On January 25, 2023

A teachable moment

By Dom Cioffi

It’s common for my teenage son to call me and announce that he’s having a few friends over to the house. I usually ask thve number and then remind him that I expect his visitors to respect our home and rules. Minutes later, my space is generally overwhelmed with boys. 

When my son was younger, he played the role of gang leader for the other kids in the neighborhood, so we got used to having children running in and out of our house. Given that we only had one child, the sound of happy kids playing was something we always appreciated.

I’ve always made sure to have the proper accouterments available for the kids to utilize. I put in a collegiate level adjustable basketball hoop in the driveway. I bought wiffle ball bats, balls, and bases. I purchased countless footballs and bought a set of flags for games. I even put in a professional badminton set.

Installing a pool would have really topped things off, but I don’t think my nerves could have handled that day after day.

Last Saturday, several boys arrived at the house around 7 p.m. They immediately headed into the garage and began playing ping-pong. There was a lot of testosterone at work given the level of volume and number of vulgarities flying around. I let it slide because the garage doors were closed, creating a buffer between their obscene noise and my elderly neighbors.

At some point, they headed inside to go upstairs to our bonus room above the garage. I looked up from the football game I was watching to assess the boys as they walked by. The regular crew knows me well enough to engage me (there’s nothing I can’t stand more than a teenage kid who won’t look me in the eye and show respect). 

Several said, “Hey, Mr. Cioffi!” as they passed by. However, one kid I didn’t recognize kept his head down and just meandered up the stairs. I took note. 

Over the next hour, I could hear the boys yelling and laughing. Sometime later, they all came back down and went outside. That same kid I noticed earlier never looked at me and went straight for the door. I took note again. 

I then refocused my attention on the game. I love the NFL playoffs and this year’s contests have been particularly engaging. As I was glued to the action, my ears suddenly erupted with a loudly revving car engine followed by an intense screeching of tires as a vehicle tore away from my home.

I immediately jumped up and ran to my front door, swung it open, and saw three boys standing at the end of my driveway. They all looked at me with blank stares. I’m guessing my body language spoke volumes, but what came out of my mouth next certainly reinforced the idea that I was not pleased. 

I pointed my finger sternly and stated, “Call whoever just drove away and tell them I want them standing in my living room in three minutes.” I then shut the door firmly to overstate my mood.

Three minutes later, a young man walked into my living room with his head down. It was the same kid from earlier that avoided making eye contact. 

I pointed at a chair across from me and stated curtly, “Sit down and don’t say a word!” He quickly slid into the chair and stared at me. He was visibly shaking. 

I then launched into a story of a young boy who was run over by a car in my neighborhood when I was a kid. I punctuated my words with several gruesome details about the accident. I then followed with specifics on the demise of the teenaged boy who ran the child over. It wasn’t a pretty life that followed. 

I saw how distressed the kid was, so I began to soften. I asked him if he understood why I was so triggered by his actions. He stared at me deeply and said he did. 

I wanted to end on a positive note, so I told him to stand up. I then walked over to him and put out my hand and stated, “The fact that you walked into this house and faced me tells me a lot about your character. And for that reason, you’re always welcome here.” He gave me a curtailed smile, apologized for the third time, and sheepishly walked away.

I don’t know if my story will amount to much, but I hope that it resides in that kid’s head long enough to avoid a future tragedy. 

This week’s film, “The Whale,” also features a tragedy, but in this case, the main character is intent on righting his wrong. 

I rarely state absolutes, but if Brendan Fraser fails to win the Best Actor Oscar for this portrayal, it will be an absolute travesty. Fraser is otherworldly in his depiction of a morbidly obese man trying to make amends for his past actions.

If you see one film in the coming weeks, make it “The Whale.” I literally had tears streaming down my cheeks by the end, which speaks to the gravity and emotional depth of the story. 

An enormous “A” for “The Whale,” now playing in theaters everywhere. 

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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