The appointment is for Monday 15 June 2015 at the Hotel Italia, «at 11:00 sharp», the message says.
There will also be the other cockroaches. If they hire me, I’ll spend three months on the stages of the big stars to assemble and disassemble scaffolding. Such a fucking perspective for the immediate future, but that’s two bucks I put in my pocket and it’s not a monotonous and repetitive shit job at least. How the hell do my friends walk into the same department of the same factory every day and do the same things for a fucking thousand euros or so? It’s a mystery. I can’t resist even six months in the same bar, with the same owners and the same customers. What then, where the fuck is the key of the bike lock? I left it here on the table in the hall. Nothing. There isn’t.
I rummage through the pottery vase that Harmaduk, our Algerian flatmate, brought back from Constantine when he came from his country.
Scattered keys. AA battery. Green transparent full lighter, mine. Pink BIC lighter, small, empty. Scotch tape. Blunt pencil. Yellow post-it pads. Purple chocolate wrapper. Brioche paper. Empty Red Lucky cigarettes package. Empty and torn-off package of grey rolling papers to make filters. Tiny Phillips screwdriver of a watchmaker. Fastweb overdue bill. Green envelope, maybe a fine. Used handkerchief. Used handkerchief. Used handkerchief. Orange pen by “Birotto” purging services. Blue USB stick. Greenrush perfume sample. A ghost-white sock. God, there’s everything but my keys.
I turn around and walk to my room. I kick something unintentionally. I follow the thing with my eyes on the floor made up of giant tiles covered with grey and black spots. I focus on the point where it more or less must be and shout satisfied: «Found it! Yes! Let’s go».
In front of the hotel entrance, there are dozens and dozens of young people, all about my age but with worn-out, depressed faces and certainly more tired than mine. Among them, I can see the big head of Andruzzo. I chain my bike to a signpost in the street and go catch him.
«Hello dick, it’s about time, goddamn! We’re the only ones missing!».
«But who was supposed to come in the end?»
«I don’t know, I thought Mandi, Dodo, Spugna, Zampa, Giarra, Lametta, and Zeno. I mean, Zeno told me that he would like to, but he knows that if he starts here, he will drop off university».
«Zeno is only enrolled, he just gives big bucks, but I’ve never seen him with books. And yes, damn it, he’s a big brain».
«Yes, it’s true. When Lametta told me that Zeno knew how to multiply big numbers in a second, as soon as I saw him in the radio, I asked him: 346 times 768!».
«He answered you in no time, didn’t he?»
«Yes, that’s unbelievable, he looked up and moved his fingers for a few seconds and then told me 265,387 or whatever. I checked it with the calculator on the phone and it was right!».
«Yes, but three-digit multiplications are of little use in Law. Come on, let’s go have a coffee, » I said, pointing to the station bar.
«Sure, but not the one over there, it sucks. Let’s go to Gianni, it’s just around the corner».
Andrea, Andruzzo for everyone, is a very young friend of ours and partner in fooleries. Mandi is chubby, Andrea is plump and good. His goodness originates from his bad family situation: father never known, mother waitress with two marriages behind her, three children with three different men, and a partner who has just come out of four years of house arrest for theft and money laundering. He used to smuggle everything: vintage cars, solid wood tables, fryers, ice machines, pinball machines. Everything. Stolen material, of course. He was caught while carrying a van full of unregistered slot machines.
Good Andruzzo internalizes everything, and since he was fifteen, he has been forced into a large family. Therefore, as soon as he can, he goes out with us for small thefts in the service station, a run through the streets of the center after writing on the walls, or simply for a few hours of getaway. He doesn’t drink and doesn’t smoke. Even Lametta, his best friend since childhood, doesn’t drink, but he smokes a thousand butts a day. They make an inseparable couple, Andrea and Nicola. Andruzzo and Lametta. They are glued to each other, like the cap and the bottle. And they argue every minute.
Nicola is unpleasant and shy; he is another son of Portello. Andrea, on the other hand, always shows off big smiles and gets lost staring into space with his narrow black eyes. I’m fine with Andrea. He is true, pure. It is what you see, without pretense, with no part to play. Maybe he’s doomed to this life and he knows it, but he’s doing great.
On our way back from the cafe, we don’t see anybody in front of the hotel. We go inside and a man at the entrance gives us a pen and a block of paper entitled “Site safety”. We join the others in the main room.
After two hours, fifty-seven people, besides us, magically got a diploma as “stagehand and work on stages and stage structures”, complete with a certificate of attendance to the course about the site safety.
The first call comes two weeks after the useless course. We need to set up the Ligabue stage for the zero date of his tour in the halls. Only eighteen on thirty people that were supposed to come have shown up at in Hall 5 of Padua fair.
Everyone is extremely sleepy and exhausted by hard summer alcohol days, all with the same face as those who haven’t worked for months.
Andruzzo didn’t come. Not even Lametta. What a couple.
An authentic Venetian gentleman, in his forties, welcomes us. He calls himself “Lo Zio” (the uncle), with that Venetian pronunciation that makes z sound like a very thick, full, massive s.
«Hey, you people, I’m Lo Zio and everybody calls me Lo Zio, and I drive the forklift whereas you people you’ll move the tubes!»
While he speaks, we are moving in groups, looking at each other very puzzled, among enormous baskets of iron implements, which only apparently look all the same.
«These baskets have all to be emptied and, as if by magic, in three days, a huge stage will pop up».
As soon as he finishes talking, he lets himself into a big laugh, showing his front teeth completely black and rotten. That tacky laugh destroys me emotionally.
There must be at least four trucks, full of iron tubes. Thousands of trusses for the towers and horizontal tubes and diagonal braces and interlocking wooden toe boards, frames, double trusses, and other things that I didn’t even know existed.
«So, I speak once: um, does anybody have a cigarette? I left mine on the forklift. Thank you!».
A short, thin guy, whom I will meet at lunchtime and whose name is Giacomo like me, gives him a cigarette. He takes it, studies the brand, makes a grimace of approval, and looks for a lighter in one of the many pockets of his trousers. He lights it up and resumes his explanation.
«Ok, I speak only once: black tubes, two-meter long, small. Green tubes, straight diagonal braces. Yellow tubes, sloped diagonal braces called “aidos“. Red tubes, two and a half meters long. Short tubes. Long tubes. Washers for odd tubes. Two toe boards with an external hook. Two toe boards with an internal hook. Two and a half meter boards. Couplers to stuck the tubes. Base jacks».
While unlikely combinations of names and colors come out of his mouth, he points with his hand at the various tubes to be assembled and I don’t understand a shit. For a moment, streams of university memories come to my mind, such as strumming in Piazza Delle Erbe and Prato Della Valle, lunches with friends from Puglia who used to receive packets of sauces from their mothers every two weeks. The packages from Ciccio’s mother, with homemade pasta and taralli from Bari. The nights out to dance reggae at Pedro. The girls. Lucia, Miriana, Alice, Giulia, Nora, Ninni, Giada and Lince.
Oh, Lince, what sex! How wonderful. All magical. Oh, I wish I could do it now, in the cool air of seven in the morning, before the sun invades every pore of my skin; before I’m too awake to dream.
No, Giacomo. You are at work. It’s the first day. No boner. You can’t. Then that one goes fast and you don’t understand what you have to do and everyone takes the piss out of you. And it is already the kind of work of Egyptian slaves turned into monkeys…
«The ones with the red shirt come over here, those with the white shirt go over there. Start taking the jacks and putting them in place, more or less where the black tape marks are. Then put the black tubes to form a square, except for the outside where you put the red ones! The stage is 22 meters long and 16 meters wide. Tomorrow with the riggers I’ll tell you how we build the towers. And I’ll drive the forklift, I don’t even move half a tube, I’ve been doing it for twenty years!»
After two hours in the works, I find myself hiding in the toilet with Spugna and Mandi, smoking two cigarettes and whispering, with upset faces.
«Hey guys, does anybody have a joint? God, I just wish to smoke one» Mandi says.
«Nothing, I didn’t bring anything,» he replied.
Just at that moment, a smell of weed arises from the last toilet: in all its majestic prominence, Giarra comes out, slamming the door, with a joint in his mouth as long as a span. «Does anyone here want to get stoned off his balls? » he says. «Do not take drugs at work! » he adds, laughing.
We hug fraternally and euphorically pass the joint to each other seven, eight times. We leave the toilet one at a time, all four with frightful eyes and pale, corpse-like faces.
«We’re back. Two black ones, then two more, then the green ones. Put the tube, and then the other three. Hook up the Aido and go».
To learn better and pass the time we sing some songs that give us the rhythm, a bit like the slaves in the cotton fields of Mississippi, but without the claim or the dream of social redemption. Indeed, what hovers in the air is a scent of resignation to a stagehand condition that seems like we have been living forever.
In less than eight hours, we learn a shit job and get tired of that shit job. We boycott it for any reason and with fake prostate or stomach problems. As a pastime, Mandi and I also invent a dozen songs on that job.
Mandi’s heart is half Sardinian and half Paduan. Solar and smart, it is he who finds inspiration and turns it into hits while working. I follow him in creating. He jokes with the brand of the implements, “Piloseo”, and arranges a tune. I take a cue and start, looking at the Aidos in the basket, with «Aido, le calze a rete, Marlene e charlotte! ». And It’ll be fine.
July runs like the wind: quiet and careless. Like a journey. Yes, because it is the first summer that I spend most of the time in Padua.
Working on stage is hard, but people are great. The cockroaches are crazy and I love them. They’re all from Padua and all friends since nursery school. Mandi has a tattoo on the inside of his arm, pretty much under his armpits: two stylized swords crossed over the Four Moors. He is a pirate. He is in his way of smoking cigarettes to the side of his mouth and recklessly driving his inseparable dark blue Liberty. Left-handed, like me. He listens to Muddy Waters and Giorgio Gaber endlessly, and his playlists are tangles of Sixties pearls, such as cumbia, Rino Gaetano, Silvestri, Bandabardò, and Neffa.
At the end of the work, we often stop at his house and Dodo’s, in the squat in via Baracca. A name, a street.
All we often do while working is to talk about fascists, and we continue on this issue even after shift, when we usually go in via Baracca to have some beers and chill.
The triggering factor is that some friends of ours got threatened, and this is not the first time the Nazis get their feathers up.
It bothers me a lot, and not so much for my natural disgust towards fascism, as for the fact that those shits force us to deal with anti-historical issues, such as the color of one’s skin, while our struggles are focused on quite different topics: common goods, the right to housing, the right to decently paid work, guaranteed social services, the occupation of theatres for a culture that offers everyone, with no distinction, the beauty of art, with its perfumes, its colors, its words, its rhythms. Instead, in the twenty-first century, we still have to discuss races and boundaries. My hope for change is increasingly going down.
«Guys, I’m out of faith. Is it possible to make a change with these dumb monkeys around? » I say in a broken voice.
«Yes, but tensions are growing and these assholes are getting more and more attention» Zampa replies.
«That’s why they have to be shot down, » Mandi replies.
We burst out laughing. We are able not to take ourselves too seriously but still try to set the world on fire. This sweats out of the wet t-shirts of the cockroaches. I feel good with this gang of rebels and pirates. They’re increasingly rare. I feel privileged. For us, the sense of fulfillment does not go through the money we have in our wallets. Instead, it consists of the awareness of always having brothers and sisters next to us. With my eyes, I can see there is everything I need. An empty bottle of red wine and worn-out glasses. A guitar leaning against the wall. An almost finished pot of weed. Rolling papers, filters, moke. Ashtray overflowing with butts. Sangue Misto playlist as a pleasant background sound. Giarra, Spugna and Dodo are sitting on the sofa. Me in a chair. Andrea and Mandi on the other two. Andrea wears sunglasses. It’s eleven in the evening. Mandi discusses Ancient Egypt with me and Dodo. Spugna has just got a tattoo machine tattooed on his temple and he’s red and swollen with fever spasms. Giarra has been taking the piss out of him for a good two hours. He is obsessed with fixing the roots of his dreadlocks, maybe because he is afraid of losing them. He always does it. Obsessively.
The next day, when the stage is almost done, Giarra appears from the side entrance of the fair screaming like crazy. He shouldn’t be at work and it immediately catches our attention. He walks fast, with his dreadlocks down lose up to his ass and a picture in his hand.
«Hey, guys. Wait a minute, I need to pour out, I’m terrified, I have to show you this! » he yells out.
Usually, it doesn’t happen to be close together at work. This morning, however, we are completing some finishing touches on the left tower, the one near the exits, and it is easy for us to reach him in a few seconds, forming a small sweaty group on the side of the site.
He shows us a picture of a guy, already bald, in a jacket and a pair of jeans. The picture must be from the Eighties.
«Who the fuck is he?»
«Goddamn, are you serious? He is my father, damn it!».
«So what? I don’t give a shit about your father» Dodo says.
«Don’t you see? » and he points to the dreadlocks, «I will lose them in a few years. My father here is twenty-seven!».
«ahahaha! What the fuck is wrong with you?»
«You don’t get it. You and your hair… I can’t live without my dreadlocks!».
Giarra has always been the Rasta for everyone. He is obsessed with his long little braids. Anything. They can touch anything on him, but not his dreadlocks.
He came running at work, breathless, just to share these fears and be laughed at.
The big laughs are interrupted by Beppe, that asshole foreman. We met him a few hours after work had begun at the fair. He showed up with the Royal assembly team, a team of giant Romanian workers. They have different tasks from ours but they share the area with us. We are a bunch of stoned with no future and working on call, while they are family men with a fixed salary. They mock us pretty frequently in the works. The most recurrent words they address to us are: “stagehand sleep in the shoe”, “two hands two tubes” and the famous “stagehand smokes rosemary” because we are often caught red-handed passing some joints.
The relationship between our team and theirs is always on the thin ice and Beppe is particularly nervous today because there is much confusion on-site and it is the phase when the tasks of the two teams go messily together.
«Do I pay you to make you laugh? » Beppe bursts out after yet another our laugh. «Come on, make me laugh too!»
«Yes, come on, Beppe, don’t take it so seriously», I say.
«Yes, Beppe, leave off» Mandi adds.
«Goddamn, I lose my hair and you tell me to go back to work?» Giarra replies.
«Back to work, I said! What the fuck are you doing here? you’re not on shift!» Beppe yells.
«Hey, calm down!» Zampa replies.
«Shut up, we have two days left to finish and the LEDs are almost all burnt out, there are no stairs and all the covers are still missing. And there are two fewer Royal stagehands», Beppe yells.
«I don’t give a shit about your problems. I don’t even care if this shit stage stays up or down. And Jovanotti, or Ligabue… I hate his guts! » Mandi says.
The reprimand pissed Mandi off and we followed him on the heels, maybe more than we should. But it is as if at this moment the right to have fun is worth more than holidays or illness as if a break and a chat are worth more than low pay, and as if those words were the drop that breaks the camel’s back. As if in a kind of epiphany, we have realized our condition as slaves to music, errand boys in a system of fake licenses, and unsafe work conditions. As if Beppe embodies the entire economic system to be fought and boycotted. A maddened irascible fury.
An unprecedented revolutionary thrill sends a shiver down my spine almost freezing my neck.
«Go fuck yourself!» Mandi says and throws the tools down.
«Oh yes. Fuck you, I’m fucking sick, I’m leaving. Keep today’s money and stick it up to your ass in two euros coins, Beppe!» Zampa yells.
«Yes, fuck you» Dodo and I say as one.
Zampa heads for the exit with Mandi. Dodo follows them and so do Giarra and me.
Beppe, petrified and speechless, looks at us walking out the main door, each one with his backpack and a lit cigarette.
In a moment we are free, we quit our job at the same time. We left him in shit at the mercy of the Royal Romanian workers, who certainly will stop immediately to keep from wasting one more drop of sweat than those already trickling down their backs.
Back in via Baracca, we spread the news of our collective quit and many join us after a few minutes to know about what happened.
I text Andrea, who replies in no time: «Done well, I already blew him off two days ago and I won’t go there anymore!».
Paoletto, a dealer friend of ours who is ten years older than us, seems to have smelled the situation. Without being called, he shows up in our house, pulls out a big sack full of weed, and yells with his strong Paduan accent: «This is Baghdad because when you smoke it, your brain thunders like in a trench!»
Translation by Giorgia Colaneri
 Italian telecommunications company
 Old town centre of Padua
 Dialect word for diagonal braces.
 Square and park in Padua
 Those who assemble stages in a kind of human scaffolding by manually passing every single piece from the bottom to the top. They are also called spider-men since they work at dizzy heights pretty much suspended in the void.
 Pun with the line from the song Aida by the Italian singer Rino Gaetano. In the original song the singer speaks to Aida: «Aida, fishnet stockings, Marlene and Charlot.»
 Flag of Sardinia and ancient emblem of the Kingdom of Sardinia. It is composed of the George Cross and four blindfolded Moor’s heads, representing the four Saracen kings defeated by the Aragonese during the Battle of Alcoraz in Spain.