Scranton Lives Matter! Ch. 12

Digging into his bowl of soggy corn flakes, Gino chewed hard and loud, loaded with pride in his refusal to watch one second of the inaugural swearing-in ceremony on TV. With the inmates storming the asylum two weeks ago and COVID-19 bugs spreading all over town, as far as he was concerned Joe and Kamala should have taken the oath with the same sense of urgency as LBJ aboard Air Force One, Jackie at his side wearing JFK’s blood on her dress.

But, no, mega-celebrity Lady Gaga ruled. Access, prestige, power, corporate cash, authority and elitism made Gino sick. Garth Brooks singing about amazing grace made him sicker. Country music sold out a long time ago. Tex Ritter would have refused a spot at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Gino wondered if Joe was a closet drinker. And he bet Kamala got high. Born of Jamaican ganja heritage on her father’s side, she’s a California girl where recreational pot’s been legal since 2016 and was now living in the VP’s residence in the District of Columbia where pot’s also legal. If Gino was a member of the White House press corps he’d ask Kamala when she last smoked a joint. Yesterday? Today? As far as he was concerned, Kamala had weed written all over her.

Retired for only a few days, Gino already had way too much time on his hands.

When he first went to work 25 years ago at the federal prison in Lewisburg, he saw himself as a tough, no-nonsense law and order disciplinarian.  Now he couldn’t even keep the crooked former Scranton Mayor Harry Davies out of the trunk of his car. So he put in his papers instead of putting up with an internal investigation and local news reports insinuating he had something to do with Davies’ prison escape. At least they couldn’t blame Davies’ presidential pardon on him. That surprise came right from Trump.

Welcome home, Harry.

Shoveling stale breakfast cereal into his mouth got Gino thinking about Corn Pop.

To hear Joe Biden tell it, Corn Pop was a bad dude and he ran a bunch of bad boys. The guys in their Minooka neighborhood tagged Gino with the nickname Corn Pop as soon as Biden’s questionable story started making the rounds in 2017.  Other than the snooty lace curtain Micks in the upper middle-class Green Ridge oasis where Biden lived for the first decade or so of his life, nobody in any legitimate American blue-collar neighborhood believed the Corn Pop saga.

Biden’s I-grew-up-in-Scranton-timeline is debatable, of course, because even Biden’s handful of childhood pals can’t seem to agree on the exact dates he lived at his grandparents’ house or moved to Delaware. Ask Joe and he’ll exaggerate, forget, not quite remember or tell you he walked on the moon in 1969 with his best girl, Jill, who was wearing an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini. Loyalist Biden lore claims their hero lived on North Washington Avenue for years, but nobody seems to know exactly how many.

By the time Biden publicly told the Corn Pop story, the real Corn Pop was long gone, dead and buried in the first state. Nobody in Scranton gave the story much thought even if the seemingly tall tale were true. The legendary Wilmington confrontation highlights 19-year-old honkey lifeguard Joe Biden carrying a six-foot length of chain, Black gang leader Corn Pop wielding a rusty straight razor, and two bad boys in a gang called the Romans also wielding rusty razors Joe said developed lethality from dipping them in a rainwater barrel. These marauders eventually backed off. Joe’s body parts remained intact instead of jiggling in Corn Pop’s pocket or dangling from the mirror of a stolen Cadillac.

With Gino’s Calabria Italian-American olive complexion, as they say in Scranton, some of the guys had tagged him as colored long before America elected Biden Vice President. Previously known in his Irish neighborhood simply as Gino the Wop, for many years Gino felt good about his heritage and station in life, not at all like the Stations of the Cross Jesus endured. He had that nice federal prison job with great benefits. He loved his wife until she died. And most people respected his position as a guard, or correctional officer as he demanded people characterize his career.

But when he said he believed Biden’s Corn Pop story the Minooka gang let him have it with all the bigoted white male malice they could load into abuse that would follow Gino until six peers carted him off to the cemetery in a box. That first day Gino proclaimed he believed Joe, neighborhood hero Timmy Kelly led the brutal verbal assault.

You’re shitting me. Joe Biden made that up like he makes up everything else. I bet he had Corn Pops for breakfast that morning he first told the story to them American-African kids, Kelly said.

All these years later, Gino had an idea. Stepping to the cupboard, he reached for a new box of cereal and froze deep in thought.

Corn Pop and Joe had a bond, right? What if Joe and I continue that relationship in these terrible times of racial unrest, a black-and-white connection like Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson singing Ebony and Ivory? What if I announce I’m Corn Pop’s son, Sugar Pop? After all, back in the 50s Corn Pops cereal was called Sugar Pops.

Ever since Ann Marie took a stroke and died last year, Gino lived like a recluse drinking too much, eating Progresso canned minestrone soup every day and going to work surrounded by white-collar millionaire convicts and Mafia degenerates.

Everybody thinks they’re better than me, Gino said out loud.

He lit a Parodi cigar and had to admit he never felt like he mattered. Gino felt tears form in his eyes. The strong smell of tobacco burned his nostrils. Gino wanted a piece of the action. Why couldn’t he get something out of Biden’s election? Gino embedded his own scrappy roots in Scranton all his life and didn’t own a $2.7 million beach house in Rehoboth Beach like Biden does.

I’ll make Biden’s election work for me, Gino said. I’m dark-skinned whether I like it or not, been dark since I was a bambino. Guys call me colored and mean it. If Corn Pop had a kid with a white woman he’d be just about my shade and age. Maybe I can cash in by asking Biden’s people for a couple of small government contracts in Scranton, ghost work like the good old days where I can just pick up a check and only show up at the office for the Christmas party.

Yeah, OK, everybody knows I’m Italian. A couple old-timers still remember my christening. But I’ll say I’m strong enough to admit I’m adopted, that my parents never wanted to tell the truth to protect me, and Corn Pop wanted his boy to grow up in Scranton just like Joe Biden. Yeah, yeah, I’m feeling Black already.

Alive and woke and living in Scranton, Sugar Pop was, as Joe Biden might say, ready to build back better.