Every day he takes up his position on a bench in front the Madonna
Rectory across the street from Patti and Mikatarian’s Funeral Home.
At age ninety-three with a face like a scaly-bark hickory nut, the lines
are wrinkled with persistence. He still listens for the flow of the Hudson,
breathing the salt air which is no longer there.
He never stops smiling, cheerfully greeting a passing parade of pedestrians.
Scattering dried semolina bread crumbs drawn from his shopping bag,
pigeons gather at his feet in a corridor of morning sunlight.
He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen the story of his life, how he started working
in his father’s Hoboken butcher shop at the age of eight, spreading fresh wood
chips on the wooden floor before the store was opened. Running down the block
he had to pick up loaves of oven fresh ciabatta bread wafting in from Policastro’s
Bakery for his father’s mouth-watering sub concoctions.
He never had one day off until now.
A small conical cigar that smells like dark chocolate is never out of his mouth
as he regales passersby with tales of the famous and infamous among his former customers.
He knew neighbors who were “connected,” who helped give “Frankie”
a boost, and can tell you the cut of prime rib once preferred by Lou Costello.
He knows oodles of gossip, like the story of Dean Martin who couldn’t wait
to get away from his rat pack drinking buddies to go home early and watch
old cowboy movies.
All week long through glazed eyes he struggles over the “American Oggi,”
eager to keep up with Italian news. He’ll offer you a taste of homemade wine
from a shiny silver flask, a vintage he once fermented in his cellar when he first
began bartering it for bushels of Barbera red grapes at the Paterson Farmers Market,
during the Eisenhower years.
Gnarled fingers grip a bag of Bocce balls waiting for a compatriot to challenge
him to a match. Nothing makes him happier than rolling the ball closest
to the “Pallino,” over and over again, a winner in every playoff.
He claims the secret to his longevity is hard work, and he never learned how to worry.
Both his parents lived to one hundred. He plans to do the same.

Milton P. Ehrlich