It was another sultry summer morning on Mazeau Street – just 10am, but already hot and humid. I was 5 going on 6, and even I knew this was nuts. My mom and Aunt Stella both were talking about how it’s gonna get even hotter today, and that it’s about time to buy an air conditioner.
My grandfather was out doing grandpa things, so my father had to catch the wrath of both ladies demanding air conditioning. He agreed, and said while he was out, he’d look into it. I don’t think he really wanted to go out, but it was better than listing to the complaints from these two angry Italian women.
I walked down the stairs with him, and to the front gate. He turned to me and said, “Don’t do a lot of running today. It’s too hot, okay? And don’t aggravate mommy and Aunt Stella, they’re not in a good mood, okay?” I nodded and responded, “Okay.” I watched him walk down to Grand Avenue and turn the corner. I put my hand on the iron gate, and man, was it hot! Just as I felt the heat, I had a thought. I ran inside yelling, “Can I go play in the lot?” My mom said, “Are you running?” I said, “No. So can I?” She said, “Fine, but only for a little while” because it was too hot. I grabbed my magnifying glass and mitt and walked ‘til I was out of sight, then ran to the lot.
The lot was magical. It was about 600 square feet of open space. It was basically behind all the houses that surrounded it. It had a few junked cars and cardboard boxes with all sorts of things inside that people threw out. It was the best place to play baseball. But most of all, it had weeds, lots of tall weeds, with tons of grasshoppers, with some that could fly. But it was too hot to outsmart and catch them, and nobody was there to play with, so I started the walk back home. I left the lot and noticed all sorts of things to burn with my magnifier. There were cigarette butts, cigar ends, and ice cream sticks. I had fun trying to burn my name into the sticks, but it was hot, and there was still no sign of life, so I went back home, only to hear both women still complaining about the heat, while now wearing white handkerchiefs around their necks, and looking red, and very angry.
I’m my father’s son, and I guess instinctively knew to get out of there and get out of their way. I usually would walk through the kitchen, and past Aunt Stella to the backyard, but this time I took the long way around.
The back yard was also a great playground. I could crawl under the terrace, and knock down the calcium icicle-looking things that hung down, or climb around the brick BBQ with the 7-foot chimney, or play inside the 3-car garage in the huge sand pile behind grandpa’s truck that was used in his masonry business. I chose the sand pile in the garage. I wasn’t there long, when Aunt Stella came outside to pick some tomatoes and peppers. She was yelling up to my mom about how hot it was, and how she just can’t believe it. I stayed quiet and out of sight. I was learning, and my dad would be proud.
Something had to be done to stop the heat, so that these gals wouldn’t be on the warpath. I remembered that grandpa would hose down the terrace and concrete. He said it cooled things down, and it was good for the cement.
I decided to take things into my own hands, since I was the only man in the house. I marched up to the terrace where the hose was, turned on the water, climbed to the top, and started to water down the terrace. I heard the high-pitched voice of Aunt Stella yelling, “What are you doing?” I said, “Cooling things down, like grandpa.” She was so hot, and said, “Okay.”
After hosing down the terrace, I started to hose down the cement. Grandpa had a special tip that made the water come out either as a soft spray or like a rocket. I turned it to rocket mode, and could hit the BBQ that was way over there, and both the single car garage, and the big one as well. I could even shoot over the wall into our neighbor Robert’s yard. Man, oh man, this was great, and I was doing a service as well.
I had everything pretty well wet, and impressed with my marksmanship, when the high pitch broke my concentration, “Ok, that’s enough, stop.” I replied in a firm voice, “NO! I’m not done yet.” Aunt Stella shouted back, “Don’t you talk to me like that!” and almost like a synchronized swimmer, my mom jumped in from the opened window upstairs. “Paulie! You stop right now, and listen to your aunt.” I held my ground and said, “NO! I’ll stop when I’m done.” The next minute, she was downstairs, and at the screen door. She said, “Don’t make me come out there!” I replied, “Ya do, and I’ll let you have it!”
OMG, what did I just do? It must have been the heat, and the summer madness. She went for the door handle, and before I could control myself. I let her have it. The water stopped her dead in her tracks. She screamed, “Oh! Oh! Oh!!” while her arms were waving up and down. She was soaked, and backed away while the rocket water went passed her, and hit Aunt Stella’s impeccable, and expensive hairdo. Both gals ran into the bathroom, and I turned the hose on the open window. The screams were like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and snapped me out of it. I dropped the hose and ran to the lot, thinking, “Oh man, I’m in trouble.” While I was there, I caught some grasshoppers to get my mind off of it. Time went by and I went home. I got to the front door and heard the high pitch yelling, “Here he comes!”
Mom went to grab me, but I was always too fast for her. I ducked, and ran upstairs to find my father sitting at the kitchen table. My heart was pounding, and mom was running up the stairs. I had no place to go but behind dad’s chair and crouch down. Once again, dad came through calming mom down, saying he’ll deal with me, while Aunt Stella sounded like the blitzkrieg sirens in London. He pulled me up onto his lap, and asked what happened. I told my story, and said I was sorry. He explained the damage I could have done, and that I was lucky grandpa wasn’t there. We sat and read the funnies, and nothing more was said, or done.
I learned 15 years later, that he and Aunt Stella were having a sibling argument, and that’s why I got a pass for that incident. However, Aunt Stella was like an elephant, she took a long while to forget. This stayed with me my whole life, that a miracle caused me to get away with it, and to think before I act, and not push my luck in the future.
Paul DeFalco grew up in Maspeth.