JULY 1999 |
MICHAEL SCHIAVONE, a former U.S. soldier, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. Anderson lives in New Rochelle, New York and works as a bookkeeper.
Less than Superman
The cold wind of a November night engulfed a Bronx neighborhood, irritating Mark Russo's face and making his nose water, Mark sat with his father upon the red, brick stoop of his apartment building, waiting for his mother to call them in for dinner.
A young woman with dark, fluffy hair and copper-colored skin and a tight, blue dress caught Mark's attention. Her blue shoes paddled through a breeze upon which floated newspaper sheets, paper napkins, and yellow and reddish leaves. She began to stumble about on clumsy heels and wide hips, cursing in Spanish at dogs and their owners, wiping a thick wad of wet, dog feces off the soles of her shoes and onto the edge of the curb, she looking to Mark like a trick horse counting out a long number with its front hoof.
Mark's father, Angelo, quickly withdrew his mahogany-colored pipe from his mouth, peered about, grabbed three sheets of newspaper from the litter strewn pavement, walked over to the agitated young woman and handed her the sheets, advising her to use them on her soiled shoes.
While watching his father acting, Mark thought, like a corny, chivalrous, Sir Gallahad, he noticed Angelo's balding scalp. This sight made Mark worry about losing his own brown hair, He ran his fingers through his hair, Its thick, wavy texture made him feel secure.
Then he thought about his father's pipe, and when Angelo returned from helping the young woman, Mark asked him, "How old were you when you started smoking a pipe, Dad?"
Angelo yanked the hot stick from his mouth, and claimed, "It's a bad habit, Mark, I'm sorry that I ever started it. It's expensive and it's dirty and it's not healthy."
"But it's safer than smoking a cigarette, Dad, isn't it?"
Angelo blew three, white rubber bands of smoke from his yawning mouth. "It might be safer, but the real lesson, Son, is that you should be smart and strong and stay away from smoking and drinking and drugs, like your mother and I always tell you."
Mark leaned forward, craning his neck and sniffing at Angelo's pipe, The dry tobacco smoke crept all the way up Mark's nose and into his throat, producing a hot, bitter flavor and touching his tongue like sour sandpaper. "I saw that cool picture of you, Dad, when you were young, holding your rifle and standing by that dead deer. Can't we go hunting together?"
Angelo tapped his pipe against the brick banister of the stoop. The hot ashes scattered about the pavement, burning tiny holes in a paper napkin, sparkling for a few seconds, and then fading away, Angelo stuffed his pipe into the pocket of his brown, corduroy jacket. "Well, I'll have to think about a hunting trip. What we should be worrying about right now is your grades at school." He coughed, rubbed the palm of his right hand on his chest, and then continued: "Your mother and I want you to go to college."
Mark stared into Angelo's eyes, for the first time noticing a dappling of blue and gray; he now realized that he had inherited his mother's brown eyes. He looked down at his father's torn work shoes, thinking about what had happened earlier that day:
In school, that morning, Mark had suffered through a math test. As the problems increased in difficulty, anxiety and self doubt invaded his mind and chased away his confidence, Soon he began to guess, for he believed that he did not have the right stuff to understand math.
After his teacher graded and returned his test, Mark felt several hot screws grinding in his stomach when he read the number 25 and the words, "SEE ME!!, written boldly in red across his answer sheet.
"Mark, I want to see you during recess. Your current performance is simply unacceptable," whispered Ms. Phillips, standing over him, her beige-colored dress quivering about her oval shaped torso, and she using her hefty fingers to free from her gray eyes a lock of her red hair.
Mark answered, "Yes, Ms. Phillips," while dropping his chin and staring at his grade.
Mark's mind was brought back to the present by a strong desire to express his feelings about school to his father. To himself he thought, "College is far away, Dad; I'm only 13, And I hate school, and I might not want to go to college, anyway;" but then he only said aloud to his father, "Why can't I just work in a factory like you do, when I grow up?"
Angelo's big, eye lashes collapsed, partially draping the bags under his eyes, and his husky, olive-colored face grew pale.
Suddenly, Laura Russo's dinner call halted the conversation. Mark and his father darted up the stairs of the stoop and walked into their first floor apartment. Mark's mother, Laura, stood over his six year old brother, Daniel, cutting his slice of veal parmigiano into a dozen small pieces.
Mark sat near the high chair of his one year old brother, Mikey, pinching the child's left cheek and leaning forward and kissing the cheek where his fingers had left a pink blemish.
Angelo forked three pieces of hot, pomodoro and mozzarella smothered, veal cutlets into his dish, scooped seven spoonfuls of doughy gnocchi in front of his sloping nose, and clamped onto two servings of green, vinegary salad. "Thanks for making my favorite, tonight," he said, tearing into his veal.
"Just remember what Dr. Lamanda told you about not taking any seconds, Angelo," Laura warned her husband while she wiped a dab of tomato sauce from her wedding ring by passing the tiny diamond over a faded red rose which decorated her white apron. "We can't afford any health problems in this family. Your stomach is growing and your hair is thinning and your cholesterol level is rising and your father was 39 when he died of a heart attack - and you're already 45."
Angelo looked down at his waist and then slapped it, "Yeah, Laura, but you love this belly of mine; otherwise you wouldn't a' married me." Mark laughed. His father's stomach reminded Mark of an old, beach ball that was growing soft and losing air. "Don't worry, Dear, I'm going to be around for a long time," Angelo added, slurping down some pasta e fagioli and chuckling with his mouth full.
Mark glanced at his mother and admired her cheek length, brown hair and her chestnut brown eyes. Her white face shone under the four, powerful flood lights of the kitchen ceiling, causing her appear angelic. Mark wondered now how his father had ever won her love.
Angelo swallowed a gulp of red wine and dried his lips with his napkin. "I met my friend, Glen, for lunch, today. He said that he would try to get me a good job with the delivery company that he works for."
Laura crossed herself with her right hand and slapped the palms of her long hands together and faced the kitchen ceiling, squinting at the lights, "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Please God, let my husband get that job. I promise to go to church tomorrow and light a candle."
"That's enough, Mom. You sound silly. People are going to think that you're a religious freak," said Mark.
"I'm not worried about what people think. I'm proud of what I believe, and you should be too."
Angelo pushed his empty dish away. "Don't worry, Laura, our lives will improve, soon."
"That's what you always say," Laura grimaced. She passed her fingers caressingly along Mark's face. He smelled garlic and bleach on her hand,
"Mom, when I grow up, I'll buy you a house next to mine," Mark promised, "and you can come over and visit me and my beautiful wife whenever you want - but call first!"
They all laughed.
Laura asked Angelo, "When are you going to talk to my brother about doing some telemarketing for him? You can bring in some extra money that way."
"Forget it; I'm not the salesman type. I don't like to push people into doing things or buying things," Angelo explained.
"Oh, Angelo, you're just a dreamer." Laura slapped Mark's shoulder and advised her son, "You be aggressive like me and your Uncle Joe."
Feeling embarrassed for his father, Mark excused himself from the table and spent the rest of the evening alone in his room, studying for a test that was scheduled for the following morning.
[ MORE: an important test ]
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