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Posts Tagged ‘Tuckahoe’

Everyone should know a little Yiddish:

a page from Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary

a page from Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, why you might ask would it be important for we goyim to learn a few words of Yiddish? Well, besides the fact that many of these words are already common and well-integrated into English, there is another reason as well. You see, some languages have many words that essentially describe what a non-speaker would imagine being the same thing. For example, 200 words or so for snow or a hundred and fifty words for a camels hoof. Yiddish enriches English because it contains hundreds of words to describe human foibles. Even when it ostensibly refers to a thing like a knickknack, the Yiddish word “tchotchke” seems to say more about the observer and the owner than about the object itself.

Many people have the mistaken notion that Yiddish is a Jewish language like Hebrew. True it was spoken primarily by Jews. However unlike Hebrew which until the establishment of the state of Israel served as the “religious” or “intellectual” language of most Jews; much like Latin was used in western Europe until the last century, Yiddish generally was spoken by only one of the major branches of the Jewish Diaspora. That branch, known as the Ashkenazi were those Jews who lived primarily in eastern Europe and originally included Northern France until various pogroms forced them further east. Like the Kurds of today, they were a nation without a land of their own. Until the 19th century, most Jews spoke a pastiche of Aramaic, Hebrew and the indigenous language of the place they were living at the time. The roots of Yiddish are primarily German with Aramaic and Hebrew influences. It also includes words and expressions from several Slavic languages in varying degrees depending upon where the speakers lived. There are several different “Yiddish dialects” including that spoken as the official language in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian far east near Vladivostok. Its capital is Birobidzhan. The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched in 2007.

Ashkenazi Dreams:

Gottlieb - Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yo...

Gottlieb – Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (Photo credit: Trodel)

Yiddish developed among the Ashkenazi, one of the three main branches of Judaism. The other two being the Sephardim (primarily originating on the Iberian peninsula) and the Mizrahim comprising most of the others. The Sephardim and the Mizraim, if they spoke it at all, did not speak Yiddish as their mother tongue as did many of the Ashkenazi before emigrating to the US.

They all more or less can trace their patrimonial heritage through the male Y chromosome to a single individual living somewhere in the middle east about 5000 years ago, about the time when Abraham was reputed to have lived. A recent study of the Cohen, the traditional priestly class descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother, using DNA from males with that surname worldwide, indicates that most of them are descended from a middle eastern male alive about 3000 years ago; about the time the Bible indicates that Moses and Aaron lived. Given that several hundred years of the most intensive archeological investigation in the world, while turning up scads of evidence of the other Peoples and nations mentioned in the Bible, failed to turn up much evidence at all of Jewish history older than somewhere between 200 and 600 BC, it is remarkable that modern genetics has been able to confirm at least this part of the story. (Not that it proves that Abraham, Moses, and Arron actually existed, but it does confirm that during those times there was in all likelihood some horny goat-herd in the Near East busy shtupping a shikse or two thereby giving birth not only to the great Jewish nation but, in all likelihood, a significant portion of the population of the entire Mediterranean basin. I guess it could fairly be observed that Arron wielded a mighty rod.

English: Yiddish language in the United States...

English: Yiddish language in the United States. More than 100,000 speakers More than 10,000 speakers More than 5,000 speakers More than 1,000 speakers Fewer than 1,000 speakers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ashkenazi male line descends primarily through southern Italian and Sicilian Jews who migrated into Northern Europe about 400-600 AD to escape persecution by the newly dominant Christians. Genetically Southern Italians and Sicilians and the Ashkenazi appear to be closer related to each other than to most of the rest of trans-montain Europe. Unlike the other branches of Judaism, the Ashkenazi seem to have picked up a small but strong Central-Asian component primarily from the Caucuses and the area around the Caspian Sea, the ancestral home of the Khazar’s, the almost legendary medieval Jewish empire.

On the matrilineal side DNA testing shows that although there is strong evidence of middle eastern origins among the women, there is significantly more evidence of non-middle eastern origins then among the men (Again with the shikses.)

Among the Ashkenazi, there is a high incidence of Tay Sachs an inherited and inevitably fatal disease. The Sephardim and the Mizrahim seem to have no greater incidence of the disease than the general population, an indication that the effects of natural selection and genetic drift happen quite rapidly and do not require the eons that mutations take to be reflected in a population. The Tay Sachs’ discovery may have revealed another startling fact, that the genes causing Tay Sachs may be related to those controlling for intelligence. * Based on standard IQ testing as much as 20% of the Ashkenazi score 120 or higher, scoring higher in verbal and mathematical elements and lower in spatial than the general population (in other words, great scientists, and writers but lousy athletes). In the general population, the average is about 4-5% including for the Sephardim and Mizrahim. It is not so hard to guess why that is the case. The Christian pogroms and prohibitions against land ownership for the Jews and against charging interest for the Christians coupled with high literate demands of the rabbinate made those excelling in abstract thought high-quality breeders so to speak.

On the other hand, among the Christian West, strangely enough, those who were most literate were prohibited from breeding. From the fall or the Roman empire until the success of the Protestant revolt, for the most part, the most literate of the Western Christians were forced into the clergy who, unless they were Popes or Cardinals, were strongly discouraged from breeding.

Instead, we placed our genetic basket on the shoulders of homicidal maniacs whose claim to fame was their preternatural ability to take someone else’s technology and turn it into a more highly efficient means of slaughter.

As luck would have it, due to the plague almost wiping us out, and our short-term tendency to compensate by breeding like rabbits, coupled with our forced procreation of prescient psychopaths equipped with proficient killing machines and a resistance to disease, we in the West were able to conquer the world. Hooray for us.

*Note: Contrary evidence for the genetic connection between Tay Sachs and a certain type of intelligence is provided by the fact that the Irish appear also to be prone to the disease. On the other hand, perhaps the Hibernians were one of the lost tribes of Israel like the American Indians and just about everyone else, except for the Mormons, who never get lost.

So what’s it to me?

Some of you have inquired about my fascination with Judaism given that I am goyim and all that. Actually is in not Judaism that fascinates me but the Ashkenazi. The Ashkenazi used to be a sizable stateless nation in eastern Europe that barely escaped annihilation. It now has a state of its own in the Near East that exists under the extreme stress of annihilation. Many of the surviving descendants of the original Ashkenazi not living in the Near East now lives in the US.

I used to think that my fascination was because my great great grandmother was Jewish (and given mathematics of human generation, whose wasn’t somewhere along the line). Her family (named Tau) was from somewhere in Austria. In the early 1800s, they left Austria, probably under the pressure of one pogrom or another and could not afford the ticket to the US, and settled in a tiny Italian hill town named Roccantica in the then Papal States. Go figure.

More recently, however, as I read about the newest advances in genetic analysis of population migration over time, I was fascinated to learn that the modern Ashkenazi, at least on the male side, were primarily descended from Sicilian and Southern Italian Jews who migrated to Northern Europe to escape the emerging dominance of Christianity during the latter stages of the Roman Empire.

I recall looking at a photograph of my maternal Sicilian grandparents. In the photograph, both my grandfather and grandmother were photographed separately. He, with his tightly curled blond hair, long narrow nose and wispy blond mustache, appeared to be one of those Sicilians descended from either the Normans or later French settlers who bequeathed their blond hair and surnames to their descendants (Cygna and Gallo common Sicilian surnames and my mother’s name Corsello appear to be examples). However, my grandmother, a Defalco, was different. Her photograph always fascinated me. Dark where my grandfather was pale, long black hair and eyes coal black, not haunted nor haunting but quietly alive as though they saw more and deeper than the rest of us. The Defalcos seem to be an old Sicilian name. Several Castelo Falconaras, that may or may not relate to them, dot the Sicilian landscape. Could they be the remnants of that gene line left somehow behind when the rest of them set off for el Norte and became Ashkenazi? Who the hell knows.

When I was a little kid my first playmate other than cousins, was a boy named Ian who lived down the block. I would now and then have what passed for a play date then with him. I liked going over his house. He had a sandbox in his backyard. I did not. I only had a grape arbor. We would play and after a while, if he got frustrated, he would punch me. I did not know why he did that.

At the other end of the block, beyond the large black rock that jutted on to the sidewalk, lived an older boy. He was about seven (I was only four or five years old). I was afraid of him because he was big and he would punch me also. Nevertheless, it was always an adventure to walk down the block all the way to the flat rock and sit there. I would not go further because I then could no longer see my house.

At that time we lived in the one street in the lower part of Tuckahoe where no other Italians (or for that matter any blacks) lived. My grandfather built the house when he had gotten rich from his construction company. Unfortunately, he lost it all in the depression, so we divided up the house among the family and still lived there. My father, mother, baby brother and I lived upstairs. The floor had been converted to an apartment. My Grandparents lived in an apartment on the ground floor and my Aunt had a room made out of the old sun deck. We all shared the living room. The rest of the neighborhood was mostly peopled by what became referred to as WASPs, but I knew them then as Americans. There were three Jewish families that I was aware of on Dante Avenue as the block was named, two of them belonged to the boys who would punch me.

Even though I was afraid of him, I soon found out that all the bigger boy wanted was just someone to talk to. I did not understand that at the time. In any event, we would sit on the rock and talk about those things of interest to little boys, like pirates and the like. I later learned that they were both being bullied horribly by the older boys, in part because they were Jewish.

I never understood bullying. I learned to live with the name calling, but when it moved beyond that I always had to step in. I was able to get away with it, not because I was strong or brave, but because I realized that the object of bullying was to take advantage of the ease of dominating someone weaker than you. However, when someone interposes himself then the object of the exercise becomes muddled. To pass through someone who puts up even slight resistance to get at the weak is simply not worth the effort. Besides most bullies were that way because someone else was bullying them. It was always a risk for them when someone fought back. I would find myself stepping in to stop bullying about once a week. No one ever decided to fight with me about it even though I was small and weak at the time. That puzzled me for a time because I otherwise fought almost every day with someone who I thought was trying to bully me. I wondered why. Eventually, I came up with a theory. But that is for another time.

I did not know what Jewish, or Christian, or Italian, African-American and so on meant then. They were simply words to me. Of course, sometimes those words indicated a difference I could see, for example, “colored” kids as we called African-Americans at the time, were often but not always darker than Italian kids and American kids were pinker with blue veins. I couldn’t see much difference in most of the others. Later I learned what people meant when the used those words to describe themselves or other people. Most of the time when they were not describing themselves, they used those words because they were a little afraid of the others.

The woman many considered my second mother, was a member of the third Jewish family. They lived next door. I called her Anna Banana, probably because I could not pronounce her last name. She was married and childless. She had a narrow face and freckles. She also had carrot-colored hair that seemed to be all wiry and would fly about her head at odd angles whenever she moved around, which she did a lot. I spent almost every day all day with her at her house. She never seemed to mind. She taught me how to eat scallions and play the piano. Nights I would spend sitting on my grandmother’s lap before the fireplace that my grandfather built with big rocks that he had carried himself from somewhere. I would repeat from memory all the nursery rhymes I had learned from my mom and Anna Banana, sing songs and recite poems in English and Italian that my grandmother taught me. I felt very and happy with Anna Banana and my grandmother.

Then my father decided to sell the only asset we had, the house, in order to open up a business, a bar, and a restaurant. Six months later we were homeless and living on the streets. But that is another story.

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Louie (stage name, “James Oliver”) left New York City and Tuckahoe for LA. On March 8, 1964, I wrote in my diary:

“Lou did not get married. Susan, his girlfriend decided to go back to California the day before the wedding. Lou was distraught. He decided to return to California also. Not to follow her he says, but because New York has suddenly become lifeless for him. He said he needed a new life.”

And so he left a week or two later and that was the last I ever saw of him. Years later he ended up living as an artist in Taos. I located him through Facebook as I was troling for new friends and was exploring Facebook members connected with Tuckahoe, NY where Louie and I grew up. I sent him an invitation to contact me. I received no reply. Soon thereafter his site was removed.

A reporter for the local Taos newspaper recently wrote of him:

“James Louie Oliver is one of the most fascinating people you might ever meet. He’s an artist, a former stage and screen actor, builder of model airplanes and one helluva storyteller. You’ll see what we mean when Oliver makes an appearance Friday (March 30), 7 p.m., at Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado.

Oliver will read from his writings, ‘Howie’s Chair’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe and the the Shoeshine Boy,’ and he will also display his intricately detailed assemblages and handcrafted model airplanes.

Oliver was born Dec. 17, 1937, in a coldwater flat on the Bronx-Mount Vernon border in New York. Growing up, he says one of his first jobs was as a shoeshine boy, something he told us about in a story we did on him in April of 2011. He also worked in his grandfather’s barbershop, sweeping up hair and doing anything that was needed. His face goes dark, though, when he talks about the abuse he suffered as a child, but he doesn’t dwell on it.

I grew up old, but I’m younger now,’ he says with a touch of humor.

He studied for and did quite a bit of stage work in New York. This also led to film work in Hollywood.

Cover of "Hells Angels on Wheels"

Cover of Hells Angels on Wheels

My first movie was ‘Hells Angels on Wheels’ (1967) and I played a guy named ‘Gypsy.’ And Adam Roarke was in it, he passed away, and Jack Nicholson too. It’s an underground film. Then I did a TV show where I met Johnny Barrymore. We became very good friends before he passed away. That was another motorcycle TV thing that starred Ben Gazzara called ‘Run for Your Life.’’ ”

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Cover of "The Wanderers"

Cover of The Wanderers

Recently while searching the web for two of my all-time favorite movies, the Warriors, and The Wanders, I came across a site dedicated to the New York City and Chicago teenage gangs of the late 1950′s, including maps of the rival gangs’ turf.

Based on Xenophon’s history of the Greek mercenary army, betrayed by the Persians who had to fight their way through 100s of miles of hostile Persian territory to get home, the Warriors, betrayed at a gang conference in the Bronx have to fight their way along the subway from Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and through Manhattan in order to return to their home in Coney Island.

The Wanderers, although very little about it is true to life, presented the most realistic view of the gangs and gang life at the time the time I knew and experienced it. The movie referenced actual gangs with which I had some passing relationship, The Fordham Baldies, The Golden Guineas, and the Irish Lords.

The Golden Guineas were sort of the mob farm team and along with the Fordham Baldies the most feared gang in the North Bronx (they were not bald as portrayed in the movie).

I lived outside of the City and although we had our own gangs and relationships with some of the Bronx gangs we were no match for them in size or reputation.

I belonged to two gangs that I can remember, the Skull Gang, the gang my childhood friends evolved into when we passed into puberty. It was mostly social and something to call ourselves. It was a mixed group, Italians, Blacks and Irish boys who had grown up together.

I also belonged to a gang from Mount Vernon, a somewhat more serious group. We called ourselves the Capris if you can believe it. Our “uniform” was teal bowling shirts with black velvet vertical stripes. This was a zip-gun, switchblade, tire chain wielding gang, unlike the unarmed, unwarlike Skulls who just hung out on the corner. I was consigliere since I refused to carry a weapon (fear mostly), was not known as a particularly adept fighter but was considered the most knowledgeable and thoughtful member of the gang.

I also associated with one or two minor gangs from the north Bronx, but I no longer recall their names. I was a “war” advisor with them.

I also had a friendship with the leader of a major gang from Fordham Road called the University Avenue Gang. I could not find them on the site, so they may also have had another name. The leader’s name was “Bambi.” The gang was a mixed gang, Bambi was Italian but many of the gang members were Irish.

One evening, Bambi helped in saving me and several friends from a severe beating. It seems that “One Punch Sammy Santoro” the legendary tough guy from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers had, a running conflict with Frank Santaliquito from Tuckahoe, the nearby village in which I lived. It seems Santoro once beat up Frank for some reason. As a result, Frank spent the next two years in the Gym bulking up and training in boxing and hand to hand combat. Frank who had been a tall handsome slender young man, had in those two years turned himself into an ugly brutish looking mountain of a man. He had let the word out that he was looking to even the score.

One evening, two friends of mine (Charlie DeVito and Frank Plastini) and I were at a large fast food place with pinball machines that teenagers used to like to go to and hang out. Located on Central Avenue in Yonkers( I cannot remember its name — perhaps Nathan’s), it was generally considered neutral territory.

One Punch Sammy Santoro and about seven or eight of his hangers-on came in and saw us there. Someone mentioned to them that we were from Tuckahoe. Sammy immediately assumed we were associated with Santaliquito who also lived in Tuckahoe. As a result, he prepared to punish us as a message to Frank. As they started toward us, another friend of ours, Chickie Muscalino showed up and sized up what was happening. Chickie went to the same High School as Charlie and I. He knew One Punch well and was respected by everyone because in addition to being big and strong he was affable. He intervened and tried to persuade Sammy not to harm us since we were not associated with Santaliquito.

Unknown to me, in another room of the place, Bambi and several members of his gang had come up from the Bronx to play the pinball machines. He also realized that I was in trouble and came up to me to assure me that he had my back if things got out of hand.

Despite the huge load of testosterone in the air, Chickie’s persuasiveness along with Bambi’s presence calmed One Punch down and we were allowed to leave unmolested.

Sometime after this confrontation, Sammy and Frank met up again and despite all his training and commitment, Frank was beaten again as badly as the first time they had met.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the way back home for some reason, we stopped at another place along Central Avenue. As we returned to our car our we found our way blocked by a group of about six teenagers led by a kid who had some sort of beef with Charlie. So with Frank and I behind him, Charlie advanced to meet the other gang leader in the center of the parking lot. Frank who had not ridden with Charlie and me before, I could see was trembling. I, on the other hand, assumed that we would lose and I would be beaten up. So I was busy searching the area for somewhere to hide in the hope that I could stave off the inevitable long enough for the police or something else to intervene.

As usual in situations like this, violence rarely occurs as the parties swap hormonal indicators. We called it “bluffing.” Charlie walked up to his opposition and before the other could speak said: “OK start fighting or start talking.” That was enough to encourage the other kid to back down. After a bit more back and forth talking and face-saving, we left and returned home.

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English: Westchester County, NY map from 1839.

English: Westchester County, NY map from 1839. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LOUIS

From when I was about 8 years old until I was in my early 20s I had a close friend named Louis (pronounced in the French manner Louie), Louis Maiello. Both he and I lived in Tuckahoe N. Y. at the time. Tuckahoe was a small village nestled between the toney Westchester County suburbs of Bronxville, Eastchester, Scarsdale, and Pelham. Most of the people who lived in Tuckahoe were Italians or Afro-Americans who for the most part were dependent on the wealthier suburbs for their sustenance. A few Jews and wealthier Italians lived within the village closest to its borders because most of those upscale addresses had restrictions at the time, prohibiting Jews, Italians, and blacks from living within their jurisdictions. So, living just across the town boundaries was as close as they got to their idea of suburban heaven.

Where Winnie (Winston Churchill who appeared in “Papa Joes Tales” a few weeks back) was destined for success based on name, ancestry, looks, capability, wealth and a host of other things, Louis definitely was not. It was not just the name and family background that separated them.

Where Winnie was tall, athletic, manly looking and white, Louis was small, smaller than I was, skinny and pretty, almost effeminate looking with long eyelashes and coal-black eyes. He also definitely was not blessed with that chalky pink tinged alabaster complexion and throbbing blue veins that marked one as a member of the “white” race at that time. (The white race then usually being limited to Anglo-Germanic-Nordic ancestry. Celts had been recently admitted to the club and Slavs confused things. Jews were not really white, they were after all Jews.  They along with Southern Europeans, Turks, Arabs, and others had just begun knocking at the door clamoring for membership.) Louie was that deep dark dusky color with a flash of gold buried deep beneath the dirt that ranked us at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, along with blacks, Puerto Ricans and Sephardim (Mexicans were not an obsession at the time where I lived on the East coast).

As an aside: As a child the white pink, blue-veined people who lived in up scale suburbs of Westchester County, NY frightened me. Those blue veins throbbing beneath that dead looking white skin always made me think of zombies or vampires. I wonder if those nordic masters of the universe had or have now any idea of how ugly they appeared to many of us. Ironically the worst and most frightening of them was an Italian. He ran the Italian operation of one of the American clients I represented when I lived in Rome. He was a Colonna; a member of the Colonna family who along with the even older Orsini family had run Rome and the Papacy for 1200 years. My client was the first person from either family in those 1200 years to take a job. “Just like one of those upstart Colonnas,” an Orsini was rumored to have sniffed. Anyway, I guess as a side effect of a millennium of inbreeding, all color had left his face leaving only a deathly pasty white pallor. Those ghastly throbbing blue veins remained. He resembled a cadaver more than something living. He was also one of the most despicable human beings I have ever met. That also has something to do with breeding, I guess.

Anyway, Louis was not pre-destined for success. At 8 he was thrown out of his house by his sadistic father and forced to live on the streets or on the largess of relatives and friends. For some reason, many of the adults I knew would warn me to stay away from him because he was a bad influence. I did not understand that. He wasn’t mean or violent, in fact just the opposite. Not that he was a do-gooder or anything like that. He preferred leaving people alone, just as he preferred for them to leave him alone.

Nevertheless, many of the bigger boys would bully him mercilessly. He would not often fight back against the bullies, preferring the strategy of avoid and escape to confrontation. I on the other hand always fought back, but usually lost.

Perhaps that is why we became friends. Louie was sort of a kindred spirit; befriending him probably filled my need for acceptance. Not that I was ostracized and shunned like him, but I seemed to inhabit the fringes of my childhood social sets and pushing my way into their center required a greater commitment than I thought the rewards warranted.

He was not a thief either. Oh if you left something lying around he might take it, but I saw that as now more than the occasional incidental stealing we all do; sort of like taking pencils from the office where we work.

Although he was pretty looking, he was not effeminate and was of all of us the one who had the earliest and most prolific sexual experiences. He was very successful at it and with that, as he grew older, his reputation among the other neighborhood boys climbed a bit. It was said of him, that Louie could get laid in a nunnery. I, on the other hand, much to my chagrin, was truly a late bloomer.

Anyway, in our late teens, I went off to college and law school and Louie, as a lot of the dispossessed people from the East Coast at that time did decamped for California. He wanted to become an actor.

He returned a year or so later and moved into a basement flat in Greenwich Village; one of those flats common in NY City then; one room below street level, fully exposed toilet sitting in the kitchen area, no hot water, bathtub with a piece of plywood covering it that served as the dining table and all the rats and cockroaches one could desire.

He was living with a woman who had returned with him from California and who appeared stoned all the time. Actually, I did not know what being stoned all the time ment or looked like since it was still a few years before the rise of hippiedom when we learned all about it. At that time, she seemed to me, seductive. That sort of dreamy look and half-smile that flitted across her face in response to anything I said and the uninhibited movements of her body I interpreted as erotic rather than drug-induced lethargy. I spent one night at the apartment. Louie had gone to sleep. I thought for sure I would lose my virginity that night and out of nervousness I talked… and talked until she fell asleep and I had to wait another year or so for that highly anti-climatic event we, fortunately, experience only once in our lives.

Louie had succeeded in becoming a movie actor of sorts in Hollywood and had appeared in a movie. He told me about what he and other actors had to do to get a part in a movie in Hollywood; how he had to give blow jobs and more to the producers to get the part. While he was telling me this, I noticed that it was the only time I had ever seen Louie angry or ashamed. His eyes filmed over in fear, embarrassment or self-disgust I could not tell. Perhaps he was stoned also.

Nevertheless, I envied him. I had already given up my dreams for a life in the theater, unwilling and perhaps frightened that I would be unable to do the things and suffer the humiliations required to even get a chance to perform.

The movie he appeared in was a biker flick that was Jack Nicholson’s first starring role. Louie played a skinny sex-crazed hanger-on. A role he was well suited for.

Anyway, after that, I sadly lost touch with Louie. He had taken the stage name of James Oliver. I would periodically search the internet for some information about him but without luck. I assumed that he must have died of AIDs or some other form of STD.

Last week while obsessing again about why so few people respond to my Facebook posts I decided that I needed to find more friends. Previously I  had assumed that my posts were simply boring, so I started sharing posts that others had sent me. I believed that if they received a lot of comments on their posts, by sharing them with my other “friends” I would get a similar response. Alas, no. I thought there were only two reasons for this. The first I refused to contemplate and the second was that I had too few friends. So, I went searching for more friends. I decided to click on the village where I grew up, Tuckahoe, to see if I could find a few members of my old gang who I could, for old times sake, con into reading one or two of my posts.

I was both pleased and surprised to find, James Oliver alive and well living as a 70-year-old artist in Taos New Mexico. According to a news report accompanying his profile, he had continued his “Hollywood” lifestyle becoming one of John Lennon’s favorite carousing pals and had actually made it into one or two of Lennon’s biographies. Tiring of the bright lights and the big city he had moved to Taos to live life as an artist of local renown.

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19th century map of Southern Italy, featuring ...

19th-century map of Southern Italy, featuring the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the islands of Sardinia and Malta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Giuseppe, (often shortened to Pepe or Pepino), translates from the Italian to the English as Joseph. Joe or Joey are the English nicknames usually associated with Joseph. There were a lot of Joes in my family. There was Joe, Big Joe and Little Joe, Uncle Joe, Joe the Minister and Joey. I was Joey.

In the Southern Italian tradition one named the first son after the paternal grandfather hence my name, Joe. The second son was named after the father. My father’s name was Giacomo, James in English although for most of his life he was called Jack or Blackie. My brother’s name, of course, is James. My grandfathers younger brother’s name was also James. My uncle’s name, the second born of my grandfather was Joe. The maternal grandfather only got the second name of the first-born son. My middle name is Eugene. That is the name of my mother’s father. Maybe his name was also bestowed on the third son. I do not know, I only have one brother.

How they name female children in Southern Italy I do not know either. Probably they name the eldest Maria. My sister is named Mary. My mothers eldest sister’s name was Maria. Her brother was named Joe (the minister). My grandfathers eldest sister was named Mary. On the other hand, my fathers only sister was named Marcella. Go figure.

This could have made family gatherings even more confusing than they were. However, another Southern Italian tradition came to the rescue. Boys were given nicknames. Thankfully we used the names described above, otherwise, I could have been named “Joe the Meatball” or some such like the mobsters in the movies. Girls did not have nicknames as far as I know.

This tradition, like all traditions of immigrants to the United States of America that were considered odd, was discarded by the first generation in our efforts to assimilate. Those traditions that remained were either, culinary (pizza and pasta), docile, like religious festivals, adaptable, like the supposed emotionalism of the Italian or heroic, like glorification of Italian gangsters. So be it. I named my children Jason and Jessica like everyone else at the time. I doubt that they are even translatable into Italian. My relatives in Italy refer to them as Yason and Yessica.

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A photo of Thai actor Mitr Chaibancha at a shr...

A photo of Thai actor Mitr Chaibancha at a shrine in Jomtien Beach, Pattaya, Thailand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the mornings during my stay in Jomtien Beach Thailand, I walked along the beach from the seawall supporting boat ramp to the dead tree in the surf and back again, a distance of a little over two kilometers or so.

I generally trudged along head down scanning the flotsam and jetsam thrown on the beach by the night’s tides hoping to avoid stepping on some bit of rubbish that may puncture my foot and possibly cause me great pain and lead to some awful tropical disease.

It addition to the normal dead fish, bits of seaweed, severed crab claws, fragments of shells, plastic bottles and the like I noticed the recent appearance of a great number of large translucent blobs of beached jellyfish among the litter. They looked like sputum left by a gang of semi-drunk giants on their way to or back from an evening in whatever night spots giants go to in the Outskirts of Hell to do whatever it is that giants do there.

I  also began to notice among the mornings detritus a significant increase in farang (European) tourists. As the monsoon rains wind down, high tourist season begins.

Although the beach appeared more crowded, it probably was not because there are a greater number of people on the beach, but on account of the fact that the westerners take up so much more room than Thais. Also the tourists appear to crowd close to the water in the sun while the Thais sensibly prefer to stay back in the shade under the umbrellas and the trees.

I do not subscribe to “W” nor do I read the “Style” section of the Huffington Post, but I have become aware of a significant style change in beach wear.

The more gargantuan the man the smaller the tiny black Speedo” style brief he wears until among the most adipose endowed it almost disappears altogether into the many creases and folds of his flesh. These men generally lie on tiny towels or beach chairs exposing their skin to the sun, but for some reason never losing their pallor.

Pattaya Beach, Thailand. A view to the south t...

Pattaya Beach, Thailand. A view to the south towards Bali Hai Pier and Jomthien Beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other-hand the younger more fit males stand by the water’s edge flexing and preening and turning bronze. Interestingly these younger men seem to eschew the black mini-bikini briefs wearing instead traditional colored briefs or trunks. They also never seem to sit or lie on the sand unless accompanied by a young woman in which case they spend their day sitting on a towel or beach chair and pouting

The women on the other hand all seem to wear what I have only seen before in some of the pornographic photographs dutifully sent to me by my male friends and which I, in turn, dutifully  send on to other male friends within two days, fearful that to do otherwise would result in some of my appendages rotting and falling off.

Anyway these appear to consist of some thread connecting three tiny pieces of brightly colored cloth placed not so much conceal but to expose, leaving covered only those portions of the anatomy that would otherwise break the seamless expanse of milky flesh.

It appears that there is some universal rule in operation here. The younger shapely women lie face down on their towels and unloose the upper string for some reason certainly not because it in any way could impede the ray’s of the sun. The lower portion of the set, of course, disappears completely into the natural cleft of the buttocks making it appear as if someone was lying stark naked on the sand.

The older, more generously proportioned women on the other hand remove their tops entirely and inevitably lie flat on their backs providing to the gentle caress of the sun and the refreshing touch of the breeze to that which the hand of man probably has not roamed in a decade or two.

Now you may think there goes old Papa Joe the misogynist, but that is not so. I have my own self perception problems with my body. When I stand before my mirror in the evening I am acutely aware of my drooping male dugs and wonder what my size would be for one of Kramer’s male bras (C cup at least).

When I dress for my walk, I try to cover myself from head to toe with only the tips of my toes and my arms below my elbows exposed to the sun. As a result my lower arms have turned to that khaki-olive shade of my youth when the pink kids that lived over the hill in upscale Bronxville would call us who lived in the ghetto village of Tuckahoe, “White N***ers”. But not to our faces, because if we heard that, some of my more excitable friends had the tendency to turn the Bronxville boys blue-veined pink faces, black, blue and red.

English: Tuckahoe Metro-North Train Station in...

English: Tuckahoe Metro-North Train Station in Tuckahoe, NY. Category:Images of Metro-North railroad stations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now my parents fearful that I would be misled by my black and italian gangsters in training friends, sent me to a private school to get away from all that and to get a good education so that I can have more options to f*ck up my life. What I actually did learn, was that while yes, my Sicilian and Afro-American friends were quick to resort to violence when faced with real or imagined slights or for financial gain, my new more upper class school chums while manifestly less physically violent, exposed me to the real meaning of sadism.

But I digress, my beach attire consisted of a straw hat and a pair of ski goggles. Yes ski goggles. Why in Thailand there would be a store that sells ski goggles I cannot even try to guess. Anyway, I wore them because they had an adjustable strap to keep them in place, and they were large enough so that I could wear my prescription glasses under them and thereby avoid the expense of buying prescription sunglasses that I will lose anyway. I also liked the way the high ultra-violet protection of the glasses turn the color of water in the pool while I am swimming laps allowing me to zone out even more when the endorphin high hits thereby diminishing the insufferable boredom of swimming laps. Of course, I then would begin smashing into the edges of the pool, or bumping into other swimmers or swimming endlessly in a circle. But that is another story.

Anyway, I wore a long shirt, a vest in which I carry things like my phone, passport, cigars and the like and of course I covered my legs with long pants. Over my shoulder I carried the bag in which I carry my computer.

I was miserable, sweating and generally hated anyone I saw on the beach enjoying themselves.

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In spite of the noise of the partiers and the crash of the falls, I slept soundly. In the morning, I showered and left my cabin. TBB had just begun stirring. Outside Gun Girl and one of the guys were frolicking in the falls. I went down to the restaurant where I had some cold eggs and instant coffee for breakfast (One cannot have everything). Sitting by the side of the river, I watched the sunlight come and go as it filtered through the trees lighting up different sections of the falls while leaving others in shadow.

We left the resort at about 11AM. I went in Lek’s vehicle, her son driving. Lek and I sat in the back seat where Lek became uncomfortably intimate and began telling me about her ruined marriage and her love affair with a British man whose offer of marriage she had to turn down because she could not stand her suitor’s teenaged daughter.

It was then that I began to perceive that perhaps Lek was supposed to be my blind date during the trip. Apparently, Gun Girl and the Sullen One were lovers and had slept together in one of the beds in the party house. Lek slept in the other bed with Mata Hari. She told me that when she woke up that morning “The lady-boy was draped over me like a blanket”.

Gun Girl, who is in her mid to late 30’s, was in full Cougar mode as the Sullen One was by far the youngest of our group, barely, if at all, out of his teens. His job, besides whatever nighttime services he rendered, seemed to be to carry Gun Girl’s luggage and camera and run her errands.

Eventually, we stopped at a gas station. We all got out and Lek’s son and girlfriend drove off in Lek’s car leaving the rest of us there with only Gun Girl’s vehicle. We waited, for what I neither knew, asked or cared.

After about an hour, a pick-up truck with a covered bed arrived. I was told that I would be traveling in the truck and the others in Gun Girl’s car. I got into the truck with two men in military camouflage jackets. They moved a couple of small machetes from the front seat so I could sit there. We drove off the paved road and onto a badly rutted and muddy dirt road and went up a fairly steep hill until we arrived at a wooden Thai house where everyone got out. The house was perched on stilts leaving the space beneath in a deep gloom. I could not see any windows in the house itself.

The two men and what appeared to be the residents of the building removed everything from the back of the truck and replaced whatever it was with a cooler, a case of soda water and some pads and a rug. I stood in the middle of the muddy rutted road and watched them scurry about or alternately closely examined the small stream that flowed around the house and across the road.

They soon finished doing whatever and everyone piled into the back of the truck except for me and the driver. In addition to the two of us, there were now two other men, a woman and a 4-year-old or so boy child. We drove back down the mountain and on to the paved road and after stopping for ice, took off in the direction that I assumed the other car had gone. No one in the truck spoke any English and I spoke no Thai.

We were supposed to be going into what Lek called the “Switzerland of Thailand”, but to me at least initially It looked more like a heavily forested Dolomites except here instead of granite, the mountains appeared to be made of limestone. Probably the same formation that formed the Andaman Islands south of here.

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“Switzerland of Thailand”

After topping a rise, we entered into a large valley containing a huge artificial lake. The valley fittingly was named “Lake Valley”. The lake itself was quite beautiful with the cliffs at the eastern edge dropping directly into the water. Dotting the center of the lake were many fishing shacks and along the shore more substantial construction on stilts or houseboats.

Passing the lake, the road got narrower as we plunged into dense foliage. Lacking the usual multi-story canopy of the jungle, it and the hills around us reminded me a bit of the thick forests of the Catskills or Adirondacks but in place of maple, pine, birch, ash, and hickory, Southeast Asian tree species filled much the same niches. Large groves of a tall tree with a diameter of about 12 inches appeared. I was told they were teak. Their leaves were large, the size of a chafing-dish.

When I was a kid the cheap dish sets we ate off of usually came with something called a chafing-dish. It was usually shallow and had a cover. We did not know what it was for (or what chafing meant) so we usually used it without the cover to serve anti-pasta or to serve mashed potatoes on meat and potato day (we were trying hard to assimilate).

As we climbed higher the multi-story canopy jungle began to emerge. Huge trees with trunks two feet or more in diameter rising straight up, not branching for at least 100 feet, towered over the other trees like the redwoods tower over the coastal forests of California.  The lower story of the forest canopy was made up of shrubs and bamboo groves.

We were passing through some of Thailand’s most extensive National Forests and Wildlife Preserves. They are reputed to contain Tigers, Gibbons, Elephants and a whole host of other animals (I even saw an “Elephant Crossing” sign). However, the only fauna I observed was the scrawny, mangy feral dogs that seem to exist everywhere in the country.

We drove on and up through the unremitting green. I began to get bored. It was like climbing from the Central Valley on the way to Tahoe. At a certain point, I would always get to feel a bit like Spiro Agnew. I had seen enough Incense Cedars, Ponderosa Pines and Giant Sequoia for that particular trip. Also, I always mistrusted green.

When I was growing up in Tuckahoe NY we lived for a while in Section 8 public housing. They required all the walls in the apartments to be painted with paint supplied by the Housing Authority and that paint was always institutional green. I grew to become strongly repulsed by the color. I have found it unfortunate that the environmental community has chosen the color and the word” green” as their trademarks. Why couldn’t they have chosen blue for the sky for example or orange for the sun or even magenta for its own sake and a for the sake of a few glorious sunsets?

Thinking of magenta made me think of Crayola crayons. I loved them – not to draw or color with. I found them horrid for that purpose, just like colored pencils and those stupid little watercolor sets that they forced on kids. No wonder so many give up the graphic arts while still children. Oils would work, but where does a 6-year-old find artist oil paints (acrylics had not been invented yet, I think)?

No, I collected Crayola crayons for their names, even if I rarely used them to draw with. Woolworth’s used to sell them singly from large bins. My favorite was “Burnt Sienna“. (Some other great names included, “Atomic Tangerine”, “Beaver”, “Electric Lime”, “Jazzberry Jam”, “Macaroni and Cheese”, “Mango Tango”, “Neon Carrot”, “Radical Red” and “Wild Blue Yonder”.)

I do not even recall what “Burnt Sienna” looks like, probably some shade of orange or brown.

One color I collected but simply did not understand was “Flesh”. It was very rare and one had to look around for it. I tried it out once on a sheet of paper thinking that my stick people drawings suddenly would come alive if I applied “Flesh” color to the circle that represented their faces. To my great distress, I discovered that  “Flesh”  was sort of washed out pink. That was not the color of the skin of the people I knew. Pink was the color of the people who lived in the posh suburb of Bronxville, just south of Tuckahoe. You could not live in Bronxville if you were Italian, Jewish or Black. Bronxville people were pink, with visible blue veins no less. They gave me nightmares just like Froggy and Smilin Ed.

No, real people had skin that was dusky olive, or various shades of black or brown. Even the wealthy Jews who lived on the hills just outside of Bronxville looked more like us than those strange beings living across the village boundary a few feet away.

(Eventually, Crayola recognized that not all people’s’ skin was pink and changed the name of the color from “Flesh” to “Peach”. It did not look peach like either.)

The blackest person I knew was my friend Philie Pinto.  Most people’s skin, whether black, brown, Khaki or olive,  glow when in the light, sort of like a newly waxed automobile does. Not Phillie. He appeared to have been dipped in coal dust. He just adsorbed light. Once after many years absence, I returned to Tuckahoe and went into a bar called the Carioca. My grandfather used to own it when it was a fairly well-known jazz club in the area. It had fallen on hard times now and was dark and dingy. Phillie sat at the end of the bar. He had grown up to become the town taxi driver. I knew it was him. I could see his clothes, but his face was like smoke.

Some of the black kids in the town were what I have heard African-Americans refer to as High Yellow. Unlike the big-boned, heavy muscled, wide nosed very dark West African type like the Blount family, they were tall, slender narrow nosed lighter skinned like my friend Rabbit and his brothers and sisters. I do not know what color one would have called Rabbit, but certainly not yellow, high or not. Maybe “Burnt Sienna” or “Burnt Umber” another of my favorites. But I digress (I, by the way, always considered myself a khaki colored person).

Eventually, we arrived at an overlook that gave great views over the mountains and back towards the lake. A Thai motorcycle club or gang was there. In the 90 plus degree heat, they were all wearing long-sleeved leather jackets with “The Killer’’ emblazoned on the back. I do not know if it referred to the name of the club, or if they all chose the same nickname or if it was the name of their favorite rock band.

Anyway, after a short rest we went on to a Thai military outpost high on a mountaintop overlooking Myanmar replete with razor wire, sandbags, trenches and buried bunkers manned by one soldier who did not seem to possess any armaments whatsoever but was otherwise, I assume, prepared to resist, as the first line of defense, any onslaught by the Burmese intending to invade Thailand, rape their women and burn down their capital as they have done so often in the past.

Actually raping their women would be completely unnecessary today given the availability for military RR in Thailand of places like Nana Plaza and Pattaya. And as for burning down the capital, some have said it would be doing Thailand a favor.

After looking across the mountains into Myanmar for a while, we left the redoubt to the lone soldier and journeyed down the mountain to visit a tiny village on the border called Priok or something like that. Gun Girl told me that the village was in Myanmar, but it was not. It was however to some extent a Karen/Burmese peopled town. There were very few adults visible. The town seemed occupied principally by children, all seeming between the ages of 3 and 7. On the whole, they appeared to me to be the most beautiful children I had ever seen.

The village seemed as peaceful as peaceful could be.

1200px-Etong_Village,_Thong_Pha_Phum,_Thailand_(24673802843)_(cropped)

“Priok”

We then went to the border itself and walked across into Burma. On the Thai side, there was a single uniformed soldier who lifted the gate and accompanied us as we strode into Myanmar.

We had taken some of the children from the town along with us. In addition to being beautiful, they seemed also innocent and beguiling,( unless the town secretly was intent on raising a generation of accomplished sociopaths). We went up a small incline past the crest of the hill and came upon the Burmese guard-house. There was no gate across the road, but along the side of the road was a fence made up of small sharpened bamboo pickets and a gate behind which there were two tumbledown stone buildings.

The children opened the gate and ran into one of the stone huts and woke up the person sleeping there. He did not have a uniform, but I was assured that he was indeed Burmese. He posed for photographs with us as we stared across Burma to the Andaman Sea in the distance.

We then headed back down the mountain and stopped for dinner at one of those ubiquitous bamboo huts that dot the edge of the roadways in Thailand. They usually have a sagging palm covered roof,  no walls, contain an open kitchen and a few tables. This one had three tables. It also had a coke machine and a Karaoke set up.

It apparently was owned by the family in whose truck I had spent the better part of the day. They cooked up what they called “Food from the Mountain”. It featured Frogs, not frogs legs but whole frogs that sat there on the rice in my dish looking like nothing else other than a burned brown frog that was staring back at me. I found it to contain too many bones. Another dish I was told was made from something that lived in the trees.  It was not a bird, monkey or squirrel but no one knew its name in English. The third meat dish was made from some animal no one could or would describe (it tasted like chicken always a bad sign – maybe it was one of those feral dogs. Then again, I hope not). The vegetables looked like and tasted like vines and grass. Although I tried eating it all, it was too spicy hot for me to eat much, so they made me an omelet.

Mata Hari sang a few songs on the Karaoke machine. At one point, as everyone began to feel the effects of the prodigious amounts of liquor they had been drinking all day, the conversation got around to joking about whether at my age, I was strong enough to handle a woman like Lek. When I acknowledged that I probably could not, the man who drove the truck took from out of his pocket some pills that he said was Thai herbal Viagra and would make one strong and vigorous. Several of us tried it, including me.

That night we slept at the house of another friend of Gun Girl. Shortly after retiring the Thai herbal medicine hit me like ephedrine on steroids. I spent rest of the night walking around the room, doing push-ups, jumping jacks and several other exercises to burn off the energy until at about daybreak when I fell exhausted onto the bed and slept for perhaps two hours.

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