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The Great Cannoli
“You know what I love best about private beaches, Joey?” asks the goon situated in the beach chair to my right.
“No one around for miles?” Joey, the one on my left, guesses, leaping off his chair and sticking his nose too close to my face, his shifty eyes devouring any last shred of calmness I possess.
“You can sit out here and just enjoy the ocean view all day and no one will bother you,” Danny, the man on my right, answers his own question, gazing peacefully out to the ocean. “It is almost like you don’t exist in the outside world anymore when you come here,” he continues. “But then, of course, that is Little Vinnie’s specialty.”
I gulp and try to focus and assess the situation. The sand, usually described as soft, laughs now as its packed weight crushes my body. The sandy ropes around my wrists and ankles chafe and sting my skin as I tug and pull on my bindings– the centimeter I can actually move either of them.
Joey laughs, pulls out a cigarette from his pocket and sticks it between his lips. “Did you catch the score of the Sox’s game, Danny?” He speaks from one side of his mouth, flicking his lighter several times, the billowing breeze extinguishing the crisp, orange flame every time it forms. “Damn wind,” he mutters under his breath.
“Down three nothing last I heard. I wouldn’t expect to get your money back if I were you,” Danny tells him.
“And why wouldn’t I? I got a lot of money riding on that game. The Sox’s are gonna win it this year.” Joey sits back, finally lighting his cigarette.
If I was not buried up to my neck in the sand with two members of Little Vinnie’s torture brigade sitting beside me, I would laugh. Everyone knows the Mets have the World Series in the bag.
“Frankie bet on the Mets and Frankie’s teams always have a way of winning. You know what I’m sayin’,” Danny snorts.
“Ah, that son of a – He knew how much money I put down on that game!” Joey storms.
“Eh,” Danny shrugs, “you shouldn’t of insulted his mother’s lasagna.”
“It had a hair in it! I’m not gonna eat nothing with a hair in it. That’s just unsanitary. I heard you can get diseases from eatin’ hair in food,” Joey shoots back.
“You didn’t tell him that, did you?”
“Of course I did!” Joey says defiantly.
“You’re an idiot!” Danny exclaims.
“I don’t see why he got all upset!”
“Ya called his mother diseased!” Danny cries out and then I stop listening to their bickering.
Early this morning, I was picking up a few groceries at the corner store when I walked out and saw these two goons, guns bulging from the side of their pants, and I took off. I knew it was only of matter of time before Little Vinnie caught up with me. You can never outrun Vinnie. I turned the corner and that was the last I remember until I awoke to a voice with a thick New York accent saying, “And Sleeping Beauty awakes!” By that time, they already had me buried in the sand.
Now five hours and a good number of bruises later, Danny’s voice once again snaps me back to attention. “Tide’s risin’, Joey!” Danny said, pointing toward the approaching ocean.
“Won’t be long now,” Joey responds. “Which is heavier, Danny? Wet sand or dry sand?”
I involuntarily twitch, evoking leers from both men. They look so out of place on the beach. Their pressed black suits, shiny black dress shoes, black hats, and dark sunglasses contrast the easy, summery ensemble of the beach. Danny does not bother answering the question. I get the point.
“You’re a smart boy, aren’t ya? You don’t look like it. But I think you are,” Danny starts. “You know why you’re here and what Vinnie wants.”
I stay quiet.
“Hm, it looks like he won’t open his mouth, Joey,” Danny turns to his partner.
Joey reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out an industrial looking pair of pliers. “Did you know that a toothache is one of the worst pains to experience?” Joey addresses me. “That’s why I always keep these babies with me, just in case I have a pain that I need to get rid of.”
“And since you won’t open your mouth, we will just have to do it for you,” the Danny adds.
Danny grabs my head from behind and forces my mouth open, while Joey sticks the pliers in my mouth. “Oh, Mr. Romano, when is that last time you’ve been to the dentist? By my prognosis, I believe you will have to have all your teeth pulled one by one,” Joey chides me.
“Lucky for you, my friend Joey here attended one whole day of dental school before he was kicked out. You are in very capable hands. Trust me,” Danny holds my head tighter as I feel the pliers grab onto one of my teeth. The words “trust me” have never sounded so menacing.
“Wait! Wait! Stop! I’ll tell you want you want!” I yell around the pliers.
Slowly, I feel the pliers retract, and even though Danny still grips my head, I take a relieved breath, but it comes out marred with defeat.
Both goons’ eyes watch me expectantly and I waver, contemplating the possible consequences of my next actions. I almost vomit at the thought of all the damage I am about to do. That is until Joey’s shoe sends a mouthful of sand flying into my face and then any queasiness has vanished. It dawns on me how tame Vinnie’s deadliest henchmen are behaving, and I do not want to test just how long they can remain that way.
“The secret in the cannoli recipe is in the cream filling. We add oil of cinnamon to the ingredients.” And, it is done. The recipe I swore to keep a secret is out, revealed by my own tongue.
For practically centuries, my family, the Romanos, and our restaurant, Casa Romano Italian Ristorante, have been in a feud with the Esposito’s and their restaurant, Buon Appetito. However, what makes this feud personal for both families is in reality the feuding families are in fact the same family. It has been going on since the time our great-great-grandfather, Giuseppe Esposito arrived in America from Italy; some even say that it goes all the way back to before our family even left Sicily. The truth is we actually do not know exactly when the rift in our family occurred. Nevertheless, it makes family parties rather awkward. Each restaurant is mostly equal in every respect, except occasionally one restaurant discovers a delectable recipe that allows them to trump the other in sales and reviews. For the last month, my family’s restaurant has received rave reviews and an influx of customers due to our new cannoli recipe.
Danny lets go of my head and stands up causing his shadow to cast over me. Joey stays squatting down in front of me, staring at my face for another antagonizing minute before he stands.
Danny steps out from behind me and comes to stand in front. “Not too bad, cousin,” he nods down at me. “I really wasn’t in the mood to do body removals today.”
“Also, to show his kindness and appreciation, your Uncle Vinnie told us to give you a little gift. Go fetch it, Danny,” Joey orders. He takes a long drag from his cigarette and then drops it into the sand almost right under my nose. He lets the smoke rise up into my face for a moment before he brings his foot down harshly upon the dying butt, his sharp heel landing close to my face. He glares down at me, but then he picks his head up, and, seeing something I could not yet see, he smirks.
Suddenly, an unforgiving clang reverberates on top of the sand. “A shovel, from your most merciful uncle, Little Vinnie,” Joey proclaims with mirth.
I stare at it open mouthed and the two goons chuckle. They turn to leave but before they do, Joey pivots. “Tell Uncle Louie and Aunt Gina we said hello. Oh, and I’ll send you the bill for the shoes. These were my favorite shoes and now they’re all sandy.”
With that, they stalk off. “And we’ll be back in time for dinner,” I can hear Danny say.
“But first, let’s make a pit stop at Frankie’s. I’ve got a hair to pick with him,” Joey jokes.
“Forget about it!…” Danny says as their voices fade out.
I am left there, bound, six feet under the sand, with a now not-so-secret secret cannoli recipe and a shovel that does not solve my problems in the least.