© Copyright 2013 by Sara Jacobelli
The Roaring Eighties
Sunday, January 3, 1982
Well, right off the bat in the New Year Papa quit his job. Dakota told me that he isn’t just selling Weed, that he is selling Coke. She said that all the Grown-ups around here are doing a lot of Coke. Not just Papa, but Mama and Tootsie too. I can’t believe Mama would do something like that. I know she smokes Weed, but that’s not so bad.
“How can you tell?” I asked her. Dakota made a face. “It’s so OBVIOUS.” She stretched out her toes and carefully painted her toenails dark purple. “First of all—they stay up all night long. Second—they talk nonstop. And third—they’re always doing this.” Dakota scrunched up her nose and sniffled. “Like they have colds or something.” She nodded her head with pure teenage confidence. “So I’m POSITIVE. Sometimes people give them a line of Coke, right on the bar, for a tip.”
I sure wasn’t happy to hear about that. We are just getting comfortable in our new apartment. And Mama said we could start saving for a car.
“Do you want me to do your toenails too?” Dakota asked. “Let me, please.” For a minute she looked as little and innocent as Antonietta.
“OK, OK, already.” I took off my shoes and socks and she started painting. When she concentrated, she stuck her lower lip out.
“I can’t let Papa see, he’ll say I look like a puttana.” Dakota giggled. She thinks Papa’s Italian words sound funny.
Mama walked in carrying grocery bags with the Little Kids trailing behind her. “What’s the point of painting your toenails, girls? It’s too cold out to wear sandals.”
“Cuz they’re dumb,” Gino said. He is getting to be more and more of a brat, and Mama treats him like a king. She’s even starting to expect me and Antonietta to wait on him, like Papa.
“Shut up Gino!” I said, punching him. We rolled around on the floor fighting. Antonietta ignored us and turned on the TV. Then she started whining because there weren’t any cartoons on.
“Cartoons are just on Saturday morning, Stupid!” I said. She grabbed a blanket and curled up on the couch. We fought over the blanket.
“ALL OF YOU! STOP FIGHTING! NOW!” Mama yelled. “Dani, come help me in the kitchen.” I wanted to ask Mama about the Coke but wasn’t sure if she would tell me the truth. Lately she’s been sneaky about something. I wasn’t sure what was going on. “Dakota, you can help too. Let’s make a nice Sunday Dinner.” Mama looked around the cluttered kitchen and living room. “It’s too bad we don’t have any place to put a kitchen table and chairs.”
We all watched TV while the roast cooked, then we ate in the tiny living room on TV trays that Jeannie and Dumptruck gave us. And wouldn’t you know it, Papa didn’t show up. But Tootsie came. She didn’t eat much, but we were still glad to see her. She told us about her new boyfriend, Hacksaw, who rides a Harley. He has long hair and a beard and looks kind of like a blonde Santa Claus. “So we’re thinkin’ of going to Vegas. Maybe for a long weekend. Can Dakota stay with you guys? After her cousins leave?”
Tootsie is looking forward to her Freedom when Dakota’s cousins leave. Right now they’re staying for a few days at Tootsie’s Mom’s house in Bridge City. It’s a bad neighborhood, with lots of Speed Freaks and Shootings. The cousins are leaving next week to live with Relatives Out West. I know Mama was grateful that we were just getting Dakota, and not the three rowdy cousins.
“Hey Tootsie, why’d your sister get busted and go to prison?” I asked.
Mama glared at me. “MISS Tootsie, don’t just say ‘Tootsie’.”
“Alright, MISS Tootsie. But what’d she get busted for?”
Tootsie nibbled on a little piece of roast. Her red hair shone brightly, but her face looked thin and tired. “Honey, her old man was dealing Coke, I mean, HUGE quantities. . .” She stretched both hands out to demonstrate. “And making Big Bucks too.” She frowned, and thought for a minute. “It’s a long, messed up story. It’s so fucked up. Girl—it’s some bullshit. She took the rap for her man. So she loses everything, now her kids are all messed up. Now they’re Jail Babies.”
“But why should she go to prison for HIM? Let him go.” I took a bite of the delicious roast. “She’s got three kids to take care of.”
Tootsie shook her head. “Honey, he has a Record a mile long. They’d put ’em away for good. She didn’t get as much time as him. And besides, when you love a man, you take the rap for him.”
“But what about their kids? Why isn’t he watching THEIR kids?” Everyone looked at me like I was crazy.
“Dani, mind your own business.” Mama shot me one of her Dirty Looks.
“Mama, you wouldn’t take a rap and go to prison for Papa, would you?”
Mama came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. She smelled good, like a mixture of juicy pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, and Herbal Essence shampoo. “Dani, I feel bad for Dakota’s cousins, but we got our own troubles. Open up the Monopoly game and set up the board.” She smiled, but the look in her eyes said, Don’t push it.
I set up the game on the coffee table and appointed myself the Banker. I scattered pillows on the floor for everyone to sit on. The Little kids fought over the pieces; they both wanted the Scotty Dog until I convinced Gino to take the Racing Car. I picked the Top Hat. Tootsie and Dakota decided to share a piece. “We should maybe get the wheelbarrow, because that’s where we’re living if we can’t pay our rent,” Tootsie said. “Or we could move in with Hacksaw. Would you mind that, Honey?”
Dakota shrugged. “Let’s just play already.”
Mama studied the shiny silver pieces carefully. “Oh let’s face it,” she said, lighting a cigarette. She was smoking Mr. Carlo’s brand, Mores. They’re long, thin, and brown and look almost like fancy cigars. “I’ll take the Iron. My poor Mama and Gramma worked in that hot stinking Reliable Laundry all their lives, so I know I’m stuck with that damn Iron.”
Photo Credit: “Massive Lines of Cocaine,” by acidpix. License CC Attribution Only. Flickr.