It was around 9am the other day that I picked up a phone receiver and dialed a number in New Jersey.
"Hey Joe!”, I said, “how about a few self-describing words for our fellow web-surfers, the visitors to Cavtatportal.com?"
Joseph is an Italian-American gentleman whom I had a pleasure of working with sometime ago. He agrees without much fudging around. "All right", he says.
CP: Tell us a bit about yourself -- sort of a meaningful, yet basic intro?
J: Sure. I am Joseph (so and so) and was born in 1964. Born and raised in Brooklyn.
CP: How about some family background?
J: I come from an, I'd say, average 3rd generation Italian family. I was the youngest of five children and named after my father -- the greatest man that ever lived. Growing up, my childhood was not an exception from the way most Brooklyn boys spent theirs.
CP: Doing what?
J: Mainly playing sports like baseball and football just somewhere in a sandlot, and hanging out on the corner. I also listened to music and broke ba... I mean, I knew myself to be annoying to my parents at times.
CP: Over the top with mischief?
J: Nah, I wouldn't say I was pushing it too far or could consider myself to have been a bad kid. Just always pranking and joking around. Defiant might be a better word or, as they say -- a real wise a.., um, a real wise one.
CP: So, you think you outgrew that, ha?
CP: Do you still keep in touch with some of the 'partners in mischief' from them olden times?
J: Yeah, actually I do. I still hang out with my two best friends. We've been friends ever since kindergarten. Now, we travel together and go on family outings.
CP: You guys must be the epitome of friendship?
J: Well, they are sort of my second and third family. There was then a lot of similarity in the way we were growing up. I mean we all enjoyed a great childhood, our parents made sure that we were all into sports, and such. Over time, we formed a strong bond of friendship. If we weren't at the ballpark playing baseball or football, we were together on the corner of Battery Avenue listening to music and playing Slap ball. They are like my brothers, if not closer.
CP: What's a slap ball?
J: It’s lot like baseball -- you play it with a rubber ball and three bases.
“Pulling a false fire alarm
CP: It couldn't have all been ball playing and polishing your music listening skills. How about sharing with us some of the 'good' stuff?
J: No prob. Like I said, we did get in our share of trouble.
CP: C'mon, give us the juice . . .
J: Well, there was this time that we woke up at 6:30am to pull the fire alarm.
CP: How old were you then?
J: I was eight.
CP: All right. So, what happened?
J: A friend of mine dared me to do it. And, well, I did it. Big mistake!!! My father, a policeman, soon found out all about it and I earned me a good beating (he actually gave a few kicks to my behind). Then came the preaching - a good many words of wisdom explaining why it was so dangerous to make a false alarm. I clearly recall him saying that by doing that I could incidentally cause a death of a fireman on the way to a fake fire, or cause harm or worse to someone else by taking the firemen away from an actual fire. It hit home with me and I never did that again.
CP: Lesson learned. More . . ?
J: There was this other time that we got arrested for playing in a stolen car.
“Just because your father's a cop
CP: What do you mean playing in a stolen car?
J: Well, yeah. We didn't actually steal it, but we did play in it. What we did is we pushed it up the hill and drove it down. Up, then down, and so on and so on... Anyway, the cops came and locked us up. I guess I was about 13. Coincidentally, right before that my father had warned me that if the cops ever picked me up for anything I should tell them right away that he was a policeman and hand them his number at work. So there I was handcuffed in that back of the police car and boasting to my pals that my father was a cop and that he could and would get me out of this mess. Well, when we got to the police station my friends were all locked in a cell and waiting to call there parents . . . and I was brought right to the front of the line so the arresting officer could call my dad and confirm that he was 'on the job' (a cop), and tell him that I was picked up for playing in a stolen car.
So I sit next to this cop and all I hear was something like 'Sergeant, we have your son Joey here... mumbling from the phone, then again the cop going 'yes, OK, yup, OK, yes. You got it!' He, then, stands up, tells me to turn
around, puts the cuffs on me and puts me in a cell by myself. No need to delve much into it, but I was the last one to get out that day.
CP: How come?
J: Well, every one of my friends' parents were there to get them before my dad showed up. I think it took him something like 10 hours. Another lesson learned: just because your father's a cop you don't get out of jail quicker.
CP: Any more experience with the law -- on the other side of the bars, that is?
J: Yup. About two years after I got busted for the aforementioned trouble, I got picked up for drinking a beer on a park bench.
CP: What happened this time?
J: I called my mom, ha, ha, ha ... and she was there in ten minutes. Brought me a lunch, gave me a hug... Another lesson: if you get arrested - don't call your dad... Call mommy!
Just kidding but, in all seriousness, luckily that was my last encounter with the law. Well, until I was in my 30s, but we won't go into that.
“Only when I myself became a father
CP: Would you mind telling us a word or two about your father, Joe?
J: Not at all. You know, in truth, not counting my marriage, or the time I spend with my children, I'd have to say the best years of my life were spent with my farther. He was great! I mean – the best father a son could ask for. He had 3 boys and 2 girls and would take care to be at our sports games, father-daughter dances, and such.
It is also true that it really wasn't until his passing that I began to realize how great of a man and father he was. I mean, I always did love him and appreciate him, but only when I myself became a farther did I open my eyes to how many things require great care and effort and how much I simply took for granted.
CP: What are some of the things you guys did together?
J: My father and I did a lot together. For instance, we attended ball games; I accompanied him at his work, even trips to Atlantic City every Monday! He taught me so much... And I sure paid close attention to what he was teaching me at the time. Much of those values and thoughts I now pass on to my children.
CP: Sounds like you guys really had a father-son thing down well. I mean, sounds like you were very, very close …
J: We were. You know, I was with him when he passed at an early age of 66. I experienced a great mixed of emotions. I mean I was sad and depressed, and also scared and angry… I was mad at the world, mad at God ... - you name it - I was mad at it.
CP: With time, they say, all wounds heal…
J: Well, actually, in time I did begin to feel a little better. I understood much. Nevertheless, I missed him then and I miss him now. But, you know, when I look at the things I do in life, be it in my manner of friendship, or in my marriage, with my kids, or even with a stranger, for that matter, I sense that my dad is not gone but that he lives through me, that his legacy continues through the things I do based upon what he has given me along the way.
“Some of the biggest sinners
“Some of the biggest sinners
CP: Well said. Is there another lesson you learned from your father that you'd care to tell us about?
J: My father wasn't a religious man, though he did believe in God and was a kind and giving man to us, his family, and to the community he lived in.
One time I asked him, "Dad why do you and mommy make us go to church on Sunday but you don't come with us?" He looked at me and, after a shorter pause, said: "Joe, some of the biggest sinners sit in the first pew."
I was maybe 14yrs old when I heard those words and didn’t quite get their meaning. Not for a long time.
Today, after 41yrs of living... I get it.
CP: Joe,thank you for your time and for sharing your thoughts with the readers of Cavtatportal.com.
R: Glad to do it.