Friday, March 30, 2007

Conversations with Dad 8: The Dentist

Phone rings.

Ces: Hello?

Dad: Oh God, Ces, I've got this fuckin' red rash on my right cheek that's spreading across my whole goddamn face ever since I went to that thieving bastard dentist again who makes a fuckin' mistake every time he puts that drill in my mouth and now I have this huge abscess that won't stop growing and it hurts every time I poke at it so fuckin' much I can't even put my head on the pillow so I didn't sleep at all last night I woke up at 2 am and then 2:30 and then 3 am and 3:30 and 4 and 4:30 and then five and then 5:30 and then six and then I finally fall asleep only to have your mother wake me up to tell me she made breakfast for me and when I get out of my bed my back locks up and it's killing me and as I'm walking down the hallway I bang my fuckin' knee against that table I made for your mother Jesus you never felt such pain and that knee's never been good ever since I tried to kick your brother in the ass and the son of a bitch got out of the way and I smashed my foot against the brick wall so by the time I limp to the kitchen the fuckin' coffee's weak because your mother already put milk in it even though I keep telling her not to but she never listens to me just like you and Marcello never fuckin' listen to me why doesn't anyone ever fuckin' listen to me?

Ces: Who is this?

Dad: What the fuck are you talking about?! It's me! Your father!

Ces: I know, Dad. I was abscess, huh?

Dad: Oh dear God, it's fuckin' killing me, Ces. I should have just punched out that dirty rat fuck dentist in the face so he would know how it feels!

Ces: Okay, okay. You have to relax, okay? I'm sure it hurts like hell and I'm sorry. But the first thing you need to do is have the abscess checked.

Dad: It's fuckin' killing me!

Ces: That's why you have to have it checked.

Dad: But what if it's too late?

Ces: "Too late"?

Dad: Y'know, what if I'm going to...die...

Ces: It's an abscess, Dad, not a gun shot wound.

Dad: I don't want to die before everyone else!

Ces: Wha...Get it checked. You'll be fine.

Dad:I haven't even recorded my rap songs yet!

Ces: You're not...wait, you want to record your rap songs now?

Dad: I even came up with a hippity-hop name.

Ces: Hip-hop.

Dad: I even have a hip-hop name--"F.O.G."

Ces: "F.O.G."?

Dad: "Fat Old Guinea"

Ces: Oh, Dad. No...

Dad: So I can't die now!

Ces: You're not going to die!

Dad: You don't understand, Ces. You don't! An abscess keeps growing! It keeps growing and growing and growing until it moves all the way up your nasal passages and attacks the brain!

Ces: What?!

Dad: It just spreads across the whole fuckin' brain! My fuckin' brain, Ces!

Ces: I...I don't think that's exactly what happens, Dad.

Dad: Why don't you ever fuckin' believe me, Ces? Why doesn't anyone ever fuckin' listen to me?! I know these things!

Ces: How, Dad? How do you know these things?

Dad: I just do! Just like I can always guess what ethnic group someone belongs to.

Ces: don't still do that in public, do you?

Dad: Plus, a friend agreed with me about the abscess.

Ces: A friend? Who?

Dad: Y'know...what's-his-name.

Ces: St. Augustine?

Dad: Don't be a fuckin' wiseass! Y'know...begins with an "M"...Morty!

Ces: Morty.

Dad: Morty said an abscess goes straight into the brain if you don't catch it in time.

Ces:Morty the typographer.

Dad: It attacks all the nerves and cells. Before you know it you're dead.

Ces: Perhaps you should seek medical advice outside the defunct typesetting industry, Dad.

Dad: You gotta see how red the rash is!

Ces: See a doctor, Dad.

Dad: It hurts so fuckin' much, Ces!

Ces: Have it checked, Dad!

Dad: Hurts every single time I touch it...

Ces: Well then don't tou...

Dad: I just knew this would fuckin' happen! The moment I went back to that thieving rat fuck dentist I just knew this would happen! No good lying son of a...

Ces: Dad! Dad!!! Before you start signing pre-need papers maybe you should ask yourself one thing. Just one thing. Do you really know what an abscess is?

Dad: I know it's gonna fuckin' kill me!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Conversations with Dad 7: The Other Payback

Mom hands Dad the phone.

Dad: Happy Birthday!

Ces: Thanks, Da…

Dad (Singing): Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Ceeeeeeessssccoooooooooo! Happy Birthday toooooooooooooo yooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

Ces:That’s really…

Dad: Tooooooooooooooooo yooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

Ces: Thank you.

Dad: I remembered!

Ces: You did.

Dad: Your mother thought I would forget.

Ces: She said that?

Dad: Well, not outright. But I could tell. She kept reminding me about it every day for the past week.

Ces: But still you remembered.

Dad: Anyone else besides your father remember?

Ces: A lot of people. Friends. Family. And of course Mom…before she handed the phone to you.

Dad: Boy, your Mom can sure talk, huh?

Ces: Oh, that reminds me! Two good friends made a short film for my 35th birthday!

Dad: Wait, which movie did they buy you?

Ces: No, they made me a movie. All about zombies attacking while they try to call me to wish me a happy birthday. Isn’t that wild?!

Dad: I also called you to wish you a happy birthday.

Ces: That's...that's not the...

Dad: Remember how I always wanted to make movies, Ces?


Dad: Remember?

Ces: Yeah…

Dad: You were supposed to write me a movie. Remember, Ces? You were going to sell it to the studios under the condition that I would star. Remember?

Ces: But what you really wanted to do was direct.

Dad: What about that great idea I gave you?

Ces: Oh yeah, that one. Fantastic!

Dad: Which one?

Ces: I…uh…I don’t know. I was trying something new.

Dad: How could you forget? It’s the one about the guy who decides to finally go back to his old childhood stomping grounds after fifty years and kill all the dirty rat fucks who used to tease him as a kid.

Ces: You…you want me to write a movie about a guy who returns home and systematically murders a bunch of seventysomethings who for some strange reason all still live in their parents’ houses?

Dad: We can call it Payback!

Ces: There’s already was a film called Payback.

Dad: This one’s better.

Ces: But what happens after he kills everybody?

Dad: What do you mean?

Ces: Y’know, after the…uh…serial killings…

Dad: He leaves.

Ces: Don’t the cops or the feds track him down?

Dad: Why would they be looking for him? He’s not the one who did anything wrong.

Ces: So you’re saying that this is your classic "Guy returns to hometown, Guy methodically slaughters an entire community of retirees, Guy catches the next train out."

Dad: See? Payback!

Ces: Well it does have three acts.

Dad: So what do you say?

Ces: Maybe something else.

Dad: Something else? Why something else? This is great!

Ces: It’s sad, Dad. It’s…it’s just really sad…

Dad: What's so sad about it? He kills all of them!

Ces: Just for teasing him when they were kids?

Dad:They also threw things. Sharp stuff. Ask your grandmother.

Ces: Maybe you should write it. You probably have a better handle on the characters.

Dad: Then what about that Four Musketeers cartoon I came up with a while ago?

Ces: You still remember that one, huh?

Dad: Now that would have been a hit! The old rabbi was the leader, the Italian guy wore a pasta-smeared tank top and carried a shiv, the black guy was in a basketball uniform and the homosexual dueled with one hand while redecorating wherever he was with the other. Remember?

Ces: Vividly.

Dad: What’s wrong now? It doesn’t just make fun of one ethnic or racial group.

Ces: Dad, you had the other musketeers meet the black character when he tries to jack their carriage!

Dad: I also had the Italian guy brought up on racketeering charges! Plus I made the Jewish character the smart one! He even wouldn’t fight on Saturdays.

Ces: And what about the gay character, Dad?

Dad: It’s perfect timing! Look at that show on HBO! The one about the gay funeral home.

Ces: It’s not about a gay funeral home.

Dad: Sure it is. And that’s prejudice. Not like our show.

Ces: "Our show"? I…wait, are you saying the HBO program is about a gay-run funeral home or a funeral home that only admits gays?

Dad: I don’t know. You watch the show.

Ces: It’s about neither. Some of the characters are gay, some are not. That’s it.

Dad: Just like our show!

Ces: I don’t know, Dad…

Dad: Just write it for me. After all, I’ve been asking you to do this since you were in junior high school.

Ces: Well, if ever there were material that should be put in the hands of a thirteen-year-old…

Dad: You can consider it my birthday present.

Ces: Your birthday was six months ago, Dad.

Dad: Then you can consider it my late birthday present.

Ces: But I bought you a birthday present!

Dad: You did?

Ces:The DVDs? Spartacus and Doctor Zhivago?

Dad: Yeah, but your mother always makes me watch Inspector Morse on PBS instead.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Conversations with Dad 6: Artichokes and Facial Lacerations (Grandma Visits)

Shortly after his father died my dad made a solemn vow to spend more time with his mother. I say “solemn” because there was absolutely no joy in his proclamation.

To my dad, visiting his mother once every 11 months was the ultimate sacrific--one that, quite frankly, he believed should not be his alone to make. It’s as if at the end of Armageddon Bruce Willis turned to his comrades and said, “Well…I guess I’m gonna go out all alone on that meteor with the detonator and save humanity now…I mean, that’s what I have to do, right?…No way around it…apparently…And why wouldn’t I do it? After all, I’m a nice guy, right? Aren’t I nice guy?…You know what would really be nice, though? If my wife would deign to come out with me. Just once. That’s all I’m asking. I mean, if she ever wanted to walk out on her meteor I would go like that. Like that! And I don’t even like her meteor! But that’s the kinda guy I am—nice…Actually, you know who should really be out here with me right now? My son. He should come out on the meteor with his old man. Let’s face it, it’s not just my earth I’m saving! It’s his earth, too!…Hey, do me a favor. Go tell Ces to put on his spacesuit and say goodbye to his loved ones. And tell him to hurry! I don’t have all fucking day…”

And that’s how one fine spring day I found myself taking a day off of work so Dad and I could pick up my Grandma for a nice weekend visit at my parents’ house.

Thirty-six hours later we would all be vomiting or hemorrhaging.

Now truth be told Dad’s reluctance to see his mother wasn’t simply a product of lethargy, petty annoyance or his resolute unwillingness to drive alone, ever. Mostly, Dad didn’t want to go because my grandmother could be, quite honestly, dreadful company. She always greeted him by saying he looked fat and/or homeless. She always bid him farewell by saying he looked miserable and/or fat. And in between she talked almost exclusively about money. How much she had. How much my dad’s sister Janice has. How much my dad doesn’t seem to have. Money, money, money.

Sometimes money came up in the form of career advice, like when Grandma advised my seventysomething father that he chose the wrong career. Sometimes money came up in the form of a fond memory, like when Grandma recalled how she charged my parents less than the going rate for rent when they moved into her basement after they got married. And sometimes it came in the form of watching Grandma--rosary in hand--say a prayer in Italian over each and every one of her 18 savings account books, no doubt as many a pope had done before her.

And when money wasn't the topic, she simply sat across the table and stared at you. In complete silence. For upwards of an hour. With minimal blinking. Until you couldn't take it anymore and like any detainee you finally broke.

“Sooooooooooo… your tomatoes are really coming in nicely, Grandma…Nice tomato weather…Baseball weather, too…Dad used to coach my baseball team, you know…Three years in a row…three years…I wasn’t very good…Right fielder…That’s where you put the not-so-good players because most hitters are right-handed so they…they hit to left field…opposites, you see…Spent most of the time in the field thinking up stories…funny stories…forgot all of them…Listen, why don’t I just sign some sort of affidavit saying I committed whatever crime you'te holding me for and we can just wrap this up, okay?”

But that fine spring day my dad had found a way around the usual “unpleasantries.” Rather than spend the weekend at Grandma’s apartment, where the only chance to avoid talking was leaving in mid-sentence or suicide, Dad would pick up Grandma and speed her back to his house, where he could then hide in the garage, shed or attic until it was time to bring her home. It was foolproof. It would limit almost all opportunities for conversation or contact. It didn’t factor in the possibility that my Grandma would want to stop for food or a restroom at any point during the three-hour trip.

And so our trek back to my parent’s house began on a less than auspicious note with lunch at a New Jersey Turnpike diner, during which Dad confided in me that he only had his Sunoco card and thus was unable to pay for lunch (and tolls) and Grandma stole all the toilet paper from both the women’s and men’s bathrooms before eventually walking off with the waitress’s tip.

For the remainder of the trip Grandma sat in the back seat, where she could watch over her luggage. Luggage that consisted of two huge suitcases, unusual in that she was only visiting for the weekend and that neither suitcase appeared to weigh more than a few pounds, causing me to fear that Grandma had fully embraced dementia and packed nothing but negligees. At the beginning of the drive she tried to engage in conversation, which proved remarkably painful, though not due to subject matter or socail awkwardness. Simply put, by this time my grandmother had experienced a significant hearing loss, depriving her of any personal volume control and giving her every sentence the inflection and insistence of an air horn, no matter what the intention.

“IT’S TOO COLD! CLOSE THE WINDOWS!” she quietly muttered at one point.

“IT’S STILL COLD! SHUT OFF THE VENT!” she later whispered.

“WHY’S IT SO STUFFY?!?” she noted under her breath.

The result was not unlike having Mussolini issue edicts two inches behind your right ear. But no matter what Grandma said Dad just stared at the road with a grim expression on his face and a white-knuckled grip on the wheel, uttering not a word. I pretended the ensuing ringing in my ear was a phone call from an old friend or a job offer from The Simpsons. And Grandma simply screamed in her softest voice possible for us to turn on, and then off, the AC.

Soon it grew quiet. Very quiet. Very, very quiet…

“Soooo…your cucumbers are really coming in nicely, Grandma.”


After about an hour on the road--during which the only dialogue was my dad screaming at every driver who had their window closed--Grandma piped up once more.


My dad smiled for the first time the entire trip.

“Ooo! Stuffed artichokes, Ma! I love your stuffed artichokes! Make those!”

This, however, presented a small problem.

“Uh, Dad…I’m allergic to artichokes.”

“But you gotta try these, Ces! They’re incredible!”

“I can’t eat artichokes, Dad. I’m allergic to them.”

“But you’ve never had anything like these before!”

“Actually I have, Dad. The last time Grandma made them. That’s how I know I’m allergic to artichokes. My throat swelled shut.”

“I think I would have remembered that.”

“I think you would have, too.”

“Just trust me, Ces, you’ve never tasted anything like them in your life! They’re…how can I put it…exquisite!”

“So even though I’m allergic to artichokes that’s what you want Grandma to make for dinner?”

“It’ll be fuckin’ exquisite, Ces! Trust me!”

“Fine…I’ll just cook something else for myself.”

“Now why would you wanna insult your grandma like that?”


The Marciulianos are a small family, not just in stature--where almost everybody save my brother Marcello and myself clock in around five foot four--but also in number. Whereas those blessed with numerous relatives can discount five, ten, perhaps 20 family members and still find people they can talk to or at least tolerate on Thanksgiving, Marciulianos must look to the same, finite group for their needs. And what we Marciulianos need more than anything else is for someone to help us deal with our colossal, crippling insecurities by simply telling us we’re great.

My mom, Isilda, has always wanted to call her memoir/cookbook All I Wanted Was a Little Applause. My dad, Frank, has repeatedly asked me to pen his life’s story (Let’s Be Frank) so that with his newfound fame he could go on the talk-show circuit and become world-famous for his impressions of various ethnic groups. And all I’ve ever wanted was for someone to tell me at every single step of the way that my every decision was fine and all would turn out just right. In short, we all wanted the same thing--to be recognized and reassured, repeatedly. Such were our demands and Grandma refused to meet them at all.




Of course, had we taken but a moment from cupping our ears and leaning in to hear the next word of adulation, we would have noticed that Grandma was seeking the exact same support.

During lunch on the New Jersey Turnpike she turned to me and said without humor or provocation, “DO YOU EVER TELL YOUR FRIENDS WHAT A BEAUTIFUL AND INTELLIGENT GRANDMA YOU HAVE, CES?!” Throughout the entire car ride she repeatedly asked if we were looking forward to her “FAMOUS DINNER!” And when we pulled into my parents’ driveway she said, “I BET EVERYONE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE GRANDMA!”

Little did she know that both my mom and dad had already planned their escapes.

Mom, who had awaited Grandma’s visit with the eagerness one usually reserves for a bowel obstruction, had no intention of looking after our guest, instead opting to spend the rest of the weekend running “errands.” Such is apparently what happens when you live with your mother-in-law for the first seven years of your marriage. Such is apparently what happens when your mother-in-law almost blows up the boiler in your house and then tells hers son, “Maybe Isilda drinks and forgot she did it.” Such is apparently what happens when in a moment of complete frustration with your mother-in-law you turn to your husband only to hear him say, “I don’t know what you and Ma have to do with me.”

Small wonder then that over the years my mom had gone from calling Grandma “Mom” to calling her “Mary” to calling her “The reason you’re father is that way.” And small wonder that there was no big greeting, no big hug, awaiting Grandma when she entered the house. Just curt conversation and large periods of silence. Silence so deafening that this time it was my grandmother who cracked and felt the need to fill both the air and large communication gap with sound.


“Thank you, Mary.”



“We’re not in Italy, Mary.”



And so after many a frustrating attempt at sweet-talking my mom out of her kitchen supplies or family heirlooms, Grandma wound up just stealing bolts of fabric from Mom’s sewing room and storing them in her now clearly perfect-sized and very roomy luggage.

My dad also had no intention of spending the weekend with his mother. Instead, he also was going to run “errands.” Alone. This was like hearing that not only is Bigfoot real, but you would be wise to let him do your taxes. My dad has almost never driven alone. In fact, several years ago when my mom had the flu my dad stood out in the driveway, keys in hand, staring at my bedroom window for over half-an-hour in the hopes I’d eventually feel guilty and go with him to the supermarket to get food for dinner. Unfortunately, it was dark out and I never noticed him. Then it started to rain. That night we ordered pizza.

So as far as what my dad meant by “errands” I had absolutely no idea, given that he had never gone shopping by himself a day in his life. I half-expected him to return two days later with a new hammer, pair of tube socks, a nine-volt battery and twelve feet of button candy strips, simply adding, “Things happened.”

Thus in the end no one had any intention of keeping company with the woman they had invited for a weekend visit…until they all realized that by doing such they were leaving an old woman with two empty suitcases and no locks on the cabinets completely unattended.

And that’s how one fine spring Saturday I found myself “babysitting” my Grandma while my mom went for a six-hour walk on the beach and my dad, for all I know, went from garage sale to garage sale looking for something to eat.


The sun rose that Saturday only to find that Mom had gotten up a hell of a lot quicker. Knowing that today was “Artichoke Day--and not wanting her mother-in-law to have unlimited and unmonitored access to the kitche--Mom made sure to lay out every possible ingredient and utensil Grandma could possibly need to make her meal. Then she bolted.

Dad, experiencing a moment of “Italian guilt” over leaving his mother, sat with her at the kitchen table until I got up and made them both breakfast. Soon after that he was gone, off to spend the next several hours no doubt driving around and around on the Jericho Turnpike saying to himself “I know there’s an Entenmann’s pastry outlet around here somewhere.”

That left Grandma and myself. Although Dad wanted me to spend my every waking minute with Grandma--and Mom wanted me to spend my every waking minute shadowing Grandma--the woman looked perfectly capable of handling herself as she quickly went to work making the stuffed artichokes at 10 in the morning.

“You got everything you need, Grandma?”

“YOU’RE GRANDMA’S A GREAT COOK, RIGHT, CES?!” she replied, wielding a very large kitchen knife with wild abandon.

“Right, Grandma.”

Feeling confident that she was more than capable of handling herself, I went to the opposite end of the house to get ready for the day, such as it was. Grandma happily and hurriedly chopping in the kitchen. I happily showering and shaving in the bathroom. With my folks gone it was actually serene in the house for the first time in hours. If only every one of my visits to my parents’ house were this peaceful. Yes, all was indeed well.

For ten whole minutes.

Now at 4’10” and 90 pounds my grandmother was the smallest of the rather wee-sized Marciulianos. That being the case, she made absolutely no noise when she walked, allowing her to suddenly appear by your side as if by magic. You could be minding your own business, completely in your own world, only to turn around and suddenly be stomach-to-eye with an old, Italian woman, complementing your most cherished possession and waiting for you to hand it over. It could be unsettling at best. And so it was that before I knew it Grandma was standing mere inches behind me just as I was over the bathroom sink, shaving the hair between my upper lip and my…


Then there was silence. My razor flew out of my hand and broke without sound against the bathroom mirror. Every item in the bathroom shook violently, as if primed to explode. I stared at my reflection in the mirror with wide, unfocused eyes.

And then I saw it--a long, shock-white line going through my right nostril and running up the side of my nose until about a half-inch under my eye. At first I couldn't quite grasp what I was seeing. “Hmm, A white line,” I thought. “What do you know? I wonder where that came from.” I just stood there and stared in complete puzzlement as the line got brighter and brighter and brighter and brighter.

And then the blood poured.

And then my knees buckled.

And then I bit my lip and screamed so loud you could hear it through my eyeballs.

Before I knew it I dropped to the floor, smashing my chin against the sink counter on the quick descent down. I immediately curled up into a tight ball of pain, pressing my palms against my face with all my might as blood streamed from out between my fingers. I tasted it in my mouth. I felt it pour down my neck. I sensed a pool of blood forming on the bathroom floor. And I realized that I had been yelling the word “FUCK!!!” over and over again in front my grandmother, who at that moment was hovering right over me.


Not wanting to panic my grandmother, I looked up at her with wet eyes, cheeks covered in blood, and said with as much sincerity and composure as I could muster, “I’M FINE!!!”

She looked down at me—writhing on the floor, smeared in blood—and in a calm, comforting tone said, “YOUR MOTHER FORGOT TO PUT OUT THE OREGANO!”

Then she turned around and left.

A few seconds later I heard her again down the hall.


That’s when I realized my grandmother was waiting for me to help her find the oregano.

So after a few seconds I slowly got up, looked at myself in the mirror and almost passed out. Blood streeamed from the length of my nose down the right side of my face and under my T-shirt. I kept thinking that if I don’t stop applying pressure the nose would just blow off like an uncapped fire hydrant.


I quickly washed what blood I could off my face, quietly screaming the entire time, and grabbed a nearby blue hand towel to stanch the bleeding. By the time I reached my Grandma in the kitchen I appeared to be holding a moist, purple blob against my face.


The top portion of my white T-shirt was now a dull pink and the hand towel had absorbed all it could. I tossed the towel into the kitchen sink, washed my face again and applied several sheets of paper towel both against my nose and around the collar of my shirt. Then I went downstairs. About five minutes later I came up covered in what appeared to be pink streamers.

“There’s no oregano downstairs, Grandma.”


“Then…then why did you say the oregano might be downstairs?”



“I’m not feeling too well, Grandma.”





“I’m not feeling too well, Grandma.”


Grandma left through the kitchen door and onto the back deck, where apparently my mom kept several planters of various spices. I went back to the sink and tried to claw off the soiled paper towels, but at this point they were glued to my skin in large patches. I tried to take off my T-shirt but the feeling of 100% cotton rubbing up against the side of my nose was like that of a cheese grater dipped in vinegar.

By now blood was everywhere. It was smeared all over my head, neck and torso. It was in the kitchen sink. It was on the kitchen counter. And it was in a trail that went from the master bathroom on the opposite side of the house to the kitchen, through the main hallway, down the stairs to the basement and back up to the kitchen once more. Had Billy from “Family Circus” murdered the Clutter family in Holcomb, this might very well have been his dotted path.

After a few minutes my grandmother came back with a fistful of clippings, which she proceeded to dice. Then she turned to look at me with perhaps the warmest expression I had ever seen crease her face.

I stood there in silence. Blood poured from the side of my swollen nose, down my torso and pooled on top of my belt. Large, dark-red strips of paper hung from my face, neck and shoulders. It was as if a mummy had just come back to life only to be repeatedly shot.

Grandma studied me for a moment--she took it all in--and then said in her sweetest voice possible, “DON’T WORRY!”

“Don’t worry?”


And with that she went back to work.


The bleeding came to a halt by dinnertime. The cut, although painful and reluctant to close, proved to be mostly superficial and left no permanent scar. That did little to soothe my dad as he stared at the large bandage on the side of my nose that made me look like Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

“You got blood on the basement steps, Ces? But they're carpeted!”

The family gathered around the table for the big stuffed-artichoke dinner. Unable to eat it I had prepared my own pasta dish, an action that my dad said was tantamount to smacking my grandmother across the face. Everybody else busily tucked into the “famous” meal but while the pre-buzz had been deafening the result was getting a far more muted response. It wasn’t just that no one appeared to be enjoying their artichokes. They actually seemed to be struggling with them.

My mom, who I’m sure wanted nothing more than for Grandma to fail at preparing one of her signature dishes, seemed literally sick with smug satisfaction. By midway in the meal she appeared wan and was drinking a glass of water for every two, small bites.

Mom wasn’t the only one whose pallor had turned ashen. My dad was clearly having great difficulty eating his favorite dish. But because he had specifically asked for it--and because his mother had prepared it--he tried to plow through dinner with as much gusto as humanly possible.

“This is very good, Ma,” he complimented through a tightly clenched smile.

“DON’T TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL!” she demurely responded.

Eventually my mom, who by this point had given up even the pretense of eating the artichokes, leaned over to me and asked, “Ces, what did your grandmother use for ingredients?”

“I guess the stuff you put out for her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah…Oh, except for the oregano. That she got herself.”

“’Oregano’? Her recipe didn’t call for any oregano.”

Mom looked down at her quarter-eaten artichoke.

“Wait, I hid all the other spices from your grandmother. How did she find the oregano?

“She didn’t. She just clipped some fresh oregano from outside.”

“Outside? We don’t have any oregano outside.”

“Yeah you do. In the planters on the back desk.”


I pointed through the kitchen window at the small grouping of spice planters on the far end of the deck. My mother’s eyes grew very wide.

“Oh shit,” she muttered. And then she went to throw up.

Turns out Mom was right. She didn’t have oregano growing in her planters on the back deck. She had weeds. Weeds that just the previous day she had just heavily doused with Ortho spray.

Within a few minutes everyone had excused themselves from the table and taken up residency in one of the home’s three bathrooms for the remainder of the evening.

And that’s how one fine spring evening I found myself sitting alone at my parents’ kitchen table, listening to my family repeatedly vomit as I quietly ate my pasta and wondered if I sneezed would I need to go to the emergency room.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Conversations with Dad 5: The Clock

We begin immediately after The Visit, when I enter my parents' house. Greetings ensue.

Mom: Sorry I didn’t make dinner yet. I didn’t know when you were finally going to show up.

Ces: But I'm early.

Dad: For once.

Mom: Plus, now Marcello’s not coming tonight.

Ces: Marcello’s not here?

Dad: Oh, you won’t believe what that worthless bastard of a brother of yours did.

Ces: What happened?

Mom: I don’t want to talk about it.

Dad: Then let me tell them.

Mom: He called five minutes ago to say he's coming tomorrow instead.

Dad: He called five minutes ago to say he's coming tomorrow instead.

Mom: I don’t want to talk about it.

Dad: Then why didn't you let me tell them?

Mom: What's there to say?

Dad: Apparently nothing now!

Suddenly a loud chirp comes from the kitchen.

Ces: Um, what the hell was that?!

Dad (Brightly): Oh! You heard it!

Ces: Did you guys get a pet bird?

Mom: Oh no. Not after we lost our poor canary Winter.

Dad: Stuck its own fingernail right through its eye. Died like that.

Mom: So sad.

Dad: It's own eye!

Mom: I don't want to talk about it.

Dad: Well, you're not the one who had to bury him.

Mom: Anyway, that's why we only keep fake birds in the bird cage now.


Ces: Sooo...the chirping?

Dad: What? Oh, that's our new clock!

Ces: Clock?

Mom: Doesn’t it sound beautiful?

Dad: It has a different bird call for each hour.

Mom: Finch.

Dad: Blue Jay.

Mom: Cardinal.

Dad: Sparrow.

Mom: Robin.

Dad: Blackbird.

Mom: Bluebird.

Dad: Yellowthroat.

Mom: Warbler.

Dad: Oriole...Hey, Ces! Remember when I coached your Little League team The Orioles. What year was that again?

Ces: Wait, the clock chirps every hour?

Dad: Every hour! You should hear it!

Ces: Even in the middle of the night?

Mom: All night! That last one was a mourning dove.

Dad: I love mourning doves.

Ces: You said every hour. But it's 7:10.

Mom: Well, the clock hasn't been working properly.

Dad: And whose fault is that?

Mom: The clock’s?

Dad: And who dropped the clock?

Mom: You did.

Dad: I mean the second time, the time it probably broke.

Mom: You dropped it three times, Frank.

Dad: Wait, when did you touch it again?

Ces: Is there anyway to shut it off at night?

Dad: Might have been. But then Isilda dropped it.

Mom: I never touched it!

Dad: Well, you dropped something!

Mom: I dropped the coffee machine.

Dad: Oh...Well, I hope you weren't expecting any coffee, because thanks to your mother here you're not getting any.

Ces: Wait, how often do you guys drop things now?

Dad: Well, you kids are never around to help us lift stuff.

Ces: How heavy was that coffee pot?!

Dad: Ask your mother. She's the one who dropped it.

Mom: This coming from the man who dropped all those wine glasses!

Dad: That's because you didn't dry them properly!

Ces: Guys, guys...about the clock...

Dad: It has a different bird call for each hour.

Ces: Yes...I know...Can we, maybe, unplug the clock before we go to bed? Y'know, so it doesn't chirp all night.

Mom: I think it runs on batteries, dear.

Ces: Then can we just take the batteries out?

Mom: But then we won't be able to hear the lovely clock.

Another loud chirp comes from the kitchen.

Ces: Wait, it's only 7:15.

Dad: Hasn't been working right since one of us dropped it.

Ces: It chirps every five minutes?!

Dad: I love to hear the birds chirp.

Mom: That one was the robin! Didn't it sound gorgeous?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Conversations with Dad 4: The Visit

The following conversation occurs from inside my parents' house, after I arrive at the front door and ring the doorbell.

Mom: Who is it?

Dad: Coming!

Mom: Who is it?

Dad: What do you mean, "Who is it?" It’s probably Ces!

Mom: Coming!

Dad: We’re coming!

Mom: Hold on, we're coming!

Dad: Be right there!

Mom: Coming!

Dad: I said I was coming!

Mom: Be right there!

Dad: What does "I'm coming" mean to you, Isilda?!

Mom: Hold on!

Dad: I said I got it!

Mom: Just a sec!

A few minutes pass.

Dad: Did you get the door, Isilda?

Mom: What?!

Dad: I said, "Did you get the door, Isilda?!"

Mom: What?!


Mom: I thought you were getting the door!

Dad: How could I get the door?! I’m in the bedroom painting the chair!

Mom: Well, I’m in the kitchen making you your tea!

Dad: How complicated is tea-making that you can't get the door?!

Mom: But I thought you said you were getting it!

Dad: Well, do you want the chair done today or not?!

Mom: Well, do you want your tea done today or what?!

Dad: Tea or chair, Isilda! Tea or chair!

Mom: Fine, I'll drink your tea!

Another minute passes.

Dad: What did you say?!

Mom: What?

Dad: What did you say about the tea?

Mom: What?


Mom: I said I'll drink your tea!

Dad: Are you trying to be a wiseass?!

Mom: You don't want me to make you tea then I'll drink it!

Dad: When the hell am I supposed to finish the chair then, Isilda?! Huh?! When?!

Mom: Just forget it!

Another minute or so passes

Dad: What did you say?!

Mom: What?!

Dad: What did you say?! Just before!

Mom: I said, "Just forget it!"

Dad: You know I don't forget stuff, Isilda!

Mom: You forgot to answer the door!

Dad: You still haven't let Ces in yet?!

Mom: I was making tea!

Dad: I was painting the chair!

Mom: Fine, I’ll get the door!

Dad: No, I’ll get it!

Mom: I’m getting it!

Dad: I said I’m getting it!

Mom: I’m almost there!

Dad: I said I'm getting it, Isilda!

Mom: I don't need you to get it!

Dad: Oh, I'm getting it!

Mom: Then open the door!

Dad: Fine! I guess I'll have to get it!

Hear footsteps approaching. Hear doorknob being jiggled. Pause.

Dad: Where did you put the keys, Isilda?!

Mom: What?!


Mom: Tea's done!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Conversations with Dad 3: Death and Dining in New Jersey

We begin in a diner off the New Jersey Turnpike, during a visit with Grandma.

Grandma: Do you ever tell your friends what a beautiful and intelligent Grandma you have, Ces?

Ces: Sorry?

Dad: Just tell her yes, Ces.

Ces: I...uh, I try to work it into conversation as much as possible, Grandma.

Dad: Don't be a wiseass.

Ces: Sorry.

Grandma: I'll be back. Have to go to the bathroom.

Grandma leaves table.

Dad: Hey, Ces, does Grandma look out of it to you?

Ces: Kinda, I guess. But she's not bad for 90.

Dad: What do you mean?

Ces: Well, she is getting old.

Dad: So? Marciulianos live much longer than average folks! Look at your Grandpa! He would still be alive today if he hadn't died in that hospital.

Ces: What?

Dad: Y'know, from that spill he took...when he had to go to the hospital. I bet if he didn't fall he would still be around today.

Ces: At age 102?

Dad: See? That's what I'm talking about. Marciulianos live a long time. That's another thing you got from my side of the family. Age. Smarts. Looks. The only thing you got from your mother's side was height.

Ces: Nice to throw her a bone, Dad.

Dad: They grow like weeds on that side. Way too gangly.

Ces: Wait, how old was Grandma's dad when he died?

Dad: Umm...72.

Ces: Oh...but he did have cancer...

Dad: Christ, that's just four years older than me.

Ces: Dad...

Dad: I thought I had another forty years. Christ, I hate being middle-aged.

Ces: Okay. That's it. New subject. It was really nice of you to take Grandma out to eat, Dad.

Dad: Hey, I'm a nice guy. By the way, do you have money to pay the bill? All I brought was my Sunoco card.

Ces: You didn't bring any money at all? How were you expecting to pay for the toll on the New Jersey Turnpike?

Dad: That reminds me--I need some money for that, too.

Ces: Wha..what if I didn't have enough cash on me, Dad?

Dad: Why? Because you keep wasting it all?

Grandma returns from the bathroom.

Grandma: I got toilet paper!

Ces: Oh, shit.

Dad: What the hell are you doing, Ma?!

Ces: You stole toilet paper, Grandma?

Dad: Can I have a roll?

Grandma: Sure. I think there's one or two rolls left in the men's room.

Ces: You stole toilet paper from both restrooms?!

Dad: Are you nuts, Ma?

Ces: Please ask her to return them, Dad.

Dad: Well, that'll actually only draw more attention. Besides, I could use a roll for sneezing in the car.

Grandma: You can take one from the men's room. I think there's one or two left.

Dad: I can't have one fucking toilet paper roll?!

Ces: Dad, will you lower your voice?

Dad: Who the fuck is listening?!

Waitress: Is everything okay?

Grandma: My soda's too warm.

Dad: That's because you ordered it without ice, Ma.

Ces: Maybe we should get her some ice.

Dad: She doesn't like ice. It makes her teeth hurt.

Grandma: I don't like my soda warm, either.

Dad (To Waitress): I'm sorry, Miss. Maybe she got confused when ordering. English isn't her first language. She's originally from Italy.

Waitress: That's okay. I have one just like her at home. I'll get her another glass of soda and make sure it's cold.

Dad: Thanks.

Waitress walks away with soda.

Dad: What the hell did she mean she has "one just like her at home"? Is she trying to be insulting?

Ces: I think she meant she has a mother born in another country.

Dad: No, she was making a wiseass remark. Screw her, I'm not leaving a tip.

Ces: You weren't going to leave her anything! You don't have any money, remember?

Grandma: I'm sorry Janice couldn't come.

Ces: Hmm? Oh, well, Dad and Aunt Janice are having some sort of argument, I guess.

Dad: I'm not arguing. Janice is arguing. I'm just not listening.

Grandma: At least you could visit, Ces.

Ces: No problem.

Dad: Of course he could. Ces is a really sweet kid. He'd do anything for anybody.

Ces: Uh...gee, thanks, Dad. Really.

Grandma: I just don't know why Frank and Janice have to fight. Siblings never fight.

Ces: That's not true, Grandma. Marcello and I used to fight all the time.

Dad: That's because you and Cello are two miserable little fucks who couldn't give a shit about anyone.


Ces: Wait, what the fuck just happened here?

Dad: Don't curse in front of your grandmother.

Ces: I'm...I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Grandma. But what the hell just happened?

Dad: When?

Ces: "When?" Two minutes ago you were nominating me for Son of the Century. Now you're acting like I should get the chair.

Dad: What, you and Cello never fought?

Ces: Of course we fought! But that doesn't have anything to do with it!

Dad: Sure it did! You think I liked dealing with that? None of the other parents' kids fought!

Ces: Of course they did!

Dad: Well I didn't have to deal with them.

Waitress returns with new glass of soda and a plate of bruschetta for Grandma.

Grandma: I didn't order this.

Waitress: The chef heard you were from Italy so he made you a plate on the house.

Grandma: I'm not paying for this.

Ces: Funny, neither is Dad.

Dad: Ma, they're giving it to you for free.

Grandma: Did you order this?

Dad: For free, Ma! They made it for you for free!

Grandma: But I didn't order this.

Dad: It's free! Free! They're being nice! Eat it! (To waitress) Thank you very much. That was very thoughtful of you.

Waitress: You're welcome.

Waitress walks away.

Ces: Now can I leave her a tip, Dad?

Dad: Ma, can I have one of those?

Grandma: They made them for me.

Dad: But you didn't even want them.

Ces: We should probably get going soon.

Dad: Just a bite. One lousy bite!

Grandma: There's only three.

Dad: Why can't I have one fucking piece of bruschetta?!

Ces: How does a 40% tip sound?

Dad: Wha...why are you wrapping the other two up?

Grandma: I'm not hungry anymore. I'll eat them later.

Ces: Where did you park the car, Dad? I think I'll wait in there.

Dad: If you're not hungry now why can't I have one?!

Grandma: And what am I supposed to eat for later?


Ces: I'm leaving.

Three get up from table and start to head out. Ces turns to get his umbrella only to see Grandma taking tip from table.

Ces: Wha...what are you doing, Grandma?

Grandma: You accidentally left some money on the table.

Ces: It's the tip, Grandma.

Grandma: Someone could have taken it.

Ces: Yes, Grandma. The waitress.

Grandma: But you already gave her the money for the bill.

Ces: And that was the money for her.

Grandma: What is she going to do with all that money? I didn't want you to lose any more.

Ces: Then why were you putting my money in your purse?

Grandma: Would you like a bruschetta, Ces?

Dad: WHAT?!?

Grandma: I've got two left and I can't eat that many.

Ces: I just want to leave a tip!

Dad (Whispering): Don't worry, Ces. I'll get the money out of her purse when she's not looking.

Ces: Um...uh...thanks, Dad.

Dad: That way we can pay the tolls...and I can have some bruschetta.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Conversations with Dad 2: Clockwork Orange Juice

We begin mid-phone conversation.

Dad: So last night I was going through all my old advertising art portfolios...

Ces: Oh, cool. Any reason?

Dad: Just so I know I had one last look. In case for some reason I die in the future.

Ces: Ah.

Dad: Anyway, apparently I really came up with a lot of great shit.

Ces: I know you did.

Dad: No, really. I mean terrific shit. Not like the goddamn garbage advertisers use today.

Ces: Find any ad in particular that you liked?

Dad: Well, remember those commercials?

Ces: What commercials?

Dad: The ones they used to show a couple of years ago?

Ces: You mean in the nineties?

Dad: No, about ten years ago.

Ces: Ten years ago would be the nineties.

Dad: No, you know the ones I'm talking about. What...what the hell was it called?

Ces: You gotta give me a little more info, Dad.

Dad: Y'know, the...the orange juice commercial.

Ces: Uh...Minute Maid?

Dad: Don't be a fuckin' wiseass.

Ces: What?

Dad: What was it...Tropicana! And you're supposed to be the smart one.

Ces: What?

Dad: Remember how they used to show some idiots stabbing their straws into the...the...

Ces: Oranges.

Dad: Right, so they could get real orange juice.

Ces: What about it?

Dad: Well, I was thinking about those ads yesterday.

Ces: Why? They haven't shown those commercials in like twenty years.

Dad: No, ten. Anyway, I remembered I had come up with the same exact idea way back in the sixties. So I went downstairs and found the slide I did showing a straw stuck into an orange. Do you know how long ago I did that illustration, Cello?

Ces: Ces.

Dad: Ces?

Ces: Ten years ago?

Dad: 1964! I have the date written right next to the goddamn' orange! 1964! Can you believe those thieving rat bastards?

Ces: What bastards?

Dad: Tropicana! They stole my fuckin' idea!

Ces: What makes you say that?

Dad: Because I came up with it first!

Ces: But maybe they came up with the same idea on their own.

Dad: How could they? I came up with it first!

Ces: But that doesn't mean they stole it.

Dad: Of course it does! I came up with it first! If they came up with it after me that means they swiped it.

Ces: No it doesn't, Dad. After all, there are more people than ideas in the world. Don't you think odds are that sooner or later two people are going to come up with the same idea exclusive of each other?

Dad: But they didn't have to come up with it because I thought if first!

Ces: Dad, listen. You know how when you're sitting next to Mom and you both have the same thought at the same time without saying a word to each other?

Dad: No.

Ces: Really?

Dad: So what should I do?

Ces: What do you mean what should you do?

Dad: Should I go down there and beat them up?

Ces: Go down where? Beat up who?

Dad: Go to the advertising agency to punch out the thieving art director.

Ces: Let me get this straight. You're going to go to an agency whose name you don't know to beat up someone you never met who worked on a television campaign back in 1982?

Dad: You want to come with me?

Ces: No. No I don't.

Dad: I'll bring the slide.

Ces: Is that what you're going to hit them with?

Dad: No, I'm bringing a bat.

Ces: What?

Dad: Your bat from Little League. The one you said you didn't have room for in your apartment. You know, Ces, we have so much of your goddamn old shit just crammed in our garage that...

Ces: Focus, Dad. Bat. Revenge.

Dad: Oh, right. So you in?

Ces: No.

Dad: I could really use your help.

Ces: See you in five to ten years, Dad. Less with good behavior.

Dad: Wait, I thought you were coming next week to visit.