Hey, Buddy…What Else You Got For Christmas?

Posted: January 6, 2013 in Life
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Uncle Carlo was always telling jokes – usually, I never understood exactly why they were funny but for some reason my brother and I always laughed at them till we were out of breath. When I tried to retell them later, nobody else seemed to get them. I’ve come to the conclusion they were funny only because of Uncle Carlo’s infectious personality – his accent also made the jokes have a certain rhythm, which made any jokes he told even better. I remember him telling me about sitting in traffic with a famous singer – I think it was Bobby Darin, but I’m not sure – when this guy pulls up beside them in a brand new BMW. The traffic is at a standstill, and the guy is just laying on his horn – he wasn’t affecting traffic, all he was doing was drawing attention to himself. So Uncle Carlo rolls his window down and shouts “Hey, Buddy…what else you got for Christmas?” He laughed rather uproariously while telling this tale. To this day, it still makes me chuckle out loud, although nobody else I tell the story to seems to find it as amusing as me. Maybe it’s because I see his face and hear his voice in my head, and that’s what makes it funnier. It was his story – not mine – after all.

I remember he invited us up to the Poconos with him – he had spent a week or two in a hospital in NY.  He had developed pneumonia, I think, but they had finally got it under control and cleared him to leave. Thinking he needed some fresh air, he decided to take a vacation to the mountains. I don’t know how long we were actually there – my guess is not very long – but it felt like a month to me. He brought his good friend Gasper along, who was basically his chauffeur, barber, and butler. I spent days in a hotel pool looking out at the mountains. I bought comic books at a local 7-11, and read them in my room at night. We’d eat at a local diner that had an arcade – my love for arcades was fully grown by then, and any time I saw one I had to at least try it. My favorites were Golden Axe, The Avengers, and Ninja Turtles, but I wasn’t terribly picky – I’d even play Donkey Kong or Pac Man. This particular arcade game was a driving one – it was probably a precursor to Grand Theft Auto. It had a pedal you could press to accelerate, a steering wheel, and a gearshift. This thing had clearly seen some action – nicks and scuffs were all over the case, which displayed a cartoon cop chasing after a cartoon robber. I think the cop may have had a donut, but I’m not sure.

I ran over to the table where the adults sat, begging for quarters. Like many kids my age, arcade machines turned me immediately into a pan handler. Uncle Carlo laughed, and reached into his pocket. He dropped a fistful of change into my eager palms. He winked at me as I scampered off. The game involved a high speed chase to get away from the cops, which seemed to amuse him even further. I must not have been very good at it, because I was back asking for more quarters within a few minutes. When the rest of the adults at the table turned me down, Uncle Carlo was ready with yet another handful of quarters. I ran off again, pacified. By the third time I ran over, Mom was starting to get annoyed. She tried to warn me against asking for more quarters with her eyes, but I studiously ignored her side of the table. When I approached Uncle Carlo, however, he looked at me regretfully.

Uncle Carlo: No more quarters, Kid. Sorry! Why don’t you come sit with us?
I did, and listened while they talked. Uncle Carlo told stories from the Golden Age of Hollywood (he once talked Judy Garland down from walking off the set of a holiday TV special), and we all listened. Mom fretted and complained about Russ and The Business (a.k.a auditions, bookings, and acting in general), and Gasper chimed in with stories of his own. Those were good days. When I think back, they were some of the most carefree of my childhood. I was surrounded by adults, clean air, and mountains. The hotel pool and the comic books didn’t hurt either.


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