Monday, January 9, 2023

Getting My Ass Back to Casper by Ace Toscano

My old man was always fussy about the process of shitting. I can't remember my toilet training, but I'm sure the psychologists would feast on the details. He did have several hard and fast rules about toilet paper usage which I've also managed to forget. When he was near the end, dying of cancer, the hospice people put one of those white plastic potties alongside his hospital bed so he wouldn't have to make the journey across the hall to the bathroom every time he had to relieve himself or move his bowels. We had a procedure. He would indicate to me he wanted to use the potty. I would go to the side of the bed, extend my index fingers to him, then, after he took one in each hand, pull him up to a sitting position as he swung his legs off the side of the bed. I'd help him over to the potty, then leave him to it. We'd done it many times during the four months I'd been there and it had become a smooth operation.

But one day, after he had moved his bowels he asked me to wipe his ass. This was something new. He had never asked this of me before so I was understandably taken aback, yet feeling charitable at that particular moment, I figured what the hell and decided to give it the old college try. Unfortunately, I had never wiped anyone's ass before so I had no idea where to start or in which direction to go. It wasn't as if somewhere along the line I had taken a tutorial on how to properly wipe someone else's ass. My indecision and hesitation pissed him off – he'd never been a patient man – and he rather viciously tore the toilet paper out of my hand and completed the process himself. As I took his offering across the hall and flushed it down the toilet, I couldn't help laughing. Here he was, near death, still being the same nasty and abusive shit he'd always been.

“Wipe your own ass, you old fuck,” I thought but didn't say. There wouldn't have been any sense in that – he didn't have much time left anyway.

Funny thing about my situation was that I had spent my whole childhood avoiding him and my entire adulthood escaping him. You might think that Casper, Wyoming was far enough away from Long Island to give me the peace I craved, the peace I deserved, but turned out it wasn't. Sure, he couldn't drop by in his car, though he did do that once with horrific results, yet, as much as I wanted to be free of him, he couldn't bring himself to fucking leave me alone. He insisted on calling me every Saturday like clockwork. I dreaded the ringing of the phone and I dreaded the sound of his voice. It always struck me like a gut punch. But I always spoke to him because I knew my mother wanted me to. Even so, our conversations consisted of meaningless chatter. I didn't want to know what he was up to and, not wanting to prolong the call, I wasn't about to tell him what was going on in my life. Still, the calls kept coming.

A few months back, my aunts – my mother's sisters – started calling to tell me my mother needed help taking care of the old man and that my brother, Roger, who I liked to refer to as “Roger the Lodger” since he was 40 and still living home, wouldn't pitch in at all. Ironically, when the old man did expire and people praised me for having cared for him those final months, Roger, clad in his red MAGA cap, told anyone willing to listen that he would've helped if I hadn't come home and taken over. I even heard my mother defend him to somebody one day with the same line of shit but by that time all I cared about was getting home to my wife and our favorite stretch of fly fishing water so I let it slide.

The church service was unremarkable but when we got to the cemetery things turned into a real shit show when Roger's girlfriend, Rhonda, threw herself on the casket. I don't know if it was spontaneous or if Roger had convinced her to do it. It wouldn't have been hard since she was simpler than a two piece jigsaw puzzle. Ironically, despite her huge sense of loss, the old man had disliked her and always referred to her as “the idiot.”

If, in the telling, I have sounded a wee bit irreverent that's not accidental. The old man was a brutal, abusive bastard. He liked to kick my mother and shove her through the cellar door and lock it. I can still here her pleading softly so the other people in the duplex wouldn't hear, “Tony, please, please let me out. Let me out, Tony, please.” Eventually, it would fall on me to let her out. If he was still in the kitchen, she'd scamper away until it was safe.

As you might suspect, he kicked the shit out of me, too, whenever he got the chance, hence the eternal resentment.

One day when I was sixteen I had finally had enough. He was chasing my mother around the dining room table, gritting his teeth, snarling, his face dripping sweat, when I stepped in between them, raised my fists and told him to cut the fuckin' shit. For weeks afterward, my mother told me I had hurt his feelings and urged me to apologize. That never happened and, frankly, I was disappointed that she wanted me to.

Anyway, I never wanted anything to do with him which is why I moved to Wyoming and, now that he was safely in the ground, wasn't going to waste any time getting my ass back to Casper.

The End

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Sins of the Grandfather by Ace Toscano

For a building that looked so cold on the outside, it was absolutely steaming inside. Sweat poured off me and soaked my clothes. My shirt was sticking to my sides and my back. The hallway was so packed with people that the only way to move ahead was sideways, brushing against heavy coats of wool and fur and others of corduroy and leather. I also dodged several yellow slickers dripping wet from the weather. I caught the eyes briefly of men and women, who quickly looked away as if they knew who I was and why I was there. But that wasn't likely. 
“Small potatoes.” That's how my lawyer described my case. Pit Bull (that's how he described himself at our first meeting when he took my $10,000 retainer) has since proved to be more of a pussy cat, and a sloth. He guided me from behind saying it was important we didn't get separated as if we couldn't find the courtroom door beneath the over-sized golden VII independently. 
The heat is mixed with smells – perfumes, cigars and pipes, coffee, whiskey and cologne too liberally applied, especially by my escort. I've always had an acute sense of smell, so you can imagine the sour expression on my face as we move along and the haughty reactions to it. 
“A piece of cake,” that's how Pit bull described my forthcoming proceedings. All I knew was for some reason I couldn't plead guilty and we couldn't settle. We had to “fight, fight, fight.” He knew nothing about my taste in cakes and ignored any objections to his strategy. “That's why I'm getting the big dough-re-mi,” he said. I couldn't help feeling like I was getting gypped. 
We pushed through the doors to the courtroom and I immediately saw her, a wisp of a girl, Cindy Marie DeMarco, sitting at the plaintiff's table with her lawyer, another pit bull no doubt. Family DNA's analysis of our respective spit submissions had declared Cindy Marie my granddaughter. Who was I to argue?
For the last year, she had been performing a one-woman off-off-off Broadway show entitled The Sins of the Grandfather. It was based on stories told to her by her mother, my daughter, Marie, who I sadly learned died during the great pandemic. Unfortunately for her, Marie was a chronic liar who wouldn't recognize the truth if it bit her in the ass. My last intrusion into her twitter account revealed she was a fervent supporter of Donald J. Trump, who coincidentally was also a chronic distorter of the truth. But that's another story. 
Basically, I was being sued by a granddaughter whose existence I'd learned of only recently through the lawsuit and the aforementioned DNA analysis for being a bad father to her mother and an equally bad grandfather to her. Seemed like nonsense to me but my pit bull had assured me it wasn't while opposing any suggestions that we settle insisting that we have our day in court. By “our,” I'm sure he meant “his” which probably added to the bill.
The jury seemed as captivated as I was, though probably for different reasons, as my granddaughter, guided by her attorney who I had since learned was named Ezra Finch, “like the bird”, went through a litany of offenses, the most serious it seemed to me being abandonment,I had committed against her mother and by extension against her. I stared at her with an intensity I couldn't explain away as being related to the proceedings. It was as if all others appeared in two dimensional black and white and she alone stood in full vibrant three dimensional color. Her chestnut hair with purple and platinum streaks was cut short just below her ears. Her skin was well-tanned and she had a blue far-eastern symbol tattooed on the right side of her neck with a single teardrop about and inch below the corner of her right eye. This was augmented by actual tears that ran generously down her face, I suppose provoked by the narrative which I wasn't really following. There was a more elaborate blue and green jungle-themed tattoo that started on her right shoulder and extended down to her wrist. In the midst of dense foliage, a pair eyes stared out in sharp contrast. There was also a tiny diamond stud on the side of her nose and a gold ring through her lower lip. I had no idea what the jurors of the courtroom spectators were thinking but I couldn't help wondering if I was somehow responsible for this young girl's defigurement. 
Her voice was unexpectedly deep and resonant as if a sparrow's song mimicked a tuba. It sent vibrations directly to my core, straight to my heart. I found myself wishing I had seen her one-woman show. If I had known about it, I might have sneaked in unobserved. Now, sadly, that was unlikely. 
I was suddenly aware of my name being called. “Mr. DeMarco, you've been called to the stand. Any time it's convenient.”
“Yes, your Honor.” 
As I was sworn and asked to identify myself my eyes remained on my granddaughter sitting at the plaintiff's table with her face in her hands propped by her elbows. She watched me in return with a furrowed brow and laser focus. 
“Would you answer the question, Mr. DeMarco.”
Her eyes reminded me of my wife and as I studied her mouth I saw a lot of my daughter. Of course, I hadn't seen my daughter in the flesh for forty years before her death. She hadn't even made contact when her mother passed away.
“Mr. Thompson, does your client have any idea of what's going on here, today? Mr. DeMarco, what seems to be the problem?”
“Your honor, that's my granddaughter.”
“Well, at last, something we can agree on. Now, can you please respond to Mr. Thompson's question?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Mr. DeMarco, were you listening to Ms. DeMarco's testimony?”
“Cindy Marie?”
“My granddaughter.”
“Yes, your granddaughter.”
I couldn't keep from smiling. I looked up at the judge. “I didn't know I had a granddaughter. I thought I was all alone in the world. Now, look at her – a beautiful young woman, your honor. A beautiful young woman who looks like her mother and more than a bit like her grandmother.”
The judge wasn't happy. “Mr. Thompson, please remind your client that this is a legal proceeding and not a family reunion.”
“He understands, your honor.”
“Mr. DeMarco?”
“Uh, yes, your honor?”
“Do you understand what's going on here, today?”
“Uh, yes, uh, the pit bull explained it to me.” A wave of laughter rose from the gallery.
“Please refer to your attorney as Mr. Thompson in the future.”
“Sorry, your honor, he told me everybody calls him the pit bull.“ That brought another wave of laughter as my flushed attorney slunk back to the table and shuffled some papers.
“Sounds like Mr. Thompson has told you a lot of things.”
“He told me I couldn't settle and had to have my day in court.”
“Is that so, Mr. Thompson?”
“Not exactly, your honor. I was merely suggesting...”
“So, Mr. Finch, there was no settlement conference.”
“No, sir, Mr. Thompson vehemently opposed any conference.”
The pit bull spoke up. “I was merely looking out for the interests of my client, your honor.”
“That's debatable. Mr. DeMarco am I correct in thinking you would be amenable to an out of court settlement?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Your honor,” objected the pit bull. “He doesn't understand the process.” 
“Well, I do, Mr. Thompson and I'm going to halt the proceedings right here.”
“I object,” said Mr. Finch, his chair falling backward as he rose to his feet.
“Overruled. The opposing parties, Mr. DeMarco and his granddaughter were prevented the opportunity to settle and I intend to give them that opportunity before we go any further. Is that okay with you Ms. DeMarco?”
Cindy Marie looked to Mr. Finch.
“Don't look at him, Ms. DeMarco, look at me. Would you agree to meet with your grandfather to see if you can settle this matter between you?”
“And you Mr. DeMarco?”
“Yes, your honor.”
“Okay. Bailiff, show the two parties to a conference room please.”
The lawyers started to gather their papers.
“No lawyers,” said the judge. “You're reluctance to settle is what's brought us to this point. We'll let the parties meet without the benefit of your presence. This case is adjourned till further notice.”
With that he brought down the gavel.

The bailiff held open the door so that we both had to squeeze by him. Then he let if swing closed. I immediately took a seat on the long side of the oblong table. Cindy Marie took up a position at the end of the table and motioned me with her eyes to move to the opposite end. We sat in silence for a long moment each waiting, I suppose, for the other to speak. Finally, she removed a phone from her purse, fiddled with it a bit, then aimed it at me and took a pic.
“Should I smile?” I asked.
“Not necessary,” she replied.
The silence resumed. Her stare made me think that she expected something from me but I was at a complete loss. Finally, she spoke.
“What the hell's this fuckin' shit about me being beautiful? You goofin' on me or something?”
“Uh... no.”
She oozed skepticism as her eyebrows rose and her head tilted to the side. I felt duty-bound to elaborate.
“From the first moment I saw you, I thought your features were very pleasantly arranged. That's what I mean by beautiful... or cute, maybe.”
“Or cute, maybe,” she almost laughed. “You're a fuckin' riot, Grandpa.”
Not knowing if she was being sarcastic or cryptic or ironic, I said, simply, “Thank you.”
“Jesus Fucking Christ! No wonder Moms was a fuckin' mental mess.”
“Marie was a mental... mess?”
“And it was my fault?” 
“Double duh.”
“But... I loved her. We loved her. She must have known that.”
“You threw her out when she was sixteen years old,” she said with a sneer.
“Is that what she told you?”
“Me and the rest of the English speaking world. That was her go-to line whenever the subject of parents came up.”
“And did she mention the sailor.”
“No, no sailor.”
I shook my head. I couldn't imagine telling the story of that fateful day without mentioning the sailor. So, I began telling her the story of the sailor who hung out at the recruiting office at the mall and preyed on young girls. I explained that things went south when he called and threatened the lives of my wife and I because we were against him spending nights at our house. “Remember,” I told her, “he was twenty-two and she was 16.”
She listened intently till the end when I told her that since her mother sided with him and she rebelled against any rules we established we couldn't possibly let her back in the house. She took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. “Do you think he's my father?”
That knocked me for a loop. “You mean you don't know who your father is?”
“She never told me.”
“Well... how old are you?”
I thought for a minute. “I think she dumped him pretty quick, I'd like to think because she finally realized what a loser he was. Then she disappeared, totally, but he stuck around. He harassed me for months. Every time he saw me he made it a point to threaten me somehow, claiming he could kill me with one blow to the windpipe. Anyway, I have no idea if he and your mother... you know, but even if they had that would make you at least forty so we can safely assume he's not the one.”
“Fuckin' bummer.”
“Not really. Honestly, you wouldn't want his genes – he wasn't wrapped too tight.”
“I get that Gramps, it's just... I'd like to friggin' know!”
I thought for a moment. “What about the musician?”
Just then the bailiff rapped on the door and opened it. “How are things going in here?”
I looked a Cindy Marie questioningly. She turned to the bailiff and said, “We're coming to an understanding.”
He nodded. “I'll let the judge know, then. He was wondering. And your attorneys...” 
“No,” they said in unison.
He nodded and shut the door.
“Musician?” said Cindy Marie. “What fucking musician? She never told me about a fucking musician. Who the fuckin' fuck was he?”
“Well, uh, I wouldn't want you to think I was a stalker.”
“Just what a fuckin' stalker would say after someone blows his cover.”
“Well... anyway, I found her on MySpace. I tried to friend her and she closed out her account so I figured if I found her again I'd have to be sneaky about it.”
“She hated you.”
“I gathered that. So, like I said from then on I was sneaky when it came to hunting her down. I had learned from what I read on MySpace that she had been working as a deejay. I surfed every group or chat room I could find that had anything to do with deejaying and finally found her using the name CindyRella2. There was a little round picture of her next to her comments and that's the only way I recognized her.”
“Pretty fuckin' smart, Gramps.”
“I just wanted to know she was okay, that's all.”
“The musician, the musician, Gramps. Tell me about the fuckin' musician.”
“She thanked him a few times for letting her deejay during his breaks. I guess he had a band. I don't know if they were together though, you know, like that.”
“His name, Grandpa! Do you remember his name?”
“I did know it. Let me think.” I strained to remember. I wanted so much to please her but I couldn't come up with anything. “I'm sorry. I just can't remember.”
She stared at me, then her face washed with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah. I'm fine.” Then, for some reason, I began to weep, uncontrollably.
“What's wrong?”
“I wanted to remember... for you,” I managed through the tears. “I want you to like me.”
“Don't worry about it. It's okay. I can retrace what you did – CindyRellla2, Deejay chat rooms and all that. I'll find him.” Then she added with emphasis. “Because of you.”
“And my stalking,” I said sniffling.
“Yeah, and your stalking.” For the first time, she smiled, got up from her chair, came around to me and gave me a hug.
“You don't hate me?”
“No, I don't hate you.”
I wiped  my face with my handkerchief and blew my nose when a thought struck me. “I have links to all Cindy's pages on my computer. I always hit the star and saved them.”
“You saved them?”
“Yeah.” She knelt on the floor and kissed me on the cheek with a big smack. “That doesn't mean...”
“We're on a roll here, Gramps. I feel good about this.”
The door opened again but the bailiff stopped in mid-sentence when he saw us together.
Cindy Marie spoke up quickly. “We've reconciled. I'm dropping the suit. Tell the judge we've settled.”
He nodded and closed the door with a soft click.


Monday, December 19, 2022

A MEAN MAN NAMED HO by Ace Toscano

Long ago and far north amidst the deep drifting snow,
Lived reindeer and elves and a mean man named Ho.
This Ho owned a mill there that turned trees into lumber,
And in it elves slaved with no breaks for slumber.
And the lot of the reindeer who pulled sleighs was no better --
Hauling lumber and trees through all kinds of weather.
And when they grew tired, mean Ho urged them along
With his whip and his club, while he sang them this song.
"Turn trees into lumber, and lumber to gold.
'Twill be a gift for my children when I'm frail and old."
But the Ho's had no children and because they were barren,
Ho frightened his workers with anger and swearin'.
And just when the elves thought things couldn't get worse,
A star appeared in the sky. Said Ho, "Must be a curse!"

It seemed he was right for when next day rolled around
The snow was all melted. His operations shut down.
"Twill remain thus," he said, "till that star goes away."
So, he set off on foot the very next day
Toward the south, 'cause that's where the new star was glowing
And it would have to be doused before the snow would start snowing,
And the elves could start sawing, and the reindeer their hauling,
And gold coins for Ho's children-to-be would start falling.
"Don't waste your time partying while I'm gone away --
Sharpen the saws and clean all the sleighs.
And, if you don't heed my words, I want you to know
I've left my club and my whip with my wife, Mrs. Ho."
The elves all acted frightened and promised to mind,
Knowing Mrs. Ho wouldn't hurt them -- she was gentle and kind.
So, when Ho hit the trail with his provision-filled sack,
The elves whipered at once, "Hope he never comes back."

O'er mountains, through valleys, along craggy ravines,
Across rivers and deserts and glorious scenes,
Ho plodded and plodded, just one purpose in mind --
To all the world's wonders, he remained indifferent and blind.
With one exception, of course, the new snow-melting star
Which he swore to pursue "Till I put out its fire."
Marching on, he shunned people who lived 'long the route
Because none were the sort who'd help put the star out.
"It's really quite nice," one fellow did say.
And another, "I hope it won't e'er go away!"
"Well, that star isn't nice, but how would you know,
The blasted creation hasn't melted your snow,
Or stopped your elves from sawing, your reindeer from hauling,
Or caused the gold for your children-to-be to stop falling."

Now, he had always believed he'd be a father one day,
But walking on, step by step, Ho felt his faith slip away.
Though his legs became weary, his boots turned to lead,
He strode on till the star hung right overhead.
As he pondered techniques for yanking it down,
From a boulder, near by, came a sweet, pleasing sound.
Looking up, Ho was struck by an unusual sight --
Not child, not bird, yet winged and all white.
"Come follow, dear Ho," the winged creature did sing.
"You've been brought here to see the newly born King."
"Is this King responsible for that star?" asked mean Ho.
When the creature said yes, Ho responded, "Let's go."

Now, he truly intended to lay down the law,
But his intentions all vanished when he saw what he saw --
A babe in a manger dressed in swaddling clothes
And kings at his feet, their tributes stacked and in rows.
Ho knelt down and wept without realizing why,
And was grateful the snow-melting star was on high.
"I must go home to fetch for this King all my gold."
That's when the babe touched and blessed Ho we are told.

"What a fool I have been to grumble and whine.
Hence forth, all the world's children will truly be mine."
Yes, that's how we got Santa, and as all of you know,
When he recalls his old mean self, he laughs, "Ho, ho, ho!"
And elves no longer tremble when e'er he comes near,
Instead they sing louder and smile ear to ear.
"Change meaness to love and love into toys,
Make this Christmas merry for all girls and boys."




Sunday, October 30, 2022

Rosy by Ace Toscano


I go over to the window for the third time and peak out through the blinds. No sign of her yet.

I have no idea what to expect. Though I know all about her, aside from school pictures her mother had sent us over the years, I hadn't seen her in the flesh since she was an infant. I'd even held her back then. I can still remember the feel of that.

She was my wife's niece, her brother's daughter, and since I no longer desired any connection with her family I really hadn't considered myself related to the girl until she insisted on calling me Uncle Mike.

When Annie died I had taken her phone and informed everyone on her call list of her passing. It hadn't really dawned on me that Rosy was on that list though Annie had mentioned several times that they were in contact. If I'd been thinking, since the connection was through Annie's family, I probably wouldn't have bothered informing her. I felt no obligation to let the in-laws know. I didn't like them. They were scum.

But I knew Rosa, Rosy's mother, and she wasn't really one of them. And neither was I. Rosy probably knew that. I first met Rosa the summer after my first year of college. I applied for a job at a factory one town over not realizing that my wife's brother Charley worked there. He and Rosa were both fork truck drivers charged with keeping each machine's hopper filled with plastic beads. Though there were other Hispanics working there, she was the only woman. I didn't realize at first that she and Charley had something going on. After all, he was married to Gloria Jean who was home taking care of Charley III. But one night (we were working afternoons) I walked outside to get away from the noise and heat of the machines and caught them leaning against Charley's truck mugging it up hot and heavy.

I reported it to Annie next morning and we both laughed because we always found Charley's adventures with women amusing. When I think back they still make me laugh. Once out of the blue we started getting letters addressed to him from Florida. They were packed thick with photos. When Annie finally got him on the phone, he asked her to open them and read them to him. He hadn't gone far in school so reading was a problem for him which is probably why he had them sent to us. Anyway, the letters were declarations of love and the pictures nude poses of the sender. When we described them to him he had a good laugh and explained that the blond bombshell he'd been getting it on with was the wife of a friend of his. That was Charley.

I finished out the summer and returned to school. One Saturday morning in October Charley and Rosa showed up at our front door, he with a big grin on his face, as usual, and a can of beer in his hand, she sporting a prominent baby bulge.

The purpose of the visit wasn't to announce the impending birth of still another offspring (Charley had two already by two different women, maybe three though he disavowed any responsibility for the third; it was Rosa's first.), it was to inform us that Pine Tree Plastics had gone out of business and they needed a place to stay.

Of course we let them stay with us though having cohabited with Charley before, we had to insist on a few ground rules, one being he wasn't getting a key and had to be home at a decent hour, the other that they had to be gone before the baby was born. The main roadblock to having our peaceful home restored to us was Charley and Rosa's employment situation which I believed could be remedied pretty quickly.

Not that either of us minded the company, Charley had stayed with us a few times when his relationships had soured, but over time his presence could wear thin.

I knew Wings Inc, a big aerospace plant just east of town, was hiring. They'd had a big display ad in the employment section of the local paper for a couple weeks. When I mentioned it to Charley he said flat out that they wouldn't hire him. Like I've already mentioned, he hadn't done well in school, probably because of a learning disability that no one ever bothered to investigate. Anyway, I knew despite his reading difficulties he was as smart as the next guy and I convinced him that having worked at the plastic plant for seven years he was exactly the kind of employee Wings was looking for.

We didn't waste any time. I drove him down to Wings to pick up an application. We worked on it that night and he returned it next morning. I told him he might have to wait for them to call him back for an interview but I was wrong. They interviewed him right away and hired him on the spot.

When Rosa said she wanted to get a job at Wings, too, I wasn't sure it was a good idea on account of her condition but both she and Charley insisted so, next morning, we went down to pick up an application. Though she didn't need as much help as Charley, we filled it out together. When she returned it, wearing as Annie had suggested a loose-fitting sweater, she was interviewed on the spot and sure as hell got a job, too.

They were making pretty good money, Rosa and Charley, but they still hadn't managed to find a place by the time Rosa came due. Not coincidentally, it was around this time that Annie's older sister, Molly, started visiting more often than usual. I knew why – she was scouting for her mother, a conniving old bitty who would like nothing better than to get her claws into Rosa's baby. I say “Rosa's baby” because Charley didn't act too excited about the impending birth.

Sure enough, when the baby did come, Molly volunteered to watch Rosy during the day while Rosa was working. Since they lived twenty miles up the road, it soon became the case that Rosy would spend the night with Aunt Molly and Grandma because it didn't make sense for Rosa to do all that driving.

Then, one day, they announced that Rosy would be better off with them and they wouldn't give her back. When Rosa showed up one day to visit, the cops were waiting for her. They threw her in a car and took her down to Immigration even though she kept telling them she was legal. “I am Puertorican.”

Charley was willing to stand by and let this all happen. That's when I realized he didn't feel much attachment to Rosy or Rosa.

This was one of Annie's finest hours because she didn't waste any time. She made her brother drive her to their mother's. She charged into the house, grabbed the baby and brought her back to our place.

Meanwhile, I was on the phone with immigration, explaining what my crazy in-laws had done, and trying to find out where I could pick up Rosa. Turned out it was in Newark on Monday morning.

“My baby?” was the first thing she asked.

“Your baby's fine,” I said. “She's with Annie.”


“He went to work this morning.” I didn't add that he didn't seem to give a shit about her and her predicament.

She sat quietly for most of the ride. I could tell she was doing a lot of thinking.

“Look, Rosa, you and the baby can stay with us as long as you want. We like having you. But I don't think that's the best thing for you.”

She just nodded.

“I think Charley knew what his mother and sister were going to do and he did nothing to stop them. It's like he doesn't care about little Rosy or what happens to her. His family is crazy.” Here I held my finger up to my head and moved it in a circle to illustrate what I had said.

She nodded.

I continued. “They are no good for your baby. If I was you, I'd get as far away from here as I could. Know what I mean?”

“Chicago,” she said. “When I first come to this country, I live there.”

We couldn't see Rosa taking a bus or train to Chicago with the baby, so I drove. I was happy to see the warm welcome she received from her family headed up by her Tia Maria. I ate some plantain and other Puertorican food and headed right back home. She called a couple weeks later to tell us she'd found a job and that a cousin was looking after Rosy during her shift. Then she thanked me. We didn't hear much from Rosa after that aside from the annual Christmas card and Rosy's school photos. Then a couple months ago I received a message from little Rosy on facebook.

No sign of her yet. She may be having a hard time finding the street; this development is like a maze. I walk out onto the porch in case I have to flag her down. No cars but I do see a young girl, her pony tail swinging, walking down the street with a back pack. She stops to hike up the back pace and then, to my surprise starts crossing the street toward me, a big smile spread across her face.

“Uncle Mike?” she says.

“Rosie?” I reply, stupidly.

She nods, joins me on the porch and wraps her arms around me so tightly I'm afraid I might fall over. She lets go and looks up ate me. I see Rosa in her face and, thank goodness, not a trace of Charley. My Annie was the only good-looking one in that whole family. I used to tell her she was like the Marilyn Munster of her clan.

“You're crying,” Rosy observes before I'm aware of it myself.

“I'm just happy you came to see me.” She squeezes me again. I pull back to look at her. “You're so beautiful,” I say through the tears. “I just wish your Aunt Annie...”

I'm inconsolable now. What must this poor girl think of me?

“Uncle Mike, let's go in the house.”

I stop in the doorway and ask, “Where's your car?”

She ignores me.

“Do you have a Kleenex?”

“Uh, I have a handkerchief,” I said as I pull a white one from my back pocket.

“Good! Wipe your eyes. You look too sad.”

“I'm not sad. I'm happy to see you. Very happy.”

“Good. I'm happy to see you, too. Now smile.”

Suddenly we're cheek to cheek and she's taking a picture with her phone.

“One more,” she says.

She starts tapping on the screen with her thumbs then announces “I sent it to my mom.”

“That quick?” I ask.

“Look,” she replies, showing me a big heart on the screen. “She loves it.”

I was about to ask about her car again when her phone starts warbling like an ambulance.

“Mommy,” she says, then comes a rapid fire exchange in Spanish marked by an occasional “Mom-my.” I got the impression that Rosy wasn't happy with whatever her mother was saying. Suddenly, she thrusts her phone at me. “Here, my mother wants to talk to you.” I bring the phone to my ear but she grabs my hand and positions it in front of my face. She pointed at the screen and said, “There's my mother.”

I moved the phone closer then farther away all the time hearing Rosa's voice repeating “Mr. Mike, Mr. Mike.”

“Say something,” says Rosy.

“Rosa, is that you?”

Rosy rolls her eyes. I just shrug.

“Yes! Es me. How are you doing?”

“Pretty good. Rosy came for a visit. I'm very happy about that.”

“So sorry to hear about Miss Annie.”

“Thank you. I got your card. It was nice of you.”

“She was a good person... like you. Two very good persons.”


“You saved my life, me and Rosy. I never forget that. We pray for you every day.”

“Well...” The idea of someone praying for me brought me close to tears again.

Rosy took back her phone and they start speaking Spanish again. She walks into the kitchen as she speaks.

“I got some lunch for us at the grocery store,” I say pointing at the refrigerator where the cold cuts and rolls are sitting.

She looks inside still speaking a mile-a-minute. A few words I recognize, like almuerzo and Publix. She's talking to me now. “Thanks, Uncle Mike. That looks wonderful.”

Their conversation is winds down when Rosy says, “Mama says good-bye.”

“Good-bye Rosa. Nice talking to you.” Rosy severs the connection.

“Hungry? Want a sandwich?”

“Yes, thank you Uncle Mike.”

I pull a chair out from the kitchen table and ask her to sit.

“Let me help,” she says.

“Nothing to it,” I say. “Just sit.”

We have a nice lunch. I'm about to ask about her car again when she interrupts me. “Uncle Mike, do you have someone to help you with the house work?”

I look around. “Why, is it messy? I suppose it is. You know, your Aunt Annie was a nonstop cleaner. Every day she was cleaning something. She'd probably be very angry if she could see how I've let this place go. I just don't... I did try to clean a little for your visit.”

She smiles. “I can tell. It looks very nice. I was just wondering, you know, if you had any help.”

“No, no help. No visitors, really. Just me.”

“And me, now.”

“Annie would've been so happy to see you. I just know she would've loved you.”

I'm close to tears again but I remember something.

“Just a minute. I have something for you.”

I go to the bedroom and emerge a few seconds later with my wife's kindle.

“This was your Aunt Annie's. Can you use it.”

“It's a kindle,” she says excitedly.

“A kindle fire,” I say.

“You can read books, watch videos and movies and do all kinds of stuff with this. I can't take this. It wouldn't be right.”

“Why not?”

“Too expensive. Way too expensive. You should use it yourself.”

“I don't need it. I have my own.”

“No, no. I'm sorry Uncle Mike. It's not right.”

“Call your mother and ask her.”

She looks at me, her brow furrowed. “Okay, I'll call her. But,” she adds. “I know what she's going to say.”

Like before, they start rattling off a bunch of Spanish so I assert myself. “Give me the phone.” She hesitates. “NOW!” I say.

“Rosa, I don't know what she's telling you.”

“She say very expensive and...”

“Familia!” I interrupt. That stops her. “Did I say that right?”

“Familia. Yes, familia. Family.”

“Hold on.” I take out my wallet and open it to the picture section. One window has a picture of my Annie. The others are filled with overlapping school photos of Rosy that Rosa has sent us over the years.

“Tell your mother what I've got here.”

They swap some more Spanish, then I take the phone back.

“Understand, Rosa?”

“Um, I no –.'

“Listen, I go out for breakfast every morning. When I pay the people around me, my friends, see those pictures. Sometimes they ask 'Hey Mike, when we gonna meet that niece of yours' and I say 'maybe one of these days. You know what? Tomorrow's gonna be that day. They are gonna meet my niece. They are gonna meet my family. And that's that. So quit worrying about Annie's kindle because she would want Rosy to have it. Okay?”


“Good. Maybe someday you'll come to breakfast with me so they can meet you, too.”


“Someday, I said, not tomorrow.”

“Okay,” she chuckles. “Someday.”

We eat our lunch on paper plates, as was my habit, but was amusing to Rosy. I told her I usually took a walk after lunch, so she joins me on my jaunt around the block. We stop to chat it up with a few neighbors and I proudly introduce Rosy as my niece. When we get back to the house, as we are walking up the driveway, she tells me she had been in contact with her father.

As I follow her inside, I ask, “How did that work out?”

“Not so well, Uncle Mike, to tell you the truth.”

“Why? What happened?”

We go into the living room and sitt on opposite ends of the sofa. I ask if she wants a drink. She says no, then tells me the story of her meeting with Charley.

“He didn't want to spend time with me. It was like he was afraid I wanted something from him. Then he took me to his mother's house to meet her and his sister who I weren't interested in meeting since my mother had filled me in on the crap they tried to pull when I was a baby.” She scooted over toward me, wrapped her arms around me, and gave me such a squeeze I thought my ribs would crack. “She also told me what you did for her. She says you saved our lives. You're good people, Uncle Mike, and we really do pray for you every day. I just want you to know that.”

“Well, I'm not that good, really. Except for Charley, I didn't like Annie's family at all. And they didn't like me.”

“You drove us all the way from New Jersey to Chicago. That makes you good. Anyway, I had to sit there and listen to them tell their stories while my father just sat there drinking beer. Finally, I asked him if he still worked at the airplane factory 'cause that's what my mother always called it when she told me how you got them jobs there. Only thing was his mother said it was a great thing that Mollie got him the job there.”

“That's par for the course,” I say.

“Yeah, but listen to this, Uncle Mike. You would've been proud of me. I spoke right up and said my mother always said it was Uncle Mike who got her and my father the job.”

“What'd they say to that?”

“Nothing. Not one of them, even my father. They just shut up. I think they figured out that my mother must have told me other things, too, about how they tried to steal me away from her. She told me they were bad people and now I know for myself. I couldn't get out of there quick enough and told my father it was getting late and I had to catch a bus. So, we left. To be honest, I'm sorry I went there. They are not my family. They are sick people.”

“And me?”

She broke into a big smile. “You are my hero. You are my Uncle Mike.” I couldn't help smiling with her.

For dinner, we go out for pizza, something I do too often according to my cardiologist but what the heck – it's a special occasion. When we get home, Rosy, who decided she was going to spend the night and head home Sunday afternoon, announces she was going to take a shower and asked me where the towels were. Well, I had long since run out of clean towels and was in the habit of hanging them over the shower rod to dry and then reusing them. At her insistence, I led her to the laundry room explaining that Annie had insisted I not touch the washer and drier for fear I would somehow destroy them. She assured me she knew how to operate the machines and did a load of towels and wash cloths. While we waited, we watched one of my favorite movies, The Intern.

She comes out of the shower all clean and fresh wearing an orange t-shirt three sizes too big the way kids do, her hair, which had been in a pony tail all day, now down past her shoulders. I smiled.

“You okay Uncle Mike?”

“Yeah, I'm fine.” I couldn't keep from tearing up.

“You look sad,” she observes as she kneels down before me.

“No, not sad at all. In fact, I was just thinking that this has been the best day I've had in quite awhile. And, I have to thank you for that.” The tears are flowing freely now.

She gives me a hug and kisses me on the cheek. “It's been a good day for me, too.”

As she heads back to the spare bedroom, I call out to her. “Rosy.”


“You don't have a car, do you?”

“No, Uncle Mike.”

“You came up here on a bus?”


“Okay,” I say. “We'll talk about that tomorrow.”

I'd only known her a day but I was quickly learning Rosy was a headstrong young woman, something I suppose she got from her mother who took flight from Jersey to Chicago to insure the safety of her and her baby. No sooner had we returned from breakfast at the diner, where she charmed the pants off a dozen or so of my friends with her youthful exuberance and wit, than she starts tearing the sheets off the beds, hers and mine.

“You don't have to do that,” I say as she skirts my bed.

“When was the last time you changed them, Uncle Mike?”

I reflect for a few seconds. “It wasn't that long ago.”

“Every week! You should change the sheets once a week,” she says shaking her head. “Don't you know anything?”

“Well, Annie used to...”

“But she never showed you how? Like the washing machine? You have to take care of yourself, now.”

“I suppose I should do a better job. Or, hire somebody.”

“You're going to waste your money paying somebody to do a half hour's work when you're perfectly capable of doing it yourself? I'm not mentioning this to Mommy but, believe me, she'd give you an earful.”

“I have the money.”

She stops what she's doing and puts her hands on her hips. “Save it for something else. Give it to charity.”

I follow her around, watching what she's doing, feeling guilty and more than a little embarrassed. “You really don't have to do this, Rosy.”

“It's okay. This is what I do every day.”

“Every day?”

“Yes, I work part-time at a motel to help pay for my tuition. Change beds, clean bathrooms, vacuum – that's my job.”

“Well, you shouldn't have to work when you visit me.”

“Maybe next time I won't have to if you find time to do the laundry.”

“Okay, okay, I'll work on that.” I know I won't, but I'll make it my business to find somebody not named Rosy to do it.

I go into the living room plop my butt on the sofa and started watching Sports Center, my interest in news and politics having dissipated over the last few years. Rosy plops down beside me.

“So, you don't have a car?”

“No, too expensive. Gas, insurance, all that is too much.”

I stood up. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”

I lead her into the garage and switch on the light revealing Annie's little SUV which hasn't been getting much use, lately, not since her passing.

“This is your Aunt Annie's car. I don't need two cars and I've been meaning to get rid of this one so I can put my car in the garage. What do you think?”

“It's very nice,” she said, “like new. You should sell it.”

“I thought of that but it's more of a headache than I want to go through.”

“Bring it to a dealer. Let them sell it for you.”

“I thought of that too, but they'll rob me. What I really want to do, and I've given this some thought, is give it to you. I think your Aunt Annie...”

“Oh no, Uncle Mike, you can't do that. You are talking crazy, now.”

“You won't have to worry about insurance – I'll take care of that – or gas, or any other expenses that come up.”

“You've only known me two days. What will people say?”

“I've known you you're whole life and you really shouldn't argue with me because my heart doctor says it isn't good for me.”

“But Uncle Mike – I have to call Mommy.”

“Dial her up. Let me talk to her.”

I ask Rosy to leave the room while I talk to Rosa. After we get everything settled to our mutual satisfaction I find Rosy in the garage examining her new car. She runs to me and wraps me in a bear hug. “Thank you, Uncle Mike. You don't know how much I love you.” I have no answer to that and settle on kissing the top of her head.

“Well,” I say between sniffles, “you can't take it home today, but we can get started with the paperwork.”

It's hard to believe that a pint-sized young woman from Chicago can turn your world upside down after only a few days of knowing her, but she has. I spend the next week running from the insurance agency to the bank to the DMV to the notary then back to the bank and who knows where else. But, I don't mind it a bit – I have a family to look after.

The End

(Just a rough draft but I thought I'd put it out there before it got lost.)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

A Good Day To Die - 1

Back in the 80's, when I was driving a taxi in San Diego for a shit cab company that specialized in drunks and hookers and local shysters from the other side of the tracks, I often found myself in what might be referred to as bad sections of town. When someone hailed me or I answered a radio call in the wee hours of the morning, I was always ready and willing. With a $35 lease to pay every day, I wasn't about to turn any trip down. A fare is a fare and a buck is a buck. Anyway, with a wife and daughter depending on me, I decided I better take out a term life insurance policy on myself for $500 thousand just in case my eagerness to answer a call some night wound up getting me smoked. At the time, five hundred grand seemed like a respectable wad of cash.

So, this one night I was pulled over by a couple cops because my fare had the backdoor cracked open and they feared he was about to pull something shady. Well, as it turned out I didn't get killed but looking back, I think that if that young man had put a bullet thru my head that would've been a pretty good time to check out, a lot better than dying in old age of a combination of diseases and conditions. Everybody would've been young and well taken care of and, after a few tearful days, able to move on in comfort. I'm just saying.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Fifteen Lousy Minutes by Ace Toscano

 The Covid Reflections of Edoardo “Fast Eddie” Baladini

Before my Covid confinement, my life had been flowing along without a ripple, like the clear pools of the Willowemoc on a summer's day.

Willowemoc Creek

When we were young and carefree, my friends and I often journeyed to the legendary fly fishing waters of New York state up around Roscoe, casting our flies through the cool morning mist, coaxing rainbows, browns and native brookies to rise and attack the imitations we had worked so hard to create. It's a tranquil pastime, fly fishing, at least until you hook one. Then, it's exhilarating – your nerve endings on fire, your line, your connection to your prey, charged like a live wire. Only when the battle is over, and your trout is safely netted and in the creel can you allow yourself the luxury of a slow, deep breath.

There's nothing like it, really. Read the complete short story here.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The covid-19 blues

If there ever was a more appropriate time to sing the blues, I haven't lived through it. Here's my Covid 19 Blues:


Covid 19 took my baby.
Now all I do is cry.
Covid 19 took my baby.
Now all I do is cry.
They wouldn't let me see her
Couldn't even say good-bye.

I waited all day long
Waitin' to bring my baby home
Waited all day long
Waitin' to bring my baby home
Went home to get some water
Found a message she was gone.

Never let me see my baby.
Hope she knew how hard I tried.
Never let me see my baby.
Hope she knew how hard I tried.
Nurse said they tried to Skype me.
What in the bloody hell is Skype.

Covid 19 took my baby.
Now all I do is cry.
Covid 19 took my baby.
Now all I do is cry.
They wouldn't let me see her
Couldn't even say good-bye.

© Ace Toscano, 2020