Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Note About Ralph Calderaro's Dad, Who Opened My Eyes in a Big Way

I don't know if I've written about this before. If I have, forgive me. I'm crying now just with joy in my heart. Madeleina says I cry too much. I tell her my heart is full lots of the time with all sorts of things. Sometimes I cry from anger, sometimes from something touching, sometimes from a note a singer hits, sometimes from just watching Madeleina teach her sisters how to do something new.
    I used to go to Bishop Reilly high school. It was a pretty big high school, with maybe 600 boys in each grade. You hung out with the ones you liked best; you sometimes hung out with others that you liked but didn't know enough. In the end we hung out with everybody sometimes: I was not good but okay at athletics, so I fit with those guys even though I wasn't at their level. I was in theater and writing stuff and so I hung out with those guys. I was always in detention for not cutting my hair or talking back to Brother Earnest, the disciplinarian who had a habit of hitting us--and I had the temerity to hit him back hard once and told him to never touch me again. So I got along with the guys in detention. I was smart, so I got along with the smart guys. The science guys eluded me because I had no idea what they were thinking. They were way smarter than I was.
   Anyway, Ralph Calderaro was a big guy and he was involved--unless I'm totally insane--with set painting and design for the shows the school put on. So I knew him but he lived several blocks away and I didn't really hang out with him. We were friends but not close.
   Somehow, one evening, several of us were with Ralph and he suggested going to his house. That was weird but we did. I didn't really want to go because it was not familiar. But I went.
   And we met his mom and dad--and probably his brothers and sisters if he had any, though I'm not sure he did (now that I'm thinking of it I think he had a sister who went to our school, but since girls were on the other side of the school we didn't socialize much). Well, his dad was just a dad. He looked like everybody else's dad and they were all pretty lame compared to my dad, the Broadway actor with the very cool swagger who was the toughest, bravest guy in the world.
   Somehow, Ralph's dad invited us to the basement and asked if we'd ever been hypnotized. None of us had except Ralph, and his dad suddenly had the other guys walking around like chickens or jumping like frogs. Pretty amazing. I don't think he got to me, but then neither did the other guys we all laughed at doing silly things.
    The night changed my life. Ralph just wrote a note saying he'd be praying that my skin graft next Monday goes well. I thanked him and then asked if he remembered that night--the only night I was ever in his house I think. This is what I wrote:
    Thanks, Ralph. Do you remember the night your dad hypnotized a bunch of us in your basement? I don't know if it worked on me but a couple of the guys were walking like chickens. It has stayed with me for 40 years--not so much the idea that a person could hypnotize people, but that people were much broader than you might think. I'd never met your dad and you and I didn't hang around that much. But when I met him that night it never occurred to me that this friend's dad was more than a dad, that he had his own life and that his own life was full of surprises. And him doing that was such a surprise that I don't think I've ever met people in the same way since then. Now I just know--and I've known since that ight--that people are whole people, bigger than life, broader than the universe, filled with dreams, things they love and all that jazz. Just thought I should pass that on to you in case I never did before. Thanks, Mr. Calderaro for opening my eyes to every perfect stranger I've ever met since I met you.

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