A sometimes-abrasive radio and TV personality’s unexpectedly touching memoir about “the best summer of [his] life.”
In the summer of 1974, 12-year-old Benza was “struggling with pimples and puberty” in a household dominated by his macho Sicilian father, Al. Then Benza’s uncle sent his 10-year-old boy, Gino—who he feared had the same gay tendencies as an older son—to live with his brother's family on Long Island. Al told Benza that their job that summer was to introduce the "brain damaged" Gino to fishing, sports, and girls. From the outset, the author realized he was fighting an uphill battle. Gino had never so much as stuck a toe in ocean water. Worse still, he ignored the women in Al’s Playboy magazines, sang the lyrics to tear-jerker pop ballads and Broadway musical songs, and knew more about Marilyn Monroe than he did about her baseball hero husband, Joe DiMaggio. And when Gino played kickball with Benza and the neighborhood boys, he demonstrated that he was as unable to catch or throw as he was to “field a grounder [even] if his life depended on it.” But the more the author and his family got to know the apparently hapless Gino, the more they accepted him for the sensitive, intelligent boy he was. He even won over Benza’s hypermasculine father, who not only protected the boy from the homophobia of neighborhood bullies, but also told him to stop taking the many pills his doctor father had prescribed for his “condition.” Benza’s depiction of how he, his father, and his cousin—who went home “beam[ing] with quiet confidence, resolve and inner freedom”—change is what is most satisfying about this book. That one family could make a difference in the life of a misunderstood boy and in turn be transformed by interactions with him is an uplifting message about the true nature of love.
A warm and honest memoir.