Thursday, November 18, 2010

It Always Feels Good...

when my creative work is recognized in some way. Thank you to the literary magazines that have recently published some of my writing. I thoroughly appreciate it.

"The Tea Kettle" -short story, appears in

"Magical Douche" -poem, appears in Mad Swirl

"Tha Ballad of Done Me Wrong and Maybegirl" -short story, appears in Jersey Devil Press

Feel free to take a look and have a read!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Literary magazine, Instigatorzine, has featured my poem "McDonald's" and I in their June 2010 issue. Below you will find my poem and the accompanying interview that was done for the magazine by Jenna Kildosher.


Whenever I get McDonald’s
my father has to stand over my shoulder
and make his usual comments.

“Looka whadda she’s eat,”
he’ll say to no one but me—
because I’m the only asshole there.

“No eata dis merda.
Dis food itsa everyting shit,” he’ll say.

I’ll ask if he wants a French fry and he’ll say no.
I’ll ask him again and he won’t answer.
I don’t ask him a third time because
he is already eating my French fries.

Then he tears a ketchup packet open
with his teeth and squeezes
a Heinz pool out onto a napkin.
In go the French fries,
three, four, five at a time.

He is eating
all my shit.

—Sandra Bazzarelli

Sandra Bazzarelli is a singer/songwriter and writing instructor from Bergen County, New Jersey. She earned her BA in Literature and Writing from Columbia University, and her MA in English Education from NYU. She likes to write about her parents because English is their second language so, really, she can get away with saying pretty much anything she wants about them. She highly recommends being a first generation American for this reason.

Featured Writer: Sandra Bazzarelli
Instigatorzine, June 2010

What type of literature do you mainly write? Would you say poetry is your main genre of writing? If not what type of writer would you consider yourself? I think I do my best writing when I’m working with a fixed number of lines. This is probably why I gravitate toward poetry and songs. Shorter is better for me. I wrote a novel once. And it’s been constipating my hard drive for over 12 years. Frankly, I cannot begin to describe its awfulness to you. That would take too many lines. And collectively they would be, well, awful.

Some may find poetry to be intimidating because of ambiguity, or they just, “don't get it”. What would you say to someone who doesn't read poetry because they may not fully understand it? I would probably say, “If you are not a poetry reader, then write poetry.” You will have a cleaner lens as a reader once you’ve been a writer. Not all poetry has to be woefully Hallmarkian. It’s a voluminous genre. Walt Whitman and Shel Silverstein are both poets, after all.

I found “McDonald's” a poem that would be easily accessible, because of its directness and humorous demeanor, to people who may misunderstand poetry, would you agree? You’re right about its accessibility. It is definitely not an old school jazz musician of a poem. It doesn’t turn its back on its audience. It faces you because it hopes you’ll recognize something about yourself when you look at it. It’s likely funny because it’s relatable without being jokey. I personally find humor to be remarkably highbrow. I find poems about slitting your wrists on the bathroom floor to be so predictable and such a snore.

In your biography, you state you are a first generation American, we see this take part in your poem “McDonald's”. How does this take influence in your other works? My family pops up in a lot of my writing, for better or worse. Mine is an American experience underscored by the fact that my parents are immigrants and their English is broken. My mother’s English is much better than my father’s, yes, but there has always been poetry in the way each of them speaks English. They’ve either had to use simple, choppy sentences, or they’ve had to simile and metaphor the shit out of what they didn’t have the precise words for. My mother, for example, would never say, “He has a pronounced chin.” Instead she’d say, “His chin. It’s like you can grab his ankles, turn him upside down, and dig in the dirt with it.”

Reading this poem we get an understanding of a part of the parent-child relationship, a parent's criticism and their self-contradiction. Was this something you wanted to depict? I think I just wanted to sum up my father. Criticism + self-contradiction + food = my father.

What did you want to portray in “McDonald's”? I suppose I just wanted to portray how the everyday exchanges people have are really just comical, but profoundly telling, living poems. What you don’t know is that my father is a chef. So, in my family, we absolutely know the difference between good food and junk food. But McDonald’s, as you know, works in mysterious ways. Come to think of it, maybe I just wanted to portray the voodoo charms of McDonald’s French fries. And now I’m hungry.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tiger! Tiger!

Tiger! Tiger! you're a shite,
Crashing in the dead of night,
What immoral hand on thigh
Could lift short skirts up on the sly?

In what distant, driven swing
Did you think to risk everything?
In what ho dare you, bare, enter?
When alone most sure to sext her.

And what waitress, what porn star?
Cheating standards not on par
With your wife at home, yes, waiting
While you're making your rounds dating

What the endorsements? What the game?
In what pair of pants was your brain?
What the golf club? What Ambien grasp
Rushed Elin outside to shatter glass?

When the Gatorade pulls their dollars,
And no longer puts your face on bottles,
Will you smile your handiwork to see?
Or weep at the sneakered feet of Nike?

Tiger! Tiger! you're a shite,
You fired the bullet that you must bite
What impossibly bad behavior?
Returneth to your cave, you player.

(Inspired by William Blake's classic poem: "The Tyger")

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lost in the Lights

The MTV show Jersey Shore does not represent me as an Italian-American from New Jersey. Still, I have lived long enough on this earth, and among enough ethnic groups to know that, whether or not we'd like to admit it, stereotypes, both negative and positive, survive because they are born of some truth. Where there is smoke, there is fire, so to speak. However, like many Italian-Americans, I watched the first episode of Jersey Shore the same way I watch horror films...through my I begged the people on screen not to do what they were about to do. "No, please," I called out to drunk and pathetic Snooki. "Don't get in the hot tub in your bra and leopard print thong!" But, sadly, even with my plea, she did. And sadly, even with my shame, there are, indeed, Italian-Americans who absolutely live by guido/guidette lifestyle rules. In this case, where there is a tan, there is a tanning bed.

Yet, rest assured, not all Italian-Americans are cut from the same leopard print cloth. The same way the African-American community can proudly claim Barack Obama as its own, it must also claim Flavor Flav. The same way the Latino-American community can proudly claim Sonia Sotomayor, it must also begrudgingly claim that rapping, Reggaeton, iO Digital Cable pitchman (Do I haf to trenslet?). So what is it then that creates such gaps in achievement and, subsequently, pride, within a specific racial or ethnic group? Is it education that separates us where race, cultural heritage, and geography do not? Is it a question of where we sit atop the socioeconomic ladder? Or, quite simply, is it travel and a steady exposure to people from other backgrounds that keeps us, regardless of our youth or age, open-minded and ethnically balanced? What makes one Italian-American woman "Dr. Melfi", for example, and the other "Carmela Soprano"?

I venture to guess that, ultimately, it is deep-seeded, hole-in-the-soul insecurity that causes certain personality types to latch on to the lowest, most obvious "standards" within their respective ethnic groups. Unfortunately, this Italian-American "Guinea" standard stands out precisely because it is represented by insecure posers who, in an effort to mask their fear of social isolation, fist-pump the hardest, yell the loudest, and dress the most ostentatiously. People who don't feel the need to belong, don't worry about earning titles like, "King of the Guidos"- which, to me, isn't a title anyone should aspire to have. In fact, it's not unlike being named the "Lord of the Flies". Lord, oh Lord, you are still only a fly. But people with low self-esteem all too often harbor an inexplicable attraction to all things outrageously over-the-top. Easily intimidated people, it seems, tend to gravitate toward personas that seem the most intimidating. This, of course, is a very broken road toward feeling both protected and welcome, but it is a road lit with flashing club lights and is, therefore, irresistible. But don't be fooled. Lights, after all, don't always illuminate. Sometimes lights afford you the option of hiding in plain sight. Ask any baseball outfielder who plays night games. You can lose things in the lights. Most notably, yourself.

Still, vainglorious behavior will always attract attention. A lot of attention. Heavily accented guidos and guidettes are entertaining and amusing, and, as a result, quite profitable. Is it any wonder that Hollywood keeps coming back to the lowest common denominator in terms of Italian-American storylines? This is what makes everybody the most money. The Mafia posturing. The hair gel. The way they tawk. The caked-on make-up. The sausage and pepahs. The nails. The Italian flags. The multitude of juiced-up Vinnies willing to wear tight, white T-shirts, drive Mustangs...and slap their Teresas around when they get too accusatory.

I do not doubt that UNICO (an Italian-American service organization) is sincerely outraged at MTV for putting Jersey Shore on the air. After all, it is difficult to claim that MTV is not, in fact, complicit in perpetuating a negative stereotype of Italian-Americans when you really start to pay attention. Stop and take a closer look when you channel surf; you will almost never find a positive image of Italian-Americans to rival the negative ones that are out there. Then again, whose fault is that? Maybe UNICO is just embarrassed, as I am, that we have these attention seeking buffoons among us who seem to have a stronghold on our collective identity.

MTV is a business, first and foremost. Like Bravo, home of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, it doesn't care. It is making money off of eight (residually) Italian-American kids from the East Coast who were willing to, first, exploit their culture in their everyday lives, and then willingly exploit themselves as they exploited their culture on a contrived, fish bowl experience. The exploiters have, thus, become the exploited. Unfortunately, judging by the ubiquity and popularity of their image, they continue to succeed at marginalizing Italian-Americans as a people. If we don't change, how can we expect society, as a whole, to change its attitude toward us? We can protest all we want, but a select few among us can't hear this truth no matter how loudly it blares.

The house music is pumping and thumping much too loudly.

Monday, November 30, 2009

You Down with OPM?

They have been referred to as "helicopter" parents...because they hover. A recent Time magazine article chronicles the evolution of this overparenting phenomenon. Hands-off parenting steadily groped toward hands-on parenting in the 1990's, and now parents apparently seem to have completely forgotten that their kids have hands of their own. Many modern day parents are like anxiety-heightened personal assistants with really unhealthy attachment issues. They are parents to the extreme. Today, parents who leave their kids alone to fail, fall, and falter are considered bad parents, renegades who are often bullied by what I like to call the OPM (Over-your-shoulder Parent Mafia). The OPM's fear is often irrational, but their criticism of other parents who do not agree with their safety/educational tenets is loud and proud. OPM sounds like "opium", I know. That's because I wonder if some of these parents are high when I observe what they are doing to these overscheduled, overinstructed, emotionally and materially overindulged kids of theirs.

Sylvester Stallone was recently reprimanded by countless media outlets and called "The Worst" (on that mess known as The Insider) because he had two of his daughters (ages 11 and 13) sitting in the passenger's seat of his sports car as he drove down a residential street in Miami. Poor judgement? Yes. The worst? No. Not unless he forced them to watch Rocky V when they got home. Some even went so far as to suggest the girls should still be riding in car seats. Honestly, I believe in car seats. I sincerely do. They save lives and that's a fact. But these car seats nowadays are an unbelievable sight. A feat of mind-bending engineering, really. When I strap my six-year-old niece into hers I feel like I'm prepping her for root canal surgery on the moon, not a five minute drive around the block at 15 MPH. Yes, it's better to be safe than sorry. I get it. I agree. Still, the idea of her being strapped into one when she's an adolescent or a teenager makes me wonder what will be next. Perhaps we should slow down the earth's rotation because, you know, it is spinning pretty quickly. And, you know, spinning is dangerous. Why do you think those tires on those chains at playgrounds have been extricated? Kids die when they spin.

My father always let us ride in the front seat of his car. In fact, as kids we used to beat the holy shit out of each other just to get to the car door first so that we could ride shotgun. And, no, we did not wear seatbelts. A seatbelt would have just gotten in the way. How would we have been able to slide over and steer the car while our father picked his teeth with a toothpick, or counted out his change as we approached a tollbooth? The kicker is this: My father thinks he was a very good father. Why? Because he never killed us. He means intentionally. Growing up, had we gotten hit by a bus because he let us cross highways, I suspect he would not have taken any sort of blame for our deaths. It would have been an accident, after all. An accident caused by our own inability to not get hit by a bus. No, when he says he's a good father because he never killed us, he means killed us because we were getting on his nerves by being too loud while he tried to watch the soccer game, or taking too long to fetch him a pair of clean socks. When a story came on TV not too long ago about some sonuvabitch father who set his triplet baby girls on fire, my father pointed to the TV and said, "You see? I told you I'm a good father." Because he never roasted us on a spit over an open flame, he thinks he deserves a prize. Perhaps, a new pair of socks.

And yet, for all the lack of caution, for all the lack of interest and concern, we're pretty much fine. We have our problems, of course, but guess what? I have yet to experience a broken bone. For all my careening downhill in a shopping cart sans helmet, swimming in the ocean without swimmies when I couldn't swim, and doing my "gymnastics" routine on an open staircase with wads of Bubbliscious gum in my mouth, I survived. My siblings and I are social, educated, moral, and respectable people...and our parents never went to one PTA meeting. I never even showed them my homework. I'd occasionally turn to them when my pencil needed sharpening, but that's just because that wood whittling with a butcher knife was tricky business. My pencil tip may have looked like it had been gnawed on by wild animals, but in my hand, it did its job. And I did mine. With my own hand.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eviction Noticed

About two months ago, in the middle of the night, I was startled out of my sleep by a very peculiar happening. Seconds after I "awoke" from my "sleep", my personal perspective was completely inverted. I wasn't where I thought I was anymore. Instead, I was floating above my bed, looking down on myself from somewhere over my body. What I saw scared me so thoroughly, I'm getting the chills again just thinking about it. What I saw was, well, me. I was lying on my back, but slumped to my left. My mouth was agape, and my eyes were open. I wasn't blinking. The moment I caught a glimpse of myself, I gasped. Was I dead?

Suddenly, with that same gasp of breath, I returned to my physical form. I sat straight up in my bed, my left arm tingling with pins and needles. The sound of my heart racing and skipping more aggressively than it usually does was both frightening and comforting. I was alive. Sandra Spirit had apparently taken up residence in Sandra Body once again. I could see my wall now, not myself. I was looking through my eyes, watching the dark. What, I asked myself, had happened to me in those few seconds just prior?

Naturally, I solved my fear by doing what any reasonable person in this situation would do: I covered my head with my comforter and buried myself between my pillows. Had I wormed myself any further into my mattress, it would have folded itself up and around me and made me into Sandra Taco. Surely this would keep me safe from whatever it was that had lifted me out of my body and into mid-air. I mean, if I had died for a few seconds, surely barricading myself with down bedding would protect me. My heart, if it had stopped briefly, couldn't possibly stop again in one night, could it? No. Not if neither one of my feet was hanging off my bed.

I wondered if this had been my Intro to Death 101. A little taste. An appetizer. One crabmeat stuffed mushroom before the prime rib is served. But if that is, in fact, what dying is, I don't want it. I'll pass, thank you. Even though I felt zero pain, just a jolt followed by confusion followed by fear, I'd rather stay alive. I always hear people announce, "When I go, I hope I go in my sleep, in my own bed...quietly and in peace." Yet, if life has taught us anything, it's that hope isn't always the most realistic route toward peace. Perhaps this is a life lesson that the concept of death and dying should appropriate. There is no real peace in the transition. I think we can assume that, regardless of how you die, whether you experience pain in the process or not, dying is always going to be a shock to your system. Let's assume it's the most difficult move you will ever make. Let's think of it as being evicted from your body. Even if you've been given notice, you don't want to leave. Once you're out, you're wondering where you're going to go next. You want to break back in and live where you've been living.

I think that's what I did on that one suspicious night about two months ago. I think I broke back into my body before it had been completely boarded up. Clearly, death didn't last very long in my case, but it did leave quite an impression on me. I wonder how long it's going to be before some kind of governing celestial force realizes I managed to slip back into my body soon after I was kicked out of it. The irony, of course, is this: I don't even like my body. But, really, it's better than no body at all; that's what I've come away with. So, I guess I'll keep it with me. I do wonder about being pulled back out of it, but I try not to worry about it. All I know is, should I be snagged for trespassing any time soon, I intend to put up one hell of a fight. My soul is a squatter, so to speak. But she won't go quietly.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Chicken Lives in New Jersey

My grandfather, who lives in suburban New Jersey like the rest of us, recently had a chicken. Her name was Clementina and she was akin to a pet cat. Self-sufficient and a bit of a snoot, she roamed his yard and went about the neighborhood with her head held high as though she had every right to be strutting along the asphalt. I'm going to assume that she died of natural causes, but one never really knows.

As kids, we, too, had a chicken. My father had bought her for us where they slaughter chickens at some place in Jersey City. This is just one of the many inappropriate places my father would take us as children. Horrified, my older sister and I would watch as they’d slice the chickens' heads off with a blade that was built into the counter. Some kids get to go to the zoo; we got to go watch chickens go bye-bye.

However, on one occasion, instead of with the usual, freshly killed chicken, we actually returned home with a live one. Hoping she would provide eggs daily, we kept her in the garage…in a Foodtown shopping carriage my father had stolen and transformed into a coop. My sister named her Chicky. Her full name was Chicky Feathers Joey Bazzarelli because my father let us each pick a name. My little brother contributed the Joey part, and I nearly blew a gasket.

“Chickens are girls,” I said, losing my patience.

Of course, my father told me to leave my brother alone, unless I wanted a schiaffo across my face. So, yes, the name stayed, but I was very annoyed about it. I still think it's totally stupid. I don’t think I need to tell you that, as a child, I had high blood pressure. Anyway, Chicky never laid eggs. No, she gave us something better, something no other pet could: chicken drama.

One afternoon, while we played outside with the garage door open, someone’s unleashed dog made a beeline for Chicky. It knocked over the Foodtown shopping carriage and, Chicky, understandably, went from frazzled to certifiably nuts, flapping and running across the washer and dryer, sort of flying around the garage, fumbling across my father’s tool-strewn workbench to get away from the dog.

Being that we were kids, home alone, and, well, chicken shit, we scrambled inside to call the police.

“There's a dog,” I said. “Loose in our garage,” I said. “It's going to eat our chicken!”
“Is it your dog?” the cop asked.
“No,” I said. “We don’t know whose dog it is.”
“Whose dog is it?” the cop asked.

My blood pressure rising, I didn’t answer for fear that I’d curse and earn myself multiple schiaffi in the process.

“Well, the dog’s probably just hungry,” the cop finally said. “Leave it alone. Let it eat your chicken. It'll run off after that.”
“But the chicken's ALIVE!” I yelled.

Eventually the police showed up, caught the dog, and made us call our father who got in trouble for not having a permit for Chicky. He couldn't have cared less. I remember him telling the police something about a dog’s not being on a leash being “more danger” than a chicken in someone's garage. Not that any of the hunting dogs my father owned over the years even knew what a leash looked like.

Needless to say, Chicky survived the dog chase, and we continued to keep her. Albeit, illegally.

“No worry,” my father said. “They no do nothing.”

Unfortunately, Chicky didn’t last too much longer. Chicky got cancer. Her right eyeball protruded at least an inch due to the tumor growing behind it. When she’d let you, you could feel the clusters of tumors under her wings. She also couldn't poop anymore because there was a tumor growing on her rectum. My father had to use pliers to pull out the feces she struggled to release. It was heartbreaking, watching her suffer like that. She really did suffer.

Then, not long after the first tumor appeared, Chicky died. We came home from school and she was gone. I asked my mother if my father had put her out of her misery. He hadn’t.

Recently, over one of our Saturday family lunches that starts at 2 PM and doesn’t exactly end, I brought up the subject of Chicky.

“Really, Dad?” my sister asked. “You didn't kill her?"
“No,” he insisted. “Justa she's die. By sheself. I find dead.”

It was quiet for a beat.

“You know,” I said. “The one time you should have killed a chicken, you didn’t.”