Suburbia: Tales of Affliction
II: "The Family" on Poppy Drive
People are under the impression that my father is in the mafia. I don't know what it is. So, we’re Italian. And he drives a huge and wide Lincoln Continental with spokes on the wheels and real leather seats. And he has a construction business. Yea, works with cement. People just assume that all those facts add up to I’ll make him an offer.
This has been going on for years and I don’t deny the rumors. I no longer confirm or embellish, but I don’t deny. I just raise my eyebrows or whistle when anyone asks about it. It’s too much fun to have people think that my dad could order a hit on them if they ever got on our wrong side.
Mom gives me a lecture on the whole thing. She doesn’t like being associated with the Mafia. She thinks it makes our family look ugly and vulgar. I tell her it’s just my friends. No one else believes it. Their parents don’t believe it. The principal doesn’t believe it....
“The principal?” Mom wears a wide-eyed look of shock that turns her cobalt blue eyelids into crinkly frowns.
“He mentioned it in passing.”
“Young lady....” I drift off. I can’t help it. It’s like the words “young lady” are the secret to turning off the part of my brain that hears adults speak and everything mom says is just a low buzz.
I am vaguely aware that she wants me to put a stop to the Mafia rumors. I reach back and poke my brain a bit to see if it can dislodge some of what she said and it functions as sort of a mental sausage maker; it packages everything mom just said to me and spits it out in one neat little package, which isn’t hard because it’s the only word-package mom ever makes in situations like this: “What will the neighbors think?”
I always want to ask her why she cares so much what the neighbors think. Half of them are related to us anyhow and they know all of our secrets and bad habits and dysfunctions. The other neighbors - Spider Lady, the Carrs, the Masons, the people who always leave their sprinklers on and waste our natural resources, the couple with the hot nephew, the Bergs - why would anyone care what they thought? They were an odd collection of hermits and religious nuts and swingers and cult leaders and....
It occurs to me - I have an almost grown up like thought here for the first time in my life - that maybe that’s all rumors, too. Maybe the Carrs aren’t Moonies. Maybe the Masons don’t see Jesus in their coffee cups, maybe Spider Lady isn’t really a witch. The hot nephew is real. I can attest to that myself. But who knows about the rest of the stuff? Maybe Spider Lady had a daughter like me once and she started the rumor herself that her mother was a witch and the rumor carried through the years and by the time the girl was in high school everyone in the world thought her mother was a witch so they came and took the girl away from her mother and tried to burn Spider Lady at the stake but she bolted the doors and shut the windows and spent the rest of her days mourning the loss of her only child and yelling at people to get off her lawn. Maybe. Is that how I want my parents to turn out? What if the real Mafia got wind of this rumor? What if some “family” thinks my father belongs to a rival family and they try to kill him?
I start to panic, the way I always do when my thoughts get ahead of my actions. I slow down the brain process by holding my breath and doing the nine times tables. When I’m done - I have trouble once I get past nine times five - the runaway thought train has come to a halt. But I know what I must do now.
I grab the first person I see, which is Nick, at the bus stop.
“You know, just so you know, ummm...my dad isn’t really in the Mafia.” I’m staring at a clump of dried November grass while I say this. I don’t look Nick in the eye, because it was Nick I told the most outlandish pretend Mafia stories to. Like the one about having to scrub blood and bits of flesh out of the trunk of the Lincoln one Saturday and how I did such a good job that some guy named Uncle Carmine gave me twenty dollars and let me see his gun.
“Right. Did he kill someone last night, so you’re trying to cover for him?”
“What? My father, kill someone? Nick, you know my father would never hurt anyone!”
“What about Evan Cameron? He threw him on the ground and then stomped on his hand!”
“Well, Evan knocked down my snowman on purpose. And that was like ten years ago!”
Billy Campbell shows up at the stop and Nick dismisses me.
This goes on all day. No matter who I try to confess to, they laugh and say “Yea, right. Whatever.” No one believes me. My father has become this larger than life figure, a godfather or at least sidekick to godfather who makes cement shoes for a living and sends enemies to sleep with the fishies.
I come up with this plan to have a bunch of people over after school to watch tv and hang out. I’m convinced that if they spend some time in my nice, normal, non-Mafia home, and see my parents do nice, normal non-Mafia things like watch the news and play Yahtzee!, they’ll be convinced that I’m a liar, my sisters are liars and my parents are just nice suburban folk who eat tuna casserole on Fridays and play cards on Saturdays and wash the car on Sundays. Boring. Normal. Routine.
I tell my father my plan. He doesn’t really care about the Mafia stuff. He thinks it’s a big joke and says my mother has no sense of humor when it comes to her maintaining our reputation as Norman Rockwell family. A reputation we never had, I might add. My mom suffers from delusions of Rockwell.
I get my sisters in on the plan. I convince them to tell their friends to come over, too, because the rumors have trickled downward from tenth grade to eight grade to third grade. Lenore, my youngest sister, hasn’t helped matters any by telling her teacher that our father wears pointy shoes and puts us in the kitchen corner and kicks us when we’re bad. She’s going to be trouble, Lenore. I feel sorry for my mom. Mafia rumors are going to be the least of her worries if Lenore doesn’t reign in her storytelling.
We ask dad to please explain to our friends that he is a law-abiding citizen. I think that’s the only way they’ll get it, if dad actually speaks up about it.
“Of course,” my father says. “Of course I’ll help put an end to that disgusting rumor. My reputation is on the line!” He pats us all on the head. I think he’s proud of us.
We all meet at 7-11, where I buy soda and several bags of chips, and then we march back to my house, a crowd of about ten kids all together. I’m nervous. I want so much to end this charade, to put a rest to the jokes about horse’s heads and bodies in trunks, to make my mother stop worrying about what the neighbor think. I feel like I’m doing the right thing, a grown-up thing and this gives me a sense of instant maturity. I may start wearing high heels and reading the business section soon!
We get to my house and I suck in my breath. Our friends have only an inkling of what’s going on. I’ve spent the last two days trying to undo all my lies, so they know I’m up to something, but there’s chips and soda with the 4:00 movie in it for them, so they’ll suffer through my lecture. My father is going to be so proud of me, I think. I am singlehandedly saving my family from the ruination of their good name and social status as perfect suburbanites.
The door is locked. Odd. I ring my own doorbell.
My father answers the door. He’s wearing a pinstripe suit and guido hat, looking like a cross between Al Pacino and Al from Happy Days. My friends giggle, some actually snort as we clamor into the kitchen. My father says, in an affected accent that’s half Brooklyn and half caricature, "I can't stay. Gotta go make some cement...,” wink, wink...“If ya know what I mean.”
Everyone, stares at him with wide eyes and slack jaws. Dad grabs his car keys off the counter, puts a scowl on his face and said "I catch anyone drinking anything but soda in this house, I take ya for a ride, capisce?" He struts out of the house, obviously confusing John Travolta with Al Pacino.
I feel a surging hatred for my father and I want to run after him, scream a million curse words, kick him in the shins for what he just did, for ruining everything I set out - so maturely - to do.
Everyone’s laughing. My friends, my sister’s friends, even my mother. Nick is doubled over, holding his stomach, heaving out great gulps of hysterical air. His laughter sounds like horses dying and normally I find that funny but now, now I was too mad, I was....
“That was the worst Mafia impression ever!”
“Yea, that was so LAME!”
“Hey, the movie’s starting and it’s Vincent Price week!”
Everyone runs into the den.
I grab a handful of chips and lose myself in The Fly.
[For the one or two of you following what I'm doing here: I've decided to put the chapters up as I write them. Later, everything will go on a separate page, in a more cohesive form, with more of a storytelling feel to it - rather than a set of short stories or vignettes, I will tie this all together as a full novel. For now, it's piecemeal]