A date which will live in infamy…

“All art is life but from an unexpected perspective.”  – Tom Avitabile 

Okay, so what did I mean by that? The need for art in our lives gives us perspective on our lives. Some call this an artist’s eye. It’s also the writer’s eye, ear, and sensibility. While book coaching, I am often compelled to suggest or force a perspective on my clients to elevate their craft to a level of art. And it is in that new perspective, I have seen them make magic happen, with more colors, more texture, tones, and motifs. So, look for a unique point of view. How does it look from over here? From above or across the street?

The best part for writers is finding the perfect word to fit their unique perspective. I learned this from President Franklin Roosevelt. On the worst day of his presidency, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, he had to speak before Congress. In preparation and right before his declaration of war to Congress, he suddenly saw the whole thing from a different perspective, so he edited the line, “December seventh, 1941, a date that will live in world history, the United States of America….” He grabbed his pen, crossed out world history, and scribbled in the word ‘infamy.’ That changed the perspective forever! Below is his actual speech from the Archives.

President Franklin Roosevelt's Message to Congress Pearl Harbor

Labor Day- My family holiday

I grew up the son of a Teamster. My Mom and I got two checks. One, we stood in line for down at 250 Church Street at the Welfare Office. The other came in the mail from the Union. My dad’s union benefits were our lifeblood after he died. I was brought up to believe in “Unions and the Brotherhood.” The actual name was the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. We were a ‘local 237’ family. The checks were written to Antonio Avitabile, but the guys at work and around the neighborhood, and in my family called him “Chippo.”

On the second night of my Dad’s wake, about 25 men showed up. They were all mostly Italian and Puerto Rican, short beefy guys with big mitts. They were all in suits and ties. Some were obviously uncomfortable in these rarely worn formal clothes. After paying their respects at the coffin, they approached my Mom and I, who were sitting up front. I don’t know what they said to my mom, but to me they each individually said the same thing, almost as if they had all gotten together to practice it outside before they came in. For the most part it was similar to, “Yer Fadda, was a great man. If it weren’t fer him, I’d of been a bum.”

I was grateful for their paying of respect but totally lost as to what they were talking about. My dad was a truck driver. He drove a stone truck for a Pizatello Stone Works in the Bronx. So I walked up to my uncle Jimmy, who also worked in construction. I asked him what they were talking about.

He led me outside the funeral home into the Bronx night. Then he said the words that you never want to hear at your dad’s funeral; “Your Father didn’t want you to know this while he was alive…”

My heart sank; I steeled myself for what was to come.

Flashback 1960: I was 6 or 7. My dad would come home from work to our 5th floor walk up tenement. He’d be cut, his jacket ripped and splattered with blood. He had been in a fight. For my young cartoon-like understanding of the world, he expressed his condition as the result of having “squashed a bug”. That was code language between my father and me for his squashing a Volkswagen Beetle with his huge truck. He hated those German cars (he was a WWII veteran). And to my Bugs Bunny schooled view of the world, I’d imagine he flattened the Beetle and the guy who drove it came out of it all flat with his arms flailing screaming like Popeye, “Hey… Whad’ya doin? Ya big Galloop!” Then I imagined my dad would jump down from his truck and they’d go at it. The fight would look like a giant fur ball with fist, dirt and # signs flying as they rolled around. And I’d always ask, “Did you beat ‘em up dad?” And he’d say, “Yeah, I beat him up.”

Well, that night of my dad’s wake, Uncle Jimmy brought that cartoon episode into stark living color, in live action, with all the grit, dirt and blood. He told me that my dad was a union organizer. In those days they go onto a jobsite and try to organize the workers into a union. Of course the management was wholly against this, and they had hired goons who would come down and “break heads” with bats, bottles, bricks, whatever was handy. My dad’s injuries and ripped clothes were the result of battling for, and winning these men a living wage. In fact, the men who came to his funeral that night, were immigrant workers, who were forced to work for 5 dollars a week. Because of the union and guys like my dad, they were able to make a real income. They were able to provide for their families. Many of them were able to send their kids to college and as a result many doctors, lawyers and teachers were created by that battle in trenches of the American labor movement. A noble fight in which my dad, Antonio (Anthony) “Chippo” Avitabile was a soldier, and on that night, the night of his wake, an honored soldier.

Editors note: To top it off, Tom attended and was student council president of Samuel Gompers High in the Bronx. Named after the labor leader and co-founder of the AFofL-CIO

Pirates: The Sequel- Send in the Marines!

I’m pregnant.

I’m in the last trimester of the birthing of The God Particle. And even though this is not a biological condition, I still can’t see my toes.

I suppose that’s better addressed by diet…

The principle opening action and much of the theme of one of the plots of the book concerns Somali pirates who have gone high tech. (It’s only fiction… ‘til it happens.) A large part of the storyline is focused on defining and then effectively combating this new piracy.

Pirates were the biggest problem the world faced two hundred years ago. Thomas Jefferson, in his 1801 State of the Union speech, assured America that everything was fine, that we were at peace everywhere in the world — save the Barbary Coast.

He was referring to the fact that the Barbary Coast pirates, who had, up until 1801, been happy to receive a stipend of $25,000 a year to NOT board and plunder American flagged ships, had upped the ante. They had gone high tech, too — better boats, faster boats, and they felt that, because they could flex more of a threat, that the price for protection against that threat should also go up.

Jefferson was having none of it. So, he calmly told the American people in the State of the Union address that the unrealistic demands of the pirates had left him but one answer. He create the Marines, he put them on boats, and said, “Go kill those guys.”

…to the shores of Tripoli

It’s embedded in the Marine Corp hymn, but it’s also testimony to the fact that one of the greatest fighting forces on earth, that played a huge role in defeating the Empire of Japan, and has been a top echelon military fighting force, had its birth in the eradication of pirates.

I could use a few Marines to help me find the a-hole who’s figured out how to pirate my book, and I would imagine, the work of even bigger authors. ‘

Semper Fi!