by Frank Thomas Smith
When I got to be a real boy I thought life was going to be a bed of roses. Growing
up in wartime Italy, and afterwards in America, wasn't easy though, and I sometimes
thought it would have been better to remain a puppet. Now that it's all over I know that's
not so. In spite of everything, I wouldn't go back to being the old innocent Pinocchio who
couldn't tell a lie from the truth.
After my old man died I became an orphan. My Fairy
Godmother and that cricket werent around anymore to jump in when things got tough. I
guess they figured that once I was a real boy their job was done and they could relax, for
which I don't blame them. If Disney does the sequel they'll probably be included, but
those boys aren't averse to taking liberties as far as the truth is concerned.
When the American troops took Palermo there wasn't
much else to do but steal bicycles. You'd think I'd have learned by then not to get mixed
up with that kind of stuff. I did learn, but real boys gotta eat. You remember the sly Fox
and that miserable Cat who repeated everything he said? They were in pretty bad shape back
when I became a real boy, but they bounced back right into the black market, which was
like their natural habitat. They got me into the bicycle stealing business, which I'd
probably still be doing if an American soldier hadn't adopted me. He was a nice guy, soft
heart and all, kinda dumb. He left his flashy American bike on the street in front of a
bar, chain-locked of course, but what were chains to me. I had it cut through in no time
and was on my way when an MP who didnt have anything better to do stepped out of the
whorehouse next door and I crashed into him. He grabbed me by the neck and asked me where
I got the bike, which he knew I stole because no Italian kid had a bike like that, and I
said my friend loaned it to me. I said it in Italian, which he didnt understand, so
he whistled for an Italian cop who asked me the same thing in Italian and I gave the same
answer. "What friend?" he asked. I pointed to the bar and they dragged me in,
bike and all, and demanded that I point out my friend. I was thinking about the odds being
all against me. Even if I made a lucky guess and pointed to the bike owner among the
twenty or so soldiers in the bar, whats he going to say? Just then a guy turned
around and saw us.
"Hey, waddya doin with my bike?" he yelled
and came over.
"I caught this kid tryin to steal it," the
MP said. He didnt know any Italian, so he hadnt caught the friend alibi.
"He says youre his friend," the cop
said, in Italian, which the guy understood a little, "and you loaned it to him. These
kids are all liars."
The soldier looked down at me crying with my head down
and wiping my dirty face with my sleeve, and he said: "Yeah, Im his
"Asshole," the cop mumbled in Italian, and
stormed out. The MP just shrugged and left.
"Whyd you steal my bike?" the soldier
asked me. I bawled some more -- which was easy because I learned to do it when I was still
a puppet -- while trying to think of something to say.
"Im hungry," I finally said, "and
if I had a bike I could find work delivering things and have some money for food." Or
something like that. I didnt mention that I stole about ten bikes a day, mostly beat
up junk, for which the Fox and the Cat gave me cigarettes and food and even money
sometimes. The soldier shook his head sadly and led me over to the bar and ordered a coke
and a hamburger for me. I gobbled it down as though I hadnt eaten in a month,
although Id just had breakfast and wasnt very hungry. He asked me where I
lived and I said on the street, which was half true, because I had no permanent home.
Well, to make a long story short so I can get to the point, that soldier put me up with an
army family until he was ready to go back to the States and he decided to adopt me and
take me with him. He was a do-gooder, in the positive sense. He said he couldnt help
all the poor kids in Sicily, but he could at least help one -- me.
We went to live in his hometown, a jerkwater in
Nebraska, where he married his childhood sweetheart, a schoolteacher, and settled down in
his father's insurance business. I lived in a nice house, had plenty to eat, good clothes
and even my own new bike. I had it made, it would seem. A big problem was that the town
was 99% fucking Wasps.
My troubles started in school. The first day of class
the teacher asked me my name. I knew English pretty good, by the way. Any thief in Naples
worth his salt has to know English. I stood up and answered: "Pinocchio." There
was silence in the classroom for a few moments, until some wise-ass said: "Pinocchio,
yeah it must be. Look at his nose!" My nose is a somewhat larger than the average
Wasps, but in Italy a big nose is nothing to be ashamed of. Someone started to laugh
and before I knew it the whole class was in hysterics. Some kids were even rolling on the
floor holding their stomachs. At first the teacher tried to restore order, but then the
bug got to her too, and she couldnt help laughing with the rest of them. I was
mortified. When the teacher got control of herself she apologized over the remaining
giggles from the kids and asked me my last name.
"Baccigaluppo," which was Gepettos
"Pinocchio Baccigalupo!" a girl screamed.
"No!" I shouted. "Its
Poppins," which was my new fathers name.
"Pinocchio Poppins!" the bitch screamed and
it started again. Soon the whole class was rolling around on the floor and I thought the
teacher was going to flop down any minute, she was laughing so hard.
You can see why I didnt like school much. My
name was the first obstacle, then I didnt play baseball, basketball or football,
which is about all those kids did or talked about. One thing I could do better than them
was fight though, and I kicked the shit out of two of the biggest ones the day after they
all laughed at me. They left me alone after that, too much alone, I guess. There was one
girl who liked me and she told me I should change my name. I agreed, but not there in
Nebraska and give them the satisfaction of knowing I was ashamed of my own name.
I graduated from high school and my father wanted me
to go to college, the University of Nebraska, the only one he could afford. I said no, I
was going to New York to be an actor. Back in Italy when I was in that puppet show I got
the bug and I had talent. The puppet-master was a sadist who wanted to burn me for
firewood, but I never forgot the acting experience. My American father, who I suspect was
glad to get rid of me, gave me a thousand bucks, a new watch and a kiss and I was on my
If I had gone to acting school as I intended, my
thousand dollars would have lasted about three months, so I tried to get work in theaters
on my own. If you ever tried that you know its hopeless. I hadnt been so
depressed since I turned into a donkey. But at least I was working then. I was wandering
around in a funk down on the Lower East Side where I had my pad when I saw the poster:
"Café Theater". I must have passed it a dozen times and never noticed it. After
all, who would expect to see a theater in that neighborhood? It was as off Off-Broadway as
you could get without falling into the East River. The poster announced that they were
doing The Glass Menagerie. Id pawned the watch my Dad gave me as a going
away present, but I figured it must be about eight oclock. I was in no condition to
pay the price of a ticket and I was standing there thinking about how I could sneak in,
when a guy came storming out mumbling something about never having seen anything so
disgusting in his life. He tossed his ticket stub over his shoulder and I ran to pick it
up before it blew away. Id say I went out to take a leak if anyone checked me. The
theater was in an old warehouse and you had to follow arrows pasted on the walls to find
it. There were only about thirty seats crammed into a small space and it was full. I saw
right away what had upset the guy who left. A black woman was playing Amanda, the aging
white Southern mother, while the rest of the cast was white. I almost laughed out loud,
but of course I didnt. I looked around and saw that the audience was very attentive.
The fact is that the play was very well done and you forgot after about five minutes that
the actress wasnt white, which says a lot for the her ability. The program I found
on my seat announced that the audience was invited to wait at the bar to meet the actors,
so I decided to wait. Most everyone else left though and when the actors came out there
were only five of us left from the audience. The other four were at the bar, but I stayed
in my seat because I didnt want to buy anything. According to the program the
actresss name was Judy______, and she was also the Managing Director. She became
famous later so I wont mention her last name because youd recognize it.
Without make-up she was twenty years younger and
beautiful. She came out smiling, but never reached the bar. One of the actors, the one who
played her Son, grabbed her by the arm and said: "Ten bucks? Cmon, Judy, you
must have taken in a hundred tonight." "Yeah," the other actor, the one who
played the Gentleman Caller, said, "what are you trying to pull?" The Daughter
stood behind them nodding like a simpleton. She must have been playing herself in the
"And whos gonna pay the rent and the
expenses and the rights -- you guys?" Judy snarled.
"What rent?" the Son yelled. "You
havent paid any rent in six months and you dont pay for rights anyway."
They were yelling and screaming at each other and
finally Judy told them if they didnt like it they could fuck off. The Son said okay,
but he was taking his audio equipment with him -- which he did -- and they left, just like
that. Judy screamed something unprintable after them, then sat down on the floor and
cried. By that time a young couple at the bar had left holding their ears, leaving two
guys there, one tall and the other short, and me scrunched down in my seat. The two guys
went over to Judy and one of them lifted her under her armpits onto her feet.
"There there, my dear," he said in an oily
voice with an Italian accent, "let us be of service."
"...my dear, let us be of service," the
short one repeated. I couldnt believe my senses. Those two reminded me of the Fox
and the Cat. What were they doing in New York?
"You are a wonderful actress and you are well rid
of those rank amateurs," the Fox said. "Pray do not be sad."
"...do not be sad."
"Im not sad, schmuck," Judy said.
"And you have every right to be."
"...every right to be."
"What am I going to do now? We rehearsed for
three weeks, opened tonight with a hit and those egotistical bastards leave me flat."
"Allow me to make a suggestion." the Fox
said, starting to brush her off.
"...make a suggestion."
"Go ahead, suggest, but take your hands off the
merchandise." And she went to the bar and poured herself a beer.
"I am a well known director from Rome visiting
New York on a sabbatical. My name is Remus."
"Er..Carolingus Remus. And this is my assistant,
Fidelius Feel. Both at your service."
"...at your service."
"My suggestion is to put on a one-woman
play," the Fox said, and paused for effect. "You won't need to pay actors then.
I will wire Rome that my return will be delayed and I will be the director."
"What one-woman play," Judy asked,
suspicious but interested.
"Well, how about Giorni Felici?"
"What the fuck is that?"
"Happy Days, by Samuel Beckett"
"That has two people," Judy objected.
"True, but anyone can play Willie -- even Feel
"...even Feel here."
"You must be kidding," Judy laughed. "I
wouldnt be seen dead with this runt."
"Hmm, that does present a problem, but not an
They hadnt noticed me till then so I coughed.
"Who are you?" Judy wanted to know.
"An actor," I replied, and stood up to show
how much taller I was than the Cat.
"An actor!" the Fox bellowed. "Just
what we need. What is your name, my friend?"
"...your name, my friend?"
"Wood," I said, thinking fast.
So I played Willie in Happy Days at ten bucks a performance and zip during
rehearsals. The Fox was the director and the Cat was the lighting technician. The Fox
wanted fifty per cent of the house, an outrageous cut, and Judy said okay, fifty per cent
of profits, which she didnt expect to be much. The Cat was also the cashier, which I
didnt think was a good idea. The Fox didnt do much directing. He just sat on a
chair in front of Judy with his leg up on another chair, in a directorial pose, and said,
"Fine, dear. Wonderful," -- when he showed up. "But what does it mean?"
Judy would ask and the Fox would say its absurd theater, dear, it doesnt mean
anything. A minimal set was required -- the mound, the frame of which was hammered
together by an amateur carpenter and covered by a piece of canvas with a hole in it for
Winnie's (Judys) head and shoulders.
She had a two-hour monologue to memorize and I helped
her and when I got to know her better I asked why she played white roles. She said she had
been in plays on Broadway and even movies but was always cast as a colored maid or a slave
or a half-naked African native, so she decided to have her own theater and play whatever
roles she fucking well pleased.
Every night except Mondays I sat leaning against the
back of the mound playing Willie, while Judy went through her monologue. I hummed a tune
and blew my nose noisily a few times and let the back of my head be seen occasionally.
Once I held up a dirty postcard so only it and my hand were visible. My big and only scene
was at the end when I crawled out from behind the mound dressed in wedding garb, top hat
and all, with a walrus mustache pasted on my lip. I passed to the front of the stage in
full view of the audience, crawled up the mound toward the toy pistol lying at the summit
an arm's length from Judy's head, rolled down again before reaching it, reverted to the
all-fours position and looked up at Winnie while she sang the Merry Widow Waltz off key,
glaring down at me as the curtain fell.
In the first act Winnie is supposed to be buried up to
her waist in the mound, in the second act up to her neck. Judy would take her place on a
raised stool inside the mound and put her head through the hole. My position was under and
just behind her. This had its pros and its cons. On the one hand, it allowed me to gaze up
admiringly at her gorgeous ass. The disadvantage was that she was prone to flatulence when
she was nervous, which, during performances, was always, so I was more or less permanently
enveloped in a fart-cloud. By holding the mound's flaps open with my feet and occasionally
wafting them back and forth, I created tolerable working conditions.
I didn't just sit behind the mound picking my nose
(according to script) and waiting for my cue at the end of the play, I was also the
prompter. Once Judy skipped twenty pages and suddenly, ten pages farther on, realized that
something was wrong and kicked me on the shoulder. I led her back to the point where she
had strayed and when she made up the twenty pages I deftly skipped her over the ten she
had already recited and she sailed smoothly on from there to the end. The audience didn't
notice anything amiss. How should it have? It wouldn't have made any difference if the
twenty pages were left out, except that the play would have ended too early.
Judy is a great actress and she played the absurd role
with such emotion (her face is very expressive), that the audience was invariably moved
and rewarded her with generous applause. When I joined her at the last curtain call the
applause was noticeably louder, as though some arcane skill were required for my role.
Judy didn't like it very much, I could tell, but she could hardly protest, for I also had
a right to my moment of glory -- well, acknowledgment of my existence at least.
Judy's back often ached from being in the same rigid
position for such a long time and I massaged it for her. At one of the last rehearsals,
when the two of us were alone, the Fox and the Cat having been laid up with hangovers, I
extended my massage down to her buttocks and finally caressed the insides of her thighs.
Judy moaned passionately while continuing to say her lines. She had never been better.
After I rolled down the mound at the end she sprang up from her hole, slid down the mound
and landed on top of me. We struggled, fought, scratched, screamed, kissed frantically and
finally made love at the base of the mound. My pecker, I should add for historical
accuracy, is quite special, because Gepetto used only the finest, hardest wood: quebracho,
imported from Argentina. Somehow the molecules transferred to my flesh-and-blood pecker.
Afterwards, still lying on her back with her black
dress bunched up over her waist, Judy said, "Oh, Montgomery, that was
extraordinary...MARvelous...But it must never happen again."
"But Judy, I thought we could include it, you
know, change the ending."
"No! The theater is sacred, a temple, as is the
I knew she got that stuff from the Fox, and directors
are personages to be feared, so I said nothing, which didn't mean that I agreed.
We had performed the play in public a dozen times when
it happened. During the middle of the second act I began to stroke Judy's right leg. She
missed a beat and tried to pull her leg away, but of course she had nowhere to go. She
kicked me in the head with her other foot and I gave her her line without having to
consult the script, which I knew by heart. Then I crawled under the stool and caressed the
insides of her thighs, working my way up until my fingers were gently, expertly, massaging
her "pleasure pinnacle" as Confucius called it. She moaned her lines for a few
minutes, then lifted her face to the ceiling and cried, quite sincerely: "I - can't -
go - on!" and farted so exuberantly that I was afraid the audience would hear it
despite the canvas mound. It was a mistake though. I should have restrained myself before
her orgasm, I realized later. I slipped quickly back to my accustomed place, wafted the
flaps and whispered: "Yes, Yes, I - must - go - on!"
"Yes, yes, I - must - go - on!"
Judy emoted. I gave her the next line and she picked up the rest of the text from there.
It was the dramatic climax that the play lacked.
Toward the end, after I rolled down the mound and
stood on all fours gazing up at her, I knew what we must do to make theatrical history:
exactly what we had rehearsed that fateful day. I was ready.
"Come!" I mouthed silently up at her. Judy
sang a few notes of the Merry Widow and broke off with a sob. She knew, too. She thrust
her right arm up out of the mound and picked up the pistol. Slowly and deliberately she
aimed at me and pulled the trigger. The retort was deafening in that small enclosure and
the audience recoiled as though the bullet had pierced its own collective heart. I
twitched, arched my back like a menaced cat and flopped down. The Fox, who had been
lounging in the last row, sprang to his feet and signaled for the curtain to fall. As he
ran backstage, the stunned audience broke into thunderous applause. Judy took fourteen
curtain calls, thirteen alone and one with the Fox. If she hadn't had an orgasm a few
minutes before, she would have jumped out of her hole and we would have made ecstatic love
at the base of the mound just like in rehearsal, and I would have been up there with them
taking bows instead of being whisked away to the waterfront by the Cat.
A critic from a leading newspaper happened to be in
the theater that night because he had seen everything else in town and was bored. His
review was ecstatic. The Fox took credit for the New Ending and it made his reputation. He
returned to Sicily, then Rome, and embarked on a brilliant career, with the Cat as his
lackey. Beckett's estate sued the Café Theater and won of course, but that only served to
make it so famous and well attended that Judy was able to move to a bigger theater
Off-Broadway. It is virtually certain that once Beckett's plays enter the public domain
the New Ending will be the standard version.
And me? The puppet who had such high hopes when he
became a real boy? Still dressed in my wedding tux and top hat, with the walrus mustache
in place, a bullet hole where my left eye once goggled at Winnie's ass and a cement block
encasing my feet, I rested vertically at the bottom of Long Island Sound with my hair
streaming up like spaghetti. Once again the Fox and the Cat have done me in. Somehow --
maybe using ESP, more likely eavesdropping -- they anticipated what would happen. Who else
could have replaced that toy with a loaded pistol? I watched the giant shark approaching
from a vantagepoint above the water. (We hang around as spirits for three days after
death, you know; thats why wakes last so long.) It couldnt have been the same
one that swallowed Gepetto and me back in the Bay of Naples, but basically theyre
all one big family--una gran famiglia. This time I was digestible.
An advantage to being a real boy instead of an
immortal literary puppet is that Im still around (up here), waiting to be born again
one day and win -- I hope -- the final round against my two old antagonists. Whereas a
puppet, once it hits the junk pile, is Wood.