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Once Upon A Time In Northridge

January 29, 2016

When I graduated Sylmar High School in the fall of 1966, I immediately enrolled as a freshman at San Fernando Valley State College. This institution became known as the California State University at Northridge some years later. After I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I had my diplomas reprinted to reflect the new name and the signature of the then current governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

My university years were a mixture of intellectual pursuits and hard work, both on and off campus. My undergraduate years were particularly arduous. My studies consumed my entire life. I recall only one real date after my sophomore year. My German professor was a heavy, kindly older woman who used to grab my cheek and shake it while saying, “You work too hard. You should have some fun, maybe get married!” She was probably right but I persisted with the hard work and graduated in three years instead of the usual four with my bachelor’s degree in hand.

I worked extremely hard in college. often holding two part-time jobs to finance my schooling. In addition, I usually took a minimum of 21 to 24 units of study as well as double summer sessions of classes. Every semester, I had to petition the school to allow me to take heavier than normal course loads. My schedules were exhausting and required me to arrive very early on campus and stay for the full day everyday.

My habit back then was to go to bed at 2 a.m. then awake at 5:30 a.m. and then to be on campus by 6:30 a.m. I always went to the campus cafeteria as it was the only part of the campus open before 7 a.m. There I had my breakfast of coffee and cigarettes. Often, there was no one else around. For my first two years, my visits to the cafeteria were as regular as the campus tower clock, save one interruption.

Almost from the very start, I noticed that there was indeed normally only one other student in the cafeteria at that hour. She was a young girl who was always seated at the opposite end of the cafeteria. Gradually, I got to know this young girl. Her name was Gina. She was quiet, smart and beautiful. I think she was a history major. We struck up a friendship but neither of us seemed to have had the time to get very romantically inclined. After several months, our relationship graduated to having the occasional dinner together and oddly enough joining each other for target practice with pistols and rifles on the weekends. Gina liked to shoot. She was a great shot but I was always better by a huge margin as I had learned to shoot from the very early age of five. In an attempt to show off, I would drive four penny nails through plywood boards with a .22 rifle without a scope and blow bottles apart after quick-drawing my .38 Colt. Yes, I was pretty damned good with a rifle and a pistol in those days. In the end, Gina and I had probably very little else in common except for being early risers and having a passion for firearms.

Things with Gina and I progressed slowly and we became very good friends, although I really didn’t know much about her. Our dinners and weekend forays became more frequent as our relationship grew over 18 months. We became a couple of sorts. It was a comfortable arrangement that required little of me except for buying ammo. And then it happened! I arrived one fall morning for my usual repast of coffee and cigarettes. There was Gina, as always, but with two new faces. The faces were actually two guys straight out of “The Godfather,” complete with double-breasted suits, Panama hats and seemingly broken noses. I was caught completely off-guard. Gina stepped back as the two approached me.

“We’se hear you’se pretty good with a piece!” they exclaimed in unison. I was dumbfounded as well as naïve. “A piece of what?” I asked in desperation. There was a long silence in which I thought maybe they meant a piece of ass. I really didn’t know. I was feeling threatened. As they moved still closer to explain, the grand epiphany hit me like a mighty slap on the face. “Holy shit, no, no, no.” I mumbled. I was so distraught that I bolted from the cafeteria, preferring to arrive for my first class an hour early rather than face the grisly crew another second. I exited the cafeteria as the “cappo di tutti toppi.” I kept muttering over and over again, “Oh shit!” for about a week as I carefully avoided meeting Gina at the cafeteria early in the morning.

When I finally found the courage to return timidly to the cafeteria some weeks later, Gina was no more. She had vanished from the cafeteria and campus completely. In the 55 years since, I have never seen her again. A pity really. Gina was a dark-haired beauty, sensitive and with a gift for discharging a .38 revolver most accurately. She could have been my soul mate…. who the hell knows? I was just a young book-worm with no knowledge of a “piece” in the Mafia sense of the word. I only knew that I was a better shot than Gina.

I often look back upon this instance with a deep forgiving smile. Gina, years later I finally learned who you were. I also learned later in life about your whole family and their fame. However, with all of the fear, confusion, naivete and years aside, I still remember you as a sweet, affectionate, lonely girl who I met once upon a time in Northridge. And yes, I was damn good with a piece…. I still am!

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  1. allenrizzi permalink

    Spero che stai bene Gina!


  2. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Okay – Here’s another oldie, written almost three years ago. It’s a true story and one that I will never forget.


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