American Fools – 2015

Yesterday Ohio Governor announced his candidacy for GOP candidate for president and explained his reason to join the crowded field by saying, “Why not?”

This rationale was better than answering, “What’s it to you?”, but he is miles behind the present party favorite, Donald Trump, who has been thrust into the lead after saying that all Mexican illegals are rapists or criminals.

The smug pseudo billionaire also spent the weekend attacking the 2008 GOP candidate John McCain’s war record by deriding the former POW’s status as a hero.

““He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Trump served his country during the Viet-Nam War as a college student. I protested against the war. donald would think much of me, then again I have a full head of hair.

The rest the the GOP field isn’t much better.

Rick Santorum was taught to eat kielbasa sausages by his parish priest.

Mike Huckabee believes in ET atheists

Scott Walker loves CABARET.

They makes Steve Jacobs seem presidential.

But never me.

Like Bernie Sanders I remain true to radical progressivism along with millions of others

Burn Baby Burn.

GUNS GUNS GUNS by Peter Nolan Smith

American boys loved guns in the 50s. Plastic weapons lay gift-wrapped under the Christmas tree. Our movie heroes slaughtered the country’s enemies on the silver screen and TV cops performed gun ballets on prime time. Guns were good for the country and America was good to guns.

Armed with air rifles my older brother, our friends and I re-enacted World War II on the bluffs overlooking Portland harbor. Imaginary bullets tore holes through make-believe Nazis. Hitler was the last enemy to die, however none of us suffered a scratch during these battles.

“I wonder what it would be like to be hit by a real bullet,” I said after our replay of D-Day.

“There’s only one way to find out.” My older brother stuck the muzzle of his air rifle into the soggy grass. He cocked the lever twice and pulled the trigger.

A wad of dirt hit my chest. It stung a little.

“Now it’s my turn.” I rammed my air rifle into the ground.

“I wasn’t wondering nothing.” My older brother backed away at a run.

My shot miss him.

We broke into warring camps. Shooting the dirt was too slow and my side dropped our rifles in favor of throwing mud clods. My brother’s friends picked up rocks.

One stone hit me in the head and I keeled over out cold. Our enemies routed us and I woke to my brother and his allies standing over me.

“You give, you dirty Nazi?” My older brother was offering quarter.

“I surrender.” Defeat tasted of mud and blood, but I wasn’t giving him the pleasure of seeing my tears and planned my revenge.

The next time I would end up on top.

I was seven.

Time was on my side.

As the summer of 1959 approached Labor Day, my father packed our Ford station wagon for a week’s vacation on Watchic Pond. We stopped at my grandmother’s house in Westbrook for lunch. My two brothers and two sisters ate their Italian sandwiches, as my parents argued with Edith about the Space Race with the Soviet Union.

My mother and father feared the communist domination of Space, while my grandmother defended the international pursuit of peace. Edith had served as a nurse in France during World War I. My father had spent World War II with the Army Air Force. None of them heard my request to go to the bathroom or noticed my leaving the kitchen table.

After doing my business I climbed up the stairs to the bedroom over the garage and pushed through a wall of military uniforms in the closet. A repeating rifle was on a rack. Two shotguns hung below its berth. I freed the Winchester from the pegs.

The cold trigger had the feel of steel and I levered open the chamber.

The rifle had no bullets.

I kneeled by the window and aimed the rifle at the cars on Main Street. The passing Cadillacs offered a big target and I imagined Adolf Hitler behind the wheel of one. My aim sighted a driver. He had a mustache. Before I could pull the trigger, my father ripped the weapon from my hands.

“What the hell are you doing?” His rage boiled beyond his skin.

“It isn’t loaded.” I backed away to the wall and put my hands behind my back.

“You never know.” My father levered open the chamber.

“I checked before.”

“By pulling the trigger?” His anger simmered below the boiling point, as if he understood my fascination.

“Yes, sir.”

“Why are you aiming at a car. To pretend to hit someone. A bullet can kill and killing a man is much more serious than killing a mosquito.” The insects were out in force in the Maine woods. “Your Uncle Jack was in Korea. He did things there. He never talks about them. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” I wasn’t thinking about killing Koreans, only Hitler.

“Stay away from guns.”

He replaced the Winchester and locked the closet.

That evening at the lake my mother and father argued about guns. My older brother and I went outside to watch the stars.

“They are only toys.”

“He thought the Winchester was a toy. I had a friend died as a kid, because he thought a shotgun was a toy. They aren’t toys.” My father was adamant on this issue and neither my older brother nor I received another toy gun from my parents.

Back on Falmouth Foresides we secretly borrowed broken plastic guns from my next-door neighbor to participate in the games of WAR. Fighting Nazis in the woods wasn’t the same without your own weapon. No one suggested a repeat of the mud fight. We were not cavemen.

At the end of the summer my family moved from Maine to the South Shore of Boston. My father had a better job with the phone company. Our new house was painted pink.

In August my parents sent my older brother and me away to Boy Scout camp. We had two weeks to earn the five merit badges necessary to attain the rank of a Wolf Scout. Swimming, canoeing, basketry, and forestry required several days and on the second-to-last day the camp counselor led our troop to a shooting range.

We were armed with .22s and positioned on the firing line. The rifle was lighter than the Winchester in my grandmother’s closet.

Hitting the target five out of ten times fulfilled the requirement for the rifle merit badge.

I accomplished this task on the seventh shot with three bullets to spare. I loaded one into the .22 and aimed at a treetop beyond the sand bunker. The thin metal of the trigger disguised the rifle’s power. I imagined Hitler in a tree. My finger twitched in a spasm. The recoil drove the butt into my shoulder. The bullet nicked a distant branch.

“Nice shot,” my older brother whispered with a smile.

I didn’t have time to enjoy his accolade.

“What you think you’re doing?” My counselor grabbed the rifle out of my hands.

“Nothing.” The woods behind the bunker went on for miles.

“You shot that last one in the air.” His face was swollen with outrage. He had lectured us two hours on gun safety.

“No, I didn’t, it slipped from my hand.” I wasn’t admitting anything.

The rest of the scouts stopped shooting. Another counselor acted as back-up. A young boy with a gun in his hand was a danger to himself and others.

“You have any idea how far a bullet travels?”

“No, sir.”

“Maybe a mile.” The counselor wagged his finger in my face. “You could have killed someone and maybe you did.”

“Sorry.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, even though I wasn’t sorry.

“Guns aren’t toys,” he pronounced with the authority backed by the Boy Scouts of the America and exiled me from the shooting range.

That evening I waited in my tent for the police. My arrest wouldn’t please my parents. My brother returned from the cafeteria with a plate of food and a cup of bug juice.

“No one died.” He placed the instant mashed potatoes and hamburger on my bunk. “No one hurt either. I told them that you had sweaty hands and the gun slipped out of your grip.”

“Thanks.” This news cured my lack of appetite. “You going to tell Mom and Dad?”

“No.” He was a good brother.

My nickname for the rest of the stay was ‘wet palms’

The errant shot was not mentioned to my parents, but I had once more learned that guns were not toys.

My sisters, brothers, and I attended a Catholic school in our hometown. The nuns at Our Lady of the Foothills excelled at discipline and my mother loved the uniforms. Their efforts to keep their young students failed, as society lost control of its young in the 60s.

JFK was assassinated in Dallas. A lone sniper shot over forty-three people from the Texas U. Tower. The Viet-Nam War expanded in size. The inner cities burned every summer. The Mafia dumped their victims in the Blue Hills. My next-door neighbor found a man with a hole in his head. Chuckie didn’t tell the police. All the teenagers of my hometown knew how the Mob dealt with snitches.

We watched war movies the local movie theaters; THE LONGEST DAY, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, ZULU, PORKCHOP HILL, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK and scores of other combat films.

I wanted to be a Marine. I wanted go overseas. I wanted to kill for my country.

Just like John Wayne.

I got something else entirely.

Two bigger boys bullied me in 7th Grade. They didn’t like my living in a pink house. I bore the beatings in silence and planned my revenge. The shotguns in my grandmother’s attic had shells. I tried to bring the over-under home after our Christmas visit.

My father found it in our station wagon and accused me of theft. My punishment was twenty lashes with a belt. I refused to cry, because I was dedicated to breaking the 5th Commandment.

In the Spring I nearly drowned one of the bullies in the Neponset River to protect a girl.

Her name was Kyla.

In 1968 America took a turn for the worst. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and RFK were cut down in their prime. The country was awash with guns. I wanted to leave this country and there was only one place for a teenage boy to go.

Two days after my birthday I returned home with enlistment papers for the Marines. I had lied to the recruiting officer about my age. I was big for sixteen.

“What’s this?”

My mother read the papers and stared at her second son in horror.

“I want to join the Marines?” The sergeant in Lower Mills had guaranteed an overseas tour.

“There’s a war.” America had hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Viet Nam. All of them had guns.

“I know.” I envisioned fighting the commie hordes with an M-16. After victory my girlfriend would greet the killer transformed into a hero with kisses. I hadn’t told Kyla about my fantasy. The cheerleader was a peacenik.

“I want to serve my country.”

“You’ll serve your country better by studying harder.” My mother was a big believer in education. College was the only viable option for her children after high school.

I thought I held a trump card. My mother was very religious and I said, “I want to fight the godless communists in Vietnam.”

“You’re 16 years old. You’re not going to war.” She called the recruiter and blasted his attempt to shanghai her son.

I was angry at her hypocrisy. Her patriotism excluded her son’s going to war.

“See how you feel when you graduate from high school.” My father was of a different mind. He had served in WWII. We had watched the Tet Offensive on TV.

“The war will be over by then.” Humphrey and Nixon were campaigning for peace. The troops were coming home according to both candidates.

“Probably not.” My father had missed three Christmas for his country. “Wars don’t end fast.”

A family friend of Kyla came home on leave. We went up to the Quincy Quarries for a swim. Danny Quinn had smuggled a M16 back from DaNang. The pasty skinned teenager loaded a clip into the weapon and sprayed a cliff face with bullets. This was a real gun and Danny let me hold it. This was a killing machine.

“Cool.” I pulled the trigger. The clip was empty.

“There’s nothing cool about it,” Danny told us about the War. It was not going good. He had done things. “If you don’t have to go, don’t.”

He sold the M16 in Southie and went AWOL to Canada.

America was split down the middle by the war. Southie backed the fight against communism to the hilt and kids in my hometown avoided the Draft by going to college. Hippies flocked to the Boston Common. My hair ran over my collar and I skipped school to attend peace rallies with Kyla. My love of guns withered with a bong in my hands.

Kyla and I broke up before her senior prom. College saved me from the Draft. Guns in America belonged in the hands of cops and revolutionaries.

My older brother carried .38 as a summer cop on the Cape. Frunk brought the revolver home at the end of the season. My father didn’t like it in the house.

Two months later my older brother heard someone messing with the back door to my parents’ house. Frunk grabbed his gun from the bedroom closet. The intruder was coming up the stairs. My older brother jumped off the couch and assumed the pose taught by his gun instructor.

“Freeze or I’ll shoot.” Frunk pulled the trigger like his finger was itching to beat the odds at Russian Roulette.

“It’s me. It’s me.” My baby brother was sneaking back home from seeing his girlfriend.

“You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”

Our family had escaped a tragedy, because Frunk hadn’t switched off the .38’s safety.

The story was told at many family gatherings. My father didn’t laugh at the punch line.

He hated guns.

America came off the rails in the early 70s.

Nixon was thrown out of the White House. Gas stations were besieged by thirsty cars. Defeat in Viet Nam left a bad taste in the country’s craw and the wrong direction was the only course left to America.

The recession had created a job drought in Boston and I was lucky to be hired as a substitute teacher at South Boston High School upon my graduation from college.

In 1975 desegregation by bussing bitterly divided the city. Whites and blacks carried guns for protection. They shot at each other for paybacks. It was not the best of all worlds.

Two years of apartheid education tested my loyalties. My own kind regarded me as a race traitor. All whites were the enemy in Roxbury. The wrong place at the wrong time was an easy place to find in Boston during the Bussing Riots and I moved to New York City at the end term in 1976.

My first job was at a gay restaurant on East 60th Street in Manhattan. I shared an apartment with a silver-haired con artist on Park Slope. Jim liked rough trade with tough boys. The elegantly dressed forty-year old carried a derringer for protection. A trick stole it from him twice.

Jim liked the boy.

“You should get one too.” Jim worried about my coming home late. My unemployment checks paid the half the rent.

“If I had a gun, I’d empty it before I reached the subway.” The streets were dark and dangerous. The subways were plagued by thieves. The later I came home after work the better and I hung out at CBGBs until closing.

My friends from Serendipity 3 introduced me to a budding actress from West Virginia. The twenty-one year-old’s soft eyes were two different colors and her flawless skin was whiter than powdered sugar. Alice’s favorite film was Goddard’s BREATHLESS. Mine was OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. We both loved The New York Dolls and Merle Haggard.

After her graduation we signed a lease on a three-room apartment on East 10th Street. The monthly rent was $180. No one normal wanted to live in the East Village. A junkie was threatening Alice. Jim lent me a gun. I hadn’t touched a weapon since Boy Scout camp and practiced pulling the trigger. Hakkim was a dead man. Someone on Avenue B killed him first. I gave back the gun.

I felt safer that way.

The reefer dealers on 1st Avenue were battling the Blue Door gang down the block for control of the profitable corner. This war was replicated all over New York and a call to 911 was a waste of a dime. Our neighborhoods were unofficial no-go zones for the NYPD. We were on our own.

One night gunshots echoed down the alley.

“They’re firecrackers.” The staccato volley was followed by a scream.

“Yeah, every day in the East Village is the 4th of July.” Alice hailed from the hillbilly hollows outside of Charleston. Her clan shot guns at bigger targets than possums. She could name the caliber of each report.

The next morning two puddles of blood congealed on the sidewalk. The teenage boys slinging sinse on the corner were plotting revenge on the Blue Door. Their aim was as pitiful as THE A TEAM. Stray bullets tended to find the wrong targets.

None of them had won their marksmen merit badge and my hand itched for a gun. The vigilantism portrayed in Charles Bronson’s DEATH WISH was a daydream shared by millions of New Yorkers. People got away with murder all the time.

Later that summer I quit Serendipity 3 to run the door at Hurrah’s on West 62nd Street.

The second-floor nightclub had been converted from a failing disco to a successful punk rock venue to serve as an antithesis to the phenomena of Studio 54. Blonde, the Ramones, and the Gang of Four played to sell-out crowds. My friends handled the cash at the bar and ticket booth. Our security staff consisted of an off-duty cop named Seymour and two black bouncers from Harlem.

Jack Flood and his nephew, Marvin didn’t look family, but I wasn’t questioning the bloodlines of someone Jack’s size. Conked hair framed a face plastered over his bones like beaten putty and his midnight-blue suit blanketed a retired heavyweight’s frame like a circus tent constructed for wooly mammoths instead of puny elephants.

When we shook hands for the first time, his thick middle finger tickled my palm. Half the staff of Hurrah was gay and the old boxer wanted to know if I went with men. A scarred eyebrow arched over a yellowed eye in anticipation in answer to his prison question. I guessed I was his type

“Someone said you were a punk.” Jack’s hand was bigger than a catcher’s mitt. Big hands meant big shoes. The slab of his tongue flicked over good thick lips.

“Punk doesn’t mean that now.”

“In prison punks means stick pussy.”

“Stick pussy?” A grainy porno movie flashed in my head and I informed Jack, “Punk is the music they play here.”

“So that’s what they called it.” He turned to his nephew. “Hey, they call this music ‘punk’.”

“Punk?” Marvin nodded with a misunderstanding of its meaning. He was one month out of Attica.

“I thought it was rock and roll.” Jack released my hand and whispered a favor. “You keep that between you and me. You know that thing with my finger.”

“I’ll take it to your grave.”

“I know you.” Seymour the cop had been studying Jack for several minutes. “You a fighter?”

“I fought Joe Louis in Seattle.”

“1951?” Seymour narrowed his eyes like his memory wasn’t working right.

“Uncle Jack went down three times like a Times Square hooker.” Marvin joked from the door.

“Louis never knocked me out.” Jack squared up to his nephew. He had Marvin by 2 inches and 50 pounds.

“No one ever done that.” The younger man dropped his eyes. He knew his place.

“To tell the truth Louis was past his prime and weighed 30 pounds more than me. I gave the folks a show and made enough to buy my first Lincoln and I got a shot at Harry Matthews. Now that white boy stood toe-to-toe for 10 rounds in Seattle, giving away 10 pounds. I lost on points.”

“What happened to you? You sort of vanished.” Seymour was asking the wrong questions, but he was a white off-duty cop. They could do whatever they liked to anyone who wasn’t rich.

“A little of this and too much of that.” The ex-fighter winked to indicate that he wasn’t telling all the truth.

I later learned that Jack had retired with a record of 20-14-2 before entering prison for several long stretches. He never said for what.

“Harry Matthews was a good fighter.” Seymour nodded to indicate the two men had an understanding.

All three men carried guns.

One slow evening it was show and tell. Suicide was the headliner. The electronic duo drew a small crowd.

“I’m not a kid.” Seymour lifted his shirt. A snub-nosed .38 was clipped to his belt. The sightless revolver was not NYPD regulation. “Any punk want trouble, they got it.”

“.38 is for pussies.” Marvin opened his leather jacket. A .357 Magnum was packed in a shoulder holster. Clint Eastwood carried the same gun in DIRTY HARRY.

“Pussies?” Seymour came from Brownsville. He had played with the sons of Murder Incorporated. He was no punk.

“Sorry, if I said it the wrong way, but a .38 won’t kill someone as quick as a 357.”

“And you think that not killing’ someone is being a pussy?” Seymour stepped closer to Marvin. At 6-2 they were the same height, but the off-duty cop had the edge.

“Marvin don’t think nuttin’” Jack rumbled from his seat.

“What kind of gun do you carry?” I asked to break the tension, but I was also itching to hold a gun.

“None of your business.” Jack was dead serious. “Only time a man should show his gun is to shoot whoever wants shootin’. Ain’t that right, Seymour?”

“And not talk about it later either.” Seymour nodded with a smile. Cops and criminals had more in common than the rest of us and I reminded myself that despite our friendship Seymour and Jack lived by different rules.

Overall working with Jack was easy. One look from the old fighter stopped most trouble from becoming a problem. He loved his long black leather coat. Richard Roundtree had worn the same in SHAFT.

Our slack time at the door was consumed by stories of Harlem bookies, Ossining convicts, and high-yellow girls from the South.

Whenever Jack’s wind gave out,Seymour weaved arcane tales of gambling at the track.

“One time I bet on a fixed house. Ring of Darkness at Belmont. It was a rainy day. The horse took off from the gate and everyone in the stands had bet on #7. The other jockeys were in the fix too, but rounding the last turn Ring of Darkness slipped in the mud and fell. Never heard a groan from the crowd like that. Everyone was a loser.”

According to his tally, Seymour’s wins outnumbered his losses, although the heels of his shoes were round as a baseball.
Marvin extolled his girlfriends’ virtues. Each one was beautiful than the last.

“You don’t know nuttin’ ’bout women.” Jack offered from the chair behind the desk. He occupied a lot of space no matter where he sat or stood. “You ever been married.”

“What’s the difference?” Marvin played straight man for Jack’s pontifications.

“Married women kill you, if you leave ‘em and single women, if you don’t go.”
Marvin, Seymour, and I looked at each other in confusion.

“If I have to explain, then you don’t need explainin’.” Jack pointed out the door at his battered 1968 Lincoln Continental. “I always keep the tank full. Never know when a woman might be after you.”

A Lincoln, a full tank of gas, and Jack Flood was a movie without a screenplay. Only one of Jack’s women came to the club.

“I come to see The Specials do MESSAGE TO YOU RUDY.” Nadine was high-yellow Jamaican. Her spread hips were built for the Continental’s wide seat. She kissed Jack with all her soul and he kissed her back with all his heart.


“I think I’ll take my break.” Jack disappeared upstairs with Nadine.

We watched the ex-fighter follow the big woman like a schoolboy in love with his teacher. Marvin whistled in admiration.

“Jack likes them built for comfort.”

“I like all kinds.” Jack turned around with a broad grin. “And I like them best when they like me.”

He was telling the truth.

Every girl entering Hurrah was surveyed by the old boxer’s eyes like he was casting the teenagers for a remake of THE MACK. The older white women were greeted with a polite hello. They shivered with the fear of desire. Jack cast a long shadow.

He treated Alice with respect, until she entered the club wearing a white plastic mini skirt and matching shirt. Jack smacked his lips and said, “Fried chicken.”

Alice ran up the stairs. She didn’t speak to me during the show by the Damned. Back at home she said, “I don’t like the way your friend looks at me.”

“Who are you talking about?” It had been a long night. The Damned had packed the club to the rafters.

“Jack.” Alice was beautiful enough to be in movies.

“A lot of men look at you.” After a year in the city she should have been used to men staring at her, as if she was naked.

“Not like a killer.” Alice told me to speak with Jack and I said yes.

We were in love.

The next night the Dead Boys filled the club beyond fire capacity. After the headliners hit the stage, I pulled Jack into the side hallway.

“What’s up?” Jack cracked his beefy knuckles.

“Do me a favor and don’t look at my girlfriend like you want to pimnp her.”

“That’s all. I thought you were goin’ to have me fired.”

“Why would I do that?” Only the manager could dismiss staff.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Nuttin’, that’s good.” His broad face broke into a guilty smile. “So we’re good.”

“Sure.” He was doing something underhanded at the door. I was to turn a blind eye. “As long as you ignore my girlfriend.”

“Sure thing, but you know the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.”

Alice hated my working nights. The girls at Hurrah were free as the wind. I tried my best to be faithful.

“Can’t you get a regular job?”

“I could.”

I promised to look for a 9-5, except the money from Hurrah was good.

Each night a different punk band from NY, London, or LA played to full houses and hanging with Jack was better than watching THE TONIGHT SHOW on TV. The only time we really had to do anything was when people tried to sneak inside for free.

Jack hated this.

“They’re stealin’ money from our mouths.”

“What you mean?”



“Nothin’.”

The B52s played three nights in a row. The crowd swelled with each concert. Our capacity was 600 and on the last night the manager told us not to let anyone else enter the club.

We shut the door.

Two Puerto Ricans jimmied open a side entrance. Jack dragged the trespassers to the front door and booted them onto the sidewalk with a size 14 shoe.

“We’ll be back.” The pair warned and walked off toward the projects.

“People always sayin’ that.” Jack repositioned his gun from back to front. “Never know when it’s gonna be true.”

Thirty minutes later the band hit the stage. Marvin and I went upstairs to watch the show. I got drinks from the bar and returned to the entrance. Jack was leaning against the wall. It was only the two of us.

“Where’s Seymour?”

“Outside callin’ his bookie.”

“For his winnings?”

“The only time cops win at the track is when they bust a bookie.”

I handed Jack his cognac and coke.

He didn’t have time to drink it, because ten Puerto Ricans stormed into the hallway. Five of them held stilettos and my stomach shrank behind my spine. Jack coldcocked the first attacker. The second PR stuck a shiv into his side.

“Motherfuckah, you fucked up my suit.”

Jack hammered his assailant’s nose a short right. Another he mauled with a left. A knife slashed at my face. Jack caught the blade with his right hand and cracked the Puerto Rican’s skull with his elbow. Jack pulled out a .38 and threw it to me.

I caught the pistol by the grip

“Shoot the motherfuckahs.” Jack was bleeding from three places.

Seeing the gun the Puerto Ricans fled the hallway and I chased them onto the sidewalk. They were fast on their feet. Within seconds they were a hundred feet away, but I had been waiting for this moment since I was a kid.

They weren’t Hitler, but one of them had stabbed Jack. I aimed and pulled the trigger. The front window of a car shattered upon the bullet’s impact. My Boy Scout training hadn’t covered shooting at moving targets. The gang accelerated like a DJ had sped up a 45 to 78 rpm. There was no second shot.

“I’m goin’ to the hospital.” Jack hobbled up to me, blood seeping between his fingers.

“You bettah get rid of that piece before the cops come.”

“I’ll do it right now.” I stuffed the .38 into my leather jacket.

“Good. Now flag me down taxi. Cab drivers don’t pick up bleedin’ brothers.” Jack leaned on a car and I stopped a taxi.

The driver protested about Jack’s messing up his seat.

I gave him an extra $10.

They drove away to Roosevelt Hospital on 8th Avenue and I went up on the roof of the nightclub. Another five bullets were in the chamber. The sight had been shaved off the barrel. Tape was wrapped around the handle. It was a gun for killing.

Pulling the trigger had been easy.

I aimed the gun at the building next door. The power was immense. The killer inside me was outside my flesh. I thought about keeping the piece, but killing someone was too easy and I dropped the gun down an airshaft. The pistol clanged twice on its ascent and I returned to the door, wondering whether Jack was alive.

The police were waiting on the sidewalk; ten uniformed cops from five patrol cars. Ten cops. Two more were plainclothes detectives.

“How’s Jack?”

“Three knife wounds aren’t gonna kill that old coon. I heard he fought Joe Louis.”

“Five rounds.”

“Tough old nigger.”

The detective had a litany of questions. I told them 90% of the facts.

“What about the gun?” The detective sniffed at the air. The other cops surrounded me. I was suspect # 1 for a good reason. Marvin was still upstairs.

“What gun?” I played dumb.

“Someone reported a shot.” He stared at my hand.

“I didn’t hear any shot.” Seymour walked up to us.

“And you are?” The detective recognized his own kind.
Seymour showed his badge and backed up my story. He must have been waiting in the shadows for the right moment. The detective accepted his fellow cop’s explanation and pressed his ear to the radio.

“A couple of those boys stole a taxi. They crashed it in the park. We’ll show this ‘Jack Flood’ their pictures.”

They got into their cars and drove off into the night.

“Repeat after me.” Seymour recited a hundred words of less description of the attack.

“Don’t vary from it no matter what anyone says. And what happened to the gun?”

“What gun?”

“That’s right.” Seymour clapped my shoulder. “And congratulations on breaking your cherry.”

“Break my cherry?” The expression was known for the loss of virginity.

“On shooting at someone.” The off-duty cop whispered in my ear.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Good, the less said the better. That way the truth doesn’t sound like a lie.”

Cops had a funny sense of law and order.

That night Alice slept on the other side of the bed. She was scared of me. I couldn’t blame her. I was scared of me too.

The next morning I called the club. The manager explained that no charges were pressed by either side.

“No charges? We were attacked by knives. Jack had almost been killed.”

“Jack has a record of violence long as your arm and not just in the ring,” the manager explained over the phone and then read out some of Jack’s previous charges. All were felonies. Most of them involved guns. “Better for Jack to drop it.”

Jack said the same thing in the hospital.

“They didn’t cut my face.” He touched his skin. “Don’t want to lose my looks.”

“Sorry I didn’t hit anyone.” I felt bad that I was untouched.

“Sorry? You hit someone and I’m comin’ to see you in Rikers Island and white boys don’t do good there. Besides them punks only scratched me.” The bandages covered his ebony arm and chest. “Good thing I wasn’t gettin’ killed, cuz you shoot like shit and that’s a good thing, because you don’t want to be woundin’ people tryin’ to kill you. You gotta have a killer instinct and you don’t got that.”

“How can you tell?” I had aimed the gun.

“If you wanted to kill dead, then they be killed.” The monitor for his heart showed no change in his cold-blooded heart rate. “Killin’ a man’s no easy thing.”

“I pulled the trigger.”

“Yeah, you were almost there.” I had failed a test, but Jack said, “Better almost there than there. Trust me on that.”

“I will.”

He was a killer.

Just like my Uncle Jack.

After his discharge from the hospital I invited him to dinner in my neighborhood.

That night Alice left before he arrived at our apartment.

“You only like him, because he’s a gangster.” She was only partially right.

“No.” I liked Jack, because he was Jack Flood.

“And you want to be a murderer too.”

“No, I don’t.” My urge to murder had disappeared after shooting Jack’s gun.

“When was the last time you wrote a poem? Not since you took that job.” She slammed the door after that sentence.

Jack liked the Italian restaurant on the corner of 1st Avenue and 10th Street. Lanza’s was empty and the food was mediocre. The wine was sour, but the prices were cheap. Jack liked it just fine.

“Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen to a black man in an Italian restaurant. Not like Harlem. I always got to watch my back in restaurants up there.”

After dinner we walked across the street to his Lincoln. It was parked next to a hydrant.

The dealers on the corner stepped aside for Jack. Their respect had nothing to do with the two guns on him.

“They don’t know me, but they know me.” He grabbed the two parking tickets from under the wipers and tore them into shreds. “I’m old school. Not many of me left in this city. You wanna go see James Brown?”

“James Brown?” James Brown had saved Boston the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination by calling for calm from the stage of the Garden. “You know James Brown?”

“He’s an old friend.” Jack slipped behind the wheel. The Lincoln was the perfect fit for a man his size. “He’s playin’ the Lone Star.”

“It’s on 5th Avenue.” Alice wasn’t going to be home for another three hours.
“Get in, I’ll introduce you to him.”

Jack drove cross-town on 9th and backed up 5th for several blocks. Cars blew their horns, as he burned a red light in reverse.

“Jack?”

“I know what I’m doin’.” He wrenched the wheel to the right to park right in front of the Lone Star.

“Good parking job.” His driving explained the many dents in the Lincoln.

“Always is when you don’t pay attention to the law.”

The tickets were $10.

Once inside Jack asked, “They take your ticket?”

“No.”

“They ain’t’ takin’ no one’s ticket.” Jack eyeballed the door. “Go up to everyone and ask them for their tickets and I’ll sell them outside for $5.”

“They cost $10.”

“We ain’t not retail.”

Jack and I overpacked the bar with a hundred extra people. The fourteen-piece band was crowded onto a minuscule stage by the overflow. The horn section was lined up the stairs. James Brown barely had room to dance.

Jack and I bought a bottle of champagne.

Once the show was over, he took me up to the dressing room. James Brown was signing autographs for his fans. The Godfather of Soul froze upon seeing Jack.

“I ain’t dead.” Jack hugged the smaller man.

“No one said you were.” James Brown wiped the sweat off his face.

“Liar.” Jack released James. “This is my friend.”

“I saw you at the Newport Jazz Festival. You blew Zeppelin off the stage.”

“I blow everyone off the stage, ‘cept Maceo Parker.”

His sideman ran a rhythm section tighter than a virgin’s lips.

Jack lifted a finger to signal that the two needed time alone and he slipped the Godfather of Soul some money. The next night we racketed the door again and Jack confessed that he had been doing the same at Hurrah.

“Those kids don’t wanna buy from a brother, but a white boy?” He let the sentence hang in the wind.

“We could make some money on the sell-outs.”

SRO shows packed the club with 700 people. Tickets were $10. 50 tickets a night split two ways was $250 each.

“Count me in.”

We had a good six-month run, but the door had too many eyes.

The manager caught onto the scheme and demanded other names. I offered mine alone. He fired me without any severance pay. Jack kept his job and contacted the security at Madison Square Garden, the Palladium, and several other concert halls.

I sold their excess tickets.

Jack got a cut.

Alice and I broke up that winter. I left her for a blonde model. Lisa didn’t like the way Jack looked at her either, but she never had any reason to socialize with him.

Jack, Marvin, and I watched the first Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard fight at Danceteria on West 19th Street. We had bet heavily on Duran. His unanimous victory paid 9-5. I shouted for drinks. We were big winners.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a face. It belonged to one of the Puerto Ricans from the stabbing. Jack slowly turned his head.

“Is that who I think it is?” Jack wasn’t expecting any lies.

“Yeah.”

“You don’t want a piece of this and you ain’t seen nothin’.” Jack snapped his fingers and his nephew trapped the Puerto Rican against the wall.

“Jack, we won money tonight.” I was pleading for a life.

“I win money all the time.” Jack’s hand slipped behind his jacket.

“Don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what? Ain’t nothin’ happen yet.” Jack walked across the room. His hand was holding steel.

People avoided contact.

The young Puerto Rican boy prayed with quivering lips.

Jack whispered in his ear, then patted him on the cheek. He returned to the bar with Marvin. The Puerto Rican boy was gone.

“What you say to him?”

“Said tonight was his lucky night, but I’d see him again.”

“And what will you do then?”

“Depends on my mood and tonight my mood is good.”

A week later Jack and I were eating at Lanza’s. We washed down meatball and spaghetti two bottles of horrid wine. As we waited for the check, I asked, “Jack, would you have killed that kid the night of Duran fight?”

“Kill ‘em?” Jack scrunched his lips as if the next words were hard to say. “Nah, no reason for killin’. He ain’t killed me.”

“But you looked like you wanted to kill him.”

“Lookin’ like and killin’ ain’t the same. You know why I threw you that gun?”

“Because you were hurt.”

“Yeah, but the real reason is that I was scared to kill them. If I did, then I was goin’ back inside and I’m too old for prison. “ This was a confession. One Jack really didn’t want to make, but he said, “It bothered me, forcin’ you to make that decision to shot or not. Everyone sees movies and thinks it’s easy pullin’ a trigger. Ain’t never easy pullin’ a trigger.”

“That’s true.” I had pulled the trigger without thinking.

“Good thing your shootin’ ain’t worth shit.”

“I know that now.”

“They ain’t a toy.”

“My father said the same thing.”

“He was a smart man.”

After that night Jack and I parted ways as people do in the lives we led.

A year later I heard Marvin was shot dead in a Harlem alley, but no one had heard anything about Jack.

I decided that he was still driving that big black Lincoln. It was better than thinking him dead, because men like Jack Flood don’t get to the heaven in the after-life, even though they understand the real value of ‘thou shalt not kill’.

Jack had taught me that lesson and I’ve never owned a gun in my life. I shoot them only at gun ranges. I never think about killing anyone anymore, but I know what it’s like, because every bit of Jack was a little bit me.

At least I’d like to think he was.

He didn’t want any more killing.

Not for him.

Not for me.

Not for anyone and that was a good thing.

I’ve looked up Jack Flood online.

His boxing record in on http://boxrec.com/list_bouts.php?human_id=32419&cat=boxer

His son wrote that his father’s birth name was Norman Alonza Winston Flood.

Born Dec.26,1920 or 23 in Brandan,Vermont.

I don’t see how you get Jack from Norman Alonza Winston, but he was always Jack to me.

American Justice

To anyone who thinks America has solved its problem with racial hatred and inequality, these two photos tell the truth.

Asshole of the Week July 13

Cannabis has been legalized in several states and decriminalization laws are winning polls throughout the nation, however the forces of the anti-drug war have refused to wave the white flag of surrender and this week a retired Canadian police officer came up with a mass market pot breathalyzer for police to test drivers for reefer intoxication.

These devices are not yet on the market, but the police are struggling to find something to do now that they can not harass pot smokers.

So Asshole of the July 14 goes to Cannabix founder Kal Malhi.

Just say no to any laws on reefer and while you’re at it, email or phone Cannabix to tell them what you think of their invention.

Now and often.

Cannabix Technologies Inc.
7934 Government Rd
Burnaby, BC, V5A 2E2
Tel: 604-551-7831
Email us at: info@Cannabixtechnologies.com

GAY AT HEART by Peter Nolan Smith

My family left Maine on a sunny June morning in 1960.

At the end of the street the deep blue of Portland Harbor shivered with the first kiss of summer. Lawn mowers buzzed across the green lawns of Falmouth Foresides and black-yellow bees zigzagged between my mother’s flowers. They wouldn’t be hers tomorrow.

“We’re done,” declared the foreman of the moving crew. “All that’s left are the bare floors and walls.”

“I’ll check,” said my father, as he strode into the two-storey house. He came back two minutes later and handed me a wooden toy boat. “I found it under the tub. You should take better care of your things.”

“Yes, sir.” I had lost it a year ago and fingered the smooth surface. The wood was dry as a bone.

“So there’s nothing left in the house?” my mother motioned for me to get in the car.

“Not now.” he said, looking at me.

My mother sighed and turned her back on the house, which she had cleaned twice a week for six years.

In another hour that chore would belong to another woman.

My father shrugged that it was time to go.

My mother’s nod mixed regret with hope.

The two of them smiled at each other.

After eight years of marriage whole segments of their conversations were confined to silence. They watched the moving truck pulled out of the driveway. A thick cloud of exhaust accompanied each shift of the gears. Our things would reach our new house south of Boston tomorrow.

My father took her arm and they walked across the lawn to our station wagon. My mother was the happiest with the move. Her sister lived up the street from our new house. So did my three cousins.

Our Falmouth Foresides neighbors said good-.bye and my grandmother wished us a good trip.

Edith gave each of her five grandchildren a $5 bill.

“So you remember me in Boston.”

“Thank you,” ee said as one, since that generous a gift was normally reserved for birthdays or Christmas.

“I’ll take those.” My mother snatched the bills meant for my youngest sister and brother. They were four and two. My older brother stuck his money in a wallet. Frank had saved every dollar given him.

We hugged my grandmother. Edith’s black dress was scented with lavender.
“I won’t forget you.” I fought back tears, remembering our rides in her VW Beatle, sleeping at the foot of her bed at her Westbrook house, and swimming off the dock of the camp on Watchic Pond.

“Stop that. You’re going to Boston not the Moon. You’ll see me soon enough.” Edith soothed my brow. She had served as a nurse in France in WWI.

“But not tomorrow.” Her gentleness covered decades of care. “Boston’s not the other side of the world.”

“I don’t want to go.” Life was Maine was good. The sea was part of it. Fishermen fed us with their catch.

“You’ll like Boston. It’s a big city. Say good-bye to your friend.”

My Black-haired schoolmate was standing on edge of the lawn. My father had mowed it this morning.

“I guess I’m going soon.”

“Have a good summer.” Chaney kicked a clump of cut grass with his sneaker. His jeans were torn at the knee. The two of us were eight years old. This summer was supposed to have been ours. A snorkel and diving mask hung in his hand. They were a gift from his grandmother.

“My father says we’ll return in August for a vacation.” The week on Watchic Pond couldn’t come soon enough.

“Don’t go swimming without me.” Chaney lowered his head. Boys weren’t supposed to cry in public.

“I won’t.” I eyed his mask, wishing I had one.

I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out my Pete Runnel’s baseball card. The infielder was our favorite player on the Red Sox.

“Here.” I offered it to him.

“No, you keep it, but if you go to a game at Fenway Park, have him autograph it for me.” Chaney smiled with the prospective of having the .300 hitter’s signature as well as not having to hand over his mask in trade.

“Everyone in the car.” My father shouted from the driveway. He was anxious to hit the road. “See you.” I slipped the playing card back into my shirt pocket.

“Not if I see you first.”

“Now.”

My father herded his five children into the sky-blue Ford Fairlane with fake wood paneling. My mother was scared that one of us might fall out of the car and my father had fastened aluminum bars across the rear windows.

”And I mean now.”

“Yes, sir.” My older brother, two younger sisters, and I crammed into the station wagon. The rear of the car was tightly packed with suitcases. Tonight we were staying in a motel close to our new home.

My parents and baby brother sat in the front.

My grandmother passed a heavy paper bag to my mother.

“You don’t know when you might have these again.”

The smell from the bag was unmistakable.

Italian sandwiches were a Maine favorite.

“I like mine without onions and green peppers.”

“I know, so I wrote down which ones are for whom. Bon voyage.”

“I’ll call from Boston.” My father worked for New England Tel and Tel. We paid nothing for long-distance calls. He backed up the car and once on the street shifted into D for drive.

Everyone on the lawn waved good-bye. Six of my eight years had been spent at 113 McKinley Road and I said nothing at the end of our street. This silence lasted from the time my father drove out of our neighborhood down US 1 to the Maine Pike, where the tollbooth collector handed over a stiff cardboard ticket.

“Can I see that?” I liked to look at the mileage chart and my father passed it back to me.

“How many miles to Kittery?”

“73.” I added them in my head.

“We’ll make the distance in 60 minutes.” My father was good at math calculations. He was an electrical engineer. His new job was a promotion with better pay. He turned on the radio and stepped on the gas. My ears were buffeted by wind through the windows and I couldn’t hear the music or my mother humming to my baby brother.

A little more than an hour later a LEAVING MAINE sign announced our departure from the Pine Tree State. Our station wagon crossed the Memorial Bridge into New Hampshire. The river blazed blue on either side of the cantilever structure and my father slowed down for the Portsmouth rotary.

My older brother stared at the Howard Johnson’s on the wrong side of the road. Frunk loved three of their twenty-nine flavors. My favorite was black raspberry.

“Can we have an ice cream?”

My father shook his head. He was good at saying ‘no’.

“They’ll be plenty of HoJos on the South Shore. The first Howard Johnson’s ever erected was in Wollaston only five miles from our new house,” my mother stated with pride, for she was returning to her native Boston.

That HoJo was far away from Portsmouth and my father stopped at rest area next the New Hampshire tollbooth. “Lunch time.”

We got out of the car and sat at a picnic table. My mother passed out the sandwiches. I unwrapped the wax paper and bit into the soft Italian bread packed with ham, cheese, olives, tomatoes, and pickles. Only my mother and father liked them with onions and peppers.

After finishing my Italian sandwich I asked for permission to go to the bathroom.

My father was discussing our schooling with my mother. She had my youngest brother on her lap. He was two.

“They went to public school in Maine. I don’t understand why they can’t go to one here.” My father was the product of public schools.

“Because Boston isn’t Maine.”

“Public schools are free.”

“I want my children to be good Catholics.”

“There’s nothing wrong with public school.”

“There is no God in those schools.”

“They could go to Sunday school.” My father had converted from agnosticism to marry my mother.

“And become heathens?” There would be only one winner in this discussion. I raised my hand.

“What?” My mother was exacerbated by my interruption.

“Can I go?” I couldn’t hold my water any longer. “To the washroom?”

My mother preferred the politer term for the bathroom.

Good manners were a point of pride for her.

“Make it fast.”

Having lost the argument about choice of schools, my father sought to reassert his authority and shouted to my brothers and sisters.

“Get in the car. We’re leaving in two minutes.”

When my father said ‘two minutes’ he meant 120 seconds and I ran to the men’s room.

My older brother yelled, “Don’t let the bogeyman get you.”

Frank thought teasing me about bogeymen, snakes under my bed, and bears in the woods was funny, but at eight I didn’t scare as easy as I had when I was seven. Entering the men’s room I changed my mind.
The men’s room smelled bad. The light was out. I held my breath and stood at the low urinal. Names and telephone numbers were scrawled on the wall. I could read better than most children my age. All these men were looking for a good time.

A minute later I exited from the toilet. My eyes blinked in the bright sunlight. Our family car was not in the parking lot. My father liked playing jokes and I expected the Ford station wagon to reappear with him smiling at the wheel. One minute became two and two became five. A beat-up Chevy slowed down to the curb and a man with greasy glasses asked with a voice scratching the summer air with the crackle of stale popcorn, “You

“I’m waiting for my parents.” I had heard about men like this from Chaney.

“Are you sure?” His left hand hung out the window and spidery fingers crawled in the air out of synch.

“Yeah, he’s sure.” A man in a uniform glared at the creepy motorist. “Get lost.”

The Chevy sped from the parking lot and the man brought me over to toll booth.

“Where’s your family?” He checked the parking lot, expecting to see a hysterical mother. There were none.

“I went to the washroom and when I came out they were gone.” It didn’t look like they were coming back either.

“You have brothers and sisters?” The man sat me on a stool. Another toll taker joined him. They had clearly dealt before with lost children

“Yes, there are five of us. Three boys and two girls.”

The man asked my name and address.

The first answer was easy. I gulped down doubt, as I relied to the second, “We used to live at 8 McKinley Road was on Falmouth Foresides, but we’re moving to Boston. Someplace on the South Shore.”

“Don’t worry, kid, your parents will be back. Would you like an ice cream?” He pointed to an ice cream truck in the parking lot.

“My mother said not to accept things from strange men.” She had never explained why.

Now I knew.

“I’m not strange. I work for the State of New Hampshire and my name is Jim.” The man signaled to his fellow worker that he was taking a break.

“What’ll have?”

Jim had a kind face and looked like my Uncle Russ. Vanilla was my favorite flavor.

“Vanilla, please.”

“One vanilla coming up.”

“Thank you.”

We walked back to the tollbooth and I sat on a bench, slowly licking the ice cream, thinking that if I finished it fast, then my mother and father weren’t ever coming back and all I had in the world was $5, which bought a lot of ice cream cones and I planned on staying here, until my money was gone. At my age I couldn’t come up with a better plan.

Fifteen minutes later a Ford station wagon sped toward the tollbooth area.

Everyone watched, as the driver dangerously veered through the oncoming traffic to the curb. The stench of an over-taxed engine and the burnt brakes overwhelmed the fragrance of vanilla.

“Thank God you’re here.” My mother dashed from the car and hugged me tight. Her eyes were red from tears.

I felt the same way and my ice cream fell to the ground, as I threw my arms around her.

“I saw him wandering around the rest area and figured you must have forgotten him. It happens here more than you think.” The toll booth collector brushed my crew-cut head.

“Tell that to my wife.” My father thanked the tollbooth collector. “I asked my oldest son, where this one was, and he said that we left him at the rest area. I thought he was joking, until I did a fast headcount. I didn’t know that this car could hit a 100.”

“No harm done. Have a good trip.”

Back in the car my father counted heads.

“Six.”

“And two makes eight.” My mother wanted a full roster, then asked, “So what happened when we were gone?”

Not much. The toll booth collector gave me an ice cream cone. Vanilla.”

“Did he touch you?”

“No one touched me anywhere.” I didn’t mention the other man in the Chevy.

“If some man does, you have to tell us.” My father directed this demand to my older brother and me. My two sisters and younger brother were asleep.

“Touch us how?” King Midas had turned his daughter into gold. That story couldn’t be true. If it was, someone had melted the poor girl into ingots centuries ago.

“You’ll know.” My mother closed the discussion and we drove into Massachusetts.

Forty minutes we weaved through Boston. A high bridge spanned a river. The ocean filled the harbor. The color of the water was the same as in Maine, but the buildings were taller than those in Portland. We passed through the city and ten miles later my father exited from the highway.

A calm river snaked through a broad marsh carrying the faint smell of the sea.

“We’re almost there,” announced my father.

“We’re going to live here?” asked Frunk.

“Yes.”

“It’s not Falmouth Foresides.”

“It’ll be home soon enough.”

The streets were lined with bigger houses than Falmouth Foresides. Countless children played on lush lawns and the boys wore long hair, instead of the buzz cuts ordered by my school to stamp out lice infestation. My father drove past a cemetery and a private school with ivy-covered buildings.

“Is that our school?” ask Frunk.

“No, you’re going to Catholic school.”

“With nuns?”

Religious sisters were a rarity in Maine.

“Yes. The same order that taught me.”

“Oh,” my brother and I said at the same time. He was more of a believer than me, but we both knelt down to say our bedtime prayers.

“And this is our church.”
My mother pointed out a small quonset hut across from a gas station and grocery store.

“That’a a church?” It didn’t even have a spire.

“This land used to be a military base,” explained my father. “This was the Catholic church during the War.”

He meant World War II.

“We’re also home now.”

A long straightaway led to a small stream at the bottom of a hill and my father turned left into a new suburban development. Four-bedroom houses sprawled across green grass and the backyards ended against a wall of thick trees foresting the surrounding hills.

“Guess which house is yours.” My father drove slower down the street. We were almost where we were going to live for a long time.

“They all looked alike,” said my sister from the back.

“All except one.” I spotted the moving truck in the driveway on a colorful split-level. “Our house is pink.”

“It’s not pink. It’s teaberry.” My mother painted pictures. She had a good eye for color.

My father parked the car on the street. Kids lined the sidewalk watching the movers carry in the furniture. The boy on the next lawn was my size. His nose was big, but he had a friendly smile. His mother came out of their white house and greeted us to the neighborhood.

“My name is Elda Manzi. This is my son, Chuckie.” The woman wore a simple cotton dress and her hair was a bouffant imitating JFK’s stylish wife. “And this is my husband Leo.”

My father and our new shorter neighbor shook hands.

“You have a nice growth of weeds out back.”

Yes, I noticed that.”

My father wandered behind the split-level ranch house to survey the yard with Mr. Manzi. My mother turned to Mrs. Manzi and touch her straight hair.

”I’d invite you in, but I’m certain the house is a mess.”

“You should have seen our house that first day. I have three teenage girls. Talk about chaos.” Elda grabbed my mother’s arm. “Let the movers do their thing. Come over to my house and eat. Your kids must be hungry.”

“They’re always hungry.”

“Don’t I know it.”

My mother surrendered to our neighbor’s hospitality and treated us to lasagna. My brother and I had seconds and we swiped up the rich tomato sauce with crispy bread. Chuckie leaned over and said, “My mother doesn’t make lasagna for us. She doesn’t like it, but I do.”

After the meal my mother returned to our house. My aunt, uncle, and cousins came down to visit. My father directed the movers to furniture into the appropriate rooms. My older brother and I were sharing a bedroom over the garage. Our parents’ bedroom was next-door.

We returned to the kitchen, where my mother was telling her sister how I had been left behind at the tollbooth.

“You’re luck he wasn’t kidnapped by gypsies.” My aunt was serious.

“Or bogey men,” joked my brother.

Everyone laughed, including our new neighbors, but I didn’t tell anyone about the strange man at the rest area, although everyone was surprised to see that my father had attached aluminum bars to the rear windows of the station wagon.

“What are those for,” asked Mr. Manzi.

“To prevent our kids from getting out of the car.” MY father proudly inspected his handiwork.

“Looks like a prison car to me.” Mr Manzi pulled on the tube. They were secure by screw to the door.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

My mother, his sisters, and Mrs. Manzi nodded in agreement.

In their eyes we could never be too safe.

That night we stayed in a motel next to the Quincy shipyard. Our family slept in two rooms. The big bed in our room smelled strange. I lay on the floor.

In the morning I woke before my father and older brother.

Across Fore River Street steel cranes swung over half-finished ships. The workers sprayed sparks over the curved steel hulls. Watching them was better than any TV this side of THE THREE STOOGES.

“Go back to sleep,” muttered my father. He liked to sleep late on the weekends.

I obeyed him without closing my eyes and later our family returned to the house on Harborview Road.

We settled into our new lives within days.

Every morning my father took the trolley from Ashmont into Boston. School didn’t start for another two months, so my cousins, the boy next door, my older brother, and I played baseball in the backyard and explored the woods behind our houses.

We were in heaven. It didn’t last long.

On a very warm August afternoon my mother put me in the Ford.

“Did I do something wrong?” I fingered the aluminum tubes across the window.

None of my brothers and sisters were in the car.

They were playing ‘Tarzan’ in the jungle of tall weeds behind the split-level.

“No.” She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “Chaney’s dead.”

“Dead?”

No one had died in my life.

“Everyone went waterskiing on the motorboat. Chaney stayed behind with his grandmother. He went out swimming with that mask and snorkel. His grandmother says that he went over his head and swallowed water. Chaney panicked and his grandmother tried to rescue him, but by the time she got to him. He wasn’t moving.”

“He wasn’t supposed to go swimming without me.” Our vacation was next week.

“It’s a long summer.”

“He should have waited.” I had gone swimming at Wollaston and Nantasket Beaches with my cousins and the Manzis on more than five occasions. The sea was much warmer on the South Shore than on the coast of Maine. “I should have waited.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“I know.” I agreed for her benefit.

At worse I should have forced Chaney to trade me for the mask.

“We’ll pray for him.”

Prayers solved many of her problems and my mother walked away in the station wagon. The sun dropped behind Big Blue Hill. I prayed to God to change what she had said to a lie, but Chaney remained dead and that bad day ended with my renouncing God.

Forever.

A week before Labor Day my mother brought four of her children into Boston to buy uniforms at Jordan Marsh. The department store on Washington Street owned the monopoly on the entire diocese’s parochial schools. There were no exceptions.

In the boy’s fitting room the bald-headed salesman called me ‘stocky’. His hands brushed against my body, as he measured my inseam, waist, chest, and neck. As he felt my thighs, he asked, “Do you like girls?”

“Yes.” There was a girl in my neighborhood. Her name was Kyla Rolla. She had light blonde hair and liked chocolate ice cream. We were in the same grade at Our Lady of the Foothills.

“What do you like about her?” His hands drifted up my leg. They smelled of cigarettes. He looked a little like the man from the parking lot.

“Nothing.” I stepped out of the fitting room.

“One day that nothing will become something.” The man watched me with a smile.

I didn’t like him. He was strange.

On the Tuesday after Labor Day my mother put us on the school bus. My older brother, sister, and I wore the scratchy uniforms. Mother Superior ushered us to our classes, introducing us to the teachers. My desk was two seats behind Kyla. A stack of books was piled in front of me. Two were dedicated to religion.

Chuckie sat beside me.

He smiled for an instant, as if it were a crime.

Sister Mary Goretti clapped her hands together. All the nuns were named after saints as were most of my classmates. Kyla was the exception.

“Our Lady of the Foothills has rules.” Sister Mary Goretti was so ageless that she could have been twenty or a thousand. “Firstly in answering nuns it’s ‘yes, sister’ or ‘no, sister. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sister.” The entire class responded in unison.

“Secondly never speak unless told to speak.”

“Next if a nun claps once, stand.”

Sister Mary Goretti clapped and the class rose to their feet, although my reaction was a second off perfection.

“Are you deaf?”

“No, sister.” I was a fast learner.

“Then we won’t have any problems?”

“Yes, sister.” I joined the single syllable chorus.

“If I clap twice, sit.”

Her hands clapped twice with blinding speed.

“Yes, sister.”

We sat with collective obedience to begin the morning lessons.

At lunch time all the boys in the school filed into the auditorium where the parish pastor was to address the boys of Our Lady of the Foothills. Mother Superior stood next to him on the stage and the other sisters watched guard over their pupils. No one said a word, as the white-haired pastor stepped onto the podium.

“Good morning, boys.” His hands stroked the microphone into which he spoke with the traces of an Irish accent similar to my Nana.

“Good morning, Father.”

Mother Superior clapped her hands twice and we sat as one. Sister Mary Josef demanded our complete and utter obedience.

“Boys, these are difficult times for young souls. Rock and roll has infected America with the devil’s music.” Father Gavin studied us with accusatory stare.

Eyes shifted in our heads in stunned amazement. Rock and roll was broadcast on the radio and Ed Sullivan had introduced Elvis to the nation. He was no Satan.

“Keep your heads facing straight ahead and listen to Father Gavin.” Mother Superior was taller than the pastor and her gaze seared our thoughts. Priests and nuns were very good at witch hunting, mostly since no one was free of sin.

“Yes, sister.” It was the only answer acceptable to her ears.

“It has come to our attention that certain men are preying on young boys. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?”

I stiffened remembering the man in the parking lot, but joined everyone in saying, “No, father.”

“I want you boys to be on the look-out for men with lisps, limp wrists, and less than manly attire. These men are after your soul. They are servants of evil. Their smiles are a trap. Is that clear?”

“Yes, father.”

“Your body is the temple of God. You must protect it at all moments from impurity. Are there any questions?”

“No, father.” None of us had the courage to ask a question. “Good, now listen up to Captain Kahill with the town police.”
“No, father.” None of us had the courage to ask a question. “Good, now listen up to Captain Kahill with the town police.”

“The stern police officer warned about weird men lurking in Blue Hills Reservation, which stretched for miles behind our suburban development.

“These men will pretend to be your friends. They will offer you candy. They will ask strange questions. Do not get in a car with them. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“That’s that.” Sister Mary Josef clapped her hands to end the assembly. Our teachers led the boys to their assigned classroom, where they spent the rest of the school day defining the differences between good and bad. Black and white were the only two colors in their spectrum. There was no room for grays. We were separated from the girls until the closing bell.

After school my classmates held a confused debate about what men might do to men.

“Probably they kiss like men kiss women,” Jimmy Lally suggested in a whisper. He was the funniest kid in our class.

“Yuck.” We were years away from pathway to First Base.

“And maybe one of them has to be the girl.” Joe Tully made a face.

“Men can’t be girls, but sissies can wear dresses like Milton Berle on TV.”

Chuckie had older sisters and said, “Maybe what they do has something to do with sticking something into your belly button.”

“That’s disgusting.” I planned on taping over my navel as soon as I got back home.

“No, it’s gross.” Chuckie shouted, because kids in Boston used ‘gross’ for disgusting. “Very gross.”

That afternoon in our basement my older brother, Chuckie, and I undressed my sisters’ Barbie Dolls. Neither Ken nor Barbie had belly buttons and we put away the dolls before my mother or sisters caught us.

The subject of sissies remained a forbidden topic throughout the school year and I concentrated on getting good grades. My older brother scored straight As, while my report card was marred by a few Bs. My mother expected better from me, but she enjoyed how our matching school uniforms enhanced the resemblance to my brother and delighted in telling other parents that we were twins.

“Irish twins,” she said, even though our birthdays were thirteen months apart. At the end of the school year my father arranged for us to deliver newspapers.

“You’re never too young to learn the value of money.” Maine Yankees extolled the value of a keen work ethic with a near-religious obsession.

The next week we woke early Monday through Saturday to deliver newspapers. The bus picked us up at 8. Classes lasted from 8:30 till 2:30 at Our Lady Of The Foothills, where the nuns educated our minds in order to save our souls.

After school my older brother and I wandered through the wooded hills surrounding our suburban neighborhood with our cousins and Chuckie Manzi.

The stone tower atop Chickatawbut Hill had been erected by the CCC in the 1930s. Empty beer cans littered the stone flooring the base. Teenagers drank here at night. The dank room smelled as vile as that men’s room on the highway and we hurried up the wooden stairs to the observatory deck. The view offered a 360 panorama of the South Shore with the skyline of Boston crowning the fierce blue harbor.

Young trees carpeted the slope below Chickatawbut. The woods ended at the edge of our neighborhood. My brother pointed out our house.

“Ours is the teaberry one.”

“You know your house is pink.” Chuckie corrected Frunk.

“It’s not pink,” I argued, for my mother had said that it was teaberry and she was never wrong.

“It’s pink.” My cousins agreed with his color selection.

“Pink’s a queer color,” Chuckie declared with a smirk.

“Queer?” The word had one meaning for boys my age.

“You know like what the priest was talking about. Like when men kiss men. Sissies.” Chuckie tossed an empty beer can out of the tower, which struck the ground with a metallic thunk.

“Stop.” I felt the tape over my belly button. It was in a good position.

“Okay, okay, I was just joking.”

“It wasn’t funny.” Strange men had one face for me.

The man from the parking lot at the toll booth.

Chuckie dropped the topic and we left the tower headed to the higher hill to the east.

From there we could see everything in our world.

After that day pink was banned from our language and none of us said the word ‘queer’, for the mention of either was cause for accusation by our schoolmates.

That next fall my parents were happy and my mother gained weight like she was storing fat for a harsh winter. As her belly grew beyond belief I wondered if she was ever going to stop eating, since Frank and I usually received any leftover cake.

The leaves changed color in October and in November JFK beat Richard Nixon to become the first Catholic president. The cold weather arrived in December and Pearl Harbor Day 1960 dawned with a hoary frost topping the fields south of the Neponset River.

During lunch my 3rd Grade class stared out the windows at sullen northern clouds. Our sandwiches were eaten in silence, for the nuns believed that Jesus barely spoke during his Agony on the Cross and their students were expected to follow his example in thought and deed. A shrill bell signaled recess and the classes boiled from the school into the sub-freezing temperature. Standing still on the icy asphalt meant frozen feet, so the girls skipped tattered ropes, while the boys kicked misshapen balls around the rear parking lot.

Right before the end of the play period our station wagon rolled down the school’s driveway and Chuckie joked, “Here comes the jail truck from Billerica Reform School.”

Having endured endless ribbing about the metal bars across the windows of the station wagon from family and friends, neither my brother nor I laughed with our classmates. Funny was for other people, but my father got out of the car with a broad smile.

Mother Superior didn’t share his amusement.

“What are you doing here?”

In her mind a man’s place at this hour was at his job.

“I want to speak to my boys.” He waved for us to come closer.

“Can’t it wait?” Mother Superior expected obedience from adults as well as children.

“No.” My father had been brought up in Maine and he confirmed that his authority superseded the Church by telling us, “You mother had a baby boy.”

“We have a baby brother?” Frank was nine and I was eight.

“You didn’t know your mother was having a baby?” My father brushed his hand through my buzz cut.

“I thought Mom was getting fat.” Any woman would have gained weight from her recent feeding frenzy.

“She was fat with your baby brother.” We’re going to see him.”

“School is in session,” Mother Superior announced with a sense of command backed by the Church.

“Not for these boys. Go get their sisters. They’re going to the hospital to see their mother.”

“Is Mom okay?” I asked with concern.

“She’s fine.” My father waved to my sisters and they ran over to us.

“You can’t disrupt the school day like this.” Steam fumed from Mother Superior’s dragon beak.

“They’ll make it up at Church this Sunday.”

As a convert to the faith he was immune to the nun’s wrath, but my brother asked timidly, “What about our books?”

“No one does homework on Baby Day.” We piled in the car and he drove to Beth Israel Hospital, humming IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK ALOT LIKE CHRISTMAS.

“This is not a playground,” my father said entering the hospital. The lobby smelled cleaner than our house.

“Yes, sir.”

“I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

“Yes, sir.” Our submission to our elders was complete.

We filed one by one into the private room in Richardson House.

My mother lay on a bed with a small baby on her chest. My Nana held our now second youngest brother, Padraic. A white uniformed nurse sat on a chair reading the Record-American. We stood around the bed. Our new brother was very pink.

“He weighs seven pounds.” My father touched the small body and his little fingers squirmed like spring worms rising from the earth. We were a bigger family by one and each of smiled with a shared happiness.

My parents named their sixth child after my grandmother’s uncle. The young priest had met the fourteen year-old girl off the boat from Ireland and placed Nana in a Salem household staff. My grandmother had danced with our grandfather at a church outing in Marblehead. In my mother’s mind our next two generations owed their existence to Uncle Mike and she prayed that at least one of us might take up the Cloth to return the favor. I didn’t have the heart to confess my atheism.

Those first months Michael was a miracle and I rushed home from school to feed, bathe, and rock the tiny creature in a cradle from my grandmother’s house in Maine. After having six kids in eight years my mother was grateful for my assistance. This peaceful period ended with his first bout of infantile teething.

My mother and I sang him GOLDMINE IN THE SKY a thousand times. His bawling destroyed any attempts at harmony. One day Michael fell asleep and we sat on the bed in relief. The support struts creaked under our weight and his unearthly howl filled the bedroom. He seemed shocked for a second, then smiled before drifting into a blessed slumber.

That was as bad as it got.

Michael was very special.

My baby brother walked and talked ahead of his age. My mother toilet-trained him before age two. She had no patience for bed-wetters.

Our aunts and uncles doted on their youngest nephew. Nana cradled her grandson in her arms and whispered Gaelic in his ears. The priests declared that an angel had landed in our parish and people were always commenting that he should be a child model, otherwise he seemed a very normal baby and had a normal childhood.

The next two years passed with long winters, rainy springs, short summers, and brilliant falls. School was separated by semesters. My grades were As and Bs. Kyla Rolla won every spelling bee, but I was better in math.

My brother and I became altar boys. Chuckie’s mother forced him to join us. Other kids ridiculed our wearing a cassock.

“You’re wearing a dress.”

Our classmates could joke all they wanted.

We got out of school to serve in funerals.

At weddings the father of the bride paid us $10 each to act like saints, but we told no one about discovering that the pastor never locked the cabinet for the altar wine. After the wedding Chuckie and I snuck into the church. Getting drunk on the Blood of Christ didn’t take much for eleven year-old boys and we staggered home through the woods. Our deadened feet stammered down a corridor of the thorny brambles into a copse of hemlocks. Neither of us had been to this part of the Blue Hills. The police officer had warned us about it and with good reason, because we stumbled into a clearing a naked man and stopped upon seeing was chained to the tree.

The Mafia dumped their victims throughout the Blue Hills. Chuckie and I didn’t see any blood and we cautiously approached the slumped man. A paper bag covered his head. Chuckie stepped on a twig.

The naked man lifted his head.

His muffled voice asked us to do something awful.

We fled the woods filled with the horror of now knowing that what men did to men had nothing to do with your belly button and we avoided that section of the Blue Hills for years without telling anyone why, but strange men were not only tied to trees.

When Michael was five, my mother stopped to buy milk at the store across from the church. She returned to an empty car. Neither the cashier nor the gas station attendant had seen my brother. The police searched the neighborhood without finding her baby boy. My mother grew increasingly frantic, until the woman caretaker for the parish priest carried Michael into the store.

My brother couldn’t explained where he had been or with whom. Everyone was relieved to have him back and afterwards no one spoke about the episode, although my abandonment at the New Hampshire tollbooth continued to be recount at holiday dinners to the amusement of all.

My father didn’t consider either a joke and the bars stayed on the station wagon for another year, after which the station wagon was traded for a brand-new Olds 88.

In 7th Grade I was punched out by two boys, because I could read Latin. The beatings stopped, after I fought the bullies to protect Kyla Rolla from scandal. The pretty brunette regarded me as her hero and a reputation for violence followed me into high school. He started going steady.

Like the rest of us Michael attended Our Lady of the Foothills, where his artwork outshone his grades. The girls loved him and the boys thought he was funny. His mimicking GOMER PYLE was priceless and the Boy Scouts awarded him merit badges for woodcarving and painting.

My older brother taught Michael to ride a bike and I read him Classics Illustrated, however he was useless with a baseball or football. I didn’t think about it too much, since I was no Pete Runnel.

In the Spring of 1966 I won a math scholarship to Our Lord High School. Its enrollment was all- boys. The football team was State Champs and the coach tried to recruit me onto the freshman squad. I weighed 180 at 5-10.

“You’re built for running. Short powerful legs and a strong torso.” He assessed my strengths with a slaver’s eye.

“I’m a math scholar.”

“Brute force timing impact.” Coach Amado understood the poetry of geometry.

“I’ll think about it.”

I ran cross-country instead, finishing fourth and fifth. I had short legs.

The MTA offered no direct bus service to my neighborhood.

After practice and meets I hitchhiked home on 128. Strange men picked me up and after a mile asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

At first I answered yes, but these men were like the strange man at the New Hampshire tollbooth and they exploited this opening as an invitation to discuss sex.

“You look like an athlete. Do you shower with other naked boys?” This question was accompanied by a glance at my crotch.

Getting a ride from the rush hour traffic on 128 was impossibility and my house was a long walk through the woods, so I endured the come-ons.

Sometimes they gave me a ride home.

On the long stretch through the Blue Hills I fended off their gropes. A slap on the hand scared them. They wanted more than petting.

Exactly what was solved by Chuckie’s discovery of dirty book stash in the woods. The moldy photographs depicted depraved intercourse without anything left to the imagination and the crumbling pages of written words described unspeakable acts never confessed to priests.

Chuckie let me pick three. My favorite was THE ITCH by Steven Hammer, who opened my body and soul to the broad spectrum of sexuality with an erudition bespeaking experience. I must have read Chapter 3 a thousand times. I started letting men do things to me. Not all of them were bad.

One day I came home to find Michael crying on his bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Someone saw me playing with Barbie dolls.”

“And?”

“He called me a queer.”

“And you know what that means?”

“Yes.”

“Who called you queer?” I had to stop this before he was bullied by his schoolmates.
“I don’t want to say.” The label of a snitch was almost as bad as being a queer.

“Who?” I wasn’t in the mood to hear no.

“Bobbie.”

“Bobbie with the fat brother?”

“Yes.”

“You stay here,” I said to him and ran down the street to a white ranch house. My brother’s persecutor was a thirteen year-old. Booby wouldn’t come outside to face me.

“No one calls my brother a queer.” I was big for my age. “Don’t do it again or else I’ll burn down your house.”

I wasn’t kidding either.

When I got back home, Michael was singing OVER THE RAINBOW to a Ken doll.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be playing with Barbie Dolls.”

“Every boy in this neighborhood plays with his sisters’ dolls. Anyone who says that they don’t is a liar.”

Michael had me dead to rights, for Chuckie and I had conducted countless experiments with Ken and Barbie. All of them ended without their clothes. Later that afternoon my older brother came back from high school and asked why I had threatened Bobby.

“Because he called Michael queer.”

“Queer? You mean like Arthur?” my older brother asked too quickly for comfort.

Arthur lived across the street with his parents the ex-football player was an Eastern Airlines steward on the Logan to Miami shuttle. Neighborhood women considered Arthur a dreamboat.

“What do you mean?” I was slow about some things. “Arthur’s queer.”

“As Liberace.” The boa-bedecked pianist was Zsa-Zsa Gabor’s best friend. His suits existed in another spectrum of color from my father’s wardrobe.

“Arthur’s no Liberace.” Our neighbor had given me a stainless steel model of an Eastern DC 6 for my 10th birthday. We swam in his pool most of the summer. His mother made us sandwiches.

“Yes, he is.” My older brother nodded his head. Our hair was getting long. Frank liked the Beatles. I was more into the Stones. “But Arthur’s harmless.”

“And his friend Joe?” Arthur’s best friend could have doubled for Tony Curtis in SPARTACUS. “Queer too, but no one says anything or else they have to deal with Arthur’s father.”

The old man had served as a sub commander in WWII and was tougher than a bent nail.

“How do you know he’s queer?” Maybe my brother was wrong about Arthur.

“I saw him kissing Joe. Like the way you kiss Kyla.”

“Oh.” I turned to my baby brother.

He was holding Ken close to him and the pleasure of his smile proved that my baby brother was different and now I knew how.
At least no one in my hometown touched him again, at least not unless he wanted them to touch him.

One September evening during my freshman year my parents went to dine at Joe Tecchi’s in the North End, entrusting the care of our younger siblings to my older brother and me. We bribed the four of them with chocolate and TV to turn a blind eye to the arrival of three boys and five girls.

We had the basement to ourselves. We turned out the lights one by one.

My girlfriend, Kyla, had coiffed her hair like Kim Novak in VERTIGO. Her pink dress matched the shade of her lipstick pink. We made out on the couch. The record player repeated WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN for two hours. She bestowed a hickey the size of a hockey puck on my collarbone.

Kyla and our friends left at 9. My parents returned home in a good mood and I went to sleep content in our deception of the older generation.

Early the next morning my mother’s angry voice proved the error of such arrogance.

Chocolate had stained the living room rug. It shouldn’t have been there. None of us had eaten candy last night.

“How did it get there?” she demanded with hands on her hips.

“I don’t know.” Ignorance was a teenager’s first line of defense.

“And who was over here last night?” She had us dead to rights. “No one.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

Frank and I glared at our sisters and brothers. The guilty party was obvious. Michael had snitched about our friends and our guilt of one sin convicted us of another.

My mother grounded us for a month.

I came home from high school in a fury and found Michael hiding under his bed.

“Don’t you dare call for Mom.” I dragged him out by the heels.

“I was telling the truth.” He offered no resistance.

“None of my friends came upstairs.” One punch would teach him a lesson.

“I said they were here. I never said they dropped the chocolate.”

His manipulation of the truth exhibited wisdom beyond his years.

“Don’t try it again or else I won’t protect you anymore.”

“Against what?”

“They are people who will want to hurt you.”

“You mean like those boys who beat you up every day.”

“You know about that?” My shudder was an involuntary flinch of hidden fear.

“Everyone knows.” It was a small town and the bullying had lasted six months.

“And no one did anything.” I wanted to scare my brother. “Remember the time you disappeared from the car. Something really bad like that could happen to you again.”

“Not if you stop them.” Tears smeared his eyes.

I hadn’t expected this. Somebody had hurt him that day.

I vowed that they would never steal him again and I prayed to save him from that fate of that naked man chained to the tree, however my promise to Michael was overwhelmed by the rising tide of my own teenage lust.

The priests encouraged young people to wait for marriage. Kyla and I struggled with temptation and she surrendered her body to my advances without giving up her purity. Other girls and boys got in trouble. I thought Kyla didn’t love me. I was thinking only of myself. At Easter Mass I told her that I wasn’t going to my senior prom, thinking she would give in to my demands.

“I want you, but not until then.”

“Then meaning our wedding day?” We had plans to attend college.

“Yes.” She envisioned a white wedding in May of 1974.

“I can’t wait that long.” I was stupid to throw away her love, but a good part of being young involved being stupid.

I invited Jenny to my prom. The skinny girl from the Surf Nantasket dressed like a hippie. On prom night we danced to the MC5 and almost went all the way in the back of my father’s Delta 88 the next day on Horseshoe Beach.

My Summer of Love with Jenny ended with her falling for the guitarist of the Ramrods. They moved into a commune on the Hull peninsula.

There was no going back to Kyla.

My father noticed my moping and suggested that I coach Michael’s baseball team. I should have said no, however the league needed someone to count heads and insure the equipment wasn’t stolen.

While most of the players on Gleason Funeral Home had a fair grasp of the basics, my brother’s fielding and throwing arm exiled him to right field. The players on the other teams ridiculed his batting. Halfway through the season, he said, “I want to quit.”

“Me too.” The team hadn’t won a single game and angry parents yelled at my batting orders.

Upon getting home I informed my father about our decision. He was peeling potatoes for dinner, two for each person at the dinner table.

“Neither of you are quitting.” His voice denied any other options and I replaced him at the kitchen sink.

“We’ll never win.” Michael hated sports other than pro wrestling and his uniform shone with an unnatural whiteness. His knees had yet to touch the grass.

“Sports aren’t about winning or losing. It’s about how you play the game.”

“Not when you suck.” Michael ripped the baseball cap off his head and stormed from the room.

“So?”

“I’ll finish out the season.” I loved my father too much to refuse his demand and the summer lengthened with each loss for Gleason Funeral Home. Constant defeat was a nasty diet for the young and our losing streak brought out the worst in adults.

The last game was against the league’s best squad and somehow we led into the last inning. My brother was the first batter and the opposing coach commented on his practice swing.
“Looks like a girl.” The pot-bellied car dealer had a reputation for cruising the Blue Hills. “Probably throws like his sister.”

I called time.

The coach had twenty years and an extra fifty pounds on me.

I picked up a baseball bat.

“Don’t.” My brother took the bat from my hands.

“What about protecting you?”

“I’ve heard worst.”

“You have?” He wouldn’t be ten until Pearl Harbor Day.

“I can take care of myself.”

“Batter up,” the umpire shouted to resume play.

Michael stepped up to the plate and parodied the opposing coach by hitching his pants and scratching his ass.

Our team giggled with a loser’s disregard for winning. The other team recognized the uncanny mimic and soon everyone on the field was laughing at Michael’s antics.

The pitcher on the mound caught the spirit and lofted a cream puff at the plate.

My brother squibbed a hit into left field. He reached 1st and tried for 2nd. The outfielder’s toss caught him two feet from the bag.

Our opponents scored two runs in the bottom of the 6th and our season ended with a record of 0-17. I bought the team pizza from Villa Rosa and toasted my brother’s hit as a victory in the throat of defeat. The other players would have preferred the win.

By August my hair was down to my shoulders and my older brother had long sideburns. My father wore a Fung Manchu mustache. One family photo from 1970 showed the four boys in hip suits and the two girls in mod dresses.

We looked like the substitutes for the Partridge Family. My father could have been the band manager. We loved each other. Not all the time, but we obeyed my mother’s dictate of never saying anything about each other to someone outside our circle.

At summer’s end Kyla married Pal Monaghan, the high school’s quarterback. I wasn’t invited to the wedding. Michael served the Mass and her father gave him $10. He spent the money on hip-huggers.

After Labor Day my brother and I commuted to Boston College. My envy of the dorm students mounted under the regime of parental restrictions and I moved to an apartment in Brighton’s Bug Village. Driving taxi paid the rent and I spend more time behind the wheel than in the classroom. My grades suffered accordingly.

Off-hours I smoked pot with hippie coeds from BU and drank beer at the Phoenix on Commonwealth Avenue. The Irish bar offered twenty-five cents beer, pinball, and Mexican food. I sold mescaline to local bands for extra cash.

On the weekends I visited my parents.

The trolleys and subway trains provided a rocking study hall for the week’s lessons. My father usually picked me up at Lower Mills.

One afternoon I dialed our number from the payphone on the bridge over the Neponset River. No one answered my call and I rode the Rte. 28 bus to a seemingly empty house. Within minutes my dirty clothes were stuck in the washer and eggs were frying in the pan. Over the hum of the suction blower I heard secretive laughter upstairs and crept to my parents’ bedroom.

I pushed open the door.

Neither Michael nor his friend, Manuel, tried to explain why they were wearing my sisters’ mini-skirts and my mother’s wigs, but the answer wasn’t that boys will be girls.

His friend was clearly embarrassed.

Not my brother.

“Don’t you think I look like Peggy Lipton?” Michael posed before the full-length mirror.

“Only a little.” My crush for THE MOD SQUAD actress was almost as big as the torch that I carried for Susan Dey from THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

“Mom says that when you were born she wanted a girl and dressed you up like one for two years.”

“Only because she thought that I was going to be a girl and Dad didn’t want to throw away the clothes.”

“Right.” He said like there were other reasons.

“That doesn’t make me a drag queen. Get out of those rags.” Lou Reed’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE followed the Kinks’ LOLA in my brain’s jukebox.

“We were only having a little fun.” Michael changed into jeans and a tee-shirt.

“Fun?” Only one group of people would have interpreted cross-dressing that way. “You’re too young to be getting into this.”
“I’m not a kid any more.” He was not even a teenager.

“And dressing like Mom is no game.” I glared at Manuel, who fled from the house. “Are you going to tell Mom?” Michael demanded in a sudden panic.

“I’m not a snitch.”

“Thank you.”

He replaced the wig back in the box almost as if he were burying a treasure.

“This isn’t an easy road.”

Queer life was a mystery to most straights. I knew what I knew from driving cab.

Young hustlers worked the chicken hawks on Marlborough Street near the Boston Gardens. Leather boys traipsed through the Greyhound bus station. Elegant queens strutted to the Combat Zone’s piano bars. Provincetown was a ferry ride across Massachusetts Bay. The early 70s were an exciting time for men seeking men, except my brother was a few months shy of 11.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Wearing a dress isn’t going to make you popular at school with the boys.”

“Not all of them.” He was saying that there were more of his type than the rest of us thought.

Boys bullied them, but even worse the police persecuted sword-swallowers and priests castigated their catamite behavior from the pulpit.

“You be careful.” I wanted to save him from any and all pain.

“And prepared just like a Boy Scout.”

“Yes.” I gave him the last word.

At least he hadn’t said ‘girl scout’.

That summer I worked in my father’s office. An older woman found my youth amusing.

Linda was divorced and 26. She had a young daughter. We attended to an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer concert on the Esplanade. We did more than kiss in the bushes along the Charles River. We lasted over a year. I thought that we were in love. In the end she confessed that my father had been her original choice.

“The only reason I slept with you was because your father wouldn’t.” Those were hard words and her rejection led to bout of heavy drinking.

My grades descended to sin laude, while the taxi fleet awarded my high bookings with a shiny Checker cab.
One night I picked up a fare outside Boston Garden. The stocky man with a manly mustache praised Bobby Orr on the ride to the Fenway. Bruce was built like a hockey player, so I was surprised when he told me to stop in front of the 1270 Club.

“Why here?”

“People like me go here.”

“It’s a gay bar.”

“And I’m gay. You want to have a beer?” he asked from the back seat.

“I’m not queer.”

“And hippie taxi drivers aren’t my type. Neither are hairdressers. Come on in, we can talk about Bobby Orr.”

“I said I’m not gay.”

“I know you’re not a sissy. Come. Don’t come. Up to you. Only you’ll miss meeting some sweet fag hags. They don’t need to know you’re not a gay boy. In fact it’s better, if they don’t. You’re not scared you might be gay, are you?” It was a challenge, which many men couldn’t ask while looking in the mirror.

THE ITCH haunted my fantasies. I had doubts.

“I’m not scared of anything.” I entered the disco and danced the night away with a ravenous blonde model with long ballerina legs.

“Don’t kiss her.” Bruce warned at the bar, as Elsa visited the ladies’ room.

“Why not?” She was as beautiful as Faye Dunaway.

“Because then she’ll know you’re straight and gay men don’t kiss women.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”<

“Tell her that you’re not sure, if you’re gay, bi, or straight. She’ll want to save you. Trust me. Now go prove me right.” He slapped my ass.

I followed his plan.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” Elsa asked, studying her reflection in the wall mirror.

“I don’t know. I’m not really into women.”

“You don’t find me sexy?” The tall blonde was wearing a flowing dress with no bra. I could see her nipples. They were bigger than mine.

“You’re sexy like David Bowie.”

“He loves Ziggy.”

“Really? I have his LP. You want to come to my place for a drink. I won’t touch you. Promise.”

That evening Elsa tested my resolve at her apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. I failed with an F, but scored often, as Bruce introduced me to the gay life on Boston.

The fat hags at 1270 and the drag queens at the Other Side were more fun than trying to outdrink coeds at Kenmore Square boozers.

Whenever the fag-hags doubted my persuasion, Bruce would proclaim my sword-swallowing talents. I danced with men as camouflage. Donnie Ward was the most handsome man in the place and the club’s best dancer.

Diana Ross’ LOVE HANGOVER was our mantra. “Love to love you baby.”

Kissing Bruce drove a stewardess into my arms and dancing with him earned a buxom actress for a weekend, but questioning my sexuality wasn’t all a lie.

I couldn’t get THE ITCH.

Turning thoughts into deeds required little imagination at the height of the Sexual Revolution. Bruce and I went to baseball games at Fenway. We cheered the Celtics at Boston Garden. We sat wherever we wanted and few fans overheard his muttered admiration for the athletes.

“Look at that one’s buns.” He was pointing at the gaunt center.

“Hank Finkel.”

The lanky center was a stick.

“He has no buns.”

“But he has big feet and you know what big feet mean?”

“Big shoes.”

Bruce loved sports, but warned not to tell his friends about his sports obsession.

“They wouldn’t understand.”

“As long as you tell them that I’m not gay.”

Nothing was more attractive to his friends than a straight man and the boys at the bars sought my conversion to their cause.

“Leave him alone,” Bruce declared at a tea dance in Provincetown. “He’s not gay, but no man is 100% straight.”

By my graduation college in 1974 my gay friends outnumbered my straight. Bruce was my younger brother’s hero. He turned Michael onto Eartha Kitt. My mother thought that Bruce was cute.

“I can’t understand why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”

“Can’t understand?” My father didn’t approve our friendship. “Bruce plays for the other team.”

“I don’t care if he likes the Yankees.” My mother ignored the hint at deviancy. Bruce had good manners.

Bruce got tickets for the 2nd game of the 1975 World Series. We celebrated the Bernie Carbo’s homer in Game 6 at 1270. My friend swore that several players were in the crowd. Soon after Bruce fell in love with a jealous stockbroker. Bill had season tickets to Fenway.

“I’m settling down to be a wife.”

The scene was less fun without him and I took up with a teenage girl from Brookline family of hippie intellectuals. Her ex- and I fought over Hilde, while she was in the hospital for a blood disease. The Dorchester car thief won and I lost all claims to Hilde.

On a visit to New York I fell in love with an artist.

I quit my substitute teaching job at South Boston High and arrived at her apartment in Brooklyn Heights on Thanksgiving. Rose left the next day for a painting scholarship in Paris.

Stranded I moved into a Park Slope brownstone with a jazz impresario whom I had met at the Riviera Cafe, which served as a meeting place between the straight and gay worlds.

Jim Spicer swept his hair back like the Silver Surfer. His tinted sunglasses were for day and night. He introduced me to Cecil Taylor and the downtown jazz scene. I couldn’t guess his age, but his claim of a one-night stand with James Dean dated him as way past thirty. His taste ran to rough trade. My residence at his apartment prevented fun from getting violent.

“You want to be a writer?” He had read my short story about breaking up with Kyla.

“Doesn’t anyone who writes?”

“Not if they can’t type and have no sense of syntax or grammar.” Jim was sporting a black eye from a trip to the Hudson River docks. His broken glasses had been repaired by tape.

“My typing is that bad?” I should have attended a secretarial school instead of majoring in Math.

“A drunk cop’s typing is better, but the story is nice, if naive, but there isn’t anything wrong with being naive. It’s almost the same as innocence.”

“Or stupidity.”

“Keep writing. Same as musicians keep practicing. You have to get better one day. I’ll help if it can.”
Jim’s lessons on loft jazz, robbing ATMs, and the delights of Hudson River shad roe were invaluable. They also had a price.
One night I woke to his oiling my feet like he was Mary Magdalene.

“What are you doing?” I was no Jesus.

“Massaging your feet.” Jim was naked.

“I can see that, but why?” My feet felt like they were prepared for a fry-up.

“Because I love you.” Jim was drunk.

“Go to sleep.” His incursion into my bedroom was no big deal and we remained friends, until he stole my unemployment checks. Any thoughts about returning home to Boston were short-circuited by an unnerving visit to the suburban calm of the South Shore.

Michael was the only child left with my parents. His girlfriend invited us for diner. Her mother and father weren’t home. Their split-level sat across from Kyla’s old house. Kyla and her husband had moved to the Cape. Their baby would be about seven. My brother noticed my staring.

“You thinking how different your life would be, if you hadn’t broken up with Kyla?” At 18 his entire life was in front of him.

“Something like that.” I lit up a joint. “I can’t remember why I did it.”

“Maybe you wanted to be something more than that person.” My brother was toking on a joint. The smoke went down the wrong way and he coughed like a cholera victim.

“Are you happy with Patty?” I didn’t want him to repeat my mistakes.

“Patty prays that one day she can cure me.” He rolled his eyes in amusement.

“It’s not nice to play with someone’s emotion.”

“Patty knows the odds. Some breeder will be very happy with her.” Michael signaled to Patty we were coming inside. “For now she protects me from every fag-basher in Boston.”

“Have you two even had sex?”

“We’re saving it for our wedding night.” He could never tell Patty that the idea of him with a woman was a horror. “Patty goes to church every Sunday.”

“And you?”

“I recover from Saturday nights.”

After dinner Patty put on a record of CABARET. My brother acted out a sinister Joel Grey. He didn’t have to lip-synch the singing. He had my mother’s voice.

Manuel came over with another boy wearing a starter beard. The three of them went to an upstairs bedroom. I heard the door lock. Patty washed the dishes in the kitchen and I left for home. They seemed like a happy family.<

“Aren’t you bored with the suburbs?” My mother was sitting in the kitchen. My father was in the den watching TV.

“After New York it almost feels good being bored.”

I kissed her goodnight and slept in the basement rather than face the ghost of my childhood bedroom.

In the morning my parents dropped me at the 128 Amtrak train station. I had $50 from my mother and $10 in my pocket. $45 paid a week’s rent for my SRO room on East 11th Street and I hitchhiked to the Mass Pike. The trip took four hours. None of the drivers asked me if I liked gladiator movies.

Back in New York I found a job at Serendipity 3 on East 60th Street. They were hiring busboys. The waiters were all gay. Their favorite movie was MILDRED PIERCE. Each of them answered to women’s names. The kitchen staff loved to shout out, ‘Pebbles’, since to them I resembled like a caveman.

The pastry cook was a dead ringer for Josef Goebbels’ nephew. Klaus sang castrati roles for opera. His name at the restaurant was Eva Braun. We toured clubs in the West Village, where men explored the most extreme reaches of sexuality in the backrooms. These exploits would have brought tears to their mothers’ eyes and their fathers would have cursed Ken dolls, yet the boys kept pushing the boundaries of decency and it tried to push back to stem the rising tide of freedom.

When Anita Bryant beseeched God to punish the sodomites, gay consumers boycotted OJ and within six months she was forced out her position as the Florida OJ Lady. The gays had power. The West Village and San Francisco were shetls of homosexuality. The Village People scored #1 with YMCA and football fans sang WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS by Queen.

Klaus frequented Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs. The two bars were my home at night. No one cared what you were as long as you were a punk. The Ramones played once a month. I bought a leather jacket. Bruce came to visit from Boston.

“You look really butch.” Bruce was breaking up with his boyfriend and nothing says ‘divorce’ better than a trawl of the back rooms of the West Village with Klaus. Bruce loved it.

“New York is so not Boston.”

He was right.

During the 1977 Black-Out the boys from Serendipity raided Fiorucci, a disco accessory shop on East 60th Street, and I chucked a cinder block at the window in hopes of snatching a gold Elvis suit. The concrete missile bounced off the protective glass and nearly struck my head. We ran for our lives from the guards. It had been a funny story rendered funnier each and every time told by the boys.

They introduced me to a smart hillbilly girl, who wanted to be an actress. Alice’s eyes were brown and green. We went to CBGBs, saw the Heartbreakers, and I bought her drinks. Her limit was two.

After closing we took a taxi uptown.

She was crashing at a borrowed penthouse.

In a bedroom with the view of Central Park she called out for God, as I entered her for the thousandth time.

Once Alice graduated, we moved into the East Village. The immigrant neighborhood was as burnt out as a junkie’s vein. She loved it for not being West Virginia. I moved up to waiter at Serendipity 3. The money was good.

My brother started college in 1978. U-Mass Amherst gathered like minds and bodies. He was in heaven.

That Christmas my girlfriend flew south to West Virginia. I headed north on the train to New England. It was standing room only and I sat in the club car. My father met me at 128.

“You look tired.” He had good eyesight. “I’m working nights.”<

“Waiting on tables is not a real job.” He was angry with someone. Not me and my younger sisters pleaded for my good behavior over the holidays. I wore a tie to Midnight Mass, although not kneeling tested my mother’s patience.

“I went down to the Valley of Death for you.” Her agony has lasted a day.

“I know.” I dropped to my knees. My devotion was a lie.

Rote repetition forced my lips to speak in tongues. My brothers joined the ancient prayer. We were all ex-altar boys.

My mother cried hearing the old Latin. After the final amen, she said, “I have the best boys in the world.”

Later at the 1270 I bought a dime bag of pot from Bruce. His new boyfriend was up in Ipswich. “And you didn’t go?”

“Go?” He checked out my leather jacket and torn jeans. “He’s still in the closet.”

“Oh.”

“I like the punk look.” He faked a shiver of delight.
“Not so much a punk.”

He listened to my story about church and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being a good son.”

“And you?”

“The best.” He smiled pulling me onto the dance floor. The DJ put on Blondie. Bruce handed over a jar of poppers. “I live at home. I’m a real momma’s boy.

I came home early.

My younger brothers and I smoked a joint in the backyard. My older brother was straight in every way you’re supposed to be straight. I felt a little bad. He had been my best friend.

The stars shone over the trees.

;“You think there really was a Jesus.” Michael was focused on the constellation Orion.

“I think he existed.” IF JESUS CAME TO MY HOUSE had been his favorite bedtime book as a child.

“You believe in him?” Michael attended church every Sunday. “I do and I think he was gay. He was never married, lived with his mother, wore a dress, and only had men friends.”

“What about Mary Magdalene?” Our other brother was borderline anti-gay. “She was a fag hag.”

“Don’t say that about her?”

“She’s not a saint. I can say whatever I want about her or Jesus.”

“I’ll tell you about Jesus. Back in 1974 my friends and I dropped acid in the White Mountains. We spoke to the rapids of the Saco River. This kid comes out of the trees. The sun was bright and he seemed to have a halo. One friend said it was Jesus. We asked him questions and thought he was Jesus. A minute later a teenager girl grabs him by the ear, telling him to stay away from hippies.”

“Jesus?” My brothers wowed and we retreated from the cold winter air for a good night’s sleep. “No, someone like you or me.”

“With a mean sister.” Padraic finished off the roach.

“Like Cinderella.” Michael liked fairy tales. They had happy endings.

The three of us slept in our childhood beds. I read Stanley Elkin’s THE LIVING END. My mother and father descended to the Christmas tree after midnight. They were our Santa Claus from before I could remember. I shut my book and fell asleep with dreams of tomorrow.

The next morning my mother’s scream shook my deep slumber.

I ran downstairs thinking that she had dropped the turkey. The bird was on the table, however my father was raging before the Christmas tree. Michael stood by the fireplace.

“What happened?”

“I told them I was gay.”

“Why would you do that?”

My parents had guarded the secrets of sex behind their bedroom doors. I had followed their lead throughout my adult life.

“My friends at college and I decided to come out of the closet.” “You did it for them?”

“I thought you would understand.” His face wore an accusation of mistrust. “You went to gay discos. You have gay friends. I heard stories about you.”

“Whatever you heard doesn’t matter, because this is about you and not me and not about your friends. If you want to tell Mom and Dad that you’re gay, then tell them, because you want to do it and not because some stupid friends tell you to do it.”

“You mean like to your own self be true.”

“Yes.”<

“Then why don’t you tell Mom and Dad about your drug habit?”

“Because it’s my business and not theirs. Same as your sexuality.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” He stormed out of the room. “My sexuality is me.”

He was right and I hated the thought that my long dalliance with drugs was me.

No one spoke about Michael’s revelation during dinner, but the turkey must have tasted of wood for my parents. The giving of presents sparked a little life into the holiday. Michael had the perfect gift for everyone. He gave my father a bottle of gin and my mother one of Chanel #5. I received a studded dog collar.

Upon his return to UMass-Amherst, his friends admitted that they hadn’t ruined their holidays by coming out and my parents suggested that Michael see a psychiatrist to exorcise out his deviation from the path of righteousness. My brother seduced one after the other. Finally my parents accepted my brother’s sexuality and he moved into an all-gay dorm. His grades were even worse than mine had been at university.

That January Alice organized a concert at Irving Plaza with Blondie and the B-52s. I worked security. At the end of the show I asked everyone to leave. Several rockers told me to go fuck myself. A fight broke out with the odds against me. I went down and someone kicked in my ribs. I could barely breathe the next day.

“That was Blondie.” Alice told me at the kitchen table.

“I didn’t start the fight.” I could barely breathe.

“They’re supposed to play with Klaus tonight.”

“And?” They won’t play, if you are there. It’s you or the show.”

“I could always sue them.” A legal suit against the group for the profits from HEART OF GLASS< ;would have earned thousands.
“You’re not serious, are you?” She was worried about this gig.

“No, I’m not that type. Have a good time tonight.”

I kissed her, but in truth I took her siding with complete strangers the wrong way.

In the Fall I was hired as security at a punk disco uptown. The job paid $100 a night and all the free drinks I could glom from the gay bartenders. I came home from Hurrah smelling of cigarettes, beer, and perfume. Alice slept on the bed. I slept on the couch.

Late one night a doctor from NYU Hospital called our apartment and reported that James Spicer was dying from pneumonia. My hillbilly girlfriend had never met Jim and Alice was angry that I was leaving her alone. I couldn’t blame her, mostly because I had been seeing a blonde model from Buffalo. My promise to come back soon sounded phony even to my ears.

The hospital ward was empty and the nurses appeared reluctant to enter Jim’s’ room.

“Gay men have been dying of pneumonia. We can’t say why,” an Italian doctor explained in the corridor. “The nurses call it ‘gay men’s disease’.”

This was the first I had heard of the ailment and I sat by James’ bed without any fear, as he coughed like he was giving birth to a lung.

“You?” He opened his eyes at midnight.

“Who were you expecting? Cecil Taylor?” The avant-garde pianist had been Jim’s friend.

“No, he wouldn’t come. He’s scared of me.” His skin was drawn tight to his bones.

“Well, I’m here.”

“Yes, you’re here. Old what’s his name?” He drifted back to sleep and I whistled jazz lullabies during the long night.

“Where am I?” Jim asked with a startled horror. The eastern horizon offered a dark silhouette of Brooklyn.

“In the hospital.”

“Am I dying?” His eyes shone with fear.

“Not right now.” It was as much the lie as it was the truth. “I’m just here to keep you company.”

“You weren’t much of a writer, but you were a good story teller. Tell me one now. Something with a happy ending.”

I recounted breaking up with Kyla, trying to make it funny. Jim laughed at the right and wrong places, his lungs hacking out bloody phlegm.

“What about the happy ending?” he asked with a rasping breath.

“Pal and Kyla had kids. They’re still married.”

“And you have me.”

“We have each other.” I patted his hand and Jim rested for a long time.

At dawn his mother and father arrived from Florida. Like my parents they were good people with a loving son unable to live in a small town. Jim smiled and nodded for me to leave them alone. He had things to tell them.

I went to the basement cafeteria for chocolate milk and a bagel. Nothing had ever tasted so good and when I got back to the ward, Jim’s parents were crying on plastic chairs. I was sure that Jim had passed at my moment of delight from my breakfast. I touched his cold skin and left the hospital.

It was good to be alive.

“Where have you been,” Alice asked, as I entered the apartment. She had been up for a long time.

“At the hospital.” I could smell the dying smell on my flesh.

“Right.” It had a different scent to Alice, because on too many occasions it had been perfume.

I attended Jim’s funeral on Washington Square. Merce Cunningham eulogized him. Cecil Taylor played a dirge. Hundreds of people showed up. No one knew the real cause of his death.

It was 1979.

The next night I stayed over with Lisa. I didn’t call Alice. She was gone by the time I got back to our apartment.

Lisa’s dreams of strobe lights on a fashion runway didn’t include a nightclub punk good at pinball. She flew to Europe for catalogue work. The phone calls ended after a week.

I treated my broken heart with drink and drugs. My brother came down to visit. He was doing badly in school and my father had threatened to pull him out of U-Mass, if his grades didn’t improve to C. My odds were 5-1 against my brother.

“You can always come to live with me,” I offered Michael at Julius, an old-timers’ bar in the West Village.

“Really?” New York loved him. He was new meat.

“Free rent for the first three months and I can get you a job at Serendipity.” “I’ll have to think about it.”

“I also want to talk to you about something serious.”

“Serious how?”

“There’s this disease hitting gays.”

“I know about it.” Michael wasn’t smiling. “It’s hit Boston too. Some people say it comes from snorting poppers.”

“That’s the first I’ve heard that.” I couldn’t recall Jim Spicer huffing amyl nitrate, but I had experimented with the inhalant more than once. “Please be careful.”

“I play it safe.” My brother’s eyes lit up at the entrance of a heavily bearded beast, who had more hair than a dog.

Michael left with the bear for rest of the weekend and I shuddered to think of my brother under some brute. He was no Ken doll.

Michael never called back about the move to New York. His college career ended within the year and he was hired by the Ma Bell. My mother and father tried every tactic to turn him straight. Blind dates ended with the girls becoming his friend.

In 1981 my baby brother came down to New York for the Gay Pride Parade celebrating the Stonewall Inn Riot during which drag queens fought the cops with high heels against batons. They were a tough crowd.

“Are you going to march with me?”

“Why not?” I believed in equality for everyone.

Thousands gathered in the West Village. Supporters shouted encouragement from the sidewalk. The few demonstrators were drowned out by the boos of marchers. Gays and lesbians weren’t retreating into abandoned closets.

“We’re one in ten,” Michael yelled to a band of tall transvestites in glittering sequin dresses. “Twenty-seven million Americans?” That number rivaled the population of Texas.

“Maybe more.”

It seemed more on this parade.

Later eating cheeseburgers at Julius’, I asked Michael, “Do you think you might ever settled down?”

“I’m faithful to Patty.” He loved her in his own way. “But I’m too young to be faithful. What about you?”

“My libido used to get in my way.”

“And now?”

I was almost thirty. Many of my old friends had families. I was living alone.

“My fondest wish is to have someone to love.”

“The same as everyone,” Michael excused himself from the table, dropping a $20 on the bar. He looked over his shoulder. A burly man was eying my brother with the appetite of a starving wolf. “But I’ll take what I can get tonight, because if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s faking love.”

“I wished I could do the same.”

“Try smiling more.”

He vanished again and caught the late train to Boston on Sunday night. My youngest brother wasn’t leaving Boston. It was his home.

He organized Easter egg hunts for our nieces and nephews. His comedy routines were well- received in the downtown gay bar circuit. Men sought his company. My brother gave them a night or two before moving onto another flavor.

One summer he spotted a speedboat offshore a Provincetown beach and swam out to meet the owner. Tom and he became close friends. Neither ever admitted to being lovers. My mother loved Tom. My father thought the banker was a good influence.

Michael stopped drugs. He wanted his body to be a weapon in his ministry of Gay Liberation and grew more radical, as AIDS began reaping its harvest of my friends.

I moved to Paris for most of the 80s.

Klaus died in 1983.

In 1985 I interviewed Rock Hudson at the Deauville Film Festival. The festival committee was honoring his performance opposite James Dean in GIANT and my story angle was that Rock would have been a more gracious dinner companion than the teenage idol. Our conversation was congenial, until we were joined by a British journalist.

Rock had been nominated for an Oscar in GIANT. He was proud of that accomplishment and I complimented his interpretation of a Texas oilman protecting his land and family against greed.

The British reporter wouldn’t let me finish my questions.

“So tell us, Rock, what was it like to have sex with Gomer Pyle?”

“Firstly his name is Jim Nabors and we are just good friends.” Rock had been fending off any allegations about his sexual leanings since before I was born.

“So that’s what they called it now?” The journalist was relentless in his attack. “Why don’t you come clean? About you and Jim and the place you shared in Hawaii?”

The reporter spat out his queries without losing a beat. His notebook was filled with them.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Rock sipped white wine.

“C’mon, the young boys of our readership are dying to hear the truth.” This rumor had been bouncing around gay clubs for ages.
“You mind leaving the man alone?” I hated gay-bashers.

“I’m trying to write a story, so piss off.” The London-based reporter had a thick skin.

“More like tar and feather Mr. Hudson.” I held a silver knife in my hand.

Rock lifted his hand and said, “Gentlemen, no fists or knives.”

“You can’t threaten me like that.” The reporter looked into my eyes.

“I’m not warning you twice.” I was itching for a fight.

“Faggots.”<

“You say that with a lisp and smile.”

“Fuck you both.” The reporter stormed out of the dining room.

“Sorry about that, but I thought he was over the line.”

“Thanks for not making a scene.”

“That would have given him a story for his readership.”

“I don’t think my press agent would approve.” He leaned across the table and whispered, “I would have loved to see him get his.”

We had a lovely lunch of Atlantique Sole and a brilliant Riesling. I wished that we could have been friends like Bruce and I were friends, because Gomer Pyle and Rock Hudson don’t seem like such a good match, unless you believed the tales about Jim Nabor’s endowment.

I returned to New York in 1986.

My boys from Serendipity were dying one by one. Alice and I met at their funerals. Her best friend bequeathed an elephant foot to me. I called it Stumpy. She and I grew closer. We were the last of our tribe.

My brother’s radio show educated the Boston gay community to the dangers. For some it was too late.

My parents, Bruce, and I celebrated the show’s first year on the air to a South End restaurant. The station manager praised Michael’s civic contribution. He was equally generous with his family.

Michael guided his cousin on her Broadway dream. She sang as Julie Andrew’s understudy. After her first show Tara declared that the star of VICTOR/VICTORIA had called her ‘darling’.

“That’s because she can’t remember everyone’s name,” Michael joked under his breath. Living in a provincial city hadn’t killed his humor.

I never loved him more than at my youngest sister’s wedding at a hotel along the Charles River.
Pam and he had danced to IT’S RAINING MEN. His other three brothers had embarrassed the gathering by gatoring across the floor.

Michael hated this macho family folly. I pulled him onto the dance floor. He couldn’t refuse me. My sisters joined him on the floor. After the official festivities the immediate family retired to rooms upstairs. The hotel had a whirlpool. I needed to sober up from the excesses of a long day.

“You’re not going alone?” Michael had been to several drug addiction clinics. His fellow addicts related crazy stories about near-fatal accidents. Several had been in hot tubs.

“I’ll buddy-up with you just in case.”

For a half-hour we had the facility to ourselves.

After the steam, Jacuzzi, cold showers I was almost ready for a beer.

The door to the steam room opened for a young blonde woman in a skimpy bathing suit.

“Do you mind if I join you?”
“Sure.” My brother was always trying to act as a matchmaker. He grilled her for the essentials.

Katie came from Kentucky. Her husband had been working for Rick Pitino as an assistant basketball coach. He was undergoing treatment for a crippling illness at Mass General Hospital.

“I’m so lonely here.” Her tears mingled with sweat. “I don’t know anyone.” “I know Boston.” Her vulnerability tempted my devil.

“Yes, my boyfriend and I would love to show you the sights.” My brother drove an elbow into my ribs.

“Boyfriend?” she smiled ruefully. “Why are all you good-looking guys gay?”

“Because we’re born that way.”

We met the basketball coach’s wife in the lobby. Katie was wearing in a short dress. Her nipples showed that she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“I feel so safe with you boys.”

“Yeah, you can be free with us.” My brother led her to the taxi stand and I cursed him under my breath.
That night we toured Boston gay bars. My brother flirted with bearded men and the blonde girl drank white wine. She forgot her problems and her hand touched mine. My brother came over to viciously comment about women smelling like fish and the blonde told a joke about Eve swimming in the ocean for the first time. After we dropped her at the hotel room, he defended his cockblocking.

“I’m not asking you to be a saint, just to show a little compassion for someone in pain.”

“If you insist.” It was a small thing to ask.

“Consider it a favor.”

“Done.”

He was a better man than me in many ways.

In 1989 I quit the nightclubs in favor of getting to bed before 4am.

A friend hired me to sell diamonds on 47th Street. I started seeing a married woman. Ms. Carolina was enthralled by my life style. She had money. We took ski trips in the West. The blonde huntswoman looked good for age. I figured she was only eight years my senior. In the darkness of my apartment Ms. Carolina could have been any age.<

That summer Michael and vacationed in Maine. We swam in the Saco River. He enjoyed my retelling of meeting Jesus on LSD. We had a good time and good times should have lasted us into the next century, but that was wishful thinking, for he contracted AIDS in 1994.

The doctors at Beth Israel fought the infections with a series of toxic drugs. His health fluctuated between bad and worst. My friend, Scotty, was opening a nightclub in Beverly Hills and I asked Michael, “You mind if I go.”

“I’m dying and you want to go to Beverly Hills.” His looks were suffering from the drug cocktails. His last boyfriend had been a fish truck driver from Gloucester. In my parents’ minds the boyfriend had infected their son. In truth it could have been anyone.

“You’re not dying.”

“Not yet.” AIDS was a death sentence. “What about your married mistress?”

“How you know about that?”

“Bruce told me. Funny, before this adultery wouldn’t bother me. But now I have AIDS, I think about the 10 Commandments.”

“Not all of them.”

“Seeing a married woman isn’t right.” His morality was very strict when it came to his older brother.

“Thanks for the lecture, but I’m ending it.”

“By moving to LA?”

“Yes.” It was the easy way out.

“Coward.”
“You got that right.”

“Not a lecture, just a comment.” He gave me a hug. His body was getting down to skin and bones.

“You can go to Beverly Hills as long as you get Tom Selleck’s autograph.” “I will.”

The star of MAGNUM PI never visited the Milk Bar, but other big names came by the club on South Canon Drive.

Scottie banned asking for autographs, so I stole their signed credit card slips.<

Ms. Carolina came out twice. We drove to Death Valley and Yosemite Park. It was hard to tell someone that it was over when it had never really begin.

In the spring I flew back to see Michael. He was in the hospital for tests. The doctors were experimenting with new meds. Everyone was hoping for the best.

“You’re starting to look like Orson Welles.” His gaunt frame lay on a bed not far from where he had been born as a pink squirming baby thirty-four years ago.
“It’s all the good food.” And drink.

“How do you like LA?” His world was shrinking to rooms smelling of medicine.

“Nobody has told me a story or joke in LA.”

“I guess they’re saving it for a screenplay.”

“I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re probably right.” I handed him the credit card slips and I told him about Hollywood parties, the pretty boys, and having met James Brolin.

“Did he have a beard?” Michael’s eyes lit up with hope.

“Big and bushy.”

“A real bear.” My flight to LA left that evening.

“Nice.” He held up the autographs. “I’ll cherish these forever. And just do me one last favor.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t let a bagpiper play DANNY BOY at my grave.”

“It’s a tradition.” The man in a kilt invariably cursed all Irish funerals in Boston. “You have something against kilts?”

“I like men in skirts. No underwear too. Hairy legs, Mmmm, but not that song.”
“If it was up to me, I’d have them play IT’S RAINING MEN, but the final choice is up to Mom.”

“At least I won’t have to listen to the bagpipes.”
“There’s always a chance you’ll get better.”

“Thanks for lying.” He squeezed my hand. “Before I came here, I visited a friend in Fort Lauderdale. I was so. Happy to see him, but I could tell that he was scared to be with me or even be seen with me. It’s not easy to be scary, is it?”

“No, it isn’t.” I kissed his forehead. The skin was dry as weathered parchment. “I’ll see you soon.”

“I know you will.”

In the spring of 1995 his worsening condition forced doctors to opt for a more radical treatment. 50% of the patients were receiving a placebo. I drank heavily at the nightclub, which had lost its luster to the Hollywood crowd once the Beverly Hills PD tagged a few customers for DWI.

“You have a problem?” Scottie was concerned for my health.

“Yes.”

“It’s your brother, isn’t it?”

“He might not make the 4th of July.” June was at the halfway mark. “If you want to leave, go.”

“Thanks, but I’ll stick around until I have to go.” Days went by without any news from my parents.
On the weekend I glommed money from the door receipts. Tips were muscled from drug dealers. The cash went to a stash for traveling around the world. I had almost $6000 and my travel agent offered an around-the-world ticket for $1500.

That Monday the telephone rang in the afternoon.

No one ever called the guesthouse that Scottie and I shared in the Valley. I knew who was on the other end before I lifted the receiver.

“Michael doesn’t have much longer.” My mother’s voice choked with tears. “Is he still conscious?”
“He’s barely alive.” It was a terrible thing for an older brother to hear and even worse for a mother to say about her youngest child.

“I’ll be on the next plane out of LAX.” I told Scottie about my immediate departure.
He wished me luck, knowing I wasn’t coming back. LA nightlife gave everything that the TV promised the masses of America. I was a mess.

As I packed my bag, Ms. Carolina called from Raleigh.

“Can’t you stop in DC before you go to Boston? Just for one night?” Mrs. Carolina wanted more from me than was in me.

“No.”

“No what?” Ms. Carolina had broken countless hearts as the ice queen of Cape Hatteras. Mine wasn’t destined to be one of them.

“No, I can’t meet you. My brother’s dying. I want to be with him. Nothing else in the world matters.”
“What about us?”

“There is no ‘us’.” I couldn’t believe that she was thinking of ‘us’, when my brother was dying. Scottie stopped my heaving the telephone through the window. It was a rented house.

“She wants love. That’s all.”

“And that’s something I can’t give.” I wish that it wasn’t true. The phone rang during the wait for the taxi.

Scottie didn’t answer it.

Two hours later I was flying east.

Short films of my brother’s life played in my head every second of the six-hour flight to Boston. Last summer we had swam in the Saco River. I had held his hand, as the water rippled over his ravaged body. The rapids could have carried him to the sea. Even knowing his fate we had been happy.

A taxi from Logan Airport drove straight to the South Shore hospice caring for my brother. My father and mother were at the foot of the bed. Machines registered feeble vital signs. An intravenous tube dripped morphine. His face clung to his skull without his eyes registering my arrival.

“Aren’t you giving him any water?” I leaned over to kiss my brother.

“No food. No water.” My father’s resolute voice announced the family decision to allow my baby brother to pass from this earth. “It’s for the best.”

It was a horrible best option and I didn’t leave Michael except for the times my family gathered to see him. We sang songs and told stories. I can’t remember which ones. I held him in my arms, praying for a recovery. My father and mother said the same prayer, instead the sickness took Michael away ounce by ounce.
Two weeks into his death vigil my other younger brother called me into the room. “He’s going.”
The two of us hurried back to his room.

Everyone was crying.

I joined them, then checked the machines attached to Michael. The vital signs were unchanged. Joni Mitchell’s URGE FOR GOING was on the small tape player next to the bed.

“No sad songs.” I tore out the cassette.

Gloria Gaynor’s I WILL SURVIVE harvested more tears. Michael loved this song.

After everyone went home, my younger brother brought his guitar into the room and played FREEBIRD.

“Michael hates that song.”

“I know.” Patrick sniffed through misty eyes. “Hearing is the last thing to go, so I know if he can hear it, he’ll think of me.”
The nurse approached us out of the earshot of the attending doctors.

“Funny, our patients never leave if a family member is in the room. The hospital encourages your being with him, because the longer you’re with him the bigger the bill.”

I told this to my father and he called the rest of the family. They came over within the hour. It was time to say our good-byes.

We each spoke to Michael for a little while. His face showed no sign of life. My mother hugged him for a long time and my father pulled her into the corridor. The doctors looked at us with suspicion that we knew what they knew.

Within the hour Michael had gone over to the angels.

Two days later my sisters and brothers eulogized him at the funeral. My grief prevented my saying anything. Mrs. Carolina called every day. She sent flowers to the funeral home. My father said, “Speak to her.”

“I can’t.”

I was mad that my brother had died, that there hadn’t been a cure that somehow the blood of millions had been infected by a senseless killer.

Bruce came to the funeral home.

“Sometimes I feel like the last whale in the ocean.” He had lost his lover the year before. “No matter where I am I’ll hear your call.”

“Thanks for lying.” He could still smile after all this, which meant I could too one day.

I told my parents about my trip to Asia.

“I’m going to the holiest places on earth to help Michael’s soul pass from this world.” “The Vatican?” My mother hoped for my redemption.

“Tibet and swimming in the Ganges.” The water of that river expiated all sins.

“When will you be back?” My father drove me to the airport.

“By Christmas.” I had enough money to last six months. Even longer if I tapped the American Express card, which Mrs. Carolina had given me for emergencies. She could forgive me later. Mrs. Carolina had a good heart.,p>
It’s almost ten years since my brother’s death. Alice lost her brother, Bobby. We are friends again. So is Mrs. Carolina.

Most atheists think of the hereafter as a blank, however Michael has appeared in dreams with my mother, who passed away in the winter following his departure.

They are in a Cape Cod cottage with no furniture, so they can’t stay very long. My mother is happy to be with her baby boy, although I can tell Michael has places to go and she’s waiting for the rest of us to join her. These dreams challenged my disbelief in heaven, because spending eternity wouldn’t be so bad with everyone we’ve lost over the years.

A few winters later I emerged from the Astor Place subway. Several people looked at the blue sky. Two rainbows were floating on a high snow squall and an older man said, “I can’t ever recall seeing a rainbow in the winter.”

I couldn’t either, yet I recognized the message from the other side. My brother had one time asked if I was gay. I hadn’t given him an answer.

Now I had the answer.

Being straight, gay, black, white, old, young, and all the in-betweens and outsides and insides doesn’t matter, because we are all special as that winter rainbow. It only takes a little bit of faith to see the truth and that leap can take us to the stars. They’re not as far away as you fear.

PS my brother’s name was Michael Charles Smith.

He comes to me in dreams.

Along with my other friends.

One day I go see them.

But not today.