You’re not alone.
Or rather, I’m not, perhaps.
Like many other long-time bloggers, I, too, face the unfortunate reality that life interferes, too often, with the business of actually, well, blogging.
What’s become of us?
(Yes, like it or not, you’re included in this. Your complicity lessens the gnawing-at-my-gut guilt and incriminating-as-hell feelings of self-hatred.)
And sure, selling a house, packing everything we own, getting married, relocating with two supremely spoiled dogs, finding a home in a new country, and getting residency visas have all taken time—time away from the blogosphere and the many dear (but neglected) friends I’ve found here—
(Yes, it’s a big “but.”)
It just so happens I’ve also been busy writing.
Actually writing! (You read that correctly. You are not hallucinating.)
Imagine that—I’ve been engaged in the honest-to-God act of putting fingers to keyboard, lining up words one after the other like Lincoln Logs, constructing sentences—even entire paragraphs.
And, yes, (hold your compositionally-crazed, chomping-at-the-book horses)—
EVEN (I swear-to-God) chapters!
Chapters of my memoir, I mean.
That, by the way, has also required a complete reworking of chapter 1, a version of which I just so happened to read at a literary event here in Cuenca last week.
And, yes, I happen, as well, to have a video of the event.
So, below you’ll see (and hear) me reading the new and HUGELY-improved (I hope!) first chapter of Kids Make the Best Bookies. (Thanks to my blogger buddies and members of the Cuenca writing group I’ve joined for the amazing feedback!)
Hope you enjoy.
(Immediately following is the updated text, in case you’d like to follow along.)
Kids Make the Best Bookies: A Mafia Memoir
With two televisions and a radio blaring basketball in the background, Daddy hangs up the second of two phones.
“Who wants Sweet Williams?” he turns to us and asks. White haired and handsome, my father rubs his hands together, anticipating an ice cream adventure, chilling as this one might be on such a frigid February evening.
“Two scoops on a sugar cone! How’s that sound?” He’s been fielding calls from clients for the past hour—ever since we finished my sister Susan’s 13th birthday dinner a while earlier.
At nearly 16, I, for one, roll my eyes, lean over to Susan on the sectional beside me, and whisper, “As if it isn’t cold enough already?”
“Yeah, now we’ll enjoy a good brain freeze to top it all off,” Susan adds.
“Come on, gang.” Daddy urges my two younger sisters and I up off the couch, nudging us with his stocking feet.
“Coats on. Time’s a-wastin’.”
Once we’re bundled against the very real possibility of frostbite, my mom manages to remind my dad of the obvious. The threat of hypothermia notwithstanding, my purportedly warm-blooded mother mentions something else entirely.
“Don’t forget to put those papers away, Tyce.”
She’s referring to the sheets on which he records in careful columns the bets his clients call in—who has placed how much on which games. We have a door whose top has been hollowed out and lined with tin—the same size needed to hold the folded papers.
“Oh, Judy!” he dismisses my mother’s suggestion, and adds as he claps his hands to hurry us along, “Let’s get this show on the road.”
With that he snatches his keys from the landing table, sets his papers on the carpeted steps just inside the door, and we’re on our way, Daddy in the lead, my mother and little brother bringing up the rear.
Descending the steep steps from our house to the street below, I shiver in my navy pea coat, Steelers stocking cap, and scarf on top of that—never enough. It seems Pittsburgh’s a permafrost the winter of ’78, biting with each breath. It’s dark outside, except for a single street light that brightens our cement steps and shines on Daddy down below—my two sisters close behind him.
Then out of an otherwise quiet night, a brown sedan races up the road, its tires flattening yesterday’s blizzard as it slides to a stop. Four federal agents jump out, their black rubber boots crunch the clean snow, break its icy surface—a cracking glass. One man, wearing a black hat, slips on the icy street, nearly falling. His hat goes flying. Another grabs Daddy, shoving him against the wall that separates our stairs from the road below.
As it becomes clear what’s happening, my mother, siblings, and I race back toward the house. This isn’t the first raid we witness, and it won’t be the last.
But once inside the front door, my mom covers Daddy’s papers with her purse and collapses on the carpeted steps. My brother, only four, cries beside her, as we girls rush in behind them, over-coated FBI agents on our heels.
I can’t make out exactly what the officer bellows at my mom, the wise guy barking at her futile effort to literally conceal evidence beneath a burgundy Gucci bag. I suppose the charge might be cover-up by pocketbook or some other crime of the coutured-handbag kind. Sometimes even love is less than legal.
What I do hear, however, even over my brother’s sobs, is someone screaming.
“Don’t you dare try to take my mother!”
I recognize only in an insanely surreal and close-to-comic delay, the screamer has been me.
My mind goes blank after that, and I feel like I’m floating. I think we’re hurried into my grandmother’s apartment on the first floor of our house. We stay there while agents ransack our upstairs space.
Still later, after we’ve cleaned up the monumental mess, I lie in bed, listening to my sister Lynn’s quiet breathing. Despite the darkness, I see the sleeves of her Holly Hobby nightgown peeking out beneath the green blanket.
Still not warm enough, the cocoon of my own covers notwithstanding, I review what’s happened. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Sure, the day has ended in legal limbo, but it started out like any other.
I’d ridden the bus to school that morning as I normally do—the private Baptist one my parents force us to attend. There teachers drill us in the books of the Bible, teach the tenets of the John Birch Society, and sing the virtues of a free market economy. There, boys’ hair doesn’t touch the tops of their ears or come close to their collars in the back. There girls are only allowed to wear skirts and dresses and “modest” ones at that, ones whose hems touch the floor when we were kneeling—I’m referring here to those silly, sometimes weekly, skirt-length checks carried out in the chapel just above the basement classroom we tenth graders share with the ninth.
But that reminds me, the school is really mom’s idea. Sure, in her leather pants and mink coat, she may have looked worldly to the FBI officer, but she is actually a Bible-believing person. She encourages Christian values, if also, inadvertently, the church’s own version of crazy. For example, she once warned me that women of God always wear bras, when I’d been tempted to go without my own. Forget that our education, not to mention our underwear, is funded by mafia money. It all comes out in the wash.
Then that gets me wondering, as well, why I’d defended my mom so adamantly, when it was my dad agents were obviously after. Despite the threat, Mommy wasn’t arrested, after all. Daddy was.
But actually, both parents confuse my thinking about who’s holy and who isn’t—my father especially. He’s been indicted by several grand juries. Still, he’s the fun one, consistently kind, generous, witty—the sort of dad most kids would want. I know no one who dislikes him. I never even hear him curse.
Would the real criminal please stand up?
But, what about you? What have you been chomping at recently?
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