After leaving the seminary, I needed a source of income to apply and pay for college. I had to get into school as quickly as possible to avoid being drafted into a war I didn't understand. So I went to work as a glorified stock boy at Burroughs & Sanborn, a department store in Lynn. I worked for Stewie Suttcliffe in the Housewares department. I moved stock, helped customers, learned to gift wrap, and followed the rumor mill of how old man Duplessis, the stores octogenarian owner was cavorting with the buyer from the ladies department. She was 40 years his junior. Don't forget those were the Pre-Viagra days.
I met a young lady named Kathy who worked in the Linen department. She was drop-dead gorgeous, prim, proper, and the daughter of Swampscott minister. One date was enough to discover that we were seeking diametrically opposed results from our relationship, thereby confirming the adage 'Girls are nice and boys are pigs'.
On a fine day in May, Duplessis was found dead in his office, in flagrante delictu, and sporting a smile he was buried with. His paramour disappeared a day later, and, that Saturday, I took and did fairly well on the SAT's.
I ended up applying to one college only: Merrimack College. I chose Merrimack under the influence of Frank Tomashevski, more about whom later. Merrimack accepted me but would not accept the eighty or so credits I had garnered in the seminary. My teachers there had been Jesuits and Blessed Sacrament Fathers and the courses had been certified by the Regent System of New York, rather prestigious at that time. However, Merrimack was under the Augustinians and they only recognized themselves. Argue as I might, they wouldn’t accept a single credit. Consequently, I started all over again. No big deal as I was in no hurry to become canon fodder.
It was 1964 and we were embroiled in the Vietnam War, excuse me, Vietnam Conflict that was polarizing our nation.
Merrimack College is in Andover, MA. The catalog said that it’s "situated in the foothills of the White Mountains" (sic); they're actually a three-hour drive away. The foothills, indeed! As a sign of the times, my first day on campus, some students had erected an impromptu sign at the main entrance that stated "Apathy reigns at Merrimack". Underneath, someone had scrawled "Who cares?"
The first week consisted mainly of orientation. As freshmen, we were supposed to wear silly blue and yellow beanies for the next month and attend rah-rah sessions. In reality, after today, the only ones still wearing beanies were those who were trying to pledge the various fraternities, and 98 percent of the rest of the freshman class. I joined the two percent who were rebels as far as tradition and school spirit were concerned. The only spirit I’d indulge during the next 4 years would be found on weekends in a bottle. I was here to get an education. Period. End of story.
I was a commuting student and was, therefore, a member of a car pool. Since I didn't have a car until Terry bought her Mustang in my senior year, I carpooled and helped pay for gas. Freshman year, the carpool consisted of Frank Tomashevski, Steve Hunt, Jimmy D'Entremont, Tom Levasseur, and myself.
I had met Frank through my boyhood best friend Art Connelley while I was in the seminary. Art had worked at Lane’s Drugs in West Lynn. Frank also worked there so it was inevitable that we should meet. Frank stood about six-foot two inches and weighed in the lower 300 pounds. About 20 years later, I met him in a package store and didn't recognize him because he, at that point, weighed less than I. We had a two-minute conversation where I learned he was teaching middle school in Lynn. From thence he disappeared and I never heard of or from him again.
After I left the seminary, I'd hang out with Art, Frank, and 2 ladies who also worked for Lane’s. Frank had a descriptive moniker for everyone. Both girls were named Carol. Frank called one Carol C (cold) and the other Carol H (hot). Art eventually married Carol H. Frank to my knowledge never married. Frank also had monikers for most of his professors at Merrimack. Yvonne Ground had many dogs so her home became "Grounds Pound". Mr. Lenardo had wiry hair; he became "Brillo Pad". Dr. Forgac was an arrogant Frenchman who became simply "Ass Hole Forgac". Father McGettigan was "the fairy princess" (you figure it out). Frank would also quip that Mr. Huelsbeck wore his pants so high he had to reach over his shoulder to get his wallet out of his back pocket.
Frank and I would get together on occasional Friday nights for pizza and beer. I’d pick him up at Lane’s. Once in awhile, Socky Williams would wander in. Socky was called the unofficial mayor of Lynn. He stood about 5’8" and weighed 185 pudgy pounds. He wore a Bowler type hat, dark blue vested suit, and an unlit stogy cigar constantly hung from the right corner of his mouth. He wore a colostomy bag and was in the drugstore to renew supplies. I had never heard of a colostomy bag and would not hear of it again for 35 years more and my temporary encounter with it after surgery for Diverticulitis. Socky Williams was the last of the machine politicians of the '40s and '50s. He had a kind word and a listening ear for everyone. But, I digress.
Frank and I would head over to Benny’s for pizza. Benny’s was located on Franklin Street which was the French Canadian part of the city at that time. Benny’s made the greasiest, cheesiest, crustiest, best tasting pizza in existence. It was worth the ride across the city and back again. When I was in grammar school, Benny’s was a pariah because besides serving pizza, it was also a barroom. We were forbidden by our parents, priests, and the nuns, to go into or near Benny’s. This was a strange attitude considering that Al Belliveau, Benny’s owner, was a major contributor to St. Jean-Baptiste parish.
While Benny’s was infamous at St. Jean-Baptiste, it was famous in the '50s for sponsoring a 10-mile road race. 25 years before the running boom, runners would come from all over New England and Canada to compete through the streets of Lynn. These runners wore clunky, low-tech sneakers and bandanas over their heads, shorts, and T-shirts. When I was a freshman at St. Jean’s high school, Paul Bourque, a senior at the time, trained for Benny’s by running around Frazier Field and up and down the steps of the grandstand. Paul finished the race creditably. I hung around the finish line one year. It was dark because it took place in the evening. After the race ended, I watched as trophies were handed out, beer guzzled, and pizza consumed. I remember thinking to myself that I would never attempt trying to run those distances. But again, I digress.
Having 2 large pizzas in tow, we stopped at Hines Liquor down the street and around the corner for a couple six-packs of beer. Then back to Frank's house on Ashland Street.
When you walked into his house, you could usually smell cabbage, kielbasa, and, sometimes wood glue. His dad would be seated at the kitchen table surrounded by pieces of wood and tools. Frank’s father (I can’t remember his first name) probably worked at General Electric like 15,000 other people did at the time. His hobby was violin making. Frank's dad was short and wiry which gave one pause considering Frank's height and girth. Must have been on his mother's side. Dad was also a widower. Frank and he had a curious relationship. Frank would always try to hustle me away from his dad into another room. Probably because if you asked his father a question, the answer would take half the night. I also got the impression that for some elusive reason, Frank was ashamed of his dad.
"What are you working on?" I asked.
"Well, last weekend I went to Salem. They were tearing down an old house maybe from the late 1700s. I wanted some of the wood from the inside walls or outside. It was tough trying to find pieces without worm holes but I found two beauties and they’ll sound swell."
"Yeah, they'll make back boards for my violins. I'll shave them down and form them. When ready, and you tap the wood, it’ll give off the same note as this tuning fork." He showed me a board that was finished. He stuck the board with the tuning fork. The wood resonated with the same note only several octaves lower. Before he could launch into violin making history from Cremona to the present, Frank grabbed me by the arm and pushed me into the living room where pizza and beer helped while-away the evening.
One particular Friday evening, Frank mentioned that he, Art, Carol C., and Carol H. were going into Durgin Park in Boston on Saturday night and invited me along.
"I don't have a date. I’m in between women right now. Actually I've been in between for months." I said mournfully.
"Well, I was thinking my cousin Janina lives...."
"Wait a minute, the last blind date I had reeked of unwashed clothing and looked like you."
"No, seriously, she’s not bad looking. And, it's just for one night."
"The bride of Frankenstein was only around for one night and look at all the havoc she created. And, besides, if she's not bad looking, why doesn’t she have a Saturday night date?"
"Well, she's shy, sort of, works full time, and doesn't get out a lot."
"OK, what's the catch, a monstrous overbite? Nose warts? She once had a penis?"
"None of the above. Just have your butt here tomorrow night around 7. You just stop by her house which is conveniently right down the street and off we’ll go."
"How do you know she’ll go?"
"I already asked her. Told her you are Frankie Avalon with brains."
"Well, what the hell. I’ve got nothing to lose."
"Except your virginity -- but now that I think about it, your virginity will remain intact with Janina."
"Why, does she have a social disease?"
"Yes, it's called the I’m-saving-it-for-marriage syndrome. Oh, by the way, stay away from her mother, my aunt. She's a complete lunatic."
"Seems to run the family."
Promptly at 7 the next evening, I rang the bell. From the corner of my eye, I could see someone poking a head through a window curtain to my left. The door opened immediately.
"Hi Tom, I'm Janina." She said in low, dulcet, breathy tones. Janina was almost my height. She had neck-length, flowing, blonde hair framing pale, creamy skin. A thin line of bright red lipstick accented pure white perfect teeth. When she smiled, my hormones went into overdrive. She was thin and pert but not emaciated. All curves were proportional. She was what we later called a trophy. Why weren’t the guys lined up 10 deep at her doorstep? What love god smiled on me tonight. Anyhow, she didn't invite me in but let herself out and almost knocked me over as she shut the door. I was reminded of the scene from Frankenstein where Victor surprises someone opening the door to his lab just as he’s about to open it. The look of terror in her eyes was the same as Victor’s.
"Who’s there?" Said a shrieking cackling voice from behind the shut door.
"It's OK, mom, I'm just going out." She shouted back and then said to me.
"I'm sorry about that, she’s in one of her states tonight." Oof, if only Janina could feel my state!
We met at Frank's house, then with Frank, Art, both Carol's, Janina and I in tow, we drove to Durgin Park in Boston. Both Carols carried large and I mean large handbags.
"Why the big pocketbooks?" I asked.
"You’ll see." Said Art.
We got into Boston and had no problem parking. Durgin Park remains to this day in the Faneuil Market area. Of course, this was before the market became the tourist attraction it is today. Durgin Park was/is noted for its Boston baked beans. However, we didn’t go there for the beans. Downstairs was a pub with a player piano. On each table was a crockpot loaded with cheese popcorn. We ordered pitchers of beer and a couple appetizers. The pub filled quickly mostly with students and inevitably someone got daring or drunk enough to use the player piano. We left around eleven and on the ride home, Frank asked:
"What’ve you got?" To my surprise, both Carols emptied the contents of their pocketbooks. Inside were crockpots without popcorn from two tables as well as plates and silverware to the tune of service for four.
"Are you crazy?" I screamed.
"We’re fitting out our hope chests." Exclaimed both Carol's. I looked over at Janina and, thank God, she was embarrassed.
That was my last trip to Durgin Park. Even today, I still feel guilty every time I drive by. Anyhow, I went out with Janina for about a year. She was a perfect Pisces and could never make a decision on her own until one day she dumped me for a Swedish engineer. Anyway, I wish them good luck as in all our time together, I never got beyond first base.
Back to Merrimack.
In between classes and the occasional free hour, I spent my time in the Student Union building with a group I hung out with who played a four-year continuing game of Whist. Being students of modest means, no bets were on the table. I suppose it was a good way to keep our hands occupied and away from the ladies who often joined us.
The old man of our table was one Daniel X. Fitzgerald. Danny was a product of South Boston and grew up there when it was 99 percent Irish. The other one percent was in hiding. This was the era before a misguided Judge Garrity decided that educational miscegenation would be a good thing for Southie. Reductio ad absurdum.
Anyhow, after high school, Danny enlisted in the army and did a tour in Germany, Berlin specifically, and a divided city at that. Danny was a student of history and like most students of history put his own spin on it. That spin included all the bigoted opinions of his South Boston Irish upbringing. The black man to Danny was still a nigger, Jews were not to be trusted, and the IRA would eventually prevail.
While in Germany, he became an expert on Nazi history. Figures, doesn't it? World War II and Nazi philosophy didn't concern him so much as the German high command, their uniforms, etc. He never quoted "Mein Kampf" but knew who reported to whom. Name any member of Hitler's inner circle and Danny could give you all the relevant stats. But for all his upbringing and bluster, I don't think Danny ever hurt a fly.
Danny's favorite story of his adventures in Berlin related to the night he and four of his army buddies attempted to help some East German refugees over the Berlin Wall. They were discovered by search lights and then machine gun fire erupted. All of Danny's friends were killed. He took a bullet to the head and ended up after months of surgery and recuperation with a metal plate in his head and half of his face paralyzed. He could literally raise an eyebrow while the other remained immobile. Other side effects included diminished taste and smell. Most peculiar, however, was the uncontrollable hysterical laughter when he found something funny. That insane laughter could clean out a room in a minute.
Now, the real story -- Danny and four of his friends, after a night of intensive drinking, were all crammed into a Volkswagen Beatle that crashed head on at 80 miles an hour into a section of the Berlin Wall. Danny was the only survivor.
Once in mid March during lunch Whist, Danny suggested we get a group up to go to Southie for the annual March 17th St. Patrick's Day parade. The ladies wisely passed but Steve Hunt, Steve Craig and myself agreed to go. This year it would be on a Friday. Steve Hunt had his own car so he drove us to Wonderland Station in Revere where we parked and then took the MTA into Southie. We stopped in at Triple-O's on Broadway where green beer flowed and Clancy Brothers music played on their sound system. We were introduced all around and the name "Carmody" always got an ‘all right and can I get you a beer’. After about my third draft, the Bar got suddenly quiet as a new face appeared at the entrance to Triple-O's.
"Who's that?" I whispered.
"Quiet, that's Bobby McCord."
Bobby was slim, grim faced and stood about 6’. He wore a long trench coat and had his hand wrapped around a glass fishbowl. He stood by the doorway and handed the bowl to the occupant of the first barstool. The man took a bill out of his wallet, stuffed it in the fishbowl and passed it along. The silence remained. Everybody in the bar, including us, slipped a bill into the bowl. By the time it got back to McCord, it was stuffed with cash. It was still silent. Even the music had been turned off. McCord accepted the bowl and removed his cap.
"May the good Lord bless you, lads." With that, he turned and left the bar. The music came back on and the noise continued as before.
"What the hell was that all about and why did I throw a buck into the fishbowl. Some charity?"
"Bobby McCord's Sinn Fein -- that's the political arm of the IRA "the Irish Republican Army". He's collecting for the cause."
"What kind of Irish are you? Against the Brits, of course. Northern Ireland is still captive."
"You mean I just gave a buck to buy guns?" However, my anger was tempered by the beers I had, but this whole scene would provide food for thought for years. I wondered if anyone in the bar or all the others in Southie, New York City, or anywhere Irish gathered on this day anywhere in the country really realized what the hell they were doing.
"Hey, the parade should be starting soon. Let's go." Advised Danny.
I forgot to mention that this was the first year the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) had put a float in the parade. The South Bostonians had originally balked at the idea but would have been refused their parade permit if they didn’t go along with it. Economics won out over prejudice so the black float was allowed but placed at the end of the parade. As the float drove by a hush came over the crowd. You could cut the tension with a dull knife. The rumor had spread that people would stone the float. However, the float went by without incident and only a few racist expletives were hurled -- no rocks.
"Let's grab a couple of six-packs and go see the Bood." Said Dan
"What's a Bood?
"Whose a Bood. Bood Bradley’s a friend of mine. He lives close by."
We stopped at a local packy, purchased the brew and in 15 minutes were at Bood’s door -- what was left of it. He lived on the first floor of a three-floor tenement. We went to the back door. It looked like it had been blown apart by a grenade.
"Carmody, shut up, don't ask." Said Dan
The apartment was furnished in Restoration Period Salvation Army. Bood was at the kitchen stove turning out an epicurean delight from a can of Campbell's. Notwithstanding, Bood turned out to be a congenial and harmless fellow so we spent an hour or so there drinking beers and swapping lies. Later, I ended up driving all of us back because Steve was shit faced and handed me the keys to his Chevy. On the way back, I was sober enough to get lost in my own city. Don't ask.
The last time I saw Danny was around 1975. Terry And I were living in the gray Victorian in Lynn. The doorbell rang. I was home alone with Julianne, age three, at the time and was surprised to see Fitzgerald at the door. He looked the same as ever except for the toupee he sported. It was so obvious a cheap rug that I thought perhaps Danny was losing his sight. We shared a beer and as we chatted, I realized he never got out of the '60s and that we no longer had anything in common. The visit ended when I gave Julianne a whack on the bottom for misbehaving. Dan took offense to this and ranted and raved about parental abuse to the point where Julianne started to cry. I asked him to leave, he did, and I never saw him again.
Anyhow, back to the mid day whist game in the Student Union. Besides Danny Fitzgerald, the following people were part or full-time members of our click: Art Nicolaissen, Jack Parslow, Gail Wilson, Bridget Scanlon, Steve Craig, Tom Gilroy, and the fellow whose name I’ve forgotten but was from the Wollaston area of Quincy and he made big bucks on weekends during the summer playing piano in upscale Cape Cod bars.
At our table were French fries & ketchup, Whist, and constant chatter.
Art Nicolaissen and Jack Parslow were good friends from before Merrimack. Parslow had jet-black hair and always looked like he needed a shave. He was quiet, reserved, and I have no clue what became of him. Art Nicolaissen married a lady of Spanish extraction, had two boys, taught for awhile, and, the last I heard of him, he had given up his job and bought a book binding company. I was able to keep track of Nicolaissen through Fran and Walt Socha.
To get to Fran & Walt, I'll first have to talk about Steve Hunt.
Steve was a member of our first carpool from Lynn. He stood about 5 ft. 10 inches, was good looking but thought himself ugly because he believed his head sloped too much. Steve's dad ran the Teamsters Union on the North Shore. He had two brothers, Randy and Brian, and a sister, Jenna. Steve’s dad, Richard Hunt looked like a gangster, and his mother the stereotypical dumb blonde. With his mother though it didn’t stop at looks. She could literally burn water on the stove. Steve had his own car (thanks, Dad), a red and cream-colored 1957 Chevy.
After Frank Tomashevski graduated, Steve became my best friend. We’d often go out drinking together or occasionally double dated with Gail and Bridget. Gail was an airhead like Steve's mother, so I guess Freud was right. Bridget was Irish Catholic from Lawrence. Her father owned Scanlon Hardware. Bridget always looked toward marriage. I never looked beyond the bed so we didn’t date for long. Are we seeing a trend here?
I got a call from Steve one Friday night.
"What are you doing tomorrow morning? Don’t answer, I’ll tell you what you’re doing. You and I and a bunch of our ‘brothers’ are casting a blow for freedom."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"We're going to help dad run a strike at Barbo’s Furniture."
The only thing I knew about Barbo’s was from their television jingle -- "Barbo’s, Barbo’s, quality you can live with happily ever after." Anyhow, being dumb and stupid, and somewhat idealistic, I joined the picket line with him and about a dozen employees. It was peaceful enough until a truck ran the picket line. While parked along the shipping dock, someone slashed the truck's tires. When I saw old man Barbo taking movies of the whole thing, and the cops were called in, discretion became the better part of valor and, since this wasn't my fight, I left.
During one weekend the summer of my sophomore year, we took off for the vacation house of one of our group (I forget who) on Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. And here was something I could never figure out. The water was always too cold to swim, the restaurants sucked, the police were parochial, and the townspeople provincial. Yet during the mid and late '60s, the Boston area college kids flocked there like seagulls.
In the house at this time were Steve Craig, Fitzy, Hunt, Gail Wilson of the prodigious breasts Wilsons, Ann-Marie Grimley who I think had a crush on me but I was busy chasing Bridget Scanlon who wasn't ready to be chased. It was a midsummer's nightmare. To cap it all off, there was, unbeknownst to me, a curfew for students.
I was picked up one night while staggering along the sidewalk across from the beach. I thought they got me for drunkenness but I was arrested for violating the curfew. (What they called "being abroad in the night") and spent the night with several other martyrs behind bars. To add salt to the wound, when I got back to the house by mid-day, no one even realized I had been gone. I wasn’t even missed except by Fitzy who was still pissed because of the beer incident.
On the way to the beach from home, money had been collected for beer (except from me as I was a bourbon drinker at the time). We stopped at a market over the border. Since I was closest, they gave me money for a couple cases of beer. I got the beer and tossed the same into the trunk. When we got to the beach house, Fitzy was, of course, the first to grab a beer. He popped one open.
"Jesus, Tom, the beer is warm."
"Put an ice cube in it." I offered.
"There isn’t even a refrigerator here, you idiot." By now, Fitzy is convulsive. Foam appeared at the corner of his mouth and it wasn't from the beer.
"Go throw it in the ocean for a couple hours." I suggested. Still cursing and muttering, Fitzy left the house with a case of warm beer and 50 feet of rope that he found in the cabin. He tied the rope around the case, walked into the water to his waist, dropped the beer in the water, and let the rope out as he walked back to shore. He stood there holding the rope as the tide moved in. It took two hours for the beer to be cold enough to drink and by then Fitzy was not only apoplectically pissed but was sunburnt as well.
Steve Hunt became friendly with Walt Socha, a professor and later chairman of the Education department. Another Friday evening, Steve called.
"Good morning Reverend" He said
"Good morning mother f----r." I replied. This was to be our standard telephone greeting for the next ten years. It was taken from the punch line of a long lost and thankfully forgotten joke.
"We're going to Socha's tonight."
"Walt, he lives about three miles from Merrimack."
"Why are we going there?"
"Cuz he’s good people and, besides, we can drink and B.S. there."
"Sure, why not."
Thus began a forty-year continuing relationship.
Walt and his wife Fran are of Polish extraction and grew up in Adams out in Western Mass. Their marriage was a Catholic one and thus they had five children who, when lined up, look like a staircase. In descending order were Paula, Joseph, Andrew, Tonya, and Martin. In the early years, when we arrived at Socha's, the kids were usually on their way to bed. Walt would pour a Scotch, I'd take bourbon, Steve was a beerie, and Fran would wait for coffee that she always made sure we drank plenty of before leaving. We’d sit around for four or five hours and solve the world’s problems. A year or so later, Terry would join us, and, occasionally Joan and Frank Belcastro made a guest appearance. Since he only lived a couple miles away, Art Nicolaissen would join us also.
Walt was a laid-back sort of guy, and, even in the heat of debate, his voice always maintained equanimity. He always had a smile that said "these guys are so full of themselves". And, of course, he was right. In conversation, Walt presided rather than contributed. Fran however, was bursting with enthusiasm and boundless energy. With five kids they had to be rather strict with them, and, even though they both worked, they had to be frugal. However, there was always something on the table to snack on as we talked and, toward the end of the evening, Fran would disappear to come back with more food: cheese, crackers, Kielbasa, and lots and lots of coffee.
Later, they told me that, during the early years, they’d have the radio on for a couple hours after we left to make sure we didn't appear as an accident bulletin. In all those years, I was only stopped once by the state police on Route 114 at two o'clock in the morning for what was described as "a routine check". I guess we checked out okay, although, having consumed copious amounts of bourbon, my blood alcohol had to be running around 80 proof. I’ll never understand how the Sochas put up with our pompous behavior and bravado during those times. I'll always think of them fondly and love them dearly.
One late, warm, beautiful spring day just before finals, Steve suggested we get Fitzy and Steve Craig, pick up a case of beer, and head up to the Rezy (water reservoir) in Lynn Woods. We stopped at the First National Store and got cigarettes. The cashier was a friend of Steve's.
"Hi Carol, how’s Paul doing?" Paul was evidently Carol's boyfriend.
"Fine, Steve, in fact he's home right now."
"We're heading to the Woods to drink a little beer and study for finals." Said Steve.
"In that priority?"
"Yup. We'll stop by Paul’s to see if he wants to go with us."
We picked up Paul Stevens and the five of us were soon a mile into the woods and sitting on the shore of the reservoir. None of us drank more than a beer or two except for Hunt and Fitzy.
"Hey, let’s swim across!" Suggested Fitzy. And without waiting for a reply, he jumped into the water and began an overhand crawl toward the opposite shore. It was a hair over a third of a mile across.
"Shit! I’d better go out there with him." And into the water went Hunt. A moment later Craig join him.
"Paul, I'm not going anywhere." I said. I was a marginal swimmer in the best of times in this period of my life but I suddenly developed two beer courage, and before considering the consequences, I was in the water. At about a hundred yards, I realized I’d better save energy or I’d have to float on my back to the opposite shore. So I started a nice slow crawl. I could see Hunt and Fitzy just getting to the other side. Craig was about ten yards behind them. I chuckled to myself as I saw Fitzy stagger out of the water and barfing his guts out.
What the heck was that?
It was Paul about 10 yards behind me. I didn't even realize he was in the water.
"I don't think I can make it." He said just barely audible.
Great, how do I handle this without panicking him (and panicking myself). Since I knew nothing about life-saving techniques, my first thought was to call for the others to help. But we were out in the middle and I thought I'd see if I could get us both closer to shore. These were the late '60s and both Paul and I had shoulder length hair. I swam to about two yards from Paul.
"I tell you what, float on your back and I'll tow you. I'll have to grab your hair so don't be alarmed."
Let me tell you, I was scared shitless but I tried not to let it show. I had him by the hair because I thought if I towed him any other way and he or I panicked then we’d both go down. I also thought about removing my shorts, handing them to him and towing him that way, but with my luck, I’d lose my shorts trying to take them off, or, if Paul panicked, he might let go. I had him by the hair and was able to keep his head above water. I swam sidestroke as I towed him. I asked him to kick his feet to help but I don't think he heard a word I said. About 50 yards from shore, I called the others that I needed help bringing Paul in. Both Steves jumped in and were soon at my side. Both Steves held up Paul.
"Can you guys take over, I'll barely be able to get to shore myself." I was tired and panicky myself at this point.
"Go ahead, Tom." Said Hunt.
I struggled to shore. I looked up and Fitzy was green. I looked out at about 30 yards from shore; all three of them went under. After about 30 to 45 seconds, both Steve's broke the surface choking water. Craig was the worst for wear and was just able to get to shore. Hunt dove down two or three times but came up empty-handed. Even though this was a drinking water reservoir, it was murky. Steve struggled in.
"He's gone, look there's no bubbles, he's gone, he's gone, he's gone!" Fitzy was hysterical.
"What'll do we do?" Asked Craig.
"We better get help." Earlier, I had seen some workers at the water pumping plant at the entrance to the Woods. "Hunt and I can go for help. You two better stay here so we'll know where he went down."
We set off. It was slow going because the trail was unpaved and rocky and we were in our bare feet. At the pumping station, we relayed what had happened. Within minutes the fire department showed up with a boat and they were followed shortly by the police. We brought them all to the place where Paul went down and the diving and dragging began. I can still see Richy Stevens, Paul's brother, standing near the shore at dusk, his eyes fixed on the boat and divers.
Paul was found two days later.
I don't usually give much credence to fate but consider this: with the exception of Hunt, none of us knew or had ever met Paul Stevens until that day. I never heard Hunt even mention his name. Yet, he joined our circle that day only to die. Is this irony, cruelty, or what??
There is a sidebar to the story. The night Paul Stevens’ body was recovered, I got a call from a priest at St. Pius Church Rectory in Lynn. This was Paul Stevens’ parish.
"Tom, This is Father (I don't remember his name) from St. Pius."
"I'm inquiring into the drowning of Paul Stevens."
"I understand all of you may have been drinking?"
"Was there any animosity between any of you toward Paul?"
"What the hell are you implying? This conversation's at an end!" I slammed the phone down. My heart was racing. I was never so mad in my life. This idiot watched too much TV or read too many mystery novels.
Before I forget, I'd like to mention a few notable teachers at Merrimack: Dr. Warren taught Philosophy. I was one of the few who ever got an ‘A’ from him because I constantly kissed his ass. I regurgitated in the finals what he wanted to see in the blue book.
Dr. Roddy taught History with such passion and enthusiasm that I suspected he was a time traveler, maybe the tenth reincarnation of Doctor Who.
Father Arconada was a Spaniard who fought with the loyalists against Francisco Franco and his Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. He always wore a beret and taught logic. He was a wiry little guy, ended each question with "yes or not?" and I could picture him with a machine gun or lobbing grenades.
Mr. Leginskis was a Lithuanian escapee from one of Stalin's concentration camps. He had a series of numbers burnt onto the skin of his arm. He wore tattered sweaters and taught Russian.
And, finally, Mr. Rolando. He was the only teacher in the history of my education who made math comprehensible to me. Rolando was Cuban and had been an economic minister under the Cuban dictator Bautista. When Castro took over, Rolando fled with his family to Miami and somehow ended up at Merrimack. He had six or eight kids and I remembered they took up a pew and a half in the college chapel.
Now, I suppose would be a good time to bring Tom Stafford into the picture. Tom like myself was an ex seminarian and came from Lynn. He had studied with the Maryknollers. He was a political science major and I met him in Dr.Roddy's World History class. My relationship with Stafford was memorable for two things: the night of the Iraqis and Amco Cleaning Company.
Every once in awhile, I'd show up at his house for a few drinks and conversation. Stafford knew people from all over the world. One particular night, there were two Iraqi students in the living room when I arrived. After the usual introductions and initial small talk, Tom offered everyone a drink. One of the Iraqis commented that in his humble opinion and limited student life experience in this country, Americans have difficulty holding their liquor.
"I thought Iraqis were Moslems and eschewed liquor?" I said. He explained that not all Iraqis were ultra devout or fundamentalists and that Baghdad is not a tent city but cosmopolitan in outlook. I steered the conversation away from liquor per se and winked at Stafford.
He poured the three of us another round, and then another, and then another, etc. First, one Iraqi slipped from his chair to the floor. The other began to nod, fell forward and hit the table. It was like a scene out of ‘Indiana Jones’. I was feeling no pain myself but was far from the passing out stage. As I started for the door, Tom said "Thanks, I appreciate that. They were driving me nuts with their bragadocio. I’ll let them sleep it off. I'm sure they’ll be sufficiently humbled by morning."
Stafford worked part-time for a company in Lynn called Amco Cleaning. I told him I could use some part-time work and he suggested I go with him to Amco some night. Amco Cleaning was a janitorial company specializing in portering and floor care. For me, this was a seminal event because I spent the next 15 years in this business in one way or another.
Amco was located in the downstairs section of a four-floor tenement in a seedier section of Lynn. When I walked in with Tom, I was introduced to Eddie St. George who was dressed immaculately in full dark colored suit, white shirt, tie, and appropriate jewelry. He was slim and fit and looked like he had just stepped out of Vogue magazine. Eddie was about 38 years old.
The other man provided quite a contrast. He was Max Potishman. Max was in his early sixties, short, heavy set but not fat (‘squat’ would probably be a better description). Max's face sported a five o'clock shadow. His clothes were rumpled and he was stretched out horizontally on a faux leather couch. Max was also mildly intoxicated. I learned later that he was always mildly intoxicated.
Tom introduced me to both of them. Eddie took care of most sales and handled the portering jobs. Portering consisted of cleaning offices, banks, etc. after hours. It consisted mainly of emptying wastebaskets, dusting and vacuuming, and restroom maintenance as Eddie called it (cleaning shit houses as Max called it). Max was in charge of the floor cleaning crew and window washers, while his wife Esther took care of the books.
The odd thing was that Max owned 51 percent and therefore had controlling interest in the company. However, without Eddie, Amco would probably have tanked. I started with Amco as a porter for a bank in Beverly and did it for half a year until I learned that the floor crew made more money. I asked Max to consider me if he needed anyone for floor crew any time when I wasn’t portering. He called me once to fill in for a Saturday crew and before long, I gave up portering for floor crew. The only notable thing worth mentioning about portering occurred when Eddie St. George would pull a surprise inspection. He came in and donned white gloves and while talking to you about this and that he would be running his white-gloved fingers along shelves, desks, window sills, etc.
"See this?" He pointed at a speck of dust on his white-gloved fingertips. "We can’t have this." On several occasions, I wanted to tell him to stick his white-gloved finger up his butt and check for dust but I guess I had finally matured to the point where I could keep my big mouth shut for a change. The floor crew consisted mostly of guys who were trying to supplement their income. I worked with the same guys for a couple years. There was Stafford, of course, and a fellow I knew only as 'the Greek'. Either the Greek or Tom ran the floor crew. Then there was Mancinelli.
"Hey Greek," Mancinelli would ask, "these floors aren't too bad. Let's just mop and wax."
It didn't take me long to learn that this crew would take the quickest way out because most often we were paid by the job and not by the hour. Most of the time, we were supposed to mop, strip (a long, tedious, and messy job) or scrub, and apply floor finish.
"All right, Carmody and DeMaure mop and the rest of us'll wax. Keep a look out for Max, though by now, he's probably asleep on the couch or behind the wheel, or both."
A three or four hour job became a half an hour to 45 minutes. Most of this work was in factory areas so usually we got away with it. Max was no dope either. If the job had to be done legit, then Max would give us an hourly rate instead. Mercifully, these were few and far apart.
"C'mon DeMaure, let's mop." I said.
To the point of annoyance, Frankie DeMaure called everyone 'Dad'. By day, he was Max's window washer. I worked full-time with Frankie one summer doing windows.
"We never go higher than two floors, Dad."
I made good money and we only worked from eight to one, unbeknownst (maybe) to Max. The last member of our floor crew was John DiTondo who was a butcher by day.
"Tom,if there's ever a fire in my store, I'm going to take my meat and beat it."
I must have heard him tell that lame joke about 1000 times.
DiTondo and Mancinelli loved teasing Stafford because he was really straight and normally wouldn't say shit even if he had a mouthful of it.
"Hey, Stafford, say 'F-- K'. They'd taunt.
"F--K." He sometimes replied with a red face.
One time, I arrived late at Amco and Max had to drive me to the job. Even intoxicated, he drove a straight line at about 30 mph. The only problem was that we were in the passing lane of a four-lane highway. I still have no idea how we got there alive and I made damn sure I was never late again. Max came in with me. The crew had thankfully not started the job yet.
"Don't forget, Greek, this is a dust mop, strip, scrub, and recoat."
"And no smart-ass looks from you Mancinelli. I ain't stupid, you know. I make over fifty thousand dollars after taxes." With that, he left.
"Wax it" ordered the Greek.
Max learned that I was adept at landscaping. So he hired me one summer to take care of his lawn, shrubs, etc. at his home in a fashionable section of Marblehead (some might argue that all sections of Marblehead are fashionable). Once, he invited me in for lunch.
"We're having sandwiches, whadya want to drink?"
"How about milk."
Max and Esther both shuddered.
"This is a kosher home. We don't do dairy with the meal"
I forgot, after all, this was my second meal in a kosher home - see story 'When I Was Young').
"Here, have a Coke."
They were a sweet couple, he at about 5 ft. 6 inches, she about five foot. Max always had a twinkle in his eye and Esther was a very caring person. They were childless. I grew to love both of them.
At the end of my sophomore year, it was time to pick a major. Before we get to that, however, let me tell you about a little excitement that occurred. It took place in Middleton on Route 114 (often called Thunder Road).
One Thursday as I was driving home from school, suddenly, three state police cruisers and one from the locals sped by me with lights flashing and sirens blazing. At first, I thought it was for me as I glanced at the speedometer that indicated I was indeed speeding. However, they sped by me as if I didn't exist. Getting excited, I fell in behind them to join the chase (as soon as I figured they weren't after me). About a half mile down the road just past the Pines Motel, all came to a screeching halt. A small crowd was gathering to see a car that had crashed through the railing and came to rest 50 yards away. I got out of the car and watched as the cops ran to the crash scene. The windows on the driver’s side had been blown away.
I heard a witness recount how he had slowed down to let out a car that had just pulled out of the Pines Motel onto the highway. Another car came speeding out of nowhere and passed the witness. The windows on the passenger side of the second car were open. Three shotgun barrels appeared and blasted the occupants of the first car sending it through the guard-rail and into the field. It turned out later that this was a mob hit. I peered inside at the carnage and my stomach flip-flopped. I'd seen enough.
So, what does all this have to do with picking a major? Not much except that Walt Socha mentioned later that week that Merrimack was to have a new major the following year: the Department of Psychology. I'll talk about this now in conjunction with a story I like to call the 'Boulanger Incident'.
Generally, I hate to cram. I sat at a desk in the corner of the library, looking out of the window and bemoaning the fact that I had spent too much time in the Student Union perfecting my Whist game when I should have been breaking the mysteries of Statistics and Experimental Psychology. Not that I didn't devote a proper amount of time to studies, it's just that I try to allow for scheduled review time. Now, here it was, zero hour minus twenty-four and it would probably be an all nighter.
"Tom, you're not going to believe this, but I just heard that Dave shot Professor Boulanger!" Said Danny Fitzgerald out of breath from running.
"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked.
At that moment, gasping for breath, Doc Belcastro from the Education Department ran up to me.
"Tom, we need you quick in the dean's office!"
Let me explain. This was the second year that the Psych department was extant. It was the birth child of A. John Valois, Ph.D. The A. probably stood for Alphonse, Amedee, or some other French first name that, for some unknown reason, was out of fashion, and, therefore, shameful. Doc Valois had five young kids and a lovely wife. They were only in their mid thirty something. A few years later, he abandoned wife and kids to hippiedom and was last seen pumping gas in San Francisco. Oh well!
I hated A. John and respected him at the same time. His mission was to establish the Department of Psychology as pre-eminent at Merrimack. At the incipient first semester class, he presented us wannabes, all 30 know-it-alls, with 15 books including works of Freud, Jung, Maslow, Rogers, Skinner, et al. Any two of these works could've consumed a semester. But, we were expected to absorb them all. He drove us like oxen.
For one semester's term paper, I decided to conduct a poll. The topic magni momenti was the Vietnam War that we as students had skillfully, and, in some cases cowardly avoided. I worked like a well-lubed machine, gathering troops (sic) to help me, devising questions (biased, of course, since my cranium at the time was filled with constipating Liberal pap), and getting the school in an uproar of interest. A. John got wind that I was going to publish the results in the school rag.
"If you publish these results as expressing the opinion of the student body, I'll denounce it publicly."
"You've got a lot to learn about statistical polling techniques. What you conducted was a voluntary poll. The results as they apply to the student body are almost meaningless."
"Listen, I worked my butt off on this project, spent ten times the amount of time and energy than a regular b.s. term paper. I intended to use this poll as my term paper in your class. You just gelded me!"
He was unmovable; I was crushed and furious.
"That's your problem. If you publish, I'll counter it and you'll flunk the course."
After my initial anger subsided, I found a way to publish the results and avoid an'F'. The following appeared on the first page of Merrimack's next issue:
Two Hundred Students Polled on the Vietnam War
The body of text of the poll was blah, blah, blah, blah. But the conclusion read:
This poll cannot be said to express the overall opinion of the student body because it was strictly voluntary and not guided by the principles of statistical polling. The poll results reflect only the opinions of the universe of 200 people who chose to participate.
A. John wrote to the editor the following week denouncing my methodology but praising the conclusion. Needless to say, nobody read my conclusion and all thought the poll expressed the opinion of the entire 1500 student body. I wrote my term paper which no one ever read except A. John, on the problems and deceits of voluntary polling, got an A- for my efforts and everyone was happy except A. John who remarked later:
"You don't belong in academia. You belong in politics, or, worse yet, sales!"
His words became one of life's great ironies.
In contrast to A. John, Doc Belcastro, progeny of Pittsburgh Italian mine workers, ran the Department of Education with Walt Socha and he detested the pomposity of his ivory tower colleagues. He also possessed a mischievous sense of humor.
You want a physical description? OK. He looked like a young version of Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach. Looks, however, was where the resemblance ended. Belcastro was witty, had a reputation for filling up classes quickly, and, unlike many in the field of education, really believed in what he taught. He treated all equally. Doc's only Achilles heel: he was anal to the point of neurosis. His life was too well ordered; you could set a clock to it. Belcastro owned five suits for Monday through Friday. Each suit was worn on a particular day, no deviation permitted. In fairness, he was aware of these obsessions and joked freely about them. He made light of many things often to the chagrin of his academic peers.
I never believed that opposites attract so I introduced him to my cousin Joan, another free spirit but secretly just as anal as he. They later married, bore Sarah Marie, now a doctor of mathematics who has purple hair, black boots and, at last sighting, had 2 love slaves to fulfill her basic needs.
Back to the story. With a seriousness that wasn't becoming, Doc told me the Dean wanted to see me. I got scared.
"Somebody dead?" I asked.
"Worse." He replied as we headed for the Dean's office. "Dead I can deal with. It’s stupidity I have a problem with."
In the Dean's office were gathered several college notables including Father Ahearn, the Dean, and several of his minions, also Walt Socha, A. John who for a change kept his mouth shut, Doctor Forgac, head of the French department, and three members of campus security (AKA the Keystone Kops).
Father Ahearn whose granite features were cloned from New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain was the first to speak.
"Mr. Carmody, we have a serious problem here. Your brother David fired a weapon at Professor Boulanger during second period French 1 class."
Everyone started talking at once. The scene was so 1940s movies, I started laughing. I had noticed the lack of 1) David and 2) the real police. Something was definitely nutso here.
"Sir, this is no laughing matter." Said the dean.
"I'm sorry." I replied thinking what a trip to be a party to one of life's farces. "What happened?"
Let's talk about Dave. He stood about 6'1" and was really lanky at the time. He was a mild-mannered kid, kinda quiet, whose main concerns were women with big breasts, music, and getting an education. But, back to the story.
"Where's my brother?"
"He's being held in detention in the conference room." Said Ahearn.
"Can I talk to him?" I didn't wait for an answer but proceeded to the door to the conference room. Dave was sitting on one of the chairs around the table.
"What the hell's going on?"
"I've been having a problem with Boulanger lately. He's such a dork. He's always getting on my case about my Canadian accent when speaking French. He insists that Parisian French is the only acceptable form. He embarrasses me constantly in front of the class. I just couldn't take it anymore. I borrowed a starter's pistol from Ted Hagen (note: Ted Hagan was a sergeant on the Lynn police force. He was a family friend inasmuch as our mother was a secretary for the same institution). It fires blanks. I took it with me to class today and figured the best way to get his attention besides my accent was to chew gum during class. It drives him nuts. Seated at his desk in front of the class of 35 students, Boulanger jumped up from his seat.
"Monsieur Carmody, (dripping with sarcasm) get rid of the gum."
I rose slowly from where I sat in the middle of the class.
"I've had enough of your shit!"
I aimed and fired the blank pistol at him. Everyone screamed. He grabbed at his heart and fell back into the chair. His face turned white and looked like he was going to pass out. Then, he thought that I missed and tried to hide under his desk. I fired two more shots and ran out of class. Rather than hide out, I went to campus security to tell them what had happened before anyone else did (DUH!). They took the gun from me and called the Andover police who in turn called Lynn police. I didn't think this thing would go that far. I was so scared, I figured I'd better tell them everything. I had told Ted that I needed the pistol for a race. The Andover police wanted to charge me with attempted murder but I guess Ted was able to smooth things over on the legal end. The school's ready to expel me."
"You're the complete idiot. Not only did you jeopardize your schooling but you involved family and friends. Do me a favor, stay right here and don't move. We've got some people with weight on our side."
Secretly, I admired his balls, but I was too flustered by the time I got back to the dean's office. Unknown to me, Doc Belcastro and Walt Socha had convinced the dean to keep it out of police hands and handle the matter internally. It was the only time in my academic life that compassion and cool heads prevailed.
Dave was given a three-day suspension and became a folk hero on campus once word got out, as, of course, all secrets must. Dave was made to publicly apologize to Professor Boulanger and, strange as it is, they tolerated each other after the incident blew over. Dave went on to become a special education teacher for emotionally disturbed kids. Boulanger faded into obscurity.
By my senior year, the Boulanger incident had blown over and some of my classmates in Psychology were thinking about grad school. The rest were thinking about a draft deferment as the politicians' war was still going on. I thought about grad school and half-heartedly applied to McGill in Montreal and Yeshiva in New York. Both had fine Psych departments. Unfortunately, neither deemed me to be worthy of acceptance.
Besides, I was starting to seriously think about marrying Terry which move would require full-time employment. However, my liberal arts degree wouldn't really provide me with anything marketable.
Anyhow, senior year glided along well until the last week. I had enjoyed Math so much for the first time in my life that I elected a Calculus course. I thought it would look good on my transcript. The class was full of math majors and I really had to work to keep up. Calculus requires memory, something I never trained but I was headed for a 'B' in the course and that was OK. The professor was a 6'4" beanpole named Ozomkowski. He and a couple of other math teachers could often be found at the racetrack over the New Hampshire border, putting their math skills into more financial pursuits. I was so run down by final exams that I went into the Calculus final with a touch of the flu. The questions were as I expected and I breezed through the test. I looked around and everyone else was still working diligently. I got up, passed in my blue book, and left the room. The next day, I was in the Psych department when Frank Belcastro poked his head out of Valois' office.
"Tom, can you come in here?" It sounded ominous.
"What's up?" Also in the office were Valois and Socha.
"You flunked Calculus." Said Frank.
"We've been fighting with Ozomkowski all morning. You completed less than half the test. The only thing we could figure out was that two pages could've been stuck together."
"Holy shit!" I sat down and expelled one long breath.
"Unfortunately, Ozomkowski isn't a reasonable man. A makeup test for him is out of the equation." Said Valois.
"Even the dean got involved but to no avail." Echoed Walt.
"So, where does that leave me?"
"You can't graduate with the rest of the class. I would suggest you find some easy summer course since this was an elective. You don't have to repeat Calculus." Offered Doc Belcastro.
The upshot was that I applied for a summer course in Educational Psychology at Salem State College for short money. On the first day of class, Dr. Lebel announced that he only wanted serious students in this class. If anyone was disinterested, all you had to do was write your name on a piece of paper with the grade you expected and pass it in. Then you could leave. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I wrote on a piece of paper "Tom Carmody 'A' then left the class. Apparently, I was the only one to accept the offer. True to his word, two months later, I got my transcript with the 'A' for Educational Psychology, forwarded it to Merrimack, and, shortly after that, rolled up in a cardboard tube, my degree arrived in the mail.