You Can't Take Me Anywhere

I come from a long, proud line of sturdy Italian peasants on my father's side.  On my mother's side, I come from a long line of equally proud and sturdy Northern European peasants, with a few Jews mixed in to make it interesting.  Unless there was some inter-class hanky-panky going on that we don't know about, I don't have a single blue blood among my ancestors.

That's fine with me.

You can take the girl out of the beer and pretzels crowd, but you can't take the beer and pretzels crowd out of the girl.  You can educate me, send me all over the world and pound good manners into me until my brain explodes.  I'm still going to feel the most at home with people who don't mind if I talk loud or get barbecue sauce on my tee shirt or take a second helping of linguine, and who understand when I tell them that my favorite comedian is Jeff Foxworthy and that Pat Cooper's Italian Wedding routine is drop-dead hilarious.

I have also been known to burst into one of my extensive repertoire of Neapolitan songs while waiting for a table at an Italian restaurant.  This embarrasses my dinner companions, but at least it isn't boring.

Then there is the financial aspect.  Nobody in my family has ever been able to make a lot of money, and I have inherited the family curse.  I have more money now than ever before, but that just means that I am no longer living hand to mouth and panicking when a paycheck is late.  Still, my income puts me smack into the lower middle class.

Girl in Middle:  "If I say the word I'm thinking, Mom will lock me in the closet."
My mother and her mother, my Grandma, were what you might call genteel working class.  They had fine manners, they never used strong language and they always acted like ladies.  They tried to teach me to be the same, with varying degrees of success.  In fact, there was a general campaign in those days to cram gentility into reluctant kids:

"Don't chew with your mouth open."

"Don't you use that language, young man, or I'll wash your mouth out with soap!"

"Say 'Please' or you don't get anything."

"Get up and give your seat to that old lady.  NOW!"

Remember this one?

"Kathy, Kathy, strong and able,
Get your elbows off the table.
This is not a horse's stall;
This is called a dining hall."

On the other hand, my family thought it was cute and funny when my sister entertained us at the dinner table with her ability to burp on command.  Fortunately, she grew out of that before we all got tired of it and told her to find some other talent to perfect.[1]

As for me, I have ended up a strange combination of highbrow and redneck.  I have read both "Pride and Prejudice" and "Valley of the Dolls."  I love the music of Beethoven and the music of Billy Joel and Hank Williams, whose music was coming out of the radio when I was growing up.  I will never, ever put a talking fish plaque on the wall of my apartment, but I find them amusing in a store.  From years of hanging around with other performers, I have learned to spice my language with a few four-letter words now and then (which would have embarrassed my mother and given my grandmother a heart attack if they had ever heard me say those words), but I still hesitate when I’m about to use the “F” word.  I wear jeans to church, along with half the rest of the congregation, but not when I’m in front of the congregation, singing.

I will give a seat on the subway to a pregnant woman ...

Well, I guess some of my Mom's training paid off.

I have just published a new book called "Opera for People Who Don't Like it."  It is published by Humor Outcasts Press, and is available on  It is a funny look at the world of opera, from the perspective of someone who has spent a few decades singing it.

[1] My father could wind spaghetti around his fork just by lifting it up in the air and turning it.  He learned that from his Italian parents, obviously.  I never did get the hang of that, although I tried.  I can eat with chopsticks, though, if there is no silverware around and I’m really starving.


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