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Of Mice And Men And Brothers And Sisters

Unfortunately, I do not have a super close relationship with my brother and my sister. I have felt embarrassed by this fact for many years until I recently learned that this is not uncommon in many families from the 1950’s. Contrary to the days of Ozzie and Harriet in which I grrew up, many families have drifted apart. I still feel badly about my own case. Let me explain.

Fast backward to 1958. (Is there such a thing?) I am walking my younger sister to elementary school. As we walk the mile or so, I am teaching her the multiplication tables with flash cards. As her big brother, I love and protect her with all my being and she is special. She loves me too. We are brother and sister in the traditional post-war American sense. Fast forward. We haven’t spoken since 2001. How does this happen?

My brother and I have never been super close but at least we had a relationship through the years. He is four years younger than me and we didn’t have the same friends in school growing up. We wound up being from slightly different eras. We both tried to compensate over the years. I remember one of the greatest nights in my life when my brother and I spent an evening playing music together. We wrote a song or two together and we were feeling connected, sort of brotherly tight. It was spectacular! I will cherish those few hours forever. They were composed of what life is supposed to be about.

I also remember a really fun trip to Northern California in the Redwoods with my brother. We were coming together from different viewpoints, making up for a little lost time and getting a little closer. It was the Age of Acquarius but we could still see eye to eye. Today? We still certainly speak but it is sparingly sparse, punctuated ocassionally with awkward moments of silence. We have different lives, different politics and different values. We even live in several different countries. It’s tough. We both try but often I’m afraid we fail more than we succeed. I wish it weren’t so! I love him dearly.

My sister and I parted ways after the death of my parents. After a hiatus, I tried contacting my sister several years ago to no avail. I sent a Christmas package to her from Italy full of little curiosities from the village where our father was born and never received a response. I hadn’t really expected one but the silent fact that we were once so close and now we don’t talk at all cuts deep. I hope she’s doing well in her world lightyears away and I would like to think that every now and then she thinks of me, perhaps even with a smile as I do with her. However in honesty I tend to doubt it.

My brother is complex. He may sometimes think I resent him for this fact when in reality I admire him for his complexity and independence. He is an iconoclast. So am I but we are so different in so many little ways that always seem to cloud our vision of one another. There seems to always be the politics of the day, a little too much distance and not enough time. I keep trying but I fear that I am pushing against the wind. Time will tell but the clock is running down; the batteries will someday soon expire.

I often pose the excuse that all three of us were raised to be super fiercely independent. Maybe we are too much so. We were taught from an early age to be our own selves and find our own paths in life. We are all indeed very independent and self-driven. We all have been very successful in life. My sister is a very well-known mountain climber and artist; my brother is an accomplished poet, editor, actor and musician; I am a professional writer who has also been an actor, songwriter and so much more. Success: Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? But where did so much of the love and closeness go? Was it absorbed in the vacuum of time or was it chipped away in the valley of indifference or simply lost in the passing years and bussle of our own personal lives? I wish I knew and I wish I knew how to right our boat, but I honestly don’t.

Of mice and men and brothers and sisters, I don’t seem to have learned a lot a lot and that is a shame. Maybe in another lifetime?

Photo: Brothers and sisters in the early days.

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Lunedi Senza Parole #9

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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One More Paddle Out

For those of you who are not of the surfing world, a Paddle Out is a ritual where we surfers say goodbye to one of our own who has left us. A paddle-out is a time-honored tradition by those with an ocean-centered lifestyle, dating back to Hawaiian burial rituals. Participants enter the water together and float on the surface on their surfboards, hands linked one by one to form a circle. We gather, paddle out on our surfboards to a quiet spot in the vast ocean to say goodbye to one of our own. I have been a participant in a couple and an onlooker to many others. Yet others I have been forced to miss.

On August 3, 2019 one of my friends and former surf club member passed away unexpectantly. He was a member of the Rising Sons Surf Club back in the 1960s. His name was Ray Sheehan. I received the news of Ray’s passing here in Italy some 6,000 miles away from where Ray lived and near where we once surfed together some 55 years ago. It was a stinging news that drives a nail through one’s heart and reminds us all that we are only here for a short while.

Ray lived down the street from me in San Fernando, California. He was a grade and a half behind me in Sylmar High School and I honestly can’t remember exactly how we became friends; we just gravitated toward each other as neighbors and surfers. I do remember that he was a member of the Rising Sons Surf Club, of which I was president for some time. I also recall that Ray as somewhat small built, agile on a surfboard and with a fierce sense of humor. He was frequently a passenger in my 1956 Chevy Wagon as we headed for various beaches in Southern California and Mexico. Above all he was simply a fun guy!

I and others used to refer to Ray as The Ant; I can’t remember precisely why although I think it had something to do with the way he paddled his board with short, sharp strokes. It wasn’t derogatory; it was a nickname bestowed of affection. Ray, in turn, referred to me as Magilla Gorilla. We all seemed to have had nicknames back then. He was one of the original four surfers, including me, to surf what later became known as Rizzi’s Reef, north of Ventura, California. He was tough, a true competitor with a tremendous amount of love and talent for surfing.

As we grow older, we often lose contact with the friends of our youth. Such was the case with Ray and me. We connencted several times over the years but both of us had gone in extremely different directions in our adulthood. We did keep in touch but no longer surfed together. However, throughout the years I always had a soft spot and tremendous respect for Ray in my heart and the memories we made together so very many years ago. He was a part of my life a half-century ago and I will always remember him fondly.

Very sadly, this is one more paddle out that I will surely miss. I am far away in Italy from that magnificent Pacific Ocean that calls me so often from afar. There will certainly be other old friends there and I hope in the celbration of Ray’s life among the shadows of the sea my words might be heard: I miss you Ray! Tight curls my friend!

You can read a bit about Ray and the Rising Sons Surf Club here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07S4FXSN4/

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Lunedi Senza Parole #8

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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Hey, Mister Publisher

The following is a small excerpt from one of my latest novels, Hey, Mr. Publisher. I am presenting it here in the sincere hope that some of you may want to buy and read the book. Whether or not you are a musician, I think you will appreciate this tale from the 1970’s music business and a peek inside the real world of music. You can find the book here in either digital or paperback format: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1091065330/

Chapter 1
Death Of The 60s

“The 1960s were lying on their death bed and Albertino Sapetello was just fine with it. Big Al was the last of the Sapetello family and the prospect of not having any children to carry on his name was becoming more burdensome every day. The last glimmer of hope was eclipsed three years before when little Jimmy had died of influenza and bad luck. There were no more toys, no more coloring books; Jimmy’s room had been cleaned and erased of his memory. Even the photographs were missing from their frames. Everything left had been tucked away neatly in a dresser drawer. Then, there was Lucy. She probably would have hit the road anyway. She hadn’t been crazy in love with the idea of raising a child right from the start. Like a lot of young girls in the 1960s, her high school graduation brought the promise only a future of pregnancy could bring. She laughed it all off and drank it off when a pasted smile couldn’t finish the job. She had been pissed for all of the nearly four years of Jimmy’s short life. Some would say she simply didn’t care; Most would say she didn’t care. But after Jimmy’s death, she just faded away like a ghost’s shadow skirting across a barren moonscape. Al hadn’t heard from her since the funeral and found some small solace in that fact. Withdrawing into a world that seemed prefabricated for him, Al found that he could not look back nor could he look forward. His life was deadlocked. Days were just a calendar component whose pages yellowed woefully slowly. A legacy of any kind seemed inescapably absent in both the past and in the future. The spirit was simply absent. Life felt to have been snuffed out with Jimmy’s death but there was still a smoldering small spark. It sat glowing faintly in Al’s cold heart.

Albertino Sapetello liked to think of himself as a survivor. He was cut from the cloth of the 1950s. Tailored to fit the times, he had seen the years march by him until at last they looked like tiny dots in the future. The 1950s had been serene but too much in a hurry. Things were moving too quickly and without purpose. He felt that he was no longer in control and that scared him. Yet he saw himself as tough, resourceful and a get it done type of guy but perhaps with too large an amount of humanity. Just surviving a post-war childhood was probably a battle won of sorts. But Al felt no victory in his blood, just the aching of his heart. Victory? Absolutely not but if being 24 years old had taught him anything, it was that he would probably survive any onslaught. Above all, he was hopeful to the point of surety that the kinder world of the early 1960s would return soon. He had survived those years as well and in fact he had embraced them. Those were the years that Al remembered most and with a great fondness. They were the years in which he felt victory might be in his grasp at any moment. That kinder world simply had to return. “Man, would that be great!” he mused. He thought of long nights spent on the beach at Malibu and the prospects that a new day of surfing would always bring. It really wasn’t that long ago. Sometimes, a look back over a few years can seem like a perusing of a century. His breathing slowed a bit: the sand, the sun, the warmth were all on his bare shoulders now. He could feel the breeze at his back and taste the spray of the ocean. He remembered the first girl he’d had in high school on that beach. It now seemed like a lifetime ago. He was lulled further into a comforting past. The sport, the beer, and the girls: where had all those fine things gone? His breathing almost came to a complete stop. “That beautiful warm sun!” he thought aloud. Then he pensively reflected for a second or two about the moniker, Big Al. He never really got that one. The name had been bestowed on him years earlier on the sands of Malibu, as he was big indeed on a surf board back in the day. However, he wasn’t really big in a physical sense. He stood a mere 5 foot 9 inches, kind of average. Besides, he had been told by his father that his first name meant little Albert. He wasn’t little by a long shot either. He was average in stature but with a strong face chiseled to perfection. His deep set eyes were dark green and seemed to tell of big dreams. Maybe he just always thought big: beautiful and big like the ocean he loved so much. The air finally came back into his lungs like a rushing returning tide and he imagined he heard the engine start in his old 1956 Chevy from years ago. The engine’s rumble faded almost as soon as it had begun. Daydreams were for fools but he wanted so much to be foolish again.”

If you were piqued by this excerpt, please get a hold of your copy of Hey, Mister Publisher today! As James Cagney said in Yankee Doodle Dandy, “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I assure you, I thank you.”

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Lunedi Senza Parole #7

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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Stereotypes

I have heard the whine for decades from those who have bewailed their fate of being stereotyped. I have listened, half-hearted, as this parade of the supposedly downtrodden bunch has passed by, changing in ethnicity every year or so. Boo Hoo I say!

Many, many decades ago I was born with an Italian name: Rizzi. In actual fact, my family and I are Tirolean, meaning that we are Austrian in language, culture and history. But hark, that could not be!

When I was a child, I never thought of stereotypes. I had friends who were of every imaginable color from every imaginable country and every religion. We were all simply Americans. It was only much later that I learned that some were Jews, some were Italians, some were Irish, some were Mexican and yet others were from foreign countries. What did it matter? We were all friends. Then things slowly changed.

I remember distinctly in junior high school as being referred to as “that Italian guy” by teachers and other students. What? I had no idea what they were talking about. I was Tirolean.

In high school, friends teased me as that “dumb WOP” or the “good looking dago.” What? I had no idea what they were talking about (except for the “good looking” part). I was Tirolean.

Later in college, I met a few actual, identifiable Italians and found that we had very little in common culturally, linguistically or in most other ways. (See Once Upon A Time In Northridge.) But it got me to thinking. If everyone wanted to stereotype me as Italian, why fight it? Why not play their game? What could I lose? Nobody knew where the Tirol was anyway and if they did, chances are they wouldn’t give a damn. I filed that thought away for future reference.

I let this myth go years later but it returned frequently. People I newly met asked if I liked “The Godfather.” They wanted to know what brand of olive oil I purchased (Seriously). They asked if I crossed myself before eating a Big Mac. When I became a playwright, my colleagues always felt it necessary to take me to Italian restaurants in New York and introduce me to the owners. Finally, after awhile I just accepted the Italian deal; it seemed it was good for business.

After my first marriage ended, I remember going on a date (just one time) with a young girl who said (and I quote): “Rizzi huh. Wow, you must eat a lot of spaghetti!” Again, what? I did retort that I had a few black friends and they all ate a lot of watermelon. That one went way over her head as she asked sincerely, “Really?”

When I entered the music business, I thought back to my time in college and as a playwright. What would be wrong with accepting the stereotype of “Italian.” After all, when in Rome… I formed a production company called Italia Productions with a partner who was a real Italian. We did very well in the business for many years. I am sure we were aided by the fact that people in this mafia festooned business saw us as “Italian” and wondered if maybe we were somehow “connected.” Hell, as a final act of capitulation, I even joined the Italian Anti-Defamation League at the behest of my friend Dean Martin.

The whole “Italian” thing kind of festered like an old boil. Occasionally, it would surface anew with all of the old chestnuts associated with the stereotype. Did I play stick ball as a kid? No, I was raised in Southern California and we didn’t know the meaning of the term. How come I didn’t have a darker complexion? I wasn’t Sicilian for God’s sake; I was Tirolean! Did my grandparents come over in steerage? No, actually they traveled first class by train and boat from the Tirol. Could I sing “That’s Amore” in Italian? Well, actually I could but that didn’t make me a card carrying Spaghetti Crooner, just a vocalist with a good memory for lyrics.

But then came an unusual twist. In 2003, my wife and I moved to live in Italy in a tiny village that used to be in Tirolean Austria and was the birth place of my father. The people there still identify as being Tirolean but live under the Italian government. Would that have changed the stereotyping? Of course not! It just got worse. As I learned Italian fluently, my friends and associates back in the states started wondering the same old things: Was this Goombah connected? Did he move to Italy for the same reasons as Michael Corleone? Was he the Capo di tutti fruiti? Ma, che cosa? I explained, I pleaded and I even brought maps of the Tirol back from our home in Italy and generally exhausted every channel of convincing my friends of the truth. I am Tirolean! Did it work? No! We still hear cracks in America like, “Let’s go over to the Italians house and have some wine.” (Again, seriously! It reminds me of the scenes from It’s Wonderful Life that feature Mr. Martini.)

I played the true “Italian Card” only once, I must confess. My son’s ex-wife always thought that I was connected to the mafia somehow because of my name. Why, I don’t really know; maybe she watched too many Al Pachino movies. When she and my son were separating acrimoniously and having immense problems with child custody, etc. I intervened only to offer to my son that I could give her a call or simply have a horse head appear in her bed. Neither transpired and nobody even got the joke. That is the sole instance of my “Italianess.”

So please let me state one more time, publicly and conclusively. I am NOT Italian. I am Tirolean! I have never known anyone in the mob. I don’t particularly love pasta and I am really not that fond of pizza as well. Yes, I have seen The Godfather and yes I know there is a character named Rizzi who gets whacked. No, I am not that character or any incarnation thereof. Please stop with the stereotypes or I will be forced to start a movement called TLM (Tirolean Lives Matter). 🙄

But yes, of course if you insist, you can still call me Godfather if that pleases you!😉

Das ist die Tiroler Flagge auf dem Foto.

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Lunedi Senza Parole #6

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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I’ll Drink To That!

Here in the Tirol people tend to drink a bit… well okay, a lot!

We’re not talking just alcohol but every imaginable liquid under the sun. The first morning ritual is the coffee. It is like the scene from The Godfather II; everyone plays with their coffee, stopping just short of making love to it. Me? I just belt one down! I prefer macchiato which literally means stained (with milk). I enjoyed that for years until my doctors put me on the forbidden decaf diet. I still manage to make a decaf taste good by grinding my own decaf French roast beans and cheating with a bit of cream.

Then there is obligatory morning juice. You take your pick but it must be fruit juice of some sort. We tend toward apple juice hereabouts as we grow tons of this stuff and some must be consumed locally. Personally, I prefer Sicilian Blood Orange juice. (Ma mama mia, non sono terrone!)

Having finished with breakfast, it’s onto lunch and this is where the alcohol thing kicks in for most people. Typically hereabouts it’s red wine. I prefer beer. (Mein Gott, Ich bin kein Deutscher aber mochst ich bier.) Some local residents start a bit earlier, say 9 AM and continue on into the wee hours of the next morning. It’s a thing here in the mountains. We usually attend their funerals, one by one each year. We are conservative but enjoy a glass, well maybe two, with lunch.

The main course at dinner is – you guessed it – wine! This usually accompanies a meal and is followed by grappa. Let me give you a true story to illustrate. A friend comes to dinner at our house at 7 PM. The three of us drink a bottle of white wine before dinner along with a few appetizers. Dinner is served and we drink another bottle, this time red wine (usually high quality – Barolo, Ripaso, etc.). We then chase down a coffee with a grappa and usually wind up consuming at least a half bottle before we part company at midnight. Sound excessive? Not really! It’s just the what we do things in this part of the planet. And do you know what? I’ll drink to that!

Photo: Empty beer glass in the right hand. empty Aperol Spritz in the middle and a grappa in the left hand. 😎

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Lunedi Senza Parole #5

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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