by Maria Schulz
Two years ago, I started this blogging adventure. I didn’t know what to expect, and I hemmed and hawed before starting. What if nobody read it? What if no one cared?
I grew up in a home with six boys who were all so funny that every night was like a Night at the Improv. When you sat around the table with my brothers, you laughed so hard your sides ached.
My father, grandmother and uncles were also so outgoing that the idea of someone not being interested in what they were saying seemed absolutely alien to them. No matter what story they told, you were laughing by the time they were done.
My Uncle Sal was the first “star” of the family, with steady gigs in Vaudeville under the name of Bobby Dell. He had an album of his comedy routines called “If I Insulted You, It Was Intentional.” When I showed it to my older daughter, she said, “Yep, he’s related to you.” Uncle Sal, or “Bobby Dell” as he was known in the business, used to rub shoulders with the likes of Lana Turner, Phyllis Diller, Jackie Gleason and Jimmy Durante, and he held his own.
My grandmother, Lena, was the president of her Senior Citizen’s group and the first person to jump up on stage to do the chicken dance. In the early days of television, she went to every game show and sometimes got chosen to play. She never hit it big but would always say, “I’m a millionaire without a million.” That phrase used to annoy me, but I’d love to hear her say it now.
My Uncle Don used to get himself into the most ridiculous scrapes and the only thing funnier about his predicaments was the story he came away with. There was the day he went for a drive on the North Shore of Long Island and stopped to move some traffic cones…without putting the car in park. As the car came barreling towards him, he had to decide whether or not to save the large cup of coffee he was clutching or himself. He decided he couldn’t live without his coffee.
The result was Uncle Don on my doorstep, covered in gravel, tire marks and coffee stains from head to toe. Yes, I know that sounds terrible, but the way my Uncle told it, it was a hilarious adventure not to be missed.
My father had a sense of humor that was only rivaled by his volcano-like temper. He could be laughing hysterically one minute and then so angry with my brothers or me that he could hardly see straight.
My father’s rages were usually brought on by Chris doing something like dropping his fork on the floor, Jude hiding another dog in the garage, Tony coming home five minutes past curfew, Louie putting his trumpet back in the case the wrong way, Joey playing with the matches, my inability to score a 300 on my first bowling game ever, or Paul screaming because he stepped on a thumb tack. I can still hear my father screaming: “why weren’t you wearing shoes?”
Then of course, there was my mother. My mother was able to glide through all of the pandemonium with a Zen-like calm. Of course, she also had extremely high blood pressure and sometimes blew her stack in epic proportions. I remember the time she got so angry with Jude that she channeled her inner Mighty Hulk and lifted her eldest teenager—who was already about 8 inches taller than her—over her head and threw him across the room.
Still, there was nothing better than seeing my entire family around the table on holidays. Everybody was talking, and laughing, and of course, eating. My mother cooked for days and my grandmother brought goodies like peanut butter cookies, ice cream sandwiches and Italian pastries. When I was very little, she would bake an incredible sponge cake with sliced peaches, or homemade apple and lemon meringue pies.
I am lucky to still have my father and brothers in my life. Unfortunately, my mother, grandparents and uncles have all gone on to that holiday Improv in the sky.
Whenever I would tell these stories to people, they would say, “you should write a book.” Of course, it’s hard to sell books when you only have 2 people interested in the stories. That’s when an editor friend of mine suggested that I start blogging. I didn’t know too much about blogging, but I knew that it frightened me. You mean other people would be reading what I wrote? WHAT?
My high school English teacher, Richard Brodsky, once told me “who do you think you are? Emily Dickinson? Just get your work out there!”
So with those words ringing in my ears, I jumped in. I was pretty sure that the only people who would read this blog and laugh were my father and me. But I did it anyway, and I haven’t regretted it.
Here’s what I’ve learned from blogging:
- 8 out of 10 people are kind and supportive and enjoy a good laugh. The scary English Teachers of Classrooms Past don’t seem to read my blog.
- The 9th person doesn’t really care, they just want to spam me and get people to take their Swiffer coupons.
- The 10th person really does hate my writing and everything about my blog. They sometimes leave a nasty comment and depart, never to return again. So then we both win!
- Reliving the most amusing moments in my life is fun. The fact that I come out looking pretty ridiculous most of the time makes me laugh, so the good news is I don’t take myself as seriously as I once did.
- It’s actually a rush when people “like” my blog or leave a comment. I’m closing in on 20,000 views worldwide, which is huge for me. Maybe they stop by my blog by accident or just to poach an image, but 2 years ago, only about 5 people had ever read my writing, so that’s pretty cool.
- I have followers that I’m not even related to. I’m thrilled to have the support of my family and friends and I love that they actually read my stuff. But I’m really amazed when total strangers do it…and keep coming back.
- My mother, grandparents, and uncles are alive for me, at least for a little while, when I tell stories about them. I remember them the way I hope I’m remembered some day: as funny, vibrant, and full of life. Plus, I can hear their laughter every time they “star” in one of the old stories.
Here are my favorite blog posts from my 2nd year in blogging:
The 25 Things I Wish I Knew Back in Catholic School
Sister Margaret, candy bar fund drives, Speech class, Dallas and ‘I Shot JR’ tee shirts. Here were all the things that delighted and tortured me when I was a kid. I wish I’d known then what I know now, but then I would’ve missed out on some pretty great material.
The Best “Worst” Movies
My best worst movies included Bad Ronald, Trilogy of Terror, Polyester, and Carrie. All of these movies shaped my twisted worldview in ways I can’t even begin to describe. It wasn’t until I watched Bad Ronald as an adult (with my pal Lisa right by my side) that I realized how completely inappropriate this movie was for 8-year-old me. The fact that my brother Tony was laughing hysterically through most of it is probably one of the reasons I can see humor in the worst situations even today.
Any story that features shopping with my mom and grandmother down Main Street is going to bring on a bigger adrenaline rush
than a gallon of Coke could. Giving up cake for Lent and fearing for my life on the other end of Sister Anne Kathleen’s yardstick also makes me feel something, but I’ve managed to forgive her even though I wanted to ram that yardstick through her skull. Talking about my Mom’s 8th and favorite child, her bunny cake, also made me laugh. I can’t find any photos of me between the ages of 7 and 10, but I have a framed copy of my Bunny Bro.
Running bases. Kickball. Bike riding. Roller-skating. Overcrowded refrigerator boxes. The hot, sticky summer days of my childhood were a full contact sport. Whether I was bike riding straight into a lamppost or running for my life during Ghosts in the Graveyard, I was very lucky to have brothers and friends who were always up for some fun. What was even more surprising is that I actually survived.
My older daughter’s entry into high school helped me relive all the terrors and thrills of my own freshman year. From the pervy art teacher to the soul-crushing photographer on Career Day, to the Lord of the Flies-like atmosphere in the girls’ locker room, high school was terrifying. In some ways, it was like learning a new language while in a foreign country. But it was still pretty wonderful, and some of those classmates and teachers are lifelong friends who even read my blog today. Eventually I became a native, but I still don’t know why they put me in that mechanical drawing class.
Halloween Candy and a Movie
The Exorcist and The Omen still terrify the little Catholic schoolgirl in me. The good news is, I don’t subject myself to horror/slasher movies anymore. I married a man who saw me pass out at Dancing with Wolves (Kevin Costner got shot in the foot and it made a sickening blood soaked noise when he tried to slip his boot on in the beginning of the movie, and I passed right out…).
Oh sorry for the pause, I think I passed out there. Anyway, what I was going to say was that my husband and I decided to avoid all scary movies (and Westerns too).
I still get mad when I think of my stomped-on white Reeboks and that terrible movie, Vamp. But nothing makes me laugh more than the vision of my father standing in my doorway, screaming at me: “If you wake me up again, you can forget about Freddie Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street killing you, because I will!” Good times!
Did you know that there are 22 ways to get around Wrapping-Induced Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (WIPTSS)? This post was the result of looking at a room full of unwrapped gifts and having a minor nervous breakdown. After some soul searching, some self-imposed psychoanalysis that involved remembering my childhood, my mother, and the annual dining room table filled with unwrapped gifts, I had a breakthrough. I would use gift bags! I wouldn’t care if the seams didn’t match! I would write a blog post to help others like me!!! P.S. I still can’t find those scissors.
My younger daughter provided the inspiration for this one when she had to write her paper titled, “Why Dodge Ball is a
Worthwhile Sport.” I immediately flashed back to Catholic school gym class and my ability to “disappear” into any nearby closet with a block of cheese. I was like an oversized mouse with a fear of being decapitated by George, my classmate with a deadly aim and a fondness for hitting me during Dodge Ball. Next, I flashed back to high school, where my old classmate, Two, almost kicked my toe off while we did soccer drills. I have often wondered what I was going to do with all of these tortured adolescent memories, and now I know. Blog posts!!!
Valentines & Vampires
The allure of The Twilight series on hopeless romantics everywhere makes me chuckle. I don’t find vampires or werewolves terribly romantic, but maybe that’s because I don’t want a man who one day might view me as a midnight snack.
The Volturi family council in Rome sure was scary and intimidating, but try coming home past curfew in my family and getting past the Lagalante council. It consisted of my father, standing next to the front door in a fit of rage, in his patented “pounce and strangle” pose.
My advice for Bella (and all those Twi-teens, Twi-tweens and Twi-Moms out there) still sounds solid to me. Why not fall for someone full of comic potential, like the Invisible Man? Or, if you’re interested in meeting someone who might confuse and challenge you, try dating a real human. They are also full of surprises. Sure, they don’t glitter and they can’t make you immortal. But on the up side, they actually exist.
Thank You, Davy Jones
Oh, Davy. Leap year was supposed to give me an extra day to have fun and laugh, sort of like a freebie, filled with happy memories. Instead, it was the day that I learned that Davy Jones died suddenly of a heart attack at the way-too-young-age of 66.
Davy Jones and The Monkees are inextricably entwined with my childhood. My brothers and I watched the TV show together, sang along to the songs and laughed at the crazy plots. Just last year, my brothers Jude, Joey, and Chris, my nephew Tom and friend Steve went to see Davy, Mickey and Peter in concert. We laughed all night and sang along to the songs.
I’m glad I got to see Davy Jones one last time. Whenever I hear Daydream Believer, I’ll think of him and smile.
So, these are the blog posts that I enjoyed writing this year, and I hope you enjoyed reading them. Please let me know if you’d like to nominate your own “favorite” from the posts I wrote this year. You can nominate this one if you like, but I have a feeling you’ll be in the minority. And if I agree with your nomination, I will give you an amazing prize.
Last year’s gift was a Jimmy “JJ” Walker button that said “Dyn-o-MITE!” This year’s prize is a tee-shirt suggested by my cousin Tommy after reading my “Thank You, Davy Jones” blog post. It says “Marcia over Maria…NEVER!” Just think of all the head scratching and comments you’ll get.
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of my blog last year, I tried to “cast” the characters from my family in the future movie. I think the comments were almost as funny as the blog post itself. I called for suggestions on who would play my brother Tony, and in the comments section, I suggested Matthew Broderick or Danny Masterson from That 70s Show.
My sister-in-law Kathie suggested character actor George Wyner to play my brother Tony, while my daughter suggested Leonardo DiCaprio. Tony suggested Tom Selleck. You have got to love people’s unique points of view!
One old friend went so far as to suggest Alex Meneses (Robbie’s old girl friend on Everybody Loves Raymond) to play me. All I can say is, it has been a really long time.
No one suggested who could play my grandmother, so I’m going to go with Olympia Dukakis. I liked her in Moonstruck a lot. The jury is still out on who gets to play my Uncle Sal or my Uncle Don. Anybody have a suggestion?
Anyway, while I get Hollywood all excited about buying the rights to my blockbuster movie, I was thinking we could jump start it with a Broadway show. It will be called: “Lagalante: THE MUSICAL!”
The first act will open with my mother, played by Patti Lupone, standing in a kitchen that resembles a large closet and surrounded by simmering pots and pans, singing a song with lyrics that go something like this: “I have to cook for 30 people/No one ever helps/Jude/Stop teasing my beloved Tony/or I will have to throw you across the room.”
Eventually, my father will come traipsing in, wearing nothing but a wife beater’s tee-shirt, blue jeans and black socks. My father will not play himself on the stage if Brian Dennehey or Phillip Bosco are available. He will start singing: “Who drank all the milk/why don’t I have any clean socks/who dropped the forks on the floor/why is there another dog in the garage/why do children make so much noise?”
Nanny, played by Olympia Dukakis (who is also wonderful on stage) will come in, singing: “This house looks so clean/what a lovely surprise/I was just wondering/ how did you get the doggie smell out?/kids, stop asking for food/The kitchen is closed.”
Rosie O’Donnell, playing Sister Clara, will come into the kitchen singing, “Can you send your 7 kids over/to clean the convent and mow the church lawn/I promise not to tell them they’re going to hell/but I may have to box their ears.”
When Chris, played by John Cusak (also in the movie version) comes onstage, he will exclaim, “Nanny, look how the dogs stay on the landing/right where you told them and not a step further/Dad, I swear, it wasn’t me who dropped the forks/Who the heck let Sister Clara in here?”
All of this will happen while the orchestra plays the score that features the theme to Barney Miller, followed by Purple Haze, School’s Out for Summer, and the New York’s Unemployed original song, Abusement Park.
Okay, so maybe I have some work to do on the lyrics, but other than that, I think the musical idea has legs!
Speaking of legs, my book is almost complete and should be ready in the coming months. Don’t worry, I will make sure you all know about it when it’s finally published!
Peaches and Cream Cake
1 yellow cake, boxed or from scratch
Whipped cream (from scratch or use cool whip)
2 cans sliced peaches
I remember seeing my grandmother and cousins Mary and Eleanor assembling this cake back in Nanny’s big pink kitchen in Port Washington. I thought they had magic hands when it came to baking.
Luckily, this cake is easy to make, so you can create your own magic with minimal fuss. Just use your favorite cake recipe (either from scratch or from a box, I’m not choosy). You can do this as a sheet cake or in two round 8” pans. When the cake is cooled, put a layer of whipped cream and peaches in the middle. Do this for each layer. Then ice the cake with your vanilla frosting. Yum!
So Hungry Lifers…let me know what you think. Leave a comment about your favorite blog post, best memory evoked, favorite recipe or cast member suggestion. I love hearing from you! Thanks for reading!