Kiss me, I’m Italian!

“Kiss me, I’m Italian”: that’s what it said on the matching red, green and white T-shirts (colors of the Italian flag) that my mom made my twin brother Tony and I wear to school one day . This wasn’t kindergarten either, it was fifth grade! Tony saved the day when he beat up a couple of geeks and stole their shirts for us to wear! I’ll never forget it… That was just a little gem of my adolescence, being from the family I’m from. Let me explain: grow up baffilini it’s not as infamous as growing up gotti gold Soprano, but it has a certain quality of its own. It seems to me that I was born into a family where really neither of us is what you would call “normal”. When I was a kid, one place we loved to go to was Coney Island. My favorite attraction was the bumper cars and you know, one day I realized how much they reminded me of my family: everyone going their own way and trying to crash into each other to shake them up! I’ll show you what I’m talking about; Let me start at the beginning, well, more or less…

I was born in Brooklyn in 1973 with a twin brother, Tony, whom I mentioned earlier. Most of my memories are from the eighties. Back then I wanted to be Madonna. I used to dress like her, sing and record myself and even had my Cabbage Patch Doll dressed like her! My parents lived in a small apartment above a 24hr. Laundromat in Bensonhurst. Pops worked as a hairdresser and Ma as a part-time hairdresser. When Tony and I were five years old, Mom had another baby, our little brother Bruno. I think Bruno was allergic to almost everything from the day he was born. It seems like there was nothing that wouldn’t make him sneeze, get a rash, or throw up! He also urinated a lot in bed and had asthma. Tony and I treated him so badly back then that we left him all the time, but he found a way to get back at us by sticking snot all over our stuff! Disgusting!

Pops was an orphan, but Ma’s family lived in Middle Village, Queens. My grandparents Nonno and Nonna we called them, they ran an Italian bakery. They were immigrants who had arrived in New York shortly after getting married from Genoa, Italy. Ma had two younger siblings: Rosa and Anthony. She may have noticed that she got my name and Tony’s from there, or in other words, she named us after them, we Italians love to honor family by naming children after relatives. Nonno was a sweet and cheerful man who loved everyone and everyone loved him, Ma was his favorite. Nonna, on the other hand, was a small, lively woman who mistrusted everyone; However, she loved Bruno because he was a “true Bonzerelli,” she said. Bonzerelli was her last name. Nonna hated Pops and Pops hated Nonna, and it had been that way since the day they met. Rosa was only about 5 years older than Tony and I and she was always full of attitude. She was jealous of everyone, especially her younger brother, Anthony, whom Nonna simply adored.

Anthony was the only child and the youngest son, so he got away with it. He was only about 2 years older than Tony and me. He was handsome I guess, he always reminded me of Ralph Macchio in the karate kid and he was skinny, whereas Ma and Rosa have always been heavy, well actually Tony, Bruno, Pops and I fit that description too, I guess that’s the downside of Italian food – all those carbs! Anthony drove us crazy though, because ever since we were little he would do something wrong and fix it so that Tony and I would get blamed for it. Nonna also bought her hook, line and sinker! She was always a little tired of Tony and me and she always said: “Anthony is a good boy, he will be a priest some day!”. A devout Catholic, Nonna already had her son’s future planned out. However, she did not know that Anthony had a whole secret life. Let’s just say Uncle Anthony had more than one family that he had ties to… if you get what I mean.

In 1984 something sad happened: Nonno died of a heart attack. Ella nonna decided that she couldn’t run the bakery alone, so she put it up for sale. The money from her sale was divided between Ma, Rosa and Anthony. This left us with a bit of a windfall, so Mom convinced Pops to buy a house. We moved into what turned out to be a former drug dealer’s house and it was conveniently located around the corner from where Nonna lived in Queens. This made Pops go crazy because it meant that she would drop by every day to insult him, which she always managed to do; his favorite line was “You ruined my daughter’s life!” I think Pops wished he was underground instead of Nonno!

It seems that the more time passed, the more strange things happened in our family. We weren’t exactly ingalls, let’s put it that way! Everything was strange in my life at the time: my school, my teachers, our neighbors, and our whole family dynamic in general. Some of the highlights include Rosa marrying a Rastafarian, Anthony becoming a teenage father and having ties to the mob (as I noted above), and the reappearance of Pops’ long-lost father, who married guess who? the widow Nonna! Oh yeah, and mom ended up having another baby, my baby sister Baretta, who was born on the exact same day as my cousin Angie, who is Anthony’s daughter. I feel like I was raised in the circus! That’s why I’ve decided to start chronicling my formative years, because when I think back, it’s really fun. I have started writing a blog about “growing up Baffilini” as a humorous tribute to my family and the eighties in general, you can see it at Hope to see you there, bye!

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