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.