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Matt Ponticello

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Member Since: Apr, 2012

Matt Ponticello, click here to update your pages on AuthorsDen.



Category: 

Humor

Publisher:  Virtualbookworm.com Type: 
Pages: 

288

Copyright:  July 10, 2011 ISBN-13:  9781602642157
Non-Fiction

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How to Beg for Cigarettes

One business owner's hilarious, "Laugh-a-mile-a-minute" romp through the inner city.

“How to Beg for Cigarettes” is a must-read for business owners, or anyone who’s ever had even the slightest aspiration about opening a small business.

Most people believe having your own business is a walk in the park,” Ponticello explains, “I thought so too, and I’m sure it can be; if it’s a charming little donut shop way the hell out in the country. I found out the hard way; I opened an auto body repair shop deep in the bowels of the inner city. Yeah, take a walk in the park around here, if you can find one; and see how long you last before you’re mugged for cigarettes and loose change.”

     So begins “How to Beg for Cigarettes.” From petty theft to murder, Ponticello searches for the humor and “good” in even the worst-case scenarios, taking a romantic pride in the city’s dangers - genuine and predictable - and approaches a six-block walk for coffee every morning as if it’s an epic adventure filled with peril.

      By drawing from his personal experience and actual events, Matt Ponticello documents his exploits throughout the inner city, where he confronts a real and sometimes surreal cast of characters, within a city, a business, and a staff of employees to match. 

    Amidst the daily dangers and confrontations in this harsh environment, he struggles with his own personal battle – whether to stay in business and suffer an inevitable nervous breakdown or return to the calm of retirement.

Excerpt
Chapter 28

FRISBEE LUONGO

With Moncho out to lunch, I took the opportunity to take inventory of the repair jobs in the yard. We had a lot of work lined up. We had more than enough drive-in’s, tow-in’s, and insurance jobs to keep the shop up and running. My only problem was that I had already estimated the damages on all the cars, and made a list of the body parts I needed to order, but I misplaced the list. After running back and forth to the office ten times, I decided to wait for Moncho to get back from lunch; maybe he’d remember what I did with it.
While using the “eeny-meeny-miney-moe” version of selecting which wreck I should push into the shop and work on next, a minivan left the flow of traffic and pulled onto the lot. I could see it was one of those Disney minivans; the type with all the bells and whistles for kids; movies, games, a food concession or whatever!
The driver stepped out to meet me. He was tall, thin, and pale with khaki shorts, brown loafers, and a yellow windbreaker with a designer logo on it; obviously an out-of-state history teacher. He extended his hand.
”Hello sir, my name is Professor Luongo.”
I shook his hand, “I’m Mr. Ponticello, but you can call me Matt. What’s up?”
“My name is Peter, you can call me Peter,” he stammered at my sarcasm, “We were in traffic, and my car overheated.”
“Yeah,” I shrugged, “There’s a lot of traffic right now. A guy got hit by a car a little while ago.”
Peter jerked back, surprised of my making light of such a tragedy. He immediately turned from me and called into the van, “Honey, can you and the children come out here please?”
The family hustled from the van and lined up as though they were falling in at boot camp. “Is there anything wrong?” The wife asked.
“I want to tell you that this gentleman told me a harrowing tale of a young man hit by a car on this very street, only moments ago.” Peter talked as though he was the grand high-exalted mystic ruler of the drama queen convention.
The family let loose a group gasp.
“This should be a lesson for us all,” he continued, “Whether we are at one of our homes in the country, in Europe, or in Hawaii, or whether we are at our home in the city, always remember, never play in the street.” He paused and singled out his son, “And that goes double for you young man.”
“And what about Diskus?” the son asked.
“That is a special no-no boo-boo for you to take care of. Always make sure he does not have a reason to run in the street.” Peter opened his eyes wide, “I am depending on you son, to keep an eye on that.”
“Okay dad,” the son said proudly.
The skinny wife with the bony knees put her hands in front of her mouth, “Is he okay?” She asked, “Was it a bad accident?”
“Yeah, he’s okay,” I answered, “No big deal. He got a few cuts and scratches. He’ll live.”
The couple exchanged glances. I could tell they originated from an upscale neighborhood where nobody cursed, or they would be thinking: Wow, this guy really doesn’t give a fucking rat’s ass!
Peter cleared his throat, “Well, while we are all out here, I would like to introduce my family.”
I looked pass his family and into the van. A small dog constantly barked: Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip, and looked like it had a spazzo-fit, doing flips from the rear of the van to the front.
“This is my wife Sandy, and these are our lovely children, Abigail and Frisbee.”
They were not from around here. Sandy was a scrawny middle-aged elementary school guidance counselor. I could see that a million miles away; I have a kid in school. Their daughter Abigail was a 5-year old princess dressed in pink, and Frisbee was a 12-year old chubby boy with short, spiked hair and a horizontally striped shirt that made him look even fatter.
“Frisbee?” I laughed, “That’s a neat nickname.”
“That is my real name,” Frisbee said proudly.
“Yes,” Peter injected, “It took some doing, but we had his name changed through the courts.”
“Frisbee Luongo,” I ruffled the spoiled brat’s hair, “I like that; it has a nice ring to it.”
“Now, I want to introduce you to our pride and joy,” Peter said. He opened the door of the van and grappled with the hyperactive dog. “This is our Jack Russell Terrier. This rascal’s name is Diskus. He is the reason why we are making this road trip.”
“We are going to the Nationals,” Frisbee Luongo boasted, “I am the County champion.”
“Wow,” I acted impressed, “The Nationals, that’s great. For what.”
“Frisbee,” Peter answered. He ruffled Frisbee Luongo’s hair. “This young lad is the County champ. He has thrown Frisbees since he was a year old.”
“Wow, that’s cool.”
Frisbee Luongo tugged on his father’s shorts, “Dad, show him Diskus.”
“Watch this,” Peter said to me. He put the dog on the ground. “Spring feet!” He commanded.
The Jack Russell Terrier leaped three feet straight up like a Harrier Jet, came back to the ground, and bounced upward again.
“Spring feet flip!” Frisbee Luongo yelled out a command.
This time the dog bounced upward, did a complete flip, and landed on his feet before bouncing back up and repeating the acrobat.
“We are the County champs,” Frisbee Luongo repeated, “And we are going to the Nationals.”
“Well then,” I smiled, “Let’s see if we can get you there.” I popped the hood of the van and peered into the engine compartment. “Here’s your problem,” I said, “Your fan belt snapped.”
“Oh my goodness,” exclaimed Sandy, “Is that bad?”
Peter scanned the lot, and then eyeballed the signage, “I see this is an auto body repair shop. Do you know of a mechanic who can fix my car?”
“I have belts here,” I said, “I could fix it.”
“You can?” Sandy asked, and then sniveled.
I noticed her running eyes “Are you okay?”
“Allergies. This hot weather kills me. My nose and eyes constantly run.” She blew her nose into a hanky from her purse. “I hope my sniveling does not annoy you.”
“Around here?” I laughed, “Believe me; it takes more than sniveling to annoy me.”
“Do you want me to pull the van into your shop?” asked Peter.
“That’s okay; I’ll do it out here. I’m used to this heat.”
I found the proper fan belt with no problem. I took a half-inch wrench from the toolbox, and went into the office where Moncho kept his pry bar that he aptly named “El Palillo Arruinador: The Wrecking Stick.”
Born from hardened and tempered forged alloy steel, the wrecking stick was four foot long, four square inches in diameter, and weighed more than fifty pounds. Many times, I’ve seen it tear roofs from cars, floors from cars, and the cars themselves twisted and ripped off their frames.
I felt the heat and the weight of the crowbar the moment I stepped out of the office.
“What is that?” Peter asked.
I held the crowbar to the Gods as though I expected lightning to hit it, “This is the Louisville Slugger of crowbars,” I laughed, “All I have to do is place this near the bracket, loosen the bracket, and slip on the belt. You’ll be out of here in no time.”
“Can I watch TV, mommy?” Abigail asked.
“Can she?” Sandy looked for Peter’s decision, because her husband doesn’t allow her to make decisions on her own. “She gets so bored; it will keep her busy and she will probably fall asleep.”
“The motor’s not going to be on, is it?” I asked, “Or the electric, right?”
“No,” Peter answered, “We have a separate switch for the entertainment. He reached inside the van and flipped a switch on the dashboard.
“I’m going to watch the Fairy Pixie,” Abigail said to me.
“Wow,” I said, “I don’t think I ever saw that one.”
“It’s about a little doll who flies into a classroom, and all the girls call it a little fairy, but all the boys say it isn’t a little fairy; it’s a pixie.”
“Wow that sounds good.”
“And then the girls all say together, it’s a fairy, it’s a fairy, it’s a fairy. Then all the boys say together, no, it’s a pixie, it’s a pixie, it’s a pixie.”
“And what do you say it is?”
“I say it’s a fairy.”
“Okay, come on honey.” Sandy escorted Abigail to the van and set her up in the car seat to watch TV.
I was about to work under the hood when I saw a Frisbee hit the fender – Plngk.
Frisbee Luongo’s toss prompted Diskus to bark the annoying bark all small dogs make, especially those little hyperactive fuckers I’d love to drop kick into the next time zone – Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
After I had the crowbar in its proper place in the motor, I directed my gaze to my left; Sandy sniveled constantly while blowing her runny nose. I then cocked my head and directed my gaze to the right; Peter hovered over the fender and helped me remove a few pieces of the old fan belt.
“Honey,” he talked across me, “Make sure the windows are all open; it is over one hundred degrees.”
After Sandy rolled down all the windows, Abigail used the TV remote to raise the volume. The group of girls machine-gunned the words, “It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy!” In rapid retaliation, the boys screamed, “It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!” The argument continued, “It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!”
Abigail chose her side and screamed, “It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy!”
Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
Plngk – Once again, I heard the light thump on the fender of the van as a Frisbee bounced from it. Frisbee Luongo picked up the Frisbee and tossed it again and again and again – Plngk, Plngk, Plngk.
“What are you trying to hit?” I asked.
The kid shrugged.
“Be careful not to hit the nice man.,” said Peter.
Again, Frisbee Luongo shrugged.
Although the dog continued barking, and Frisbee Luongo kept tossing the Frisbee, I could hear the clicking of the remote as Abigail consistently rewound the movie so she could argue with her side of the class, “It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!”
Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
I relaxed the crowbar and lit a cigarette. Sandy and Peter exchanged glances.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, that is bad for you. My Uncle Michael died of lung cancer.”
Plngk, Plngk, Plngk
“Darling, correct me if I am wrong, but if I am not mistaken, did we lose Aunt Emma to lung cancer?”
“Yes, but that was from a second-hand smoke.”
Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
“And her husband Louis got cancer from the Asbestos plant in town.”
“I know he did not smoke cigarettes, but he did smoke cigars.”
“He smoked a pipe.”
“I am sure he has lit a cigar or two in his day.”
“It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!”
I started with the crowbar again, putting pressure on it while trying to loosen a nut on the alternator bracket. Sweat ran from my forehead to my chin, and so not to release my grip on the tools, I had to be a contortionist, using my shoulder to wipe the sweat from my face.
“No I don’t think so. I did watch him light a beautiful hand-made pipe carved out of cherry wood.”
“Peter honey, I am so glad you never took up smoking.”
“I never will. You and the children are much too important to me.”
Plngk, Plngk, Plngk
I bowed my head and closed my eyes for a second because the sweat was burning them. That’s when I heard a deep, scratchy voice, “Hey.”
I looked up to see a tattered black man dressed in non-fitting clothes, standing beside Sandy.
“Hey man, you got another one of those?” He pointed at my cigarette.
Sandy shook startled and was about to walk away, but I told the bum to get lost.
Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
“It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!”
I took a hard hit on the cigarette, and coughed.
“Have you had that cough checked out by your doctor?”
“Yes,” I answered, “I’m okay.” I had the bracket nut loose.
“I remember the guy on that TV show. He never smoked, and he ate only health food, and he died of lung cancer.”
The bum reached across Sandy and put his fingers in my top pocket. “You don’t have another one of those?”
“Touch me again, and I’ll beat you with this crowbar.”
Plngk, Plngk, Plngk
“If you do not smoke, you should not start.”
“Where did you get that cigarette from?’
“I remember when that guy died. Who was that? What was his name?”
“I am not sure, but I think it was the guy who looked like Elvis Presley.”
“Did you check your pockets to see if you have any more smokes?”
Yip yip yip yip. Yip yip yip yip.
“Oh now I remember. Remember he used to walk into the bar and everybody called out his name?”
“It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a fairy! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie! It’s a pixie!”
“I do not think so, honey. That may have been a different show.”
“I spent my last bit of change on a sandwich this morning. Now I need some change for a loosie; unless you have an extra cigarette.”
Struggling to keep the pressure on the crowbar, I almost had the new fan belt on, when the Frisbee hit me between the eyes, bounced off my face, and landed on the motor. I took a deep breath and told myself to stay in control. I couldn’t let this bother me; I didn’t let this bother me. I simply picked up the Frisbee and tossed it over my shoulder.
That’s when Frisbee Luongo muttered, “Wow.”
We followed the flight of the Frisbee. The disk no sooner left my hand when it caught a pocket of a mild summer wind. It was as though a spiritual entity grasped it, and guided it through the air. The disk floated gently into a U-turn and headed toward the driveway, occasionally stopping to hover for a second before continuing its trek.
As fate would have it, Moncho, returned from lunch, and pulled out of the traffic and onto the lot. Being a short man, he could barely see over the steering wheel of his old, rust-encrusted Buick Wildcat. He kept both hands on the top of the steering wheel and managed to steer the car into the yard while holding a cup of coffee in each hand. With the sun glaring down on his windshield, we could only see a dazzling whiteout; a fiery brilliance hazing the silhouette of a big head with a set of horns bearing down to obliterate anything in its path.
What the fuck! God knows what possessed Frisbee Luongo to yell, “SPRING FEET FLIP!”
Swiftly, unexpectedly, Diskus sprung skyward in a leap that would have set a record at the Nationals. Not only did he do a flip; he added a backward twist, and snatched the Frisbee in midair. He then fell to Earth headfirst in the path of Moncho’s Buick. His head crunched against the massive chrome bumper, and then bounced violently under the chassis before squishing under the rear tire.
Moncho stopped the car. Unaware of the catastrophe, he held the two cups of coffee out of the window, “Matt, mucho happy,” he smiled proudly, “Angelo nos dio libre café hoy; coffee free today! No money!”


Professional Reviews

There's gold in them thar dregs of society
When John Steinbeck published Cannery Row in 1945 and its sequel Sweet Thursday 15 years later, he found humour and pathos in a cast of down and outs: homeless people, misfits, con men and prostitutes.
Don't get me wrong. How to Beg for Cigarettes , isn't crafted by a master like Steinbeck.
You might say it's a bit rough around the edges - but it does ring the same bells and it's a gem that would sparkle even more with some polish.
Steinbeck, like most of us, used personal experiences as his foundation in those novels of his.
Matt Ponticello's story is even more autobiographical.
He tells the story of how he came to run an auto (there's that word again) body shop in the pressure-cooker of an inner-city location inhabited by a cast of characters too varied and interesting to make up: homeless people, down and outs, misfits, con men and prostitutes. Sound familiar?
Give this book a chance. You won't be disappointed.


Brilliant Story of Humanity on the Street
In this extraordinary book you step into the life of a man who has decided to open an auto-body shop in the heart of the inner city. The neighborhood is so bad, his building has no owner, and he therefore has no rent to pay. Drug dealers, prostitutes, homeless people and gang members drop in to the shop and make getting to and from work a daily adventure. But hold on, ditch your preconceptions. The author devotes a chapter or more to every one of these people, and by the time you have read two or three of these portraits, you are hooked.

Although he's not an easy touch, Ponticello, whose book is in large part autobiographical, gives away nearly all of his cigarettes. The so-called low-lifes of the world are not only his friends, they are his customers and employees. His chief mechanic is a Honduran illegal who speaks only Spanish, and this man's assistants are a gang of boys who you know are up to no good. Ponticello gives them all a job, and more than that a purpose. In exchange they give him their loyalty, respect and love.

His neighbors, the bail bondsman Calloway, the lawyer Melendez, and the tow truck driver Vinnie are people he does business with daily. It's surprising how the auto-body shop can turn into the center of this little universe. Vinnie tows in work to be done. The lawyer defends the drug dealers whose cars get confiscated when they get busted, and often as not need a repair job. The bail bondsman gets them out of jail.

The homeless are like pigeons. Why? Because when Angelo the diner owner goes out the door and empties his ashtray onto the sidewalk, the homeless come running to fight over the butts that might have one or two smokes left in them.

The voluptuous Romanian Juliska sells "loosies," single cigarettes, for fifty cents a pop, and don't ask which brand. When Ponticello helps a fat man who has fallen get back to his feet, the fat man asks him for a cigarette to calm his nerves. Ponticello makes the mistake of shaking one up out of the pack and holding up the pack. The fat man steals the whole pack and runs away down the sidewalk, much to the amusement of Juliska. She informs him it's another homeless person, this one unknown to Ponticello.

What ties them all together is on one level cigarettes. This is a cigarette economy, in which cigarettes are like money. It provides a way for the characters in this world to purchase, give away, steal, or beg. They also give people a currency for communicating with each other. On the street, cigarettes are like a common lingo. Even more than cigarettes themselves, though, it's that craven need for them that reveals people's humanity on the street, and that ties them together in this story, and it's all the neverending instances of giving and taking and the petty negotiations and the thievery, too.

The book is written beautifully but not flawlessly, like the people who inhabit it. I listened to the book on my Kindle for the most part; when I read it, my eyes were distracted by spelling errors here and there. Nevertheless, this book is to the inner city in America what Dominique LaPierre's book City of Joy is to the slums of Calcutta. If you are ready to immerse yourself in that world and feel its beauty and power, you will definitely want to read it.


The Inner City Entrpreneur
Matt Ponticello drew from personal experiences to write this novel about owning a business in the inner city. Here, in his novel, "How to Beg for Cigarettes," he brings to life an array of characters who have fallen into a lifestyle that most of us spend our lives trying to avoid. Chapter after chapter, this is a hilarious, side-splitting story making light of those unfortunates and their disturbing interactions with the author. A "Fun" read, and hard to put down once you start turning the pages. Want to read more. There has to be a sequel or even a trilogy.


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Reader Reviews for "How to Beg for Cigarettes"

Reviewed by Frederick Brooke 5/4/2012
In this extraordinary book you step into the life of a man who has decided to open an auto-body shop in the heart of the inner city. The neighborhood is so bad his building has no owner, and he therefore has no rent to pay. Drug dealers, prostitutes, homeless people and gang members drop in to the shop and make getting to and from work a daily adventure. But hold on, ditch your preconceptions. The author devotes a chapter or more to every one of these people, and by the time you have read two or three of these portraits, you are hooked.

Although he's not an easy touch, Ponticello, whose book is in large part autobiographical, gives away nearly all of his cigarettes. The so-called low-lifes of the world are not only his friends, they are his customers and employees. His chief mechanic is a Honduran illegal who speaks only Spanish, and this man's assistants are a gang of boys who you know are up to no good. Ponticello gives them all a job, and more than that a purpose. In exchange they give him their loyalty, respect and love.

His neighbors, the bail bondsman Calloway, the lawyer Melendez, and the tow truck driver Vinnie are people he does business with daily. It's surprising how the auto-body shop can turn into the center of this little universe. Vinnie tows in work to be done. The lawyer defends the drug dealers whose cars get confiscated when they get busted, and often as not need a repair job. The bail bondsman gets them out of jail.

The homeless are like pigeons. Why? Because when Angelo the diner owner goes out the door and empties his ashtray onto the sidewalk, the homeless come running to fight over the butts that might have one or two smokes left in them.

The voluptuous Romanian Juliska sells "loosies," single cigarettes, for fifty cents a pop, and don't ask which brand. When Ponticello helps a fat man who has fallen get back to his feet, the fat man asks him for a cigarette to calm his nerves. Ponticello makes the mistake of shaking one up out of the pack and holding up the pack. The fat man steals the whole pack and runs away down the sidewalk, much to the amusement of Juliska. She informs him it's another homeless person, this one unknown to Ponticello.

What ties them all together is on one level cigarettes. This is a cigarette economy, in which cigarettes are like money. It provides a way for the characters in this world to purchase, give away, steal, or beg. They also give people a currency for communicating with each other. On the street, cigarettes are like a common lingo. Even more than cigarettes themselves, though, it's that craven need for them that reveals people's humanity on the street, and that ties them together in this story, and it's all the neverending instances of giving and taking and the petty negotiations and the thievery, too.

The book is written beautifully but not flawlessly, like the people who inhabit it. I listened to the book on my Kindle for the most part; when I read it, my eyes were distracted by spelling errors here and there. Nevertheless, this book is to the inner city in America what Dominique LaPierre's book City of Joy is to the slums of Calcutta. If you are ready to immerse yourself in that world and feel its beauty and power, you will definitely want to read it.

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