My eyes blinked with each fall of the hammer as my father pounded nails into a tired pair of shoes that he was repairing. There was at least fifty more pair to be done. He was a short, stocky man, with black hair, thick mustache, and hazel eyes. He was muscular and tattooed, the son of Italian immigrants and English was his second language. He dragged nails from his mouth as he punched them into the shoe. He talked through the nails. “You better watch your ass”, he said, “or you’re gonna end up going to war”. We had the radio on. The news was bad. They were talking about a place I never heard of called Viet Nam. My father grabbed the next pair of shoes. Then taking the right one he stuck his knife into the tight line between the welt and the sole and cut through the stitching that held the sole on. He grabbed his pliers and ripped the sole upward and sliced it off at the shank with his knife. “Right now they have advisers going over but that’s just the start”, he went on, “soon it will be a fucking mess and you’ll be right in the middle of it, I’m telling you –you better watch your ass.” He sharpened his knife. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was twelve and just started to work for him. I worked after school, Saturdays and during the summer. I would do so for the next five years. Once, I dreamed that a dwarf lived in the shop. He stood in the doorway right below the red corno that hung there to ward off the evil eye. My father took the pliers to the heel and like a shark bite ripped it off in one move. “This is how this shit starts”, he said, “first the advisers, then troops” My father was a World War ll vet. He served with Patton’s Third Army and saw action in North Africa and Italy. He earned the Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. He set up another pair of shoes, looked them over and saw that the right one’s welt was separated from the upper. They would need more work. He set them aside and picked up another pair. Again the knife, the pliers, and the knife again. Then the hammer and again I flinched at the pounding. “Viet Nam” he said, almost under his breath and shook his head. I wondered where that was and why we would fight a war there. He grabbed a pair of soles and heels and sized them to the bottom of the shoes he was working on, top grade cowhide and Cat’s Paw heels. They fit. He sanded them and the bottom of the shoes, applied glue and set them up to dry. He lit up a Camel. He dragged on his smoke and put it down on one of the many scorch marks scarring his work bench. He was breathing fire. “You better watch your ass” he said in a cloud, “you better watch your ass.”
Joseph Bocchicchio was born in New York City in 1951. Joe is also an activist and community organizer having facilitated Poverty Workshops, Creative Writing Workshops and Theater of the Oppressed Workshops for welfare recipients He also did grass roots organizing for opiate addiction treatment and suicide prevention for the Last Letter Project. He is now retired and living in Boston, Massachusetts with his wife. Joe works part time for The Old South Meeting House Museum and Historic Site where he does presentations on various historical topics. His poetry and creative non-fiction have appeared in Cut-Throat, Up-street, Jawbone, Entropy, Panning for Poems, and Enclave,as well as an entry in a Wick Poetry Center Chapbook, River of Words, from the 2017 Edith Chase Symposium conducted at Kent State University. He has also contributed to Naomi Wolf’s Blog, The Daily Clout. He recently attended the Idea Boston , an Italian-inspired festival of books, authors and culture.