Aerial View was WFMU’s first regularly-scheduled phone-in talk show. Hosted by Chris T. and on the air since 1989, the show features topical conversation, interviews and many trips down the rabbit hole. Until further notice, Aerial View is only available as a podcast, available every Tuesday morning. Subscribe to the newsletter “See You Next Tuesday!” and find tons of archives at aerialview.me.
Today's Aerial View consists of a recent trip to attend a wake. During the drive, I muse on mortality, my own and those of my brother and sister, Mario (seen above, rowing) and Joanie (seen below, with cat). I've been thinking about them lately because it was recently the fifth anniversary of Mario's passing and it will soon be the tenth anniversary of Joanie's. January was also when I lost my mother and father. My father died a week after my brother and my mother died on the first day of 2013. I don't know what it is about these first few months of the year but they seem to take their toll.
My sister Joanie (RIP) with cat. Click for a Tsakis Home Movie, circa 1967
Cats & Kittens
I recently had some old home movies digitized and was amazed to see my father's 1960's 8mm films brought back to life. Above is a thirty-second snippet circa 1967, featuring my mother, my brothers and sisters and some neighbors trying to corral cats and kittens in our backyard. The film begins with my late sister Joanie, holding a cat on our front stoop, then cuts to the backyard where my mother holds first one cat, then our orange tabby, Socksie. My brother Marc is front and center with a kitten and Mario (RIP) - in the yellow shirt - can be seen kissing Socksie. I run through the scene at one point, also holding a kitten. I will delve further into this material in the months ahead.
Click the picture above for Mario's First Communion
Communion with Mario
Five years ago this January, we found out about my brother Mario's death. I still feel terrible about the way I shut him out toward the end. I stopped returning his calls, let them go to the answering machine and never called back. I still have five or six of the increasingly upsetting voicemails he left. I listened to them the other day and I felt cold and inhuman. It was so hard for me to engage with Mario. Whenever he would call we'd have these endless, rambling conversations that were actually monologues with me occasionally interjecting “Yeah?” or “Uh huh?” I found myself resenting the time I spent on the phone with him because it was obvious he was fucked up on something and he had no interest in talking with me about my life. He wanted to talk about our other brother, Marc, and what a piece of shit he was and how he had come between Mario and my mother. It was a sad thing to witness, this rivalry between brothers, this need to prove to my mother who was the better son. In the end, Mario lost out because he wasn't the one living there helping my mother on a day-to-day basis... and then there was the gun incident.
It happened over one of Mario's Christmas visits. I can't remember which year. Mario travelled up from Florida and brought a pistol with him. He didn't tell my mother about it, just stashed it in her house where Marc was able to find it. When Marc told my mother she freaked out about it and insisted the gun be moved out of the house. I don't recall the exact sequence of events but I do remember being at my mother's house that Christmas and quaking in my boots when Mario asked me to come see him in the kitchen. I had heard about the gun business in the driveway from Marc but I don't think the gun had yet been relocated. When Mario summoned me I thought it was so he could shoot me. Don't ask me why I thought that, just that he was not acting rationally then or for some time. It turned out that Mario wanted to apologize to me yet again for missing my wedding. He had apologized five or six times previously, always profusely, and I doubt he remembered.
In a previous summertime visit to my mother's house I watched as Mario cut open one of his pain patches, probably Fentanyl, scraped out the goo with a spoon and ate it like pudding. Pain Pudding. He had been on painkillers for awhile, prescribed due to back pain, the result of a riding lawnmower accident for which he was suing the state of Florida and several other entities. I could never piece together exactly what happened but apparently he was descending a hillside when the lawnmower tipped on top of him. In his long phone calls to me he would talk about his “case” and the latest lawyer he'd found after the last lawyer had given up on ever winning him anywhere near the amount he sought. Which was substantial. He would also go on about the waitress he'd taken up with back when he lived on Long Island and how she, too, had fucked him over somehow. I think it had something to do with a piece of property he helped her buy but to which he had no legal title. Who the hell knows?
When it came to Mario it seemed he was always the victim, of wretched women, of the callous state, of a lying brother, of a family who had turned their backs. To see him hobbling with a cane, a man just over the age of fifty, was to understand the phrase “human wreckage”. I still wonder how much of his inevitable downward spiral had to do with the beating he sustained at the hands of my father when he was caught skipping high school senior year. My parents were already separated but my mother called my father and told him she had no idea what to do with Mario anymore. My father drove to Long Island and essentially ambushed my brother when he got home from school. My father - Mario Sr. - tied Mario Jr to a chair and proceeded to beat him. Then he drove him back to school and marched him inside. It was a humiliation and trauma from which I doubt my brother ever recovered.
That's conjecture, of course. There were many years I didn't see Mario. He had moved to Florida - one of my least favorite states - and we fell out of touch. We never had what you could call a close relationship. He was merciless to me about my weight and he could be mean as fuck when he felt you were annoying him. Those annoyances usually revolved around car repairs because Mario - like my father - was an excellent mechanic. He learned at my father's side, accompanying him to Trophy Motors, the service station my father owned along with my Uncle Emil. They pumped that Good Gulf gas. By the time I was old enough to drive my father had moved out, up to Westchester, and the only mechanic in the house was my brother. The cheap shit cars I could afford were always in need of something being fixed and I quickly wore out my welcome with Mario. At some point he just refused to help me and I began bringing my cars to a local shop that had hired Mario, then let him go. There was always a conflict in his life, with women, with bosses, with family.
As I get older I worry that any memories I have of my brothers and sisters and how we were when we were younger are slipping away. I only have glimpses here and there, of trips in the station wagon and vacations in Pennsylvania, of Sunday nights in front of the TV and summer afternoons in the above-ground pool. But I worry it's all a lie and my memories are actually photographs of all those things, that the actuality of it all is gone. I worry about the actuality of me disappearing, too. That my life, in the end, will have amounted to not much more than Mario's.
Sometimes I dream about his double-wide trailer in Florida, the one my nephew Matt and I went to clean out after Mario died. It was like that house in “Silence Of The Lambs”. Death was everywhere, as was the stench of cigarettes. I found all of my brother's painkiller prescriptions and a closet stuffed with pills and pain patches. I filled a large Hefty bag with everything and threw it away.
Mario in his Gulf coveralls. Joanie (RIP) & Marc at table.
I sit down with the guy who brought me to WFMU, Kaz, to conduct a Q & A all about his new career retrospective, the Fantagraphics book Kaz: From Hoboken To Hollywood. Join us at the Word Bookstore in Jersey City. This discussion will become an Aerial View show, so come on out!
Obligatory Throwback Pic
Diana, Mario (RIP), Joanie (RIP), Marc & Chris, circa 1967
Chris Gorillaz T.
Clint Aerial View Eastwood
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