Category Archives: buffalo ny

Staying in My Lane, The Gift of “xo, Mom”


Last weekend, my eldest and I drove off to my home state, New York, to tour Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a high school senior, and swinging by Rochester from my cousin’s house in Buffalo, where I grew up, was really no big deal. Except that it was.

My son, as it turns out, loved the school. It’s eight hours away by car.

“We really haven’t looked at any bad schools, Mom, so, it would figure that RIT would be great too.”

Astute. It’s a goal of mine to not waste any time and show him any “bad” schools… I mean, who would do that?

Watching him grow up, is a mixed bag.

I find it hard to stay in my lane.

I find myself channeling my first and best therapist ever, Cooke: “What would Cooke say about this? How would Cooke talk to me about things like this…? How would he phrase what I want to get to the heart of, but not sound like the gestapo?” and most importantly, “How would Cooke help me feel that what he’s inquiring about is really about the person on the couch rather than the person on the chair asking the person on the couch?”

Just when I find myself off the couch, I find myself sitting in the chair across from the couch.

Let me be clear: my son is not in need of a couch; I’m simply stating that when I engage with someone these days, I am finding that I still need to get the hell out of their lane and stay in my own: not make anything they’re saying about me. Keep the streams uncrossed.

It’s hard.

My son is embarking on new chapters and it has nothing to do with me.

Keeping these posts, these essays relevant to him, because he is a human on this planet, makes for interesting story telling, but keeping these posts about me and my growth and not divulging too much about him and his brothers or his father or anyone else, is always my goal. I have to sit back, read and then ask about the relevance of content as my own editor and do my best to ensure the posts are mostly expressive of my seat and perspective in the shared experiences.

It’s hard to not feel like a hopeless narcissist though when I find myself writing in the pathetic bathos tense…

It’s a fine line, a narrow lane.

It’s nearly impossible to relate to life as a mother, a caring person on this planet and an empathetic person without relating to others. So I find myself softening the crayon strokes as I near the edges of what I’m coloring.

Given the alignment of American tradition / history, he will be gone and in some dorm in ten months and I will have to absolutely let go, as he turns from his gentle wave goodbye as I turn my body forward from craning over the back seats and pressing my face against the tailgate window only to leave him there. Maybe I will put his “Momo” — a stuffed baby cow he was given as a toy when he was born (I took Momo to Vegas with me) into a sock and he will find her and smile.

Live in the moment. He’s still home. Breathe. 

I write about him more than the other two boys these days because he has a lot going on. He’s not more important, he’s not more valuable.

He’s my first. He’s my first true teacher of humility, of the dangers of narcissistic extension, of fear and its sneaky cousins: denial and self-sabotage.

Last week when we were in Buffalo, my cousin threw me a birthday party. I’m 48 now. My life is more than half over, as I have no intentions of living to 100, drooling, having my kids wipe my undercarriage and repeatedly asking people to repeat themselves. Those are my intentions… we will see what fate delivers, always, of course.

At the party, I was speaking to someone about age, having kids and the biggest gift of all, the true honor and privilege it is to write, “xo, Mom” at the end of a quick note or text.

I said, “If you were to tell me 25 years ago that I were going to be married, with three sons and everything else I’ve been blessed with, I’dve told you to walk. Writing ‘xo, Mom’ on a note has been my greatest honor ever; words fail to express the journey and its gifts wrapped in lessons.”

So I see him, with his hairy man legs and hear his deep voice and his sharp observations, and words come back to me that a friend recently said of her own experiences watching her son grow up: “Suddenly, there is another man in your house. The step is heavier, the pace is slower, the tone more deliberate and the entire vibe doesn’t so much change because he’s not a ‘man’; he’s your kid who likely needs to tie his shoe or tuck in his shirt to you, but there he is nonetheless: a man.”

And you’re that much older.

So the adjustment must be made. I guess it’s only natural to still treat your child like a child, but sooner or later, you have to look at them as they have always been: separate and individual and capable of their own triumphs and disasters and no matter how deep the desire to meddle, parents can only set up their children for coping with the consequences of their choices. We can’t do anything else… ever.

And it sucks, I think.

We can’t make people be nice to them and see them for the fantastic people we believe them to be. We also can’t be so blind to their humanity that we deny their flaws. That’s the worst thing we can do: pretend they are perfect.

So, as my friend continued about her own college drop-off experience, “I heard the landing gear lock in when the jet cleared the runway, and all I could do was breathe and try to deal with the onslaught of doubts: Eighteen years… did we hug enough? Did I speak kindly enough? Was I patient enough? Did I tell him ‘I love you’ enough? Did I play enough with him under the dining room table? Did we have enough heart-to-heart talks? Did I show him how his choices affect him? Did I tell him enough about the dangers of peer pressure? …”

And I hear my own thoughts compete with hers, Did I instruct him about changing a tire? What about the allure of self-pity and trap falls of despair? About the value of hard lessons? Have I taught him about resilience? Egad! Does he even know how to cut an apple? Make lasagna? HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE LASAGNA!!! I’VE BEEN AFTER HIM FOR YEARS TO MAKE LASAGNA WITH ME…sauce noodle goo … sauce noodle goo …

I still have time. I know he’s going to really want to spend time with me now… at 17. There’s nothing cooler than spending the weekend with your mom while she teaches you how to make lasagna. I know that’s at the top of his list of things to do before heading off to wherever is next.

Can you imagine…?

While we were in Buffalo, he went off for a walk with his cousins. Soon after that, the cake came out and it was time to sing to me.

But I knew he was out.

I was at an impasse… Do I call him back? Do I interrupt his “me time” for my “me” time?

I felt strongly that I knew what my mother would do: she would interrupt him. She would call him in to gather round her with the upcoming generation and venerate her with song.

I decided to wait a few more moments to see if he would come in on his own.

He didn’t.

So I did what I thought was only fair. I decided to let him know, because in my own twisted (yet I’m working to untwist it) and fearful mind, I would have thrust at my mother also a vengeance that she purposely didn’t tell me so that she could thrust guilt at me and I could summarily thrust shame at myself:


So while I sat there, letting everyone sing to me, which was really nice an’ all, I was quite aware of his absence. And I was aware of my awareness, so I took a breath and let it all go.

And at some point, as aware we are of our children’s maturity and individuation, we must also allow our parents their past and realize that we are our own separate adults now and that they don’t have reign over us anymore, for good. That we don’t have much time left, even in the best of circumstances to live our lives. So, yeah… pull up our own bootstraps.

He came in later, and after everyone was gone, he sang “Happy Birthday” to me all alone. He sang every verse. Even the “dear Mommy” part, looking at me right into my green welling-up eyes and smiling, completely void of any irony, weirdness, or self-consciousness.

“… happy birthday to youuuuuuuu…”

And I sighed, hugged him deeply, almost cravenly, and I softly wept a little because he’s so sweet, and thought to myself, “Just one more year…”


This is all we get.

Note to self: stash Momo in a sock.

Thank you.

Grief: Responsibilities


The death of my mother has created a convection, a vortex of distracted activity. A flurry of events that need attending.

‘The death of my mother.’ This is a phrase I don’t think anyone is ever truly prepared to deal with saying, thinking, or typing. It’s like the phrase, “my husband” or “my wife” when first married; or “my child” when newly parented. Maybe in time I will be accustomed to saying such a phrase. My loved ones and casual acquaintances (and that lovely woman on the plane yesterday who clearly didn’t know what was coming when she asked me, “What brings you to Buffalo?”) assure me however, that it is a situation, a fact of life that never truly settles. The irony being of course, is that the matter is quite settled. Any mortal discrepancy boils down to ego: acceptance and management.

Being almost 400 miles from my own tribe has put a lot on my heart; being separated from them on the heels of losing Mom has doubled it. Yesterday, I helped write and finesse her death notice. Today, I select her gravesite and secure the location of my father’s and their wee son, my brother John.

Nothing is ever perfect. The obituary cited her birthday incorrectly, but that’s my dad’s fault. It’s been fixed, so it’s ok online now. I felt the use of the term “evangelist” was loaded, especially these days, but I understand it’s not how it was intended. My mother was complicated, but most geniuses are. I am grateful I posses average intelligence to assure I will not ever be so depicted.

Being in Buffalo, at 45 yet feeling keenly like 16, has created a swath of ownership for her; this is her turf. Being with my cousins keeps me at 16. As I posted most recently, my fight in her life for her relevance and health amidst my yearning for normalcy, predictability was arduous, chronic. It was, and often it went unanswered. But when it was answered, when Mom was in her element and her health, she was ON.

Like a halogen light bulb. Showing you yourself, the truth in art, the grace in literature and music. She would be in her Zone and if the timing was right, I was lucky to join her.

Being here, attending to her corporeal dignity, addressing her final — truly final — needs has been liberating. I have become at times, a microMimi — I have lost it, emotionally within a single breath. I have mused about things on the fly, I have composed myself only later to be discovered in a corner perpetrating ugly crying. That is grief. That is mourning. I have no regrets for this behavior. My mother lived on her hinge that way a lot. She has shown me that it’s life — no one can predict anything, really. It’s just a compilation of lucky guesses.

Her favorite phrase of admonishment of my insistent regularity and rushing (and it really wasn’t rushing, it was just trying to be on time) from Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite” was, “Cool it, Mimsy!” (The joke being on me, for she knew more about Neil Simon than perhaps Neil Simon, that Mimsy is being chided by her bridegroom about her bemoaning fears of turning into her parents.)

The weather here in Buffalo is chilly today. The sun is cresting the rooftop beside my cousin’s home. The sky is clear. My eyes are tired, but I will rally today.

This is where I spent a great deal of time yesterday afternoon:


The irony in the name of this place is not lost on me, nor on anyone for that matter. I remember joking with Mom about it years ago. In deference to her and her love of the arts and theater, I have begun pronouncing it “Am-ih-gon-e” like the play in which she starred, “Antigone.” She would like that.

Yesterday, between phone calls to my brother who had no business being at work, and after finalizing her death notice and as her niece and I were selecting things like Mass cards and floral arrangements, and asking the funeral director to please print one more picture for her casket and we added a clean but crumpled kleenex to her suit pocket and a tube of lipstick, “pink shimmer,” and to remember her rosary, and when I went looking for a pony tail holder for her hair (which she always had around her wrist, but it was usually a rubber band, so I wanted something softer for her), I was tasked with selecting a poem to print on the reverse of the card.

This section of the death packages binder was full of Irish poems, Christian poems. Schmaltzy drippy poems. I knew Mom would groan and openly “tiff!” or say “piffle!” at some of them. She had brilliant taste in literature. I didn’t like any of them. None of them were worthy. None of them. Not one single offered collection of verbs and nouns and modifiers would suit her. She was above all of it.

“Is this all you have?” I asked, wincing.

“Can we do our own?” My cousin asked.

I looked at her, in the way I do when I’ve eaten a canary. She knows this look quite well.

“Shakespeare. Do you have any Shakespeare?” I asked.

“No. I don’t,” said the man from behind his desk, the man whose daughter is in college. The man with questionably perfect hair. Hair that was later asserted by the funeral home owner, a friend of my father’s (as fate would have it they share the same birthday) to be real because the boys downstairs have tugged at it, they know… (Eww.)

“But you may select your own,” he added.

Then a bolt of lightning halogen.

My father shared with me two nights prior that my mother requested of him on I believe the night before she died that he read to her just one part of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” Just one. I told my cousin which one, and she knew, instinctively the one. She used to read with my mother. I would not ever read with my mother if I didn’t have to as a child or in high school or in college or as a mother. It was uncool. I am too self-conscious. It sucks.

My cousin and I scrambled on our smartphones and I found it. Mom played this brilliantly. I was tired when Dad came over that night, I wanted rest, but he told me that story. Somehow I banked it. Then my cousin. The one who read with Mom, she knew the poem when I mentioned it immediately. We just had to find it.

It is Puck’s final monologue and it is perfect:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

I cry when I read it. She’s talking to me, to us. To her huge family. All she wanted was to have a “normal” relationship with me. Go to the mall, go to movies, shit like that. That’s not us though. I hate the mall and we talk during movies. We aren’t and would never would be people like that. I think we would both feel its disingenuousness. But this… this is good. This is right. This is family.

In sharing it with both of you, I feel like I’m stealing the show. Like I’m releasing embargoed copy, but I’m not. But what I’m doing, for me, is steeling my show. The experiences I have endured the last few days and what lies before me in a couple hours and then tomorrow are inSANEly challenging, so if you disagree with my decision to share what I just did, I permit you to be woefully ignorant. In the meantime, please pray for my strength. I will take it from all faiths.

My mother was brilliant, layered, deep, flawed, conflicted, talented, shrewd, tender, loud, quiet, soft, harsh, wise, goofy. She wanted things that made no sense much of the time. But when it came to art, literature… Shakespeare… I shut my mouth and defer. Mom was never, ever wrong when it came to Shakespeare. She knows this is about healing.

Robin is restoring amends.

Thank you.

re: 679 Busti Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14213

re: 679 Busti Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14213

i wrote the following about the house i grew up in a moment ago, as a note to my father, who has been a tremendous influence in my life. i realize also as i type this intro that the important ersatz holiday, “Father’s Day” is upon us in less than 48 fleeting hours. my dad and i have similar temperaments: hot, opinionated, quick and nimble. that’s not always good. i respect him more than almost any man in my life, other than my husband, to whom i will be married 18 years on sunday, Father’s Day. my dad has done what he could all his life to be a model of resilience; a member of a generation of doers, bootstrappers. he’s 80 years old and he still writes a weekly column for our hometown paper. my brothers and i say that he’ll likely expire at his keyboard (we used to say “typewriter”) moments before deadline. i think that would make him smile. he has said about our family that we speak in paragraphs where others might speak in sentences.

when we lived in the old house i refer to in the title line, i would call him at work, numerous times, especially as a child at 716-847-8732 which was his office number. almost every time i would get Alice or Barb, his receptionists. i think it was Barb. she was nice: she had blonde-white hair, harlequin eyeglasses and long teeth and a big ready smile. she had candy at her desk and she was always happy to see me and my brothers.

someone at my dad’s office had one of those chrome covers for the phone receiver – could it have been Barb? or my dad? anyway, Barb would patch me through and he’d pick up, usually in a lather because i had a tendency to call him Just At Deadline (he was executive editor of a morning newspaper in Buffalo) and he’d say, “Hi Hon-nee…. IMONDEADLINE. CANTHISWAIT?” and i’d usually have to say “yes.” i don’t know why i called him so often. i guess i knew that someone would pick up the phone, even if it wasn’t him. sometimes his work buddies would talk to me on the phone, Sally, someone named Mitch? and they’d chat with me while my dad dealt with a reporter or desk editor who wasn’t quite finished yet.

i think about the daunting task he had before him: all those section and desk editors. what… 40 people and then their reporters and photographers and then his copy editors and typesetters and copy runners and then the press room fellas. they had those vacuum tubes hooked up in his building that would courier messages from one person to another. i remember going there when it was quiet-ish and playing with them with my brothers. the entire office floor walls shared what i call Catholic Bathroom Green: a sea-foam, dinner-mint-creme green, awful shade actually, with a putty tone on the lower half. apparently archdiocese overbought the paint and sold it to the publisher.

when he’d come home to 679, he’d ride his car all the way to the end of the driveway, just outside the back porch. sometimes i would be in bed. other times i would be awake. sometimes i’d see his car and race it to the end, running through the house watching, keeping pace with it as he came to the end of the long concrete mini road and jumping up on the wooden counters to look out the window to see who got there first. if the weather was warm enough, i could hear the opera piping through the speakers of our gray volvo wagon. he would sometimes sit and wait until the end of the music he was experiencing before opening the doors. i knew after a couple failed attempts at greeting him during those moments to wait for him to get out of the car first. if there is one thing my father loves as much as writing, it’s music. don’t get between him and a Bach cantata.

no child’s life is perfect. no child lives in a frigging fantasy land; people make mistakes. if you are a parent: do the best you can. if you are a grown child, recognize that your parents are human. nothing has taught me more about the struggles of trying to be that Be All End All parent who shows up at soccer, chess, tennis, guitar, crew, basketball, musicals, plays, bedtimes, bathtimes, morning times and all the other times in between and the mind-numbing exhaustion from doing so, than looking back on the way my parents raised me. i was a tough kid to work with. i went into their stuff. i took their tools, their scissors, their crayons, their things — but that’s how life is. i can’t blame my own kids for taking my things when i did the SAME EXACT THING to my parents. now i know how they felt when i’m looking for something that isn’t there anymore because curious young hands and forgetful spirited minds borrow and don’t return. i am almost 45, my dad and i are adults together now. while i still carry with me the wistful “wonder what if…” moments, i have to give him and my mother the grace, the slack of being human.

anyway, here’s what i wrote to my dad about our old house, “679,” which has had an unyielding romantic hold on me for 31 years. it has never let me go … but maybe now i am free. happy father’s day, dad. thank you for all you did right and thank you just for trying when you might’ve swung and completely missed. i’m still here: that counts for something! 🙂 i love you.

the family turner in 1977ish.i was around 10.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

i dreamt about 679 again last night; today would have been our last day in it 31 years ago. that house calls to me so often in my sleep. memories, new adventures, ephemera, moments that seem to last days. they lick the fringes of my consciousness like flames around a log.

679 in her winter glory.

i dreamt specifically about the large mahogany pocket door in the dining room. i remember as a kid, i would pull it just a hair past the limit to look into the wall and spy the ancient lathing. wondering, as a young mind inspired by nancy drew might, if there were forgotten treasure in the walls. in the dream, the lathing was intact, as i’m sure it still is today. no treasure. just the house. that was treasure enough.

i don’t know what it is about that house. it has a soul, a spirit all its own. maybe the loss of potential, the sadness of never seeing all that water whenever we wanted, anymore. so much more than that i know.

the irony is that i was my current age in that dream. dan and i had bought it; it was going to be demo’d for condos or something. i remember distinctly asking about WiFi – isn’t that ridiculous? and wondering if a bathroom was ever installed on the main level instead just the one upstairs. i walked around it, marveling at how much of it had changed and looked out the window for my car: it wasn’t there. i looked for the pipestem i live on now that so safely and securely hosts my kids as they ride their scooters, skateboards, bikes and “harry potter quiddich” brooms. it wasn’t there. the big three lanes, open park and big water was all i saw.

i realized in the dream that i didn’t want to be there anymore, dad. that i wanted the life i have now. i feel like the dream released me, dad, that maybe those days of missing that house and wishing for different are settled now; released to their loamy beds to finally break down and nourish the earth.

those final days in that house were pivotal for us all. would that we could have moved the actual house, 487 miles south east, i suppose we might’ve tried. how can a house do that to us: hold us for so long -so long! 31 years!- after we’ve bid our final farewells? gah… my throat is tight just thinking about it. it protected us from blizzards and rainstorms and hail and wind, fierce winds sweeping off that water.

so many stories those walls can tell. so many things those windows have seen. so many conversations and dreams and memories within those doors. the new delft chandelier in the dining room; i remember when you brought that home. and upon our move out: pristine black walnut floors beneath those awful 70s pistachio-toned carpets. i won’t ask whose idea that was.

so i think you moved in after i was born, after the oft-mentioned apartment on park street. and then on june 15, about a dozen years later, mom’s bday we moved to virginny. through thick and thin, you and mom have made it almost 50 years – in 23 days, you will celebrate your golden anniversary – huzzah!

i’m reading this over and i think i’m gonna post this on my blog. one of my fb blog people friends is moving out of her own house soon; they just put it on the market. she has expressed a range of emotions over her own situation. i’m thinking she might like to read it.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

thank you.

lake effect winds and the newspaper boy


i’m not particularly proud of this story, but it’s about 32 years old so i’ll cut myself some slack and tell it anyway because if i do it right, it could be pretty funny. but i’m still at this moment, having trouble making my fingers tap the keyboard with any pride. that said, it’s completely true.

it all began, as most of my recollections do, in buffalo. i was about 12. that makes my older brother about 16 and my younger brother about 8. given that our household was not your typical (or maybe considering the period -more on that in a future post-, it was) household and that i grew up with a fair amount of chaos i can say that as kids, we got away with a lot of mischief. now i can’t go an’ blame my mom or dad about this because frankly, i knew what we were doing was just not appropriate. but… when the cat’s away (or uninvolved) the rats will play.

in the 20th century there was a phenomenon known as a “paper boy” this was a human person not made of wood pulp of pre- to post-adolescence age who operated a daily “route” to deliver newspapers to people’s homes per their paid subscription. often these paper boys (who were usually boys) had a large canvas bag sidling the hip opposite the shoulder where the strap was slung filled with newspapers. often they would ride their bikes and fling a paper where it would ultimately land on a front lawn or break a window or in the pattern of a lawn sprinkler — it didn’t matter where it landed really, just as long as it made the property line of the subscriber. those kids on the bikes with their bags were the standard, often careening onto the lawns or into the streets or parked cars in the opposite direction of the flung paper due to the laws of physics.

other paper boys, let’s name one in particular Johnny D’-something-ia, for example, were enterprising fellas and had fashioned a radio flyer pull wagon into a full-fledged newspaper delivery crate on wheels. i mention his last name because while i wasn’t a Mc-something or an O’-blah-ahan, i was an Irish kid in a predominantly Italian neighborhood and he lived somewhere nearby. i prefer Italian food. the Irish food i’ve had is not very appealing.  

my dad worked for the morning paper whose paperboys were middle-aged men with 5am shadows and tobaccoffee breath. they would drop their pallets of about 500 bound copies of the daily edition on a street corner. they sat behind the wheel of large delivery trucks making stops to these street corners in the dawn’s early light. so when drivers with probable names like “Mitch” and “Goose” and “Scotty” were dropping inch-long cigarette ashes in the footwells of their bouncing trucks, Johnny was sawing logs and likely dreaming of Chevy Camaros, Farrah Fawcett or throwing the winning ball to O.J. Simpson (hey, O.J. was a hometown hero then). middle-aged men still dream like that too, don’t they?

let’s say for example that this particular Johnny’s box was about 2′ high by 3′ long and say 2′ wide.  i wanna say that it held an entire pallet’s worth of papers. but remember i judged that capacity with younger eyes and something four feet high met my chin.

this box was emblazoned with a home-drawn version of the competing newspaper’s logo on its sides. this kid was proud. it was his job! this newspaper was the evening paper. so it was likely printed in the morning; batched and put on pallets in the late morning and then delivered to those street corners or maybe to a newspaper boy’s route in the early afternoon. (i’m sure my dad, if he’s still daring to read my blog, will correct me.) i had no job.

so if you’ve been keeping score with this blog, you’ll know that my childhood home rested near the edge of Lake Erie. the winds coming from that lake were profound and they would crank up capriciously.

we had a dog named Toby that my aunt gave us by surprise one snowy morning for our father’s birthday. my mother hated that dog; my father liked the dog. i still recollect with a fair amount of sadness how either Toby or my mother managed to survive their existence with each other. being around my mom made Toby behave in a nearly feral way. my mom offended him whenever she could.

anyway, Toby loved us kids. we loved him too. he was a mix of beagle and either husky or malamute for he LOVED the snow and to pull our sled through the snow on our ways home from the penny candy store. and like huskies, he tried to run away as often as possible.

Toby hated the newspaper boy named Johnny. they had a very complicated relationship. it wasn’t so much that Toby was allowed to roam free about the neighborhood, but given his affection for my mother, he managed to get out quite a bit. hmm… maybe she let him out hoping he’d get hit by the car he eventually survived. being chained to a steel cork-screw stake in the backyard apart from all the action didn’t help either, i’m sure. sometimes Toby would just get loose and we’d go after him.

same time every day, Johnny would come around, tossing his competing newspapers this way and that all while pulling that massive wagon. he would often park it, right in front of our house, to hoist open the lid of the wagon while watching us sit with Toby. he’d restock his bag and do his thing. he would use bricks to weigh down the papers as he left the lid open…. leaving his box of competing newspapers vulnerable.

vulnerable to the wind. that’s all. just sayin’…

this happened every day. sometimes we were home, others we were at piano lessons or grocery shopping or at mass with our grandparents (don’t ask). but we knew it was going on. it had for years.

you’re smart. you can see where this is going, can’t you?

my older brother could get our younger brother to do just about anything. one day, my younger brother on the advice of our older brother decided to have a chat with Johnny. now Johnny was about 14, maybe 15 years old, tops but he was small for his age. my younger brother was about 8 or 9. as i look at my Thing 3, who’s 8 at the moment, i can’t for the LIFE of me envision him going up to a 15 year-old kid and doing what my brother did. well, actually i lie. i can. eight-year-old boys with older brothers have moxie on loan.

the chat we intended for them to have was quite simple and it went along the lines of: “we don’t like you parking your box of newspapers from the competing company in front of our house. we want you to go somewhere else and do it.” i’m sure, as i consider Thing 3, that the message wouldn’t have been quite as smooth but maybe just as effective. i can see him looking back at his brothers as he cranes his neck and squinches his face to say, “what? i’m supposed to say what?! why don’t we like this?”

Johnny didn’t agree with my brother. Johnny was, truth be told, cut from a tougher cloth. we might have been like Irish linen: fresh, strong and breezy, suitable for sport clothes and tablecloths and cleaning dishes whereas Johnny was cut from say, burlap. he was scrappy and clearly enterprising, but not very flexible.

this tete-a-tete between my brother(s) and the dog and Johnny went on for a few months, growing in intensity from time to time with stares and mutterings.

our pride was bruised. this kid, with his hundreds of competing papers, openly thumbed his scrappy nose at us and our family’s livelihood on a daily basis. we wanted revenge. it was humiliating.

i guess.

so one particular day, vengeance was ours. it was very windy. it was stormy and it was our moment. for likely the 728th time, Toby saw Johnny throw the competing papers and walk up our street. grab, throw, walk. grab, toss, walk.

to a dog, this must’ve been very offensive. or … it looked like a lot of fun.

Johnny pulled his cart up to our driveway, parked it and looked at us spitefully. it might’ve not been spitefully actually. he could’ve just been squinting because he needed glasses because i saw him wearing them later on.

Johnny had his thick white pad with him this time. that pad meant he was collecting fees for the paper service. these visits with customers usually took a few minutes so time was on our side.

without notice, my younger brother took off down the front yard hill, into the wind with his hair blowing wildly and arms outspread as if to prepare for liftoff. Toby was running along barking and looking around as if to say, “this is fun! right?”

Johnny, who was about 100 feet from his cart, looked up from our neighbor’s driveway and saw my brother and Toby on the approach. Johnny started whistling and yelling at my brother to call him off, Toby must’ve thought he was calling him because he perked up, switched direction and galloped toward Johnny, which was an unwelcome move.

my brother was still on the bee-line for the wagon. the wind was picking up and the sky was getting crowded with birds, clouds and leaves.

with time being of the essence (whatever that means) i got up to help my brother and be there with him in case things got physical. when we got there, i grabbed the bricks and we turned the cart just so the wind could scoop into the box and get an edge of the front page section, giving life to dozens of gray-tone newly unfolded newsprint sheets.

a cyclone of Dear Abby, furniture ads, real estate announcements, legal notices, want ads, Family Circus, Peanuts, obituaries, sports highlights, arson reports, classifieds, op-eds, stock market analyses, theater reviews, movie listings, letters to the editor and more grew wings and went up, up, up and up and away amid Johnny’s cries, thrusted by the pressure of his feet pounding on the ground as he ran from the barking Toby. Johnny was undignified, red-faced, arms flailing, shrieking and spitting tear-laden obscenities in Italian and English and ultimately pointing at me and my brothers who were, i am ashamed to say about 30′ away on our front hill, laughing our butts off. the papers were everywhere. we were pretty undignified too.

Johnny didn’t seem so much like burlap anymore. i didn’t feel so much like Irish linen.

from a strategic standpoint, our achilles’ heel in all of this was revealing to Johnny who we were and what our dad did for a living. we are lucky our actions didn’t make either paper’s City section. when my dad found out, oh my god. my mom was hysterical. i’m sure we were punished or yelled at or somehow disciplined but the consequences didn’t last long as i grew up with a fair amount of chaos. that level of intensity which was followed by an almost magical calm was familiar to us.

Johnny’s mom ran his route with him for a few weeks after that. i could see that they were in dire straits financially and didn’t enjoy the benefits we had of a dad who worked at an executive level and a mom who could stay home with us in a big house that faced Canada. their clothes were dirty and she was overweight, pushing a stroller alongside the massive newspaper bin. i think there were newspapers in the stroller. so … um…

they needed the money that Johnny earned on his route. i felt pretty bad about the newspaper a-go-go. but kids are kids. we are impulsive and we don’t think about the next moments or the larger-picture consequences our actions have on others. he didn’t continue his route — or at least the way he ran it when we engaged with each other — after that summer.

i remember that i looked for him around the neighborhood to apologize, half hoping that he’d ignore me or call me something profane in Italian.

thank you.