I have a friend who has a cause very near and dear to his heart. Day in and day out he goes on Facebook (and other social media sites) posting links that explain the cause and encourage others to support the cause. There are times I want to tell him to shut the front door! Find something else to post. As much as I hate friends who feel the need to discuss the minutiae of their lives I almost wish he'd write about grabbing the sports section and heading off to deal with constipation. Even an obligatory "at Starbucks" status would be less nerve-wracking.
This post is not about him.
As a self-published author, I am obliged to be a self-promoting parasite. It is as much a part of the job as the actual writing. Worse, it takes more time than I wish to invest and depending on the day and season takes much needed time away from that next brilliant insight the next project desperately needs.
I hate feeling redundant. I struggle to post the same status messages desperately trying to find different words each time. On some level, it feels less intrusive and less like cold-calling (a job I held for about four hours once upon a time) if I work off a varying script and resist beating the reading public over the head with the same buy me...buy me...buy me mantra.
That said, allow a shameless plug. Black Friday is upon us. While enjoying the warm afterglow of a holiday meal (assuming you survived the storm and made it to love ones and turkey), think about sitting in front of the fire enjoying a good book. (Self-published writers have enough ego to add "good" before "book".) If you order on Friday, it might even be there waiting for you when you get home. There are no storms lurking that would delay you or the delivery of your book.
I will be back after Christmas shameless beating a drum for "Auf Wiedersehen, Lampione". Until then, enjoy "This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil" - with my apologies.
As posted on Facebook at 9AM 11/26/2013:
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Sunday, November 24, 2013
(A few years ago, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy. I won't pretend I was good at it but I enjoyed the writing. Every once in a while I have a thought I find amusing and I add it to the joke file. Here's one of them.)
I cannot tell you how many times, in 37 years of marriage, I have heard the word “mine” from the wife. You may feel that I should say “my wife” – or at least be tempted to say “my wife” – but I am “the” husband; I do not have possessions. The wife has never used the word “our” – as in “our children” or “our car”. She has certainly never used the word “your” – as in your pants, your socks, your shoes. When the time comes, I will be put to rest in “her” plot. I am not sure if that is generosity or punishment. If you are married, you will hear your wife say: my couch, my table, my pots, my pans, my television, my computer, my condoms, my husband…
The wife will say – when she is mad at me – that she will not take any of my shit. You may think she is giving me ownership of my shit but she is not. It’s her shit; she just wants me to hold it for her. In fact, she insists on it.
The wife will say – when she is mad at me – that she will not take any of my shit. You may think she is giving me ownership of my shit but she is not. It’s her shit; she just wants me to hold it for her. In fact, she insists on it.
Posted by Vince Palazzo at 6:11 AM
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
(I am a creature of habit. I write on a schedule – even if I do not know what I am about to write. I get up every morning and, with that first cup of coffee, pound on my computer.
The other morning, I was forced to reinstall the computer; my grandson or my daughter visited a site they shouldn’t have and the laptop started acting like it was swimming in molasses. This, needless to say, impinged on my work time. I filled it, while I waited for Norton and Office and whatever updates Microsoft insists I needed, by doodling in my notebook. The piece that follows wriggled to the surface without any pre-planning. I like it for its brevity and its tone.)
The Martini, Extra-Dry
My doctor suggested that I stop drinking as part of his post-physical comments. I invited him home for dinner – I am quite the imaginative cook – and made us both a Martini to whet his appetite and to introduce him to a more reasoned, evening routine. There is nothing more civilized that a chilled Martini at the end of a long day.
My doctor passed away soon afterwards. Cardiac dysrhythmias. It was quite unexpected. It took his wife and family completely by surprise when they received the call. He was only – if I had to guess – forty-something. Fit, forty-something and dead.
The Martini is a classic drink, one that has withstood the ravages of time. It is not easy to make and must be served in the appropriate glass with sufficient preparation to honor the drink. Do you see how I have frosted our glasses? And the olives, three each, carefully pieced through the center with silver skewers. I do not abide anything stuffed into the olive. Nothing extraneous should be added to the liquor. Just a hint of brine to compliment the gin.
I find salt heightens a great many sensations. I have been watching the tiniest droplet of sweat gliding down your delicate neck. I don’t know if you can even feel it but it is enchanting. I have an almost irresistible urge to kiss you. To kiss your neck. It is not the salt that makes me want to do that – that is all you, by the way – but that hint of salt, the thought of that special taste, magnifies the experience.
See what I mean?
You are quite beautiful. I am sure you aware of your beauty; you must see it every morning in the mirror and men – myself included – cannot help mentioning it. It is the nature of human beings to appreciate beauty.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not some tawdry attempt at seduction. I do not enjoy pick-up lines. Look around you…I prize beauty. I collect books and old records, mostly classical compositions, and art. Small pieces. Little sculptures. Little porcelain pieces that are so incredibly delicate that you crave touching them but fear breaking them at the same time. Their fragility makes them…well, I guess you could say…exciting. I find holding them positively arousing.
But, enough of me and my things. The Martinis are done. I have taken extraordinary pains with yours. My doctor would claim I am being cavalier with our health but he is not here. I do not mean to be insolent, but his absence speaks volumes. If you ask me, there are quantitative benefits to the occasional vice. I do believe they have extended my life. Would you like to try it now or should we retire to the bedroom? I have never been a particularly doctrinaire host; you are so beautiful I would gladly forego my favorite addiction…or, at least, delay it until later.
The choice is yours. I am your servant.
I understand completely: the drink.
It would be an absolute shame to waste such a perfect Martin
Posted by Vince Palazzo at 6:35 AM
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
["The Munchausen Enterprise" is the core idea of a longer work-in-progress]
THE MUNCHAUSEN ENTERPRISE
a short story by
Vincent A. Palazzo
Maggie O’Connor drags her small metal cart and one uncooperative leg up Cooper Hill towards Greeley Gardens. At the corner, she turns right and walks the entire length of the park on the opposing side, dutifully stopping at very meter to collect the town’s parking tariff. The coins are just as dutifully deposited in the cart designed for that purpose; in almost fourteen months on the job, the sixty-four year old Maggie has not lost or misplaced so much as one quarter. In a previous life, before a stroke made speech difficult and her left leg lazy, Maggie taught High School English and led the Community Theater.
Her route takes her to Palmer Circle and the entrance of the park. She crosses, taking a moment to observe the monument to the town’s war dead, as she does every day, and heads back in the opposite direction. She enjoys the downhill walk and looks ahead to the bench at the corner where she will have her lunch. At a silver Volvo, parked by an expired meter, she hears the first sounds of trouble coming from inside the park. There is a series of quick explosions, like firecrackers but somehow hollow. Maggie is reminded of the sounds of men hunting in the woods by her childhood home. Those reports had a hollow muffled sound just like the explosions in the park but Maggie does not have the time to make the connection with gunfire. Her damaged mind jumps from popping sounds to the screams that follow and then to the squealing of car tires. She turns in time to see a late model SUV fishtail out of the park entrance and head in her direction at high speed. She has just enough time to think about writing down the license plate number, just enough time to reach for the pad she keeps for remembering what her brain forgets too quickly when a single bullet crashes through her skull. She is literally dead on her feet until the good leg finally catches on and she crumbles to the pavement. She is discovered with her hand still on the handle of her metal cart.
I have no trouble shooting her. She was a bitch in High School.
A group of young children enter the park tethered to a length of clothes line. They are all young students from Ms. Edith’s morning kindergarten class and they are all excited to be on their first field trip. Ever! Each kid dutifully holds a loop in the rope and marches in lockstep towards the amphitheater. Allie King, the smallest in the group, walks at the head of the line holding the rope with one hand and Ms. Edith’s hand with the other. She can see the performers setting up the stage and grows animated.
“They’re starting! Ms. Edith, they’re starting!”
“It’s okay, honey. They’re just getting ready. They know we’re coming. No one is going to start without us.”
The man in the black SUV is dressed in a black sweatshirt and black cotton pants. He sits behind black sunglasses and tinted windows watching from the parking lot as the children get settled on the grass. He has been there for thirty minutes, well before the kids crossed the street and entered the park, but no one pays any attention. He is just some guy sitting in his car sipping a cup of hot coffee. Just some guy enjoying the morning.
I cut quite the dashing figure. The Man in Black in the black SUV may be a little stereotypical but I enjoy the image. A Clementi symphony flows from my Bose sound system; my hand conducts the music through the open car window as I casually scans the pathways and roadways that lead to the amphitheater. The rest of the windows are closed; the tint provides just enough cover. No one notices my .44 caliber Bulldog or the Mac10 pistol sitting on the passenger seat. A large digital countdown timer sits next to the weapons. It now blinks “2:08”.
Ms. Edith is standing behind her charges facing the puppeteers as the car pulls to a stop. She is drinking her own cup of coffee. There are only a few yards of grass separating us as my Man in Black raises his Bulldog and fires.
The first shot is wide. It hits Ms. Edith but not as planned. The bullet catches her in the shoulder and literally spins her around. Just like in the movies. As she drops to one knee, she sees the Man in Black. She sees the black glasses. Sees the little boy smile. Her mouth flops open. Shock. Amazement. There is no time for fear or recognition. There is no time to cry out. The second round is true. Just as planned. The kill shot hits her in the chest and destroys her heart. She is dead before anyone realizes. Before the children start to cry. Before the performers, the spectators, the vendors, the joggers and the occasional lover recognize that the real drama is parked in a black SUV.
In that moment between murder and understanding, my Man in Black drops his Bulldog and fires the MAC10. I immediately miss the smaller pistol. It is much lighter, a mere 23 ounces, and much easier to control. The MAC10 feels like trying to hold an angry big mouth bass by the tail. My aim is high; my hand shakes under the weight and sheer power of the weapon. Its magazine empties in less than two seconds – I think about screaming as I squeeze the trigger – but the spectacle has the desired effect. Anyone moving in my direction has reversed field. Everyone is running for cover. Terror has taken center stage. There is screaming and confusion and chaos. The kids are now crying almost with one voice. It is pandemonium and it is perfect; exactly the scene I imagined when I first decided to act.
The Man in Black does not wait to see if he has hit anyone else. It does not matter. The play is proceeding as planned. The morning is not over; there is more to do. The car is in gear and gaining speed. The digital clock continues to count down. 1:18. The play may be behind schedule. Just a few seconds, but today seconds matter.
The car hits the turnabout fast barely slowing to prevent a skid. I hear the sound of metal on metal as the older Honda I cut off loses control and strikes a parked car. That should slow pursuit! For the moment it does. I am now travelling at highway speeds on Palmer Avenue.
Maggie O’Connor is doing her coin collecting thing as I raise the Bulldog. I sees her stop and shudder, almost as if a bug flew into her eye, but I can’t pause to evaluate my work. Three. I make a mental note and plow through a controlled intersection against the light.
There are pedestrians in the crosswalk up ahead. An old man with a walker, his wife with their cart of wet laundry and some kid on a skateboard threaten to block my path. The Man in Black switches hands and fires a single shot out the driver’s side window. This time I miss completely but the effort has the desired effect. As bits and pieces of asphalt spray into the air, the old and infirm fall backwards; the kid on the board propels himself forward creating a hole for the SUV. I click off another bullet – four – and glance at the clock. Less than half a minute remains.
The rail lines are up ahead. The Man in Black hears two sounds at the same time – the horn of an approaching train up ahead and the wail of police sirens closing in behind him. The cops took up the chase just after I shot at the old man in the intersection. They didn’t even stop to help the old guy. He sat on his ass until some neighbors pulled him from the street and helped him into a lawn chair.
The train whistle sounds again. At one hundred feet from the corner I can see the silver engine and the cars that will cross in front of me. They are coming fast. The countdown clock beeps and blinks 0:00. The SUV is just a second or two behind schedule and Amtrak, miraculously, is on time. I will not make it past in time. The barrier is down, the lights are blinking and I do not have the courage to ignore the warnings. The Man in Black would make the leap but he is not driving. Not really. He will have to listen to me. The long train will not provide cover; the cars will not allow me to escape. It is time for Plan B.
The SUV fishtails onto the gravel service road, gains purchase and barrels forward at dangerous speeds. The SUV bounces furiously over the uneven surface, forcing the Man in Black to drop both guns on the floor; this is two-fisted, white-knuckled driving. To my left, the train glides past at an almost similar pace. Up ahead, I can see where the rails curve away from the road. I can see the tunnel in the distance and I can just barely make out the next intersection. It is paved but crosses the rails at a difficult angle. The train will clear it before I gets there.
The police cruisers are having some difficulty on the gravel service road. They are unable to close the distance, promising a little breathing room at the corner. The Man in Black moves the vehicle to the left but does not attempt the hard turn. He uses the paved intersection to guide his vehicle onto the rails. This is not the movies. The car’s tires do not ride the rails like a train gliding effortlessly towards the tunnel. Instead, I find myself bouncing over the rail ties with the right rail running under the car. Steering is complicated; every time the vehicle drifts left, the rail rubs against the inside of the right wheels causing the SUV to buck insanely.
It is an impossible ride but the tunnel is only a quarter mile ahead. The Man in Black gets there ahead of the police cruisers.
Patrolman Michael Granger was one of three officers involved in what was a very short high speed chase. He piloted the car closest to the black SUV, flying through city streets at dangerous speeds that would have been dangerous on an open highway. His position leading the chase had more to do with luck of the draw or right place at the right time than it did with driving or police skills. The rookie had little of both. He was responding to a call involving the SUV when he heard a single gunshot right in front of him. He saw the subject vehicle fly through the approaching intersection. He saw an old man with a walker fall backwards into the roadway and thought briefly about offering assistance. The chase simply had more appeal. Granger bore down on the accelerator and took the left turn at speeds well above published safety limits. Surely someone else would stop and assist the old man. Besides, this was why he became a cop. In his mirror, he saw two other patrol cars speed past the old guy. They validated his decision. The man in the SUV came first. The radio reported injuries and fatalities; this guy was not getting away.
The turn put Granger within shooting distance of the gunman. He was certain he could put a stop to this quickly but there were rules to high speed chases. Discharging a weapon risked collateral damage…a big no-no. If he got the guy, no one would care. If he clipped a civilian in the process, the family would be all over the papers. His badge would be worth less than already chewed gum. There would be a PR nightmare for the department and probably a lawsuit. Shit-heel lawyers would be all over the place. Granger ending up out on his ass would be the least of his worries. No, there were other ways – by the book ways – to stop the gunman without damaging the indigenous population.
Granger bore down on the accelerator bringing his cruiser closer to the SUV. The railroad crossing was only a few seconds ahead. The open space would afford him an opportunity to stop this perp – god, he loved the word perp – and eliminate risk to civilians. Granger could take him down single handed. When the newspapers showed up, he’d be standing next to the Commissioner. Granger’s mind drifted back to his training. Quickly, he reviewed the procedure for deliberately clipping a fleeing vehicle causing it to spin out of control. If he did it right he could end up with one dead mother-fucker or a bloodied killer in handcuffs. Both made a good picture.
Granger’s focus was shattered when the SUV’s window exploded outward in his direction. His cruiser was close enough to be pelted with glass. Worse, Granger heard and felt a small thud near his left elbow. His rear view mirror – driver’s side just a couple of feet from his head – blew apart. What remained was a jagged piece of navy blue plastic. Nothing more. Granger was taking fire. Instinctively, he eased off the gas. Both hands tightened at ten and two.
Granger took the turn onto the gravel service road at high speed. He fishtailed all over the place before regaining control. The heavier SUV was handling the rough road better than his cruiser. The two other vehicles in pursuit followed with greater caution increasing distance between the lead vehicles. Granger cursed and complained that his Academy driving classes were nothing like this but he kept going. This sonovabitch was not getting away.
Granger was taken completely by surprise when the SUV bounced onto the rail bed and started riding the rails towards the tunnel. You’ve got to be kidding me and cunt-lapping-mother-fucking-sonovabitch and quite a few more colorful expletives filled the officer’s head. What he shouted out loud was not as imaginative – No Fucking Way! – but it managed to force him forward. Granger took the turn in much the same way as the perp, positioned his vehicle like the SUV, with one rail running under his cruiser, and bounded after the shooter. It was a stupid thing to do. The patrol car bounced so violently that Officer Granger’s face kept hitting the driver’s window. He would have a nice bruise to show when this little bit of police work was done.
At this point, the rookie should have called in but Granger did not dare take his hands off the wheel. Ten and two had become a sick joke. He would have to rely on his fellow officers – behind him – reporting his position. Had Granger taken a moment to look in the mirror, he would have noticed that they had stopped at the intersection. Other cars were now entering the area. They all stopped at the intersection. No one followed him onto the rails.
Ten or fifteen very painful seconds later, his front wheel hit a particularly deep rut. The tire hit the rail tie but the wheel did not roll out of the hole. The physics of force and immovable objects took over. The car stopped abruptly but not before metal bent, the axle broke and the cruisers wheel assumed a very unnatural angle. Inside the vehicle, the patrolman was thrown forward. The seatbelt lock caused a nasty burn diagonally across his chest. The airbag deployed blooding his mouth and breaking Granger’s nose. When he wobbled out of his car, more than a little disoriented, the pain in his back almost dropped him to the ground. His right arm, thrown over the top of the door, kept him from falling. He hung there like an old Raggedy Andy doll while his fellow officers ran down the tracks to offer assistance.
Granger was still a quarter-mile from the tunnel. The SUV had disappeared into the darkness. It was no longer visible. For the moment, there was nothing for him to do. He watched the black maw ahead and listened to the pounding of black boots behind and waited. One officer was closer than the rest.
“Hey, Mike! You okay?”
There was something whimsical in his tone.
Yeah, sure! What do you think; Granger wanted to answer but didn’t get the chance. A huge explosion literally burped out of the blackness. A plume of red and yellow flame shot skyward across the stone face of the tunnel. Debris, the flotsam of rail walkers and derelicts, took flight and flew towards the officers. And empty beer can cracked the windshield of Granger’s cruiser. The concussion knocked him to the ground; he screamed in pain as his ass hit a rail tie and pain shot upward through his back.
For the first time in his short career, Officer Michael Granger thought of disability as a blessing.
The Man in Black stands in the dark next to the SUV. If the police give me two minutes, Plan B will still work.
I work in near darkness. The only light comes from the interior of the car. I remove the Man in Black and toss him into the car. The black sunglasses have already been discarded. Black boots land on the floor next to the firepower. A new uniform, baggy running shorts and a well-worm t-shirt, recast my main character. The new actor is closer to reality. The play, for the first time is more autobiography. The Man in Black entered the tunnel; Eddie McDermott was about to walk into the sunlight. I climb a concrete utility shaft. Everything else is left behind.
I exit an abandoned utility shed less than a ninety seconds after losing the SUV. I am well on my way, just an average guy jogging in baggy blue shorts and a red pocket “t” when my watch chimes a two-minute warning. I feel vibration in the ground as the SVU and the tunnel explode but keep my pace steady and calm. A half mile further along Crescent Street, I stop at a mustard yellow, late model Ford Mustang. I get in and drive off without incident. Plans C or D will not be necessary.
There were no redemptive, hand-of-god hiccups. I drove to the airport at posted highway speeds without incident, top down, elbow slung out the window. It was a completely enjoyable ride. Twenty minutes later, I slid into a rent-a-car parking lot, dropped my paperwork and keys into the rapid check-in box, avoiding unnecessary, casual conversations with extraneous humans, before taking the shuttle to the long-term parking lot. The family CRV, Hermione, sat waiting patiently. She has been waiting for the last five days; my most recent business trip was about to end.
The police were not at my house when I pulled into the drive. They will come – I left enough victims to keep them busy for a while – but, for the moment, I planned to relax, collect myself and enjoy a tall whisky. Neat. When they come, I will be ready.
My briefcase and keys are dropped by the front door. My coat is tossed carelessly over a wing-back chair – signs that there is a new sheriff in town. I plop down on the sofa and drop my feet on the cocktail table. I take a deep pull on my drink; the remote in my other hand finds the Chicago game. The Cubs won’t win the division but the season is still young; at least, they might win the day.
In the quiet of my living room, adrenaline drains away. I feel the need to sleep. When the police come, they can wake me. That would look more natural, anyway. In the meantime, I will sleep my most peaceful sleep in years. As I sink into the cushions of the couch, I see my wife Edith drift by on the digital frame. She is surrounded by snow, bathed in the steam of a hot tub. It was a shot from our winter trip to Breckenridge.
Just like a ghost, I think.
Eddie McDermott sleeps.
I wake to a dark house and a somnambulant neighborhood. The police have not come to express their condolences and ask a few questions. It is after one and this surprises me – and maybe offends me just a little. You’d think my work deserves a bit more attention. Oh, well…in the morning, then! I lumber up the stairs and onto the bed without changing. I never liked pajamas anyway.
The alarm wakes me at 6AM. Half asleep, I go into the bathroom, strip off yesterday’s clothes and climb into the shower. The water refreshes me and brings me back to life. I step out of the tub ready to face a new day.
Edith is sitting on the toilet. Her panties are at mid-calf. Her black nightgown covers her knees and most of the view. I cannot conceal my surprise; I stand there dripping on the bathmat, my mouth agape.
“Sorry,” she giggles, “when I wake up I need to pee.”
“It’s okay,” I shrug, shaking the shock and confusion from my face and voice. “It’s not like you’ve never seen me naked.”
Edith shrugs, changing the conversation.
“You were talking in your sleep…”
I still haven’t reached for a towel. Edith has my complete attention.
“Sorry. What did I say?”
“I’m gonna kill you, Dotty…”
I laugh. The truth makes answering easy.
“Seriously? She’s a character. I was working on her big scene all day.”
“Dotty must be giving you a hard time. You were really tossing around last night…”
I watch as Edith grabs some paper and finishes up. She pulls her panties up and rises in one motion. Not once is she exposed.
“She’s a little difficult…:
I watch her leave the bathroom. When the door closes, I reach for a towel and dry quickly. Only dampness remains.
“Don’t worry,” I muttered, “I’ll work on it…”
Maybe something simpler.
Posted by Vince Palazzo at 6:25 AM
Saturday, March 16, 2013
(BYE! is the third installment in a collection entitled, Impractical Ventures. Previous installments include Faithfully Executed and Divine Intervention.)
a short story by
I have always loved Sunday Dinner. As a child, there was excitement in the preparation. The shopping for pastries after church, sfogliatelle, cannoli and napoleons (with that wonderfully sweet cream that always oozed out when you tried to cut it), the hours of cooking, the perfume of bubbling tomato sauce, stuffing manicotti while various meats sizzled on the stove, the frenetic activity as Mom tackled seven jobs bestowed holiday status on our Sunday meal.
We always ate early on Sundays. Even so, by two o’clock the anticipation was unbearable. My brother and I would kneel on the sofa looking out the window, waiting for our Uncle Jake’s car to turn into the driveway. He always brought Grandma and Grandpa and Grandma always brought candies. She always had a pocketful of sour balls and peppermints that she slipped to us one piece at a time before dinner. Don’t tell your mother was Grandma’s whispered mantra. It was almost as important as don’t spoil your dinner. Grandma would tap my belly with her big, beefy hand and shake her head in dismay. You’re too skinny. Make sure you eat. In this family, that was never a problem. I might have been young and skinny but I was fast; I always got my due and more.
The food was always ready by the time Grandma and Grandpa came through the door. The antipasto was waiting on the table and the meatballs and sausage were keeping warm in a chafing dish on the counter. Lasagna or stuffed shells, baked ziti or manicotti was always bubbling gently in the oven; no one would have to wait for the pasta once Aunt CeCe, Uncle Steve and the kids got here. My Aunt was always late and Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa always argued and complained and joked about it. They were loud and animated. That was our way. Once Aunt CeCe and her family arrived, we were all hugs and kisses. I brought pie was always followed by laughter and applause. Aunt CeCe made the worst pies. That was the real joke. Everyone laughed as coats were thrown on the couch and bodies pushed and elbowed their way to the table. Food was ready and no one kept an Abate away from food.
During Sunday dinner, there were two rules. No talk of religion and no talk of politics. At every Sunday dinner, God and the President always got equal time. Voices were raised. Fists were shaken. Someone was always a moron and, yet, no one ever missed a bite. It did not matter if the subject was the Pope or Mark Twain, political graft or the collection plate, the Immaculate Conception or whether Mary really pulled one over on Joseph, or whatever new stupidity was coming out of that damn liberal Court, my family always managed to talk, shout and rage with their mouth full. More sauce was spit on the table cloth than spilled passing overfilled platters. We were always loud but we never left hungry. At the end of every Sunday meal, Uncle Steve’s belt was always undone, Grandpa always complained that there was too much food and my Mom always made my Grandparents a platter to take with them. Everyone always left happy and everyone always planned to come back next Sunday.
It is a tradition that I have passed on to my own family.
It is a tradition that has not stood the test of time.
My family is at the table this Sunday. It is the first time we are together – all of us – in years. I cannot tell you how many years but I can only remember three Sunday dinners in the last year. Once my son was here. Once my daughter came by but left early and once they both left – leaving the kids behind – so that they could go to a party together.
They are all here today.
I had to tell them I was dying to get them to make an appearance.
I had to perform some serious magic to keep them.
I love my family...
They are all here and they are all staring at me. They are all scared; no one has said a word. I have decided I want to enjoy my meal. I am not entertaining conversation. This is our last family meal together and I will conduct it as I see fit.
I sit in my usual spot at the head of the table, patriarch of a sad and dysfunctional clan.
Why are you doing this?
The question is clearly on my daughter’s mind. She has always been the assertive one in this family. It is a question that should be asked, needs to be asked under the circumstances, so I volunteer my reasoning. They are my family, after all.
“I don’t want our traditions to die.”
The antipasto is spread out on several platters across the tabletop. All the usual selections are there. All the treats from my childhood. Italian tuna shares a plate with pimentos, rolled anchovies, sardines, marinated artichoke hearts, stuffed mushrooms and several salamis. There is a plate of asparagus spears, a bowl of fried cauliflower, a platter of assorted cheeses, mostly provolone and sharp cheddar, a dish of fresh mozzarella and basil dribbled with extra virgin olive oil and a Lazy Susan (my Mother’s) overflowing with olives and stuffed peppers.
No one has touched a bite. I smile. My family, my Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Cece, Uncle Steve and Uncle Jake, Mom and Dad, the cousins, would have stormed across this table like Sherman across Georgia. There would have been nothing left and it wouldn’t have taken any time at all. If I close my eyes, I can see them. The image makes me smile.
“I have always enjoyed Sunday dinners.”
I pop a pepperoncini in my mouth and bite off the stem. The juice fills my mouth with hot liquid. I find it strangely satisfying.
”I’m sorry you don’t like this stuff,” I add, waving a hand across the table, “there is a lot more coming.”
Once again, my daughter Miranda takes the lead. There are two men at the table but she has always been the one with balls. She does not wait for her brother to confront me. Mark lacks the tools for confrontation. At twenty-seven, he is more likely to cower and whimper than take a stand on anything. Miranda pauses long enough to look for support from her mother, my wife Agnes; she is still asleep and still useless. Miranda does not pay any attention to her brother’s boyfriend – I think this one is Jeffrey. This is probably a mistake, the result of her own character flaws. She is shortsighted. If anyone will cause me difficulty it is Jeffrey. His jaw is clenched, his eyes, small and hard, are fixed on me. Their message is not friendly. None of that matters. The play begins with Miranda.
My daughter lunges at me but she cannot reach. I am out of range, the result of intense planning. She tries to scream but everything is muffled. I really cannot understand anything she says – or tries to say – but the subtext is obvious.
Why are you doing this?
“I have spent my life trying to keep this family’s traditions alive. This meal – our last by the way – is my way of acknowledging my failure. For the first time, I do not expect a different result. For the first time, I do not care what happens.”
Jeffrey starts to rock and pull against the chair trying to get away from the table. He leans dangerously close to falling backwards.
“If you fall, I will not pick you up.”
It is a throw-away line. I am nonchalant.
“Nothing will change…except, maybe, finding yourself in a more embarrassing position.”
I look at my family.
“I would like to eat now.”
I am firm and unbending. They look at me like I’m nuts.
Each family member, wife, daughter, son, son’s special someone and the children, three sandy-haired grandchildren, are all zip-tied to their chairs. Arms and ankles. A hefty amount of duct tape has been wrapped around their waists fitting them tightly to their seats. A little more duct tape has been deployed to control conversation. No one is moving very far or very much. I sense my wife is starting to stir; the grandchildren will be asleep for a while longer, maybe for the entire meal. Ketamine was a good choice.
“I mean it. I want to enjoy my meal. Please respect all the work that went into preparing this.”
I punctuate the request with the gun. My first. My brand new, out-of-the-box Bulldog Pug is on the table next to my plate. My hand aimlessly strokes the cold, chrome finish.
Miranda wiggles her fingers as if to say why. Mark starts to blubber.
“Every holiday, every Sunday feast that you have bothered to attend has been an unmitigated disaster. Your behavior has been more like animals than humans. There is certainly nothing about family in any of you. I was embarrassed to sit at the same table with you. When I remove that tape, if I remove that tape, I will let you eat like animals…”
I lower my face to my plate to demonstrate. I pluck a piece of fried cauliflower from my antipasto choices and swallow it whole.
“…I’m sure you can all reach.”
As I wipe oil from my nose with my napkin, Jeffrey finds his voice. He starts to scream beneath his gag. He pushes his tongue against the tape and stretches his mouth trying to loosen the restraint. He bellows a lungful of trapped air hoping to reclaim his captured voice. His words are garbled but some are clear enough to make sense of his contribution.
“I am not a member of this family and I am not putting my face in this plate to eat your fucking meal!”
There is a pause as Jeffrey waits for a reaction. When I remain silent he adds an apology.
“I’m sorry if I offended you…”
Jeffrey sounds a little like Porky Pig behind the gag. I cannot resist a good laugh.
“The word fuck does not shock me. These guys cannot form a thought without using it,” I acknowledge my family with a dismissive wave. I resist the urge to spend any more time on them. Jeffrey has worked hard to get my attention. He should have it.
“If you want to die hungry, the choice is yours.”
I raise my gun and aim at Jeffrey.
Miranda struggles wildly. She shakes her head violently. She is arguing with me – Miranda always argues with me – but her voice does not have Jeffrey’s power. Strangely, she is all confrontation; there is nothing entreating in her argument. Her words have meaning…but only to her.
Mark has crossed from blubber to hysteria. His eyes, dripping tears, connect with mine. They plead with me. I can only guess that he cares about the man. I meet his gaze. I shrug. I squeeze the trigger. The Bulldog barks (Sorry!). If you can hear a bullet, Jeffrey hears it whirl past his ear, missing by about six inches. I hit my target. Frank Sinatra’s head, an ugly ceramic statue that my wife and mother made years ago in some neighborhood ceramics class, explodes into a cloud of white powder. I think about a Woody Allen movie…the one where he sneezes into a bowl of cocaine. I smile. I am happy. Almost giddy.
Apparently zip ties and duct tape are not real enough but bullets…bullets are very real indeed. My guests assume a dramatically different posture. Pandemonium is a good word. Cacophony is another. They scream pathetic muffled screams. They pull wildly against the straps. They will all be bruised at the wrists and ankles. What do they say on television: ligature marks? At least one will bleed. Jeffery alone is still. Ramrod straight, he breathes rapidly, sucking and expelling air with each heartbeat. The man must be part rabbit. I tap the nose of my gun on the table restoring some sense of order to our little meal.
“I have tried year after year to keep traditions that meant something to me alive. Holidays, Sundays, Birthdays….they have never been anything by disappointing. Year after year you have sat in those chairs fighting over nonsense, insulting each other with the vilest names and the crudest language. You have complained about everything I have tried to do. One of you…”
I nod at Mark.
“…stopped at McDonald’s before stopping here. Each of you, in their own way, has found ways to arrive late and excuses to leave early. There has been no thought of the meal. No thought of family. No thought of me. I sit at this table – alone – feeling empty and disappointed. I have spent my life wondering what I have done wrong…just what I have done to make you all so fuckin’ miserable. I am a failure. I accept that now.”
The ketamine is wearing off. My wife is finally awake. I think she was able to focus on most of my little tirade. Only the little children remain deeply asleep – or, perhaps, more correctly, only the children are unconscious.
I have been married for almost thirty years. I do not need to hear her words. I know them.
What do you think you’re doing?
I can almost hear her hiss the words.
You pathetic little cock sucker…what are you trying to prove…you hate us…you hate it here…fine…leave…I can kick your fucking ass to the curb if that’s what you want…I don’t need you…I never needed you…I’ll divorce you…is that what you want…I can keep everything…you know I can…I can get rid of you…you know I can…how would you like that, you fucking wimp!
I laugh. It is actually a relief to hear her sound normal. The drug, the zip ties, the duct tape, none of that changes who she is.
“You have been promising to divorce me for twenty-eight years. We are still here.”
“Not tonight. Tonight is not going to be any different than the last eight years. Not in that way anyway.”
This whole exercise has been crazy. I have enough sanity left to realize that. It is just another failure. History repeating without mercy. Their gags are in place but I hear their voices. Nothing is garbled anymore.
Mark has something to say but it doesn’t take much to stop him. I raise a finger, one empty, slightly crooked, probably impotent finger and any other words choke in his throat. He really is a coward.
“I am not done with your mother. Not yet.”
I look back at Agnes. My smile is as fake and empty as words like “honey”, “dear” and “sweetheart”. There is simply no warmth, no affection and no love behind any of them. Not anymore.
“You won’t divorce me because you won’t give me…finally give me…something… anything...that would make me happy. And…AND…if I am wrong about that, so what. You don’t have time for the paperwork. Not anymore.”
There is a pause, a moment of awakening. It is like watching children play connect the dots.
“You’re going to…kill us?”
The question is incredulous.
“What about my children?”
“You don’t want to do that.”
“I’m your son.”
“I’m your daughter.”
“I just met Mark. I don’t have anything to do with this!”
Jeffrey’s voice chimes in as comic relief.
I do not bother answering. Their words are now in my head. They are loud and getting louder. Shouting. The grandchildren will sleep through everything. I am sure of that. Nothing else matters. I don’t even feel like eating. Not anymore. They have taken that from me, too. I guess I am not much of an Abate after all.
I raise my gun as I look at them. I touch fingertips to my lips and throw little kisses at my children. A finger slides over the trigger. There is a little pressure as metal starts to give way to flesh.
My hand is steady. I do not feel the recoil. I honestly do not hear the shot. My bullet is true. It hits its mark and passes effortlessly through my brain. I am sure it shatters something else on the wall but…
It doesn’t matter.
I see my family all trussed up in their Sunday finery.
I won’t have to suffer through another meal.
Maybe I laugh…
I see them all before I leave.
I think again…
Why would I want to take them with me?
Posted by Vince Palazzo at 8:08 PM