Previously by Tony Pivetta: Drug-Screen the Corporate-Welfare Queens!
His mental and physical health had steadily deteriorated over the months. We knew the end drew near. I thought I was braced for it. Braced, perhaps, but not entirely prepared. My dear papa, Angelo Pivetta, died last summer. He would have turned 87 last week.
He had a good run. A hearty drinker and heavy smoker, things started catching up to him about ten years ago. The medicos diagnosed a touch of emphysema here, a scarring of the liver there. Nothing imminently life-threatening, but his habits had to go. Give him credit: he loved life more than he loved his Camels and vino. He summoned the will to quit, cold turkey, with neither nicotine- nor alcohol-withdrawal palliatives to help him along.
He'd had four or five multiple-night stays in the hospital, in 2010 and 2011. We feared each one might be his last. But, like Rasputin, he would not go down. His last hospital visit, in July 2012, proved to be his last. He was transferred to a nursing home. The end came a few weeks later.
We called him "Rough." We weren't referring to his hale and hearty constitution. No, it was because he'd had it rough. Life was hell when he was a kid, and he let us know it. "When I was your age, we smoke a cigarette three ways — three ways — and for weeks we talk about what great smoke we have!"
"Gee, Dad, you're rough! I don't even smoke! That's how bad I've got it!"
He beat the odds. Then again, who knows? Red wine is chock full of resveratrol, polyphenols and anti-oxidants. Tobacco calms the nerves. Maybe his vices — even in the immoderate doses self-administered — did him less harm than good.
(Caveat lector: this is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your local State-licensed medical practitioner for answers to your health questions.)
He toiled as excavation laborer. It was hard, thankless and physical work. He never complained. He never took a sick day. If he ever felt under the weather, he ate his dinner and downed a couple of shots of grappa, proceeding immediately to bed. That's how we knew he was sick. He went straight to bed instead of falling asleep on the couch watching TV — or as TV watched him, as he was wont to say.
He was up-and-at-u2018em the next day — ready to tackle the man-uh-hole. That's right. This wasn't your ordinary, everyday manhole. It had three syllables! It was part of his Working Class Hero shtick. "I work in a man-uh-hole all day. Water up to my knees, all soaking wet" — and here he paused for dramatic effect, delivering the coup de grace in a breathy whisper — "and sweat!"
If he intended for his proletarian elegy to elicit sympathy, he failed miserably. The ingrate sons collapsed to the floor in heaps of laughter. "Gee, Dad, you're rough!"
Did I say "sons"? He gleefully denied paternity. This, too, was part of his shtick. One summer his company deployed him to worksites within walking distance of the downtown Detroit offices of my employer. He had alerted me to the possibility we'd cross paths. Sure enough, I spied him one morning. Even at a hundred yards and with his back to me, his figure was unmistakable: feet shoulder-width apart, one hand on his hip while the other held a shovel, the ubiquitous Camel squeezed between index and middle fingers. I completed my approach and tapped him on the shoulder.
Turning around, he immediately started laughing. "Ha ha ha! Hey, bum!" Then, tugging my tie, he shouted down into man-uh-hole. "Hey, Joe! Come here! I want you meet somebody! A hardhat emerged from his subterranean haunt. "This is my son Tony! Ha, ha ha! Well, they say he's my son. I don't know. Ha ha ha! You know how that go! Ha ha ha! I never say u2018my son,' I never way u2018my wife'! I say u2018our son,' u2018our wife'! Ha ha ha! Because you not know where she been! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
"Gee, Dad, you're rough! A fine way to talk about the mother of your children! And thanks for saddling me with that Madonna-Whore thing!"
Interestingly enough, Aristotle is reputed to have said something along the same lines: "Of course mothers love their children more than fathers love their children. Mothers are sure their children are their own." I don't think he got it from Aristotle.
He didn't deny paternity when it came to my sister. He always liked her best. One Christmas, after we'd polished off multiple bottles of wine, he started dropping hints "we" could use another. The three sons played dumb. Without prompting, our sister dutifully pushed herself away from the table and proceeded to make the trek to the basement. Returning, she pulled the cork and poured him a glass.
"Nadine," my dad solemnly announced to the family and friends assembled, "is the only son I ever had." The attempt to chasten us proved futile, as the sons erupted into a barrage of jeers. "Fabio is the only sister I ever had." "Mom is the only dad I ever had." "Zio Gigi is the only aunt I ever had." "Coco [our pet cockatiel] is the only dog I ever had." "Leonid Brezhnev is the only president I ever had." And so on and so forth.
He dished it out. He took it.
His politics leaned distressingly to the left. He managed to sow the seeds of my libertarianism nonetheless. Perhaps the Italian left's anarcho-syndicalist distrust of central authority had something to do with it. He relied on himself alone. He grew an extensive vegetable garden. He did all his own plumbing and electrical repairs. He built an entire bathroom from scratch. He made his own wine. He distilled grappa from the residue, taking care to cover the basement windows with cardboard to avoid detection.
He disabused me of American exceptionalism at a very early age. Maybe it started with the unique imprecation — "M*****f***ing Hiroshima!" — he hurled at motorists who cut him off in traffic. Or maybe it was his flouting of the United States as a Global Force for Good. He'd experienced a dose of uplift as a putative beneficiary of the Allied "liberation" of Italy. He could have done without it. As far as he was concerned, the Benevolent Hegemon was Just Another Country.
I faced drafted registration as an 18-year-old toward the end of the Vietnam War. I knew he didn't like that war, or any other, but surely a defensive war is theoretically possible. I had to know. “If I get drafted, don’t you think I should fight for my country? Isn’t it the honorable thing to do?”
I thought he’d shed some light on the matter. He'd lost a brother in the Italian Army during the Siege of Stalingrad in 1942. MIA to this day, my uncle left a two-year-old daughter and young widow in the lurch. The family never even had a body to grieve over. That's not the worst of it. The poor schmuck fought on the Bad Guys’ Side. Yes, it seems my Zio Nino fought alongside the Germans to put the kibosh to Stalin’s tyranny, when all along The Right Thing To Do was to fight alongside the Russians to put the kibosh to Hitler’s tyranny.
Who knew? The Cold War would only come two long years later! Mussolini was just a little ahead of his time.
Anyway, my papa would have none of this. He fairly came unglued. “Your country?! What?! Are you crazy?! Where do you get these ideas? No! You have no country! You know where my country is?! Here! Between my legs! That’s my country! That’s all I live for! That’s all I fight for! That’s all I’ll die for!”
He was a good man. Here’s hoping he and his country find themselves in a better place. May God rest his soul.
Tony Pivetta [send him mail] lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he pines for a bygone era in which baseball actively strove to maintain its continuity with its past. He draws dark parallels between the rise of publicly financed stadiums and the demise of both the Grand Old Game and the cause of American liberty.