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 "The Stain" (a tale from New York City's "Little Italy) part 1

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Jacob Ben Avraham
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PostSubject: "The Stain" (a tale from New York City's "Little Italy) part 1    Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:31 pm

                                        “THE STAIN” (A tale from New York City’s “Little Italy”)
                                          by  J. Ben Avraham         
 

 

     Hey, my name is Francesco Petronelli, I’m an Italian-American, and everyone calls me “Frankie”.  Yeah, even Mamma and Pappa.  I live in a nice, quiet place called “Little Italy”, or at least what’s left of it, here in New York City.
     We live a couple of blocks from Mulberry Street, pretty close to Columbus Park.  Little Italy used to be a lot bigger in the days of grandma and grandpa, at least when they were younger.  Today, there are a lot of oriental businesses here and the Italian families have moved away.  But hey, we’re still here! Yeah, buddy! And we aren’t going anywhere.  We just like it here, and we don’t mind the culture mix.  I am beginning to like the Chinese food as much as the Italian food. 
     For Mamma and Pappa, they were born here too, but the grandparents, well, they’re from a place called “Calabria” which is about a hop, skip, and a jump from Sicily.  I mean, get in a motor boat and start up the engine, point it Westward and in about a half-hour, you’re in Sicily. 
     Now I’m pretty cool with mom and pop.  They both helped me with my homework when I was in high-school.  They even put up with three of my friends; “Big Al”, “Lou”, and “Tony Rizzo”.  They used to come over to our place a lot, just to hang out.  Sometimes they would get a bit loud and mom would make some delicious spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread.  With that and a deck of cards, they’d quiet down. 
     I was pretty serious in high-school and I kept my nose in the books, but Big Al, Lou, and Tony Rizzo, well, they almost lived in detention, I mean skipping class, mouthing off to teachers and stuff like that. 
     Now I’m almost six feet tall, a little dark with black, curly hair.  Sometimes people mistake me for Sicilian.  One day I was walking down Mulberry Street and a couple stopped me and asked me something in Sicilian. 
     “No parlo Sciliano” I responded
     “No Sciliano?” they asked.
     “No, I’m Calabrese, I mean Calabrese from here”
     So, when I got home, I decided to have some fun.  When I walked through the door, I saw that the grandparents were relaxing in the living room and I said;
     “Hey, Sciliano!” pointing to myself, grinning from ear to ear.  I thought I was pretty funny saying that, at least that’s what I thought.
     “NO, NO, Calabresi, Calabresi!!” they shouted, jumping up from the sofa.  Then they started speaking Italian a mile a minute.  Momma came in from the kitchen saying;
     “Mama, Papa, qual e la cosa? Calmatevi!”
     In other words, she was asking them what was the matter and for them to calm down a bit.
     “Thanks a lot Frankie” mama told me crossly, “you got em wound up again!”
     Then she took them into their bedroom and sat them down on their bed to relax.  After a while, they slowed down their Italian and started talking about times in the “Old Country.” Well, that was the last time I did that.
     Now pop was cool and thought it was kinda funny.  He was in the easy chair smoking a Toscani cigar and he said;
     “So? Frankie looks Sicilian, so what? Maybe we do have some Sicilian blood after all.” 
     I remember that story pop told me once about a great ancestor of ours who used to live Sicily.  Well, as the story goes, he fell in love with the servant girl of a mafia chief’s aunt.  The aunt didn’t think much of him hanging around the house and hiding out in the olive groves with her servant.  Long story short, she told her nephew, Don Antolini…so…the two had to high-tail it out of there right-quick.  They headed East, took a boat ride to Calabria, and, well, they lived there, hopefully ever after, at least that was pop’s version of the story.
     When I graduated high-school, I got a job at “Sal’s Italian Deli.”  Now, the origin of the name “Sal” is kinda interesting.  It wasn’t always “Sal’s”, it used to be called “Salerno Deli.”  Back during WWII, a guy named Giuseppe Castagnoli owned it.  Now Giuseppe was from Salerno, about 200 miles North of Calabria the way the crow flies.  Well, anyway, one day during a fierce wind storm, half the sign fell down leaving only the letters S-A-L, and D-E-L-I.  Giuseppe never fixed the sign.  Then he sold the place to his nephew Angelo.  Well, customers started calling Angelo, “Sal”.  He tried to tell them that he wasn’t “Sal” that there wasn’t any “Sal”, and that his named was “Angelo”
     For a while, they called him “Angelo” but then, those customers moved away, and new ones came in and called him “Sal”, and referred to his place as “Sal’s Deli”.  After a while, he just threw up his arms and said;
     “I give up, guess my name is Sal now, as long as it brings in the customers, I guess it’s a good name too.”
     Now people ask me if I want to work at Sal’s forever.  Well, not forever, maybe for a few more years.  I was kinda thinking of joining the Army and go to OCS (Officer’s Candidate School) after a few years, but for now, Sal’s is OK.
     I just walk about five blocks from our place to Sal’s.  I always pass a pool room where Big Al, Lou, and Tony Rizzo hang out who work some odd jobs here and there.  I really hope that they make something out of their lives, but at least we all graduated high school together.  Now at Sal’s, I do a little bit of everything, like unpack boxes, put stuff on the shelves, make some salads, slice meats and cheese for customers.  I like Sal and Sal likes me, (or rather Angelo).  I would say that he and me, well, we get along just fine.  I do my job and help him out anyway I can.  That is what life is all about, doing your job and helping others too. 
     Now I work together with a young Puerto Rican girl named Ana Ramos.  She’s about five inches shorter than me, but let me tell you something, she can do any job a guy can do as far as work is concerned.  She’ll open boxes with a swift pass of a box-cutter knife, stock the shelves with cans and bags of this and thats, empty the trash cans into the dumpsters, cut meats and cheeses just like me.  She’s calm, but don’t cross her mind you, or else, she’ll speak her mind a bit loudly.  Now you ask me, would I want to marry her? Well, maybe not, but who knows the future.  Mom and pop I think have their minds set on some nice Italian girl where ever and who ever she might be. 
     Ana Ramos and me are just good friends and we work well together.  I already told you that she can be a little fire-cracker if you cross her or say something ugly.  I remember the time we left Sal’s together after work and as we were on our way home, a young blonde chick came up behind me with an un-lit cigarette in her hand and said;
     “hey…you there…Papa Cheppetto…Mr. Spaghetti man…meatball guy…hey…Italiannnnooooo maaaan…got a light?”
     Now I am not the kind of person that is going to start stuff over name calling, I mean, I’ve heard Italians called worse names, and well…this girl was just being a “wise-gal” making fun of us using Italian related names.  Now, she could have just said,
     “sir, excuse me, can you give me a light?”
     But no, she had to go the extreme, but not to the max if you know what I mean.  Well, I just turned around and said to her;
     “I don’t smoke” and kept on going.
     But Ana Ramos, she didn’t take too kindly to those words, even if they weren’t directed against her, they were directed towards me, her good friend and work companion.  She stopped me and grabbed me by that arm saying;
     “Hey Frankie, are you going to take that from that chic? Stand up for your people!”
     And with that, she turned to that blonde chic and said;
     “Hey blondie, I’ll light you up!” then she threw her fist like a hammer, right across that blonde girl’s chin.  Knocked that blonde chic out, knocked her right into the middle of next week!  Now there was another girl standing by, maybe she was a friend of Ms. Blondie.  She just stood there with her mouth wide open.  Ana turned to her and said;
     “You better shut your mouth or a fly will get in!”
     Then Ana grabbed me by the arm and said, “let’s go”.  We continued walking and after a few minutes she turned to me and said;
     “Ya know Frankie, ya gotta stand up for your people! Your people are my people too ya know, we’re all “Latinos” even though we speak different languages!”
     The very next day everyone was talking about how a Puerto Rican chic knocked out a blonde chic right in the middle of Little Italy! When we got to work the next day, Sal pulled Ana over to the side to have a stern lecture about violence in the “barrio” but when he found out the details of “why the knock-out?” he congratulated her. 
     “Hey Frankie” Sal started, “Ana stood up for our people, did you see that?”
     “Yes Sal” I answered, “I was right there, I saw the whole thing.” 
     “Oh yea, right, you were there, well…nice going Ana” Sal replied, patting her on the back.  With that, we went to work stocking some shelves with some canned pesto.  Now one thing about Sal, at the end of each day, he gives me any left-over pizza that doesn’t sell.  It’s pretty good, good ol New York style pizza made fresh in the morning by Sal himself.  If you’ve ever seen those pizza guys that stand in the windows of pizzerias that throw pizza dough up in the air, and then it comes down and it gets even bigger and flatter, then you’d know what Sal does every morning.  Yes, he makes them with double mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, some he makes with sausage and anchovies.  He pops those pizzas in the oven and out they come, ready to eat. 
     By the end of the day, there are usually 4 or 5 slices of pizza left.  Well, he gives them to me wrapped up in plastic and puts them in a paper bag.  I usually share one or two slices with Ana.  She likes Italian food just as much as I do, but I’ll have to say that pizza with Spaghetti and meatballs are my favorites, and of course, a glass of Chianti to wash it all down with. 
     Well, one day at the end of the day as Ana and I were leaving to go home, Sal called me over and sadly told me that he had sold all the pizza he had made, but not to worry, he’d “fix me up”.  Then he wrapped up in paper wrapping some sausage and ground beef, and along with some Italian spices saying;
     “Go home and make some spaghetti and meatballs, my treat!”
     That was very nice of Sal.  I didn’t get any pizza, but both mom and Sal taught me some trade secrets on making Italian meat balls.  The recipes vary a bit from Sicily, Calabria, and Salerno, but they all taste great.  Well, Ana went home and I went home.  When I got to our apartment building, I found a note on the kitchen table from mom.  They had gone walking in Columbus Park, her, pop, and the grandparents, and that they’d be home later.  Well, now it would be up to me to make dinner.  OK, that I’d do.  I decided to make some Sicilian style meat balls with “salsa d’tomate Calabrese” the best of both worlds. 
     I began to prepare the stuff, chopping up the garlic and onions, then adding the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs with the Italian spices.  When I threw in the ground beef mixed with an egg to the whole mixture, the phone rang.  That phone call, you could say, changed my whole life.  I wiped my hands off on a kitchen towel and answered the phone.
     “Hello?’
     “Hello, is this Frankie Petronelli?” came a voice on the other end.
     “Yes, this is Frankie, who is this?”
     “This is Mr. “G”.  Now I just stood there with the phone to my ear.  Did I hear correctly? I mean really, I thought?
     “Mr. G?’
     “Yes Frankie, Mr. “G”.  I know you heard correctly, there isn’t any static on the line.  We’re coming through clear as crystal!”
     “The real Mr. “G”? I asked, still dumbfounded.
     “Yes Frankie” continued the voice, “I’m the real “G”.  I mean, there are a lot of phonies out there that claim to be me, and people follow them, but I am the real “G”, I AM WHO I AM (1) Look, I go by a lot of names like Mr. “E”, Mr. “A”, Mr. “Y”, Mr. “J”, the list could go on and on, but in time, you’ll learn all of my names, that is if you accept my invitation since that is why I am calling you Frankie.  Are you interested?”
     Now, I still didn’t know how to respond.  I mean, Mr. “G” makes the Pope look like a little kid.  Mr. “G” well, he’s the max, when he calls you, he means business! He never fools around, no joke.  I just stood there with the receiver stuck to my ear. 
     “Heeeelllooo? Frankieeee? Are you still there?” came the voice. 
     “Yes Mr. “G”, I’m still here” I said hurriedly, “but why would you want to call me?” I asked, a little confused and at the same time, surprised.
     “Why not Frankie?”
     “Well”, I responded, “I’m not really important, I’m just a simple Italian-American guy who works at a Deli.”
     “You’re important to me Frankie” replied Mr. “G”, “I mean, I made you in my image, I have plans for you, big plans that is if you’re interested.  However, if not, I’ll call someone else and let you go.”
     “YES”, I shouted, “I’M INTERESTED!”
     “Great Frankie”, but I’m not deaf, no need to shout.”
     “OK”, I replied, calming down a bit, “So what can I do for you Mr. “G”, I asked.
     “Well Frankie, there’s nothing you can do for me, it’s what I can do for you.  The truth is, it’s been done already.  It was done a long, long, time ago.  All you have to do is accept what I did for you.  What I am trying to say is that I am giving a family membership party at my mansion and I want to invite you to join my family. So, what do you say to that?”
     I stood there amazed, flabbergasted, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Mr. “G” wanted ME as a family member, really? I thought. 
     “Heeeelllooo? Fraaankkiee?”
     “Me, a member of your family, for real?” I asked.
     “Yes Frankie, for real, no joke, I never joke around that.  I do have a sense of humor though, I made a donkey talk once.”
     “really? What did it say?”
     “Let’s just say that it complained to its master about some ill-treatment… now… your answer?”
     “Yes, Mr. “G”, I finally said, “It would be a real honor to become a member of your family.”
     “Great Frankie, glad to hear that, then you’ll be able to call me “Abba”.  For now, listen carefully to what I am about to say, OK?”
     “OK, Mr. “G”, go ahead, I’m listening.”
     “All right, first of all, put away the meat ball mix and the spaghetti sauce.  Stick them in the frig because I have some prepared at my place, especially for you Frankie.  In my opinion, what’s cooking at my place is “out of this world”.  I know you’ll love it!”
     “How did you know I was preparing Spaghetti and meat balls Mr. “G?”
     “Frankie, I know everything, I know what everyone is doing all the time, everywhere, now can I continue please?”
     “Sure, I’m listening.”
     “OK, now you need to come to my celebration dressed for the occasion.   You need to be all in white, no stains, all white, from head to toe, all white, got it?”
     “Sure Mr. “G”, I responded a bit surprised, “but I don’t have any white suits here in my closet.”
     “Sure, you do Frankie, just look way in the back of your closet.”
     “But Mr. “G”, I know what’s in my closet, and I don’t have any white suits.”
     “You see Frankie,” sighed Mr. “G”, “that’s the problem with people, no one believes what I say.  There is such a lack of faith these days, even before these days.  I remember a son of mine named Thomas…well…that’s another story.  Frankie, trust me, I just put a white suit in the back of your closet right now, go check for yourself and I’ll hang on.”
     “OK, Mr. “G”, I’ll be right back.”
     So, I rushed to my bedroom and opened the door of my clothing closet which had a poster of Calabria on it.  I pushed aside my clothing and lo and behold, right in the back was a pure-white suit of clothes covered by a plastic bag on a wooden hanger.  I took it out of the closet and lay it down on my bed.  I took the plastic bag off and saw that it consisted of a white suit-jacket, a pair of white pants, a white shirt with a white-silk tie.  On the tie was a gold tie-clasp.  I thought I saw some white shoes and I rushed back inside the closet, Yes, there were also a pair of white shoes with white socks.  I rushed back to the phone and continued my conversation.
     “Mr. “G”, there’s a white suit in my closet! I can hardly believe it!”
     “Just like I said Frankie.  You see, most people believe when they see, but blessed are those who believe without seeing.  I even had that written down in a book.  OK, now listen, put the suit on and remember, do NOT let it get STAINED! Go to the nearest subway entrance, the one three blocks from Mulberry Street in front of the small oriental supermarket.  You know where that is right?”
     “Right, I know where it is.”
     “OK, go down and get a token and take the “A” train going South to Main Street Park.  Get off there and go up and look for the bus that says “Flatbush”.  Get on and be prepared for a long ride all the way to Rockaway Point Blvd.  Get off there and change buses and get on the one that says “222nd Street “Beach”.  Get off and you’ll see “Epstein’s Bait and Tackle” on the right.  Go in and ask for Abraham Epstein, he’s one of my sons.  He’ll point out my place which is right on the beach.  Follow his directions and stay on the beach path.  Now, pay attention because this is very important, there’s a creepy looking guy named Mr. “S” dressed all in black, He hangs out along the beach path and stops people before they get to my place.  He’s caused a lot of trouble ever since…well…since a long time ago.  Don’t pay any attention to him.  You’ll see my place, you can’t miss it, follow the path marked “to Judah Gate” and I’ll see you there.”
     “OK, Mr. “G”, I’ve written everything down.”  I was lucky that there was a pad of paper and pencil by the phone.
     “One more thing Frankie” continued Mr. “G”, people will look at you kinda funny like, I mean, all dressed in white.  Some will make fun of you.  The world pokes fun of my family members.  It’s always been like that, since we’re not very popular.  We are like a few fish swimming against a huge school of fish going the opposite way.  Quite a few of my children here were fishermen back then, that’s why I relate to the ocean and fish a lot.”
     “OK, Mr. “G”, I understand and I’ll be there as soon as I can, bye.”
     “Bye Frankie, I’ll see you soon.”
      As soon as I hung up the phone, I went to the kitchen and put the meatballs and sauce in the frig.  Then I went to my bedroom and put on that sparkling white suit.  I looked at myself in the mirror.  I was almost blinded by the white glare.  I checked the suit pocket and I found some money with a note on the bills that read; “bus fare”.  The suit fit perfectly, even the shoes were a perfect size 10 W.  I guess Mr. “G” knew what he was doing, he even knew my clothing size, well, like he said, he knows everything about everybody.
     I left a note for Mom and Pop, “going to a celebration” then left for the subway entrance a few blocks from Mulberry Street. Now, as soon as I hit the street, people were giving me that “look”.  I got on the subway and sat down.  Some passengers started making comments.  One old lady looked at me smiling and said;
     “Hey, where are YOU going SUGAR?”
     A blonde girl who looked like the one Ana Ramos knocked out sat down next to me and said;
     “Hey SNOWBALL, you’re BLINDING ME!” looking me up and down. 
     I just ignored them both.  I didn’t want to start anything over words.  Mr. “G” told me that would happen on the way.  But then, a young couple who were sitting across from me said;
     “Looks like you’re going to “Abba’s” party.  We went there quite a few years ago.”
     “Yes”, I answered, “I’m on my way right now.”
     “Well”, they replied, “just be careful of Mr. “S”, He can’t be trusted and everything he says is a lie, don’t believe anything he says.”
     “Thanks for warning me”, I said, “I’ll keep my wits about me.”
     I finally got to Main Street Park.  I paid my fare and boarded the “Flatbush” bus and sat down, people were looking at me and laughing a bit.  Even the bus driver looked at me and shook his head smiling.
     “A “G” man, eh?”
     “Yes sir” I replied quietly.  This was getting a bit on my nerves now, but I was almost there. 
     The trip was long, some passengers exchanged a few comments about my suit, but I pretended not to hear them.  The bus finally got to Rockaway Point Blvd.  I got off and waited for the “222nd Street” bus.  It came within a few minutes.  I got on and paid the fare and when I got to 222nd Street, I saw “Epstein’s Bait and Tackle” right where Mr. “G” told me it would be.  I went in and there was Abraham Epstein, behind the counter.
     “Shalom my friend”, he said with a broad smile, “On your way to Abba’s place, right?”
     “Yes”, I answered with a smile, “He invited me.”
     “He invited me more than 20 years ago,” continued Mr. Epstein, “and I’ve been directing people to his place ever since.
     So then, he took me outside and we headed on a path towards the beach.  Then he pointed to a long, long path that seemed to have no end, but, I could just make out an image of a huge mansion in the distance, it had a golden glow to it. 
     “That’s Abba’s mansion” he pointed, “just stay on the path, and don’t get distracted by “S”. and with that, he turned and went back to his bait and tackle shop, leaving me on the beach path.
     So, I walked along the beach path.  I hadn’t visited many beaches in my life, only Coney Island a few times.  This beach seemed so serene, so peaceful with the waves splashing against the beach with a rhythmic sound of peace and tranquility.  As I got nearer to Abba’s mansion, I saw just to the left of me and small table with a tarp over it.  Under the tarp was a figure dressed entirely in black.  I couldn’t make out his face because he had a hoody partially covering it.  The thought then hit me, this must be Mr. “S”, the guy that “G” warned me about. 
     As I passed by, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that this guy had his eyes glued on me.  He reminded me a little of Dracula, you know, from the movies.  I was just passing him when he called out to me, not shouting but with a normal voice. 
     “Hey, Frankie, come over here for a sec!”
     I stopped momentarily to respond to him; “Don’t have time, I have a meeting with Mr. “G” at his mansion. I’ve been invited…”
     “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know” he interrupted, sounding a bit annoyed.  “but I know you’re a bit hungry, right?”
     Now how did he know that I thought? and I was looking forward to those Sicilian meat balls with Calabrese sauce and some spaghetti.
     “I’m hungry but Mr. “G” has something already prepared at his place.” I answered, trying to get on my way again.
     “Yes, yes, I know that Mr. “G” is always entertaining guests, new family members and such, but I just wanted you to try some one of my specialties, Italian meat balls with some spicy Calabrese sauce.” Then he reached under the table and brought out a silver platter with a dish of meatballs.  In the middle of the dish was a small bowl with some spicy tomato sauce.  On the side of the platter there was a napkin with a pile of plastic swords. 
     “I know you’re going to “G” s party, but just try one of these delicious meatballs, you won’t regret it, I promise” he said, placing the silver platter on top of the table. 
     I knew I shouldn’t have stopped, but my hunger got the best of me, and those meatballs and sauce were really tempting.  I mean, I could smell the garlic and the parmesan cheese together with the other Italian spices.  “OK”, I said, “I’ll try just one.”
     So I went to the table and that creepy guy pushed the silver platter towards me.  I took one of the plastic swords and speared one of the meatballs, then dipping it in the sauce.  But just when I brought it to my mouth, the meatball slipped off the plastic sword and hit my sparkling white shirt.  I watched in horror as the meatball slid down the front of my shirt and hit the sandy ground, leaving a horrible tomato sauce stain on my shirt.  Then, Mr. “S” just burst out laughing.  He laughed so hard that he had to hold his sides. 
     “Look what you made me do, just look!” I shouted, pointing to my now stained shirt and tie.
     “What I MADE YOU do Frankie?” sneered Mr. “S”.  Why Frankie, I didn’t MAKE you DO anything.  You didn’t HAVE TO take the meatball.  You could have said NO, but…you didn’t.  Let’s admit it, you couldn’t resist my offer.”
     Sorry to say but Mr. “S” was right, it was my fault.  I could have said NO, but I didn’t.  I should have listened to Mr. “G”.  I noticed that “S” was still laughing and shaking his head, then he turned to me again and said,
     “Here Frankie”, handing me a napkin, “Wipe your shirt with this, it’ll come off, I promise!” then he shoved a little dish with water in my direction.
     Well, I thought, maybe it would come off, so I dipped the napkin in the water and started rubbing the stain on my shirt, but it just got worse, in fact, it spread even more. 
     “Oh no Frankie”, laughed “S”, “Seems like that didn’t work either…in fact…it’s worse”, and he just continued to laugh, pointing his finger at my shirt.
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