“At least he isn’t fresh” – Nora O’Hearn
As I cruise into my twilight years and look back over my shoulder at my storied journey as a bipod, I’m thinking there is one year in particular I would delete. Or rather have expunged from the record. That would be 1960. I was thirteen crossing into fourteen. Although tentatively. In that year, I survived a bus accident, (of sorts) a two week hospital stay, (related) a school suspension, an expulsion, an ex-communication, a fine, numerous beatings and arrests. I took my first drink that year and felt up Beth Dorgin and Maureen Riser. (Shudder.)
It all started that winter when were “mushing.” Which is hanging off of car bumpers on a snowy street. Dangerous to say the least, but I happened to pick a bus. While hanging on the side latches, my left leg was pulled into the tire. I wound up in the middle of my street with a car on top me. That was my first life review. The ambulance took me to Somerville Hospital where I convalesced for almost two weeks. My leg was severely swollen but otherwise in good working order. The direct quote from my father as he leered over my hospital bed was, “Ya goddam fool, if the bus ran over your head, it would have tipped over.” Was I not loved?
So now I’m out of school for almost a month. That was when I first started aiming my Daisy BB rifle out of my cellar bulkhead at the Western Jr. High School windows, conveniently located behind my house, while school was in session. Oh, the thrill of all that terror raining down on those poor pukes trying to sneak a cigarette in the Boy’s and Girl’s rooms. James Cagney would have been proud. Having a dozen patrol boys and a gym teacher surround my house didn’t hurt my dream sequence either. Despite its proximity, I didn’t go to that school. I went to St. Clement’s, a mile away. For now.
Dr. Horn, the horn rimmed, flat topped warden of that facility, wanted my head. In no uncertain terms. He sent a bill for $200 dollars and some change for all the broken windows. A Kings Ransom at the time. Good luck with that I thought, we couldn’t afford milk.
So now I’m back in school. Eighth grade, Sister Edweena. Seems my deportmentship took a hit while on sabbatical. I began to tear away at the fabric of all things Catholic and they could take it no more. I was asked, uh, told, to leave. Expelled. I remember the sight of all my books raining down on top of me from the second floor window on that sunny spring day as I crossed the school yard. The Catechism they could have kept, I wouldn’t need it where I was headed.
As usual, Pop got all the news. At once. I remember laying on the top bunk in the boy’s room when the BB gun came crashing down across my knees. Then a quick yank and a journey to the floor. The pain in my knees mitigated the impact of the upward rushing linoleum. Seems like that “chastisement” went on all night. The bus accident paled in comparison.
September. I’m only fourteen so I still have to attend a school which puts me smack dab (you guessed it) in Dr. Horn’s office. “Sonny, he said, (He called everyone Sonny) where is my broken window money? The year continued it’s downward spiral. He never got his dough as my zig continued to zag.
The next year, sensing a no-win, my mother finally relented and wrote the letter that would seal my fate as one of the youngest dropouts in Somerville history. At 15 years and 3 months I was finally free to pursue my dream as an (unlicensed) pizza truck driver. The year after that I was cordially invited by the Division of Youth Services to be their guest for almost a year. Will the hits ever stop coming? No, they never did.
A few years after that, I was sunning myself on a beach in South Vietnam with all the luxury that affords, as you can imagine. Extricated from the mean streets of Somerville courtesy of the largest draft in U.S. history. Still better duty than being the paddy wagon test dummy in Davis Square on a Friday night.
So 1960? The year that started it all? Not so much. The only thing of note was the Pope reading a letter from Fatima, in which we anticipated the end of the world and JFK getting elected. Otherwise, if you wouldn’t mind ripping that page out, crumpling it up into a ball, and making the two-pointer to that bucket over there, I’d be much obliged.