Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Meet Michael Fiorito and Read About CALL ME GUIDO, His Collection of Stories About Growing Up Italian in Queens, NY

About Mike
I am currently an Associate Editor for Mad Swirl Magazine and a regular contributor to the Red Hook Star Revue.
My writings have appeared in Narratively, Pif Magazine, Longshot Island, Beautiful Losers, The Honest Ulsterman, Chagrin River Review, The New Engagement and many other publications.  
My short story collections, Hallucinating Huxley and Freud's Haberdashery Habit, were published by Alien Buddha Press.  Both are available on Amazon.    
Published by Ovunque Siamo Press in 2019, my book CALL ME GUIDO explores three family generations as seen through the lens of the Italian American song tradition. 
In 2019, I was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Ovuqnue Siamo Press.

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Call Me Guido is about three family generations as seen through the lens of the Italian American song tradition. 

Simultaneously confronting and courting Italian-American stereotypes head-on, all of the stories are connected by crooner themes: An uncle who discovers himself by believing he’s Tony Bennett; a son discovering Sinatra’s fragility while driving with his father; Bobby Darin selling his soul to possess the gift of performance; a mother, dark and strong, like the earth itself, teaching her son the meaning of strength; a mobster hired to kill a singer who wouldn’t cow-tow to the mob.  In this collection, there are gamblers and mobsters, but philosophers and poets too. 
As poet Joey Nicoletti (Thundersnow) writes, these are “the stories of relatives, potato farmers, performers, imagined aristocrats, and the ballads they sing.” John Keahy (Seeking Sicily) says, “This collection, in quick bites, informs, entertains, and surprises---a masterpiece of storytelling.” 
Alfonso Colasuonno, cofounder of Beautiful Losers Magazine writes “Mike Fiorito navigates his readers through the ethnic twilight of the 21st century Italian-American experience in CALL ME GUIDO, a book that is hilarious, thought-provoking, and poignant in equal measure. Fiorito’s CALL ME GUIDO will be regarded as a seminal work of Italian-American literature.” 

An Excerpt from CALL ME GUIDO

One More for My Dad 

Driving in the car with my father, he reaches over to turn on the radio, steering with his left hand. He puts on “The Imaginary Ballroom,” a program that plays Sinatra, Martin and Bennett.
Sinatra’s voice emerges warmly from the speakers.
“Yes, it’s alright with me,” Sinatra sings sweetly. The song is not full of bravado; it’s tender and hesitant. He’s telling a woman that she looks like his previous lover; she has sweet lips too, like his old lover. He says that if she’s lonely one night, it’s alright if she kisses him with those lips.
We never hear her response.
I hate to admit that it’s a great song and that Sinatra sings it dramatically and convincingly. I don’t want to like my father’s music — he desperately wants me to.
I look over at my dad; he turns the music up louder.
There are parts of the song that Sinatra sings in a whisper. He’s pleading with the woman. This is not the Sinatra I had despised growing up. A braggart, a “wop” gangster. This is the voice of a fragile and sensitive person. If I said this to my father, he’d say, “You’re too deep for me,” which would piss me off. I’d hear that as “I don’t want to talk about that kind of shit with you.” So I don’t say anything. I have a reputation to uphold with my dad. I am the tough, independent kid, unlike my brother Frank who, as a kid, cried when my mother washed his hair in the tub.
I am also the one who punched a kid in the face so hard when I was about eight or nine, I knocked his tooth out. The kid’s father was so angry he came to our house, knocked on the door.
My father opened the door.
“Do you know your son punched my son in the mouth and knocked his tooth out?”
My father looked at the kid. He had a big gap to the left of his two front teeth.
“I want your son to apologize,” the other man said.
“Michael,” my father shouted, “please come here.”
I came to the door, dirt still on my face from playing outside.
The man looked me up and down then looked at his own son. Standing next to his kid, I was about a head shorter.
“You let this kid knock your teeth out?” the man asked his son, fixing his stare at me.
His son started to cry, like he was about to get a worse beating than the one I’d given him.
The man grabbed his son by the shirt, and dragged him away.
When they were gone, my dad said, “You gotta learn to control yourself.” He didn’t yell at me. He never directly encouraged me to fight, but when retelling the story to my mom at the dinner table, he laughed a bit.
“He don’t take shit from no one, this kid,” he said. Being tough might get me far. The world is cruel.
Then, when I was about fourteen, he and my mom came back from a parent-teacher meeting at my school.
“I met Mr. Amato,” my father said. Mr. Amato was my science teacher. It was his first year and my classmates and I weren’t interested in making it easy on him. In the lab, I had hit a kid in the back of the head with a frog kidney.
“He said he has a hard time keeping the class in order.”
I listened attentively, curious to hear what else Mr. Amato had to say.
“I raised my hand,” my father said, “and asked him if he could single out the troublemakers and punish them.” I told him I thought that was a good idea.
“He asked me my last name,” my father said, then paused.
“When I told him Fiorito, you know what he said?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“He said, your son,” – my father paused and sighed – “is the ringleader of the group.”
He looked disapprovingly at me, curling his tongue in his cheek.
“Ringleader” echoed in my head over and over.
Shaking his head, he had a slight grin on his face. He seemed to at least be proud that I was in charge.
The sound of the Sinatra songs brings me back to the present.
We stop at a red light; my father taps his fingers on the steering wheel and then looks over at me.
He lowers the music.
“Why do you have a mopey face on?” he asks.
“No reason.” I’m not sure what in particular was bothering me, but I’m sure something was. Something was always bothering me.
“Are you worried about us going to live with grandma?”
I’m not, but I say yes. The housing authority had found out that my mom was working and had evicted us from the projects. Since rent was based on income, we were at fault for not declaring my mother’s earnings. But my mother paid the rent; my father’s gambling debt consumed almost all of the income he made. Whereas my father was a gambler, sometimes stripped into vulnerability, my mother was constant, hardworking and indefatigable.
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay.”
I am not worried about that, at least I don’t think I am.
“We’ll be there for only a few months,” he says.
“Grandma lives near your school,” he adds.
I think of how nice it will be to walk to school, instead of taking two buses every morning.
He turns up the music again.
I change the station, looking at him for approval.
He nods okay.
“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” is playing.
My father lowers the music.
“I like this song,” I say over Jagger’s shrieking “And I try, and I try.”
“It’s noisy,” he says. “This is the guy who struts like a rooster?”
He starts to jerk his head back and forth, mimicking Jagger.
I make a face at him. “He does more than dance like a rooster,” I say.
I hear Jagger’s words about not wanting to listen to TV announcers and wanting to do his own thing as if he is speaking to me directly.
I don’t know if my father hears the words, or if they would matter to him. Jagger is a rooster, is all he knows.
“He’s alright,” my father says. “He’s got balls. Can’t sing, but he’s got balls.”
You don’t know shit about music, I think to myself.
I look out the window.
I’m thinking about Mick Jagger and then about how Maria Hermano sucked my dick earlier that day.
“I told you not to worry,” my father says. “It’s going to be okay.”
I’m happy he’s worried about me, even if for the wrong reasons.
“We’re going to stop over at Pete’s to get sausage,” he says, “before we pick up Mom at the train station.”
I nod.
“Satisfaction” is over. He looks at me before turning the station back to the oldies.
“Old Devil Moon,” sung by Tony Bennett, comes on.
He looks at me, raising the volume.
“It’s not noisy; this is quiet music.”
The guitar playing is terrific. Bennett’s vocals swing with feeling.
“You like this?”
I shrug my shoulders, saying, “I don’t know.”
“Is he the one that looks like a parrot?” I ask to get him back for the knock on Jagger.
“What, Bennett?”
I point to the radio.
He’s got a big Italian nose, like my father.
“He sings like a parrot.”
“At least he doesn’t strut like a rooster.”
We both laugh a little, but I don’t reply. I let him get the last word so I can hear the rest of the song.


 My sister, Gina, calls me after she read my story.
“Oh my God, why did you write that stuff about Dad?” She’s not frantic, but she’s upset that I wrote publicly about our father’s gambling problems.
“I write about our family because it’s hard to write about,” I say. “Because it matters.”
“You know Mom can’t see this story,” she adds. And I know that too. Too many details about how he borrowed money, and the general despair we all felt. Though it was an almost daily discussion when we were kids, it’s now a subject to be avoided. When my father died twenty-five years ago, he became saintly. His earthly sins were buried in his grave.
“I know. I don’t want her to see it. I don’t want to upset her.”
“Well, I’m happy for you,” Gina says. She means it, too. “I’m thrilled for your success.” 
My father’s worst critic, when he was alive, was my mother. I remember how it upset me to hear her talk to him. Before she moved out of our house for a few weeks, her attacks on him became even more vitriolic.
“If you have to get another job, do it,” she said. “I’m working all day, come home to make dinner, clean the house then sell jewelry at night,” she added, raising her voice. Then. “I don’t care if you never come home.”
This last statement clanged off the project building walls and rang throughout the house, like a rusted metal bell hammered on a steel stairwell.
My father didn’t respond. He had swallowed so much guilt, he couldn’t speak. The guilt stuffed his mouth, froze his throat and sank into his stomach. From there it went straight into the infinite space of his soul. Enough guilt to fill the universe. He looked down at his crossword puzzle and tapped his foot in his slipper. In silence.
Hearing the shriek in my mother’s voice bothered me as a kid. Why did she have to be so mean? Now I know better. She was out of her mind with worry. How will we pay rent? How will we make it to the next day?
She went on long into the night. Her voice searing and desperate.
But nowadays, my mother only praises my father. About how smart he was. How talented. How handsome. The truth is they did love each other very much. You could always see that. They hugged each other. Spoke kindly most of the time. And they enjoyed each other’s company. It was the gambling that poisoned their relationship.
And so now I am the Fredo of the family. The snitch. I say things. I write things. You have to understand that this tradition of keeping your mouth shut is very old. It goes back centuries. It is the modern form of omertà, or code of silence. Omertà is a dialect form of the word umiltà, “humility,” in reference to the code of submission of individuals to the group interest. Being taciturn, you’re serving the needs of a greater good. Shut up, don’t upset your mother. Keep your mouth closed, show respect.
The roots of our family silence extend back hundreds of years. It begins in Sicily and Southern Italy in general. Since Sicily was a crossroads for empires, it was often occupied by foreign powers. The Greeks, Romans, Moors, Normans, Bourbons, and Nazis, to name a few. Average Sicilians couldn’t count on government, or society, to help them. This was only compounded when Garibaldi united Italy. Although Garibaldi recruited the South to fight the Bourbons in the North, he then abandoned the South. The South suffered from lack of infrastructure: schools, hospitals and so on. And the villages were under feudal rule; if you were a laborer, there was simply no way out. They were trapped, like mice in a cage. The only thing they could count on was family. Family was their refuge. When Vito Corleone says “Never let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking,” he’s referring to the tradition of omertà.
Given the tumultuous nature of Sicily’s history, its notable writers – Leonard Sciascia, Luigi Pirandello, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Elio Vittorini, and Maria Messina – have described an overarching narrative of paura storica, or history of fear. Fear of the outsider. Fear of the unknown.
In writing about my family, I’ve committed a sin. I’ve broken a long held tradition of silence. It’s as if I’ve woken my father from the grave. Only I can see him looking at me disapprovingly. Behind curtains, behind doors. Walking the halls of our project apartment, alone. Like I unleashed fear of the outsider on our family.
And while my sister and other siblings might be slightly wounded by my breaking the silence, they are also happy for me. And proud of me. That’s another contradiction in the Southern Italian soul. The love for family is so strong, you can hate someone, or really be annoyed at them, maybe never even talk to them, but still love them, still want the best for them. This isn’t always true with every family, but it’s true with mine.
So I continue to tell our story, our history of fear.

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