By Steve Siciliano
In exchange for the six hours he spent raking leaves at the Dominican convent Vito Brunelli got a ham sandwich, a twenty dollar bill and a holy card with Raphael’s crucifixion on the front and the Serenity Prayer on the back. He stuck the bill in his pants pocket, the holy card in his shirt pocket and tossed the half-eaten sandwich to a dog that was licking a Slim Jim wrapper on the sidewalk in front of C’s Convenience Store. He leaned on the five iron that he used for a cane and rubbed his aching right knee before going into the store for a package of Bugler cigarette tobacco and two fifths of Wild Irish Rose.
Two hours later he stumbled into a clearing next to a stretch of abandoned railroad tracks where three men were huddled around a camp fire passing a bottle. He sat at the base of a small tree, took a long, final swig of wine, tossed the empty bottle in a high arc towards the tracks, then took the pouch of tobacco out of his shirt pocket and began rolling a cigarette. “Hello you lousy, drunken bums,” he said.
“This here’s a private party,” said a man who was sitting on a ripped lawn chair and poking at the fire with a stick. “Ain’t no cheap ass wops allowed. Ain’t that right, Lennie?”
Lennie was standing next to the fire warming his hands. “He can stay if he got more wine. You got more wine there, Vito?”
“If I did I wouldn’t share it with you bums.”
“Look who’s calling us bums,” said another man sitting on a five-gallon bucket and looking at a Hustler.
“I think there ain’t nothing worse than a cheap ass wop,” the first man said. “I ever tell you guys about them cheap ass wop tires?”
“Shut up with that damn joke already, Dugan,” said Vito.
“Dago through mud, dago through snow…”
“Shut your trap,” Vito said again, “or I’ll run this here goddamn five iron down your throat.”
“…and when dago flat, dago wop, wop, wop.”
When Vito was trying to get up Lennie reached over and grabbed the five iron. “What you going to do now you cheap ass wop cripple?”
Vito knew it could have been worse. He felt lucky that he had gotten out of the fight with only bruised ribs, a sprained right hand and a swollen left eye. He felt lucky even though Lennie broke the shaft of his five iron against a tree trunk and now, leaning against the iron railing outside the Catholic church, he felt lucky that it was raining. He knew the rain would make him look even more forlorn and more forlorn meant more money in the tattered baseball cap he was holding. Vito waited for the people to file out after the Saturday evening Mass, and when he took the pouch of Bugler out of his shirt pocket the holy card came out along with it. Leaning against the iron railing in the cold, steady rain, he read the Serenity Prayer in the light of a flood lamp.
While he limped in the rain down Division Avenue, the change heavy in his pocket, his knee hurting, his ribs aching, Vito Brunelli prayed that God would give him the courage to change the things in his life that he could and the serenity to accept the things that he couldn’t. He knew that he had enough money in his pocket to get his cane back from the pawn shop. That would be a start. He imagined that if he tried real hard there were some things that he could change; other things it didn't much matter what he did, the change would never come. When he was in front of the house where he rented a room he stood on the sidewalk trying to decide which was which. Then he limped across the street to the convenience store, and thanked God for giving him the wisdom to know the difference.