This is the story of the worst thing I’ve ever said.
It was a joke. Well, it was supposed to be a joke. Immediately relax. What I said was no shade of offensive, it was not racist, sexist, or derogatory towards giraffes.
The worst thing I ever said was such because of timing. It was a bad time for a joke. I shouldn’t have said it.
Every person I’ve ever told the story to responds the same exact way: they half-smile despite themselves as they rub their forehead and say “Anthony…”
Before I tell you what I said, there are some things you should know.
Mom is an earnest woman of small stature with the resolve of a 25 year old trying to find communal importance through Facebook statuses. She tries her best and relentlessly wants to let you know she is. Sad story short, she was regularly abandoned by her troubled mother and father and didn’t grow up with much genuine parental love. Mom is equal parts tough, sweet, and naive. She also can’t take a joke to save her fucking life. Her devotion to being a good mom and person sometimes makes her gullible or insusceptible to sarcasm. She’s been the perfect audience for my bullshit for 29 years, and not once has she ever suspected she was an audience member, even when she was physically sitting in the audience while I performed on stage. For example, her response to that last sentence would be something like “No! I know when I’m in the audience at a show you are performing at!” Mom sold makeup at Macy’s for about twenty years and she always looks beautiful. With or without product. She goes to church every Sunday and prays for me. My mom is four foot eleven, loves Barry White, and eats cookies with milk in the middle of the night. That’s my mom. Mama Shelly. Michelle Ann Apruzzese.
I think what attracted my mom to my dad was that he was sixteen years her senior and generally knew his way around life. He was both her husband and a father figure in the least creepy way possible, you asshole. Dad was many things: a bookie, a U.S. Army Ranger, a horse racetrack enthusiast, a hairdresser for Carol Burnett, a bartender, a plumber for the Jersey City Board of Education, a baseball player, and for all intents and purposes, the love of my mother’s life, the love of my brother’s life, and the love of my life. Dad was the heart and soul of the Apruzzese’s of Bayonne, New Jersey. He was an accessible, kind, understanding, and incredibly smart man for someone who only graduated elementary school. Above all, he was consistent. He was always there. With every year that passes and the further away from him I become, the more I love him. Dad never sat me down and gave me life lessons but I have an endless well of knowledge I’ve gained from him that will guide me through the rest of my life. Dad wasn’t preachy. His approach to life was the same as the great philosopher Rick Ross: “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Countless times I saw my him do the right thing, even when doing the right hard thing was hard. I never saw the seams on him, I never knew if he had any doubts. If he felt bad, he never took it out on anyone or even let us feel the pressure of his feelings. I don’t know how he did it. He was also very fucking funny. All of his jokes followed with laughter. Not once did I hear him explain “what he was going for.” For example: my brother, Joe, came back 20 pounds heavier after his first two months away at college. When dad saw him he said “Jesus, Christ, Joe, you put on some weight!” My brother, in an effort to save face, lied and said “what are you talking about? I just lost 10 pounds!” Dad replied, “Where? At a crap game in England, you fat fuck?” Laughs. All the laughs. That’s my dad. Big C. Carmine Romeo Apruzzese.
You might have just thought to yourself, “this is nice but, what the fuck does this have to do with the worst thing he’s ever said? Oh, nice, a box of peach iced tea Snapples!” Relax, I’m getting to it. Open up the box of peach iced tea Snapples, take out each one and throw them in the garbage. Peach iced tea Snapples are terrible. Especially if you don’t realize they’re peach until after you get a mouthful of it’s awfulness. I imagine it’s a similar feeling that heterosexual men have when they pick up what they think is a female prostitute but later, after it’s already too late, find out it is a man in drag. That’s right. I imagine the feeling is the same. I wouldn’t know. Is your palate cleansed from my sincerity yet? Good. Now let’s dive back in.
To get a proper understanding of why what I said was the worst, you needed to know the key players and my relationship to them, which you now do. I’ll never forget the date of the worst thing I’ve ever said. It was September 30th, 2008, the day my dad died. I remember the day incredibly well. I had just graduated college a few months prior and didn’t have a day-job yet. I was still living at home and making pocket money by bartending three nights a week. On that particular sunny day, I woke up around 11 then watched “The Untouchables” starring Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, Sean Connery, and a young, tight Andy Garcia. After that, I went to lunch with my friend Pat (which given how the day transpires, refuses to get lunch with me to this very day) at a place we frequented. A place in Jersey City called, coincidentally, Carmine’s Italian Deli. Ugh. I ate the day’s special for lunch: ravioli parmigiana. This was the first time I had ever heard of/violent consumed ravioli parmigiana. Essentially, it’s a bunch of raviolis, which are pasta-cheese pockets, covered in marinara and, get this, more cheese. After I over-ate, Pat was driving me back home when I got a call from my brother telling me to head to the school my father worked at because something “had happened.” At the time, my brother didn’t know dad had died yet either. As Rob Zombie has said (at least once in his life, I’m sure) “ignorance is bliss, Dragula.”
Second we pulled up to the school, knew something was wrong. There was a police car (key indicator) parked outside. I ran into the school and was cut off by a police officer who asked me who I was and I told him my name. His response was something I’ll never forget. He put his arm around me, lead me inside and said, “Anthony, we’re gonna have a bit of bad news for you.” This, of course, went down as the biggest understatement of 2008, merely edging out a thirteen year old’s science project that year entitled “The Sun is Good.” Once I got in the school, I saw my cousin Vinny (yes, I have a cousin Vinny and YES he is Joe Pesci), who’s a detective in Jersey City and he let me know my father had passed of a heart attack. I was the first of my immediate family to find out. They let me see him. He had died in the supply room in the basement of his job.
Job. My dad died at his job. I can’t type that without crying. When I went into the supply room I saw him laying on the floor. I asked my cousin, the other cop, and some paramedics to leave me alone with him and they abided. I still can’t get over the unfairness of it all. Not for me, but for him. My dad died alone on the unswept floor of an elementary school supply room. No pillow beneath his head, no loved one by his side, he deserved better. He deserved the best because that’s what he was. But man, that’s life. This is how it goes: unexpected and grossly not what we had imagined. Unfair. I approached his body. Rested on him was a generic looking, thick, pale sky blue blanket the had paramedics placed on him. It covered him from his ankles to the clavicle. His left arm lay against his side and his right arm was outstretched, pointing nine o’clock. I try not to think about why his right arm was like that. However, thoughts creep in my head that paint a picture of him struggling hard, reaching for life but coming up empty. It’s hard to imagine him like that because I never saw him struggle in real life. I grabbed his left hand. I could feel the life leaving his body as I promised him, through tears, that I’d try my best. Only he and I really know what that means and only he and I know if I’m keeping that promise. I did him a favor and the world a disservice by shutting his coffee with milk brown eyes for the last time. My dad, the heart of the Apruzzese’s of Bayonne, NJ, had beat for the last time. That’s when my brother arrived and got his bit of bad news. Shortly thereafter, the hardest thing I’ve ever witnessed happened. Mom got there. She knelt beside her dead husband, the father to her children and in some respects her too and wailed. She asked God “why?” and begged my father to come back. The girl whose parents abandoned her was now a woman and abandoned again. After what I’m sure was only twenty seconds but felt like my whole life, I pulled her up from the ground, wiped the tears off of her face, looked her in the eyes and said it.
“Mom, I think you might have to get a second job.”
Needless to say, the attempt to break the tension by joking about how my mom will get by financially now that everyone’s favorite Apruzzese lay dead at the toes of my New Balances fell flat. It, as always, did not register with my mom as a joke and my brother briefly marveled at the consistency in which I never cease to disappoint. I’m not sure if they even remember I said that. It probably got swallowed up in what was most important about the day, the ravioli parmigiana special at Carmine’s Italian Deli.
I have told this story to a few people, but never with this much detail. There’s still much more that I have chosen to omit because it both doesn’t serve the purpose of this essay and because what’s left is mine and his. In writing this, I realized how I had chosen to immediately emulate my dad the second both my mom and brother arrived at the scene. I didn’t cry in front of them that day. The first thing I said when we were all together was a joke. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, for them.
Or, I’m an asshole.
I wish the years that followed were as retroactively well intentioned. The truth is, I grew cold. I tried to convince myself and everyone around me that my dad’s death didn’t bother me. I distanced myself from my mom and brother. I didn’t have my mom’s courage to love despite having lost badly in the past. Only recently have I tried to bridge the gap between who I became in order to survive and who I believe I am: Carmine’s son. It’s hard and scary to try. But that’s life.
You can’t give up.
Well, that’s it. That’s the worst thing I’ve ever said. The sentiment came from what I believed was a very good place, like most of the worst things people have ever said.