A Taste of a Memoir from Interviews
When John attended school he was absolutely out-of-control. Luckily, the principal who was a Nun and fond of John, although she continued to warn him, “Get on the ball or you will be thrown out of the Catholic school.” John tells the story the best; he tells it with a little grin, even today.
During lunch-time, when I was in Junior High, the Principal paid no attention to me when I played pranks on her; once I called the Principal from a phone booth while a friend and I were drinking beers which cost only a quarter at a local bar on Summit Avenue. I tried to disguise my voice – fibbing of course, telling the Nun who seemed to protect me instead of reject me that a bomb was planted in the school and everyone should evacuate. She knew my voice and she called me by name, and told me to get back to school this minute.”
I had a hard time understanding how two young boys were served beer during the afternoon, no less, then had the nerve to walk back to school. This young man, a boy, the same boy who would return home and have his head slammed against the hard floor in his own parlour by his own mother, who nearly killed him. I guess that would make anyone drink.
It must’ve been hard for John to concentrate on school when his home life was so screwed up; he was so different from me in that respect. Perhaps this made him more exciting, even a challenge for my own parents. I really don’t know. I had outlandish rules, they were coming out of my ears – as Pa would have told me, but he probably was the setter of all rules, and John, well he had no one to set the rules in his house; half the time they were drying out from all the drugs and liquor they consumed. He created his own rules and for some reason or other it turned me on. He seemed to have the freedom I lacked. I knew by the time I was thirteen he lived in his own apartment – but we didn’t run into one another for five years – I lost track of him in the third grade – and we wouldn’t speak again until the ninth grade. Even then, in the ninth grade I did not feel like I looked good enough for John, he was popular with all the girls, and I was still the ugly duckling.
John tells whoever he meets, as if he’s proud of the fact he began to drink in the seventh grade, those twenty five cent beers – and brags about that prank phone call, laughing while he tells that story over and over, “The Principal did sound rather upset, telling me to get back to school, warning me it would be the last time she would put up with my nonsense.” Then again he tells another story, how he never drank until he entered public school, or used pot – until then, down at the end of Washington Street where he and his friends would spend hours at the public park; it was always the place to be if you were in high school, but John started out playing games with the older kids way before then. John lived right around the corner from Washington Park, so it was easy to stumble home after a day of booze and drugs.
When he arrived at his house everyone else was either high on drugs or in some stupor from drinking, everyone but his Grandmother. Some of his friends were into what was known as black beauties or speed, popular in the seventies, and easy to come by. Those drugs, John told me, kept you awake all night, and John loved to party. He told me truck drivers used them, drove clear across country. When I finally got to know him he would tell me about the strangest things, like those who took this stuff to drive cars to another state, cars which were sold after they were fixed up, but they popped a few black beauties and drove non-stop to their destination. John learned more and more from the older people in his life – not only the bad things from his home life, but the trade he would take on at Johnston’s Garage once his own family kicked him out of his home at the age of sixteen, they gave him a choice out of the clear blue sky, “John,” his father said, “you either stop seeing your friends or get out of my house.” John left home.
I guess I am jumping the gun here – but John has a lot of baggage, and it’s best to know him before you really know the worst of him.
John wasn’t into drugs and drink for the sex, I knew that, he was too much like his own family, addicted, I didn’t know that; believing he was just out for the fun, to be popular – or better said, loved. His friends would pick up any girl have them for themselves all night, sex, drugs and drink under the stars, then forget them the next day – I felt sorry for the girls. John told me those girls didn’t want the guys, all they wanted were the drugs. I guess what comes around goes around, something like that.
It’s difficult when you have parents who screw up and then tell you to get straight. His father tells him to get on the ball, imagine that – after he remembers crying his eyes out for his own father to rescue him from a home for wayward children. Now, he’s threatening him to give up his friends; I am sure John will never forget all the homes he lived in when his parents left him. Even with all the turmoil at home John had always been the most popular and handsome, friendliest boy in school; he loved attention. He probably never had one bit of attention at home, and when we first met, I didn’t know that.
When John’s father gave him the choice of no friends or out you go . . . we were both in the ninth grade, it was the time we reunited – since the third grade. John refused to dump his friends and he left the home and the people who ripped his life to shreds. In his heart he had no use for that lifestyle any longer and his one and only love passed away, his Grandmother. He watched everyone nearly die who lived inside the walls of the house he called home, and he tried at a young age to solve the problems an adult faced – he failed, and continued down the wrong path – but, I didn’t know any of this happened to John.
He left with the shirt on his back, confused, and without a family to support him. He left, with a smile he told me, but I doubt that. That’s when he practically adopted Fred, the owner of Johnston’s Garage, and he was second in command, and learned everything about maintaining and running a garage. Fred became the father he never had.
I still think John had a bad rap most of his life, seeing his mother inside a mental institution, feeling sorry for her even if she tried to kill him. I mean, his father had to take care of her, and his sons, who do you protect, who do you drop like a hot potato? I know I would never kick my kids out the door. It’s difficult I know which door to take – bringing up children without any means – loving them with your full attention – something must be done so they survive.
John was honest with his father – he admitted to me, “I told my father flat out that I was using marijuana and drinking with the guys in the park. I told him I was never a drunk like him.” Those few words must have set the ball rolling, well, at least I would think they would have. That’s when it happened, when his father told him, “Change or get out.” John chose to leave. He began renting rooms in the Cambridge area close to Boston. He found one, a studio – and met a man who was willing to hire him part time to work in his garage nearby – that was Fred, owner of Johnston’s Garage. Now John felt like a brand new person, he learned all about the garage and repairing cars while he attended high school – and helping Fred at night. It wasn’t an easy life but John was happier away from home and living what he believed a better life.
“My attitude toward life was always free and easy. I was never one to argue, I would rather step away from a fight or agree even if I disagreed,” John said, “It must have come from all those fights inside the house while growing up, probably why the Nun liked me and never kicked me out of school. It was a real blessing the day I met Fred, I knew he trusted me; finally, I felt as if this guy really acted like a father.”