(My parents 1970’s – Vermont; I took the polaroid)
This is not an ‘in memory’ tribute.
Both my parents are alive and well and enigmatic as ever. This telling is my attempt to not only recall stories of family history but also to view my past through the point of view of my folks. I am sure some of my perceptions may be wrong, some valid. I didn’t interview my parents extensively. There is one section directly from Patches recollections. I simply remembered my life within their own. Anything written here comes from my deep love and gratitude for who they were and ARE today, 2016. All that I am has come from them. The memories of NJ, NY and VT carved in me deep gorges of nostalgia. This telling, as well as the two novels that will represent me as an author (DELCINA’S TREE and THE BLARNEY BOYS) shall complete the trilogy. There are other writings littered about rooms and drawers and many in an old faded trunk kept in the woods on Bausch Lane Hill, in a wiki-up. Those writings I gave back to the earth.
Popi & Patches is for everyone, not just the dirt.
Whatever you may think of this telling please know it is not a whiny escapade to cancel the past, glaze over truth or convince myself that if things were different my life would have turned out better. I own every decision I ever made good or bad. I don’t blame my folks for anything – the psych industry makes fortunes convincing people the answer to their ills is, parental. But if I did wish to blame them for something, it would be for their inspiration. No emotional diaper here I expect you to change or for me to clean as a confessional scribbler. See confession is a strange thing – you can fool yourself into believing imagination over facts. If I don’t get it just right truth and memory and imagination may confuse us both. Trick is for you to somehow relate to my parents and my ‘take’ on them as your own take on your parents. Perhaps some of you will. Or not, so be it. Ultimately not many people will read this long blog page and will remain for a few family members curious about our side of the family.
To my parents, I say thanks for it all. Being a sick boy with a disorder nobody understood was difficult on all of us, both of you most of all. Tourettes has linked us in the way any illness unites family by creating a coalition of the unwilling. But we survived. And for your part in how I dealt with TS (tourette syndrome) I can only say,
I love you both immeasurably.
LONG LONG AGO….in a galaxy far far away, well, exit 168 off the NJ Parkway in the county of Bergen –
Louis Scotellaro from Brooklyn, NY and Brenda Sammis from Paramus, NJ met on a ski date in Vermont then had me and loved me regardless of the Tourettes. Suburban Jersey where I grew up was plagued by a mild intellectual retardation, removed from nature and the sacred, while worshiping mediocrity; like a Wall Street scag who enjoys thinking about Thoreau on the subway but substitutes the merits of solitude for the NASDAQ. That was NJ when I was a kid just another kind of misguided group think among the masses during an era when the truly ‘smart’ ones who understood the truth of getting off the crazy train, moved back to nature. We were suburban hippies although my parents never did drugs or drank. They were just the most liberal minded and in tune with the times people in the town. If there were other hippies in the neighborhood I didn’t know who they were. All I knew was that by five years old in 1970 my parents bought a weekend chalet in Chittenden, Vermont. We drove there from NJ in an VW Splitty van (the camper model) to the house, that sat atop a hill at the end of a winding driveway way into the woods. Was as hippie as it got. An Italian greaser who ran his own advertising business and a model-actress who could sing like an angel were for me dynamic settlers homesteading in strange lands. By the end of the 1970’s my father purchased 42 acres of land behind the house we still own and play on to this day.
Don’t know about you man, but what a trio huh!?
(BTW, that is me age one and some months in 1964.)
The mid-1960’s, 70s, were a caldron of social change and new lifestyle paradigms. Watergate, women’s rights, Vietnam, the moon landing, Woodstock, solar and electric cars creeping out of the shadows as progressive ideas, influenced both of my parents. Lou and Brenda were right there in the social chaos almost making it to Bristol, NY where the rock festival actually took place. But when the NY Thruway closed down, the traffic prevented them from getting there from our meaningless village of Washington Township, NJ. One could get to the Twp. off the Parkway or major highways such as Rt 17, if you live or know NJ you’ll recognize those roads. Yes, the first president of the U.S. actually stayed in some hotel somewhere in the township and if the town had any bragging rights I guess the first prez of America was it. In the early 60’s ‘George’s’ America was ablaze with people engraving their ideals on society: Kennedy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin (author of ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ who debated William F. Buckley at Oxford), organic farming and a cottage industry of books dedicated to returning to the land most notably James Lovelock’s Gaia, perhaps the most influential book of the era. Not to mention the music – for me ’63 to 73′ into 1980 produced some of the most memorable sounds this country has ever heard. Start and end with The Beatles then Dylan and all the other folk rock bands after him, right through to classic television, science on and on. Rachel Carson wrote her controversial book Silent Spring, charging that pesticides were destroying wildlife and endangering humanity to the beginning of NOW (Nat’l Organization of Women) to some of the most compelling cinema to come out of Hollywood & the indy film movement – The Graduate, Annie Hall, The Godfather, Billy Jack, A Clockwork Orange, JAWS – the list endless. Both my parents were diehard movie buffs and ‘going to the movies’ I always felt was a pilgrimage more than a family activity. Seeing movies, was sacred. If a priest could have blessed us as we bought our tickets or popcorn we would have welcomed it. ‘In the name of the father, son and holy ghost, don’t spill the joo-joobs.’
|“I’m gonna take my right foot and wop you on that side of your face and ya know sumthin,’ there ain’t a damn thing you’re goin’ to be able to do about it…” BJ quote.|
By the time we moved to the house in NJ, my father ran his own medical ad business in Manhattan (LSA) Louis Scott Associates, while my mother stayed home, sang in musical theater, cared for me and my sister and prepared herself for college. Years later she earned a Masters in psychology from Fordham University at Lincoln Center, NY. Helluva accomplishment. She, like my father, was a driven person. And although popi was a business man he was far from a corporate scag. He never fit in, that’s why he went into business for himself. He had too many ideas and was fired repeatedly so going it alone was the only path to success. Together, they were an intriguing volatile couple. Louis, Victor Mature (very famous actor who made a lot of Bible movies as well as gangster flix) and Brenda, beautiful – Mary Tyler Moore’ish? Dynamic couple. I was cricketer a nickname my mother’s father Sydney called me. These were the days when my parents were overjoyed and overwhelmed with parenting, especially since I was ill from the start. I had some form of food poisoning weeks after I was born called salmonella. Let me say from the onset that the impending arrival of a disorder called Tourettes years later serves only one purpose here – as a catalyst for our union as a family. Every tribe has an outsider, the one who is different, special or not so special but more of a tolerable burden perhaps. But in as much as this telling is about tourettes to a degree, the focus is, my parents. I can’t write about them without also writing about tourettes. Be like taking a long drive with half a tank of gas.
Tourettes may have shaped me in significant ways. But it never defined who I was or am. We all conquered it and as I’ve said, without the love and devotion to help their son through tough times, I would have perished. I owe them everything which is why today in their elder years, I give them all of my adoration and commitment. They earned it. I was born to these grand people and tourette birthed our relationship as only a malady like that can for parents of a sick child. More ‘connected’ sadness and guilt more sympathy and rage, and of course, an urgency to find treatment and relief for them, as I am well aware my illness at one point was a glue for their marriage that eventually carved a chasm between them as lovers. The divorce wasn’t far away and they split after fifteen years not solely due to their son being ill but who they were as individuals no longer sustained a union. They had had enough of each other. Yet, to this day holidays are spent together – all of us. To them I say kudos! I love our gatherings, a testament to who my parents are as people.
At an early age I saw how they scrambled about wildly trying to improve their lives doing so with flair and beauty and honor. By the time tourettes came along like a trickster spider, we were all exhausted. If I was banged up with ts the adults I saw looked like walkin’ wounded. Except my folks. Bergen County, NJ was a congested swamp of fragged suburbanites burned out on the mythologies of love and what their college BAs promised. You know the type of humans I speak of – the ones working themselves to death at collared jobs who feel powerful at a football game wearing face paint and mustard stains; who rush savagely up to the Dairy Queen window pushing aside others to get their kid soft ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. And when you speak up and say ‘hey I’m right here man wait your turn!’ they look at you as if you just farted loudly in front of the Pope. That IS Jersey. Rude. Busy. Cookie cutter folk who have to fit in with fads – kind of invasive types sharing dna with locusts. Which is why a famous t-shirt in Vermont says, ‘WELCOME TO VT, NOW GO HOME! However, without Jersey, Boston, New York and Connecticut, VT would be broke. So, don’t hate the flatlanders too much! Flatlander is the slang for any one not born in Vermont as if that matters to anyone. Rural prejudice. I am as much of a Vermonter as any family raised here for three generations dating back to the Green Mountain Boys during the civil war. Besides, I have no respect for any group of people who shout they are progressive yet drive around in pick up trucks with a confederate flag flappin’ on the side and a silver scrotum dangling from the trailer hitch.
Worse, are the faux liberals who buy fruit at a farmers market and think they’re hip but still hate gays and lesbians and think pot is a gateway drug. I love Vermont but some of the most backward people I ever met live there. I have a t-shirt too and it says – ‘DON’T HATE ME ‘CAUSE I BUY MAPLE SYRUP!’ Anyway, this ‘telling’ isn’t about Vermont politics or cultural moronia (yes, I made up that word). But I do enjoy the occasional rant. Venting is fun and prevents ulcers. In the end, the Green Mountain landscapes are wonderous! The hiking/exploring, ceremony, festivals and powerful transition of seasons connects me to the earth in ways I may have taken for granted as a boy but never as an adult.
I was born in Hackensack, NJ, 1963 so they, the Jersey’ites are my people. But only by proxy. I had nothing in common with them nor did my parents. We were always the family who lived outside the lines. When I use to tell friends we had a house in Vermont I might as well have said we went to the moon twice a month. It always seemed to me that the town was stuck in what I call the suburban malaise whereas we were living a renaissance lifestyle born of literature, nature, music and spiritual seeking. Three vital things Lou and Brenda gave me and my sister Stacey – nature, song and books. Brenda filled the house with music, her voice combining ol’ time big band tunes and opera. And my father Louis, reminding us all the value of reading and the woods. Books are your friends he’d say. It was clear to me as a boy that learning from pages as well as from the earth and a deep curiosity for both, were vital for a good life. While building his business he taught me all things of survival and being disciplined as a man. My mother, ‘god is in you,’ she’d say. ‘Always take risks,’ she’d instruct. If I learned about literature from my father, from my mother, I was given the courage to leap into the lion’s den!
“Go like you’re going,” she says today. “You can do it,” on and on.
From both of these people I discovered that indeed Truth must be found within while striving to be better without; thus the balance all sacred books speak about, revealing just how hard it is to do. I took a lot of risks, read a ton of books and still walk a spirit path. And, I play in the dirt out in the woodlands all over Vermont. I never lost my boyishness to run among the trees or build tipis and wiki-ups and forts and climb feelin’ FREE. Perhaps my adulthood has been stunted or negated I don’t know or care – I’m free to roam listening to the whispers of stones and memories of the trees. Hickory pine, birch, ash and oak have many tales to tell. If you sit by a glacial stone a while she’ll tell you what the forests looked like a thousand years ago. Hey, you might even remember who you were before you were born. Our Vermont life gave me the earth connections & mystery that sustains me today. And more, a sense of ‘I could do anything.’
Popi and Patches were also agnostics so I never needed a deity to prevent me from running over the edge only them, Lou and Brenda from Brooklyn and New Jersey acting as my conscience. I always believed the woods were gods/goddesses. It’s ironic that I grew up across from a high school and next to a Catholic church/school called Our Lady of Good Council, (OLGC) whatever the hell that means – perhaps the constant tug upon the soul between the intellect and faith. That struggle rages on within me to this day, at 52. I say again, we were different; the notion of conformity within the confines of a high school and Catholic dogma wasn’t lost on me, it was a metaphor for our lives. My parents were never status-quo. There was no dogma only individuality and creative pursuits. Education was everything and developing one’s mind through art, literature and music were daily goals. My entire creative life’s experience is due to them – the acting, writing, prose, ceremony and desire to learn, from them. Without religion I was able to follow the symbols leading me to where I am. If there had been faith dogma in our house my Lakota path may not have unfolded. Obviously, my path came to me and I went to it on my own. But my parents kept the canvas blank and thank goodness they did.
(my parents on stage in community theater)
One thing was true for me I wanted to be bigger than life like them – my own brand of an enigma. When I say bigger than life, I mean they had charisma, moxie and commanded attention. Whether popi ran his medical ad agency or patches sang in the lead of the Bergen County Players musical (a host of classics such as Fiddler On The Roof and South Pacific) it was clear to me as a boy these creatures were electric! Whether rehearsing plays at our home or in the theater (they both acted in community productions) my parents made me WANT to make them proud. I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to do so; sometimes successfully and oft’times, not. But never shameful to my folks while doing so. I was kind of Japanese that way, would have rather committed self-death for shaming my legacy than walk around in quiet regret for doing embarrassing things. But that is what happened decades later. All men fall off the wagon or rot off the vine. You just have to recover from the sin of separation (from the Self not a god) and rejoin life again. And I did, on my own. With the help of family and the memories we shared. To the both of them, I can only say – I love you eternally.
Now let’s begin.
(a nickname I gave her to be melodramatic – between her and I)
Don’t know what humor existed in my mother’s house after she was born on August 11, 1941. When she was a child likely it wasn’t much. Her father Sidney was a humorist and I remember him as one of the silliest men I ever knew. He always roared on saturday mornings watching roadrunner cartoons when I was a kid. Patches, like him, has a spectacular laugh and to this day Brenda’s giggle fits are infectious and give way to belly stomps and tears of painful joy or joyful agony. You know the kind of fits don’t you? When the laughter erupts and gradually climaxes and then returns to the beginning to start the crescendo all over again till you’re about to piss your pants. She may have laughed like that back in Paramus, NJ as a girl but my grandmother Jean was a tough gini daughter of a malevolent father who bullied her and her sisters and brothers. I think Jean or nanny as we called her was rough on Brenda and my aunt more often than not and Sydney was helpless to prevent the discontent. Yet my mother’s humor has always been loud and untimely irreverent like her father. Laughter was our medicine. I’m sure it was hers as a young girl as well. A signature laugh passed down through heredity is a blessed trait!
As a boy seeing her go from deep sadness to grand giddiness was confusing – the high highs to low lows and back n’ forth was the norm. My first thoughts about my mother must have been how sad she was. A recent conversation we had up at the Vermont house led to her question, ‘did you want to fix me when you were a boy?’ To which I replied, ‘of course I did. How else would I have felt?’ I don’t think she was offended that she knew I saw how uncomfortable she was but that I saw her truth so clearly. Even a young child may see his parents for who they are beyond caregiver and provider. I saw my mother as a human female with emotional flaws out of her control. Perhaps I knew this earlier than was necessary. To be fair, having an ill son with a disorder nobody had a clue how to heal or cure would make anyone suffer emotionally. Perhaps some of her breakdowns were a direct result of what was ailing me. She also possessed incredible strength; looking back on how she dealt with a strange invader creeping into her son’s life and the lives of the entire family, is enlightening. Her fortitude as a woman, unique. There was never weakness in our house just the reality of tourettes, the randy interloper that overstayed its welcome.
My mother was the one who brought me to the doctors and shrinks; was she who managed the burden of who I was while my father worked and played the mighty oak, being strong in his own way for us. She dealt with me re: tourettes daily and pressed me to understand more of who and what I was. This beautiful woman who loved was a trapped little girl living in the wrong era as her sense of music was for the 30s and 40s never for the rock n’ roll of the 50’s or the hippy psychedelic scene of the 1960s. She was a throwback for sure and that’s why as a boy I heard her singing the old time torch songs mixed with her fave singer Streisand. But always the old time songs she’d sing along with on the radio or acapella, which she did like nobody else. The opera came later when she sang in musicals off-off broadway and studied operatic voice for years before she married. Edith Piaf tunes filled our kitchen when I was a kid and transported me to a Paris bistro or Italian cafe if my imagination was just right, especially since she sang in French. My mother’s voice is one of my finest memories of growing up in the Jersey house. And seeing her sing years later in NYC clubs was joyous because singing made her so happy.
I can sum up my mother in one word – Song.
(Lavender fields in Provence, France)
Patches sang all over France in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. She lived in Provence. Even made her way to Japan to sing in Tokyo one year which is an incredible feat unto itself. My mother always set goals then reached them – her gypsy blood to be on the move courses through her veins today. NEXT STOP EGYPT!! ALL ABOARD! ALL ABOARD!
(if you look real close that’s my mother riding the camel. I jest but one day I wish for her to see the pyramids)
Her love of music may have came from Syd who played banjo in a few rinky dink trios around town for pass the hat gigs. (this is not my grandfather I just thought ya’might enjoy some quality ol’ time banjo!)
Or, her voice was a gift given by kind spirits. I’d say she was blessed. Her father was a jack of everything sort of WASP and fellow Mason member who went from job to job all her life. My grandfather was a great guy and I could go on for hours recounting the good times we had with him and Jean, my grandmother. One thing Sydney could do like nobody else was whistle! He was a tall jovial man who looked like a character from The Grapes of Wrath/all Americana & grease the wheels work ethic. I liked b’pop as we called him but my adoration was for Jean. She was the quintessential Italian grandmother. I could go on for hours about her too but this is not the place. Just know I worshiped her and I have never eaten Italian food such as she cooked it ever. Those 70s commercials for some kind of sauce showing a grandmother calling out to her grandson ‘ANTHONY! ANTHONY!’ phrase was nanny all the time on weekends calling me to supper at the Paramus, NJ house where Patches grew up. ‘CHRISTOPHER! CHRISTOPHER, DINNER TIME!’
She helped me immensely with tourettes and never did I feel she denied me love for it and my strange tics that must have shook her to the core – the first born grandson sick with a tic disorder? Tragic. Two quick truths about my grandparents on my mother’s side: After Jean had, I think, my Aunt Jackie, she had so much milk in her breasts that when other newborns in the hospital (Afro-American and white babies) couldn’t breast feed for some reason, Jean provided them her milk. That is something. Back in the day when WASPS were forbidden to marry Italians or anybody outside the white blood line, Sydney courted Jean Pisatoro vigorously. He denied his parent’s racism and married her anyway. Beautiful people who gave birth to beautiful daughters who went on to live noble lives. The years we all spent in VT when they moved up to be with us from NJ were where my childhood truly became magical. In their mid-fifties (maybe older) Sydney learned the printing trade and they eventually bought a trademark print business called The Copy Cat. My grandparents ran that business in Rutland Town, VT for 20 years. To this day I’ll meet elderly folks in town who remember the ol’ Copy Cat print shop Whales Street. My sister and I have great memories of that print shop running around helping them – the aromas of ink….fact that my grandparents mid-life re arranged their lives to see us more in Vt speaks to who they were. These were noble folk, resourceful and loving and I miss them both.
Back to Patches. In a way, my mother was just as odd as I was since by the time Brenda was in her teens she looked like a movie star. Tall and strikingly lovely with starlet features mom was the star child in her house as I was ‘cept she had the beauty and I had tourettes. We shared the burden of focus within the family unit and better or worse it had to be managed with care by the adults. If she drove her parents a little ‘goofy’ being so adult at so young an age I sure as hell did the same once tourettes arrived. Beyond goofy likely full blown monkey cuckoo.
When I see photos of patches and her parents w/ my aunt I see my sister in that, the second child appears ignored. Not the case in truth but siblings of star children or ill children can begin to feel unloved. I always felt that way about my sister and we’ve spoken about it many times and cleared that bit of stale air. I was never a star just sick. As my Aunt Jackie was loved so too was Stacey. My sometimes awkward expressions of love for my sister never override just how grateful I am for her in my life. She gave us all, her son Jack who made both Lou and Brenda proud grandparents. And me, uncle DU. I adore my nephew! Anyway, thanks sis. To Jack I say, whatever uncle doo-doo be-you meant, doesn’t matter – I am proud to wear that tag forever. And walking our family land with Stacey is one of my ‘look forward toos’ for sure when she comes to Vermont with her pack of pooches. She’s an awesome mother, wife and sister and I’m proud to be her blood.
(that’s my sister Stacey. I have a lot of pix of her but she’d kill me if I put them up here!)
I don’t remember a time when patches didn’t suffer over something in her mind. But as my tourettes evolved her STRENGTH increased. I watched her struggle with perseverance and commitment to herself and me. She made me proud to be her son, a boy presenting a circus of sounds and movements that must have been shocking. From her own stories my grandfather had fits as a boy and his mother or father use to stick his head under the faucet to shake him out of whatever was happening to him psychologically. She told me Syd’s parents thought he had some form of St Vitus dance which was the precursor to tourettes before Gille de la Tourette first diagnosed the malady in the 1700s. Did we three share in different ways the same type of brain dysfunction? By the time I came along and with a genetic predisposition for tourettes on my father’s side of the family, (he and his sister both had ‘tics’) it was inevitable for me to have something. Play the odds and they’re good that a first born son/grandson would be also awarded the gift of a quirky gene causing dopamine levels to wax and wane relentlessly making his body shake and quiver jerk and tumble and vocalize like an adolescent dinosaur!
As I said before, HUMOR man, humor. I was kind of a one-man band of noises and movements back then – a handful no doubt. Thing was, my instruments were so out of tune and broken ya’ couldn’t fix or replace them easily – everybody just had to deal with my symphony such as it was written and pretend not to hear. Or, pretend not to be bothered so much by the volume!
I’m not complaining, I have no right to. I’m fine with who I am and the struggles I’ve faced in order to conquer tourettes best I could. My take on complaining about what ails us whether self-made or draped upon us from others is as long as nobody is shooting at me, my life is GREAT! (let me digress) What do kids today have to conquer in order to build character today? – ‘my youtube video hasn’t gone viral yet, my laptop doesn’t have a 70mm movie screen so when I download porn I can see the tits and ass as if the woman is standing right in front of me, when will my ebay crap sell to the highest bidder and it’s only been five minutes since I uploaded the pics, how come my amazon book on ‘how to become rich before twenty-five’ hasn’t arrived yet or when will my media blog get a million hits since without a million of sumptin’ in this world I have no real value as a person and hey where can I buy that new app?’
And it’s not only youth but the above examples afflict most adults in this country. I adore new tech if not for it I couldn’t be creating this blog. I just feel there’s no sense of proportion or balance related to technology/social media. Where is the self-reliance among youth today? Do they have the inner fortitude to confront fear and face obstacles WITHOUT technology at their side?
In Patches day her worry was whether or not a nuclear attack would vaporize her house in Paramus before her twelfth birthday not the eating habits of a boy band or how popular her Twitter posts were. The Eisenhower era is thought of as the era of joy and bliss and happy paradise. It wasn’t. No era of humanity ever was paradise. Patches I think never recovered from two early terrors she’s expressed and the first I mentioned, the fear of nuclear war. Whether it was Truman dropping the bomb over Japan or Ike’s military industrial complex creating the doom and gloom created by unchecked power, for my mother it was the second of these frights that I think caused more fear. The death of Bambi’s mother thanks to Disney’s attempt to give children a dose of reality. Heavy shit for a little girl. We all have fears rational or not but when a cartoon scares the hell out of you I can see the lasting effect. It’s a damned animation and good animation at that if it instigated such fear to intrude upon a young Jersey girl’s sense of security. That is what it’s been for patches all these years I’ve known her (did I say I’ve known this woman since I was born, ha ha!) the lack of feeling safe, the deep need to be safe and knowing one can never be. Safety and anxiety are antagonists but not always enemies. In spite of this, my mother was and still is a formidable woman. Back in the 80’s after graduating Fordham University at Lincoln Center with an MSW she began her social work career and eventually became a private psychologist working out of an office in the Wash Twp house.
(BTW, this is NOT my mother! She doesn’t smoke cigars)
Before my grandmother transcended, she saw her daughter graduate with honors from a notable University in NYC and then actually go on and use her degree. I was proud to see her working at her craft so to speak and proud to tell others my mother was a psychologist. I have always been intrigued by her love of psychiatry and ‘probing.’ We may disagree at times about method for introspection but never a debate on the need for peeling back layers of our sub-conscious. I was never a big fan of Freud but I was a huge fan of her ability to take what she knew and apply it to helping others recover. My mother was and still is a helluva shrink!! Or should I say, ‘expander.’ She doesn’t practice anymore but for two decades she earned her living this way and she still is someone people go to for counsel. As they should. She was born to be a psychologist and again, I was proud of her then and am today.
The whole tourette ‘thing’ may have given her permission, along with her desire to analyze herself, to pursue psychology. But adding to the library in our house were countless college textbooks on developing the mind of which I found and read as a kid. Many of those old books live up in the Vt house as a reminder of how colorful life was in that Washington Twp house. Her own education contributed to the ‘higher thought’ paradigm, I was raised with. More than that she had a stubborn willpower to excel and be better. The endless self-exploration, though at the time perhaps unsettling, was necessary not only for her curriculum but how she dealt with me and tourettes. As I’ve stated before many times the fact that I survived tourettes, addiction and some down and out times of my life is directly linked to much of the self-examination of ‘mind’ learned from my mother’s own inward journey. All I ever heard once ts arrived and my own shrink appointments started was ‘how do you feel chris?’ ‘what’s on your mind?’ ‘what did you dream last night’ on and on with the weekly interrogations designed to elicit information and data from me in order to decipher clues as to why my tourette tics were waxing. The healing process had begun then or in the very least, a mechanism by which I could rely on throughout my life. Caring for mind, body, soul – a full-time job, a handy toolbox if you will. All the introspection was worth it.
Popi’s love of nature and Patche’s fantastic voyage of the soul gave me all I needed to find my own spirit path, as I would define it decades later in California then Vermont. She was another proctor in a house of several, my father and our beloved Delcina to be discussed soon, were important teachers. But mostly, Patches. She was the first example of all things divine of the Feminine; the dark and light of what a woman was, what the human condition truly was and if not for her devotion to her son’s illness, I would not have found the courage to charge on. Of all the parents to have been born to as a kid with tourettes, THEY were chosen perfectly for me. She, a mother given to me as a boy who with selflessness and at times volatility, rescue what had to be rescued. As I write all of this I am reminded of a question posed to me by a friend when he asked, ‘did you feel loved?’
Yes. There was never a doubt…ever.
I remember a day when my tics were ramping up quite loud. She brought me to the doc I was seeing and this event happened I think after my appointment. She got out of the driver’s side door and began crying and shouting then hitting the car roof while I sat inside watching, helpless. And more, feeling responsible as a child might. She told me last time we spoke about the incident that her emotional outburst was about not being able to do anything to help me. The sheer frustration that nobody could truly heal her child and stop the tics – those noises and twitches erupting out of my body it was a wonder my skin didn’t tear. She assured me it wasn’t due to the tourettes itself but therein lies the semantics. Minus my tourettes no panic attack would have happened. I don’t know what her nuanced perception of that day was. But for me I knew I could not help her because I couldn’t help myself. And that was okay. It was a moment in time when a mother understands that the gauntlet is laid down and the only direction is forward through the muck and fire and foulness of truth. Remember, this telling isn’t about assigning blame or feeling regret; it is simply a written recollection of certain events. We all tried to survive the journey honorably.
I believe, that was the moment which bonded us beyond mother and son and transformed the relationship into another realm. Mentioning it here I think it was a supreme metaphor for the death of Bambi’s mother in that the fawn was helpless to change the event as my mother was helpless to cure her son. That IS terrifying. I was a catalyst for anxiety and it just so happened that in a macabre way my life such as it was manifested in real time an ancient horror – the end of the world, end of life, end of motherhood, end of goodness and Disney Esque delight. If fear could melt metal hers would have reduced the vehicle to a puddle that day. Life is a tough slog for everyone. Keep on keepin’ on, as Dylan sang. And she did as only a mother can. For what may have felt like the end of everything, over time, was the start of something beautiful – a good life and the hindsight to decipher truths in order to understand how far we all have come.
(Patches photographed by Avedon – 1950s)
If my family timeline is correct my mother was singing and performing in musicals throughout NJ/NY right after high school. Between eighteen and twenty-two she was a working model in Manhattan photographed by some of the most well known snap pro’s of the day while she was putting together her models book. One of the most beautiful shots ever taken of my mother was done by the famous photographer Richard Avedon. As she explains in her own words: “I was 18 and got my first real job at ABC Daytime Television working for Army Grant, the Director of Daytime Programming. I commuted by bus every day from the house in Paramus…a real grind I can tell you. I remember a guy who was a VP of one department or another named Dan Melnick who later became fairly well known producing plays and movies. On Sundays when there were football games ABC would carry them via closed circuit. I’d take the bus into the city to watch the games at the studio with a bunch of other people. Great fun. At some point, I left ABC. Every day I would be looking for work by leaving my head shot with agencies in the hope I would get something. An agency called Dale Garrick took me on and I got some work through them. Some of it was print work and some was spec stuff where a photographer would submit shots to companies looking for work as their photographer. I would also go from photographer to photographer to see if they were ‘testing.’ Testing meant that they wanted to try out some new equipment or lighting idea and needed a model. That’s how we all were able to build our “book”. Free pictures for giving the photographer something to photograph. As you know Richard Avedon took some shots. The one he took is here. There’s another in the same dress and a coat. Don’t know where that one is. I think it was during this time that I would hang out with a group of starving models and actors one of whom was Elliot Gould. He would roam around wearing a vest, no shirt, a derby and smoked a cigar. A bit crazy as I remember. He talked about a girl he met called Barbara. Dam, dam, dam…I never got to met her.’
I also worked for a guy who was a VP of one department or another named Dan Melnick who later became fairly well known producing plays and movies. On Sundays when there were football games ABC would carry them via closed circuit. I’d take the bus into the city to watch the With no money/work modeling I got a job with Mutual Broadcasting, a radio station in NY. It was a talk station something like NPR. I worked as a secretary for a guy named Frank Erwin. It was at the station that I saw Harry Truman. A small dynamo of a man that exudes confidence and power with piercing blue eyes. Another guy I knew there named Phil D’antoni was a time salesman who produced the movie The 7UP’s. I ping ponged back and forth from working as a secretary and trying to get work doing modeling and even taking acting classes. It would go on like that until I needed money and I would get a regular job. Acting became a consideration but yet again I couldn’t get work. I remember meeting a woman named Anna Mizrahi (she years later married Lee Strasberg) who was equally starving.”
This is where I’ve always been the most fascinated with my mother’s story that she was at ground zero of all that creative and political energy. The late fifties and top of the decade 1960 was explosive for media talent especially in film theater and quality television. She studied at the Actors Studio on the upper west side of Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen. A little background about the Actors Studio – Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler (another famous acting coach who taught Brando) and Herbert Berghoff of HB’s acting school also in NYC, flew to the Soviet Union to see plays directed by Stanislavski. Each of the three returned to the States and went in different directions teaching their own version of the ‘method,’ a style or performance created in Russia in the 1940s/50s. Strasberg’s studio became the beacon for any would be movie star searching for his style up on the boards (stage) or screen. Dean, Monroe, McQueen. Hoffman, De Niro, Pacino and the rest acted their way to stardom with Strasberg at the helm. My mother lived for a short while with Strasberg’s wife Anna in a small apartment. I think as I write this that this was the beginning of my mother’s life long passion for self-analyzing. Why for her Freudian talk therapy became another form of acting class and emotional experimentation which is all the method was – a set of tools to yank the emotions out of an actor while he encapsulated a character’s inner dialog. Experimental torture for some as the myth goes Strasberg could break an actor down viciously on stage in an attempt to pull more truth out of a performance. In the end, performance was all that mattered more so than even the play as a whole. It was all about truth.
Same goes for therapy. For all of you who’ve sat in the chair across from a Freudian counting the seconds you know performance is key. It’s all about projection, inner truth and audience applause in this case a tip of the spectacles from the therapist when he sees that you’re doing the work. ‘Are you doing the work?’ he might say. ‘How do you feel, what are you thinking about, what’s on your mind, what happened since last time we met?’ On and on with the interrogation. Those same questions are asked in acting class after a scene or exercise the teacher might ask ‘what were you working on?’ how did you feel when you said that’ and so forth. So for Patches she performed for years on the couch ripping out her guts for applause but without the celebrity perks. Least actors get the paycheck and royalties. Now, I say this with all respect because life leaves clues and I think as I write about my mother I see ‘links.’ Wherever her desire was born to eventually earn a MSW, the foundation was prepped in her younger years in NYC. Method acting if you don’t know is simply a way for actors to create more reality. There are a series of exercises as they’re called and actors practice relentlessly techniques to feel more of a character’s state of mind and being. The most basic of these exercises was sense memory with an imaginary object. Let me explain – you sit in a chair in class and pretend to hold an object between your hands that has special meaning. Then, you try to feel the emotions from that object and express them as you sit and all around you other actors are doing the same, pretending to feel old emotions, i.e. the object may ‘bring up’ the death of a dog or loved one or the car you sold in high school you wished you still had.
It was an orgy of fake/real emotions that oftentimes could manifest into a breakdown. Didn’t matter long as you cried or laughed like the thespian masks. Tragedy and comedy man it’s all we got on this planet anyway so work for it – cry or laugh, tear up or rage, love or kill but create something an audience may connect with as you play your role. Strasberg like all acting coaches just wanted to see and feel authenticity. Can’t fake it unless you fake it well. So the method is there for those who need to conjure up old emotions in order to make the scene real if the actual dialog can’t give you those emotions. That is basic sense memory, bringing up old pain in order to make characters potent. And as the cliche goes if you can’t cry on stage think of your dead dog and if that doesn’t work then pull a hair out of your nose! Make the scene real. Compel an audience to cry or laugh. But here’s the problem with most acting classes and most decades-long therapy – memories of trauma sometimes become inert and never transform into a healthier way to express one’s state of mind. As Richard Burton said, ‘an actor musn’t confuse being with becoming.’ Acting class and therapy is a form of story-telling. Trick throughout one’s life is to tell and retell your own tale in positive ways and NOT drown in the quagmire of depression.
Patches grew up listening to stories not just from Sydney who spun humorous yarns but also her great grandfather Wade Sammis. His nickname was Wado and he lived in Jersey by a lake. On summer weekends, Wade who was tall and WASP handsome with slitted eyes and white hair would gather kids and tell them long tales that didn’t end on that story day. Kids had to come back the following weekend to hear the climax like the old Buster Crab Flash Gordon serials. You had to hang on patiently to hear how chapters ended. I mention Wado here because Patches some years ago spoke of him and what became clear to me is where some of my own story-telling needs came from. I think I got the emotional need to orate from my mother and the Sammis side. The writing desire came from my father which I will discuss soon. My mother’s seeking to understand her own storyline through self-analysis in acting class or therapy fascinates me to this day and gave me the ability to sculpt character truths ’emotionally.’ See, it is the ‘seeking’ that makes her and my father so enigmatic. My own spiritual and creative seeking obviously is genetic as is, to a detriment at times, over-analyzing myself. You know ya’ look too deep you might heal some wounds but ya can also get stuck in the muck. Not the smooth kind of mud but the odorous sludge kind filled with the bones of the past best ignored. I certainly am guilty of slogging through the muck of my life. But lessons learned as a boy raised by Patches are lessons I cling to now as a 52 year ol’ woods hippy who accomplished much but achieved little. But what I carry within my soul related to Patches, is a ransom!!
By the time I was born in 1963 she was living in Little Falls, NJ with big Lou, my father in a small apartment complex. The Little Falls apartment was before popi went into his own business, before tourettes and before my sister Stacey was born in ’68. Little Falls was before a lof of things.
One thing’s for sure, it was the beginning of many great memories. And many tellings of stories born of a childhood that provoked them.
1936 Louis Ralph Scotellaro was born to Anthony Scotellaro and his wife Margaret in Brooklyn, NY. Let me say right off that my name, Italian of course, has really been several names. For example, in school I was known as Chris Scott or Christopher Scott as was Lou and my grandfather who used a shortened version of the full name. Anthony was called ‘Scotty’ and so was Lou who as a student at Le Moyne College was known as ‘Scotty.’ (sidebar note: popi use to write teleplays for The Twilight Zone under the name Chris Scott then used the rejection letters as wallpaper in his office in the Wash. Twp house). The only time I remember writing Scotellaro was when I got my driver’s license because my birth certificate reads Chris Scott Scotellaro. However, scott isn’t a middle name just another last name. My father’s medical ad business was Louis Scott Associates, Inc. Again Scott not Scotellaro. He felt the ethnicity of his Italianness might hurt business opportunities thus the stale and WASP redaction to Scott – somewhat devoid of energy and passion or the tension that a solid Daigo last name provides. I remember one year in grammar school when asked if I had a middle name (which I don’t) I said ‘yeah it’s Anthony.’ So my name was Christopher Anthony Scott or sometimes I’d say to people ‘my name is Anthony Scott’ and they’d say I thought it was Chris and I’d reply ‘no, it’s Anthony.’ I drove teachers crazy. One year when they did roll call of students the teacher called out christopher scott and I raised my hand and said ‘no ma’am my name is Anthony Scott not chris.’ There was one year for some reason the school thought my last name was the full version Scotellaro. My mother had written it down that way by mistake and the teacher could barely utter the syllables clearly at all. ‘Uhm, is Christopher Scota…scotu, scotello, scot-er-ello here? and I felt pity for her so I blurted out ‘I’m here, Christopher Scotellaro’ which was the first time I spoke the last name in public.
Up to then I was Chris Scott. I never understood why people had such a difficult time saying sco-tell-aro. Three syllables so what’s the problem. Over time I did see the need for scott, just made things easier. Waiting for the roll call to get to the S’s always made me nervous knowing that by the time ‘scot – el….’ was pronounced the inevitable carnage enacted to my father’s birth name was soon to come. I always felt lucky I had three different names just in case I was ever running from the law on the lamb I had a few alias’ to rely on to elude capture. To this day I have choices ya’ know and ultimately made up my own last name to satisfy my desire to be ethnic and not ‘white bread’ as well as offering mercy on others. So Christopher Scott, Scotellaro became Chris Laro or Christopher Laro for my special needs and social work business. I am proud to be a Scotellaro and shall to my death. Proud to be the grandson of Anthony and son of Louis. Glad to have a variety of tags.
Popi…man can’t hide his Italian heritage- roman nose broken eight times, thick hair, dark eyes, mustache, a face like the actor Victor Mature (do a google search) but it is Lou’s nose that is the distinctive feature. Thing bends to the left to a cul-de-sac and depending ‘upon the light striking one side it may look bent to the right. Popi has a unique goddamned nose. Man’s Italian without question. Now for his father young Anthony Ralph Scotellaro came to America at age thirteen. He came to Chicago by ship in 1913 with his father who had been to America before on a temporary work visa. His father was a self-employed tailor who taught his son the trade. At some point my grandfather’s father left him there alone in Chicago after Anthony refused to attend school and so he was forced to work. Anthony’s father had to return to Sicily when his green card expired leaving his son alone in a strange country. Can you imagine, abandoning your child in a foreign land and then never seeing him again. Anthony finally traveled to NY where the garment district was to find work cutting dresses. He was abandoned by his father but had a sister state side who put him in touch with an uncle he lived with in NYC. In order to find work as a tailor or dressmaker Anthony had to pay an employer a small sum to prove he could cut fabric and save money. And when he did he was hired as a full-time dressmaker sewing dresses and copying the patterns he saw on garments displayed in storefront windows.
He was able to make the dress for less and sell it for profit with his skill and thereafter had a job at the dress company for many years. As it’s been told to me at some point as a dressmaker in a company run by a kind Jewish man, here to be called Mr. Weiss, the mafia came to collect their share. When Weiss refused the local mob boss simply took over the business and kicked Mr. Weiss out. But Anthony was told he could stay and be a partner. And so, he did. By his mid-twenties my grandfather was a co-partner in a successful dress company in the heart of the garment district mid-town Manhattan.
(my grandfather’s actual fabric cutting scissors – 1900s)
The man who liked my grandfather and who offered to keep him in business, here to be called Mr. Notti, became his lifelong friend. Notti was a strong arm for the mafia and a union breaker. Now, he was in the dress business. For the rest of my grandfather’s life he remained in the U.S. too afraid of being kept out of America as an illegal. Story goes Anthony never got a permanent green card as a citizen, never raised his hand and pledged allegiance to the country. He was one of thousands who emigrated here from abroad, left behind or forward depending on how you look at it, had a family paid taxes then retired. His story is common. He had immigrant toughness and resourcefulness to survive emotionally being left by his father. This is the most vital element to his journey. That decision to leave Chicago for NY knowing that if he was to work his trade he had to get to the city where the hub of dress making was and then proved his skills. And he did it as a teenager.
My grandfather perhaps cried alone in his room in a coldwater flat in Manhattan. His fear and loneliness must have been extreme as he listened to the ol’ victrola spin a ’78 of Caruso. He may have imagined going back to his small village in Naples. He may have wished to be dead when he had nightmares. Or did he have kind dreams and fantasies of his future in that room while the aroma of pasta sauce, meat and fish wafted through the air? Did a thin kid from Sicily feel threatened by the sheer mass of people living in his uncle’s building and out on the streets? How frightening it must have been getting on the subway or the bus headed to midtown Manhattan’s garment district to learn his trade –‘all these people walking yelling screaming crying filling in empty spaces in every crack on every sidewalk doorway alley and road – so many things I never saw before smelled before thought and felt before. AMERICA has so many of everything all the time jammed into this space that is gobbling me up by bit…’
(my grandfather Anthony)
When popi speaks of his father’s distance when he was a boy several things stand out for me. Anthony must have learned to be cold and stoic early on simply when his own father left him alone in America. When my father was born Anthony already had two older daughters. Margaret died young before Lou was a pre-teen and it made an impression. After that my father had no ally just his distant father and adult sisters who cared for him with their own periodic maternal flair. Popi always spoke of his dad unkindly many of the stories indicative of a man who learned early on what abandonment meant. And so he in his own way abandoned his son Louis not by leaving him alone in America but simply ignoring him. For example Anthony owned a summer home in Lake Hiawatha, NJ where the family spent a great deal of time. After his mother died, some summers Lou spent with his dad and older sisters, both of whom were married. So he was just around all the time. Anthony was remarried in fact to his best friend’s wife he had cheated on Margaret with for years prior to her death. But that is another intriguing tale. Anthony would drop Lou off at a Hiawatha bar for the day while he went on with his own – hanging with his friends playing cards or drinking. Lou was left alone in a bar as Anthony knew the bar keeper. Lou stared up at the fish netting and plastic fish trapped in sections with fake seashells and bric-a-brac of a lakeside or ocean scape. Anthony gambled in the backrooms or as I said left him alone till he returned. My father always said of his dad that he no relationship with him. He felt as if he annoyed his father and perhaps he did, afterall he was a whoops! baby. When I think of my father as a boy sitting in that Lake Hiawatha bar waiting for his dad to come for him I can feel the rejection. Looking up at fake fish and shells in ripped netting sums up their relationship – inanimate hovering. For popi, he and I were and are ‘real.’
Let me explain:
They never had a relationship. Simple as that. He and I are solid – no man ever taught me as much, even me. Which is why when Lou became a father I can say with all honesty that his connection with me my entire life, with exceptions, was of the kind he didn’t have with my grandfather. What popi craved from Anthony was an animate love, visceral and tangible not a connection based on money and sending off for convenience. My father gave me all the love and attention a son should receive so to build a sense of honor, intellect and work ethic. If Anthony wasn’t my father’s model for a good man who loved his son popi for me was the ultimate hero. Of all the men I’ve known in my 52 years nobody is as heroic as my father. No one. Remember my motto for men; ‘most aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.’ Men can most of the time behave like carbon copies of other hominid dolts of xeroxed male ethos handed down through generations of ignorance, greed, prejudice and shallow intent. The man who fails to be self-seeking about truth, the man who refuses to be eclectic, a renaissance man, fails to be a nobleman. For me tourettes gave me the fuel required to jettison myself from the suffocation of the disorder into a world of learning, curiosity and truth. I will be endlessly ‘seeking.’ The notion of inertia of the mind relying on what I know as acceptable is indeed in every way, unacceptable. I won’t allow it. Neither does my father. ‘Books are your friends.’ ‘God, is in you.’ My parent’s mantras quite obviously to this day, have roots deep in my marrow. Read. Learn. Find a true living god within NOT without.
Now, to Christmas…
Christmas was such an elaborate event in our family. Anthony never gave his family a christmas to remember and the presents young Louis received weren’t the toys of the day he desired. He did get an erector set one year I think he told us but most years he was given boring things, non-child fun things if I can say it that way. My father even in his work-o-holic days running his business was childlike and innocent which is why his employees adored him. He was the consummate boss, the jovial Santa and gift giver. His love for Christmas and incessant gift buying illustrative of his overcompensation for the holiday Anthony never provided him. Popi loves the Christmas grandeur, pomp, gift giving and decor for all non-religious reasons. For him it’s the innocence of expectation of a child unwrapping his gifts that compelled my father to give us such overwhelming Christmas mornings. One of his nicknames over the years was Santa Lou or popi Santa. Christmas for us was always a grand affair and as a boy the magic he helped create was infectious, all of us under his spell more than the holiday itself.
There’s another story popi told me several times about Xavier Military Academy on 16th st in Manhattan. His father sent him there rather than a traditional high school and early in the morning before he drove to work Anthony left his son outside of the academy when nobody else was around. Lou had to wait for school to begin by sitting in the bathroom being watched over by the janitor until the bell rang. He’d sit in a stall some days for two hours using the toilet or reading fiction and studying. I think for my father his experience of being male was being left alone. That leaving someone or being left was how love was. Like my mother Lou as well must have suffered those stinging feelings of rejection and guilt as a child will surely take the blame for parental behavior. That my father went to a military academy sums up Anthony’s desire to instill confidence, honor and discipline in his son. Leaving my father in the Xavier bathroom had the same intention as being left alone in Chicago – ‘Get use to it kid life is being dropped off and being left alone, a man’s work is going’ it alone so be strong and stop your goddamned crying!’ For my father there was no xmas morning present to unwrap in the john unless he opened up his own emotional veins sitting on the toilet. ‘Thanks pop love sittin’ here for hours alone in a tiled room stinking’ of kids shit and urine mixed with ammonia LOVE it! Love you too pop can’t wait for Christmas time!’
There’s another memory my father speaks of with great nostalgia about a catholic grammar school St. Athanasius in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn he attended before going to the academy. He’ll oft’ say , “I can’t remember what I did five minutes ago or yesterday but can name every student in my grammar school class,’ then he rambles off those names and I will make them up here for legal reasons but you’ll get the jist of the list so to say: Frank Demperio, Angela Francolini, William O’Leary, Alfonso Jenti, Milicent Jensenco…’ on and on with every classic Italian and Irish immigrant name one can imagine. And popi lists all thirty as if he was reading the class manifest. The names are potent and profoundly ethnic and popi smiles as he repeats the list as those names have become for us extended family we’ve never met. But the one truth of his memory that impacts me every time is how much love and camaraderie he felt about that year. He says all of those students took care of each other even though the age differential was wide. It had to be his seventh or eighth grade yet some of the students were as much as three years older than he was since being left back. He was twelve but many of the male classmates were fifteen or sixteen about to drop out before high school or end up in jail. He remembers the nuns wholly incapable of keeping order especially one or two older kids who were too busy fondling the girls entering womanhood in their early teens. He felt sorry for them the black and white brigade of aged brides of christ who tried in vain to put a calming tone on adolescent rage and sexual desire. Never happened and many times popi said he heard a nun scolding Michael D’amborini for having sex with Donna Lorento in the coat closet. Maybe the nun listened for longer than she was suppose to if you know what I mean. Donna was the sexiest teen girl in the class and Michael was the envy of every boy who knew what he was doing to her in the naughty darkness.
I think for popi it may have been the first time he felt cozy and accepted among a group as he didn’t feel that way at home. The sense of belonging he never felt from his father was offered in that year with those kids under the heavy gaze of the sisters of unmerciful agony. Popi recently explained to me that ofttimes when he lived in Brooklyn a car would pick his dad up and Anthony was driven to work in Manhattan while little Lou took a bus to school. Even when my father moved out to NJ to a town called Tenafly he still went to private school at the Academy in NY. He was dropped off most times by his father and as he said he wanted to go to Tenafly h.s. but his father said no. Why my grandfather was so against public school is unknown. But of all the friends my father hung with he was the only one to graduate college, run his own successful business and live a noble life beyond expectations. Seems Anthony’s investment in my father’s education paid off. I remember the Tenafly house as I do my mother’s childhood home in Paramus, NJ. Both echoed with the memories I heard from them both over the years. At my grandfather’s the interior smelled of old time and I loved the aroma of sweet red wine and sauce. Most of all I remember the stink of the cigar he always chewed on – that pungent attack of rolled leaf so identified with old Italian men.
At my mother’s house aromas of food and Nanny’s perfume wafted ‘pon the air. She smoke a lot back then and the stench of tobacco never waned. Every time she drove me in her black 66’ Mustang with red interior the smell of her cigarettes was as loud as the radio sometimes. And I adored her as I never did my father’s father. Anthony wasn’t Jean and his casual indifference and lack of emotional contact my father recalled was my memory of my grandfather as well. Just a small delicate man with tender hands of someone who designed and cut women’s clothing for his career. Jean was much larger in proportion with solid Italian hands and posture. She had an indomitable spirit and like Lou and Brenda was bigger than life.
Interesting thing about visiting grandparents homes is that if you pay attention to the aromas of the past you’ll sense your parents youth up close and personal. I don’t know what it was but as a boy before and after tourettes arrived I was fascinated with the past. It may have been that tourettes gave me a deeper insight perhaps even shamanic-like in that being so ill I was cracked open with a psychosis we never addressed. It was as if I could sense into the past with clarity or ‘feel’ the past in a clairvoyant way. Not ghosts and voices from beyond but as witness to their memories. I’d walk through Patches house at a family function or with my grandmother and some of the rooms called out to me. I’d enter and in those cozy shadows there’d be a younger Brenda alone or busy with something when she was young. At popi’s house just sitting in the 1950’s style kitchen I could see a young Lou running in as a teen for milk then sitting in the living room to watch t.v. while anthony drank wine and ate those horrifyingly hot red peppers he grew in his garden. The one memory my father spoke of I remember seeing in real time was up stairs in his bedroom. When he was a teenager, a fifties greaser straight out of the movies his pal, let’s call him Vincent Coocho, would wake him up late at night to go joy riding his Coocho’s father’s chevy to pick up girls. Lou would climb out of the window on the sloped roof above the garage and off they’d go. For popi the fifties fit him like a glove as it didn’t fit my mother. She hated her entire era while my dad was slicking his hair back into a duck’s ass wearing a pompadour as high as he could comb it up. He drove a beat up ’49 Ford called the Burgundy Babe, fought in the streets with a gang of other greasers called the Lions of Tenafly, cruised girls in cars and sat in diners on endless nights chain smoking bankers butts and drinkin’ coffee. The diner boys, where young men wild the time away, was what Popi did on his NJ weekends. As I write this I am struck again with the obvious – my father was a man of his times. My mother, was not a woman of hers. They made a fascinating duo. So, to end this chapter let me say (or remind myself as much of this is a journal to me, I assume anyway) that from them both I inherited their ‘nuances’ in this way. At once being a man of my time and also, quite a man of the past. In my case, all of my Lakota spiritual path based on many things not vital to write of here is a bit like Patches attachment to the past; be it for Egyptian history or her connection to ol’ time music vs top forty. My American Indian connection for 25 years perhaps partly due to a family story of an Indian woman on her side and my being chosen to walk a spirit path as it happens. One can choose his religion or faith or a spirit voice will come choose you, as was my case. So be it. I am grateful for that voice and grateful it wasn’t for orthodox religion. For me ALL religion is evil and the books they’re based upon, written by lowly evil men seeking power NOT a mythology useful as symbols for existence. My ability to know the difference between spirit and dogma a gift from my parents. The rest of it, how I walked my arduous path all these years, my own creation solely. I took their intellect and balance and sculpted my own ‘way’ of belief and practice. I made my own way through the tall cutting grasses.
MOON SHOT, DELCINA AND MODEL GLUE
You must remember there was no family in Washington Twp, NJ like the Scotellaro’s or Scotts as we were known. Nobody. Even as a toddler when Kennedy’s vision of the moon landing actually came to pass on tv, while I sat on the kitchen floor watching Armstrong step off the module with my mother crying and singing, I knew we were different. Those early days before my sister was born in ’68 I was already getting the sense that these two people raising me were indeed strong willed and volatile. They use to scream during arguments pick me up quickly and accuse the other – ‘see what you did, you made the baby cry!’ and on they went with the profanity and volume. The kitchen was where much of the more gregarious action took place as it is I am sure for most of us – somehow the kitchen just becomes a grand stage. A boxing ring where all the bloodletting takes place. Looking back, that Twp kitchen stands out as a space for wonder. Moon landing as I recall seeing it happened when I was on the floor in front of a small black & white tv as if I too stood atop moon dust. As I said it was an amazing event to see as if I were watching a cartoon right there in the kitchen with the overture being my mother’s voice, likely opera. It was inspiring. Better than the male voice narrating the landing itself was Patches angelic rising – she was washing dishes or watering plants as she did while I played and crawled. I don’t know if I knew she was suffering emotionally or sensed it but I did understand Patches was unique. I’d look up at this woman in need of something and she’d provide it as mothers do. Then there’d be those moments for example as she told me we’d be in the bath tub and sensing her anxiety I’d mumble, ”lax mommy ‘lax,” of course unable to say relax you understand what I meant.
Whether or not her own despair fell to me back then I can’t say. What symbiosis took place in that kitchen or elsewhere who can say. I have fond memories of early boyhood. When my father started his business in 1968, a big year for Lou, my mother would pick him up a few miles away from the house where the bus stopped by a seafood restaurant The Fin and Claw. She’d leave me alone in the house, I must of been five or six, and to keep safe and out of the way of what monsters I imagined lurked close by I laid in a corner between a classic sixties couch and the wall. I’d put the small b&w tv at the front gap to one end of the couch and wall so I was protected by all sides from the ‘unknown.’ There I’d watch Star Trek my fave show long before it went to re runs for its infamy. Classic sci-fi with political bent and metaphor the same formula Sterling used for The Twilight Zone in late fifties. He couldn’t make his social views explicit so he utilized sci-fi genre of storytelling in order to make it on television. Capt Kirk was the only other hero I had besides my father at the time and I gobbled up all the political themes of the show as well as the main agenda of Kirk himself – seeking out new life forms and alien females he could have sex with throughout the galaxy. The green belly dancer I think stands out for me most. I think that episode carved a lasting image in my mind of never being too discriminating with whom I’d have sex with. Green or not all women were alluring to me and Kirk was the luckiest space man in the universe.
When they returned my father would have a toy or something he bought for me to play with, his santa claus persona in full bloom. The most memorable I am told and worth a lot of money in today’s toy collecting market was a Frankenstein battery-operated monster who’s pants would fall down and he’d groan and then turn red! What corporate whack job thought that up. Story goes when my father demonstrated it to me I cried immediately. The event did propel me on a path of fascination with the macabre horror especially. The Universal monster brigade we grew up on the wolfman, invisible man, mummy, Dracula etc carved images and sensory stimuli into my marrow. I do think those of us who remember b&w television do have different memories of ‘shows’ and the emotions shows offered. There was almost something more realistic about a b&w program horror or not I always felt made me feel that the monsters were really there. Don’t know why yet there you have it. There was for me an aroma about old time horror movies that stuck in my head, a kind of herbal smell haunting like patchouli. You know that odor yes? Pungent smell. Typically an oil old lesbians wear as the joke goes, earthy and Jamaican to be more specific – those Rastafarians tokin’ on joints ofttimes wear patchouli. Dracula was the one horror movie I recall that made me think I can smell the dirt where his coffin rests.
The smell as alive as the ambiance of Lugosi’s castle. Quickly, then back to the title of this chapter. We were having dinner in a Jersey scrap heap that served steak and sangria when at some point I was overwhelmed by a steady flow of something I never smelled before; a smell that draped itself atop me like a blanket and for some reason I instantly thought of Dracula’s coffin dirt. I dunno why just did. Wasn’t until years later walking in the village by Washington Square Park, NY that that same smell wafted past me and when I asked the person what it was she said patchouli. Then I remembered that retail eatery when I was a boy. Why Dracula or dirt related to patchouli is still a mystery. There was an association that to this day remains when I watch an old’ Universal monster flick. Perhaps I was the monster? Or the dirt. Maybe even the coffin. The takeaway is I guess that smell is a powerful ‘nostalgic’ and tangible sensation that can instantly return us to our past.
My father use to build models when he was out of work during those pre-child years with my mom. He’d make historic ships or pistols, German WWII tanks, cars anything in between jobs and continued this hobby after I was born. Popi was always a toy guy, model guy a builder on a small scale – airplane glue guy I guess not in the addiction sense of sniffing for a high just a side effect of the modelers trade. The 70’s was the era in suburbia when weekend hobbyists became popular like many father son bonding rituals – soap car derbies, remote control airplanes, backyard rocket building. There was an entire cottage industry that exists today surrounding WW II ordnance and weaponry whereby enthusiasts made what are called dioramas. These scenes usually represented historically correct or imagined battle scenes between the Germans, Soviets and Americans. So every saturday my father would take to me to a hobby store in Ramsey, NJ to look for models and materials to make dioramas. I had already glued together all the Universal monsters (Wolfman, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon etc) some glow in the dark and others just plain green plastic then painted to appear more ghoulish. So crossing over to military plastic didn’t matter – a model is a model is a model be them ships, planes, boats, tv characters and classic model cars or the grotesque. I built and broke them all many times over by the age of thirteen. WW II planes dangled from wire spun above me and created an imagination that dangles atop me to this day – wish I was able to re-glue myself in repair as easily as I could a wing or wheel on those planes. Glue in fact was a viscous substance as necessary as my own blood flow back then and my father and me by proxy sniffed a lot of glue by Sunday night before I was ordered to bed by my mother.
Our model making diorama lair was down in the basement at the farthest corner of our house behind the boiler room. I could write an entire chapter just on that boiler room man. So allow me to set the mood – down the stairs to the basement where the white shag carpet was then to a small washer/dryer area and down a narrow corridor to the diorama room as we called it. The space was tight and small cozy and a bit frightening to me in a way because it was so far back into the basement away from the family. I was terrified of the space but welcomed it. Anytime I worked down there alone which wasn’t often without popi I was filled with ghostly dread. The boiler room divided the corridor in half along one side of the house and enclosing the actual boiler were two separate doors; one on the washing machine side and the second at the diorama room side. I would sit at a work table and behind me was the door to the boiler. As I said, I was terrified of it. We could access the boiler at any time and I’d venture inside the dusty space when I felt the courage. It was shadowed and ominous around the boiler itself the short work table underneath a corroded window to the yard let in an eerie shaft of sunlight. On the table were old work tools not belonging to my father, rags and that every present stench of oil and kerosene. I remember imagining some old man who once lived in the house repairing something in that ol’ boiler room – grandfather, mechanic, toy maker, serial killer whomever! That secret labor men do in the darkness hating or loving their lives; the ancient stench of desperate sweat lingering ‘on dead air on and on you know what I mean. That stench of other men’s pasts. Didn’t like it.
Haunted? I always felt the house at 660 Ridgewood Rd was. But that notion could have been born from the imagination as hauntings most often are. The 1970’s did usher in a host of catalysts for hauntings and possessions with the impact of course of The Exorcist, slasher films rolling into the 1980’s & beyond and an industry of ‘based on actual events’ books such as The Entity, Audrey Rose and The Amityville Horror. I watched or read them all back then something alluring about those topics. I guess you could say I was a ghoulish kid never sadistic or evil-minded but attracted to the macabre as a voyeur when following the carnie barker to see the lizard man of the Congo or the two-headed baby in a jar. The obvious metaphor to my having a disorder nobody truly understood and was clearly frightened by were these tv horror flicks of the 50’s or modern cinematic thrillers. My senses seemed to become heightened when I watched these films and often the more remote and eerie they were the more connected to them and myself I felt. The old Bela Lugosi films or the original Frankenstein, WolfMan and Invisible Man were alive and present in my room and the house itself as I if walked in a misty forest of fake twisted trees and tombstones lurking in film noir shadows. I always felt like a freak yet beautiful at the same time, forgive me for being so vain. But I did have my mother’s looks fair and pretty when I was a boy and with a tragic dose of the tourettes my boyish trauma of poor self-image was born. Was I a monster or not? Through my pre-pubescent and teenage years my handsome features helped immensely as the girls never rejected me even with my odd tics of sound and twitching. Anyway, back to the basement and making dioramas, plenty of time for talk of tourettes and girls and the rest of teen angst.
(I’m the long haired kid arms crossed/camp in the 70’s)
I think the WWII weaponry and scenes my father and me built during those years in some way offered the same seduction – observing the razor walk of possible death or death itself. The source materials that we used to build town scenes or to read up on tanks and half-tracks and famous battles were in a magazine called Military Modeler, the bible of the trade still in print today. The most expert military model builders in the world showed their work in this mag. My dad and I even attended a well-known diorama show and won a few notices (fake gold plaques) commemorating our endeavors down in the dark bowels of the house by the scary boiler room. The professional model makers of the day and fathers and sons who engaged in weekend warriorship were impressive the first time I saw room upon room of table top WW II scenes. See it wasn’t just building the weaponry we had to research but also constructing realistic landscapes and painting soldiers in realistic ways all on a small scale. My dad bought us a fluorescent light with built in magnifying lense so we could do detailed work as we painted. I never got the hang of the blurry edges of that glass and seeing my finger and paintbrush so huge in order to paint detail. The hand eye ‘thing’ didn’t help me. I liked painting a soldier’s uniform and face by hand and doing the best I could that way by sight.
Those were great times with my father the memories I can return to any time they tap my shoulder – a small safe room (despite the ghosts) with b&w t.v. sprayed over with multicolored paint (a removable plastic cover protecting the actual t.v. screen) with Saturday or Sunday morning tv shows like cartoons, Twilight Zone and Abbott and Costello filling the background. It was a den indeed of creativity but more than that a clear demonstration how my father enjoyed sharing space with his ill son with tourettes. It was down in that basement room I think my deep love and respect for the man was forged. I knew I was sick or a ‘sick’ kid with a problem. And though we never discussed tourettes that much (that was patches job with me) popi educated me in other ways about manhood, women, work, the magic of life most of all-that if you stuck with what you believed in and ‘went’ for it you would succeed. Hearing that for me was enlightening and gave me hope. Both my parents instilled in me a great confidence in spite of the real issues I faced with tourettes. I do recall one not so positive truth in our diorama cave. We had a huge oak drawer set that stood in the corner filled with mags and rags paints and brushes and railroad modeling landscape materials for mountains and trees. One Saturday I dug deep into a drawer and pulled out a magazine that featured a pictorial history of Mussolini. The article ended with a series of death photos of Mussolini and his wife before and after their brutal death by the raging mob. Disturbing images indeed when I think of them now, quite graphic. They were both horribly beaten and the flesh on their faces had swelled to cartoon proportions. After the dragging and beating both were hung in the street.
I don’t think there can be a worse death than at the hands of a mob. Most notably was Gaddafi’s (Libyan dictator) terror in his eyes (I’ve seen video of men beating and taunting him in the back of a pick up before they killed him some years ago) as I’m sure Mussolini’s eyes revealed an equal degree of realization that he was about to die. Fitting ends to petty dictators, always cowards when death taps them laughingly on the shoulder. I never forgot those images. If the world outside our house on 660 Ridgewood Rd. in the township of Washington was a’ changin’ me being downstairs in the mystery of our basement with world war II nostalgia as ever present as my GI-Joes, MAD magazines and eight-track player, offered me the sense that at any time life evolves on a dime. Or as popi says life will always throw you’ curve balls son. Gotta’ go with it. Thing was we all went with it as a family. When tourettes came to our house when I was shy of ten years old, goin’ with it got harder and harder to do. Keep on keepin’ on as Dylan said right?
DELCINA, VERMONT, 8-TRACKS
Delcina’s presence in our lives was substantial and rescuing. Del preserved the unity of the family during turbulent times. When patches went to grad school and got her masters in social work from Fordham University at Lincoln Center, NY, Delcina picked up the slack out of necessity. Delcina was hired into our home when patches started school and when my tourette was at its worst. I was governed by both of these strong and impacting women (Leos) and if there were ever two feminists living side by side they were ‘them.’ As she entered college and worked as a MSW at insane asylums and the inner cities of NJ I also saw her strength. She was stoic and smart, still a natural beauty who commanded attention. It was also during these times when Del came to us that both my parents were still involved in community theater at the Bergen County Players an amateur troupe of actors governed by and elderly board of directors who raised funds to keep the plays and musicals going for the public. From the age of five to ten I was brought to the theater for their rehearsals and from the wardrobe room above the stage in the back of the proscenium watched them perform. Over the years we all got to see them in many productions – popi too swaggering on stage as act-tour! Stage plays like ‘Owl And The Pussy Cat,’ Lover And Other Strangers and ‘Prime of Ms. Jean Brody’ to name a few. There they were, my folks, actors and singers and bigger then life. My memories of that wardrobe room above the seats makes me smile. It was an imaginarium for me where my mind wandered and I could pretend to be all kinds of people. To put patches in perspective for you this is who she was all jumbled into one – actress, model, mother, student, wife and employer. She was a complicated matriarch, a powerhouse of emotions and ‘smarts.’
And for popi, seeing him on stage only added to my admniration.
My mother found Delcina in a NY agency. She walked in with my little sister and as patches describes it was instantly drawn to her as Delcina was to her. They both said years later that they knew right away they’d work together and so Delcina came to our suburban home in 1972/73 or so a few days later. By then my tics had reached their summit – muscle movements and sounds transforming by the day into an orchestra of explosive variations. I remember the day she got out of the station wagon at 660 Ridgewood Rd, NJ. Time of year may have been summer doesn’t matter – when I saw her in a patterned dress (floral perhaps?) wearing a short wig and hat with heels I was instantly captivated as if an African Queen had walked up our stoop. I had never seen a human being like that before black or white. Only my parents were enigmas but Delcina walked with power and purpose. You knew straight off nobody fucked with Ms. Delcina Brown ‘cept maybe her reflection or shadow. A quick story out of context about this woman forgive my style please; in Vermont one summer where we spent much of our family time and holidays every year my father bought us off road motor bikes. I was about eleven or twelve and convinced Delcina to ride my Yamaha 80cc dirt bike. I drove the bike down the driveway to a flat part of a road called Bausch Lane that led up to the house and began the tutorial. Here’s the brake, the clutch and the gas ‘keep it in first or second Del okay and whatever you do DON’T jerk the hand brake or else you may go over the handlebars…’ I think I instructed. She put on the yellow half helmet and straddled the small bike like a champ even though she was obviously too big for the bike itself; she appeared like a dog humping’ a football the damn foot pegs not far enough from her feet to make her body fit comfortably. So off she went up a small hill with me behind cheering her on! The engine whined loudly as she never got the bike out of first gear so she wasn’t going too fast. Quickly she disappeared over the hill by our front gate and then I didn’t hear the engine anymore. I ran up and over the hill and found Del laying beside the bike with the rear tire still spinning.
DELCINA! DELCINA! I yelled. At her side, I helped her up but she didn’t need me. She was fine but I saw a cut on her shoulder as she was wearing just a house frock with exposed arms. ‘Me say bwoy me ‘fraid me go out into da damn street mon,’ Del said in her Jamaican patois. ‘Didja’ jerk the hand brake?’ I asked. ‘Me ‘tink so mon,” Del said rubbing the top of her shoulder. I lifted up the bike started it and together we went back up the driveway to the house. By the time we got to the front door I could see that the wound was deep. In the downstairs bathroom, she found a bottle of rubbing alcohol and began pouring it into the open cut on her shoulder. She didn’t make a sound. Not a wince or cry or yelp or sound of pain in any way. I watched her in effect cauterize the wound and stop the bleeding with pure alcohol. It cemented for me how unique and adoring she was. And let me say this as well – Delcina was never a maid or domestic help or a black woman who lived with the Scott family. She was my second mother and friend and a member of our family until her death in 2012. Delcina is a novel in herself and I wrote that years ago. The novel DELCINA’S TREE exists on Amazon Kindle under my other writer’s name S.W. Laro. For a sick little tourette boy from NJ Ms Delcina Brown was one of the best of us. I learned much from her and loved her and she loved me as her own. When she fell sick I was at her side in a Florida ICU before some of her own family. Hers was a big death and one I am still not settled with. NOTE: it is not often a boy is raised by a dominate mother handling her son’s illness while a second strong female picked up slack if you will. Make no mistake Brenda/patches was my mother. Delcina presented me a magic symbol of caretaking I think that influenced much of my thinking on what a woman was. End of day both of these women helped me immensely. Without them, as I stress all the time, I would never have made it to twenty. Maybe not even to my teens. Just a fact.
The NJ house was the main dwelling of my youth other than Vermont. My father bought the VT house on Bausch Lane Hill in the town of Chittenden in 1968, ’69 same year he went into his own business and same year my sister Stacey was born. It was a huge couple of years for Lou and included tragically the death of my cousin Anthony Hein, his sister Stella’s only son. My father’s nephew was killed on August 7th 1968 in Vietnam after only a month in country. Story was he was killed by a sniper in some jungle shit hole in a village only the Earth cared about. Tony’s death tore a hole in the family though I was not aware of it. Story goes my father had to tell his dad Anthony that his first born grandson was dead. Popi went to the Tenafly, NJ house and saw his dad out on the porch. Before he even opened the screen door my grandfather turned around and said to popi, ‘Tony’s dead isn’t he?’ The rhetorical question was answered when my father said yes he was. That was the end of it. Funeral. Soldiers fold an American flag and hand it to the mother or family as a group and the gun salute ritual fires off with brisk indifference. Just another emptied body bag. The remains buried expertly, people mourn and life rolls on. My only real memory or one implanted for me was a drive I took with Tony and another cousin Richard. Story goes that they disappeared with me all day cruising around Verona, NJ when I was a toddler tumblin’ in the back seat. By the time the boys returned my mother and aunts were in hysterical rage! Least Tony brought me back home anyway.
(Popi’s original logo for LSA/NYC – endorsed of course by Santa!)
All I knew in ’68 at five years old was that my sister was born and we now had another home to come to in Vermont. By the time Delcina came to us couple of years later the family unit such as we were was set. The family dog a shepherd called Cleo and the transport being a VW-Splitty camper van became our lives. Louis Scott Associates, Inc. was my father’s nest egg for income and he did it well; one of the best medical ad men that ever was, a true entrepreneur popi was. He was a classic 70’s ad man in an age when advertising was at its corporate and environmental best. Remember the crying Indian by the side of the highway watching the human garbage from a white man’s suburban ride? The vehicle passes him by as fast food debris rolls to his moccasins, classic image indeed. Unforgettable and still true today – that single fake tear perched on the actor’s cheek bone. Classic indeed. My father was a medical device guy creating brochures for pharmaceutical sales teams as they went out to sell their latest machines to doctors. Devices like sharps containers for companies like BD (Becton Dickinson) for used syringes things like that and many more. Popi worked for them all BD, Warner-Lambert, Deknatel, Pfizer, on and on and on hired and fired hired and fired for his 35 year run as a self-made business man. We all worked for him at some point at the Manhattan address – 22 E 21st Street. Great memories of his offices on two floors. All the times preparing his direct mail marketing brochures he’d send out to get clients. The art directors, copyrighters, secretaries etc who helped make his business successful. Those years seeing him as his own boss made lasting impressions; like Patches popi as well was a man driven by ambition, each of my parents attaining the goals they set for themselves.
(one of the most iconic tv ads ever)
He was one of the original corporate hippie types (suit, tie handlebar mustache, sideburns and a mop of Italian hair) with a Manhattan business address and a Vermont weekend chalet. We weren’t rich but solidly middle class. Looking back I never wanted for anything. Many years later as an adult we were talking about his life back then and money he had or didn’t have and he said, ‘I always had a lot of balls in the air. I didn’t know any other way to do it but hang on and catch em.’ That was one thing my father did well keeping a lot of balls in the air and as patches said ‘your father would make ten bucks and spend nine seventy-five instantly.’ We were middle class I assume perhaps even upper middle class yet if he was having financial trouble nobody knew. If he spent with disregard my sister and I never felt it, the man always had money. He never brought his business or angst about business home with him tucked away in his leather briefcase or displayed on his mind expelling anger wantonly. Dad was dad happy go lucky unless you pissed him off. His own anger I inherited, sometimes ferocious and much of the time brewing underneath the surface. But in all the years growing up in suburban NJ I only saw him lose it once. We were at the Paramus Drive-In one saturday night and I wouldn’t listen to him and get out of the back seat. I was a kid being a wise ass and resisting and my father suddenly yelled loudly pounded the roof with one fist and I watched his arm crash through above me. The car was a convertible with a hole in the roof on the rear drivers side for a week until it was fixed. I got out of the car that night before the movie started I assure you. Today when I go off about something I sense my father’s inner heat boiling and see myself from the outside looking at him, in me. For the most part my father was an even tempered fellow. Not a mild-mannered Clark Kent but reliable and stable as he was.
Those early years going to Vermont were some of the best years of my childhood no matter the tourettes! In spite of it all and feeling as I were drowning much of the time when we arrived to the house on Bausch Lane Hill in Chittenden, life seemed easier to breathe in. The long twisted driveway led up to the house which was just a chalet in ’68-early 70’s. My father slowly added rooms to the original house and by the late 1980’s the work ended. The house became like a habit trail for hamsters or gerbils w/ different step up levels, a medium size cathedral ceiling, gazebo, new barn and a viewing room as we called it above the master bedroom. The viewing room was where we watched movies on movie discs (pre-dating cd/DVDs) which brings me to one of the reasons we all love popi – he shaped a perception of Vermont as a wonderland. The idea of magical things and life as ‘magic’ was a notion both my parents offered me and my sister. The Vermont part of our lives was the magic. The road trip itself in the VW van was an adventure.
All the many seasons of arrivals and departures to and from the Bausch Lane Hill house were invitations to other worlds and spirit realms. The characters of my life Patches, Popi and Delcina (three enchanted beings) were my alchemists – transmuting what parts of me needed to be transformed.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus
Every Christmas the Vermont living room floor was covered with presents. As kids my sister and me always knew Santa had come to our house on Bausch Lane Hill. The movie disc player used an internal needle so that when slid into the player the technology spun around like a record to play the film. I remember that Christmas I think it was 1984 or five when Raging Bull came out and that year popi gave us the disc player. He always gave us memorable presents and going to Vermont for the holidays became our tradition even to this day. It was always a charlie brown xmas tree kinda’ crooked and bent without much of a silhouette. As we grew up the trees became fuller and more classic looking and eventually in order to accommodate all the hallmark decorations he collected we needed two trees. Like I said my father was as Fr. Christmas.
But let me set the scene here and go back a bit.
My dad would work a full week back and forth into Manhattan from god forsaken Wash Twp, NJ and by Friday was ready to drive North by six or earlier if he took half the day off. My mother and sister, Delcina and Cleo hopped into the hippie van and off we went propelled to the green mountains. The van was classic today be worth a hundred grand as restorers go out of their way to find these vehicles to rehab and flip for profit. The ‘splitty’ refers to the VW emblem on the flat front of the van and the split window divided in half with a metal strip for the wipers on each glass panel. There was a sliding side door w. roof rack and folding rear seat, sink and cabinets with folding seat tables. We were the only family on the block with a VW van, like I said, my parents were upward mobile hippies. My sister and me never ran around the yard in the nude or raised chickens or washed up in a stream before eating hummus and fruit grown in a garden or learned how to smoke weed after supper not THAT kind of hippy. I think both my folks were a bit too prudish in a way for any of that; drugs were not a part of their lives. They were too busy feeling free and content to be alive and drugs would only have ended the freedom. Greatest bullshit lie of all is that drugs make ya’ FREE. Addiction = enslavement and worse will even enslave your beloveds which is the most vile of sins. (forgive the venting but this is what I did for a living or in part what I do with my social work)
Drugs offer false facades of euphoria. Truth, lies elsewhere. Enlightenment, takes hard work. Remember this, ‘Addiction is NOT a disease. Dis-ease is the presence of some ‘thing.’ Addiction is the ABSENCE of, everything.’ That’s all I’ll say about drug use and the profit making lie in this country that addiction is a disease. It is a self-inflicted wound driven by emotional weakness and self-hatred. Unless the human brain and Her chemicals are a disease the mantra to help those unable to stop their drug of choice must be: no more meds and beds! Seek nature and alternative methods of sobriety. Long as folks believe they are diseased the big pharma companies will keep selling you bad drugs that offer little cures. Forgive the rant but I was an addict and I work with many in my drug recovery aftercare program called ‘Natural Transformations.’
They hardly drank, my parents. Neither smoked. They argued a lot perhaps anger was an addiction I learned about as a boy even before the fuckin’ tourettes. But all couples fight. And honestly, I don’t remember a disproportionate amount of parental angst anyway. The van was for me a safe place. I remember clearly how good I felt in that ol’ jalopy going’ northbound on the Thruway and then on the Northway to exit 20 Queensbury at Lake George. I written about this van in another fiction THE BLARNEY BOYS (by the time this memoir is read someone may have actually navigated that great little novel) but not in the way I describe here. For a scared angry little kid the inside of that van was playland. My sis and I would fight of course and Delcina would referee. We’d play games hiding socks in a thin closet near the sliding door and then have to find them or we play with Cleo who stayed in the far back of the van or sleep. One the 8-track player my folks filled the van with what I regard now as my musical & humor education far more vital than anything I was suppose to find important in the schools I went to. Dylan, Starship, Doors, Joplin, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, classical music of Mozart then back again to folks music with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. The oldies but goodie doo-wops ricocheted off the van’s interior with every classic 50’s tune my father grew up singing in Tenafly, NJ. Then there was the side-splitting George Carli; even then when am/fm came out and class clown on LP my inner gag reel began. Carlin who may have been relegated to the idiot fringe of comedy following Lenny Bruce later in life playing the college circuit became what I and others regard as the comic philosopher of our time. He was a genius and everyone knew it then in the 60’s – 70’s and know that now after his death.
(King George, thanks for your brilliance all those years in our hippy van)
For me, a truly sick kid, I was able to learn to laugh uproariously listening to Carlin in that van or home on the record player. I think all children of a modern car era and especially we who grew up in the height of suburban sprawl in the 1970s – 80s understood how necessary the car ride was. All American families felt the tug of the road of course and kids either dreaded the family trip or couldn’t wait for it. I was car sick many times and drove my folks nuts when they had to pull over so my inner ears would balance but otherwise the drive to Vermont was special. Again, here’s the rub on that truth – for most of us in life we strive to recreate the safest times of life as adults or at best fail to do so and spend much of our existence recalling safe days if we were lucky enough to have had them. That balancing act between safety and feeling safe in adulthood is the magic trick of life when we get it right. The only times I remember feeling safe were inside that VW camper van, down in the basement doing dioramas with my father, sitting next to patches when she sang. Or up in Vermont in the small cabin like library built off the deck where I lived and slept in, at the time of this writing, for fifteen years from 2001-2015-’16. I called it ‘shrining’ or filling up space with lots of visual stimulation like a congested trading post or cluttered bedroom. But it must be orderly clutter not hoarding or lazily messy. My father collected santa claus figurines of all kinds as well as hallmark xmas tree decor and then in his later years spent much time ‘sailing’ as they call it when one goes to garage sales seeking treasure from other people slush pile of memories. The Vt house was littered with all manner of bric a brac popi finds and buys on the cheap. And at the time of the telling he still builds amazing dioramas but rather than wasting time with WW II he creates tabletop fantasy scene and saves them in the back of the barn for display.
Seeing him drive us to Vt in the family van he’d start to nod off on sunday night drives back to NJ and Delcina would kick the back the drivers seat to wake him up before an accident. ‘Mistuh’ Scott wake up mon, hear me what me say!’ she’d call out and he’d perk up alert to drive. For the sake of this section in the story let me speak of the Vermont trip related to winter time. One thing is certain about VW vans – they can’t heat up worth a damn and are always breaking down. The classic VW rear mounted engine under the hatchback gave my father fits. His solution was to secure a propane heating unit atop the rear bed (plastic covering over foam) tied to each side of the back of the van with bungee cords. Typically, he’d pull over to the side of the Northway just before exit 20 to Lake George and change out the small size propane tank. Simple enough and usually nothing went wrong. However one trip the heater fell over and we all smelled the bitter tang of something burning! Wasn’t long before Delcina or my mother saw that the metal grill to the heating unit was burning a grid into the plastic foam covering so he pulled the van to the side of the road and dealt with it. I will never forget seeing my dad at the back of the van hatch open with eighteen wheelers blowin’ by us as the snow fell while he re secured the propane heater to its upright position. Back then his hair was thick and black and stood at attention in every direction with his yellow tinted eye glasses slowly fogging up. It was classic popi, in distress yet the stoic oak. When he was done the hatch went down and back on to the Northway we went. This VT trip I write about now is one we made twice a month for most of my childhood plus every holiday. The route was always the same and to this day is the same – rt 17 to NY state Thruway i-89 north to exit 24 and onto the Northway continuing on 1-89 north bound to exit 20 Queensbury lake george region. Then on to 145 headed to rutland but first we drove passed forgotten towns like Fort Ann and whitehall (home of the U.S. navy if you can believe that) and the infamous bridge looking up at Skene Manor the most haunting haunted house I ever saw. Then to the last leg of the trip all the way into rutland and rt 7 north towards chittenden.
The Skene Manor what a macabre sight. Classic old’ style house that as you pull up to it even the droopy pines seemed frightened of the ghosts inside. Oddest of all is at night when a lawn light kicks up to illuminate the front facade and from the bridge it’s as if the house blinked at’cha with sly invitation. The other disturbing reality of Whitehall are the local traffic cops waiting to pounce. Be advised if the speed limit says 25 then by god drive 25 and not a mph over or wait to be thrown into the Whitehall brig! As a kid I remember how my father would mention as if he were obligated to state ‘never drive fast thru’ whitehall.’
The New England winter is quite virulent. Very cold and quite a lot of snowfall most of the time from Dec-April. Back in the day when popi drove to the house there was always a routine. Every Christmas we’d go to the house on Bausch Lane Hill in Chittenden. He’d stop the van by the gate in between two stone stanchions and depending on the snow drive up the steep driveway to the house. What ended up happening though was my father walked up the driveway and came down on the ski mobile. He tied a toboggan to the back of the machine and loaded all the Xmas gifts on the sled covered with a tarp and brought us and the presents to the house that way. One by one he’d drive us up. Once inside the house was cold and as we settled, Delcina making beds and catering to her room and perhaps cleaning the kitchen, my father would make a fire in the fireplace on the second floor. My mother and sister would huddle on the couch in the living room waiting for the heat to reach us. I alway remember how fun it was seeing him make a fire and stuffing paper under the split wood, lighting it and feeling that initial burst of warmth. Cleo lapped her water and ate and slowly in an hour or so the house felt warm and cozy. But the topic of conversation was always on the weather and snow depth and how the weekend would go come Saturday morning. Getting tucked in the bed which were bunk beds my sister and me sleeping in same room until we were older and Delcina downstairs with us in her own room. My folks slept upstairs while Cleo wandered about all night till she too settled.
One of my earliest memories of the Chittenden house was being in the back room downstairs on the first floor. At the time my parents scrounged through VT barns and old homes for antique oak. They’d buy anything oak – wicker chairs, breakfronts, ice chests, drawers and tables and a lot of picture frames. Hung low on the wall across from my bunk bed was one particular frame of a woman’s face. An old’ time black and white photo from the turn of the century of an elderly lady who seemed to be staring right at me no matter my position in the room. You know the type of photos, as if the eyes followed your every movement. She scared the hell out of me I assure you. That old broad might have been as haunted as Skene Manor was in Whitehall, NY. I use to play down in that bedroom with my G.I. Joe’s and others toys and always that woman watched me like a scolding grandmother. Between the musty aroma or the house and antiques I felt like I was alive in the past somewhere. The feeling of the past to this day still constant and foreboding yet same time comforting. The Vermont house and property was and still is a place of wonderment as my father made it so – a sort of playland. For a kid like me suffering a disorder as wild and unexplainable as tourettes being mentored by popi was a treat. I’ve always referred to my childhood as a modern day example of Cyrano in that my father taught me to be adept at things most of my peers were not able to do. For ex. I learned how to play a great game of pool from him and still shoot lefty as popi was a southpaw. He taught me to shoot rifles and handguns, shotguns and to shoot trap/clay pigeons out beyond the house in the shallow woods. I learned to shoot bow and arrow and camp and ride dirt bikes like a pro following him through the woods on old lumber trails way up in the green nowhere lands of old growth forests.
It was in Vermont that I felt I could be talented and accepted. Then back home in NJ the other half of my life repeated itself. I was the Tourettes kid of Washington Twp. Though I may not have realized it then as an adult living here at the house on Bausch lane hill for so long, my childhood wasn’t only mine but also my father’s. How so? Popi was just reclaiming his own past as a boy on lake Hiawatha. Difference was he wasn’t being left along at a bar by his dad who didn’t want much to do with him. For us it was my father being our father as well as him being a kid again. He called our land Hansel and Gretel especially in the winter when the snows bent the pine bows into archways. He often described our property in fabled terms and I think he understood the mystery of the earth itself around our house. The land indeed, as I stroll upon it all year round is mysterious and engrossing. He use to sit and talk to the fairies as he called them on the land. Those fairies are still up there on the ridge overlooking our mountain stream.
Another memory of Vermont was the iconic Indy film Billy Jack. We had seen it in a small theater in Vermont where Ames and the insignificant mall use to be in Rutland Town. The movie had a profound impact on me obviously. The story of a half-breed Indian and Vietnam war vet who defended reservation kids, wild horses and his woman. My father adored the character and he and I both felt a kinship to the man on screen. The defender. Hero. Enigma. After the movie, we all ran around the sidewalks acting out the story as popi led us. He’d do this after most movies we saw; was as if he never wanted the film to end and wished to be part of the fiction. Like in the movie when Billy rides out of the woods before the town bullies murder a stampede of wild mustangs he points his gun at the sheriff and say, ‘I’m itchin’ to kill someone so it might as well be you.’
Perhaps the shining moment of the film was when Billy Jack enters an ice cream parlor and seeing a young Indian girl being humiliated by local scumbags, proceeds to kick the crap out them all. I’ve done the same with words and my fists and worse stoping men from pouring their vile idiocy on others.
End of the day, I’ll end this memory blog here. Why with the ‘Billy Jack’ motif? I grew up to be just like the character Tom Laughlin played in ’71. And with the help and love of my parents my own brand of fighting for the down-trodden, railing against social injustices and defending family and those who cannot defend themselves, I walk my own spirit path with vigor and anger and fairness much as I can. When the actor Laughlin died I instantly recalled my Vermont days and how in my childhood what that movie meant to me as a boy seeking heroes to believe in. Me, like millions of other movie-goers from that era (my father included) connected to the film’s message. It wasn’t slick, didn’t have great acting but had a ton of heart and a great opening theme song that struck an emotional cord. My father was already a hero as was my mother, as was Ms. Del. What I needed was a bit of fiction to push me along a hero’s path in order to define for myself what a hero truly was. I think I found my version. Not all Billy Jack and mostly Lou from Brooklyn and Brenda from New Jersey.
Indomitable spirits who gave me every inch of their parental scalpel.
With me in the middle of the maelstrom churning the water and winds that spun through our house on 660 Ridgewood Rd. and in spite of the torrents of tourette, the closeness of who we were made life endearing. To my family and to popi and patches you have all my gratitude and respect. Proud I am to have come from your stock. Peace. Love. Moose, as they say in Montana. Enjoy the theme song!
Sitting here at the living room table in the Vermont house (outside is an open winter without snow) about to end this little blog project, the point of it all becomes clear: I am a caretaker of sorts of a family unit I’ve always adored. I’m all about living in the present and feeling gratitude for what one has been given and not looking back into the past wishing to relive it. I don’t. But to mis-remember or ignore and worse, forget where one comes from is a great sin and one I shall not commit. Just to be here sitting at the table as I am on Saturday Feb 7th, 2016 is a blessing for a man who has known many, yet ran far away, at one time, from the blessings he had. Not a day goes by when I don’t honor my Beloveds. Not a day, I don’t walk our land acknowledging the Forest spirits who gave me my vision in 2009 after I buried Pilya my Malamnute companion. Those six days of a fire vigil for my spirit animal, pet, friend and four-legged partner for ten years, changed my entire life. Pilya allowed me a visitation I rarely speak of or define and I won’t here. Just know (as I talk to myself anyway) that brother bear (mato wakan) and the children of the earth (wakanheja wakan) took her to her afterworld realm passed the embracing tree down to the stream below where she runs swift and strong and sees far and wide where she lays there still under the sacred sister pines….!
Her death and transcendence offered me a new perception of my own existence. That is all I intend to do with what life remains for me – to be in some way a catalyst for change for someone else, human or spirit animal as I do with my own work for folks. Peace and mitakuye oyasin koda!
All my relations, friend,
Kiya tha’ Sunka – buries his dog
(The house on Bausch Lane hill, Chittenden, Vt)
Forever ‘pon Bausch Lane Hill until the woods take me back to earth roots.