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MONDELLO! / Frank Reardon

"Mondello!" was a name I often heard shouted in my direction. If you don’t know, he was the chubby kid from the TV show, 'Leave It to Beaver.’ Yeah, that's the nickname my stepfather, Michael, gave me. I hated it. I loathed it with every fiber of my being. He'd yell it when it was time to complete another bullshit free labor project that he signed me up for. He’d yell it if he was dropping me off at the store and I needed to “get my ass in the truck.” I’d try to get a ride home, or ask him to wait, but he’d tilt back a beer in the front seat of his pickup, lean out the window, and smile at me and leave. I didn’t even have to ask; his black eyebrows hanging over his jagged smile told me everything I needed to know. I was walking back home.

It didn't matter what time of year it was either. If there was a blizzard, I’d have to shovel the wet New England snow every twenty minutes, so it didn't pile up too high and become heavy. Pouring rain, “lug the fucking wood down the stairs," he'd shout with a vodka in one hand, and a hammer in the other. It was all about hammering one more nail into the deck he had been building before the lightning arrived. "Hammer faster, Mondello!" And I hammered faster but the nail never moved. Fuck, I was ten. "Go make me a drink, Mondello!" I was a master bartender for the town drunks by the time I was in fifth grade.

Sundays in the fall were days of rest, my favorite day. Before my mother drove me back to my father's house at six or seven, Michael took me over to his friends across the street, a construction contractor and forever nose picker, Dennis Frasca. Dennis was a tall, stout, and big-mouthed Italian with a sexy wife. I didn't know what sexy was, but she stirred up something fierce inside of my grade school body that no other woman was able to do before. I both loved the feeling and hated it. I was awkward and often shy to the point of hurting. I didn’t have many friends and was labeled “bad stock,” by the guidance counselors in school. Truth be told, I started going over there not for the games, but so I could sneak a peek at her big ass. Something about the sway of her hips made me run all over myself.

Dennis had three thick square television sets hanging around his office. Each television played a football game from a different network (this was long before the days of the NFL Ticket and streaming services.) One TV played the lowly 1980's Pats that no one wanted to watch, and the other two played the Browns, Raiders, or the Giants, whatever the network was playing for their game of the week. Those were the games Dennis and Michael bet on. They both constantly made phone calls. One enormous bet before the game, also during the games they'd make smaller bets. They’d bet on who would score the next touchdown, or get the next sack, or the next forty-yard reception. Not only was I free labor, but I was also learning how to gamble on sports while other kids roller-skated and went to church.

I learned the meanings behind: push; vigorish; double down; action; bookie; across the board; point spread; backdoor cover; dime; even money; handle; lock; line; parlay.

I also learned the game of football inside and out just by listening to a couple of Sunday afternoon drunks. Their breath stunk of vodka, beer, cigarettes, cheese and crackers with every word they tossed at the TV. They’d shout, “fourth and goal!” and other things like, “booth feet were in!” I’d also hear them insulting every single referee, coach, and player on the television set. “Good damn, mother fucking asshole!” “Go shit in a hat!” or my personal favorite, “go suck a dick through a tennis racket!” What?

It's not like they took me out on a field and tossed a pigskin around with me, nope, I was taught the game by two alcoholics that didn’t know how to show love without six-hundred different cuss words tossed out before the word ‘love’ was ever uttered, if it ever was at all. They were men held together by glue; split-knuckles; insecurity; tape; the pages of Playboy; and cheap aftershave. They were the emotional equivalent of the ice cubes melting in their Vodka tonics, and truth be told, I loved it! I swam and cooled off inside every insult uttered after every play on the field. I warmed up inside the gambling lingo they let rip like jazz riffs into the telephone. The words were a magic drifting cloud I floated away on. Words of crass rusted steel wrapped in lingerie models and baseball card chewing gum. And I’d drift, and drift, until…

“Mondello, get me some fucking ice and move it this time!”

I’d go to school and try to talk about the games that were played over the weekend. No one ever wanted to talk about them. They discussed the latest “Miami Vice” episode; Disney movies; Alf; and karate classes in expensive dojos. I tried to tell them about the push in The Eagles Vs Cowboys game, and they ignored me. I tried to tell them about the juice Michael accumulated because of The Steelers Vs Dolphins game, but they only cared about the ‘Ghost Busters.’ It’s when I realized my life was not like their lives. They didn’t talk about their drunk parents. They didn’t mention a life pushing a lawnmower. They didn’t talk about hammering nails in a downpour. Everything came easy to them. I was, in fact, not only Mondello at my mom and stepdad’s house, but I was a fucking Mondello in school.

Today, I still let those gambling words run through my head. Not only did they teach me NFL gambling, but also boxing, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Whenever I watch sports, I watch it with a gambler’s mind. I can’t help it. Over the years I stayed away from making bets myself, because sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down. It’s not really for the enjoyment of the game. It’s the rush, much like that first line of cocaine that I experienced in the mid-nineties, you are always chasing a high. If I’m being honest, it’s like they enjoyed losing because when they won next time around it made it all the sweeter. They were elated, true underdogs overcoming their subpar lives. And when that thrill hit them with a tornado of adrenaline, due to a field goal in the final seconds of a game, they were more than willing to keep me on as their apprentice.

I still am. I never left the room.


FRANK REARDON was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Charlotte, NC. Frank has published short stories and poetry in many reviews, journals and online zines. His first poetry collection, Interstate Chokehold, was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second poetry collection Nirvana Haymaker in 2012. His third poetry collection Blood Music was published by Punk Hostage Press in 2013. In 2014 Reardon published a chapbook with Dog On A Chain Press titled The Broken Halo Blues. Frank is currently working on a column for Hobart, more short fiction, and a short story collection.

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