Freedome Lane: Paulie’s Pop

Rose and Helen sat in the living room of their New Haven home, located on Freedom Lane. They were spending a lazy afternoon reading and enjoying the day while their adopted son, Da’Quarius Lobsterclaw Sherman, attended school. Everything was quiet until Rose came across an article in a magazine that drew her attention.

“Oh my God, Helen,” Rose said. “You have to see this. This says that black children and teens drown at a far higher rates than other kids. There’s a study in here and everything!”

“That’s a joke!” Helen said, not looking up from her romance novel. “Black kids can’t swim. Polocks are dumb. All Mexicans are aliens from outer space.”

“I don’t know where you get your facts,” Rose said, “but this article is in black and white. Summer is coming, and Da’Quarius may not know how to swim. What if he drowns?”

“He’ll be fine,” Helen said turning the page. “That kid is more resourceful than you think. He’d probably hotwire a damn boat.”

“Well, I’ll be signing him up for swimming lessons,” Rose said, “seeing as there may not always be a boat to hotwire. I’m calling the Y now to see when they start.”

“If you’re lucky I’ll be eating at the Y tonight,” Helen said under her breath. She chuckled to herself while she turned the page.

“What was that?” Rose called.

“I said bring me my prune juice!”

*

Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Episode 6: Paulie’s Pop (Season 1 Finale)

Part 1

*

“You almost finished, Tony?” Paulie called to the kitchen of his restaurant, Paulie’s Pizza. “I want to get home while I still got my youth.”

“Almost done, boss,” Tony said, coming out of the back. “Can’t we get the kid here nights too?”

“You stunad!” Paulie said. “That kid got school in the morning. Besides, he’s twelve! There’s laws against that kind of thing!”

“Yeah yeah,” Tony said. “I need a raise!”

“You need a slap upside that big melon of yours!” Paulie said. “You ready or not?”

The front door opened, and an old man walked in. Paulie turned and saw him looking around while holding himself up with his cane. “I’m sorry, but we’re closed,” he said. “Can I call you a cab or something?”

“No,” the old man said smiling. “Won’t be necessary. This is a fine place you got here.”

Paulie considered making an excuse to walk away so he can call the police. The old man seemed confused about where he was and what he was doing there. Since he had time before the police would show up (they wouldn’t come running unless someone was shot and bleeding to death), he decided to make the old man an offer. “There’s not much I can make you, but if you’d like a sandwich, I can whip one up for you. On me.”

“That’s very kind of you,” the old man said. “But I really must be going. I just wanted to have a look around is all.”

“Is anyone outside?” Paulie asked. “I mean to drive you home. If not, I can make sure you get there. Numb-nuts in the back can lock up.”

The old man laughed. “My daughter is waiting in the car outside,” he said. “Thank you.” The old man walked toward the door. He took one more look at Paulie and his Pizzeria before he left.

“What was that about?” Tony asked, coming out of the back, now ready to close up.

“Old man was confused,” Paulie said. “That’s all. Happens to us all eventually, right? Come on. Let’s lock up and get outta here.”

*

“Mommy an’ Me swimming lessons?” Da’Quarius said. “Da fuck is dis?”

“Summer’s coming,” Rose said. “I don’t want you to become a statistic. You need to learn how to swim.”

“But do we need to do mommy an’ me lessons?” Da’Quarius asked. “I’m too old for dat, an’ your way too old, biddy.”

“Stop calling us biddies!” Rose said.

“Then stop being a damn biddy!” Helen called from the other room before cackling. She had recently taken the medication for her hip pains.

“You’re taking the lessons,” Rose said. “It’s only twice a week for two hours. The issue is closed.”

“You stone cold,” Da’Quarius said with his arms crossed.

The doorbell rang and Rose turned. “Who can that be?” she said. “Will you be a dear and get the door?”

“Hell yeah,” Da’Quarius said, uncrossing his arms and popping out of his seat. “Have the scary black kid scare ’em Jesus freaks off. I get’cha.” Da’Quarius opened the door, and there was an old man standing on the other side.

“Hello?” the old man said looking down at Da’Quarius. “I must have the wrong house.”

“Goddam right you do,” Da’Quarius said. “Best sell it walkin’, pops.”

“Da’Quarius!” Rose said, rushing to the door. “That’s not nice at all! I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK,” the old man said. “You don’t know me. My name is Vincent Annuziato. I’m here to see Helen Ventriglio.”

“Who da’ fuck is dat?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Helen,” Rose said. “Masters is my last name. Rose took it.”

“So you two are -”

“Yes,” Rose said. “Helen and I are together.”

“Nice,” Vincent said. “I mean, is she home? Can I talk to her?”

“Vincent?” Helen said, entering the room and squinting at him. “Holy shit. You got old.”

Vincent laughed. “So did you,” he said. “Can we talk privately?”

“We’re going,” Rose said handing Da’Quarius a bag. “You can change into your trunks at The Y.”

Da’Quarius looked in the bag. “Pink?!” he said. “Didn’t dey have another color?”

“Hush,” Rose said looking more at Helen than Da’Quarius. “It’s fine. Come on. Time to go.”

Rose gave Helen one last look, and she was out the door.

“So,” Helen said, glaring. “I knew you’d show up on my doorstep one day. I was hoping I’d be dead by then, but I guess I’m not so lucky.”

“Don’t be like that,” Vincent said. “I would have left well enough alone, but…”

“But what?”

“I’m dying, Helen,” Vincent said with his head low. “I just want to make things right before I go.”

“Things were right before you showed your face here,” Helen said. “So go ahead and die already. I’ll be on the shitter.”

Helen walked off to the bathroom. Vincent sat in an easy chair and decided to wait.

*

“NO!” Da’Quarius shouted. “I ain’t doin’ it!”

“Come on,” Rose said. “Jump in. The water’s fine!” Rose had a black one piece swim suit on and waded in the three foot high water of the YMCA’s pool.

“I’m da’ only kid over three here!” Da’Quarius shouted in his bright pink trunks. “Why am I in da baby class.”

“All the other classes were full,” Rose said. “Now jump in this pool! The water’s not even over your head for crying out loud.”

Da’Quarius sat on the edge and let his feet dip in the water. “There’s a reason black kids drown,” he said. “You ever see da water bead off our hair? Water and black kids don’t mix.”

A black woman with her splashing toddler eyed Da’Quarius and Rose cautiously before moving several more feet away. Rose looked embarassed.

“Don’t say things like that,” Rose said. “Get in. I promise you won’t drown. The lifeguard is right over there.”

Da’Quarius sighed and gave in. He slowly lowered himself into the water. It was up to his neck. “Damn!” he exclaimed. “How is dis so cold if we inside? My nuts went back inside me! Dis some bullshit!”

“Swim to me,” Rose said moving back a few feet. Da’Quarius walked over. “No. Swim, Da’Quarius. Lift your feet and kick kick kick.”

“Umma sink!” Da’Quarius shouted. “You’ll be pullin’ my bloated black corpse out da’ filter, biddy.” More mothers and toddlers moved away.

“How are we doing?” the instructor said. He waded over with his silver whistle jingling around his neck. “I see you’re finally in the water. Must be nice.”

“I see you ain’t got a dick in yo mouth,” Da’Quarius said. “Must be upsettin’, huh?”

“Da’Quarius!” Rose said.

The instructor left without another word to Rose or Da’Quarius. He went around helping the other mothers who were moving further and further away.

“Was that necessary?” Rose asked. “He’s just trying to help.”

“Why’d we leave Helen,” Da’Quarius said, eager to change the subject. “How do we know that guy ain’t gonna kill her?”

“Helen could take care of herself,” Rose said. “Besides, it looks like a warm breeze could kill that guy.”

“It weird doe, right?” Da’Quarius asked. “You have any idea who dat is?”

“Not a clue,” Rose said. She stood in the water thinking as Da’Quarius wrapped his arms around himself, cartoonishly shivering.

*

After a painfully uneventful swim lesson (except for the instructor saying “hope to see you next week” to everyone except Rose and Da’Quarius), Rose drove home to where she would hope she’d find out who Helen’s mysterious stranger was. When they arrived, there was a car out front, and Vincent was getting into the passenger seat.

“Hello,” Rose said as she got out of her car. “I hope everything went alright.”

“Not really,” Vincent said. “Can you see if you can talk some sense in to her? I didn’t get anywhere. She spent the bulk of my visit in the bathroom. I left my contact information on a note on your kitchen counter.”

“I can try to talk to her,” Rose said, “but I don’t even know why you’re here.”

“Helen could tell you,” Vincent said. “As much as she chooses. It’s not easy. I’m sorry, but I have to go lie down. I’m exhausted.”

“Goodbye,” Rose said with a feigned smile.

Vincent smiled at her. He turned to Da’Quarius who was standing next to her. He smiled down, but all he got from him was a quick nod.

When Rose and Helen entered their home, Helen was sitting on her chair staring at a spot on the table. She didn’t even look up when Rose and Da’Quarius walked in.

“Helen,” Rose said, sitting next to her wife and putting her hand gently on her knee. “Do you want to talk about it.”

“No,” Helen said. “I’d rather just sit here and forget he ever came by to visit.” Helen reached under the couch cushion and pulled out a bottle of Sambuca. She unscrewed the cap and took a large swig.

“It seemed important,” Rose said. “He was here for so long. I’m sure you’d feel better if you told me.”

Helen sighed. “I love you, Rose,” she said, “but this is between me and him.”

“I love you too, Helen,” Rose said. “When I opted to share my life with you, it was for the good and the bad. I don’t care what happened. I want to be here to help you, no matter what.”

Helen sighed again. “Ok, Rose,” she said. “Vincent is dying of cancer. He wants to make things right before he dies. The doctors are only giving him two weeks at most. Before he goes, he wants to reconcile with my son.”

“Da’Quarius?” Rose asked. “What did he ever do to him?”

“I ain’t never seen dat geezer ’til today!” Da’Quarius said.

“Not you, Da’Quarius,” Helen said. “My son, Paulie.”

Rose stared at Helen’s face not knowing what to say.

“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Shit goin’ down now!”

*

Part 2

*

“What are you talking about?” Rose ask, flabbergasted by Helen’s confession. “Paulie can’t be your son!”

“He can and is!” Helen retorted. “I met Vincent when I was just budding into a teenager. He was a hooligan and took advantage of my innocence. Nine months later, Paulie as born. Etcetera.”

“What do you mean ‘Etcetera?'” Rose asked.

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius added. “I need to know more. What color was his Camaro?”

“Go to your room,” Rose said.

“Hell naw!” Da’Quarius said. “I wanna hear dis!”

“My parents were mortified!” Helen said. “They were traditional Italian parents, so they did what all Italian parents do when their little girl has a baby: pretend it’s theirs. Nearly every Italian family does it!”

“How could you have never told me?” Rose said with tears starting to form. “How could you have never told Paulie?!”

“I got thrown in the slammer when Paulie was just a little boy,” Helen said. “By the time I got out  he was nearly full grown, and our father was dead soon after. How should I have proceeded? It was bad enough his sister just did eight years up in Havenville Pen! He’s supposed to find out that she was really his mother too?!”

“But after all this time!” Rose said. “Why can’t you tell him now?”

Helen sighed. “I guess I’m still holding onto resentment about how Vincent knocked me up and skipped town,” she said. “I’m old, Rose. You’ve always had the kinder heart. Tell me… What should I do?”

Rose sighed. She knew the news would devastate Paulie. He didn’t have the best of relationships with the man he thought was his father. What would go on in his mind when he finds out that his father is actually some old man named Vincent who could be a week away from death. On the other hand, how could Helen not let Vincent ask for forgiveness before he passes away.

Rose sighed and sat down. She told Helen what she thought.

*

“There!” shouted Da’Quarius. “I swam. Now let me outta here!”

“Not yet!” Rose said. “There’s still forty five minutes left of class.”

Da’Quarius looked around at all the mothers holding their toddlers as they kicked and splashed in the water. “You know doze kids be pissin’ all up in dis pool, right?” he asked. “Let’s go. I wanna find out about Helen and Paulie.”

“Mind your own business and swim from there to me,” Rose said. Da’Quarius was claiming to be swimming, but he was still holding the edge of the pool.

“Hell naw,” Da’Quarius said. “You gonna hold my belly and let me kick da water? I ain’t going out like dat. Umma stay here!”

“How are you two doing?” the instructor said crouching on the edge of the pool. “Are you still too frightened to swim to your mommy?”

“Come at me wit dat shit again, and umma hold yo head unda da water until the bubbles stop, bitch.”

“Da’Quarius!” Rose said. “I’m so sorry!”

“It’s quite alright,” the instructor said. “I’m used to this kind of thing from the toddlers that can’t swim.”

“Oh, you gonna try reverse psychology?!” Da’Quarius said. “Ya know damn well black kids an’ water don’t mix!”

A black toddler, complete with a mini-afro, swam past Da’Quarius laughing swimming on his own. His mother trailed behind him yelling, “Good boy! Who’s mommy’s little swimmer?”

Da’Quarius looked from the toddler to Rose to the instructor. “I betchu anything dat kid got a white daddy.”

*

“What’s so special that you had to meet me like this?” Paulie asked as he sat across from his older sister, Helen. She had asked him to meet him on the diner down on Humprey Street.

“I want you to meet someone,” Helen said. “Well, Rose wanted you to meet him, but she’s always the level-headed one of the two of us.”

“I won’t argue that,” Paulie said with a snort of laughter. “Who are we meeting?”

“He’ll be here in a moment,” Helen said. “I just wanted to let you know something before he came.”

“What?” Paulie said when Helen didn’t speak right away.

“You’ve always been a good little brother,” Helen said.

“And you’ve been a good big sis,” Paulie said. “What the hell is this about? You’re not sick, are ya?”

“No,” Helen said, “but he is.”

An old man Paulie recognized sat in the the booth with them. He choose the seat next to Helen so he can look at Pauile. “You’re that old guy from the other night at my Pizzeria!” Paulie said. “What the hell is going on here?!”

“Calm down,” Helen said. “I want you to meet Vincent Annulziato.” Helen closed her eyes for a moment and sighed deeply. “Your father.”

“My what?!” Paulie shouted causing the others in the diner to turn. “My father’s dead!”

“Pop wasn’t your father,” Helen replied. “Vincent is.”

“Hello, Paul,” Vincent said smiling. “It’s true. I’m your father.”

“I can’t believe it!” Paulie said. “Do I have any brothers or sisters I don’t know about? Nieces and nephews?”

“You have four brothers and two sisters,” Vincent said. “And sixteen assorted nieces and nephews. It gets hard to count them up when you’re as old as me.”

“Why now?” Paulie asked. “Why wait until now?”

“I’m dying,” Vincent said. “I don’t have much longer now. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not being in your life. Your mother and I thought it best if we let it be.”

“My mother?” Paulie said. “No wonder Pop hated me! My mother had an affair and out I came, huh? I never knew mom had it in her! Ha ha. Dad must’ve had a coronary!”

“Paulie,” Helen said with a sigh. “I’m your mother.”

“What?” Paulie asked. “You’re my what?”

“Mother,” Helen said. “I gave you up to my parents as a baby. They insisted on it. Nobody ever knew otherwise. I lived with a cousin in New York State until you were born. Once you were here, my parents told everyone you were theirs.”

“How could you?” Paulie asked getting up. “You let me believe we were brother and sister all these years?”

“Calm down, Paulie,” Vincent said.

“Don’t you tell me to calm down!” Paulie said. “You’ve been my father for three minutes. Don’t you start with me!”

“Don’t do this, Paulie,” Helen said with a tear falling down her cheek.

“I’m outta here!” Paulie said. He went out of diner door and out into the New Haven sunshine as the rest of the customers watched.

“He’ll come around,” Vincent said. “You’ll see.”

Helen turned to look into Vincent’s face with tears in her eyes. “If you don’t get lost right now, you’re not going to have to worry about the cancer finishing you off,” she said.

*

“So he didn’t take it well?” Rose asked as she sat with Helen in their kitchen, having dinner with their adopted son, Da’Quarius.

“Rightfully so,” Helen said. “I kept this secret from him for sixty plus years. Minus those eight I was in prison since the little bastard never visited me!”

“For what it’s worth; I forgive you for not telling me,” Rose said.

“Thanks, Rose,” Helen said, “but you have to.”

“I just hope Paulie comes around,” Rose said. “It would be a shame if he missed out on spending time with his real father. This is his last chance.”

“And my father was such a shit to Paulie,” Helen said. “He was so cold to him since he wasn’t his real son. It’s one of the reasons he was written out of the will.”

“What was the other reason?” Rose asked.

Helen eyed Rose and passed a quick glance toward Da’Quarius.

“Da’ jungle fever?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Da’Quarius!” Rose scolded.

“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “He told me about it months back. It’s cool. I know da’ old ginnies ’round here are racist as fuck.”

“It’s true,” Helen said with a shrug.

*

Once Rose and Helen were busy watching Wheel of Fortune (Helen was shouting out ridiculous answers at the TV since she misplaced her glasses and couldn’t read the entire clue), Da’Quaruis snuck out the back door.

“Gorilla’s in the mist!” Helen screamed at the TV.

“Sour Cream and Onion!” the contestant called before the audience cheered in delight.

“Goddammit!” Helen called out as Da’Quarius swept through the door and into the cool evening air.

Da’Quarius walked the two blocks down and three blocks over to Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. He wasn’t surprised to find Paulie sitting at the counter, a surly look on his face.

“Hey, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward him.

“Hey, kid,” Paulie said. “What are you doing here on a school night?”

“Umma talk some sense into yo’ dumb ass,” Da’Quarius replied.

“Don’t you come in here and tell me-”

“I don’t even know who my dad is!” Da’Quarius interrupted. “He could be in da NFL, NBA… Who knows?! You got a chance to see yo’ dad, even if it’s just one more time.”

Paulie sighed and looked down the piece of paper he was holding. It was the number of Vincent Annulziato. “You’re right, kid,” he said. “I hate to admit that a little stunad like you could talk some sense into me, but you’re right.”

“An’ forgive Helen,” Da’Quarius continued. “It ain’t her fault she got knocked up when she was fifteen. Happens all da’ time in da hood.”

“I was a little hard on her,” Paulie said. “I could make it up to her, though. She never stays mad at me too long.”

“You’e alright,” Da’Quarius said. “You know what else?”

“What?” Paulie asked.

“You know dis makes us brothers, right?”

“Get the hell outta here with that!” Paulie yelled, smiling. “I got a call to make.”

Da’Quarius stayed as Paulie dialed the number. He waited as Paulie talked and scribbled some notes on the opposite side of the paper. When Paulie was done, he hung up the phone and looked at Da’Quarius. “I guess that’s that,” he said.

“What happened?” Da’Quarius asked. “You guys goin’ on a date?”

“No,” Paulie said without any hint of a smile. “Vincent died this afternoon.”

*

Paulie and Helen sat in the back of the church as the priest made his long speeches about how they should be celebrating the life of Vincent Annulziato and the Kingdom of Heaven and everlasting life. Paulie looked around, trying to see if there were any resemblance to Vincent’s other family, perhaps someone with his nose or ears.

When the priest was finally done with his prayers, he invited anyone who wanted to come to the altar to speak of Vincent. For too long, the church was silent. Finally, Paulie stood.

“Where the holy hell do you think you’re going?” Helen asked in a hushed voice that carried through the church.

“This ain’t right,” Paulie said. “Someone has to say something about the man!”

Paulie marched down the middle of the church to the podium to strange looks from Vincent’s sons, daughters, grandchildren, and other relations and friends. When he got to the podium, there was a lot of murmurs of whispers echoing through the church.

“Ten minutes,” Paulie said, silencing the crowd. “My entire relationship with Vincent lasted ten minutes. You people knew him your entire lives, and you can’t think of a couple nice things to say about him? How he pushed you on the swing when you were young. How he brought you a pizza when you bought your first house. How he bounced his grandchild on his knee.

“I didn’t say two words at the funeral of the man I thought was my father, but I’ll be damned if I lose that chance twice. All Vincent wanted from me was for me to hear him out and accept his apology for not being there. I was short fused and rude; a complete asshole. By the time someone talked some sense into my thick skull, it was too late. For what it’s worth, I accept his apology on his family’s behalf.

“Since I never knew Vincent, my real father, I would greatly appreciate it if one of you stunads would get up here and tell me a thing or two about him.

“Thank you.”

Paulie walked back to his seat to a stunned silence. He sat next to Helen who had an odd look of glee on her face. A young girl got up next. She walked to the podium and told a tearful story of how her grandfather patched up her skinned knee when she was eleven and fell off her bike.

“I’m proud of you, Paulie,” Helen said.

“It needed to be said,” Paulie said. “Thats all.”

“You grew up to be a good man after all,” Helen said, squeezing Paulie’s arm. “That stunad that knocked me up with you would be proud.”

“Come on,” Paulie said. “Don’t get all mothery on me now. Do I gotta start calling you ‘ma?'”

“You better not!” Snapped Helen. “I’m used to being your big sister. Why mess that up now?”

“Ok, sis,” Paulie said, smiling. “You got it.

*

“You’re doing it!” Rose shouted. “You’re doing it!”

“Hell yeah!” Da’Quarius yelled as he doggy paddled a circle around Rose in the YMCA pool. “Mo’ fuckin’ afro-baby ain’t got shit on me!”

“I’m so proud of you!” Rose said. “Now you’ll be safe this summer!”

“Too bad we don’t got a pool,” Da’Quarius said.

“Oh my God!” the lifeguard yelled, running down the edge of the pool. He jumped in and pulled someone out. He dragged the black child that had been training out of the pool and started giving him mouth to mouth.

“Oh dear,” Rose said with her hand to her mouth. “What happened?”

“I guess afro-baby wasn’t all dat great a swimmer,” Da’Quarius replied.

The child’s mother cried as he coughed the water up and wailed.

“I told you,” Da’Quarius said, swimming away from Rose. “Black kids an’ water don’t mix. Umma get out.”

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