If you are just jumping in here, please start with Part 1, otherwise, this will just make no sense at all! I mean, seriously… You can’t just jump into part 10 of a series, right?
Paola has gone from being my friend, to being my girlfriend. And frankly, the more I was with her, the more I found myself falling for her. But if you have been reading, you know that back home my house has burnt down, I have no idea what I am going to do in life, I am sort of living in a converted garage with Rocco. Ummmm… yeah, there is also a girlfriend in the picture back home, and here I am falling head over heals for Paola. My life is a total mess, but dude! She is totally “the one”. How on earth is this ever going to work? She lives in Italy, I live in L.A.. Hmmmm.
Now, my mother had mentioned to Paola at some point earlier that she wanted to learn Italian, and asked if Paola wanted to come to The States for a bit. Ha! Like my mom would ever learn Italian, or even try. Whatever. Let’s go with that. Paola will come visit for a few months. After that, well… I can always come to Italy, right? I mean, I have dad’s trust fund, and it isn’t like I need a career right now, is it? Suddenly being that poor little rich kid wasn’t so bad.
California Here I Come
OK, plans made. I’m gonna fly ahead, and Paola will follow in a couple weeks. I do need to figure some things out. You know, like… we can’t exactly stay in the embers of my house. It would be a little more than awkward to stay in the room I had been staying in with Rocco, and we’re for sure not going to my grandparents house where my mom had been staying. Ummmm, we really need to figure something out.
So the plan was a short term apartment. No problem. But my mom wants part of that, too. I guess she wasn’t all that crazy about staying with her parents. But I’m not exactly thinking staying in an apartment with my mother and my new girlfriend would be all that full of awesomeness, right?
OK, Plan B. We get the apartment. But we also own a really cool mountain home in Lake Arrowhead, about 2 hours away from the city. It was an awesome place. Beautiful, secluded, all foresty (yeah, I know that is not a word) and everything. In fact, it might soften the shock factor of going from her tiny town in Italy to one of the most epic megalopolises in the world. OK, when she gets here, we’ll head up there, then figure things out.
So I am home, and seeing all my friends that I haven’t seen for months. For the most part, they were just wondering what the hell happened to me, and I was full of stories that they couldn’t relate to.
“No, there was no new Mrs. Chicken, but Mr. Goat is doing well. Oh, and there is this girl…”
While I waited for her to get to the states, I kinda went back into my routine.
Goodbye To You
If you have been reading this blog long enough you know I do lots of music references. As I write this next part, I have “Goodbye To You” by Scandal in my head. I guess the timing is right… and Paola could have easily been mistaken for Patty Smyth or Pat Benetar at the time, so I guess it makes sense. Maybe it was playing the club while I describe the next few moments? Either way, go ahead and play it! It will get you into the mid 80’s zone!
OK, here we go…
One night, I headed out to The Palace (A club in 1980’s Los Angeles. If you were not there, well… you were probably a stoner or a nerd). I walk up a staircase, cross a room and run…. into… Annabelle. |||| Oh, yeah. There is that.
How do you break up with a girlfriend that you haven’t seen in a few months? One that would drive by your house when you were not home and leave a rose on your doorstep every day. One that is looking in your eyes, approaching you. for a hug and kiss in this very moment as though the love of her life had just returned from battle or something. What is the classiest way to do pull off THIS break up?
No. I really don’t know. I have no flipping clue whatsoever. But I can tell you exactly what you should not do. Do not stop cold in your tracks with a big smile, pull out your wallet, take out a photo of another girl, show it to her, and say “Hey, this is my new girlfriend!”
No. It’s really not on the top 1,000 ways to break up list. I promise.
Seriously, Annabelle… if you ever find yourself reading this, I am so, so, so sorry I was such an ass! But Paola owned my heart in a way I didn’t even know was possible.
TWA 841, You are cleared for landing
The time finally comes that Paola is arriving at night. We had secured that apartment, but, come on… my mom is there, right? I’m picking her up at LAX, and we are making the 2 hour trek to Lake Arrowhead!
From this point, I am going to write some parts from my perspective, and others written by Paola.
The first thing that really freaked me out was when the pilot announced that we were flying over Las Vegas. I saw the lights and promptly got the In-Flight Magazine out to look at the route.
Within a few minutes I started to see a lot of lights on both sides of the plane. The lights were going on and on for miles, as far as I could see. Looking at the map I could not figure out which city it could be. There was nothing that big between Las Vegas and L.A. Maybe we are going in a different way.
Then the pilot said that we were approaching L.A. but we were still so high in the sky! I mean I am not a pilot and this was my only 5th plane trip in my whole life… but something is wrong here! Are we going to Kamikaze it down???? Maybe the airport in Los Angeles is all the way on the other side of the city… I don’t get it. I was confused and a little scared.
Then we finally land and I follow the rest of the passengers out of the plane and through customs. Then this custom agent has the nerve of asking me if I am carrying any salami and cheese!!! I mean really? Who do you think I am? Some poor immigrant that needs her salami and cheese??? Do you see me with a cardboard suitcase tied with a rope? How dare you??? My face was so shocked and outraged that he just simply apologized and let me go.
I later used the same “outrage face” to actually bring stuff back to the States. 🙂
I get t the airport, see her, and OMG! There she is! We walk to the car, and get in it. OK, remember, I am back home in L.A., and I guess I had that L.A. Attitude.
In L.A. there was a common understanding: You are what you drive. And I am sporting the latest model, fire-engine red Porsche 944 Turbo with BBS wheels and an Alpine Stereo.
Michael: “Like my car?”
Paola: “I don’t really like Porsche”
OK, so yeah.. super shallow of me, of course. Cut me some slack. Rich L.A. valley kid. It’s part of the job description. But with that in mind, one would think I might be a little offended or at least deflated by her response. Instead, I am seeing that “stuff” doesn’t matter to her. I could have been driving a million dollar Ferrari Daytona or beat up old Pontiac, and it just didn’t matter to her. Damn! I have never met anyone like this!
Before we head to the mountains, I figure she is hungry after such a long flight, so let’s get her something classically American… a burger!
If you are from L.A., you know what a hamburger is all about. There is an In n’ Out right by LAX. Double Double, Fries, Lemonade please. I remember seeing this amazing look on her face as she told me how amazing this was. Cool!
Happy bellies, we make the drive to the mountains, and I see her nodding in and out after the long trip, but I make a stop when we get up to a place called Crestline, where you can see a sweeping view entire San Gabriel valley. We get out of the car and she walks up to the edge and told me she had never seen such a big city. I’m sitting there thinking… “Huh, that’s just little old San Berardino. Wait till you see L.A.”
After finally seeing Michael — My God that was a long trip!! We get into the car we start driving out of the airport and he is telling me about this amazing burger.
We go through a drive through at In n’ Out, and he was right. Wow! In hindsight, that may have been a mistake, because in the days after that, every other burger tasted like garbage. I remember my second burger was Wendy’s, and I was not impressed at all!
He tells me that we are going to his house in Lake Arrowhead. It is very late by now and I am exhausted. As we are driving up the mountain road I see so many beautiful lights…. Soooooooo many.
We stop in a parking lot that overlooks this amazing valley below. I have never seen so many lights in my life. America is beautiful!!!
I ask Michael if that is Los Angeles and he says…. No. It is San Bernardino… With a funny expression in his face….
Wow!!! San Bernardino!!! Another beautiful city!
Then we finally reach his house and we go to the bedroom and I see this TV in the corner. Something is weird again.
The TV model is clearly old, maybe the 60s or 70s. It has the big knobs and it is kind of round, but there is a really big remote control and it says “color”. How could this be?
I mean, in Italy we did not have color TV until the mid 70s and growing up if we needed to change the channel I was the remote control… “Paola, change the channel.” my father would say
I asked Michael and he smiled.. I think he was enjoying my reactions to this weird country!
Ummm, yeah. My parents bought that before I was born in 1965. I watched the moon landing on this TV. Don’t think it works anymore. Not even sure why it is here. And no, San Bernardino is not a beautiful city. It’s kinda the armpit of Southern California. We won’t be going there.
The rest of the evening is officially censored.
The Morning After
We wake up the following morning, and. wait. need. coffee. now.
Paola: What is this? It tastes like dirty water!!!
Michael: Yeah, about that…
Special note to all those who are not from Italy:
If an Italian ever comes to visit you, do not offer them coffee unless you have the right espresso machine, and the right freshly ground coffee, and you pull a very short espresso. Anything else is just not gonna end well, ok?
I digress. I show her around the house and we take a walk around the property. But I couldn’t possibly know what Paola’s perspective would be.
I remember when he was showing me the house, that I noticed he had 2 washing machines next to each other. Hmmmm…. I asked why they needed 2 washing machines, and he explained to me that one of them is a drier. What? A machine that dries your clothes?? Are you freaking kidding me?
I also realized that the house had air conditioning too… I’ve never seen a house with air conditioning. I really didn’t like it, so I slept with my head under the covers. But I remember thinking that was really amazing!
I really didn’t expect her main lasting impressions to be a clothes drier and A/C, I mean, Lake Arrowhead is absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining, the weather is perfect, and our house is nestled in a breathtaking forest. I mean, this is like a Disney movie setting! Birds chirping, rays of sunshine beaming through the trees… OK, Let’s gallup into town on my mighty steed!
Alright, no steed. But we do get in the car and head into Arrowhead Village for breakfast. I take her to “The Belgian Waffle”, which is right on the lake. So, what does breakfast mean for Paola? Cappuccino & a Pastry. Not today!
We were at a small restaurant by the lake. Michael ordered Belgian waffles (what are Belgian waffles?) with eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee for me.
OK… Orange juice, coffee and bacon… and an egg? I never would have chosen these things, especially in the morning. But it was a perfect combination. I loved the taste!!
But what’s up with the Belgian waffle? Do they have a lot of Belgian immigrants in Lake Arrowhead? I don’t get it.
The rest of the time we spent up at the mountain house was a whirlwind, but sooner or later I was gonna have to take her to se what “home” is. On one hand, exciting. I mean, I really wanted to show her the L.A. coastline, downtown, hit the beach, the pier, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Disneyland… you know, the whole L.A. thing. I also wanted her to meet my friends, right? But that also meant we would need to stay in the apartment my mom was at. Awkward!
I was looking forward to seeing the beautiful beaches of MALIBU !!!!
Ummm, I do not think Malibu is what you think it is.
For the next two months, we hopped between L.A. and the Lake Arrowhead house. I introduced Paola to my friends, who interestingly thought I was “robbing the cradle” until they realized she was older than me.
One moment I remember as really funny was when she met my friend Krista. So, cultures are different. Even within different parts of a country, city, or circle of friends, right? Well, in our circle, at least, if you had a friend of the opposite sex that was more than an acquaintance, but still just a friend, it was absolutely normal to greet them with a kiss on the lips. Nothing major, just a little peck of a kiss on the lips.
So one day we run into my friend, Krista. Now, seriously. Krista isn’t just a friend. She was a really close friend, but in a little sister kind of way. But I will admit that she was a very attractive blonde, so when we saw her and we kissed on the lips, I can understand looking back why Paola didn’t take it very well. Side note: Krista’s mom was dating Tom Selleck at the time. He was a nice guy. Anyway, this oddly created an uncomfortable situation for me, because I had quite a few friends that were girls, and when I would see them, the kiss on the lips thing stopped happening (Duh!), but the flip side of that is that when we would meet those friends, my lack of the normal greeting was slightly offensive. It was really awkward.
We were driving side by side with this other car, and Michael waved at the other car and they both just pulled over. He jumped out of the car, and very excitedly went to greet the young girl that was in the other car. AND THEY KISSED ON THE LIPS. I was shocked that he would have the guts to do something like that, especially in front of me! Remember where I come from, I don’t even kiss my own boyfriend in public, and here I see Michael kissing this girl in the middle of the street. When he came back to the car, I was furious. My Italian blood was boiling! He gave me a weak and ridiculous explanation that she was just a friend. I had my doubts, and this was one real bad sign for me.
Seriously, just a good friend. Nothing more.
I digress… Paola had the full Tourist in Southern California, as I took her to all of the places you would take a tourist. Some were a big hit, like Disney, Beverly Hills (including a night we went to an amazing dinner in Beverly Hills by limo), and the such. Hollywood and the beaches didn’t provide such a great first impression, however.
Hollywood! Where all the stars live, right? It is going to be breathtaking, of course! Except when we arrived in Hollywood, and turned right onto Hollywood Blvd, right by the Chinese Theater, the first thing that caught my eye was a police officer beating a bloodied shirtless man over the hood of the police car, with blood running down the hood.
Yeah, Hollywood is not quite what you thought it was.
As we walked around Hollywood, it was dirty, and the people all looked like they were on drugs.
Yeah, most of them were either on drugs or selling them.
And the beaches. Yes, they were big. But I had pictured MALIBU! A tropical paradise. Instead it was a normal beach with a bunch of houses on it with dirty water.
Yeah… and you should see some of those houses float out to sea when we get our yearly February storm! On the upside, that is pretty much the only rain we get all year. Why don’t we just go back to the lake house? Mountain roads, small village… more like Soriano and familiar to her!
And then there was a day that we were with some friends of Michael’s, and when we were talking about what to do that night, one of them offered that we go get some beer and get drunk. OK, we are in Los Angeles. CALIFORNIA. Hollywood, beverly Hills, Movie Stars! On a Saturday Evening. Sitting in a Porsche, and the most exciting thing you can think about doing is buying beer and getting drunk because I am of legal age? How pitiful!
Yeah, these friends kinda suck. Let’s just go back to the lake house and not come back!
So we had to take the good and the bad with L.A., and somehow after all of these years, the bad seems to stick more in both of our memories. But I do remember introducing her to Chinese food, Thai, Mexican, and more. And she really loved it all. Plus there were lots of other really cool areas of L.A. that she liked, such as Venice Beach and Santa Monica.
What About Rocco?
So… this was something of an interesting time in the Rocco world. You might need to go back to some of the earlier posts in this series to fully appreciate what I am about to describe.
Rocco, Big Rocco and Uncle Vinnie were all back in L.A. as well, and naturally Paola had to meet the people I had spent all that time with when I kept heading down to southern Italy. Yep, that house across the street from Rocco is really where Michael Jackson lives. Come on, if you have read this entire series, you are screaming it out just like Enzo: MICHAEL JACKSON!
Before coming back to the states this time, I had been living in their converted garage. The garage was extra large, and split into two rooms. On one side was a very large room and bathroom where Rocco and I had lived, and on the other side was what I figured was just a storage area for Big Rocco. In fact, all my stuff was still in the room, and even the phone in there was in my name.
But we hardly ever saw them during this period because… well… Me, Paola… you know… the vast majority of our time is censored, ok?
So one day while we were down in L.A., and I got a phone call. Rocco, Big Rocco, Uncle Vinnie, and just about everyone in their circle that I could think of had been arrested.
I may have neglected to tell Paola that my friend’s family were “connected”. Either way, the 20 Kilos of cocaine the police seized in what I truly believed was just a storage room on the other side of a wall where I slept was… well, evidence.
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t know what the family business was. That was made all too clear when I received my protection letter in their town in Italy, even if made without words. Let’s just say Don’t ask too many questions, right? But I had no idea there were 20 freaking kilograms of coke on the other side of the wall I rested my head on at night!
Holy crap! I am somehow going to get caught up ion this! All my stuff is there. The freaking phone is in MY name! How many seconds before the Feds have me against a wall at gunpoint?
And Paola? That will be it! Innocent small town girl caught up in THIS? Great!
When Michael first told me about the protection letter in Italy, I didn’t think of it as strange. After all, it wouldn’t be strange to give a letter to a foreign guest of yours in case they got in trouble. The police would call me.
But with this new revelation, my reaction to think “Ohhhhhhhh, of course!” It was a “protection“ letter. They were from Calabria. And they traveled back and forth between there and the States. ‘Ndrangheta! (The Calabria Mafia) Of course! That makes a lot of sense now! I obviously hoped Michael wasn’t caught up in any of this.
Time passed. and passed. Rocco got released. Big Rocco got released. I never got a call from the authorities. NOTHING! That’s a good thing, right? Yeah, of course. But that fact that I never got a call from the authorities also meant that I NEVER GOT A CALL FROM THE AUTHORITIES! Oh my God! Is Rocco’s family going to think I had something to do with getting them busted???? Am I going to suddenly have to “answer” to Big Rocco and risk sleeping with the fishes? No, no way!
Now Rocco is my best friend, ok? So I needed to approach this head on. I asked how is it possible that I never got interviewed? The only thing anyone has ever been able to come up with is that they were probably being watched for a very long time, and the cops knew I had nothing to do with anything. Plus, they were quite sure they knew who the “snitch” was. Whew!
In the end, Uncle Vinnie went to what he later referred to as “college” for quite some time. More on that in later parts when I become “The Godfather” to Uncle Vinnie’s son. Yeah, really.
So this part of the series is getting long, and I really wanna get back to writing about Italy, and at the time I really wanted to get back to Italy!
It finally came time for Paola and I to head to Italy. I had decided I was going to go live there for the next nine months, learn Italian, and figure out my life along the way. Fortunately I had that trust fund that would allow me to do that.
But wait! Did I mention that my mother had some really serious control issues? All of the sudden her son was moving 8,000 miles away with some girl (who happened to be the girl she got him connected with), and she was going to be all alone, although I had already not been living with her for 2 years.
On the evening before our flight to Italy, Paola and I had placed our tickets and passports on the counter in the kitchen. Somehow the following morning, everything was there, except my passport. Lots of arguing with my mother ensued while she refused to admit she took it while suddenly trying to keep me from going to Italy. As it turned out, I had to take Paola to the airport for her to return on her own.
So I met Michael’s mom in Italy, and she was absolutely wonderful, warm, and kind with me. After all, she was the one that initially invited me to come to America. So when I saw her a couple days after arriving in the States, I went to greet her with a big hug and a smile. I was shocked that she was suddenly extremely cold and screaming at Michael. For the next three months, every time we interacted with her, she was mean spirited and bitchy. She clearly had tremendous disdain for me. So when Michael’s passport went missing that morning, it was completely obvious that she had taken it. However, I didn’t consider this to be a major disaster, because I trusted Michael would get a new passport quickly and meet me in a few days.
The rest of that day was consumed by me getting a replacement passport, reissuing my ticket for the next day, and arguing with my mother again, who threatened to call my trustee and have me cut off. Fully determined, I loaded my car with everything I had of value to take to a store that would buy it all, and headed off.
Like a chase scene out of a movie, my mother followed me until I pulled over to tell her I was leaving one way or another. Now, you have to seriously picture a high speed chase, with her behind the wheel of a red Ferrari and me behind the wheel of a red Porsche, driving the winding roads of Sepulveda. Looking back, I so wish there had been a camera crew! When she saw my car fully loaded, she gave in, and the following morning I boarded my TWA flight bound for Rome.
Wow, most of my posts in this series have a takeaway at the end with something of value that I learned. My biggest takeaway was to see Paola in Los Angeles, and how she saw our society. Seeing it all through the eyes of a small town Italian was a huge eye opener for me. On one hand, it was clearly information overload. And I did see her marvel at much of the big American City “stuff”, but most of all, her perspective of our society really struck me. She clearly loved how efficient we were, but she really saw all of the ugliness that was underneath all of that. I mean, take the moment that we went to Hollywood and saw the cop beating someone. To her, that was mind-boggling to see. But to me, that was normal everyday life. It was just background noise all of my life, and seeing things like this through her eyes really changed my own perspective. Even when she would comment on the number of broken families or ask questions like “Why do so many people here have plastic surgery to look so fake?” I had no answer to these questions. They just were what they were. But I soon found myself forced to ask the same questions… to question things I had never questioned. Like, why did it matter to me that I drove a Porsche, anyway?
As far as the city went, I have never seen anything so big. I was blown away at how clean Los Angeles was, how efficient everything was, and how incredibly well-organized everything was. My only point of reference for a big. city was Rome, where nothing works and everything is dirty. Los Angeles, being seven times bigger than Rome, worked like a well-oiled machine. I truly admired that.
On the negative though, was what I saw in the society. The biggest thing I noticed was the tremendous breakdown of family there. Just about everyone I met was divorced, on their 2nd or third marriage, blended families. Where I came from I knew one person that was divorced, and when my family would talk about her (The town pharmacist), it was always in a whisper, as though she had cancer.
And there was the disappointment in Michael’s mother. But more important was a strengthening of my confidence in Michael’s feelings for me. During those three months, I saw that Michael was extremely determined and sure about our relationship, even to go against his own family. I had left my previous fiance because he was so controlled by his family. Michael was his own person, and so strong willed. I easily fell for him. Still, I felt saddened by the poor relationship he had with his mother. I could never see my mother behave that way, and that made me truly understand why Michael wanted to get away and stand on his own, no matter what.
And that’s it for this part in the series. In the next part, I will start my first 9 months of actually living in Italy, learning the language, becoming a part of the society I had been falling in love with.
Coming Soon: “Part 11: Winter is Coming”
In the meantime, I would love to see your thoughts and comments below!