When my father and mother met in 1957, he gave her a fake name. John LaSalle, he called himself, claiming he was visiting from New York to help out a friend who had just opened a bar and needed an experienced hand. He was only in Chicago for a few weeks, he claimed, so obviously he wasn’t looking for anything “serious.” This was, apparently, good enough for her.

My mother was twenty-five, which seems preposterously young in 2009, but in 1957 most of her girlhood friends were already married with children in elementary school, whereas my mother lived alone in a studio on Rush Street, occasionally singing and playing piano in jazz clubs (though she could not read music), working as a secretary by day, and sometimes falling into pits of depression she describes as “black periods,” in which she wrote morose poetry full of lines like “the faltering foot of man who wades/into the guideless brew” and “go my chain.” She had, though you were not supposed to admit it in those days, been through her share of men, including a broken engagement in her late teens. She had traveled the country with two traveling salesmen who dined on steak and made her eat burgers, selling No-Doze machines to truck stops. In California, she had briefly worked as a ballroom dance instructor and been so poor she lived on Hershey bars, but now she was back in Chicago, where she had been raised, with a stable job. Though not thin by today’s standards, my mother was a beautiful woman, with a striking resemblance to a young Isabella Rossellini. Her boobs were something to behold. A semi-famous actor once tried to acquire her as a mistress, but she was not cut out for that life. She had too rigid a moral center, or too much fear, or both, to her betterment or her detriment.

Though this is not ostensibly “about” my mother, I guess what I’m trying to say is that she, while not perfect, was in my father’s estimations “above his station.” Even now that she is seventy-seven, he seems unclear what exactly she is doing with the likes of him . . . though as with most men, this does not mean he has always treated her well. Besides his lacking hair and being older, my father had never lived outside Chicago or even graduated from the eighth grade. More importantly, he was shy to a fault whereas my mother was—and still is—the type of person almost everyone immediately likes. She is outgoing and palpably kind, and she asks a lot of questions (which seem polite and interested if you don’t know her well, albeit bordering on Inquisitional if you know her very, very well.) She’s easy-going and accommodating, avoiding confrontation as though it were a venomous snake coiled at her heel, but that her eternal optimism makes her believe she can easily sidestep and outrun. In public in their early days, she was taken perpetually for his daughter: a mistake they milked with rare and comic perversity.

Yet for all her smiles and pleasantries, my mother is a deeply secretive, easily wounded person who prefers getting to know others to being known herself. She had always been popular as a teen, and into her early twenties—a party girl who won a contest for the prettiest legs; who danced on car roofs in the rain with other bawdy young girls and lived in apartments with a string of roommates . . . but by her mid-twenties, many of those friendships had faded away. Her relationships (platonic and romantic) seemed based more on surface fun than true intimacy, so by the time she met my father in 1957, she was acutely lonely, though she may not have put it that way, or even realized it. She was, as they say, “ripe.”

They met on a blind date. A friend of my dad’s (who was, incidentally, an ex boyfriend of my mom’s) gave him her number after my father chauvinistically proclaimed that women knew nothing about jazz—the fellow said my mother could give him a run for his money. So they met at a coffee shop at two in the morning, because that was when my father got off work. Their conversation lasted into morning, when they moved to the restaurant across the street for breakfast. Afterwards, I am fairly sure they adjourned to my mother’s apartment for sex, though I was (thank god) never told this explicitly. Certainly, they could not have gone to my father’s place, as he lived with his parents in the same small two-bedroom in which he’d been born, in a rundown Italian neighborhood far from glamorous Rush Street. My mother, of course, did not know this. She did not even know he was Italian—which, if you have ever seen my father’s nose, does not speak highly of her powers of observation. When a couple of weeks later, my mother once called him at his “friend’s” bar to tell him she’d be late for their date, she was told there was “no John LaSalle” there, but that the owner, John Frangello, might know who he was and where to find him.

Hence, my father’s ass was busted—my mother recognized his voice and slammed down the phone in fury. Later that night, my father showed up at her door with champagne and cheeseburgers, and for reasons lost to history yet eternal among lonely women in any time, my mother forgave him.

Four years later, they married. If they are both still living in August 2011, it will be their fiftieth wedding anniversary. My father would be eighty-nine.

Two quick details about their courtship, just because:

1) They not only met based on a lie of identity, but married based on one. In order to snag my mother a vacation from work—her boss was rather smitten with her and never gave her any time off—my parents told the man that they were going on a honeymoon to Europe. Only once the other secretaries at her office threw her a shower and gave her presents did my mother realize that everyone would expect her to come back from vacation with a new surname. She had two options: quit her job, or get married. As an Executive Secretary, her position was a coveted one for a girl with no college degree, so it seemed a shame to lose it. “Well then,” my father said, “we’d better get married,” and off to City Hall they went.

2) My father had a predilection for oral sex and was obsessed with giving it to my mother. (Why my mother told me this would obviously be fodder for another post, entitled “Too Much Information: Shit My Mother Told Me That I Never Needed to Know,” but there it is.)

But again, as this is not the story of my mother, neither is it the story of their dating years, their sex life or—later—the lack thereof. Those are stories that are fun, or at least funny, to tell, and that I have explored somewhat in my fiction. Today, however, is my father’s 88th birthday. And so, perhaps, this is a harder story to tell: one that eludes me even as I am beginning it. The story of how you get from point A to point Y. This is a story of knowing point Z—end point—is hovering nearby, forever around the corner, yet not precisely when it will hit. The story of the wild ride, and when, sometimes, that ride goes on without you, long after you are nauseated from the curves and would simply rather get off.

How do you tell a story like that? Apparently, here, you start with the easy stuff. You start off slow, and hope that somehow you can circle things around just enough to create a pastiche, a collage, a portrait that resembles a whole, even if it can never be exactly complete.

“Getting old is a kick in the ass, honey,” my father told me when he was maybe seventy. By then, he had already outlived all his brothers spare one (long dead now), as well as his parents and most of his male friends—old customers from his bar or other bar owners, musicians, or occasional Mobsters whom alcoholism, drug use, high blood pressure or violent lifestyles got killed early. His fifties and sixties were full of wakes, and by the time he entered his seventies, he was already a Last Man Standing of sorts. When our longtime neighbor, reputed Mob boss Joe Lombardo, was let out of prison in the late 1980s, he drove by my father’s house honking his horn and waving, making a loud show of his “respect” for my father, one of the neighborhood patriarchs.

Every night my father dreams of his dead brothers. His dreams are full of barren, frozen grounds and solitary old men, dragged off by hostile crowds in the back of carts. His dreams are full of death imagery and ghosts. He never dreams of me or my mother. In his dream life, he has been standing alone for nearly two decades now.

“The show’s over,” he’s been telling us for years. And then, in the next breath, looking at my daughters, age 9, “I wish I could be around to see them get married.”

Where am I going with this? Where am I going?

I have given myself the week to figure it out. This is the thing about “youth,” even middle-aged-youth: I can still believe in the luxury of time. And so I’ll try again tomorrow.

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

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.

47 responses to “I. Life’s a Kick in the Ass, Honey (Reflections on my Father, the Week of his 88th Birthday)”

  1. I will now begin telling everyone I know that women know nothing about jazz. It’s the perfect opener.

    I hear these stories and think Man, everyone’s parents are awesome.

    I think you have to start with the easy stuff. The hard stuff will creep in all by itself if you set a place at the table for it. One second you’ll be enjoying a fine cheese dish and then there’s a quiet cough, and you look over to see that the guest has arrived. And hopefully won’t overstay its welcome.

  2. Yeah, killer way to bait people into setting you up with smart, artsy chicks, huh? My dad was definitely smarter than he liked to pretend.

    • The only problem is I myself know nothing about jazz. So that whole deception would fall through pretty quickly.

      I think I’ll have to go with ‘Women know nothing – nothing! – about The Vampire Diaries. Then the ball will be in Simon’s court.

  3. Crap, there is so much vampire stuff on the market that I’m not even sure which one the Vampire Diaries is . . . I guess you and I will not be getting married based on that pick up line, as I could not prove you wrong.

    • Oh, my! Well, let me tell you about just how good Ian Somerhalder’s portrayal of the sensual, seductive Damon Salvatore is.

      • Dude, I do not even know what you’re talking about. I’m 41 years old, it’s all Vampire Lestat to me . . . but of course, they’re all sensual and seductive, though, no? That’s the Vampire Thing. All the young girls swoon. Of course in Rice’s day, they were all kind of gay, too. Now, they’re poster boys for Mormon celibacy? “Look, young virgins, if a man really loves you he will refrain from having sex with–i.e. sucking your blood and killing–you!”
        I want to see some vampires just get it on gleefully and without symbolism. I’m going to write a series called The Fucking Vampires.
        Ha: there’s my new pick up line. If only I were single! Feel free to use it!

        • Of course you don’t. Women know nothing – nothing! – about The Vampire Diaries.

          It’s TV by the very broadest of brush strokes. Its saving grace is Somerhalder sneering his way through every scene. He makes for a wonderful bad guy. If you ever watched Lost, he’s the guy who played Boone in the first series.

          Yeah, it’s a bit worrying how the message is being snuck into culture. Premarital sex = death, ladies!

  4. GREAT story Gina! Okay, I must go back to the line about your mother telling you that your father was “obsessed” with giving oral sex to your mother. Pray tell, when, where, how did this conversation between you and your mum take place? Was she making sure that you had married a man equal to your father in this skill?

    • I know, right? My husband came home tonight, having read this, and was like, “So when are you going to write the post about Too Much Information and your mom?” To which I said, “Well, my mom reads TNB so that was a Hypothetical Post I’m Never Going To Write.”
      My mother, when she married my father, essentially condemned herself to living for nearly 40 years in the neighborhood where he had been born and raised, where she was the only non-Italian, only Protestant, and practically the only woman with either a job or a high school diploma. The other women around her had gotten married when they were literally 13 or 14 and started having kids, and all spoke Italian and lived upstairs or downstairs from their mothers and aunts and hung out with the same cousins and friends they’d been in diapers with. She was like an alien, with her business clothing and her pale eyes. It took her more than a decade to make any friends there. People were always saying things to her like, “Alice, do Protestants believe in God?” and asking her if she was Hillbilly or Jewish, because if you were not Italian, Black, or “Spanish,” those were the choices. Period.
      As a consequence of this exile of sorts, for many, many years I was my mother’s “best friend.” This happens a lot with only children and their mothers, but my mom’s particular loneliness definitely exacerbated the situation. This made us very close, and also led her to say a number of things to me over the years that, suffice it to say, I do not envision ever mentioning to my kids.
      Then again, before I climb any higher on that horse, I suppose I should consider that my kids will only need to google my name on the internet and it will be a TMI fest of proportions my own mother could never imagine. So . . . my mouth is shut.

  5. Greg Olear says:

    I loved this, Gina. I think it’s my favorite piece you’ve posted.

    I thought about Last Man Standing last week, when my grandmother died at age 97 (“97 and a half,” I joked to people at the wake). I can’t remember where I read this line, or in what context, but it was something a very old woman said (I’m paraphrasing): “Now that Edna Brown has died, no one will call me Ginny anymore.” She was Mrs. [insert last name] forever more.

  6. Angela Tung says:

    This is wonderful, Gina, and I can’t wait to read more. The lines about oral sex – whoa nelly! I’d have to burst my eardrums with a screwdriver if my mother ever said anything like that to me. I also love the image of your dad dreaming about his dead brothers – it’s eerie and beautiful.

    I want to write about my parents now! Inspiration breeds inspiration.

    • Thanks, Angela! I loved your piece about your grandmother. You, Greg and I have kind of an old-people theme going on right now in our lives, it seems.
      Feel free to mail that screwdriver my way . . .

  7. Oh, and thanks so much, Greg! Very kind of you. When your grandmother passed away, I thought about my plans to write this post, which has been forming in my mind for awhile, yet remains unformed. That’s a great story about “Ginny.” Yeah. My father’s nickname for his whole childhood and young adulthood was Gink. There is only one man alive, literally, who can remember those days now: my dad’s friend Mario, who is a year older than he is. The two of them are like visitors from another world, with memories held together by a tenuous string, both waiting in dread for which of them breaks the string first. They’ve known each other since they were 3 and 4 years old. They have absolutely nothing in common any more other than that world, but that is probably more than either has in common with anybody else.

  8. Brad Listi says:

    Wow. This read like a movie, almost.

    And I love the Italian stuff. The “show of respect.”

    My dad’s family is Italian and I wrote a piece about my great uncle, Manuel, a while back.

    He’s the last of his family. The last brother still alive. I believe there were five or six of them.

    A kick in the ass indeed.

    Just lovely stuff, Gina.

  9. Thanks, Brad. My parents’ lives seem strangely cinematic to me, too. Maybe I’ve just seen too many films set in Italian-Americana. But the old home movies, man, you should see them. They’re surreal. You couldn’t make a better “fake home movie” depicting Chicago Italians in the hood in the 70s, and all the poignant, gritty, comedic loss of an era if you were Coppola or Scorcese. We have this footage, for example, of a huge block party the neighborhood put on every July 4th, with the Italian flag painted on the street instead of the American flag, and all the guys from the hood mugging for the camera, these crazily handsome, hook-nosed guys in their dago Ts with their messy, overgrown hair, who were in their 20s when I was a kid, who are–almost to the last one–dead now. We have the one from the year Joey the Clown was in prison and everyone was holding up signs saying “We miss you, Joe” for the local news cameras, and telling tales about how he had coached Little League . . . when of course, not only did he never coach Little League, but the neighborhood had never had Little League to begin with. There was the night at my cousin Debbie’s first wedding when the band played the theme song from The Godfather, and everyone cleared the dance floor and Joey and his wife, Miriam, danced out there alone. They didn’t call him “The Clown” for nothing. His daughter was my first babysitter.
    I was working on a novel about the old neighborhood for awhile–my former agent used to call it “The Sopranos meets My So-Called Life.” I feel, in a way, though like the novel’s not ready to be finished yet, like it doesn’t know its own end yet, so for now it’s on a shelf . . .

  10. Zara Potts says:

    God, Gina. This was so great.
    I just love your pieces, they’re so full of warmth and honesty and humour and LIFE.
    It is amazing to me, the lives our parents and grandparents have lived. I often think that I would love to know all their secrets and then I think twice and realise that no, maybe I don’t.
    I would love to see some pictures of your Mum and Dad. Just beautiful!!

    • I’m planning to do another piece about my father by week’s end, and my goal is to get some pics into it. I don’t know how to make things the size Brad requires for our new swank 3.0 incarnation, so I’m hoping to avoid totally destroying the site somehow and ruining everybody’s lives.
      Stay tuned . . . thanks for your sweet words, as always!

  11. Great story. They sound like very interesting people. In fact, I’ve read several interesting stories on here about people’s parents. Mine are so boring in comparison…

    • That’s the thing of it, though–I bet they just haven’t told you their good stories. If you met my parents right now, you certainly wouldn’t think they were the most scintillating people . . . I mean, no offense against them, but like many old people, they’re both more than half deaf, wear their pajamas much of the time, and spend a lot of their conversational energy talking about their aches, pains, ailments, doctor’s visits, and who else they know who is sick. I guess we all go that route if we’re around long enough. But I think everybody has a “past”–not necessarily an illicit one or anything, but a colorful one. What I love about my parents is that they have a good sense of story so they knew what to tell. I think some parents don’t possess that and don’t realize all the things they have to impart on their kids.

  12. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Seriously, if this is the tip of the iceberg, your parents require a book full o’ essays. Maybe BOOKS. Your love and appreciation for them shines through in this piece! And how lucky you are that you heard their stories.

  13. I’m starting to realize that whatever I end up writing is going to be nonfiction, yes. I never thought I would do a nonfiction book, but someday I do want to, with my parents as the subject–my whole old neighborhood, really. So, so much material there, and when I tried to fictionalize it, it was fun but it started losing something in the translation . . .
    I felt very lucky last night, to have my 3 kids and my parents all in our home together for my dad’s birthday celebration. There’s an acute sense of this being a finite period of time, when we’re all together this way, and the goldenness of it . . .

  14. Alison Aucoin says:

    Though I have no Italian lineage, your story really resonates with me. My father was Cajun-rural and my mother is Irish/Jewish-urban. My father was pretty clear that he “married up” but then put my mother down for being snobby.

    On some level I always understood that the bridging of cultures in our house made us different. Only recently do I have new understanding that I completely internalized it too. It’s a HUGE part of who I am and how I see the world. I’m convinced that same phenomenon exists in our dear President O and his iron grip on the need to find common ground.

    • Yes, it’s really fascinating because basically, from the outside, my parents both just look like “white people,” so there would not be any real external differentiation between them culturally. I mean, my father has the quintessential Italian nose, but he himself is not dark-skinned, and his hair is white and has been at least gray since I was born, so he doesn’t have the full head of black ethnic curls he had as a younger man . . . he and my mother are just a white couple, and in the U.S. these days, sometimes it seems to me that there has been a homogenization of what people conceptualize of as the “white” experience, and all of its privileges and uniformities. But culture is more than skin color. My parents essentially carried entire different worlds beneath their skins, when it came to belief systems, practices, personalities, values, and how they had been raised to internalize those things.
      I agree about Obama–that’s so true.

  15. Gina, this piece was so beautiful and so bittersweet. My father turned eighty this year and he too, feels like the last man standing. I know the more wakes and funerals he attends the harder it gets to begin each day with optimism, although he recently told me ( regarding life and ones choice to end it) that he believed you had to ride it in all its glory, up and down, until the end. My mother, at seventy, just sighed. I think for her its harder facing the fact that when she gets to my father’s age, he might not be with her. And they are both so alive right now, so full of vigor and thank God, above average health, that the inevitable still seems, in my mind anyway, easy to push off. Something else he recently told me: Everything is negotiable but death.
    Always the wise guy.

  16. Thanks, Robin . . . I advise denial as long as possible! As long as they’re in good health, you should definitely all relish it and live it up. I know, my mom is 11 years younger than my dad, so I know one of the things forever hovering in her periphery is the concept of a life “without” him, which is so true of many women. Her own mother lived 20 years longer than her husband, all of them alone. This is an unthinkable thing to me, and when I was growing up my mother constantly cautioned me against marrying an older man for these reasons: both she and her mother had done it, and now they were both reaping those consequences. But I’ll tell you, when my mom began having health problems in 2006, that was when I saw panic really set in with my parents. They’ve both taken it for granted for so long that my mother would outlive my dad, that when it began to look, for a couple years running, like that might not be the case, my father was like an animal frozen in the headlights of an oncoming train; he seemed just numb with terror at the thought of living without her. She has been the buffer between him and the rest of the world for 50 years. My mother is incredibly devoted to my father, but I don’t have doubts that she would fail to “exist” without him, whereas for my father, I think my mother’s death would be hundreds of times worse for him, more inconceivable and terrifying, than his own. Even though he lives right downstairs from us, if my mother were not there I’m not sure he could stand to deal with us on his own. I’m very curious about this phenomenon and wonder if it’s common of old men and women in general, or if my father is unnaturally reliant on my mother. Luckily, my mom’s health has improved a great deal in the past year so hopefully she has a lot of time ahead of her yet.

  17. Matt says:

    Damn, Gina, this brought a tear to my eye. Well done.

  18. Thank you, sir.
    BTW, check out Erika Rae’s post, “On the Night My Father Died,” if you want to take that tear and end up bawling like a baby–it’s linked above under “Related” pieces.

  19. D.R. Haney says:

    Brad’s sentiments could stand for my own, except that I’m not Italian. However, I was very, very flattered when, once standing on a street corner in Rome, a group of Italian girls approached me and spoke to me in their native tongue, presumably to ask for directions or such, only to stare at me suspiciously when I told them I didn’t understand.

    “Senor-eh? You no Eh-ta-lienn?”

    I assured them I wasn’t, in what they must have recognized as English with an extremely persuasive American accent, but they still didn’t seem to believe me — and I don’t think I look remotely Italian.

    Anyway, I especially loved your description of your mom, from whom you clearly inherited your graciousness, and of what she’s told you of the 1950s. I can never quite arrive at a convincing picture of that time the way I can other, older decades, maybe because it’s poised so perfectly between the archaic and the modern, so that it’s neither fish nor fowl, if that makes any sense. Maybe with older decades I grant myself more poetic license.

  20. Thanks, Duke! You look kinda Italian in your pic. Guess I’ll have to meet you in LA to find out.
    I agree about the 50s. They are a weird no-man’s-land, aren’t they? They seem “fake.” Yet they were inhabited by very real people, with very real stories.
    I guess I think we have to grant ourselves a bit of poetic license with everything, even the here-and-now. Everything seems both surreal and yet full of true stories in that lens, doesn’t it?

  21. D.R. Haney says:

    Well, fashion in the fifties, at least as I’ve seen it in films, made people appear a bit unreal. Makeup was extreme to the point of being clown-like: pancake powder, and lips and eyebrows made huge with unnatural-looking paint. (In the early twentieth century, tiny lips and eyebrows were considered desirable.) I suppose, after women had of necessity entered the workplace in huge numbers during WWII, fashion was emphasizing their femininity: bell-shaped, curve-creating dresses, as opposed to the lithe, slinky look of the twenties and thirties; and the shoulder pads of the war years, which gave an impression of “strength” as Mom was holding down the home front. Meantime, styles for men called attention to their masculinity: there was less color and “play,” as with the jazzy, wide ties of the forties, and suits with squarer shoulders and narrower waists designed for an idealized, V-shaped torso. Dad’s back from the war, it all seems to say, and he’s fit and responsible and ready to assume his rightful place as bread-winner.

    Interestingly, there was a relaxation of sorts at the end of the fifties, when the sexual anxiety of the war years (Is she cheating on me? How will I manage if he doesn’t come home?) had faded. That’s when a new look arrived from Europe — streamlined and much simpler. Then in the eighties, after we’d gone “too far” during the sixties and seventies, there was a resurgence of ambition and materialism (as per the fifties), and the shoulder pads returned with a vengeance, along with elaborate, unnatural makeup and so on. And now, I think, people in photos from the eighties are starting to look as unreal as people in photos from the fifties.

    Wait a minute. Where the fuck am I? Oh, yeah. Everything seems both surreal and yet full of true stories. Yep. And poetic license and stuff. I agree.

    • That’s a freakishly true connection between the 50s and the 80s. In photos of the 80s, everyone looks like a clown. I mean, that was my coming-of-age decade and I really loved the look at the time, and still have a soft spot for the exaggeration of it all, but you look at a John Hughes film–and his characters were all relatively mainstream, even those who weren’t “supposed” to be–and it’s like a bunch of kids dressed in some kind of clown-parents’-clothing-drag or something. All that big hair and extreme make-up and poofy sleeves and lace and everything was so fussy and elaborate, with combat or granny boots and their gazillions of little eyes to lace up; Christ it took two hours to get ready to leave the house back then. Girls wore elbow gloves just to go to freaking study hall. It was intense. And if you were even remotely Goth, it was about 20 times more rigorous. Gaudiness reigned. I remember these floral Forenza jeans that were considered “preppy” at the time, but really were like hooker pants. Every bus stop looked like the set of Desperately Seeking Susan. I kind of miss the rigor of it, that weirdly street glamour, but at the same time, truth be told, those styles don’t look that great on most people. Most of us were uglier than we needed to be in the 80s.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I agree. I just came across a photo of myself from that time, and I’ve got some kind of English-band-type hairdo that’s really embarrassing. What were people thinking?!

    • Ben Loory says:

      jesus christ duke, that was awesome! write a book on fashion, i’d buy it!!!

      • I’m with Ben. I was thinking the exact same thing reading your comment.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Thanks to you both.

          The weird thing is, I’ve never consciously given much thought to fashion. I was writing, I thought, more from a sociological/psychoanalytic point of view. But I do like to think of myself as a good observer — that is, when I’m not too immersed in navel-gazing — and I’ve seen a hell of a lot of old movies, and I must have absorbed more from them than I realized.

        • You wax pretty damn eloquent on the matter, Duke. I can see the reviews in the NYTimes now. “Fashion and the Sexual Anxiety of the Pre-and-Post War Years” or something like that. It was awesome.

  22. Marni Grossman says:

    “‘Too Much Information: Shit My Mother Told Me That I Never Needed to Know.'”

    So funny, Gina. And so opposite of my mother. My mother refuses to even say the words “oral sex.”

    I actually tried to write about my father earlier this year and had some difficulty. Gave up. But you’re off to a wonderful start. As per usual.

  23. I had dinner with a friend of mine and her mother last year, and her mother began the conversation by asking me whether I engage in much oral sex, and to be careful if so because blow jobs cause throat cancer. I kid you not. I nearly spit out my margarita. I guess every family has its own boundaries. I mean, my mom lacked some at times with me, but she certainly didn’t talk about sucking dick if I brought a friend to dinner . . .

  24. jmblaine says:

    Sometimes people think
    good stories come from crazy
    interesting happenstance
    but it isnt true
    everyone is fascinating
    if you know how to tell a story.

    You know how to tell a story.

    Finesse, friend.

  25. Thank you, kind sir. I love the word “finesse.” It’s made my day.

    This is just what I was telling David Wills, who thinks his parents are dull, but I’m sure they’re not. They may just not know how to tell their own stories, so those stories have become lost and inaccessible to him. My parents are both storytellers. My dad is a very quiet guy, but his whole extended Italian family has a knack for oral storytelling, and my father got just enough of that gene to throw out gems throughout my youth, from which I could form a picture of him when I was not around to see him.

  26. Tom Hansen says:

    What a sweet story. I won’t let my mum read American Junkie. She still has delusions about what a nice boy I am/were. Haha

  27. Very funny, Tom–I would not be surprised if she has read it behind your back, but just isn’t fessing up so that she and you can both keep the sweet mum-son game going. Your trailer rocks, by the way. See you in Denver!

  28. […] *In which the author describes her father’s 88 strange, colorful and contradictory years on earth (Part 1 of 3). […]

  29. […] Gina Frangello (I, II, and […]

  30. […] GINA FRANGELLO celebrates her 88-year-old father. […]

  31. Irene Zion says:


    I love your mother.
    I don’t know much about your father, though.
    Mostly, I learned about your mother.
    She is one tough cookie.
    You are a lot like her in that respect.

  32. Thank you, Irene. Yes, my dad becomes much more present in the two follow-up pieces–it was strange, I had to “ease in” to writing about him, somehow. My mother is quite tough, albeit in the most gentle, optimistic and kind way possible. I’m a little ashamed to admit that when I was younger, I did not really want to “be like her” when I grew up, but if there’s anything time’s taught me it’s that any likeness between my mother and myself–or between me and my mother’s mother, my nana–is an immense compliment to me and all to their credit in teaching me much about how to approach life with an open heart. My mom kicks some serious ass–just ask my kids!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *