A Thousand Wounds Deep
Alone in the twilight, restless, steeped in anger and regret
This battle-scarred warrior, broken thoughts he can never forget
Pacing and brooding. All the injustices of the universe
Have swallowed him up, leaving him aching and hurt
Head in hands, pretty faces replay time and again in his mind
Always the beginning of hope, a flutter of the heart, the fruitful find
Those first sleepy, warm mornings of discovery and sunny days
The bloom of love, the beat of a heart that this time will stay
Until the pain of the past grips his heart like a vice
Squeezing out the fury, pressing his mind against the ice
The unseen injuries. The hidden disease. The fractured soul.
Haunts his path and follows wherever he goes
Shutting down, shutting them out, he closes the door
Can’t share. Hides the fear. Breaks a tender heart once more.
Perplexed by his chronic desolation, he blames the lovelies.
The arms that tried to comfort him. The hearts that he pushed aside.
No sense can be persuaded when someone remains willfully blind
Only others on that bitter, murky path understand. The same kind.
Warriors who live to see another day gripped by horrors that will never set them free
Hiding the scars that are a thousand wounds deep.
Our finances were a mess, and until that was sorted out, leaving Tom now was a losing proposition. I would be packing up my clothes, having a garage sale, and beginning my life over again at 47 with nothing. That was not happening. I didn’t put up with his shit and work my ass off for the past 20 years to be homeless, in debt, and single. I needed a plan and I needed to keep my mouth shut until my plan was put into action.
Staying out of sight of the security cameras, I retraced my tracks back to where I’d left my car and sat for a good twenty minutes, just drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, and thinking. I could not face Tom tonight. I would crumble and confess what I knew. I needed to keep this information between me, myself, and I.
Pulling out my cell phone I pushed his number and left a text message, ‘Hi, Hun, the nursing home called tonight about Mom. She’s having a bad time, so I’ll be spending the night with her. Sorry- love you. Tanya.’
Good. Now all I had to do was find a motel that wouldn’t blink twice at my weird get-up. I needed an anonymous place to get my thoughts in order before I screwed this up royally.
20 years, I thought bitterly. 20 years of always listening to this jackass and doing everything he thought was best for us. Good grief. What the hell was wrong with me? Our house had already been mortgaged a second time and once again we were looking at another bankruptcy, with our debts piling up even worse than before.
“I need a new car. I can’t be driving around a piece of shit to client’s businesses”’, he had explained to me like I was a toddler, incapable of making sense of the grown-up world of business.
I had folded, thinking he knew best. After all, I was just a substitute teacher in an elementary school. What did I know? What I knew was we couldn’t afford to live his lie. He was the only one who couldn’t see it. A country club membership with golf games every weekend. Dinners at the club that we paid for with an already over-extended credit card, which the bank was one payment away from snatching from us. His pricey suits and Italian shoes. He was able to impress Miss “I’m getting a raise.” I guess that was worth it to him.
Now we were in a world of financial hurt and if I left him now, I’d be leaving with the clothes on my back unless the credit cards took those back too. Hey, maybe I could get a job on a street corner? Or not. Who wanted to pay for sex with a 47-year-old woman who was going gray and had put on an extra two dress sizes during the pandemic?
Tom didn’t even want this for free.
I checked on my phone for motels in the area and found three that looked promising. The closest one was the ‘Rest Inn’. It was five minutes away from my location, so I drove past it, quickly. Ugh. Nope. Not while I still had working credit cards.
The next motel was even scarier looking, so I opted for the Homewood Suites on the other side of town. At least it would be clean and safe. The night clerk barely looked at me, or my odd wardrobe. In the morning I would stop in to look in on my mother and snag a few of her slacks and blouses to get me through until I could sneak back and get my clothes while Tom was at work.
My next planned substitute day was on Thursday, so that gave me two days to get some of my ducks in a row. I had a gun now, so I could shoot those ducks too if I chose. I’d push going home off as long as I wanted and Tom would never be the wiser, nor would he care. My mother had frequent emergencies when she could not remember where she was or who the people around her were. Much of my time was taken up at the nursing home, keeping her grounded.
The book club didn’t meet again until next Monday, so most of my obligations were taken care of. I’d just stay at the Homewood Suites until this card was maxed out. There was a Denny’s all-night restaurant down the road from the hotel, so I stopped there and ignored the strange looks my classy clothing got from the staff.
While eating my early breakfast it dawned on me that I could do whatever I wanted to. An invisible spirit floating above my reality. Is this what freedom felt like after 20 years of being joined at the ring finger to a man-baby? Always being there for his convenience, doing his laundry, cooking, dishes, and cleaning up after him while he whined about all the hard work and hours he was putting into his career, ‘for us’.
A weight lifted off my chest when it sunk in that my only responsibilities unless I chose otherwise, would be to myself and my mother. No more insufferable golf games to make up a foursome, with him nagging and criticizing every freakin’ swing and complaining that if he wasn’t stuck with me, he would have won. No more late evenings and early mornings prepping for the work bar-b-ques, which he Insisted always be held at our house. He would tell me what to prepare and I would dutifully create these monstrous salads, dips, and snacks for his beer-guzzling office homies and their mistresses of the month or spoiled wives, whom I had absolutely nothing in common with. It seemed as though once everything was served, there was simply no reason for me to stick around, as no one even noticed if I stayed or left. Not even Tom. Not that I was a perfect person, remembering one time when I was particularly annoyed with having to cook for hours for people I could barely stand to be near. So annoyed that I spit into the onion dip as I was mixing it up. Spit, spat, sput? I’m not sure which of those apply. But yes, they were enjoying it, thinking that double-dipping was their only problem.
Without his slave to cook up his bar-b-q side dishes I wondered if he would try to return his Grille-Boss-5000 and get his money back. Money, which he would need for the divorce lawyer, I thought, giggling over the Eggs over My Hammy and coffee, hoping this chef wasn’t as evil as I was.
Of course, I could follow the mirror’s good advice and just torture him for the next thirty or so years instead of divorcing him. Then, again, as I ruminated over the last twenty years, and the imbalance of our relationship, perhaps things were never as rosy as they had seemed. Had mom’s progressing dementia become such a focus in my life that I missed the signs of a failing marriage?
Just for fun I whipped out a pen from my purse and grabbed a napkin to make a list of all the things that annoyed me, hurt me, or generally pissed me off about our marriage.
1. Tom’s ridiculous money philosophies
2. His peacockery- fancy clothes, haircuts, etc.
3. His ridicule and disrespect
4. Having to wait on his useless work pals and their sluts
5. God damned golf. I hated it. Always have and always will.
6. He never asked me how my day went while he bored me to death with tales from the dullest job on earth- insurance broker...zzzzz
7. His snipes about my weight, hair, lack of phony eyelashes, crazy painted-on eyebrows, and makeup.
8. Nothing I ever did was quite good enough for him.
9. He hasn’t visited Mom since she went into the nursing home over a year ago. He couldn’t even pretend to care.
10. How he bitched at me about literally everything.
11. Lastly, why am I just noticing these things now? WTF is wrong with me?
Oh, God. I’m a crazy woman, I almost said out loud as I reviewed my scribbled observations on the wrinkled napkin. I’ve been living like a hunk of dog shit being dragged around on someone’s shoe for the past twenty years and didn’t know it. It’s not like Tom all of a sudden turned into a selfish, foolish slob. How could I have played dumb all these years?
Maybe I was too caught up in caring for my mother, working as many hours as I could get at the school, all my volunteer work, and keeping up with my book club to notice who I was married to. That probably happens to many women my age. Feeling comfortable, not wanting to look too deeply into our marriages. Settling for what we had so we wouldn’t rock the boat. As I was now finding out, rocking the boat had to be done carefully because there was always a chance you were going to end up in the drink with your spouse.
After several more reviews of my list of ‘cons’, and a trip to the ladies’ room to empty my bladder of leftover wine and a carafe and a half of coffee, I drove across the parking lot to the hotel. Hardly any cars in the parking lot assured me there would be a room at the Inn for me tonight. Leaving Tom’s ripped-up, oversized hoodie in the car, I quickly ran through the dark, spooky parking lot and into the well-lit lobby.
Handing over my license and credit card I asked for a suite with a kitchenette for a week. The clerk took down the information and ran the card, never mentioning that the address on my license said I lived about ten miles away. A sale is a sale is a sale, I suppose.
The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own. The anger pouring out of my heart had frozen my face into a stone mask of fury and indignation. 'Who did he think he was?' I raged internally. 'He was not going to get away with this.'I tried to calm myself by splashing cold water on my face and reapplying my makeup, hoping to soften the bitter resentment that was showing.
That son of a bitch had been cheating on me for months. Without an accidental eavesdropping encounter at the supermarket, I still would have been in the dark. It was a good thing that bastard wanted Swiss Cheese, or I'd never have found out. I'll give him holes...
Trust was a four-letter word, as far as I was concerned. I wasn't going down without a fight. If he wanted that tall blonde with the big boobs he was going to have to claw his way out of my clutches first. Good luck with that, pal. I was reapplying my mascara when I noticed a fogged section on the mirror. That was odd. There wasn't any hot water running. Running my fingers over the haze on the mirror it was apparent that the fog was coming from the inside of the mirror. Hmm. I touched up my eyeliner and chose a bright coral lipstick to go with my blood-red fingernails. It was time to pull out the femme-fatale on my dear husband, Tom.
Damn. The frost on the mirror was spreading, leaving me with half a lip unpainted. What the heck? Inside the layers of glass and steel, a message appeared, seemingly written by an invisible finger. 'REVENGE', stood out in bold relief behind the mirror's glass. As quickly as it appeared, the word disappeared, leaving the mirror clear once again. My imagination was running away with me, I thought, painting my lower lip with the shiny coral gloss. Revenge was a pretty good idea. However, first I was going to make him regret turning his back on me. If you are my man, you have to be all mine. I don't play well with other children, and I don't share.
I ran a razor over my legs and massaged his favorite lotion over them until they were silky smooth. The scent of coconut and honeysuckle drove him wild. Exactly where I wanted him- in the wild- with only me. Putting on the scarlet red panties and bra with the lacy teddy, I smiled, thinking of the trap he would be walking into tonight. The black silk stockings and high heels were the icing on this delectable cheesecake. Cheat on me? I don’t think so, cupcake.
One last check in the mirror before my dearest, faithful husband came home from a hard day at his job, screwing the blonde bimbo who worked at the front desk. I do so hope he got a raise for all his overtime. Poor dear. Before I flipped off the bathroom light, another message from the fickle finger in the foggy mirror appeared, 'Torture him.' The mirror and I were in perfect agreement, revenge, and torture were definitely on the menu for tonight. I giggled and went downstairs to await my knight in tarnished armor. After pouring a good-sized glass of red wine, I settled onto the sofa with my legs displayed provocatively, just barely hinting at the secret delights beneath the red lace.
Sipping wine, I waited patiently for the unsuspecting fly to snag himself in my web. My blood boiled as I thought back on the afternoon at the market, hearing that brainless twit giggling about how she would be getting a raise this year because she sure gave her boss a raise. Not on my watch, bimbo. Not on my watch.
I refilled the glass with more wine and checked my phone. It was after seven and there were no missed messages. Hopefully, Tom wouldn't be too tired out from 'working' overtime. Mama had a honey-do list to die for. Maybe he'll give me a raise.
At eight o'clock I made a run to the bathroom to pee an entire bottle of wine into the toilet. That was funny. The wine started out red. Now it was yellow. Huh. It was a miracle. As I washed my hands the message in the mirror read, 'What are you waiting for? You know where they are.' That was it. The mirror was right. I knew exactly where they were, and a scrap of an idea was taking shape inside my wine-drenched mind.
I threw on my jeans and a loose sweater and topped off the look with one of Tom's dark hoodie sweatshirts. I slipped on a pair of his running shoes. They were a bit large, so I tucked a ball of tissues into the toes so I could walk in them, disguising my footsteps. Next, I rummaged through the lock box where he kept his pistol. It was a Glock something or other. I checked the magazine and there were ten bullets in it. Good. Five rounds for them each- if I was lucky. I stumbled into the bathroom for a quick clean-up of my makeup, which had started to run about half a bottle ago.
The mirror had one last message for me, 'Save one bullet for yourself. Or you could forgive him.'
Forgive him? Forgive him? I'd rather eat a bullet.
I snagged his extra set of car keys out of the tray along with mine and hurried out to the driveway, with the Glock in the hoodie pocket. The plan solidified as I drove through the city to the building where he and that blonde whore worked. I parked down the street, out of view of cameras, and walked quickly to the insurance company's parking lot behind the office building.
Quietly opening the driver's door of my husband's car, I slipped into the seat and kept the door open just a crack, so I'd be ready to pounce when my prey appeared. It was almost ten o'clock before I saw them, arms slung over each other's shoulders, laughing loudly at something terribly witty, I'm sure. The blood was pounding in my head and the parking lot turned to a red haze as they approached his car. About twenty or so yards from the car, Tom must have noticed the overhead light on before the bimbo did. "Hey, what the heck? I hope the battery isn't dead."
My heart was pounding in my throat as I fumbled, trying to pull out the handgun. I tore the hoodie pocket, extricating the handgun. I couldn't remember if the safety button was red or black. If the safety was on, I wouldn't be able to get off a shot before Tom cornered me. It was getting more complicated the closer they came to the car. What was I doing? If he left me for that woman he'd be gone and if I killed him, he'd still be gone. Either way, I would lose because I still loved him and my heart would be broken without him, no matter how he left me.
I remembered the last mirror message, 'Save one bullet for yourself. Or you could forgive him.'
G-Is for String
My dorm mates had read about an amateur dance contest at a nightclub in
Rochester, New York, a short jaunt from our campus. They were convinced that I
would take first prize if I entered it. They were also convinced they would have
much more fun at a fancy club in the city than hanging out at the local watering
holes with the townies.
After an hour of transforming me into a short Barbie hooker in a shiny tube top and short shorts with way too much mascara and eyeliner, the five of us loaded into one girl’s little Ford Mustang and headed into the big city.
No GPS or cellphone guidance back then in the 1970s. We had to ask for directions at every street corner. We sure raised a lot of eyebrows when a load of college girls asked where that particular club was.
The club was big, posh, and a little intimidating. Especially to a bunch of girls from mostly small towns, who had only been to neighborhood bars before. It was like being in a movie scene- they even gave us real cocktail glasses, with napkins. No red solo cups in that joint.
There were twenty or so candle-lit tables set up around what used to be a dining room, with the stage tucked into a corner of the room, so patrons at the bar area could also view it. The dressing room for the strippers was located in the old kitchen, which was right behind the stage. The wait staff consisted of young women in black skirts and low-cut black blouses.
The house strippers who weren’t onstage or preparing for a show were seated at tables, casually chatting with the customers, sipping on cocktails, and smoking their cigarettes. They were dressed in elegant gowns and high heels, making me feel very out of place in my short Barbie hooker get-up.
The drinks were expensive, so we had to pool our money to meet the two-drink minimum. There was a real DJ, named Wolfman Jack, who introduced the entertainers, and it didn’t take long for us to realize what sort of dance contest this was going to be. I wanted to leave but was glued to my seat out of sheer, morbid curiosity and the fact that we had just spent all of our money on the two-drink requirement.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Wolfman shouted, “I use that term loosely, please welcome our feature stripper of the night, all the way from the Combat Zone in Boston, Boom-Boom Taylor, and her Boom-booms!”
Boom-boom scared the heck out of me. Adding to her already statuesque six-foot physique, she wore six-inch pencil-thin stiletto heels and sported a monstrous, flaming-red, beehive hairdo. Even without all the extra accouterment, I suspected she surely must have played basketball in another lifetime. Her skin-tight gown glittered in the spotlight as she stalked around the stage with authority, knowing that all eyes were on her and her boom-booms. She never did anything akin to dancing. She strutted about like a Gestapo commandant inspecting the prisoners before choosing his quarry.
When she zeroed in on her victims sitting ringside, she would flop her cement bag bosoms in their faces and laugh hysterically at their surprised reactions. Men, women, waitresses, cockroaches, it didn’t matter. Whomever or whatever was close enough to the stage got a face full of boom-booms.
By her second song, she had flung her shiny gown over the DJ’s head, proving what I had suspected all along. She had given up her basketball career for something more lucrative- stripping. Her act ended with a dirty ditty about a dentist asking someone to ‘open wide’. She obliged the dentist by rolling around on a tooth-shaped cushion, dressed only in a flimsy G-String.
That night I learned that strippers only had two rules; keep your nipples covered with things called ‘pasties’, and make sure all your hair ‘down there’ was tucked neatly into something called a G-String, which was a piece of fabric no bigger than a square of Charmin toilet tissue.
Well, well, well, so it was that kind of dancing. It was more than a little disturbing to me. But it was dancing. Not only was it dancing, but it was also dancing in my own style and I knew, without a doubt, that I could outdance the featured stripper from the Combat Zone, wherever that was. When one of the house strippers took me back to the dressing room to get ready for the amateur show, I was informed that there were ‘go-go’ dancers, who did not take off their clothes and ‘strippers’, who did. I was to be the former, as I was nineteen years old and had a firm set of 36Cs. Plus, no one wanted to share pasties with a stranger. That was not a problem, as I hadn’t planned on removing my clothing anyway.
The DJ decided to put me on after Jackie Cantrell’s Rubber Ducky bath routine, which seemed innocent enough until the duck went under the bubbles. Wow. The bouncer had to remove Jackie’s swimming pool from the stage and wipe up the water when she was finished with her show. It hadn’t quite dried up by the time they announced the amateur contest, and the floor was still pretty slick when I walked out onto the stage on shaking legs.
I think I almost vomited. No, wait. I almost passed out. Nope. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was vomited. At any rate, about halfway through the song I realized I was not breathing, nor were my feet moving. I was so scared I couldn’t stop shaking.
So much for outdancing Boom-boom. My friends were in the audience somewhere, hiding behind the spotlight that was blinding me. I stumbled through the rest of the song and ran off stage, humiliated by the fact that all my work and practicing had resulted in a nothing-burger performance, showing that I could stand up and wave my arms around. Ugh. Perhaps that was it. I simply wasn’t cut out for a dancing career.
After my humiliating performance, I had to listen to the roaring applause for the next amateur dancer, Baby Jane. We figured Jane was somewhere between forty and sixty-five years old. Toothless, with thinning bleached blonde hair and no makeup, Jane was a shameless marvel. Every time there was an amateur contest in a Rochester strip club, Jane was there, ready in her battered go-go boots and mini skirt. The crowd loved her because when they hooted and hollered, she would get more creative. Jane, Jane, Jane. She never paid heed to the rules, mostly because they didn’t apply to her. No pasties? No problem. Her naked nipples were usually hidden somewhere between her knees. No G-String? Also, no problem. The G-String would only cover what was already hidden behind her drooping belly. No one could tell if she was completely naked or not.
If Jane had imbibed enough the other strippers informed me that she would offer amateur gynecological tours of her inside organs. The house strippers hated Jane because there was just no way another dancer could follow something like that. Even Boom-Boom was appalled and when you looked up the word, ‘appalling’ in the dictionary, Boom-boom’s marquee picture was next to it.
As I was making my way back to the table where my friends were sitting, an older gentleman stopped me and asked if I was interested in having a dance agent. Thinking he was simply making fun of me I almost ignored him.
Not wanting to be rude I replied, “Um, I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of dancing.”
“Look, every dancer freezes up the first couple of times onstage,” he assured me, “you’ll get over it. My girlfriend used to be scared to death. But she ended up loving it and got over her stage fright. Listen, I’m Don, here’s my card.” He said as he tucked his business card into my hand. “Call me, I can get you into some friendlier, smaller clubs to start.”
Like a sleepwalker, I took his card and walked to the table and told my friends what happened. When I told my friends about the offer, they were positively giddy. A flurry of encouragement came from my partners in crime:
“Do it! Do it! You can borrow my car.”
“I’ll help you with costumes if you want.”
“I’ll do your makeup.”
“Can we come to town with you and hang out?”
“Oh, my gosh! You’re going to be a professional dancer and you already have a real agent!”
Don didn’t have to ask me to think about this offer because that’s all I thought about for the next week. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Finally, by Thursday of the following week, I called Don and told him I was ready to work weekends in the city. He took down my dorm floor phone number and called me back after he had found a club for me to work on Friday and Saturday of that very week, giving me the club’s phone number in case I got lost.
Oh, my gosh, I’d just gotten my first official dancing job. My dorm mates were ecstatic and wanted to come with me for support, and to hang out in the city for an evening or two. I skipped classes on Friday to work on my costumes and practice my dance moves. Everything was a blur until we, once again, piled into the Mustang and went back to the city for my first official dancing job.
The Rendezvous was the first club Don booked me into. It had been a steakhouse that had fallen upon hard times and the owner thought that bringing dancing girls in would keep him from going under. The stage was a slab of plywood that could be viewed from the bar and the dining room. The dancers had to walk through the crowd in the dining room to get to the dressing room. The stage was also just near enough to the front door to catch every draft when the door opened. The Winter I worked there, I noticed that the snow would sometimes accumulate on one side of the stage, creating an interesting twist on footing.
After that first, exciting weekend, my college friends found other activities for their adventures, and I had to find other girls to borrow cars from for my trips to the city. As a matter of fact, after a while, my friends became a little cold toward me. It was fine for me to take their help in getting into this business. But now that I was an actual stripper, they treated me with a bit of disdain. While my college friends were pulling away, my new dance friends were warm, accepting, and helpful to me. That made the decision to leave school even easier after the semester ended.
There was always a good egg at every club who would take me under her wing and work on different aspects of exotic dancing with me. Go-go girls were phasing out and everyone was becoming exotic dancers. At the Rendezvous, I worked with a sultry stripper named Bobbie Brown, (think Ginger, from Gilligan’s Island) who taught me to ditch the barefoot, modern dance look for heels. She slowly started changing my cringy, new dancer looks by showing me how to wear wigs, false eyelashes, and stripper gowns, instead of short-shorts and midriff-baring tops. She also told me to slow down and make the audience wait for the strip in stripper.
Bobbie didn’t know it then, but her advice influenced my performance style for the next thirteen years. Every time I worked at the Rendezvous with Bobbie she would share more exotic dance secrets with me, and sometimes I would spend the weekends at her apartment. We’d go out for breakfast together after work and spend Saturdays talking about dance ideas. She was not worried about a nineteen-year-old rookie with a big chest stealing her thunder. She was born a star. She once demonstrated she could keep an audience of horny men in rapture for twenty minutes by showing them only the top of her thigh at the last minute of her set. Her kindness and warmth to me were an oasis while my school friends were distancing themselves from me.
As my bank account began to grow and my dance wardrobe filled up my dorm closet, schoolwork mattered less and less to me. My grades were plummeting, and I couldn’t care less. My agent, Don, booked me into a different club for my second month of stripping. It was called La Florina. Annie, a belly-dancing teacher, worked there and became my new mentor. She helped me learn belly dance moves and isolations to add to my footwork. She also shared with me that the dancers at the first club I auditioned at with the amateur contest called me ‘Tits and Teeth’, for two obvious reasons and my smile. I suppose it could have been worse. They could have called me ‘Baby Jane’.
Something Annie had said to me stuck with me also during my thirteen-year career. ‘Never do anything to compromise who you are inside. If a club wants you to do something you are uncomfortable with, just say no. There are hundreds of other places to work.’ There were dozens of times I found myself unemployed because I refused to sit at a bar and ask customers to buy me phony drinks or let customers touch me inappropriately, or let the bartenders pimp me off. I also refused to do what is called ‘a spread’, which was a floor routine that showed off my baby-making apparatus.
Nope. Sorry. That wasn’t for public viewing. There were occasions when the money situation should have made me comply, but I just couldn’t do any of those things in good conscience.
La Florina was in an old building, but the owner kept his club immaculate. There was a twenty-foot real mahogany bar as you walked in that had leather, fancy bar stools, and real crystal chandeliers hanging over it. The liquor bottles were polished and set in front of a shiny mirror that made the club look twice as big. Its stage was set up in the dining room on the opposite side of the bar and had real hardwood- not plywood. Everything about the club screamed Italian country style, down to the red and white checkered tablecloths, candles in old wine bottles on each table, and white, crystalline, hanging light strands decorating the walls.
The bartender was a mixologist, a rare breed in the bars I was to work at in the future. He introduced me to Grasshopper cocktails and no one else could make them quite as John did. John ran the day-to-day business for the owner, who only showed up on occasion. The owner’s sister, Antoinette ran the lunches, cleaned, and played house mother to distraught dancers.
Sometimes, after hours I would stay behind and help her sweep, clean the tables, and prep for the next day’s lunches.
“What a shame you quit college. Most of these girls would give their right eye teeth for the chance you gave up, you know?” She liked to remind me.
“I know, Antoinette. It’s just that I always wanted to dance and when I finally got the chance, I had to take it.”
“Well, just be careful in this business. There are more bad people than good, and you need to be picky about who you keep company with. Fidarsi e bene non fidarsi e meglio,” she warned.
“Sounds like something my grandmother D’Angelo would say. What does it mean?” I asked.
“To trust is good but not to trust is better.”
I should have heeded her warning because trusting people would soon be my downfall. My agent began booking me at a new club, called The Beer Barrel. It was a huge party barn that was always packed with cheering patrons. These guys tossed dollar bills at the stage for us with abandon. That was cool- and lucrative. The Beer Barrel used to be a warehouse that the owners had turned into a beer and sandwich place, with the added benefit of topless dancers. Men from every factory and office in the area crowded the place from noon until two in the morning.
The service bar was at the back of the club and the kitchen was situated behind that. All day and night sandwiches were pumped out by the dozens and the waitresses were probably pulling in $200. in tips every day. Sometimes, especially on the weekends, there’d be over two-hundred drunken revelers pounding on their tables for the dancers, yelling, ‘Shake it!’ or ‘Take it off, baby!’
Fortunately, there was a staff of five, burly bouncers who kept the uproar to a minimum. Although, one of the dancers, Cece, ended up getting tossed from one table to another by a bunch of college kids after a football game. That didn’t last long, as the whole crew got airlifted out of the club by the bouncers.
At the Barrel I met my friend, Jackie, who was my agent’s girlfriend. Another good Catholic girl who just loved to dance. Jackie was short and a bit stocky with curly, dark hair, which she dippity-dooed into stick-straight locks. She was old-school rock and roll and when Jackie got her fringed mini skirt bouncing the club lost it. Shake, Rattle, and Roll would roar through the speakers and the regulars would be screaming for her.
We had different styles, that’s for sure. But she was down to earth and had a great sense of humor. We got along like sisters. She was saving up to start her own dog grooming business and was well on her way.
Most dancers had a financial goal of some kind, or simply realized they were not going to make it on $1.75 an hour minimum wage. $70-$80 bucks a day was hard to let go of. Back in 1973, it was an unbelievably good wage for young women with no college degree.
I also met my newest friend at the Barrel. Marjorie was thirty-two, and had two kids by men she couldn’t really remember very well. She was always high and never bothered to change her dance style, no matter what the newest music trends were. She would take one long step to the right, bend over, touch the hat perched on her pretty, little blonde head, straighten up and start over again. Because she was small and blonde the clubs loved her even if she couldn’t dance her way out of a paper bag. Marjorie was all for me leaving college to work full time and when she offered me a place to stay, I jumped at the chance.
As soon as I returned from Christmas break in 1974, I packed up my things and left college behind for life, love, and adventure in the city. The only problem was facing my parents with this decision. So, I decided not to. That was my standard method of dealing with unpleasant situations, running and hiding. Unfortunately, most of my interactions with my parents turned unpleasant far too easily. This time, though, it would be deserved, and I couldn’t face them.
After I finally moved in with Marjorie, I worked at the clubs every weekday afternoon, plus the evening shift, and even nights on the weekends. My take-home pay at the time was $70. A day. When you consider that I had been earning $1.75 an hour working as a swim instructor at my hometown YWCA the previous year, that was an enormous amount of money for a nineteen-year-old. I was doing what I loved and making buckets of money. It was truly a dream come true.
Every morning, as soon as the bank opened, I was first in line to deposit what I didn't need that day and never missed a deposit. The owner of one of the newer clubs I worked at saw me there and commented that he’d never seen a dancer put money in a bank account before. I thought that was odd. Who needs all that money every day?
All I needed was enough to help Marjorie with rent and groceries with a little leftover to take a cab to work every night. I didn’t need money for drinks at the clubs and I usually didn’t even take them up on their free alcoholic beverage offers. I didn’t do drugs, which is what a few of the dancers spent their money on. The only extra money I spent was on buying items for my own future apartment, dishes, linens, etc. and that didn’t amount to much.
Any more than that was limited to purchasing dance wardrobes, which, at that time, were highly specialized and had to be made by tailors. You couldn’t walk into Walmart and pick up a G-string in the lingerie section and unless there was a Frederick’s of Hollywood nearby you had to either sew your own costumes or have someone else do it for you. Luckily, I could sew and was able to make the basics for myself. Wardrobe edits never ended. Most of my disposable income went into costumes and makeup for the next thirteen years.
Men, you ask. Yes, indeed there were men. Lots of them and I did meet a few men here and there at the clubs whom I dated casually, but nothing serious came of them. I was more interested in where I would be dancing next and how to perform better. When I say casual, I mean that, sincerely, but even after all these years I still remember Fred. Fred was a construction worker who struck up a conversation with me one night at La Florina. He was tall, blond, and good looking and I enjoyed his company. After work we went to my favorite all-night breakfast joint, ’The Toddle House, which was a few blocks away from the club. Breakfast after work was a tradition, especially after dancing all evening. This was the biggest meal of the day for most dancers.
There was a local legend working the grill, named Elmer, who put on a show that rivaled anything we dancers had done earlier in the evening; flipping pancakes high into the air, tossing multiple omelets around in their pans one after the other, chopping fresh ingredients with flying knives like a sushi chef, and balancing dishes up and down his arms to serve the counter munchers. He was incredible to watch, and the food was delicious.
Fred was fun to hang out with and I was having too good a time to call it a night, so I ended up at his apartment. Fortunately, it was dark when we arrived, so I unwittingly stayed over. In the morning light, I woke up alone to see a note telling me to ‘make myself at home and maybe do the dishes and he’d be home at four.’
Yeah, no. That’s not how this works, pal. You weren’t all that good. Do the dishes, indeed. Then I got up and looked around. His place needed much more than the dishes washed. It needed to be condemned by the Board of Health and hosed down by the Fire Department.
I picked my way carefully back to my pile of clothes, got dressed without further contaminating myself, and searched high and low for a phone. While searching for the phone through the detritus of a sloppy single man’s apartment I found a letter from his wife telling him the kids really missed him and she hoped he’d finish this job soon and come back home. Hmm. How very interesting. Now, I definitely wasn’t going to wash his damned dishes. Kiss my ass, Freddy-boy.
Finally locating the phone under a pile of take-out containers and pizza boxes I dialed the cab company. After they answered I realized I had no idea where, exactly, I was. I hung up and called again, once I got my bearings. The front door had no number on it. There was a mailbox in the back of the house though, and I snagged a piece of mail with his address on it.
Calling the cab company again, I recited the address I had found and waited. Ten minutes later I heard a car horn honking. I quickly ran out to the front of the apartment to the terraced sidewalk and saw nothing. I ran back through the apartment to the back where the mailbox was and still saw no cab.
I called the company again, feeling frustrated, I gave the operator the address and waited patiently.
‘Honk, Honk, HONK!’
I ran out the front door and looked down at the street, seeing no cab again I raced through the obstacle course of Fred’s apartment and looked out the back door. Nothing. One more time I dialed the cab company and the operator said, “Look, lady, next time you go home with your john, make sure you know where the hell he lives. We ain’t sending another cab.” Click.
Ouch! I won’t be calling them anymore for rides and I sure as hell wasn’t going to end up at Fred’s garbage dump of an apartment with no address again. Maybe his wife will visit and wash his dishes for him.
I never saw Fred again until just before I quit dancing, thirteen years later. He wandered into a club I was working at and poured on the Southern charm. Apparently, he had been living down South since I saw him last.
“You just disappeared! Where did you go? I looked all over and couldn’t find you. I missed you so much.” He drawled.
“And you are?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember me?” He asked with a pained expression.
I did, but why give him the satisfaction of thinking he was Memorable?
“Nope. The face doesn’t ring a bell.”
“We met at La Florina, went out for breakfast, and had a rocking good time at my place. Then you just disappeared. I tried and tried to find you, but you left town or something.”
“Gee, I didn’t go anywhere. Are you sure you were looking in Rochester for me? It couldn’t have been that hard to find me if you had really wanted to.” I replied sarcastically.
Behind his back, my friend, Dianna was making his drink. Having pegged him for the phony asshole he was she prepared a special cocktail for him. One part watered down, well vodka, two parts ice-cubes tossed by hand into his glass, after they made the rounds of her gigantic brassiere and topped off with orange juice, freshly spat into his glass with love.
Karma is best served on ice.
Save One Bullet
The next move was mine.
During my trip to the mall, I intended to buy myself the works, cut, color, nails, pedicure, and finish off the day with a week’s worth of brand-new clothes. If Tom could afford a mistress I certainly was entitled to taking care of myself better than I had been.
It was early enough in the day at the salon they had plenty of openings. After telling the stylist what I wanted she began mixing up a magic potion in a little ceramic cup and snapped on gloves like she was preparing to do a prostate exam. Wait. I don’t have one of those.
She painted my roots first and then let it soak for a while before spreading the rest of the contents over the remaining dry hair. She put me under the hair dryer and took off for a cigarette break while I baked. When I was done, she took me to the sinks in the back of the salon and shampooed the dye out of my hair, scrubbing my scalp until I thought it would bleed. As she twisted and pulled on my hair, I ruminated on the situation Tom had put me into.
How could he do this to me when my life was hard enough with my mother in the nursing home always having emergencies that no one else could tend to. Even though it was easier than when I cared for her at her own home, I still missed many days of work and hours of sleep when she had an incident. I had quit my aerobic classes and my painting classes to make more time for Mom’s care. I felt as though I had no life at all anymore. The book club and subbing at the elementary school were the only outside life I had left.
What kept nagging at me about Tom’s infidelity was not the ‘how’ or ‘why’, it was the ‘when’. When did I lose track of our married life? When did he stop caring and when did I stop noticing? Our sex life had been non-existent for years, as one or the other of us was always too tired, too busy, or simply not interested. Searching through my memory carefully, trying to pin down when, exactly, we had put our love life on the shelf, I realized that it had fizzled out without a whimper.
All I knew was that it had been a relief for me not to have him prodding and nagging me to give in to him. He was probably just as tired of my excuses and passive refusals. With my mom always needing more than I had to share, there wasn’t much left for Tom. He always seemed to handle my constant preoccupation with mom’s condition, reminding me that, “It is what it is.”
I never gave it a thought. Perhaps I should have.
The stylist took me back to her station and began chopping at the layers of my new, vivid auburn hair, creating a chic bob that curved in toward my chin. I loved it even before she applied the highlighter and the foil. When she finally finished applying the highlight, I moved on over to the nail station and let them have at it with both my toes and fingers.
The manicurist finished me up with bright red, unchipped nails. Then I moved back to the sinks for the final rinse. When the hairdresser finished, I had an adorable blunt-cut bob with light auburn highlights that brightened up my skin tone and woke my gray eyes right up. Perfect! Even in my post-pandemic pudginess, the cut and color were to die for!
Before the pandemic had trapped me home with the refrigerator and took away my exercise classes I had been in terrific shape. Now, not so much, I reflected, as I felt the flab around the waistband of my jeans.
At the register, I handed over my credit card, $180. Cha-ching! Nordstrom’s was next on my list for spoiling Mama. Instead of pawing through the sale tables I headed straight for the designer racks and picked out four or five new outfits. Some for school and the rest for me.
My chest and legs were my best features before the pandemic and fortunately, they didn’t suffer from my weight gain, so I deliberately chose clothes and shoes to show those assets off. Out of sheer guilt, I sent Tom a quick text, ‘Hi, letting you know mom is worse than before. The doctor will be in to administer a sedative. I may be here a few days.’ That should hold him for a while.
On my way back to the hotel I stopped at Panera Bread for a quick take-out bite and sat in front of the TV in my room, vegging out before calling it a day. I slept surprisingly well for someone who almost ended up in the Poky for a double murder the previous night.
After doing acrobatics to keep my hair dry in the shower, I stepped out and looked in the mirror to check out my new look. I wiped the fog off the mirror and inspected myself, checking for wrinkles and lines on my face. Finding a new crease between my eyebrows, I made up my mind that it was time for Botox. It probably wouldn’t cost any more than my recent spending spree had.
Before turning away to get dressed the fog returned to the mirror. The invisible finger had returned and was writing, ‘Think carefully.’
"What?" I said out loud, "About Botox? Naw, that's an easy decision."
The message disappeared and a new one appeared, 'SMART ASS'.
Save One Bullet
Taking matters into my own hands
I had just found out that my husband had been having an affair with the office pump and I was going to put a kink in his hose. Digging out his dusty Glock something or other, I checked and found it was fully loaded. Five rounds for each of them, if I was lucky. At 10 PM, I found myself lurking in the parking lot of my husband's insurance company, waiting for the chance to kill two cheaters with one handgun. Then, I remembered the advice the steamy mirror in my bathroom gave me, 'Save one bullet for yourself. Or you could forgive him.'
I looked terrible in orange and life on the inside of a cage didn't appeal to me, so I quietly crawled away, rethinking my plans before they found me out. Shaking myself back to life after my near miss with death and prison, I checked on my phone for motels in the area and found three that looked promising. The closest one was the ‘Rest Inn’. It was five minutes away from my location, so I drove past it, quickly. Ugh. Nope. Not while I still had working credit cards.
The next motel was even scarier looking, so I opted for the Homewood Suites on the other side of town. At least it would be clean and safe. The night clerk barely looked at me, or at my odd wardrobe. In the morning I would stop in to look in on my mother and snag a few of her slacks and blouses to get me through until I could sneak back and get my own clothes while Tom was at work.
My next planned substitute day was on Thursday, so that gave me two days to get some of my ducks in a row. I had a gun now, so I could shoot those ducks too if I chose. I was finally getting the chance to get my ducks lined up.
I’d push off going home as long as I wanted and Tom would never be the wiser, nor would he care. My mother had frequent emergencies when she could not remember where she was or who the people around her were. Much of my time was taken up at the nursing home, keeping her grounded.
The book club didn’t meet again until next Monday, so most of my obligations were taken care of. I’d just stay at the Homewood Suites until this card was maxed out. There was a Denny’s all-night restaurant down the road from the hotel, so I stopped there first, and ignored the strange looks my odd assortment of 'murderers' clothing got from the staff. You know, what all self-respecting murderers wear now, men's hoodie, men's oversized sneakers, my husband's last resort sweat pants and a ball cap pulled low over my eyes.
"The Yankees' fan did it!"
While eating my early breakfast it dawned on me that I could do whatever I wanted to. An invisible spirit floating above my own reality. Is this what freedom felt like after 20 years of being joined at the ring finger to a man-baby? Always being there for his convenience, doing his laundry, cooking, dishes, and cleaning up after him while he whined about all the hard work and hours he was putting into his career, ‘for us’.
A weight lifted off my chest when I realized my only responsibilities, unless I chose otherwise, would be to myself and my mother. No more insufferable golf games to make up a foursome, with my husband nagging and criticizing every freakin’ swing and complaining that if he wasn’t stuck with me, he would have won. No more late evenings and early mornings prepping for the work bar-b-ques, which he Insisted always be held at our house. He would tell me what to prepare and I would dutifully create these monstrous salads, dips, and snacks for his beer-guzzling office homies and their mistresses of the month or spoiled wives, whom I had absolutely nothing in common with. It seemed as though once everything was served, there was simply no reason for me to stick around, as no one even noticed if I stayed or left. Not even Tom.
Not that I was a perfect person. I remembered one time when I was particularly annoyed with having to cook hours for people I could barely stand to be near. So annoyed, in fact, that I spit into the onion dip as I was mixing it up. Spit, spat, sput? I’m not sure which of those apply. But yes, they were enjoying it, thinking that double-dipping was the only problem.
Without his slave to cook up his bar-b-q side dishes I wondered if he would try to return his Grille-Boss-5000 and get his money back. Money, which he would need for the divorce lawyer, I thought, giggling over the Eggs over My Hammy and coffee, hoping that the cook here was not as evil as I had been.
The Long Sleep with No Rest
It's always a long way home
when your head is in the clouds
and your feet can't find purchase on the ground
You close your eyes at the end of the day
trying and trying so hard to sleep
but need to hear what your dreams have to say
They tell me about my past
They tell me about my present
Will the future be told if I ask?
Escape, running, no way out for me
Impossible roads which fall off cliffs
and tumble me carelessly into the sea
Flying with broken wings
waiting to crash to the earth
With nothing to hold me up but my feelings
In my dreams I am strong
full of superpowers of magnificent strength
Owning towering wisdom, I am never wrong
I must step carefully through the snakes
jump over crocodiles, avoiding the lions
hiding behind trees, whatever it takes
I'm at the bus station trying to get home
Not enough money, I search for change
Try calling for help with the same broken phone
It has been decades, why haven't they repaired this?
I wonder as I pick up the same damaged receiver
over and over again, thinking perhaps it's been magically fixed.
Then, somehow I am hanging onto the bus roof
Struggling to hang on as the bus hits air
I see my old street for a moment, then poof!
The bus lands and deposits me far away
in a strange neighborhood in the dark
Surrounded by evil strangers and I pray
Somehow I always end up here
creeping through buildings abandoned
Waiting for the monsters' to appear
Even my superpowers cannot save me
Strength and wisdom
are meaningless in this realm of dream
I should know by now they will never change
my dreams know me and I them
Each night a subconscious meeting is arranged
Against my will I am forced to attend
a wall of frustration a portent of doom
Night after night terrors they send
Until the sunlight streams once again
I am bound to these phantasms
Because I cannot bear to look away from them
Waking exhausted, shaken and unnerved
yet I cannot stop watching out of morbid curiosity
What will tonight's demons serve?
Oh, for a dreamless night
a calm, peaceful rest for body and soul
where my vivid imagination does not take flight.
Oh, what I'd give for just one dreamless night
Leaving Hope Behind
My great-grandmother, Cristiana Coppa, and her four daughters, one heavy with child, climbed gingerly up the slimy ladders of steerage section in the White Star Line's Ship, RMS Romanic, stated to be the fastest in the fleet. Her son-in-law, Antonio Putano, had heard they were approaching the dock at Boston Harbor and roused them all to join him on the deck to see, for the first time, their new homeland, America.
They stood topside in the raw, biting winds of Massachusetts in February, surveying a bleak, colorless brick and glass building set on a wooden plank dock. Not what they were expecting, having heard from previous immigrants about the magnificent Statue of Lady Liberty and the elegant grounds of Ellis Island in New York City.
Still, though, this was America, where they would no longer have to forage for food in the woods, hiding from the rebels and bandits, while struggling to barely survive. They would soon all be employed and become wealthy Americans.
Wiping the grains of sleep out of her eyes, Agnes Coppa, the 18-year-old raven-haired beauty of the family, who had left behind admirers plenty in their little village on the side of a mountain in the region of Abruzzo, was unimpressed with the bare-boned dock and the utilitarian processing center. In her native tongue, a regional dialect of Roma Italian, Agnes complained, "Mama, this is America? Where are the gold streets and beautiful homes? I don't think I'm gonna like it here."
Mama Coppa, distracted by her other daughter, 7 months along in her pregnancy, enduring yet another bout of seasickness, simply shook her head at Agnes and replied angrily, "You always make the trouble. Agnes. You never satisfied. If you get a rose you want the whole rose bush. You'll make do. You'll make do, just like everyone. stai zitto"
With that, Agnes furiously flounced back down to steerage to help Antonio and Margrete with their luggage, thus avoiding Mama's evil eye, which she had seen one too many times during this long, disgusting voyage.
Seasickness, which affected the crew just as much as the passengers had made a nauseating mess out of the bunks and hammocks in their section of the boat. Steerage was where the paupers and lower crew rode and no one except Agnes complained. They were just lucky to be given the opportunity of a lifetime, most believed.
For the poor from other countries, going to America was like buying a lottery ticket. You might not win the grand prize. But you wouldn't stand a chance of winning unless you bought the ticket.
Antonio, Margrete, and Agnes hauled up bags and cardboard suitcases from the lower deck, slipping and sliding on the wet ladders. It took them three trips to retrieve all their belongings. When they finally stopped to rest and find Mama and the other sisters, they were told the line for the medical inspection had begun to queue, and they had to quickly haul their belongings to the pier and get in line, all the while scanning the bedraggled crowd to find Mama and the other girls.
Antonio calmed the ladies down by promising they would find them before the train left that evening for Albany and all points West. Waiting in that line seemed to take forever and the wind blew chillier as the sun began to fall over the new land they had just arrived on. They finally made it to the Immigration and Customs building, stomping their feet and rubbing their chapped, red hands to warm up as they waited for their turns.
An Italian-speaking man in a dapper business suit addressed a group of 100 new arrivals and announced the procedure. First, they had to produce their identification, then get in another line, one for the women and girls and the other for the men and boys. That line was for the medical and mental inspection.
Antonio and the ladies passed the doctors' inspections for yellow fever, cholera, typhus or ship fever, smallpox, eye disease, scarlatina, diphtheria, measles, or relapsing fever. All these diseases were subject to quarantine at ports of entry.
They also passed the mental illness verbal questions recited off to the group by the official, as none responded with a yea to these questions, 'Does your mental condition prevent you from work? Raising a family? Interacting with fellow citizens normally? Are you prone to the vapors or impure thoughts?'
With a few more questions of parentage, country, state of origin, name, occupation, and sponsors, the family group made it onto the last line where their visas would be stamped and they would be officially pre-Americans. It was in this line where they found their youngest sister, Antoinette, sobbing inconsolably, even though she grasped her coveted visa in hand.
"Anty, Anty, what is wrong? Where is Mama and Maria?" Agnes was the first to blurt out.
"They took them away. We cannot see them," Antoinette sobbed.
"What? Why, why would they do this? Who do I speak to?" Antonio demanded.
"It's no use, Antonio. They give me this paper for the family," she handed the official document to Antonio.
He could read just a bit of English and he deciphered the rest from the inference, " Persons unable to take care of themselves and will become a burden on public funds are to be deported immediately upon arrival," he recited brokenly, "I knew it. I knew I should be the one to accompany Maria. I was afraid this would happen. To arrive in America pregnant without her husband was not a good way to start her new life. She and Margrete could have switched identities to come into the country," he opined, feeling guilty for not offering his suggestion until it was too late.
"I should have told her to do this," Margrete commiserated with him, also feeling the guilt wash over her.
"Nooo!" Wailed Agnes, as she turned in circles, looking for an official to scold in order to make them change their minds. With the throngs waiting in the cavernous room, she was unable to locate anyone who looked important enough to help them.
"Where, Where, you ninny? Where are they? I will go and get them," Agnes shrieked to Antoinette, shaking her sister by the shoulders.
"I, I don't know. Stop, Agnes. They are gone. They are going back to the ship. You're hurting me," a frightened Antoinette snapped back.
At that, Agnes sunk to her knees onto the dirty linoleum wailing her heart out theatrically, and cursing in Italian loudly enough for a guard to approach the group with concern.
Upon seeing the uniform, Agnes gazed up at him through tear-filled eyes and moaned, "They have taken my Mama and my sister away. I will never be happy again. You must get them back!"
Not understanding her words but seeing her anguish, the guard simply patted her on the shoulder and murmured gently, "There, there, young lady. Everything will be alright," handing her his handkerchief and walking away, head down.
Hers was not the first meltdown he had comforted that day and it would not be the last. Strange language, strange rules, strange customs with strangers all around them. The ship landings were either joyous or heartbreaking for the newcomers, and this group had experienced the latter that day.
In a flash, all three girls were Antonio's responsibility, and he had to rise to the occasion. Herding them all back to the wharf to retrieve their bundles and luggage, he tried to comfort them with promises of getting Mama and Margrete on a later ship once they themselves were settled in America. There were trolleys leaving the pier every couple of hours and they managed to squeeze aboard one with all their goods, including Mama's and Maria's, which had been forgotten in the rush to deport them.
He warned them of one thing only as they left the dock, searching in vain for glimpses of Mama Coppa and Maria on the top deck of the departing ship, Romanic, "We stay together from now until we reach our family in America. Stay tight. Don't let people crowd in between us, even if we lose our belongings. Understand? Familia!"
They sulkily agreed. Agnes was still pouring out tears and wiping her nose on her coat sleeves as the trolley lumbered down the line to the Boston/Albany train station. Once the trolley dropped them off at the station there was another immeasurable line to wait in. At least this new line was inside the steamy warm station which was lit up with gas-fueled lighting. Amazing! Not a single candle in sight!
Arriving at Union Station in Albany to board The Westshore Train that ran all the way to Buffalo, NY, they stuck together, as told. There was a three hour delay, which they spent huddled over their baggage, listening to their stomachs growl. When they finally boarded they talked about the future and what it would be like living in this new place.
Agnes could not join in the conversation. For her all the future happiness had been stolen by the deportation of Mama and her sister. She planned on never smiling again and decided that, as soon as she could, she would wear her black dress and shawl in mourning, taking them off only to launder.
The family departed the train at Medina, NY, to begin their new lives in America, disheveled, sad, but safe and together.
The New York Central Train Station in Medina, New York, was a marvel for its time. It was the largest ever wooden plank train station in the country. Medina was a growing, bustling community due to the fact that both the New York Central Rail Road and the Erie Canal ran through the city, bringing people and goods from all over the world.
It was a hub of commercialism, home to one of Heinz Ketchup's early factories, and talented artisans and tradesmen from every country in the world. This is the city that many of my ancestors called home after arriving from Italy. This was also the first American home of my grandmother, Agnes Coppa, the histrionic young woman who had lost her Mother and older sister at the port in Boston.
The family stayed together at a relative's home until Antonio and Margrete departed for a better opportunity in Binghamton, New York. Antonio was a boot maker by profession and the Endicott/Johnson shoe company was hiring skilled artisans.
There was a joke passed among the Italian immigrants in the cities surrounding the shoe company. "When an Italian gets off the boat, what does he say first?"
"Which way EJ?"
Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott were all, in effect, factory towns fueled by the intuitive dreams of George F. Johnson. Johnson believed that workers who made a business successful needed a fair deal, and their lives should be pleasant and enjoyable as well. Many people have since argued that factory towns were despicable in some way, shape, or another. However, my immigrant family benefited greatly from the EJ Company towns.
Agnes, now alone in Medina with her 15-year-old sister, Antoinette, longed for her family to be whole again. She never recovered from the loss of her Mama and older sister, Maria at the Boston Port, and she never saw them again in her lifetime. It was a constant, putrifying wound to her psyche that she would not recover from, and adding to that was the loss of her other sister, Margrete, and brother-in-law, Antonio.
Being a talented seamstress, Agnes supported Antoinette and herself by working at a small sewing operation in Medina. The pay was $6.00 a week plus room and board. That was the average pay in the early 1900s. More than she would have made singing in her family band in Abruzzo, and more than any other work she could have found in her hometown.
She missed her many suitors in Italy and felt ignored as just another "Italian girl" in the American city she lived in. At night she would dream of the picnics her family band played at and the adoring men applauding her singing and Mandolin playing in her picturesque Italian village on the side of a mountain.
One evening after dinner at the boarding house she was sitting on the front porch playing her Mandolin and singing for the group of Italian girls she met at the house when a short, trim, very handsome man stopped on his way down the street to listen to her beautiful voice.
Too shy to speak with her, Edigio Ruspantini kept walking by the boarding house every evening he was in town, hoping to see the raven-haired beauty again. Weeks went by without seeing Agnes, but he kept walking her way.
It didn't take the other girls long to figure out that this man was interested in one of them. They just couldn't guess who, until another evening when they convinced Agnes to sing for them again on the porch, so they could display themselves attractively for this possible suitor.
Giggling, the girls approached Agnes, "Please, Aggy, Please sing for us again. We miss hearing your voice. Play your country songs for us- we are homesick!"
She finally agreed, and dressed in her mourning clothes with a black crochet shawl over her head, still in distress over family members she missed. She brought out her Mandolin and began singing a soulful melody from her family band's repertoire. Tears fell from her eyes as her soprano voice soared in sorrow for those left at home and those who had left her alone to fend for herself and Antoinette.
The porch was resplendent with beautiful Italian women wearing colorful skirts and carefully coiffed hair. But, when Egidio heard the sweet melody and hurried closer to listen, all he could see was Agnes. Even in her mourning clothes and black shroud over her beautiful hair, she shone above the fancy gaggle surrounding her. He was in love and love emboldens even the most timid of men.
Approaching the porch he humbly removed his hat and stood silently listening to his siren's songs. The giggling pack of girls became quiet when they noticed who this handsome man was concentrating on. Disappointed, but curious, one of the girls nudged Agnes and whispered, "My Bella, this one is for you."
One by one the others made their way into the house and all immediately ran to windows in the sitting room to spy on Agnes and her new suitor.
"Please, come sit," Agnes crooned, "what can I play for you?"
"Play a wedding tune for me, please, and for you also by my side," Egidio replied in perfect Roman Italian. A man of few words, he always knew just the right ones to say.
Three months later they married, surrounded by the family who preceded them on their journey to a new land, a new life, and a new love.
Ode to the Ordinary
Ah, yes, the humble clothesline.
In my opinion, the most useful appliance in the household.
Politically Correct, Environmentally friendly,
utilizes sun and wind power.
No animals are harmed by its use.
No chemicals foul streams or farmland.
No toxic emissions leak from its usage.
It works best on high electricity usage days
without taking up a single kilowatt.
A confession: I hate housework
Which is why I write
to avoid housework.
Works like a charm.
Sorry, I'm writing today.
The only housework I enjoy is laundry.
Seeing a neatly folded pile of clothes
waiting to be put away gives me a sick thrill.
Even more so than kicking cats, I digress.
The mere feeling of being productive outdoors
by clamping little wooden pins on my laundry
makes me smile.
There is nothing sweeter than the smell of
a bed sheet fresh off the line.
It is an addiction. I know.
So far there is no group for it.
No meetings with bad coffee and stale donuts.
It may seem out of date to some.
I'll continue hanging until I can't.
Until then, it's me and my clothesline.
Skivvies swaying in the sunshine
Offended neighbors be damned!