Staying Alive: A Love Story

One of the most exciting parts of being in a writer’s community is the publication of a friend’s book. A unique comaraderie develops as we work out the kinks, draft after draft, with our trusted readers and friends. We come to feel that while we aren’t haven’t birthed or nutured the book, that we are its godparents, standing by it’s side and supporting it as it is eventually sent out on the world.

Recently my friend, Laura B. Hayden, has delivered her book, Staying Alive: A Love Story to the world.

Staying Alive: A Love Story is a tale of hope and renewal that centers on Hayden’s search for meaning after the untimely death of her 49-year-old husband. Coupled with other experiences of loss in her life – including one of her kidneys to cancer — she is determined to, with her children, persevere.

Like Annie Dillard, Hayden draws on the rhythms and rituals of the natural world to explore her Brooklyn roots and New England adulthood. Wild creatures and domesticated critters, seasides and hillsides proffer comfort and understanding as she comes to realize that ‘no more than a hairline and no less than an eternity’ separate her from the man she loved. Even with the wear and tear her faith endures, it rarely diminishes.

Her purpose – to usher her two grieving children through a difficult adolescence to a well-adjusted adulthood – resonates through her own struggle. With the precise objectivity reminiscent of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates A Widow’s Story, Hayden recounts the day her husband died and the rituals and obsessions of the bereaved. Forced to look at death straight in the eye, the author stares back, wide-eyed, without blinking through her tears.

Hayden also manages to be seriously droll – in an Anne Lamott way.  Never is her humor more honed than in the portrayal of her deceased spouse, whose devotion, antics, and
wisdom remain ever-present to those who are staying alive without him. His death becomes not only the family’s heartbreak, but the loss of a well-executed life for all who knew him or will get to know him through her memoir.

Whether Laura B. Hayden’s writing deals with herself, her children, or her cadre of loved ones, it is clear that she, her daughter, and her son emerge from their tragic loss survivors, not victims of Larry’s death, an outcome of which he would be very pleased. In a culture of intentionally exposed and celebrated self-victimization, the story of this family may be considered a quiet triumph.”

This is a wonderful book, and I’m not just saying that as a proud godparent.

Click on the cover of the book to purchase Staying Alive: A Love Story from Amazon.com.

Advertisements

Abercrombie’s “Situation”

Abercrombie & Fitch offered “a substantial amount” to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and the rest of the cast of Jersey Shore to not wear their clothes. I couldn’t care less.

That’s not to say that I haven’t chuckled at the Ohio-based retailer making such an offer with money earned in part from the sale of t-shirts emblazoned with that ubiquitous acronym GTL. And for any not familiar with the phrase it is not an attempt at social consciousness in support of the Gay/Transgender/Lesbian community but rather the mantra of the Seaside Heights transplants from across the Hudson: Gym, Laundry, Tan. If I took this seriously I could possibly see this as an issue of freedom of expression; though I doubt that “The Situation” could spell the word constitution much less identify the Bill of Rights if threatened with the elimination of his bronzer and hair-styling products. In the end there is no real conflict. This is hardly the case of the Italian-American David facing the corporate Goliath. “The Situation” is a simpleton who fell into it because MTV will never go broke by pandering to the least common denominator of American culture. He is on track to earn over $5 million this year for work on the show, personal appearances and a book deal. Yes, my dear readers, I said book deal. His “self-help” book is available for anyone interested in “creeping on chicks” (don’t even get me started on that one) and “avoiding grenades.” At least he did his bit to help the economy by providing work to an underappreciated ghost writer. WANTED: Accomplished writer for quickie book of no literary merit. Must have experience in ghost writing for people who lack the ability to express themselves coherently. Ability to translate from Guido to English a must.

Then there is Abercrombie, most noted for its overpriced clothing and underdressed catalog models making a big fuss over nothing. I find it difficult to believe that people who are persuaded in by Abercrombie’s advertising campaigns would be offended to purchase a pair of sweats sported by a famous meathead with hair that defies gravity, a foul mouth and no control of his fists. I’d be surprised if this is anything more than the old advertising adage that any publicity is good publicity. According to the company’s press release: “We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image,” the firm said in a statement, adding that a connection to the booze-fueled reality show featuring fights and casual sex, hurt the ‘aspirational nature of our brand.’” I don’t buy it.

As some of my friends have suggested, I would be willing to contribute to a fund that would encourage Mr. “The Situation” to disassociate himself with both the Italian American community and the state of New Jersey. They both have enough problems of their own.

Spaghetti Night and Other Stereotypes

“Anthony. Anthony!”

If it weren’t for the fact that I was calling from the office of my suburban New Jersey home not the front window of a North End walk  up and it was Monday morning, not Wednesday evening, this exchange could be mistaken for a 1971 television ad.

I got up from my desk and walked to the bottom of the  stairs. “Anthony! Do you hear me?”

“It’s Prince spaghetti night,” my husband calls up from  behind me. I threw him a dirty look over my shoulder.

“Anthony! Now!”

“What is it, Ma?”

“Do you have to yell?” my husband asks.

My son pokes his head over the upstairs railing. “Mom’s not  yelling. She’s just talking loudly. And Dad, we don’t eat Prince. We eat DeCecco, the good stuff.”

And there it is. I’ll admit it, I’m loud. Not the kind of  loud that cannot find its ‘inside voice’. I am very well socialized, thank you. But in my comfort zone I have a tendency to be the loudest person in the  room (especially when I’m laughing). But Italians are naturally loud, the stereotype claims. I  don’t buy it.

Our family matriarch, my grandmother, has always been soft-spoken; although, she is quite capable of making herself heard over her four surviving children, eight grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren when she needs to. Most of my cousins are not loud. The guys tend to have  low-pitched, resonant voices that carry, but that’s not the same thing. In  fact, of all my cousins, only one can claim to be as loud as I, even louder. So in a family that comprises several hundred people if you  include my fathers’ cousins, aunts, uncles and their children, two are loud.  That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the whole Italians are loud stereotype.

Maybe the stereotype comes from the fact that traditional Italian families (at least from earlier generations) were large. You have to be loud in order to be heard at the dinner table over a family with two parents, four or more children and a couple of grandparents. Maybe this was its origins.

Then there were the neighborhood moms. I remember in my grandparent’s neighborhood in Astoria, Queens that around four thirty in the afternoon mothers from the block would come out on the front porch and call for their children. “Johnny.” “Vinnie.” “Frannie.” It was quite musical, now that I think about it. And effective – within ten minutes I could hear the sound of slamming doors when kids rushed to wash their hands and be at the table for when their fathers got home. This always impressed me since the kids could be anywhere in between 21st Street and the river. I’ve been told that this was common practice in a variety of neighborhoods in New York and Boson. I even experienced it in the suburbs when I was a kid. Well,  not in our house because our mother relied upon a coach’s whistle she had gotten from my uncle, Weehawken’s favorite, Coach D, to gather the chicks back to the nest. So it’s not as much of an Italian thing as it was a pre-mobile phone thing. Yet I continue to hear from Italians and non-Italians alike that loud Italians are the norm.

It makes me wonder how many other stereotypes we honestly believe about ourselves?