His fianceée drove through the detour. Believe It or Not, she found a spare ambulance parked at an automobile accident scene. Joe was rushed to the hospital in that ambulance and placed on life support until the intense swelling over his entire body subsided and he could breathe again on his own. Joe recovered and married two short weeks after his hospital discharge.
In the aftermath, allergy immunologists discovered that the real trigger for Joe's anaphylaxis was caused by Mastocytosis, a rare skin disease striking only one in a half million people. Mastocytosis is the proliferation of mast cells, which produce histamine. Excess histamine can cause the release of tiny brownish-red lesions on the body, lesions resembling chicken pox in appearance and itchiness.
Joe wore a beekeeper's suit outdoors to increase personal safety until the University of Pennsylvania Hospital completed a complex immunotherapy program to mute his reaction to bee stings should he ever fall prey again. While wearing the beekeeper's suit from 2001-2003, Joe was confused in public as an astronaut, chef, Amtrak worker, dog catcher, and circus performer. Joe was once mistaken for a World Trade Center cleanup worker and a terrorist...
on the same day. His humorous adventures are told in his autobiography, Stop and Smell the Silk Roses. Joe can be found on TV' Ripley's Believe It or Not episode #315, as a comic strip panel, and as an exhibit in the Ripley's museum in Atlantic City, NJ, where his book is sold.
This is a wonderful biography but my careful analysis of the last three editions of the book till midnight indicates only select company garner a full page layout. Hey, shoot for the stars until the meteor lands! The first item exorcised will be my cleverly placed book endorsements. I also know a thing or two about editing and space considerations in print. An extra word is like adding a full length sitcom to a Super Bowl commercial. So expect to see nothing more than my King Bee garb alongside the caption "Who is this joker?"


December 14, 2004

DNA Blueprint Model


December 13, 2004

Genes that Wear on You

I maintained a social work appointment in the home of a divorced father, who lived in temporary housing in a studio apartment above a dank storefront. Admirably, the father was single handedly caring for a multiply handicapped, behaviorally involved teenager. The father presented to me as being overwhelmed in the caregiving but his love for his son could not be questioned. A new addition on my caseload, I knew very little about my client. I began to document as much family history as possible from my only informant, the father.
Early on, I asked a simple enough question. “How many children do you have?”
He rested his cigarette in a foil ashtray. “I have four children but only one is in my custody.”
His statement seemed rehearsed. Perhaps, a stock answer buffered the pain and suffering. I looked over to his son, who rolled a police cruiser on broken wheels. Before he moved to return his cigarette back to his lips, I tried to invite more information with a more open-ended follow-up question.
“Where exactly are your other three children?” I asked.
“My kids are kind of scattered all about, Mr. Tornatore.” His fingers nervously raked his hair.
“You see, although I’ve been married only once, I have fathered four children with four different women.” He gritted his teeth before resuming. “So I got one child in a group home somewhere in North Jersey, and I got another just like the one you see living with his mom some place, and I had another child so handicapped that he died in a hospital right before his thirteenth birthday.”
I heard him sigh. My pen stopped documenting the family tree on a notepad that had seen better days as a social worker. I did the exponential math and drew the obvious conclusion. Four handicapped children born from four different women with the same father. I tried not to let my facial expression change as I looked up at him. The silence, which served as a welcomed truce, could only give way to inevitable discussion.
I will never forget the despair in his voice when he took the floor for opening arguments. “I know you aren’t no doctor but do ya think I got me some messed up genes?”


December 11, 2004

The 2004 Cheapskate Pollyanna Gift Table


Blog Simulcast

Between “blocky” and “bloke” in the English language, the 2005 Merriam Webster Collegiate dictionary plans on inserting “blog”. While discussing the phenomenon known as Blogging with my friend Pax Romano, we decided to take our respective Blogs to an experimental level. I have only recently entered the ground floor of Blogging but Pax Romano is my Big Brother Blog. The idea of two Blogs mutually covering the same event may offer an interesting parallax view. We are calling it Blog Simulcast, although it may exist in the Blogger community by another dubious name.
Pax and I pick a moment in time when we know our lives will intersect. Deck the halls with boughs of holly; we pick a holiday work party for the simulcast reporting. To call it a party would be a misnomer. It is more like a midday meeting through lunch. Forty civil servants dine together at a South Jersey restaurant, a virtual no-mans land where town forgot to meet country. We have pre-paid $18.00 for our undeniable right to sit down and grub without a bar tab or belly dancer. A civil servant doesn’t receive patronage or a fat cat end of year bonus. You have to fill your own intrinsic Christmas basket with your own cheer. The ticket to ride is without a door prize to be preened, no gifts of almandine, not even an extra green bean for the almondeen.
The restaurant has designated our luncheon on a tilting porch with a wonderful lakeside view through broken glass. Swans and geese seem cued to swim on the lake giving the faithful something to admire on this otherwise rainy day. I find a half-empty middle table there for the taken and sit-down. A few of my friends are already seated at this table and we all cordially greet each other. I plop down with tables arranged both in front and behind me. I waste no time strapping on a cheesy white Santa Claus beard that is bound to catch a few morsels of food and attention. Considering the tilted floorboards, the co-workers who assumed the end seats look like midgets eating among giants. The conversation flows freely and we yuk it up at the slanted table. With a few heavy eaters gathered at my table, I expected the arriving loose rolls could produce a feeding frenzy. After a few minutes, I leave my seat to snap a few digital pictures. When I return, I notice my compatriot Blogger has chosen the seat next to me.
“How appropriate.” I whisper to Pax as I pass by his seat.
He smiles. I wanted to keep a detective's eye on him anyway. Pax wasn’t getting out of the restaurant alive with a scoop not of ice cream. Who was he kidding? Like a pair of houseflies, our many eyes work the room indiscriminately. I keep mental notes. Both our heads swivel when we hear a large crash behind us. The lone server’s third thumb got in the way, which made the salad served literally tossed salad. I hope she is okay because it is early in the meal and hired help seems scarce. Pax soon steps outside with co-hort L for a breath of fresh air and a cancer stick. Their salads are cold when they return because well…the salad was served that way.
“You missed the blessing. Pastor Joe Hornet offered touching words saying grace.” I teased.
Pax recognizes the anagram of my first and last name. He doesn't need to turn to his secret decoder ring. Clanging metal utensils replace most of the conversation. If I closed my eyes and stopped eating, the utensils would sound like an epic sword fight in Lord of the Rings. I see mouths chew food that is as mediocre as it was the year before here. The chef continues to mistake the microwave for a gas burner, children’s portions served to famished adults, and chicken florentine that Popeye stole the spinach from. Our matriarch presides over her flock but today she is as quiet as an inactive volcano. No sermon is delivered. In fact, I hardly hear her voice all day. Our matriarch is a tireless administrator with a keen memory and outstanding organizational skills. I respect her work ethic and enjoy working for her. If the matriarch has one fault, she is too bloody unforgiving of non-bloody mistakes. Here is one example. In twelve years of working two rungs under her as a social worker, I have forgotten to turn in my projected weekly schedule a grand total of once. She emailed me that following Monday to let me know of my dereliction of duties. So if a lectern was present, I am sure carry on my wayward sons would be her battle cry to rally the troops. However, the matriarch’s voice does not pay tribute today to the downtrodden dominion. It is just another long year coming to pass, a year groundhogs have unearthed higher moral. Despite exaggerated caseload sizes and no new personnel lined up for hire on the 2005 Calendar, nobody went postal and donnybrooks were kept to a bare-knuckles minimum. A holiday gift card from the matriarch given to each of us shows thoughtfulness and gratitude. Its acceptance, however, underlies that each of us are due back next year for more of the same. My side order of spaghetti slithers down my throat thinking about it.
Eight women at a table behind me provide a theatre in the round of laughter and cackles. Social workers are gregarious by nature, although I consider myself a slight exception to this rule. I rarely introduce topics of conversation and prefer to view the world not lead it by the hand. My comfort zone is to play off and build on what others say in conversation in a collective recall spun into puns. For every pro there is a con. I have the memory and appetite of an elephant.
My friend D reiterates his nickname for me after a ba-doom-chick joke. “Joe is our Henny Youngman.”
After we all finish our meals, it is time for the Cheapskate Pollyanna. Corporate America should adopt this cheesy merry go round of gift giving. It breaks nobody’s bank and it is done in the spirit of giving. Creative minds jockey over who can engineer the most useless gift purchased at a Dollar Store. I thought to myself. Two decades of dedicated Civil Service and my career parks me in front of this hokey pokey show. The brainchild of this time honored tradition falls to my friend Pax Romano. Noteworthy, the etiology of the word Pollyanna roots come from the heroine in an Eleanor Porter novel. Besides a gift-go-round, Pollyanna means a foolishly optimistic person. There exists too much pessimistic poisoning in our workplace to do Pollyanna more than once a year. Somehow Pax must have known our limitations.
Truthfully, there isn’t a gift here worth roasting chestnuts in an open fire. The crinkled wrapping paper could be sold on Ebay for more than the gargoyle gifts themselves. I even see a few recylced gift bags from last year. Consequently, the Pollyanna yields yarborough gifts like socks, a thong gone wrong,a toothbrush holder, a rubber mouse, brake fluid, not one but two sets of handcuffs, to a can of coffee so old I recognize the former label. When it is my turn to choose a gift to open, I purposely choose the one Pax Romano brought. I memorized the wrapping paper design of the gift Pax carried into the restaurant. If Pax was about to make a scene with his creativeness, I plotted to be on the receiving end getting free press. The gift is a frame, which leaves me wondering who framed who?
In preparation for the Pollyanna and in the spirit of la-teh-dud gift giving, I have inserted my own personal picture on a refigerator magnet. The ghastly picture is my statue in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Creative crafting that would make Martha Stewart proud, the Ripley’s logo overlays the photo and assigns its fate a fake refrigerator magnet commercial enterprise. I attach a gift tag with a handwritten advisory, “Run as fast and as far as you can from this gift.” I am curious as to which staff will get stuck with an audacious photo of a medically involved colleague wearing a beekeeper’s suit. It ends up in the hands of a new hire, a disbelieving secretary who has doubted my woeful tale from day one. She is the “Or Not” in Ripley’s Believe It or Not terminology. She looks at the refrigerator magnet quizzically and my immediate supervisor must explain to her my pathetic wardrobe from 2001-2003. Some people laugh at me, most with me. If I am able to laugh at myself in public, this is a welcomed sign of full recovery. To all others, it is a deaf ear.
After a nice dessert tray and two cups of coffee, I momentarily loose sight of Pax Romano. He does not like crowds so I wonder if he has grown uncomfortable. On my way to the restroom, I find the Smooth Talker at the bar sitting with a couple of Whatshername women. Nobody dares to drink at this luncheon but cigarette smoke sure fills the airways. A thick cloud of smoke buffets the air. A cigarette smoking woman, wearing an outrageous Hanukkah candle hat, appears to be lighting her own fabric candles ablaze.
I empty the coffee into a urinal then return tableside. I find D2 talking for a second time to D1 and B1 about 5 cent coffee offered at a nearby restaurant in the late 1970’s. The historical reference makes me take a harder look around the front delapidated porch. What I observe is a collectively tired staff. I have my doubts whether we could all make it out alive in a fire. The best days may behind many of the people presiding. Among the throng, the end of the calendar year seems to bring the strange bedfellows of reticence and sense of accomplishment. Overseeing the lives of human beings is tremendous responsibility. I often ask myself how many human beings I can be responsible for before my silicon chip starts its meltdown? The work is survival of the fittest in a pressure cooker milieu, where the unwritten mission statement is to escape with health, sanity, and humor. We are a resilient bunch inching to that Golden Parachute called retirement. It is evident that some workers have burned out like black-eyed palookas, who refuse to hang up their boxing gloves. For me, this fight must rage on at least another ten years before The Great Escape. I will take one day at a time. For now, I box myself out of the corner and digest the soggy bread pudding I shoveled with my hands thinking it was apple cake. My eyes aren't what they used to be but I can clearly see objects in the rearview mirror. So deck those halls and trim those trees, this is the time for holiday.
For the parallex viewer, read how Pax Romano reported on the same event:


My Cheapskate Pollyanna gift offering.


December 10, 2004

Elmo, you're my hero!


December 09, 2004

Double Pain Windows

Frost is like white icing on the cake for me, a Mastocytosis sufferer who carries a personal vendetta against bees. Over the last several weeks, the cooler weather has interfered with both the food supply and the flight system of stinging insect populations. For the sole survivors who thought death was not an option, frost has come like a serial killer among winged critters. I couldn’t be happier about their seasonal demise into oblivion. Without bees, I breathe a sigh of relief. With a bee sting, I do not breathe at all.
The welcome sight of morning frost reminds me of a recent move of a client into a licensed group home. As I pull up to the group home, a two story colonial residential home in Anywhere, America, I notice something amiss. I must preface this story by conveying that the relocation was scheduled for 10:00 am on this date. I just don’t drive up to a house and drop off human beings and suitcases. In preparation for this blessed occasion, I chaired a pre-placement meeting, dissolved bank accounts, and re-routed Medicaid cards. Into a compact car, I had packed all of this client’s worldly possessions, including about fifty prized stuffed animals.
As my car idled in the driveway, only an unmarked unmanned van was parked in the driveway. I got out of the car and stared oddly at the house. The group home had no windows! To be exact, the home had no shutters, no glass, no screens, and the windows were not boarded up. I walked a few steps onto the grass to get a closer look. Yep, just as I suspected. I could pull a couch through any number of windows. But I was here on legitimate business not burglary.
“Hello, Hello, anyone here?” I shouted.
Peeking my head in what used to be a double pane window, I repeated my search for intelligent life. No dice. So the Candid Camera social worker moment of 2004 goes to… Joe Tornatore for ringing the doorbell of a home without any windows or occupants. Not surprisingly, nobody answered the door not even a ghost of client’s passed. After a minute of aimlessly standing on the porch not knowing what to do, I heard footsteps on concrete. I retreated from the porch and introduced myself to a disinterested thirty something man, who was climbing into the back of the lone unmarked van.
“Excuse me.” I interrupted, my face speaking to his buttocks. “Do you work with xyz agency?”
He turned around and answered. “No, they are gone for the day.” He then glanced at my photo ID badge around my neck. “I’m a private contractor hired to replace the windows. No staff are inside.”
“Do you know where they went?” I asked.
“Beats me." he said with a simultaneous shoulder shrug. "Staff stuffed patients in a minivan and drove off about an hour ago.”
I continued to pepper questions to a window installer who thought I was just a pain. “Did they happen to say when they would be returning?”
“About 2:30-3pm…” he answered matter of factly.
“But the group home is wide open…..”
“No sense locking up a group home that doesn’t have windows.”
His logic was as impeccable as my timing was improbable. “I noticed the ventilation right away.” I admitted. “Okay, I'm going to hang around just in case somebody returns. I do have an appointment.”
“Be my guest.” he says while reaching for a hacksaw.
I got back in my car. The comedic moment doesn’t escape me as I take note with a shit-eating grin inside the cabin. As I use my cell phone to report back to my supervisor of the impasse, I eyeball a yellow jacket walking across my bare wrist. I do not panic but had every right to since a bee can kill me. With my unaffected arm, I grabbed a Tickle Me Elmo doll by the neck. I kick open the car door. Using Elmo as a non-human shield, I whisk my nemesis outbound where he belonged. Never before in my social work career had a stuffed animal saved my life. I closed the door and thanked the toy Elmo with a passionate hug. I let go upon realizing my client might get jealous. If you ever find a NJ social worker dead on a sidewalk clutching a stuffed animal, check his medical history before passing judgment about adults playing with inappropriate toys. There is a good chance I was caught at the fatal intersection of Mastocytosis and a bee sting.
Staff eventually returned to the group home guranteeing completion of the haphazard move. The series of recent frosts guranteed the bee incident from repeating itself. I felt so foot loose and fancy free, I ordered five cubic yards of mulch. For readers who have enough coin to hire contractors for landscaping, this much mulch is like Mount Everest Jr. with hiking boots recommended.
There is no denying, I am living on the great outdoors again. Much like the group home, the outdoors held no windows for me. I told myself to dig into the mulch pile. It takes a dormant season for me to work like a busy bee.


Home for the Holidays!


December 05, 2004

Hold The Mayo Clinic

If I ever need to add members to my social circle, I will turn to the supermarket for friendship. The supermarket is a breeding ground for conversation, whether I open my mouth first or not.
I handle the food shopping for the family, which makes me no stranger to coupon clipping or supermarkets. I even devoted an entire chapter to my book, Stop and Smell the Silk Roses, to tabloid conversation in the supermarket. Of course, life is always more interesting when you have to wear a costume.
Whenever I approach the deli case, I love to find Joe the Deli Guy on duty. He is as old as Rome and as Italian as they come. Although he is "Old School", I consider him to be a breath of fresh air. He will let me taste a cut of meat. He lets me know when new selections are in and informs me of what is on sale. He is a little hard of hearing, but if you speak loud enough, he is glad to answer any questions. You can retrieve more information from him about what you eat than you could extract from a pharmacist about the medication you ingest.
Joe the Deli Guy is not shy about his Italian roots and prides himself in not only retaining his heritage but promoting it as well. If he sees a cantaloupe in your shopping cart, he is heading straight for the brochiutta thinking you need a salty meat to drape over the fruit as an appetizer. Joe does not know I am Italian and I want to keep it that way. Even though my biological father was born in Italy, I only know a few Italian words and remain ignorant to many Italian ways. Since this is embarrassing, I often hide behind my blond hair in public. What would Joe think if he learned that I stopped serving raviolis on Thanksgiving? I don’t want him to think of me as an Italian whose ignorance of the culture causes it disrespect. Instead, I intend on continuing to use Joe as an instrument to download Italian until the swallows return to Capistrano. By then, I hope to be a better Italian.
At the deli case, Joe greets me with a complimentary smile. “What can I get for you today?” says the host to the parasite in waiting.
“Hello. I got a hankering to make a homemade Italian hoagie tonight. Now I could follow my mom’s recipe, which calls for Genoa salami, but what other meat would you suggest as an alternative?”
Joe gobbles my spoon-fed question like a robust red gravy. “I got just the thing for ya.” Joe removes a slab of meat from the case and places it up on the stainless steel counter for me to get a better look. “This is…Fiorucci Sopressata.”
His introduction had a drum roll flare to it. I had never heard of sopressata but was pleased to meet its meaty acquaintance. A phonics lesson convinced me this Italian lunchmeat called sopressata sure sounded like Superman in a vulgar German. There is nobody else waiting in line. Time is in our favor.
Joe the Deli Guy’s gravel voice had a disarming grandfatherly quality to it. “Old Italian butchers in South Philly used sopressata for sandwiches. Not too many of them around anymore.”
I knew enough about Philadelphia to understand that Joe referred to a head count of Italian butchers not a disappearance of sandwiches. I shook my head in the affirmative so as to not interrupt him.
Joe continued, “Mom and Pop businesses keep going under because the sons don’t want to inherit the business. Too much work.” He flips his hand in the air disgustingly.
The show of force reminded me of my father’s backhand slap when I stepped out of line. That much hot-blooded Italian I will never forget! My milk warmed in the shopping cart but I didn’t care. If you wanted to learn something from Joe the Deli Guy, you were on his time clock so take a number.
“How is sopressata different from Genoa salami?” I asked invitingly.
His index finger pointed to the heavens. “Ah,” he answered. He ducked back into the glass case then a second slab of meat appeared on the counter. He maneuvers them side by side for comparison shopping. “Look closely.” he gently teaches. “The Genoa salami is not as coarsely pressed and there is less seasoning. Genoa is a slender milder taste. But the sopressata...” he raised his voice like an Italian opera virtuoso. “Sopressata is alive.”
He turned his back to me and headed to the slicer. He returned with an open palm of sopressata. I gladly tasted it and together we agreed, “That’s Italian.” short of the three pinched finger routine. Joe smiled with gusto. He had made a customer happy while sprinkling a little Italian seasoning in the air. It must be the best of both worlds for him, new and old.
Joe asked me, “How much do you want?”
“Give me a half of a pound of the newfound glory.”
“Coming right up." Joe obliged. "Sopressata.”
I started to make a dash to grab a loaf of hard crusted Italian bread from the bread section. Even with his back to me, Joe anticipated my next move.
“You need a nice Italian South Philadelphia bakery right about now.” he recommended.
“This is one stop shopping. I’m going to have to see what you got. Bread isn’t what it used to be, huh Joe? As a kid, Mom used to have to rake the filling from the middle of the bread to get out the bundles of extra dough. Now you’re lucky to find a thin crust with bread crumbs."
“Ain’t that the truth.” he agreed. “Why don’t you get yourself a juicy tomato, lay it next to the sopressata. It’s a marriage made in heaven.”
Marriages made in heaven and good tomatoes are rare commodities these days. Life seemed less complicated just concentrating on building a hoagie. “Good produce is also hard to find.” I added. “Produce tastes more like the wafers in that Charlton Heston movie Soylent Green.”
“Umm, you might have to pick out the ripest tomato from produce.”
“I can hardly wait to plant tomatoes in the garden in the spring.”
Many times, I have heard Joe ask other customers if they are of Italian descent. I reconciled to the fact that my gig was finally over with the admission of tending a tomato garden. If he asked me and I answered the confessional honestly, I worried whether a fig tree was in my immediate future. He hands me the wrapped sopressata and doesn’t say a word. My secret remains safe.
As I accept it, I say “Sopressata.” as a form of communion, a way to break bread.
Joe finishes my order with a few more cuts of meat and cheeses. Before leaving, Joe adds finishing touches to both the conversation and the hoagie at large. “Use a nice virgin oil on the bread with a little oregano on that hoagie. No mayo.”
“No mayo.” I solemnly promise.
I pick out a few loose tomatoes and at $4.29 a pound they were a steal…somebody else’s steal. After two hours of food shopping, fifteen minutes of talking to Joe the Deli Guy, and putting the groceries away, I line the ingredients for a hoagie in front of me on the kitchen counter. I remove an unopened jar of mayo from the cupboard. If he could bear to see me now, Joe would consider me a mongrel. Once in a great while, I substitute mayo for oil. It didn't mean I was going straight to hell in a hoagie tray. Nonetheless, I stared at the mayo all the while wondering if its usage would somehow continue my delinquency as an Italian. A butter knife slapped the mayo on the bread in a rich creamy consistency. On went the suppresata, provolone, Swiss cheese, oregano, lettuce, onion, and the pricey garden variety tomato.
I bit into the bread and moved it around my eager palette. The hoagie tasted awful. Was it the sopressata? Is this what Italian hoagies tasted like in hell? I ate a few more mouthfuls before declaring the hoagie a natural culinary disaster. I smelled the cold cuts in their cellophane and they all smelled fresh. The tomato, onion, and lettuce checked out. I raised the bread up to my nose and it too passed quality assurance. The only thing left was the mayonnaise. I, the mongrel, spun the jar around to read the label. The expiration date was clearly stamped May 10 2004. A full bodied smell confirmed the mayo as spoiled. I should have used oil and not broke from tradition.
When Joe the Deli Guy orders “Hold the mayo.” he means in English or Italian, “Hold the mayo.”


Taste testing to be conducted by The Mayo Clinic.


December 03, 2004

Love Masks Poem

Good poetry is written verse evoking thoughts and emotion. Life is poetry, making poetry all around us. You might have to overturn a few rocks to initially find it but eventually poetry can paint a recognizable beauty on everyone and everything we meet. Poetry is a trained eye so look around you.
If you have an aversion for the sappy, please disregard the following poem. I take my poetry both seriously and privately. Make no mistake about it, I enjoy watching a football game clutching a cold beer but I prefer vanquishing poetry to a private existence without witnesses. It goes without saying, my poetry has wanted to leave its dusty three-ring binder for years. Tonight I heed its call to be heard. So take flight lullabye lyrics and turtle doves for this is your curtain call. As I invoke the masses, this Blog entry will be considered either personal growth or red-faced foolishness. A word of extreme caution about my poetry style before reading, it sounds like Doctor Seuss after sucking the life out of a helium balloon.
LOVE MASKS Love can be a sole search futilely lasting forever. It can be a soul search, a beautiful endeavor. Love has roomed in any of many different places. It has bloomed in the faces of different races. For the lonely, it is relentlessly yearned. -the many masks of love. Unfortunately, like gold it's hard to fathom or find. The fortunate I'm told bump into love rather blind. To many, the true meaning of love is clear and crystallized. Too many times the gleaming confuses, even hypnotizes. Scrutiny might not fully reveal it. Mutiny its power and you won't truly feel it. -the many masks of love. Most people endear love without second-guessing. Best to adhere patience without ever pressing. Often it is professed, then commitment recanted. Others confess faking it and taking it for granted. Love can be born of understanding and zealous. Love can be burdened by possessiveness of the jealous. -the many masks of love. Love can involve diligent work much like a chore. Cowards dissolve its meaning, doubting what it is for. Occasionally, it shimmers bright with obtuse trying. Sometimes it's a glimmer in the dark then a recluse hiding. In bliss it is taken to heart without making a fuss. I regret once mistaken it, taking it for lust. -the many masks of love.
Joseph Tornatore 1998


December 01, 2004

What a famous author looks like.


Living the Life of Reilly

The lead sentence for any writing assignment should be thought of as the first words you say to a bridge jumper. If you don’t catch people’s attention from the jump, the splash you hoped for in your writing is now but a blip in the water. My killer lead worked, if you are still reading.
I recently wrote slobbery fan mail to Rick Reilly, the renowned writer from Sports Illustrated magazine. Rick’s writing style carries both a dramatic flare and an acerbic edge. I spill envy all over the page when I read his weekly column. If he wrote his column on toilet paper, I would be first in line at the bathroom door screaming let the shit hit the fan!
In my letter to Rick Reilly, I let on that I am a wannabe scribe and an admirer of his prose. I asked him to check out my Blog and if he could throw a few peanuts of pointers my way, I would be all Dumbo ears. My motto is don't ask and you shall never receive.
My adulations for Rick Reilly really are two hands clapping. As of late, I have even incorporated Rick Reilly into my Blog writing. After I write a rough draft, I will go read snippets of Rick Reilly’s finished artistry. I return to my own drafts with such inspiration it could cause a paper shortage at Staples. This exercise for better writing I call my own myopic “Living the Life of Reilly.” It is a catchy phrase but one that has not escaped the master because “Life of Reilly” is the title of Rick’s column.
I received a reply email from Rick Reilly on November 29, 2004. I don’t want readers to flip a wig here. It is a form letter. But it is a form letter…related to becoming a better writer. I suspect Rick must have a form letter for every topic down to jalapeno pepper seed harvesting. I’ve heard of prepared statements but something struck me as funny for a prolific columnist to have a prepared form letter to save words.
Nonetheless, I do not let the opportunity go to waste. I begin to read about how a young Rick Reilly got his start in sports writing. I absorb the roll call of Pen Zen Masters who inspired him. He even provides practical examples of how to transform basic writing to distinct authorship. His words dance like Sioux Indians before a needed rain. My eyes are absorbed by the content. I fall into a hero worship of his talent. It feels both wonderful and a cold slap in the face reading someone who writes with the skill and style I always wanted to. That’s when I remembered this is only a generic form letter. Heaven's to Betsy, the master got this young apprentice again. If I find out Rick Reilly signed his next book deal with Scott’s paper products, I’ll be sitting down for that one…in the bathroom.


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