The Motel Family: Part Six

English: Virgin Mary statue in Kuźnica. Polski...

Jukebox

©  Copyright  2013   by Sara Jacobelli

A Shoot-Out at the Getaway Motel

 

Sunday, December 20, 1981

 

Cara Nonna:

 

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.”

A song came on the Jukebox that I played, Hot Child in the City, and Tootsie came out from behind the bar. The three of us sang along, and danced to it, bumping our butts into each other, gasping with laughter, ignoring the old man at the end of the bar, who kept holding up his coffee cup expecting a refill.

***************

Virgin Mary statue by Hoover Dam, NV

Me and Mama walked down Toulouse to Dauphine Street and headed towards Canal Street.

“Honey, we need to get Papa a job. Then he’ll feel better.”

“Do we have enough bus fare?”

Mama pulled out all the change in her pockets and we counted it.

“Yeah, we have enough.”

“Maybe when you get paid, we can go to Central Grocery and get muffelattas. And donuts and coffee at Café du Monde. And get a good apizza.”

“Honey, stop. You’re making me hungry. And we’re all out of Food Stamps. And I’ve got to use some of these quarters to wash my clothes for work.”

“Mama, maybe we can put up a Christmas Tree in the New Apartment.”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” Mama got a far-away look in her eyes. I hate it when she says We’ll see. That usually means Never.

“Mama, look. It’s the Virgin Mary.” We both stopped and looked at the Virgin Statue tucked in between two buildings. She was painted blue and white, and tucked in almost shyly behind an iron fence.

“Oh, I love her. She’s the Blessed Virgin of Dauphine Street.” Mama laughed. “You know, your Papa useta give her a dollar here and there for good luck—when he was waiting tables in the Quarter. “ She giggled. “Sometimes I would sneak over and take it back.”

“Mama, that’s wrong! We should give her something. For the new job and the new apartment. And maybe a job for Papa too.”

“Well, she just gets a quarter today.” Mama got down on her knees, reached through the fence, and carefully placed a quarter by the Virgin’s feet, crossing herself as she stood up.

We got to Canal Street and waited and waited and waited for the bus. Wasn’t there a song like that, Forever and A Day? That’s how long we waited.

Finally it came. It was so crowded we had to stand.  Mostly women, carting crying babies and strollers and little kids and grocery bags.  Young women and old grandmas, all of us squished together. I wondered why Mama was so quiet.

“Mama, what’s CPS?”

“Child Protection Services. They take away your kids.”

An older black lady with what looked to be her grandson sitting on her lap, nodded her head. She held the boy close. “It’s true. Yes, indeed,” she said. “They’ll take your babies if you don’t tow the line. Thank the Good Lord I got my grandbaby Myron back. Yes, indeed, yes.”

“They’re not going to take US, are they?” Mama and I both held onto the straps as the bus jostled to a stop and more people squeezed on.

“No, honey. But we have to watch out for them. They took Dakota and put her in Foster Care once. They take Poor People’s kids any chance they get.”

“Why don’t they take Rich People’s Kids?”

“Because they got Lawyers. Lawyers cost a lot of money.” Mama sighed and looked out the window. “And Rich People don’t take the bus either. They drive Big Fancy Cars.”

When we got to the Motel, she grabbed my arm as we walked upstairs to Our Room.

“Don’t tell Papa yet, about my job. Fill out some of those applications for him, OK.”

“But Mama, I want to tell Gino and Antonietta!”

“Not yet, honey. With men, you have to take your time. Tell them things in a certain way. You’ll understand in a few years. You promise?”

“Yes, I promise. But Mama, why can’t Papa learn to read in English? I could teach him.”

“Honey, don’t even mention it. Besides, he can’t read in Italian either.” She lowered her voice. “He can’t read at all. He only went to school for first and second grade. Then he went to work.”

*********

The Little Kids were sitting on the bed watching TV and Papa was taking a shower.

”WE’RE HUNGRY!!!” they clambered all over Mama as we walked into the cluttered room.

Mama yelled, “Turn that TV down, pick up this God-Damned Mess, and we’ll all eat some Cheerios!”

“There all gone! There’s nothing left to eat!”

“Mama, you swore,” Antonietta said, in a small voice. Her dark eyes widened.

Mama sighed. “I’m sorry baby. I shouldn’t say that, but I’m mad at God right now. He’s not Helping Us.” She pulled Antonietta onto her Lap. For a minute I was Jealous. I wished I was as small and trusting as Antonietta.

Papa came out of the shower. He had on boxer shorts and a towel around his shoulders. You could tell he used to box by how powerful his brown chest and brown arms looked.

“BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”  It was the loudest noise I ever heard, so close that me and the Little Kids put our hands over our ears. Antonietta started to cry. It had to be gun shots; it was a million times louder than Fireworks.

Papa sprang to Action like a Fireman. “Tutti scendere! Ora! Down! Everyone! On the floor! E’ pericoloso!”

We all lay down on the floor between the beds and Papa grabbed his gun. He crouched by the door. He put his finger to his lips. Mama lay on the floor with us, her arms spread over us.

“BOOM! BOOM!” Two more shots. The noise was so powerful it went through my entire body. I was sure it pierced my ear drums. There was something about that sound. A finality to it.  A gun shot sounds like an Ending, I thought. An Ending to a Life.

Someone was Screaming, but it was Impossible to Tell if it was a Man or a Woman or even a Child.  Sounds of someone running, of sneakered feet slapping the pavement.

Then someone else yelled, and threw something. Doors slammed, Motel room doors and car doors. A car screeched away. Then I heard a siren, either a police car or an ambulance. That was quickly followed by more sirens.

All the Sounds were Amplified. Antonietta crying— I could feel her tiny body shaking. Gino was soundless, his eyes closed, his small hands bunched into fists. Papa was silent as a panther, crouched by the door with his gun. I could hear everyone breathing. Mama still had her arms over us, as if she could use the force of her Love to shield us from gun shots.

“He’ll Protect us,” Mama whispered into my ear. “That’s what men do.”

 ***************

Photo Credits:  “Jukebox,”  by AJ Wms.  License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.

“Virgin Mary Statue by Hoover Dam, NV,” by Jacob WF. CC License NonCommercial ShareAlike.

“Virgin Mary Statue in Ku’znika, Polski,” by Wikipedia.

Music:

Hot Child in the City. 1978. From the album City Nights. Written and recorded by Nick Gilder.

Summer Wind. Frank Sinatra. 1965. Music by Heinz Meier. Lyrics by Jonny Mercer.

 

 

 

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One response to “The Motel Family: Part Six

  1. Pingback: The Motel Family: Part Six | Capitare a Fagiolo

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