It’s All About Family

Chapter 9

For the next two days, Nick left school and made his way to the alley. Each day, Johnny Balboni waited for him, sitting on cardboard, eating an apple, and offering one to Nick. Johnny worked with Nick on his calculus. Nick left Johnny feeling more and more confident about how he might score on the SATs.  Nick took the SATs on Thursday.

On the night before Nick took the SATs, Nick’s dad told the family he got a call from the Recreation Department and he didn’t get the job. They told him, he was their second choice, but they chose someone who had more experience in that kind of work.

Nick’s spirits dropped. He hoped with his dad getting the job, he could quit working at Martini’s Deli and concentrate on school and running track in the spring. Both seemed nearly impossible to him. He was quiet during the meal. After dinner, he helped clear the table and returned to his bedroom to study for the SATs. After an hour, his dad knocked on his door. When his dad came into the room, he told Nick not to let his bad news bother him. His dad said he was sure something good would turn up. Nick smiled and half heartedly told his dad he believed him. Between his dad’s bad news and his anxiety about the test, Nick didn’t fall to sleep until nearly 3 in morning. His mom woke him up at six. By seven-thirty he had his backpack and was off to school. The SATs were at nine.

Nick felt pretty good after taking the SATs, but he knew it would take time to receive his scores, between two and three weeks. He worked on the weekends at Martini’s. He was now putting in more hours. He worked from four in the afternoon until ten at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. Nick spent the rest of his free time studying.

It was Monday, Christmas was a week away. Nick walked down the alley as he did every day after school. He hoped to see Johnny. Nick hadn’t seen Johnny Balboni in two weeks. He missed him. But it was Johnny’s way to drift to different parts of the town. Nick wanted to thank him for helping him. Nick walked into his house. His mom was baking Christmas cookies, there were two plates filled with cookies, cooling on the table.

Nick said, “Hi mom.” Then he grabbed a cookie.

His mom, whose back was turned toward Nick, was peeking in the oven, said, “Hi Nick, only one cookie, don’t spoil your appetite.”

“Maybe I took two,” said Nick.

“No, it was only one. How was school?” His mom asked.

“It was okay.”

“Any news on the SATs?” Asked his mom.

“Not yet. They’ll send me an email when I can go online and look at my scores. Where’s dad, said Nick.

“He’s out. He’ll be back for dinner,” said his mom said.

Nick went into his room, he put his backpack on his bed, pulled out his laptop and took it to his desk. He opened his laptop, typed in his password that was the name of his favorite music group plus his birth year. He saw the number 4 on his email icon. He opened his email app and scanned through the unopened emails. There was the email from the College Board informing him his SAT scores were available online. There was a link to take Nick to the SAT site where he could find his scores.

Nick’s heart raced. He knew the lowest score was 400 and a perfect score on the combined exams was 1600. He also knew if he scored 1500 or higher, he was home free. He’d get a scholarship to any university in the country. He clicked on the link, filled in the identification information on the website, and saw his scores. His score for evidenced based reading and writing was 590. His math score was 701. He had a combined total of 1291. He knew this was well above the average scores of around a 1000, he wasn’t sure it was good enough to get him a full scholarship to college. His parents were adamant, he was not to take any loans to go to college and have a big bill when he finished.

Nick closed the computer and stared at the ceiling. He fell asleep. He only woke when his dad shook him, “Nick? Nick? Wake up.”

Nick opened his eyes, “I must have been exhausted. Thanks, dad.” Nick rubbed his eyes and sat up,

“Dinners ready. Freshen up. I’ll see you at the table,” said his dad giving Nick’s hair a tussle.

Laura said grace. Nick’s mom made a large lasagna. A picture of her lasagna covered with her homemade sauce and mozzarella cheese was worth a thousand words. She served Nick’s dad first with a generous piece. Then she went by age, Nick, followed by Laura, and then Stella. Nicks mom served herself last. No one ate until everyone was served.

Nick took a bite and said, “I got my SAT scores. They were terrible.”

“Terrible? What’s terrible? What’d you get?” Asked his dad.

“On the evidenced based reading and writing I got a 590 and on math I got a 701,” said Nick dejectedly.

“You’re kidding me, right? Eight hundred is perfect and you got a 701 in math? That’s awesome. Your total score was right near 1300, right?” Said his dad.

“I guess it’s good, but not good enough to be sure I’d get a free ride to any college,” said Nick.

“Don’t quit. Isn’t that what Johnny Balboni told you?” Said his dad.

“Yah. I guess. If I run track in the spring, maybe I’ll run good enough in the 800 meters to earn a track scholarship,” said Nick taking another bit of his lasagna.

Nick’s dad ignored Nick’s little pity party and said, “I have some news. I got the job at the Recreation Department. The person they wanted, turned it down. I’m okay with being their second choice. I’ll prove to them, I should have been their first choice. I start right after Christmas.”

Nick and his sister shouted and got up and went to their dad and hugged him. Nick’s mom, made the sign of the cross, thanked God, and cried.

When they sat back down, Nick’s dad said, “You don’t mind working for a few more weeks until I start getting paid, do you Nick?”

Nick said, “We’re family dad. Of course not.”

Will Nick get a scholarship to college? Will he have a chance to thank Johnny Balboni for helping him with his math?

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Spaghetti & Good News

Chapter 8

“Dinner’s ready,” called Nick’s mom from the kitchen.
Nick’s stomach was doing flips the moment he walked into his house. A sweet aroma filled the house from his mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. He loved the smell. All he had to eat since breakfast were the apple and candy bar Johnny gave him. He put his laptop to sleep and went to the kitchen. His dad and mom and two sisters were waiting for him.
Nick grinned, “Sorry, I learned how to do a really tough calculus problem today. I had a breakthrough. For the first time I understand this stuff.”
His dad broke into a wide smile and said, “I want to hear more. Mom is going to say grace tonight.”
Nick, his sisters, and his mom and dad joined hands and bowed their heads. His mom prayed, “Thank you Lord for this meal. Thank you for the people who grew and harvested the tomatoes for the sauce. Thank you for our health. Thank you for Nick’s math breakthrough, and please let Tony’s interview go well tomorrow. Amen.”
The family made the sign of the cross then Nick said, “Dad, you have an interview tomorrow?”
“I didn’t want to say anything, but you know mom, she’s not shy about praying,” said Nick’s dad.
“Well? What is it?” Asked Nick.
Nick’s dad twirled the spaghetti around his fork and put it in his mouth, he chewed it and swallowed and took a sip of red wine. He placed his glass down and said, “This is crazy. I walked down to the coffee shop this morning to give mom some space. I got a small cup of coffee and sat down. Freddy O’Leary sees me and takes his coffee over and we start talking. Little by little I tell him the whole story. Freddy tells me the director of the town’s youth recreation position is open. I told him I don’t qualify. He says I qualify because I coach youth soccer, youth basketball, and youth baseball. He says I’m perfect for the job. I went to the Recreation Department and filled out an application. I beat the deadline by an hour. I got a call an hour ago. I have an interview tomorrow.”
Nick and his sisters got up from the table and went to their dad and hugged him. His dad loved to be hugged. Nicks mom watched the love her children were giving their dad and wiped away tears from her eyes.
After Nick and his sisters sat down, his dad said, “There are four other people they’re interviewing. It’s not a sure thing.”
Nick said, “Dad tell them not to show up, you’re going to do great.”
“Yah! Said his sisters in unison.
Nick’s dad said, “Tell us about your calculus breakthrough.”
Nick told his mom and dad and sisters about meeting Johnny Balboni in the alley. He told them how Johnny gave him an apple and candy bar. Then he told them how Johnny taught him calculus in a way he could understand it.
Nick’s dad said, “It doesn’t surprise me.”
Nick said, “It doesn’t?”
“No, Johnny came to the US with his parents when he was 14. He graduated from high school by the time he was 16. He was brilliant. He had a full scholarship to the best engineering school in the world, MIT. By the time he was 20 years old he had his masters degree. He stayed at MIT and worked on all kinds of projects. He never married, his work became his life. He never made a big deal about his career, he was always a regular guy when you’d see him. I think it was when he was fifty. He was in a car accident. They thought he was going to die. He had severe injuries. He was never the same after that. He never went back to MIT. He began to drift around and soon became what he is today.”
“He wants me to see him tomorrow, he’s going to work with me some more,” said Nick.
“Do it, Nick. It will be as good for him as it will be for you,” said his dad.
“Johnny told me to never give up,” said Nick.
“That’s good advice for you and for me, Nick,” said his dad.
Will Nick’s dad get the job? Will Nick do well on the SATs in three days? Will Johnny’s mind get better

Life Is Full of Surprises

Chapter 7

Nick thought what the heck and walked over to Johnny Balboni and sat down on the cold ground next to him.

Johnny reached over and grabbed a piece of cardboard and handed it to Nick, “Sit on this. It won’t be so cold.”

Nick took the cardboard and slid it under himself. He said, “Thanks, Johnny. How are you doing?”

Johnny stuck out his hand and wiggled his hand, “So, so. I do okay, You don’t look so good. You got girl troubles?” he said.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t feel like talking. He started to get up, but stopped when Johnny put his hand on his arm.

“You got to talk to somebody or you gonna go nuts. Me, I live by myself. I don’t tell anybody what you say to me. I’m not gonna make any judgements. Before you tell me your problems, here’s an apple, I got two of them, we’ll eat and talk, that’s a good combination,” said Johnny wiping the apple first on his raggedy overcoat, then handing it to Nick.

Nick took the apple from Johnny and took a bite, “Thanks, Johnny. I was hungry. I didn’t eat lunch today.”

“Okay, what’s going on? I got all day to listen,” said Johnny.

Nick took another bite of the apple, chewed it, looked off across the ally, swallowed his bite, and began to talk. He told Johnny how he wanted to go to college out of town. He told him how he needed a scholarship so he could go to college. He told him how and why his dad got laid off. Nick talked for twenty minutes. Johnny sat beside him, listening, occasionally nodding his head.

When Nick finished, he said, “I spilled my guts, Johnny. The way my life is going is I’m waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I’m on a losing streak and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Nick scrambled in a bag, You want a candy bar, I got a couple or three in here?”

“No, you keep them,” said Nick.

“What for? You a growing boy, you need your strength. Here,” said Johnny handing Nick a Snicker’s bar.

“Thanks, Johnny.

“Not a problem. Now we gonna start with the first problem and then we gonna work through the rest of them,” said Johnny.

Nick’s first thought was I have homework to do. I have to study for the SATs. I made a mistake sitting down.

Before Nick could decide what to do, Johnny said, “What’s the problem in calculus? Maybe I can help you with it.”

Nick turned to face Johnny, “You know calculus?”

“Hey, maybe I’m 87 years old but I still know calculus.”

“How do you know calculus? Johnny asked.

“We gonna talk all day or you gonna show me the problem?” Said Nick.

Nick pulled out his iPhone and showed Johnny the photo of the calculus problem Mr. Durlo put on the screen. “I can’t figure out how he got the answer. I admit I wasn’t paying attention.”

Johnny didn’t say anything, he took Nick’s iPhone and stared at the screen. He held the iPhone in his right hand. His left hand gestured in the air. After a minute he handed the iPhone to Nick and said, “Listen up. You got any questions, you tell me after I splain it to you.”

Nick nodded. Then Johnny began taking Nick through the calculus problem one step at a time. Twice, Nick wanted to ask a question, but he stopped himself. By the time Johnny finished, Nick understood the problem and how Johnny arrived at the answer.

“I understand it perfectly, Johnny. I can’t thank you enough,” said Nick and started to get up. Johnny’s hand stopped him again. Nick took a deep breath and sat down.

“Not so fast, Nick. I’ll be here the next two days at the same time. I’ll help you with your calculus. You gonna do okay on the test, don’t you worry about it. That’s the first thing. The second thing, you gonna have disappointments in life. They happen to everybody. What you got to do is never give up. If you quit, the game is over. You as good as dead. But if you keep trying, you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine on you.

“But, Johnny, it’s my dream to get out of town and study someplace else. I don’t have a chance,” said Nick.

Johnny shook his head, “Who told you that you don’t have a chance? Somebody send you a letter telling you not to try?”

“No?” Said Nick.

“Then you making this stuff up. You don’t know until it happens, You understand me?” Said Johnny.

Nick thought about it for a minute, then realized Johnny was right. He knew he was making it up.”

He turned to Johnny who was now standing. Johnny said, “I can’t spend anymore time today, I got to make my rounds. You remember what I tell you and I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Right,” said Nick.

How does Johnny Balboni know calculus? Will Nick’s bad luck change? Come by tomorrow for another chapter in the Christmas story.

He’s No Bum – He’s A Human Being

Chapter 6

Mr. Durlo, the calculus teacher, used his extended pointer and pointed to the screen. “Any questions on how we arrived at this answer? Nick, you look like you’re someplace else. Do you understand the thinking we used to get this answer?”

Nick knew Mr. Durlo was right. His mind was on his dad. It was on Johnny Balboni. It was on the SATs that he’d take on Thursday. It was on everything but this class.

“I understand, Mr. Durlo,” said Nick.

Nick knew he didn’t understand, but didn’t want to embarrass himself. In one more minute the bell would ring to end class. It would be time for lunch. He was going to sit with Cara and ask her to go over the calculus problem with him. He glanced at her, but she didn’t glance back.

The bell rang, Nick stood up and walked to the front of the class and waited for Clara. The class slowly emptied. Clara remained at her desk. When Mr. Durlo and all the students were out of the room except for she and Nick, Clara said, “We need to talk, Nick.”

Clara pointed to a desk next to her. Nick’s stomach hurt. He knew Clara and knew her voice. Her voice this time was filled with seriousness. Nick had a feeling if this were a movie it was not going to have a happy ending. Nick sat at the desk in row next to Clara. He moved his desk so he faced her. He said, “Want to go to lunch? I could use some help on my calculus.”

“Yes, I want to go to lunch. But I am not going with you, Nick. I like you. I really like you. But I am going to end our relationship.”

“Why? What did I do?” Asked Nick.

“It’s not what you did. You didn’t do anything to hurt me. It’s just that with you working on the weekends we’ll never have time to see each other. I want more of a life and it’s not going to happen with you.”

“It’ll only be for a short time. As soon as my dad gets a job, I’ll be able to quit. We can see each other at lunch. We can get together on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Want to give it a chance?” Nick didn’t want to get upset. Each time he felt his anger rising, he fought to control it.

“There’s more Nick. You don’t know it, but everyone is laughing and you and your father for helping the town bum out. He’s disgusting. You’re so much better than him. If you promise not to go near him, I’ll give it a try for a couple of weeks and see how it goes with us. Is it a deal?” Asked Cara.

Nick turned his head and stared at the Calculus problem on the screen. He thought, that is how my life looks, it’s one big problem after another. He made a deep sigh and looked at Cara, and said, “Johnny Balboni is no bum. He’s a human like the rest of us. If you talk to him, you’ll find out what a decent guy he is. I won’t stop talking to him or helping him out where I can.”

Cara took hold of her purse, she stood up and said, “Have a nice life, Nick. I’m not part of it and don’t try to sit with me at lunch.”

Nick watched Cara leave. He sat and thought about it. Everything happening to me is because of Johnny Balboni. And, Johnny doesn’t even know anything about it. Nick stayed in the empty classroom staring at the calculus problem. Twice he walked up to the screen and studied the problem more closely. He was missing something, he couldn’t figure out what it was. He snapped a photo of the problem with his iPhone to study later.

Nick went through his advanced chemistry class and his Spanish IV class in a daze. He couldn’t concentrate. In the space of a couple of days he lost his best friend, Buttons, his girlfriend Clara and any hope he had for scoring well on the SATs. After his last class, he left school and began walking home. He couldn’t remember walking home without Buttons. A first time for everything he thought.

When he got to the center of town, he decided to take a short cut through the alley behind the row of stores. He wouldn’t meet anyone in the alley, he didn’t feel like talking. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt. He was angry. He was sad. He was scared. And, he wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Nick was nearing the end of the alley when he saw an empty bottle. He bent over, picked it up and threw it against the back wall of a building. The glass bottle exploded against the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.

Breaking the bottle didn’t help Nick. He still felt lousy. He kicked at the ground and started walking.

“Hey, Nick. Hey, Nick. What you do that for, break a bottle worth a five cents?” Said Johnny Balboni.

Nick stopped and looked for Johnny. It took him a minute before he found him. Johnny was sitting next to a large empty box, eating a sandwich and sipping from a bottle of water.

Before Nick could say anything, Johnny said, “Come over here and keep me company while I eat.”

Why does Johnny want Nick to sit with him? Will Nick’s string of bad luck stop? What else can go wrong for Nick

Forget About Being Friends

Chapter 5

Nick stood behind the counter at Martini’s Deli cutting onions into small pieces. He never wanted to look at another onion. His eyes watered and tears rolled down his cheeks. He still had twenty more onions to go. When he finished cutting the onions, he’d start cutting the green peppers, then the jalapeno peppers, then the habanero peppers.

He looked up at the wall clock, it was eight-thirty. Here he was alone, his girlfriend Cara was with her parents at her nonna’s house in Providence. He wouldn’t see Cara until he went to school on Monday. Nick made a deep sigh and kept on cutting onions.

The door opened, “Hey Nick, how’s it going?” said Buttons.

“It’s going okay,” said Nick.

Buttons took a seat on stool at the counter. “A bunch of us are going to the ten o’clock movie. Can you make it?” said Buttons.

“No. Tino will come by at ten and then I’ll have to clean up. I’ll be lucky to get out by eleven,” said Nick.

“What are friends for, Nick? I’ll hang out with you. After Tino leaves, I’ll help out and all we’ll miss is the coming attractions,” said Buttons.

“You can’t hang out without buying a sub. I’d get fired. I can’t afford to get fired,” said Nick.

“Make me a sub. What’s Tino to know. He’ll think I paid for it,” said Buttons.

Nick shook his head, “Buttons, I can’t do that, even for a friend. You know that.”
“Why not? Who’s it going to hurt. It’d be stealing,” said Nick.

Buttons wasn’t about to give up, “Let me put it this way. Suppose a starving person came in and asked you for a sub, would you give it to him?”

Nick put the knife down and leaned over the counter, “Buttons, I can’t sit and talk with you. You have to order or leave. It’s the way it has to be.”

“Some friend you are. Forget it,” said a suddenly angry Buttons. He walked to the door, then turned back to Nick. “If you can’t do me a small favor, forget about me being your friend. I’ll find another friend.”

Nick shrugged and watched Buttons leave. Buttons got into his car and drove off without waving at Nick.

Five minutes after Buttons left, a worker from the plant where his dad was laid off came into the deli. Nick knew him, it was Carl Pozzi. Nick said, “What can I do for you, Carl?”

Carl nodded, but didn’t say anything, he looked at the sub menu on the wall. Carl said, “It’s a tough decision. Maybe I want the pepperoni, provolone cheese, and hot peppers.”

“That’s a good choice,” said Nick.

“I didn’t say that was what I wanted. Maybe I’ll go with the friend eggplant, roasted peppers and mozzarella.”

Nick didn’t say anything. He waited.

“Okay, I made my decision. I’ll go with the veal parmesan with hot peppers and mozzarella.”

“Have it for you in a minute, Carl. Anything you want to drink to go with it?” said Nick.

“No, I’ll take it to go. Too bad about your dad. He would have been okay if he knew enough to keep his mouth shut, and not act stupid,” said Carl.

Nick’s back was turned to Carl as he made Carl’s sandwich. He stopped making the sandwich and turned around, “What do you mean?” Nick said.

“Your dad’s stupid. It happened last Friday. When our shift finished, the company put on a Christmas spread for us. There were sandwiches, cookies, cake, and coffee. It didn’t last long, maybe an hour. Your dad got a call on his cell, he stepped outside for a minute to take the call. I was looking out the window and saw him wave to the town bum, Johnny Balboni. Balboni’s fishing through the trash cans. Your dad finished his call and waved Balboni over. He said something to him. Balboni nodded. Your dad came in and picked up two sandwiches, a couple of cookies and cup of coffee and took it outside and gave it to the bum. I didn’t say nothing about it. But the supervisor saw him. He was angry. When your dad came back, the supervisor started hollering at him. Your dad turned and walked away. He didn’t care. You know what happened. He got laid off. It should have never happened, your dad had seniority.”

Nick was angry. Life was really unfair. You do something good and you get fired. It just wasn’t fair. At the same time, he felt a deep respect and pride for his father. His father didn’t mention it to the family. Nick made up his mind, he wouldn’t complain. He’d work hard to help support his family. If he had to go to college in town, he’d make the best of it.

 

Will Nick catch a break? Is the friendship between Nick and Buttons over? The Christmas story continues.

A Worn Scarf – A Warm Smile

Chapter 4

Nick slipped on his dark hoodie. He walked out of the house without saying goodbye. He heard his mother call and say, “Wear your winter coat, it’s cold.”

Then he heard his father say, “Leave him alone. He’s got to work through the change in his plans. He’ll be okay.”

Nick thought, “No, I won’t be okay. I’ll never get the scholarship.”

He looked at the night sky and wondered if anybody really cared about him. He wondered if his parents even tried to understand him. He felt angry. He wanted scream at the top of his lungs, but suppressed the desire, he knew he’d be making trouble for himself. Five minutes later he was standing in front of Martini’s Deli. Tino was behind the counter waiting on a policeman.

Nick stood outside. He was cold, the night temperature dropped to near thirty and a brisk wind kicked in. Nick remembered hearing about a cold front coming down from Canada. His hands were cold, he blew on them. He started jumping up and down to stay warm. Then he heard a voice.

“Hey, Nicky. You cold. Take this and put it around your neck.”

Nick turned and saw Johnny Balboni handing him a wore scarf.

“Thanks Johnny. I can’t take it, it’s yours,” said Nick.

Johnny came a step closer, “No, you take it. I want you to have it. It’s my best one. But you stood up for me today. If I was thirty years younger, they wouldn’t have bothered me. But now, now is different. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”

Nick didn’t want the scarf, but he took it and wrapped it around his neck the way Johnny wanted him to wrap it.

“There, you feel better. I bet you not so cold now. Tell me the truth, you happy Johnny gave you his scarf?”

Nick did feel warmer. Okay, he wasn’t a fashion plate but the 18 degree wind chill didn’t feel quite as bad as it did a few minutes before. He looked at Johnny, still wearing his old fedora and giving him his broad smile showing mostly gums and few teeth. Nick said, “I feel much better, Johnny. I’ll drop it by your place tomorrow.”

“No. It’s yours Nick. I want you to have it. You know where I got this scarf. I’ll tell you. A long time ago, I had a girlfriend. I used to be good looking in those days. She gave me this scarf for Christmas. It was the best gift I ever had. I know she would want you to have it.”

Nick stared at Johnny. He couldn’t picture Johnny ever being good looking.

Johnny said, “I gotta go. See you around, Nick.”

Johnny picked up his black plastic trash bag, one-third filled with aluminum cans, tugged on the brim of his fedora and headed up the alley between Martini’s Deli and Eddie’s Barbershop. Nick was watching him when he heard the deli door open.

“You gonna stand out there all night. Your dad called and said you was on your way,” Tino Martini sounded more like a Marine drill sergeant than a deli owner.

Nick followed Tino into the deli. He took a quick glance for the policeman. Only Tino and he were in the deli. Nick surmised the policeman left while he was talking with Johnny.

Tino went behind the counter and Nick stood in front of the counter. Tino was a big guy. Not big in the way of a basketball player, but big in the way of looking like he could pick up a two-hundred pound bag of sand and toss it like it was filled with air. Tino’s arms were covered with black hair.

Tino wiped his hands on his apron, then he placed his hands, palm down on the counter and bent forward. He said, “I’m doing your dad a favor. I owe him, now we’re even. Don’t ask him about the favor. I also like what you did earlier today taking up of Johnny. He don’t hurt nobody. These are my rules. While you work here, you don’t play on your phone or your computer. I don’t care if there is nobody in here. I find out, you’re done. Understand?”

Nick nodded.

“Here’s another thing. You gonna work from two in the afternoon to ten at night on Saturday and Sunday. That’s when I normally close. I’ll show up to take the cash. You’re going to clean up and then leave. It will take about an hour. If you work out on the weekends, maybe I’ll give a few nights during the week.”

Nick nodded.

“You got any questions?”

“Okay if I start next weekend?”

“No. You start tomorrow. I’m going to take Janet out. We ain’t been to a movie in years.”

“Okay. Thanks for work, Mr. Martini,” said Nick. He didn’t mean it.

“Don’t mention it. Tell your father I said hello.”

“Okay.” Nick walked out of the deli. His heart felt as heavy as a ship’s anchor. Some Christmas he thought. He gave the scarf another wrap around his neck, stuck his hands in his jean’s pockets and headed toward home.

Just when Nick thought his day couldn’t get worse, it got worse.

Leave Him Alone!

Chapter 2

The college campus was near the center of town. The boys walked past a fire station, a Unitarian church, a small hardware store until they reached a road that circled a large green area in the center of town that served as a rotary for traffic. In Massachusetts, the green is known as a common. Small stores lined the street on both sides of the common. One of the stores was Martini’s Deli.

The boys crossed the street, walked across the green, and crossed the street on the other side of the green. Nick tapped Buttons on the arm, “How about a meatball sub?”

Buttons nodded, and pointed to an old guy fishing in a trash can outside of Martini’s Deli. “I can’t stand that guy. Look at him. He disgusting. He carries a trash bag with cans and who knows what else in it. I bet he eats road kill.”

“Do you know him?” asked Nick.

“No, but my dad said stay away from him, he’s no good,” said Buttons.

“I know him. His name is Johnny, Johnny Balboni. He’s a nice guy,” said Nick.

“He’s dressed like a homeless bum. Look at his clothes, even the Salvation Army wouldn’t take them. I bet he hasn’t had a shower in years,” said Buttons.

Nick ignored Buttons, as the boys passed Johnny, Nick said, “Hi Johnny, how’s it going?”

Johnny looked up from the trash can, and gave a smile. His beaming smile opened a mouth with four teeth on top and three on the bottom. He tipped his worn old gray fedora to Nick, and said, “It’s a going okay. I find maybe twenty cans. They a nickel each. So far I make a buck.”

“Good luck, Johnny,” said Nick as he opened the door to Martini’s.

Nick ordered the meatball sub. The boys ordered Cokes and took their order to a booth near a window. Nick gave half of the sub to Buttons, who unwrapped and bit into it as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.

Nick took a sip of his Coke and said, “You can’t judge a guy by how he dresses, Buttons. Johnny does the yardwork around our house in the summer. He doesn’t charge much. Mom gives him a sandwich and some money when he’s done. He never counts the money. He stuffs it in his pocket, tips his hat and takes off until the next week.”

Buttons wiped his mouth on a napkin, “What’s with him and that hat? I never seen him without it. You think he’s hiding something inside it?”

Nick didn’t answer. He slid out of the booth, “I’ll be right back.”

“Where you going?” asked Buttons but Nick was already at the door.

Buttons looked out the window. Two guys from their class were hassling Johnny. He saw Nick talking to them. One of the guys pushed Nick. Nick stumbled backward and fell. As he was getting up, the other guy hit him in the face bloodying Nick’s nose. Nick got up and charged into the guy that hit him, wrestling him to the ground. The other guy was pulling Nick off his friend when Tino Martini came out and broke it up.

Nick brushed himself off. He went back into the deli. He returned to the booth but didn’t sit. He reached for some napkins and wiped his nose and the blood off his chin and hoodie.

“What happened?” asked Buttons.

“They were bullying Johnny and taking cans out of his bag and tossing them back in the trash. They thought it was funny. I didn’t. I don’t feel like eating, let’s go,” said Nick, grabbing his sandwich and Coke.

“Look what it got you, a bloody nose,” said Buttons.

“If you don’t stand up to a bully, they’ll never stop, said Nick.

“Yah, but they weren’t bullying you. You made it your fight,” said Buttons.

“Johnny’s old and can’t fight back. Somebody had to stick up for him,”said Nick pressing the cold can of Coke aside his nose.

The boys left Martini’s. Nick walked over to Johnny and handed him sub. Johnny took the sub and tipped his hat to Nick.

“I have to find a way to go to college anyplace but here,” said Nick.

Buttons didn’t say anything. The subject changed to sports, girls, and Christmas. By the time they got home, the fight was forgotten.

Nick has a good heart. Come by tomorrow and see where our story is headed.

She’s One Tough Negotiator

Chapter 23

Gallino sat on the sofa between Zeke on his right and Mickey on his left. An old, dated coffee table in front of them. Nonna sat in a stiff, upholstered, maple chair that looked more at home in a Salvation Army store than in her living room.

Nonna stared at Gallino and said, “Tell me whatchu got? Because if you don’t got nothing, you gonna get nothing. And don’t think you gonna go outside and get some muscle to come in here and take what I got because all I got is copies. Rocco told me where to put the originals for safe keeping.”

Gallino tried to remember a Rocco. Maybe it was a cousin. Maybe a neighbor. He thought he knew everyone in the neighborhood. He said, “How’s Rocco doing. I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“The damn fool been dead for twenty years. He gotta nother guess coming if he thinks I gonna stay pure for him. But we talk once a week. I gotta nother question for you? How’s you love life since I put the spell on you?”

“You go Nonna,” said Mickey.

“Palitroni, you keepa you mouth shut or I put a curse on you and turn you into a Butterball turkey,

“That’s one of the things I wanted to discuss. What do I have to do to get rid of the curse and get back the package and all the copies you made?”

“For one thing, I gotta look after Zeke. He’s my favorite grandson. Freddie, he’s in the county for six more months, then there Al, he knocked up his girlfriend, the fool don’t know to use a condom, what a they teachin in school? Then there’s Tony, I know he gotta make a living, but give me a break, does he hafta sell dope to do it. I put a curse on him gonna make him wish he was dead, cause he gonna be worse than dead. Then there’s Angelo, you know what he did? He sold his house on Center to Street to Carmen Palitroni. What damn fool gonna have anything to do with a Palitroni. I put a curse on that house, don’t be surprised when it burns down. This leaves Zeke, he the only good grandson I got. Now you trying to bust his balls. What’s wrong with you?”

Gallino turned to his left and saw Mickey scrolling through Snapchat photos. He turned to his right and saw Zeke using nail clippers to trim his nails. What was he thinking when he asked these two guys to do him a favor? “Listen, Nonna. There’s been a misunderstanding. I apologize for the inconvenience. It won’t happen again. I promise.”

“Hah! The last guy you made a promise to is floating in the river. Don’t give me no promise. You know what’s gonna happen tomorrow? I tell you what’s gonna happen tomorrow. If we don’t work things out, I giving all the photos to the newspaper. Then you gonna be the laughing stock. When Boston sees the photos, Tony Gallino gonna go for a long vacation, you know what I mean?”

“I was a kid. I had to do it. Please don’t publish them,” begged Gallino.

Zeke perked up, “I thought you look cute in pink tights.”

“I didn’t want to take ballet class. I split out my tights and my mother made me wear my sister’s tights,” said Gallino.

“What about the photo of you and Nicky’s wife smooching? That didn’t look like no kiss on the cheek,” said Nonna.

“Nicky was out of town. She was starved for affection. You can’t show that. Nicky thinks she’s faithful,” said Gallino.

“I didn’t know that,” said Mickey.

“What I tell you Palitroni? One more crack and you disappear,” said Nonna giving Mickey the eye. Then she said to Gallino, “You want me go on?”

“No, I’ll do anything. But take the curse off me, the girls are angry with me. They’re threatening to tell Gina.”

“Okay, this is my deal. You give Zeke Lombardi’s. It’s gonna be his place. As for Palitroni, I gonna cut him some slack because he’s Zeke’s friend. You make him your driver. But he don’t work on Monday’s, Tuesday, Thursdays, Friday’s, Saturday’s or Sunday’s. Wednesday is all he can handle because he’s slow. Now, you give me thirty thousand in cash and we got a deal. You wanna walk away, it’s okay. But I tell you, you gonna feel like a freight train run over you front and back.”

Gallino said, “Deal.” Then he started to stand.

Nonna said, “Not so fast schmuck. We gonna do this now. You call your lawyer and have him bring the papers for Lombardi’s and the cash to me and driver’s gloves for Palitroni right away. You make sure you give him two-hundred a week for his work on Wednesdays. I got some lasagna cooking we gonna celebrate because we gotta deal.”

“It smells really good, Nonna,” said Gallino.

“Nonna, can I drink at Zeke’s place on the days I don’t work?” asked Mickey.

“If it makes you happy, Palitroni. You don’t drink on Wednesday. No drinking and driving or I put a curse on you.”

Zeke said, “I’m gonna make some changes, starting with Gus. I’m gonna hire my best friend to be bartender and give him Wednesday’s off.”

“Who’s that, Zeke,” asked Mickey.

“It’s you, Mickey.”

“It’s my dream job. You’re my best friend,” said Mickey.

You Smell Like A Skunk

Chapter 22

Zeke and Mickey rode in the back seat of the black BMW. Tony Gallino rode in the passenger seat, the driver thug drove. The driver thug was wearing driving gloves to prevent his hands from making smudges on the steering wheel. This was one Gallino’s pet peeves. He hated smudges. The thug took a left onto Walnut Ave. Cars lined both sides of the street. The only free spot was the space in front of the fire hydrant in front of the house where Nonna lived.

“There’s no parking spaces Mr. G. Want me to drop use off and wait at a coffee shop until you ring me?” said the thug.

“No need, Tony. The space in front of the hydrant is reserved for me. Since I’m with you, you can take my space,” said Zeke.

Gallino turned and looked over his shoulder at Zeke, “The cops let you alone if you park there?”

“They never bother me.  It’s the way it works.

Gallino said, “Interesting.” Then  he tapped the right shoulder of the thug, “Park in front of the hydrant. Don’t let anything happen to my car, you understand?” said Gallino.

“I gotcha, Mr. G,” said the thug.

Two minutes later, Zeke is knocking on Nonna’s door. Gallino is standing behind Zeke. Mickey is standing behind Gallino.

From behind the door, “I gotta no time the Jehovah’s today. Go knock on somebody else’s door.”

“Nonna, it’s me, Zeke,” said Zeke.

“I no gonna talk to you if one of those Jehovah’s,” said Nonna.

“I’m not one of them, Nonna. I’m with Tony Gallino, he wants to speak with you,” said Zeke.

“I can smell a Palitroni. You bring that scrunchy little bum with you? Don’t lie to me. I can tell when you lying,” said Nonna.

“I showered this morning,” hollered Mickey.

Nonna hollered back, “You Palitroni’s got the skunk smell. No way you can get rid of it. Anyway, you the drunken bum who drank all my dandelion wine. Now, Gino won’t come over until I get some more. I tell him he can’t come to my house until he take his blue pill, you know what I mean?”

Tony Gallino, wearing his three thousand dollar handmade suit, took his silk handkerchief out of his suit coat pocket and wiped his mouth. He said, “Nonna, it’s me, Tony. Can we talk business? These two schmucks are wasting our time.”

“Who you calling a schmuck? It’s okay to call Palitroni a schmuck, but you no call Zeke a schmuck. He’s just stupid and lazy but he gotta good heart.’

“I know what you mean about the Palitroni’s. You can’t trust them. Can I come in and we can make a deal?” said Gallino thinking he was charming Nonna.

“Okay, I’m gonna let everybody in, but I not gonna waste my food and wine on you. I tell you Tony, you try to seduce me, Rocco’s watching. He gonna ask one of the saints to give you a bad accident.”

“I promise, I won’t try to seduce you, Nonna,” said Gallino.

“Why not? Am I not pretty enough for you? Just because I don’t got those plastic things that stick out like a big grapefruit, is that the reason?” said Nonna.

Gallino, exasperated, said, “Yes, I want to seduce you, but I promise I won’t. It will hard because  you’re so beautiful.”

“Will you take me to your bed if you have a chance and I give in?” said Nonna.

“Yes, I’ll have you spend the night with me. We’ll make passionate love. But I promise I’ll be strong.”

“You a bigger fool than I thought, Tony. Now I gotta all this on my phone. Maybe I’m a gonna play it for the six o’clock news.  Know what I mean?”

“Can I please come in?” Gallino now, almost begging.

“Okie dokie,” said Nonna, taking off the latch, and opening three dead bolt locks, then turning the door handle.

Will Nonna and Tony Gallino cut a deal? What will happen to Zeke and Mickey? What’s in the package?

Writing Dialogue Like Quentin Tarantino

If you’re like me, you understand writers have to write. I’m always trying to learn from the best. In this short YouTube video, Quentin Tarantino shares how he started writing dialogue. If you’re a writer, learn from the best.