Frank Sinatra mug shot, New Jersey, 1938. He was charged with carrying on with a married woman.

It’s Only Rock and Roll, But We Like It

What is it about bad boys that make smart women stupid?

We all sat around the table eating homemade braciole, meatballs, sausage and ziti. Sunday dinners were mandatory at our house and they began at around 1 p.m. and lasted through the evening. As soon as the dishes were all put away, Dad would say he was hungry and mom would start taking out the meatballs and bread for sandwiches, or as my dad called them, sangwiches.

I loved Sunday dinners. It was the one day we all gathered to eat, drink and converse. Dad wasn’t one to share too much about his “business” but on Sundays, he was a talker. He recalled a recent night at the Fontainebleau Hotel with Sinatra.

“Frank was in one of his wild moods. Everybody was drinkin’ and there were a few broads in the room. Frank wanted us to trow (dad didn’t pronounce his th’s correctly) all the furniture in the pool. We starting trowin’ furniture off the balcony…one chair, then another, then the glass tables, empty bottles of booze…Frank even wanted us to trow the grand piano off the balcony.”

This followed with hysterical laughter. Dad sounded like a hyena when he laughed.

Sinatra was a rockstar, a bad boy. I loved hearing the stories of Frank’s antics. I would listen and fantasize about the stories I’d read about rockstars who stayed at the Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, also known as “The Riot House.” Like Sinatra, these guys were wild and drunk and they liked to throw hotel furniture into the swimming pool.

As for mom, she wasn’t as excited by Sinatra as she was my father. She loved hearing the stories of her bad boy husband.

And I’m starting to think it runs in our blood.

My mother left her small home town in Ohio at a very young age to head to New York City but not even an engagement to a famous entertainer or a short relationship with a crooner would be enough for her to settle down.
It would take someone like my dad, the ultimate bad boy, the man with arms of steele, the protector, to win her heart and her head.

I’d often wonder how someone so smart and beautiful could be with a big brute like my father.

“Why mom?” I’d ask when my dad was in one of his rants. “Why him? You could have had anyone you wanted.”

She would answer in a dreamy voice, “Your father…You don’t know what he’s like behind closed doors.”

I didn’t get it. To me, he was a big harry ape. In fact, all the Italian men were big hairy apes. They had hair on their backs, their shoulders, their arms and legs. They even had hair on their knuckles. My dad’s brothers, his friends, my cousins…all the same.

And the women who married my father’s brothers were Italian. They were content with staying home raising children and cooking meals and Sunday sauce while their husbands were out doing who knows what.

But my father’s mother, my Nonie, was different. She may have given birth to ape-like men but she oozed upper class. She was beautiful and spoke four languages. And she never let anyone forget where she came from.

“I married below me,” she would say in a broken English accent.

It would take a trip to Italy to help me understand why this woman would move to the United States and have eight children with an Italian man from Sorrento who made a meager living.

As I drove through the gates of the family’s estate, I realized Nonie wasn’t kidding. She had married below her. Her family was comprised of professors and lawyers and barons. And they had money. Old money.

But Nonie would exchange her life of luxury for a life of struggle. Her older sister Luisa fell in love with a musician, a bad boy, and they both followed him to New York City. Nonie, alone and struggling in New York, soon found herself married to my grandfather who we called Poppi.

When I brought up Poppi’s name to her relatives in Italy, they had one word for him: “Bruto!”

The story goes that Poppi convinced my Nonie to marry him by locking her in a room each day. He also threatened to kill her, and himself, if she left him.

Nonie was smart and beautiful. My mother was smart and beautiful. These women could have anyone they wanted but chose to spend their lives with bad boys.

What is it about these types that makes smart and beautiful women go against all rational thinking and end up in these relationships?

I will have to get back to you on that one.

My ex-husband Bryan.

He had a glass of Jack Daniels in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He chain smoked and drank heavily. He stumbled and slurred. He played bass guitar in the house and drove loud hot rods. But he was sexy as hell.

I, the college professor, spent 22 years of my life with a bad boy, a rock musician.