The Deen Castronovo Chronicles: Part 2, in which we learn “How to Pronounce the Word ‘Vince’ ”

By midway through the school year, I had already taken most of my fellow saxophone players for a test drive and had settled on John, who remained a big part of my life for several years, right up until he took an unnecessarily narrow view of my plan to marry his college roommate. During that school year, however, all such controversy was still in the future, and we happily spent more time together than conjoined twins. It went without saying that we always rode together to the many competitions that the Jazz Band attended.

The problem was that, when we hit the road, between the sheer number of teenaged bodies and all of our associated musical equipment, our group just barely exceeded the capacity of a district school bus. Instead of budgeting for the expense of a second bus (that would go mostly vacant), our director would put out the call for volunteer parents to chaperone the event and, conveniently, transport a few extra kids in their cars. This is what led to John’s and my eventual discovery of the Castronovo Family. They never failed to cheerfully perform these duties, showing up on the assigned mornings in their big boat of a car. And it wasn’t just Mom or Dad Castronovo—it was both, always, as far as I can remember. And not just that, but for some inexplicable reason, it was also Deen’s brother Vince. Why was Vince there? He wasn’t in band. Did he need a keeper—is that what obligated him to attend band trips? If there was a reason for his presence, it’s entirely lost to me now.

John and I, quite randomly, climbed into the back of their car one morning in lieu of taking the bus—been there, done that—we were past ready for a change of scenery. Dad Castronovo was in the driver’s seat, Mom on the passenger side, and Vince was corked between the two of them in the middle of the front seat.

Deen and Vince all grown up! With their mom! If their dad had also been in this picture, I would have blown it up, framed it, and hung it over the fireplace.

“VINCE! Put on your seatbelt!” Mr. Castronovo virtually screamed, snapping John and me to immediate attention in the backseat. “Close the door! Let’s GO!” The volume, in that enclosed space, left our ears ringing.

The conversation continued up front, with Mom hollering directions to Dad, Dad hollering back through the open channel of Vince’s ears, and Vince doing a certain amount of his own utility infield yelling just to be heard. And none of this was in the least bit angry, it was just life writ large and Italian in Castronovo Land.

John and I, both having descended from countless generations of tepid Scandinavians, had never heard anything like it. We sat in the back seat like spectators at Whimbledon, our heads swiveling in unison to catch the action bouncing loudly from player to player up front, spellbound and delighted.

Before we even got to the interstate, Johnny turned to me there in the backseat and, with great solemnity said, “Pinky swear—swear we will never again take any vehicle to a band competition except this one.” If he hadn’t suggested it, I would have—so the pact was made.

That day we were going to Portland, about an hour’s drive up the interstate, and during that time the Castronovo Family’s capacity for taking mundane conversation to competitive volumes never wavered. John and I let the whole performance wash over us like theatre, savoring every line of dialog, every nuanced scene.

And where was Deen during all of this? On the bus. Deen, evidently, was far less enchanted than Johnny and I were with the idea of spending another hour in a car with his family. His loss, as far as I was concerned.

Our destination that day was, I believe, a jazz festival staged at Mount Hood Community College. We’d be playing competitively, collecting our trophies and accolades (and, about this, we had no doubts), and then listening to a concert by a guest band. Tower of Power was going to show us kids what playing power brass was all about. It should come as no surprise that our own trumpet and trombone players had already determined that they would remain stoically unimpressed.

Glenn, John, Andre

Glenn, Johnny, Andre

The concert performance was the last portion of what turned out to be a long day. I remember sitting next to John in the audience as Tower of Power was wrapping up their big number. “Hey, Johnny…” I whispered to him.

“Yeah?” he said.

“It’s getting late and people are getting tired. It’s possible—probable even?—that it’s going to be a very quiet ride home.”

I could see John consider this grim possibility. “Yes,” he sighed, disappointed by the idea. “I bet you’re right.”

“Well, here’s the thing—I’ve been thinking. You know, I don’t think it would be that hard to get Vince into just a little bit of trouble—nothing over the top—just enough to irritate his folks enough to keep the ride home interesting.”

Johnny stroked his chin in an amazingly professorial gesture for a 16-year-old boy. “Tell me more…” he said, clearly interested.

And at this point in the story, I’m going to have to take the Fifth. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of incriminating myself, it’s just that, after so many years, details have become hazy. What I do remember is, in the time we spent in the parking lot waiting for the older Castronovos to round up Vince (who seemed to have wandered away temporarily, for some odd reason—how strange!), I stepped onto our school bus, which would be leaving in a few minutes. Deen was installed there with most of the rest of the band, happily unconcerned about any fabricated family drama that may or may not have been playing out in the parking lot. “Hey, Deen,” I said. “We’re about to leave with your folks. What do you say? You wanna come with?”

“No, I’m good,” he said, disappointing me. I figured the addition of yet another Castronovo to that car would add a whole new operatic dimension of drama and pageantry to the ride home. But no.

Fine, Deen, I thought. Break my heart.

So, instead I said, “Hey Deen—this ‘Neil Peart’ I’ve been hearing about. Is he any good? What do you think?”

“OH MY GOD. NEIL PEART IS A GOD!!! RUSH IS AWESOME!!!” and on and on and on. I backed off the bus while Deen’s litany was still in progress, happily collecting filthy glares from the three other saxophone players who would have to endure the noise until it finally played itself out—those glares were my consolation prizes.

Johnny lives in Nevada now, happily married, and fighting the good fight. I still hear from him at rare, telepathically random intervals. So I know for a fact that if anyone mentions Deen’s name in the course of conversation, John will lapse automatically into his impersonation of Deen’s Dad. It’s not difficult; it consists of pronouncing just a single word expelled from the throat as if powered by the force of a self-inflicted Heimlich maneuver:



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. FirstNations
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 13:15:59

    GOOD GRAVY MARIE WOMAN how is it that you’ve been here and I didn’t know? Well now I’m here too. And impressed!


  2. FirstNations
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 13:17:24

    ……youve been here since 2005??? *smacks head on desk*


    • Kristy
      Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:36:06

      No, no, no. I haven’t been here since 2005! I’ve been here for about five minutes. I imported some of the old Blogger stuff here–couldn’t risk losing some of the old files of Ed Troyer love poetry and such. All this WordPress stuff is quite new, believe me. I’ve barely even figured out how to post stuff yet…


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