66th and Haverford, Skippy’s Story

I’ve always enjoyed Tolstoy’s line in Anna Karenina, which I usually slaughter. It goes something like “Every happy family is the same, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tell me about it. Italian families are subject to stereotyping, in case you haven’t noticed. I’ve been known to call on my Uncle Vito to administer retribution to someone who has gotten up in my grill. I don’t have an Uncle Vito. But everyone gets the point. It’s like alluding to Super Mario Brothers. Hey, by the way, how come you can call a video game that? I can’t refer to the Washington Redskins anymore, but Eyetalians remain fair game. I need to fix that gross injustice. Some other time, as the song goes.

So, to reprise a bit. Haddington is the name given to a section of West Philly that’s scarcely ever used any longer. But it goes back, at least, to the early nineteenth century. For all I know, it may well antedate that but I’m not sufficiently expert to say. I do know that by the 1840s, there was enough settlement to warrant a hotel called–The Haddington Hotel.

Ok. I know a good publicist when I see one, and Major W. Whitesides could turn a phrase. Now, maybe 66th and Haverford was beautiful and romantic in 1842, although looking at it today, you could be forgiven a certain skepticism. The high and beautiful scenery, well, yeah, I could see 69th Street from the second floor of 6613 Haverford, and if memory serves, on a good night, the old PNB sign (since removed as a “safety hazard”; it predicted weather by color change. So cool) In fact, I wouldn’t swear to it without a survey and a trip to the Municipal Archives, but I’m willing to wager that we (the Villari-Salvucci extended family) occupied part of the site of the hotel, along with a number of other houses. What does this have to do with Skippy? Well, not much, but in my mind’s eye, part of doing history is trying–usually fruitlessly–to see what you are writing about. Skippy’s was about a block and a century removed from the Haddington Hotel.

I should know when my people began to run the neighborhood down. See, the Haverford, Lansdowne, Haddington, Chester, Lancaster–they don’t exactly bespeak a legacy foundation by the people of the Italian peninsula, let alone the duskier varieties. I’m guessing the Italians ruined the neighborhood around the turn of the twentieth century. For now, let’s figure we were latecomers. Besides, the Lenni Lenape got there first, but aside from the name Karakung, they got no skin in the game any more. They got the melting pot treatment. But good.

I think Skippy’s dated to about 1941, or, at least, Skippy’s history with the Philly cops did. Growing up a block or so away, I had no idea that Skippy’s was a hot spot. Or that the cops had routinely raided the place. No one ever said a word. No one ever said, “Bad people there. Avoid.” Nothing. Even though my Dad grew up maybe two blocks from it, and it was directly visible from Renzulli’s pharmacy at 65th and Haverford. It was part of the wallpaper. You’d go into Yock’s deli, or even into DeVita’s furniture store–my parents bought their furniture there when we fled to Montgomery County, or into Neil Leger’s Jeep dealership (which stood where D’Anjollel’s funeral parlor now resides). But Skippy. Nope.

It was a tap room, as we called them back then. My father did not frequent such places. I doubt I knew anyone who did. But, clearly, someone patronized Skippy’s. Because it was a going concern for many years. I probably mentioned that Mike Pedicin had a regular gig there, and he was a name sax player in Philly. That’s all I knew when I was a kid about Skippy’s. Mike Pedicin played there. But there was much more to know.

As of 1965 (when I was 14, and, believe me, no innocent), Skippy had wracked up 22 arrests for gambling. Mrs Skippy, who was actually the licensee (from the Liquor Control Board) had been arrested 9 times. So the probability of Skippy getting busted for bookmaking in any given year from 1941 to 1965 was 22/24, or about 92 percent. Man, I love them odds. If someone had made my Devon Preparatory Freshman self a bet on Skippy getting busted and I had known that, man, I would have taken it. Mrs. Skippy less so, although here the story really gets interesting. And what I am about to tell you is true. No names to protect the innocent.

Italian wives of that vintage really knew how to stand by their man. Especially where the numbers racket was involved. I knew of a case where the cops arrested the wife when they were actually looking for her husband, and tossed her in jail. Knowing the individuals involved, I have a hard time believing the wife knew ANYTHING about hubby’s extralegal pursuits. But this was back in the day, and if you wanted a guy badly enough, you busted the wife. At least in Philly. At least in Vice. I kid you not. So follow this.

I’ve posted–as incontrovertible evidence–an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer on that appeared on February 9, 1960. Notice the Moll in the shades. This is Mrs Skippy. Even though she lived just around the corner from us on Atwood Road–a nice little line of stone house with lawn jockies, if memory serves, and maybe a Madonna or two, I don’t ever recall seeing her in any of the usual haunts. And that, I suppose, because she was otherwise employed. She was fully employed in not one, but two jobs: chef de cuisine at Skippy’s, and Chief Swallower of Slips at Skippy’s “bomb shelter” in the basement of Atwood Road (Skippy told the cops the war room was a bomb shelter in the basement. You know, “Duck ‘n Cover” Days then, when Republicans hated Commies). When the cops raided Skippy’s crib–more anon–the missus was found swallowing a betting slip with horserace plays and numbers slips even though she was indisposed with the grippe. I guess her doctor told her to eat only what she wanted. In any event, she got busted too. But wait, there’s more. To smoke Los Skippy out, literally, the cops dropped a smoke bomb down an air vent. Yes, the Philly cops bombed another house in West Philly.

And you thought the Move fiasco was unique, and that Greg Sambor was the only idiot who ever ran the Philly police department. Well, Bunky, I got news for you. They may not have burned down the neighborhood (thank God, the Villari-Salvucci compound was within walking distance), but the cops showed themselves perfectly willing to do something abysmally stupid to White people, assuming that Italians were White, of which I suspect some of them needed to be convinced. Now I know the Cisco Kid aka Frank Rizzo ultimately had a run at Vice, and he hassled the Skippies too. But you see, this is what happens when you overthink something involving cops in Philadelphia. To paraphrase Whoppi Goldberg, they may be racist slugs, but they beat up on everyone in those days. Take my word for it. No one on 66th Street ever wanted to see an old Red Car, which is what the cops drove back in the day. Cops were trouble, period.

The amazing thing about all this stuff is that it happened under my nose. John Facenda, the Italian American Walter Cronkite on WCAU Channel 10 never mentioned it–cause I’d remember. We never talked about the festivities a block away. Cause I’d remember that too. We had euphemisms for people like Skippy. Like someone who engaged in domestic violence and tore his home up every night (a neighbor) was called “noisy.” Maybe, if they were really plus ultra, you called them a “tidadoof.” (some kind of Sicilian pejorative) Mostly, you just averted your gaze and tried real hard to pretend these people didn’t exist. And, in way, they didn’t. They weren’t part of your world, so a discrete silence followed by a look that suggested you had stepped into something noisome was understood in the good old days in Haddington.

There was another time the Skippies got pinched and they released Mr and detained Mrs. I’m not really sure what the legal reasoning was, but I’m sure it wasn’t that the cops wanted to make her Queen for a Day. I guess they figured she would, you should pardon the expression, roll over on the Old Man. As far as I know, she never did. In March 1960, the Skippies got busted yet again. “Every time we turn around, you’re at our heels,” Signore Scaperotto complained to the police. They demanded to see the Chief of Police. He was indisposed. His deputy told them he would put them out of business. Fat chance.

They were parishoners at Saint Donato’s too, although I would have thought they might have belonged in Saint Callistus, which was this forbidding stone pile right off Lansdowne Avenue. Man, we were so insular I never knew anyone who went to school at St Callistus, let alone Mass. I think I knew someone who attended Cassady Elementary on Lebanon Avenue, which was practically another universe. Public school. No way. You were half way to Hell already.

When the Skippies left the planet, I am pretty sure they went out via Robert D’Anjolell Funeral Home, which was almost facing the tavern at 65th and Haverford. So there was a kind of symmetry to Haddington existence. You came in, worked and went out all in easy walking distance. Hell, you could have a beer and play the numbers too–hear Mass, pick up a prescription, get a cheese steak, buy great dinner rolls at Reale’s Bakery. You could even get a piano on 66th Street, although we were more the brass and woodwinds type of home. The Italian American Democratic Club was at 66th and Media, perched atop what we called Suicide Hill, where we’d let gravity send us careening down the street. Bocce courts and all. A full bar. Yellow cab had a nearby depot north of Haverford Avenue on 65th Street. We had a butcher, a baker, and a bookie. Hey, what more did you want? A full service hood. I don’t know what other services were available, but nothing would surprise me. We didn’t have a shrink, but nobody talked about that kind of stuff in the 1950s, believe me. And it wasn’t as if we all couldn’t have used one. All them cousins marrying from the hills of Lazio? Talk about inbreeding. Dear God.

Hey, don’t laugh or you’ll get hurt

Now, I should tell you one more thing about Skippy before I leave off. He was, God love him, an entrepreneur. Some time around 1964 or so, Skippy, the modest tap room, became Scaperotto’s, your place for fine dining and floor shows. Here. I’ll show you. DANCING NIGHTLY. FLOOR SHOWS. A smorgasbord (remember them) With a kitchen supervised by Mrs Skippy, who knew old world Italian cuisine, dammit. And a maitre d’ who was, I swear to God, apparently allergic to pizza flour (rumor has it, although God knows what other white powder might have given him sneezing fits). When Skippy’s went big time, it went BIG TIME. You can figure who helped finance the transition into an emporium. He made a few bucks gambling, and he had his posse. They’re right there. Miele Plumbing was a subcontractor for the Salvucci Bros, builders to whom my Dad was related (and for whom he once gigged as a night watchman), so don’t knock local finance. Debt collection was, I suspect, no problem. The Rothbard Theatrical Agency (said to handle Sammy Davis) would book the occasional singing dwarf from the Alabama: Little Linda Lou, 47 inches tall, 54 pounds, part of the Frankie Brent Review, Straight from Vegas. Don’t ask. I’m sure her intonation was perfect when she sang “Non Dimenticar” at the formal opening of Scaperotto’s Musical Bar (swear to God). Jerry Vale couldn’t make it. Frank was busy and sent regrets via Sid Mark on WHAT-FM.

Hey, this is Vegas on the Haverford

Now, isn’t that a palace fit for a King? Skippy’s “Bar” (still visible) had become a stuccoed monstrosity now gracing Haverford Avenue. 6519! I grew up at 6613! Run the numbers (well, poorly expressed). Right down the street from me, in Old Haddington, a freaking club. Complete with Caddy convertible parked out front to give the place some real class. Only thing was, by the time this went up, my family had fled the scene, to the greener climes of Penn Wynne and Penfield, verdant streetcar suburbs from the 1920s where Little Richie first heard the endearing terms “dago” and “wop”. Yes, boys and girls, from a guy named Eddie (no, not Eddie Haskell), who taught me to love the Irish Americans among us. But that is for another day. Soon. I ain’t done.

You’d think when Skippy became Scaperotto, he’d leave his penny ante bookie days behind, right? Wrong. They kept running numbers from the joint, they kept getting raided, they kept getting busted. You can’t take the hoodlum from the hood, or something like that. But by now, it was front page news in Philly, and everybody knew. The secret was out.

It was time for the Eyetalians to get away. Before even worse showed up. And they did. But that’s the next installment.

66th and Haverford

Did you ever read a children’s book, title something like “Dinosaur in My Back Yard.” I’m pretty sure I read it to my kids, although I think it made more of an impression on me than it did on them. In any event, I’ve been having some of those dinosaur moments, mostly relating to places in which I grew up. You know, sort of, what was this place like before I ever existed? I’m pretty sure these thoughts have been prompted by the realization that at some future date I will no longer exist, but McDonald’s is likely to still be around. Full of people eating stuff, blithely unaware of my previous existence. Deep, right?

If you have been following my adventures (why not?), you know my West Philly part grew up in Haddington. Except nobody ever called it that. Only the local branch of the Free Library at 65th and Girard Avenue had the Big H as part of it’s name. But my go to source for The Cat in The Hat was only known as “the libary.” That’s Philly-tawk. No one called it “The Haddington Branch.” No one would have known what you were talking about if you did. But see, we had culture. You didn’t need no picket fence Leave It to Beaver neighborhood. We were tough.

Now, this neighborhood was Italian-American and white. If if there was some doubt in the larger society about if we were really American, just like there had once been some conviction we weren’t white either. At 64th and Haverford, there was an Episcopal Church. It was called St Barnabas, Haddington. I gotta tell you that place made no impression on me whatsoever. I was so rooted at 66th and Haverford that 64th and Haverford might as well have been Ukraine. I had no clue what an Episcopalian was. I never met one. Hell, I don’t think I knew anyone who wasn’t Italian Catholic.

St Barnabas Episcopal Church, Haddington

I insert this photo only to prove I am not pulling your leg. I don’t know what it was doing there, when it was founded, zilch. If it had 100 communicants when I was a kid, I’d be surprised. The Rector’s name was Arthur Woolley. Believe me, nobody around there was named Arthur Woolley. Renzulli, Ragni, Villari, Amoroso, Rufo, Arzio. But Woolley? No way. The Church was clearly a vestigial remain of whatever had given rise to the name Haddington. It was long gone by the time my people took over. And took over we did.

Hey, Paysan, You don’t look Italian. They weren’t.

I lived directly across from the Russell Gross Post of the American Legion, which was at 6610 Haverford. That post closed up shop in 1980, but we’re talking 1950s here, and it was a going concern. Pretty place, I’d bet now it had gone up in the 1880s or 1890s, long before the home in which I lived. I even think there was a small Presbyterian church behind it cheek by jowl, but I wouldn’t swear to it. What the Hell was it doing there? If you think Haverford, Haddington, Episcopalian, Presbyterian–all of it, hints at some previous WASP existence on the Western edge of Philadelphia, I’d think you’d be correct. That’s only apparent to me now. You’d think one of the fancy types who inhabited the unlamented Philadelphia Social History Project would have looked into it. Sniff. To those guys, the West Philly Italians were the people without history. I hate to break it to you, but that was White Privilege such as I knew it. You wanna argue? Fine. I have a PhD in History from Princeton, and I know how to do this stuff, even if I never gave a rat’s backside about the places where I grew up. Who did? For God’s sake, we produced accountants, carpenters, insurance agents and butchers. Barely white collar then. Who the Hell studied history? You couldn’t make a living doing that.

However, you could make a living running a deli, a grocery store, a funeral parlor, a drug store, a bakery, a butcher, a tap room, or, Heaven help us, a tonsorial parlor (barber to you, cretin) or even an off track betting shop. Yeah, as a bookie or a numbers guy. Those were good jobs, if a bit risky.

C’mon Salvucci. You didn’t know any of those kind of people. Well, what do you mean “know,” as Clinton aptly observed? Where there were taprooms, restaurants, musicians and various shady types, there was, oh my God, the Mob. Cosa Nostra. The Outfit. Small time stuff, you know–there were no Godfathers in sight. But there were, ahem, soldiers.

There was a small taproom, in my day known as Skippy’s, at 65th and Haverford, more or less. It was, believe me, an unprepossessing place. It opened about 1943. I could only see the inside from the door that was usually opened on to Haverford Avenue. Fine dining and music. My memory suggests that a frequent habitue of the bandstand was a certain Mike Pedicin. Cause I saw his name up, and he was a well known Philly sax player. He has a famous sax playing son, Mike Pedicino (Jr), who is a monster on tenor. When he was coming up, I was as confused as Hell, because I didn’t realize Mike was not his father. I thought they had pretty good genes in that family, cause Mike, then with a full head of hair, didn’t look old enough to be a survivor of the 1950s. But his Dad was a Philly legend.

I remember going by Skippy’s on the 31 PTC trolley up Haverford Avenue, before they tore out the tracks for a bus. I’m guessing I might have been four or five years old, no older. So I wasn’t about to do the hang there. Maybe by the time I was seven I’d get to go to Yock’s at 66th and Haverford to buy cigarettes for my dad, or to eye the pinball machine–where they played for money, lol. Yeah, you can play a pinball machine for money. I saw it change hands. Definitely serious crime. The people around there were so naive that Yock once had some “newspaper” announcements printed up saying “Frank Sinatra to Appear at Yock’s Friday Night.” Right. Don’t laugh, there was a crowd of maybe 40 people waiting (including me) when some goofball in shades and a trench coat showed up, probably Yock’s first cousin. He was lucky not to get strung up, but this is the level of sophistication I’m talking. This was my childhood. In Haddington.

We were big on urban legends, halfball (a Philly game that apparently has a New York equivalent) and Robin Roberts, the Phillies’ redoubtable pitcher. Robbie had a few spectacular years in the 1950s. We thought Bobby Del Greco, the Phillies outfielder, lived on 66th street, I guess because some kid, Michael del Greco, did. Even in those days, when ball players had winter gigs at beer distributors, there was not much chance of that. But Hotsy, otherwise known as Hoagie Nose, swore up and down that he did. Yes, the children of the street were kind. We were, in today’s parlance, walking microagressions.

Hotsy was this tall skinny kid who lived vaguely if safely in the inner recesses of the hood. His rather large nose was celebrated in song: “Hotsy is a friend of mine. He resembles Frankenstein. Every time he blows his nose. There is such a big explose.” Yes, it ended on a tonic note. And there was Mister Softie, the rolling soft ice cream vendor who came rolling down 66th Street on soft summer nights to ruin our appetites and drain our forgiving parents of coins. The truck was garish, and it played a melody. Dude. This very tune.

We had lyrics to the melody. And remember, the neighborhood didn’t look anything like suburban Texas, for God’s sake. I didn’t make up the lyrics. A guy named Louie the Louse did. Here we go: “Where is the **** that brings the cream? His name is Mister Softee.” Oh. My. God. **** was a barnyard epithet. The street looked like this two years before I was born. To your immediate left was a blacksmith. Yeah. Had enough?

1949. 66th and Haverford. Salvucci Builders did the homes in the distance.

In any event, before you lose all you patience, I want to tell you about Skippy the Bookie, aka, the “club owner.” And how he interacted with the neighborhood. Now Skippy was a local dude, but I guess he had been to Vegas, seen visions, dreamed dreams. He wasn’t happy with some taproom at 65th and Haverford. He wanted more.

So, in 1963, Skippy went big time. Boy did he go big time.

Las Vegas Comes to Haddington. Floor Shows. Choice Wines. God only knows what else.

I also have an exterior photo. This is what Skippy’s had been transmogrified into. Scaperotto’s Music Bar, “the scene of frequent raids over a twenty year period.”

What hath Skippy Wrought?

Now, I don’t know how well you can read the text around the photo, but you see the door labelled “Bar”? That was the old original Skippy’s. Now well you may ask, where on earth did Skippy get the scratch to modernize (with Cadillac, see fins) his humble. Haddington operation?

Tune in for the next installment. I’m just getting warmed up. With more pictures, even!!!!

I don’t want to try your patience.

Merry Christmas, you bastards

I had previously said I was off for the holidays. And I was. But since we are facing what Michael Osterholm calls a “viral blizzard,” I think the holidays are on hold. And besides, what teacher-writer with a book to finish ever stops working. As Perry Como (channeling Armando Manzanero) wailed, “Tell a baby not to cry, it’s impossible.”

You know, if you tried to make the last 18 months up, you couldn’t. I couldn’t, and I have a Hell of an imagination. Here are a few examples. In no order of importance.

There is a guy in the US Senate named Manchin (ne Mancino, or something like that). Now, I never gave this guy much thought. Cause, honestly, I never gave West Virginia much thought. I’ve been there briefly coming or going from the Southwest to Philly. Maybe 20 minutes. It looked like upstate Pennsylvania, but worse. I figured 20 minutes was enough. No there there.

Then along comes Manchin. I am told he drives a Maserati. You do sort of wonder how some dorch from nowhere affords such things, especially on a government salary. In Mexico, this is a presumptive crime called “inexplicable enrichment.” I like that. I think we need it on the books here. Because I got the feeling that Manchin is bought and paid for, well beyond the public stuff we can scrape the web for. Pharma? Energy companies? Who really cares? Right now, I know he is holding not only the United States, but indeed, the world, hostage. He has gutted the clean energy provisions of Biden’s legislation from his perch in the Senate. Why? Because he is, as they say in Spanish, el fiel de la balanza. The balance weight. The guy who tips the scales in our bankrupt political system, the land of “one man, one vote.” Right. More like “one man, one toilet.” Cause that’s where we are. With the evidence of truly scary climate change upon up–please, spare my intelligence the denials–maybe irreversible change, for all I know, Manchin is a one man greenhouse gas producer. He is toxic.

And yet the miserable Democrats have pussy footed around this weasel in the vain hope that “he can get there.” Meaning that they can talk some sense to him about Biden’s legislation, much of which strikes me as far too important to ignore. Like, Manchin apparently thinks greenhouse gases are a “positive good.” You know, like John C. Calhoun and African slavery. Not an obnoxious byproduct of a system of production, but a vital, and, indeed, beneficial contribution to humanity. No offense to Calhoun intended.


Time’s up, and Manchin is in the way. Not of progress, but maybe of the future of the planet. So is West Virginia. If the place were Russia in the 1950s, we would’ve given them over to Curtis LeMay and let his beloved B52s bomb them even further back into the Stone Age than they currently are. As far as Manchin goes, I think it’s time for Biden and any self-respecting Democrat (Pelosi, Warren, Klobuchar are the only three I can think of) to rough him up. And as we learned from past Presidents, you can rough someone up when you want. Gee, when was the last time that Joe’s tax returns got thoroughly audited? Search me. Better yet, search him. One of them compliance thingies, where if you say you are a dude on your 1040, you have to prove it. Maybe on national television. But I think the time for doing nice nice to this slug (among others) is now long past over. Ask Jim Carville. He seems to have some clues about how to handle people like this. And I bet he wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. I wouldn’t. And I’m a nice Catholic boy. But enough is enough.

Then there’s January 6. Oh, yeah, that refreshing stroll across the Capitol grounds by the Minions of Trump. Yesterday, I read that a guy who tossed a fire extinguisher at the cops got 5 years. And what about that Howling Maniac dressed up in an animal skin. He got some time, right? Whatever it was, not enough.

You have got to be kidding me. Merrick Garland is said to have a net worth of $20 million. I am again sort of wondering where that came from? By dint of his motivational seminars? Do we still have a DOJ? Or did Trump just lay waste to the entire thing? A year later and we got a couple of chicken shit sentences for fur wearers and extinguisher tossers? What about Trump? What about Meadows? What about Rick Perry? What about Giuliani? What about the complicit knuckleheads in Congress? We now have several long volumes by Woodward et al essentially laying out a public version of what these characters were up to. Lord, if some guy in South Texas can figure it out, are you telling me that the Best and Brightest can’t? Oh, they’re dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Comforting. Here I thought they were facing down the first open attempt at rebellion in the United States since Our Southrun Breathern decided to prove their point. . I remember when Katrina wiped out NOLA, I called my Senator (Kay Bailey Hutchison) and asked her office “Where the Hell is George?” You know, W who was a no-show for days in the wake of a catastrophe. I’m at about that point now with Garland and the DOJ. Y’all home? Taking calls? This is an emergency. The house is burning down. You can nap or have a tasteful meal later.

Then there’s the newest flavor of Covid. Dear God, is this nuts or what? I looked at a shot outside Macy’s in NYC. Crowded streets. Some masks even, but you’d never know this damn thing was blowing up again. I heard some poor physician say there are two worlds: ours, and then the one in which people are pretending nothing is happening.Take a look at the streets of Berlin for comparison. They got as many antivax wingnuts there–proportionately–as we do here. But they’ve gotten serious about making people get vaccinated. By restricting access to public spaces to people who realize their actions have consequences. The vaccinated. Don’t give me this idiocy about what I put into my body is my business. What you put into MY body is MY business. How many times do people have to hear that nobody has an absolute right to anything, especially when it infringes on the rights and well being of others?

Give me a break. Rousseau talked about forcing people to be free in The Social Contract. Well, I finally get it. Took fifty years, but I hear you, dude. I think we need to force some Americans to be free.

Yeah, this is nothing but an ill tempered rant. I don’t care. You don’t have to read it or like it or agree with it. But like they used to say in my old neighborhood, lead, follow, or get the Hell out of the way.

I have a feeling a lot of people need to get out of the way. And if they don’t, maybe they need a push. And it’s increasingly likely that some of us will be willing to help administer it.

Merry Christmas. And sorry I didn’t proofread carefully. Tough.

When I was a Boy, I Walked Seven Miles Through The Snow

Yesterday was Thanksgiving (in the USA, for my faithful international readers, all 4 of them). It’s gotten to the point that you worry about celebrating any commemorative occasion that has to do with Native Americans. You know, since homicidal beginnings are almost inevitably built into the origins of all them, you figure it’s some kind of political gesture–and not a good one. And this is not a subject of humor. This year, I made a few cracks about Columbus Day (hey, I’m Italian-American. Columbus WAS first) and I ended up almost losing a friend and deeply regretting that I said anything. And I’m, at heart, a historian. Maybe that’s why I get into trouble so easily: I tend to worry about details or anachronisms or petty stuff like that, and I end up sounding like Eammon Duffy on burning Protestants during the English Counter Reformation. Well, I wish I could sound like Eammon Duffy on anything, but let it pass. Suffice it to say, these ethnobonfires are not my style. I’m sorry Squanto lies buried under a golf course somewhere. We weren’t around, or we would have told him that you don’t trust medeganz.

In any event, Thanksgiving is one of what I would call an “anchor holiday.” Now, in behavioral economics, “anchoring” has a precise meaning. Basically, it suggests that the first value you select or pay or see or something has an outsized effect on subsequent decisions you make, rational, correct, or not. The effect has been widely observed in all sorts of fields; some of us may just regard anchoring as “stubborn insistence” in the face of changing information. The first sci-fi movie I saw had slimy ET’s. I expect ET to be slimy. Even seeing a non-slimy ET (or any ET) will not change my feeling that I saw a slimy ET. Anchoring.

I think, not to put to fine a point on it, that for a lot of us, a day like Thanksgiving is an anchor holiday. You celebrate it each year–or I do, at least–but my first memories of Thanksgivings, back in the 1950s and early 1960s, have an outside effect on shaping my expectations as to what an appropriate Thanksgiving Day will be. Anything else feels weird, whether it is objectively weird or not. So I grew up in Philadelphia before climate change was a thing. I grew up at a time when you could and did burn fallen leaves from trees whose aroma spiced the chilly Fall air. I expect Thanksgiving to be chilly, and maybe burning-leaf scented, turkey apart. I just do. Even moving to another part of the country always evinced the sensation that “it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving or Christmas” even though I had no reason to think Christmas in California was going to feel like Christmas in Philadelphia. The anchor of my early years, formative experiences, or at least what I remember or THINK I remember as formative experiences is too powerful. My narrative is set by an anchor created at least 60 years ago. Another time.

I was forcefully reminded of this phenomenon by watching a rather extraordinary film of the Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia from 1934. With sound. I am going to put that up first so you can look at it too, or you can simply skip over it. I was transfixed.

Gimbel’s 1934 Thanksgiving Day Parade, Philadelphia PA

Impressive, huh. A soundie from “back in the day” documenting the way Philly’s parade used to work. A buff Santa climbing the window into Gimbel’s toy department at Eighth and Market. Santa looks like a refugee from Dickens, and the crowd, as befitting a city that was around 90 percent white, evinces no diversity. Well, those are faithful reflections of the times–when FDR and Hitler were on a collision course, a first class letter cost 3 cents to mail (still true in my childhood if you didn’t seal it), and Lou Larkins (my Dad, God rest his soul) was maybe in his junior year at West Catholic High School for Boys (he had a medical problem that delayed his graduation, and nearly killed him, not to say made him a genuine 4F, but I’m not sure what year it was). And look at the togs. Little kids turned out sweetly in little fleece trimmed coats. Dudes in box coats with Fedora hats. Wow. Must have been a chilly one. You know. Philly in late November. My Dad was forever lecturing my adolescent self about how I didn’t really know what it was to endure a walk to school in the snow, because the winters were awfully cold and snowy, And it was the Depression. Cold is colder in a depression, right. I took a comfy school bus out to Devon and lived in luxury. Tom Brokaw was right. They were the Greatest Generation.

One small problem with this story. It was rainy in Philly that day. Streets look wet and the cops are in old fashioned slickers. The high in Philly that day was 64F and the low was 56F. The average high in Philly in November is 55F and the low is 40F. It might have been rainy (it was), but it wasn’t chilly. Depression or no. Old days or not. It was, well, mild. Well, if it was mild, how come all those people are overdressed? Oh, oh.

I don’t do the history of fashion, let alone the history of American fashion.

However, I can look stuff up, and I know the men dressed much more formally then than they do now, where we go out onto the streets looking like we should be collecting FROM UNICEF. Lord, even I get embarassed. I don’t think I own a fedora–nor have I ever. And if I went out in one, people would probably think I’d lost it.

Look at this lovely photo. Now, the guy may be dressed for a night on the town, but I assure you, he didn’t go shopping in a hoodie and sweats. This was the way men dressed, modified slightly for warmer weather, but, by and large, put together the same way. No,

1930s dude. Normal togs

it wasn’t chilly in Philly that day in 1934. It was Thanksgiving. Maybe slightly dressy for the holiday, but not by much. Men dressed, and not just to keep warm. So it wasn’t chilly. It was a day in the life. It’s hard to be a good historian.

My curiosity was piqued, of course. I know that since the 1960s, the average temperature in the city of Philadelphia has risen an astounding 5F. Some of this is urban heat island effect, where buildings, roads, and infrastructure absorb and emit much more of the sun’s heat than natural areas, and the city has been built up considerably since the 1930s. So there is that. But there is an irreducible residual that is climate change, and if you have an open mind, you’re not going argue much with the idea that the average temperature was lower 60 years ago. It’s about more than temperature, of course, but this isn’t a science blog.

So I started to wonder, what was the weather on Thanksgiving in Philly in the past? If you were to ask me, I’d instantly respond, “colder, much colder.” “Are you sure?” “Oh absolutely; I remember one Thanksgiving when Dad and I went for a walk and there were snow flurries. Probably 1966 or so. Hmm. So when I was a boy, yeah, I did trudge through all that snow.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Because we have daily records of temperature and precipitation back to 1888, I decided to do some checking. This was not intensive research, and I have a lot of questions about measurement errors and biases and technical stuff that I won’t bore you with. They are important in scientific work, but no one should sweat that for purposes of a casual discussion.

Let’s take the long view. This is a graph of the maximum (red dot) and minimum (blue dot) average temperature in Philadelphia from 1888 through 2020. They are displayed in 5 year moving average form. This way, you don’t smooth out the fluctuations too much, as with a 10 year moving average. But you also don’t get the eye-watering chop of annual observations. These days, the time-series people are always telling us not to just look because appearances might be deceptive. Problem is, when I went to school, my econ teachers said before you start getting fancy, just look at the thing you’re analyzing. Old habits die hard, so we’re gonna look at the lines. Bear in mind that a degree or two in the long run is a lot, but on a year-to-year basis, well, so what. And bear in mind this is one day a year, which, strictly speaking, proves nothing at all. Still, play along.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably say “I don’t see much of a trend at all.” Both extremes look more or less flat, no? Now, please, don’t jump to conclusions about climate change. You can’t on this basis. But what you can say, if you want to is, more or less

From 1888 to 2020, the temperature, max and minimum on Thanksgiving Day in Philadelphia, was more or less the same. Oh, sure, there were annual variations. If you wanted, you could see some brief periods when the temperatures seemed to be higher, mid 1930s and 1940s, or late 1960s, when temperatures were a little higher. But nothing really eye-popping. The 1960s really surprised me, because, like my Father, I remember things a lot colder. You know, we had real weather then.

–Salvucci Sez

Oh really? Not on Thanksgiving. Maybe if you go back to the 1880s and 1890s. But even then, they didn’t take the temperature at International Airport for obvious reasons. There wasn’t one. Wherever they measured temperature then might have been colder, but who knows? It don’t look it. And like when my Dad was young, same deal. He might have frozen his rear off trudging to West, but not on Thanksgiving. If anything, it was getting warmer then. Sorry Lou.

So if it wasn’t bitterly cold on Thanksgiving when I was a kid, why do I think it was? Well, for one thing, the Thanksgiving my Dad and I went for a walk in West Philly and it flurried really made an impression on me. How could it not? He didn’t take me for a walk every day, especially as I got older. And every day wasn’t Thanksgiving. I can see that day in my mind’s eye as clearly as if it were this past Thrusday. That is “Thanksgiving when I was younger.” It turned out to be a referential anchor around which I constructed an entire narrative. I’m certain Dad had a similar experience. There are only a handful of people in the world (the actress Marilu Henner is one) who rerun their entire lives in memory day-by-day. So the striking first-glimpsed object becomes the whole. Or maybe it’s even simpler. Global warming and climate change are a fact. I know it was different 60 years ago. So why should I expect Thanksgiving to be an exception, if it was? Different anchor?

Well, fine, like so what, as Stanley Stein used to say? Well, I guarantee you, a lot of people looking at that film clip from 1934 will say “What a racist place Philadelphia was. Where are all the people of color? You see, American is built on white privilege.” Hold it, not so fast. Maybe it is, and may Philadelphia was. Somehow I don’t doubt it. But the “evidence” doesn’t “prove” it. There’s no context: it isn’t true to say there were no people of color in Philadelphia, because there were. Yet Philly was around 90 percent “white.” Even a random sample of Philadelphians would have looked pretty white, and there’s plenty of reason to think a crowd of holiday parade attendees wasn’t a random sample. I know people in my family who always worked on holidays, and by 1934, whatever Italians were up North, they weren’t Black. They were working class and a lot less affluent than the attendees at an Epicopalian church supper. Maybe you went to the Parade. Maybe not.

Does it make me a racist to observe this? No. It makes me a historian. Or at least it used to, before a lot of Americans went nuts, call it pc, woke, whatever you want. One of the first things they used to teach aspiring historians was that a generation’s interpretation or narrative probably said as much, if not more about the generation doing the interpreting than about the “event” itself. At least I learned that in 1970, and I saw plenty of evidence to support the point (No one reads Thomas Pressly’s Americans Interpret Their Civil War any more. Maybe they should.) No, now it’s the other way around. If the past doesn’t conform to our expectations, well, the actors in the past were wrong. Like, God help us, Columbus, who wasn’t a Progressive Democrat. Right. Well, he wasn’t, for sure, but before you demonize him (or anyone else), maybe you should, God forbid, read a little “obsolete” history, whatever that is.

How we shape narratives; what works and what doesn’t; why they change; how keep some perspective on the fact that the past, as someone put it, is a foreign country where they do things differently, is a real challenge. How do you not lose your soul, or your ability to judge evil, or even simple inefficiency? You know what? There’s no simple guide. Learning to empathize with an historical actor is by no means the same thing as sympathizing with the actor. It’s why people used to spend a lifetime trying to learn to get into the heads of the people they studied. But that’s hard, and I promise you, you won’t become an influencer anytime soon. Being a good historian is a bad career move. It’s a lot easier to be censorious. Self-serving comment? Yeah, it probably is. Like one British historian said, “A moment’s thought might convince you otherwise. But thinking is hard. And a moment is a long time.”

Back after the Holidays. I know. You can’t wait.

Dare to Be Different

“Who is whistling?” Spoken with a Transylvanian accent and the imperious inflection of a person with the habit of command. I’m guessing Fall 1964. On the steps of gym in some Godforsaken place called Devon PA. Little did my 13-year old self know this would be a life-changing day for me. Damn good thing. I might have gotten the Hell out of there while I could. You know, like, for want of a nail? That kind of thing.

It was different, alright. I was a kind of more or less normal adolescent, give or take a trumpet. And my taste in music was stuck in the 1930s, but otherwise, whatever passed for normal. Definitely not cool, but sane, if Catholic. Man, Devon Preparatory School put an end To All That. In the end, I guess, it’s all worked out. But I wonder what would have happened had I gone to the garden variety public high school (Lower Merion) where an early heartthrob had proceeded me. I might have played. Maybe I would have been marginally less neurotic. I could have been a contender. You know the story. Or maybe I would have ended up in Viet Nam. Who knows? And gotten killed or truly screwed up. At least two guys from Lower Merion died in Vietnam. I think Devon was spared.

Nobody used the word “nerd” in 1965, but had they used it, Devon would have been nerdy. When you got their propaganda, the class photos had guys with short hair and white socks who looked like the should be working in some accounting firm in Reading. Actually, the “dork” was common, and you could be sitting in Latin class and hear someone yell “McNally, you dork” on the way to the gym. I actually did. Poor guy. Devon was a dorky place. It did not have the social prestige of Episcopal or Haverford. Or the cafone pretensions of Malvern, Devon’s Catholic arch rival, who actually had a football team (I think) and played in the Interac League. No, we were the “bookish” ones. Supposedly. Supposedly, we were all, umm, not very masculine. I once had a girl from a Catholic school sing me a ditty

I used to go to Malvern Prep and I was quite contrary
Now I go to Devon Prep. Whoops, I'm a fairy.

I was thrilled, needless to say. Remember, this was 1965. Pre-Stonewall. So I spent a good deal of time working against stereotype. It wasn’t difficult, believe me. Devon wasn’t Georgetown Prep, by any means, but any female presence on campus was apt to cause much disorder. Guys with cute sisters were popular.

Anyway, Devon was weird. Not everyone liked it, for sure, and the rules and discipline could be medieval. No smoking. No cigarettes. You got caught, you were out. No appeal. I recently learned one of my deceased classmates used to sneak smokes behind the gym. Thank God I didn’t know; I would have joined him. And got tossed. If I was taking the Pennsylvania Railroad home, I’d get down to Devon station, wait for the train, and light up once I was on a car. Or get well away from campus, usually much closer to Philly, and then smoke. Big deal, right? I did run into one of the Spanish priests on a Friday afternoon at a nearby shopping center where I was indulging. I froze. He froze. “What brand?” Then he bummed a smoke from me. The rebels just seemed to find each other at Devon. Priests included.

And there were rebels. One of the priests, Luis Arsuaga, was Basque. He was a good dude. By the time we were Freshmen, we knew, thanks to his religion class, that nobody took the Bible literally. 1965. Conservative Catholic school. You wonder why the South drives me crazy? I was 14 and we were talking metaphors, fables, and symbols in the Bible. Literally true? C’mon man. It might have been right-wing, but it wasn’t check your brain at the door. Luis also got into a famous public dispute with the Headmaster (of whom more below) in which he made public reference to intimate relations between the Headmaster and his Secretary. Luis was gone at the end of the year. To Colombia. Where he eventually died. As a Basque, Luis had no time for fascists. Wrong place, Luis. Even then Devon had its quota, and I didn’t call it Trump Prep then.

Since there were still priests then, we had quite a few, of the Piarist Order. No, not the Jesuits, much less the Agustinians. Their motto was Pietas et Litterae and it fit. Ours were a remnant of the old Hapsburgh Empire, Hungarians and Spanish. At best, as in the Empire, they tolerated each other. The order was founded by St Joseph Calasanctius, whom we regarded with due reserve. And when we got into hot water–frequently–we got to kneel in front of his portrait.

Yeah, that one. Know it well.

The priests were mostly known by nicknames: Chico, Tony, Stubby, The Big O, Ripple, Wheels, Stan, Paz, and, fearsomely, for obvious reasons upon viewing, Nose, aka Steven Senye, Sch.P. A lot of people thought Nose was a bastard. You’ll remember I met him whistling on the steps on the way to the entrance exam. He was no pussycat, for sure. Dour, severe, hair-trigger temper, domineering. I believe he was founding Headmaster in 1956 (I may well be wrong). Notice the date. 1956. As in Hungarian Uprising against the Soviets. Well, the Hungarians had to go somewhere after we didn’t liberate them, poor fools. So some of them came to the US, and to Devon, Pennsylvania. Lucky us. They were sort of po’d at the US, not surprisingly, and sometimes, we caught a whiff of Anti-Americanism. I never saw anyone actually get slugged, but we all knew a well placed Piarist index finger jabbed in the solar plexus could put a dude out of commission. That I saw. Along with plenty of yelling, when stuff got tacky. It wasn’t an everyday thing, but it happened. Different times, you know? Were the Hungarians Horthyite fascists? God, who knew? They weren’t Liberals.

You had to know how to handle these guys. Having been around Sicilians and various crazy Italians most of my life, I knew better than to confront them head on. So I sort of humored them, basically, and, for the most part, it worked. I learned to imitate the accents, one or two of them especially well. Chico caught me once chewing out a class in his inimitable Spanglish. He only glared, but afterward, allowed as how I did him very very well. He later left the priesthood, so, you know not all these guys were with the program. It was figuring out who you could mess with. Nose wasn’t one of them. For most, the assistant head, Fr. Magyar (Wheels, as in Mag wheels…..) wasn’t either. The rest was situational, which some of my dimmer classmates never quite got.

The academics were tough. Man, they didn’t mess around. I figure Devon probably ended my budding career as a trumpet player in two ways. I wasn’t a natural player as a kid, and I did practice. A lot. Usually an hour or so a day in grade school, and more in the Summer. My first teacher was the Band Director at the Catholic diocesan high school, and he had big plans for me. Cause I had some technique and some range, so he figured he had a lead even if it turned out I couldn’t play jazz. But I didn’t go to his school. My Mother wanted me at Devon, because she was afraid I had hoodlum potential. So, long story short, commuting about an hour and a half a day to Devon from just outside West Philly cut into practice time. And then Devon’s academic demands did the rest. I just wasn’t talented enough or bright enough to cut corners with the horn or the books. And I found I sort of liked history, literature and languages, surprise. And even matrix algebra. My God. This was HIGH SCHOOL. But it took a lot of work.

Devon had no music program then. I started to fall behind because I cut back on practice because of time constraints, which made my teacher unhappy. So Salvucci Aspiring Trumpet player got canned as a trumpet student by this guy. If I wasn’t gonna play for him, well, he wasn’t interested. That wasn’t exactly that. I continued private lessons with another teacher (who was a better player, frankly), but he got sick, and I took a break from instruction. I figured I knew enough to continue on my own, which was, like, wrong path. Playing backup to some Martha and the Vandellas stuff wasn’t exactly working on Haydn or Charlier. So I stopped really practicing, developing, and even though I was playing, got to college and quit. To this day, I think Devon was a big factor in my not playing. Or so I tell myself. I think I already sensed my limits. You could still buy Harry James’ solos, and they made for, well…..painful self-discovery.

Truth was, I also discovered I liked Dante. And Tudor-Stuart history. And, Lord, Spanish and Latin. And James Joyce. And John Donne. Weird, man. Who likes that stuff at 15? Guilty. So I spent more and more time on my studies. Which didn’t exactly produce Super Chops. So if you wonder why I worship Roy and Dizzy, wonder not. I come by it honestly. Every instrument is tough, but the trumpet is a killer. Very few can get on top of the damn thing without a lot of very hard work. I sure as Hell couldn’t. Two hours of practice a day was out if I wanted to even be a B student. Opportunity cost, you know.

But Devon also did something else for me, or to me. I came from a working class family. I watched my father put himself through Penn at night even though he worked during the day. My Mother worked. Everyone worked. That’s just the way it was. You wanted something, you worked for it. Period. Devon was the same way. I did well enough, but I never thought I was particularly smart. That isn’t false modesty. I wasn’t an idiot–those I had seen at Prisontation, but I was no genius. So how good did you want to be meant how hard did you want to work? This has always served me well, other than in my last 15 years of teaching. I rarely taught a kid who could have cut it at Devon. Even the graduates of the so-called elite Texas high schools. Especially the Jesuit ones. The worst ones. Smug and self-satisfied. Like that guy on the Supreme Court. Frank is a big exception, and the Jezzies mostly hate him.

What about this “Dare to Be Different” stuff? Well, that was Nose’s motto. Oh, I took it to heart. Fr. Senye took off with his secretary after my senior year, so all the tongue wagging that went on, well. No, I don’t think they were getting it on and I don’t think he was a hypocrite. I’m not even going to speculate what was going. Who knows what he saw in Hungary growing up? Dare to be different for sure. Nose’s motto could have been “get your ass and your brain in gear.” Or I’ll do it for you.

There was a lot more to Devon. Maybe some other time. I think it ended my career as a musician. Ironically, even though I stopped going to Church, I stayed Catholic. Piarists married me and buried my Mom. We’ll figure that out one of these days. I think Luis Arsuaga had a lot to do with it.

Payback is Hell

You a movie fan? I am. I have no taste at all and will watch nearly (well, not Nick Cage) anything. Sometimes the worse, the better. Camp is my thing.

I loved Independence Day. More than anything, I loved Jeff Goldblum, the germaphobe nerd programmer, but there was one character, a minor one, a drunken, ex-fighter jock turned crop-duster in the Central Valley who claimed to have been kidnapped by aliens. His redneck friends at the local diner loved to torment him, asking if “them thar little green men performed experiments (wink, wink) on you.” At the end, dude flies an F-4 up the business end of one of those alien behemoth vehicles laying siege to planet Earth, armed with a nuke. Grinning like a loon, he yells out “Payback is Hell.” Perfect. I still giggle.

Well, this is about payback. No, I’m not gonna even the score with one of my late unlamented colleagues from Euphoric State, or some academic nemesis, or even some more recent colleague. Nop. I’m above that (right). I’m talking about a long unseen economic phenomenon in the United States. Something we didn’t even bother to talk about in macro (hint: it was all we talked about in 1979-80 when I was at Villanova). The dreaded I-word. Gulp. Inflation. It’s baaaaack.

Inflation is defined as a fall in the purchasing power of money. Since money is basically a way of making claims on what is produced, inflation is creating a false claim. Maybe I made “x” and my compensation for that is measured in money (which in our system, the Federal Reserve indirectly creates). Ok. Suppose the government arbitrarily created another claim on the good and gives it you. Logic suggest that both claims are now worth half as much, because there has been nothing real created other than to let you claim what was mine. More or less, that’s what happens. Whether that is actually what is driving prices up in the US right now is an open question: maybe, maybe not. But the media, including the otherwise usually sober FT has sounded the tocsin. Hold on to your savings. The day of reckoning is at hand.

Let’s say, for the same of argument, that inflation is back. Say prices start rising at 5 percent a year. This after years of near zero, and predictions that near zero it would be forever. So this is a surprise. Unexpected inflation. Oh, oh. Aside from the usual political nonsense–Joe Biden and the Democrats cause inflation! (Don’t laugh. Jimmy Carter found out it may be nonsense, but in America, you’ll notice, nonsense sells), you are going to want to ask yourself, what? How does this affect me? Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re going to have to look that up. I have something else in mind.

My revised edition of Allen and Alchian, University Economics (grin, just to piss anthro- and sociology people off, renamed Universal Economics), p. 666 (!), helpfully points out that inflation really messes with the heads of government bondholders. By eroding their wealth. If the bond is paying 3 percent interest, and inflation rises to 5 percent, the “real” return on the bond is minus two (-2) percent. Really? Really. Because you put our money out on the assumption that 3 percent per year would be enough to reward you for not using it. But all of a sudden, the price of everything (the price level) is rising even faster. The interest you get back doesn’t compensate for the erosion of purchasing power by inflation. You are now poorer. You have realized a loss in wealth. Ouch. But your loss is someone else’s gain (funny that). Who gains? Well, the person who borrowed the money is paying you back less in purchasing power than he or she borrowed. Sooooooo, the debtor gains. And the creditor loses.

Now, what in Heaven’s name does this have to do with payback. Heh. Guess? Well, who is the largest holder of US government bonds? More than a trillion dollars worth. Canada? No. England? No. The People’s Republic of China. I’m talking Reds. That’s who. Surprise!!! Boys and girls, did you know the ChiComs were our banker? Keynes once said if you owe your banker a thousand pounds, you have a problem; but if you owe your banker a million pounds, your banker does. Guess who has a problem? Li Keqiang (listen, I lost track back at Deng Xiaoping, so don’t worry…). In any event, since the Western press keeps maundering on about how these guys pose an existential threat to the planet (unlike Joe Manchin or Donald Trump), what with their ambitions in the South China Sea, their nuclear silos, their red investments all over Africa and Latin America, and their cheapo musical instruments (hey, I got a Chinese pocket trumpet), you’d think it was game set and match. Done deal. The East is Red. Maybe it is. But then again, maybe it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve seen several versions of this movie. Both end badly, true enough, but neither one ends happily for the villain–played sequentially by Japan and Russia. Whether, in the longer scheme of things, anyone is a “victor’ I leave to you.

The point is, we started squeezing the Japanese well before they attacked Pearl Harbor. How was that? In mid 1941, the United States placed an embargo on oil to Japan, which was a very big deal. As you might suppose, the Japanese produced little of their own. If memory serves, they didn’t have a great deal in reserve either. So, guess who came out swinging?The only real surprise was that they hit Pearl Harbor: we had, I fear, figured that the Philippines, Wake or Midway might go, but Pearl, uh, uh. Whoops. You back an adversary into a corner, you don’t assume anything.

Obviously, the idea that an inflation could be any kind of equivalent to the 1941 embargo is pretty far fetched. For one thing, we’re riding in the same car. It’s not too pleasant to think what a bout of sustained price increases could do to working America, which has already been pushed to the brink. Then there are the Golden Agers. For now they may get COLA. You never know, if Uncle Sam lags COLA 2 years or more, you could probably fix our “Social Security Problem,” such as it is. No muss, no fuss. Go read the Trustees’ Reports. They’ve thought of it already. Bet Manchin would get behind it?

Besides, 5 percent is nothing, right?

Weeeellll, if it continues until 2035, it would cut the purchasing power of a dollar in half.

What’s 500 billion dollars between friends, right? We wouldn’t have even made it to the 100th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor, or my 90th birthday. I was so looking forward to both. Hell, the GDP of Taiwan is, as we speak, 689 billion dollars.

Like Jack Nicholsen said in The Departed to the Chinese chip smugglers. Aw, better you watch.

Finally, A Use for Mein Kampf

A Southlake Carroll schools leader recently told teachers that, should they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also have materials that show an “opposing” perspective, NBC News reported.

The news outlet — which has chronicled the deeply divisive fight in Southlake over how to teach race and racism in schools — obtained an audio recording from a district meeting that included discussions about how to comply with a new Texas law, which lawmakers say was intended to bar “critical race theory” from classrooms.

From the start, educators vehemently opposed the bill, saying it was vague and would have a chilling effect on their ability to have honest conversations about America’s past and present.

The new law — similar to ones passed in other conservative states —  lists several broad topics that can’t be discussed and sets guidelines for talking about “controversial” subjects. It comes as conservative pundits and politicians have conflated critical race theory with schools’ diversity and inclusion efforts and anti-racism training, among other ideas.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Gina Peddy, a Carroll administrator, said in the recording obtained by NBC News. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

A teacher responded: “How do you oppose the Holocaust?”

The author of a similar Senate bill, Sen. Bryan Hughes, denied that this was a proper interpretation of the new law.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, wrote on Twitter that “Southlake just got it wrong.”

“School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction,” Hancock wrote. “No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.”

A district spokeswoman did not immediately return a call requesting comment. In a statement to NBC News, Karen Fitzgerald said the district “recognizes that all Texas teachers are in a precarious position with the latest legal requirements.”

“Our purpose is to support our teachers in ensuring they have all of the professional development, resources and materials needed. Our district has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable,” she said.

The comments stirred outrage. Texas Democratic Party Co-Executive Director Hannah Roe Beck condemned actions she called “terrifying.”

“We’re seeing books banned, educators reprimanded for teaching authentic history, and kids deprived of their right to learn about the world they’re growing up in,” she said in a statement. “Texas Republicans are censoring education to pander to rightwing extremists — and putting Texas families and kids in danger while they do.”

Ok, friends, gather round. That little squib is from the Dallas Morning News. Southlake, TX is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth. It aspire to be a “world class” community. Whenever I hear that phrase in Texas, I know a disaster awaits. If you are truly “world class,” whatever that is, you don’t brag about it. Nothing “world class” does.

Tonight, my spouse insisted that I listen to NBC News. She knows I don’t particularly like television of any sort, other than baseball–and even that has fallen off the radar lately. So she rarely insists. I wondered what on Earth was so important. After all, Bill Shatner lost his dignity yesterday. Aboard the flying phallus. What more did I need to see?

Ho, boy.

I have friends who live in other parts of the United States. Like California, Washington, New York, you know, even Florida, for God’s sake. They ask me, “How can you live in Texas?” I try not to get annoyed. But the truth is, I get very annoyed. Because I know, even as they ask, I ask the same question. What in God’s name am I doing here? I sort of addressed that in my last blog post. And I’m not about to go over it again. Dallas is a long way off, thank God. I don’t ask my friends in Philly how they can stand to be in the same state as York or Erie? It might not be the dumbest question I could ask, but it would be close. They would be baffled, if not insulted. What the Hell does that have to do with living in Chestnut Hill or Penfield. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But, you see, when you live in Texas, you get tarred with the same brush as the rest of the yahoos. It’s quite understandable. Sometimes I think the locals revel in this stuff, as if having bad breath and body odor in some kind of honor. It’s an identity. You know, Like Ted Cruz says, New York values. Yeah. I know. God forbid I should have MOMA or the NYPL at hand. I might have stroke. Or learn something.

The lame defense, perfectly logical, is don’t being making sweeping generalizations. What makes you think we’re all as ignorant as the administrators of the South Lake school district? God forbid. We all know that suits tend to be failed something or others, and in Texas, I have yet to run into one who broke the mold. Damned if I know why. I guess there has to be something for very stupid people with degrees in Education to do. In South Lake, they coordinate curriculum.

So, lookit, you really want to do something constructive? They appear to think they need something to balance anti-Holocaust writing up there. Linda, logically, thought of David Irving or some Holocaust denier. I’ll go her one better.

Y’all get on Amazon and buy Gina Peddy a copy of Mein Kampf. And send it to her. Tell her it would be a great look for students in a world class community to be carrying around something written by Adolf Hitler. It is probably tax deductible. Write it off as teach a Texan to think. Consider it a total loss.

California and Texas and Us

This is another one of those posts that is somewhat personal. It may strike you as self-serving. I guess it is. Yet given how much discussion there is in the news of the supposed exodus from California to Texas–my man Elon being the latest trekker–I find myself uniquely positioned to comment on the phenomenon. See, we (Linda and I) made this choice thirty years ago. And it was a choice. Not all choices are easy, and some of them are no fun. But having seen mene, mene, tekel, upharsin in bright letters on a wall of Dwinelle Hall at Berkeley, we packed up our tent, shook the dust of Berkeley from our feet, and departed. It was an upheaval in our personal and professional lives, and it has left its traces on both of us. No one made us do anything. It was a choice.

Some of our motivation was no different from that driving people from California today. We were simply in the vanguard. I sympathize when I hear people asking why they should spend $3,500 a month to live in a cardboard box? We had the same reaction, mutatis mutandis. One form of entertainment (no price) we enjoyed in Berkeley was to walk down Solano Avenue and look in the real estate office windows. We made few friends among the estate agents. That’s because we tended to point, look at each other, and then dissolve into laughter. Our mirth was usually accompanied by (my) profane comment on how out of their mind these NorCals seemed to be–NorCals being denizens of Northern California. We were not good for business. Typically, you could see them glaring at us like street urchins in a Dickens novel who needed “to move along.” And we did. The source of our amusement was the asking price for a less-than-modest bungalow in Albany (CA), not the toniest address in the East Bay. We were accustomed to Philadelphia real estate prices. Frankly, we thought we had landed on Mars. We had.

We lived first in Albany in a “garden apartment” which was a euphemism for a step or two above a garage. Actually, we were above a garage, I think. We lucked out and by the grace of connections, ended up living in South Berkeley on Durant Avenue in a rent-controlled apartment. You know what the Econ 1 books all say about rent control? All true. If there was a worse idea designed to provided affordable housing for the masses, I guess it must have been the apartment blocks at Chernobyl. I’m sure they we rent controlled too. But I digress.

Rent control actually enters tangentially into this story, but I don’t want to turn this into a simple lecture about markets and what happens when you mess with them in unconstructive ways. Yet I always have the feeling that Americans swear by markets, yet really don’t know the first thing about them. They go on about freedom, but they don’t understand that one of the functions of a market is to exclude (“price out”). Oh, yeah, in theory, everybody can live in Berkeley. When I went out to Cal for an interview, they took me on what I call the Temptation of Christ tour. The high point was somewhere around the Lawrence Hall of Science, up in the Berkeley Hills. There’s a spot where you get this panoramic view of the Bay Area, from up in Marin and then down the peninsula. The sunlight is glimmering (if it ain’t raining) off the Bay and you can look out through the Golden Gate into the Pacific. So they take you up there and say, sort of “All this, Fool, can be yours, if you will only fall down and worship the University of California.” Hey, wow. Where do I sign? The kid from South Philly-West Philly ain’t never seen nothing like this, all shiny and gleaming and windy and soulful and shit.

Problem was (and is) those nice little shacks up there are today going for North of 2 million dollars–well North. As an Acting Assistant Professor Step 1 (UC-ese for peon de trabajo), I was making, well, about 17K. I know. We don’t go into this to get rich. We want to shape the future. We want to make a difference. We want to shape our fields. And this is The Top Job In Your Field, which no one, I mean no one, is good enough for. I get it. Believe me. When Governor Moonbeam (Jerry Brown) told us were were working for psychic income, I didn’t jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I took up running. And swimming. I got to the point where I could make the Fire Trail in Strawberry Canyon and then go for a swim. Being pissed off (and broke) is great motivation. I could have joined the frigging Marines in the shape I was in. But I couldn’t afford a $500,000 dog house. That wasn’t happening.

I’m going to skip the Academic Snakepit stories. Really, I got used to it. You learn, as a colleague of mine once said, “Lie to Everyone.” So I did. Which I why I don’t do it anymore. Then another colleague bawled me out for following “A Categorical Imperative to Tell the Truth.” Berkeley was many things. Dull wasn’t one of them. It was like working in the Kremlin with good coffee. One day you lied. The next day you were earnest. Then you went back to your apartment and had a drink and tried to figure out an escape plan.

No one has a God-given right to live in California. Your friendly local economic historian understands that better than most. You are Free to Choose (we met Uncle Milty at the San Francisco Fed, a great story I’ll save for another time, but I always liked and respected him). Not all choices are equally attractive. Adam Smith never said seek and you’ll always find the Golden Ring. That’s not the way it works. My historian friends who hate bourgeois economics tend not to understand this. It’s not the math they can’t understand (that doesn’t help). It’s the no free lunch part that they can’t swallow. But this is Trump’s America, so why waste my breath? Everyone’s entitled, right? That’s freedom. No taxes, no masks, no problem.

Texas was a lot hotter and a lot cheaper. The Econ will instinctively get this: the one compensates for the other. We started over in South Texas but Linda was attractive enough to Trinity for Trinity to hire me. And that’s the truth. Usually, at least back then, the only thing that motivated spousal hires was you liked the one you had and you’d take a chance on the one you didn’t. Or maybe lose both. And, LOL, saying you recruited someone from Berkeley didn’t hurt. I did get my revenge you see: I cashed out. In all seriousness, Linda did for me what I couldn’t do for her. So we lived happily ever after, with cats, kids, even a house. None of that was going to happen in California. For that, we had to come to Texas. Frankly, all kidding aside, it was a good move, even if most of my overambitious academic friends could never understand it (and told me so). Now, Mark White was Governor when we got here and Ann Richards, God Love her, was still around. The Democrats still seemed to have some juice here then. We could go into a long post mortem about what happened, but then we’d have to go back to Dallas and Jack Kennedy and John Connally, at least, and that wouldn’t start to scratch the surface. Yeah, Texas has changed–and, no, I’m not convinced it’s going to turn blue any time soon. You never know. Greg Abbott is such a schmuck even the Republicans don’t much like him. We’ll see.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people coming from California to Texas are not Liberals. A friend of mine told me his daughter moved from California to Texas “To get away from the Nanny State.” I suspect she’s not alone. You wonder how much of this migration is self-selected? Real estate in California was only insane in 1980. Now it’s incomprehensible. They’re going to have to restart indentured servitude there to afford service workers. But, in the meantime, I must tell you, humanity is resilient, and you can learn to put up with almost anything. Even Texas in the Summer. At least I can. So, if you don’t get greedy, having a roof over your head and three squares makes you tolerate otherwise unpleasant stuff. That’s the secret of Texas. You don’t have to love it. You just have to live here. Pace Jerry Brown and psychic income, California proved to me that you can’t live on love or eat prestige. But I had to learn the hard way.

The Mouse That Farted

Once again, it’s nostalgia time in ’09. Well, with a slight difference. We, the US of A, is being held hostage by a rounding error. Two actually. It sounds like a Mad Magazine law firm, Manchin and Sinema, rogue “Democrats” from Nowhere. Who needs Republicans when you got “Democrats” like these? Manchin (ne Mancini) is the Senator from Greenhouse Gases. Sinema (to whom I privately refer as Enema) is the Senator from She Used to Be. Don’t Ask. Their combined Gross State Product is approximately 2 percent of the GDP of US of A. Yup. That’s it. 2 freaking percent. Think about it for a moment.

You got 98 battleships waiting to get out of, say, Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But there are 2 battleships, the Mancini and the Enema, blocking the Harbor Entrance. Meanwhile, there are, what, 183 assholes bearing down on Good Old Pearl with murder in the hearts. Let’s call these assholes The Torpedo Caucus. Once the Torpedo Caucus reaches Pearl, all Hell breaks loose, and, well you know how this slightly stylized version of Day of Infamy ends up. Not well. What was Admiral Biden, our stand-in for Admiral Husband Kimmel (he shared responsibility for Pearl that day, but who remembers the other dude? We can call her Vice Admiral Harris) to do? He’s got 98 ships of the line to worry about. If they don’t sortie from Pearl, they get blown to Kingdom Come. Literally, as you know. But there are these two recalcitrant, maybe even mutinous and rogue vessels, the Mancini and the Enema, blocking the way? What is a poor CIC to do?

All right, all right, the analogy ain’t exact, to put it mildly. I don’t care. You know where this is going, assuming you’re not some pain-in-the-ass Millenial or Generation XYZ, or whatever. What you gonna do, Admiral Biden? Remember what Ole Husband Kimmel did? Not a Hell of a lot. And your 98 capital ships get sent to the bottom, just like, well, the Arizona. And you end up sending a lot of good people to their death. And 70 years later, their blood is still oozing up from the bottom. Why? Because the Mancini and the Enema wouldn’t get out of the way, right?

Oh, come on, Salvucci, you say. If that isn’t the dumbest tale you’ve ever hatched up (far from it, dude, but I said it first), my name isn’t (fill in the blank, as you so choose; this is fantasy time. C’mon, anyone in their right mind would say you got the firepower of 98 battleships sitting there just waiting to get their asses kicked because 2 others were blocking them? What the Hell kind of Navy is this? What the Hell is wrong with them? Forget Admiral Biden. Just shoot your way out. What if their dead asses block the entrance, you say? Well, consider the alternative. You’re gonna die anyway. Maybe you might want to consider going out fighting. Maybe they’ll name a High School after you. You never know. Maybe Ft Hood could become Ft Biden. At least we wouldn’t be commemorating traitors. Biden, Benavides, pick something. Do freaking something. At least go out with some self-respect. You’re gonna get hammered anyway.

Fat fetched, all of it, right?

Yeah, that’s the point. When you have a political system subject to hold up from two assholes like Manchin and Sinema, you have a broken system. Admit it. Y’all remember Bill Bradley (D-NJ), late of Princeton, Oxford, and the Knicks? When Dollar Bill quit the Senate 20 some years ago, he said, look, the system is broken. Ho boy. He hadn’t seen nothing, had he?

I’ve never been a particularly good Catholic, good Democrat, or good anything else. But I sleep at night, mostly. What about you? Our political system is a disaster, and this is proof positive. When Joe Manchin calls the shots, it’s even worse than Trump.

Good night.

Down the House

Nope. Not Downashore. Maybe Joe Villari said downahouse, but I don’t think so. When I was a kid, “the House” meant only one place on Earth. The house of Pietro Delia and Maddalena Mangano. You didn’t know I was part Mangano? Learn something.

They lived a lot places in Philadelphia, but “the house” was 913 Cross Street. It was, as they now say, a two story “townhome”. Yeah. Between Passyunk Avenue and Moyamensing. Passyunk Avenue was simply “The Avenue.” Moyamensing, was, to me, where the prison was. Scary-looking place that no longer exists. The damn thing was so old it looked like it was out of the Middle Age, at least to a five-year old kid. That was the hood. Youse might call it South Philly, or we did. God knows what fancy-ass name they have for it today. These were my people. My real people. The Salvucci were add ons. Nice name, you know. It still can get you somewhere in Italy. The Delia, on the other hand, were nobodies. They were wonderful. The Corleone without guns, money, or “honor.” Talk about warm. You wanna know why I am 50 percent SOB today? Blame the Delias. I reached the age of 15 thinking everyone on Earth was like them. Fat chance. I’ve spent the rest of my life finding out what bastards most people are. Actually, it would be “basstids” in South Philly patois. I’m multipatois due to them.

For a lot of people, 913 Cross Street was the Center of the Universe. That would’ve been before World War II. I got there a little too late. But the glow was still there. They had already taken the NRA sign down, and the Blue Star too. No, tidadoof, it wasn’t Democratic propaganda although they sure as Hell all were Democrats. If there was a Republican on Cross Street, they sure weren’t a member of St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, over on Montrose. Whatever they were, we didn’t know them.

By 1940, Pietro and Maddalena were Peter and Madeline. I knew my great grandfather as Peter Delia, and Great Grandmom as Great Greatmom. She was my Mother’s namesake. Big Petie and Little Pete were named after Pietro. It’s an Italian thang. You wouldn’t understand it. See, by 1940, we were All American. You can thank Mussolini and Hitler. What? You thought everyone loved Itais? Guess again. Now I may drop a few hints about our less-than-beloved status among the medeganz. Chances are YOU are Medeganz. Get over it. I never forget it. Part of my charm. Look it up.

Great grandmom and grandpop (the only ones I ever knew) had a peripatetic existence in Philadelphia. Actually I want to say that Pietro had lived somewhere else before making it to Philly. Unfortunately, he apparent had had a less than sympathetic boss whom he had hit over the head with a shovel before he made his way out of—I want to say Detroit, but I may be wrong. I have no idea. He was the sweetest man on Earth, so I figure he must have whacked a medeganz, who undoubtedly had it coming. Or so Delia lore has it. All I know is that by the time I knew him, he was over 80 and his eyes were shot. When we came into the living room (the townhome had an entryway, you know), he’d usually be lying on the sofa with a fedora covering his face. He’d normally light up and call me “picidu” which was a Sicilian term of affection for a kid. And he’d pinch my cheek. Then he’d lie down again.

Great Grandmom was similarly affectionate, but she didn’t speak much English, or Italian for that matter. From the sound of it, it was mostly Sicilian. For those of you not lucky enough to be part Sicilian, Sicilian is a language, not a dialect. Delia, in fact, is a place in Central Sicily near Caltanisseta, and, from what I know, has its own variant of Sicilian. To me, it was nearly incomprehensible (e.g., “He” in Tuscan or “standard” “Italian” is Lui. In Delianese (I think), it is “Idu.” Go figure. I think, but won’t swear to it, that you can hear a variety of it coming from Salozzo in The Godfather. and maybe from a young Vito. For those of you who sometimes wonder why I love that movie, it may have something to do with how much of it brings me back to my remote childhood. No blood. But plenty of idu). It’s a Sicilian thang, you really wouldn’t get it. Oh, and it is Delia. NOT DeLia, although even some Delia spell it that way. A medeganz made them do it.

The House only had a downstairs. A living room, dining room, kitchen, and a small yard with an outhouse. Yeah, you heard that right. My cousin Richie d’Adamo, who was a stellar violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, locked me in it once with Chico, this nasty Chihuahua who mostly barked a lot and didn’t like me. Richie has recently apologized to me to that atrocity, although, I have to tell you, I have no memory of it. Some trauma, right. The worse part was the outhouse smelled of, well, outhouse. There was an upstairs, of course, but not once did I visit it. My hang was mostly the living room and the kitchen. So it was for most of us.

Great grandmom is memorable to me for a few reasons. One of the best was her love of Liberace, whom she watched faithfully on the black and white tv. The other was her bawdy singing, which emerged mostly toward the end of her life when she was an invalid. I wish to God I could remember one of her favorite songs, which I can’t other than the imperishable verse, “Fishie stalk e baccala.” She swung that mother in 6/8 and I can still hear parts of it. Again, go back to the Godfather, the wedding scene, where Momma belts out a “Luna Mezz” same rhythm. In “real life,” incidentally, that was Morgana King (Messina, to you, medeganz). Great grandmom was definitely not Morgana King, but they could both blow and could both be raunchy. It’s a Sicilian woman thang. I’m not sure I get it, but it cracks me up all the same. Politically incorrect. Yeah.

rThe thing about the House was that it was small, but it was a social center, especially for my Mom’s generation. In the 1940s, my Mother–a Villari (Vallari, ok)–and her sisters. who looked like a bunch of fashion models, dear God, moved back and forth between West Philly and the House on a sort of daily basis. My Mother, Maddalena (the eldest daughter, named after her Mother’s mother) actually went to Southern (South Philly high) and not some namby pamby Catholic girls’ school in West Philly. I can imagine Joe Villari wasn’t having it; besides, my Mom must spent most of her time in South Philly with her cousins. You know, in those days, they could take public transportation at night and not worry. Think about that, if you want. I’d rather not. There was Maria Goretti on 10th Street. Don’t say nothing, ok? I think Lilian Reis went there.

In any event, by the time I had arrived, just getting to the House from West Philly was an adventure, for a little kid, at least. Grandmom didn’t drive, so it was PTC all the way, busses, trollies, subways, els (The Metro, right…..), transfers, tokens, no air conditioning, open windows, and all the sights and sounds of Philly you could take in. My God, I loved it. The 31 PTC trolley stopped on Haverford Avenue probably in front of Ragni’s old market at 66th Street. I got to ride “free” cause I was a little dude, which they judged by a bronze height marker on a pole by the operator. Those trolley tracks didn”t come up until maybe 1957 or 1958, so I’m going back to being 5 or younger. And the trolley was the old style, wooden sided kind. Man, what a trip. It must have been 50 years old then. Green and bumpy, but I loved it. We then proceeded to 63d and Market, where we boarded the El ( Market Street Subway Elevated, for outsiders).

Yeah, we took the El. All the time. It was safe. No one thought twice about it. When I firststarted riding it with Grandmom, the old cars were still in use, and they must have gone back to 1907, at least. With wicker seating, ivory fixed place strap-hangers, open windows, and busted wheels that screeched around every turn once you got underground. I’m so old I can still remember when the El must have gone all the way into Center City above ground. They were building the tunnel at 46th and Market when I was riding, and I remember the construction, and that was between 1952 and 1955. So, dude, I couldn’t have been much more than 3 or 4 at the time. You’re talking to what’s left of the real Philadelphians, and I doubt there’s that many of us. The Phillies stank; I didn’t know about the Eagles; and the Warriors had Wilt Chamberlain. Period. The City had a unique skyline, and no one had ever heard of Comcast or Amy Guttman. Thank God.

We’d ride the El to City Hall, where we transferred to the Broad Street Subway. The Subway only went South. Lol. Except coming home from South Philly. I had no conception that there was a city North of City Hall. Hell I never went there, so who cared? Maybe the Mummers did, or Frank Rizzo on one of his vice busting jaunts, but you could’ve fooled me. To the best of my memory, we’d ride the Broad Street subway down to Tasker Street, which today, I think is Tasker-Morris. Grandmom would pay her gas bill at the PGW store on Broad, and then–and I’m not real clear on this–I think we took another trolley on Tasker where we got off within a block or two of the House. And that’s when the fun started.

The House basically consisted of my Grandmom’s sisters and brothers, only two of whom married, and one, Kay, lived at 20th and Oregon, which was not much of a stretch. Johnny, Connie and Little Pete (there was also a Big Pete) lived on Cross Street. Little Pete was a sweet guy, overweight and had become agoraphobic by the time I knew him. If I had this right, he was my Grandmom’s nephew by her brother Tom, but his Mother had died and when Tom remarried, his second wife rejected Little Pete, whom my Great grandparents took in. Pete was a sort of mascot guy who was always there who always seemed slightly baffled by the world. He lived out his life on Cross Street and died of a heart attack at home when I was in college. Every Italian family has a Little Pete, more or less, lovable but sort of ineffectual.

Johnny and Connie both lived on Cross Street and I called them Aunt and Uncle. They were very close to Grandmom and to my Mother, and were always really sweet to me. Johnny was about 5’7″ and man, he reminded me of Maggio in From Here to Eternity, but much nicer. Just every bit as tough. He took a German 88 shell walking down a lane in France after D Day and ended up in hospital in England for a long time recuperating. He brought pieces of the shell back that he kept as a souvenir. He was keenly interested in world affairs even though he hadn’t finished high school. I remember him talking to my Dad about Europe, the Soviets, Italy, and stuff that people like Drew Pearson wrote about it. He was no dummy and I respected him. I saw a picture of him in uniform and believe me, he looked like he meant business. He was so tough that he died of cancer, but no one ever knew it because he just kept going until he couldn’t. He either smoked Camels or Lucky Strike, he had a wry laugh, and my memory of him was that he was a bit of a cynic. He may have been on disability after the War, but he was a blast to be around.

My Aunt Connie was tall and pretty, and she never married. She and Johnny took care of Great Grandmom and Grandpop and Little Pete. She was soft spoken, and I’m not entirely sure what she did for a living. I think the House was out of the labor force, but in a nice way. Gentle people, with an easy smile and an easy laugh. The place was small, but immaculate. We always had cold cuts around the kitchen table, which was the usual gathering place. Mostly it was small talk, chit chat, you know, family stuff, but never, to my recollection, anything mean. You know, they were just down to Earth and dutiful, the way that generation was. Nobody drank. The only vice was the numbers, which they played and I learned about early. What the number was on a given day, what you should pick, how you should play, oh boy, that was a class in itself. My favorite was when someone saw a number in a dream, which was quite Sicilian. I’ll be damned if I have any idea of anyone ever hit, but everyone played. From time to time, I was given the honor of picking a number from some menu of crazy choices that could include the birth weight of some family member’s newborn, the Eagles’ score, anything. I never hit anyway. That was it as far as vices went. Everybody knew who the local bookie was, but nobody, as far as I knew, played the horses.

For entertainment, we sat on the stoop. Them days, it was white marble and kept spotless. You’d hang and talk to the neighbors, or just watch people, or just just. I had a crush on the girl who lived next door, but she was, alas, in high school, an older woman. So my crush never prospered. She humored me.

We always went down the House over the holidays, which usually included an adventure in trying to park in a snow clogged side street in South Philly. The locals would shovel out a place for their car and then put a chair in it. Yeah. Usually a linoleum kitchen chair. God help you if you tried to park there, public street or not. The cops did nothing–they knew better than to mess with the locals’ definition of a property right, and Hell, half of them probably came from there. But you could always count on a full house at Christmas, and man, the closest I can come to telling you what it was like is to say watch the Christmas meal in The Godfather. Coppola got it right. My other cousins, Richie, Johnny Micomonaco, and Phil Delia would be there, and that was hysterical. I looked up to them (when Richie wasn’t locking me in the outhouse with Chico) and Johnny Mic was probably one of my favorite people on Earth (Phil was good too, but Johnny Mic was the kind of guy who graduated from Newman and LaSalle, joined the Navy and went to OCS during Vietnam, and then did the gunboat thing with the Marines. “Out of a sense of duty.” He was impressive, man, something out of the movies, and a great role model (and a dab hand with the ladies, I must say). Hey, we all had to learn, you know. I still talk to Richie and Johnny by phone and I’m always glad to see Phil. By contrast, I see none of my Salvucci cousins. I don’t know who half of them are. Nor do I much care. Tells you something. The Delia-d’Adamo-Micomonaco boys were always a trip, even a little kid got that. The older I got, the more fun they were. I’ll leave it at that.

Coming home with Grandmom from our visits was amazing–another PTC special. I got to ride the trolley down Ninth Street (what the Medeganz call “The Italian Market”). Man, in those days, it was really going, with lots of fruit and vegetable vendors, cheese dudes and butchers who had cages in front of their places where you could pick your dinner. It was always crowded as Hell, smelled to high heaven in the Summer, and was its own world. If you see Rocky, you can still get a feel for what it looked like in the early 1970s, when it had already begun to change. I loved watching the people, smelling the food, yelling at the animals (the real animals, not the human ones) and Grandmom never seemed to mind.By the time we reached the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, we were about read to dismount, but I was always intrigued by the acts at the Kite and Key club. Nah, I was too little. I only made it to the CR Club and Palumbo’s, and that was with my Mom and Dad right before I went to college. Did you ever see Sergio Franchi and Harry Guardino live? Well, I did. Another fringe benefit of being part of the South Philly scene.

Look, I know there were all kinds of problems. I wouldn’t tell you about any of them, and we had our share of, um, characters. They were human. But I have to tell you, and this is the God’s honest truth, they were not haters. I never heard a racist word come out of any of their mouths. The slang terms for Black Americans. NEVER. So when I watch these idiots carry bats up to Marconi Plaza to defend Columbus, I can honestly say I have no idea who they are. Or if I do, they weren’t my people. I learned a few words to describe them, but I’ll spare you an education. When people seem a bit confused by what seems to be a vein of sympathy for the Trumpers in South Philly, I don’t say much. But I know where some of them were coming from. I came from there too. And then I left. I sometimes wish I hadn’t, but in this life, there are some mistakes you have to make. There’s still a bit of South Philly in me, and if you want to know where my chip comes from, well, we all know Sonny had a temper.

May my relatives, now gone, rest in peace. I miss them. I don’t miss Berkeley or Princeton, but I do miss South Philly.