Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Sentimental Journey

by Rose A. Valenta

It was a yellow shingled, four bedroom Cape Cod with both a front and back porch purchased by my grandparents circa 1905, in Olean, NY - the home that I loved to live in every summer while growing up. It never mattered to me as a child that it didn’t have central or room air conditioning; but did have a leaky basement, a coal stove, and wood trim that needed painting every other spring. It was a comforting and wonderful summer refuge.

That home saw the birth of seven babies, four boys and three girls most of whom survived the great depression and learned how to become entrepreneurs. It hosted several weddings and two funerals in the huge floral papered living room equipped with sliding wooden doors located in the hallway across from the stairs leading to the second floor bedrooms. Later, photos of the nuptial events hung in the hallway leading into the large kitchen. Divorces happened infrequently, kids moved back home, and pictures of Mom and Dad would come down off the wall and be replaced by photos of grandchildren.

In the foyer, stood a telephone table that supported an old black Western Electric telephone and the only Heathkit hand-soldered, hard-wired, working answering machine in existence. My father built it himself after he returned home from WWII and it was the talk of the town. People would come for miles just to see it and pay him to build one for them. He dabbled in electronics after the U.S. Navy sent him to school to get certified in ship communications equipment. He built most of the CB radios used by the Olean Volunteer Fire Department and fixed television sets. He opened Bill’s Radio and TV Service out of the house, and had tubes spread out all over the dining room table most of the time, much to the chagrin of my Grandmother, who would rather serve food there, than clean up an electronics laboratory. She found resin, solder, irons, wicks, and PC boards everywhere on her good table cover. Occasionally, she would get fed up and cart boxes of the stuff upstairs and put them on my Dad’s bed. She finally convinced him to set up shop in a spare bedroom, so she could have her house back.

The attic was where I used to hang out most of the time; I would have slept up there if she let me. I spent hours rummaging through the maze of beckoning old chests and storage boxes. Me and my friends would play dress-up there, then go next door to my friend Susan’s house, play the organ, and pretend to be show girls like Shirley Temple. I recall making my Dad bring down my old baby coach once, so I could take my dolls for a walk. One of my dolls was a boy named Oscar, he had a baby bottle, a pilfered vacuum tube, several diodes, and capacitors in his possession, when he got caught red-handed commanding the coach down the 100 block of North 14th St. by my Dad, who was missing some parts for a job. Of course, Oscar got put in the bad chair after I denied all knowledge of the pilfering and swashbuckling; plus, he got a stern lecture and no tea and sugar cookies that night.

The front porch was where my uncles would gather to smoke cigars after dinner and my Uncle Joe would serenade all of us by singing and playing the accordion. The entertainment kept my Grandmother from going over the edge about all the cigar smoke and ashes on the deck. She sat there with a dust pan and broom waiting for intermission.

Remembering the events in the yellow house always makes me smile. Grandma was a rock and lived to be 90 years old. She sold the house in the 1970s, and moved in with one of my aunts a few years before she died. I was already married at the time, and unfortunately my husband and I both lived and worked in Philadelphia, PA. However, I would have gladly purchased that house in Olean, if I could.

In 1998, my husband and I found a wonderful little yellow cottage on Chincoteague Island, VA. We fixed it up and also installed a closed-in front porch. It has an attic, where I store old clothes, Christmas decorations, and household items. Near the attic window sits a child’s rocking chair waiting for a small boy or girl to come to Grandma and Grandpa's house and rummage through the place to find small treasures. Often, my laptop and a printer sit on the good table cover in the large dining room. You can spend hours on that porch listening to crickets, ducks, and other wild life; with Big Band music or Beethoven playing softly in the background from the stereo in the corner. Occasionally, I drift off to sleep there. Sometimes, I can distinctly hear accordion music and smell cigar smoke. I have friends in high places. It is my weekend/vacation refuge from the stresses and storms of life and I love spending time there.

Then tourist season and Pony Penning set in, the area becomes noisy. Things are never really perfect are they?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Will Rogers and the 2014 Federal Budget

Wasteful government spending that makes no sense is often referred to as “pork barrel” spending or just “pork” spending. It has been referred to that way since before the Civil War.

Yes, even Honest Abe had some pork in his budget.

Pork spending often includes ridiculous things like “$2 million to construct an ancient Hawaiian canoe,” or “$1 million to preserve a sewer in Trenton, NJ, as an historic monument.”

Many of these bizarre and absurd pork items have been suitably noted in THE GOVERNMENT RACKET: Washington Waste from A to Z, by Martin L. Gross. In his book, Marti provides us with an extensive itemized list.

I have to ask myself, in these modern times, why didn’t Congress listen to Will Rogers in the first place?

Back in the pre-Obama era (1920s and 30s), Will Rogers had the right idea when he said "The budget is like a mythical bean bag. Congress votes mythical beans into it, then reaches in and tries to pull real ones out."

He also pointed out that during elections "The average citizen knows only too well that it makes no difference to him which side wins. He realizes that the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey have come to resemble each other so closely that it is practically impossible to tell them apart; both of them make the same braying noise, and neither of them ever says anything. The only perceptible difference is that the elephant is somewhat the larger of the two.”

If Will were alive today, I can just hear him advising Congress to consolidate. You know, States like Rhode Island with only four electoral votes can be easily merged into States like Massachusetts, which has 13; Vermont can go to New York; New Hampshire to Maine; and so forth, until we evolve into an economic Godzilla. Then, we can go overseas and stomp on China for pirating, bootlegging, and violating US copyright and trademark laws. We should then be able to sue and raise about $100 trillion just on what we find in Shanghai, alone. That should wipe out our national debt, right?

Americans don’t have any use for a Gōng Yáng White House knock-off.

"If stupidity got us in this mess, why can't it get us out?" ~ Will Rogers▪

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Who Moved My Mascarpone?

Yesterday, I took old Mrs. Russo shopping at the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. She was buying seafood. I had my goal list all ready:

• Olive oil, prosciutto, capicola and imported pasta from Claudio’s
• Olive salad and cheese from DiBruno’s
• Lamb, pork roasts and ground beef from Esposito’s
• Locatelli and fresh produce from Giordano’s
• Spices and coffee from the Spice Corner
• Some pastry from Isgro’s

I was looking forward to a refreshing walk, while enjoying the sights and smells of the South Philly marketplace and do some shopping.

I was asked to pick Teresa up at her sister’s house.

Teresa Russo has been a friend of our family for years. She went to school with one of my aunts. She was born and raised in South Philadelphia. Her temperament is a bit surly, but expected, as she grew up in a tough neighborhood. She doesn’t get around much by herself anymore, so taking her shopping was my idea and good deed for the day.

I decided to take her to Pat’s Steaks for lunch.

When I picked her up, I noticed that the jacket she was wearing was wrinkled and out of shape.

“What’s up with the jacket?” I asked, as she got into the car.

“Flak jacket underneath.” She answered. “I got it from Louie ‘The Nose.”

“Come on, Teresa, you’re 80 years old. Who’s going to mess with you?”

“Hey, they let that Gambino guy off. You know, John ‘junior’ Gatti. Now, they call him ‘Teflon John.’ He don’t have friends in South Philadelphia. Two guys came down from New York last week and started something near the Sports Complex. I smell trouble, like we got the malocchio or something. Maybe we shouldn’t go today.”

“Teresa, people don’t believe in the ‘evil eye’ anymore. You shouldn’t be so superstitious. Of course we should go shopping. Those guys all hang out in a different neighborhood.”

“Yeah? What are we gonna do if they decide they want to eat something at Mama Mia’s and start a fight?”

“Teresa, they don’t mess with old ladies. Besides, we're going to eat at Pat's.”

“Speak for yourself, I’m not old.” She said.

When we got to the Italian Market and parked the car at the three dollar lot on Washington Avenue, we were approached by some guy, who said he was from and was taking a poll. Teresa broke his pencil and told him to get lost.

“OK,” I said. “I take back what I said. They don’t mess with NICE old ladies.”

“Statazete! (Shutup)” she snapped. “We should have stayed home. That guy was a pickpocket. Check your wallet.”

“I have it” I said. “Nothing is missing. Will you just relax and enjoy yourself? Put on your happy face, that should confuse everybody.”

Everything went smoothly until Teresa spotted a black limousine driving up 9th Street. She dove under a vendor table and about 50 live blue crabs and two dozen oranges went scurrying and rolling in all directions. Crustaceans were everywhere. I saw one of them booking down Montrose Street. You could hear the screams for blocks.

“What, are you on somebody’s hit list, or just crazy - are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” She said.

“Yes, what? Yes, you’re crazy or yes, you’re OK?”

“Alright already - both!”

The guy, who rented the vendor table, was furious, cussing in Italian, and running around with tongs trying to gather up the runaway crustaceans before they pinched someone.

“Che cazzo...?” he shouted, “C'è un casino della Madonna qui.” (Meaning “What the hell…?” and his vocabulary went down-hill after that.)

After we paid him for the crabs that were still missing in action, I swore to myself that I would never do another good deed like this again. What started out as a fun shopping trip had turned into a total nightmare.

We never got to Isgro’s.

On the way home, Teresa apologized for her behavior all day. She told me she is into Ronny ‘The Rat’ for $100 to pay for the exterminator.

Apparently, while she was Spring cleaning two weeks ago, she found mice running around in her basement. Ronny had threatened her. She was supposed to pay him $125 by yesterday, or he would import a hundred mice and set them loose in her house. So, for the rest of the week, until she pays him on Friday, Teresa is spending nights with her sister.

“Ronny is a spostata (jerk).” She said.

“Teresa, the next time you need money, call me. I will lend it to you, no mice and no interest, capiche?”

I went home, poured myself a Chianti, and listened to a little Lou Monte.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Felice Giorno del Padre: An Italian Father's Day Tribute

by Rose A. Valenta

I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of the great men in my life, my Italian grandfather, Alfonso. This was the guy, who let me watch him make homemade wine in the basement and put me wise to the double-standard.

I'd like to make this a heart warming and sensitive human interest story. One that would bring a nostalgic tear to anyone's eye, but let's get real here. Hearts and flowers are for incurable romantics; me, Norman Rockwell, and Virginia Hill all have a lot in common - realism.

I only had one grandfather, as the other one died before I was born, so Grandpop Alfonso and me had a private joke: As he was sternly meting out discipline to his kids, he was also enjoying the power of being in a position of authority. I caught on to this, as I was the second oldest grandchild, a girl; and for some reason he never yelled at me, but would wink in my direction when he reamed someone else.

As an Italian, he was more than a little strict with his daughters about such things as cussing and smoking in public. He forbade them to smoke at all, saying that it didn't reflect well on their individual character. One of my aunts, who could have given Al Capone a run for his money, was once evicted from the house for an entire summer for saying "wop" (his English wasn't good enough to translate some of her other words), while smoking a cigarette. I think she was also hooked on old Bette Davis movies at the time, because she tended to pace around in her apartment surrounded by smoke rings.

She is 89 years old now. She quit smoking when she was 78 for health reasons.

It was a normal annual routine for my family to chip-in and rent a house to take my grandparents to Seaside Heights, NJ, for an entire month. Then, aunts and uncles would alternate vacation days, so the house could accommodate everyone else for a few days at a time. I was permitted to stay the entire month.

One night I was up on the boardwalk and there was this game being played for packs of cigarettes. I didn't smoke at the time, but the game looked like fun, so I played and won about 10 packs of my grandfather's brand of tobacco.

Needless to say, I became his best friend for the rest of his life. He even shared an ounce of his homemade wine with me to celebrate this friendship. I was only 12.

Every time I went up on the boards, he'd slip me a few dimes and say "Don'ta tella you mom." I always came back with lots of cigarettes. The game hawker even knew me by my first name.

You have to understand that all the women in the family locked themselves in the bathroom to smoke, so he wouldn't catch them. As a kid, I couldn't quite figure out what the consequences would be if they ever got caught.

So, there I was, all my friends were still playing with Betsy-Wetsy dolls, and I was the delivery girl, you know, just like Virginia Hill, delivering Lucky Strikes to my grandfather in the kitchen and Chesterfields and Camels up in the bathroom (solitary confinement) to my mom and aunts. My grandmother was probably watching The Untouchables in the living room because she didn't smoke. Plus, she had this secret crush on Frank Nitti. If it was an episode of The Jersey Shore, she would have been drooling over Paulie D. Little House on the Prairie it wasn't, ya know?

Sometimes when you walked into the bathroom, it looked and smelled much like the back room of an illegal gambling establishment in the Bronx. The language wasn't much better either. They all thought they were bad and were laughing and entertaining themselves, thinking they were pulling something over on their old man. However, he did have to "go" once in a while and use the room. So, I think he knew.

Once my cousin Vinnie came down for a few days. He had to "go" and was forced to switch to plan B, the old outhouse. So, he located and loaded up all their cigarettes with those little wooden cigarette loads that blow up when burning tobacco touches them. I think four of my aunts were in the bathroom at the time, and all of a sudden it sounded like the 4th of July in there, with screaming and running mixed into the fireworks.

Downstairs, I heard Grandpop mutter under his breath "Dumba asino ragazze."

Grandpop Alfonso, wherever you are, Happy Father's Day!

© Lou Monte via Youtube

©2010-2014, Valenta, All rights reserved.
To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sending Mixed Messages

The game developer DICE has released a war game that allows players to take on the role of the Taliban and kill American troops.

Disturbing isn’t it? What will our young people learn from this?

My generation has very little tolerance for allowing kids to play games that dehumanize them any more than they already are from watching violence on TV. I know, I sound like my grandmother already; but why don’t these computer smart-ass wizards create something that contributes to a child’s sense of loyalty, creativity, self-respect and well being?

Just the other day, I walked past my grandson’s bedroom as his mother was confiscating the Xbox. Its fate was a sledge hammer. Apparently, the game got intense and his loud cussing was drowning out her evening ritual of listening to Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, and Loretta LaRoche in the living room to lighten up and relax. So, she marched upstairs where the loud unholy echoing vibes were coming from, pulled a Lizzy Borden, and gave it 40 whacks. At the same time, she began Googling an exorcist in the hopes of saving her son because he was having convulsive fits with an Xbox monkey on his back.

This is what happens to our children after they outgrow Barney, Blues Clues, and playing Fish.

I guess the game developers don’t have kids. They should be forced to understand the havoc these games cause outside the lab and test facility. A robot playing the game is one thing, a young adult does not respond the same way. Where the robot might politely say “game-over-my-avatar-lost,” the human child says “What the ^&*!?” and throws a wild temper tantrum. I could also elaborate on a few television programs that add those words to their vocabularies, but that would take me forever.

As most of us know, this offensive behavior does not contribute to the health and well being of other family members, especially seniors, even if you do take the batteries out of their hearing aids. The white noise can literally turn their nervous systems into jello.

Two nights ago, while Junior was playing Manhunt on his Nintendo and sending out demon vibes that bellowed down the staircase, Aunt Ida, who is 86 years old, thought it was the end of the world, said an Act of Contrition, and loudly proclaimed her innocence before she passed out. The fact that Uncle Harry was watching Bill O'Reilly on the TV in the next room at the same time, might have contributed to it as well, I’m not sure.

Poetic justice would be for a game developer to actually give birth to Rosemary’s baby and deal with the little monster while working from home.

Here is a cleaned up demo:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Transporting Sasquatch

by Rose A. Valenta

A bachelor never quite gets over the idea that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever.”~ Helen Rowland

CNN recently reported on the continued search for Sasquatch, The Abominable Snowman. Uncle Harry was at my house reading the same story in the local newspaper. He was so tickled by the large Sasquatch footprint photograph that he cut it out and hung it on my refrigerator with tape, waiting for a reaction from Uncle Dick, who was expected to arrive for dinner any minute. These two single seniors in my life like to prank each other and have never quite grown up into manhood.

Apparently, way back when Christ was a Corporal and the two of them attended their Senior Prom, Harry’s date Matilda earned the nickname “Sasquatch” when she poured her size 24 self into a size 18 ½ brown chenille A-line gown, complete with large gaudy feathered accessories, for the Prom.

They traveled to the dance in an old Ford Roadster. Matilda weighing in at 240 lbs. had to literally back into the car to get into position for the seat. Dick’s date looked more like Olive Oyl, in her size 5 spinach-green Edwardian-style gown.

After Harry finished waltzing Matilda and before the night was over, she had literally punctured the floorboard in the Ford with her high-heels. Harry swore that there was no necking room inside the car and that he had to stretch like a deer forging for figs, to reach her face in the moonlight.

He noticed that you could actually see the dirt road whizzing by though the holes in the floorboard on the way home. So, he went to the local bakery and talked the head baker into selling him a sheet pan to cover the damaged floor in the car. The next day, he and Dick repaired the floor and hid the pan with a throw-rug for future use.

Dick told him that he should seriously consider dating thinner women, but Harry wouldn’t listen. In later years, Dick would tell Harry that all those “No Hazmat” signs on the highway were there because of his old dates, rotted floorboards, and general taste in women. As I recall, Harry’s ex-wife actually did look like an Abominable Snowman in her wedding dress. Her maid of honor wore a gown that rivaled Tula’s bridesmaids in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Dick came in with a bottle of Chardonnay and a case of Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat that he promptly put in the refrigerator. He immediately saw the photograph of the alleged Sasquatch footprint.

“Harry, you never told me that you took Tildy out for a barefoot walk on the beach on Prom night,” he said.

One story led to another and they had me laughing all night. I figured that "Transporting Sasquatch" would make a great episode for Shipping Wars.

I’ve never been quite sure if Helen Rowland, author of The Rubaiyat of a Bachelor, actually knew my Uncles Harry and Dick.

© 2014, Valenta, All rights reserved.
To read my column Skinny Dipping click here
To buy my book “Sitting on Cold Porcelain” click here

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Give it up For 'The Flim-Flam Man'

by Rose A. Valenta

My Uncle Harry has it in for complainers. I feel that God has to look out for them more because they are misguided; so is Harry, but he is clueless.

Harry smelled my bacon cooking this morning and invited himself over for breakfast, as usual, with a solution to yet another social issue.

“Look at how many complainers there are,” he said. “Some people only complain about a few things, like the high price of food, clothing, and shelter; while others complain about practically everything. Do you realize how many personal attacks there are because Kilroy was here and Paul, the late Psychic Octopus, picked Spain to the win the World cup? Some people have no sense of humor. Whatever happened to honest solutions and self-motivation?” He said.

“Harry, what have you been smoking?” I asked. “I just rolled out of bed; put the cat out; started cooking bacon and eggs; still need coffee to wake up, so I can put on Tyler Florence and enjoy myself; and you come over here talking about Kilroy and self-motivation. I was already motivated before you came over.”

“See, you’re complaining already, just what I’m talking about.”

“How do you want your eggs this morning?” I asked.

“Did you check the expiration date on the carton?” he responded.

“Harry, can I get a straight answer, please?” I asked. “Obviously you forget that I’m always in the world of discombobulation before coffee.”

“I’ll take them scrambled, but not watery like they were on Sunday.”

“Oh! Okay, here is the frying pan and two eggs. I guess you can get self-motivated. I’ll be in the next room watching Tyler. The bacon is cooked already. It’s an honest solution.”

“It’s my day off, like Sunday!” He said in disbelief.

“Yes, and I just asked God for inspiration. I said ‘God please help me deal with this man, who questions my cooking; doesn’t pay for the food; watches that idiot Bill O'Reilly, who forgot to ask the President Super Bowl-related questions, on my TV; stores his flip-flops on my screen porch; and thinks he can solve the world’s problems because he is being influenced by chronic complainers.”

“What chronic complainers influence me?” He asked.

“FoxNews!” I answered. “They could be 'Mikey' in a cereal commercial. You're addicted. Just think about how much more pleasant your world would be today, if you put on ‘Funniest Home Videos’ or, since it's Women's History Month, a nice documentary about Eleanor Roosevelt, instead of Fox News on the TV.” I said.

“Very Funny!” He said sarcastically. “Obama’s got the whole world on a sinking ship, and you want me to watch comedy or a woman's life story, who could have beaten Eisenhower hands-down if the Democrats weren't so stupid. They chose to run Adlai Stevenson? Ha!”

“It’s the way you look at things, Harry. Why dwell on politics every day, when you know Obama's term is almost over?”

“Like the Mayan Calendar ran out in 2012 - its too late, and we owe $17 trillion.” He said.

“Oh, so you saw that movie too! No wonder you are grumpy. You would prefer that they skin Obama alive in 2014, so you can watch and buy Gold because the world might come to an end after all? How will you spend your earnings? That makes a lot of sense. You’re going to have to trust me on this, Harry. If you watch every comedy movie ever made via Netflix between now and the primaries, instead of Fox News, your blood pressure will drop 20 or 30 points," I said.

"Nothing will change, Fox has made a soap opera out of our Commander-in-Chief called Rodney Dangerfield Incarnated. You will be pleasantly surprised at the new list of candidates for 2016. Maybe the media will show some respect for the next person we elect. After all, Obama is our president, not the dictator they depict. He consults with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General. As far as I know, none of them are communists,” I added; plus, if you have any doubt about his sense of humor, watch the real interview he did with Between Two Ferns."

“Damn! and you didn't have coffee yet? Will you make me some scrambled eggs, if I wean myself gradually?” He asked.

“How about watching the cooking channel with me today?” I answered. “Tyler doesn’t spew hate and makes a helluva good old fashioned American apple pie. Then, we can go out to the movies and see the old comedy for throwback Thursday The Flim-Flam Man.”

“Okay, it’s a deal,” he said.

Yes! Give it up for The Flim-Flam Man!