Friday June 18, 2010

GREAT BARRINGTON

Hey, it's Father's Day this weekend. Be nice to your dads, OK?

I don't really feel like cranking out some syrupy story about the Old Man. Take my word for it, he's a good dude.

I will tell you, though, about when he used to take me with him when he played cards with his buddies. I was about eight or nine.

That is when my family lived in Adams. My father's people were all from North Adams, though. So he'd take me with him to Ferris' Barber Shop and we'd both get our hair cut by Lou Ferris.

The place closed at 8 or so. So we'd drive up and get there at about 7:45 p.m. There would be a bunch of my dad's buddies there when we got to the shop.

After Lou cut our hair, all the guys would retire to the back room and play cards. Poker, I think. My father told me to stay in the front room, and suggested I look at the magazines. That was pretty much OK with me.

The guys all liked me. Some couldn't remember my real name, so they all called me "Little Lapa." My father, used to smoke La Polena cigars, as a youth. So he was called "Lapa" by the other guys, most of whom grew up with him in North Adams.

Now before I get any letters from folks decrying my delinquency, let me explain that my father would only play for an hour or so, and we'd come home. Although, I have to admit, to make the story sound better, I recall telling people when I was younger that we'd stay till midnight or 1 a.m. Didn't happen.

Anyway, I don't know how long the other guys stayed. Probably later than 9 p.m. But my father was always pretty good about getting me home early.

There was probably a reason for this. I was a nervous little kid. Although I could sit on one of the chairs in the front room for a while, sooner or later, I'd go into the back room just to see what was going on.

*

I don't actually recall this, but one of my dad's friends, Aldo "Chili" Celana, told me that I would stand behind my dad, and sort of tip off the other guys as to what my father was holding.

Sometimes, apparently, I'd make a face that would say, "Hmmm, not bad." or I'd make a face that said, "That doesn't look too good," and the other guys at the table would act accordingly.

One time, I distinctly recall "Chili" winning money from my father and giving me $5 of it.

"Hey, Little Lapa!" he said. "Go get yourself some ice cream!"

And everybody laughed except my dad.

*

So there came a time when my father realized that he had to get me out of the room. Lou Ferris helped him out.

One night, as I wandered into the back room, Lou said to me, "Hey, Derek. (He knew my real name. I always appreciated that.) Go back out front, and look through the comics. You can have any one of them you like."

Whoa! Any one? I asked Lou to make sure.

"Sure," said Lou. "And when you pick one out, you can come back in here, and sit down and read it. And then you can take it home with you."

Well, Lou Ferris had a great collection of comics up front. He had some old "Fantastic Fours," some old "Iron Man" comics, some old "Thors." Just great stuff.

I rushed back into the front room. I felt like I hit the lottery.

Here was Fantastic Four No. 25: "The Incredible Hulk vs. The Thing"! They kicked the heck out of each other for about 23 pages! Awesome! Here was "Iron Man vs. The Melter"! Man, that Melter cat shot a ray out of his chest, and the iron coating of Iron Man's whole right arm melted! And "The Mighty Thor vs. Absorbing Man"! The Absorbing Man absorbs all of Thor's power, plus he still has his own strength. How can Thor possibly win?!?!

So I was engrossed. So engrossed, that when my father came out to get me, I didn't want to go home. I hadn't made up my mind. But he never had to worry about me tipping his hand anymore, either.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle reporter.