Staten Island, New York
The Pigman: A Novel
Norma Frankie, Italian grandfather to the neighborhood kids, had a great influence on Paul Zindel as a youngster and inspired the character Angelo Pignati in Zindel's popular young adult novel The Pigman.
Zindel's father was a police officer who left the family to live with a girlfriend, Zindel wrote in The Pigman & Me, a memoir. Zindel's mother, a nurse, and his sister, Betty, frequently moved around—they could not always pay the rent. The biography describes four years they spent next door to a black family in a largely Polish working town called Travis, New York, where Paul's mother got a job with an animal inoculation service and tried to raise collies. With the help of a new friend named Jennifer, Paul created a backyard haven from the town bullies. Nonna Frankie, an elderly Italian man, planted vegetables, asked a running stream of riddles, explained selfdefense, and otherwise helped young Paul cope with growing up.
Zindel's memoir is bittersweet. He has amusing recollections of school lunch: “The cafeteria was in the cellar, and you had to get a tray, get on line, and pass by a lot of steam tables where ladies who looked like escaped electric-shock nurses gave you plates of weirdlooking food. The hamburgers tasted like filets of kangaroo meat. The spaghetti looked like skinny white worms in red mud. The beef stew was so congealed, you had to smack it with a soupspoon to get it to break up.”
Nonna Frankie taught Paul, “Io sono differente,” meaning, “I am different.” It was a way to overcome depression from worrying about