Dan and I became friends after the first night, when I took him to the Wawa on the corner of 38th and Walnut. His introduction to the magic of Wawa, with its five-dollar hoagies and one-dollar coffees, reminded me of the “Whole New World” scene from Aladdin; all that was missing were a crooning prince and a magic carpet.
I walked back to the dorm empty-handed, but Dan skipped beside me with a plastic bag of gummies and M&M’s, a Hershey’s chocolate bar, and Doritos. He wasted no time with his recently acquired booty when we got back home, shoving his face with a handful of whatever junk food he could get his hands on. The Doritos were his first victim. I watched him as he tossed up his hands freckled with the Doritos powder, shouted something in Italian, and cackled.
He looked over at me and proclaimed in English that this was the best day ever.
“There is so much junk food here. I — love — junk food.” I feared that Dan might start crying from this euphoria over junk food, a situation for which the past twenty-one years of my life had not prepared me. Luckily, it didn’t come to that.
“You’ve been here, to America, before, right? It -I mean, the amount of junk we have everywhere- is pretty, uh, standard considering how many fat people we’ve got waddling around this place.”
He confirmed that this wasn’t his first time in the States. He’d been to New York three times before (“for vacations at language improving, you know?” I didn’t know).
“But this is my first time living here. Alone. And taking everything in, I guess. Am I making sense?” He then went on to talk about himself.
Dan is in his final year of college studying finance, and he’s actually a year older than me. Having spent all his life in Italy, he wants to live in the States, which, to a guy like me who is determined to leave the country as soon as possible, is a little difficult to understand.
“But think of the TV shows you have here, like How I Met Your Mother!” I informed him that I don’t watch TV except for sports.
“And all this cheap fast food!” Again, not a big aspect of my life.
“Well… how about Wawa?” I conceded that he had a point there.
Dan, contrary to the stereotype I had constructed of a twenty-something Italian, claimed that he neither played soccer nor was any good at it. This fact disappointed me, as I had been recruiting players for our intramural soccer team — an imported Andrea Pirlo 2.0 would have done wonders for our championship hopes. Dan had the requisite flowing locks but not a rocket right foot.
“I can play tennis, though!” I spent the next two minutes demonstrating to Dan his first American joke in Philadelphia by getting up and seemingly search for something in our small living room. Dan, confused by my sudden and frantic actions, watched me and mumbled a couple of times if everything was all right and asked what I was looking for. I returned, informing him that, despite my efforts, I found zero fucks to give about tennis. Dan liked the joke.
For all our differing interests, we discovered that we did have one thing in common: we have two siblings. While I am the middle child, he’s the youngest of the three.
“Okay, okay,” I interrupted him, “so who’re these hottie-totties listed as ‘family’ on your Facebook profile?” I was referring to the gorgeous brunette women with the hipster cover photos whom I had lurked online when he had contacted me via e-mail.
“They’re my best friends,” he laughed, “I’ve known them both, like, forever.” He explained that, living in a small town all his life, he knows everyone that lives there. “It’s nothing like Philadelphia! It’s so huge here, so many people.” I asked him if I could ever meet them in order to, um, you know, propose to them.
“They don’t really speak English that good. You’ll have to learn Italian, unfortunately.” We spent the rest of the evening making small talk until Dan turned in for the night, as the jet lag had worn him out.
This last point in our conversation turned out to have a significant impact on the dynamic of our friendship: it sparked something of a 21st century, West-Philly version of the Columbian Exchange. From then on, he attempted to teach me Italian words and phrases to woo Italian women.
“So, Ans, I can teach you how to tell a girl she is beautiful.” I scrunched my face to convey disinterest. “What?” he asked, “What would you rather know?”
“Teach me—“ I stroked my chin and looked at him with squinted eyes “—how to say, ‘I can turn your vagina into a water fountain.’” If I were to learn bits and pieces of Italian, I wanted it to be phrases fit for a sailor or a sixth grader. He howled with laughter and protested that he could not teach me such a sentence, especially for a place like his hometown Castallarano. Castallarano is an old-fashioned town, about forty-five kilometers west of Bologna, where its Catholic inhabitants would probably not tolerate such inappropriate language.
“But,” he suggested, “I can teach you something else that’s more useful. Say, ‘Cazzo figa.’” I repeated after him, and a smirk appeared on his face. I asked him what it meant. “Literally?” Literally.
“It means something like ‘dick pussy,’ and you can use it pretty much for any situation as a… what do you call it, interjection, I think?” Dan had delivered, and I christened everything the next couple of weeks as “cazzo figa.”
To uphold my end of the cultural exchange, I began diluting his perfectly good English with swears, epithets, and nonsense. The list included, but was not limited to: “diddle,” “tittyfucker,” and the immortal “dickbutt.” My friend Emma, after tracking the slow and steady decline of Dan’s formal English, pointed out that my instructions had hit a low point when she heard our Italian friend drunkenly shouting, “Turn uuuuuup” during a drinking game one Saturday evening.
“Oh god,” she groaned, a look of terror on her face.
“He’s come a long way,” I nodded in approval, proud to see Dan had embraced the ways of an American college student. All Emma could muster was another groan. “I would also like to let you know that he invited me a couple of days ago to come visit him in Italy over the summer.”
“Oh, yes. Right, Dan?”
I looked at Dan, who now slumped in a wooden chair, his head titled forward sideways, bumbling something Italian in a hazy way. He glanced up, let out a final “Turnnnn upppp,” and passed out while sitting.
“See? We’re going to have a great time!”