"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Other Side Of The Tracks–The Irresistible Allure Of Slatterns And Tramps

Marilyn Scalfano was not, as Harold’s mother insisted, a slattern and a tramp  She was simply from the other side of the tracks, the north side, the Italian side, the worker side.  No matter how much sweetness, love for Harold, or innocent claims, Marilyn  would always and irrevocably be an impossible, unforgiveable match for her son who was destined for greatness at best and social recognition at worst.  Marilyn had gotten her claws into him, dragged him to her disreputable side of the New York, New Haven & Hartford rails, tore into his innocent flesh like the harpy she was, and would leave his bones to bake, whitened and fleshless in the summer sun.

There was truth on both sides.  Margaret Hoskins Pennyfield, thanks to her tenth generation aristocratic lineage, her descendance from the court of Henry II and before, and the uninterrupted noblesse oblige of her family – a perennial concern for those who labored on Pennyfield farms, Pennyfield factories, and Pennyfield docks – had no burden of prejudice behind her.  There would always be the haves and the have nots; those who rose and those who stayed; those with promise and purpose, and those who worked in the vineyards for  those whose family, lineage, and character gave them authority, both moral and civil.

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Marilyn’s family had come to America from Italy in the great migration of the 1880s and had settled in New Haven which had become Sorrento West.  Her grandfather had been a laborer in a lock factory; her uncles shoemakers, barbers, and construction workers; and the women of the family guardians of the Italian hearth and shills for all of Anglo-Saxon American promise – ladies in buns and black dresses who never once disclaimed or turned their back on the American dream.  Despite hardship, discrimination, and disrespect, the Scalfanos not only survived but prospered.  Before long the Scalfanos were into construction and sanitation, had homes beyond the perimeter of the the North End and beyond the most fanciful dreams of the Petruccis, Garaffas, and DiLoretos whose families had come over on the same boat.

Yet, despite a similar storied and respectable history, the two families could never meet.  The tracks were a permanent, infrangible boundary  No Pennyfield, Hetherington, Lodge, or Porter had any business messing around over there; and no Scalfano, Petrucci, or Squillacote belonged over here.

So the illicit affair between Harold Pennyfield and Marilyn Scalfano was to be discouraged and dismembered before it was too late. 

It all made sense.  The Scalfanos understood that their time had not yet quite come; and the Pennyfields had not yet gotten used to the coming revolution of diversity.  ‘Stick to your own kind’, the marvelously romantic and true verse of West Side Story, was as right as rain for both communities; and both looked on the romance as troublesome, inopportune, and dangerous.

All this mattered little to Marilyn and Harold who loved each other but who delighted, more than anything, in the scandal they created.  If the truth be known Harold, despite his initial delight in his remove from Baccarat, Revere, and Townsend high boys, was uncomfortable with boiler shirts and dirty diapers; and Marilyn wondered how she could have possibly imagined a life within the scoured, wainscoted parlors and dining rooms of the West End.  Theirs was not a love affair ordained in heaven, but a gauntlet thrown down to the very idea of ordained, ordinary bliss.

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They persisted in the fantasy – and it was to the credit of them both that that they could for so long, with such opposition, continue in the obverse of star-crossed lovers.  They might have been, in the modern psycho-social parlance of marketing, early adopters; those who anticipated trends before they became current; diverse before diversity became the rule.  Or they were both Nietzschean Ubermensch, riding above the herd, dismissive of its claims, and triumphant.  Or they were simply children of the Sixties, the cusp generation between tradition and reform. Whatever.  Marilyn and Harold were items at the Café Wha? honorable outcasts from Shaded Meadows Country Club, New Brighton’s best and finest, and happy refugees from the expected and ‘the trifling’.

The relationship – their love affair – did not last beyond Harold’s Freshman Year at Yale.  Marilyn, who had gone way beyond transitional social romance to real opportunity and thought that a life in the West End was actually feasible if not possible, did everything she could to please her man.  She dressed like the debutantes from Bennett, Bennington, and Briarcliff – cute shirtwaists, circle pins, Tartans, and flips; imitated their indifference and casual allure – expunged  every last trace of Abruzzi and Naples (twice a week dry cleaning, return of the Virgin to the altar, gold, saintly jewelry to grandmother); and transformed her accent from deep Central Connecticut to not bad Locust Valley lockjaw…but to naught.  This dark haired, dark complexioned, short, slight, Greek and North African featured young woman could pass for nothing more than a guinea.

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At the very end of Harvard-Yale weekend – an Oscar weekend for a young woman anxious to get ahead in the world and meet even more promising and attractive men than Harold Pennyfield – Harold had finally had enough.  Marilyn had shown her true colors, been unfaithful to him in spirit and finally, once and for all, vindicated his long-suffering parents.  Marilyn, if not a tart, was a social grabber, an opportunist, and the epitome of scurrility – a description he refused until he saw her kissing Peter Morgan, Grand Duke of Skull and Bones, Lothario, and Nantucket sailor in front of Woolsey Hall.

In the many years following graduation, Harold Pennyfield thought little  of Marilyn Scalfano.  She never featured in his erotic daydreams and had been long-replaced by Usha Ismail a seductive, willing, and loving Pakistani he had met at the 0beroi Delhi ; Berthe Pedersen, a Danish animist; and Maria Pereira, an Israeli immigrant from Argentina. 

These women had all satisfied Harold’s erotic promise far more than Marilyn ever could have   Love in the tropics, in Palestine, or the pampas was far more satisfying than groping on the 4th hole of Stanley Quarter Golf Course. Yet on reflection she was sans pareil. Growing up in New Brighton she was an alien, a gypsy, removed from the Cotillions, the Holly Balls of the West End; and as such she was an unforgettable first love.

She was present in spirit at Harold’s first marriage to Maria DiLoreto, a Wellesley graduate, first of her family to attend college let alone an Ivy League one, a combination of Italian roots and American enterprise; and she was in attendance, also in spirit, at his second to Margaret Purcell-Jones,  tenth cousin to Henry VI, daughter of the Salem Putnams and Virginia Potters, scion of Washington society and Daughter of the American Revolution.

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Harold moved on but only thanks to Marilyn Scalfano  - 1) pussy changes not from class to class; 2) women want and men accommodate; 3) sexual politics trump any other; and better to have traversed the tracks then rather than now.  Class and breeding have a way of intruding no matter how promising love’s beginning; and it is always better, in the long run, to stick to your own kind.

A boy like that
Who'd kill your brother
Forget that boy
And find another
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind
A boy like that
Will give you sorrow
You'll meet another boy tomorrow
One of your own kind
Stick to your own kind

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