Friday, November 4, 2011

I Should've Taken The Cannolis.

Living in Maine, I feel like Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas. All I want is some good matzoh ball soup but I can't even find Chanukkah candles for our menorah. There's not a single good bagel let alone a decent bagel store in the entire state. Pizzas are made at gas stations with crusty bread and ketchup. Sometimes, they're made with a new-age, soy cheese, hydroponic spice that leaves your palette with more questions than answers. Mainers, lend me your ears: basil does NOT belong in bagels! And while we're at it, hamburger meat on pizza is only a small step away from a dried out, open-faced sloppy Joe.

When we moved up from Queens, my wife and I left the land of the plentiful ethnic food in favor of a quieter lifestyle. We said good-bye to gyros and reubens, to moo shu pork and cannolis, to Korean food, to Jamaican food, to Indian food, good-bye to all in search of a calmer quality of life. We moved "down east" and every local knew where to get the "best" bagels or the "best" pizza. "Deah," they said, "have you tried Abbey's* bagels? Those are A1." First off, bagels should never be described by a steak sauce. Secondly, I'm not buying it! Everyone's told me they know of a good bagel place and every time I walk away unsatisfied and violent. People, rolled dough does not qualify as a bagel!

Now, don't get me wrong: Jewish cuisine is not exactly savory. Gefilte fish tastes like poop. But, an occasional brisket sandwich would be nice. I'd like the option of an Italian restaurant whose chef actually uses real tomatoes for sauce, not the generic canned puree. As it is, the nearest Olive Garden is over an hour away. Were it closer, I might consider that an improvement -mind you, my father emphasized in no uncertain terms that we, as Italians, do not eat at Olive Garden. I used to be able to get a slice a foot across by a foot and a half long for a buck twenty-five. The "pizza" up here is a piddly seven inches long, at best. The vendor should pay the customer to eat it. Pete's Pizza* only sounds good because of alliteration and should be fined for false advertisement.

I saw Goodfellas when I was twelve and promptly found two other kids with Italian names to start my family. Fairfield County had a new godfather. I used to rewind the scene in jail as Henry described Paulie's method of using a razor to slice the garlic. Just to make myself feel more Italian, I began cooking some sort of slop that I called Italian food because I sliced the garlic paper-thin. I felt more Italian but the food tasted Canadian -sorry, Canada. Eventually, I grew older and began taking an interest in my family history and before she died, I asked Grandma to teach me how to make her meatballs. They were definitely not her meatballs. People up here think it's the best Italian food they ever ate because an Italian made it. They even consider my matzohball soup** authentic Jewish cuisine but it's as authentic as the box it came in. People of Maine: zeppoles are not gigantic blimps in the air! Matzoh is not a creepy TV program of mimes from the seventies!

Somebody, please, send me a real bagel! I'm dying up here.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of these exceptionally overrated food vendors.
**In the interest of full disclosure, I've made matzoh ball soup once in my life, had to look up the spelling for zeppoles on Google, and would consider upgrading the status of gefilte fish's taste to mud if people take offense.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Modern Medicis

Please, a moment to speak of the charm, wit, and overall good character of the cast of Jersey Shore, if I may. Some say it is a house of ill repute, an amoral den of Satan's minions and concubines. I beg to differ. It is the insidious production and editing staff that maligns their portraits.

How dare they!

May we not offer them the respect due of any other human being? Might we not begin with their true identities, rather than the degrading nicknames assigned by Music TeleVision, MTV, the great demonizers of New Jersey's Italian American citizens? Vincent Guadagnino, Samantha "Sweetheart" Giancola, Ronald Ortiz-Magro, Paul "D" DelVecchio, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Michael "Situation" Sorrentino, Jennifer "JWoww" Farley, Deena Nicole Cortese, Angelina Pivarnick...Please find comfort in who you are. None of you are the whores and gigalos so deemed by the greater international public. Blast such manipulative presentation of "raw footage!" Why, just look at the photograph shown above. What class! Well-fitted suits, bosomy dresses exposing not the least bit of indiscretionary cleavage. Perhaps, the gentlemen left only top hats and monocles at home; the women, their shawls. I argue that these fine lads and lasses are our modern Medici family, renaissance men and women.

And, such charm and sophistication of language! Just listen to Ms. Giancola's mastery of alliteration when she says, "He f***ing said your feets are like f***ing Fred Flinstone. F*** you, you f***ing bastard." Ah, the darling little peach.

Or Vincent's chivalrous commentary, "He's ready to motorboat!" Do you not see the moral awareness of love-making and intimacy? Such articulation is surely that of a future diplomat, a world leader, a baron of America's Italian royalty.

Their acknowledgement of culture and religion, words of profound intelligence. "Vatican, that's the one that Leonardo da Vinci painted with his hand," said young Ronald of his travels in Italy. Few people fully grasp the magnitude of intricacies woven between art and architecture. But, Ronald, he is man of education and worldliness.

My good people, tread not on the lords and nobles of the Jersey Shore for they are the proud canaries in the coal mine...errr... No, no that won't do. They are the glorious royal albatrosses of high society. Oh, no, no, no, no. That's not right, either. They are the horsemen of righteousness and nobility. Alas, perhaps words and proverbs cannot duly characterize the wealth of civilization such fine people bring to our humble global community.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Italians, Ambulances and Washing Machines

Women, beware:  if you marry an Italian and then buy a home with said Italian, you'll likely one day follow him by car as he travels in an ambulance to the hospital after so severely injuring his back from attempting to move a washing machine while installing a wood-laminated floor for fourteen hours in the apartment attached to the house, leaving him supine next to the kitchen table, unable to move, thus subsequently requiring bi-weekly physical therapy and daily mega-doses of Hydrocodone.

Entirely true story...except, I left out the part where this all occurred in front of a prospective renter from South Africa.  He was looking for an apartment while participating in a program aimed at bringing pharmacists to America.  He didn't run and actually rented from us for the entire summer. He was totally desperate.  I decided to build a deck.

We're just f***ing stubborn.

I'm convinced I have hearing loss but refuse to see a doctor.   I have trouble sleeping but balk at sleep medication.   I boycott Smithsonian Magazine because the picture I submitted to their national photography contest was better than those they selected as winners.  I stopped frequenting the Hulls Cove General Store when they insisted Joyce no longer bake her cookies, transferring her to a different gas station entirely.  I've been painting the house for three years because I don't want to pay someone to do what I can obviously do myself.

It's a militant determination that my Yid can't tame.  My Jewish pessimistic realism normally can calm the most grandiose of ideas, just not when my inner Mediterranean bull digs in.  Italian Adam forges ahead, injuring himself; Jewish Adam feels sorry for it.

"Hire somebody!" says Jewish Adam.

"I can re-roof the house by nightfall," says Italian Adam.


My wife just instructed me to recant my portrayal of Jewish Adam.  According to her, Jewish Adam wouldn't say, "Hire somebody!"  Rather, he would say "We don't have the money, right now! We'll have to do it next year," or "We don't have the money, right now! Go ahead, Italian Adam! Do it!" Either way, it apparently doesn't get done because inevitably, Jewish Adam doesn't find the money or Italian Adam injures himself and Jewish Adam can no longer find work to earn the money.


When I was three, I determined the best way to break a stick that clearly needed breaking was to hold it at either end and push on it against a tree whose bark decided my face needed work.   One gashed bottom lip and seven stitches later, I lied to my mother and told her I fell down the slide I wasn't allowed on.  This wasn't simple toddler impulsivity; this was all Italian bull-headedness and I haven't outgrown it.  Do you see how deeply ingrained in the Italian psyche this condition really is?   It starts young.  It's in our DNA.

My grandfather died in his fifties.  That's way too young.  My grandmother lived to eighty-seven but it appears as though the men don't quite have that kind of staying power.  I better calm down.  This is no way to go out.

So, ladies, heed my words: unless you, yourself, are an Italian, the kind that will throw a dish at your spouse's head when he comes home late after eating a globe-sized ball of wasabi on a dare (true story but not me - that guy was Irish), please, stay away from the Guineas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Do I have cancer?

I found a lump at the base of my thumb.  Holy f***! It's f***ing cancer.

I asked the doctor and he said it was a ganglion cyst.  I don't believe him.  I know it's f***ing cancer!  F***!  I've got children!  What the f***!?

Three months ago, my daughter couldn't turn her neck.  She had a fever.  That night, I knew it was f***ing meningitis!  I just knew it!  F***!  The doctor was an hour away!  She'd never make it.  I'd never make it.

Just before my other daughter was born, my wife vomited multiple times, an unpredictable attack which repeatedly exploded throughout her second pregnancy.  I thought she was in labor, which would have been bad because she a had a C-section the first time.  Because of this, her OB/GYN said that her uterus could rupture, which meant she'd have something like four minutes to get to the hospital so the doctor could operate.  Oh, f***, f***, f***!  She'd never make it.  I'd never make it.

When I was thirteen, I was convinced I had developed a sexually-transmitted disease. I hadn't yet had sex, yet I was certain the discomfort I felt was syphilis. The sensation went away by afternoon and never returned. I'm still convinced it was syphilis. Just the kind that clears up in a day.

I'd like to say all this fret is just an exaggeration...but, it's not.  It's my Yid.

By the way, the pediatrician assured me it was not meningitis but still she was wrong.  My daughter's fever lasted two days and I've determined it has damaged her pre-frontal cortex.  It just sort of cleared up on its own and left her future impaired.  The ganglion cyst on my thumb is still likely a tumor.

Italian Adam says,"Fuhgeddaboudit."  My inner Yid says, "Oy." 

I was a bit high strung this past summer.  My wife's vomiting dilemma returned.  It's f***ing cancer.  Or her gall bladder disintegrated.  Or she's allergic to water.  We drove to the hospital.  It was some sort of rare chronic appendicitis.  I'm not convinced... That vomiting crap will be back.  It's just a matter of "when."  F***.

A week after that, my daughter's fever was back with a vengeance.  105 degrees.  F***!  We were in the emergency room again.  It's a kidney infection.  It's f***ing meningitis.  It's her premeditated method of inducing me into a panic attack. 

"Nope," said the doctor.  "Just some virus." 

I remained unswayed given his Australian-based schooling -nothing against Australians, of course. The fever went away but I knew it would be back.  Just a matter of "when."  F***!

A week later, I had shingles.  F***!  I couldn't touch the babies.  They'd get chicken pox.  My youngest daughter, at the time three months, had a bug bite that looked overwhelmingly like a chicken pox blister.  F***!  F***!  F***!  F***!

Maybe I have some issues...but if you don't ask the questions, how can you ever know?

Okay, you're right.  Calm...Breathe...Fuhgeddaboudit.

Hmmm...that's a new mole.  F***!

I better get some help.  The Yid is taking over.  "Relax, Daddy," they say.  They'll never make it.  I'll never make it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Telly Celebrates Hanukkah.

Sesame Street, let's call a spade a spade. I love and have always loved you but we must acknowledge your hesitation in a certain matter regarding the puppet shown above. Friends, this is Telly Monster.

Telly has a tragic flaw: he's an addict... To television.

Yes, friends, Sesame Street and "addiction" may exist in the same sentence. Telly's dark past, his likely hidden struggles through rehab, his reconciliation with friends and family lost due to his obsession mar Sesame Street's sober and clear-headed reputation.

Addiction, Mr. Henson? Perhaps... But I'm not so sure.

Perhaps, this obsessive-compulsive engagement with the idiot box led to Telly's current neurosis, but I've got a feeling he keeps a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank on his nightstand. I've got a feeling he rushes home on Rosh Hashannah and fasts over Yom Kippur. I've got a feeling he's eats kosher and can recite the kaddish. I've got a feeling he knows how to eat some good old homemade matzoh ball soup.

This isn't just a hunch. His frantic and worried anxiety attacks, frequently calmed by Elmo's Gentile reassurance, somewhat deviated septum, and eccentric extra-curricular participation in triangle tossing and pogo sticking all too easily remind me of Woody Allen.

I have many fond memories of Sesame Street, like the day it was brought to us by the letter. Or, how about when we learned that C was -and always is- for "cookie?" But, the more I think about this, the more I wonder if there are others whose ethnicity may have been kept secret. Grover's nose is large, as well. Big Bird is certainly a bit of a yenta. Even Bert and Ernie could pass off as observers of shabbos. After all, the show isn't aired on Saturdays. Had Henson been trying to hide this all along?

But, I'm not criticizing. Sesame Street has always celebrated an urban ethnic (and puppetian) diversity. From Caucasian to Latino, Asian to African American, people of all races live on Sesame Street, and quite peacefully at that. And, although Telly's people are considered white, they are just as often considered not white and quite possibly own a couple brownstones next to Oscar's trash can.

It wasn't until recently, when my oldest daughter began watching PBS programming, that I remembered Telly from my younger days. He has evolved. He is no longer the ironic monster designed as a scare tactic to prevent children from watching too much TV. He is now like me: a child disconnected from his Yid.

Embrace it, Telly! Be proud that bagels are, in fact, our people's cuisine. Do not deny who you are when who you are is too often the butt of a priest and rabbi joke. I've got a feeling you own a yarmulke. I've got a feeling you might rest on Saturdays. I've got a feeling, Telly, that you and I have much in common. I've got a feeling you celebrate Hanukkah.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The F-Bomb

Jimmy Conway:  They whacked him.  They f***in' whacked him.
    Henry Hill:  Aw, f***.

I love the f-word.  I love it when modified by the words "mother" and "me."  I love it when combined with suffixes like -er, -ing, and -you.  Because I'm Italian, I love the Italian version: f****la!  I love saying "f*** off" in Italian:  vaff****lo!

I'm confident EVERY Italian loves the f-word as much as I do.  It's is something so deeply encoded into Italian heritage that I'm sure it's most commonly an Italian baby's first word.

During the scene in Goodfellas when Tommy is incited to kill Billy Batts, I count about seventeen f-bombs.  It's only a couple minutes but the profuse usage of the f-word amounts to approximately ten percent of that short dialogue.  The Internet Movie Database calculates that the f-word occurs 296 times, half of which are said by Joe Pesci's character, averaging 2.04 f-bombs per minute.  Italians love the f-bomb. It's perfect with its crescendoeing /f/ and hard /ck/ sounds.


When I was five, I asked my mother to demonstrate for me the correct way to write the letter "f" in cursive as she lost herself in The Days of Our Lives.  Unsuspecting of her innocent young babe, she presented, I practiced.  Then, I asked her to teach me a "u" in script.  She presented, I practiced. Calculating my strategy so as not to give myself away, I inquired about writing "k," innocently skipping over "c."  Without breaking her concentration on the soap, my mother quietly but definitively stated, "Adam, knock it off."

I went to play with my G.I. Joe figures so I could pretend to have them say the f-word.

There is absolutely no word like it. No word relieves such anger or stress quite like "f***."  It is so versatile that not only does it sufficiently act as a frustration reducer but it conveys disbelief, disgust, hatred, and pain.  Add the gerund ending and you have a wonderfully illustrative adjective with which you may adequately describe someone you vehemently detest.  I love the f-word!

So, why have I censored it every time it occurs in this post, even when it occurs in quotation?

I have a two-year-old who magically repeats all the words she's not supposed to say until she is old enough to control the impulse to speak such language.  Apparently, the physical ability to demonstrate this restraint doesn't occur until between ages 21 and 25 when the pre-frontal cortex fully develops, thus activating impulse control.  Anyone not of age is prohibited from cursing.

I can't even say "shoot" without my daughter repeating it.  I could say, "I can't believe I just drove all the way to the stupid supermarket and forgot the stinking milk," and all she'll hear and repeat, despite the fact that she is more than capable of reciting that entire statement, would be the words "stupid" and "stinking."  For a time, I thought she was actually saying "F*** it" in response to my direction to stop playing with her Little People farm animal set.  I denied to my wife that I ever uttered such obscenities in her presence.  I handled it perfectly:  denial. 

So now, the one word I love, the word that relieves all stress, that sufficiently expresses my frustration, that facilitates the successful completion of IKEA furniture assembly, that accurately informs the driver in front of me of their actual speed, that notifies my wife that we don't have enough money to pay the fuel bill, that one single-most favored word by my people, I can no longer say.

Even if I say it in Italian, she'll try to teach it to her three-month-old sister.


Asterisks do not suffice... I want to yell it from my car as I drive down I95 in Thanksgiving traffic, out the window at the deer eating my hostas, at the f***nose who owned my house before me and allowed it to become infested with carpenter ants.

I suppose, however, sacrifices must be made in the rearing of a healthy human being.  I'll need to curb my enthusiasm for another 27 years, until my youngest is well into the age of majority.  I'll just need to not be Italian until then.  Either that or avoid stubbing my toe.

No more kids, honey... I'm not sure I can make it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Defining the Jewish Guilt-Shame Complex

My friends, the situation is farkakt!

Indeed, I say farkakt!

I say "farkakt" because I fall victim -in fact, prey- to the Guilt-Shame complex characteristic of my Jewish lineage. Yes, the Jewish Guilt Shame Complex! No Guilt-Shame complex torments the psyche quite like that of the Jewish persuasion.

I am still ashamed of bailing out on my eighth-grade chorus teacher, Ms. Nedzelski, when at quite the last minute and due to my pre-teen insecurities, I informed her I would not be singing the vocal solo on her arrangement of John Lennon's "Imagine." I am guilty of this lapse in integrity! I am ashamed of my guilt! Guilty of my shame! It was more than twenty years ago, yet I cannot rid myself of this burden! Ms. Nedzelski, forgive me!

If you are even just one-eighth Jewish, beware! If shame does not yet accompany your guilt, don't worry; it will. If guilt does not accompany your shame, don't worry; it will...

And, yes, my friends, I hyphenate: Guilt-hyphen-Shame.  I hyphenate because in a Jew, even a measly half-Jew such as myself, there is no guilt without shame, nor shame without guilt.  In some cases, the hyphen should be increased in font so as to stress the inseparability of these two forces: Guilt-BIG-HYPHEN-Shame.

I thus endeavor to dissect the Jewish Guilt-Shame Complex in the hopes that some of you may avoid this most unfortunate and unnecessary set of debilitating circumstances. Let me stress that no thoughts are thought, no food consumed, no sleep slept, and no bowels moved as both Guilt and Shame compulsions seize the body and mind indefinitely.

I still flush red when remembering how I -and my twenty-four other six-grade science classmates- mocked the ink blotch on Ms. Charboneau's cheek, the stray mark of which she was unaware. What of the time when I didn't invite my family to my older daughter's baptism because I thought I'd be saving them the trouble of traveling nine hours to Maine? Or the fact that I'm raising my daughters as Epsicopalians? Are they not only a quarter Jewish? Why such distress over something so seemingly logical?

I'll tell you why: Jewish Guilt-Shame!

How dare I complain or whine, EVER! Because I enjoy, because I laugh, because I bathe in the waters of happiness, health, and the hilarity of my peculiar eccentricities, I am guilty and thus compelled to shame for my good fortune, guilt that I enjoy and others do not, self-loathing of my entire existence. How dare I?

I repeat it: farkakt!


Note: This picture aboves are not products of my creativity. Rather, they was found via the Google Images search engine at and  Why do I state this, you ask? Reasons have been provided above, although it may be due more to my own neuroses. Articles on that are yet to come.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Am I Jewish or Italian? Wait, Jewish isn't a nationality? Oh,s*#@!

"Well I think it's been made perfectly clear that Jewish Italians have to decide whether they are Italians first or Jews."
-"The Duce," Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

This quote is out of context.  It's actually from a chapter in de Bernieres' Corelli's Mandolin "spoken" by Benito Mussolini to you, the reader.  It's entirely fictional.

But, he's right.

When I was thirteen, I was much more interested in being Italian than Jewish, especially as I began obsessively watching Goodfellas on VHS. There's not a scene nor a line that I don't know from that movie because, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." Two other Italian friends and I formed our gang. We never got into a fight, never went to the "mattresses," never whacked any of the other seventh-grade boys, but also never sat with our backs to the classroom door. 

That year, as I watched Henry Hill weep over Karen dumping the coke down the toilet, I also watched the four other Jewish kids in my town getting bar mitzvahed and questioned whether I should be doing the same.  As I well imagined, all the shiksas would want to dance with me and I liked the shiksas.  But, ultimately and emphatically, I refused and further concluded the only reason I enjoyed bar/bat mitzvahs was the game of Truth-or-Dare that ultimately ensued. At the last bat mitzvah I attended, in order to transport us sweaty, horny teens home from catering hall, the girl's parents rented a bus for us to make out on.

I got to second base.

She wasn't Jewish.

And, I still wasn't getting bar miztvahed.

Now, as an Italian and Jew -a non-practicing Jew- I am always in the position of deciding whether I'm one or the other.  Immediately after the last posting, my father reminded me that being Jewish does NOT mean I'm ethnically Jewish.  It's not a nationality.  It's not an ethnicity.  It's not a religion that I practice. What the !*&@ is it, then?

Maybe this would have been easier to answer if I had been bar mitzvahed.

Being Italian is simple... I'm 50% Napolitan.  There's a street named after my great-grandfather in Calitri, Italy.  My grandfather and his brothers immigrated from Calitri on the S.S. Colombo in 1927. Fuhgeddaboudit.  

But, ask every Jew you encounter and you'll immediately learn that, by heritage, he or she is undoubtedly Jewish.  I guess I'm following the rules:  in Judaism, you're the religion of your mother.  That said, I went on a Christian retreat in high school, was married by a priest, and am raising my daughters Episcopalian.  I haven't sat down to a Passover seder in years and lost my dreidel when I was five.  

Perhaps, I like being different.  There are, after all, only about 13.5 million of us in the world.  Perhaps, Jewish Adam is a little more pushy than Italian Adam.  Perhaps, Adolescent Adam still lingers so he can say, "No, Dad, I'm Jewish!  AND, I'm taking the car out tonight!"

Maybe I don't need to answer the question. 

Maybe it's simply enough to know that somewhere deep in my family's past, about seventy years ago in Romania, by order of the Conducãtor, my relatives' voices were silenced because they decided they were Jewish before Romanian.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"You know, you're Italian, too!" 
Yes, Dad, I do recall something regarding my Italian heritage.  And, I'll confess:  I certainly use the dichotomy of my heritage when it's convenient.  I'm not proud.  If there's an anti-Semite in the crowd, I'm Jewish.  If The Godfather is on AMC, I'm Italian.

I'm never both.

I tend to be Jewish more often.

It's not even a nationality.  Some think it's an ethnicity.  Some don't.  Yet, in this essay, it's powerful enough to obscure the fact that I'm writing about being Italian, too.  I have a manuscript describing this duality but were I to run a word count tracking text devoted to my Jewish heritage versus that of my Italian side, the Jew would win.

I'm a little embarrassed that I don't distribute attention to both more fairly.  Not to mention the fact that the Jewish half is equal parts Romanian, Russian, and Polish.  What about them?  It's as if Jewish Adam is the youngest born, Italian Adam the first, and Romanian, Russian and Polish Adams the ugly adopted, middle children. Don't misunderstand me:  Jewish Adam deserves some of the publicity.  It's just that Jewish Adam gets all the attention and his siblings are beginning to resent him for it. 

So, I begin this social media endeavor to pay each of my Adams his due respect.  Undoubtedly, I will fail miserably as already, six unpublished essays on Jewish Adam, including a page devoted entirely to the Jewish Guilt-Shame Complex, await posting on this very blog.  Italian Adam wants some of the glitz.  He's got something to say.  I think the two can share.  I hope the two can share. After all, I'm a little of both...  A little bit matzoh and a little bit meatball.