When I heard Sam Chiarelli is going to do a talk at Pittston Library about his book “DIG … A Personal Prehistoric Journey” (mark your calendars, Sept. 29, 2 p.m.) two things came to mind. One, I have to read this book between now and then. And two, Sam once said one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. So sweet, I wish I said it myself.
When he was introduced to Maria Capolarella-Montante several summers ago at the Pittston Farmer’s Market, she instinctively asked if he were Mary Chiarelli’s son. When he said he was, Maria exclaimed, “I love your mother.”
Sam’s response? “So do I.”
So simple. And so perfect.
And that got me to thinking of other clever things I’ve heard that I wish I could claim as my own. When I hear something particularly striking, I’ll often say, “You talk like a writer.” I mean it as a high compliment. In Sam’s case, of course, he should. But most of the others are taken by surprise. I assure them, however, that I know what I am talking about and I don’t make that statement lightly.
Take Joe Dietrick. Joe actually talks more like a writer than I do. When asked how they like retirement, many will say, “Every day is Saturday.” That’s pretty good, but Joe Dietrick has a different take. “When you’re retired,’ he says, “it’s never the last day of vacation … and it’s never Sunday night.”
Joe Dietrick is a close friend of my close friend Mike Caputo, who, like Joe, can turn a phrase. Mike was my tennis partner for more than 40 years. One day, we found the courts covered with broken glass. We had no broom, but I thought we could kick the glass to the side and go ahead and play. Mike disagreed. “Ed,” he said, “denial is not optimism.” Ouch. But he was right.
A while back I ran into Sandy Insalaco at an event at Misericordia University. It was just a few days after Sandy and his wife, the late Marlene Insalaco, had made a million-dollar donation to the school. “I don’t know if ‘congratulations’ is the proper word,” I said to him, “but I do want to acknowledge your generosity.”
“Ed,” he responded, “making money is the hard part. Giving it away is easy.”
That’s not the first time I found myself telling Sandy he talks like a writer. A few years ago, he was speaking at the Pittston Library’s Jean Yates Award Dinner. He had recently retired — well, temporarily, as it turned out — and he said people kept asking him what he does with his time now that he no longer has to go to work. “That’s easy,” he said, “every day I help my brother Mike.”
To which people would ask, “And what does Mike do?”
To which Sandy would respond, “Mike doesn’t do anything.”
My erstwhile newspaper colleague Kenny Feeney was a photographer but there was a lot of writer in his speech too. Just before he’d snap a photo inevitably someone would shout, “Make me look good.”
“I can correct my own mistakes,” Kenny would shout back, “but I can’t do anything about God’s.”
I was a college kid when Kenny and I first started working together and tight pants were the style. “Far be it for me to tell you your pants are too tight,” Kenny said one day, “but I can count the change in your pocket.”
Kevin McDonnell actually is a writer so you’d expect his manner of speaking to be entertaining and it is. When his brother Paul — the Rev. Paul McDonnell, OSJ, to the rest of us — became a priest, he told Kevin the Oblates asked him to name a beneficiary in his will and he picked Kevin. “The story of my life,” Kevin said. “I am now the sole beneficiary in the will of a guy who took a vow of poverty.”
John Corcoran, the funeral director, is another who talks like a writer. Or maybe he’s just good at saving his own neck. We ran into him at dinner one night and he made a big fuss over my wife, who said to him, “You only know me when I’m with Eddie.”
“That’s not true,” he countered. But Mary Kay, a retired operating room nurse who was still working at the time, said, “Well, whenever you see me in the hospital you don’t say a word to me.”
“That,” John said without missing a beat, “is because beautiful women intimidate me.”
My late Aunt Dorothy, a lot feistier that her diminutive size would suggest, reported to work at Bell Telephone in Scranton one day only to discover someone had made a scheduling mistake and every spot at the switchboard was taken. “What’s the matter, Dorothy,” her supervisor said, “don’t you have a seat?”
“Oh, I have a seat,” Aunt Dorothy said, “I just don’t have anywhere to put it.”
Finally, although I could go on and on, here’s a last one from TV and movie star Joe Mantegna. I was going to be introduced to him at a Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C., and when I told my daughter, she said, “Oh, I love him.” I repeated that to Joe and he responded, “Tell your daughter I admire her taste in men.”
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.