My son Andrew and me on balcony at The Imperiale Palace

In the spirit of keeping history on track as much as possible, I had to correct something my son Andrew said to me.  No, I wasn’t an altar boy at St. Michael’s. 

That church was directly across from the Venice Restaurant on Mississippi Avenue next to Frank Moratti’s poolroom, a classroom I attended where I learned vociferously life’s lessons while growing up in Atlantic City, NJ, then known as “The World’s Playground,” providing me with an indelible encyclopedic education. 

At Frank’s I’d play nine ball or pill pool or straight pool at all hours with Al Martino, my cousin Richard Imperiale and his cousin, the pool shark Eddie DiNicolantonio (Eddie DiNick) whose father ran the Venice so admirably nearby and so deliciously al dente Italian. 

No, I was lured, pressured (maybe indicted?) into parttime Altar Boy’ing only at St. Nick’s where close by my mom, Lena, lived with her violinist/magician husband, my dad Bill Madden whom I was not to disturb when he was forever practicing his Mendelsohn or Brahms concertos.  Yes, I was an only child, lonely, spoiled me.  Yet despite being a thrill-seeking, mischievous-leaning lad, I was enrolled clumsily as a holy Altar Boy, who had to recite Confiteor Deo in Latin faithfully!

We lived on Belfield Ave right across New York Ave from the not so jolly ole St. Nick’s, where nuns took religion seriously, sometimes whacking us if we weren’t as serious. Belfield was more an alley way than an avenue between New York and Kentucky Aves in Atlantic City, home of Mr. Planter’s Peanuts, saltwater taffy, the boardwalk, Miss America Pageant and the fabulous Ice Capades at Convention Hall where Uncle Sal worked weekends selling tickets when he wasn’t being a plain clothes cop, or maybe a detective, I was never quite sure which. 

St. Michaels Church was in grandma’s Italian neighborhood many blocks south of us to where I would rush on spaghetti (sometimes ravioli) Sundays. My mom whose maiden name was Imperiale was one of 11 brothers and sisters, descendants of immigrant parents from Avelino, Italy.  We were a BIG family! 

Their legacy was what I call the Imperiale Palace, 20 N. Georgia Ave., where my hefty aunts Josey and Louise then presided, along with my odd but friendly Uncle Rudy who would proudly show off his one silver dollar coin about every five minutes.   “Nice,” Uncle Rudy.  “Very nice!”

They all lived around the corner from another sort of altar, The White House, not where the Presidents lived, but where the best subs in the whole wide world reigned supreme.  They could make lunches almost heavenly.

They were in spectacularly long, luscious loaves of Italian bread, thickly packed with cold cuts, cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and the most memorable peppers embedded into bread soaking with olive oil and sprinkled with pepper and razmataz magical dust for the most memorable aftertastes.  Delizioso!

Go the other way around to the corner of Atlantic and Georgia avenues and you’ll find Uncle Joe, the butcher cutting hunks of juicy red meat at Pete Previti’s meat market.

Some of his expert carvings would wind up deliciously ground into superb sauce-covered meatballs on another august altar we all bowed our heads at to say grace–the giant table at grandma’s, rest her soul, on Sundays. 

There you could hear uncles Freddy, Salvy, Joe and Tony shouting at each other playing their gin rummy fiercely in the next room, while aunts Rita, Gemma, and sometimes Chris, Louise and Lena scurried around helping to set the humongous table while Uncle Doc took everyone’s blood pressure, except his sister Louse whose fleshy arm was too immense to wrap his contraption around.

I can still taste that Italian bread from Panarelli’s after Aunt Josey would dab it with spoonful’s of her thick, out-or-this-world tomato sauce as a sample to calm down all of us anxious, impatient cousins, me definitely included, before sitting down to the grand slam lunches of the century on those succulently memorable, incredible . . . Sundays at Gram’s.

Violinist William Madden and his quintet

Tom Madden misses his hometown Atlantic City where his dad was a popular violinist leading a quintet nightly at The Traymore Hotel and conducting concerts weekends on Garden Pier. 

Madden wrote about his growing up in “The World’s Playground” in his first of five books, “SPIN MAN.”  When not writing books and blogs, Madden is managing his PR firm, TransMedia Group, headquartered in Boca Raton, FL., which he loves very much even though sadly it’s without a boardwalk.