~This essay previously appeared in Divergent Voices (2014).
Like everything else in our house that plugs into a (working) electrical socket, the record player comes on The Truck. My father knows a guy. Who knows a guy. Who knows a guy. You never know which guy will barrel The Truck up our steep asphalt driveway: Ugly. Shorty. The Schnozz. Big Willy.
Whoever si chiama, the guy flings open the back of the truck and deposits the unsealed box on the back porch. No money changes hands, at least in front of my mother.
I don't ask no questions, Ma says.
The record player comes in the swankiest color of 1967: avocado green. My three sisters and I haul it into the living room and drop to our knees to worship it—like it's the Archbishop's gold ring that contains a sliver of Christ's cross.
Sister Uno plugs it in. Sister Due puts the 45 on the turntable. Sister Tre pushes the lever that makes the record drop and the arm lurch over.
The speakers screech.
I cover my ears. The record player is a piece-a-shit, like everything else in our house—the washing machine that doesn't wash, the dryer that doesn't dry, the baccaus that clogs so often I am terrified to cacca in it.
Needs a needle, Sister Uno says.
Ma heads for her sewing box. Sister Due digs through the Styrofoam and plucks out a silver stylus, thin as the slivers Ma yanks out of the bottom of our feet when we don't listen to her (you kids, you stunod kids, you don't listen to me, you never listen!), and walk barefoot on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
The needle picks up every pop and scratch on the record. Then a deep, commanding voice enters our living room: Welcome to Italian One. Lesson One. Greetings. Listen and repeat.
We listen. But do not repeat.
Buon giorno, Signora Rossi, come stai? (Ding!)
Bene, grazie, e Lei? (Ding!)