A Lesson in Maánogomy

I was on a connecting flight from Melbourne to Dubai a few years ago hoping that I would have three seats to myself. The 15-hour flight is horrendous and I wanted nothing more than to stretch out across the seats and engross myself in a movie. However, when I got to my seat I found a fifty something year old, man sitting in the middle seat asking the stewardess if he could have a “little bit of wine” before the plane takes off.

Disappointed, I squeezed past him politely and got to my window seat. The man, I observed, was a curious gentleman.

The Golden Case
The man filled up the seat completely. In fact, he looked as though he was spilling out of it. Heavy set, with a massive belly, he had curly jet-black hair (obviously dyed) with white roots that he brushed back a few times with a little silver comb he produced from his pocket. Dressed in all white, his shirt was a size too big and he wore gold everywhere. A thick gold chain around his neck, a thick one around his wrist, I counted seven gold rings (two thin ones on his pinkie finger) and even gold filling in his back teeth when he laughed.

Once we were flying, the man opened the dinner tray in front of him and took out a small gold case, from his pocket. It looked like a cigar case. He then started to meticulously shine the case with a handkerchief. I don’t use the word meticulously lightly here. Imagine this grizzly sized man, bent forward, his three fingers holding a handkerchief and moving in a circular motion, line after line, that he would then inspect in the light before moving on to the next.

At some point during the flight, while eating my dinner and watching episodes of Friends, the airhostess stretched over the man and tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I wanted a drink.

‘She has a nice ass, no?’ the man said as she walked down the isle.

Feeling awkward, I agreed for agreeing’s sake as I didn’t get to see her behind.

‘My name is Joe (some Italian surname I can’t remember).’

We spoke a little bit about where we were traveling to (me to Dubai, he to Italy), what we did for a living, (I at the time worked as a journalist of sorts for an ice cream company (story for another day) and he owned a few restaurants and gas stations in Melbourne). Other than being preoccupied with the air hostess’s behind, he also spoke openly about which actresses he would like to ‘take out to dinner’ from the list of movies available on the flight.

‘How else would I pick a good movie then?’ he laughed.

There was a young couple in the isle next to us. The girl I noticed earlier was very talkative. She literarily wouldn’t shut up while her boyfriend seemed less than interested in what she had to say. While me and Joe were eating dinner we heard the girl yelling.

‘You’re such a prick, I fucking hate you,’ she said while she punched him hard on the shoulder.

The boyfriend mumbled something to her about being embarrassing and she continued to cry and punched him harder.

‘Poor guy,’ I said.

‘You feel sorry for him?’ Joe asked looking back at me wide eyed.

‘Er, yeah,’ I said, ‘both of them really, doesn’t look like fun.’

Joe nodded and wiped his mouth with a tissue.

‘I’m concerned now,’ he said.

‘I’m sure they’ll be OK,’ I said.

‘No not them,’ he said, ‘I’m worried about you.’

‘Me? Why?’

‘You know, you’re like my son,’ he started to say.

‘Am I?’ I said with what I thought was obvious sarcasm that he didn’t pick up on.

‘I want to give you some very important advice, really very important. You must listen to it and it will help you for the rest of your life,’ he said facing me, ‘you’ll see.’

‘Right, OK.’

‘Never feel sorry for anyone in this world except your mother,’ he said looking me straight in the eye, ‘no one.’

‘My mother or all mothers in the world?’

‘No,’ he said shaking his head, ‘every man should only feel sorry for his mother, he should pity no other person in this world.’

‘Ah OK . . . why?’

‘I’m happy you asked,’ he said, ‘ did you know I was married five times?’

‘No . . .’

‘OK let me tell you a story,’ he said, ‘I was married five times and this is what happened.’

Wife Number One
‘When I was 17, my mother said, ‘Joe, you have to get married.’ She found me the most beautiful girl, a daughter of her friend and we got married. He name was Rose. Oh my God, Rose! Very dark hair and she had big brown eyes, very, very beautiful. She was shy at first, but I saw she was a hard worker and wanted a better life than we had in Italy. We were too poor for me to buy her a ring and she said, ‘I don’t want jewellery, what a waste. I want other things, more important than jewellery.’
Rose wanted lots of children and a big house where she can feed them all. So after a few months of marriage we moved to Australia and after one year we had a baby, then another one and another and another . . . four daughters and three sons. We worked very hard. I started working in a gas station and she was working at a bakery. We saved money, then I bought the gas station and we worked even harder. Then I bought another gas station and she worked with me and took care of the kids and then we bought a restaurant, then another restaurant, then our house and then we bought a car dealership and another house. We worked so hard for thirty years . . .’

He paused for a minute.

‘We never had any fun together, only me and her. Whenever I bought her jewellery she would yell at me, ‘take it back, we need the money, we can buy another business, another house. I don’t want this, not now, not yet!’ It was always about the kids and the jobs she was so busy with them. And I was ready to have fun but she didn’t want. We became very different, I thought. So I left her. We had a divorce. She was so angry when I left, she started to throw things at me, shoes, plates, books. ‘You’ll come back and I will never have you back!’ she yelled at me. But I knew it wouldn’t happen.’

Wife Number Two
‘Now all my businesses were going good I didn’t have to work so hard. I started to go out and have fun, go to clubs and parties, I made new friends. I met one girl her name was Caroline, she was younger, not thirty yet. Very blond and very tiny, not like my wife. Caroline was a ballet dancer but she quit it when she hurt her ankle and she wanted to be a nurse. She liked to party and we went on holidays together and we had so much fun all the time. We went to Fiji and got married, just me and her and her friends. We had very good times.’

He chuckled, pulled out that silver comb and brushed back his hair a few times.

‘Then when we went back to Australia and we were living together . . . you know, you can’t party when you’re having breakfast. So in breakfast time she talked and talked and talked . . . I wasn’t listening. She talked so much, she had so much energy. Then one day, I came home from work, (I started to work late those days even though I didn’t need to) and when I walked in the kitchen, there was another woman there. She had very dark hair and she was tall, and slim. She had a big nose and very beautiful eyes. Her name was Katie. She was Caroline’s sister and she was a lawyer.’

Wife Number Three
‘I know what you’re going to say. But I didn’t want to marry my wife’s sister, I just wanted to . . . take her to dinner.’

He laughed and nudged my shoulder.

‘But this Katie, she was very quiet and always stared. I can tell she was thinking a lot of things. First she pretended she hated me, she called me a ‘dirty old man’ for marrying her sister. She was older than Caroline and not as beautiful, but she was very smart. She would come for dinner and we would all have wine, and me and her would talk about politics and history and Caroline would paint her nails and ask when we are having a baby. Katie would look at me and roll her eyes. I could tell she wanted me so bad. We wanted each other.”

Joe peeled open a plastic cup of jelly and gobbled it down before continuing.

‘She drove to my house one night when Caroline was at a Hens night and she said, ‘It’s now or never Joe, you come with me now or I’ll never come here again.’ Of course I went with her, she was smart and attractive and she liked to argue and get angry, and she didn’t care if I was married to her sister. After our first night I asked her in the morning, ‘who is the dirty old man now?’ and she slapped me. It was so funny. The next week I filed for divorce from Caroline, I gave her my car and told her she can keep all the clothes that I bought her. She was very angry and said, ‘Katie doesn’t care about you, she just did this to hurt me. She used to be fat you know, really obese. You think she’s really clever, but you’ll see she’s just like me. You never bought me jewellery or even a ring!’ I told her, I said, ‘My first wife never wanted jewellery, why do you want it?’ She called me an asshole and shut the phone on my face.’

He shrugged.

‘When I told Katie what Caroline said, she didn’t say anything. A few days later she did some lawyer thing and me and Caroline were never married, ‘you’re annulled,’ she said. Then she made me sign another paper and we were married. I can’t remember how long we were married for, it wasn’t long. Soon I realised Katie was crazy. All she wanted to do was go to the gym. And all she wanted from me was sex and jewellery. But I never bought her jewellery. I never bought any woman jewellery why would I start now? Whenever she asked or gave clues, I said no and she would get very mad. Caroline was right. Katie was dumb. She was a good actress she only repeated what she read in newspapers and wasn’t very good at her job. She was only good at pretending, you see.

‘I was a little sad because I realised that Caroline was smarter than her sister. Caroline knew she was dumb and she didn’t care and that made her happy. Katie was dumb because she still thought she was fat and she was always pretending she was smart. It was a very sad situation for me. Anyway, I left the house and my son, he’s a big lawyer in Melbourne, took care of everything. Katie was so dumb, she made me sign a paper to say that I wouldn’t get any of her money, but the truth is I had more money than her, she just didn’t know. I guess she was right about one thing. I was a dirty old man.’

Joe smiled at me and closed his eyes for a few seconds then inhaled.

Wife Number Four
‘After Katie, I thought, I don’t want to get married again. But then, I was in the grocery store trying to choose which watermelon would be a good one to buy. This woman who was standing next to me, told me I had to knock on it and listen for an echo. Then she laughed at me when I did it. Her name was Nancy and she was Lebanese. She was a widow and had two daughters who were both married. Her husband Robert died in a skiing accident. Nancy was a teacher and a little bit younger than me. She loved to cook. I think this is why I fell for her very quickly. All she wanted to do was to take care of me and make me happy. She cooked and she watched football with me. We got married quickly and she signed anything I asked. I don’t think her daughters were very happy but they looked very pretty in their purple dresses when they were bridesmaids. We got married in her back garden, she said it was like a Shakespeare play. I don’t know this Shakespeare but I said sure, whatever you want. She didn’t want any jewellery from me and just wanted to just wear her old wedding ring. I would have wanted to buy her jewellery cause she was a good women but . . . Me and Nancy were married for a year and it was a nice time. I can’t say one bad word about her, she was a good woman. But something was missing. Both of us liked each other very much . . . but I couldn’t understand what was wrong.

‘Then one morning when she made my tea, I said ‘Thank you Nancy,’ and she said ‘You’re welcome Robert.’ When she realized what she’d said, she turned away and started to cry. I went and I hugged her. You know I cried a little bit too, because we were doing the same thing to each other. She pretended I was Robert and I pretended she was Rose. I slept on the sofa that night and the next day we had breakfast together and talked for a long time. Then we gave each other a hug and I left.

Wife Number Five
‘Rose, threw everything she could at me when I came back. It was like I had gone back in time five years. Books, bags, plates, she threw everything. She was even going to throw one of our grandchildren at me. ‘I just want to talk to you,’ I said. ‘Go talk to your other wives,’ she yelled at me.’

He laughed and kept nudging as if I should find this hilarious too. I laughed only cause I was thoroughly entertained.

‘I talked to my kids but they said, ‘Dad this is your problem you fix it.’ So I kept coming everyday for breakfast with flowers but she still threw things at me. She would see from the window and throw things, anything that was in her hand she would just throw it. And then after one week, one of our grandchildren left the door open and I went into the kitchen and started to make her breakfast. When she came downstairs, she looked angry but she didn’t throw anything at me this time. She sat down and tasted my eggs and she told me, ‘this is disgusting.’ Then she said everything wrong with it and I had to cook it again. I cooked it five times before she ate the whole thing. Then she told me to get out. It happened like this every day for nearly a month, I bring flowers, I cook breakfast, she tells me it’s wrong, I cook again . . . Then it became lunch. Then I was working in the house, fixing things. But she was till very angry with me.

‘So one day when she was home alone I came to the door and I knocked but she wouldn’t open it. It was so hot outside, and I told her I wouldn’t leave until she opened it. When she did I held her hands and went down on one knee and I said to her, ‘I’m very sorry for all the things I ever done to you. You helped me become the man I am now, you worked hard with me and harder than me. You are the mother of my children, and I treated you badly. I never proposed to you right, so I propose to you. Please be my wife forever.’ She said yes and when I showed her the ring I bought, she said, ‘what is that? Take it back, I don’t want jewellery, we can buy other things for the kids, take it back!’ Then when we hugged she said in my year, ‘I will forget the last five years, but you have to forget them too. Because you weren’t the only one who had fun you dirty old man.’

Back to the Gold Case
‘And you’re still married to Rose?’ I asked.

‘Of course,’ he said, ‘it’s been eight years we are back together now.’

The story still didn’t make any sense to me. It was entertaining enough, bizarre of course, but I didn’t understand what this had to do with only feeling sorry for our mothers.

‘So is that why I should only pity my mother? Because you’re wife put up with a lot and she’s the mother of your children? Yeah?’

‘No, no, no,’ Joe said shaking his head, ‘you still don’t understand the point. One of the reasons I left Rose at first is because she didn’t care for me as much as the kids, as much as making everyone else happy. Caroline, she only wanted babies, Katie she didn’t care for me, she was crazy and just wanted jewellery, Nancy didn’t care for me either she was in love with a ghost. My kids love me but not like how they love their mother . . .’

‘The only woman who really cares for me, who only cares for you, who will never judge you if you do stupid things is your mother. None of my wives remember my birthday, all my wives wanted revenge, all of them wanted something. My mother only wants me to be happy. You will see, when you have a son, he will love you but then he will get married and leave you, your daughters will always stay close to their mothers, your father, all fathers are selfish in the end of the day. But the only person who will never forget you is your mother. She calls me every year on my birthday. She has nine children and she remembers to call me every year. That’s why I’m going to Italy, to see her. I go every year and oh-’

He pulled out the golden case from his pocket and opening it very carefully, showed me a pair of massive diamond earrings.

‘Very nice,’ I said, ‘she’ll be happy with those.’

‘No one deserves diamonds and gold like this except your mother she is the one who worked the hardest on you,’ he said, ‘so never in this world feel sorry for anyone except your mother. You’ll see and one day you’ll say, ‘that Joey Italian man in the airplane, he was right.’

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