March 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
A constant visitor in my grandmother’s pornographic lingerie store was Mr. Louie Farina, a square, short Italian man, owning a face like a pock-marked lemon. He was a daily permanent fixture and not on payroll. Family history or home address was never known to grandma. His Hart & Schaffer suits fit like a glove that had been hot-glued to his lumpy body. No “Soft Spot” beige vinyl shoes for Mr. Farina, rather he wore exotic crocodile shoes that seemed to slither on the pink and black floor tiles. Rumor had it years ago he was a member of the New Orleans Italian Mob and met grandma while purchasing lingerie for a hooker. Their friendship blossomed and in return for sexy underclothing he would “fix” things for her – parking tickets, lawsuits and angry customers who bitched that the merchandise was too expensive. He also was a liaison between hotels and her store. Mr. Farina made sure the mirrored storefront became a popular location for a steady stream of hookers and husbands away from home while insisting that Greyhound tour buses stop at Joan’s front door. Tourists plunged out of the bus and were herded immediately into the shop – like an adult Disneyland where the merchandise emerges whether you want it or not. Mr. Farina had an accomplice named “Blackie,” a short, skinny man in a cheap suit. Blackie helped Joan in the muscle department, taking care of anyone who got on her bad side. After all, she was one to snap easily. The pressure was on and my grandmother was the Jaws of Life regarding porn attire. She was the hydraulic rescue tool that extricated the victim — meaning customer. They had no choice but to buy something.
“Madam, you look fabulous. The mens will love you! There’s nothing to be afraid of. Stick out your bosom big and be proud. Your bosom is your crown!” Grandma yelled in her Viennese/Bavarian/Hebrew dialect.
“Well, yes,” said the usual victim.” “It does feel a little tight…but…I’ll get used to it…I…guess.”
Blackie loved Grandma and did as he was told. Over the years during my childhood, he had been in and out of prison and normally ate a celebratory dinner with Joan each time he was released from jail. Joan insisted he get fed in a more civilized way after being released from the pen. So, in reality, he could have lunch in jail and suck down lobster ravioli for dinner at Commander’s Palace, a five-star New Orleans restaurant. My family had mobster worship. They loved the intrigue, the danger of getting caught and always in hopes of meeting Don Corleone or Vito. The distinct smell of money travelled through the air surrounding me at all times, like leaves in autumn. Expensive perfume mixed with a “cash-like” aroma and you knew you were with the New Orleans mob alongside an X-rated depository of underclothing for the secretive – inside my grandmother’s store.
Bizarre family eccentricities provided Cindy Small a wealth of black humor laced with arsenic. Her memoirs are a field guide for the aficionado of a particularly rare breed of bird, daughters of Viennese Holocaust survivors living in New Orleans.
You can get in touch with Cindy here: csmall223 (at) aol (dot) com
Image: Firehorse, By Pirjo Zeylon