When I was growing up, in the movies the tough guys were always Italians, and the really tough ones were always Sicilians. If you messed with them you ended up “sleepin’ wit da fishes.” You never made fun of these guys. You didn’t embarrass them because losing face was the worst thing that could happen to them. If they lost face, they had to win it back, they had to right the wrong…which usually meant, if you were the one that caused that loss, you were “sleepin’ wit da fishes.” When there’s a person that caused that loss of face, then there is a specific target for that vengence. When there’s not — what does that Italian (Sicilian, no less) do?
When my father moved into the development where he lives down South, there was one gentleman that lived there that impressed him. My father saw Mr F at the gym every day, working out and lifting weights. I happened to meet Mr F on the golf course, but saw him the very next day, at the gym, working out and lifting weights. This was a strong guy, a forceful guy, an Italian guy (Sicilian, no less). What impressed my father, and later me, was that when we met Mr F he was over 80 years old — working out and lifting weights. He was a regular Kirk Douglas, but tougher because Kirk isn’t aPaisan — he could kick Kirk’s ass!
Mr F was outspoken, opinionated and didn’t give a rats ass what you thought (or that’s the game he would play.) He is a great guy but always puts up the tough guy front. To be clear, Mr F hasn’t died, this isn’t a eulogy, but things have most definitely changed.
I have a form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma, a bone cancer that is incurable. My chemo wasn’t as bad as other types I’ve heard of but I went through a stem cell transplant in 2013 and that was definitely not a day at the beach. I’ve lost my hair twice. The first time I wasn’t prepared for it and that is what made the loss difficult. Vanity — and not being able to hide the fact that you have cancer — how do you deal with that? First, you’re bald, a cue ball; second, you have no way of hiding the fact that you have cancer. This means you have to not only answer questions but deal with the pity party that follows the questions. Now back to Mr F.
Mr F has Parkinsons.
At 80 years old, he’s working out every day, lifting weights (and kicking Kirk Douglas’ ass!)
Now he’s 90, has to use a walker, and sometimes has problems getting the words to come out of his mouth.
It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. It’s…embarrassing. Did I mention that Mr F is Italian? (Sicilian, no less.)
Growing up in Jersey City, if someone made fun of him, he’d kick their ass. “Fuhgedaboudit — you’re nuthin!”
Now back to the Sicilians, if someone caused them to lose face, that person would soon be “sleepin’ wit da fishes.” But there isn’t a person, there’s only athing, a disease. It’s hard enough to fight the disease — but how do you deal with the rest? How do you kick Kirk Douglas’ ass when you can’t even get his name to come out of your mouth? It’s frustrating. it’s infuriating. It’s….embarassing. EMBARRASSING for a Sicilian trying to save face.
But it shouldn’t be. He didn’t do anything, the disease is wreaking havoc and he’s worried that he won’t be viewed as that strong Italian (Sicilian, no less)! He’s worried he won’t be viewed as the guy that kicked Kirk Douglas’ ass! In my eyes he still is that strong Italian (Sicilian, no less) — he’s 90, fighting Parkinson’s and still working out every day, just not lifting weights. He does laps around his kitchen with a walker. He’s flicking the top of his fingernails from under the bottom of his chin shouting, “Vaffanculo” to Parkinson’s. In my eyes that’s the toughest thing in the book!
I raise money to fight Multiple Myeloma, I’m not writing this post to raise money for Parkinson’s and I’m definitely not writing this post as a eulogy. I’m writing this post so that others can understand the strength and perserverance this guy exemplifies. I’m not Italian, he knows I’m Irish and he would have kicked my ass back in Jersey City, but I only hope that I can be as strong as him when I’m that age.
If you know someone battling a disease, especially one that is debilitating, that removes your ability to act in the way you always have, think about it from their perspective, take a walk in their shoes. Think about how frustrating it is to just say fr, fr, fr, fr fruuuuuu…..FRUSTRATING! Your mind knows what to do, your mouth knows what to do, but your body betrays you. You feel foolish, you lose face, and you can’t really do anything ab0ut it. That’s when I say, so what, “Fuhgedaboudit”, to quote a good friend of mine, an Italian (Sicilian, no less.) He’s still Mr F — a force to be reckoned with, but one that’s having to deal with a bunch of issues right now.
If you think about what it would be like, you realize he needs friends. Friends who won’t have a pity party. Friends who will help him fight and help him realize he’s not losing face, just facing a tougher opponent, one who fights dirty. But he knows how to deal with that, he grew up in Jersey City — back in the day — Fuhgedaboudit!
My Ode To A Sicilian — in short, “Vaffanculo Parkinson’s” And to Mr F, I raise my glass of Grappa and ask that he not kick this Irish boys ass! :)