OK...here's the next column for the LIA. I'm going to stop counting them down now and just tell you that yes, this piece appeared in print in a real paper that people read.
There’s a brown, webbed folding chair that sits at the head of a driveway down on Park Street in south Patchogue. This particular chair use to belong to Val DeCarlo, a long time resident of Patchogue and a retired English teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District. The DeCarlo’s lived in that house for as long as I can remember and moved to Louisiana last year to be closer to their daughter. It’s odd to see that chair still sitting there and I wonder if the new owners have left it on purpose, a shrine to one of the more fascinating people who has ever walked through my life.
It was not easy to get an A or even a B on a paper written for Val’s class, and yet, I somehow managed too, a miraculous feat for someone who would often cut math in order to sit in the library and write those papers the day they were due. (I do my best work under pressure.) I doubt there were many who ever showed up without their work done, as he was not a teacher whose bad side you ever wanted to experience. And, as intimidating as he was, his classes were always full because in spite of the fear, you couldn’t help wanting to be there. I read my first R rated book, “The Godfather,” in his Ethnic Lit class. He had the best stories to tell and to this day, I still wonder if he really lived them.
Over the course of my adult life Val would drive by the house I use to live in and he would wave or stop to briefly to say hello. Throughout those years I would stop once or twice a summer to talk with him as he sat in his driveway. He would pull out a spare folding chair from the garage and we would sit and have a visit, which in actuality was really more like a very intense chat.
I use to think of Val on those summer nights when my son and his friends would haul all the lawn chairs from our yard and place them at the head of the driveway, in front of our pock-marked metal garage door. There they would sit and visit with all their other friends who would pass by. I started referring to them as The Italian Patio Boys, my son being half Italian, and the whole “sitting around in the driveway, watching the world pass by,” becoming their patio. Val was the first Italian Patio Boy and this past summer was the first that I did not sit on a folding chair in his driveway at least once and visit.
There are no more Italian Patio Boys sitting in my old driveway anymore. They are all grown up and the driveway no longer belongs to me. It now has weeds growing up through the seams in the concrete and exists in a yard whose new owner gives little care or thought about it. And that is a story for another time.
On my last driveway visit with Val and his family, we talked about my “getting a new life” experience. In his old fashioned way, he assured me that I would soon attract a rich guy to take care of me, the thought of which made me laugh. The whole point I explained to him, was to prove that I could take care of myself, yet I’m not sure that I convinced him.
Val, his wife Ronnie and son Peter are people I will always remember with great fondness. I miss the driveway visits and yet, it makes me very happy to see that his chair is still there. I can still imagine him walking out to the driveway and settling down in it, watching the world go by and waiting for someone to stop and visit. And although he no longer lives here, he will always exist in my memories in a larger than life kind of way. Life changes, people move on and yet we still have the ability to keep those memories alive within ourselves. So, to whoever owns Val’s house now, thanks for keeping his chair there, allowing me to pass by and in my minds eye, still see him sitting there, reminding me not only of him, but also of my other Italian Patio Boys and the driveway they use to sit in.