Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 63 - A Death In The Family: My Tribute to An Italian-American Legend

“Try to remember the times that were good” 

In the final scene of the HBO hit series “The Sopranos,” A.J. (played by actor Robert Iler) utters the above line to his father, reminding Tony (albeit sarcastically) that those were his own words – a notion that makes Tony’s face brighten in his recollection. However, with the tragic and sudden loss of James Gandolfini this week it was not the above line that the millions of devoted followers of the series recalled most. It frankly wasn’t a line at all, but rather the lack of them, along with the absence of sound, noise, music, and color. It was very simply the sudden appearance of a black screen signaling the end of an American television legend.

This post isn’t about the loss of the fifty-one-year-old actor, James Gandolfini. James Gandolfini will live on in great movies like Zero Dark Thirty and no-so-great ones like Romance & Cigarettes. Rather, it’s about how the Italian community is grieving at the loss of a fictional character who we feel connected to in a way that most could never understand.


At least once a week I see a blurb or link in my Facebook news feed titled something along the lines of “You Know You Grew Up As An Italian When…,” and as one of the few guilty pleasures I have, I click on it just about every time. You know you grew up as an Italian when, you ate the salad after the main course. You know you grew up as an Italian when, there was a crucifix in every room of the house. You know you grew up as an Italian when, you thought everybody made their own spaghetti and gravy (sauce). It’s a bit like the guido version of “You might be a redneck” only picture Paulie Walnuts standing on the stage delivering the lines in lieu of Jeff Foxworthy,  and a crowd full of gold chains and black mock-turtlenecks instead of flannel shirts and trucker hats. You know you grew up Italian when, you have relatives who aren’t really your relatives.  My Italian friends just read that line and nodded their heads in agreement, and chances are, they know where I’m headed next.

Tony Soprano is my uncle. He’s my best friend Vanessa’s uncle, too, but she and I aren’t related even though my kids call her Aunt Nessa and they call her husband Uncle Jeff. He’s my friend Phyllis’ older brother. He’s my deceased Aunt Rose’s son-in-law. Tony was my Uncle Joe’s best friend. He once dated my mother’s girlfriend Marie. He was my nemesis’ father and my ex-boyfriend’s step-father but they’re not related either. Tony Soprano was a cousin to all of my cousins. And we all loved him and hated him, just like we do with all the members of our family because that’s what he was – he was family – and today we are mourning him as we would our own fathers.

I was in the bathtub – literally – when I learned this week that I would never see Tony Soprano again. As I think about it now I imagine I’m watching myself in my own episode of the series, maybe one directed by Michael Imperioli or Steve Buschemi, and it all seems fitting in some strange fictional character/David Chase sort of way. The Jacuzzi jets are on. A glass of pinot grigio is at my side.  I put my head back against the white porcelain tub and look at the grey and pink marble tile that reaches up almost to the ceiling. I take a sip of the wine and based on my expression, start thinking to myself that I’m drinking more than I’d like to be these days. I put the glass down and reach for my phone to scroll through tweets and check sports scores. That’s when I see my face change. I see myself mouthing the words “no, no, no” and feel tears well up in my already reddened eyes. I dry off my other hand with the towel so that I can hold the phone tightly over the steaming basin of water as I read what the news outlets know up until now. Tony is dead. There will be no sequel. There will be no movie. No return of the murderer who was gentle enough to fall in love with. He won’t be at my kids’ communion parties. Won’t give a speech at my uncle Nicky’s funeral while smoking a stogie and holding a glass of homemade red. He is gone. He is over. And everyone I’m close to is going to be devastated.  

In the blink of an eye a screen can go black.  

When the Sopranos ended I will forever remember how the twittersphere and facebookiverse went batshit. “Worst ending ever!”  “WTF WAS THAT??” “FUCK YOU, DAVID CHASE!” Even my own husband – or as I call him, “the NON-est Italian Who Ever Lived” was greatly disappointed in the sudden jump to black and prolonged silence that followed before the credits rolled. But me?  I wasn’t. I remember looking over at him and saying a single word…. “Brilliant.” “How?” he responded. “Babe, don’t you see? Chase leaves us with the opening. The song alone is ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and the final two words heard are ‘don’t stop.’ He knew what he was doing by making Tony look neurotic and having everyone who stepped foot in the diner appear shady. That was, in my opinion, the single best finale this country has ever seen. Mother fucking brilliant beyond belief.”  And I stand by that statement. What we, not just as devoted followers of the series but also as characters in The Sopranos of Our Mind, were left with was hope; hope that forced us to rely on faith. For that, I am grateful to David Chase because in a sense, unlike when I closed the back cover of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” I felt that Chase had prolonged the life of Tony Soprano for me, even if he had sent him into hiding for several years. Knowing that there was a chance that Tony might come back kept me and most of the Italian community going. We’re Catholic, remember? We give money in the name of a man who we can’t see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. For us, believing in the return of the prodigal son was easy. Dealing with the fact that he really won’t be back is going to be the hard part.

I will go on record now as saying that there was something about Tony Soprano which I found incredibly sexy. I will even go as far as to say that I would probably have had sex with him (even though above I said he was my uncle – I know, eww – clearly that was to make the point about how we’re all related), had I been a character on the show. I could see myself above him in a pretty piece of lingerie that he bought for me, wiping the sweat from his increasingly balding brow and fixing the clasp on his gold Figaro chain that was tangled up in the hair on his chest. I would have looked in his eyes and felt loved by him. I would have dressed afterward and felt protected by his embrace. And I would have smiled when he smiled because it was his smile that had made me fall for him in the first place.

For all of my Italian friends who are still thinking about him as the days pass by us, know that I am feeling your hurt alongside you. Our hero is gone. The man who gave us a voice unlike any other character in the history of screen or literature including Don Corleone is never to return and that is something we will have to deal with in our own ways and in our own time.

Tony Soprano, your family misses you. And if our God is a forgiving, fun-loving God, he will be smoking alongside you right now watching the girls at the Bada Bing and laughing at Paulie’s obsession with the cat.

I hope, for all of us down here, that’s exactly what heaven is really like.

To the family, colleagues, and friends of James Gandolfini, I express my sincerest condolences for your loss. You were lucky enough to know a great man who created an even greater one.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 46: “Vegas Means Comedy, Tragedy, Happiness, and Sadness All At the Same Time”

The quote I used in the title to this post was uttered by the ridiculously funny Artie Lang, and when I read the line I knew that no other title would be more fitting for what I was feeling, what I had experienced, or how I wanted to explain my last eight days in Sin City.
It took me about a decade to get back to Vegas. The last time I was in the city I had a new boyfriend and an old life; a new lover and an old history, and Vegas was our first real trip together as a couple. Vegas, for all of its smoking, cheesiness, lust, and lies, can be magical when you see through all that disgusts you about the joint. It’s as close to being human as any American city can get. It makes notorious mistakes, feeds the hungry, takes your money, and screws with your mind not much unlike that Blaise boy from L.A. that you fuc…  er, you dated fifteen years ago. Like I said... Human. And yet also, humane. It can cure what ails you when you think you’ve done something so horrible that no one in their right mind could ever love you again. Vegas understands you, and is there for you, even when Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Miami turn their backs. Vegas, as ridiculous as it sounds, is better than that, and the city, above all else, never passes judgment.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived. Ten years is a lifetime when it comes to growth, and GODDAMN, the strip has grown. Maybe even faster than that Chia Pet Aunt Doris got you for Hanukkah. The Cosmopolitan? The Aria? The CITY CENTER? Where the hell did this shit come from? I thought gondolas and dancing water would be around forever. What in Bugsy’s name happened to my Vegas? You know what happened to my Vegas? Money happened to my Vegas, and not the “I hit the dollar slots for 400 bucks” kind of money, either. More like “we found an original DaVinci when we replaced the insulation in our attic” kind of money. Like, “shit-ton/Prada-shades/my-other-car-is-a-Bentley” money. Crazy, high-priced drinks money. Stupid service charges for using a credit card in a cab money. And it’s uncomfortable. And somewhat sucks. But it’s also kind of intriguing. Vegas suddenly felt a bit like that guy at that club I used to work in who I knew was WAAAAAYYYYY better looking than I was, and to be honest I was a little intimidated by it at first until I remembered... Vegas doesn’t judge, so I took a deep breath, rolled my shoulders back, stuck my boobies out and asked Vegas on a date.

To my surprise, the city said yes. 

Clearly when you’re in Vegas on business you’re never going to do what you know you’d be capable of at 5:40 in the morning as you stumble out of your seventh bar, which is a good thing (said your liver). However, you’re also there to entertain clients, meet industry colleagues, and attend some pretty damned cool events thrown by some seriously frigging awesome artists and designers, all of who have plenty on hand to intoxicate you juuust enough to tell your host how awesome you think her earring designs are only to find out the person you spoke to was the bartender and the only thing she handcrafted was the martini in the wine glass you’re sheepishly holding because that’s the only glass they had left since you showed up so late. (Run-on-sentence much?) My point is that no matter what you do in Vegas, you might walk away feeling stupid even when you’re sure no one was looking. But they were. Don’t worry, they were. Yet they still didn’t judge. It is Vegas, after all.

This past week brought so many emotions my way, just as the title suggests. I left my family – my husband of many years and children who are still so small – behind for eight straight, long, tiresome days. I was there among people whom I’ve known for a better part of my seventeen years in the jewelry biz; some of whom I still have wonderful relationships with and some who I wish would fall through the ice on a frozen lake while they skated cute little heart shapes for their plastic-doll-like wives.  Yet all of it – the whole range of feelings – was worth it. Vegas picked me up for our date in a limo and even kissed me good night without once tempting me to do something I shouldn’t, and I’m kind of looking forward to seeing it again one day… down the road, of course.

Without further hesitation, here are some of my favorite lines from this past week in Las Vegas. Many came from nights spent around truly talented people who are passionate about what they do in the jewelry world, which makes me respect them on the highest of levels. Some lines are clearly inappropriate, but all were said in good fun:

“I don’t drink alcohol. I’m allergic to it. It’s a terrible reaction, too. I drink it and my clothes fall off.”

“I have GOT to stop saying ‘Amazeballs.”

“I mean, you and your husband kind of are Barbie and Ken.”

“Adjectives are motherfuckers.”

“I like my scotch like I like my factory workers… fifteen years old.”

“You were great on TV. But you knew that.”

“Paul, I thought you ordered the big booth.”

“Do you travel with your own wind machine?”

“That’s a great book. He dies at the end.”

“If I could change one thing about my body it would be my boobs. Though I guess technically that’s two things.”

 “It’s directly behind the Godzilla-sized pink stiletto.”

“HE’S GAY! You’re in denial!”

“Whatever you do, do NOT go towards row ten.”

“Honey, I have tattoos older than you.”

And probably my favorite…

“Those are some huge diamond balls.”

To all the #VegasGems: you guys rock. I hope you read this and think fondly about your experiences in Sin City.

To my friends – my very good friends:  I miss you all so much and I’m happy we get together when these things roll around.

To Vegas: You were wonderful this week. Thanks for taking me out and listening, oh, and never, ever, judging. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day 1 - Happy Fortieth F*cking Birthday

Oh, like you didn’t know I was going to launch a follow-up blog? Puh-lease, child… you don’t know, you bettah ask somebody.

It’s my birthday, my buh-buh-buh-birth-day…

And right now on Facebook, my status update says the following:

“If someone would have told me that on my 40th birthday I'd be having two separate social media arguments about border and gun control because two twenty-year old Chechnyan terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon then closed down the entire state of Massachusetts I would have said... ‘Of course I will. Have you not read what the rest of my birthdays have been like? Duh.’”

It’s inevitable, in other words, that some crazy shit is going to go down on this day. Someone will be hurt, maimed, killed, slaughtered, shot, drowned, or threatened. Something will be terrorized, blown up, gassed, set fire to, smashed, tortured, or invaded.  Oklahoma City bombing? Yep, April 19th. Branch Davidian invasion killing numerous people? You betcha. Fuck, the REVOLUTIONARY WAR even started today, although, that I’m sort of grateful for because, you know, shit in this country would and could be a lot different. Wait, did I say grateful?

What makes me happy through all of this, though, is knowing that despite the seeming surplus of terrible news stories to come out on this date, some pretty cool things have happened and some pretty rad people were born on April 19th. Princess Grace, from my home town of Philadelphia, married Prince Rainier of Monaco making her a modern-day fairy tale bride. The gorgeous Jayne Mansfield, also from Philly, was born, giving the world another smart and sassy bombshell to admire. Tim Curry was born. Time Warp, anyone?  Ashley Judd was born, giving us hope that there will be a future Senator Ashley Judd. James Franco, Hayden Christensen, and Kate Hudson are also born today, proving still that only stunners must be born on this day… I mean, come ON!  

But the event that for me may just trump them all now, especially after all that has happened this week in this country, on this planet, in this solar system, is that on this day in 1897 the first ever Boston Marathon was run. What does that tell you? I know what it tells me…

Last year, back when you were reading Eve of Forty, I told you a story about my first ever 5K. I told you why I did it and whom I ran it for. A little boy who just turned six years old was the first of my family to be waiting for me at the finish line. The same little boy whose name was sprawled across my shirt in bright red letters, signifying what my team was called. That little boy waited for me, and cheered me on as I struggled through the final leg of the race. I saw him holding a sign for me. I saw him jumping up and down. I crossed the finish line and ran to him first, suffocating his name on my shirt between our two chests. I was crying, and holding him, and stroking his hair and thanking him for being there; a moment, as I now think about all that transpired this week, that would have likely been mirrored by the father of Martin Richard as he crossed the line in a much longer and more grueling race. And this day for me will never be looked at the same.

It is my fortieth birthday, today, and this is my new blog subtitled “Living a Life in the Middle-Aged ‘F’Word.” I celebrate Martin today. I celebrate running. I celebrate beauty, and love, and all things good. I celebrate Roman. I celebrate peace. Mostly, I celebrate the hope that good almost always comes from bad.

Today is a new beginning. I hope you’ll celebrate with me.