Monthly Archives: January 2014
© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
We Look for Papa’s Money!
Sunday April 25, 1982
Mama talked to Mr. Beauregard on the phone this week. He said she has just four weeks to come up with the money for Plan A or Plan B, otherwise we are stuck with the Public Defender.
Mama decided she better try to talk to the Public Defender. I was in school when she went to meet him at the Courthouse over by Tulane and Broad. She still hasn’t been able to get to see Papa. The Public Defender’s name is James Smith; Mama said it sounds like an alias. She said he is really young, and his blond hair stuck up in a cowlick like Dennis the Menace. The poor guy had a stack of files and folders piled high like Mount Everest. He did give her some interesting news, though.
Mama sank into the couch and kicked off her shoes. “Dani, fix me a cup of tea, I’ve got some Good News.” The Little Kids were eating Cheetos and setting up a Mousetrap game on the floor and not paying much attention to us.
She lowered her voice to a hoarse whisper. “He DID make some money dealing Coke—but he had to. He had to pay off his Gambling Debts.” She sipped her tea. “Honey, find my lighter and smokes.”
I found them and lit a cigarette for her, taking a quick puff and coughing. She rapped me on the forehead. “Listen. . . this is important. He paid half his debts, but he still owes more. I hope those people don’t give us any trouble. Well, maybe Mr. Carlo can keep them off our backs.”
She looked worried for a minute, then her eyes brightened. “But the Good News is, he has enough money stashed, I think we can pay for, what did Mr. Beauregard call it? Option Number Two? The Middle Plan? For Five Grand?”
“You mean where he goes to Prison for a year, then gets out?”
“Yeah, then he’s gotta make four years parole without getting popped.”
Gino looked up from the game. “I don’t want Papa to go to Prison. When’s he comin Home?”
Antonietta started to cry. “I want him to come Home!”
Mama waved them away. “Dani, Papa told Mr. Smith that there’s two hundred dollars in the coffee can in the Bedroom closet, and there’s a Key. Go get the coffee can.”
“OK.” I didn’t tell Mama that me and Dakota had already scoured every inch of the apartment in a frantic search to find Papa’s drug money. We found the coffee can hidden in the dark corner of the bedroom closet shelf. This was Mama’s usual hiding spot, where she hid the bill money from Papa. I gave half the money to Dakota—swearing her to Eternal Secrecy upon Penalty of Death— and I kept half. I never mentioned the small key with the number 27 on it— even to Dakota. I just stuck it in my pocket, thinking it might be my new Good Luck Charm.
The money was now in my sock drawer, in the same dresser I shared with the Little Kids. I brought out the ninety dollars that was left from my half. I spent some of it on candy, colored markers, stickers and lip gloss at Woolworth’s and showed off my ill-gotten goods to the girls at school, bragging that I shoplifted them.
“This is all I found,” I casually handed Mama the coffee can.
“Well, OK. We can make groceries with this.” She counted the money carefully. “I can pay the NOPSI bill too, keep the lights on.” She frowned. “But where’s the Key?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t like lying to her. I was scared because she knew me so well, she could figure me out. I studied my fingernails.
“Dani, don’t bite your nails. It’s Ugly. Brutta.”
“I’m trying to stop. You shouldn’t smoke.”
Mama went into the tiny kitchen and opened the fridge. She pulled out a pack of cheap pink hotdogs. “Listen, I’m still the adult in this house. Boil these up and put some mustard on the bread, I’m gonna take a shower. I’ve gotta work tonight.”
“Mama, what’s the Key for?” I poured water into the pan and turned the stove on.
“It’s for a Greyhound Station locker, keep your eyes peeled for it. The God Damned thing has to be somewhere. Gino and Antionietta?”
“What Mama?” they both looked up, looking for all the world like those Big Eyed Starving Orphans that were always on TV begging for money.
“Did you two take that Key? Did you climb up INTO THAT GOD DAMNED CLOSET AND GO IN THAT COFFEE CAN AND TAKE SOME OF THE MONEY AND THAT GOD DAMNED KEY? WE NEED THAT KEY TO GET PAPA OUT OF JAIL!”
They both looked Guilty and started crying. I felt bad, but scared at the same time. Mama would turn into a Screaming Maniac if she found out that I had that Key in my pocket. She assigned all Three of Us the task of tearing the apartment apart to look for the Key while she was at work, and promising us all Movie tickets and Ice Cream and Cookies at Brocato’s if we found it. I directed the Little Kids in the Search.
I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I planned on going to the Greyhound Bus Station with Dakota to open up Locker Number 27. What in the world was in it?
Photo Credit: “Greyhound bus station,” ibison 4, Flickr, Creative Commons non commercial share alike photo.
© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
Mama Talks to a Lawyer
Sunday April 18, 1982
The last time I wrote to you, Papa was sitting in Jail. Well, he’s still sitting in Jail, but me and Mama went and talked to a Lawyer on Thursday. The Lawyer’s name is Hippolite Beauregard Landry III. (Sorry if I spelled “Hippolite” wrong, I was writing stuff down in my Notebook while he was talking). This guy was pretty crazy. He had a fat white handlebar moustache and his breath smelled like whiskey. He wore a fancy blue and white striped suit, Mama says it’s called “seersucker.”
His office is on St. Charles Avenue, next to the Please U diner. Mama took me with her. The Little Kids were in school, but Mama let me skip school and ride the streetcar uptown to the lawyer’s office. She told me to take notes so I brought one of my Notebooks.
“What can I do for you Lovely Ladies,” he said, standing up to shake our hands. “Please, have a seat. You can call me ‘Beauregard.’ ”
Mama whispered to me, “That’s MISTER Beauregard, young lady.” She was dressed in a pretty peaches and cream blouse and skirt. I wore my Church Clothes, even though we haven’t been to Church in at least a year. I hate dresses, and it was too small and the material was kind of scratchy.
“My husband is still sitting in OPP, and the Public Defender hasn’t done a damn thing.”
The secretary brought Mama a coffee with chicory and me a Barq’s. I inhaled the deep smell of the coffee while I looked around the office. There were framed diplomas on the wall. There were a lot of framed photographs of Mr. Beauregard fishing in the Bayou and of Mr. Beauregard golfing in tournaments. There were pictures of him with other guys in suits. I figured all those guys must be Rich and Famous. I wondered where Mama thought she was going to get the money to pay for this Fancy Lawyer.
“Ma’am, ma’am.” Mr. Beauregard touched Mama’s hand. She was telling the story of how Papa, Angelo, and Silvio got busted for Dealing Coke. “Ma’am, I am already familiar with the case. I made a few telephone calls after you called me yesterday morning.” He spoke slowly and softly. He reminded me of somebody in a Movie. If you were going to make a Movie with a Southern Lawyer in it, you would use this guy.
Mama stopped sniffling. “Can you get Tony out? How much would it cost? Or will he go to Angola for ten years?”
Mr. Beauregard smiled. “Ma’am, Mrs. Riccio. Young Daniela. “ He made a little steeple using the fingers of both hands. His fingers were as chubby as pork sausages and his fingernails were neatly trimmed.
“I want you lovely ladies to know that all is not lost. There is always a way.” He took a deep breath and leaned back in his comfy leather chair.
“However. This case does pose some particular, shall we say, complications.” He shuffled some papers around on his desk. “Mr. Riccio has numerous charges, including, let’s see. Possession of a controlled substance. Possession with intent to sell. Possession of stolen weapons. Possession of stolen credit cards. Hmmm, that one we can make go away. But still. . .”
“Mr. Beauregard, um.”
“Yes, Daniela.” He looked at me with very light clear watery blue eyes. I almost wanted to laugh at the striped suit.
“Well, uh, isn’t Papa in more trouble cause of, well, if he’s a convicted felon, then it would be a felon with guns?”
Mr. Beauragard smiled. The white moustache twitched. “Young lady, I hope you are not planning on becoming a Lawyer. I surely do not think I could stand the Competition.”
Mama nodded. “She’s very smart. She’s going to be a Lawyer or a Writer or a Teacher. Something Big. She’s not going to work Minimum Wage at Walgreen’s or the K & B, sir. No way.”
He looked at the papers on his desk and wrinkled his brow. “If he IS a convicted felon, it didn’t show up in the records. Which is good.” He winked at me. “And yes, Young Lady, that would add further charges. So we’ll just keep quiet about that and hope it never turns up.”
Mr. Beauregard’s secretary came back in. “Judge Marino wants to have lunch tomorrow.”
“Ahhh, Fridays at Galatoire’s. Ladies, have you ever had the pleasure of dining there? It is the finest establishment in our beloved city, I must say.”
We shook our heads like two school kids. “The closest I ever got to Galatoire’s was this busboy Charlie who worked there. He has a crush on Mama and comes to the Bastille. He says he’s a “busman” not a bus boy.”
Mr. Beauregard arched his eyebrows. “I can see that. Your mother is a lovely woman. A lovely woman. Now, let’s get down to Business.” He grabbed an expensive looking silver pen and wrote some numbers down on a scrap of paper. He handed it to Mama.
Mama held up the paper. On it he had written, “$35,000. $5,000. $0.”
Mama looked at me and looked back at him. “What does this mean?”
“For the first price, that’s our Premium Package, the charges will all go away. Poof.” He waved his hands in the air like he was doing a Magic Trick. “Cash only, of course.”
Mama kept staring at the piece of paper like she thought it was going to explode. Then she put it down on his desk.
“And what happens for $5,000?”
He smiled. “Now, for that second one, that’s our Middle Package, he does some time. Five years, but technically, he only does One Year Locked Up. The other four years are Parole.”
“And the third number. This one just says, ‘$0.’ ?”
“What’s that one mean?” I asked
“That third number is the Booby Prize. That one means, my dear Daniela, that if your dear Mama can’t come up with any money at all, if you pay Zero Dollars, and use a Public Defender—-then Tony, ah, excuse me, Mr. Antonio Riccio, does Five Years in the Angola State Penitentiary.” He looked at his shiny Rolex and added, unnecessarily, “a rather unpleasant place.”
We ate lunch next door at the Please U Diner, where Jeanie works. She gave us both hugs when we walked in the door.
“Mama, this is probably better than Galatoire’s.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You two want the special? Porkchops and white beans, it’s delicious!”
“Yeah, babe Thanks. And two sweet teas.”
“We can’t really afford this, can we Mama?”
The noisy diner was packed with the lunchtime crowd. Jeanie brought the sweet teas.
“So how’d it go with Mr. Landry?”
“You mean Hippolite-Beauregard-Landry-the -Third with the white moustache and twinkly blue eyes who wears the seersucker suit?”
“Yeah, he’s a character alright.”
Mama sighed. “We don’t have the kind of money a lawyer like that charges. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t want him to go to Prison.”
“We don’t have any money for any lawyer.”
“Dani, don’t be so fresh. You’re not too big to get slapped.”
“I know but, Mama, I was just thinking. WHERE did all the money go Papa made selling drugs?”
“SHHHH. Dani. Not so loud. Don’t say Selling Drugs out loud like that.”
“Well, the money has to be somewhere. He couldn’t have spent all of it.”
“Yeah, he could. He coulda gambled away every damn penny. You don’t know your father like I do.”
Jeannie ruffled my hair. “You got a point, girlfriend. FIND that money.”
“JEAN! TABLE FOUR!” The manager screeched.
“Gotta go!” She ran off to take care of her other customers.
“What’re we gonna do Mama?”
“I don’t know. Your Father and his Big Ideas to Make Money. Now look at us.”
A lady who looked a lot older than Mama sat at the table next to us. She finished her lunch and stood up, slurping the last sip of her coffee. There was a rumpled copy of The Times-Picayune States-Item on the table. “Dahlin, I know what it’s like to raise up some Jail Babies. I raised four while my ole man did time in Angola. Sure did.” She had bleached blonde hair and wore a ton of makeup and was kind of rough looking
“Does it get any easier?” Mama asked.
“Eight years he was out there. The phone calls are fucking expensive and that trip out to Angola is a Bitch. There’s a bus that’ll take ya though.”
Mama just stared at her.
“But honey. . . ” the blonde said. “Remember you got your Jail Babies with you, keep them close to your Heart. And you know what?”
“At least you KNOW where your man is every night.” She walked out the door.
Jeanie brought our lunch and all I could think of was my porkchop and white beans. I splashed Crystal on the beans and dug into it like I never ate before in my life.
PS: Mama said to tell you not to worry about Papa. She said Papa is tough and he will be alright. So, don’t worry, non ti preoccupare. Besides, she said you have nine or ten other kids and some of them are still there with you in Sicily and that some of them get disability and that some of them Made Good and even have jobs.
Photo Credit: “Seersucker,” http://www.dreamstime.com http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/blue-seersucker-fabric-11119808.jpg
© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
Papa Goes to Jail
Sunday April 11, 1982
Well, Nonna, sorry it’s been so long since I have written to you—it’s been THREE whole months. So much has happened here in New Orleans that I don’t know where to begin. We did have fun going to the parades at Mardi Gras, and for St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day, but other than that, 1982 has not been a good year so far.
The Biggest News around here is that Papa and his Sleazy Friends, as Mama likes to call them, got busted for Dealing Coke. Papa and Angelo are still sitting in Orleans Parish Prison waiting for a trial. Silvio got deported back to Palermo, Sicily. Mama said that you live in a small village and you never go to Palermo anymore, so you probably won’t run into him. But I remember Papa telling stories about the Projects you all used to live in in Palermo, a long time ago when he was a Little Kid like Gino. The Projects were called Cortile Cascino and he said they were tough Projects, just like we have here. Papa said him and Angelo and Silvio knew each other as kids back there. He said they were so poor that when they were nine or ten years old, they had to steal food to feed their younger brothers and sisters. Papa always says, “A Sicilian will steal to feed his family, but he will not beg.”
Remember when Papa and Mama had that Big Fight, and he beat her up, and Hacksaw took Papa down to the Bar? Well, Mama said she wasn’t taking him back, that they were Split Up For Good. Papa stayed away for a few weeks, then Mama took him back. When he came back, I was still mad at him. He tried to make up for it by taking us all to the Café du Monde for coffee and donuts. It was fun, but I still wouldn’t talk to him. We all laughed watching Gino steal donuts from other people’s plates. Him and Antonietta were covered head to toe in the powdery sugar. Mama said they looked like two Giant Donuts. We all took a walk by the Moonwalk and watched the ships try to make that big curve on the Mississippi River. Then we took the ferry to Algiers Point. Mama said it would be nice to live over there.
“We could get a cute little place, wouldn’t that be nice? A yard?” Her and Papa were holding hands. As far as I was concerned, this whole Family Day was just Papa trying to move back in. I couldn’t even believe that Mama was falling for it.
“Non so. I don’t know,” Papa said. “I don’t like to be so far away from the Quarters.”
Mama shook her head. “It’d do us all some good to get out of the Quarter for awhile.” We walked back to the ferry landing and waited for the boat to come back. When the boat docked, we clambered on board.
“Wow, just look at that view of New Orleans from here. Look at that skyline.” She lit a cigarette and looked out over the water. The Little Kids chased each other around, then I chased after them.
“Maybe we should start going to Church again,” she said.
Papa put his arm around her shoulder. “Come on, woman, you gettin carried away, trying to make everything perfect, you just gotta accept, we’re married, this is our Life.” Papa swept his arms wide to indicate us kids. “Not perfect, but I accept. No church, come on, they just want money from you.”
I mumbled to myself something like, “Our life is perfect without you going crazy and drinking and gambling and getting high on coke and selling drugs and hitting Mama,” but I didn’t dare let him hear me. We got off the ferry and walked back to the Bastille. Papa went into the bar and Mama took us upstairs.
I know he’s your Son, Nonna. . . and Mama says a woman always loves her Son, no matter what, even if he’s a Murderer. But sometimes I hate Papa, sometimes I love him. Sometimes he makes me Laugh. Sometimes he makes me want to run away and run down the dark streets Screaming in the Middle of the Night. Deep Down Inside. I know I’ll always be afraid of him. And that makes me mad, because I like to think of myself as Tough and Strong and not afraid of anyone.
Mama decided not to bail Papa out of jail, “because we need to spend the Money on the Lawyer.”
“WHAT money?” I asked. We were sitting on the benches in Jackson Square. Some Tourist Ladies bought a bag of pigeon feed from one of the stores and gave it to the Little Kids. They were feeding pigeons, and running around screeching when the dirty gray scraggly pigeons chased them down for more food.
“Mr. Carlo gave me some money. . . for bills and things. I thought I could bail Papa out, but it’s not enough.” Mama studied her fingernails carefully. “Umm. I guess I should use the money to pay the Light bill and stuff.”
“Mama, don’t even TRY to bail him out. Let him sit there for awhile. You should pay the Bills with that money. And we need clothes, everyone at school has better clothes than us. Besides, he’s got a Lawyer.”
Mama shook her head. “Those Public Defenders aren’t worth shit.”
Antonietta ran up to me and hugged me. I hugged her back then chased her off, “Girl, go play!”
“And honey,” Mama touched my face, ran her fingers gently through my hair, “It’s just that, seeing him at that arraignment thing, in that orange jumpsuit, all chained up with those Criminals. . . “
“Oh Mama, stop. The three of them looked like some Gangsters in there. They looked OK to me.”
“Well, he’s done time before.”
“Papa’s done time? Where? When? You never told me!”
“Honey, he did some time in Sicily, I think. And Mexico too. That’s where he learned Spanish. He speaks that Mexican better than the Spics do. Believe me, Papa’s been around. He’s been around girl, I’m telling you.”
“No, you’re not telling me anything. You never do. And Mama you shouldn’t say Spic. I know a boy who’s Spanish. . .”
“What boy? You like a boy?”
An older gentleman walking with a cane and wearing a suit and red bow tie and bowler hat came up to Gino and Antonietta and gave them each a brand new dollar bill. Then he came up to me and gave me a dollar too. He winked at Mama. “You have beautiful children, Miss,” he said in a Southern drawl.
“Thank you,” Mama smiled.
“And you are Beautiful too my dear. As Beautiful as the Morning Sunshine.” He tipped his hat. We both giggled as he walked away.
“Mama, there’s your New Husband.”
“He probably owns a St. Charles Avenue Mansion.”
“Mama, we could live there! Maybe he owns the Big Stone one. We could sit on the big porch in rocking chairs drinking sweet tea and watch the streetcars roll by.”
“You want that one? Not me, I want the Wedding Cake House.”
The Little Kids ran up to us. “I want the Little Stone house with the lions out front, not the Big One,” Gino chimed in. “And I want to make a motorbike racing track in the yard, with a ramp, and a skateboard park too. And a baseball field.”
“I don’t know which one I want.” said Antonietta quietly. “Maybe I want our old house on Spain Street. I want a birthday party too.”
“Stupid baby! That’s not a Mansion, it’s just an apartment!” Gino said. He pushed her. “And it’s not your birthday, raggazina!”
“Mi onomastico was in February.”
“Alright kids, enough!” Mama said. “I can barely afford birthday presents, never mind onomastico, name days.”
We walked back to the Bastille at Bourbon and Toulouse. Mama’s shift was starting, so I took the kids upstairs to feed them. They cried a little about missing Papa when I put them to bed.
I sat on the couch and watched Old Movies by myself. I missed Tootsie and Dakota, they were living with Hacksaw in Mid-City, over on Banks Street. I couldn’t call Dakota because we didn’t have a phone, we just used the phone in the bar.
It didn’t seem fair to me that Mama would spend every penny we had for a Lawyer to get Papa out of Jail. I thought about my thirteenth birthday—just three months away. I wondered if I would feel different then, what it would be like to be a Real Teenager. Maybe me and Dakota could run away together.
I felt like my life was turning into one of those old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, with each week being a different episode, a different adventure. I wondered what would happen next.
Photo Credit: “Twenties,” by The.Comedian. License CC NonCommercial. Flickr.