Monday, June 17, 2013

College Visit

He told his son he used to shoot sewer rats the size of small cats with his cousin’s .22 pistol from over there.  The son raised his eyebrows, tired.

Now they were standing in front of an abandoned building that used to be a bocce ball club. His dad told him he had his first job there. Six years old, brining lemonade to men dressed in white for penny tips.

Three hours ago, they climbed out of the rental car, a black Lincoln with tan interior, his father telling him to hurry. Outside the car, side stepping through the sidewalk crowds, the son trying to keep pace. “This is where I grew up. This is where you were born.”

The father stopped at the steps of a church and said. “You were baptized here.”  Excitement in the father’s face.

The son shrugged his shoulders.

After another block, the father said, “Holy shit.”

The son flinched. His father was like a damned priest. Never raised his voice. Never cussed. It was why his mother left him. Said how could you be Italian? Where’s your passion? Where’s the anger?

The father disappeared into a store. The son stopped and read the name over the door, Laundry, then reluctantly followed.

Inside, his father hugging a short baldheaded man that was all nose and smelled of whisky.

“Nico, this is my son,” said the father, his tone almost boastful. “I was able to plan my business trip with his college interviews. He’s looking at Harvard, Cornell upstate, and yesterday, we visited Columbia.”

Nico gripped the boy’s arms and said, “You look like the spitting image of your father. It’s remarkable.”

Before the father could speak another word, a man in a wheelchair passed by. The father rushed after him, shouting. The boy stayed behind. His father in an eight hundred dollar suit talking with a man who had no legs, and wore a black beret. Old friends. The two laughing like they were sixteen.

The kid returned his eyes to Nico, now at the register.

“My father told me a lot about this town,” he said.

“Those were good times. It’s changed. These spics, these niggas, they don’t value life the same way we do. They’d rape their own mother if it meant they could get a little money to go by their crack cocaine.”

“My dad told me this story once-“

Nico raised an eyebrow, not sure what was next.

“He said there was this store that ran numbers, and the guy running the place was skimming from the mob, and one day, someone came in and shot the place up.”

Nico pushed his lips together in an exaggerated expression.  He said, “That’s one way to put it.” A smile almost on his face.  “That happened right here. In the back room. We use it for supplies now, but back in the day, it was Vinnie The Dice DaGlino’s office. Vinnie the Dice – he was a bookie who loved to gamble, so he got the name Vinnie The Dice on account he loved to go to Vegas, or Atlantic City. You see, he was taking more than his share off the top. The bosses got mad” –he drew his thumb across his neck and said, “enough is enough.”

The kid smirking a little. The old man didn’t like that. “Did they send in a hitman?”

“That’s what Hollywood would call it,” Nico said.  “Back then we just had problems that needed to be fixed. “

The kid, still smirking.

“That day, they sent your father.”

The kid stopped smirking.

Nico said,  “He was always reliable. You could always count on him to do a job right.”

The kid’s face grew pale.

“Smile kid. About a month later, your dad was in Vietnam. He did three tours, didn’t come back until 72. He married some waitress from Queens – your mother. He moved on, looking for work, and eventually we lost touch.  He had a wife and kid. Times were different. We’d hear through his cousins and his mother how he was doing. But he didn’t come around too much. The bastid got out. Good for him.”