Instead of our ordinary Thursday ritual, this week we organized a trip to the annual New England auto show, a showcase of the season’s hottest automobiles along with a coterie of cute promoters.
On the way, we picked up Drew. Because the car was full, he rode in the trunk. Don’t worry, we let him out when we got there… after a joke or two. We also met Richie’s boss, Tony, whose joined two consecutive weeks now. It’s always good to have another Tony in the mix, particularly one who goes to Tuscany every year.
At the expo, we made our way through a jungle of Mustangs, Jaguars, and Rams to set our eyes on the fine Italian curves. We spent the lion’s share of our visit at Ford and Fiat. Most of our curiosity was about the Fiat 500’s built in espresso machine, which was a disappointment.
What’s our interest of the car show? Even though we’ll never take one home with us, it is fun to imagine being in the driver’s seat for a few minutes. Oh, and the cars are nice too. That said, two hours of spectating and having to talk to adoring - read: whacko - Car Talk fans is enough.
Instead of Harvard Square, we went for dinner in Chinatown, where Peter asked some local teenagers where to find the best egg rolls in town. They only laughed; so did we.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we found another group of garrulous Italian men from the North End. As luck would have it, Peter knew one of the guys, who told us they eat dinner every Thursday in Chinatown. They don’t call it Italian Yoga, but the practice is in their DNA. We guess we’ll see them again after next year’s car show.
Several years ago, Peter became curious about the mystical secrets held by the Indian masters. He read the Bhagavad Gita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Upanishads, Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and other seminal texts. He also meditated, sometimes for days at a time.
One question always perplexed him. Peter wanted to know the secret of immortality but could never find the answer. Then, one day, he met a Yoga master and blurted out his question. To his surprise, the master told him that he knew the secret to eternal life.
“My son,” the yogi began, “You must abstain from drugs, alcohol, fat, sugar, caffeine, meat, any animal products, and all impurities of the body.”
“Is there anything more?”
“Yes, there is more. You must also avoid anger, stress, excitement, and most of all sexual arousal of any kind.”
“Is there anything more?” Peter was riveted.
“Yes, there is more. You must also endure the most rigorous physical training imaginable in order to prepare your body for forty days of intensive mediation.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that is all.”
“Thank you master. And, if I do all of these things, I will live forever?”
“No, but it will feel that way.”
Christmas is special. You have egg nog, gingerbread, candy canes, big ass ham, and seasonal Starbuck’s lattes. While we worship the miracle of capitalism and measure our affection in material gifts, it is not the size of a gift but its price that matters most.
They say it’s better to give than to receive. Those people must have relatives like ours. After years of Secret Santa disappointment from ugly shoes to obscene fart clocks, the Magliozzi family took control of Christmas with a Yankee Swap.
Yankee swap rules are simple, everyone puts in a gift and pulls a random number from a hat. Gifts are chosen one-by-one and each person has the option to ‘swap’ her gift with one that has already been chosen. While some swaps have a minimum retail price (say $25) per gift, the Magliozzi swap established with a __maximum__ price of $0.
Some swap highlights include a juice tiger, a hideous and cumbersome Christmas ornament, a fart clock, a broken yo-yo, a shoebox of old baseball cards, a photograph of Alex and another of Drew, another fart clock, and a broken garage door opener. Some gifts, like a mustache-shaped baking mould or hand-crank ice cream-maker have appeared in multiple swaps.
If you manage to get your hands on a rare diamond in the rough, the next person will surely relieve you of your bounty. Though they generally cost nothing, not all our gifts are valueless. One year, Tommy included an envelope (not to be opened till the end) containing a $100 bill, claiming he technically had not “purchased” it. The next year, he repeated the gimmick with a $1 bill, which still beat most of the other gifts that year. The trilogy ended the next year with a fake $100 bill that replaced Ben Franklin’s face with his.
When it’s over, no one (except the person with $100 in his wallet) leaves satisfied. It’s a victory if the object you lug home is smaller than a breadbox. However, we are always happy, because the gifts are merely the pretense for laughter and fun together.
But remember, if you happen to contribute a real piece of junk, expect karma to return the favor. When it comes to the swap, we forgive but rarely forget. But don’t take our word for it, though. Give it a try in your own family.
In 2008, when we were set on the idea of writing an Italian Yoga book, Peter took it upon himself to cold call the top 100 agents literary agents in America. Somehow, he convinced one to fly from New York and meet with us at the Caffe’ Paradiso. We assumed she’d run away, but Loretta took us as a client. Either she was on to something or off her rocker.
After Drew did a flurry of w-w-work on the book proposal, Loretta arranged a conference call to discuss the details. It was the week before Memorial Day weekend, and she told us that some publishers had expressed interest. All we had to do was dot the ‘i’s and cross the proverbial ‘t’s.
"Just one more thing," Peter prolonged the conversation. "Loretta, will you be in the office this Friday?"
"I’d like to send you something," Peter added.
"Thank you," Loretta acknowledged, "but that’s not necessary."
"I know this great salumeria in the North End," Peter explained. "I’ll send you a few dozen sausages."
"You don’t have to send any sausages," Loretta said with worry.
"It’s okay," Peter assured. "I’ll pack them in dry ice for you and Gabriel" - Gabriel was Loretta’s assistant and clearly not interested in sausages either.
"Please, Peter," Loretta insisted. "Don’t send any sausages."
"Do you want sweet or spicy?" Peter asked.
"That’s really okay, Peter."
"Sweet or spicy?" Peter repeated.
"Good god," Loretta pleaded, "Please don’t send any sausages."
"Sweet or spicy," Peter insisted, "you’ve got to choose."
Recollections vary, but Peter responded something to the effect of “I knew you liked them” - or “it” or “something” - “hot.”
Of course, he meant nothing salacious by the remark, but it’s also likely Loretta took it the wrong way. It’s unclear whether Peter actually sent the sausages, but we never did hear from Loretta again. Perhaps we lost a literary agent that day, but at least we gained another classic Italian Yoga story.
A few years ago, Peter convinced himself that he, Tom, and Ray needed to start a barbershop quartet. In pursuit of a fourth member with some musical accomplishment, Peter called his Alma Mater, the Boston University School of Music, for a suggestion.
When Ray arrived at the Caffe’ Paradiso and met their new guest, his expression was pure as white light - every emotion on the visible spectrum combined into a single look of blank stupefaction that asked, “Where the f@!# did Peter find this guy?”
Davy Gravy - a name too perfect to fabricate - had the figure of a Christmas tree and a smile only a mother could love. His pants were pulled up to his sternum, and he had no idea how to take (or make) a joke. When he smiled, not one of his teeth was parallel to another. His singing voice, however, was pitch perfect.
After a few tunes, Richard - a friend, fellow bluegrass musician, and family dentist - stopped by. Before even asking what we were doing, he spotted Davy. With entrepreneurial quickness, Richard slipped Mr. Gravy his card - Dr. Brown, DDS - and suggested, “Call me some time.”
This one, Ray noted later, was a mouth on which to retire. The quartet didn’t last, but our laughter has.
Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
~ Kurt Vonnegut to Ms. Lockwood’s English class
When we first began to discuss the nature of Italian Yoga, some of us thought it would be a good idea to write a book. However, only one member of the group was willing to do any work.
"Drew," we encouraged, "you want to be a writer. Why don’t you write the book for us?"
When it became apparent that Drew was doing 100% of the w-w-work, he decided to assign a short task to each of his ‘co-authors.’ In any book proposal, Drew explained, there was a single paragraph in the 3rd person about each author’s qualifications for the project. ”For next week, could each of you put together a short piece that I can included as your bio for the book?”
Everyone agreed. When the next week arrived, however, no one even remembered the assignment. Drew drove home the importance of this assignment by pounding the table with his youthful exuberance.
The next week, Drew arrived at the Paradiso to find Tommy hunched in the writer’s pose. Not interrupting his uncle’s assiduous scribbling, Drew waited patiently. After a few minutes, Tom presented a napkin with four sentences on it.
"I did my homework," Tom said with pride.
Drew read it and chuckled.
"Thanks Tommy," Drew encouraged. "I can do something with this."
Next, Ray arrived twenty minutes late and sans homework.
"You’re my dad," Drew grumbled, "I guess I can write yours for you."
Robert, the professor and widower in the group, never showed up at all that day.* Finally, two hours later, Peter arrived looking more disheveled than usual.
"Drew," Peter announced, "that assignment kept me up all night."
With that, Peter handed over a three page beatnik manifesto that told the story of his life. It wasn’t prose or poetry either, and it vacillated between third person and first person narration. Part insanity or part genius, Drew included the document - in its entirety - in the book proposal. What a wonder we never got a book deal…
* Later it was learned Robert was getting a ‘nooner’ and he was excused from all obligations of the day.
Years ago, Tom, Ray, and Peter were eating dinner at Pizzeria Uno. By the time Drew showed up, they had already ordered and Peter had taken the liberty of asking the Brazilian waitress if she was single.
Later, Peter asked Drew, “Who is your perfect woman?”
“I don’t know, Peter,” Drew wondered aloud. “I guess I am more of an ass-man than a breast-man. I like a darker complexion too.”
That instant, a stunning woman entered, and Drew added. “I would say that girl over there is a bull’s-eye.”
Peter nearly gave himself whiplash turning around and asking, “Which one? Point her out.”
“That one,” Drew gestured, “with the curly hair and brown coat.”
With cat-like agility, Peter bounded in her direction pushing chairs and patrons out of the way. Watching from afar, the rest of us observed a conversation of emphatic gestures. It finally concluded with the woman pointing to her wedding ring.
Peter returned with bad news that she was taken but assured me he would keep trying on my behalf, especially since he now knew what I was looking for.
“If she weren’t married, I’m sure she would have gone out with you, Drew,” Peter assured me. ”Don’t forget what Armando says: ‘You must speak to every beautiful woman.’”