Bucks County Writers Workshop
Communita Italiana by John Scioli
y wife and I went to a section of the city known as Kensington to pick up our oldest son, a recovering addict living in a halfway house. In his addiction he had tattooed his entire body. He was so ink and needled that he could have been the tattooed man in the circus. His siblings were now indifferent to him. He had brought them, my wife and me to the brink so many times; now I took his addiction in stride, after I disengaged from his bungee cord. I neither hoped nor needed anything from him but what he wanted for himself, addiction or sobriety. As easily as some people said their son or daughter was an accountant, I could say, my son was a recovering addict, or back in his addiction.
He was ready when we arrived. He wore jeans and a polo short and had cob web tattoos emanating from his ears over one-third of his face. His mother was a long way from crying like she did the first time he was tattooed. But she wouldn't let it go unnoticed. "Jack, what did you do to your face?"
Jack said, "Don't you like it, Mom?" Then he laughed at her disapproval, just like he did when he teased her with his bag of mischief when he was a child. My wife never knew how to give up hope and live with Jack, entirely without expectations. Consequently she still suffered. I refused to suffer on this day, the day of my granddaughter's Baptism.
I intended to eat eggplant Parmesan, veal saltimbocca, manicotti, broccoli rabe, provolone cheese, olives, hard bread, lemon chicken and Italian pastries that never made my sugar rise. I was about to drink red wine, one Cosmopolitan, and dance the Tango with mia marita, my woman.
The hall was everything Italian I left behind with assimilation: candelabra protruding from the walls, painted Victorian peach, centerpieces with artificial flowers, (top of the line) and marble bathrooms. The tables sat a festive twelve. The dance floor was hard wood, like when I was a child, only they didn't throw wax beads on the floor to assist with the gliding motion of the fox trot. There would be foot stompin' music today, by women in platform shoes, stiletto heels. These otherwise short Italian females were made taller and the tilt of their shoes emphasized their buttocks, sticking out ever so seductively. One woman wore no underwear under an orange skirt with a black top and no brassiere, crack shadows back and front. She was from Argentina. My brother was distracted with his camcorder. He confessed that he got a lot of ass on the camera and apologized because some of it was from his three nieces, my daughters.
My three daughters danced to the music. I could not believe that my wife and I had produced so much unencumbered female excellence. My daughters moved in sync. Tall, trim, the youngest with curly red hair bobbing like a horse's mane, the middle child with long brown tresses down to the small of her back, with full red lips and exotic almond eyes and the oldest, hair flipped and black like a Chinese woman. They danced with one another. But the real beauty was in the movement, the exuberant foot work, the side to side with the music, the smiles, the chatter, dour Kathy, the middle girl smiled ear to ear. Then the big ox, Jack, three hundred pounds of graceful flesh like an elephant walking on a three inch ledge, he swiveled and bent down low, lithe like some large manatee in the shallows, joking with his sisters, laughing at himself. There were no addicts anymore; there were no more single mothers. There were no more names, no labels. The floor was transfigured by an unlikely cousin who looked like Danny DeVito; his ass nearly hit the floor when he twisted. He charmed my wife onto the floor, and there she was dancing with a man one foot shorter than she was. For all she complained she loved it. The poor guy lost his wife over the Internet. She took up with someone she met in a chat room, left kids, spouse, and house and now lived in California. He danced every dance he could with anyone who would let him. His wife, history, so sad her abandonment of child and hearth, was nowhere to be found in his heart or mind on this evening. Nothing could stop him as he gathered to a force. The DJ put him in the center of the moving circle and everyone was called in to kiss him. He got thirty kisses from the women and all the men touched him waste up and not a few grabbed a chunk of his ass. Then the Argentinean did the bump with the short guy. He was living in an eternal present that rose up from the floor that flooded us from all sides sound and electro-magnetic spectra waves.
It was Dean Martin singing about the moon hitting your eyes like a bigga pizza pie, Lou Monte singing of Lazy Mary who's always gotta the pumpa inna her hands. It was Frank Sinatra's turn to sing New York, New York, and the step kick line dance. Then the song about sexual inversion, YMCA. One of the Italians was an illiterate and could only wave his arms because he couldn't make a Y, not an M, not a C and nor an A. Then, for the more recent immigrants, they danced a Tarantella. My Irish daughter-in-law threw herself into being Italian, putting her pointer finger on her head and spinning when the music spinned and loop de looped when the music looped, arm in arm. My second son, her husband, couldn't have liked it more. From nowhere came a six-foot-five Italian, dressed like an American, he had size fourteen feet and couldn't dance but the girls loved him. His twenty-two year-old cousin slow dancing with him looked like a monkey hanging from a branch on his distant neck. He couldn't speak a word of English but she warbled to him in her broken Italian and he laughed and wouldn't let her go.
Then a hush settled and they played an Argentinean Tango. My wife and I danced so well; we impressed and shocked my brother who taped all our moves. We took tango lessons that past winter and tired of being wall flowers, we wowed them. It was about as close to having sex in public as is allowed. The rest of the day my wife couldn't keep her hands off of me. She touched me furtively every chance she could discretely do so, like I did to her, indiscreetly, when we fell in love.
In the food line the wine loosened our lips and we talked about where we came from in Italy. And the two teachers my daughter had befriended who both had failed marriages, they were in tears because they were playing Billy Joel's song that he wrote for his little girl when he broke up with Christie Brinkley. Then they cried some more as they brought our grandbaby Elizabeth to the center of the floor and she looked so pretty with her hazel eyes, black hair and rosy skin. For all the noise she hadn't lost her poise. She was calm as a wave on a lake.
I looked around the room at all the pain and suffering and thought, it doesn't matter, it's not about all that. It's about beauty, love, sex, dancing, singing, eating, crying for joy, tears of recognition, accepting one another, fatty and skinny not in a race, all was forgiven, all the pain forgotten, every time we did this, every time we came together like this, to celebrate. We were all Hassidic Jews, and God was there with his people. We couldn't doubt anymore. We couldn't fret, worry, suffer or despair. There were no addicts, broken hearts, sinners; only saints and a conga line. This was the life that was the love that is stronger than death. On this day death in all its deadly masks and disguises had lost its sting.