Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Happens In the Family, Stays In the Family

By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco

So did you hear that Madonna's brother Anthony was in the parking lot at the Superbowl while she was performing. Anthony Ciccone, of "NOT the Imprisoned Mobster" fame, was paid by a radio station to leave his shelter for the otherwise homeless on a mission to complete "Challenges." No report on what the challenges actually were or if he was successful, but he did manage to use this opportunity to remind the world "Madonna doesn't care if I die."

So if you''re like me, you rank Madonna right up there with Newt Gingrich as the indulent type you have no use for, though you admit you have no serious complaint to make beyond not liking them. That makes it easy to believe the family members who have bad things to say about them, as with Madonna's brother Christopher and his book 'LIfe with My Sister Madonna.' But if you're a reasonable person, as I consider myself to be, you have to allow for the possibility that this other person may not be the most reliable source, possibly having an ax to grind before embedding it in the head of his famous sister.

The point is, there's an other side to everything, especially homelessness. I just came back from the grocerystore, where a "Man" (Or a mouse) was using a shopping cart as a kick scooter while loudly proclaiming himself "Homeless" and in need of money. I can tell you as a onetime volunteer working with the homeless that nearly all such money collected will go to drugs and alcohol. There's even someone on Craigslist trying to trade a "$400 Fullerton College Scholarship" for drugs. So while I'm often buying them convenience store food, they're not getting a dime from me, ever. Whether he was really homeless or just one of many junkies pretending to be I can't say, I can say I took a particular adversion to this guy when he started screaming at a woman because she kept right on talking on her phone while he was begging. Yeah, dude, I think her call probably WAS more important than your addiction. And you better watch how you express your anger toward her while I'm around, or it'll end badly for you. She walked away from him as I ran toward them, he scooted off on the shopping cart. I'm guessing he still had a long antagonistic evening ahead of him. Enough to make me think he's an Occupier. But I don't have to worry about it, he's gone from my life. He's not family.

I may talk tough, but I can't really say they never get any money from me. Sometimes when they've been around enough I'll be talking to them, at some time they feel emboldened and ask to "Borrow" a dollar. Ooops, that gets me started. "You know you're not supposed to be begging here." (They always say they know while waiting for the dollar.) "Don't piss them off here." (Pointing at the store as I say it.) And for a dollar, I never see them begging in front of that particular store ever again, though they might be present.

And there are the two sides: Some hopeless reprobates still have some character, some don't. Sooner or later you have to deal with both, that includes in your family. For Madonna it appears there were problems with most of her 7 brothers and sisters. Problems I know well among the still living 8 of mine. Once the problems are a part of the family, they never seem to go away.

Before you get out your hankerchiefs for Madonna's abandoned older brother Anthony, keep in mind that he was working for the family business less than 2 years ago before his drinking led them to fire him. Madonna has paid for several of his stinits in what must have been expensive rehabilitation facilities, but since he refers to it as being for his "Supposed drinking problem," it would seem the effort was doomed from the start. Apparently the only communication she is willing to have with him is to say she's ready to pay for him to go to rehab again, with him responding "My family seems to think rehab is some kind of magic panacea for life’s ills."

There is one magic to his situation, that is that being homeless merits a lot of attention when you're Madonna's sister, which gives him plenty of opportunity for him to rail publicly, with reporters feeling the need to be fair and admit he'd be drinking throughout the interview. "I’m a zero in their eyes; a non-person, an embarrassment,’ he tells me, his voice rising. "If I froze to death, my family probably wouldn’t know or care about it for six months." If you've ever had to deal with alcoholics, you're not surprised he looks far older than his 55 years. You're used to the tone and the reaction when the reporter asks a pointed question that's not on his script. If you want to be on Anthony's good side, don't ask him what the family has done for him, or is willing to do. He's there to talk about the family responsibility to him, not about his own responsibility. His irresponsibilty is bound to be forever a part of the Ciccone family, don't ask if he's done anything to deserve all the chances they've given him.

Don't ask my considerably older brother that same question. I might guess that I've been the first target of his diatribes, though I haven't been speaking to him near my entire adult life. The last time we did speak was when I found him hiding while eating in the crawlspace under my house. Judging from the trash around him, this had been a favorite spot for awhile. It's been decades since he held a job. He never did actually work for a living, Mom took care of him. In fine style, from what I saw and heard. Too bad my CAREER didn't pay so well as his. Nearly a decade late he gained a high school diploma at about the same time I was graduating from college. From what was reported at the time of his 'Fame' his drinking buddies apparently believed his stories of his great business success. Others said he had to have his family looking out for him. But whether it was his appearances on 'Americas Most Wanted' and other dubious television coverage or because of the other revelations, he and Mom aren't speaking; she might be the new subject of his belly aching. The only thing I know for sure is that Mom finally sold his mansion out from under him, he's not happy about that.

So Anthony may be the worst of Madonna's family, but he's not the only one she's carried on her back while they failed to appreciate it. Madonna has paid for attorneys for their legal problems, paid for rehab, employed some and started businesses for others. Her brother Marty recorded a rap album of potshots at her while Christopher wrote his tell all book. It is reported that her relationships with her brothers and sisters has recovered to varying levels, though some were never invited to her weddings. Anthony talks fondly of drinking and using drugs with celebrities she met through his sister, including her former brother-in-law Christopher Penn, who is said to have died from the ravages of substance abuse that destroyed his body. Marty meanwhile is said to at last be "Friendly" with her. Her brother Christopher has still not spoken to her since his firing after 20 years in her 'Organization' led to his book.

It's a far simpler life of problems in my family, yet at the same time no less complicated. There's been varying levels of substance abuse among my mother and siblings, I was the only one after Dad to stay 100% clean. One brother was inspired by health problems to quit smoking and drinking, immediately he expressed his regret he'd ever started after deciding he liked how much better he felt even while still sick. Another has had periods of sobriety and work separating stretches of abuse. Though for all his problems, to the best of my knowledge he never stole anything from the family to pay for drugs, (Unlike several others) nor would he stand for his friends doing so. Just as I've never once seen one of those bums begging after I've given them a dollar, though I've refused others I could tell would go right on. Some people believe the drugs and alcohol will do all the talking, but I know that the basic character of the individual is always showing, even though it's in a strange, twisted way. So while they all will speak glowingly of Dad over such things as his honor society gold key, it's rather annoying to some of my sisters that I too have a gold key, though they seem to have learned they shouldn't show it. (All my degrees, I have more college than all 8 of them combined, even though 2 have Bachelors Degrees.) The one that refuses to steal often has a good laugh at the behavior of those others, even at times he's doing badly at life himself he won't sink so low. Mom's most recent 'Doctor Feel Good' lost his license to practice, she lives out in the country away from a ready replacement, so she's behaving. . . .almost as a normal person. So when I go to visit of late it has been fairly peaceful, even so it's an uneasy peace.

Another staple in human services is that substance abuse and mental illness go hand in hand. "Dual Disordered," the fact that 2/3rds of those diagnosed with a mental illness will also have an addiction, plays a big part in the behavior most people think of as 'Drug Crazy.' Rehab so often fails because while they can readily deal with the addiction, the underlying psychological or emotional problems that drive the "Self medication" can be far more difficult to sort out. And the one escape from their problem they will so often resist is any antipsychotic drugs or therapy that might actually put their life on track. So it's a fair guess to say there's not much hope for Anthony Ciccone.

For others things seem to be doing well. Madonna's brother Mario is taking over their father's business. Christopher has taken to making it on his own in entertainment, while Melanie has apparently always had a stable life and a good relationship with her famous sister. In one interview Christopher spoke optimistically of his relationship with Madonna possibly improving someday. So while for reasons having nothing to do with her music I just really don't think much of Madonna, I have to say it sounds as though she's actually doing an excellent job of dealing with the problems of her family. It doesn't matter how much money you have, you just can't buy a happy family. In fact some will deliberately try to deny any hope of that just because someone in the family has money. I never thought I'd be able to relate to Madonna, but on this issue I can.

And even if he didn't prove much of an embarassment by showing off his addiction and homelessness at the Superbowl his sister was performing for, Anothony Ciccone still judged the trip a success. His begging crew, dubbed "The Misfits" by WKLT Radio, completed enough of their challenges that Anthony's share of the prize was $183.75, not counting anything he might have begged along the way. And with the press showing up to let him throw another public pity party, he had the chance to do the things he does best, considering he would have to be drinking as he spoke.

While I get Leo Tokstoy's point in starting 'Anna Karenia' with (Roughly translated) "Families are all happy for the same reasons. Each unhappy family has reasons of their own," I just think he's wrong. It may seem as though it requires some explanation, yet once you know the story you realize you've heard it all before. And you feel like you should have known all along.

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