Cuts Marked in the March of Men

Posted: March 17, 2013 in Life, Mom, Uncle Richard
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

So I found out a couple days ago that my old friend Gasper died. Ironically, he’d been on my mind for quite some time – a couple years, in fact – and I had been intending to call him. Turns out he died in 2009, and I never even knew. The guy was a close friend and confidant of Uncle Carlo – he was his driver, his butler, and even his barber. Uncle Carlo didn’t have a lot of hair, so it was a fairly easy job. Gasper and his wife Carmella were always very sweet. He had these giant old man glasses and she had a beehive hairdo – they were very New York Italian, if you know what I mean. Of course, his real name wasn’t Gasper – I don’t even remember if I knew his proper name – but it was a nickname that Uncle Carlo always called him by. Gasper would tell you a story about anything – didn’t matter what it was. Uncle Carlo told me once that if a peanut fell on the floor, Gasper would tell a 3 hour epic about the peanut falling on the floor. That wasn’t too far off the mark. I think that’s where he got his nickname – he talked so much he needed to gasp for air (at least, that was one of Uncle Carlo’s jokes about him). Gasper and Carmella were often around when we were with Uncle Carlo. After Uncle Carlo died, they really reached out and tried to maintain a connection. It was hard, though, because my life was constantly in motion. It wasn’t easy to run up to Brooklyn and visit, especially when we had put in a full day of driving to New York City. They invited us over to their house a couple times for dinner – Carmella made a great eggplant parmigiana (first time I’d ever tried eggplant, since Grandma didn’t like to make it). Gasper even took us to Little Italy once and showed us all the old places. It was certainly a singular experience to be showed around Little Italy by an old, dyed in the wool New York Italian.

After Uncle Carlo had died, Gasper took care of everything. Uncle Carlo had no immediate family any of us were ever aware of – he had no kids, and his wife had died years before. Really, the only family he had were Gasper, Carmella, along with myself, Mom and Tim. Another close friend insisted that Uncle Carlo would have left us all some money – he was certainly well off and he was an old school immigrant. It’s entirely possible he hid money in the walls of his apartment (he didn’t trust banks – in light of the recent financial crisis, I can’t say I do either). But, supposedly, he didn’t have a will – some people were very suspicious of the fact that Gasper took over everything. I thought it kind of made sense, though, all things considered. Gasper pooled all of Uncle Carlo’s stuff at his house and invited us over one day.

Gasper: You wan annating, you take it eh?

There wasn’t a whole lot that was meaningful to me – maybe a few pictures. He did give me all of Uncle Carlo’s sheet music (a gigantic treasure trove of it that 20 years later I have yet to fully explore) as well as his writings (he was the author of at least 2 books on singing) and some vocal exercises he had personally created. I remember him looking at Uncle Carlo’s full size grand piano – a piano that had been played by legends, and on which I had been taught by Uncle Carlo himself.

Gasper: You wanna piano?

I would have loved it. I remember thinking, at 10, that even though I had a piano that meant the world to me I would have loved to have this particular instrument. There was so much to it. I told him I’d love it, but Mom intervened.

Mom: Where are we going to put it, Danny? It’s huge.

Me: I dunno. We could find a space…

Gasper scratched his well oiled gray head.

Gasper: Well, I dunno what to do wit’ it.

I remember him being so angry with some of Uncle Carlo’s students – the famous ones, anyway – for not thanking him when they got awards or publicly commenting on his death.

Gasper: Who are dey? Dey ain’t nobody. HE was somebody. He was the Maestro!

As far as I know, that piano sat there for 20 years. I’ve thought of it – and him – often. I don’t think Gasper would have gotten rid of it – he had too much reverence for Uncle Carlo to do that. Had he kept it, I could have simply called at any time and asked for it. I would have gladly paid a fortune to piano movers to get it here. Regardless of whether or not he kept it, it’s likely gone now though – along with the rest of his stuff. I have to admit feeling some pangs of loss regarding that, too.

He called us once, a few years back. Evidently Carmella had recently passed away. He was really upset and lonely and looking for someone to talk to. Mom totally blew him off – she talked little (but politely) – and never called him back. I remember being a bit down hearing about Carmella – she was a sweet lady. And I feel bad that he reached out and we never really did anything with it.

It’s times like this I feel old, even though I’m 30. Another strand from the life I had – and the people I knew and loved – has come permanently unstrung. I grant you that many of my friends were older – some even in their 70’s when I was just a kid – but as I grew older and the losses piled up I feel old. I remember one of Grandma’s friend dying – someone she grew up with and knew well. This lady came to our house practically twice a week. We broke the news delicately to Grandma, expecting an outpouring of emotion. Instead, she just sat on the couch in the den. She sighed.

Grandma: Yeah. Well.

One might think her reaction was callous. I don’t. There was so much emotion packed into those two words. She threw up her hands and raised her eyebrows. I knew what she was saying. Another string had come unstrung. It can’t be replaced, it can’t be retied. There’s nothing to do about it.

Uncle Richard, too, knew the feeling – perhaps better even than I do. I remember walking into his studio, just after he got news a friend had passed away. He was – understandably – brooding.

Uncle Richard: I can’t do this.

I raised my eyebrows and listened.

Uncle Richard: I can’t miss anybody else. This is selfish as hell, but I want to be missed. Not miss more people.

I got it. I understood. When I get up in the morning feeling depressed, and I roll my bones out of bed, and I shuffle to the bathroom to take a piss and a shower, I look in the mirror. I feel much, much older than the reflection that stares back at me. I remember coming to the shocking realization not too long ago (which culminated in another round of therapy for me) that all my friends were dead.

I sigh. I look in the mirror and I shrug.

Yeah. Well.



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