The Wolf is in the Kitchen
After we ate the cake we played Twister in Steve’s playroom, which is a basement with paneling, and that’s when the teasing began. A group of boys that weren’t invited to the sleepover were beside an open window and we couldn’t see them but we knew who they were and who they were making fun of.
“When’s the flood?” George Nardini said to Paul Francolino because Paul wore hand-me-downs and all his pants were too short. “It tastes better with salt, Walt,” Patrick Jamison said to Walt Gillombardo because Walt chewed on the collar of his shirt a lot. We all lived within two-blocks of 10th Street and Central Avenue, where Steve lived, and we all played stickball and football and skully in the street together and we teased each other like this all the time and it didn’t mean anything and tomorrow Paul might say to Patrick, “Pick me a winner,” because Patrick always has his finger up his nose and Walt might say to George, “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry” because his name happened to be George. It was all just silly and never meant anything ever.
My cousin Dom was with them. Dom is a year older than the rest of us and he and the others went to Thomas Edison public and me, Steve, Paul, and Walter were all in the same grade at Holy Rosary Academy and that’s why we were inside and they were outside. It was a Holy Rosary sleepover, not a block sleepover.
Dom said to me in a high-pitched voice, “Joey, dhere iz a volf in dhe chicken.” This was new and the others with him laughed loudly, then they mimicked him.
Dom’s mother and my mother are sisters. They both came from Udine, which is in northern Italy. Our mothers look alike and make the same food and both speak English poorly and with the same thick accent. They are sometimes mistaken for each other, but my mother is a little older and heavier.
Steve’s mother went to the window and said, “That’s enough. Now you boys shoo before I call your mothers,” and closed the window and drew the small curtains, but they didn’t stop.
“Just ignore them, Joseph,” Steve’s mother said to me. Everyone else calls me Joey, only Steve’s mother calls me Joseph. Steve’s mother smokes and she put the radio on and my favorite song was playing, Crystal Blue Persuasion, but we could still hear them.
“Dhere iz a volf in dhe chicken.” It seems like childish nonsense but it’s not. Dom was making fun of my mother, of her accent and how she would sometimes say chicken when she meant kitchen and kitchen when she meant chicken. There is a wolf in the kitchen didn’t make much sense either, but it made a little more sense once you knew that. But what really didn’t make any sense at all was how Dom could be making fun of my mother like that because he was also making fun of his mother, too.
I listened with all my might to the words of Crystal Blue Persuasion because I was trying not to hear Dom and the others, and though I had sung along with it many times before and knew all the words by heart and knew what the individual words meant, I didn’t understand it; for the first time the song didn’t make any sense.