They’re Playing Him Like An Accordion

Chapter 21

Tony Gallino got up and began pacing around the small room. The pizza delivery thug and the driver thug stepped back and let Gallino pass. Once he passed, they stepped forward, one on each side of the boys. Gallino made the circle clockwise four times. Each time he made the circle, he stopped behind his desk, turned and starred at Zeke and Mickey. He shook his head and started pacing. After his fourth pass. He stopped, turned toward the boys, placed his two hands palm down on the metal desk.

“You know what I should do with you guys? Do you know what I’m think I should do?”

Zeke kept quiet. Mickey didn’t. He said, “I don’t what you want to do with us, Tony. But if I were in your shoes, I’d tell Gus to make sure we get a free beer every time we come into this place. It’s not like we never been here before. People see us and they feel comfortable. They think two stand up guys like this place. Know what I mean?”

Gallino lifted his head and looked at the two thugs. “You see what’s happening here?”

Neither thug moved. They had no clue what Gallino was thinking and they didn’t want to be wrong.

“I’ll tell you what’s happening here,” said Gallino.

This made the two thugs happy, if they listened they had a good chance at passing a pop quiz.

“This is what’s happening. These two idiots are not idiots. See what I’m saying?”

Both thugs nodded, even though they did not see what Gallino was saying.

Gallino continued, “They are playing me. I do not like it when somebody plays me and I don’t know they are playing me. Nobody dares to do that, but these two, the did it. They played me like an accordion, which I used to play as a kid. This is not common knowledge, so do not say anything.”

The two thugs nodded.

“Gallino continued, “They suckered me into believing they were so dumb they would do me this favor and not look in the package. I, like a fool, believed them. I remember the lesson, Mario Zito taught me. He said, “Antonio, don’t believe nobody, even yourself. Because sometimes yourself lies to you.” Now I know what he means.”

The two thugs nodded.

“So, this is what I am going to do. First, I am going to leave the room while my two thugs mess up your face. Then I’m gonna come back to make sure they did it right. Then I’m gonna leave the room while the two thugs break your legs. Then I’m gonna come back to make sure your legs are broken. Then I’m gonna …”

Gallino paused his sermon on medical malpractice procedures the two thugs were going to inflict on Zeke and Mickey to answer his cell phone and its special ring tone, the Sinatra classic, All The Way. Gallino answered his cell, “Yah, baby.”

Gallino rolled his eyes while he listened to the phone.

“That’s not true, baby. Listen, I got work to do. Can we talk later?”

Gallino paused.

“Don’t you bust my smart TV. You already did? You got my laptop and you’re gonna take it to cops? I thought your sister was you. She tricked me.”

Gallino paused.

“She’s pregnant? She, I mean you, told me you were on the pill.”

A knock on the metal door interrupted Gallino’s phone conversation for a moment.

The pizza delivery thug answered the door. He turned to Gallino and said, “It’s Gus. He says it’s important.”

Gallino nodded to the thug and motioned with his hand to let Gus in the room. Gus entered and said, “Sorry to disturb you Mr. Gallino, but there are three women out there saying they’re going to newspaper saying you made unwanted sexual advances toward them.”

“I do that all the time, what’s their beef?” said Gallino. He realized he hadn’t covered the cell phone. The female voice on the other side of the cell phone connection was letting go with a series of colorful words that might make a hard boiled homicide detective blush.

Zeke said, “If I may, I believe I know a way of your predicament.”

Gallino said “What?”

Zeke answered, “Nonna put a curse on you. The only way to get the curse off is to apologize to her and Mickey and me. I’ll put in a good word with Nonna if you’ll take us to her house.”

Gallino threw his cell against the wall. He picked up a bottle of wine and threw it at Gus, who deftly sidestepped the errant throw and watched the vino splatter against the wall and the shattered bottled lay a mosaic on the floor.

“Okay, but I don’t like it,” said Gallino.

Will Nonna take off the curse? What’s in the package? What’s going to become of Zeke and Mickey?


Thugs, Do I Have an Amen?

Chapter 20

The pizza delivery thug and the driver, a tanned, dark wavy haired thug with a long beak, had Zeke and Mickey by an arm and ushered them into Lombardi’s. Gus was behind the bar washing beer glasses. Mickey glanced over, “Hey Gus, I don’t know where we’re going but can you bring me the usual.”

Zeke shrugged and didn’t say anything.

The boys were taken to a back room. Inside the room was a metal desk, three metal folding chairs. A photo of Ted Williams talking to Joe DiMaggio and another photo of former heavyweight champ, Rocky Marciano.

The driver thug, opened the folding chairs and placed them in front of the desk.

The pizza thug said, “Sit.”

Zeke said, “What’d we do? We done nothing.”

Mickey said, “Can I have my beer?”

The pizza thug said to the driver thug, “I think they’re too stupid to know what they done.”

“Don’t matter, stupid or not. They gotta deal with the consequences.”

“That’s right, you don’t do what Mr.G says, it’s like watching the Food Channel, time for a little fileting, and little grilling.”

“We gonna have a barbeque?” asked Mickey.

“Your buddy got air for brains, you know what I mean. You’d have better off if you hung around with smarter guys like me and him.” The pizza guy was careful not to use names.

Zeke looked up, “He’s a nice guy, he thinks different. We’re best friends. I’m doing okay with him.”

“You got a wise mouth and think you’re so smart. If Mr. G wasn’t coming, I’d smack you around and see how smart you was.”

“Pretty soon, your gonna be working for me. Maybe I’ll look for better talent,” said Zeke who then wondered why he said what he said.

“You gotta be driving down the wrong side Route 24 and you got a 16 wheeler heading for you and you can’t see nothing because you is more stupid than the stupid friend you hang around with.”

“He’s not stupid. How’d you like it if someone called you stupid. How would your mother feel?” asked Zeke. He wondered if were on a drug. He didn’t do drugs. Okay, he like beer. But drugs were out of the question. The wine, he thought. Nonna drugged the wine.

A knock on the door.

“Yah,” said the driver thug.

“It’s me, Gus. I got two beers for the guys.”

“What about us?” asked the driver thug.

“Mr. G didn’t say anything about giving you guys free beers. You gonna let me in?”

The driver thug opened the door, Gus walked in and over to Mickey. He handed him a bottle of a dark locally brewed beer. He did the same with Zeke. Then he said, “These are courtesy of Mr. G. He called and said he’d be a few minutes late.”

“What’s going on, Gus?” said the pizza delivery thug.

“Hey, I only work here. You wanna know what’s going on, ask Mr. G,” said Gus who left as abruptly as he came in.

The driver thug hollered, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass. I told him. I don’t like his attitude.”

Zeke sipped at his beer. Mickey let his slide down his throat unimpeded by reflex mechanism. He didn’t stop to breathe. He didn’t stop to savor the taste. He just let it flow.

“How you do that?” asked the driver thug.

“I been practicing since I was a kid,” said Mickey proudly.

The backdoor to the room opened. A third thug with bulging pecs, huge biceps and a tight tee opened the door and held it open for Tony Gallino. Gallino walked to the desk and stood behind the chair just off to its right. The bulging pec thug walked over and pulled the chair out and motioned Gallino to sit down. Once he said, the bulging thug guy helped scoot Gallino in.

When Gallino was set, he looked at Zeke and Mickey and said, “I been nice to a point and now I want the right answers or I am not going to be nice any more. Do I have an amen, thugs?”

The three thugs said, “Amen.”

What’s going to happen to Zeke and Mickey? When will Nonna’s curse kick in? What’s inside the package?

He Has A Nose Longer Than Pinocchio

Chapter 17

Zeke stood in front of Nonna’s door. Mickey stood behind him. Zeke rapped his knuckles on the wooden entrance door. There was no answer. He rapped his knuckles again.

This time, from the other side of the door, “Nobody’s home, can’t you see that. Now go away.”

“It’s me, Nonna,” said Zeke.

“I don’t know no me. Nonna she’s a not here. She gone away for a trip to someplace you don’t know with her boyfriend, but don’t tell Rocco.”

“It’s Zeke, Nonna. I gotta talk to you about the package. Please open,” pleaded Zeke.

“Maybe I open the door if you didn’t bring that dumb as a lump of pizza dough Palitroni with you.”

From behind Zeke, “I’m Zeke’s friend, my name is Al Capone.”

“You stick you kisser in front of this tiny hole, I can tell if you are Al Capone or you somebody wants to steal his good name,” said Nonna.

Zeke shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and stepped out of the to let Mickey pass and stick his kisser in front of the tiny hole.

Twenty seconds later, “You a no good Palitroni. You trying to steal Al Capone’s name. You know how I can tell? I tell you how I can tell, all you Palitroni’s got a nose longer than Pinocchio.”

“I’m going to go to court to have my name changed, Nonna. Please let Zeke in. I promise to be good.”

“You better go get a nose job, it do you better than a different name. Okay I let you boys in, but only for a few minutes. Mario Zito gonna come over and have some wine with me. Who knows what might happen if I keep his glass full, know what I mean?” said Nonna.

Nonna opened the door. She was still in her black dress. Her hair was still up in a bun. She still held a cleaver in her right hand, “Zeke take this fool Palitroni and go sit at the kitchen table. I give you good wine, him, I give dandelion wine from last spring. It tastes like hell, but a Palitroni never know the difference, you watch.”

From behind Zeke, “I like dandelion wine.”

“What I tell you, no taste, no class, no brains. Have a seat. Keep an eye on Palitroni, make sure he don’t steal my rosary,” said Nonna.

Five minutes later Nonna came back with a bottle of red wine and a bottle of homemade dandelion wine. “This first one is for Zeke. This crap is for you. When you done with it, you can have it. I don’t want to get infected.”

“Thanks, Nonna,” said Mickey.

“Now, I’m gonna go get the package and we gonna talk about it,” said Nonna.

“Do you think she opened it?” asked Mickey.

“Nonna? Never, she’s too honest to do something like that. You drinking the dandelion wine straight out of the bottle?” asked Zeke.

“I’m thirsty,” said Mickey. Then he added, “This stuff is good. I got to tell Gus about it.”

A moment later, Nonna returned carrying an unwrapped package. She sat down with the package on her lap. On the table in front of her was a glass of red wine, and her cleaver. “You boys made one move to take this package I gonna cut you fingers off and maybe I don’t stop there if you know what I mean.”

“You opened it, Nonna. We’re all dead,” said Zeke.

“Whatchu talking about? I’m not a dead. You’re not a dead. I’m hoping Palitroni drops over dead the way he’s a drinking the dandelion wine.”

“But you opened it. Tony Gallino said not to open it or he would be very angry,” said Zeke.

Nonna waved her arm, it was her left arm. The arm holding her glass of red wine, a bit of the wine landing on Mickey’s face. “That’s all you get, Palitroni. As for Tony Gallino, the hell with him. I puta curse on him tonight gonna make him wish he never threatened one of my grandchildren. You tell his girlfriends, he gonna be no use to them until he apologizes to you. He don’t have to apologize to Palitroni.”

Mickey looked up, “Do you have any more dandelion wine?”

“What I tell you, Zeke. Never mind. I look in the box and I like what I see in the box. Tony not gonna get what’s inside the box.”

“What’s inside the box?” asked Zeke.

Nonna started laughing, “You not gonna believe what’s inside the package.”

“Is it money? Drugs? Diamonds?” asked Zeke.

Nonna opened the package and started laughing.

What’s inside the package? Will Nonna’s curse work? Will the boys get out of this jam?

His Feet Stink

Chapter 11

The door opened. Nonna, stood there in her black dress. She held her kitchen carving knife in her right hand. She looked at Zeke, “It’s you, I was a making sure. You tell that no good Palitroni fellow you hang out with he make one move to me I gonna cut him.”

Mickey spoke up from behind Zeke, “I’m not going to make a false move, Nonna.”

“I’m a no you Nonna. You betcha you not gonna make a move to me. I’m a gonna go swish and swish, you never get married, believe me.”

“He believes you, Nonna. Honest,” said Zeke.

“Okay, now we know a my house rules, you boys can come in and have some wine with me. I only drink after noontime. Then I drink until I go to sleep.”

Nonna led Zeke and Mickey into her living room. The boys sat on the sofa. Nonna came back with a bottle house red wine and two wine glass. She handed Zeke and Mickey a glass, then filled them. She returned to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a crystal class. She sat in a chair, filled her glass, and placed the bottle on the floor.

“I give you boys the cheap stuff, because one of you is a Palitroni. No way I’m a gonna waste the good stuff on Palitroni’s. Salute,” said Nonna raising her glass.

“Salute,” answered Zeke and Mickey.

“Whatchu boys what? I’m busy. I got a big night planned.”

Nonna piqued Zeke’s curiosity, “Nonna, what plans do you have tonight? There a senior dinner at Saint Anthony’s?”

“You make a nother wise crack like that, I gonna smack you across the head, Zeke. I expect that from Palitroni, but not from you. You one of us.”

Zeke held his hands up in surrender, “No offense, I was just thinking.”

“You never been good at thinking. That’s why you dropped out of school.”

“I didn’t drop out, Nonna. I stopped going. There’s a technical difference,” said Zeke.

“You watching too much Judge Judy and think you a lawyer. You last name’s Pratti, not Silverstein. You don’t think I know the difference?”

The conversation is getting away from Zeke. Mickey, who is not as bright as Zeke rises to the occasion, he slides the package in front of Zeke.

“Nonna, the reason we’re here is to ask you for help. This is the package Tony Gallino had us pick up. We want to know what’s inside it. Can you use your inner eye and tell us?” asked Zeke handing the package to Nonna.

Nonna took the package. She set it on her lap. She placed both palms flat on the package and began singing a song in Italian. She moved the palms of her hands to the sides of the box and began chanting. Then she said loudly, “Rocco, you tell me what’s a in this a package or I gonna sleep with Mario tonight.”

Nonna’s eyes were closed. Her lips moved, but no words were heard. Her head nodded. She picked the box up and pressed it close to her chest. Then she said, “It’s a good thing for you, Rocco, you tell me whats a in here because you best friend Mario he’s a making a big time play for me. He tells me this is what you want. Now, I gonna put a curse on him because you tell me to be true. Ciao.”

Mickey couldn’t help himself, “Nonna, what did Rocco tell you?”

Nonna opened her eyes, she looked at Zeke, “Who asked Palitroni to speak? I didn’t. Besides his feet stink. You tell him to wash his feet if he want to come with you next time to my house.”

Zeke nodded.

“This is whats a in this package.”
What is in the package? Will Mickey wash his feet? What will Zeke and Mickey do?

Zoom In On Her Necklace

What am I doing wearing a tux? I’ll tell you what, I am at the high brow writer, Francine Peony’s, high brow party. How did I get stuck at this party? Big Carmen twisted a couple of arms, who knows, maybe broke a couple of kneecaps, to get invitations for La Flor, LC, and me. La Flor and LC are here to case Peony’s home. Me? I’m sampling the hors d’oeuvres. I’m hoping I’ll get discovered by Francine’s literary agent. I’m watching LC use his iPhone 8 to take photos of La Flor. What he’s actually doing is taking photo’s of the art work, sculptures, and anything else of value. Let’s see how this seen plays out.

In one hand, I have a champagne glass filled with sparkling water. In the other hand a dainty, expensive china plate holding three hors d’oeuvres, each pierced to the heart with a toothpick. I sidle up to LC and La Flor. “I know what you’re doing. It’s so obvious. You’ll never get away with it.”

“With what, Ray?” said La Flor her eyes fixed on Francine’s diamond studded necklace. “Quick, LC take my photo, but zoom in on her necklace.”

“Okay if I gets her cleavage? She’s good, but not in use league my beautiful, tough, and edgy star of the night,” said LC.

“Not a problem as long as you remember who’s best,” said La Flor.

I didn’t know La Flor wanted to compete in the cleavage Olympics. Learn something new every day.

LC nudged me, then whispered, “For a rich broad, she’s cheap on da food. I don’t like whore devours. When we gonna eat?”

“This is what you eat. You’re supposed to mingle. Talk people up. Make connections. That kind of thing,” I said.

“Where’s da keg?” ask LC.

“It’s all wine tonight,” I said. Then added, “Look at La Flor, she is nursing her glass.”

“Wine’s fine, but beers better, know what I mean? If I could gets to where they is keeping the pusses (he meant to say purses), I could make out like a bandito. My Spanish is getting better, Ray-mo. Of course, I am only speaking meta frog act ly.”

I need this like I need a hole in the head. I cite my dad on that one. It was one of his favorite sayings.

LC nudged me again, “I’m starvin. I’m gonna pass out if I don’t have some real food.”

La Flor overhead LC’s comment, “Not to worry my man of steel. I texted Big Carmen, he’s sending Vinnie over with a large pepperoni and sausage pizza. Since we’re family, it’s on the house.”

“I gots the best dad and the best beautiful, tough, and edgy woman in da world,” said LC embracing La Flor. The two of them locked into a kiss down that I think might take the jaws of life to break apart.

Francine Peony walked over to me during the heat of the kiss and said with an icy air, “Who are those two? Are they friends of yours? BTW, who are you? Do I know you?”

Her attitude made me do something unusual under the circumstance, I said, “They’re friends of mine. You’re not against love, are you?”

“This is disgusting,” she said.

“Is this why you haven’t been able to write a romance novel?” I can’t believe I’m defending LC and La Flor. What are friends for if you can’t count on them.

From the entrance hall, “Getta outta my way punk! I gots a pizza for LC.”

I recognized Vinnie’s baritone voice.

“Security, security,” hollered the doorman.

The hired security man, was a roly poly balding greeter at Walmart by day, security by night. It’s hell to make ends meet for retirees.

The security guard looked at Vinnie. Vinnie opened his hoodie and showed his gun. The security guard didn’t make it to 70 by being stupid. He said, “The pie from Carmen’s Pizzeria?”

Vinnie said, “Yah, what about it?”

The guard said, “Can I get a piece?”

LC came over, took the pizza from Vinnie. They fist bumped. LC opened the pizza box and gave the guard a slice.

In the background, a voice said, “Oh, Francine what a clever idea to have pizza brought in to your party. The crowd cheered. LC lost his pizza. La Flor Texted Big Carmen, twenty pizzas were on their way fifteen minutes later.

At 11:30 Francine Peony was all over LC and La Flor, “You made this my best party ever. How can I ever thank you?”

La Flor smiled and said, “We’ll think of a way.”

What does this mean, ‘We’ll think of a way?’ I am really, really getting worried. La Flor likes being mobbed up. Come by tomorrow to find out where this story is leading.


Are You Wearing A Wire?

Not dinner catered by Lorenzo’s the upscale Italian trattoria down in the Italian village. No, it was dinner catered by Carmen’s Pizzeria, owned by Carmen DiMarco, better known as Big Carmen. Big Carmen has a number of other interests going, all of which make my night’s sleep less than optimum. Why? La Flor has taken up with Big Carmen’s son, Little Carmen, who is bigger in size than Big Carmen, but the two names stuck. La Flor encourages LC (what everyone calls Little Carmen) to follow his dream. His dream? To eventually take over for Big Carmen, but first he has to earn his chops the hard way. It became complicated when O’Leary, a donut loving, bad coffee drinking, Irish cop, entered the scene. He’s friends with La Flor and LC. In today’s episode, La Flor sets up, the hapless O’Leary with Carmela, La Flor’s understudy or whatever.

“Ray, I don’t call Carmen’s Pizzeria dinner. Especially when we’re going to eat out of cardboard boxes. Do you expect pizza in cardboard boxes to set the love stage for O’Leary and Carmela,” said La Flor.

“I’m not the matchmaker. Besides, Big Carmen is tossing in blue plastic cups to go with his house wine. And, it’s all free, there’s one small catch that I don’t agree with,” I said.

La Flor threw her arms up in the arm, “It’s already a disaster. Blue plastic cups for house wine? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking free. Besides, O’Leary doesn’t know good from bad.”

“That’s true and Carmela is such a ditz, she doesn’t know what day it is. It might work. What did Carmen want you to do that you won’t do, that I might do?”

“He wants to know where O’Leary plans the next stakeout,” I said.

“That’s all? Isn’t that covered under the Freedom of Information Act? Don’t forget I was a lawyer for a day,. Why couldn’t Lorenzo’s cater?” asked La Flor.

“Lorenzo was already catering Luigi Bigalo’s thirtieth celebration. Even Big Carmen’s attending. He’s the guy who has the upper and lower Northwest side.”

“Oh no, that means Vinnie and Rocco are making the pizzas tonight and I don’t trust them.”


“Well, I do trust them, but I don’t want their fingerprints on the boxes with O’Leary being here. Know what I mean?”

“La Flor, I think you need to move away from Big Carmen’s business. Where’s LC? O’Leary and Carmela will soon be here.”

“He had a special errand to do down by the freight yard.”

“What kind of special errand?”

“He’s righting a wrong. He’s scoring one for the good guys. He’s putting the bad guys down. He’s really a super hero, that’s what LC is,” said La Flor. Her eyes beaming with pride.

“Tell me more,” I said.

La Flor moves closer to me, “Let’s step out on the patio in case the Feds have your house bugged.”

“Why would the Feds bug my house?”

“I don’t know, but Big Carmen says you can’t take chances.”

We walk to the patio door. I open it. We step onto the patio. La Flor said, “You’re not wearing a wire, are you?”

“La Flor you’re making me nervous.”

Then she whispered, “LC is breaking into a freight car and taking all the goods.”

“That’s wrong,” I said.

“No. The goods were already stolen by the Russian mob. So, LC is really taking them from the Russians and redistributing the goods for a fraction of their cost. See how he’s helping the poor people. He’s really a saint.”

“He’s doing this alone?”

“No, his cousin Tony, uncle Tony, and uncle Tony’s son, Little Tony who is also a cousin are helping him. Lil Carlo is driving the U-Haul.”

I don’t want to know any more. My house might be bugged. I don’t want to talk to the Feds. Then the door. My poor door crashes against the wall. I have a deep dent in the steel wall plate I had installed there. The voice, “Beautiful, tough, and edgy woman of my fantasies I’m home.”

La Flor brushed me aside, ran to the entry way and did her leap into the waiting arms of the man in black pants, black t-shirt, black latex gloves hanging out of his pants pocket, and a black ski mask stuck between his belt and waist.

“Does I has time to change before O’Leary and Carmela get here?” asked LC after the two minute kiss.

A car door slamming, a voice from the yard, “It’s the police, I mean O’Leary since I’m not official tonight. Okay if I park on your lawn?”

“Never mind, Ray-mo. I’ll wear these clothes. I looks good in them,” said LC.

“Yes, you do. You are lighting my fire, you hunk.”

The door is still against the wall, O’Leary comes in, “I brought a six pack of beer, Styrofoam cups and a bag of jelly donuts. You think I’ll impress Carmella?”

Come by tomorrow to find out how it all goes down.

He Got A Very Serious Promotion

Our black stretch stretch limo pulled in front of Carlini’s Trattoria. It’s Friday night. The sidewalk is crowded. I’m staring out the window of the black stretch limo. I turn to Little Carmen, “What are those two guys that look like they belong on America’s Most Wanted doing in front of Carlini’s?”

“You means cousin Paul and cousin Joe?” said Little Carmen.

“I don’t know their names. I mean the guys wearing sunglasses at 8 p.m. Tight black tees.”

“They were on America’s Most Wanted until they weren’t America’s Most Wanted,” said Little Carmen as the limo driver pulled to a stop, got out of the limo, and went over and talked to the I’m on steroids Black Tee.

“What does that mean?” I said.

“I dunno. It’s how Big Carmen explains it to me.”

“You accept it without question?” I asked.


A moment later, a beaming Big Carmen, silk shirt open at the collar, black and silver hair sticking out, is at the limo door. The driver opens the door. La Flor extends her hand. She’s wearing a black, sheik, sexy fit me better than my skin silk dress with her new pearl necklace and earrings.

“My beautiful, tough, and edgy woman, you looks more beautiful, tough, and edgy than even Sciencestein thinks probable,” said Big Carmen as he kissed La Flor’s hand.

“Dat is such a smoothie move, Ray-mo. Sees how I learns everyting I knows from Big Carmen?” said Little Carmen.

“I can see how you’ve turned out so well,” I said. I not going to take a chance to get anyone upset with the black tees standing on either side of Big Carmen.

“Why are we here? I asked Little Carmen.

“I dunno. Big Carmen said he’s happy and is tossing a party for us and some of the family.”

I step out of the limo, Big Carmen has La Flor on his arm heading for the trattoria. I said, “Hi Big Carmen.”

The entourage stops. The black tees stare at me. Big Carmen turns, “Hi, Ray. I didn’t sees use because the beautiful, tough, and edgy woman was blinding me with her beauty. If I was twenty years younger LC has no chance.”

Little Carmen taps me on my shoulder, “Man, am I happy Big Carmen is older than me. Go figure how that happened.”

Phil Carlini, the owner, leads to a table that looks like it was set for the President and First Lady and entourage. Waiters fill our wine glasses, Big Carmen stands. He raises his glass, “To my cousin’s cousin, Phil Carlini, who closed his trattoria on his best night of the week because I wanted to toss a little party. Go figure.”

Phil shrugs his shoulders.

I whisper to La Flor, “What’s going on? Why are we having this dinner?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“I didn’t hear what?”

“Big Carmen is promoting Little Carmen. My man is making his way in the world,” said La Flor.

“Why? Promoted to what?” I asked.

“He did such a great job the other night getting the things Big Carmen needed. Lil Carlo gave him an A on his report. LC and don’t know anything about his promotion, we’ll learn tonight. We know it’s a serious promotion. Are you proud of LC?” asked La Flor.

“I can hardly catch my breath.”

“I get that,” said La Flor.

Big Carmen, still standing with a glass of wine, “I gotta toast LC. Salute! My boy, my son, my prides and joys I am giving a serious, very serious promotion the details will be worked out when they are worked out.”

Little Carmen stands waves, and sits. La Flor wraps her arms around him and kisses him.”

Somethings are best left alone.


He’s Never Seen A Dish Like La Flor

“I don’t want to go to a parent teacher conference. My daughters are all grown,” I said.

“Ray, it’s me, Big Carmen. I’m like your brother. In fact, I’m your bro. See what I mean?”

Yes, I see what he means. He’s certifiable. He’s two eighth notes short of a whole note. He’s a pizza without cheese, I don’t care how they make it in California. Yes, he’s Big Carmen. So I answer, “I see what you mean.”

He fist bumps me. Then he said, “I had a bro, but now I don’t have a bro unless you are my bro which use just agreed to, which means use accepted the family charter.”

“What family charter? Who was your bro before I was your bro. What happened to your bro?”

“Poor, poor, poor Roggereo. I don’t like to talk, speak, or converse about him,” said Big Carmen.

“Why?” I asked.

“The Feds might be listening and find out where we sent Roggereo until everything blows over.”

“He’s alive? You sent him somewhere? What did he do?”

“Let’s say I have my own witness protection operation. This is one of the perks use gets for being family. Now use is family. See, use is a Calabrese, that’s like being a next door neighbor. Neighbors help each other, right?”

He should have been a lawyer, a politician, he twists logic and words so that insanity makes sense. Thankfully, the conversation ends when . . .

“Do I look okay to go to Chef Vigeli’s for LC’s parent conference?” asked La Flor.

Big Carmen gives her a construction worker whistle, then says, “Perfecto beautiful, tough, and edgy one. Vigeli never seen a dish like use.”

I looked at La Flor. Okay, she wearing her patterned spikes. She’s wearing very short shorts but admittedly stylish, and her workout bra.

“What do you think, Ray?”

“Little Carmen will be happy to see you,” I said.

A half hour later we’re at Vigeli’s Culinary School. Little Carmen is off in a corner away from anything he might damage working at a table learning to make Kool-Aid. I hear him holler, “Clef, Clef, Clef, do I mix the blue and yellow, or the green and blue.”

Chef Vigeli hollers back, “No, no. no. How many times do I have to tell you, only make blue Kool-Aid.”

Chef Vigeli turns and sees the three of us. He walks over and embraces Big Carmen, Big Carmen embraced Chef Vigeli. Big Carmen said, “Chef, I suppose use called me to tell me how good he is doing. Am I right?”

“I do anything for you, Big Carmen. You gave me the money to get started. You paid off my student loans. You sent me to Rome to work with  Chef Faloni, the greatest Chef in Italy. But this, this, this …

Big Carmen places his arm around Chef Vigeli shoulder, “Let’s me introduce use to some people. This guy with the nose and ears, he’s my bro. Use know what that means when I says he’s my bro?

“Uh, no.”

“Okay. I understand. See, the beautiful, tough, and edgy one?”

Chef Vigeli stares at La Flor. His eyeball nearly the size of tennis balls. “Who is this beautiful, tough, and edgy one. Is she unattached?”

“She is La Flor, beautiful, tough, and edgy and LC’s so significant other. She is very proud of LC. And, I for one, or two, or make that three, I don’t want to her to be desensitized. I got that word from the Discovery Channel.

From the corner, “Clef, Clef, Clef I mixed green Kool-Aid with your 1964 Barolo Riserva Speciale. It was old so I knews use didn’t need it. I made an invention.”

Chef Vigeli fainted.

Big Carmen hollered, “Atta boy.”

La Flor said, “Grab two unopened bottles and lets split.”

I said, “What about the Chef?”

Big Carmen said, “Let him sleep, he looks tired.”

He Didn’t Fall Far From The Olive Tree

I’m beginning to think I need to call my home Carmen’s East. Big Carmen and some associate, mostly Lil Carlo show up on a daily basis. He walks in without knocking. It doesn’t matter if the doors locked, the alarm triggered, or I have a welcoming mat for him.

I’m vacuuming when I hear, “Use don’t have to do dat.”

“Who’s going to do it?” I asked.

“My manager, TT. He can use the extra work. Hey, what a friends for?”

I said, “Is that a question you want me to answer or a statement?”

Big Carmen scratched his head, “It’s what I call don’t forget the favors I does for use or else. The reason I’m hear now is I’m keeping my bad eye on my kid, and my good eye on the beautiful, tough, and edgy one. Know what I mean?”

Fool number one says, “No.” Fool number two, “Do you think that’s appropriate.” Before I answer I see Lil Carlo rubbing his hand gun against his cheek. His nose is almost as long as the gun’s barrel. I say, “Know what you mean.”

“Besides, I wants to hear her read the scriptomatic.”

Where does he come up with these words? Who understands him? I said, “You fellows want a beer? Wine? Kale chips? Carrot sticks? Protein Bar? Figs? Raw Almonds?’

Big Carmen interrupts, “Don’t use have no real food like my today’s special, tomato and basil vegetarian pizza with double sausage. Get a large one for three ninety-nine. Have us pick the sausage off, twenty-two seventy-one.”

“No. I didn’t realize it was today’s special,” I said.

“I’m gonna call Rocko. He’ll give us one of the pizza’s he’s delivering.”

“Do you think that’s fair to person waiting for the pizza?” I asked.

“Yah. If they’s gots a complaint, I send them to the complaint department.”

“You have a complaint department?” I asked.

“It’s me,” said Lil Carlo sliding a bullet into the chamber.

A voice from behind the bedroom door, “I’m ready. Are you boys ready? I’m only wearing jeans and a shirt. LC cut class yesterday, he didn’t want to miss two days in a row even though Chef Vigeli said he was tops in his class.

I wanted to shout, ‘He’s being tutored one on one, of course he’s tops and the bottom as well.’  Not worth it.

“Okay beautiful, tough, and edgy, We are disappointed we won’t get the full eye candy treatment but we understands,” said Big Carmen.

La Flor struts out in her poured into jeans, a white button shirt tied just above her navel, and her spikes. I thought both men were going to reach for angina tabs.

She walks to front of the TV, unbuttons the two top buttons of her shirt.

“This is a good start. People gonna love you. I don’t thinks use need LC.”

“I was thinking the same thing, you adorable creature.”

Big Carmen nudges Lil Carlo, “She got a way with the words.”

La Flor reads her script, “You girls want to look as good as me? Sorry, I won’t lie. It’s impossible. But, you can look lot better than you look now if you take the Post Puberty Pill, that’s PPP.  I made the tramp, my former protege, take this pill for a week, and you should see the difference. Firmer in the right places, all the cellulite gone in the wrong places, and her cell is busy with losers calling her for a date. What are you waiting for? You’ve been tied up with your loser for how long? The answer, long enough. Ask your doctor about a prescription. Don’t worry about the side effects. We have a cream for facial hair. An ointment for outrageously big pimples, and you won’t need birth control, you’ll be sterile after two doses.

“How did I do with the rewrites?” La Flor waiting anxiously for the applause.

Saved by the door crashing into the living room wall. Good thing I have the handyman on retainer.

“Did I miss it beautiful, tough, and edgy woman?” said Little Carmen carrying a pizza box.

Big Carmen forgot about his critique of La Flor’s rewrites, jumped up and went to embrace Little Carmen.

“Use did not fall far from the olive tree. Use making pizza at Vigeli’s? I’m so proud of use.”

“Nah. I grabbed it from Rocko. He was about to come in.”

“How did cooking class go today,” asked Big Carmen.

“Bass Clef Vigeli wants a parent conference.”

You Can’t Handle Da Tooth

Big Carmen and Lil Carlo sit on the sofa in my living room. Big Carmen has a bottle of beer in his right hand and slice of pepperoni pizza in his left. Lil Carlo’s has his gun resting on the coffee table. He has a blue plastic cup of house (not my house, Carmen’s) red wine in his left hand, and a slice of the pepperoni pizza in his right.

“When’s the beautiful, tough, and edgy one gonna read her scripto?” ask Big Carmen. Before I answered, he added, “How come use is not eating a slice of my pie?”

When am I going to learn. Think first, speak second. Not today. I said, “Pepperoni is not good for you. It has nitrates. It has fats. It has other stuff, which will mess with your veins.”

“You tink so? I don’t. It’s the foundation for any good pizza. The secret is in the grease drippings. Sees, it’s the grease drippings that acts like Roto Rooter and cleans use colon. They sticks to the bad stuff. Let me asks use, how clean is use colon?”

Did Big Carmen move into the colon cleansing business? I don’t want to go there. Do you know anyone who checks the cleanliness of their colon? I hate my annual physical, know what I mean? I haven’t met a single person who wants to talk about how the cleanliness of their colon. Big Carmen and Lil Carlo are staring at me. Lil Carlo places his blue plastic cup next to his gun. His right hand rests on the gun with the kind of affection a mother gives to a baby. I wondered if it was possible to nurse a gun.


The door to La Flor’s bedroom swings open, bangs against the wall. I’ll have to call the handyman to fix the dent in the wall where the door nob hit.

“Every body and I means all the bodies within my speaking vocals, the beautiful, tough, and edgy famous model will makes her day beaut entrance with me of course.”

La Flor, wearing what I’d call – no, I’m not going to call it anything. I’m not going to try to describe it. She’s being carried out by a bare chested black bear who is barefooted and wearing, I am grateful, a men’s bathing suit. La Flor’s left arm is draped around Little Carmen’s neck, her right hand carrying her script. The paper offers as much cover as the cloth. Little Carmen cradles his precious cargo.

Big Carmen and Lil Carlo stand and start applauding. Applauding? What are they applauding? Big Carmen gives me a look, I stand and applaud. The queen, AKA La Flor blows Big Carmen a kiss. I thought he was going to collapse back onto the sofa.

The audience takes their seats on the sofa. Little Carmen carries La Flor to the TV and stops and pivots so they face the three of us.

“How do you like it so far?” said La Flor.

“Use knocked all my socks off and I wears about four pair,” said Big Carmen.

“Use knocked all my boxers off and I wears six pair,” said Lil Carlo.

Lil Carlo wears boxers? I didn’t know they sold boxers in the kid’s clothing section. I keep quiet.

“What about you, Ray.” La Flor won’t let me keep quiet. Four sets of eyes stare at me.

“Uh, ah, um. I’m speechless. You knocked all my words out of me,” again I am pleased with my brilliant mind. My ability to turn tragedy in triumph.

“You can’t handle my sexuality. Can you, Ray?” said La Flor.

“Yes, I can,” I countered weakly.

“You can’t handle da tooth,” said Little Carmen. “Did I get it right, beautiful, tough, and edgy one?”

“Close enough.”

La Flor said, “I’m tired. My perfect entrance took it all out of me. Can I read the script tomorrow you handsome man?”

“Any ting for use. Use beautiful, tough, and edgy one,” said Big Carmen.

“Can I come wit use?” Asked Lil Carlo to Big Carmen.

“Sure ting.”