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Excerpts From My To Do List
By Carl Capotorto

My shift would end at about 3 o'clock in the morning and I'd wait alone on the street for a bus that usually never came. I'd often end up walking home, a good three miles or so. There were all the usual dangers of the street at that hour but there was also, for a while, a new and terrifying danger: The killer who called himself Son of Sam, who received commands to kill from his dog and whose sickening diatribes and drawings were published daily in The Daily News. His first victims were kids I knew, Valentina Suriani and her boyfriend Alex. He was stalking these very streets. I'd think of him and quicken my step. As long as there was some light on the street I felt okay. But those dark stretches past the Bronx Zoo and the creepy tunnels leading to the great juncture where Fordham Road becomes Pelham Parkway -- those were terrifying.

Still, I was willing to risk it all for guaranteed time out of that house, so desperate was I to escape the incessant drumbeat of hard labor.

My mother, my poor mother, would sometimes look at me all covered from head to toe in plaster dust and soot, streaked with sweat and misery, and say, "Carl, this is your penance. You'll only have to do this once in your life. You'll never have to do this again." I'm not sure what she meant now that I really think about it, but the words used to give me solace. And I learned to take solace where I could get it. Which was usually at the kitchen table. My mother was rarely actually sitting there - she'd be toiling in a spiral all around it - but a bevy of neighborhood ladies would often gather and were very sympathetic.

My favorite was a woman named Ann Lazerta. She once saw me walk by the table fresh from a hellish scene of demolition, coated and caked with dust and grit, and said, "Ooh Carl honey, that's no good. That's no good for your lungs. Drink a glass of milk, it'll clean them out." It sounded good at the time. I drank the milk. Of course, if it had gone through my lungs I would have drowned. But Ann believed in milk. Scotch and milk, actually. That was her drink. "Because the ulcer." But that's a whole other story. Ann loved stories. Here's a story she liked to tell -- it would change slightly depending on the day but it always went pretty much like this:

"So, I got up about 7. I made my coffee, you know. And I drank it. And then I says, let me take a shower. So I took a shower. And while I was in there I says, I'm gonna wash my panties. So I washed my panties. And I hung 'em up to dry, just on the shower rod, you know. And then I came outta the shower and I says, let me get dressed. So I got dressed --"

And on it would go from there, her story. Every moment of her day, each tiny detail. For hours. And she'd be dolled up for it, too, her dyed red hair shellacked into an indestructible coif, resplendent in a velour maxi lounging gown and jewel-encrusted slippers. She had little mincing steps, like a Geisha … only Sicilian. She lived just across the street so we could see her heading over. My mother, my poor mother, dreaded those visits and she'd panic as Ann approached. "Oh God she's coming over again, I can't take it tonight, I really can't! I'd rather put my eyes out with a poker! I'd rather set my hair on fire! I'm gonna put a bullet in my head!" Ding-dong. "Oh hi, Ann. Come on in. You want a drink?"

My mother was used to waiting on her since Ann was a holdover from the days when my family owned and operated a pizza shop. I won't write about that here because I've said enough already. Plus it isn't funny.

But since it's come up let me say quickly that Cappi's Pizza and Sangweech Shoppe, where the motto was "We Don't Spel Good, Just Cook Nice," was right under the el. The path of the train was directly over our heads. Which was a problem. Still the place might have been a success had my father been a little more focused and just a tad more welcoming of the few customers who happened to venture in.

I mean, the first thing you saw when you walked through the front door was a 10-foot hand painted list of rules. At the top it said THIS IS NOT A BASKETBALL COURT! And then: NO RUNNING! NO PUSHING! NO SHOUTING! NO YELLING! NO FIGHTING! NO CURSING! NO GRABBING! NO SHOVING! NO STROLLERS! NO BICYCLES! NO ROLLER SKATES! NO SPECIAL ORDERS! NO EXTRA CHEESE! NO SLICES AT THE TABLE!! This last rule caused no end of drama. NO SLICES AT THE TABLE!! The shop was divided into two sections. One half was a typical pizza counter. The other was a dining room with little Formica tables and travel posters of Italy on the walls. Here you could order all kinds of obscure Italian delicacies, like capozelle, which is the stuffed, baked head of a goat; sanguinuccio, a bucket of animal blood that they boil and sweeten and churn into a nauseating mock-chocolate pudding; zuppa di trippa, the lining of a cow's stomach stewed in tomato sauce; and other such delights. (My mother, my poor mother, was in charge of the kitchen.)

These two halves, the pizza counter and the dining room, were completely separate domains in my father's mind. So if a family of three comes in for dinner, say, and Mom orders the eggplant parmagiana and Dad'll have the shrimp oreganata and little Junior just wants a slice of pizza, guess what? NO SLICES AT THE TABLE!! Junior's going to have to be forcibly separated from his family, sent outside to enter the pizza area through a separate door and made to stand at the counter and eat his slice alone. The only thing missing was a dunce cap. The parents, of course, would object. And my father Cappi, ever the people-pleaser, would throw them out. He'd argue for a minute or two and then pull a full-throttle Ralph Kramden. "OUT! Get out!!' The poor people just wanted a little dinner. Word spread. The dining room remained empty.

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