© Copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
Money in My Pockets
Thursday, December 31st, 1981
New Year’s Eve!
(Tomorrow it’s 1982, Domani e’ 1982)
Happy New Year! Buon Anni!
We’re all pretty excited, because we moved into our Own Apartment this week, right next door to Tootsie and Dakota. Jeanie and Dumptruck brought us some furniture and a TV, plus a few pots and pans and dishes. Mama is so happy to cook again, she sings while she’s cooking and complains about the dirty dishes but I don’t think she minds. She even made a Chore Chart that she put up on the fridge, we never ever had one of those before. Of course, I have more Chores than the Little Kids, but what else is new?
There’s only One Bedroom, so us kids sleep in the living room. Mama wanted to give us the Bedroom, but Papa said, “A Man and his Wife need a Bedroom.” Mama said Papa can be Selfish that way. Jeanie and Dumptruck gave us a cool purple and white striped couch that folds out into a bed. Gino and Antonietta will sleep on that, and I’ll sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag. (Then I won’t be woken up every five minutes by their kicking and rolling around). Plus the TV they gave us is in the living room, so I can stay up late and watch all my old Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney Movies).
Papa finally got a job and we are all happy about that. He got a waiter’s job at a restaurant on Decatur Street. I asked Mama how he could wait tables if he can’t read or write that well. “Oh, he memorizes the orders,” she said. “He’s got an amazing memory.” I still wonder what he puts on the tickets he gives to the cook.
Mama seems to like working at the Bastille. One day, I stopped by the bar after school. I saw Mama sitting at the end of the bar, near the pay phone. Mr. Carlo was there. He was leaning in close to her and they were talking quietly. They were both smoking, and their faces were covered in little clouds of smoke. Mama said, “I don’t know what to do. . . my kids are running wild, there’s no money. . . and he’s no help.”
Mr. Carlo stood up. He touched Mama’s arm. “You gotta make some changes, Baby.”
I couldn’t hear what Mama said next. I walked into the bar and they finally noticed me. I was mad at Mama, I didn’t like her talking to Mr. Carlo like that. He smiled at me and opened his wallet and took out a five dollar bill. “For the movies, Ragazza.” He handed me the money, ruffled my hair, winked at me and walked out the door. I shoved the money into my pocket.
Mama fixed me a Cherry Coke and I ignored it. “Why so Glum, honey?” she asked, absent mindedly.
“Mama, Mr. Carlo. Well. . . he likes ME a lot, and besides, you’re Married.”
“Oh, honey. Drink your Coke.”
She looked at me like she was seeing me for the first time. “Honey, Mr. Carlo is forty five years old.”
“So. He likes ME. . . and you’re trying to ruin it.”
Three Young Guys came in demanding Long Island Iced Teas. “And make em Strong, Sugar!”
Mama laughed. “There’s no such thing as a weak Long Island Iced Tea.”
“They let Kids in Bars here? Man, what a Crazy Town.” A snotty blond Preppy guy looked at me. He was wearing one of those shirts with a little alligator on it. “Sweetheart, shouldn’t you be in School?”
“Shouldn’t you be in some Uptown College Bar, Sweetheart?” I shot back. “Besides, we’re on Christmas Break.”
“That’s my daughter, and she was just leaving.” Mama fixed their drinks, rang up the total on the cash register and gave them their change. She touched my hair and lowered her voice. “Dani, the Little Kids can watch TV while you go to the Laundromat. I got you one of those metal wheeling baskets. Here’s some quarters, that should be enough. And honey,” she leaned in close to whisper. “. . . he likes you like a Niece or Something, not like a Girlfriend.” Mama took a sip of her vodka and grapefruit. “Look at you, my Baby’s Growing Up.”
“You don’t understand, Mama. And I’m not a Baby. But I don’t want to do laundry, I wanta go to the Movies— Mr. Carlo gave me Movie Money.”
“Maybe Saturday. Now go, I’ve gotta work. And tell the Kids to lock the door and don’t let ANYBODY in but you, me and Papa, OK?”
I stuck my tongue out at the Preppy Guys. I knew Mama expected me to take the Little Kids to the Movies this week, but I wanted to go with Dakota. Besides, I didn’t want to watch another Dumb Kid Movie. I walked around the Quarter daydreaming.
Lost in my thoughts I almost bumped into Papa on St. Philip Street, near the Little Red Schoolhouse. He was closing the iron gate to an apartment building. He looked a little rumpled, like he’d been up all night. He was with another guy, who looked at me and mumbled something in Italian to Papa. I didn’t like the looks of that guy, he looked kind of Mean. His head was shaved and he had ugly dark eyebrows. He looked almost like a cartoon villain.
Papa looked at the Mean Guy and mumbled, “Aspetti. Mi figlia.” Then he turned to me, touched the side of my face. “What you doing here?”
“Nothin’. Just walking around. Mama’s working and the kids are playing with Dakota’s cousins.”
“Papa, we’re off for Christmas and New Year’s Break, remember?”
He took out a crumpled five dollar bill. “Here. I made some money today.”
I wasn’t sure what Papa was up to, but I grabbed the money. I couldn’t believe I had TEN WHOLE DOLLARS in my pockets. I felt Rich. Maybe 1982 was going to be a Very Good Year.
“Papa, what are we gonna do tonight, for New Year’s Eve?”
He held his hands facing palm up. “Non so, non so. Your Mama wants me to go with her to the Bar, New Year’s Party.” He saw the look on my face. “Adulto. Adult only.”
That meant I would be stuck babysitting Gino and Antonietta, and Dakota would be watching her Little Cousins. Maybe we could watch them all together at our New Apartment. We could pretend it’s our Own Apartment and watch New Year’s Rocking Eve and drink Champagne at Midnight. It might be fun, if all the Little Kids don’t fight too much, and if Dakota doesn’t sneak out to meet some boy and leave me alone to watch all those kids.
Friday, January 1, 1982
Well, Nonna, Happy 1982! I hope you had a good New Year’s in Italy. We are all hoping that it is a Good Year. It started out to be a fun New Year’s Eve, but then me and Dakota both got in Trouble and it went Downhill from there.
They had a New Year’s Eve Party at the Bar downstairs. Mama and Tootsie took turns working behind the bar and partying. It sounds like all the Adults got pretty drunk. Tootsie got in a fight with some girl who was flirting with a guy she likes. I don’t really understand how she could like another guy, because Dakota’s Dad is in Prison and I thought he was her One True Love. But Tootsie knocked that girl right out of the swinging doors and pounded away on her. Mama said it was almost funny, all these Italian Gangster Type Guys and Bikers were pulling a screaming Tootsie away from that Poor Girl. Mama jumped over the bar and screamed at Tootsie, “You want Dakota to have BOTH her parents in Prison?”
Somebody got that girl to the Hospital and she didn’t die or anything and Tootsie didn’t get arrested. She even calmed down and ended up dancing and partying. Mama said, “You gotta watch out when that little Red Head gets into that Jose Cuervo, she’s a Wild Thing.”
Mama and Papa didn’t fight at least, even though Papa brought that Mean Looking guy with him. His name is Silvio, and Mama doesn’t like him either. She does like Papa’s other friend, Angelo. Angelo is cute, he lives with a Dancer named Cricket, and they have two little boys. Mama said she has to be careful not to flirt with Angelo since Papa is so jealous.
We watched TV upstairs and made Jiffy Pop popcorn on the stove. We burned the first batch but the next two batches came out pretty good. The adults gave us one very small bottle of pink champagne, and go cups from the bar, so we all had some. The kids ran around and played Twister and screamed and threw stuff and laughed and fought for hours. They all fell asleep before Midnight. Just before Midnight, me and Dakota locked the kids in the apartment, (Gino and Antonietta and Dakota’s three bratty cousins), then we snuck out to watch Bourbon Street go crazy for the Midnight Countdown. We ran around the streets of the Quarter until about 1:00 am. I felt pretty good, with Ten Dollars in my Pockets and Freedom in the Air. Then we got into Trouble.
We were hanging in front of Pat O’Brien’s, and Dakota asked some cute College Guy if he would buy her a draft beer. He came out with two beers in go cups, and while we were taking our first sips, this Stupid Cop comes up and starts asking us Questions. Dakota kept whispering to me to not say anything. But I got scared when he said he was going to take us to Juvenile Hall. So I told him that both of our mothers worked at the Bastille. He took us over to the Bastille, and you should have seen the look on Mama’s face! She was Pissed.
“What are you doin’ with My Kid?” she asked the Cop. I was glad that Mama didn’t seem Very Drunk. Papa wasn’t there, which was a good thing, because he’d definitely whip me with the Belt right there in front of God and Everyone.
Tootsie wasn’t there. Just as I was wondering what happened to Tootsie, Dakota started crying. It was Fake crying, but I had to admit, she was good. Real Tears and everything. “I miss my Dad so much, I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again.”
Mama looked at Dakota like she wasn’t buying it. “You two, UPSTAIRS! NOW!” She pointed at the ceiling. The bar was packed, but everyone looked scared of Mama. “I’ll be up when I finish my shift!”
“You take responsibility for both of ‘em?” the Cop asked. Mama nodded.
“You know these two are too young to be wandering around Bourbon Street this time of night?” the cop said.
“I know, Officer. We just moved into an apartment upstairs, and they Snuck Out. Believe me, they are in Big Trouble.”
He looked at Mama. “Alright, Ma’am. I better not see them out here at night again, or they’re goin’ straight to CPS.”
We went upstairs and unlocked the door. The apartment was a Mess, the Little Kids were sleeping. Me and Dakota slumped on the sofa, Defeated.
“Do you really miss your Father, or were you making that up?”
“Yeah, well, the crying part was Fake, but I DO miss him. His name’s Joseph, but everyone calls him Lightening. He’s in Prison in North Dakota. And he’s a real Indian too.” Dakota took out her wallet and showed me a crinkled photo of a good looking muscular young man with long black hair wearing a white T shirt and jeans. He was holding hands with a smiling toddler with jet black hair.
“Wow, you look just like him. What’s he in Prison for?”
“He shot two guys when he was robbing a gas station. Mom said he useta be a Speed Freak.” Dakota’s dark eyes looked Sad. “We only get to visit him about once a year. It costs a lot of money to go way out there.”
“When’s he Getting Out?” I looked at the picture again.
“I don’t know. Mom said he got Life but who knows? Maybe they’ll let him out sooner. He’s clean now, so maybe he could get Work Release. Or maybe he could Escape or Something. And he could come here and get me. I’m sick of this place.”
“Then me and him could go live on the Rez with his family. We could get horses and stuff.” Dakota looked at the photo again, before carefully putting it back in her pink polka-dotted wallet.
The door burst open and Mama came in Screaming like a Banshee. She grabbed me and shook me, hard.
“GODDAMMIT IT TO HELL, DANI! You think I need this? You think I need Cops and CPS in my Life! What were you two thinking? And what about all these Little Kids, all Alone, what if there was a Fire or somethin’?”
Mama kept shaking me and screaming at me, and I was crying and Dakota was crying. I felt bad about disappointing Mama, but my Main Concern was Papa. Papa and his Belt.
All the Little Kids woke up and they all started crying too. Mama sent Dakota and her cousins back to their apartment next door. “Girl—I’m having a Big Talk with your Mom tomorrow!” she yelled after Dakota.
Mama came back in and sat on the couch with me. I found an old movie to watch on TV. I knew old movies usually put Mama in a good mood.
“Mama, look, here’s The Roaring Twenties with James Cagney, that’s a Good One. He’s a bootlegger.”
Mama looked tired, but pretty in her green glittery top and skin tight jeans. “Honey, make us some hot chocolate.” The little kids were whimpering—but they would be back to sleep soon. She picked up Gino and tucked him into her and Papa’s bed. Then she came back and scooped up Antonietta and plopped her into their bed next to Gino. She shut the door. They cried a bit and fell back asleep.
I brought out the hot chocolate and watched the movie with Mama. “Can you believe it, it’s two thirty in the morning,” she said. “That’s pretty late for you to be up.”
“Yeah, but no school, so it doesn’t matter. Where’s Papa?”
“Oh, he took off with those guys he hangs out with. A couple of Zips.”
“What’s a Zip?”
“Don’t say Zip, honey, Papa’ll get mad.”
“But you said it, what is it?”
“The Zips are Sicilians, born Over There. They just come here for awhile to Do a Job, then go back to Sicily.”
That didn’t make any sense to me. “But Papa was born in Sicily, is he a Zip?”
“NO, NO, don’t say that. The Zips don’t live here like Papa. . . they just come over for a little while. Stay away from them, they’re Bad News. Gangsters. Malandrino. Malviventi.” Mama made a face. “Although some women in this town have a thing for them, don’t ask me why.”
Gangsters? Did she mean like Gangsters in the Movies? I made a Mental Note to ask Mama about this topic another time. Right now I had more Pressing Concerns.
“Mama, you’re not gonna tell Papa, are you?” I curled up next to her on the couch and tried to look all Sweet and Innocent.
She sipped her hot chocolate. “Well, honey, I don’t want him to beat your ass with that Fucking Belt, even though you deserve it. You need to think before you jump and do something. And I told you not to run the streets with Dakota. CPS could come take all you kids away from us, You want to go to a Foster Home? Or to Juvey? I’ve been there Girl, and it’s no Picnic.”
“No. But, Mama I don’t want to ALWAYS have to watch Gino and Antonietta. I never get to have any fun. Sometimes I feel like I’m the Mama here.”
“I know, Honey. I just need your help, but things are getting better. At least we’re not in that stinky Motel, with the Drug Dealers and the Cockroaches and the Gunfights.”
She put her arm around me. Even though I was in Big Trouble, she still made me feel safe. “I don’t want to go to Juvey, I’d miss everyone too much.”
Mama lit a cigarette and let me have a Puff. “I made some good tips tonight, so maybe tomorrow we can all get an apizza and Cokes.”
“And don’t forget, we gotta make groceries, so we can have Black Eyed Peas for New Year’s Day, for Good Luck.”
We watched the Old Time Gangsters on TV. Mama is getting me hooked on these old black and white movies. I didn’t ask what Papa was up to. I had a feeling he was running around with some Modern Gangsters. I guess instead of The Roaring Twenties, this is The Roaring Eighties.
“Mama, when’s Dakota’s Dad getting out of Prison?”
“Lightening? He’s never getting out. He’s serving two Life Sentences. It’s a shame, a crying shame.” Mama kicked her shoes off and put her feet on the coffee table. “It’s getting cold. Grab us a blanket, honey.”
Photo Credit: New Year’s Eve 2011-Cocktail,” by Edsel L. License CC ShareAlike. Flickr.