Forgery; Another thing they probably don’t teach in the boy scouts.

I always hated parent/teacher nights, and though I have few memories of my first two years at Our Lady of Fatima, my memories of the next six at Blessed Sacrament are still pretty clear. While moving to a new neighborhood and moving on to a new school was a welcome change. It did come with some unique pressures and expectations. You see, due to my parents working conflicting hours and the fact that their marriage was over by the time I was halfway through the first grade, my grandmother, who was a member of the church and lived just a short four blocks away. Always seemed to get the call when there was trouble.

Fast forward a few years, and I went from being told to sit in the corner and face the wall to being getting selected to join the smart kids in what was called ‘Group 1″. While this was a step up academically, there also added responsibilities and expectations to get better grades while performing at a higher level. While I could hold my own in social studies (aka History) and Language Arts (aka English) Science and Math would create challenges that would plague me throughout the years. While my grandmother, a mathematical genius in her own right, Her tutoring and reassuring did little to conquer anxieties that were manifested in the classroom by a towering and mean Sister Michael Marie. While none of the priests, sisters, or brothers of the Catholic Diocese were what you would consider kind, Sister Michael Marie seemed to have an unusually large bug up her ass. One that made her particularly venomous and quick-tempered. Looking back, she had to be about six feet seven with the build of an NFL linebacker. Rumor has it that she only joined the sisterhood she had tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets before being turned down due to the vast quantities of male hormone supplements in her nether regions.

Somehow though, going from class to class, teacher to teacher had a better than expected outcome. Most teachers noted that I was a good student who could benefit from working harder and being a little less of a wise ass. There were a couple who indicated that my impulsive nature and self-control issues were my most significant obstacles; nothing my mother didn’t have prior knowledge to. Forgery (1 of 1)

I would have probably gotten an extra scoop of ice cream or even sprinkles that night if it were not for that last visit to my Math teacher Sister Michael Marie. When my mom explained that the kids were scared of her, Sister Michael Marie growled back, “No, they aren’t.” Luckily, they always kept fire extinguishers within reach, considering I saw her breath fire that night. It was then, when I looked at my mother as if to say “She’s all yours.” before deciding to wait in the hallway,

As tempers quelled and the meeting progressed, my mother and Sister Michael Marie discussed my case whee my teacher ultimately agreed to send me home with a weekly report card detailing the weeks’ tests, quizzes, and my shortcomings. My mother would read, sign, and trust me with its return before deciding on any form of punishment or torture. After two weeks of scorn from Sister Michael Marie and scolding from my mother, I knew I had to take things into my own hands. Though I had no training or prior experience with forgery, I began to study my mother’s handwriting and signature carefully. Within a week, I had it down to a science, from the loops and swoops to the artful curve in the “M’. I still recall the detail I put into signing that first report and the entranceway of the building I would pass before entering the schoolyard. Luckily, that Math wench never caught on. When my mom asked why she wasn’t getting any more weekly reports, I would innocently shrug it off and say, “I guess she forgot.” Though there was some mention of her calling the school to reinstate the reports that had magically ceased to show up, that call would never take place. With the help and angelic patience of my grandmothers’ tutoring, I managed to raise my disgraceful F to a somewhat acceptable D. For years to come. I would use the skills I learned in the fifth grade to offset the punishment and explaining that I would surely follow a letter sent from school reporting falling grades, behavioral issues, or flat out suspension. At the same time, I was never proud of the more deviant behavior I displayed during my adolescence. I like to think of some of my misdoings as survival techniques.

 

Youthful Transgressions

While I’m not sure where it all started, I have this vivid memory of being chased and caught for shoplifting by the local grocery store owner. I couldn’t have been more than six at the time, but I remember it so clearly, that I can vividly remember the coat I was wearing and how after being run down. Only to be dragged by my collar to my house, where some furious knocking at the door awoke my father, who still had about two hours of sleep left before getting ready for his 3:00 – 11:00 shift with the bus company. It was the most trouble I had ever been in up until that time, and it sure scared the shit out of me, but for whatever reason, it didn’t deter me from any future shenanigans.

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Now, before I go any further, I want to state in my defense that I wasn’t some problem child wrecking havoc throughout my neighborhood. It wasn’t one of those ‘lock your doors and board up your windows.’ Here comes that troublemaker, kind of scenarios. I was one of those kids who carried groceries, held the door for my elders, and called adults “ma’am” or “sir.” Then, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope came out, and the merchandising helped turn me into a kleptomaniac. And while I take full responsibility for becoming a conniving thief, I give a lot of credit to the marketing department at Kenner for turning a generation of kids into zombie-like consumers.

At least try to rewind to a time when there was a particular toy of toys so brilliantly marketed that they had children thinking of one thing and one thing only.For us, there was no Toy’s R Us within reach. They were way out in Long Island. Which, for us, was like a foreign nation. We were latch essential kids with parents who lived from check to check — struggling to pay the bills while putting food on the table. There were birthdays and Christmas. You were pretty much on your own the rest of the year, and during at least one of those occasions, you got socks and a sweater you hated.

Luckily, I was a pretty resourceful kid with a handful of friends who’s knack for finding trouble often found me. With a shopping center within striking distance and a five and dime type store that featured two aisles of toys, we had all the incentive we would need. At the time, I still had my army green snorkel winter coat from the winter before. Perhaps, due to wear or my custom tailoring to allow my front pockets to reach to the back of the coat, allowing me to stuff my somewhat bulky jacket full of whatever action figures I could manage.

Over the years, my friends and I managed to come away with quite a haul. As the stores became savvier when it came to dealing with shoplifters and keeping an eye out for unsupervised children, our methods changed and wavered. And though I’m sure we played only a minor part when it came to the changes in both displaying items and including barcode strips. At the time, we often credited ourselves for forcing the change. Looking back, we were much too young to comprehend the consequences of our actions. It was merely us against that older man who managed the store. Outwitting him seemed to be jus just as, if not more satisfying, as leaving the store with the best toy on the shelf. The rewards went far beyond whatever we might have stolen, the risk, the pumping of the blood, and the uptick of the heartbeat that created the rush.

 

Roger Dodger

If you’re lucky, life will provide you with many colorful and complex characters. One’s who, despite their flaws, weaknesses, and complexities, provide you with the warmth of their love, stories, and experiences. For me, my childhood would provide me with countless adventures, characters, and stories to share for years to come. Thanks to a less than storybook youth and a knack for remembering even the most minute details. I’ve been given a portal to many of the people and exchanges I had throughout those very impressionable years.

Of all the colorful characters I met, regarded as friends and became part of my extended family. Some of the brightest loomed just around the corner at the local watering hole. It’s where I went from ordering my steak and burgers well done to medium-rare. Where I learned that calamari was just a better way of saying breaded squid, it’s where I met one of the bar’s regulars Roger Dodger.

Roger had dirty blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and when I come to think about it, looked a lot like a younger William Devane. I’m not sure of exactly when we met, but he soon became a familiar face and someone I looked forward to seeing when my dad’s girlfriend opened the bar, or I was returning from my nearby little league game. At the time, I loved coming into the bar for a cheeseburger and fries or a plate of calamari. I’d always sit next to Roger and talk about baseball while stuffing my face with whatever was on the menu.

At the time, I was crazy about baseball and had gone from being a back alley slugger to my first year in little league. With Shea Stadium standing over the junkyards and fly by night auto repair yards just a short distance away, I quickly latched on to Flushing’s lovable losers The Mets. Though Roger and I both loved the game, Roger was a dye in the wool Dodger fan who attended his share of Brooklyn Dodgers games as a kid. He’d joyfully reference players with names like Newcombe, Pee Wee, and Duke. Players, who though retired, were considered legends of their time. The mere mention of such icons brought much glee and color to our conversations; Essential ingredients to ad to my young and still very impressionable psyche.

One day while enjoying a spirited discussion about the game. I decided to take a detour by asking about what he did for a living. “I have a truck route where I deliver beverages to local bars and restaurants.” Looking back, it made sense. While I never did see a vehicle, uniform, or hand truck. Considering the timing of many of our encounters, I didn’t see any reason to question.

Roger-1Fast forward a few years, and while visiting my dad, we happened to watch the movie ‘Goodfellas.’ While it instantly became my favorite movie of all time. I saw many similarities between the characters and the people I grew up around. It opened the door to conversations we had never had before. It wasn’t long before Roger came up. I remember referring to Roger, commenting that he was one of the kindest people I had met during that period. My Father followed with a big exhale of laughter. “Yeah, he loved you, which might be the only reason he never murdered me.” Strangely enough, it turns out that Roger was also a hit-man who fulfilled contracts for both the Irish and Italian mobs. My dad, who was always a great storyteller, was kind enough to detail his methods and some of the places he’d dispose of the bodies. When all was said and done, he had made quite a name for himself before meeting his demise. And though the thought of unknowingly trusting a contract killer with your time might seem fucked up. It was all a part of what I always considered a pretty normal childhood. And though Roger might have raised some hell in his time. I’ll always look back on my days with him, our conversations, and how he always treated me as positive. I was lucky to learn early in life that things aren’t necessarily black & white. Maybe, just maybe, it goes to show that every man, woman, and child has a purpose and a place in this crazy, sometimes upside-down world.

Closure; He Died in a Crack House.

As much as I love and respect my mother. There’s no denying the fact that she’s attracted to and maintained some somewhat toxic relationships throughout the years. So much so, that I’ve come to believe she not only welcomes much of it. I’m starting to wonder if she, in part, creates, if not fosters, some of that toxicity. This brings me to a recent conversation with her, in which she told me that her second husband (aside from my Dad, she was married several times.) and my one-time stepfather had died in a crack house.

Though my earliest memories of him have faded, the night they fought throughout the evening. As the hours passed, I lay in my bed, holding my breath and wishing it would somehow end. By 11:00 pm, the walls were shaking, and objects on the shelves above my head began to fall. Knowing full well that he might kill my mom, I jumped out of my bed, grabbed my aluminum bat, burst into their bedroom, and unleashed every curse word in my ever-expanding vocabulary. “Get off my Mom, you @$%* before I…” The mere sight of an enraged seven-year-old in feet pajamas and a baseball bat seemed to stop him from whatever he was doing and open a time frame for the police to arrive. A few hours after being forced to leave, he climbed up the fire escape and tried to get in through the bedroom window. Despite that nightmarish event, one that I can still recall in detail all these years later, she married the fucking loser.

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Over the years, my mother would sprinkle in little tidbits and stories she would acquire while talking to ex-friends and ex-wives of him, his brothers, and family. Each time, my mother would get a scolding or short-tempered lecture on why she needed to cut those ties to the past or altogether remove me from consideration when she decided to mention anything even remotely connected to that family or time in our lives.
Though their marriage lasted less than three years, he and his family would inject enough mental abuse to last decades after they had extracted from our lives — the addiction to drugs and mental illness he shared with his brothers and parents. The stories his Father would regal in over dinner. One of robbing defenseless victims, he was entrusted with escorting in his ambulance. Often referencing a gold watch or diamond ring he had stolen to enhance his skin crawling boasts.
How he, himself, would force my mother to sit in the backseat due to his daughter’s bullshit claim of feeling car sick when seated in the back. A daughter he would later do drugs with and would, herself, become a lifelong drug addict. Her athletic older brother, whom I looked up to until he attempted to molest me. The bedside table where my stepfather kept his stash of pharmaceuticals. The only drawer my mother did not dare open or question. By the third grade, I was given the first hand on the many shades of drug abuse, dependency, and addiction.
When they first began dating, Joey was hauling garbage for the sanitation department. A good job working for the city. Shortly after, I’m not sure if it was before or after they were married, he developed a back problem, went on disability, and became a stay at home psychopath. I think it’s worth noting that the weights and the weight bench that occupied the dining room never got dusty as he continued his regiment of weight lifting and bench pressing until the day he received his divorce papers. I give my mother a lot of credit for finding the strength and courage to do so.

In closing, a few days into writing this piece, I had two nightmares about him coming back and attempting to work his way back into our lives to kill my mother. Being older, a lot wiser and stronger, we were able to ward off his plan and expose him as the idiot he always was.

Haunted Memories

By the time I was seven, I was finally enjoying some of the freedom I so craved. With my parents about to divorce, I bounced from my mother to my father and on to my grandmother. Being that my parents had worked different shifts,’ my mom was a 9-5 secretary and my dad working as 3-11 since I was born. I spent most of my early years with my baby sitter and her family of two boys and an older sister. By the age of seven, I became schooled in many of the pockets and corners of my neighborhood. While there were several parks and ball fields within reach, you might think I’d be found climbing monkey bars or holding onto a swing as I launched into the air.

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Two things I did enjoy from time to time. However, the sudden need for housing and the new and bursting real estate market provided all the excitement a kid could want or even handle. The first one just happened to be on the way home from school. With there would be a bunch of kids, many I called friends or knew from the neighborhood already hanging out inside just outside of the wood panels and fences marked “No Trespassing.” There would always be an irresistible draw to join in and maybe journey farther within than the older kids.

On one particularly memorable day, some of the older kids started to throw a football around. Perhaps since they were older or I never quite got into throwing the pigskin around, I started heading home. Matthew went long on a pass and fell about two floors to the rubble below. I still remember the moment, the complete shock that left everyone’s expression in a frozen state. I had seen people die on TV and the movies before, but this was very, very different. I still remember the blood, the concrete pieces in his hair, and around his face and that frozen look that said: “I won’t be coming back in the squeal.” The next day, the news of Matthew’s accident reported over the school’s loudspeaker. Though he had not died immediately, he remained vegetated until his heart gave out a few days later. Strangely enough, I always felt his mom. The secretary at the school we attended and the two I later went to, knew I was there when that horrible accident happened. And while I didn’t understand why she was always so hard on me then. These days, I wish there was something I could have said or done something to comfort her during that time.

Lessons Learned, or Completely Missed

IMG_3701As I recall. We were standing in the back yard of the home he and my Mother purchased when they were first married. At the time, my Dad had gone from having a steady city job driving a bus to a re-invented, self employed business man.

I recall being somewhat angry and showing some aggression towards my Father. Suddenly, perhaps understanding and wanting to quell my anger. My Father took my rather small hand in his, opened my clinched fist and placed a hollow point bullet (the same one you see pictured on the right.) without speaking a single word. While I didn’t quite understand its true meaning at the time and it’s come to mean a lot of things to me over the years. These days, I realize that he was trying to teach me that our anger, if not managed, can lead us down dark and dangerous paths.

While a short time in retrospect.,(maybe five or six years.) my Father may or may not have bent the rules of what some might consider legal. During that time, my experiences and the people I met along the way enabled me to see the world much differently from what I was being taught in Catholic school. It taught me that things are seldom black & white and that most situations contain a lot of grey areas. The things I experiences and exchanges I was given access to, taught me more than I would have ever expected. Til’ this day, more than thirty five years later, I still keep that hollow point on the end table by my side of the bed. It has never since see the chamber of a gun and surely never will. When I do pick it up and let it roll around in my palm, I often think of my Dad and that important part of our lives. The stories, the characters and the many things life taught me.

Back to the Beach

This Saturday April 18th marked a celebratory return to the beach for my family and me. It also marked one of the first times since I was a child that I walked the shores with my Father. While there were childhood trips to the Vegas Strip and post teen jaunts to Lake George. JimThe beach is something my Dad and I rarely shared. However, on this particular Saturday a visit to my Dad’s new home in Toms River included a trip to the nearby shore os Sunset Heights. In those hours we had our share talked, walked and bonded over things both old and new.

It wasn’t until the ride back to Toms River when my Dad asked “Do you remember when we used to go to the beach with Jack?” “Yeah!” I replied excitedly. As deeply receded as that memory might have been. It came back to me so quickly that I could recreate an image crisper than a new pair of Martha Stewart bed sheets. By now, if you’re actually still reading this. You might be asking yourself who or what was Jack? Jack, for lack of my father’s imagination when naming people, places or animals was our first dog and only pet in our family history with any staying power. A beautiful and independent spirit. Jack was a very rare breed, being a saluki. Saluki’s were know as a Persian Greyhound or Royal dog of Egypt. Jack, much like his greyhound cousin could race at speeds up to around fifty miles an hour. Letting Jack off the leash in a park, lot or beach was like an event. To watch him stretch out as he raced gracefully from point A to point B was something that I wish everyone could experience daily, if not but JimIIonce in their life. Trying to get him to return or get him back on the leash was something I would only wish on my worst enemy.     As we returned to my Father’s place. He revealed the secret of his success in getting Jack back on the leash and back into the car. While I’ve seen many a greyhound and whippet since.     The Saluki, just like Jack himself has yet to be spotted since.        My guess is he’s still running along the shore somewhere.     And while my trips to the shore will certainly become more and more common in the coming weeks and months. A memory as deeply recited as this one is a sure rarity.