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L is for Lion - Annie Lanzillotto's New Memoir - a Bronx Butch Memoir

Annie Rachele Lanzillotto - Author
Excelsior Editions
SUNY series in Italian/American Culture
Price: $24.95
Hardcover - 300 pages
Release Date: February 2013
ISBN10: N/A
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-4525-0

Foreward: The Blue Suitcase

September 16th 1962, domestic violence cases in New York State were transferred from Criminal Court to the newly established New York State Family Court. Assault of a stranger outside your front door was punishable to the full extent of criminal law, while assault of a family member inside the front door was not. Marriage became a license for abuse. Two weeks later, I was conceived. I said, “I better go down and protect that woman, the courts ain’t gonna do shit.” What better way to heal this family than a beautiful baby girl?

Family Court had no muscle. Victims were referred to civilian agencies for help. My mother’s case was referred to The Salvation Army and then switched to Catholic Charities. Family Court did not have the power of The State of New York behind the plaintiff. This is the stage upon which I was born, on Saint Raymond’s Avenue in the Bronx.

Our street was named after Saint Raymond Nonnatus, or, the not-born; Raymond was taken from his mother’s uterus post-mortem. As an adult, he bartered for the freedom of slaves by trading himself into captivity, where he exuberantly preached. To stop his inspirational speaking, his lips were pierced and locked with a padlock. As an offering for Saint Raymond’s intercession, supplicants leave padlocks on altars. My father, perhaps knowingly, did one better. The last decade of his life, while in a residential mental home, he dismantled padlocks that he found when he scavenged the neighborhood trash. It’s not an easy task. Padlocks are built of two dozen intricately cut steel plates fashioned together by pins and a yoke. After my father was done with them, the last thing these wildly cut steel plates and pins resembled was a padlock.

My parents were married in 1947, after my father returned home from World War II. Anticipating the trips they would take, my mother bought a royal blue suitcase at Gimbels. It had hard walls and thick brass hinges that popped open with a catch. The blue suitcase stayed under her bed for fifty years, twenty-five with my father, and twenty-five after she escaped the brutal reality that had become la vita quotidiana, their daily life. With the blue suitcase, she ran for her life. She slid it under her bed, full of her keepsakes; my name bracelet from birth, all her children’s oversize Kindergarten diplomas, newspapers from the first lunar landing and of Joe DiMaggio’s career milestones, old coins. Every few years she would open the suitcase to find a birth certificate or to look among her keepsakes, and had a coughing fit from the aged newspapers. This is close to the process of writing this memoir, for me.

My mother who read me books every night, taught me, “Books open and close and the things inside them stay inside them.” At two years old, I had no idea what she was talking about. I scratched and grabbed at the pages of my storybooks, convinced I could pull the characters off and make them real. I was confused and upset when they didn’t jump off the pages to play with me. Half a century later, I still grab at characters, only now, from inside my brain and I transfer them onto blank white spaces where they can be real again and find you, beautiful Reader.

This book, for me, is one gorgeous rearrangement of all that otherwise is locked. This memoir, like any other, is about how what we refuse to remember carves us into who we are. I place this book, unlocked and open, spoken and broken, into your hands.

Annie Rachele Lanzillotto
Yonkers, New York 2011

 

EXCERPT: HOW TO CATCH A FLYBALL IN ONCOMING TRAFFIC

I grew up playing in traffic.  Under the arcs of balls, balls hit high ― ‘’til they became small and black in the sky.  The ball’s going back and all the while you have your inner ear on the car at the intersection.  You don’t miss the ball.  You don’t get hit by the car.  With a car coming at you, you face the open sky.  You never miss a pop fly because a ball is coming at you. You listen. You turn your ear to the horizon. The ball is in the air.  Your feet are moving beneath you. Your ear tracks the speed the car is coming at you. Your eye you keep on the ball. You know a car is coming without needing to look. You don’t want to stop the car,  just like you don’t want the car to stop the play.  With your throwing arm you flag the car around you. You figure which side of the street the ball is favoring in the wind.  You wave the  car to the other side of you. You may temporarily halt the car ‘’til the ball is square in your hands. The car inches forward ‘’til the ball is in your hands, then the car proceeds.  The car is  your audience rushing to find you. The car came all this way, down this particular street, around several corners, jumped the exit ramp, to back up around the corner to see you make this play. The car in the middle of the play is part of the play. It’s all in the timing.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Blue Suitcase

Part One: Bronx Tomboy

Eat with Guys You Trust
Breakfast Is to Coat the Stomach
The X
Stoop
The Return of the Rust
A Good Eater
The Tin Ceiling
Sidewalk
Licking Batteries
Teaspoons and Heatpipes
Kitchen Bird
Kindergarten, Boot Camp: 1968
Sister Rosaria
Quicksand
Lasagna Vows
Ravioli, Homing Pigeons, and Teletype Machines
Grandpop, the Hook, and the Eyebrow
Made of Rubber
Sister Giuseppina
Sister Ercolina
Playing War
Lead Pipe, Montezuma, Icicle
Hand to Hand
The Return of the Lasagna
Street
How to Catch a Flyball in Oncoming Traffic
The Names of Horses
Rook to Queen Four
Burning Rubber and Penmanship
Trestles and Love
Silence, Violence
The Blue Angel
Bronx County Family Courthouse
Parkchester Poseidon Adventure
The Lady in Black
Fast Break

Part Two: Educationa Girl

The Temporary Apartment
Permanent Wave
Useless Expertise
Hunger Beat Agida
Sistermazione
Walk Softly but Carry a Big Pockabook
Lunch Is to Clean the Blood
Slow, Loud, and Clear
Asthma, Green Money, and the Feast
Brakeman
Outfield Greens
My Mother, the Plaintoff
Aunt Patty’s Bullfight
You’re Just Like Your Father
Junkie Pride
Mary Perry
College Entrance
Strike One
Fontanelle Aurelius
The Miracle Worker of 233rd Street

Part Three: Kimosabe

The Best Place to Have Cancer
Room 621
Shake ‘n Bake
The Fastigium
Dope and Demerol
The Pipeline
Truckstop Paranoia
Chemistry
Amara
Brazil Upside Down
Belly Up
Overheating
Triple Boiling Point
Eat ‘Til You Sweat
The Tumor Board
The Radioactive Man Says, “Don’t Give Up the Ship!”
Thoracotomy
One Mis-sip-pi
Magnetic Lace
Lesbianism, Suicide, or the Nunnery
How to Wake Up a Marine in a Foxhole
Red Death
Interventions
Falling and Flying
Civilian Life Sucks
Deep Bell

Part Four: How to Cook a Heart

Wallid Walla Bint
Equator Crossings
Bronx Italian Butch Freedom
Never Come Out in a Lincoln Continental
A Nightclub Named Devotion “Roma o Morte!”
Vrrooooom!
“Cosa Mangia Oggi!”
My Mother’s Aorta
a’Schapett
Shave My Head
Enter Audrey Lauren Kindred
Rachele’s Pocketbook Fritatta
How to Poke a Guy’s Eyes Out
How to Cook a Heart

Part Five: Annie’s Parts

Mr. Fixit
Six Places to Buy Milk
My Father, Marconi, and Me
Sciamannin’
Horizontal People
Radioactive Feast
Limoncello and the Black Bra
Garlic, the Ave Maria, and the Blue Leg
Cittadinanza
Assassination Focaccia
Spearmint Gum Cure
One Day My Horse Will Come In
Madeleine and the Magic Biscotti
How GrammaRose Became a Peach Tree
Fruttificare
The Lasagna Stands Alone
Three Days from Eternity
Don’t Make ‘Em Burn
Pipe Dreams
The Little Fish and the Big Ocean
Three Hundred Cream Puffs and the Illusion Veil
Lingua Madre
Sì o No?
A Couple of Teaspoons of Coffee and a Couple of Drops of Milk
Becoming GrammaRose Peach Tree

Glossary:  Things I Heard as a Kid
Acknowledgments: Exquisite Pleasure
Credits
Author’s Page