Arrivederci, South Philly
Lou also fears that his children will suffer for growing up in placid suburbia. "I grew up competing for things, and I want her to learn to fight for what she wants – so when she gets it she’ll appreciate it more. Over there they don’t want to fight for anything. You get thrown to the wolves here . . . over there they don’t have wolves."
But the main source of their discontent – a strange one, too, since their exile was voluntary-is that they now feel too disconnected from family, friends and Al’s Place, a workingman’s bar with a large bunny on its sign, where Lou is still considered a regular.
Early in the marriage they were grateful for the distance. But since the baby was born, they find themselves visiting their parents’ homes three or four times a week, and spending $80 a month in phone calls.
‘I’m ruining my car," Lou moans. "It’s costing me $250 a month just for gas.
And returning to the neighborhood is the only way the Rotas can stay in touch; neither Lou’s nor Alison’s parents or siblings have been to the house more than once in three years.
"They even told me," Lou reports, sounding hurt, " ‘Hey, why should we come all the way out there, a half-hour there and a half-hour back?’
Lou and Alison are themselves reluctant suburbanites. The only couple they socialize with in South originates from Lou’s neighborhood, their car still wears Pennsylvania tags, and Lou continues to receive most of his mail at his mother’s address.
Lou’s 19-year-old cousin Domenic, also a Jersey resident, softly breaks in: ”I’ve been coming back here ever since we moved there. I remember the day we left that curb," he points to a spot across the street. "My grandmother was crying and my mother was waving goodbye and I was sitting in the back seat. And time I see that curb, it brings back memories." And Domenic silent again, reliving an event that took place in 1968, when he was 5 years old.
Lou and Alison had their reasons for moving away. One of them, oddly, was economics. Their 7-year-old house in the suburbs cost about $34,000; today, if Lou were to buy the same house he grew up in, it would cost him about $40,000, up considerably from the $6,000 his parents paid for it 23 years ago.
"You know what you get for $34,000 in South Philly today?" Lou asks hotly. "You get a pair of balls. "
"Lou!" Alison scolds.
"Well, I’m just saying, man to man … you get a pair of nothing.
Of course, in Jersey they did get a chance to be alone.
"Over there," Lou says, "we didn’t worry about anybody just dropping in," and he describes idyllic winter nights lying before the fireplace with bread, cheese, pepperoni, pickles and wine.