Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Life, Mom, Uncle Richard
Tags: , , , , , ,

I began doing a lot of acting gigs – on camera commercials, voice overs, and jingles. We commuted about 2 and 1/2 hours to NYC almost every day.  It wasn’t unusual to have to get up at the crack of dawn, drag myself down to the car, grab some McDonald’s for breakfast and head into the city.  The commute was nuts, and we should have just moved closer to the city. But we lived with Grandma for free, so I guess that was the appeal. Still, we spent a fortune on gas and tolls, not to mention fast food.

My Grandmother was a short (she was 4’9 on a good day), mostly jolly Italian lady. She was prone to being a bit dramatic, but was otherwise free of delusion and mental illness. I think she was aware of how nutty Mom was – she must have been – but she kind of turned a blind eye towards it. In her younger years, she was head of adult probations in the county – this was at a time when it was unusual for a woman to hold good job, let alone a high position. I was always impressed with what she managed to accomplish. Sometime in the’70s, she had a major heart attack and her health was never the same. All my life, she was always battling something – whether heart disease, diabetes, or strokes. Still, she was a cheerleader in my life. If a call came in for an audition, she’d practically jump up and down “God Bless it!!! Book it!!!”

Working more also mean money – if I got an on camera commercial and it ran in prime time, I could easily make $10,000 before taxes. More work also meant Mom had to call off her job a lot more. Eventually she decided to quit altogether so I could act full time. This was one of those times where her being crazy worked out in my favor – kind of. What parent would quit their job to run their kid back and forth to auditions? Even having had it done for me, I’m not sure I could do the same for my kid. The downside was, I was supporting a family of 4 on my income by 10 years old. I still kind of resent that.

I remember one time, Mom and Uncle Richard were having a conversation about the Mafia, Russ, and all that stuff. I was sitting under a skylight in the studio reading a comic. I had already read through it, but I was admiring the art.

Mom: Do you think all that was really real? Do you think all those people really dress up as Russ?

Uncle Richard:  What purpose would all that serve, Donna?

He knew he couldn’t drag her out of the woods kicking and screaming, she’d have to come to some conclusions on her own.

Mom: I don’t know.

Mom: Are you in the Mafia, Richard? Are you in on this?

He sat there blinking for a moment.

Uncle Richard: Those sons of bitches killed my father, and you’re asking if I’m somehow involved!?
I had already put down my comic and moved between them. Like a lot of people I know that grew up in volatile environments, I could take the temperature of the room very quickly. I knew – maybe before either of them did – that the air had turned sour and a storm was brewing. I had already lost one person to Mom’s delusions…I wasn’t going to lose another.
Me: Uncle Richard, she didn’t mean anything by it. She was just asking. Right, Mom?

Mom: …Right.

Uncle Richard: You’re a little diplomat.
He looked down at me and smiled. He relaxed. Mom relaxed. I relaxed. I examined his compliment with pride, and was relieved to have averted a confrontation between two people I cared about.

He told us about growing up in the early part of the 20th century, and how his dad was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders – knew him personally, in fact. He talked about growing up with 5 brothers and sisters in a poor Irish community. He talked about how his dad was a cop, after coming back from his tour of duty with Roosevelt. At the time, crime was rampant in the city – probably due to bootlegging. A lot of the cops were on the take, and the gangsters just assumed Uncle Richard’s dad could be paid to look the other way. They told him they wanted to hit a bakery for a shakedown. They offered him some money to not be there when they did. He refused, and staked out the bakery instead. He got shot for his trouble, and his fellow cops dragged him to Uncle Richard’s house, rang the doorbell, and left him there.

Years later, when Uncle Richard was working the stand up comedy circuit, he got called in to audition for a big club. The owner, who was a gangster, loved Uncle Richard and invited him to come work at the club. When Uncle Richard found out it was a Mob business, he turned the owner down flat. “It was sons of bitches like you who killed my father. You can go to hell.” The owner was taken aback, but impressed. “You’ve got guts, kid.” And Uncle Richard left the club no worse for the wear.


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