The Chronicles of Augustine

December 9, 2010 at 1:31 am (Uncategorized)

No record of our family would be complete without a section on the misguided adventures of my father, Augustine R. Oliveri. The fifth of Angela and Eugenio Oliveri’s six children, Dad was born in 1915, although he deceitfully claimed later in life that his birth year was actually 1918 (more on that to follow). He had a bit of a devilish reputation, so that to this day, when anyone asks me if I’m related to Augie, I always answer, “Why do you want to know?”

My brother, Augie Jr., still has to deal with questions about his namesake. “Why didn’t they name you Augie?” he complains to me. “You were the first son.” Sorry, Aug. Better you than me!

Anyway, for some reason Dad had a penchant for becoming involved in hilarious escapades, some of which I’ve recounted in other stories. Many of those misadventures involved cars and driving (see “Saga of the Missing Door” and “Now Hair This”). What follows is a multi-act play in the Theater of the Absurd.

Dad once told me that when he was a child of about ten, his father had a Model-A Ford that he kept in the garage behind their house in Inwood. One day my father, being the mischievous soul he was, climbed behind the wheel of the car to play. Somehow, he was able to start the engine, sending the ill-fated Model-A lurching forward and through the rear wall of the garage! Dad said he spent the rest of the day in a tree hiding from his father! Thus began his life-long affinity for motorized mishaps.

His next fiasco also may have involved the very same Model-A. Apparently a handle on one of the car’s windows was broken. Someone, I’ve forgotten who, was trying to lift the glass with a screwdriver. My father, bursting with curiosity, leaned inside the open window to see what was happening. At this point the screwdriver slipped and shot upward, burying itself in the bone beneath one of his eyes. Dad had to be rushed to the hospital, where the first nurse to see him with the screwdriver embedded in his face fainted dead away! Doctors were able to remove the tool without damaging his eye, but the accident left a sizable scar that he wore for the rest of his life.

My father had a unique talent for acquiring broken-down cars, one that I’ve never seen matched by anyone else. Whenever he came across someone who was about to junk an old wreck, he would take it home and squeeze the last few miles out of the vehicle until it finally gave up the ghost. One in particular I remember was an ugly old green panel truck we christened “The Flying Shillelagh” due to its color. Its brakes didn’t work very well, so if you were riding with him, sometimes you had to open the door and stick your heel out to try to slow the truck at a stop sign! And that heap was missing some floorboards. Whenever he drove in the rain and splashed through a puddle, water sprayed up into the cab, soaking everyone within. What a bomb!

My sister Sue was mortified anytime she had to ride in that wreck. When Dad drove her to school, she would make him let her out two blocks away so that none of her friends would see them. But Dad got even with her by putting a sign on the side of the truck that read, “SUZANNE OLIVERI’S FATHER!” Hilarious, maybe, but not to Sue.

One time my sister Denise’s car broke down in Woodmere, so Dad went to tow her with his latest “bucket of bolts” featuring a missing side-view mirror. He carefully wrapped a chain around her bumper and attached it to his car. Then he instructed her on what to do as he towed her home: “When I go like this, step on the brake; when I go like that, turn right”, and so on. They then took off, and hadn’t gone a block when the chain broke. Dad drove the rest of the way to Cedarhurst making hand signals to my sister, unaware without a mirror that she was no longer behind him! He finally realized what had happened when some guy called out from the sidewalk, “Hey, do you know you’re dragging a chain?” You can’t make this stuff up.

Dad’s neighbor across the street had only one arm (you’re smiling already, aren’t you?) One morning he and my father were both backing their cars into the street at the same time. Unfortunately, their driveways were directly opposite one another, which, as you can imagine, resulted in a roaring collision in the middle of Summit Avenue. Dad jumped out of his car, thinking his neighbor might have been hurt. However, they both burst into riotous laughter when my father asked him, “Do you need a hand?” Sorry… that demented sense of humor obviously runs in the family.

Dad drove a bus for a senior citizen center until he was 75 years old. He would come home at night and complain, “I hate driving those old bags around!” Meanwhile, most of them were younger than he was! And then he did something that finally forced us to take away his license. He was driving down Peninsula Boulevard one morning when he spotted a woman bending over on the sidewalk. Dad turned to glance at her rear end… and promptly plowed right into the back of a Long Island Lighting truck. Those poor guys were diving for cover to get away from this maniac! Only the grace of God and access to an open manhole saved them from serious injury. The woman escaped with her dignity intact.

Well, a couple of years later he talked me into taking him for a driving test so he could get his license back. Big mistake on my part. He got in the car with the examiner, took off like a bat out of hell, did a wheelie, blew through a red light and careened around the corner on two wheels! They returned about a minute later and screeched to a halt. The examiner’s eyes were like two saucers. The poor man wobbled out of the car with a big wet spot on the front of his pants. He staggered away and was never seen again. Needless to say, that was finally the end of my father’s driving days.

Driving wasn’t all that brought Dad grief. Animals did their part as well. Once my father was out in the backyard with his new kitten when his dog (Moe) got out of the house and came running toward them. Of course, the kitten dashed up a tree and refused to come down. Dad went inside, patiently put on his lumberjack gear and hard hat, climbed the tree, got clawed by the frightened cat, but managed to return it safely to the ground.

Naturally, the dog immediately went after the kitten, which quickly returned to its previous perch in the tree. So Dad repeated the whole process and brought the cat down again, where – you guessed it – the dog chased it up the tree a third time! It never occurred to “Paul Bunyan” to lock up the dog first, so next he went back up that tree with a burlap sack and a rope. He stuffed the cat in the bag and lowered it to the ground where, of course, Moe tore the sack open. The kitten passed Dad as he made his way down from the tree. At this point he finally wised up, put Moe in his pen and left the cat to climb down by itself!

On another occasion, two of Dad’s Jack Russell terriers got into a furious fight in his kitchen. My father jumped in to separate them. Bad move. A wild melee ensued, much like the swirling battles you often see in cartoons with arms, legs, dust, tails and fangs spinning in all directions. When it was finally over, the floor was covered with blood – Dad’s! The dogs were unhurt, but my father had to go to the emergency room for stitches and a tetanus shot.

Yard work also seemed to invite disaster for “Lumberjack” Augie. One time he was trimming some branches from the very same tree his cat had ascended repeatedly. Incredibly, he was sitting ON the branch that he was sawing OFF! I can’t even begin to describe the resulting howl of terror and ear-shattering crash as both Dad and the limb reached the ground simultaneously!

As I mentioned earlier, my father wasn’t always entirely straightforward when it came to admitting his age. Toward the end of his life he suffered from bouts of congestive heart failure. One Christmas Eve he wasn’t feeling well, so I drove him to the emergency room. While Dad sat quietly, I gave the receptionist some basic information about him. When she asked for his date of birth, I responded that it was 1915. Well, Dad hit the ceiling. It seems he had a girlfriend at the time (hooray for him!), and he’d told her that he was three years younger than he actually was. Instead of worrying about his condition, he was more concerned that his lady friend would find out his real age!

“Dad, listen to me,” I said, somewhat defensively. “At your age, what the hell difference does it make if you’re off a couple of years?” But he was having none of that. In fact, he wouldn’t speak to me for weeks afterward!

My father passed away three months later. Fortunately, he had forgiven me by then, and as far as I know, his girlfriend never learned his true age! With his death, we lost the most powerful natural magnet for comic disaster I have ever known. One of Dad’s favorite TV shows in my youth was “The Life of Riley” with William Bendix. As Chester A. Riley might have said about my father’s passing, “What a revoltin’ development this is!”

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2 Comments

  1. Bonnie Caporale said,

    So great! I have some fuzzy memories of your Dad but nothing like this. I suspect there was never a dull moment at your house.

    • yeeditor said,

      You suspect correctly, Bonnie! Never a dull moment!

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