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December 25, 2010

WHOSE BIRTHDAY IS IT ANYWAY? by Salvatore Buttaci


Papa, Mama, and me in 1985


“Is that what you think Christmas is all about?” Papa asked me that long-ago 1950 Christmas in Utica, New York.  I was nine years old.  What did I know!  As with most children, my idea of Christmas was the one the media made millions of dollars promoting with their steady barrage of newspaper toy ads, radio spot ads, and even television commercials, primitive as they were back then.

My father was a man short in stature, perhaps 5’6,” but standing over me, straight as a board, he seemed a giant.  When he spoke, we listened.  We knew beyond a doubt he loved us, and like our mother, would do only what was best for us.  “Presents?” Papa was asking me now.  I nodded.  “All those expensive toys the stores sell at prices who knows how people could afford?”  I stood there, no longer nodding.  I could hardly look my father in the eye.

He was a hard worker who was holding two jobs: one in the daytime as a welder at the railroad yard, the other in the night hours baking bread in a local Italian bakery.  He never complained, but now especially, this Christmas season, though he slaved away, he did not earn enough to buy beyond life’s necessities.  My mother tried hard to stretch the money he brought home so we lived on a tight budget.  I didn’t have a clue about our family finances back then because life seemed good and the family laughed a lot.  Along with my parents, sisters Anna, Joanie, Baby Sarah, and older brother Al, we seemed to me to be wealthy enough to make Christmas something to remember.

On the sewing machine the scrawny little tree sat decorated with an excess of colorful ornaments that only last year dotted a much grander Christmas tree.  But now it stood there, a bit askew, and under it a few neatly wrapped presents––enough for each of us–– 
in boxes too small to fit the gifts I had jotted down on my Dear Santa list.  No pair of boxing gloves for me.  No wooden sled.  On each package tag in my father’s florid writing each of our names after a huge drawn “TO.”  And on all of them another largely drawn “FROM” and under it “With Love from Papa and Mama.  Merry Christmas!”

But I had spoiled it all.  We had just returned from midnight Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church on snowy Blandina Street, anxious to rip open our presents that traditionally were safely locked away somewhere––our parents’ closet?  Under their bed?––and now suddenly appeared like a disappointing dream under that embarrassing tree.  

“Is that all the presents?”  I had asked as I headed quickly to the sewing machine console upon which sat that tree with its skimpy needled branches hanging over the gifts.
Looking at the faces of my sisters and brother, it was apparent they too were disappointed, but Al, the oldest and wisest, said, “Look, there are lots of presents for everybody!”  His words may have been wise but nowhere near consoling.  I knew without tearing through the wrapping that my Christmas present would be none of the items I had told Santa, in whom I no longer believed, that I wanted.

We were all hungry.  In our family an after-midnight dinner followed midnight Mass.  As we did daily, we would say grace before meals and then feast on Mama’s lasagna and her braccioli, beef stuffed with salami, cheese and eggs.  It was a gastronomical treat, but now as Papa loomed over me, disappointment with a touch of anger on his face, no one
dashed for the kitchen. Except for my mother fixing places at the kitchen table, we were waiting for Papa to go on or maybe my sisters and brother were waiting for me to all at once start crying.  At nine I was too big for that.  Still, inside me a little boy was sorry he had spoken out of place.  That little boy was crying.

“Pa, I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean––”

“What did you mean?  Was I right?  Christmas with lots of expensive toys?”

I shifted onto my other leg.  I still do that when I am nervously uncomfortable.  Then I shifted back on the other leg.  “It’s just that we wait all year.  And I wrote that Santa letter.”  Papa nodded.  He had found it on the closet shelf above where he hung his winter coat.  “I figured maybe I could have––”

Papa interrupted with a  raised voice.  “’I could have!  I could have!’” he mimicked.
“Christmas.  The day Jesus was born.  In a poor stable with donkey hay for his mattress.  His mother who brought God’s Son into the world.  What presents for Him?  The Three Wise Men brought––”

Papa turned to my sister Joan and shook his head.  He was not about to explain the gifts of the Magi.  

Papa ran his hand through his wavy black hair, tamped down his moustache, and continued.  “This is Jesus’ birthday!  What do you think?  It’s yours?  It’s the birthday of every kid in the world who’s crying for presents?”  Then Papa folded his arms the way he did when the punch line was coming or the life lesson or the gist of his stories.  We all waited attentively.  “Jesus Himself was the gift!  Can you understand?”  Then he turned around and looked at all of us kids, not just me.  “He came into the world to save us all.  You’re looking for big presents I cannot afford to give you.  I don’t have the money to make Christmas the Big Day of Toys.”  At this point my sisters are all crying.  I want to but I can’t.  Al and I stay strong.  “He died for us so we could go to heaven someday.  He did not die so we can all buy presents and forget why He was born on Christmas Day. The only true Christmas tradition is thanking Jesus Christ for being born!”

I stood there learning one of the most profound lessons of my lifetime.  I wanted to say again how sorry I was, but once was enough because words don’t always do what we mean them to do.  Instead I hugged my father and let the tears come and wet his white dress shirt.  He bent down and hugged me back.

Then Papa stood up, his hand on my shoulder, and winked at me.  “Come on,” he said to all of us.  “Don’t keep Mama waiting.  Let’s sit down now and eat.  Later we can open some presents.”  We all followed him into the kitchen.


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Salvatore Buttaci, author of Flashing My Shorts
































December 14, 2010

CAN WRITERS BE PROPHETS?



Have you ever heard of the Infinite Monkey Theorem?  It states that if you set a monkey in a chair in front of a computer keyboard  (or as originally expressed: “in front of a typewriter keyboard”), and allow that monkey an infinite amount of time, it will almost surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare!  

When my science teacher back at Holy Family High School told us that, of course, we laughed, not because we rejected the theorem, but because the image of a hyper monkey scratching its armpits in between pecking away, one key at a time, was too funny for words.  Now, looking back to 1958 and Mr. Sabello’s revelation, I suppose the image that popped into our teacher's head was a classroom of monkeys scratching our armpits in our infinite endeavor to type an acceptable term paper.  That would explain the hint of a grin on Mr. Sabello’s face.

But I digress a bit.  The title of this piece is “Can Writers Be Prophets?”  It’s not about monkeys at all, but there is a connection, albeit flimsy, I suppose.

If writers, over the span of a lifetime, produce, let’s say, 1,000 stories, can at least one of those fiction pieces predict the future?  One in a 1,000, I believe, would support what I have named “The Lifetime Writer/prophet Theorem.  

What got me thinking about this new theorem was my own realization that in approximately that many stories which I’ve written, three of them were prophetic.  Three of them in a sense came true!  Did I know this at the time I pecked away on my Remington typewriter?  Did I say, like Archimedes, “Eureka!”  Did I feel the glow that comes from an epiphany moment?  Did I say to myself, “This story will foreshadow a future event and you will be hailed a prophet in the writing community?  Hardly.

In 1952, I wrote a story called “Carolyn,” in which the protagonist, whose name I do not recall (maybe it was Benjamin Shaba, one of my many pen names in those early days), was an infantryman fighting a war in 1967 in…(drum roll here!) Iraq!  Why did I choose for my setting a country in the Middle East?  Who knows!  Since when does a prophet understand these things?  Did St. John know what he was writing on that lonely island of Patmos?  Did Nostradamus say, “Okay, today I shall pen a quatrain about the Kennedy brothers?"  Did Edgar Cayce, the sleeping prophet, know what he was predicting while he lay on a couch, talking in his sleep?  

Did I know in that year in June a Six-Day War would rage in the Middle East between Israel and a few hostile neighboring nations?  I was writing a love story, mostly letters of correspondence between a soldier and his fiancĂ©e Carolyn, while the bombs bursting in air were not deterrents enough to keep him from writing love letters from the heart.

In 1960, I was a sophomore at the University of Miami, where the unkind joke is, if you attend there, chances are you are majoring in Basket Weaving.  I never found that slur very amusing, despite my student participation there being, in any stretch of the wildest imagination, even remotely academic.  I cut classes so many times that when I entered the classroom, the students, and even the professor, would give me a hearty round of applause. Maybe they had thought I’d dropped out.  Drowned on the beach.  Drank myself into a beer stupor, collapsed in some alleyway, and got devoured by nibbling rats.  They were happy to see me.

Anyway, back to prophecies.  Though I hardly attended classes, I did write a story I submitted it to the campus Tempo Magazine, which they not only accepted, but had one of the art students illustrate “She Never Travels Alone.”   I purchased ten copies, only one of which, to my knowledge, remains extant and that is to my right at the moment on my bookcase shelf.

In “She Never Travels Alone,” my character is an irresponsible, reckless, ne’er-do-well, modeled after the writer of the piece, so it was easy to dash off lines since I had so well taken to heart the old Greek aphorism “Know thyself,” about all I learned from Philosophy I.  

My character brazenly tells his boss, a fellow named Dunhill, to shove the job where clocks don’t get punched, and then walks out into the warm Miami air.  That was in 1960.  Here comes the fulfillment of that prophecy.  In 1991, I got a job working as an account executive for a mailing list company in New York City.  My boss, the owner of the company, was Mr. Dunhill!  Wait, there’s more.  Business got slow and the boss had to give the boot to one of his four account executives.  

“Why me?” I asked Mr. Dunhill?

He smiled the way a cat smiles after he’s eaten your favorite canary.

“Because you’re the only one who came to me each year, demanding a 20% raise.”

“But you only gave me 5%!”

“Five percent each year for eleven years adds up,” he said.

So in anger, despite my liking the guy up to that point, I rose from his office chair and said in my best I-don’t-give-a-crap voice, “You can shove this job where the sun won’t shine!”  He reached across the table and shook my hand.  “Loretta, will give you your severance check.”

Now would you call my story prophetic or what?

And now the third time this writer was at the same time a prophet occurred in a story I wrote in 1973.  It told of an attack on the United States of America, but not by fanatical terrorists but by invaders from outer space.  In my story they zap the Empire Building in New York City, along with the artistic work of art, the Chrysler Building.  I chose those two since they were so highly recognized as reflecting the Big Apple.  The Twin Towers never entered my mind, so the prophecy was not as accurate as it could have been.  

Now that I am a much older writer, I have put it all together and I don’t like what I’m finding.  Three of my stories have proved prophetic (several hundred others the critics would consider "pathetic").  I don’t know how many other fiction pieces will in time join the ranks of my so-far three.  

I have written stories about a world plague caused and spread by Chihuahuas; a popular vampire elected President of the United States; Satan appearing live at Radio City Music Hall to premier his hit song, “Burn, Baby, Burn!”

I’m thinking to myself, Hold off on the grim and deadly.  Stop writing stories that are cataclysmic, catastrophic, post-bellum, post-diluvian, post-nuclear, post office takeovers by zombie e-mailers, post-Armageddon, Post-it’s contaminated with anthrax!  No more!  I shall not write about the hideous, the unclean, the giant man- (and woman-) eating ladybugs; the mad scientist who, by mistake, invents the Crime Machine that spits out new and undetectable ways to not only break the law but completely destroy it. No nursery rhymes gone horribly wrong; no Miss Muffet torn apart by blue-berry-loving spiders; no blizzards of cockroaches showering down our heads.  

Writers are prophets and that’s a pity.  We need to be careful what we put down on paper.  It could one day bite us where we sit.  Our hands are tied.  Only the unconscionable among us writers would throw caution to the wind and take their chances predicting, or what is exponentially worse, bringing a future disaster to fruition by first giving it life in a story!

A new year is dawning.  I shall repent by writing only happy poems that sing and dance.  My flash stories will be decently dressed.  My story plots will circumvent cemeteries.  They will divest themselves of blood-curdling screams, bodies hacked for the heck of it, nations itching to press the red button that launches missiles.

Knowing now this hard-to-ignore connection between writings and future events, I shall cease and desist from further negativities.  All my writings will feature sparrows and petunias.  My stanzas and paragraphs will tell of Utopian tomorrows where war is unheard of.  A future where people revive that old custom of wearing flowers in their hair…flowers everywhere.  My stories will show protagonists and antagonists loving one another, settings of sun and calm waters, enough peace to go around.

There is another old adage that claims “Three’s a crowd.”  Well, I’ve written three stories that came true and three is quite my limit.  

Let me warn those of you who find pleasure in penning horror stories that could end up in our future.  You’re playing with fire, so knock it off!  

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Salvatore Buttaci, author of Flashing My Shorts

December 4, 2010

MURDER BEHIND THE CLOSET DOOR:Where Mystery Transcends Reality By Christopher Pinto



About the Book:

A dilapidated house with an evil secret in the basement. An auto-wrecking yard with the devious, rusted remains of a murderer's getaway car. An unsolved bank robbery with hundreds of thousands of dollars never found. A detective trying to solve an age old murder before his ticker runs out. A slow, agonizing death for an unfortunate victim and his soul reaching from beyond... Murder Behind The Closet Door is a murder murder mystery ghost story that keeps you engaged and guessing from the first paragraph. Creepy, riveting, this story reveals another existence, one just beyond our own, where the occult and the paranormal meet reality and everyday people find themselves swept into very extraordinary circumstances.

 The story is set in Ocean City and Wildwood, NJ during the late 1970s (with flashbacks to the '30s & '50s), and centers around a young woman who begins her career marketing an amusement pier on the world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk. Just as Heather's adult life really begins to blossom, her torment begins. Not long after moving into a 70 year-old rooming house, Heather's mundane life takes an uncontrolled turn toward insanity. Although she refuses to acknowledge her ghost, a mysterious entity begins to taunt her, an entity impetuously determined to contact her through her bedroom closet. At first these mild encounters are merely disturbing.... Aspirations of a life of quaint mediocrity vanish as she and her friends try to discover the motives of her tormentor, finding that the truths in which she believed her entire life had been nothing but an elaborate veneer. As Heather falls deeper into the mystery, she finds the physical world around her is much stranger - and more terrifying - than she could ever have imagined. Note: This murder mystery/ghost story deals with adult themes and language, and is not intended for children.

About the Author

Become a Fan of Murder... on Facebook! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Murder-Behind-The-Closet-Door-Ghost-Lovers-Fan-Page/112744805423946 

Christopher Pinto is the author/editor of Tiki Lounge Talk (http://tikiloungetalk.com), a web-lounge dedicated to remembering the kool stuff from the Atomic Age and beyond, from big band music to cocktails at the Tiki Bar. He's been writing for over 25 years, has had several plays produced, and has won awards for his creative efforts. During the 1990s he was producer/director of a highly successful traveling theater company in the Atlantic City area, StarDust Productions. A lover of all things retro, he enjoys working on his 1953 Chevy Belair Hot Rod, plays jazz tenor sax and clarinet, and is an avid collector of vintage memorabilia. Pinto currently lives in South Florida with his wife Colleen, four birds, two cats, a dog and a Tiki Bar. For more info visit http://stardustmysteries.com. 


Order the author’s book at  Amazon.com:    http://tinyurl.com/326bnfn