Stories I Tell to Friends

BowesFather

1.

Lois and I have a brother/sister rela­tion­ship (we agree that Lois is the broth­er) and after a long friend­ship we both feel we know all about each oth­er. So one day last fall she says, “As a kid I had a crush on Cap­tain Kan­ga­roo. It was the mus­tache and the uni­form.” And I’m not sur­prised. Between the reign of Howdy Doo­dy and the rise of Sesame Street the Cap­tain was the idol of small kids.

He appeared when I was maybe twelve and too old for his charms. In fact he seemed pret­ty fuck­ing stu­pid with his singing pup­pets and all. Lois is six years younger and obvi­ous­ly felt dif­fer­ent­ly.

Then she tells me, “Maybe around 1987 he and I got it on. I met him in a bar out in the Hamp­tons. The mus­tache was­n’t the same and he was­n’t dressed as the Cap­tain which was dis­ap­point­ing. But I imag­ined him wear­ing the uni­form. He could still do the voice and I made him call me Mr Green­jeans like that guy on the show. He was stay­ing in some­one’s guest house that week­end and it was in no way great. The kick came when I told my younger sis­ter who’s still sen­ti­men­tal about him what hap­pened.”

Then Lois says, “I fig­ured you’d know how it is with uni­forms. There was that cop boyfriend and that sexy West Indi­an guard.”

This both­ers me. I’d actu­al­ly loved those guys up to a point. Also I real­ize child­hood and fit­ting in has been on my mind. So I say, “My time with uni­forms was when I was lit­tle: fire­men first, then cops.”

She’s inter­est­ed and I tell her this sto­ry.

2.

My ear­li­est mem­o­ry of uni­forms is from when I was maybe three or four, my moth­er was this dis­en­chant­ed actress and my father was a young WW2 vet. We were liv­ing in Jamaica Plain in Boston in Ford­ham Court, an old horse­shoe shaped apart­ment house on South Street. One night I awoke and my moth­er was tak­ing my paja­mas off and putting me in clothes.

A fire had bro­ken out a bit fur­ther down the horse­shoe and every­one was being evac­u­at­ed. A young fire­man came in, huge in his hat and boots and coat and look­ing very seri­ous. He lift­ed me up, climbed out a win­dow, car­ried me down the fire escape, hand­ed me back to my par­ents, said I was a great kid and head­ed back up the stairs.

The night was full of the sounds of break­ing glass and the grind­ing noise of lad­ders ris­ing. I watched the fire­men and espe­cial­ly the one who car­ried me. Because of him I was­n’t afraid.

They put the fire out but my moth­er and I were in a taxi head­ed for her moth­er’s house over in Dorch­ester. We passed the Franklin Park Zoo and up on a hill was the giraffe house, with the two giraffes out and their long necks out­lined against the moon — like mag­ic. And after that when any­one asked me what I want­ed to be when I grew up I’d say a fire­man because of that amaz­ing night. Every­one would smile and nod like they approved.

A cou­ple of years lat­er we were liv­ing in the D Street Hous­ing Project in South Boston. Built for return­ing ser­vice­men, the place was tough from the start. My par­ents weren’t like the oth­er blue col­lar and no col­lar peo­ple. I had a lit­tle broth­er now. My moth­er was not hap­py there. My father had been in the the­ater too and then the war and was not hap­py in gen­er­al.

Maybe I was six, stand­ing one day with oth­er kids from the Projects on the side­walk on D Street. The kids and I weren’t real close. I was too dif­fer­ent. All of a sud­den this police car pulled up and two cops got out. The kids were street-wise enough to back away and watch me get arrest­ed.

The cops were my uncle Bill, one of my moth­er’s broth­ers, and his part­ner Casey. “We heard you want­ed to be a fire­man,” my uncle said and I nod­ded. He frowned his dis­ap­proval as did Casey. “Now why would you want to do that,” he asked. And I explained about burn­ing hous­es and climb­ing up and down fire escapes and all the flash­ing lights and won­der­ful noise they made roar­ing through the streets.

Bill nod­ded and Casey got into their car, turned on the siren and red lights on the roof. “Just as good as a fire engine,” my uncle said and I want­ed to argue but was intim­i­dat­ed. “Besides,” my uncle told me, “Fire­men don’t go home at night. They live in the sta­tion and have to cook their own meals because there’s no one to do it for them.”

And they don’t get to car­ry weapons,” said Casey, slip­ping his police spe­cial out of its hol­ster for me to look at. The kids began to creep clos­er, fas­ci­nat­ed.

The gun was mad­ly inter­est­ing. But most­ly it was the thought of not liv­ing at home and hav­ing to learn to cook that swayed me. ‘Okay, I’ll be a police­man.’ I said and they rubbed my head, pat­ted my back hard and took me across the street for a dou­ble scoop ice cream cone with choco­late jim­mies.

This could have been a spur of the moment joke: they saw me and thought it would be fun­ny. But my father and all five of my uncles served in the army in WW2. Not a sailor in the fam­i­ly. It was nev­er spelled out but sailors became fire­men. And in an Army fam­i­ly the Navy was the ene­my. Cops were sol­diers. There was a right path and I’d been set on it.

3.

It’s why you did­n’t like Cap­tain Kan­ga­roo,” Lois says when I’ve told my sto­ry. We laugh but our con­ver­sa­tion sticks with me; not the uni­forms but the ways of that city I only vis­it now for funer­als.

It’s still on my mind one snowy Feb­ru­ary day when my old lover, Georgie, is in New York and stops by. He and I smoke a bit and bounce in my bed a bit to remind our­selves of how we were. Due con­sid­er­a­tion has to be tak­en of my arthri­tis and his bad heart and he says, “The only thing more depress­ing than an old man is two old men.”

We watch a movie I’d some­how nev­er seen, Bugles Over Broad­way: G.I.‘s and Hol­ly­wood Dames, Times Square 1943.

The sailors and sol­diers head­ed over­seas to fight for their coun­try were played by young, unknown actors most of whom stayed unknown after the war. One singer/sailor falls in love with a dancer. Spencer Tra­cy, the kind­ly priest at a lit­tle church around the cor­ner, mar­ries them.

Women are the big stars, Mer­man and Grable, Davis and Bankhead, singing, danc­ing send­ing the boys off with a tear and a song. My old love and I iden­ti­fy with the dames.

Inter­spersed are nov­el­ty acts and walk-ons by come­di­ans. In a sim­pler, cru­el­er age, a cross-eyed com­ic who stut­ters tries to gain admit­tance to the USO cen­ter and Joan Blondell, guard­ing the door, asks, “Who sent you, the ene­my?”

Then a guy play­ing a drunk in a top hat and tails sud­den­ly falls down a flight of stairs and the words “Rub­ber Legs McCoy” come out of me. I’m almost as sur­prised as Georgie. “A prat artist,” I tell him like this explains some­thing and he frowns his non-com­pre­hen­sion.

The movie ends with the stars and stripes fly­ing and cou­ples danc­ing and salut­ing. Georgie asks, “How did you learn about Rub­ber Legs?”

For a moment I don’t know. Then I remem­ber. “My father and a pal from his the­ater days talked about him when I was a kid.” Georgie lies back amused wait­ing for more. And I tell him stuff I had­n’t thought about in over six­ty years.

4.

I was maybe nine and we were liv­ing in a duplex apart­ment carved out of an old man­sion in this tree-lined, hilly neigh­bor­hood, Ash­mont in Dorch­ester. The front room was prob­a­bly once a par­lor. The curved win­dows had an antique blue tinge. Now it was most­ly my father’s office. He was the pres­i­dent of the Boston Teacher’s Union which was fight­ing for recog­ni­tion. It’s what he did when he was­n’t teach­ing.

Most of this I did­n’t under­stand.  But he had a sec­ond phone in this office, which was a very big deal in 1953.

The fam­i­ly TV was in that room and I was watch­ing it when my father and his friend Den­ny Fitz­patrick came in talk­ing. “Jack Durham is the best light­ing tech in New Eng­land,” said Den­ny. “But he attend­ed a cou­ple of Par­ty meet­ings twen­ty years ago and now he can’t get work. Lee Falk takes the Black List seri­ous­ly. You look at the com­ic strips Falk does and know the Phan­tom and Man­drake vote Repub­li­can.”

My father laughed. Back then Boston was full of guys who wrote and drew the com­ic strips I fol­lowed in the Globe and Record Amer­i­can. These same guys also ran the­aters. This did­n’t seem incred­i­ble to a kid. It’s just how things were. Until right then I did­n’t real­ize the Phan­tom was a Repub­li­can. I knew Repub­li­cans were bad.

My father said, “Al Cap­p’s in the same boat as Falk and every sin­gle Lit­tle Abn­er char­ac­ter is a good, lib­er­al Demo­c­rat. Cap­p’s got no choice. If his the­ater hires any­one or books a show with any­one, cast or crew, who’s on The List he’ll be smeared by Joe McCarthy.”

Den­ny said, “Some­one gets shut out of a part because he was a kid pinko and I get hired. Makes me feel bad.”

My father told him, “You’re the best char­ac­ter actor north of Broad­way.”

Half lis­ten­ing to this I watched Abbott, the fast talk­ing, con­niv­ing straight man and Costel­lo, the fat, con­fused Fool of God com­ic, argue with a land­lord, a big bald-head­ed guy in a sleeve­less T‑shirt. He won’t let them back in their room because they owe some­thing like twen­ty-sev­en dol­lars rent.

Before whim­si­cal char­ac­ters like Cap­tain Kan­ga­roo, way before edu­ca­tion­al shows like Sesame Street, chil­dren were enter­tained by over-the-hill bur­lesque come­di­ans. My father hat­ed TV except when he was watch­ing it. And usu­al­ly he yelled at me for being indoors instead of out­side play­ing. But he and Den­ny were qui­et and I knew they were watch­ing too.

The set was a block of walk-up apart­ment hous­es that I under­stood was sup­posed to be New York. “Ah,” Den­ny mur­mured, “It’s a grey and des­per­ate world they inhab­it.”

Con­fused and angered by Abbot’s dou­ble talk, the land­lord made sput­ter­ing sounds. “A flub­ber,” said Den­ny. The land­lord slapped his fore­head. “A one palm smack,” he said. The land­lord slapped his fore­head with both hands then dragged them down his face. “A dou­ble palmer and a slow burn,” Den­ny remarked. “This man knows his busi­ness, who­ev­er he is.”

Every rou­tine, every gag any vaude­ville clown ever invent­ed these two steal every Sat­ur­day morn­ing,” said my father.  Then he told me, “Get your fat head out of the way.”

Den­ny right behind me pat­ted my shoul­der like it was ok with him that I was there. He and his wife had no chil­dren so he actu­al­ly liked kids. Den­ny went on to have a fine career host­ing local chil­dren’s TV shows.

The phone rang and my father picked it up, lis­tened and said, “Next Tues­day night, Cen­tral Labor Coun­cil. We need a turnout.” Calls like this always came in on a sep­a­rate phone line. Some­times the TV sound had to be turned off and my lit­tle broth­er and sis­ters and I had to be qui­et while our father talked. Some­times he got real­ly hap­py or very mad. This time it was just him say­ing mys­te­ri­ous adult stuff I did­n’t under­stand.

Then on screen Stinky the Spoiled Brat appeared and I watched in hor­ror. He was a fat grownup dressed in vel­vet short pants and jack­et, wear­ing a straw hat with a rib­bon and car­ry­ing an enor­mous lol­ly­pop: Super Sis­sy. He sprayed sali­va when he talked; cried, jumped up and down when he did­n’t get his way.

Though he appeared almost every week, I always man­aged to for­get about Stinky. The invis­i­ble audi­ence laughed. But I found him scary. Even at nine I some­times had to wear shorts and won­dered if I’d end up like him.

Maybe that was writ­ten on my face, maybe Den­ny had sec­ond sight because he told me, “I know him. He came through with a show when your father and I did sum­mer stock. Off­stage he’s okay.”

My father hung up after say­ing, “I don’t care, EVERYBODY’S got to turn out for this.”

Den­ny asked, “Remem­ber Joe?” and ges­tured toward the screen. “He was in that Bert Lahr road show. Lahr’s big obses­sion was find­ing some prop­er­ty he could take on the road every sum­mer. Remem­ber him say­ing, ‘I need to find some­thing classy like Ham­p­den had with that Cir-Ano the Berg­er­ac.”

I did­n’t know why but they laughed which was good. “That and mon­ey,” said my old man, “Lahr loved to see it come in. He’d sit in the box office before a show, in make­up and out of sight of the cus­tomers. He’d count the dough, arrange the bills and look on fond­ly as I put them in the safe.”

Georgie’s eyes lit up when I men­tioned my father and Lahr. Lat­er of course we’d know him as the man who played the Cow­ard­ly Lion in the Wiz­ard of Oz. But kids our age did­n’t know about the movie until it got shown on TV years lat­er.

When Georgie tried to ask ques­tions I shook my head ges­tured for him to wait. I told him how Den­ny and my father cracked up and I lost track of Abbott and Costel­lo’s prob­lems. Some guy in a bat­tered high silk hat was com­ing down the front stairs when sud­den­ly his legs turned to water and he fell flat on his face. Unlike the sound­track audi­ence I did­n’t think this was fun­ny. But it was a weird­ly com­pelling glimpse into the adult world.

Rub­ber Legs!” said my father. “He was in that Lahr show too.

A true and ver­sa­tile artist,” said Den­ny. He could do the trip, the slip and the prat­fall. But that flat pan he just pulled was his mas­ter­piece: Jim­my ‘Rub­ber Legs’ McCoy.’

He turned to me and asked, ‘You want to go into show busi­ness?’

No. I’m going to be a police­man.”

Steady work,” Den­ny said.

I promised my Uncle Bill.

Some­how Rub­ber Legs falling down the stairs seemed to have end­ed the show. My father noticed the cred­its rolling and said, “OK you’ve seen enough TV. Go out and play.”

I knew bet­ter than to argue. As I left, my father told Den­ny, ‘McCoy’s anoth­er one who won’t be work­ing. It’s amaz­ing how many old hoofers, bur­lesque comics, even strip­pers, attend­ed a meet­ing of the Young Com­mu­nist League in 1936 and walked right onto some Black List. Old teach­ers even. It’s bull­shit but get too close to that and no one wants to be near you.”

McCarthy,” said Den­ny.

After the places we’d lived the duplex seemed huge and rich. The long hall was all dark wood and had a fire­place. There was a fire­place in the liv­ing room too. I could hear my lit­tle broth­er and sis­ters talk­ing, the bea­gle bark­ing in the back­yard.

In the liv­ing room of our big and mys­te­ri­ous apart­ment was an Oz con­nec­tion. By a bay win­dow, under the stairs to the sec­ond floor was an alcove and in it was a play­er piano with a few old piano rolls. When I lay on the liv­ing room car­pet lis­ten­ing to the Lone Ranger on the radio, I could look under the piano and see what appeared to be a book.

It was jammed in; pok­ing it with a broom did no good. I could­n’t move the piano by myself and no one was inter­est­ed in help­ing. But at a big, noisy fam­i­ly par­ty for a birth­day, maybe a chris­ten­ing, two of my moth­er’s broth­ers, Bill the cop and Mike who did stuff on the docks in South Boston, both great big guys, were there and quite smashed.

I told them no one was able to move the piano. A chal­lenge: they took one look and hauled it out of the cor­ner as my cousins applaud­ed. I dove for the book which was big, green and a bit warped.

I opened it to a col­or illus­tra­tion of a girl and a lion who was cry­ing. Mes­mer­ized, I sat on the stairs look­ing at the pic­tures. I’d nev­er heard of The Wiz­ard of Oz. Lat­er I learned the Baum books weren’t approved of. Libraries in Boston did­n’t have them.

My uncles shook their heads and pushed the piano back in place, maybe won­der­ing about this nephew who Bill made promise to become a cop.

When I was in my teens, The Wiz­ard of Oz start­ed get­ting shown on TV. My father point­ed out the Cow­ard­ly Lion and repeat­ed the sto­ry about Lahr’s fond­ness for mon­ey and Cir-Ano. The house where we lived by then I remem­ber as dark and mis­er­able. I’d made some dis­cov­er­ies and each pushed me a bit fur­ther from my fam­i­ly, my friends, my city.

5.

But hon­ey, amidst the mis­ery and despair. God had sent you a sign,” says Georgie, “The Wiz­ard of Oz!” I shake my head and we both laugh. The weath­er has cleared enough that we go out to eat.

At the Thai restau­rant I start to remem­ber anoth­er sto­ry but know it’s not one Georgie would ful­ly appre­ci­ate.

I tell it to Joey a cou­ple of weeks lat­er when he comes to New York to vis­it his par­ents and me. We’re friends of long stand­ing. I love him but he’s straight which I find kind of trag­ic. We sit in the old café on my street and joke about the time we spent a few bad nights in jail. Then I tell him my sto­ry.

6.

At the end of ninth grade when I was four­teen, I flunked out of Boys’ Latin. Sex and trau­ma led to atten­tion prob­lems. Also a lot of my teach­ers did­n’t like my old man and his attempt to union­ize. Teach­ers there were all male and con­sid­ered them­selves pro­fes­sion­als not labor­ers. One told me, “Sad­ly, your father and you have a lot in com­mon.” I was upset but nev­er told my old man.

The high school my father found for me was nick­named, “The Coun­try Club”, it was so easy­go­ing and slack. A lot of the teach­ers were women and loved my father because the union promised to give them the same salary as the men. My first few weeks there, I met a guy, Bob­by Mahoney, who was a year ahead of me, more than a year old­er, big­ger and tougher. We became friends.

Bob­by thought I was fun­ny, and made me a sort of mas­cot at first. He and I lived sev­er­al neigh­bor­hoods apart. His father and my father knew each oth­er. Bob­by’s father was “Big Bob” Mahoney, Chair­man of the Boston Labor Board. He was the man you went to if it involved unions.

Big Bob did­n’t believe my father was the right union type and my father blamed him for not sup­port­ing the teacher’s union. But nei­ther said any­thing direct­ly to me and I made a point of not think­ing about it.

Since Mrs. Mahoney was always buy­ing stuff, their house was kind of rich. But it was also a wreck because she took all kinds of pills and slept a lot. Big Bob always lay on the fur­ni­ture with his shoes off and his shirt open, drop­ping light­ed cig­a­rettes and booze on cush­ions and rugs. He drank a lot, but in Irish Boston cir­ca 1960 that went with­out say­ing.

Mrs. Mahoney thought I was polite and want­ed Bob­by to behave like I did which made him punch me in pri­vate. One Sat­ur­day late in my junior, his senior year she was away or upstairs passed out. Bob­by had lift­ed some of her Ben­zedrine and it sang in our ears.

We went through the liv­ing room. Big Bob was spread out on the couch with a tall, full glass on the floor beside him, cig­a­rette ash­es every­where, talk­ing on the tele­phone.

He hung up as we came in and asked where we were going. We said to see Ben Hur. Actu­al­ly we planned to sneak into Sud­den­ly Last Sum­mer, a pic­ture con­demned by the Legion of Decen­cy.

Mahoney gave a look that made you think he’d read your every dirty secret. “Nice life,” he said. “Wish I’d had it that way when I was your age. It was­n’t like now where you go to school and spend the rest of your time watch­ing movies and TV. Things were tight.” He curled his lip. “Leisure was for the rich. Peo­ple like us had to work.”

Bob­by ground his teeth, stared away like he’d heard this many times. “How’s your father?” Mahoney asked me and I said he was fine. Maybe they did­n’t get along but my old man hand­ed me the same line as Mahoney.

Both were rais­ing their sons to be the peo­ple they hat­ed when they were young. Mine said I had every­thing he’d want­ed at my age. My old man’s father had died when he was four­teen in the depths of the Depres­sion.

I went to col­lege, you know,” Big Bob said, took a swal­low of whiskey bare­ly touched with water. “It was­n’t my grades got me in. I played high school foot­ball, receiv­er and defen­sive end back when you played the whole game. I got hit in the head a few times play­ing. Made me stu­pid.”

He smiled but his eyes dared us to agree. He made a face like he tast­ed some­thing sour. “After a year or two I get tossed out, bad grades and bad cir­cum­stances. I could­n’t see going home.”

This guy I met, Palet­to, knew his way around sports, sug­gest­ed I try wrestling. ‘It’s all an act,’ he said, ‘like you’re in a movie or some­thing. And dumb fucks will bet on it.’ ”

Jack­ie Palet­to, was a sports­man,” said a voice behind us. “I intro­duced you to him.” I turned. Bob­by called his Uncle Frank the fam­i­ly mus­cle. Frank Mahoney was wider than Big Bob who seemed kind of refined next to him.

My old­er broth­er,” Bob raised a glass. “He came down to Penn­syl­va­nia to see me. He and Palet­to start­ed pok­er games on cam­pus, helped get me thrown out.”

Your ass was already halfway out the door.” Frank, walked over to the bot­tle, found a glass and poured.

So I took Mr. Palet­to’s advice and went to New York,” said Big Bob. In this office right near Madi­son Square Gar­den I tell them about me and foot­ball and they like the idea that I’m this All-Amer­i­can type kid.

And that’s it. They set me up on this tour. There were half a dozen of us going in a bus from town to town. No hel­met or cleats in the ring. But they put me in a let­ter jer­sey and warm-up pants, all red, white and blue.

We’d stay in these lousy lit­tle hotels and eat at din­ers. But we got paid. There was a guy sup­posed to be a cow­boy with a big hat and las­so. He’d hogtie oppo­nents which the ref some­how nev­er saw. I’m in the ring with this guy from Hawaii sup­posed to be a sumo wrestler. Nice enough when he was sober; nev­er hurt any­body on pur­pose.

Queer as Aunt Mil­lie’s under­wear,” said Frank.

You found that out?” asked Big Bob and Frank shrugged.

Big Bob said “Then they decid­ed to pair me off with The Kraut. This guy would come down the aisle wear­ing a Kaiser Wil­helm hel­met with the spike on top and every­one’d go crazy boo­ing him.

He was a nasty fuck. The idea in Wrestling is you don’t hurt the oth­er guy; you just make it look like you do. You have to get along because you’re in the ring togeth­er maybe twelve times a week.

The script was I fight him clean with these All-Amer­i­can moves I’m sup­posed to know from col­lege. And he’d stran­gle me with a chain he hid from the ref; all part of the act. Maybe because the crowd’s throw­ing chairs at him, he hat­ed me. At least once every match, he did­n’t pull a punch, stepped on my foot. Name it.”

You should have told me. I could have tak­en care of it,” said Frank.

Big Bob did­n’t seem to hear. “The guy man­ag­ing the tours was call­ing New York, telling them to put one of us on tour some­where else. But the Ger­man and me were the draw so they did­n’t.

One night, in Youngstown out in Ohio, he’d twist­ed my shoul­der the night before and the ref had us togeth­er in the cen­ter or the ring telling us he wants a fair fight and all this shit like it’s a sport­ing event. I did some place- kick­ing in col­lege so I took a step back and boot­ed the Kraut right in the nuts.

The crowd went crazy. His face turned this pur­ple col­or I’d nev­er seen any­one get and I thought I killed him. But after a minute the col­or fad­ed, his eyes were shin­ing. He smiled this insane smile and said, ‘It nien hurt” and came after me. I tried to get out of the ring but he shoved me over the ropes. The cus­tomers scat­tered and I fell on some chairs and broke an arm.”

But you healed fast,” said Frank. “Pret­ty soon we found work in the Amer­i­can labor move­ment.”

Big Bob said. “They need­ed young guys not afraid to take action against the ene­mies of the work­ing man. After that, we found our­selves in the Sec­ond War to end All Wars. It was like going to con­fes­sion. We came out of that with our sins for­giv­en.”

We was heroes,” said Frank.

Bob looked at Bob­by, then at me. “Some stuff you do ear­ly just gets classed as youth­ful indis­cre­tion. Oth­er stuff sticks to you for­ev­er.”

Like a rap sheet,” said Frank.

Like mem­ber­ship in the Com­mu­nist Par­ty,” said Bob. “Or hav­ing too many friends like that.”

I knew this was aimed at my father and me and I want­ed to get away from them.

I got some­thing I need to talk to you about,” Frank told his lit­tle broth­er. Bob­by took that as the moment for us to escape to more Ben­zedrine and a dirty movie.

A month or so lat­er school was out for sum­mer and Frank Mahoney all sun­burned and fucked out of his head gave Bob­by and me a ride and told us a sto­ry.

I was at Revere beach and in this bar on the shore was a girl seemed nice, friend­ly, you know. Nice clothes. I buy her a few drinks and a few more. We go in the water, wad­ing out. We’re in over our waists and I start get­ting friend­ly. She gets kind of shy. I’m feel­ing her up and I grab a hand­ful of grapes. It’s some fag­got. So I’m beat­ing the liv­ing shit out of him and he’s scream­ing…”

When we got away from Uncle Frank I asked Bob­by, “What was all that?”

He thinks we’re queers,” Bob­by said.

We had fooled around togeth­er off and on but now he was scared peo­ple would think we were fags. Bob­by had grad­u­at­ed from high school and his par­ents sent him to a place where they’d prep him for col­lege and we did­n’t see much of each oth­er after that.

7.

I tell my friend Joey about Bob­by and me and add, “When we were in jail that time, it remind­ed me of my first day in the ‘Coun­try Club.’ Even at age four­teen I knew enough to make friends with the tough­est guy in the insti­tu­tion.”

Joey is very much amused. “That time we got bust­ed and it took my fam­i­ly a while to bail us out, I knew you were siz­ing up the guys. And I start­ed won­der­ing who’d be my dad­dy.”

But he knows there’s more to the sto­ry. It’s one of the things I love about him, and asks, “Did you and Bob­by ever get togeth­er again?”

I looked him up a few years ago. Turns out he’s more an out­sider than me. Bob­by’s on the HIV cock­tail liv­ing in the Boston sub­urbs with a part­ner. We could talk when­ev­er we want but don’t some­how.”

I’m still think­ing about this a bit lat­er when Lois asks, “So if it was­n’t the uni­forms what was all that stuff with the fire­men and cops about?” So I tell her what I think.

8.

They were secret soci­eties. Boston was a small enough place and Irish enough that a kid in trou­ble with the law who had a rel­a­tive on the force could tell the cops that. If it checked out they’d let the kid go. Of course they’d con­tact the rel­a­tive to give him the infor­ma­tion. He’d decide what to do with it.

The sum­mer that I lost my friend Bob­by, I acquired new friends and got bust­ed in a gay bar raid. The cops smacked me around but I gave them Uncle Bil­l’s name and they let me go. I was a bloody mess when I come home. My par­ents went crazy and prac­ti­cal­ly locked me in the house. But I nev­er told them the truth.

Uncle Bill took me aside at the next fam­i­ly gath­er­ing; said I need­ed to think how hurt my par­ents would be if they knew. He told me not to let it hap­pen again. I noticed he was care­ful not to touch me. My par­ents did­n’t find out but if I’d had doubts Boston was­n’t my town the bar raid and Uncle Bill being dis­tant killed them.

That spring, I came home one night well past my cur­few, a bit fucked up and expect­ing trou­ble. The house was the one I thought of as dark and mis­er­able. My father was wait­ing for me as pissed off as always. The teach­ers’ union had already been vot­ed down. Now he told me he’d been denied a raise and would have to look for a teach­ing job else­where. We’d have to move.

It’s like a door got slammed in my face,” my father said. I remem­bered long before hear­ing one teacher ask anoth­er why my old man did­n’t under­stand that try­ing to orga­nize the union was going to get him rid­den out of town.

That fall the fam­i­ly moved to the New York sub­urbs.  Even­tu­al­ly they moved back to the Boston sub­urbs but by then I was liv­ing in Man­hat­tan. My father was now an edi­tor. Lat­er he and my moth­er wrote text­books, did well.

At my father’s funer­al I thought about Big Bob and Uncle Frank, the teach­ers and my Uncle Bill the cop, all the ones who could­n’t under­stand why my father and I did­n’t under­stand we were mis­fits. By the time my father died their Boston has gone, bull­dozed, gen­tri­fied, the Irish replaced by new immi­grants.

Lois says, “And none but the mis­fits sur­vive.”

 

BowesCutoutPost3Richard Bowes has pub­lished six nov­els, four short sto­ry col­lec­tions and sev­en­ty sto­ries. He has won two World Fan­ta­sy Awards, an Inter­na­tion­al Hor­ror Guild and a Mil­lion Writer Award. 2013 has been a busy year: Lethe Press pub­lished a new Bowes nov­el Dust Dev­il on a Qui­et Street and repub­lished his 1999 Lamb­da Award Win­ning Min­ions of the Moon. Also out in 2013 is an illus­trat­ed book of mod­ern fairy tales, The Queen, the Cam­bion and Sev­en Oth­ers from Aque­duct and If Angels Fight a career span­ning sto­ry col­lec­tion from Fair­wood. Recent and forth­com­ing sto­ry appear­ances include: F&SF, Icarus, Light­speed, and the antholo­gies, After, Wilde Sto­ries 2013, Heiress­es of Russ 2013, Ghost’s: Recent Haunt­ings, Hand­some Dev­il, Haunt­ings, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, Fic­tion Riv­er, Weird Detec­tives: Recent Inves­ti­ga­tions, Best Gay Sto­ries, 2014, Once Upon A Time. The pho­to head­ing this sto­ry is of Rick­’s father, sleep­ing.