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In The Zone . .Emotional Chaos . ..Number 9. . .September 11


Emotional Chaos
Weekly Column by Brian Codagnone

March 31, 2006


With the passing of the Depression era generation, we've seen a decline in the "rags to riches growing up in grinding poverty yet succeeding in business despite all the odds being stacked against me" memoirs. I don't mean heart wrenching tales of poverty, survival and redemption like "Angela's Ashes", I mean the "We were so poor I didn't eat food until I was thirteen" stories that would make Horatio Alger give it up and start submitting articles to Penthouse.

These tales usually have the protagonist starting out with nothing and taking on the world with a combination of gumption and guts, rising to the top of the wholesale plumbing, commercial drycleaning or kielbasa industry. The story, often self published using the fruits of the narrator's life of hard work, pluck and burning desire to succeed, would usually go something like this:

"I was born in a cold water walk-up tenement in Bensonhurst. We had nothing. Literally. My mother, my father, my 10 brothers and 9 sisters lived in one room with no furniture, no toilet and only one water tap. No sink, they were for people with money. From the time I opened my eyes it was a struggle to survive. My father was a drunk who spent what little money he made as a poison gas test subject on whiskey and cock fights. My mother was a saint, who only sold surplus children when we desperately needed coal. We didn't have a stove, but having coal gave her some small satisfaction, so we allowed her that one pleasure without question. Life was hard in those days. We'd have one piece of stale bread for breakfast, and I'd have to fight my 11 brothers and 12 sisters for it. We only had one pair of pants for all us kids, and we'd have to fight over them every day. The rest would have to go to school stark naked. Even in the winter, although sometimes we'd wrap our feet in dead cats to keep from freezing to death. It was no place for the weak, either. If you suffered frostbite you were left behind! I had to fight my way to school every day, and when I got there I had to fight with the other students. Forget about books, we did our lessons in the pools of blood that were left on the floors of the classrooms. I'd have to fight my teachers to get them to teach me. Most of them were paroled sex offenders, but they were the only people desperate enough to work in our school. Even the lepers wouldn't go there, they all worked in Hell's Kitchen, where the murder rate was slightly less and they had real windows, not just holes in the walls. After school, I'd have to fight my way back home and fight my 14 brothers and 16 sisters over the one bean that was dinner for the whole family. It wasn't all bad, though. At Christmastime, we'd draw lots and the loser would be eaten for Christmas dinner. We'd all fight over the choicest morsels, because we knew that we might not eat again until next Christmas.

I was lucky, though. When I was seven I got a job as a human Roto-Rooter. That gave me enough money to buy my own pair of secondhand pants. My 16 brothers and 19 sisters accused me of "putting on airs" and "being better than I ought to be", but I fought my way out of Bensonhurst and into my own sewer pipe in Brooklyn. I lived in that sewer pipe until I save up enough money to buy a used plunger. I fought with the other plumbers for any business I could get. The union tried to break me, but I fought my way in. Soon I had my own truck, then a storefront. Not a store, just a storefront. After thirty years of struggling, I built up the business to the point where I could call myself the plumbing king of Brooklyn!

Of course, my success attracted the attention of unsavory elements; the mob, petty extortionists, the Catholic church. Everybody wanted a slice of me. But I worked hard for every penny, putting in 22 hours days, seven days a week, so I wasn't going down without a fight. Sure, they tried to scare me, but it would take more than the severed head of my Uncle Ralph showing up in my toolbox or having my sister mailed to me in a series of mason jars to intimidate me! No, sir! Pretty soon everybody knew who was Number One!

Now, I'm worth $12,000,000. Would I do it over again? You bet! Sure we were poor, sometimes we had to resort to cannibalism, but nothing worthwhile in life comes easy!"



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©2003 Brian Codagnone
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Surf Our Site

Home ... Misfits . Rafferty .. . S1019 .. . Star Crossed....
. .
Ginger & Shadow. ..Writer's Block.. ..Cool Links . ..More Cool Links .
Oddities ..Link To Us... Guest Comics . Online Store..
In The Zone. ..Number 9. . .September 11