On February 2, 2009, the sentencing of reputed Mob boss Joey “the Clown” Lombardo was all over the Internet. I read about it while in the final stages of finishing a draft of a new novel, and the sensationalism of the trial felt far away and fake . . . which may be less a reflection on the nature of Mob trials and more on the nature of what seems real vs. surreal to writers finishing projects. I was, it is clear in retrospect, in a full-blown state of mania last February: the third or fourth in my lifetime, but probably the worst, the most disruptive and acute. Which is to say, the best, the most intoxicating. But the mania was just beginning at this point; it had not yet hit its peak, though already I had not slept in days or maybe weeks, not more than a couple of hours in the deep middle of the night, and already I was starting to drop weight (one of the more pleasant side-effects of mania.) Joe Lombardo was sentenced to life in prison, but it would be fair to say I didn’t give a shit about this; it was not on my radar. The legendary Mafioso, even now reputed to still be either Consigliore or Boss of the Outfit from behind bars, was reported as 80 years old at the time of the sentencing, and I remember, as I read the news off a computer screen in my home office, that being the only part of the story that really made an impression on me: his age.

It seemed crazy, because my father has always referred to Joe Lombardo as a “good kid.”

For the first time in my life, I googled Joe Lombardo. I was sure they’d gotten his age wrong in the news, but no, he was born in 1929. My father was born in the final weeks of 1921. When you grow up around somebody, I guess that window of time makes a great deal of difference.

Prior to the “Family Secrets” trial, Joe Lombardo was supposedly on the lam. He eluded the police for quite a long period, which would be curious enough considering he was already an elderly man and in no condition for life on the run, but was all the stranger considering that—during the time he was supposedly “in hiding”—people I knew from my old neighborhood, including my father, saw him frequently cavorting in plain sight. He continued to dine at my father’s favorite Italian restaurant, for example, where he was widely known and where he commonly bought drinks for other customers, including my parents. He did not, it would be fair to say, seem like a man trying to exist under the radar or full of anxiety about being apprehended. My parents never seemed to think it was particularly strange when they ran into him.

This makes sense when viewed from a certain angle. Once, many years ago when I was still a girl living on Race Street, across the street from Joe Lombardo, my father told me a story about him. In the story, my father asks Joe why he doesn’t move out of the old neighborhood. “You’ve got more money than god,” my father says. “What are you sticking around here for?” And Joe says simply, “This is the only place on earth where I never have to look over my shoulder.”

It was true. In our neighborhood, Joe Lombardo had the status of a President or a King. Though any powerful man has powerful rivals, such rivals did not dwell in our one step-above-a-ghetto near the intersection of Grand and Western. The men in our neighborhood were either average blue collar guys like my father—bartenders, truck-drivers, cops—or they were such small-timers in the Outfit that Joe was like a father to them, not a competitor. It would probably be fair to say that most men in the hood would have been thrilled to take a bullet for him. It would have been like the equivalent of becoming a war hero.

For a week now, I have been thinking and writing about my father, who turned 88 on December 14. Though one of my dad’s brothers was a Mob bookie, for the most part ours was a “civilian” family. Well, perhaps that would be an overstatement. My family, over the years, has included street-gang-founders, drug dealers, murdered gangbangers, and several criminals of the more “private” variety, whose crimes may in fact have been more devastating—or were to me. But ours was not a family that attracted media attention for lawbreaking, and in the neighborhood where I was raised, some amount of lawbreaking was par for the course, so what I mean is that we were “typical” for the milieu in which we lived. My father had worked in a factory, and later he owned a bar, and later still—after his back and leg and ulcer all deteriorated; after the death of his elder brother propelled him into a nervous breakdown that ended in his institutionalization—he sold his bar and worked at a friend’s until retiring early, in poor health, in his mid-50s, when I was only ten years old. He was a man who had claimed for years that he would never live to see 40, and with sound reason: he had had two-thirds of his stomach removed from his bleeding ulcer before I was even born, and throughout my youth he tended to be hospitalized and to hover at near-death almost yearly. Yet now he is an old man living on the first floor of my home, and in most ways his life has been an unremarkable one.

He was devoted to jazz, but he was never a musician. He was an Anglophile, but rarely traveled due to a lack of money and rabid fear of planes—the last time my father was airborne was 1961. Once or twice, our phone was rumored to be tapped due to my father’s relationship with people who might have relationships with organized crime; once he and his nephew believed they had been tailed by an unmarked car while they were driving to buy some doughnuts . . . but my father was, at the end of the day, an average guy whose relationships with the Infamous and Glamorous were casual and loose, and whose own life was certainly of no interest to the media. He was the sort of Italian man who lives below the popular radar, while Don Corleone, Tony Soprano and Joe Lombardo become American Icons. He was invisible, as most people are, and that has always been absolutely fine with him.

I have been struggling now for a week to find a way to define my father on paper, but of course anyone could have told me from the get-go that such a task was impossible. Like everyone, my father is defined by a complicated and paradoxical web of what he is and is not—by where he fits and has always failed to fit. The great paradox of Giovanni (“John”) Mario Frangello’s life may be the sentimental attachment he held until he was nearly 80 for his old neighborhood, where he had been born with a midwife in the apartment where I was raised. He refused to leave the neighborhood even after marrying a non-Italian girl who didn’t fit in there; he refused to leave even when, in the late 1980s, a rash of murders killed several people in one summer, including a teenage boy with no gang ties and was shot in a case of mistaken identity right across the street from our house, and well as an actual gang leader along with his pregnant girlfriend, an old friend of mine from elementary school. He not only refused to leave, but on the night I went away to college he wept to my mother, not so much because he was going to miss me (though I hope that was part of it) but because he felt betrayed. The way I was raised, family didn’t leave. Blood was thicker than water. Higher education was synonymous with putting on airs. My departure symbolized that I thought I was “too good.” When he told my mother that he predicted I would fail or drop out of school within the year, oddly this was probably wishful thinking on his part.

Though he adores me in the way the parents of only-children often do, I suspect I am still a bit of a disappointment to him in small but myriad ways. He does not like how much I work. He does not like my son, age 3, being in full-day preschool. He thinks I get angry too easily, though he is the only person in my entire life who has ever accused me of this. He doesn’t like that I straighten my curly hair. For most of my life he has chided me for my eating habits, mocking me for not eating more meat and—whenever I’ve been ill, which is admittedly often—saying there’s nothing wrong with me that a good cheeseburger wouldn’t cure. He doesn’t like that I don’t wear tweed, even though I am confident he has never met a woman in his entire life who did wear tweed. Still, it is something he aspired to in his daughter, and I failed to live up to it. The day I left to study abroad in England, which might have sounded like his lifelong fantasy given his Anglophile nature, he was hospitalized with a severe ulcer attack. He did not like me getting on airplanes, but probably he also considered my living outside the country as a form of high treason.

If it ended there, of course, it would be simple. How many stories seem to end there—with the ways fathers are never “satisfied;” with the ways they find fault.  Those stories hurt, but they are easy.

But the truth is, my father was also a role model in ways he never anticipated, simply by being himself. In a neighborhood where the heroes were Mobsters—reputed killers—as well as gang leaders and thieves who evaded capture and the occasional crooked politician who rose from our ranks, my father was a gentle man. Not a gentleman, perhaps, of the Cary Grant variety he aspired to just as he aspired to tweed for me, but a gentle man who rarely rose his voice. When I routinely watched the other kids around me get smacked around by their fathers—watched them come to school with bruises and heard their stories about “getting the belt,” my father never raised a hand to me, much less my mother. When I was in seventh and eighth grade and my friends were becoming prey to predatory older men—their divorced mothers’ pervy boyfriends or twenty year old guys who would give them coke in exchange for a blowjob—my father offered a silent protection by virtue of his status as a neighborhood patriarch: nobody fucked with me. When a former classmate of mine was gang-raped at fifteen by a group of neighborhood men who beat her with a coat hanger and threw her down a flight of stairs, and the men were never brought to trial because everyone—male, female, young and old—seemed to concur that the girl “deserved it” for being “a slut,” and many rushed to offer faux alibis for the rapists, I was forced to digest both the knowledge that this place, this neighborhood where such things happened under the radar everyday, was where my father had insisted on raising me, and yet also to digest in turn that my father was eons from those animals and would never hurt a woman. For that story—and for others much closer to home—I have often struggled with a kind of “survivor guilt” because I got out, relatively unscathed, of a place that, for young girls, could be a war zone, due in no small part to my father’s constant gentle protection. I had a safe haven, whereas most of my girlfriends did not.

And yet, when my best friend was raped by a man we’d gone to school with while she was asleep at his mother’s house, my father argued that it wasn’t “really rape” because she had gone there to sleep, and what did she expect?

This, the same friend of mine whom my father paid to bring on family vacations with us, whom he bought countless lunches and dinners and who practically lived at our apartment on the weekends when her mother, who was young and divorced, was out drinking and meeting men at bars. This girl he called his “second daughter.”

Can this be what he means when he says that I get angry so easily?

The truth is: the paradoxes of my father cannot be fit onto any page. They cannot be curtailed into one week of my mind. I will digest them, fight them, mull them over, contradict them, yearn for them, for the rest of my own life, in story and quietly, alone.

From my father, I learned or inherited a fear of planes. A propensity towards mental instability that, like him, I manage most of the time to keep at bay, occasionally succumbing to an undertow beyond my control. A cynical humor, a religious skepticism, a strange obsession with all things English even though as a kid I often said “I hate England!” just to spite him. A penchant for Valium and narcotic painkillers and old Woody Allen films and dark wood beams on ceilings and old dilapidated barns. A loyalty to family that borders—in the WASPy, middle-class America in which I now dwell—on the unseemly. And an abiding belief that “blood is thicker than water,” but—unlike the Italian blood lineage of which my father’s family spoke—a belief that I, with my Chinese daughters and surrogate gay, Latino “brother,” am the one who chooses what falls within the definition of “blood.”

This is longer than I planned.

I could go on.

Instead, one final story. Once upon a time, when I was maybe ten years old, I was given a bunch of M&Ms to sell for school. Whoever sold the most got some crummy satin jacket that nobody wanted anyway, even though we all wanted to win. I brought home my sales sheet from school, prepared to start humping it door to door like every kid who has ever had to sell some meaningless shit for some cause we can’t even remember anymore. My dad, however, said to me, “You know what, Flower, I was just at the club earlier today, and Joe Lombardo was saying he had a taste for chocolate. You should go over to his house first.”

“The club.” Yeah, that’s one for another post someday, not now.

Joe lived across the playground. Back then, the world in which I lived was so small that I remember being put out by the fact that my father wanted me to walk all the way across the playground instead of just going next door to troll my candy. But I did it. I was aware that Joey the Clown was “famous” and although his daughter babysat me sometimes, I don’t think I had ever been to his house before.

His wife came to the door. But when she saw it was John Frangello’s daughter, she fetched Joe.

I showed him my forms and told him about the M&Ms.

And he said, “I was just telling your dad I had a taste for chocolate.”

He bought every M&M I had. Though I may be embellishing this in my memory, I think he actually insisted on signing his name to every line, even though I explained it was unnecessary, and that under “quantity” I could just write “all.” Maybe things like this are what earned him his nickname.

I got the satin jacket. I never wore it, but for years this was a story I traded on in school, and the other kids liked the story, just as they enjoyed hearing about my mother’s grandfather who died by falling into a volcano while on vacation in Hawaii.

I realize now that Joe probably never told my father he had a “taste for chocolate.” I realize now that there was simply a kind of “Adult Group Think” going on that had to do with coming from the same place and having a similar sense of humor and code, and that it was somehow imperative to both men that I believe I was doing Joe a favor, instead of realizing that Joe was doing my dad one.

In defining my father, then, one small point on the scale–along with him not being a gang-rapist or abuser; along with him not being the kind of father who could help me with my homework or who was proud of me when I was accepted to college but who has come, over the years, to be proud of me for not dropping out after all, and for growing into the kind of mother who will be able to help my kids with the kinds of papers he didn’t understand–along with all of these things is this: my father is neither a criminal nor a glamorous public figure like Joe Lombardo.

He is an old man who refers to Joe Lombardo as “a good kid.”

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GINA FRANGELLO is the fiction editor of The Nervous Breakdown. She is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (forthcoming from Algonquin in Feb 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press) and My Sister's Continent (Chiasmus 2006). She is also the Sunday Editor at The Rumpus, and was the longtime editor of the literary magazine Other Voices, as well as the co-founder and executive editor of its book imprint, Other Voices Books (now an imprint of Dzanc Books). Her short stories have been published in many lit mags and anthologies, including A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection, Prairie Schooner, StoryQuarterly, and Fence, and her essays, journalism, reviews and interviews have appeared in such venues as the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post and the Chicago Reader. In her nonexistent spare time, she runs a writing program out of Mexico, <a href="http://www.othervoicesqueretaro.com/" Other Voices Queretaro.

30 responses to “III. A Beautiful Violence: Notes on Mobsters, Murder, Rapes and Nostalgia”

  1. There’s so much going on in this that I have a million things to say and they’re all competing for attention at once. While I sort them into some kind of order, I have to ask first: where did the nickname ‘The Clown’ come from?

    • I believe it originated because he had an aversion to having his photo taken, so came to notoriety by always hiding behind newspapers whenever the television news crews were trying to film him, and eventually he started cutting out eye holes in his newspaper so he could actually see while walking behind it, and that earned him the nickname among the media. Whether there was also an actual mob-related logic behind the name, I don’t know.
      There were very few pictures of him taken during certain time periods, because of his aversion; it was a coup in the neighborhood if you owned one. Sometimes somebody would snap one at a wedding or something, but usually it was in bad form to make an attempt to photograph him.

  2. Anon says:

    I am making a mental note to always read your posts, Gina. I, too, came up in the 80s and in the culture of “the neighborhood”. My dad was the youngest of thirteen kids and the only sibling to eschew the “family business”. Funerals were a floral orgy. I was never allowed contact with my cousins. I remember, when I was about sixteen, having an also-teen girl from one of the crews try to contract me to hit her stepdad for raping her and one of her friends during a sleepover. She didn’t have any money so offered to let me pimp her until she was paid off. That was “normal”. Go figure.

    It’s a far different world now, isn’t it? Thank God….

    • joyce zaino spratt says:

      GINA YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT JOHNNY (gink) BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES.. YOU SEE I GREW UP WITH HIM AND YOUR BELOVED GRANDMA THERESA. MY DAD WAS HIS FIRST COUSIN, FRANKIE. AND I WOULDNT TRADE ONE MINUTE OF THE TIME I SPENT WITH THEM. OUR FATHERS WERE ONE OF A KIND. MY DAD WAS ALSO A BARTENDER AND YOURE RIGHT NO ONE COULD EVEN HAVE A CLUE ABOUT OUR ITALIAN UP BRINGING. BUT THE LOVE WAS THE STRONGEST.. HOPE YOU GET TO READ THIS. I AM PROUD TO SEE HOW FAR YOU HAVE BECOME. LOVE TO JOHN AND ALICE AND YOUR FAMILY

  3. This just made me laugh aloud with sick recognition.
    I think of all the things my kids have no idea about . . .
    Though one thing I’ve certainly learned is that there’s violence everywhere; it’s just more hidden. I was a therapist for battered women in rural New Hampshire and Vermont for a few years, in small towns far, far from Mobsters, ghettos, big cities, and the things some of those “nice New Englanders” managed to do to one another–and their kids–was sometimes enough that people in my old neighborhood would have been shocked.

    • Anon says:

      “I think of all the things my kids have no idea about . . .”

      And that’s something I ponder these days, with an almost-five-year-old daughter and a “yearling” son – how to walk the line between educating and permanently scarring. 😉

  4. Zara Potts says:

    I have to second Simon’s comment – there is so much going on with this, so many things that I am digesting and running over in my head, that I don’t know where to start…
    First, can I say what a pleasure this series has been. You have written your father so well, with objectivity and so much love and warmth, that it has been an honour for me to get to know him through your words.
    These pieces have been like movies to me, and I have been waiting impatiently for the next installment. Just so gorgeous, Gina. So moving and beautiful.
    Secondly – I hate flying too. It terrifies me. But unlike your dad, I never worry when anyone else gets on a plane, which I guess is strange, given that I usually only give myself a 50/50 chance of surviving when I fly… If I really thought it was that dangerous I guess I would be a ball of anxiety when any loved one flew..
    And lastly – Your great grandfather fell into a volcano??? Oh my god, what are the chances of that??
    I love your life! I love your stories!

  5. I am exactly like you, Zara, about flying. Convinced that if I’m on the plane, down it goes, but everyone else would be safe as a daisy if I were not involved. This is the kind of neurotic magical-thinking that my friend describes as “I am the piece of shit at the center of the universe.”
    My father, on the other hand, once told my mother on a flight to Europe in 1961 that he was fairly certain a plane had never actually made it across the Atlantic ocean, and that it was just a media lie. At least in the moment, he really believed this.
    I’m not sure which of us, my dad or myself, is the more deranged. I have a more sane view of aviation, but an even more deranged view of my own “power” over the outcome of things simply by virtue of being present.
    And yes, my mother’s grandfather on her father’s side, who was a professor in Michigan, was in Hawaii on vacation and was on a tour of a volcano and got too close to the . . . I guess mouth of the volcano, you’d call it . . . and fell in. This is true. I doubt it could happen today, but this was a long time ago and I guess they didn’t have guardrails everywhere back then and if you were idiotic enough to traipse up to the mouth of a volcano, you were at your own risk. Imagine the lawsuits that would have ensued if this happened today. My family would OWN Hawaii, right?

    • Zara Potts says:

      “I am the piece of shit at the centre of the universe.”
      This has had me laughing all night long!!

      • Yeah, there have been times in my life when I was afraid if I died someone would put that on my tombstone. I would say that remembering that this adage is not actually true has been the primary task of my “growing up.” I am not 100% there yet, but making progress!

  6. Greg Olear says:

    The club! All the oldsters belonged to the club. It’s where they went to escape from their wives and play cards. But my town was hardly mob deep. Although during the Depression, everybody ran numbers.

    Re: your dad’s comment about the rape (which must make you cringe). I think it’s important to cast him in the proper context, generation-wise. You and I are about the same age…my dad is 61, your dad is 88. He’s not a Baby Boomer, or even a Silent…he’s a WWII guy; he was born the same year as my dad’s dad. When you consider how abysmally women were treated for all of history until…oh, about fifty years ago, and that women could not even vote (!) until the 1920 presidential election…and, for that matter, how eugenics was still all the rage well until into the 1930s…your dad, relative to his compeers, is downright liberal. More fuel for the fire.

    Again, these are great pieces. Must we stop at three? More, please!

    • Yes, indeed, Greg: The Club is kind of an eternal entity, in different incarnations, wherever you go in America, I think. At my dad’s, since they’re all good old dago men, they play cards and shoot craps, but they also cook like motherfuckers. My dad went there to eat! My mom is not Italian, and though she is a good cook I think he liked going there and having the old world style dishes. They even had an annual party around the holidays–wives still not included, of course–where the food fest reached sublime heights.
      It was also a place–since basically all the men who hung out there were thieves–where you went to see what you could get for cheap. My dad would come home with an entire case of Advil, or a bunch of filet mignons that “fell off the truck.”
      Okay, for my dad’s part, here is a funny story that was not included in the essays: my dad, not being a thief, also had things to sell on the cheap at the Club. Since he retired in his mid-50s, his primary occupation since then has been shopping for shit on sale. He would go down to Michigan Avenue and troll Marshall Field’s and such for bottom out sales, and score a pair of cashmere socks for two bucks or something, and a Polo sweater for $9.99, and then he’d go back to the club and sell his wares at a small mark-up, so that the guys were getting a good deal but my dad made a small buck to make his habit worth his while. He earned the nickname “Michigan Avenue John” due to this, as most of the men in the hood rarely left our environs or went downtown. At many weddings in our neighborhood, you could count on the fact that plenty of the men would be wearing ties or sports coats they had bought off my dad.
      By my mother’s last count, my father owns something like 165 button down shirts. That does not include ANY other kind of shirt: just the button down ones.
      When I was young, my father always used to say to me, “I’m a clothes horse, honey; it’s a disease.” And I–who did not think his fashion sense much to write home about–would say, “Dad, your horse died years ago.”
      Now I realize he actually has fabulous taste: a weirdly organic and self-taught sense of offbeat style, mixing elegance and flamboyance, and very artistic.
      Okay, and one more thing: yes, you’re right that my father is actually quite liberal for his age and milieu. When he was growing up, young girls weren’t let out of the house without a chaperone, so indeed, he has seen many changes. I’ll say this for him: I think he was the ONLY person in our neighborhood, male or female, who voted for Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor. Racism was rampant in the neighborhood–I forgot to even mention the extreme acts of violence that took place whenever some hapless Black person happened to accidentally enter its sphere–but my dad never really bought into it. He had a sense of equality that maybe came from the jazz music sphere, even though he was never an actual musician. He and my mom were friends with an interracial couple in the 60s, and the first time they came to our house, the neighbors all clustered out on their front steps and stared. After the couple left, my dad went out and proclaimed loudly, “Well, I just sold the house!” and walked back inside and shut the door, leaving the neighbors in a state of hysteria, probably, until they realized my parents were not actually going anywhere.
      My dad: he is a pretty cool guy. He’s funny as hell. Even though now sometimes he is funny without meaning to be . . .

      • Greg Olear says:

        Ha! I love that story!

        “Michigan Avenue John” = title for the memoir

        You need to get on that G-Spot show with Joseph Matheny and talk about all this.

        • You’re so right about the title, Greg.
          You know, the first fictional story I ever published, in 1991, I think it was, was about my father. This whole series of essays feels like a full-circle thing for me–which would make it seem like I would be “done” now, but actually makes me want to keep going.

  7. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    Gina,

    Simon and Zara are right on the money.
    there is SO much I want to think over and talk about, not really comment, you know? Talk over with you.

    Suffice for now my advice: buy yourself a tweed “jumper” and wear it around him. This is something you can do for him which will not hurt a bit.

    (Damn. There is so much to talk about here.)

  8. Ha! You know what–in the past couple of years, I have acquired two quasi-tweed jackets: one is a Chanel style with the round neck and no lapels, and the other is a more shabby-chic with fraying around the sleeves and lapels. My father seems to approve of the faux-Chanel, though its tweed is not really very vigorous, more like an approximation of tweed. The other one is probably too much a punk-twist on tweed for his taste. But my mother-in-law, who is actually English, recently gave me a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows that kind of looks like something one would fox-hunt while wearing, and although it is not my taste at all the one time I wore it my dad almost had a multiple orgasm in his kitchen chair when I walked into the room, and raved about the jacket. So I’m keeping it around, to please him, though when he’s not looking I let my kids roll up the sleeves and play hobos in it.

  9. Gina,

    Wow. Wow. This is beautiful work. What a compelling portrait of your father, yourself, a neighborhood, a lifestyle, and the vibrancy that results from the collisions. You make me want to call my own father, tell him I hate England (though for my father, the equivalent would be, “I hate bacon,” and of course I would be lying). Again, Gina: Wow.

  10. Thanks, MGF. “The vibrancy that results from the collisions.” I like that. A lot.
    I’ll call your dad for you and tell him I hate bacon.

  11. Gina, we share Italian American heritage – my mother and her brothers grew up in a large sprawling house in the suburbs of Manhattan – my grandfather having made good – although the specifics of what he made good with was never clear. The male relatives in my family were all service workers: butchers, mechanics, bus drivers, fire men and the occasional cop. A few owned family style restaurants and bars. They made wine from the grapes in the backyard and rolled their own cigars. My grandfather took care of every relative, every newcomer to this country from the “old country”, his doors and his pockets were always open as long as you stayed within the five block radius of the neighborhood. When my mother married a German Jew my grandfather paid for a lavish classic Italian wedding, but as they walked down the aisle he whispered in her ear that it was a mistake, it would always be a mistake. Barely three years later my mother was back in her family home with two small children and she paid for that the rest of my grandparents’ lives. Not overtly, but in so many, many ways, she would forever be the tarnished daughter who left, who tried to marry outside her own kind, who tried to “better” herself and pull away from her birthright as an Italian American. I wonder if any other nationality has left such generational guilt, guilt even I feel for marrying someone outside my “own kind,” even though the logical part of me knows that it’s just a ridiculous outdated notion. I can’t imagine what this took for you to commit it to paper and all i have to say is: More, please.

  12. This is fascinating. I do think, absolutely, that many other heritages have similar guilt/pressure/insulation/pride mechanisms going on, from Greeks to Indians, etc., but we all practice it with our own particular lens. For my part, I never, ever wanted to marry an Italian, which is a crappy thing to say given all the wonderful Italian men I know now, from a variety of walks of life. But in my mind an Italian husband had connotations of all that I had “left behind”–the gangs and the violence and the rabid anti-intellectualism of my youth. Of course I now realize, far more clearly than I did then, that by leaving that culture and entering the . . . I guess you’d say “dominant” white culture (one thing that’s hilarious about Italians is how they don’t actually realize they are “white” per se–they talk about “white people” meaning Anglo WASP types–even though they are also often prejudiced against actual people of color!) is that I left behind far more than violence but also a certain type of inter-generational community that was almost like a small town where the family had always lived. There were beautiful things about that world too that I failed to see at the time, and for each time I’m happy that my kids are not growing up amid the type of violence or misogyny I saw, I also sometimes feel that they have a glib American “entitlement” and lack the sense of deep family responsibility that was a given when I was a kid. I wanted a “better” life for them, but the irony is that once they have that life, it is very hard to convey to them exactly what the alternative was–so much of my past is just lost to them. Thankfully we have my parents living right downstairs, since they’re probably a more powerful example of that world than anything I could convey verbally.

  13. Amanda says:

    Ahhh! Your three dad stories are among my very favourite things I’ve read at TNB.

    : )

  14. Thanks so much, Amanda. I’m so happy I wrote them. They were really cathartic for me and also inspiring for other ideas. TNB is the perfect forum for stuff like that–everyone is so supportive and invested. I appreciate the read.

  15. Marni Grossman says:

    Gina-

    All of us are contradictions. My grandfather can be awfully racist. But he’s also my hero, my heart. I’m so glad you let us hear about your father. I feel lucky to know him vicariously.

  16. Chuck Frangello says:

    Great story Gina.

  17. Thanks, Cuz! Means a lot coming from you, since you know ALL the stories!

  18. okay, Frangipani-you must keep writing more of these installments. I particularly love fact that the satin jacket story rivaled that of your great-grandfather falling into a volcano. You just can’t make that shit up, Gina! That’s terrific! I’m telling you–one of your next books has got to be about this stuff. I laughed out loud reading this, much to the chagrin of nearby co-workers.

  19. Hey girl, so fun to see you on the TNB comments board! I know, I’m dying to write a book about my dad, my old neighborhood, all of that. Right now I’m lucky I have time to shower, though. I keep thinking come fall I’m going to have this miraculously clear schedule (as if), but even if that happens there are probably 3 novels ahead of this memoir in the queue of my brain. I need to, like, drop out of society and go live on some island with no internet connection for about 3 years. (Think my husband and kids would go for that? They can work the land or something and grow our food while I just write books!)

  20. […] a Kick in the Ass, Honey (Reflections on My Father the Week of His 88th Birthday. *II. Fake Rats. *III. A Beautiful Violence: Notes on Mobsters, Murder, Rape, and Nostalgia.  *You can listen to her here, in Cup of TNB – Episode 10.  *New to the Party: Spotlight […]

  21. cousin says:

    Hey Gina,
    Just read your stories. Some of them sound a little fictitious though. Like the M&M story. You are an awesome writer though. It sure was interesting growing up there.

  22. Thanks, cousin! (I am hoping by “cousin,” you are one of MY cousins!) Yes, growing up in the old neighborhood was a priceless experience. Have you checked out the Facebook page about it?

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