June 6, 2014

Reading about the Italian-American experience

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:37 pm

crop of MP  Best

“Waiting for Yesterday (Pages from a Street Kid’s Life),” by Michael Parenti, tells his perspective of growing up as an Italian American in New York City in the post WWII era and it came to our attention right after we purchased a copy of “Were You Always an Italian (Ancestors and Other Icons of Italian America)?” by Maria Laurino at the San Francisco Public Library’s summer used book sale that is held on the front steps of the main branch every Wednesday during the summer months (May to last week in September).

Meanwhile we were finishing up reading “Why Sinatra Matters,” by Pete Hamill, which uses the Italian-American experience as the background for the biographical details of Frank Sinatra’s life.

Why would a fellow, whose genealogy was termed “North Sea mongrel,” be interested in accumulating books that extol the heritage of the Italian-American community? Good question!

The World’s Laziest Journalist grew up in a neighborhood that had a large Italian-American presence and our experience with quality Italian cooking was gathered first hand at the homes of various schoolmates. We have always maintained that our close association with several different Italian American families gave us the right to include the phrase “honorary Italian” on our resume.

We lived for some years in a duplex where the landlord was of Italian-American heritage and he operated a small convenience store adjacent to our home. Back in the days of “Blue Laws,” chain owned markets could not open for business on Sundays and only a “mom and pop” store could, if the mom or pop was the clerk, be opened on Sundays. The one operated by Vince Zummo was a legend in the Scranton Pa. area. (It has morphed into Zummo’s Café and has a Facebook page.) On quiet summer evenings, we occasionally sat with “Uncle Vince” on the store’s front steps. He would tell us various and sundry stories about “the old country” and growing up in the USA.

He hipped us to the fact that in Northern Italy close to the border with Switzerland there were some very beautiful Italian blue-eyed blond women with very fair skin. We had a stereotyped vision of only Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren dark-haired beauties in our mind.

Uncle Vince’s facts and stories were part of the process whereby we learned that there was a big, intriguing world that lay beyond the boundary line of the Scranton-Dunmore area and that it might be rewarding to find a way to select a vocation in life that would deliver a chance to travel to faraway places, meet interesting celebrities and get paid to write and take photos as a way of subsidizing further adventures.

“Waiting for Yesterday,” isn’t Parenti’s first excursion into the world of book publishing; he has written approximately 20 books on a wide variety of topics. His biographical details are available on his website (Googlel hint: michaelparenti dot org) as well as a comprehensive list of his books.

We have been burnishing our evidence proving the validity of our claim to be an “honorary Italian American,” as part of our strategy to continue our feud with former co-worker, amateur chef, journalist, award winning columnist, and now managing editor of the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, Lou Brancaccio. That newspaper sells coffee cups that offer people a bit of advice: “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff.”

Many moons ago, when we had much less experience at being a wild and exuberant 28 years old columnist (we have accumulated decades of “go into extra innings” additional days to our effort to achieve maturity) we acquired a book by one of Popular Photography magazine’s editors about growing creativity and one of the exorcises suggested was to take an ordinary object (such as a coffee cup) and force yourself to come up with 50 different images. We envisioned that our last image would be one of those high-speed photos that would show the cup shattering.

We thought that we could finally get around to taking on that project (gratis) if Lou would send us a free example of his beloved product.

How cool would it be to show one of those cups sitting on the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco in the background as if the anthropomorphic cup were contemplating doing something stupid such as jumping off the bridge?   We could do a series of photos showing the cup in “the Perils of Pauline” type dangerous situations such as walking on a railroad track.

Since Lou Brancaccio has already made a United States Senator pay for her cup, he made it concomitant upon us to pay for our cup.

We, being in the midst of an era of austerity budgets and being an “honorary Italian-American” with a fierce Irish temper, balked. We’d rather spend a hundred dollars to get a free one than spend a dime to start a voluntary publicity campaign.

As we chatted with Parenti recently in Berkeley, we wondered it we got a free autographed review copy of his newest book, “Waiting for Yesterday (Pages from a Street Kid’s Life);” could we then use it and the other two books as bargaining chips in our quest for the free “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” cup?

Unforturnately, Michael Parenti has run out of complementary copies of “Waiting for Yesterday (Pages from a Street Kid’s Life)” and that gambit has been foiled.

Parenti asked us how could a political pundit plug “Waiting for Yesterday (Pages from a Street Kid’s Life)” and we explained that the final results of the Presidential Election contest between Hillary and JEB are more than a hundred weeks away and that we can’t possibly use just that one topic every week from now until Election Day in 2016.

Republicans and any Democrats who would support an effort to impeach Obama because of the prisoner exchange fiasco should think long and hard about the long term effect such that historic move would cause. The 2016 Presidential Election would not be the epic battle of a chance for a woman to make American history vs. a restoration drama for the Bush Dynasty; it would become a rather mundane effort for the new President (Joseph Biden) to seek re-election. Would the use of the word “re-election” be valid?

If the Republicans decide to impeach the President, perhaps we can convince the Columbian to go big and give out a free cup each week to the politician who makes either the dumbest statement or does the stupidest thing. Perhaps the awarding weekly of a “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” cup could become the modern equivalent of the old “Fickle Finger of Fate” award that was a regular feature on the TV show “Laugh-In”?

Full disclosure note: While in grade school, one teacher proclaimed that anyone in the room could grow up to become President of the United States and if that happened during our first grade or second grade year, and if our classmate Joe Biden wasn’t home sick that patriotic bit of enthusiasm for the potential for people living in the land of opportunity, could very well turn into a noteworthy bit of political forecasting.

On page 109 of “History as Mystery,” Michael Parenti wrote: “Much of political life involves the rational manipulation of irrational sentiments by ruling elites.”

The disk jockey wanted to play the biggest hit done by a long (real long) list of Italian American singers, but we succeeded in using the Republican verbal cudgel for obstreperous employees (“Do you like getting your weekly paycheck?”) and he settled for playing all16 tracks on the Capital Records “Best of Dean Martin” CD. We have to go find some quality spumoni (probably over in Frisco). Have a “Volare” type week.

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