Bordighera Poetry Prize
Parenti is the author many vital books, among them Make-Believe
Media: The Politics of Entertainment, and Inventing Reality:
The Politics of News Media. Against Empire from City Lights
Books, 1995 critiques U.S. Imperialism. This essay is from his
book Dirty Truths, 1996, which is a collection of his works
on politics, media, ideology, ethnic life, and class power. He
is an internationally known award-winning author and lecturer,
and is one of the nation's leading progressive political analysts.
His highly informative and entertaining books and talks have reached
a wide range of audiences in North America and abroad. The
Assassination of Julius Caesar, his latest book, 2003,
offers a compelling perspective on an ancient era, one that contains
many intriguing parallels to our own times. For further information
about Michael Parenti and his work, visit: www.MichaelParenti.org/
"A prolific author, a charismatic speaker, and a regular guest
on radio and television talk shows, Parenti communicates his message
in an accessible, provocative, and historically informed style
that is unrivaled among fellow progressive activists and thinkers."
The Blessings of Private Enterprise by Michael Parenti
Years ago, my father drove a delivery truck for the Italian
bakery owned by his uncle Torino. When Zi Torino returned to Italy
in 1956, my father took over the entire business. The bread he
made was the same bread that had been made in Gravina, Italy,
for generations. After a whole day standing, it was fresh as ever,
the crust having grown hard and crisp while the inside remained
soft, solid, and moist. People used to say that our bread was
a meal in itself.
The secret of the bread had been brought by my Zi Torino all
the way from the Mediterranean to Manhattan, down into the tenement
basement where he had installed wooden vats and tables. The bakers
were two dark wiry men, paisani from Gravina, who rhythmically
and endlessly pounded their powdery white hands into the dough,
molding the bread with strength and finesse. Zi Torino and then
my father after him, used time and care in preparing their bread,
letting it sit and rise naturally, turning it over twice a night,
using no chemicals and only the best quality unbleached flour.
The bread was baked slowly and perfectly in an old brick oven
built into the basement wall by Zi Torino in 1907, an oven that
had secrets of its own.
Often during my college days, I would assist my father in
loading up the bread truck at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings.
We delivered in the Bronx to Italian families whose appreciation
for good bread was one of the satisfactions of our labor. My father's
business remained small but steady. Customers, acquired slowly
by word of mouth, remained with us forever. He would engage them
in friendly conversations as he went along his route, taking nine
hours to do seven hours of work. He could tell me more than I
wanted to know about their family histories.
In time, some groceries, restaurants, and supermarkets started
placing orders with us, causing us to expand our production. My
father seemed pleased by the growth in his business, but I felt
a vague uneasiness about making commercial deliveries to such
unconsecrated places as the Jerome Avenue Supermarket. I began
to wonder where it would all lead.
Some months after my father had begun to build his new clientele,
as if to confirm my worst qualms, the Jerome Avenue Supermarket
manager informed him that one of the big companies, Wonder Bread,
was going into the "specialty line" and was offering to take over
the Italian bread account. As an inducement to the supermarket,
Wonder Bread was promising a free introductory offer of two hundred
loaves. With that peculiar kind of generosity often found in merchants
and bosses, the supermarket manager offered to reject the bid
and keep our account if only we would match Wonder Bread's offer
at least in part, say a hundred loaves.
bread is paper compared to mine," my father protested. Indeed,
our joke was: the reason they call it Wonder Bread is because
after tasting it, you wonder if it's bread. But his artisan's
pride proved no match for the merchant's manipulations, and he
agreed to deliver a hundred free loaves, twenty-five a day, in
order to keep the supermarket account, all the while cursing the
manager under his breath. In the business world, this arrangement
is referred to as a "deal" or an "agreement." To us it seemed
more like extortion.
In response to "deals" of this sort, my father developed certain
tricks of his own. By artfully flashing his hands across the tops
of the delivery boxes he would short count loaves right under
the noses of the store managers: "Five and five across, that's
twenty-five, Pete," he would point out, when in fact it was only
twenty-three. We would load 550 loaves for the morning run and
he would sell 575. Not since the Sermon on the Mount had the loaves
I said to him after one of his more daring performances, "You're
becoming a thief."
he said, "It's no sin to steal from them that steal from you."
[Individual competition in the pursuit of private gain brings
out the best of our creative energies and thereby maximizes our
productive contributions and advances the well being of the entire
society. Economics 101]
I left for a few years to go to graduate school, only to return
home in 1959 without a penny in my pocket. I asked my father to
support me for a semester so that I could finish writing my dissertation.
ln return, I offered to work a few days a week on the bread truck.
My father agreed to this but he wondered how he would explain
to friends and neighbors that his son was twenty-five years old
and still without full-time employment.
how long can you keep going to school and what for?" he asked.
"All those books," he would warn me, "are bad for your eyes and
bad for your mind."
Well," I said, "I'm getting a Ph.D." To this he made no response.
So I put in a few days a week of hard labor on the truck. Nor
did he complain. In fact, he needed the help and liked having
me around (as he told my stepmother who told me).
the bakers asked him how come, at the age of twenty-five, I was
working only part-time, he said: "He's getting a Ph.D." From then
on they called me "professor," a term that was applied with playful
sarcasm. It was their way of indicating that they were not as
impressed with my intellectual efforts as some people might be.
On the day my dissertation was accepted and I knew I was to receive
my Ph.D., I proudly informed my father. He nodded and said, "That's
good." Then he asked me if I wanted to become a full-time partner
in the bread business working with him on the truck every day.
With all the education out of the way, now maybe I would be ready
to do some real work.
I almost said yes.
One day the health inspectors came by and insisted we could
not leave the bread naked in the store aisles in open display
boxes, exposed to passers-by who might wish to touch or fondle
the loaves with their germ-ridden fingers. No telling what kind
of infected people might chance into a supermarket to fondle the
loaves. So my father and I were required to seal each loaf in
a plastic bag, thus increasing our production costs, adding hours
to our labor, and causing us to handle the bread twice as much
with our germ-carrying fingers. But now it looked and tasted like
modern bread because the bags kept the moisture in, and the loaves
would get gummy in their own humidity inside their antiseptic
plastic skins instead of forming a crisp, tasty crust in the open
Then some of the bigger companies began in earnest to challenge
our restaurant and store trade, underselling us with an inferior
quality "Italian bread." At about this time the price of flour
went up and the son of the landlord, from whom Zi Torino had first
rented the bakery premises over a half century before, raised
our rent substantially.
it rains it pours," my father said. So he tried to reduce costs
by giving the dough more air and water and spending less time
on the preparation. The bakers shook their heads and went on making
the imitation product for the plastic bags.
I complained, "the bread doesn't taste as good as it used to.
It's more like what the Americans make."
the difference? They still eat it, don't they?" he said with a
But no matter what he did, things became more difficult. Some
of our old family customers complained about the change in the
quality of the bread and began to drop their accounts. And a couple
of the big stores decided it was more profitable to carry the
Not long after, my father disbanded the bakery and went to
work driving a cab for one of the big taxi fleets in New York
City. In all the years that followed, he never mentioned the bread
© by Michael Parenti. All rights
reserved, including electronic.