The Coolest Dad in the World

By age 12, I’d reached three milestones in my Catholic upbringing: Holy Communion, First Confession, and realizing most of this was bullshit. Up next was my Confirmation, the ceremony that lets parents say, “Don’t blame us. You agreed to be here.”

No offense to the Almighty, but no God would create a worship service that dull. Sit through enough Catholic masses, and you’ll understand the Golden Calf’s appeal. It was a struggle to keep my pre-teen mind from wandering and ending up with a boner in my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes.

I think I believed in Santa longer than I believed in God. Because on December 25th, you could count on presents under the tree. Good luck sending a Christmas list to Jesus! He’d say, “Come on, man – it’s MY birthday,” and he’d be right.

Since I went to public school, Monday night was reserved for catechism classes at St. Francis in the center of town. I would stroll over after my guitar lesson at New Milford Music Center, until I got demerits for chronic tardiness. No way would I choose “religious instruction” over rocking out on the latest trade-ins. Are you there, God? It’s me Margaret, and they just got a sweet Ibanez Iceman in stock!

1977IbanezIC200IcemanSunburst050.jpg
1977 Ibanez Iceman. Note the weird offset body and extreme pointiness.  More pointiness = longer solos

Hence, guitar lessons moved to Saturday, so I could tend to My Eternal Soul instead of Mel Bay’s Method for Modern Guitar (including hits Clair de Lune, Comin’ Through The Rye, and La Cucaracha). I spent most of the classes shooting rubber bands and picking off characters in the cardboard manger set (Three Wisemen? Not anymore, suckers).

MelBay_1959.jpg
Mel Bay and a giant, not pointy guitar. That thing is downright ROUNDISH. I don’t see any knobs – and I don’t see any chicks, either.

My dad was driving me to CCD classes and I was so resigned to suffering through it, I didn’t even complain. As we silently rounded the corner from Rt 202 onto Main Street, he turned and said, “How about we go see a movie instead?” I nodded in shock and he hung a left toward the Bank Street Theater.

We didn’t just see “a” movie. We saw Airplane, one of the funniest, most subversive movies all time. I laughed extra hard knowing it was the polar opposite of 90 minutes of being reminded I was filled with Original Sin, plus a few new ones I came up with on my own. It’s clear which has had a bigger effect on my life, too. 

As we left the theater still wiping away tears of laughter, my dad said, “Just don’t tell your mother.” And Shirley, I did not.

The Bully

When I was in 10th grade, I stood up to the neighborhood bully. He was also the most popular kid in our neighborhood, solid proof I was surrounded by assholes.

When my family first moved to the new development, even I wanted to be Kenny’s friend. Kenny did and said whatever he wanted; the girls liked him and if you had a problem, he and his older brothers would mess you up. Pretty badass. He also drove a go kart, kept a knife on his belt, and laughed while slapping around an elementary school kid half his size. By the time I finished junior high, I made friends who weren’t sociopaths and kept my distance.

Even though we rode the same bus and were only one grade apart, I hadn’t spoken to Kenny for months before he tried to cut in front of me on the hot lunch line. I told him to get lost; he slugged me in the shoulder, looked around for a teacher or a squealer, then punched my arm again. The other students instantly circled, hoping for some à la carte violence with their tater tots.

I was laughing at the stupidity of it when the cafeteria monitor Mr. Franco – potbellied, balding, in short sleeves and a striped tie – waddled over and broke it up. Kenny jabbed his finger at me saying “I’ll see YOU later,” and stormed off, full of rage but bereft of tater tots.

school-lunch-orig.jpg

I was still laughing when a friend turned to me and said, “Dude, you know what this means? Now you have to fight him after school.”

I do? Moments ago, my role in the social contract was exchanging $1.25 for salisbury steak. Now I had to fight someone? A neighbor helpfully volunteered his backyard and it would all go down as soon as we got off the bus.

At 15, I’d still never raised a fist in anger. The closest I’d come was age 9, when my father thought it would be cute to put my sister and I in “kiddie” boxing gloves and headgear. She immediately punched me in the balls, then left to practice ballet while I writhed on the floor.

But the closer we got to the end of the school day, the less nervous I was. After all, Kenny was a real prick. He burglarized people’s homes, he tortured pets, he even smacked around that little kid and nobody did a thing about it. By the time I got home, I had decided Kenny was a violent jerk, and someone had to do something about it.

What I should’ve decided was, “Someone ELSE had to do something about it.” Because Kenny beat the shit out of me for an entire afternoon.

As his first jab cracked my nose, I glimpsed what would become a recurring theme in my life: “I have volunteered for something I have no ability to do.” The first time I went down, one of the older teenagers helped me up and said, “OK, you’ve tasted blood. Now you’ll get him.”

He was half right. It was a total massacre that felt like 40 minutes of brutality, even though in reality it was probably only 38. When I went down for the final count, Kenny kicked me in the head, complained about the blood on his shoes, then walked off to enjoy an ice-cold stolen beer with his 20-year-old brother.

You know it’s bad when the best everyone can say is, “Hey man – you kept getting back up.”
“He must’ve knocked you down 15, 20 times.”
“Remember (well, you probably don’t) when you had that grass stain on one cheek and blood on the other?
And you looked like a Christmas Braveheart?”*braveheart-crazy-face.jpg

“Like a valiant, courageous moron, you kept getting back up.”

I know I kept getting back up. I was trying to leave. Why didn’t you help me?
Instead, I got shitty post-mortem pep talks:
“A little longer, you would’ve had him.”
“He was getting exhausted from all those punches he was landing.”
“For real, he had to ice his hands after. He won’t be able to finger that girl you like for a whole week.”

To the victor belongs the spoils…

My father took me to the hospital that night. Incredibly, nothing was broken although my face was swollen like a giant plum. While I was getting iced up in the ER, my father ran into Kenny’s mom. She was a nurse and had just finished putting band-aids on her smirking son’s hands.

I missed the next few days of school waiting for my face to return to a human color and the blood to drain from my eyes. infographic_1296x640_bruise-colors.png

My first day back, Kenny’s girlfriend approached me in science class:
“Hey you little faggot. You got my boyfriend in trouble!”

I thought, “Great. Now she’s gonna kick my ass too.” I instinctively hit the ground to prepare for repeatedly getting up over and over again.

EPILOGUE
I wouldn’t call this a happy ending, but a few years ago, that girlfriend of his sent me a friend request which I deleted. Then a few months later, I found out she DIED. Thanks for the heads up, Facebook!

*For the record, I’m aware Braveheart came out 12 years after I finished 10th grade. It’s called “creative license,” douchebag.

The Beatings pt 1

When I was a kid, I lived in constant fear of getting beat up. I don’t worry about it now, and not because I’ve magically acquired UFC fighting skills. I’m just focused on adult concerns, like remembering which stores give 5¢ for reusing bags, or why no one’s replying to my OK Cupid profile. (But I look so cute in my little sailor suit!)

My physical and mental weakness, oversized glasses, and cluelessness about team sports were catnip to suburban thugs ages 8 to 18. Plus with my duck feet and fat-ass cardio, I was almost as fun to watch run away as I was to hunt down. From the time I trudged onto the school bus to the moment I closed my bedroom door, there were bullies eager to ask “Why do you keep hitting yourself? Why do you keep hitting yourself?”

Ah, the curiosity of youth!

If you’ve never been tuned up by your peers, know this: it’s not the actual beating that hurts. Skin and bones heal, blood stops flowing, and bruises fade – even a punch that sits you on your butt arrives with merciful speed. If you’re a savvy beat-ee, you’ll learn to take it quietly or flail around enough that the beater decides you’re not worth the effort.

What lasts is the terror before, the helplessness during, and the humiliation after.

Listen up, childrens: if you’re asked to plead for mercy (particularly while a pre-teen twice your size rains down punches), the correct answer is silence or a muttered “fuck you.” You can get that tooth repaired later when you’re an adult and your attacker works at the Shell station. Take the L, and hold on to your dignity. Otherwise, the whole school knows you’re easy pickin’s and The Stink of the Beat-up-able® is forever upon you. The herd announces, “Hey lions – have we got an antelope for you!” That’s life on the savanna and in the suburbs, too.

Once I survived junior high, the savagery slowed but not because anyone got nicer. By then, the bully ranks were depleted by drop outs, drug and legal problems, and teenage pregnancies. The “smart ones” got left back so many times they drove THEMSELVES to Schaghticoke Middle School. They spent their glory days in the school parking lot, impressing 13-year-old skanks in Jordache jeans with their molester mustaches thin as prison gruel.

photo_10_hires

The Nubbin

nugget.jpg
That’s the doctor’s arm. He should get that bump of his own looked at, too.

(originally posted on Facebook December 2016)

SAYONARA, HEAD NUGGET!
I had this little gremlin dug out of my forehead today. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a horn – all those years of Satan worship for NOTHING.

It’ll take a few weeks to get the results, but no matter what the lab says I’m holding firm: we are NOT putting that freeloader back in. Get out and stay out, you little moocher.

It’s frustrating to think that when I supply my body with vitamins, protein drinks, etc., this is what it decides to do. “We’ve got the raw materials – but forget about fixing his knees. Let’s focus on growing a superfluous head nubbin.”

FLASHBACK!
About 15 years ago I had another unwelcome guest appear on top of Old Smoky. At the time, I was shaving my head as a fashion statement and a test-run for my eventual male pattern baldness. As El Nubbo grew into a full-fledged tater tot, my friends gave me an ultimatum: get that bugger removed, or grow taller so we don’t have to look at it.

I asked the doctor about the procedure and he said, “First, we’re gonna split your scalp open. Sometimes they pop out like a grape – sometimes we gotta scrape your skull and dig around for a while.” Which was exactly the kind of straight talk I appreciate from a medical professional.

The doctor gave me the local and said relax, he’ll be right back. I heard him chat with what sounded like a family the next room. The muffled voices got louder and louder until I heard a kid screaming “No! No! NOOOO!” followed by a scuffle, then either the sound of medical instruments getting knocked over or a reenactment of the Jane Mansfield crash. Just as I reached for my coat and thought “maybe top hats will come back in style,” the doctor burst into the room, sweating, with his shirt untucked and tie over his shoulder.

“Uh, you may have heard some noise from next door. Just a little trouble changing a dressing, nothing to worry about. That patient is fine.”

“Fantastic news!” I said, as he grabbed my ankles and pulled me back through the window.

Fortunately, after scraping my skull and digging around for a while (as promised), the doctor said hello/goodbye to my little friend. It turned out to be a benign tumor that looked like a little white soccer ball with red & blue threads in it – BECAUSE I’M A PATRIOT. Then the doctor sent me on my way with a warning: although this intruder wouldn’t return, someday I’d probably grow another.

END OF FLASHBACK!
In mid 2016, Nubbin 2.0 made his debut – but unlike his great grandpappy, he set up camp on my forehead. Location, location, location. My original treatment plan (“doing nothing”) ended after a family gathering and my mother’s gentle hint: “Dear God, what is that THING growing on your FACE?” My family persuaded me to make an appointment, adding “What’s the worst it can be?”

(FYI: For the DeVitos, “What’s the worst it can be?” is more than a rhetorical question. It’s an invitation to brainstorm the worst possible outcome for any situation. Free trip to Palm Beach? Be careful, it’s shark season. Just bought a new car? Enjoy your higher insurance premiums, that thing’s a death trap. And when in doubt: cancer, cancer, CANCER. Especially head cancer.)

So today I had my illegal tenant evicted. No more free cable or blood supply for you, pal! As they jabbed around his campsite with the anesthetic, I told the physician’s assistant to wake me when the procedure was over.

“Mr. DeVito you don’t understand. This is just a local – we don’t put you under.”

I said, “YOU don’t understand. I’m 48 and I’m already laying down. That sounds like a nap to me.”

Luckily, the diminutive doohickey went quietly into that good night and the doctor stitched me back up after only a few minutes. Right now I’m treating the goose egg bruise on my forehead with ice packs and medical marijuana, as prescribed by Dr. Me.

For the moment, I need to avoid any news stories that claim to be “raising eyebrows.” But have no fear – I’ll be back to rolling my eyes with disapproval in no time. Over the next few days, the fluid will drain down my jawline, so if you see me and feel tempted to ask “why the long face?” please try to control yourself.

Here we go

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Hello, I’m Joe DeVito – welcome to my blog.

This is where I plan to post stories, opinions, complaints, and various other flotsam & jetsam from my brain.

I know, I know. I’m late to the party. But if you think this is the latest I’ve ever jumped into a trend, please be advised that I’m also wearing leg warmers. And my calves get very, very cold from all that trend jumping.