© Copyright 2014 by Sara Jacobelli
I Get Papa’s Duffel Bag!
Sunday, May 16, 1982
Well, I hope you are doing well in Italy. Papa always says that you live in Sicily, not Italy. . . but my Social Studies teacher said it’s still the Same Country. Lately I’ve been missing Papa; sometimes I almost wish he would get out of Jail. Maybe it would be better for him to go there and live with you in your Little Village in the Mountains, or wherever. The Little Kids miss him a lot. But I am so scared that if he comes Home, him and Mama will go back to Fighting all the time and that he will beat her up so bad that she goes to the Hospital, or worse than that, that she Dies.
I finally got Papa’s Duffel Bag back from Mr. Sandy at the Greyhound station. I took Dakota’s advice and had a Talk with Mr. Carlo. (Dakota is living with us now. Tootsie is really strung out, she’s crashing in a Shooting Gallery down on Camp Street. She shows up at the Bar once in awhile asking for Money. Dakota won’t even come downstairs to talk to her. I know Dakota, she acts tough, but on the inside her heart is broken).
I waited for Mr. Carlo one day when Mama was working. The only problem was, I had to figure out how to talk to him without Mama sticking her big nose in my Business. He showed up, looking cute in his tight designer jeans. Mama still teases me about having a crush on him. Funny thing is, he’s crazy about her. She doesn’t see it though; all she talks about these days is getting Papa out of Jail.
Mr. Carlo kissed Mama on the cheek. He ruffled my hair like I was six years old. “How’s my two sweethearts today?”
“New cologne? You smell like a French whorehouse!” Mama said, while she fixed me a cherry coke and Mr. Carlo a plain ginger ale. Several quiet men wearing hats were lined up at the bar, waiting to talk to him.
“She how she treats me, Ace?” He always calls me something silly like Sport or Ace or Champ. Lately it’s been Ace since he found out I’m pretty good at cards. I can play pinochle, 500 rummy, gin rummy, knock rummy, spades, hearts. In study hall at school I make money playing knuckles. (Everything so far but bourre. Can’t figure that game out at all).
“She how she treats me, and after all I’ve done for her. Even offered to buy her a little house in Chalmette, but no, she’s sticking with her Man.” Mr. Carlo touched Mama’s face, gently. For a minute I wondered if they had a thing for each other. I made a Mental Note to ask Dakota, who understands these things.
Mama smiled. “I’ve got good news; the lawyer says he can get me in to see Tony.” She put her arm around me. “I miss him so much. We all miss Papa so much, don’t we honey?”
“The Little Kids do. They cry about him before they go to bed.”
Mr. Carlo looked at me. “He’s your Old Man too. Don’t you miss him?”
“Course she does. He’s her Father. A girl loves her Father.”
“Carina. Let her answer.”
I looked at Mama and at Mr. Carlo. I wasn’t sure if I should be honest or not.
“Well, uh. I don’t want him to go to Prison. I mean, I don’t like. I don’t like it when you guys Fight so much. I’m scared he’ll hurt you.”
Mama looked mad. “Girl, don’t you be puttin our Business out on the Street like that. No Mettere in Piazza.” She poured some draft beers for the row of silent men who sat solidly on barstools, smoking, fidgeting with their smelly Bic lighters, waiting to discuss Important Matters with Mr. Carlo. “And shouldn’t you be in school, Young Lady, you’re about Two Fucking Hours Late?”
I turned to Mr. Carlo. “Can you give me a ride to school?”
He nodded yes and looked at Mama like she was crazy. He led me out the door, turned and held his index finger up to the waiting men. “Be right back, Gentleman, and we’ll Take Care of Things, gotta take care a my little niece here.”
When we got in his trademark gun-metal gray Cadillac, I told Mr. Carlo where we were really going.
“Please drive me to the Greyhound Station. Please. It’s very Important.”
“What-are-ya, what-are-ya doin, you running away, Kiddo? Where’s your suitcase?”
“No, sir. Nothin like that. But I need Twenty Seven Dollars to get this duffel bag from the bus station. Papa’s duffel bag. Mama doesn’t know. It’s got money innit, I think. Maybe a lotta money.” I looked out the window as we passed Barber Shops with laughing people out front, and neutral grounds with old men sitting on mismatched lawn chairs playing cards on battered card tables, boom boxes blaring. Seemed like everyone in Town was outside drinking beer today and no one was working.
“Twenty Seven dollars?” He steered the car smoothly. I was surprised that he drove carefully, even slowly. I thought he’d careen down the street like a movie gangster, gun shots blazing in every direction.
“Why’do ya need this Money?”
He pulled into the cab stand in front of the bus station, peeled three tens from his wallet and handed them to me, ignoring the yelling cab drivers.
“I gotta get this bag; the locker fee is Twenty Seven Dollars.”
“Go get it. I’ll wait for you. And Dani—“
“Nothin’s Free in Life. You’re gonna have to work for me to earn that Money. You can clean up with Melvin the Porter on Saturdays, run errands; go to the A &P to get ernge juice, shit like that.”
“OK.” Why would a rich guy like Mr. Carlo care about Twenty Seven Dollars? I went into the bus station, paid Mr. Sandy and got the bag. He seemed happy to see me.
“Well, Young Lady, I am glad you came. Looks like the Good Lord takes care of His People. Yes, indeed, he does. Yes, indeed. He Truly Does.”
“You gotta new sign.” A neatly hand-lettered sign written in red and blue magic markers proclaimed, “We Need to Get Our Earl Back from the Ay-Rabs.” Underneath the words was a crudely drawn American flag.
“Thank you, you like it?”
“It’s nice. Thanks for saving my Papa’s bag for me.”
“Good luck to you and Your Family, Young Lady. I hope he comes home from the Hospital soon.”
“Didn’t you say he was Sick? Dying? Heart attack or cancer or something?”
“Oh, right. He’s better now. He’s pretty tough.”
Mr. Sandy nodded. He probably heard all kinds of lame excuses from people trying to get their stuff back.
I dragged the heavy bag back to Mr. Carlo’s car. He was surrounded by a mob of angry cabbies. I saw him talking to one big black guy who seemed to know everybody. Then that guy told the other guys to back off, and they all did. The black guy shook Mr. Carlo’s hand. I remembered what Dakota had said about Mr. Carlo and his Connections.
He popped open the trunk, winked at me, and threw in the bag. We got back in the car.
“So where are we bringing this bag to, raggazina?”
“Home. I’m going to sneak it upstairs.”
“That’s never gonna work. Your Mama will find it in a hot minute. She don’t miss a trick, that one.” He turned on the radio. Irma Thomas was singing, “Sugar Pie honey bunch, sugar pie honey bunch, I love you and nobody else, Sugar Pie honey bunch.” We both sang along with Irma, laughing.
“I’ll drop you off at School. I’ll stick this bag in my office back at the bar, lock it up. No one but me has keys. She won’t think it has any connection to you. Once you work off the Thirty Bucks, I’ll give it to you. I won’t even open it.”
“I could give you the three dollars change now.”
“No. I don’t deal with Small Change.”
“OK. “ I looked at the blue blueness of his eyes. “Mr. Carlo, did you really offer to buy Mama a house in Chalmette? I mean, you’re married with kids and all that.”
He pulled up in front of my middle school. I was surprised that he even knew what school I went to.
“Listen, kid. Every bar owner in the Quarter, has a wife an kids on da Lakefront or out in Metry, then they got the girl in the Quarter. That’s just the way it is. You might as well learn that now.”
“Oh, you mean like a cuma, cumare?”
“Don’t say that about your Own Mother, it’s fresh.” He lit one of his brown More cigarettes. I wanted to ask for one, but figured he’d say No.
“She’s a beautiful woman, but not too Bright sometimes. She should let a man set her up nice. She’s got kids to take care of. She don’t think sometimes.”
“But women always say Papa’s a good lookin guy. I don’t get it, but that’s what they say.”
“They like that dark tough boxer look. Women don’t always know what they want. But he’s a malandrino. Malviventi. “
“You mean a Gangster?”
“Nah.” He put out his cigarette and offered me a stick of gum.
“No disrespect, he’s still your Papa. But he’s a Wannabe. A jerk. Not only were him and his buddies dealing Coke, they were robbing people, robbing other drug dealers and card games. Bad news. If I’m lyin I’m dyin. Bringin down all this Heat. He had other women stashed around town too, but he didn’t take care of them like I do. Then he’d come home and beat your Mama, beat er black an blue he did, and here she is, workin and takin care of you kids. Bastardo. Son-uvva-bitch. She deserves better.”
“I know she does.”
“So whattareya gonna do with this Money, this Money in the Duffel Bag? If the Money’s really there? Give it to her for the Lawyer?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know your Papa owes money for Gambling Debts?”
“Yeah, I know. How much?”
“He owed five grand, but he paid two. Still owes tree more, plus the vig. I can talk to some people. I can talk to some people, knock the vig down, maybe get the principle down a bit too.” He chewed on a toothpick. “If I do it, it’s for you kids and your Mama. So nobody gets hurt. Not for him.”
“Why didn’t he bet with you?” I wasn’t quite sure what a vig was, but the men always talked about it in hushed tones. Gotta pay the vig. The fuckin vig is so high these days.
“I don’t like Trouble. I wouldn’t take his bets, no way. But enough of this, you gotta get to school. Go.”
When he saw I wasn’t moving, he got out of the car, came around to the passenger’s side, and opened the car door.
He held my face in his hands, held my chin firmly, in that way Italian men have. He kissed my cheek, looked into my eyes.
“Dani. Sometimes. . . “
“Sometimes, Kid. Sometimes you gotta make a Decision.”
I walked into school, bells were clanging, classes were changing. Down the crowded hallways, into that hot sweaty familiar mass of jumbling jostling bouncing jumping pushing shoving swearing, sneering bodies, the fighting and strutting and yelling and shrieking and screaming and laughing, the smell of cigarette smoke and weed and cheap beer, the sound of girls going “hey bitch” and “hey brah” and snapping gum and going “tch tch tch”; the sound of boys going “hey brah” and “hey homeboy”, and “fuck you motherfucker” not caring about any of it. No time for Teenage Stuff. I had a Decision to make.