Off-Ramp commentator Branden Morgan's first film, "Jimmy the Saint," is showing in June at Dances with Films.
“I was told there may be some people from New Jersey listening, so ... I’ll ... be ... sure ... to ... speak ... slowly.”
That’s how my late father-in-law Roy began his speech when I married his firstborn child. And, being from New Jersey, I laughed until I cried.
Just before our second child was born, I asked Roy for advice on a topic I’d been struggling with: playing favorites with your children. Had he ever struggled with the same issue with his two daughters?
“Of course not” he replied. “I never really cared for either of them.”
Roy Battocchio was a tall, handsome New York Italian who had great hair until the day he died. Born into the Depression in Mount Vernon, New York, Roy went on to great success in the music industry as an A&R man for Capitol Records. He worked side-by-side with The Beatles, Nat King Cole, and Bobby Darin and later John Denver and Hall & Oates. When he realized the artists he repped were no longer asking him to get them into a party but, rather, to get prostitutes and cocaine up to their hotel room he figured it was time to move on.
It was then that Roy was finally able to answer that nagging voice in his head that had for so long sought an audience: comedy. He used some of his industry contacts to begin a writing career that would span the next three decades. He wrote 5 episodes of “The Love Boat” and jokes for “The Hollywood Squares,” but hated having to compromise his writing for the suits. So he transitioned to stage-plays -- “Thicker than Water,” “Dead Wrong,” and dozens more -- that are still put on at smaller theaters across the country.
But it was Roy’s act, his shtick, that got him out of bed in the morning.
One night, years ago, at a family dinner at the old Mazzarino's in the Valley. We’re all there, the big, extended family. I return from the can to find that the food had arrived.
I’m a few bites into my chicken piccata when I notice something buried beneath my side of spaghetti. I look and it’s a folded piece of paper, a love note, it turns out from one of the busboys who was apparently somewhat infatuated with me. It was written sloppily, in broken English, but I could discern that this guy thought that I was cute and wanted to share a moment with me behind the dumpster in the alley.
I was mortified, looking around trying to figure out who this guy was. Also, I was a little interested to see if he was handsome or not … but I was trying to be cool about it. After a few minutes of this Roy bursts out laughing. He had written the note earlier in the night, -- with his left hand mind you, to hide his tracks I guess – slipped it under my pasta and just watched. And laughed. No one else at the table knew. It was the epitome of performance art. It was just for him. And me, I realize now. Roy only pranked the people he loved.
Roy’s legacy is his writings and our laughter. The laughter of his two daughters and his four grandchildren. And the sounds of their joy now fill my world and wear his smile.
It wasn’t long before his sudden death in February that he got me, really got me, one last time.
It was during a small family dinner over the holidays when Roy very casually asked me if I was aware that New Jersey was in the running to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
“Um, excuse me?” I said.
“Sure, sure” Roy said. “They just couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin.”
And, being from New Jersey, I laughed until I cried.