D.C. Al Fine

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Life, Mom, Russ
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The embargo on all things Russ ended, of course. I don’t remember what sparked the phone call to him, nor do I remember if it was her or me that called. It could have been an important, music related audition coming up that we felt he would be able to prepare me for. I had already found another voice teacher in NYC, though, and thought he was pretty awesome. I adopted him as my “Uncle” too, just like I had with Uncle Richard (and Russ…I rescinded that title later, but that’s a story for another time). Uncle Carlo was older by the time we met him – I’d guess early to mid 80’s – and very accomplished. He was the head vocal coach for MGM studios during the 50’s and 60’s – taught Judy Garland, had a thing with Lucille Ball (almost married her, I understand) – he had a rich history. He didn’t usually take kids, in fact my brother and I were the first. After he met us, he decided he’d teach me on a “Scholarship” – mom would pay a weekly or monthly fee, and come in for lessons as often as we liked. Tim  he taught for free. The walls of his studio were a pale pink (something I used to find odd as a kid, but makes a lot of sense now considering his Old World Italian sensibilities), and he always had a big plate of candy by the door. It was usually Mary Janes – which I ultimately decided were disgusting – but he would fill my pockets with them as I headed out the door and I would eat them to be polite. He was by far the most positive influence on my life – by which I mean he was an extremely positive person. “Calm down. Relax. Let the cards fall where they may” was a constant saying of his. He’d often eat with us, and he’d have a seat waiting at nearly any restaurant in New York. Sometimes the cook would come out and greet us personally, or sometimes he’d let Uncle Carlo taste the sauce (I understand that’s a sign of great respect). Mom told him all about Russ, and Uncle Carlo gave her the same advice Uncle Richard did: “Forget him.” He also told her that Russ was a fraud, which Mom and I took totally differently (surprise, surprise). I assumed he meant that Russ wasn’t as important as he made himself out to be (very possibly true). Mom took it to mean Russ didn’t actually exist, but was created by the Mafia and Uncle Carlo was confirming everything she already knew.

Anyway, Russ agreed to teach me again, but on one condition.

Russ: Donna, you’re not allowed in the lessons anymore. You sit out in the waiting room like everybody else. Okay?

Mom: Okay.

That lasted about  one lesson.

I thought it was totally normal for your mother to be in a lesson with you – in fact, half the time she’d try to talk to Russ or get his attention or ask him things (usually off the wall things, like about Gaffe). As I got older, I realized that this disrupted the flow of the lesson and probably wasn’t a good or normal thing.

Being back with Russ made her delusions more prominent – she saw “tests” everywhere. Situations would appear and she would feel they were orchestrated by the Mafia in order to see how she’d react. If she reacted correctly, she would win their approval. If not, they might never “sit down and talk to us”. Seemingly normal situations – like her getting hit on by a guy at Wendy’s, for example – turned into a maze for her. I remember her sitting down at our table after the guy clearly hit on her (since I kind of saw myself as her “protector”, it made me mad) and panicking.

Mom: What should I do?

Me: Ignore it. He was rude.

Mom: What if it’s a test?

Me: *sigh* Mom, it’s not a test. How could this be a test?

Mom: But what if it is?

She quickly decided to rebuff the guy – several minutes after the fact. She got up (still holding her tray) and walked to the counter.

Mom: I want you to know that I am a very important person. I have powerful friends.

The guy was stunned into silence, and I could tell Mom was getting wound up. I didn’t want her to cause a scene so I tried to lead her away from the counter – I eventually succeeded.

After a series of similar “tests”, there came one where she really blew her top. We were pulling out of a parking garage and a big van with a metal guard over the grill broadsided us. Nobody was hurt, but there was a lot of glass – I had been about to eat a blueberry muffin and glass was all in it. I kept complaining about my muffin and crying – It was my first ever car accident and  I think I was in shock. After a stunned moment, Mom started freaking out.

Mom: It’s a test! It’s a big test!

Before I could stop her, she had leaped out of the car and was ranting and screaming at the van that hit us.

Mom: You expect me to believe you’re really a van for the homeless?! Yeah, right!  I know who you are. I know who you REALLY ARE. I KNOW THIS IS A TEST!

I stayed in the car, too shocked to do much of anything – I don’t think it even occurred to me to unbuckle my seat belt. I watched the drama unfold as Mom drew a crowd. The people in the van were too scared to actually get out, so they stayed there, trying to talk to Mom through the window. Eventually it was all sorted out – the cops were called, but they never showed up during that time period in NY. If you called them, they’d show up 3 hours later. I guess insurance information was exchanged and somehow Mom was calmed down. She got in the car and noticed I was crying.

Me: What about my muffin?

Mom: I’ll get you another one.

She put her head on the steering wheel.

Mom: I didn’t pass it. I didn’t pass the test.

I just looked at her blandly.

Mom: What does it mean? What happens now, Danny?

Me: I don’t know. Can we just go home?

We did. But not before I got a muffin.


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