A Tidemill Tale

Antebellum romantic old soul that I am (or rather can be), I don’t find it alarming that I chime out ‘A Bronx Tale’ whenever the question: “What’s your favorite movie?” is asked. I often get looks of surprise and sometimes approval. I mean, it IS De Niro after all. Who in their right mind would refute the work of one of the masters?

The storyline of the film, is set in the 60’s and takes place in the Bronx, NY during a time when the world was (once again) socially and racially turbulent.

Calogero (Lillo Brancato) gets taken under the wing of neighborhood mobster Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Sonny initiates the boy into the ways of thug life, in direct conflict with his straight-and-narrow bus driver father (Robert De Niro). But when Calogero falls for his African-American classmate, Jane (Taral Hicks), the repercussions threaten the entire neighborhood.

Not even five minutes into the film and I’m hooked! Not for the story line and not because it’s De Niro , but because it’s curated to perfection! I am a sucker for a period piece that has been executed the right way and makes you feel like you have transported back in time. The styling of this movie is so amazingly culturally accurate, that I actually feel like I’m actually in THE Little Italy of the Bronx. An area that legitimately still exists, thrives and struggles through gentrification in New York to this day.

This movie had me at “fuggid-about-it!” And I told myself that I loved it for all the reason’s that I just explained, until I one day suddenly realized…that I too had my own Calogero! His name was Raffaele Luigi (changed to protect the innocent).

Growing up “Black” in Tidewater, Virginia, I lived in a post segregated neighborhood filled with military families, black and other, striving for better lives and futures for their children. The Vietnam war had ended and government and new laws were making inclusion and diversity important towards a peaceful co-existence for all. My diverse neighbors in the cull de sac were Polish and German and there were a good mix of African Americans strongly sprinkled throughout the entire subdivision that we proudly called “The Mill”. My family moved there when I was young. My brother and I would jump the fence in our back yard and walk to school, which was through the playground that met us as soon as we were over the fence. We played with everyone. Together, as children. There were neighborhood baseball games, holiday football tournaments, kick ball, four square, and summer nights filled with hide and seek and kick theWhere I come from, sports is a huge focus. In fact, we seem to grow star athletes from my area considering we boast the likes of Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning and Michael Vick, to name a few. Suffice to say that sports influence and training starts very young. Which brings me to my neighborhood’s basketball courts at the playground. During the spring and summer, as these were the days of playing outside, the courts would stay filled with boys creating teams, and waiting on their “next” to have the chance to play ball and hopefully be a playground baller hero for a day. Everybody would be there, but once I got a little older, my mom got strict on the hanging out rules. If I wasn’t playing basketball then there was no need for me to be up at the courts hanging around a bunch of boys. And so my time there was limited.

One day, out of nowhere my doorbell rang. To my surprise, it was Raffaelle (we called him Raffi)! I was puzzled. Raffi was Italian and the boy could play some ball! I remember hearing a coach say that Raffi had more heart and hustle than any of the players on his team. He had never been to my house before but I knew him from school and around the neighborhood and he was nice, so I opened the door and we talked for hours on my front stoop. I thought he was cute, but at twelve or thirteen I was awkward and shy and so was Raffi, so I just admired him from afar. He visited a few more times and I was totally clueless to the fact that Raffi was courting me “BMX-Huffy Player Style”! It wasn’t until years later after everyone was good and grown and had graduated into life that I learned from one of our neighborhood friends that Raffi had it bad for me. “Maaaaan….Girl, you have no idea!” our friend Calvin would say. “Raffi would give up his NEXT to go and see you!” “Do you have any idea how serious that is???” Of course I had no idea. Giving up your “Next” according to Calvin, is something that NEVER happens. Apparently, once one has procured the rights of playing the game in question one just doesn’t up and leave and give up his spot on the team to whoever wants to play. It’s simply something that isn’t done. But according to brother Calvin, Raffi did…more than once. And here I was years later, giddy with the cuteness of the gallantry that the gesture possessed.

I was too young to entertain the thought of romance with Raffi. And in my mind at the time, too black. The concept of it all was way over my adolescent head. Somewhat like what Colagero and Jane of ‘A Bronx Tale’ were cautious about taking on, except they actually had the moxie to go for it. Even with the issues of race looming all around them, they managed to smooch amidst a myriad of Molotov cocktails as the race wars ensue. I’m even cheering for them as I type this….especially for Raffi…I mean Colagero. (Oops! Did I say that?)

Presently, during the age of social media, Raffi and I are “friends”. He’s happily married with beautiful children, his parents still live in the neighborhood where we grew up, and I recently have learned through his posts that he felt as though he grew up in the wrong skin. (Like I said, the boy COULD BALL! You would never have been able to say “White Men Can’t Jump” about him.) And now, the pieces of the puzzle all come together. In his mind he was black and I was the object of his desire. In my mind I was too black and subsequently thought that there was no way there could even be a desire. We were kids, and therefore the concept of desire is debatable to begin with. However, two street cars named desire nonetheless, passing each other in this thing called life. It makes me warm inside because it’s such a sweet memory that I had almost forgotten until I saw ‘A Bronx Tale’.