The Motel Family
© copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
A Shoot-Out at the Getaway Motel
Sunday, December 20, 1981
Last week was our last week of school before Christmas Break and it was pretty exciting. First of all, Mama let me skip school on Monday and go with her to the Bastille Bar in the French Quarter. She wanted to talk to the owner, Mr. Carlo Morelli, about getting a bartending job there.
Tootsie was working. She had her wild Red Hair piled on top of her head, and make-up on to try to cover her freckles. Her long fingernails were painted Hot Pink, and her big boobs were spilling out of her pink halter top. The top had a glittery smiling flamingo on it, to match the pink flamingo tattooed on her shoulder. I’d love a top like that, but I know what Mama would say. “You’re flat-chested, what’s the point?” And Papa would say, “That’s clothes for a puttana.”
Me and Mama sat at the bar together, and Tootsie gave Mama a Dixie beer and fixed me a Cherry Coke. (Coke with Grenadine splashed in and some REAL cherries on top). Mr. Morelli came in. Everyone says he is some kind of Big Gangster, so I was surprised to see him. I thought he would be Big and Mean like Gangsters in the Movies. He was nothing like that. He wasn’t very tall, and he had shiny silver hair and blue blue blue eyes and neatly manicured fingernails and wore tight Designer Jeans. He took his hand and shifted his nuts in his Jeans a few times, which made me and Mama look at each other and Giggle. He was really nice, though.
“Carmela. Such a pretty name.” He smiled at Mama. She was wearing her best clothes, a silky purple top and tight black pants. “So you wanta work here, babe. You ever bartend before?” He climbed up and sat on the bar and watched the door while they talked. People kept coming in to talk to him, usually men. He waved them away. He drank a plain ginger ale.
Tootsie winked at me and pretended to wipe down the bar with a bar rag while she listened. The only customer was an old man drinking coffee sitting at the other end of the bar. The bar was plain and dreary, with no decorations. There was a Jukebox but no Pool Table. The narrow room was too small to even fit a Pool Table in. Even in the daytime the place was dark.
“Well, once before. At the Sugar Shack that used to be on Chartres Street? The Jukebox had all 50s music on it? Joe’s place, Joe, what’s-his-name? He ran off with that girl Cricket, the dancer? Cricket or Crystal, I think?”
“Yeah, Joe Gemelli’s Old Joint. I remember it. They used to get a lot of dancers in that place. Right between a coupla strip clubs.” He jumped down off the bar to shake some guy’s hand who just walked in the door. “Give him a drink, babe,” he told Tootsie. The guy was wearing an expensive-looking suit and a Gangster hat and had a gold and diamond Pinky Ring. Mama’s eyebrows went up when she saw that big ring. He downed his drink, nodded at Mr. Morellii, pointed at the shiny Rolex on his wrist, and left.
“Well, this isn’t a bad place to work. And I’m easy to get along with. My Main Rule is: Don’t Lie To Me.” He looked first at Mama, then at me. For the first time I saw how intense his blue eyes could be. He touched Mama on the arm. “If you NEED something. Anything. Money. A Day Off. Whatever. Just tell me. Don’t play games with me. And I’ll see what I can do. I can be your Best Friend. Or I can be your Worst Enemy. It’s all up to you.”
He lit Mama’s cigarette. A few other customers drifted in. He waved at Tootsie, “Give the House a Round, babe.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Mr. Morelli. I really need this job. I mean, I got kids. I got three kids to feed.” Mama smiled her best smile.
“You can call me Carlo. And you—-“he ruffled my hair.” My face turned red. “You can call me Mr. Carlo.” He smelled of good cologne. I wished Papa would wear that cologne.
“But is your Old Man that Riccio guy? Tough looking, useta box a little, plays poker?” Mr. Carlo looked at Mama. Concern spread across his face. “Siciliano?”
“Yes, he was born in Palermo. Came here when he was about fourteen. And I’m half Irish, half Sicilian.” Mama sipped her beer. She looked a little nervous.
Tootsie gave me a handful of quarters for the Jukebox, I took my time picking out songs because I wanted to hear every word of their conversation.
Mr. Carlo leaned in close to Mama. “Tell him I said it’s against the Rules for my female bartenders to have their old men hanging around during their Shift.” He tapped his fingers on the bar for emphasis. “It’s bad for Business, they get Jealous. Plus there’s too much Temptation to give them Free Drinks.” He shifted his nuts again. “and that one, Tony? He’s a Hot Head, you won’t make any tips with him watching you like a Hawk.” He looked Mama up and down. “You’re a good lookin broad. Bella.”
“You mean I got the job?” Mama asked. She almost seemed like she was Flirting with him.
“Sure. You can start tomorrow. Thirty a shift, plus tips. Everybody else pays Twenty five.” He pointed at me. “And with those kids you should be working the Day Shift.”
Mama frowned. “The Night Shift is better tips though.”
Mr. Carlo looked at me. “Hey, young lady, did you just play Summer Wind? You like Sinatra?”
“Yeah. He has Blue Eyes like you.”
He laughed. “This one, she don’t miss a trick.” He looked at his watch. “I’ve gotta go, I got appointments.”
“Mr. Morelli, um, Carlo,” Mama said. “I want to get one of the apartments upstairs, if any are available.”
He frowned. “I should have one coming up. It’s small, just one bedroom. It’s two hundred a month, but for my bartenders I only charge one seventy five. Not the best place for kids. My girls are in Metry, Catt-lick School.” He looked at me. “That’s best for kids, safe neighborhood. A pool in the yard.”
“We’re staying in a Motel on Tulane Avenue right now,” I said.
“Are you serious? Babe, those Dives are Dangerous, no place for a family. Nothin but Drugs, Pimps, and Hookers.”
Mama looked at me. I wasn’t sure if I said the right thing or not.
“It’s true. I can’t even make a decent Spaghetti and Red Gravy for my husband.”
“Hey, I’m Siciliano. We gotta stick together. I’ll see what I can do about the apartment.” He leaned in close. “No drugs? You’re not into coke or nothin?”
Mama shook her head. “No drugs, I got kids.”
“And no drug dealing in my joint. I don’t care what you do outside of here, but no dealing in here. Got it?”
Mama nodded her head up and down.
“You don’t got no trouble with the CPS do you? Tootsie’s had problems with them.”
“No, they never bothered us.”
“And you don’t have a Police Record, do you? I’m gonna have to get you a Manager’s License. You have to have one to tend bar.”
Mama’s face darkened with worry. “But how much will that License cost?”
“Don’t worry. $150 bucks. But I’ll take out $50 a week and you’ll have it paid in no time. Now, I could get ya a License if you have a Record, but it’d cost more.”
“No, no record. I’m clean.”
“Tootsie, give er a bar napkin an a pen. Write down your name and date of birth, for the License.” He started for the door. Then he turned around.
“Aren’t you supposeta be in school?”
“Um, I’m so Smart, they gave me the Day Off.”
He laughed. “Baby, remember this. You can’t Bullshit a Bullshitter.” Mama and I both laughed. Mr. Carlo laughed too, on his way out the door.
Tootsie came down to our end of the bar. “So it’s cool, you got the job? Let’s celebrate, girl.” she poured herself and Mama shots of Jose Cuervo and they clinked glasses.
“Mama, give me a sip.” I took a sip but it was some Nasty Stuff.
“If I could make some Decent Tips, I could get us out of that Hell-Hole,” Mama put her arm around me. “I think he really liked Dani.”
“He’s got two girls, she probably reminds him of them.”
“We only got one problem. Gotta make sure my old man don’t get too jealous.”
“Honey, we all got that problem. But we’re Young.” Tootsie downed her shot and poured another one. “When we’re Old, we won’t have to worry. Nobody’ll want us then.”