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come si chiamas
second chapter from the new book "life al dente"

by Gina Cascone
(return to italian american)

related items
Life al Dente: Laughter and Love in an Italian-American Family

"Gina puts her life on a stage in a book that wittily winds together details of real-life events until they finally snap into situations involving seafood, sports cars, and olive oil that are so incredible they have to be real. The humor is balanced with touching insights that speak to the unique problem of balancing the Italian dream of coming to America, with the American dreams of the next generation. When the author describes her family's immigration from a tight-knit Italian American neighborhood to the 'burbs she notes 'It made them treat me as something of a traitor.' This book highly entertaining and guaranteed to bring back some of your own childhood memories."

more books...

From the moment I was made to feel that I was somehow less, I was always on the lookout for differences between the sexes and, more importantly, ways in which I could minimize them in myself.

Probably the biggest difference, and the one most troublesome to me, was balls.

My father only admired people who had a set of balls. I had never seen a set and at first I wasn�t even sure what they were or where you�d find them. But I knew my father had a set of his own. I knew that because whenever he came home from a bad day at the office, I�d hear him complain to my mother �my aching balls.� I learned that other men had balls too, because whenever my father had someone where he wanted him he�d tell my mother he �had him by the balls.�

Even the damn dog had balls. My father refused to allow for him to be neutered, no matter how much my mother argued in favor of it.

�The vet says we really ought to do it,� my mother would insist every time the dog escaped from the house or the backyard and she had to chase after him. �It will make him more docile,� she would say. �He won�t want to run away anymore.�

�He won�t want to do anything anymore,� my father would shoot back. �He�ll lose his will to live. Think about it, while all his buddies are sitting around outside, licking their come si chiamas, what�s he supposed to do?�

Yeah, what�s a guy supposed to do without his come si chiamas�his whatchamacallits�his balls?

Balls, balls, balls. It seemed to me that men were always calling attention to them. And I couldn�t for the life of me understand why. Once I caught a quick glimpse of them up Nicky�s baggy bathing suit leg. It was disgusting! It looked like something had died up there. And this was what men made such a fuss about? They worshipped them, treated them like gold, called them the family jewels, and wore them with pride.

Like most things that are priceless, I also found out that balls are quite fragile and must be treated with the utmost care. I learned that fact quite clearly while I was still very young. It was a Sunday afternoon. While my mother was busily cooking and cleaning, my father spent most of the day stretched out on the sofa, watching television. He was supposed to be watching me. I decided that I had gone long enough without attention or affection from him. My most effective attention getter was to jump up onto his lap, something that I�d done countless times before. But on this particular occasion, I�d no sooner landed on my father when he let out a howl like a mortally wounded animal. He rolled over and I fell from the couch, hitting my head on the coffee table. While he groaned, I cried. And for the first time in my life he made no attempt to comfort me. I wailed. He groaned some more.

My mother rushed in from the kitchen and scooped me up from the floor. While she held me, trying to soothe away my tears, she asked my father what had happened. I can remember looking at my father while my mother waited for a response. His eyes were bugged out, his face was red and contorted with pain, and he seemed not to be able to speak.

She asked a second time. �What happened?�

�Your kid tried to kill me, that�s what happened,� my father growled, holding himself.

Immediately my mother seemed to understand what had occurred and she put her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh.

�What the hell do women think is so funny about catching a shot in the balls?� My father�s pain had turned to anger. �How would you like to get kicked in the balls?�

For some reason, that made my mother laugh even harder.

�And that�s why that kid has no respect for me,� he snapped.

�Oh come on, it couldn�t have been that bad,� she said as she took my hand and led me back into the kitchen with her.

But it must have been that bad because from that day on, I was never allowed to jump on him without warning. Moreover, I began to realize that he wasn�t the only man who worried about protecting himself. For example, I learned from my father that in boxing you could beat a guy�s face until it was pulp. You could knock out teeth or punch his nose right off. But you weren�t allowed even one hit below the belt. In addition, my observations led me to understand that not only were they to be protected, but they were also to be pampered, almost to the point where it seemed to become a preoccupation.

At the sidelines of every baseball or football game, what do you see? Guys holding, scratching, or simply rearranging them. And both men and little boys seemed to be perfectly justified in scratching in public. It was acceptable, and everyone seemed to understand why it was necessary. On the other hand, as a girl, I wasn�t allowed to scratch anything in public, even a mosquito bite on my arm.

The truth of the matter was that I resented them, resented the fact that they were the most respected, protected, pampered, and talked-about part of the male anatomy. Women had nothing in comparison. It wasn�t that men didn�t discuss parts of the female anatomy at length. It�s just that when they were discussed, it was in whispers. I�d heard my father and his brother, Uncle Gene. Was it supposed to be a compliment when a man noticed that a woman had �great boobs�? Somehow I doubted it. With a set of balls, you could conquer the world. I�d never heard the same said about a set of boobs. And I�d never heard any guy wanting to get himself a set. Who wanted them? Not me, that was for sure.

What I really wanted was what my father and Little Nicky had. It was balls that gave Nicky license to call me a cootie. Nicky had them and my father made a big point about that fact. He�d always say, �That Nicky�s one ballsy kid.� So Nicky had balls. And I had a problem.

The problem was, like most of my problems, solved by my mother. She taught me that balls were more than an appendage; having them was an attitude.

My father had forgotten their anniversary. Again. For the fifth year in a row. She�d always tried to understand his excuses. He was sorry, but he was busy and had a lot on his mind. And didn�t he, after all, work hard every day to make a good life for her? And then he�d promise to make it up to her. And that would be that until the next year.

But her anniversary was important to her. Tough as she could be sometimes, my mother was a hopeless romantic. And for some reason that was often beyond my understanding, she adored my father.

They were a glamorous couple. There was never a time in my life when I didn�t look at the two of them together and marvel at how beautiful they were. I always thought that my father looked exactly like Dean Martin. He didn�t see it. He thought that he looked like Victor Mature. Whenever he�d say so, my mother was quick to point out that her old boyfriend, Eldin, the one from whom my father had stolen her affections, always told her that she looked like Hedy Lamarr.

Nothing was more comical than watching Samson and Delilah, starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, with my parents. In fact, I don�t think I ever actually saw the movie. The real show took place on the sofa in front of the television. It started out as narcissistic posturing. Which one of them really looked like a movie star? Then came the yucky love scene where each one decided that the other was even better looking than any movie star.

Movies were a big part of my parents� lives. They met and fell in love at the movies. He was the head usher and she was the candy girl who sneaked him Chunkys for free. They dated through high school and married a year after they graduated.

My mother gave up a scholarship in journalism and worked as a secretary in order to put my father through school instead. She always put family first and never gave any hint that she regretted that decision.

But the year that my father not only forgot their anniversary, but also went out for drinks with the guys instead of coming home for dinner, my mother decided to teach him a lesson he wouldn�t soon forget.

She had the locks on the doors changed.

When he got home, my mother, my baby sister, and I were sitting on the couch watching television. After several unsuccessful attempts to unlock the door, my father started banging on it. My mother made it clear with a wave of her hand that we were to ignore him. Finally, when it became apparent to my father that he wasn�t going to get into the house through the door, he tried to break in through the basement window.

That was when my mother called the police. She told them that she was home alone with her children and that there was a prowler outside. A squad car was there in a matter of minutes, lights flashing and siren blaring. This was almost more fun than the pony they�d gotten for my birthday party. I could tell that my mother was enjoying it more.

My father didn�t get hauled away because he knew the cops who answered the call. He knew lots of cops because he was a lawyer for the Policemen�s Benevolent Association. And because he knew all the cops he didn�t enjoy having to explain to them why he was trying to break into his own house while his wife and kids were in there watching television.

The laughter coming from outside told us that the cops were enjoying themselves almost as much as my mother was. They knocked on the door and asked her if she wanted to keep him or have him locked up. My father begged to be locked up. My mother decided to keep him and let him in. While my mother invited the cops in for coffee, my father stormed up to his room and locked himself in, presumably to punish my mother. It was always his view when he was angry with her that depriving her of his company was the ultimate torture for her.

When the cops finally left, we went back to watching television as if nothing had happened. We knew full well that my father would be down at any moment. Gunsmoke was about to start. He never missed an episode. The night my sister was born, he made my mother wait until it was over before he took her to the hospital. Once I threw up right on the floor, waiting for a commercial to come on so he would finally get me a bucket. He certainly wasn�t going to miss his favorite show trying to make a point.

The door to the bedroom squeaked open just as the theme song came on and we heard the footsteps coming down the stairs. When he came into the room, we all looked up at him. My mother was the only one smiling.

�I ought to kill you,� he said in a low, controlled voice that always meant business. �I ought to strangle you right here and now. I have never been so goddamned embarrassed in all my life. There�s only one thing that keeps me from murdering you, one reason you deserve to stay alive. You�ve got balls. I�ve got to give you that.� He was shaking his head. �You�ve got real balls.�

The smile on my mother�s face never faded. �I guess that means I�ll get a present next year.�

�Don�t push your luck,� he said over his shoulder as he turned up the volume on the television.

She had balls all right.

Two things came clear to me at that moment. First of all, with balls you could get away with almost anything. And secondly, whatever it took, whatever I had to do, I was going to get me a set.

See Also:

For the rest of the story, you'll have to buy the book!

Read's review and follow the link to purchase, above.

About the Author
Gina Cascone grew up in central New Jersey. The author of Pagan Babies (Washington Square Press) and Mother�s Little Helper (St. Martins Press), she has also written numerous books and movies for children and teens under a pseudonym. The parents of two grown children and former booksellers, Cascone and her husband live in New York City.


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