Thursday, December 31, 2020

Once More Into The Lion’s Den- Not Fit For Hallmark Channel Primetime, Maybe -Paul Newman And Bruce Willis’ “Nobody’s Fool” (1994)- A Short Film Review-Of Sorts

Once More Into The Lion’s Den- Not Fit For Hallmark Channel Prime Time, Maybe -Paul Newman And Bruce Willis’ “Nobody’s Fool” (1994)- A Short Film Review-Of Sorts   

[In a recent introduction to this new series, a series based on short film reviews for films that deserve short reviews if not just a thumb’s up or down I noted that Allan Jackson, the deposed previous site manager, required his film reviewers to write endlessly about the film giving the material an almost cinema studies academic journal take on it. That caused a serious decline in the number of reviews over the years which I hope to make up with a flurry of snap reviews for busy people. To see in full why check the archives for November 28, 2018- Not Ready For Prime Time But Ready For Some Freaking Kind Of Review Film Reviews To Keep The Writers Busy And Not Plotting Cabals Against The Site Manager-Introduction To The New Series. Greg Green]

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Nobody's Fool, starring Bruce Willis, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, 1994  

I will not kid the reader that I expected a certain amount of blowback when I even lightly compared a 1930s film Mr. Ibbetson to the fare on the Hallmark vanilla insomniac movie channel. My point had been simply enough to note that that channel did not have a monopoly on dreamy scenes and happy-ending plotlines, especially the ubiquitous Christmas stuff that goes 24/7 full steam ahead with about one variation between the first and last product (usually whether the lead female character dumps her wrong gee beau or he her). I have since learned that about four actresses, the focus of the shows reflecting the demographic, wind up as an unintentional ensemble for a couple of dozen shows. Be that as it may the gist of each show is really a quaint formula some up and coming young professional woman, white, heads home to small town Bing Crosby White Christmas America (and emphatically not 1970s South Boston White Christmas) after having dumped or been dumped by Mr. Wrong.

At home after the obligatory warming up to the old time Christmas spirit she meets some old flame, if not physically the boy next door she grew up with and rejected or ignored on her way out of town she reconsiders her options and the whole thing is sealed by the truly obligatory ending chaste kiss (after several almost attempts). Nice innocuous fare for tough rainy or snowy days or a hard shopping tour. I merely mentioned that one could grow very tired of such fare on the seventh incarnation. That slight comment drew first the ire of my longtime companion Laura Perkins, who is a writer here as well, and an avid devotee of these films.

Laura saw no comparison worthy of the breath between the Hallmark episodes and the fairy-tale -horror show romance between the two ill-fated lovers in that 1930s film. Nor apparently did the enraged mob, mostly female, remember that demographic thing, who bothered, no, pelted our esteemed site manager Greg Green about the comparison asking for my head on a platter or any other surface if necessary. Greg in turn pelted me with a request no, a command, a military style command to back off on Hallmark Channel light as air fare references.

Needless to say, since I am still technically his boss, being the current chair of the Editorial Board established a couple of years ago after an internal fight at this publication in order to insure against site manager overreach, I will nevertheless bring forth another candidate for the Hallmark market and see what flies. Lately that candidate, Nobody’s Fool starring the late Paul Newman (take fair warning on that title sentiment), sort of slapped Laura and me in the face. Meaning whatever ire she showed when I “dissed” that Christmas formula stuff is gone and forgotten now that we have a case we can both support for a Hallmark moment kind of show. Hell, a word not used on those shows in fact nothing stronger than “darn” gets through the stolid screenwriter’s fist, the whole film takes place in deadass winter (note the comment just above) in up-county North Bath, New York during the period between Thanksgiving and the new year.  Ah, Christmas too.    

Of course, any film starring Paul Newman (and Bruce Willis) is going to be filled with manly male talk and actions, especially since this Paul character Sully is an aging working- class guy who has strike out more times in life than had hits from an ill-fated marriage to an abandonment of his son. The whole thing is wrapped around various relationships from frosty (ex-wife) to feisty (ex-boss Willis) to funny (work partner) to fulsome (son) to funky (sex eyes and plays for boss man’s wife). So yes there is nudity, briefly, foul language, on all sides, and some sophomoric tantrums and inside jokes (over stealing boss man’s snowblower). But there is also sincerity (Paul’s landlady’s compassion and wit) and some sense that the world has passed our boy by. Here is the clinching argument though for inclusion in the Hallmark pantheon-Paul had a chance, a once in a lifetime chance to take off with the boss’s wife who was more than willing to fly the coop but he is so wedded to North Bath when the deal goes down he passes on the icing on the cake.

The more I think about it though except for the wintertime visuals this saga of the trials and tribulations of an older man seeking some meaning to his life would not make it pass the Hallmark dream censors. And I am willing to take plenty of heat on that score.                     

An Encore Presentation-Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Ain’t Got No Time For Corner Boys Down In The Street Making All That Noise-The Complete North Adamsville Corner Boy Stories-In Memory Of The Late Corner Boy Jimmy Higgins (1946-2018)

An Encore Presentation-Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Ain’t Got No Time For Corner Boys Down In The Street Making All That Noise-The Complete North Adamsville Corner Boy Stories-In Memory Of The Late Corner Boy Jimmy Higgins (1946-2018)

YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing his cover of  Jersey Girl that formed part of the inspiration for this post.

By Seth Garth

[What goes around, comes around is an old tried and trite expression but sometimes it actually represents what has happened in certain circumstances. Like now. The original North Adamsville Corner Boy stories had been done under the guidance of then site manager Allan Jackson several years ago in what was something of a nostalgia trip for him and the rest of us who grew up in the Acre, the working poor section of old North Adamsville. That series, well-received at the time, was probably the beginning of some tipping point in the downfall of Allan as site manager in late 2017. From there he accelerated the nostalgia business culminating in the almost 24/7 coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967. That busted the dam among the younger writers who could have given a damn about stuff that they had to ask parents or other old-timers about and so the die was cast for a showdown. Allan lost that showdown, although he is now back as a contributing editor, which led to some very strange and frankly weird rumors about his exile whereabouts for a while.       

Here is the “comes around” part, the part about how this encore presentation saw the light of day again. Our old friend and corner boy Jimmy Higgins passed away in 2018 and after he passed on a number of us who write here and among the brethren sat around the Irish Pub in the old town and began talking about all the crazy, dangerous and illegal stuff we did with Jimmy in the thick of it. That got Allan thinking about resurrecting the Corner Boy series with some updates and current thoughts. Since I had written the series with plenty of help from the guys I was “elected” to approach current site manager Greg Green about an encore presentation. He kicked it “upstairs.” Upstairs meaning to Sam Lowell and the Editorial Board that the younger writers insisted on to keep the site manager in check a bit after the one-man-show Jackson regime. Since Sam is also an alumnus of the Acre corner boy scene Greg was just covering his ass with the younger writers. With Sam and the Board’s agreement here we are, with plenty of help from those surviving corner boys. RIP, Jimmy Higgins, RIP. Seth Garth]          


Ah, corner boys down those mean streets, down in those mean Adamsville streets, making all their noise, producing all their hopeless hubris, swirling all around just to stay in one place. Yes, now fifty years later it is easy to dismiss those guys, write them off as losers, wannabe somethings, and guys to turn your back to but there was a time, a time day and night, when they, the corner boys, ruled, ruled my imagination, and, and almost caught me in their fix. Oh, for those who are clueless on the great stream corner boy night that probably no longer exists except in wayward urban ghetto/barrio corners, or some mall-less hick small town this was the mode of existence for guys, working -class guys, with no dough, no hopes of getting dough (getting dough legally anyway), or maybe, just plain not wanting to work for dough like drudge fathers, uncles and older brothers and hang out in the mom and pop variety store, drugstore, pizza parlor, bowling alley corner waiting,… yah, mainly waiting.

(That waiting seemingly harmless as I tell the tale some fifty plus years later was not as innocent, innocent when you dream, as I have made it out about a bunch of madcap footloose guys getting ready to conquer unknown worlds if only a few bucks came to hand. No, I have purposefully left out the larcenous part, the part where kids without gainful employment but dreams of girls and cars took matters into their own hands under the intellectual influence of one Peter Paul Markin, the midnight caper man and “General” Frankie Riley the operational leader after the time when under Markin’s leadership we almost ran into the cops as we left a vagabond house with our ill-gotten loot. The plan was beautiful except for his forgetting that the coppers patrolled that swank neighborhood on the hour.]

You will get it all wrong if you think though it was all waiting, sipping Coke waiting, smoking some endless cigarette smoke waiting, white tee-shirt, (a leather jacket against the wind on colder nights), jeans, engineer boots, wide black-buckled belts (useful in combat as well as holding up pants), maybe a chain hanging down. The uniform, or else.

[There was a uniform like that coming out of the juvenile delinquent world chronicled by The Wild One and James Dean’s epic Rebel Without A Cause and the spike in post-World War I hubris and alienation-teen and older version. Our uniform though was more subdued tending to plaid shirts and chinos maybe loafers or sneakers, yeah, sneakers even then. Talking about “comes around” since most of us for our footsore existence are back in sneaker harness although the quality and price are much different from the Chuck Taylor’s of our youth.]  

You will get it all wrong because you will have missed the patter, the constant patter, the dream patter that animated those sidewalk nights, those dreams, pipe-dreams maybe, of jail-break out working- class life, of moving “uptown” one way or another. You would have heard such talk if you walked by Harry’s Variety on any given night, some guy taking a pinball wizard break to tell how his luck is going to change any day now. Or leader Red, Red Hickey, mapping out the night’s midnight creep work, shortcut to the good life work, at least to keep the heap running and honey in clover. Of cars, stolen or refinished, mainly stolen. Yah, and talk of sex, of what this girl would do and that one wouldn’t, and why to go with those cars. A rough crowd not to be trifled with for certain, but from the edges fascinating to watch, and learn about some stuff, some stuff never mentioned at home.

[I was the beneficiary of more than one free Red-etched pinball game when he had some pressing business with some honey in a tight cashmere sweater with matching tight skirt showing a nice ass (okay, politically incorrect now but we are referring to then and so I will take any heat for speaking what we thought and said then)  who was ready to show him the world, ready to play the flute as we used to say. Red then could have cared less about leaving twelve free games on the board. I was something of a mascot around that store since my grandmother lived down the street and Red liked me. Red whose end was about what you would expect of a hard-living guy who sought no quarter and gave none down in North Carolina in an armed robbery of a White Hen store. By the way make no mistake, or if you do accept the mistake, not all of Red’s girls were round-heels, were what we called sluts. Some very high-toned young women looking for a walk on the wild side before settling into whatever golden niche they were expecting to settle into gave Red whatever he wanted just like the round heels and sluts. That included a very virginal-looking girl I was interested in during high school who would not give me the time of day once Red homed in on her which we didn’t know about until after we saw her with him one afternoon on his motorcycle.]     

Or, on other corners, the gang around Doc’s Drugstore, a place where all the neighborhood boys, all the sixteen- year old boys, and maybe some girls too, all the plaid-shirted, black-chinoed, “cool”, max daddies came of drinking age, for medicinal purposes of course. They could tell of magic elixirs from rums and raw whiskies, and confess, yes, confess that that whisky taste was nasty.

[Markin, that bastard intellectual guardian who couldn’t lead anything more than his dick, and maybe not that either, had a funny story about his experience at Doc’s, his coming of age alcohol story which every corner boy had to tell since nobody waited until 21 to learn the drinking trade. Doc who was a freebooter and mad monk in his own way was his grandmother’s druggist and Markin would on occasion go for her prescriptions since she was basically housebound. Most of the time Doc would include as Granny’s required medicine, a pint of whiskey. And Doc would give it to Markin as if nothing was the matter with a fourteen- year old kid getting a pint. One day he went to get the script without Granny giving the whiskey order part. He decided to add it since Granny’s bill came due monthly with her pension check and she probably wouldn’t notice the charge. Doc gave the pint without a thought. Later that day Markin and the late Jimmy Higgins, who would have his own personal hell fight for sobriety got so drunk down at the seawall on Adamsville Beach they were ill for days.]  
Or on earlier, easier corners, really not corners, but the back of old Adamsville South Elementary School, when Billie Bradley would wind us up, a few wayward boys with dreams, musical dreams, Elvis riches dreams, and begin to sing in a low voice, then a little higher and we would back him up, drawing, drawing like lemmings from the sea, girls, stick girls and shapes, but girls and that was dream enough for twelve- year old boys with wanderlust, or maybe just lust in their hearts

[I could write pages and pages about both Billie and about that switch from not caring a damn about girls one year to seeing them as kind of interesting the next as puberty kicked in but Sam told me to keep the updated comments on the short side. Billie had some serious dreams about breaking out of his horrendous, worse than mine, family life and making a ton of money as a singer. When his voice changed all that fell apart and he would wind up doing various stretches of time for armed robberies and such before we lost all track of him around high school time when he dropped out to seek a different “career” path. But in the old neighborhood Billie was ahead of us, had a way with music which really did draw the girls in. All kinds. At one point I was something like his best friend and he would give me his “leavings,” girls he was bored with or were too plain for him. I, in turn, would give my “leavings” to Jimmy who despite his class clown reputation was really shy. Who Jimmy gave his “leaving” to I don’t recall.]           

Or, even holy of holies, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor up the Downs when Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, was king of the night (and a few days too) and I was his lord chamberlain. Maybe he'd tell us of some pizza dough secrets, or how to snag a girl with just the right jukebox combination. But no, no one has come forth to spew their whitewashed stories almost a half a century later so I must tell the tales. Probably, on some of the stuff, some of the kiddish schoolboy night stuff, those old corner boys don’t realize that the statute of limitations has run out and had ran out long ago. But that’s not my problem.

[I mentioned above, and Sam reminded me recently as well, that Markin could despite his larcenous magic had trouble tying his shoes so the operational command, the leader role fell almost naturally to Frankie Riley. He was smooth, very smooth which befits a guy who went on to become fairly well-known and important lawyer. The best example I can give, outside of  a few of the sexual escapades he was involved which I will not bother the reader with, was his ability to con some girl into playing songs on Tonio’s jukebox when he, we didn’t have money to do so. It seemed girls always had money for stuff like that. He took a stages approach, let the girl play her first choice and then he went to work, talking, talking and the next thing you know the air was filled with our beloved rock and roll. So you could see where he had little trouble usually talking some girl out of her virtue, or later a jury out of a conviction.]       

Ah, corner boys down those means streets, down in those mean Adamsville streets, making all their noise. Ah.
Harry's Variety Store

Riding down the old neighborhood streets a while back, the old North Adamsville working- class streets, streets dotted with triple-deckers housing multiple families along with close-quarter, small cottage-sized single-family houses like the one of my own growing to manhood time. Houses, moreover, that reflected, no, exclaimed right to their tiny rooftops that seemingly eternal overweening desire to have, small or not, worth the trouble or not, something of one’s own against the otherwise endless servitude of days. Suddenly, coming to an intersection, I was startled, no, more than that I was forced into a double-take, by the sight of some guys, some teenage guys hanging, hanging hard, one foot on the ground the other bent holding up the infernal brick wall that spoke of practice and marking one’s territory, against the oncoming night in front of an old time variety store, a mom and pop variety from some extinct times before the 7/11 chain store, fast shop, no room for corner boys, police take notice, dark night. Memory called it Kelly’s, today Kim’s.

From the look of them, baggy-panted, latest fashion footwear name sneakered, baseball cap-headed, all items marked, marked with the insignia (secretly, and with no hope of outside decoding) signifying their "homeboy" associations (I would say gang, but that word is charged these days and this is not exactly what it looked like, at least to the public eye, my public eye) they could be the grandsons, probably not biological because these kids were almost all Asians speckled with a couple of Irish-lookers, shanty Irish-lookers, of the ghost be-bop night guys that held me in thrall in those misty early 1960s times.

Yah, that tableau, that time-etched scene, got me to thinking of some long lost comrades of the schoolboy night like the hang-around guys in front of Harry’s Variety, although comrades might not be the right word because I was just some punk young kid trying to be a wannabe, or half-wannabe, corner boy and they had no time for punk kids and later when I came of age, no left for college, I had no time for corner boys of the Harry’s Variety kind although I was knee-deep in another corner, Tonio’s Pizza Parlor corner holding up my share of the brick wall. Yah, that scene got me to thinking of the old-time corner boys who ruled the whole wide North Adamsville night (and day for those who didn’t work or go to school, which was quite a few on certain days, because most of these guys were between sixteen and their early twenties with very jittery school and work histories better left unspoken, or else).

Yah, got me thinking about where the white tee-shirted, blue-jeaned, engineer-booted, cigarette-smoking, unfiltered of course, sneering, soda-swilling, Coke, naturally, pinball wizards held forth daily and nightly, and let me cadge a few odd games when they had more important business, more important girl business, to attend to.

Yah, I got to thinking too about Harry’s, old Harry’s Variety over there near my grandmother’s house, over there in that block on Sagamore Street where the Irish workingman’s whiskey-drinking (with a beer chaser), fist-fighting, sports-betting after a hard day’s work Dublin Grille was. Harry’s was on the corner of that block. Now if you have some image, some quirky, sentimental image, of Harry’s as being run by an up-and-coming just arrived immigrant guy, maybe with a big family, trying to make this neighborhood store thing work so he can take in, take in vicariously anyway, the American dream like you see running such places now forget it. Harry’s was nothing but a “front.” Old Harry, Harry O’Toole, now long gone, was nothing but the neighborhood “bookie” known far and wide to one and all as such. Even the cops would pull up in their squad cars to place their bets, laughingly, with Harry in the days before the state became the bookie-of-choice with the lottery for most bettors. And he had his “book”, his precious penciled-notation book right out on the counter. But see punk kid me, even then just a little too book-unworldly didn’t pick up on that fact until, old grandmother, jesus, grandmother “hipped” me to it.

[I did not know until many years later that my grandmother made her two-dollar daily bet on the daily double on the cuff (pay later) for many years through Harry at Hialeah down in Florida of all places. Of course it didn’t matter what nag was running because she worked numbers or colors and not some racing form tout stuff.  I would unwittingly be the conduit for payment when she sent money over to Harry’s via me and on rare occasions I would be grabbing money from Harry when Granny’s ship came.  

Naturally Harry, whatever charmed life he led with the coppers would get “busted” by some of the same cops who were booking their bets with him. All show for her would be back in business a couple of days later with that precious book still out on the hardscrabble counter. The last I heard of Harry was when I was in college and my grandmother told me that Harry was “on the run,” had crossed up the South Boston Irish Mafia guys, although they were not called Mafia by any stretch of the imagination. Probably the late Whitey Bulger’s crowd when he was riding high in those days. Nobody ever saw Harry again at some point and the speculation ran that he was probably resting in the Quincy quarries the favorite resting place of Whitey’s victims. Sorry, Harry)    

Until then I didn’t think anything of the fact that Harry had about three dust-laden cans of soup, two dust-laden cans of beans, a couple of loaves of bread (Wonder Bread, if you want to know) on his dust-laden shelves, a few old quarts of milk and an ice chest full of tonic (now called soda, even by New Englanders) and a few other odds and ends that did not, under any theory of economics, capitalist or Marxist, add up to a thriving business ethos. Unless, of course, something else was going on. But what drew me to Harry’s was not that stuff anyway. What drew me to Harry’s was, one, his pin ball machine complete with corner boy players and their corner boy ways, and, two, his huge Coca Cola ice chest (now sold as antique curiosities for much money at big-time flea markets and other venues) filled with ice cold, cold tonics (see above), especially the local Robb’s Root Beer that I was practically addicted to in those days (and that Harry, kind-hearted Harry, stocked for me).

Many an afternoon, a summer’s afternoon for sure, or an occasional early night, I would sip, sip hard on my Robb’s and watch the corner boys play, no sway, sway just right, with that sweet pinball machine, that pinball machine with the bosomy, lusty-looking, cleavage-showing women pictured on the top glass frame of the machine practically inviting you, and only you, the player, on to some secret place if you just put in enough coins. Of course, like many dream-things what those lusty dames really gave you, only you the player, was maybe a few free games. Teasers, right. But I had to just watch at first because I was too young (you had to be sixteen to play), however, every once in a while, one of the corner boys who didn’t want to just gouge out my eyes for not being a corner boy, would let me cadge a game while Harry was not looking. When you think about it though, now anyway, Harry was so “connected” (and you know what I mean by that) what the hell did he care if some underage kid, punk kid, cadged a few games and looked at those bosomy babes in the frame.

(Harry was connected before the fall, his watery grave as mentioned above. The important thing was that the leader of the pack Red Riley would give me his leftover games when he had some honey on the line, also mentioned before. None of the other guys gave a rat’s ass if I got free games or not. All I know is Red is the only guy who ever left free games for me. For any reason whatsoever. That he was busy getting some luscious girl of the time playing the flute for him was not on my radar just then.)      

Yah, and thinking about Harry’s automatically got me thinking about Daniel (nobody ever called him that, ever) “Red” Hickey, the boss king of my schoolboy night at Harry’s. Red, the guy who set the rules, set the style, hell, set the breathing, allowed or not and when, of the place. I don’t know if he went to some corner boy school to learn his trade but he was the be-bop daddy (at least all the girls, all the hanging all over him girls, called him that) because he, except for one incident that I will relate below, ruled unchallenged with an iron fist. At least I never saw his regular corner boys Spike, Lenny, Shawn, Ward, Goof (yes, that was his name the only name I knew him by, and he liked it), Bop (real name William) or the Clipper (real name Kenny, the arch-petty Woolworth’s thief of the group hence the name) challenge him or want to.

(Clipper was my idol. While Red held my respect for his giving me free pin ball games and for talking to me once in a while it was Clipper who held my imagination. He is the one who taught me the clip, grabbing stuff from department stores and jewelry shops. That stuff was easy once you got the knack and once you had your nervousness under control that some copper, or some snitch trying to get out from under some charge would roll you over. I had a short tenure as a clip artist because I was just a little too nervous to keep it up solo. I did better with group heists where Markin planning worked its magic, except once. I can still today though see Theresa Wallace giving me a big ass kiss, maybe more when I gave her a “clipped” black onyx ring with diamond chips.)    

Yah, Red, old red-headed Red was tough alright, and had a pretty good-sized built but that was not what kept the others in line. It was a certain look he had, a certain look that if I went into describing it now, I would get way overboard into describing it as some stone-cold killer look, some psycho-killer look but that would be wrong because it didn’t show that way. But that was what it was. Maybe I had better put it this way. Tommy Thunder, older brother of my middle school and high school best friend and a corner boy king in his own right, Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, a big bruiser of a legendary North Adamsville football player and human wrecking machine who lived a few doors up from Harry’s went out of his way not to go near the place. Yah, Red was that tough.

(Toughness was at a premium in the old neighborhood from young guys to the “hoods” to fathers, uncles and older brothers getting drunk at the Dublin Pub or when they were in the chips the Irish Grille where “ladies were invited,” a long gone category in the barroom pantheon when of age women could go int the place without as escort, otherwise no go in the other places). Every night at closing you could heard some brawlers stinking up the air with their brash talk, including more than once my own father and I don’t know how many times my uncle when he lived with Granny after his wife threw him out of the house.)

See, he was like some general, or colonel or something, an officer at least, and besides being tough, he would “inspect” his troops to see that all and sundry had their “uniform” right. White tee-shirt, full-necked, no vee-neck sissy stuff, no muscle shirt half-naked stuff, straight 100% cotton, American-cottoned, American-textiled, American-produced, ironed, mother-ironed I am sure, crisp. One time Goof (sorry that’s all I knew him by, really) had a wrinkled shirt on and Red marched him up the street to his triple-decker cold-water walk-up flat and berated, berated out loud for all to hear, Goof’s mother for letting him out of the house like that. And Red, old Red like all Irish guys sanctified mothers, at least in public, so you can see he meant business on the keeping the uniform right question.

(One reason Red’s guys passed me by, kicked me around verbally many times never physically even though I could see a couple wanted to but were stopped by whatever they thought Red saw in me Red was I looked like a fucking ragamuffin, always dressed in hand-me-downs a little too large or small like some Salvation Army/Goodwill vagabond which was kind of true. True because Ma bought the whole collection of family outfits from the Bargain Center which was a local precursor of say Walmart, except even cheaper stuff from who knows where.)   

And like some James Dean or Marlon Brando tough guy photo, some motorcycle disdainful, sneering guy photo, each white tee-shirt, or the right sleeve of each white tee-shirt anyway, was rolled up to provide a place, a safe haven, for the ubiquitous package of cigarettes, matches inserted inside its cellophane outer wrapping, Luckies, Chesterfields, Camels, Pall Malls, all unfiltered in defiance of the then beginning incessant cancer drumbeat warnings, for the day’s show of manliness smoking pleasures.
And blue jeans, tight fit, no this scrub-washed, fake-worn stuff, but worn and then discarded worn. No chinos, no punk kid, maybe faux "beatnik," black chinos, un-cuffed, or cuffed like I wore, and Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, king of the faux beatnik middle school night, including among his devotees this little too bookish writer, who was as tough a general, colonel, or some officer anyway, as corner boy Red was with his guys. Frankie example: no cuffs on those black chinos, stay home, or go elsewhere, if you are cuffed. Same kingly manner, right? Corner boys blue-jeaned and wide black-belted, black always, black-belt used as a handy weapon for that off-hand street fight that might erupt out of nowhere, for no reason, or many. Maybe a heavy-duty watch chain, also war-worthy, dangly down from those jeans. Boots, engineer boots, black and buckled, worn summer or winter, heavy, heavy-heeled, spit-shined, another piece of the modern armor for street fight nights. Inspection completed the night’s work lies ahead.

(It is even now hard to believe Frankie survived to lawyer-hood after the crap he laid on us, even Jimmy Higgins who despite his shyness, despite his class clown couldn’t care less if school kept or not was football player rough, and tough although grades kept him off the bad ass Red Raiders, our high school team. Yet when Frankie commanded everybody even Johnny Blade (Richard Rizzo) who would later get into trouble and wind up in Vietnam when the judge gave him the “choice”-Army or jail. Laid his head down there as well and we all when we go back to the old town see his name etched on the town memorial to the fallen in war or go to the black granite memorial down in Washington shed a tear or two for our fallen brother.}      

And most nights work, seemingly glamorous to little too bookish eyes at the time, was holding up some corner of the brick wall in front or on the side of Harry’s Variety with those engineer boots, one firmly on the ground the other bent against the wall, small talk, small low-tone talk between comrades waiting, waiting for… Or just waiting for their turn at that Harry luscious ladies pictured pinball machine. Protocol, strictly observed, required “General Red” to have first coin in the machine. But see old Red was the master swayer with that damn machine and would rack up free games galore so, usually, he was on that thing for a while.
Hey, Red was so good, although this is not strictly part of the story, that he could have one of his several honeys right in front of him on the machine pressing some buttons and he behind pressing some other buttons Red swaying and his Capri-panted honey, usually some blond, real or imagined, swaying, and eyes glazing, but I better let off with that description right now, because like I said it was strictly speaking not part of the story. What is part of the story is that Red, when he was in the mood or just bored, or had some business, some girl business, maybe that blond, real or imagined, just mentioned business would after I had been hanging around a while, and he thought I was okay, give me his leftover free games.

Now that was the “innocent” part of Red, the swaying pinball wizard, girl-swaying, inspector general part. But see if you want to be king of the corner boy night you have to show your metal once in a while, if for no other reason than the corner boys, the old time North Adamsville corner boys might be just a little forgetful of who the king hell corner boy king was, or as I will describe, some other corner boy king of some other variety store night might show up to see what was what. Now I must have watched the Harry’s corner boy scene for a couple of years, maybe three, the last part just off and on, but I only remember once when I saw Red show “his colors.” Some guy from Adamsville, some tough-looking guy who, no question, was a corner boy just stopped at Harry’s after tipping a couple, or twenty, at the Dublin Grille. He must have said something to Red, or maybe Red just knew instinctively that he had to show his colors, but all of a sudden these two are chain-whipping each other. No, that’s not quite right, Red is wailing, flailing, nailing, chain-whipping this other guy mercilessly, worst, if that is possible. The guy, after a few minutes, was left in a pool of blood on the street, ambulance ready. And Red just walked way, just kind of sauntering away.
(When the ambulance came to pick up the human wreak and the coppers right behind asked the bleeding guy what happened, who did it he clammed up, said, I think so car ran over him. Never mentioned Red once. Neither did I or anybody else. And not just because of Red fear and retribution. In that neighborhood, among the guys anyway, from very, very early on you did not snitch, you did not say swat to cops about anything, ever. And they never pressed the issue knowing, some of them growing up right in the neighborhood like one of my uncles, the code of silence. Anybody who broke ranks from that code had better hit the road or find a good plastic surgeon.)        

Of course that is not the end of the Red story. Needless to say, no work, no wanna work Red had to have coin, dough, not just for the pinball machine, cigarettes, and soda, hell, that was nothing. But for the up-keep on his Chevy (Chevvies then being the “boss” car, and not just among corner boys either), and that stream of ever-loving blond honeys, real or imagined, he escorted into the seashore night. Said corner boys did their midnight creep around the area grabbing this and that to bring in a little dough. Eventually Red “graduated” to armed robberies when the overhead grew too much for little midnight creeps and graduated to one of the branches of the state pen, more than once. Strangely, his end came, although I only heard about this second hand, after a shoot-out with the cops down South after he tried to rob some White Hen convenience store. There is some kind of moral there, although I will be damned if I can figure it out. Red, thanks for those free games though.

(Thinking about all the tough guys, even marginally tough like Goof and Johnny Blade as far as I know none of them got very far from prison or like Johnny some isolated Army death. Still we idolized them, loved them in our strange growing to manhood way which probably explains why most of us wound up in Vietnam at some point when all hell was breaking loose there. Some of us learned a couple of things from that experience but not everybody did, too bad.)    


Doc's Drugstore

It wasn’t all be-bop night, rock ‘n’ roll sock hop, midnight drifter, midnight sifter, low-rider, hard-boiled corner boy 1950s life in old down and out working-class dregs North Adamsville. Not at all. But a lot of it was, a lot that bespoke of the early phases of American deindustrialization, although we would not have called that then, if we had been aware of it even, with the demise of the local mainstay ship- building and its associated industries, great world war warship ship-building and then later gigantic oil tankers and then, then nothing, maybe a sailboat, or a row boat for all I know, I just don’t know more, or why.

[That deindustrialization hit the Garth family hard, very hard at times in the 1950s. Very hard meaning we were without an automobile, and when we did it was a serious clunker, not worthy of note, and a signal that we, the Garth family had not arrived in the golden age of the automobile. (An automobile in every garage an update on a “chicken in every pot.”) The norm then was to trade in your car every three years to show you had arrived which we never had to worry about. Very hard meaning that it was tough tight time some months for my father to put food on the table and to pay the bills. Very hard meaning that my father not well educated but a proud veteran of service in World War II on the European front, depended on his livelihood on machine work for companies that provided the ship-builders with specialized materials. As that dried up so did my father’s paychecks. A lot of this was not aided by his need of hard drink, of his brawling, of his betting on the next sure thing.

Ah, let me move on or Sam will have my ass in a sling since his family’s situation was even more desperate that mine. The only one lower on the down side of the totem pole was Markin, beautiful crazy Markin and his totally dysfunctional family. Not that is not right I think now that poor Jimmy Higgins’ family who lived at the Bottoms near the river had that unfortunate distinction of being at the bottom. Let me say this and be done with it. I watched my mother, my now realized sainted mother, put out the white envelopes each week on the dining room table in order to pay a “little something” to each party we owed money to keep the wolves as far from the door as possible.]        

All I know, or at least all that I know from what I heard my father, and other fathers say, was that that industry was the life’s blood of getting ahead, ahead in the 1950s life in that beat down, beat up, beat thirteen ways to Sunday town (yah, I know it is only six but it sure did seem like thirteen on some hard father unemployed days). And so low-rider, hard-boiled corner boy, the easy life of pinball wizardry, dime store lurid magazines, slow-drinking Cokes (or Pepsis, but make mine local Robb’s Root Beer), draped around mascara-eyed, heavy form-filled girls, and the occasional armed robbery to break up the day, and bring in some much needed dough held a higher place that it might have, and almost certainly would in some new town West.

But what was a guy to do if to get out of the house, get away from Ma’s nagging (and it was almost always Ma, every Ma house in those days), siblings heckling, and just breathe in some fresh air, some fresh be-bop rock corner boy air, if at all possible.
See, this is way before mall rat-dom came into fashion since the nearest mall was way too far away to drag yourself to, and it also meant traveling through other corner boy, other maybe not friendly corner boy lands. So if you didn’t want to tie yourself down to some heavy felony on some soft misty, foggy better, night by hanging around tough corner boy, Red Hickey-ruled Harry’s Variety, or your tastes did not run to trying to cadge some pinball games from those same toughs, or you were too young, too innocent, too poor, too car-less or too ragamuffiny for those form-filled, Capri-panted girls with their haunting black mascara eyes then you had to hang somewhere else, and Doc’s, yah, Doc’s Drugstore is where you hung out in the more innocent section of that be-bop 1950s night.

(Even talking about corner boys these days may seem totally anachronistic since my be-bop first out of the box post-World War II generation was probably the last serious corner boy one having had a proud history going back a couple of generations in the Acre, and elsewhere. Hell, now even that mall stuff that I used to see when I went to the malls had been eclipsed by various downtrodden text-messaging and other high tech stuff as ways to communicate but they are clearly not the same thing. Not the same as sharing in person those corner boy dreams of getting out from under Acre death sentence.   

By the way Doc, the druggist that most families patronized in the days before CVS and Walgreen’s chain swoop, was as mentioned earlier when I detailed Markin and Jimmy Higgins’ first bout with the bottle was a laid-back guy. He actually for some reason liked us hanging around as long as it was not too late since then he would catch hell from those previously mentioned mothers who ruled the day to day roost while fathers scrambled for work.)

Wait a minute I just realized that I had better explain, and do it fast before you get the wrong idea, that I am not talking about some CVS, Rite-Aid, or Osco chain-linked, no soliciting, no trespassing, no loitering, police take notice, run in and run out with your fistful of drugs, legal drugs, places. Or run in for some notions or sundries, whatever they are. No way, no way in hell would you want to hang out where old-timers like your mothers and fathers and grandparents went to help them get well.

No this was Doc’s, Doc-owned (yah, Doc, Doc Adams, I think, or I think somebody told me once that he was part of some branch of that Adams crowd, the presidential Adams crowd that used to be big wheels in a town about twenty miles up the road), Doc-operated, and Doc-ruled. And Doc let, unless it got too crazy, kids, ordinary kids, not hard-boiled white tee-shirted corner boys but plaid-shirted, chino pant-wearing (no I am not going to go on and on about the cuffs, no cuffs controversy, okay, so keep reading), maybe loafers (no, inserted pennies, please, and no, no, no, Thom McAn’s), a windbreaker against some ocean-blown windy night on such nights, put their mark on the side walls, the side brick walls of his establishment. And let the denizens of the Doc night (not a too late night either) put as well, every self-respecting corner boy, tee-shirted or plaid, make his mark by standing, one loafer-shod foot on the ground, and the other knee-bent against the brick wall holding Doc’s place together. True-corner boydom. Classic pose, classic memory pose.

And see, Doc, kindly, maybe slightly mad Doc, and now that I think about it slightly girl-crazy himself maybe, let girls, girls even hang against the wall. Old Harry’s Variety Red Hickey would have shot one of his girls in the foot if they had ever tried that stunt. Girls were to be draped, preferably draped around Red not around Harry’s wall, brick or not. Now, after what I just described you know that you’re into a new age night because no way Harry, and definitely not Red (Daniel, don’t ever call him that though) Hickey, king hell king of the low-rider night that I told you about before, just a couple minutes ago would let some blond, real or imagined, Capri-panted, cashmere swearing wearing (tight, very tight cashmere sweater-wearing, if you didn’t know), boffed, bimbo (ouch, but that is what we called them, so be it) stand around his corner even. Dames (better, right) were for hot-rod Chevy, hard-driving, low-riding sitting on the seat next to, and other stuff. You can figure the other stuff. But plaid-shirted guys (loafer-shod) liked, do you hear me Red and Harry, liked having girls hanging with them to while away the be-bop hard night corner boy lands.

(Maybe I had better explain right now the stages of the rites of passage which will give you a better idea about why in what was then called junior high and now middle school although I hear that some places are joining middle and high schools together to create even more mayhem Doc liked having girls hang around his place. In elementary school you hung out at Eddie’s Variety which really was what it said it was stocked with real food and no betting sheets unlike Harry’s and no girls. In junior high Doc’s and then in high school or when you were maybe sixteen things branched toward Harry’s and the criminal life or Tonio’s Pizza Parlor and plaid shirts, loafers and outrageous dreams if you followed Markin’s logic which most of us did even Jimmy Higgin’s who was a little behind the curve on a lot of things. Not on having girls around though as shy as he was around then maybe reflecting that there were six boys and no girls among his siblings since he was happy as a clam when Billie Bradley passed his cast-offs my way and I passed mine to Jimmy.)   

And before you even ask, Doc’s had not pinball machine and no pinball wizards (as far as I remember, although a couple of guys and a girl were crackerjack bowlers). But see, Doc’s had the things that mattered, mattered for plaid-shirted guys with a little dough (their allowances, no snickering please for any hard-boiled readers, or poor ones) in their pockets, and lust, chaste lust maybe, in their hearts. Doc’s had a soda fountain, one, and, two, had a juke box. Where the heck do you think we heard a zillion times all those songs from back then that I keep telling you about? Come on now, smarten up.

(Needless to say Doc’s jukebox machine was the start of larcenous Brian Pennington’s moving to the top of the heap in our crowd and Billie Bradley went his dumb ass way after elementary school. Went to the top via that girl con stuff already mentioned to get them to play songs we wanted to hear AND getting us to realize that those “sticks” from elementary school who we had not time for, none and were menaces to civilization had gotten some shapes and gotten kind of interesting. Nod to Brian despite the future fistful of divorces we collectively went through in male adulthood.)

And, of course if you have corner boys, even nice corner boys, you have to have a king hell king corner boy. Red, Red Hickey, understood that instinctively, and acted on it, whip chain in hand. Other boys in other corners acted on it in that same spirit, although not that crudely. And corner boy king, Doc’s Drugstore corner boy king, Brian Pennington, plaid-shirted king of the soft-core corner boy night acted on that same Red premise. How Brian (“Bri” to most of us) came to be king corner boy is a good story, a good story about how a nowhere guy (my characterization nowhere guy) used a little influence to get ahead in this wicked old world. Red did it by knocking heads around and was the last man standing, accepting his “crown” from his defeated cronies. Brian took a very different route.

Now I don’t know every detail of his conquest because I only touched the edges of his realm, and of his crowd, as I was moving out of the neighborhood thralldom on to other things, Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, scribe things during this time after Billie, my real home boy to use some more recent parlance although that seems faded too, got a little crazy when his voice changed). Apparently, Doc had a granddaughter, a nice but just then wild granddaughter whom Doc was very fond of as grandfathers will be. And of course he was concerned about the wildness, especially as she was coming of age, and nothing but catnip (and bait) for Red and his corner boys if Doc didn’t step in and bring Brian into the mix. Now, no question, Brian was a sharp dresser of the faux-collegiate type that was just starting to come into its own in that 1960s first minute. This time of the plaid shirts was a wave that spread, and spread quickly, among those kids from working- class families that were still pushing forward on the American dream, and maybe encouraging their kids to take college courses at North Adamsville High, and maybe wind up in that burgeoning college scene that everybody kept talking about as the way out.

(I have already mentioned how some nice girls, girls who went to Mass every Sunday and such, would wind up trying Red out for whatever reason and then head back to wherever soft cushion place where they would land. I remember one girl, already mentioned, who I was making a big play for in high school and got nowhere, had her Red moments. Went riding free as the breeze one summer day behind Red on his motorcycle on Adamsville Boulevard. Had been as virginal looking as any girl in town and only got my fervor up more after Red was done with her, or she him. I know because I actually had a few dates with her after college that she went to Wellesley and had a career as a professor at Smith from which she recently retired. And no I am not going after wife number four at this late date. So Doc had reason to be concerned about a wild child doing who knows what.)    

Brian was no scholar, christ he was no scholar, although he wasn’t a dunce either. At least he had enough sense to see which way things were going, for public consumption anyway, and put on this serious schoolboy look. That sold Doc, who had been having conversations with Brian when he came into the drugstore with books in one arm, and a girl on the other. I’ll give you the real low-down sometime about how book-worthy, book-worshipping Brian really was. Let me just relate to you this tidbit for now. One day, one school vacation day, Brian purposefully knocked the books out of my hands that I had borrowed when I was coming out of the Thomas Noble Public Library branch over on Atlantic Avenue (before it moved to the Downs) and yelled at me, “bookworm.” Like I didn’t know that already.

But enough about that because this is about Brian's rise, not mine. Somehow Brian and Lucy, Doc’s granddaughter came together, and without going into all the details that like I said I don’t really know anyway, they hit it off. And see, this is where Brian’s luck really held out, from that point on not only did Brian get to hang his loafer-ed (sic maybe) shoe on Doc’s brick wall but he was officially, no questions asked, the king of that corner boy night. That’s how I heard the story and that seems about right because nobody ever challenged him on it, not that I heard.

Now like I mentioned before, Doc’s was a magnet for his juke box-filled soda fountain and drew a big crowd at times, especially after school when any red-blooded kid, boy or girl, needed to unwind from the pressure-cooker of high school, especially we freshmen who not only had to put up with the carping teachers, but any upper classman who decided, he or she, to prank a frosh. That’s my big connection with Doc’s, that after school minute freshman year, but, and here I am getting my recollections second-hand, Doc’s was also a coming-of-age place for more than music, soft ice cream, and milk shakes. This is also the place where a whole generation of neighborhood boys, and through them, the girls as well had their first taste of alcohol.

How you say? Well, Brian, remember Brian, now no longer with Lucy (she went off to a private finishing school and drifted from the scene) but was still Doc’s boy, Doc’s savior boy, and somehow conned old Doc into giving him his first bottle of booze. After hearing about Markin and Jimmy Higgins’ escapade with Doc booze Bri got some big ideas about getting booze on his own. Not straight up, after all Brian was underage but Bri said it was, wink, wink, for his grandmother. Now let me explain, in those days in the old neighborhood, and maybe all over, a druggist could, as medicine, sell small bottles of hard liquor out of his shop legally. The standard for getting the prescription wasn’t too high apparently, and it was a neighborhood drugstore and so you could (and this I know from personal experience) tell Doc it was for dear old grandma, and there you have it. Known grandma tee-totalers and their grandkids would be out of the loop on this one but every self-respecting grandma had a “script” with Doc. Now Doc knew, had to know, about this con, no question, because he always had a chuckle on him when this came up. And he had his own Doc standards- no one under sixteen (and he was sharp on that) and no girls. So many a night the corner boys around Doc’s were probably more liquored up that Red and his boys ever were. Nice, right?

(That sixteen just mentioned was an add-on as the script for grandmother craze grew after Markin who was only fourteen and Bri led the way. The girl restriction was somehow related to their tolerance for alcohol, or rather what they might do, what they might give into when high. Doc wanted no girl going to see some “Aunt Emma” meaning she was pregnant at a time when such things were a matter of family shame. Funny though the girls were still getting their booze from the guys. As far as the correlation between that drinking and Aunt Emma I don’t remember.)    

When Billie Ruled The Roost- First Take

He was the first. A certified 1958 A-One prime custom model first. Yes, Billie was the first. Billie, William James Bradley that is if you did not know his full moniker, was the first. No question about it, no controversy, no alternate candidates, no hemming and hawing agonizing about this guy’s attributes or that guy’s style and how they lined up against Billie’s shine in order to pick a winner. No way get it. Billie, first in what anyway? Billie, first, see, first in line of the then ever sprouting young schoolboy king corner boy wannabes. Wannabes because the weres, the corner boy weres, the already king corner boy weres, the older, mainly not schoolboys or, christ, not for long schoolboys, mainly not working, jesus, mainly not working, mainly just hanging around (lying about was a name for it, a fit name at that) were already playing, really hip-swaying, lazily hip-swaying if you wanted to win games, wizard pinball machines in the sacred corner boy small town mom and pop variety night or cueing up in some smoke-filled big town pool hall.

(I have already detailed Red and his Harry’s Variety crowd, the max daddy model for one branch of the corner boy tree-not mine but guys on my street, guys like Clipper, named for being the max daddy of grabbing stuff gratis from department and jewelry stores. Thus I will move on.)  

Or working on hot souped-up cars, a touch of grease pressed, seemingly decaled pressed, into their uniform white tee-shirts (no vee-necks need apply) and always showed, showed an oily speck anyway, on their knuckles. But the cars were to die for, sleek tail-finned, pray to god cherry red if you put the finish on right (no going to some hack paint shop, no way, not for this baby, not for that ’57 Chevy), dual exhaust, big cubic engine numbers that no amateur had a clue to but just knew when sighted that thing would fly (well, almost fly) into the boulevard night, that sea air, sex-charged boulevard night. Tuned-up just right for that cheap gas to make her run, yah, that cheap City Service gas that was even cheaper than the stuff over at the Merit gas station, by two cents.

(No one today should underestimate the draw of sleek cars and fast night racing in the imagination of even plaid shirt and chino guys from the old neighborhood, from anyway USA come to think of it. Going back at least to the early post-war years, say 1948, 1949 young guys who didn’t get their fill of war being too young revved up the night seeking some other kinds of thrills running the “chicken runs” to see who was the king of the road (and who would take the prize, usually the losers girlfriend who probably was more than happy to change seats for the faster car around).

Strangely today’s young have no such admiration, have no big push desire to even get their drivers licenses the first possible minute to get mobile, to get on the road if anecdotal evidence that has come my way the past few years is any indication. They are happy to use Uber, Lyft, Ma and Pa in a pinch rather than dream our sullen dreams of “boss” cars. Not so strangely then, I, and I was not alone in this would pick friends in high school based on their having a car, wheels and for the price of 30 cents a gallon gas I could ride “shotgun” in some vehicle rather than depend on the foolish public service bus that always came late.)   

Or talking some boffo, usually blonde, although not always, maybe a cute rosy red-lipped and haired number or, in a pinch, a soft, sultry, svelte brunette, tight cashmere sweater-wearing, all, Capri pant-wearing, all, honey out of her virtue (or maybe into her virtue) down by the seashore after some carnival-filled night. A night that had been filled with arcade pinball wizardry, cotton candy, salt-water taffy, roller coaster rides, and a few trips into the tunnel of love, maybe win a prize from the wheel of fortune game too. A night capped with a few illicit drinks from some old tom, or johnny, Johnny Walker that is, rotgut to make that talking easier, and that virtue more questionable, into or out of. All while the ocean waves slap innocently against the shore, drowning out the night’s heavy breathed, hard-voiced sighs.

(Covered privacy by fog-filled windows come midnight. I have already described the boffo honeys and have as well the hard fact that “nice” every week at Sunday Mass girls that I was inevitably attracted to were as likely to be seen in some fast moving car as the bimbos seen on television or in the move is when movie land tried to depict ten alienation and angst. I am still miffed that my antennae were not as shape as Markin’s or for that matter Jimmy Higgins as he got older and somewhat less shy to realize that I was running the wrong track, was too easily discouraged by the cold freeze that most of those virginal girls put out. The name Theresa Wallace stands out even today as somebody I should have pursued more desperately, had thought to offer to take her down the beach to have a few drinks of Doc’s whiskey or that bought by the town wino who would buy for anybody as long as he got his bottle of wine, Thunderbird for the older folk who remember that cheapjack wine name.)_

Or, get this, because it tells a lot about the byways and highways of the high-style corner boy steamy black and white 1950s night, preparing, with his boys, his trusted unto death boys, his omerta-sworn boys, no less to do some midnight creep (waylaying some poor bedraggled sap, sidewalk drunk or wrong neighborhooded, with a sap to the head for dough, or going through some back door, and not gently, to grab somebody’s family heirlooms or fungibles, better yet cash on hand) in order to maintain that hot car, cheap gas or not, or hot honey, virtuous or not. Yah, things cost then, as now.

(I will let this one goes without comment since who knows maybe the statute of limitations has not run out on some of this stuff. I will check with our old leader and operations chief Frankie Riley now a high-priced “of counsel” lawyer for a bigtime Boston law firm on that matter and get back to you. (Markin by the way the “intellectual” genius who laid the plans and Jimmy Higgins the lead muscle.)

And, yah, in 1958, in hard look 1958, those king hell corner boy weres already sucked up the noteworthy, attention-getting black and white television, black and white newsprint night air. Still the lines were long with candidates and the mom and pop variety store-anchored, soda fountain drugstore-anchored, pizza parlor-anchored, pool hall-anchored corners, such as they were, were plentiful in those pre-dawn mall days. But see that is the point, the point of those long lines of candidates in every burg in the land or, at least became the point, because in 1948, or 1938, or maybe even 1928 nobody gave a rat’s ass, or a damn, about corner boys except to shuffle them out of town on the first Greyhound bus.

(You already know that Harry loved Red and the boys, had them around really to protect not only their turf but his just in case the coppers were on a tear or somebody was looking to take his bookie business somewhere. The majority, the adult majority opinion including tough fathers steeled by military service in hard ass war, was that they were an eyesore on the neighborhood and better run out of town-except nobody wanted a civil war. As for my Tonio’s Pizza Parlor corner boys Tonio loved us, no, loved Frankie Riley like a son for some reason which meant that we were okay too. We brought in the girls with some money, allowance money which we never came close to having for jukeboxes and pizza slices with soda which never heard. The majority, the adult majority opinion including tough fathers steeled by military service in hard ass war was we were an eyesore on the neighborhood and better run out of town-except nobody wanted a civil war.)   

Hell, in 1948 they were still in hiding from the war, whatever war it was that they wanted no part of, which might ruin their style, or their dough prospects. They were just getting into those old Nash jalopies, revving them up in the "chicken run" night out in the exotic west coast ocean night. In 1938 you did not need a Greyhound bus coming through your town because these guys were already on the hitchhike road, or were bindled-up in some railroad jungle, or getting cracked over the head by some “bull,” in the great depression whirlwind heading west for adventure, or hard-scrabble work. And in 1928 these hard boys were slugging it out, guns at the ready, in fast, prohibition liquor-load filled cars, and had no time for corners and silly corner pinball wizard games (although maybe they had time for running the rack at Gus’s pool hall, if they lived long enough).

(Nice run through of corner boy history which I can add nothing to except if you don’t believe me about the 1930s guys check some history and check too what Whitey Bulger in the South Boston Irish ghetto from whence my people came was doing in the 1940s-okay)  

That rarified, formerly subterranean corner boy way of life, was getting inspected, dissected, rejected, everything but neglected once the teen angst, teen alienation wave hit 1950s America. You heard some of the names, or thought you heard some of the names that counted, but they were just showboat celebrities, celebrities inhabiting Cornerboy, Inc. complete with stainless tee-shirt, neatly pressed denim jeans, maybe a smart leather jacket against the weather’s winds, unsmoked, unfiltered cigarettes at the ready, and incurably photogenic faces that every girl mother could love/hate.
Forget that. Down in the trenches, yah, down in the trenches is where the real corner boys lived, and lived without publicity most days, thank you. Guys like Red Hickey, tee-shirted, sure, denim-jeaned, sure, leather-jacketed, sure, chain-smoking (Lucky Strikes, natch), sure, angelic-faced, sure, who waylaid a guy, put him in an ambulance waylaid, just because he was a corner boy king from another cross-town corner who Red thought was trying to move in, or something like that. Or guys like Bruce “The Goose” McNeil, ditto shirted, jeaned, jacketed, smoked (Camels), faced who sneak-thieved his way through half of the old Adamsville houses taking nothing but high-end stuff from the swells. Or No Name McGee, corner boy king of the liquor store clip. Yah, and a hundred other guys, a hundred no name guys, except maybe to the cops, and to their distressed mothers, mainly old-time Irish and Italian novena-praying Catholic mothers, praying against that publicity day, the police blotter publicity day.
But you did not, I say, you did not hear those Hickey, McNeil, No Name stories in the big town newspapers or in some university faculty room when those guys zeroed in on the corner boy game trying to explain, like it was not plain as the naked eye to see, and why, all that angst and alienation. And then tried to tell one and all that corner boy was a phase, a minute thing, that plentiful America had an edge, like every civilized world from time immemorial had, where those who could not adjust, who could not decode the new American night, the odorless American night, the pre-lapsarian American night shifted for themselves in the shadows. Not to worry though it was a phase, just a phase, and these guys too will soon be thinking about that ticky-tack little white house with the picket fence.

Yah, but see, see again, just the talk through the grapevine about such guys as Red, The Goose, No Name, the legendary jewelry store clip artist, Brother Johnson (who set himself apart because he made a point of the fact that he didn’t smoke, smoke cigarettes anyway), and a whole host of guys who made little big names for themselves on the corners was enough to get guys like Billie, and not just primo candidate Billie either, hopped-up on the corner boy game. Yah, the corner boys whose very name uttered, whose very idea of a name uttered, whose very idea of a name thought up in some think-tank academy brain-dust, and whose very existence made a splash later (after it was all over, at least the public, publicity all over, part), excited every project schoolboy, every wrong side of the tracks guy (and it was always guys, babes were just for tangle), every short-cut dreaming boy who could read the day’s newspaper or watch some distended television, or knew someone who did.

And Billie was the first. The star of the Adamsville elementary schoolboy corner boy galaxy. No first among equals, or any such combination like that either, if that is what you are thinking. Alone. Oh sure his right-hand man, Peter Paul Markin, weak-kneed, bookwormy, girl-confused but girl-addled, took a run at Billie but that was seen, except maybe by Peter Paul himself, as a joke. Something to have a warm chuckle over on dreary nights when a laugh could not be squeezed out any other way. See, Peter Paul, as usual, had it all wrong on his figuring stuff. He thought his two thousand facts knowledge about books, and history, and current events, and maybe an off-hand science thing or two entitled, get this, entitled him to the crown. Like merit, or heredity, or whatever drove him to those two thousand facts meant diddly squat against style and will.

Billie tried to straighten him out, gently at first, with a short comment that a guy who had no denim blue jeans, had no possibility of getting denim blue jeans, and was in any case addicted to black chinos, black- cuffed chinos, has no chance of leading anybody, at any time, in anything. Still Peter Paul argued some nonsense about his organizing abilities. Like being able to run a low-rent bake sale for some foolish school trip, or to refurbish the U.S.S. Constitution, counted when real dough, real heist dough, for real adventures was needed. Peter simmered in high-grade pre-teen anguish for a while over that one, more than a while.

Billie and Peter Paul, friends since the first days of first grade, improbably friends on the face of it although Billie’s take on it was that Peter Paul made him laugh with that basketful of facts that he held on to like a king’s ransom, protecting them like they were gold or something, finally had it out one night. No, not a fist fight, see that was not really Billie’s way, not then anyway or at least not in this case, and Peter Paul was useless at fighting, except maybe with feisty paper bags or those blessed facts. Billie, who not only was a king corner boy contender but a very decent budding singer, rock and roll singer, had just recently lost some local talent show competition to a trio of girls who were doing a doo wop thing. That part was okay, the losing part, such things happened in show biz and even Billie recognized, recognized later, that those girls had be-bopped him with their cover of Eddie, My Love fair and square. Billie, who for that contest was dressed up in a Bill Haley-style jacket made by his mother for the occasion, did the classic Bill Haley and the Comets Rock- Around-The-Clock as his number. About halfway through though one of the arms of his just made suit came flying off. A few seconds later the other arm came off. And the girls, the coterie of Adamsville girls in the audience especially, went crazy. See they thought it was part of the act.

After that, at school and elsewhere, Billie was besieged daily by girls, and not just stick-shaped girls either, who hung off all his arms, if you want to know. And sensitive soul Peter Paul didn’t like that. He didn’t care about the girl part, because as has already been noted, and can be safely placed on golden tablets Peter Paul was plenty girl-confused and girl-addled but girl-smitten in his funny way. What got him in a snit was that Billie was neglecting his corner boy king duty to be on hand with his boys at all available times. Well, this one night the words flew as Billie tired, easily tired, of Peter Paul’s ravings on the subject. And here is the beauty of the thing, the thing that made Billie the king corner boy contender. No fists, no fumings, no forget friendships. Not necessary. Billie just told Peter Paul this- “You can have my cast-offs.” Meaning, of course, the extra girls that Billie didn’t want, or were sticks, or just didn’t appeal to him. “Deal,” cried Peter Paul in a flash. Yah, that was corner boy magic. And you know what? After that Peter Paul became something like Johnson’s Boswell and really started building up Billie as the exemplar corner boy king. Nice work, Billie.

You know Freddie Jackson too took his shots but was strictly out of his league against the Billie. Here it was a question not of facts, or books, or some other cranky thing bought off, bought off easily, by dangling girls in front of a guy a la Peter Paul but of trying to out dance Billie. See Freddie, whatever else his shortcomings, mainly not being very bright and not being able to keep his hands out of his mother’s pocketbook when he needed dough so that he had to stay in many nights, worst many summer nights, could really dance. What Freddie didn’t know, and nobody was going to tell him, nobody, from Peter Paul on down if they wanted to hang out with Billie was that Billie had some great dance moves along with that good and growing singing voice. See, Freddie never got to go to the school or church dances and only knew that Billie was an ace singer. But while Freddie was tied to the house he became addicted to American Bandstand and so through osmosis, maybe, got some pretty good moves too.

So at one after-school dance, at a time when Freddie had kept his hands out of his mother’s pocketbook long enough not to be house-bound, he made his big move challenge. He called Billie out. Not loud, not overbearing, but everybody knew the score once they saw Freddie’s Eddie Cochran-style suit. The rest of the guys (except Billie, now wearing jeans and tee-shirt when not on stage in local talent contests where such attire got you nowhere) were in chinos (Peter Paul in black-cuffed chinos, as usual) and white shirts, or some combination like that, so Freddie definitely meant business. Freddie said, “If I beat you at dancing I’m running the gang, okay?” (See corner boys was what those professors and news hawks called them but every neighborhood guy, young or old, knew, knew without question, who led, and who was in, or not in, every, well, gang). Billie, always at the ready when backed up against the wall, said simply, “Deal.” Freddie came out with about five minutes of jitter- buggery, Danny and the Juniors At The Hop kind of moves. He got plenty of applause and some moony-eyedness from the younger girls (the stick girls who were always moony-eyed until they were not stick girls any more).

Billie came sauntering out, tee-shirt rolled up, tight jeans staying tight and just started to do the stroll as the song of the same name, The Stroll, came on. Now the stroll is a line dance kind of thing but Billie is out there all by himself and making moves, sexual-laden moves, although not everybody watching would have known to call them that. And those moves have all the girls, sticks and shapes, kind of glassy-eyed with that look like maybe Billie needed a partner, or something and why not me look. Even Freddie knew he was doomed and took his lost pretty well, although he still had that hankering for mom’s purse that kept him from being a real regular corner boy when Billie got the thing seriously organized.
Funny thing, Lefty Wright, who actually was on the dance floor the night of the Freddie-Billie dance-off, pushed Billie with the Freddie challenge. And Freddie was twenty times a better dancer than Lefty. Needless to say, join the ranks, Lefty. Canny Danny O’Toole (Cool Donna O’Toole’s, a stick flame of Billie’s, early Billie, brother) was a more serious matter but after a couple of actions (actions best left unspecified) he fell in line. Billie, kind of wiry, kind of quick-fisted as it turned out, and not a guy quick to take offense knew, like a lot of wiry guys, how to handle himself without lots of advertising of that fact. He was going to need that fist-skill when the most serious, more serious than the Canny Danny situation came up. And it did with Badass Bobby Riley, Badass was a known quality, but he was a year older than the others and everybody knew was a certified psychopath who eventually drifted out of sight. Although not before swearing his fealty to Billie. After taking a Billie, a wiry Billie, beating the details of which also need no going into now. And there were probably others who stepped up for a minute, or who didn’t stay long enough to test their metal. Loosey Goosey Hughes, Butternut Walsh, Jimmy Riley (no relation to Badass), Five Fingers Kelly, Kenny Ricco, Billy Bruno, and on and on.

But such was the way of Billie’s existence. He drew a fair share of breaks, for a project kid, got some notice for his singing although not enough to satisfy his huge hunger, his way out, he way out of the projects, projects that had his name written all over them(and the rest of his boys too). And then he didn’t draw some breaks after a while, got known as a hard boy, a hard corner boy when corner boy was going out of style and also his bluesy rockabilly singing style was getting crushed by clean-cut, no hassle, no hell-raising boy boys. And then he started drawing to an outside straight, first a couple frame juvenile clip busts, amid the dreaded publicity, the Roman Catholic mother novena dread publicity, police blottered. Then a couple of house break-ins, taking fall guy lumps for a couple of older, harder corner boys who could make him a fall guy then, as he would others when his turn came. All that was later, a couple of years later. But no question in 1958, especially the summer of 1958 when such things took on a decisive quality, Billie, and for one last time, that’s William James Bradley, in case anyone reading needs the name to look up for the historical record was Billie's time. Yah, 1958, Billie, ah, William James Bradley, and corner boy king.

Funny, as you know, or you should know, corner boys usually gain their fleeting fame from actually hanging around corners, corner mom and pop variety stores, corner pizza parlors, corner pool halls, corner bowling alleys, corner pinball wizard arcades, becoming fixtures at said corners and maybe passing on to old age and social security check collection at said corner. Or maybe not passing to old age but to memory, memory kid’s memory. But feature this, in Billie’s great domain, his great be-bop night kingship, and in his various defenses of his realm against smart guys and stups alike, he never saw so much as a corner corner to rest his laurels on. And not because he did not know that proper etiquette in such matters required some formal corner to hang at but for the sheer, unadulterated fact that no such corner existed in his old-fashioned housing project (now old-fashioned anyway because they make such places differently today), his home base.
See, the guys who made the projects “forgot” that, down and out or not, people need at least a mom and pop variety store to shop at, or nowadays maybe a strip mall, just like everybody else. But none was ever brought into the place and so the closest corner, mom and pop corner anyway, was a couple of miles away up the road. But that place was held by a crowd of older corner boys whose leader, from what was said, would have had Billie for lunch (and did in the end).

But see here is where a guy like Billie got his corner boy franchise anyway. In a place where there are no corners to be king of the corner boy night there needs to be a certain ingenuity and that is where “His Honor” held forth. Why not the back of the old schoolhouse? Well, not so old really because in that mad post-World War II boom night (no pun intended), schools, particularly convenient elementary schools even for projects kids were outracing the boomers. So the school itself was not old but the height of 1950s high-style, functional public building brick and glass. Boxed, of course, building-boxed, classroom-boxed, gym-boxed, library-ditto boxed. No cafeteria-boxed, none necessary reflecting, oddly, walk to school, walk home for lunch, stay-at-home mom childhood culture even in public assistance housing world. And this for women who could have, if they could have stood the gaff from neighbor wives, family wives, society wives screamed to high heaven for work, money work. That was Billie world too, Billie day world. Billie September to June world.
But come dusk, summer dusk best of all, Billie ruled the back end of the school, the quiet unobserved end of the school, the part near the old sailors’ graveyard, placed there to handle the tired old sailors who had finished up residing at the nearby but then no longer used Old Sailors’ Rest Home built for those who roamed the seven seas, the inlet bays, and whatever other water allowed you to hang in the ancient sailors’ world. There Billie held forth, Peter Paul almost always at hand, seeking, always seeking refuge from his hellfire home thrashings. Canny Danny, regularly, same with Lefty and Freddie (when not grounded), and Bobby while he was around. And other guys, other unnamed, maybe unnamable guys who spent a minute in the Billie night. Doing? Yah, just doing some low murmur talking, most nights, mostly some listening to Billie dreams, Billie plans, Billie escape route. All sounding probable, all wistful once you heard about it later. All very easy, all very respectful, in back of that old school unless some old nag of a neighbor, fearful that the low murmur spoke of unknown, unknowable conspiracies against person, against the day, hell, even against the night. Then the cops were summoned. But mainly not.

And then as dusk turned to dark and maybe a moon, an earth moon (who knew then, without telescope, maybe a man-made moon), that soft talk, that soft night talk, turned to a low song throat sound as Billie revved up his voice to some tune his maddened brain caught on his transistor radio (bought fair and square up at the Radio Shack so don’t get all huffy about it). Say maybe Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers Why Do Fools Fall In Love? and then the other ragamuffins would do harmony. Yah, that was twelve, maybe thirteen- year old night, most nights, the nights of no rough stuff, the nights of dreams, maybe. But like some ancient siren call that sound penetrated to the depths of the projects and soon a couple of girls, yes, girls, twelve and thirteen year old girls, what do you expect, stick girls and starting shape girls, would hover nearby, maybe fifty yards away but the electricity was in the air, and those hardly made out forms drove Billie and his choir corner boys on. Maybe Elvis’ One Night as a come on. Then a couple more girls, yes, twelve and thirteen- year old girls, have you been paying attention, sticks and starting shapes, join those others quietly swaying to the tempo. A few more songs, a few more girls, girls coming closer. Break time. Girl meet boy. Boy meet girl. Hell, even Peter Paul got lucky this night with one of Billie’s stick rejects. And as that moon turned its shades out and the air was fragrance with nature’s marshlands sea air smells and girls’ fresh soap smells and boys’ anxiety smells the Billie corner boy wannabe world seemed not so bad. Yah, 1958 was Billie’s year. Got it.
When Frankie Was A Corner Boy King Of The North Adamsville Night
Pallid Peter Paul Markin, no way, two thousand facts bundled up and at hand or not. Nix "Fingers" Kelly (formerly known as "Five Fingers" Kelly but he gave that up and went respectable), "High Boy" McNamara (and no, not in the post-drug world that kind of high, the other older one), "Jumpin’ Johnny" O’Connor (and do not, please do not, ask what he was jumping, or trying to) as well. Hell, double nix no nickname Benny Brady, "Billy Bop" O’Brian (and do not, ditto Johnny O’Connor, ask what he bopped, or tried to), Ricardo Ricco, "Timid Timmy" McPartlin and a bunch of other, no name, guys who passed, passed fast, through the be-bop Salducci’s Pizza Parlor schoolboy night. No question, no question at all though that the king hell corner boy king of the early 1960s North Adamsville schoolboy night was one Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, and no other. And here is why.

In a recent series of entries that formed of scenes, scenes from the hitchhike road in search of the great American West night in the late 1960s, later than the time of Frankie’s early 1960s old working class neighborhood kingly time, it was noted that there had been about a thousand truck stop diner stories left over from those old hitchhike road days. On reflection though, this writer realized that there really had been about three diner stories with many variations. Not so with Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories. I have got a thousand of them, or so it seems, all different. Hey, you already, if you have been attentive to this space, know a few Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories (okay, I will stop, or try to, stop using that full designation and just call him plain, old, ordinary, vanilla Frankie just like everybody else alright).

Yah, you already know the Frankie (see I told you I could do it) story about how he lazily spent a hot late August 1960 summer before entering high school day working his way up the streets of the old neighborhood to get some potato salad (and other stuff too) for his family’s Labor Day picnic. And he got a cameo appearance in the tear-jerk, heart-rendering saga of my first day of high school in that same year where I, vicariously, attempted to overthrow his lordship with the nubiles (girls, for those not from the old neighborhood, although there were plenty of other terms of art to designate the fair sex then, most of them getting their start in local teenage social usage from Frankie’s mouth). That effort, that attempt at coping his “style”, like many things associated with one-of-a-kind Frankie, as it turned out, proved unsuccessful.

More recently I took you in a roundabout way to a Frankie story in a review of a 1985 Roy Orbison concert documentary, Black and White Nights. That story centered around my grinding my teeth whenever I heard Roy’s Running Scared because one of Frankie’s twists (see nubiles above) played the song endlessly to taint the love smitten but extremely jealous Frankie on the old jukebox at the pizza parlor, old Salducci's Pizza Shop, that we used to hang around in during our high school days. It’s that story, that drugstore soda fountain story, that brought forth a bunch of memories about those pizza parlor days and how Frankie, for most of his high school career, was king of the hill at that locale. And king, king arbiter, of the social doings of those around him as well.

And who was Frankie? Frankie of a thousand stories, Frankie of a thousand treacheries, Frankie of a thousand kindnesses, and, oh yah, Frankie, my bosom friend in high school. Well let me just steal some sentences from that old August summer walk story and that first day of school saga because really Frankie and I went back to perilous middle school days (a.k.a. junior high days for old-timers) when he saved my bacon more than one time, especially from making a fatal mistake with the frails (see nubiles and twists above). He was, maybe, just a prince then working his way up to kingship. But even he, as he endlessly told me that summer before high school, August humidity doldrums or not, was along with the sweat on his brow from the heat a little bit anxious about being “little fish in a big pond” freshmen come that 1960 September.
Especially, a pseudo-beatnik “little fish”. See, he had cultivated a certain, well, let’s call it "style" over there at the middle school.

That “style” involved a total disdain for everything, everything except trying to impress girls with his long-panted, flannel-shirted, work boot-shod, thick book-carrying knowledge of every arcane fact known to humankind. Like that really was the way to impress teenage girls, then or now. Well, as it turned out, yes it was. Frankie right. In any case he was worried, worried sick at times, that in such a big school his “style” needed upgrading. Let’s not even get into that story, the Frankie part of it now, or maybe, ever. We survived high school, okay.

But see, that is why, the Frankie why, the why of my push for the throne, the kingship throne, when I entered high school and that old Frankie was grooming himself for like it was his by divine right. When the deal went down and I knew I was going to the “bigs” (high school) I spent that summer, reading, big time booked-devoured reading. Hey, I'll say I did, The Communist Manifesto, that one just because old Willie Westhaven over at the middle school (junior high, okay) called me a Bolshevik when I answered one of his foolish math questions in a surly manner. I told you before that was my pose, my Frankie-engineered pose, what do you want, I just wanted to see what he, old Willie, was talking about when he used that word. How about Democracy in America (by a French guy), The Age of Jackson (by a Harvard professor who knew idol Jack Kennedy, personally, and was crazy for old-time guys like Jackson), and Catcher In The Rye (Holden was me, me to a tee). Okay, okay I won’t keep going on but that was just the reading on the hot days when I didn’t want to go out. There was more.

Here's what was behind the why. I intended, and I swear I intended to even on the first nothing doing day of that new school year in that new school in that new decade (1960) to beat old Frankie, old book-toting, mad monk, girl-chasing Frankie, who knew every arcane fact that mankind had produced and had told it to every girl who would listen for two minutes (maybe less) in that eternal struggle, the boy meets girl struggle, at his own game. Yes, Frankie, my buddy of buddies, prince among men (well, boys, anyhow) who kindly navigated me through the tough, murderous parts of junior high, mercifully concluded, finished and done with, praise be, and didn’t think twice about it. He, you see, despite, everything I said a minute ago he was “in.”; that arcane knowledge stuff worked with the “ins” who counted, worked, at least a little, and I got dragged in his wake. I always got dragged in his wake, including as lord chamberlain in his pizza parlor kingdom. What I didn’t know then, wet behind the ears about what was what in life's power struggles, was if you were going to overthrow the king you’d better do it all the way. But, see if I had done that, if I had overthrown him, I wouldn’t have had any Frankie stories to tell you, or help with the frills in the treacherous world of high school social life (see nubiles, frails and twists above. Why don’t we just leave it like this. If you see the name Frankie and a slangy word when you think I am talking about girls that's girls. Okay?)

As I told you in that Roy Orbison review, when Roy was big, big in our beat down around the edges, some days it seemed beat six ways to Sunday working class neighborhood in the early 1960s, we all used to hang around the town pizza parlor, or one of them anyway, that was also conveniently near our high school as well. Maybe this place was not the best one to sit down and have a family-sized pizza with salad and all the fixings in, complete with family, or if you were fussy about d├ęcor but the best tasting pizza, especially if you let it cool for a while and no eat it when it was piping hot right out of the oven.
Moreover, this was the one place where the teen-friendly owner, a big old balding Italian guy, Tonio Salducci, at least he said he was Italian and there were plenty of Italians in our town in those days so I believed him but he really looked Greek or Armenian to me, let us stay in the booths if it wasn’t busy, and we behaved like, well, like respectable teenagers. And this guy, this old Italian guy, blessed Leonardo-like master Tonio, could make us all laugh, even me, when he started to prepare a new pizza and he flour-powdered and rolled the dough out and flipped that sucker in the air about twelve times and about fifteen different ways to stretch it out. Sometimes people would just stand outside in front of the doubled-framed big picture window and watch his handiwork in utter fascination.

Jesus, Tonio could flip that thing. One time, and you know this is true because you probably have your own pizza dough on the ceiling stories, he flipped the sucker so high it stuck to the ceiling, right near the fan on the ceiling, and it might still be there for all I know (the place still is, although not him). But this is how he was cool; he just started up another without making a fuss. Let me tell you about him, Tonio, sometime but right now our business to get on with Frankie, alright.

So there is nothing unusual, and I don’t pretend there is, in just hanging out having a slice of pizza (no onions, please, in case I get might lucky tonight and that certain she comes in, the one that I have been eyeing in school all week until my eyes have become sore, that thin, long blondish-haired girl wearing those cashmere sweaters showing just the right shape, please, please, James Brown, please come in that door), some soft drink (which we called tonic in New England in those days but which you call, uh, soda), usually a locally bottled root beer, and, incessantly (and that "incessantly" allowed us to stay since we were paying customers with all the rights and dignities that status entailed, unless, of course, they needed our seats), dropping nickels, dimes and quarters in the jukebox.

But here is where it all comes together, Frankie and Tonio the pizza guy, from day one, got along like crazy. Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, map of Ireland, red-headed, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Frankie got along like crazy with Italian guy Tonio. That was remarkable in itself because, truth be told, there was more than one Irish/ Italian ethnic, let me be nice, dispute in those days. Usually over “turf”, like kids now, or some other foolish one minute thing or another. Moreover, and Frankie didn’t tell me this for a while, Frankie, my bosom buddy Frankie, like he was sworn to some Omerta oath, didn’t tell me that Tonio was “connected.” For those who have been in outer space, or led quiet lives, or don’t hang with the hoi polloi that means with the syndicate, the hard guys, the Mafia. If you don’t get it now go down and get the Godfather trilogy and learn a couple of things, anyway. This "connected" stemmed, innocently enough, from the jukebox concession which the hard guys controlled and was a lifeblood of Tonio's teenage-draped business, and not so innocently, from his role as master numbers man (pre-state lottery days, okay) and "bookie" (nobody should have to be told what that is, but just in case, he took bets on horses, dogs, whatever, from the guys around town, including, big time, Frankie's father, who went over the edge betting like some guys fathers' took to drink).

And what this “connected” also meant, this Frankie Tonio-connected meant, was that no Italian guys, no young black engineer-booted, no white rolled-up tee-shirted, no blue denim- dungareed, no wide black-belted, no switchblade-wielding, no-hot-breathed, garlicky young Italian studs were going to mess with one Francis Xavier Riley, his babes (you know what that means, right?), or his associates (that’s mainly me). Or else. Now, naturally, connected to "the connected" or not, not every young tough in any working class town, not having studied, and studied hard, the sociology of the town, is going to know that some young Irish punk, one kind of "beatnik' Irish punk with all that arcane knowledge in order to chase those skirts and a true vocation for the blarney is going to know that said pizza parlor owner and its “king”, king hell king, are tight. Especially at night, a weekend night, when the booze has flowed freely and that hard-bitten childhood abuse that turned those Italian guys (and Irish guys too) into toughs hits the fore. But they learn and learn fast.

Okay, you don’t believe me. One night, one Saturday night, one Tonio-working Saturday night (he didn’t always work at night, not Saturday night anyway, because he had a honey, a very good-looking honey too, dark hair, dark laughing eyes, dark secrets she wouldn’t mind sharing as well it looked like to me but I might have been wrong on that) two young toughs came in, Italian toughs from the look of them. This town then , by the way, if you haven’t been made aware of it before is strictly white, mainly Irish and Italian, so any dark guys, are Italian period, not black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian or anything else. Hell, I don’t think those groups even passed through; at least I don’t remember seeing any, except an Arab, once.

So Frankie, your humble observer (although I prefer the more intimate umbrella term "associate" under these circumstances) and one of his squeezes (not his main squeeze, Joanne) were sitting at the king’s table (blue vinyl-seated, white formica table-topped, paper place-setting, condiment-ladened center booth of five, front of double glass window, best jukebox and sound position, no question) splitting a Saturday night whole pizza with all the fixings (it’s getting late, about ten o’clock, and I have given up on that certain long blondish-haired she who said she might meet me so onions anchovies, garlic for all I know don’t matter right now) when these two ruffians come forth and petition (yah, right) for our table. Our filled with pizza, drinks, condiments, odds and ends papery, and the king, his consort (of the evening, I swear I forget which one) and his lord chamberlain.

Since there were at least two other prime front window seats available Frankie denied the petition out of hand. Now in a righteous world this should have been the end of it. But what these hard guys, these guys who looked like they might have had shivs (ya, knives, shape knives, for the squeamish out there) and only see two geeky "beatnik" guys and some unremarkable signora do was to start to get loud and menacing (nice word, huh?) toward the king and his court. Menacing enough that Tonio, old pizza dough-to-the-ceiling throwing Tonio, took umbrage (another nice word, right?) and came over to the table very calmly. He called the two gentlemen aside, and talking low and almost into their ears, said some things that we could not hear. All we knew was that about a minute later these two behemoths, these two future candidates for jailbird-dom, were walking, I want to say walking gingerly, but anyway quickly, out the door into the hard face of Saturday night.

We thereafter proceeded to finish our kingly meal, safe in the knowledge that Frankie was indeed king of the pizza parlor night. And also that we knew, now knew in our hearts because Frankie and I talked about it later, that behind every king there was an unseen power. Christ, and I wanted to overthrow Frankie. I must have been crazy like a loon.