Freudian Slips: The Familiar Stranger

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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.

March 15, 2005

The Familiar Stranger

Send in the Clowns
Isn't it rich, are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground, You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns. Isn't it bliss, don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around
One who can't move
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.
I thought about the indignities of yesterday. Let me count the ways. A prostate exam at one doctor’s appointment, my allergy shot in a hospital thirty miles away, and brunch with a familiar stranger in a foreign land. There is nothing like following an injection of concentrated venom with a prostate probe to rule out swollen property. The day actually ended on a high note with the venom and cavity search. Before the medical maneuvers, I must turn my attention on my guest.
I drove my wife’s minivan to the rendezvous point because her vehicle owned a CD player. Music would serve as a mood stabilizer in the event of getting lost in Philadelphia. True to form, I got lost in the maze of one way streets revealing anonymous rowhouses. A sporty older model coupe pulls up next to me at the corner of Broad and Snyder. We smile to one another. The driver waves a sigh of relief then gestures for me to follow him to a municipal parking lot not far away.
We exit our cars, he a little faster than me. It is his custom to exchange the rousing Italian wet kiss on the cheek followed by a grizzly bear hug. I did as expected of me. As we walked to the restaurant of his choosing, I watched him stop to talk to a brick layer, then a city sweeper, and finally a jaywalker. He turned a two minute walk to the restaurant into a layover at an airport terminal. I bore witness to a man who knew only broken English talk so freely to complete strangers in a heavy brooding Italian accent. He seemed to overvalue his conversations with the strangers considering I was his scheduled company. He went out of his way to talk to these strangers while I stood a quiet familiar stranger before him. Our time was limited so I found his public outreach a heresy of time management.
I believe he had the restaurant open early for us. It was either that or he overthanked the owner in Italian about getting such good seats. I never spoke his language to say the least. The walk to seats of his preference revealed that we were the only two in the fully staffed restaurant. Even before the menus arrived tableside, his voice carried and I complied by listening. I am a good listener. Since my silence has always made him uncomfortable, he carried not only his deep voice but the conversation too. I zigged and zagged with the topics of conversations rifling out as many words as I could before interjection.
The familiar stranger never changed a single diaper of mine or wished me "Happy Birthday" but he felt the insurmountable need to mentor. He voiced parental tones early and often. I fielded his parental tones like an injury plagued first baseman. He began his ramble by letting me know that now as a retiree he detested that I lived my life by a calendar and a wristwatch. I told him appointments and scheduling was how I had to answer to the responsibilities of the day, how he had to once answer to the day. My obsessive compulsive features only took managing life to a synchronization to the minute, every minute.
Somehow the conversation somersaulted. He told me I was not allowed to eat the potato that came with my meal. When I refused to relinquish control over my dining fare, his metal fork resoundingly tapped my plate. Ting. Ting. Ting. He noticed a 42 year old man’s change in expression and he backtracked to a position of concern about my weight gain.
“You are starting to look like a baro.”
I figured that to be Italian for “middle aged guy fallen from caloric grace” but I didn’t press for further explanation. Consider me enlightened. Through further name calling, I realized he was mispronouncing the English word “barrel.” Upon learning that I was categorized as well-rounded did not make me feel any better. My fork stabbed the chive potato with newfound reckless abandon. Hey, let’s roll out the baro and have a barrel of fun. But there was no infectious laughter because he proceeded to tell me how many slices of Italian bread I could have. I dismissed the indiscretion as small potatoes. So I ate double the allotment of bread that he rationed out for me. I hate to break bread but I felt it necessary. After he ordered us another one of his appetizers, he told me we would be skipping dessert. I can take a hint. Waist not, want not.
He asked me about my relationship with my wife. He prefers to go back to the genesis of relationships so this I did. After I reminded him I first met my wife on the job, he reminded me that he never would eat and shit in the same place. I have to believe him since he did not use the bathroom the whole time we were in the restaurant. He also told me he would never have a wife who worked out of the home. He told me a lot of things that only applied to the Old World. The conversation digressed when out of nowhere, he told me he hated the theatre of my creative answering machine messages at home. Apparently, my entire home life was repugnant to him. He demanded a return to a more puritan recording the next time he called a few months from now. He stipulated this while throwing back succulent mussels in red gravy. But it wasn’t all gravy because our conversation inevitably returns to relationships. His frenetic hands seemed possessed telling me that women destroy men’s lives. He then went on a rant about all the women who had ruined his life.
“Joe, you betta watch you back.” he warned with a scowl.
When an Old World Italian man issues you such a warning in a South Philly restaurant cleared of other patrons, one might wonder about a Mafia hit. I knew that wasn't the case here. I differed, “I can't see anything with this baro belly so I can’t make you any bold promises.”
At any given time, I could have stormed out of the restaurant and left him high and dry. He had nothing on me. These meetings are his chance to get to know me. This is what he chooses to do with our time. The truth is our interpersonal relationship was little more than a broken record. The prick of a sewing needle should move beyond first blood. This meeting ended no different in dynamics than any of the dozen impersonal ones before it. I took the conversation like I did my meal- with a grain of salt. I held my ground until he searched for more common ground. Our impasse has always been the treacherous footing. This is a man who denies responsibility for his first failed marriage to the extent he named his second son the identical name as his first born. It was as much a part of my destiny as happenstance that I first met him the year of my emancipation while I was standing on a Philadelphia street corner in the middle of a grand parade. Emerging from the many strange faces in the crowd, this man called me son. He is then as he is now; the enigma of my biological father. Send in the clowns, maybe they are here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, hope everything will be fine for you. Sending white light to heal what ails you. Also, so sorry that you view your biological father with such disdain. Without realizing it, he seems to be pushing your buttons in a not so lovable way. Take it from one who knows, he means well. Post by ET/ P.S. (Enjoyed your story!)

10:38 AM  
Blogger PaxRomano said...


From the anonymous row homes to the Mafioso eating establishment; I could relate.

As for the parent hitting the child with disparaging remarks, well you should meet my mother some time, so I could relate to that also.

You really had yourself a “Postcards from the Edge” kind of day, no? Maybe you should call Carrie Fisher, I think you would both bond – just don’t spend the night at her place; I understand that her houseguests sometimes show up dead in the morning.

Seriously, thanks for that posting, it was beautiful and well written and the reader can feel the slings and arrows; the sign of a great author (in my humble opinion).

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Babe, really good writing, I thought about it all afternoon. Di

3:46 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Only you could put a Fisher in a story mentioning the prostate.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Only you could put a Fisher in a story mentioning the prostate.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Making up for lost time should not be measured by best intentions alone.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time you feel like that just go to the gym the next day and talk to a good friend in the jacuzzi.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Okay, I'll meet you and Sir Lance Alot poolside.

10:56 PM  

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