© Copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
Getting Away From the Getaway Motel
Sunday, December 27, 1981
I know you must be worried about us. I just wanted to tell you that we are all OK. Mama said the shootings at the Getaway Motel were something about a “Drug Deal gone bad.” Two guys got killed and two others are in bad shape in the hospital. Papa said it’s a good thing he didn’t hock his gun at the Pawn Shop. Mama said he’s been “crowing like a Rooster about saving our lives.” Sometimes Papa gets on my nerves, but now I’m glad we have him. The way Mama looks at him, I know she feels the same way.
Well, that night, after the cop cars and ambulances left, Mama said, “That’s it. It’s time to Get-away from the Getaway Motel.” She called a United Cab and we went to Tootsie’s apartment above the Bastille Bar. None of us got any sleep, we stayed up all night drinking coffee, talking to Tootsie and Dakota and telling them everything that had happened. Gino and Antonietta dozed off and on, but they both had nightmares and woke up crying throughout the night. The next day, we went back to the Motel and got the rest of our stuff. Papa was mad because we were paid through until Friday, and “that cafone wouldn’t give us a refund.” Papa pulled out his gun, stuck it in his fat face, and the guy gave him the rest of the money. Mama wasn’t even mad when Papa told her how he got the money. He handed her a couple twenties to go Make Groceries. She just sighed and sank back into Tootsie’s comfy couch. She looked exhausted.
Mama said she has to talk to Mr. Carlo about when our apartment will be ready, because we are all crammed into Tootsie’s place, and that means seven people in a one bedroom apartment with one bathroom. That means long lines for the bathroom, with the Grown-ups taking turns banging on the door and the Little Kids in the Hallway jumping up and down doing the Gotta Pee Dance. Plus Tootsie’s sister is going to Prison soon, and that means her Three Kids will be moving in here.
The Good Thing though is Tootsie has a kitchen. It’s small, it’s really part of the living room. But the next day, Mama went to the French Quarter A & P and got some food and cooked up a Pot of Delicious Red Beans and Rice. You should have seen us all gobble that down. Tootsie ate two platefuls before she went to work. Papa and Mama and Dakota and the rest of us ate like Hogs.
The funny thing was, there was a big ole ham hock in the pot and the Little Kids started fighting over it. Gino punched Antonietta and grabbed that ham hock and sat in the Corner chewing on it like a Cave Man and growling at anyone who tried to get near him. Me and Dakota couldn’t stop laughing, but Mama cried, “My baby is Starving!”
“He’s not a BABY!” I said, standing up. “He’s in second grade and he needs to act like it, or else he’ll STAY BACK and be the Oldest Kid in second grade next year.”
Mama wiped the tears from her face with a Kleenex. “Enough!” she told Gino, and grabbed the ham hock from him. He had meat juice sliding down his face. She rinsed off the ham hock in the sink and put it back in the pot. “YUCK!” said Dakota. I started to say something Smart but Mama held up the ladle.
“I don’t want to hear it! I rinsed the damn thing off. We are NOT wasting food. And we’re not getting Food Stamps anymore. I used the pay phone at the bar to call my caseworker and she said the letter they sent to us was returned to them. That Stupid Motel!” Mama stood by the tiny stove stirring the Big Pot of Beans. “We’ve got Red Beans and Rice and French Bread and Butter and we’re gonna enjoy it.” She looked like an old Italian Mama in the Movies, with her long wavy messy black hair getting in her eyes, the thin yellow flowered housedress with a hole in it and her dirty bare feet. Mama always fixed her hair and wore cute outfits and never went without shoes and it surprised me to see her like that. She always said she was no “barefoot peasant.” I kept staring at her feet. Her toenails didn’t even have polish on them.
“FOOD STAMPA? What food stamp?” Papa was pissed. “I told you no Sicialiano begs from his neighbor. He might steal from his neighbor, but he don’t beg. Sicilians no take handouts!” Papa yelled.
“I DON’T WANTA HEAR IT!” Mama screamed. “I’m Half Irish—and the Irish half is fucking hungry!” She chased after Papa with the big ladle, ham juice dripping off it. Papa leaned back in the recliner chair watching a boxing match on TV and gulping his beans and rice. She conked him in the head with the ladle. He grabbed her wrist and twisted it hard.
“MAMA STOP! Don’t get him Mad!” I jumped on her back and tried to pull her away.
Papa threw his plate of beans across the room. “Fuck you! Va fanculo, I’m going to the bar, maybe I’ll meet a nice girl,”
“NO! Mama grabbed his shirt sleeve. “DON’T GO!”
“Mama, let him go!” I grabbed her housedress and pulled her back. She started crying. I thought the Little Kids would start crying too, but they had found a stool and were standing on it by the stove, helping themselves to more beans and rice, spilling some on the floor. Then Antonietta changed the channel to some Stupid Kids show, and they fought over the recliner chair.
“Let’s go walk around the Quarter,” Dakota said.
“OK,” I followed her out the door.
“You’re not going anywhere!” Mama said.
I don’t usually disobey Mama. I know she needs me. But I left with Dakota.
Mama stood in the stairwell. “Dani, don’t stay out late. I need you to help me.”
“I need to be a Teenager and have some Fun!” I yelled up the stairs. Mama’s eyes looked hurt. I felt bad about leaving her, but the call of Dakota and the Streets of the Quarter were too hard to resist. Besides, Gino and Antonietta will keep her Company. And Papa will come home later, Drunk, and he’ll sweet talk her and she’ll hang all over him. They won’t need me at all. The thrill of disobedience surged through me like electricity. I could be daring like Dakota.
Nonna, I must tell you something sad. That night was Christmas Eve, and we never got the Little Kids any Presents. We didn’t have a Christmas Tree or Christmas Stockings or Anything. There wasn’t going to be any big fat Turkey or delicious lasagna cooked by Mama on Christmas Day. So what was the point in staying in? It wasn’t our Home anyway. I was mad at Mama and Papa for doing such a lousy job taking care of us. I still wanted to live on Spain Street in our old shotgun, with Old Mr. Kitty. I wanted to go to Midnight Mass Christmas Eve like my best friend Laney DeRosa’s family did every year.
Dakota said we needed to stay away from the Bastille, because Tootsie is working there and Papa might be drinking there. So we walked up and down Bourbon Street a few times. Whenever we got to St. Peter we cut over to Dauphine. We had to stay off of Bourbon and Toulouse. We hung out in front of Shakey Jakes for awhile, at St. Peter and Dauphine. There were some cute guys on motorcycles out front and we talked to them. One of them passed a joint around and me and Tootsie took a few hits. I never Smoked Weed before, but Papa sells it so it can’t be all bad. Tootsie laughed at the way I tried to smoke. “Girl, you gotta take a big hit and hold it in, like this.”
I tried to do like she did and all I did was cough. One of the guys started laughing but he gave me a sip of his long-necked Budweiser. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Thirteen, um, well almost thirteen.”
“God Damn! JAIL BAIT! Come back when you’re sixteen and I’ll give you a ride.”
He roared off on his Harley, no helmet, all blonde hair and beard and Gorgeous Green Eyes. He must have been about twenty two.
One of the bartenders came out and chased us off. We ran down the street, headed to Decatur, over to Café du Monde. We grabbed some beignets that were left behind on the plates of tourists, gobbled them down greedily, our faces and shirts covered with the dusty white powder.
“I wish Gino was here,” I said. “He’s the fastest one I know at grabbing donuts. He’ll take em off people’s plates when they’re still sittin’ there.” We both couldn’t stop laughing.
We walked over to the Moonwalk and sat on a bench, watched the big ships make the turn on the Mississippi River.
“Do you wanna stay out all night? Or are you gonna get tired and want to Go Home? You’re Younger than me.”
“I don’t know.”
The Quarter was pretty Quiet, since it was Christmas Eve. We got bored and headed to the Bastille. I was surprised that Tootsie didn’t send us upstairs. Papa was drinking Boilermakers—shots of whiskey with beer chasers. He put his arm around my shoulder.
“This no place for Christmas,” he said. He smelled like cigarettes and booze. I wished he had on cologne like Mr. Carlo.
“We should go upstairs, bring her a glass of wine.”
“She’ll have to settle for a Go Cup,” Tootsie said. “No glasses in this bar, too dangerous in a fight. “ Tootsie lit a cigarette. “You kids should go upstairs and watch some Christmas shows.
“Mom, I’m kinda OLD for that,” Dakota said.
Tootsie rapped her knuckles on Dakota’s head. “OH, I still watch them, and I’m Fifteen Years Older than you. I like that Grinch, that Mean Ole Grinch, and that Charlie Brown one and the Jimmy Stewart show, the old Black and White one. And that one with Natalie Wood when she was just a kid.” Tootsie ruffled my hair. “She reminds me of Dani in that Movie, so Smart.” Tootsie leaned over the bar. “Girl, I hate bartending Christmas Eve. All you get are people with No Place Else to Go. It’s Depressing.”
It was true. Only a few old drunks sat on bar stools, moping into their drinks. None of the regular crowd was there. The Jukebox sat Silent in the Corner. “Tomorrow it’ll be Better, though. Everyone’ll come for the Turkey Dinner, like Thanksgiving. They can’t pass up a free meal for nothin’.”
Dakota clambered onto a bar stool. I envied her her tube top and curvy figure. “Mom, we should’ve bought stuff to make Christmas Cookies.”
“Yeah, that woulda been nice.” Tootsie fixed us both Cherry Cokes.
“You know I need something stronger, Girlfriend,” Dakota challenged her Mom.
“You ain’t my Girlfriend, you’re my God Damned Kid and don’t you Forget it. Now take your Cherry Cokes upstairs. Dani, here’s a glass of wine for your Mama, don’t spill it.”
“Boun Natale!” Papa said. “Buona notte.” We headed up the stairs with Papa. His words were a little slurred, but he wasn’t as drunk as I expected him to be. I took a sip of Mama’s red wine. Part of me still childishly wished Papa spent his money on presents for us instead of in the Bar. I wanted something to wake up to and unwrap on Christmas morning.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS YOU GUYS!” Tootsie yelled after us. “Look on the Bright Side, at least you weren’t killed in that Motel Shoot-out!”
I thought maybe Papa would say something like, “That’s true, at least we have each other,” but then I realized that stuff like that only happens in the Movies. And more than anything, I wanted to go upstairs, curl up on the couch with the Little Kids and snuggle under lots of blankets, drink hot chocolate, and watch Christmas Movies. No matter how babyish Dakota thought they were.
Photo Credit: “A family Christmas Tree” by Wikipedia. CC License Attribution ShareAlike.