Wednesday, March 23, 2016

(Then) The Spoiled Boy (1908)

This first (Then) chapter examining Marcantonio's early life and development features an introduction to the fictional neighborhood ally, and important character to the story, Rosina Fortunato.

Little Rosina watches 112th Street go by from her first floor window. She watches the most crowded neighborhood in New York City pass. And that is saying something.

It is late afternoon. Tired men and women are returning from work all over town.

And she knows some of them. The men who line up with her father outside the brewery gates at 91st Street and Second Avenue early every morning. She can pick out some faces riding The El a block away, pale with sunlight cut by shadows spit all about by the great mechanical metropolis.

The metropolis that already drives the pulses in her.

They are mostly like her, these people; Italians from here and from there. Although she already knows that they don't know from that down below 96th Street. After that it's just Italians and nobody cares from where or here.  

You have Il Corso up on 116th Street and that is special with all the tailor shops, doctors, and social clubs. After that it's all the same. All the streets just like hers, filled with peasants working to sprout roots in the concrete.

Peasants with peasant ways from Sicily and Calabria, Puglia. Old people from an old country they never really left. Their science is superstition. Their politics a two-bit tip:
Bada alle cose tue.

Mind your own business. 

There are no trees on 112th. The scratch of tarmac was drawn with a ruler connecting East River docks on one side of Manhattan with Hudson River berths over on the other.

At these docks, boats dump all that gold into trucks. Gangsters with gats gather and lord it over. The streets connecting the docklands funnel them into the neighborhood. They thunder past Rosina's window towing it all to other places.

No trees, but it's a warm spring twilight, the smell of green from somewhere pulls her out over the windowsill to look down the sidewalk.

She sees that boy from up the street sitting on a little machine. It is a revelation this machine. It has a large wheel with pedals the little boy is pumping like pistons on a locomotive of the New York Central.

"Rosina," Nona calls her from over by the stove, tough with the little girl.

It is red, the machine, and moves the boy from the building to the street curb and so forth. He runs it through a shallow puddle and the black water makes wet circles on the sidewalk.

A vegetable vendor closes up his cart. He looks like a rickshaw-pulling Chinese coolie, except he's pushing. A cloud of flies stays behind. But that is nothing new. The machine is new. 

The little boy is a revelation, too.  

He is wearing shorts and knee socks and ankle boots a blue sweater. A collar cut like a flower rings his neck. He is pale, this boy, hair black and eyes, too. Like the dots on a domino. He has the Roman nose you, you often see on these streets.

He owns the sidewalk, this kid. Forces people passing to change direction. And they know him back. 

"Vito," says one and the boy answers with a command, "Move ovah!"

"Vito!" you hear another one bellyache as he jumps out of the boy's way.  

Nona comes to the window. She knows what her granddaughter wants to know. She tells her that's a tricycle. As for the boy, he's Vito Marcantonio.

"He's the son of Samerio. The carpenter who goes by the name Samuel for the sake of his business. To fit in.

"His father, the boy's grandfather, came from Picerno. In Basilicata. A few years ago, he took Samerio back there and Samerio returned with his bride, Angiola. A year later the boy was born."

"E como un principe," says the little girl.

"Si," Nona says, "like a little prince." She goes back to the stove.

"And spoiled like one, too." 

No comments:

Post a Comment