In this current lifetime, I grew up in a small portion of Brooklyn known as Boro Park. It was primarily a tight knit old school Italian/ Jewish neighborhood that loved and feared the Don, God and the President- all in that order! (After all, the Don had shown us the miracle of life and death every day, where god…let’s say he was a bit more understated).
We all knew the names of each other’s families and all of the families up and down the block, so when something occurred the news spread like a wildfire.
In this fishbowl of culture and familiarity, the language and communications became a unique item unto itself. Our parents, who were either immigrants or first generation Americans, spoke the language of their ancestors. The kids on the block spoke English but were subject to three sometimes four dialects of a few different languages in the same sentence. It was our jobs to decipher this block speak. Sometimes we got it right and sometimes we made it up. Making it up was more fun because something’s just can’t be translated.
In a community where the lowest volume of a conversation was a scream and the no one was concerned with how the rest of the world viewed us, we had a short hand of language. Needless to say Euphemisms were abundant.
“Hey, go count the white lines will ya” – Which meant go into traffic and get hit by a car because your annoying me.
“Zolsvaxen me a tzilbila”- Which translates into you should grow like an onion-Which actually means you should go to hell.
But I had a favorite phrase because it was a wondrous term that morphed and changed upon usage. “It fell off the back of the truck”.
So many wonderful and awful things came off of this truck I wondered how it stayed in business.
My father, who was not a man given to pomp and circumstance, would bring us home items, gifts so to speak. Jewelry for my mom, toys for my brother and I, sometimes even electronics. The massive black and white “portable” TV sets or AM radios, little tschotskes from Radio Shack .He would put the items down unceremoniously on the table or floor and just smile. My mother who would be simultaneously furious and happy with him would look at him and ask where he got it from and how we could afford it. He would casually (and my father was not a casual man) look back and say, “It fell off the back of the truck.”
There was that damn truck again. I never really understood what that meant back then, I had wondered how do people actually find this stuff? Do they just pull over after they see it fall and pick it up? Do the folks who own the truck realize that their goods have actually fallen? How is it possible that so much great stuff falls off of trucks? Is this stuff all broken? Not understanding that in an organized crime neighborhood that phrase was not literal and had other more dire connotations other then theft. You see my father was a bartender and got people drunk for a living, – a popular man in his field-so the truck never failed to stop in front of his bar.
There was another more ominous usage for the same phrase. When someone mysteriously died, without warning or cause they would also say “Oh well, he just fell of the truck.” I thought maybe he got hurt trying to get one of the items that were falling….. Maybe he was!
But I still loved this truck! It came at odd intervals, and never during Christmas. But it came all through my childhood.
A simple thing for a complex time.
My second cousin in this lifetime died this past week; he was just a tad older than me. He was healthy and exercised and in fact he died riding a bike. When I asked my mother what had happened she just waited and said, “He just fell off the truck” and cried.