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“Kiss Me, I’m Italian” – that’s what it said on the matching t-shirts that were colored red, green, and white (Italian flag colors) that my Ma made my twin brother Tony and I wear to school one day! This wasn’t in kindergarten either, it was in fifth grade! Tony saved the day when he beat up a couple of geeks and stole their shirts for us to wear! I’ll never forget… That was just one little gem from my adolescence, being from the family I am from. Let me explain: growing up Baffilini is not as infamous as growing up Gotti or Soprano, but is has a certain quality all its own. It seems to me, that I was born into a family where really none of us are what you would call “normal”. When I was growing up, one place we absolutely loved to go was Coney Island. My favorite ride was the bumper cars and you know, one day I realized how much they reminded me of my family: each one going their own way and trying to bump into the others to agitate them! I will show you what I am talking about; let me start at the beginning, well sort of…
I was born in Brooklyn in 1973 with a twin brother, Tony who I mentioned earlier. Most of my memories are from the eighties. Back then I wanted to be Madonna. I used to dress like her, sing and record myself and even had my Cabbage Patch Doll dressed just like her! My parents lived in a tiny apartment above a 24 hr. Laundromat in Bensonhurst. Pops worked as a barber and Ma as a part-time hairstylist. When Tony and I were five, Ma had another baby, our little brother Bruno. I think Bruno was allergic to nearly everything from the day he was born. It seems there wasn’t anything that didn’t make him either sneeze, get a rash, or puke! He peed the bed a lot too and had asthma. Tony and I treated him so meanly back then, we ditched him all the time, but he found a way to exact his revenge on us-sticking boogers to all our stuff! Nasty!
Pops was an orphan, but Ma’s family lived over in Middle Village, Queens. My grandparents Nonno and Nonna we called them, ran an Italian bakery. They were immigrants who had arrived in New York shortly after they were married from Genoa, Italy. Ma had two younger siblings: Rosa and Anthony. You may have picked up that that is where she got my and Tony’s name from, or in other words she named us after them, we Italians love to honor family by naming children after relatives. Nonno was a sweet, jolly man who loved everyone and everyone loved him, Ma was his favorite. Nonna on the other hand was a spry little woman who was suspicious of everyone; she loved Bruno though because he was a “true Bonzerelli” she said. Bonzerelli was their last name. Nonna hated Pops and Pops hated Nonna, and it had been that way since the day they met. Rosa was only about 5 years older than Tony and I were and always full of attitude. She was jealous of everyone, especially her younger brother Anthony who Nonna simply worshiped.
Anthony was the only son and the youngest child so he got away with murder. He was only about 2 years older than Tony and I. He was good-looking I guess, he always reminded me of Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid and was slender, whereas Ma and Rosa have always been on the heavy side, well actually Tony, Bruno, Pops and Myself also fit into that description-I guess that’s the downside of Italian food-all those carbs! Anthony drove us nuts though, because ever since we were little he would do something naughty and set it up so Tony and I would get blamed for it. Nonna bought his act hook, line and sinker too! She was always sort of jaded towards Tony and I and would always say “Anthony is a good boy, he’s going to be a priest some day!” A devout Catholic, Nonna already had her son’s future planned. Little did she know though, that Anthony had a whole secret life. Let’s just say Uncle Anthony had more than one family that he had ties to…if you get what I mean.
In 1984, a sad thing happened: Nonno died from a heart attack. Nonna decided she could not run the bakery by herself so it was put up for sale. The money from its sale was divided between Ma, Rosa and Anthony. This left us with a bit of a windfall so Ma talked Pops into buying a house. We moved into what turned out to be a former drug dealer’s house and it was conveniently located right around the corner from where Nonna lived in Queens. This drove Pops around the bend because it meant she would be stopping by on a daily basis to insult him which she always managed to do; her favorite line was “You ruined my daughter’s life!” I think Pops wished she was in the ground instead of Nonno!
It seems like the more time went on, the more weird stuff happened in our family. We were not exactly the Ingalls, let’s put it that way! Everything was bizarre in my life at that time: my school, my teachers, our neighbors, and our whole family dynamic in general. Some of the highlights include Rosa marrying a Rastafarian, Anthony becoming a teenaged father and having mob ties(like I hinted at earlier) and the reappearance of Pops’ long lost father, who married guess who?-the widowed Nonna! Oh yeah, and Ma ended up having another baby, my little sister Barettta who was born on exactly the same day as my cousin Angie, who is Anthony’s daughter. I feel like I was raised in the circus! This is why I have decided to start to chronicle my formative years, because when I think back, it is really funny. I have begun to write a blog about “growing up Baffilini” as a humorous tribute to my family and the eighties in general, you can check it out at http://baffilinifamily.blogspot.com. Hope to see you there, ciao!
write by wilson