Memoir

Love ? Affairs

Love ? Affairs 

Sexual cheating on a spouse or a lover is euphemistically referred to as “having an affair.” I think it would be better to refer to it as “having a derailment,” both emotional and physical. The train has just come off the tracks, resulting in either a total wreck, in which the demolished cars are removed and taken to a train graveyard or, alternatively, whatever remaining pieces are deemed salvageable get reconstituted, re-railed and re-routed. Another good descriptor for having an affair is the commonly used term: ”cheating” because, in fact, it is the act of doing something that allows one person to hold a significant advantage over someone else. But because everyone has a different threshold for conscious self-reflection, whatever the exact advantage might be for the angst befalling the cheater, remains to be explained. After all, this is not the ordinary case of “I know something you don’t know” or the special advantage that comes to a card counting poker player. It’s more like the card cheater worrying that he’ll be busted for having an ace up his sleeve, which will result in either being shot by a competitor or rolled out the front door of a casino by a brute bouncer.

The “whys” of cheating are equally elusive and run the gamut of sexually addictive behavioral quirks, to the ‘grass is greener syndrome,’ to the ‘not getting any at home factor,’ or the rather bland ‘you do it because you can phenomenon.’ Men who enjoy positions of great power, fame or status in the society are particularly prone to the susceptibility of the free pussy that always seems to easily gravitate to the aura of that fame, or is merely a mercenary female attracted to their wealth like a moth attracted to a flame. It is also customarily the case that it is not only “if”, but rather It is necessarily going to be “when” the sordid relationship ends. This is because “discovery” is a principle that equally applies to one-night stands or single encounters with prostitutes.

The consequences after the fact of discovery are myriad and can result in a simple breakup, complete reconciliation, a bitter divorce, long or short-term stalking, depression, nasty confrontations, fistfights, a fall from grace, serious bodily harm and/or even murder. There are thousands of documented cases that went wrong enough to warrant airtime on television forensic shows, or the tantalizing sexual political scandals that periodically but predictably always surface from time to time.

My attempt to run with two girlfriends at the same time was as close to the first, as well as the last time, I ever had a derailment. I decided then that it if I needed someone else that badly, it logically followed that the original relationship must simply be lacking sufficiently enough to warrant ending it. Generally speaking, if I happened to be in a long-term relationship, I never cheated and specifically when I was married, never cheated either only because I was completely satisfied, or if not that, it required too much negative energy, craft, or deception to make it worthwhile.  Unfortunately, many long term loveless marriages are too expensive to end, in which case, even though the players may no longer be mutually faithful, the mantra becomes “cheaper to keep her; or him;” as the relationship then graduates to the more sublime level of becoming more of a perniciously plain old fashioned living lie.

This is not to say that when I was single, I may have had a few short-term affairs with someone who was married. However, that was their emotional problem and not mine, except to risk the potentially disastrous encounter with a jealous husband—or God forbid, that the woman thinks she has probably fallen in love with you. See? It still gets too complicated even if you think you’re an innocent bystander who has stupidly crossed boundary of having sex. At this point all bets are off in the predictably unilateral emotional calamities that inevitably follow suit. One of the worst-case scenarios occurs when a married man traps a needy woman with low self-esteem into a relationship that lasts for years or even decades, as he perpetually promises every week that he will leave his wife. This is need-want-user-used psychopathology at its best.

I did have one bad experience when I went to bed with a female Resident who was in the process of getting a divorce. Technically, she was still married even though emotionally she  was not. After two dates she began to discuss getting married to me; a ridiculous idea I equated as her going from the frying pan into the fire. Not even divorced and wanting to get married again? That sent a strong signal that there might be a few loose screws in her noggin—so I quickly backed off. That was a correct assessment, but too late for me, as I had already taken the lethal vaginal plunge. She categorically would not take “No” for an answer and developed a fixed delusional fantasy that she and I were going to be a couple regardless of my early precipitous good-bye.

The harassing aftermath lasted for two years beginning with a posted ‘letter a day’ complete with numerous personal photos. The themes ranged from maudlin sentimentality through outright bitterness, accusations that I was gay and she would rescue me from that fate, that I was a drunken drug addict who needed her to help my rehabilitation, then paranoid rationalizations as to why a Jew and Italian could still make it together, and ending with overt threats that if she couldn’t have me then no one else would. This was coupled with physical stalking, such as showing up at my house, my friend’s houses, my parent’s house, or worse—my workplace.

On one occasion when I lived in Nyack, New York, I was forced to hole up in the false bottom under an ersatz loft bed I  made by placing the bed frame on a stack of Sears cabinets. It was only designed to conserve space in my apartment, but then turned out to be a convenient hiding place instead. Not going to the mattresses, so to speak; but under them. My roommate intercepted her, and tried to dissuade her, while I almost suffocated waiting for her to finally believe his story that I was not coming home that day. In retrospect for that siege I should have laid in some supplemental oxygen, a few cans of soup, and a portable Sterno stove. However, because this was in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the police in Manhattan, Nyack, and eventually in Suffolk County sniggered at my attempts to get an order of protection.

  • OK. Let me get this straight. A woman is stalking you and you’re afraid. What? Afraid to get laid. That’s a good one. Everyone should be so lucky. Haw, haw, haw.

One of the supervising Attending Physicians in my Cardiology training program was only slightly more sympathetic when he simply said:

  • So. Have you seen the movie “Play Misty for Me?”
  • Yes. And thanks a lot for that pleasant thought.

I even went as far as to lodge a complaint about professional ethics with the Manhattan Medical Society, as she then worked in that borough, but this organization took my plea with an amused and unsympathetic grain of salt. They told me there was little they could do. Everyone thought I was hysterical or that I was blowing the entire thing out of proportion; but they had not read the nutty letters and were not the ones who had to constantly look over their shoulders. Then suddenly one day, almost as if it were by magic, the stalking abruptly stopped. I scoured obituaries on the off chance she had met an untimely but welcome death, but I learned later instead that she finally found someone else to marry. That was when I said a small prayer of thanks to the great psychiatric God of Emotional Transference, put away my bulletproof vest, and saved all the correspondence in a large mothballed box. You know— for evidence—or just in case she changed her mind on the wedding alter, too.

What I find most interesting about affairs is the “inevitable discovery” and how like so many other things in life can be accidental, the jig usually comes up by a completely blindsided twist of fate. Some of my married golf buddies must have read the Manual on Not Getting Caught and while I was still a bachelor, made sure that when we went away on bachelor weekends, the charges for the call girls went to my credit card. Otherwise, if you are not ready to explain the six-hundred-dollar charge for “Discreet Jewels” on your own card you had better come home with a nice bracelet you paid for with the cash that would presumably also have been borrowed from me.

The irony here was that I was getting plenty of sex at home, could have cared less about having a hooker come over, and although the wives expressed dismay about their hubbies going off with a “notorious bachelor,” it was their own sleazy husbands whose behavior was at risk.

  • You’re not going anywhere with him. I heard once he was married six times.
  • Not quite. It was the opposite way around. He was only married once for about six minutes.

Of course, if you do then happen to come home with a nice case of a transmissible venereal disease instead of that expensive bracelet, you had better be in tight with the treating physician who is willing to cover it up with a phony diagnosis, which will then only apply to a few limited bacterial, but not to the newer more permanent, unexplainable viral versions. If not so lucky then, you will be left hung out to dry, just as your penis should have been while hiding inside of the safe comfort of a nice thin little rubber raincoat, instead of romping around bare-back. Herpes is much more difficult to explain away and is no longer simply referred to as being “the kissing disease.” Then again, a nice raging case of gonorrhea would not go down too well in the annals of easily explainable genital discharges either.

  • Honestly honey, I don’t have any idea where that came from. Maybe you got it sitting on that filthy dirty airport toilet seat.
  • Oh yeah? How about more like the filthy dirty bitches’ seat that squatted down on yours.

Here are some of my favorite blindsided discovery cases and situations where the Manual on Not Getting Caught could not anticipate the glitches.

My father got caught in the plain, simple, straightforward, old-fashioned way; and just like Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky, only because that special somebody spilled the beans. The woman he was going with had enough of it, called my mother at home to tell her what was going on and said that she just couldn’t take it anymore. My father moved out for a while, leaving my semi-hysterical, semi-regretful, half-crazed vindictive mother alone at home to brood. Although she abhorred drugs of all kinds, for this calamity she acquiesced to a pile of Valium I took out of a hospital medicine cart and hustled up to White Plains on my first available night off when I was still working a Resident in New York City.

She said:

  • He’ll have to choose between her and me. And if he chooses her, I’ll break both of his balls…and his bank account, too.

I told her I did not understand why she wanted him back, and that I didn’t blame him for doing what he did because she always treated him like shit. I also suggested seeing a marriage counselor by telling her this was their mutual opportunity to start over with a new leaf—along with a new attitude. Of course, after he came home, not only did nothing change but my mother also never let him live it down. Counseling was entirely out of the question because only “weak” people did that sort of thing. God forbid anyone would want to get some real help or personal insight into the decades long festering sore that had ruined their relationship. Years later, my father told me he would have left if not for wanting to keep the family together.

I said: “What family?”  because I could have cared less. I was twenty-six years old and already out on my own, my brother was independently out on his own too, and my sister had just turned eighteen—facts that only led me to believe that if he was telling the truth, the affair must have been going on for years.

Then there are those cases in which the situation occurs “in-flagrante;” and cannot even remotely be denied. I once had a patient, a very well-off local landlord, who owned several buildings on Main Street. He was as in his mid-forties. After being been cleared of having coronary disease on an Executive Physical style general work up and stress test, he decided to come back every year for another stress test anyway, “just to be sure.” He would also ask for an HIV test, something I thought peculiar because he was happily married with a young daughter. But one day his wife came home unexpectedly only to find him in bed with two other men, after which she promptly asked for a divorce. She told me if it had been a woman, she might have had a chance at successfully competing to get him back; but that she perceived this particular sexual proclivity as a battle she could never win.

She said:

  • If it was only pussy, that would be one thing. But ass fucking and 69 position mutual dick sucking? How can I compete with that?

This situation was nearly as bad as the woman who worked at the hospital who told me she was leaving her husband of three years because his sexual preference was to masturbate while strangling the head of his penis with a rubber band so he could have a retrograde ejaculation into his own bladder. Self-love is hard to compete with too, unless the guy was just working on a uniquely effective form of birth control.

She said:

  • I told him repeatedly to just let it go and cum inside me.
  • So, did he keep his feelings to himself too?
  • I don’t know. We never talked about that.

Nelson Rockefeller enjoyed the unique phenomenon of dying while sitting in a chair getting a blow job from a young secretary; being the classic example of literally getting caught with ones pants down. In this case, the only thing getting stiff by the time the detectives arrived was the half-dressed corpse. He probably forgot to read the then recent Japanese medical study that proved a clear direct increased risk of sudden death during sex, or Death in the Saddle Syndrome, but only occurring in men who had sex with their mistresses as opposed to having it with their wives.

  • So, after all these years do you still find me to be sexually exciting, honey?
  • Huh? Were you talking to the dog or to me?

The next scenario plays on the element of cavalier stupidity. I was on a vacation in Mexico when I met a young man in his mid-thirties, traveling alone, who after several beers regaled me with his sad tale. He told me he was severely despondent over his recent divorce because he had really loved and trusted his wife. Apparently, he worked for a telecommunications company, had a job that required him to travel almost every week for three or four days and had been married for only about two years when he happened to be rummaging in his basement for something only to come upon an entire wardrobe closet of men’s clothing that unfortunately he did not recognize as belonging to himself. When the dust settled it seems that his wife would simply move her boyfriend in for the several days her husband was on the road and as such had accumulated a nice supply of fresh shirts for the boyfriend to change into while he was there. Her excuse was that she was “lonely .”Yes, I guess and super horny, too.

Normally, lonely horny married women with husbands on the road will fill their emotional or physical voids with shopping trips or battery powered vibrators, but not necessarily with a full-blown surrogate attached to a torso. Or how about just being smart enough to have your paramour bring a suitcase; maybe even filled with the same brand of clothes your husband wears. then better yet, make it completely and secretively insulting by just letting the boyfriend wear all your husband’s clothes. After all, dry cleaners can do a same day turnaround.

I was once involved in something that was not really an affair and something I can only refer to as a “final fling.” One of my roommates in medical school wanted to visit an old girlfriend who lived in Springfield who was sharing an apartment with two other women. Michael came along for the ride and in the process of drinking and chatty small talk, one of the girls made it clear that she was engaged to be married in a few months. Michael lost interest, went after one of the other girls instead, which left me alone with the affianced.

Because it got too late to drive back to Boston, we were offered couches or sofa beds to sleep on, but as we settled in, the woman who was engaged invited me to sleep with her. It was simple. She said she was going to get married soon but wanted to have one good final free-love-fuck before the final commitment.

She also said:

  • Don’t get any funny ideas about this either. Meaning I like you all right, and I want to get laid, but don’t think for one second I ever want to see you again. So, don’t even think about it.
  • OK. OK. Don’t worry. I think I can handle it.

I got laid while the only thing my other two friends got out of the deal was a good hangover. You see; once again it’s hard to ever judge a book by the cover.

A similar situation with a different outcome occurred when I was a Resident and went to a large dinner party primarily attended by couples. Being single at the time, I did not really want to go, but as luck would have it found myself seated next to the only single woman at the affair. She was not unattractive and pleasant enough, but as the small talk proceeded over the next hour she let it be known that she was married. Losing interest, I spent the rest of the night talking to other friends while virtually ignoring her. As everyone was leaving, she walked over to me and said:

  • You know. You aren’t a very smart person.
  • What are you talking about?
  • Well I really liked you.
  • I liked you too.
  • But then you ignored me.
  • Not on purpose.
  • Yes, it was. As soon as you found out I was married, you stopped talking to me. But what you don’t know is that my husband and I have an open marriage, so this was my night out. All you had to do was be a little bit more attentive and I would have had no-strings sex with you in the bathroom.

Another situation highlights the fact that no matter what you think, in this modern world there are eyes everywhere, meaning that anyone had better think twice before having sex in anything even vaguely resembling a public venue. Spy satellites can even spot you doing it at home with your own wife on your presumably private outside deck.

A married Cardiologist in a very high profile local tertiary hospital was dismissed from the staff when he was discovered having sex with a nurse, live on the video camera that was set up inside the small hospital chapel where relatives were supposed to be praying for their loved ones who were going under the knife on the open-heart table or dying in the ICU. The nurse who was being operated on by the dull round point of the swordsman’s thrusts and parries was in fact repeatedly praying “Oh God, oh God, oh my God,” meaning at least that component of what turned out to be a successful procedure was entirely appropriate and ecumenical.

The security guards must have had a field day.

  • Hey, Joe. You stand outside the door. I’ll watch the monitor. Then I’ll give you the “all clear signal” to bust in right at the orgasm. Then we’ll go back and watch the tape together.
  • Great. It’ll be a perfect end to an otherwise boring day.

This was almost as good as the married Anesthesia doctor at our hospital who was caught banging a locum tenens nurse in his call room when the security guard, upon hearing a series of loud screams and thinking someone was being brutally assaulted, burst upon the scene after employing his master key to get in. Christ, I thought. Why didn’t the idiot just stuff a sock in her mouth? Or maybe have her bite down on an endo-tracheal tube. Or even sedate her with a short acting anesthetic for that matter. The nurse, who was an itinerant substitute anyway, known in the trade as a “Travel Nurse” was fired on the spot and simply went on to her next gig in another State. But for the doctor it was only after a prolonged period of marital counseling that the couple finally reconciled. However, his wife told me one night at a party that she made him pay through the nose for his little dalliance; and that his little indiscretion had come at a high financial cost after the much higher cost of the repeated emotional brow beatings. New house. New car. Diamond watch and earrings. New metal spiked dog collar. Very short leash.

The next case plays on the element of blindsided bad luck. A woman and her husband went to see a Woody Allen movie in which some of the scenes were shot on the streets of Manhattan. Suddenly in the backdrop the woman caught a quick celluloid glimpse of a man who just happened to be her husband, escorting a beautiful blond, arm in arm, lip on lip, as he plopped her into his sidewalk parked Mercedes convertible. There was no way out of the documentary evidence as well as the fact that the man worked thirty miles away in the New York City suburbs and had never mentioned the fact of any personal trips into the heart of the big city. Arm in arm perambulation with French style osculation will also heavily discount or negate the alibi of the “business lunch” or the long lost “kissing cousin.”

Then there is the quintessential case of blindsided bad luck and bad timing being complicated by a combination of serendipitous good fortune while also paradoxically at the same time; good timing. On the fateful day of 9/11/2001, a woman watched TV in horror as the Twin Towers collapsed in a heap of dust. Her husband was a high-profile broker whose office was on one of the higher floors and was assumed to already be at work. She had been frantically trying to locate him by landline as well as by his cell phone on which she had left numerous messages to “please call me back as soon as you get this.” Finally, he called her back with a curt inquiry as to why she had left so many hysterical calls on his cell and what was oh so important that she just had to interrupt him while he was at his “oh so important” stock trading job.

  • So, let me get this straight then. You’re at work in your office right now?
  • Yeah. Where else do you think I’d be?
  • Well, I don’t really believe that.
  • Oh. Here we go again with the same old tiresome accusations. Where are you, who are you with…on and on and on. Always the veiled implications. So, when are you going to stop it?
  • No. Not this time. This time I know I’m right.
  • Look. How many times do I have to tell you…?
  • Stop right there. I don’t know where you really are or what you might be doing, but if you are anywhere near a television set, you had better turn it on right now. You can’t possibly be in your office because your office doesn’t exist anymore. And we’ll discuss the rest of it when you get home.

He looked over at his girlfriend in the hotel bed next to him and asked her to hand over the TV remote.

The final scenario involves a perverse situation relayed to me by a drug sales representative one day on the golf course and highlights one of the reasons that HIPPA medical privacy laws occasionally turned out to be a good idea. She told me that she had known two couples that were extremely close to one another as mutual best friends. The two men played golf together every Saturday and the couples socialized very frequently with dinners in, dinners out, parties, etc.

One day, one of the men arrived at home before his wife and picked up the messages on their telephone answering machine. One of these calls happened to be her Gynecologist letting her know the great news that her pregnancy test had come back positive and so “congratulations. “The only problem was that the couple had not had sex with each other in about six months.

It turns out that the two golf buddies were not only sharing the same tee time but were also sharing the same putting hole. Then to make matters worse, the affair had been going on for about six years, meaning that even if lust had been the militating factor, love certainly was not.

I told my friend that if the two couples were truly all that close, they would have been better off doing full swaps or foursomes. I also said that if it had been me in cuckold the most insulting part of it and what would have hurt more than anything else, would be that not only was my best friend sharing the same golf hole, so to speak by banging my wife—but that I was also having to pay him those golf bets when he beat me.

Lately we just have the more blatant phenomenon of the politician or celebrity the likes of Rick Pitino or John Edwards who just never seemed to grasp the concept known as “pulling out in time” and are left with the proof of their indiscretions residing in the DNA of their “love children.” Or what about Tiger Woods, who was so dumb that he kept his private cell phone out in the open where his wife could find it, when instead, he could have had ten private phone accounts, with the call girl dialer locked in a safe. Although some women who trap these stupidly susceptible men only do it to get a leg up, some extra cash, or more likely some celebrity themselves where none existed before, I doubt that the porn star Jessie James would ever stoop that low. Well, maybe not.

Then there is the sad case of House Representative Gary Condit whose misfortune it was that his lover killed by a Mexican itinerant in a random act of violence. It’s only too bad that it took years to catch the man who really did it —while all along Gary was felt to be the most likely candidate for the dirty deed. Or what about Senator Craig, an otherwise intelligent man being stupid enough to come out as a closet gay in the public bathroom of a large metropolitan airport when he solicited sex from an undercover cop by playing footsie with him from the adjacent toilet stall.

I did have an affair with a married woman I met a work. I was recently divorced and the last thing I wanted was a serious relationship. It was her idea, not mine, and I decided to say “okay” instead of reporting her to the HR Department for sexual harassment.  Sure. How many men would turn down an offer like that?  She told me at the beginning it was because she was polyamorous, and no matter what, I should not fall in love because she would never leave her husband. I didn’t say, ‘Oh, shucks. how disappointing.” It lasted for several years and we never got caught.

When I finally got re-married I told my second wife that if she ever thought about cheating on me, I would appreciate it more if she would just bring the guy home so that at least I could then have the satisfaction, entertainment and vicarious pleasure of watching them. She told me “No” because that would take all the fun out of it.

At least she had a sense of humor.

When I said the same thing to my first wife, she slapped me.

 

A person cannot mount two horses

Or bend two bows

And no one can serve two masters;

For either he will hate the one and love the other

Or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. 

(Jesus)

 

 

Broken heart: http://www.myspace.com http://www.myspace.com
 

 

 

Gene Pool 1

Gene Pool 1

My father is a first generation American-Italian. However in a ridiculously biased way and forgetting the America factor; he somehow thinks he is 100% Italian. But his DNA revels that he is a J clade Homo sapien; originating in Sudan or Ethiopia more than 10,000 years ago; with subsequent migrations to the Middle East, then to Crete, then to Greece and finally ending in Italy. Additionally he might be a small percent Jewish; possibly originating with Y Chromosomal Aaron, the brother of Moses. Nonetheless, far from being ”out of Africa,” as far as he is concerned, the sun only rises and sets on good old Italia.

Now at 99 years old, Salvatore was the youngest of three other siblings, Rose, Michael, and Katherine.

His father, Erberto, (Albert) booked passage to America from Italy in the early 1900’s to escape the hardship of old world poverty.

The family says that he came from the small town of Calitri, near Naples, and then settled in the New York City suburban area. As romantic as any embellished version of this odyssey sounds to my father, it is likely that Erberto simply escaped from some Italian slum, and in leaving no traces behind, nothing was ever known nor recorded of Erberto’s forbears after he left this little village. This leaves his ancestry so convoluted that the only sense to be made of it is that everyone in his home town was related to each other by consanguineous marriage.

Erberto was an enterprising man, who first made a living by pushing a hot dog wagon up and down Mamaroneck Avenue, in White Plains New York, then working as a bartender. Eventually he saved enough money to buy a diner. At least, that’s what they say. Apparently, during the hard times of the 1930’s, he was relatively well to do, owning a three-story house, and driving a fancy car. I have a photograph of him with some of his cronies, and despite the fact that to this day, my father insists that there is no Mafia; I sometimes wonder from whence derived the seminal money or the real leg-up that came in Erberto’s life. Underworld connections are probably validated by the fact that when he lost the diner, he still made out fairly well “selling cigars” at a speakeasy. He never did have that chance to fulfill his American dream because in the 1950s he died of a stroke at the age of 57.

I hardly had a chance to know him, yet vividly remember him dying naturally in bed at home, in a dignified manner with his family around him. Unfortunately, our modern society no longer condones this style of personalized death or dying, as though the corpse might somehow immediately contaminate or later perpetually haunt the household; or worse perhaps even deprive the dying person of that last desperate yet tortured shot at some medical miracle in the barbaric confines of some sterile Intensive Care Unit. Much later in life, I found his death certificate.

He apparently had atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder notorious for forming clots inside the heart, which then break off and embolize to the brain. This catastrophic complication of the arrhythmia is now preventable and only one of many medical advances, which since 1900 has prolonged the longevity of the average American male by over 30 years. On the negative side these same advances can also unnaturally prolong death, as well as sometimes contributing to extremely undignified and very expensive ones. Grandpa was lucky.

I sometimes muse about how different his life may have been and subsequently my own, had he lived long enough to fulfill his dream. For example I might now be heaving pizza dough in the family diner, sporting a crisp white chef’s tunic instead of the black rubber stethoscope I now wear for a necktie. Or better yet, might perhaps be living the high-rolling, high-risk lifestyle of some hard-nosed local Mafia Capo, which as a result might have ended in my own premature un-natural death; with a Mafia style garrote; a piano-wire necktie.

In any event, my grandmother, Grace, wore black clothes from the day of Grandpa’s death: never dating, remarrying, or even entertaining the company of another man in her house. She became overly sedentary; then very obese and eventually developed weight related Type 2 Diabetes. In essence, she had literally died on the same day that my grandfather did.

My mother used to say that after the death of a spouse, Italians either mourned forever, making sure to passive-aggressively rub it in everyone else’s nose at every opportunity, or they alternatively shed crocodile tears at the funeral with one split fingered hand splayed across their faces. The slits would be just wide enough to get a better glimpse of their next potential partner standing alone in the group of mourners.

  • Peek-a-Boo, I see you. Who’s next?

My grandmother was one of the former and with the exception of her kitchen; she always had the rest of the shades pulled down in a dark pall, which gave her house an aura of perpetual funereal mourning.

When I was young, we lived downstairs from her in that same large three-story house that after Grandpa’s untimely death she owned without lien, because he had paid for it in cash. She rented the bottom floor to my father, and the third floor apartment to anyone who would take it. My father set up a dental office in the front; while we lived in the several rooms behind the clinic that housed the chair with the drill, while grandma lived in the middle level.

The upper level boarders always seemed to be itinerant societal misfits, leaving me to wonder why Grandma constantly told me to leave them alone. After all, she owned the place, while all I wanted was to see inside their apartment; something I furtively attempted to do each time she knocked on the door to collect the rent. I would try to crawl under her while she blocked my inquisitiveness with her pasta plumped body, and then kicked me with a black pointy-toed leather shoe. It might have been about personal privacy or perhaps she just didn’t want me to witness any potential fuss about the monthly rent collection. That was the first time I noticed that she always wore her nylon stockings rolled down to the ankles, a habit that seems to creep up on aging Italian women as they slowly lose their past-prime virginal shapes to an ever-expanding derriere. Paradoxically, when the stocking rolls hit the ankles; this is a secret cultural code symbolizing that the woman is “no longer available for sex.”

My father required me to regularly go upstairs for a visit with Grandma, who did nothing but sit in a kitchen that always seemed to reek of green Kale being boiled in garlic water; and although she was really an excellent cook, I truly believed that, except on holidays, this was all she ate. To a little boy, she also always smelled peculiarly odd in a musky-stale sort of way, and although she tried marginally hard enough to get by with it she never really mastered the English language. My mother said that Grandma was just too lazy to learn the language because after being in America for over forty years she was in reality a living legacy to an astoundingly apathetic lack of ambition.

My father, always pushing hard with Old World guilt trip filial obligations, forced me to visit her more than I ever really wanted to.

  • Go up and see your grandmother. She’s lonely. And you’re her favorite.
  • But dad. She’s fat, she’s smelly and she doesn’t talk. And when she does, I don’t understand her.
  • Don’t speak about your grandmother like that. If it weren’t for her we’d be out on the street.

So after the usual insufferable twisting pinches on the cheek as she would predictably say: “Que face bella, de chi chi dinella,” with me holding my breath as long as I possibly could or always keeping a safe distance in order to avoid having to smell her, she would then reach into her smock and give me a nickel to “go buy a bicycle.” What she was trying to say was; “Here’s a nickel. Go buy a Popsicle.” Even though I explained to her that bicycles cost substantially more than five cents, and despite my beautifully angelic seductive little child’s face, I could never get the extra cash out of her.

Going out to buy the Popsicle, was the only blessed reprieve I ever had from having to sit across from her at her tiny two chaired side-table, bored to tears and trying to manufacture palaver. So as I gleefully escaped the ennui by scampering down the winding back staircase; she always bellowed her cautionary warning to slow down:

  • Hey. Take it eedz, eedz, eedz. You falla down…you gonna breaka you head.

With that, I would run to the candy store, the entire time wishing that I had that speedy bicycle for the long potentially dangerous trip through neighborhood backyards or alleyways; instead of having to go on foot through the domains of the local bullies, or worse: the yards guarded by snarling unchained dogs. Sometimes my routes were therefore circuitous enough to cause great parental consternation when I did not arrive home until sundown; but which also due to my clever evasiveness ensured that I made it in one piece, always unscathed and always too late to have to go back upstairs to visit Grandma again.

But most of the time Grandma was frigidly quiet like a cold marble Greco-Roman statue, sitting alone for innumerable hours doing nothing but staring into space. It was pure torture to have to make those obligatory visits, as usually no conversation took place. How could it? She did not speak or understand the nuances of my native language and her I.Q. operated at the purely primitive level of an uneducated widowed immigrant housewife who had little or nothing left to do after her husband’s diner was sold and she lost her job in his kitchen: Cook. Eat. Pine away. Cook. Eat again. Then pine away some more; like a desiccated old Pinole nut.

Her only entertainment was to watch evening TV variety shows, only really perking up when Perry Como, Tony Bennett or “Frankie Sa-not” appeared on the tube to sing the old maudlin Italian songs. Thankfully, at least, and not like a number of the self-proclaimed Italian opera stars lurking around the neighborhood, she never tried to sing along. Once in a while, however, in a fit of rage, when she had her fill of little kids running underfoot, she would chase us out of the house with a broom screaming “ah pesce-a-stoke-a-baccala.” When hearing these dreaded words, we knew she meant business, as a rough translation would be:

  • I’m going to whip your butts black and blue with a baccala.

I did not even know until I was a grown man that a baccala was a hard, dried, brine-cured codfish, which is reconstituted in water, then cooked in many Italian households on Christmas Eve. I thank God to this day that we must have been reformed Italians and were never subjected to that particular culinary calamity; the problem with baccala being that no matter how you make it or what you make it with, it still tastes like a hard, dried, brine-cured, reconstituted thousand year old fish. Baccala then must be the Italian version of Jewish Gefelta, and I can only assume that the excited hysteria surrounding atavistically reverts to cave man days, when our Neanderthal ancestors put aside the everyday nuts and berries then brought out the dried Dinosaur Spam for the national holiday.

Whatever the case, my Italian Grandmother never smelled as bad as my “cousin” Skippy’s Grandmother, “Gommie,” another old widower who required obligatory guilt trip visits from the grandchildren, and who also sat alone for uncountable hours in a shade drawn darkened living room. I hated when we had to pile in the car to go all the way to Torrington, Connecticut to see her, as nothing ever transpired during the visits and only wasting a young boy’s chance to get into some kind of trouble with his friends on an otherwise beautiful Saturday off from school. But the worst part of the ordeal was the fact of her getting prepped by dousing herself with her favorite perfume.

To this day, I do not understand why old ladies simply do not comprehend the fact that perfume as it exists in the bottle at Bloomingdale’s, does not at all smell the same when they apply it to themselves. After application, a sudden drastically obscene chemical reaction occurs between the petroleum-based perfume and the over-septuagenarian post-menopausal skin resulting in a phenomenon that defies scientific explanation. If another person then touches her or breathes near these women, this toxic mixture is immediately absorbed through the skin, which then causes the deadly combination to dissolve into and to poison the unintended victim’s bloodstream. Usually after making its rounds through the circulatory system, it finally gets exhaled through the lungs were it then sticks to the victim’s lips for hours or even for days. Deodorant I can understand, but the general feminine concept of perfuming is one that will always elude me. Or even more elusively why the noxious nature of the habit of using it seems to increase linearly in both the frequency and the amount applied as the woman gets older but at the same time becomes progressively less sexually appealing.

When I personally performed cardiac echo studies on older women, I was often choked or gagged by the worst chemical scents imaginable; the great paradox being that these women thought they had to get “gussied up” because they were going to see the doctor. The scents would stick to me for days like a thin film of aromatic crazy glue. It was even the case that as a result of this, I would purposefully schedule some of these women at the end of the day to prevent the entire office environment from being gassed up in the morning…followed by a slow radioactive-like scent decay curve that lasted for the remainder of the day.

These exuding aromatics were also difficult to easily explain away when later meeting a girlfriend or when married, having to face my dour faced immediately suspicious and irrationally jealous finger-rapping first wife, as she then launches into her interrogation about the possibility of furtive sexual liaisons.

  • Honey. I can explain it. On my last case I had to use an echo probe on an old lady who overdosed on her perfume.
  • Oh really. So just how old? And exactly where were you probing her and what else were you probing her with beside that silly little machine of yours?
  • 85 years: On the chest wall under the left breast: With an RN chaperone.
  • Oh, so you probably fucked that little nurse whore too, right?

I am convinced that these chronic proximate chemical exposures are responsible for many women’s seemingly sudden onset of adult asthma or the premature deaths of some of their husbands; and have always thought there should a perfume specifically designed for post-menopausal septuagenarian women named:

Old Gommie

A requirement for its use would be that it could only be a water based semi-placebo, or if not, that it could only be sold if there was definitive proof of the woman having no living relatives. Revlon would make a fortune. On the opposite side, Old Spice could probably make a fortune as well if it could discover the molecule in the sweat of paranoid schizophrenic men that seems to make women magnetically flock to them. As far as I can tell this scientific study would be the only justifiable reason to continue keeping Charlie Manson alive.

However more to the immediate point, the most tragic thing about my Italian Grandmother, was the fact that she never received flowers or perfume from anyone at all until the day she died, at which time her hearse was filled to the brim with bouquets; an ironic twist that finally made her smell like a fresh breath of Spring.

It has always been a mysterious curiosity to me that most people, men and women alike, get the bulk of their flower bouquets all at once, heaped one on top of the other like a small floral mountain, but only after they are dead.

 Grandma and Grandpa

Grandma and Grandpa DeCarlo

And you can, send me dead flowers in the morning

Send me dead flowers by the mail

Send me dead flowers to my wedding

And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave

(Dead Flowers: The Rolling Stones)