Artists' Television Access webzine, Issue #3, Fall 2004

Fig. 1

The Un-named Story

by Chicken John

AND NOW, the great grand son of Italian immigrants tells a story about soap and spaghetti, which is actually a thinly-veiled saga of strange names. So I didn't name the story.

I am the son of Victor and Patricia Rinaldi. My mother was daughter to an Irishman and a Spanish immigrant—James Bradley and Maria DelCarman Boucharisa. My father was son to an Italian couple, who divorced early, but I know that my grandfather was nicknamed Pat and my grandma (Nanny) was named Elizabeth. My great grand dad on my father’s side was named Ooplio (oop-lee-o). When my brother was born, he was named after my mother’s father, James. When my sister was born, she was named after my father, Vicki. When I was born, I was to be named after my great-grand father, Ooplio. Hit me in the fucking head with a rock, why don't ya! Jesus, how they could have ever even considered that is beyond me. But supposedly someone talked them out of it and I was named after an uncle that died of electrocution instead. "They would have called him Ooops!" my father said proudly one thousand times. "And they would have been right!" he would conclude. That is quite an interesting thing to happen to a blue collar family of house painters. But in the past, before the war started and the men were drafted, things were different.

In the mid-1980s, I dated a beautiful young lady named Debbie who was the source of many broken hearted songs, such that young men write for beautiful young ladies. I am sure that Debbie is now a beautiful old lady. I wish her well and hope she puts out now. One day, Debbie asked me if I would like to have dinner at her grandmother's house, and I agreed. I was always eager to impress her family because I had a 3-foot mohawk and they absolutely hated me. Debbie's dad was a fireman, and her mother was a devout Catholic. I represented all that they battled with constantly—low morals and I lived in a squat. Anyway, I went to the grand mother's house and Grammy talked my ear off about her wallpaper problems and her phlebitis.

Ooplio learned to make soap. This is probably in the late 1800s. Let's say he learned to make soap when he was 15. That would make it 1885 or so. Ooplio lived in Italy and although not a soap maker by trade, would make soap to give as gifts on Christmas. Ooplio immigrated to the United States to seek his fortune. He got married and had 2 sons. He made soap at Christmas for gifts, as he was very poor. It was before the depression, I guess. But it happened quickly I am to understand. One Christmas he gave a soap gift to a relative and the relative liked it so much after a month she asked him to make another batch; just for her. She said she had never seen soap like that before, and she preferred it. The details of the story are a little fuzzy, and I may not have all the info totally correct, but this is it to the best of my knowledge. And my dad is dead so there is no one to ask any more. But here it is. She liked the way Ooplio made the soap because it was a powder—not a bar that had to be cut up. She basically placed an order which Ooplio filled and charged her a fee. Then her neighbor wanted some, then her friend told 2 friends and before you know it...

I am a spaghetti master. With the spoon in one hand and the fork with just the right amount of pasta in the other, I am like a stuntman of spaghetti.

Debbie's Grandmother served spaghetti that night. I am a spaghetti master. With the spoon in one hand and the fork with just the right amount of pasta in the other, I am like a stuntman of spaghetti. We ate and talked about the weather and music and things. It's always amazing to me how old people can find out so much about you by talking about nothing at all. Old people are cunning, conniving motherfuckers. You have to watch them. They dress down to seem harmless, but they are right there waiting; like wolves in crocheted sweaters. But the old lady seemed to like me, and gave me a break.

Ooplio Rinaldi was living the American dream. Even around the depression time, his business was doing well. He and his son were making tons of soap a day in their soap plant. Eventually Ooplio retired, and Pat ran the factory. My father had always planned on going to work at the soap factory when he came of age. He always got good grades at school, and there was talk of him going to college to help run the family business, although his parents were separated and he lived with his mother and his sister, Florence (Flossie), in poverty. I have heard all the extreme depression stories: dinner was a can of soup and a loaf of bread, my father, his sister and their mother all sleeping in the same bed with no heat in a drafty attic, the financial burden my father was to the family because he needed glasses. But back to the soap. By the time 1940 rolled around, the business was gigantic. Their radio motto was on every station, and it was a good motto. Jingle. Whatever. "Don't worry, use a little No Worry!" the jingly little voice would tempt from the speakers of tens of thousands of radios. A common response to a new stain was to sing that jingle. The jingle would escape the lips of thousands of Americans. Until Ooplio, soap had been chunked. My grandfather is responsible for your laundry, bitch. Don't forget it. And my father, Victor, was to be heir to a soap empire that had the patent on soap 'powder'. However, in 1941 when my dad was 17, the Navy called for him and in 1947 he was in the last convoy to leave the South Pacific. He returned to his father, who was in financial ruin. The soap plant was thwarted by the war effort. The soap powder they manufactured was bottled in mason jars, and all glass went to the war effort. So they shut down the plant, thinking the war would last a few short weeks. And because no one could read, the lawyers stole the money. Fuckers. Pat had sold the copyright to a guy named Clorox, and the rest is Laundromat history. With the money he got for the copyright, Pat bought 4 taxis. But by the time Victor returned, the drunken Pat only had one left. He offered half of the cab to my dad, "You drive at night, and I'll drive days, whadda ya say?" My dad declined, and got a job with the brickies instead—later hired with the painters because they couldn't find a sober painter and Victor didn't drink. Pat died of a heart attack in his cab.

Debbie was a little dressed up for dinner, wearing a skirt and a white blouse. It was summer and the windows were open. The sun was getting set to set, and was low in the sky. It was a time they call 'magic hour' in Hollywood because the light takes ten years off of aging actresses. Magic hour made Debbie look angelic. I remember her at the table that night because I remember what Grammy said when the meatball broke in half, cracked off her fork and rolled down the front of her white blouse, staining it. It happened almost in slow motion. "Don't worry," sang Grammy in a jingly little voice, "use a little No Worry!"

I, John Joseph James Rinaldi, would have been heir to a soap empire. But it was not to be. At least I wasn't named Ooplio. Speaking of names, my father, Victor, had an interesting linguistic trick called up at his funeral. The priest pointed out that Victor was more than just a name; it was a kind of person. And he made us all sing this song about how the 'victors' will arrive in the kingdom of heaven. Mom liked that. I appreciated it in a sham-a-lam-a, kind of P.T. Barnham-kinda way.

Fig.1. A young Chicken with his father.

Chicken John sold all his cars to buy the bar now known as the Odeon. Did you see his full page ad in both the SF Bay Guardian and the SF Weekly? Apparently, he still has more old cars lying around.

Order, Measurement and Systems

ATA webzine, Issue #3, Fall 2004