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

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Cancel Culture And How Uncle Harry Got Cancelled By The Palumbos

Uncle Harry was never important enough to get officially cancelled and there were no statues honoring him to be toppled.  He was not a great man whose major flaws cancelled him; and as far as politics went he had no flaws at all. He held no racist ideas, never looked askance at a black man, or never gave to the Fraternal Order of Police.  He was all for civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, global peace, and universal harmony.

If progressives were to build a statue to one of their unsung heroes, it would be to Uncle Harry.  He had become a liberal’s liberal, perfect in every way, finely tuned to every slight, quick on the trigger to call out racism, misogyny, corporate greed, and white privilege; but the Palumbos, who wanted nothing to do with American politics, let alone very anti-American ones, and who remained faithful only to St. Andrew, the Virgin Mary, and the Pope; who still went to Sunday Mass and sat down to roast chicken and stuffing, cancelled him.  He was no longer welcome at Easter dinner.  His stories, once familiar yarns about Burma and the Far East, had been replaced by screeds; and who needed to listen to that?

Image result for Images Logo FOP

Most of the Palumbos came to America from the Port of Naples in the early 20th century, landed in New York, and made their way to New Haven and Little Amalfi.  They were factory laborers, haulers, and sweepers.  They did well thanks to an unrelenting optimism, belief in America, and a little help from the Mafia.  From the day they set foot on Ellis Island, they were more American than any native Anglo-Irish who had come long before, who ruled the cities, ran the gangs of New York, and who made life miserable for very dark, short, miserable little guinea gnomes who claimed a place at their table.

The Palumbos and their extended family had become successful in a modest way.  They had never risen to professional ranks, but were still a generation removed from the factory floor.  They were nurses, butchers, barbers, cobblers, and tailors; built their professions, cared for their families, and were at home on Wooster Square, and who knew Yale, hardly a mile away, only by its laundry, kitchens, boilers, and broom closets.

The Palumbos were proud of their Italian heritage, had been reluctant to leave Wooster Square and New Haven, had been slow to assimilate not because of prejudice but because of a rootedness and special sense of place and old community that other immigrant groups had dismissed for mobility and success.

Image result for images wooster square new haven 19th century photos

So it was no wonder that the Palumbos wanted to hear nothing about white privilege, black power, social reform, and proper speech.  At first they smiled at Uncle Harry’s irony and turned the discussion back to Aunt Millie and her bursitis, the corn fritters, and the weather.  When he became more persistent – Harry took it as a challenge to educate his relatives, and let a little light shine into their garlicky ghetto – they seated him next to Fat Emil, a second cousin of one of the Palumbos’ wives, a man who licked his fingers, ate with his mouth open, and talked sports until the ricotta pie when he shut up just enough to cut a big slice and shove it into his mouth.

Leona had always been a careful event planner, and at the Emil end of the table were seated the ‘necessary’ guests – distantly related cousins or less who had to be invited just to avoid family umbrage who, as it turned out, nobody liked.  In the tight Italian community of Wooster Square, blood did matter.  It always mattered, and it would always matter. The farther one got from the source, the thinner the blood, the less recognizable the heritage, and the less in common.

But the distant relatives down at Emil’s end of the table were no more inclined to pay attention to Harry’s blandishments than those at the regal end.  When he insisted that black lives mattered and that police brutality was common, he got nowhere. “You remember Billy Cianci?”, asked Emil.  “He was a cop in West Haven.  So was his son, Eddie”; and with that went on to another serving of ham pie.

To the Palumbos credit – many of whose family members were police, fire, and EMT – they never rose to the bait, angrily defended the police, circled the wagons, or attacked.  The more Uncle Harry rattled on about chokeholds, offensive statues, and sexual abuse, the less they paid attention.
“What about Columbus?”, shouted Harry to the head of the table. “He brought syphilis, swine flu, and measles to America and was responsible for the genocide of Native Americans”.  That would do it for sure, Harry thought; but he was wrong. The name ‘Columbus’ only elicited remarks about October 12th, the big parade on Grand Street, and the feast in the park.  There were no chinks in the wall.  These goombas were just plain dumb.

Image result for statue christopher columbus in wooster square new haven

Of course they weren’t dumb or anywhere near it.  It was Harry who was the dumb one, the Palumbos all agreed.  His predictable, flabby, insignificant concerns were so far from what they knew to be America that they simply paid him no mind.  BLM, the scourge of racism, occupying Wall Street, expunging the taint of prejudice, reducing religion to a sidebar had nothing whatsoever to do with Wooster Square.  There might be some grain of truth in this liberal cant; but it just seemed that the hysterical sideshow of Uncle Harry was just, well, bad circus. 

One hundred years of living in America had not diminished the hope, optimism, native patriotism, and entrepreneurial spirit the Palumbos had embraced only a few months off the boat.  Not only that, these Italians who had come from the Mezzogiorno, poor, desperate, and with no say in anything, understood far better than those who were already living here, what the founding principles actually meant.  They may not have read the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, but they understood Jefferson’s ideas of freedom, opportunity, ambition, tolerance, and respect without even knowing there was a text in the archives.   So Uncle Harry’s rantings at the end of the table was just fol-de-rol, not even worth acknowledging.

Finally Leona Palumbo ‘forgot’ to invite Uncle Harry to Easter dinner.  Not a duplicitous or indirect person, she hated to ask him whether or not he had gotten the invitation she never sent, so the ham and ricotta pies, the lasagna, eggplant, fritters, and filberts were eaten without Uncle Harry at the table.  Empty was his seat at the nether end of the table at Christmas, and forever after.  He had been cancelled.

Which all goes to show that we are all capable of some kind of cancelling; only some is done for far more legitimate reasons.  Uncle Harry had become a hectoring bore and had drifted so far off the Wooster Square course that there was simply no reason to have him around.

Of course the Palumbos knew about the statue-toppling, looting, anarchist mobs.  New Haven had not been exonerated from political cancelling; and under different circumstances they might have voiced a more constitutional defense of the police; but Leona’s Easter dinner was not the place or the time.

Easter dinner was all about family, Italian America, the Founding Fathers, and patriotism even if words were never spoken.  Uncle Harry just didn’t get it.  He had been co-opted and infected by some weird cultish notions of ‘another America’.  Which was what, exactly?  When the dust cleared, the statues replaced, and moral order restored, their America would return.

Image result for Image Jefferson

Uncle Harry at first was miffed at Leona’s disinvitation; but then he decided it was all for the best.  He never really liked her corn fritters or Angie’s lasagna in the first place; and better have the ties to this antediluvian goomba world cut now rather than later.

Having cancelled Uncle Harry, the Palumbos lost track of him.  He was reported to have been seen in California, no surprise there, but also in the Idaho panhandle, native place of Antifa and the most ragged fringes of progressive America.  Armed, nasty, and pissed off, these crazies were probably Harry’s rightful community.  It was only surprising that this quiet, Wooster Square altar boy could have strayed so far from his roots.

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