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By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, February 21, 2007.
Poor Borgicci; he has nothing. If it were you who had nothing, it would be poor You. But it is not. It is only poor Borgicci.
“It is true,” poor Borgicci laments. “All my life, I hear, Poor Borgicci! He has nothing! But in fact, I am a wealthy man. I have always been a wealthy man, even before I was born.”
I do not know this poor Borgicci who sits before me now. A few days ago, while I was out of town, Hector Schechner contacted my senior research associate, Chlamydia Pines, saying that this Borgicci friend had just moved down to Los Angeles and was looking for someone to write his biography. Schechner had recommended me and made all the arrangements, and now the three of us — Borgicci, Ms. Pines and I — are sitting as one, onstage at the otherwise empty UnUrban Coffeehouse. I’ve arranged my Celebritone 2000™ portable recording studio and backup recorder on the small table between us.
“Will you talk with Borgicci?” are the first words out of Borgicci’s mouth, directed toward Ms. Pines, who, wisely, does not respond. Borgicci answers his own question: “No. You will not.” And he turns to me. “Nor will Borgicci talk with you. Borgicci will talk only with microphones.”
I rotate my laptop and tap both microphones, showing Borgicci the audio-level meters’ reactions.
Borgicci crosses his arms and says nothing.
I stop recording and play back what we’ve recorded so far.
Borgicci is satisfied. “For you,” he smiles at Ms. Pines, “I am a telephone.”
Ms. Pines has never been so silent. She nods and looks at me. I nod and look at Borgicci. Borgicci nods and stares at Ms. Pines. I hit record.
“Yes,” says Borgicci, sitting back. “It is unfortunate, but I do not speak unless I am being recorded. This is what my father taught me, and his own father taught him, and so on, back to the Big Bang. We Borgiccis are simple people. Simple, recordable people.”
I ask Borgicci how this worked before tape recorders were invented. He ignores my question and turns to Ms. Pines.
“It is true,” Borgicci says. “All my life, I hear, Poor Borgicci! He has nothing! But in fact, I am a wealthy man.”
Borgicci tells his story.
He was born. He drank milk. He went to school. He said goodbye and moved to a faraway place. He took a room on the top floor of Hotel Tigullio, a four-story walkup flophouse near the top of old Columbus Road. There were six dirty one-room apartments and one bathroom on each floor. Some of the residents enjoyed drinking wine in the hallways; others enjoyed it while playing chess in the lobby or milling about on the sidewalk out front. Borgicci stayed at the Tigullio for 44 years.
Twelve generations of Borgiccis had been wealthy, and all had spent their lives in flophouses, in accordance with the will of Borgicci the First, who’d retired to a castle after making a fortune as a slumlord. In this way, consecutive generations of Borgiccis could survive without having to waste their lives on jobs, and the Spirit of Borgicci the First could enjoy his afterlife. “Some of us have worked anyway,” says Borgicci. “But never for money. Only for love.” He turns to Ms. Pines. “Only for love,” he repeats.
I try to rescue Ms. Pines from poor Borgicci’s lovelorn gaze. “I don’t mean to pry,” I tell Borgicci. “But how did you meet Schechner?”
“I did not meet Schechner,” says Borgicci. “It was Schechner who met me.”
In the basement below the Tigullio was a strip club called Nick’s Rumpus Room. Nicolina Viola was a dancer there. Borgicci loved her from afar, waiting for her to make the first move.
Late one hot August afternoon, Borgicci and his flophouse friends — Pinky, Rusty, Punchy, Stuffy and Tomasso — sat on the curb in front of the Tigullio, sharing stories, drinking very inexpensive wine, as was their custom on such days. Just uphill to the west, some neighborhood children had opened the fire hydrant. Borgicci and his friends reminisced happily about their own childhoods as they watched the small, giggling silhouettes frolicking in the water, the sky glowing bright pink behind them.
Then from this pink glow, a new silhouette emerged and approached. It was Nicolina. Pinky, Rusty, Punchy, Stuffy and Tomasso observed in silent reverence as Nicolina walked straight up to Borgicci and invited him to come with her to the Holy City Zoo, where they could see “the funniest man in the world.”
“Schechner, of course,” says Borgicci. During Schechner’s performance, Borgicci was disappointed to learn that Nicolina had a hideous laugh. It was not unusually loud, but it was remarkably squeaky — Hee-hee-hee! Hee-hee-hee! — and it continued on, at times uncontrollably, long after everyone else’s laughter had died. It did not sound like a real laugh.
Borgicci was embarrassed. Schechner was titillated. He initiated a dialogue with Nicolina about her peculiar laughter, which caused Nicolina to laugh even more, which caused the rest of the audience to laugh again, which caused Schechner to comment, which caused Nicolina to Hee-hee-hee! Hee-hee-hee! and turn red and sweat and cry and so on, and the cycle began again.
“After the show,” says Borgicci, “Schechner bought us many drinks. We became friends. Schechner visited us often after that, always treating us to a fine dinner.”
Poor Borgicci; he has nothing, yet he has everything. I imagine that might work as the generically optimistic, publisher-friendly underlying theme of the book.
“If it’s not too personal,” I say to Borgicci, “why, exactly, do you want someone to write your biography?”
“Write my biography?” says Borgicci. “I do not want someone to write my biography. This is what Schechner has told you?”
“Ah! Such a funny man! I asked him only if he knew a good quiet place for coffee, and kind people with tape recorders, so I could speak at length. And for this,” says Borgicci, leering at Ms. Pines, “I am forever grateful.”
Ms. Pines kicks my shin hard under the table. I hit stop.