Greenwood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A non-fiction story about a group of friends and s neighborhood in Brooklyn from childhood to early adulthood.

Submitted: February 02, 2019

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Submitted: February 02, 2019

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As an adult boundaries mean setting limits of what is acceptable behavior within society. As a kid growing up in the Brooklyn of the 70’s and 80’s it meant where you were allowed to go and how far you could venture in the neighborhood. Growing up in the working class Irish enclave of Windsor Terrace my whole world was defined and informed by the borders of Greenwood cemetery to east 5th street playground and from Caton avenue to Vanderbilt street. That was the village and I’m one of the many children it raised. Blue Collar to the bone, before hipsters or social media our parents hung out on the stoop together while us kids ran the streets like a roving gang of  pirates. I don’t live there anymore but my Mom is still there in the same house since 1969.  The only way she’s leaving is in a box. I’m not there anymore but it’s still “The Neighborhood” and there’s something comforting about that. Something warm and familiar like a worn out pair of jeans or an old, perfectly broken in pair of boots.

Growing up there it’s true that you had to be home for dinner when the street lights came on and on the weekend you had to be out of the house by ten AM. so your parents could have some peace and quiet. That was fine with us there were always other kids outside and we always had a roller hockey game or touch football going on. No  “play dates” just walk outside and find something to do. We never got in any real trouble and we solved our own problems. If you got in a fist fight on Friday you were playing wiffle ball together on the same team on Saturday. On occasion if things got out of hand one of the older guys would step in and settle any dispute. Back then a three or four year age difference seemed like a lot so we looked up to and listened to the older kids and they in turn looked out for us. Then we became the older kids and on it went. In the neighborhood you felt safe and protected. I mean we were little smart asses and everyone took their lumps and got picked on but we also stuck up for each other.

January 1975, that’s when I made my grand entrance into the world. I introduced myself three months ahead of schedule. Being an early arrival meant being born in the house and delivered by firemen. Thank you engine 240 and thanks as well to the neighbor kid who pulled the fire alarm box on the corner. Born premature and breach… meaning ass first with my grandmother charging up the stairs from her first floor apartment with a knife in her hand (she wasn’t gonna cut the cord.) she was making lunch and just forgot to put the knife down. It’s ok, the firemen stopped her at the top of the stairs. (Thanks again guys) My mother likes to say, “you made an ass of yourself from day one and you keep on going”. A few weeks in the hospital and then home with my parents, two sisters and my grandmother. Off to a great start.

My parents bought a two family house in the neighborhood. We lived on the second floor and my grandmother was on the first. They bought the house in 1969 for 18 Grand. Houses there now are going for a million plus. Hipsters and transplants have discovered the neighborhood now but there are still a good number of holdouts like my mom. Leftovers, Townies whatever. The point is that several young couples just starting out moved there all around the same time and raised kids together building friendships and a strong community that still endures today.

The great start I just mentioned came to an abrupt, screeching halt in February 1976 when my father died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of thirty eight. Leaving my mother to raise three kids all under the age of five by herself. Well, not entirely my grandmother helped out. It must have been scary to be a young widow with three kids and no job but she did it and I have no idea how. She was and still is a tough lady. As early as I can remember I always felt like we were going to be ok and we always had what we needed. The basics were covered and we knew and felt loved although it wasn’t said very often. We weren’t spoiled or overly indulged by any means. It wasn’t a very huggy/kissy upbringing but we learned to be tough and were taught respect, manners and responsibility. We had fun and laughed a lot but there were rules and expectations. If you got out of line or did something wrong you got slapped or punished or both depending on the situation. My mom had the quickest backhand in the business. She also had some colorful one liners to warn you when you were about to push her too far. “You’re gonna feel pretty stupid lookin’ up at me from the floor”. Was a good one. Or, “How bout I put your face through that wall?” Then there was “I’ll give you the back of my hand.” She wasn’t about to take any crap from the three of us. She didn’t have time to and we were no angels. We sure didn’t make it easy. She had to unleash us into the street to run around with our friends. She would’ve lost her mind if we didn’t get the hell out of the house.

My grandmother was very funny and quick witted. She liked to tease and joke with us. She loved to have a good laugh. She was also overtly racist and didn’t see anything wrong with sharing those views. None of us understood or agreed with her but looking back now I think that was all based on fear and the lack of diversity or exposure to other people and cultures when she was growing up. She used to talk to me about Ireland and she taught me many Irish folk songs that she would then ask me to sing for her. She always said I had a nice voice, she also always wanted me to become a priest. Sorry grandma, That was never gonna happen.

We used to have Sunday dinners downstairs with grandma every week which should have been nice except it never ended well for me. My grand mother believed that children should be seen and not heard. You were at the table to eat not to crack wise or interrupt the adults conversation. Doing so would result in being banished from the table. You wouldn’t be able to finish your meal and you would have to sit in the other room until dinner was finished. Can you guess what happened to me almost every Sunday? My sisters quite enjoyed me getting in trouble so they would kick or poke me under the table until i would yell at them to stop or they would make faces until I would bust out laughing. My grandmother would raise her arm and point to the door simply saying “Go!” So I went and sat on the edge of her bed until dinner was over. There was a creepy picture of Jesus hanging on her bedroom wall. I swear the eyes followed you. Needless to say I felt like I was being judged every Sunday for years by both grandma and Creepy Jesus. When dinner was over we would go upstairs and my mother would give me a bowl of cold cereal for dinner and beg me to keep my mouth shut next sunday, “For The Love Of Christ!” My mom was also fair so she would yell at my sisters to leave me alone so we could all eat in peace. I don’t recall that ever actually happening. I also never understood why every Irish Catholic household in America had the same three pictures hanging on the wall. It was J.F.K., Jesus and the Pope. It doesn’t matter or mean anything I just always found it funny.

My mom became good friends with five other ladies on the block they were all around the same age and so were all us kids. It was nice especially for my mother that they all had that in common. They would alternate sitting on each others stoops or go out for dinner or coffee and dessert. I think the other moms wanted to get away from their husbands for a bit and I’m sure my mother jumped at the chance to go out with them to feel like she still had a life and to get away from us for a few hours. Why not? Good for her, she deserved it. On these nights usually once every couple of weeks we would have to go downstairs so my grandmother could keep an eye on us until my mother came home. It wasn’t bad usually we would just have ice cream and watch tv. Grandma didn’t mind The only show she wouldn’t let us watch was called The Facts of Life. Her reasoning was that a show with that title had to be about sex and we were too young for such filth. She was funny about stuff like that and kinda hard for a little kid to figure out because we couldn’t watch The Facts of Life but she would let me watch the old Benny Hill show with her and she would laugh her ass off as this dirty old man from England chased these scantily clad young girls around. Her laughing made me laugh so we both sat there laughing and I had no idea what was so funny.

Things changed again and got a little more difficult somewhere in 1980. I was five years old and in kindergarten when both my mother and my teacher noticed I was having a hard time with certain things. I couldn’t hold a crayon or pencil and I was tripping and falling a lot. So what? I was an uncoordinated kid. Big deal, I was clumsy. Turns out it was a little more than that. After going to a few doctors and having some tests done at Long Island College Hospital in downtown Brooklyn My mother and I sit in an office and wait for this doctor to explain the test results to us. The things you can remember about a certain place or event can be both weird and/or amazing. I can almost see myself sitting on this big soft, brown leather chair that swivelled all the way around in a complete circle. I just kept turning and turning myself in that chair until I was dizzy. Then the doc came in and wanted me to go out in the hall so he could “Explain Things.” to my mom. She would have none of that, she responded by saying, “My son is sitting right there and this is his life. Explain it to him and whatever we need to do we’ll do it together.”  Well said mom.

We were informed that I have Cerebral Palsy. Big scary words that mean nothing to a five year old. That did explain the limp, hand tremors and lack of hand/eye coordination. So, professional hockey player was off the table as a career choice. My mother didn’t flinch. She just took a deep breath and asked what was next. The good doctor ran down a list of tests and treatment including physical and occupational therapies as well as wearing leg braces and special orthopedic shoes to help straighten out my legs. I’m not sure if I cried but I know mom and I talked in the car and she assured me that I would get help and everything would be ok and I believed her.

When we got home she had me tell my grandmother, explaining that I would have to get used to telling people because, “ it’s not a secret and nothing to be ashamed of.” Grandma asked how it went and I said, “OK, I just have Cerebral Palsy a little bit.” She hugged me and said, “ that’s ok.” Then as I left them to talk and started up the stairs I overheard my grandmother ask, “Does that mean he’s retarded?” My mom shushed her and said, “No! He just needs extra help and don’t ever say that again.” My sisters were very sweet and supportive. They both wanted to help and became extra, super protective of their little brother, even more so than before. The next few weeks we went about going to specialists and getting fitted for leg braces that they called “Twister Cables.” Good Times!”

Leg Braces Suck!!! I don’t care what you call them. They are permanently connected to ugly ass shoes that look like Herman Munster boots and you have to put them on and then put your pants on. They had a big ugly white belt that went around your waistband under your pants. Extremely uncomfortable and I had to wear them all the time. No sneakers for this kid. I also refused to wear shorts in the summer because kids would see them and make fun of me. Kids are mean and it was such an obvious thing to pick on especially in the schoolyard. I gotta say my friends in the neighborhood were pretty cool about it. Yeah, of course they had jokes and some of them were good ones. I must admit they made me laugh but these guys wouldn’t let anyone outside our crew of kids say anything or there would be a fight. The boys always had my back.

Physical therapy wasn’t bad. Mostly because I got out of school early to go. There was a lot of stretching and exercises to do and I had to do them at home as well. The therapists were very nice and mostly it was throwing a ball or jumping on a mat kinda like a playground. The one thing I hated was when they had to observe me walk it had to be in my underwear with the braces on. Up and down the hall then up and down the stairs several times all in my tighty whities. How Embarrassing! My mom was a trooper through all of this. She would sit on the floor with me every night to help me do my exercises and always encouraged me to keep trying and do my best even if It took me longer or I had to do things differently. I could still do them just like everybody else. Sometimes I would cry or get frustrated if something was hard to do or it was just a bad day and I felt different than the other kids but if I ever said “I Can’t” My mom would get upset and say, “Only dead people can’t and you’re not dead.” Sometimes you need a little kick in the ass. Thanks mom. I began to notice around the same time that other little kids there were in the same position, if not much worse off. During one session I noticed a little girl about three years old who I overheard had CP too. So It wasn’t just me. That made me feel kinda good. Then I realized, only because her parents and therapist were beating on the mat and calling to her over and over to get her to move the right way, she was also blind. That made me feel Supremely Bad! The kind of bad that never goes away. The kind that makes you feel Supremely Lucky because you only hurt a little and it could be so much worse. In the car on the way home I started crying. My mom told me to Stop! We already talked about this. I couldn’t stop so I explained, I was not crying for me. I was crying for that little girl who has what I have only she can’t walk and can’t see. My mom hugged me and we both cried a little. I know I was very young but I also know I felt for that little girl very deeply. I sometimes wonder where she is and how her life turned out. I have no complaints or no right to complain. Next time you hear me complain punch me in the face. I don’t have a single Goddamn reason to complain! Please remind me of that.

When I was eight we went on a family vacation. Mom, grandma me and my two sisters all piled into the old Pontiac and drove to a family resort in the Catskills. My mom driving, chain smoking Winstons with the window barely cracked open. Grandma riding shotgun not allowing the AC or radio to be on and us three kids in the back already annoying the crap out of each other 15 minutes into this vacation. Now we were all told to “GO” (use the bathroom) before leaving the house but I didn’t have to GO then. An hour into the ride in a hot, smoke filled car sitting in the middle of the back seat between my sisters Now I Gotta GO! I ask if we can stop and my grandmother tells me to “just hold it in!” apparently we’re on the nonstop express and the copilot is at the controls. A few minutes later my bladder is about to burst so I plead, “Ma, Please Stop!” No dice, we didn’t even have drinks in the car, just soggy foil wrapped sandwiches. Just pull over I’ll find a bush or a tree and then on the road again. How easy is that? Grandma had a better idea. Mom keeps driving and grandma rifles through her giant hand bag filled with napkins, sugar packets and God knows what else she’s pocketed from any number of diners and restaurants and she produces an empty Smucker’s jelly jar, passes it back to me and says “use this.” No stopping or even slowing down, I’m not joking I had to unzip and pee into a jar while sitting between my two sisters in a moving car. After some dribble and poor aim I felt relieved to say the least. Grandma took the full jar back and emptied and rinsed it out when we got there. Let the good times roll!

This place was very nice. There was a dining hall where you ate all your meals at tables with other families and they had live music after dinner and a bar for the adults. There were activities all day for the kids arranged by age group also a basketball court, playground and a pool. I loved the pool because I didn’t have to wear the stupid shoes and braces. It was great to swim and splash around with all the other kids. My sisters and I always got along pretty well but it was nice that we weren’t forced together and we could break off with kids our own age. I think my mom enjoyed just relaxing and having some time to herself. My grandmother would sit out in front of her room and read or listen to the radio content to watch everyone come and go.

There was a game room that had pinball and Donkey Kong, also Space Invaders. My after dinner ritual was to get a fistful of quarters from mom and go play video games. Outside the dining hall were vending machines. One had candy bars for a quarter and the other had glass bottles of soda for 50 cents. I would hold onto 75 cents from my game room money every night and get a soda and a candy bar to have while I watched tv back n our room. I don’t remember the brand of soda but there was cola, ginger ale, grape and orange. I liked the grape. I would get that and a pack of peanut chews to end the day with.

One night walking back to the room I saw my grandmother sitting out so I went to say hi. We sat and chatted about how much we were enjoying ourselves and how nice it was as I sipped my soda she asked what kind it was and I answered “Grape soda grandma.” she replied, “You shouldn’t be having that.” When I asked why feeling kind of like I’d done something wrong she motioned for me to come closer. She then whispered in my ear, “Grape soda is for black people.” Now we all know this is a racist stereotype but eight year old me took her words literally. I felt like I had somehow taken something that didn’t belong to me or taken something away from someone else. I drank regular cola for the rest of the week.  Aside from that it was a fun vacation.

The summer before fifth grade big changes were around the corner. My mother had transferred me to the Catholic school two blocks away so I wasn’t returning to the public school I had been in since first grade. This was because after sixth grade I would have to travel to a junior high by myself but Catholic school went up to eighth grade and I could walk back and forth with my friends and one of my sisters would be there a grade ahead of me. My oldest sister had already started high school. No big deal school is school and most of my friends went there. The only difference was I would have to wear a uniform. The other big development was that my mother was going back to work full time. She got a job at a market research company where a friend of hers worked. It was close enough that she could walk but she wanted us to help out more around the house and fend for ourselves a bit. No big deal. My grandmother was right downstairs if we needed anything. We were all old enough to help out and be unsupervised for a few hours.

First day of school a bunch of us walked down the block together. I walked into the schoolyard, lined up with my new class, brand new uniform, brand new school, brand new year. I instantly hated it! I hated every single thing about it. I didn’t know any of these kids. All my friends were either in the other fifth grade class or a grade ahead or behind me. I was the new kid and then in very short order I was the disabled kid more directly, the retarded kid. Welcome to the Jungle Baby! I swear there was a constant countdown clock in my head. Just get to lunch time. A lot of kids went home for lunch including me and my sister. My grandma would give us a sandwich and a snack and make sure I would “GO” before heading back. Then we had some time in the schoolyard so at least I could play and hang out with my friends before going back to my class. Then the countdown was just until 2:45 then I was FREE!! Back on the block. Get homework out of the way then grab the last hours of daylight before dinner. There was no Cyberbullying. There was no Cyber anything but when I tell you that at times the teachers were worse than the students, I’m not kidding. I had teachers who actually made fun of my handwriting in front of the whole class. Back then we still had Nuns. one kicked me out of the library for having handwriting like “Chicken Scratch.” Another slapped me because I was left handed, Surely the spawn of the Devil!

My friends and I played sports on Greenwood Avenue and never talked about school. We never let it get to us. My mom knew about the teachers and the Nuns and she felt bad but if she confronted them it would only be worse for me. At home we settled into mom working, grandma being crazy and us kids pitching in. I’ll explain, here’s the rundown… We all got home from school and had about two and a half hours before mom got home. The countdown clock is ticking. My mother was a heavy tea drinker with a 6 cup a day habit. There had to be milk and tea bags in the house. The dishes had to be done. Dishwasher Ha! You had two hands the dishwasher was you. Plus my grandmother always liked to send us to the store. My oldest sister would forget things at the store, she screwed up on purpose so she would never be asked to go again. Genius! My other sister would get it right because she wanted to be the favorite. Me? I saw an opening.

My sisters didn’t want to go to the store, make tea or wash dishes but they also wanted to avoid getting yelled at. I stepped in for a nominal fee, going to the store=$2, washing dishes=$1 plus setting the table and various other chores. I made about $25 a week just doing chores at eleven years old and it kept the peace.  My mom came home tired but also happy that everything was done and we didn’t annoy my grandmother. Grandma only wanted my younger sister to go to the store for her because my oldest sister, as I said would  screw up on purpose and if I went I would surely get things wrong, after all I was either “Slow or Retarded.” depending on the day. On and on, you get the picture. I didn’t mind though this was the start of me being industrious. More about that later.

Sixth grade was the start of a lot of things, from Hard Ons to Hockey. Twelve was a rough age. The only cool thing was that me and all my buddies discovered hokey. I learned to skate by the light of a lamp post and even though due to my CP I did not have the coordination  or balance to ride a bike I could skate well enough to go side to side and back and forward. Perfect Gollie! The urges of puberty were right on my heels and I had to beg my mother to tell my sisters not to walk through my room, as all the rooms in our apartment went in a circle.

I’m sure my mother felt bad for me because I was the only boy but I also felt for her. When she had to take me to buy a cup to protect my little baby junk neither of us knew what we were doing but a nice young kid surveyed the situation and helped me out. Thank you! New things were happening, hair sprouting, voice changing, endless erection kind of things and in Catholic school that was bad. I became an altar boy ha! I beat the system. Me and a friend of mine were in charge of the schedule. The weekday 9am mass got you out of class for an hour and weddings and funerals tipped you. Of course we worked it out in our favor, Industrious, remember?

Something else happened that year. Something amazing, after seven years of intense therapy and twister cables I go to therapy on a random Tuesday and I’m told I’m FREE!!!!!! I don’t need the braces anymore and as long as I stay active and keep up with my program I won’t have to come back. Yes…. I would have said yes to anything, Me and my mom walked out both feeling so good. One problem, the only shoes I have to wear are the “special, Herman Munster” ones. The next day my mom took off from work and I got to stay home from school. We went sneaker shopping for the first time! We didn’t have money and my mom did her best but on this day the gloves were off. Mom told me I could have any sneakers I wanted. This was the year that the Reebok pumps came out, they had a pump that you could inflate or deflate. I don’t know what they were supposed to do but they cost over a hundred bucks and they were mine! I got a pair in black and white, my first sneakers!!!! Then we went out for lunch. I think it was Burger King but it was a Victory lunch for both me and mom and I’ll never forget it.

When we got home and I Proudly displayed my new kicks my sisters were pissed. My mother never spent that kind of money on shoes for them, ever! They Bitched and she explained that she never spent money on sneakers for me and if they complained again i would get two more pairs! You tell ‘em Mom!

After that, school still sucked and I never saw the love and compassion that I thought Catholic school was supposed to be about. Mostly it was about going to church and giving them your weekly envelope. A cash donation to keep God’s love shining on you and your family. What a Scam!  My sisters and I had it beat, My oldest sister was 16 and smoking cigarettes at the time and we no longer wanted to go to church so on Ash wednesday when a priest is supposed to put a cross of ashes on your forehead we left the house through the front door  as if going to mass and went back in the basement door. We hung out in the basement for an hour or so and my sister blessed us with the ashes of a few Marlboro Lights and we were Golden walking back through the front door like three good little Catholic Angels.

Why not? It made our mother and grandmother happy to think that we were being good kids and we kind of were for the most part anyway. We were just having fun, nobody got hurt, well “Seriously Hurt” anyway it was all in good fun. Innocent childish fun. It was a good time.

My friends and I pulled many stunts like the show Jackass way before that show even existed. We had shopping cart races where one of us would get into a cart that we stole from the supermarket parking lot and get pushed down a hill into oncoming traffic. There was no brakes or steering so you would just throw yourself to one side and tip over before literally playing in traffic. We were stupid kids having harmless fun we always found ways to amuse ourselves. It didn’t take much and we never really got hurt or ended up in any serious trouble. Just the cuts and bruises that I think all kids should have by a certain age.

By seventh grade we were entering our teens and we started branching out from the neighborhood. We would jump on the train and venture to Coney Island To grab a hot dog at Nathan’s and ride the Cyclone or take the bus to Bay Ridge to go to the movies or a diner. Around this time we started  hanging out at night on the weekend either on Greenwood ave. or Fort Hamilton Parkway. It was usually a large mixed group of guys and girls not doing much or anything except being loud and stupid. What else were we supposed to do at that age? You would make one or two phone calls after dinner and just ask, “Are you hangin’ out?” followed by, “ok, later.” That was it. Then you went to the appointed meeting spot at the appointed time and there would be a dozen kids just hanging out.  Nothing exciting, if you were lucky the older guys would give you and your buddy each a beer to move across the street and leave them alone. Sometimes they would send us to the store for chips or cigarettes and they would give us a smoke and let us keep the change. Our parents didn’t mind us going out at night on weekends. They knew exactly where we were and who we were with, ( Most of the Time.) but we all had curfews and we all fought every weekend to get them increased even by just half an hour. My sisters were both older and got to come home later, I guess that was fair. Also there wery plenty of payphones around to call and say you were on your way but the bus broke down. The buses my sisters were on always seemed to breakdown. My mom wasn’t stupid but as long as they called she didn’t care all that much.

My oldest sister taught me a trick to stay out later. If you turn your watch back an hour you can stay out an hour later and mom won’t get mad because a broken watch isn’t your fault. Good advice but you can only use that trick once! My mother knew all the tricks and again, she didn’t really care. I was the youngest of three mostly she just wanted me to stay outta trouble and get home safe. So, after some intense negotiation the curfew was moved to 11pm and totally removed shortly after. What was the point?

Finally! Eighth grade, my last year at our lady of perpetual suffering. That wasn’t the real name of the school, just the way it made me feel. Time to apply to high schools and find out where I would spent the next four years. I’ll tell you one thing it wouldn’t be at the sacred bleeding heart of Jesus school. Again, not a school name just that I refuse to attend another fine institution of Catholic education. I applied to public schools because both of my sisters went to the Catholic school in the neighborhood and I didn’t want to be known as they’re “Little Brother.” for the next four years. I also figured if I went to a public school outside the neighborhood I could meet new people and make my own way without anybody looking over my shoulder. That was my plan. Just bide my time and keep my head down until we found out where we got accepted to.

At home my grandmother had started having mini strokes and also had Crohn's disease. She was in a hospital bed in her downstairs apartment and my mom found an attendant to stay with her while she was at work and we were at school. We all took turns sitting with grandma and talking to her. I think she enjoyed that. She was still sharp and seemed to have become a little more gentle and soft spoken. We had an intercom hooked up so when we were all upstairs for the night she could call us if she needed to. Sometimes it sounded kind of creepy you could hear her snoring and breathing… Until you couldn’t. She passed away that April. Yes, she was rough around the edges and maybe a little bit crazy too! At the same time she was funny and loving in her own way. She helped raise us and I just remember feeling a mix of sadness and anger. I was mad at God. I was mad that another person who loved and took care of me was gone. I was just mad in general.

In June I would graduate from The Sacred Bleeding Heart of Jesus School. No more uniforms for this kid. No more Nuns, no more sacraments, no more church or religion of any kind. I was out! I was on my way back to public school and a very prestigious and progressive school at that. Edward R. Murrow High School was top notch at the time with an innovative approach that focused on the individual student’s interest and experience. You got in by being chosen via lottery and then you got to choose your classes. You had to take math and science but you got to select which course you took and when. It was a well rounded program with lots of opportunities not only in academics but also the arts. They had an amazing music program where you didn’t have to play an instrument very well rather, just want to learn and participate. Imagine that… Being encouraged to do something just for pure enjoyment without getting yelled at or made fun of? No Way, Stop It!!! Murrow was in the Midwood section of Brooklyn which was cool because it was outta the neighborhood. Walk a few blocks, half hour bus ride along Coney Island Ave and it was like being in another world where difference and diversity were good things. Since It was new and I didn’t know anyone I could be whoever I wanted and at the end of the day be back in the Hood. This was the chance, meet new people, try new things and don’t be afraid! What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like you’ve never been laughed at or made fun of before. Right? Right.

It took about half of Freshman year to figure out where a lot of things were and there were no bells in between classes so you had to know when one ended and the next one began. My grades were mostly middle of the road but I had made some friends and I was really enjoying my music and creative writing classes. In Murrow you had freedom. You could hang out in the halls or the courtyard, if you knew how the system worked you could even dip out a side door for a smoke or a run to the bagel store and get let back in. It was awesome! Every group had their spot to hang. Drama kids, 2nd floor outside the crew room, Stoners and Goth kids had sections of the courtyard. Me and my friends took over a section of the music hall outside the practice rooms in front of the back door leading to the street. The music teachers were always cool to us. They let us hang out in the practice rooms and let us in and out for smokes. Sometimes even bumming off us kids. It didn’t even seem to matter if we were cutting class as long as we didn’t make any noise or any trouble and we didn’t.

Here’s how we got in and out all the time… There was a monitor posted at each door, not a security guard but a parent or school staffer who would sit in a chair by the door not letting you in or out. The doors couldn’t be locked for fire safety reasons so posting an adult at each of the side exits would prevent us from leaving and returning at will. We called these adult figures The Door Lady and our favorite was Betty. We were always nice to her, we would get her coffee and a bagel or a slice of pizza and she would let us back in. We would just ask, “Want anything from outside?” She would give us her order and we would bring it back. Simple, and no harm done. We always came back and that’s why Betty let us do this every day we weren’t trouble makers. We even had a secret knock worked out so she would know it was us and not let some other kids in by accident. We changed the knock twice a week for this reason and we didn’t wanna get Betty in trouble. She was Our Door Lady and she was The Best!

That summer was much like the rest just hangin’ around. I was actually excited for the next school year to start because I found out that my good friend Brendan would be going to Murrow in the fall. He was a year behind me in school but we could go back and forth together every day and also I could kinda show him around and help him get used to stuff. We had known each other since age five and always played and hung around together but I think going to high school together outside the neighborhood brought us even closer. We would be best friends for the rest of our lives. The crowd didn’t change much nor did the meeting places or activities, A few beers and a smoke here and there, usual harmless teenage bull shit. Even the local cops didn’t seem to mind too much. They would normally cut us a break. Tell us, “Hide ya beers better boys or don’t be here when I get back.” Sometimes it was just, “Get Outta Here!”

My mother seemed particularly happy that summer. I think she was happy that all three of us were doing pretty well. I know she was glad that I liked Murrow and had Brendan to go with in September. As for me, I was being more and more drawn toward music. I was a crappy guitarist but I enjoyed singing and didn’t have a half bad voice. I fed myself a steady diet of Guns n Roses, The Doors and The Stones and figured when I went back to school I would try to join or start up a band. I of course had no idea how to go about such a thing but so what? I had decided to try new things and not be afraid so that’s that my mind was made up. I was already friends with like five halfway decent guitar players from my music classes so that was a good start. The idea really grew on me as a possibility and something fun. It was an exciting prospect.

That year me and Brendan met up and went to school together every morning and rode home together every afternoon. I wound up starting my first band with my friend Vin who was in a couple classes with me and his friend Mike. So we had two guitars, I would sing and try my hand at playing bass. All we needed was a drummer but that in fact was the lineup for The Mighty Sexual Peanuts! No joke that was the name of this Power Punk/Thrash machine. We found a drummer who lived close to school and had a basement we could practice in. We were off to set about writing our own brand of Epic Metal!!! It was fun and I found writing lyrics to be fairly easy but also satisfying. I adopted a Johnny Rotten/fake accent singing style mostly from lack of confidence but also I liked the way it sounded. Admittedly the songs were simple and the lyrics were mostly silly and often stupid. At the same time it was fun and something different. We had created something all our own and it was cool. I don’t think that band lasted the full school year but there would be others and each would be a little different and a little better. I would become a better singer and writer but also just more confident and more comfortable in my own skin. I really needed that little kick in the ass. I think at some point we all do.

About halfway through sophomore year my grades started slipping. Not because I wasn’t smart but honestly I was bored and I didn’t care about most of the classes I was taking. Some of them were too easy like conversational spanish where you learned one word a day and had to be able to speak a full sentence in spanish by the end of the week. No kidding that’s all you had to do to pass. In consumer math we learned simple practical math skills and solved word problems. So, I coasted and did the bare minimum to get by. Can you blame me? I hung out and cut out a lot. My head just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t wait to get out, I had hit my limit! The idea of going to college or any further form of education was absurd and out of the question. All I wanted was to get out, go to work and live a life. I had no idea what that meant or how to go about it but I was becoming “That Kid.” The Sullen, Brooding, Chip on my Shoulder, “Nobody Understands Me” typical teen. Today I would tell teenage me to, “Shut Up and Listen!” God Forbid you should learn something or appreciate anything. What an Asshole!

That summer was all about keg parties and house parties. We also started venturing out more as some of the boys got driver’s licenses and could borrow cars. We would pool money and go on beer runs. A six pack was only about 5 bucks and Marlboros were about 3 dollars a pack. You only needed 10 bucks to hang out all night with all your friends. Not a bad deal. There was money to be made as well, if you were so inclined… Get a couple buddies and a car, put together some cash, get your hands on a Keg and spread the word. 5 bucks a cup at the gazebo in Prospect Park by the lake and you were in business. You would always make your money back and a tidy little proffit to split. Of course you would have to pay one of the older guys to buy the keg and obviously he drank for free. Pay another kid that you could trust to stay sober and collect money and you were all set. These gatherings hardly ever got busted and rarely was there a fight. Guaranteed good time money maker.

We also were on the lookout for any Bar we might be able to get into and there were a few. They were what were known as Kiddie bars, places that would knowingly allow teens in and serve them. These places were outside the neighborhood and that was a good thing since they were routinely raided and/or shut down by the cops. The police couldn’t be bothered chasing all the kids down. They were perfectly happy if we all just ran and scattered and that’s exactly what happened.

Junior year I auditioned for a new Band called Shadow Wash. They were all friends of mine so it was a formality. The school was having a battle of the bands for the first time ever! There were always concerts for chorus and jazz band but never a rock show. I got to sing 2 songs, Anarchy in the UK and Man in a Box. It was great to actually be part of an event and get up and perform in front of people. That band lasted for a bit but without me. They explained that they wanted to write originals that didn’t fit my voice or style. I understood and we all stayed friends. Hey, Shit Happens! School was otherwise boring and uneventful that year. Do what you have to just to get by and coast into summer. Not a very detailed or well thought out plan but it was more or less the way things went.

At home things were pretty quiet and stable. We all had our routines and went about our business with very little fuss. Same for me and my friends, beer runs, cruisin’ around and just hangin’ out. There was no real trouble or excitement to speak of. I think we were all perfectly happy to just float through the summer and why not? Isn’t that what you do with teenage summers? You waste them on things that seem important at the time like being able to get into clubs and dive bars to see live music by local original bands that seemed like they were big time and totally worth the 5 buck cover charge. I spent the summer in La'more, The Crazy Country Club, Lauterbach’s and Live at 315. That’s what was important and also impressive to me that summer before senior year.

Senior year I turned 18 in January of ‘93 and my mom’s worst fear was that I would sign myself out of school without graduating. I had to promise that I would tough it out and at least get my diploma. Anything after that would be up to me. So, we had a deal and I kept my word with a little help and a little luck.

I’ll explain, My Guidance Counselor since freshman year was a woman named Gladys Graham and for some reason she took a liking to me and for that I am still grateful. She new that I struggled and that I was a smart kid and basically a good kid as well but the best thing for me would be just to be out of school. After many conversations with both my mother and I some strings were pulled and I got into an internship program. This was the answer, the perfect solution! Honestly it was meant for students with much better grades and a pretty good idea of a field they wanted to work in and learn about. That wasn’t me but it worked for me for other, more practical reasons.

The deal was work 4 days a week at a job that the leaders of the program either arranged for you or approved of then get your hours documented and signed off on. You only had to go to school once a month for a progress meeting. You were off on Fridays and earned all the credits needed to graduate. I was all in! Immediately more motivated than I had been in years, I found my own job at the public school I went to before the Catholic Crossover. I became a teacher’s aide in a special Ed class and I Loved it! I actually did pretty well. The teacher I worked with and the kids seemed to like me.  From January til June I barely had to set foot in school and I was doing something that I found cool and interesting. For a brief minute I actually considered going into teaching but it was just too much additional schooling for me.

My graduating class was so large that the ceremony was held at the Madison Square Garden Theater. I didn’t go, to be honest it was more like not allowed to go. Something having to do with the transport and sale of cigarettes and alcohol on the class ski trip… Allegedly, Trumped up charges I say! Rubbish I tell you! Also didn’t go to the Prom either. We threw a keg party and made some quick cash instead. But I kept my word, I got the diploma and got out. That was all that mattered to my mother and I. We were both happy to put high school and move on. On to what? I wasn’t sure but I would spend the summer trying to figure it out.

That summer came and went, kind of just bumming around. Brendan worked at the neighborhood pizza joint and got me a job there 3 days a week. He was always good like that. Hooking up his friends and looking out for you. We worked different days and it was mostly washing dishes and wiping down the tables and counter but it was beer money. I think it was $150 bucks a week in cash and I had to give my mom 30 bucks a week. All 3 of us paid something and we didn’t mind. I’m sure it helped. It also felt good to contribute but, I would have to find something better with more money and benefits. Brendan still had another year in Murrow so he didn’t care. He wasn’t in any rush. I don’t think any of us were really. My next job was at a telemarketing firm, yeah I was one of those annoying people who called during dinner with some kind of sales pitch. That only lasted a few weeks, the pay sucked and I wasn’t very good at it. It just wasn’t my thing. So I moved on.

That fall my mother decided to rent out the upstairs apartment for the first time. She had bedrooms and a bathroom built in the basement for my sisters and her and I shared the first floor. It was nice, everyone had a little more space and a little more privacy. The new tenants were really cool. They were actually working musicians in a moderately successful band. Shane and Rob became big brothers to me. We hung out together a lot. Shane and I played hockey together and bonded over both being die hard Ranger fans. We didn’t have cable so Shane would invite me upstairs to watch the games with him. We saw the Rangers win the Cup in ‘94 together! Those two guys taught me a lot and shared some great experiences with me. The next band I was in was sort of a punk/hardcore thing made up of kids from the neighborhood who also happened to go to Murrow as well. We took it pretty seriously too, paying for rehearsal time at a studio on Flatbush ave. called Fastlane and even getting a few paying gigs. Lauterbach’s was a great place to play, a pre-prohibition era bar that looked like you were walking into someone’s house for a party in the basement. They had live bands on friday and Saturday nights. They charged a $5 cover and gave the bands 3 bucks a head. They usually had three bands all different styles from Rockabilly to Metal. All on one bill and cheap beer. Not bad for a fiver. The studio was also a cool place to hang. You could check out other bands and bring in beers and booze. It had a great vibe, there was always something going on and you met a lot of interesting people. Also my friend Shane worked there and would bring me along for recording sessions. I felt like I was starting to have some direction and a plan was taking shape.

I figured maybe I could learn and possibly make a living working in a studio or a club and continue writing and playing in bands at the same time. In September of ‘94 I found a trade school called the Institute of Audio Research. Nine months of hands on education for nine grand and you could learn everything you needed to be an audio engineer. Sounds good to me! I was in, I started at 19 and would be out with a certificate by the time I was 20. IAR was cool, two classes a day learning how and why all this cool gear with the shiny knobs, buttons and flashing lights worked. I was a bit ahead of the game too because of hanging around the studio I already knew some of this stuff. The studio became a sort of second home. Shane took me under his wing and taught me about working the equipment and Mike who owned the place would throw me a few bucks to set up the rooms for the bands or man the desk, clean up answer phones and make coffee. I was getting quite an education and my mom was happy that I was in school and had started making my own way. I was enjoying school and putting in effort and applying myself, maybe for the first time ever. The classes were interesting and the instructors all had backgrounds and real world experience in the music industry. Everybody teachers and students alike all smoked so, there were frequent breaks outside the building. We all stood around smoking and bullshitting. This was the mid ‘90’s smoking was not so frowned upon as it is now. There was even a break room/lounge where you could sit and smoke inside the building. This is where I met John, a guy my age from Jersey we hit it off right away and became fast friends. We are still very close today. He was a talented drummer and writer we would hang out in a diner on the corner next to school and write lyrics, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. It didn’t take long before we were cutting classes together and hanging outside of school. I started spending weekends in NJ and some of his friends became my friends. John would later tell me that he was almost afraid or intimidated to approach me because I would just stand there smoking and staring out the window. One day he was out of cigarettes and asked me for one and that was it. We started hanging and we had a lot of laughs, tons of funny stories and good times. Nine months goes very quickly and then time to find a job and get to work.

Fastlane couldn’t hire full time but I could always pick up some hours and quick cash. I got an internship at a studio in Chelsea it didn’t pay but I got ten bucks a week for transportation and five bucks a day for lunch. I saved as much of this money as I could to have some weekend spending cash. The internship only lasted a few months the owner had no interest in giving me a paid position and I had no interest in staying. Around this time I found my stride and my confidence. It was time to Hustle and that’s what I did. I worked a day or two a week at Fastlane and hung at Lauterbach’s on the weekends where I talked my way into a job working the sound board and collecting the cover charge which quickly turned into also bartending two days a week and shortly after I was booking the bands. That was easy because all the bands at the studio always wanted a place to play and I could put together nights and make money. It caught on and became a scene. For a little while anyway, I was the man! The owners of the bar, George and Alice Really liked and trusted me and pretty much let me run the place. They owned the building and the bar. They also owned another business renting storage lockers in some warehouse under the Prospect Expressway. George was smart and industrious too. If someone was more than three months behind on their rent for the storage space he would empty the locker and slap a price on the items which would then sit on metal racks in the bar where patrons could buy them. What a great idea! You could sit have a cold one and by a full set of dishes or pots and pans for like 10 bucks. When I was bartending if somebody bought something I would write down what I sold and for how much and put the cash from the sale in a separate lock box. Working behind the bar from noon til 2AM could be long and tedious but the old timers seemed to like me. I would always have the day’s newspapers at the end of the bar along with a pack of smokes. Remember when you could smoke in a bar? I would also keep a fresh pot of coffee going at all times for myself and whoever wanted it. I never charged for the coffee and George didn’t care. He didn’t really get in the way of me making money and I was always honest. I never shorted him and George and Alice were always good to me. They lived upstairs and had cameras and an intercom system so they could keep an eye on things. Mostly making sure I locked up, counted out and Never closed Early!

Friends would sometimes stop in and visit when I was working, have a few beers and help pass the time. One of them was my sister’s then boyfriend now husband Chris. Chris worked at another neighborhood bar and we often took turns stopping in to see each other. This one particular afternoon Chris was looking at the racks of stuff for sale, he had just gotten a new apartment and needed a few odds and ends. He found a VCR and I got George to let it go for twenty bucks. Chris called me a few days later and said he tried putting a movie in and something was stuck inside Turns out there was already a tape in there. Laughing over the phone he told me the VCR came with a free Porn tape. Ha! 20 bucks well spent!

Around this time I was in a new band called Jigsaw. They were going to the studio and had plenty of good original songs but no lyrics or singer. I took a chance and became the Frontman and singer of a band that would record, play bunches of gigs and build a solid following and a good buzz. We played Lauterbach’s a lot but also shows in the city and Jersey. John and I would always go see each other’s bands play and Brendan and the fellas also came to a good number of shows. Due to all the shows, rehearsing and recording I was taking a lot of time off from the bar. My time at Lauterbach’s came to an end. George and Alice wished me well and we parted ways on good terms. Work at the studio was slow and the business itself was changing, becoming more digitized and computerized, Kids needed studio time less and less. Computer programs made it possible to record tracks directly to a hard drive quickly and cheaply. Shane and Rob formed a new band heavy guitars, electronic/industrial stuff Like Nine Inch Nails. They made a record and were going on tour with Type-O-Negative and Life of Agony. The guys asked me to join them on tour as part of their road crew. I jumped at the chance and my mom thought it was a great idea and it was a truly Awesome and life changing experience! Travel across the country in an old Chevy conversion van, play shitty dives and clubs, load in, load out, sell merchandise and demos and drink for free. What a life! We would go out and play shows for like three weeks at a time in states and towns that I would have never otherwise seen and then be home for a week then on the road again. As band and crew we were a machine rockin’ every night and kickin’ ass. Work hard, play hard and when we were home for a week it was like being a celebrity. Lots of people to see in short spans of time. I got a hundred bucks a week plus a per diem for food and smokes. That kind of money can last forever on the road as there isn’t much to spend it on. This lifestyle lasted about a year and a half before coming to an end and took me to places like the Reptile House in Grand Rapids this place would come up again in a very weird way many years later. As I sit here now I’m 44 years old and at this point in the story I’m between 20 and 22. That seems like a good place to pause for now. Call it a chapter, call it part one, Call it whatever. It just seems like a natural point to take a break so I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an adult boundaries mean setting limits of what is acceptable behavior within society. As a kid growing up in the Brooklyn of the 70’s and 80’s it meant where you were allowed to go and how far you could venture in the neighborhood. Growing up in the working class Irish enclave of Windsor Terrace my whole world was defined and informed by the borders of Greenwood cemetery to east 5th street playground and from Caton avenue to Vanderbilt street. That was the village and I’m one of the many children it raised. Blue Collar to the bone, before hipsters or social media our parents hung out on the stoop together while us kids ran the streets like a roving gang of  pirates. I don’t live there anymore but my Mom is still there in the same house since 1969.  The only way she’s leaving is in a box. I’m not there anymore but it’s still “The Neighborhood” and there’s something comforting about that. Something warm and familiar like a worn out pair of jeans or an old, perfectly broken in pair of boots.

Growing up there it’s true that you had to be home for dinner when the street lights came on and on the weekend you had to be out of the house by ten AM. so your parents could have some peace and quiet. That was fine with us there were always other kids outside and we always had a roller hockey game or touch football going on. No  “play dates” just walk outside and find something to do. We never got in any real trouble and we solved our own problems. If you got in a fist fight on Friday you were playing wiffle ball together on the same team on Saturday. On occasion if things got out of hand one of the older guys would step in and settle any dispute. Back then a three or four year age difference seemed like a lot so we looked up to and listened to the older kids and they in turn looked out for us. Then we became the older kids and on it went. In the neighborhood you felt safe and protected. I mean we were little smart asses and everyone took their lumps and got picked on but we also stuck up for each other.

January 1975, that’s when I made my grand entrance into the world. I introduced myself three months ahead of schedule. Being an early arrival meant being born in the house and delivered by firemen. Thank you engine 240 and thanks as well to the neighbor kid who pulled the fire alarm box on the corner. Born premature and breach… meaning ass first with my grandmother charging up the stairs from her first floor apartment with a knife in her hand (she wasn’t gonna cut the cord.) she was making lunch and just forgot to put the knife down. It’s ok, the firemen stopped her at the top of the stairs. (Thanks again guys) My mother likes to say, “you made an ass of yourself from day one and you keep on going”. A few weeks in the hospital and then home with my parents, two sisters and my grandmother. Off to a great start.

My parents bought a two family house in the neighborhood. We lived on the second floor and my grandmother was on the first. They bought the house in 1969 for 18 Grand. Houses there now are going for a million plus. Hipsters and transplants have discovered the neighborhood now but there are still a good number of holdouts like my mom. Leftovers, Townies whatever. The point is that several young couples just starting out moved there all around the same time and raised kids together building friendships and a strong community that still endures today.

The great start I just mentioned came to an abrupt, screeching halt in February 1976 when my father died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of thirty eight. Leaving my mother to raise three kids all under the age of five by herself. Well, not entirely my grandmother helped out. It must have been scary to be a young widow with three kids and no job but she did it and I have no idea how. She was and still is a tough lady. As early as I can remember I always felt like we were going to be ok and we always had what we needed. The basics were covered and we knew and felt loved although it wasn’t said very often. We weren’t spoiled or overly indulged by any means. It wasn’t a very huggy/kissy upbringing but we learned to be tough and were taught respect, manners and responsibility. We had fun and laughed a lot but there were rules and expectations. If you got out of line or did something wrong you got slapped or punished or both depending on the situation. My mom had the quickest backhand in the business. She also had some colorful one liners to warn you when you were about to push her too far. “You’re gonna feel pretty stupid lookin’ up at me from the floor”. Was a good one. Or, “How bout I put your face through that wall?” Then there was “I’ll give you the back of my hand.” She wasn’t about to take any crap from the three of us. She didn’t have time to and we were no angels. We sure didn’t make it easy. She had to unleash us into the street to run around with our friends. She would’ve lost her mind if we didn’t get the hell out of the house.

My grandmother was very funny and quick witted. She liked to tease and joke with us. She loved to have a good laugh. She was also overtly racist and didn’t see anything wrong with sharing those views. None of us understood or agreed with her but looking back now I think that was all based on fear and the lack of diversity or exposure to other people and cultures when she was growing up. She used to talk to me about Ireland and she taught me many Irish folk songs that she would then ask me to sing for her. She always said I had a nice voice, she also always wanted me to become a priest. Sorry grandma, That was never gonna happen.

We used to have Sunday dinners downstairs with grandma every week which should have been nice except it never ended well for me. My grand mother believed that children should be seen and not heard. You were at the table to eat not to crack wise or interrupt the adults conversation. Doing so would result in being banished from the table. You wouldn’t be able to finish your meal and you would have to sit in the other room until dinner was finished. Can you guess what happened to me almost every Sunday? My sisters quite enjoyed me getting in trouble so they would kick or poke me under the table until i would yell at them to stop or they would make faces until I would bust out laughing. My grandmother would raise her arm and point to the door simply saying “Go!” So I went and sat on the edge of her bed until dinner was over. There was a creepy picture of Jesus hanging on her bedroom wall. I swear the eyes followed you. Needless to say I felt like I was being judged every Sunday for years by both grandma and Creepy Jesus. When dinner was over we would go upstairs and my mother would give me a bowl of cold cereal for dinner and beg me to keep my mouth shut next sunday, “For The Love Of Christ!” My mom was also fair so she would yell at my sisters to leave me alone so we could all eat in peace. I don’t recall that ever actually happening. I also never understood why every Irish Catholic household in America had the same three pictures hanging on the wall. It was J.F.K., Jesus and the Pope. It doesn’t matter or mean anything I just always found it funny.

My mom became good friends with five other ladies on the block they were all around the same age and so were all us kids. It was nice especially for my mother that they all had that in common. They would alternate sitting on each others stoops or go out for dinner or coffee and dessert. I think the other moms wanted to get away from their husbands for a bit and I’m sure my mother jumped at the chance to go out with them to feel like she still had a life and to get away from us for a few hours. Why not? Good for her, she deserved it. On these nights usually once every couple of weeks we would have to go downstairs so my grandmother could keep an eye on us until my mother came home. It wasn’t bad usually we would just have ice cream and watch tv. Grandma didn’t mind The only show she wouldn’t let us watch was called The Facts of Life. Her reasoning was that a show with that title had to be about sex and we were too young for such filth. She was funny about stuff like that and kinda hard for a little kid to figure out because we couldn’t watch The Facts of Life but she would let me watch the old Benny Hill show with her and she would laugh her ass off as this dirty old man from England chased these scantily clad young girls around. Her laughing made me laugh so we both sat there laughing and I had no idea what was so funny.

Things changed again and got a little more difficult somewhere in 1980. I was five years old and in kindergarten when both my mother and my teacher noticed I was having a hard time with certain things. I couldn’t hold a crayon or pencil and I was tripping and falling a lot. So what? I was an uncoordinated kid. Big deal, I was clumsy. Turns out it was a little more than that. After going to a few doctors and having some tests done at Long Island College Hospital in downtown Brooklyn My mother and I sit in an office and wait for this doctor to explain the test results to us. The things you can remember about a certain place or event can be both weird and/or amazing. I can almost see myself sitting on this big soft, brown leather chair that swivelled all the way around in a complete circle. I just kept turning and turning myself in that chair until I was dizzy. Then the doc came in and wanted me to go out in the hall so he could “Explain Things.” to my mom. She would have none of that, she responded by saying, “My son is sitting right there and this is his life. Explain it to him and whatever we need to do we’ll do it together.”  Well said mom.

We were informed that I have Cerebral Palsy. Big scary words that mean nothing to a five year old. That did explain the limp, hand tremors and lack of hand/eye coordination. So, professional hockey player was off the table as a career choice. My mother didn’t flinch. She just took a deep breath and asked what was next. The good doctor ran down a list of tests and treatment including physical and occupational therapies as well as wearing leg braces and special orthopedic shoes to help straighten out my legs. I’m not sure if I cried but I know mom and I talked in the car and she assured me that I would get help and everything would be ok and I believed her.

When we got home she had me tell my grandmother, explaining that I would have to get used to telling people because, “ it’s not a secret and nothing to be ashamed of.” Grandma asked how it went and I said, “OK, I just have Cerebral Palsy a little bit.” She hugged me and said, “ that’s ok.” Then as I left them to talk and started up the stairs I overheard my grandmother ask, “Does that mean he’s retarded?” My mom shushed her and said, “No! He just needs extra help and don’t ever say that again.” My sisters were very sweet and supportive. They both wanted to help and became extra, super protective of their little brother, even more so than before. The next few weeks we went about going to specialists and getting fitted for leg braces that they called “Twister Cables.” Good Times!”

Leg Braces Suck!!! I don’t care what you call them. They are permanently connected to ugly ass shoes that look like Herman Munster boots and you have to put them on and then put your pants on. They had a big ugly white belt that went around your waistband under your pants. Extremely uncomfortable and I had to wear them all the time. No sneakers for this kid. I also refused to wear shorts in the summer because kids would see them and make fun of me. Kids are mean and it was such an obvious thing to pick on especially in the schoolyard. I gotta say my friends in the neighborhood were pretty cool about it. Yeah, of course they had jokes and some of them were good ones. I must admit they made me laugh but these guys wouldn’t let anyone outside our crew of kids say anything or there would be a fight. The boys always had my back.

Physical therapy wasn’t bad. Mostly because I got out of school early to go. There was a lot of stretching and exercises to do and I had to do them at home as well. The therapists were very nice and mostly it was throwing a ball or jumping on a mat kinda like a playground. The one thing I hated was when they had to observe me walk it had to be in my underwear with the braces on. Up and down the hall then up and down the stairs several times all in my tighty whities. How Embarrassing! My mom was a trooper through all of this. She would sit on the floor with me every night to help me do my exercises and always encouraged me to keep trying and do my best even if It took me longer or I had to do things differently. I could still do them just like everybody else. Sometimes I would cry or get frustrated if something was hard to do or it was just a bad day and I felt different than the other kids but if I ever said “I Can’t” My mom would get upset and say, “Only dead people can’t and you’re not dead.” Sometimes you need a little kick in the ass. Thanks mom. I began to notice around the same time that other little kids there were in the same position, if not much worse off. During one session I noticed a little girl about three years old who I overheard had CP too. So It wasn’t just me. That made me feel kinda good. Then I realized, only because her parents and therapist were beating on the mat and calling to her over and over to get her to move the right way, she was also blind. That made me feel Supremely Bad! The kind of bad that never goes away. The kind that makes you feel Supremely Lucky because you only hurt a little and it could be so much worse. In the car on the way home I started crying. My mom told me to Stop! We already talked about this. I couldn’t stop so I explained, I was not crying for me. I was crying for that little girl who has what I have only she can’t walk and can’t see. My mom hugged me and we both cried a little. I know I was very young but I also know I felt for that little girl very deeply. I sometimes wonder where she is and how her life turned out. I have no complaints or no right to complain. Next time you hear me complain punch me in the face. I don’t have a single Goddamn reason to complain! Please remind me of that.

When I was eight we went on a family vacation. Mom, grandma me and my two sisters all piled into the old Pontiac and drove to a family resort in the Catskills. My mom driving, chain smoking Winstons with the window barely cracked open. Grandma riding shotgun not allowing the AC or radio to be on and us three kids in the back already annoying the crap out of each other 15 minutes into this vacation. Now we were all told to “GO” (use the bathroom) before leaving the house but I didn’t have to GO then. An hour into the ride in a hot, smoke filled car sitting in the middle of the back seat between my sisters Now I Gotta GO! I ask if we can stop and my grandmother tells me to “just hold it in!” apparently we’re on the nonstop express and the copilot is at the controls. A few minutes later my bladder is about to burst so I plead, “Ma, Please Stop!” No dice, we didn’t even have drinks in the car, just soggy foil wrapped sandwiches. Just pull over I’ll find a bush or a tree and then on the road again. How easy is that? Grandma had a better idea. Mom keeps driving and grandma rifles through her giant hand bag filled with napkins, sugar packets and God knows what else she’s pocketed from any number of diners and restaurants and she produces an empty Smucker’s jelly jar, passes it back to me and says “use this.” No stopping or even slowing down, I’m not joking I had to unzip and pee into a jar while sitting between my two sisters in a moving car. After some dribble and poor aim I felt relieved to say the least. Grandma took the full jar back and emptied and rinsed it out when we got there. Let the good times roll!

This place was very nice. There was a dining hall where you ate all your meals at tables with other families and they had live music after dinner and a bar for the adults. There were activities all day for the kids arranged by age group also a basketball court, playground and a pool. I loved the pool because I didn’t have to wear the stupid shoes and braces. It was great to swim and splash around with all the other kids. My sisters and I always got along pretty well but it was nice that we weren’t forced together and we could break off with kids our own age. I think my mom enjoyed just relaxing and having some time to herself. My grandmother would sit out in front of her room and read or listen to the radio content to watch everyone come and go.

There was a game room that had pinball and Donkey Kong, also Space Invaders. My after dinner ritual was to get a fistful of quarters from mom and go play video games. Outside the dining hall were vending machines. One had candy bars for a quarter and the other had glass bottles of soda for 50 cents. I would hold onto 75 cents from my game room money every night and get a soda and a candy bar to have while I watched tv back n our room. I don’t remember the brand of soda but there was cola, ginger ale, grape and orange. I liked the grape. I would get that and a pack of peanut chews to end the day with.

One night walking back to the room I saw my grandmother sitting out so I went to say hi. We sat and chatted about how much we were enjoying ourselves and how nice it was as I sipped my soda she asked what kind it was and I answered “Grape soda grandma.” she replied, “You shouldn’t be having that.” When I asked why feeling kind of like I’d done something wrong she motioned for me to come closer. She then whispered in my ear, “Grape soda is for black people.” Now we all know this is a racist stereotype but eight year old me took her words literally. I felt like I had somehow taken something that didn’t belong to me or taken something away from someone else. I drank regular cola for the rest of the week.  Aside from that it was a fun vacation.

The summer before fifth grade big changes were around the corner. My mother had transferred me to the Catholic school two blocks away so I wasn’t returning to the public school I had been in since first grade. This was because after sixth grade I would have to travel to a junior high by myself but Catholic school went up to eighth grade and I could walk back and forth with my friends and one of my sisters would be there a grade ahead of me. My oldest sister had already started high school. No big deal school is school and most of my friends went there. The only difference was I would have to wear a uniform. The other big development was that my mother was going back to work full time. She got a job at a market research company where a friend of hers worked. It was close enough that she could walk but she wanted us to help out more around the house and fend for ourselves a bit. No big deal. My grandmother was right downstairs if we needed anything. We were all old enough to help out and be unsupervised for a few hours.

First day of school a bunch of us walked down the block together. I walked into the schoolyard, lined up with my new class, brand new uniform, brand new school, brand new year. I instantly hated it! I hated every single thing about it. I didn’t know any of these kids. All my friends were either in the other fifth grade class or a grade ahead or behind me. I was the new kid and then in very short order I was the disabled kid more directly, the retarded kid. Welcome to the Jungle Baby! I swear there was a constant countdown clock in my head. Just get to lunch time. A lot of kids went home for lunch including me and my sister. My grandma would give us a sandwich and a snack and make sure I would “GO” before heading back. Then we had some time in the schoolyard so at least I could play and hang out with my friends before going back to my class. Then the countdown was just until 2:45 then I was FREE!! Back on the block. Get homework out of the way then grab the last hours of daylight before dinner. There was no Cyberbullying. There was no Cyber anything but when I tell you that at times the teachers were worse than the students, I’m not kidding. I had teachers who actually made fun of my handwriting in front of the whole class. Back then we still had Nuns. one kicked me out of the library for having handwriting like “Chicken Scratch.” Another slapped me because I was left handed, Surely the spawn of the Devil!

My friends and I played sports on Greenwood Avenue and never talked about school. We never let it get to us. My mom knew about the teachers and the Nuns and she felt bad but if she confronted them it would only be worse for me. At home we settled into mom working, grandma being crazy and us kids pitching in. I’ll explain, here’s the rundown… We all got home from school and had about two and a half hours before mom got home. The countdown clock is ticking. My mother was a heavy tea drinker with a 6 cup a day habit. There had to be milk and tea bags in the house. The dishes had to be done. Dishwasher Ha! You had two hands the dishwasher was you. Plus my grandmother always liked to send us to the store. My oldest sister would forget things at the store, she screwed up on purpose so she would never be asked to go again. Genius! My other sister would get it right because she wanted to be the favorite. Me? I saw an opening.

My sisters didn’t want to go to the store, make tea or wash dishes but they also wanted to avoid getting yelled at. I stepped in for a nominal fee, going to the store=$2, washing dishes=$1 plus setting the table and various other chores. I made about $25 a week just doing chores at eleven years old and it kept the peace.  My mom came home tired but also happy that everything was done and we didn’t annoy my grandmother. Grandma only wanted my younger sister to go to the store for her because my oldest sister, as I said would  screw up on purpose and if I went I would surely get things wrong, after all I was either “Slow or Retarded.” depending on the day. On and on, you get the picture. I didn’t mind though this was the start of me being industrious. More about that later.

Sixth grade was the start of a lot of things, from Hard Ons to Hockey. Twelve was a rough age. The only cool thing was that me and all my buddies discovered hokey. I learned to skate by the light of a lamp post and even though due to my CP I did not have the coordination  or balance to ride a bike I could skate well enough to go side to side and back and forward. Perfect Gollie! The urges of puberty were right on my heels and I had to beg my mother to tell my sisters not to walk through my room, as all the rooms in our apartment went in a circle.

I’m sure my mother felt bad for me because I was the only boy but I also felt for her. When she had to take me to buy a cup to protect my little baby junk neither of us knew what we were doing but a nice young kid surveyed the situation and helped me out. Thank you! New things were happening, hair sprouting, voice changing, endless erection kind of things and in Catholic school that was bad. I became an altar boy ha! I beat the system. Me and a friend of mine were in charge of the schedule. The weekday 9am mass got you out of class for an hour and weddings and funerals tipped you. Of course we worked it out in our favor, Industrious, remember?

Something else happened that year. Something amazing, after seven years of intense therapy and twister cables I go to therapy on a random Tuesday and I’m told I’m FREE!!!!!! I don’t need the braces anymore and as long as I stay active and keep up with my program I won’t have to come back. Yes…. I would have said yes to anything, Me and my mom walked out both feeling so good. One problem, the only shoes I have to wear are the “special, Herman Munster” ones. The next day my mom took off from work and I got to stay home from school. We went sneaker shopping for the first time! We didn’t have money and my mom did her best but on this day the gloves were off. Mom told me I could have any sneakers I wanted. This was the year that the Reebok pumps came out, they had a pump that you could inflate or deflate. I don’t know what they were supposed to do but they cost over a hundred bucks and they were mine! I got a pair in black and white, my first sneakers!!!! Then we went out for lunch. I think it was Burger King but it was a Victory lunch for both me and mom and I’ll never forget it.

When we got home and I Proudly displayed my new kicks my sisters were pissed. My mother never spent that kind of money on shoes for them, ever! They Bitched and she explained that she never spent money on sneakers for me and if they complained again i would get two more pairs! You tell ‘em Mom!

After that, school still sucked and I never saw the love and compassion that I thought Catholic school was supposed to be about. Mostly it was about going to church and giving them your weekly envelope. A cash donation to keep God’s love shining on you and your family. What a Scam!  My sisters and I had it beat, My oldest sister was 16 and smoking cigarettes at the time and we no longer wanted to go to church so on Ash wednesday when a priest is supposed to put a cross of ashes on your forehead we left the house through the front door  as if going to mass and went back in the basement door. We hung out in the basement for an hour or so and my sister blessed us with the ashes of a few Marlboro Lights and we were Golden walking back through the front door like three good little Catholic Angels.

Why not? It made our mother and grandmother happy to think that we were being good kids and we kind of were for the most part anyway. We were just having fun, nobody got hurt, well “Seriously Hurt” anyway it was all in good fun. Innocent childish fun. It was a good time.

My friends and I pulled many stunts like the show Jackass way before that show even existed. We had shopping cart races where one of us would get into a cart that we stole from the supermarket parking lot and get pushed down a hill into oncoming traffic. There was no brakes or steering so you would just throw yourself to one side and tip over before literally playing in traffic. We were stupid kids having harmless fun we always found ways to amuse ourselves. It didn’t take much and we never really got hurt or ended up in any serious trouble. Just the cuts and bruises that I think all kids should have by a certain age.

By seventh grade we were entering our teens and we started branching out from the neighborhood. We would jump on the train and venture to Coney Island To grab a hot dog at Nathan’s and ride the Cyclone or take the bus to Bay Ridge to go to the movies or a diner. Around this time we started  hanging out at night on the weekend either on Greenwood ave. or Fort Hamilton Parkway. It was usually a large mixed group of guys and girls not doing much or anything except being loud and stupid. What else were we supposed to do at that age? You would make one or two phone calls after dinner and just ask, “Are you hangin’ out?” followed by, “ok, later.” That was it. Then you went to the appointed meeting spot at the appointed time and there would be a dozen kids just hanging out.  Nothing exciting, if you were lucky the older guys would give you and your buddy each a beer to move across the street and leave them alone. Sometimes they would send us to the store for chips or cigarettes and they would give us a smoke and let us keep the change. Our parents didn’t mind us going out at night on weekends. They knew exactly where we were and who we were with, ( Most of the Time.) but we all had curfews and we all fought every weekend to get them increased even by just half an hour. My sisters were both older and got to come home later, I guess that was fair. Also there wery plenty of payphones around to call and say you were on your way but the bus broke down. The buses my sisters were on always seemed to breakdown. My mom wasn’t stupid but as long as they called she didn’t care all that much.

My oldest sister taught me a trick to stay out later. If you turn your watch back an hour you can stay out an hour later and mom won’t get mad because a broken watch isn’t your fault. Good advice but you can only use that trick once! My mother knew all the tricks and again, she didn’t really care. I was the youngest of three mostly she just wanted me to stay outta trouble and get home safe. So, after some intense negotiation the curfew was moved to 11pm and totally removed shortly after. What was the point?

Finally! Eighth grade, my last year at our lady of perpetual suffering. That wasn’t the real name of the school, just the way it made me feel. Time to apply to high schools and find out where I would spent the next four years. I’ll tell you one thing it wouldn’t be at the sacred bleeding heart of Jesus school. Again, not a school name just that I refuse to attend another fine institution of Catholic education. I applied to public schools because both of my sisters went to the Catholic school in the neighborhood and I didn’t want to be known as they’re “Little Brother.” for the next four years. I also figured if I went to a public school outside the neighborhood I could meet new people and make my own way without anybody looking over my shoulder. That was my plan. Just bide my time and keep my head down until we found out where we got accepted to.

At home my grandmother had started having mini strokes and also had Crohn's disease. She was in a hospital bed in her downstairs apartment and my mom found an attendant to stay with her while she was at work and we were at school. We all took turns sitting with grandma and talking to her. I think she enjoyed that. She was still sharp and seemed to have become a little more gentle and soft spoken. We had an intercom hooked up so when we were all upstairs for the night she could call us if she needed to. Sometimes it sounded kind of creepy you could hear her snoring and breathing… Until you couldn’t. She passed away that April. Yes, she was rough around the edges and maybe a little bit crazy too! At the same time she was funny and loving in her own way. She helped raise us and I just remember feeling a mix of sadness and anger. I was mad at God. I was mad that another person who loved and took care of me was gone. I was just mad in general.

In June I would graduate from The Sacred Bleeding Heart of Jesus School. No more uniforms for this kid. No more Nuns, no more sacraments, no more church or religion of any kind. I was out! I was on my way back to public school and a very prestigious and progressive school at that. Edward R. Murrow High School was top notch at the time with an innovative approach that focused on the individual student’s interest and experience. You got in by being chosen via lottery and then you got to choose your classes. You had to take math and science but you got to select which course you took and when. It was a well rounded program with lots of opportunities not only in academics but also the arts. They had an amazing music program where you didn’t have to play an instrument very well rather, just want to learn and participate. Imagine that… Being encouraged to do something just for pure enjoyment without getting yelled at or made fun of? No Way, Stop It!!! Murrow was in the Midwood section of Brooklyn which was cool because it was outta the neighborhood. Walk a few blocks, half hour bus ride along Coney Island Ave and it was like being in another world where difference and diversity were good things. Since It was new and I didn’t know anyone I could be whoever I wanted and at the end of the day be back in the Hood. This was the chance, meet new people, try new things and don’t be afraid! What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like you’ve never been laughed at or made fun of before. Right? Right.

It took about half of Freshman year to figure out where a lot of things were and there were no bells in between classes so you had to know when one ended and the next one began. My grades were mostly middle of the road but I had made some friends and I was really enjoying my music and creative writing classes. In Murrow you had freedom. You could hang out in the halls or the courtyard, if you knew how the system worked you could even dip out a side door for a smoke or a run to the bagel store and get let back in. It was awesome! Every group had their spot to hang. Drama kids, 2nd floor outside the crew room, Stoners and Goth kids had sections of the courtyard. Me and my friends took over a section of the music hall outside the practice rooms in front of the back door leading to the street. The music teachers were always cool to us. They let us hang out in the practice rooms and let us in and out for smokes. Sometimes even bumming off us kids. It didn’t even seem to matter if we were cutting class as long as we didn’t make any noise or any trouble and we didn’t.

Here’s how we got in and out all the time… There was a monitor posted at each door, not a security guard but a parent or school staffer who would sit in a chair by the door not letting you in or out. The doors couldn’t be locked for fire safety reasons so posting an adult at each of the side exits would prevent us from leaving and returning at will. We called these adult figures The Door Lady and our favorite was Betty. We were always nice to her, we would get her coffee and a bagel or a slice of pizza and she would let us back in. We would just ask, “Want anything from outside?” She would give us her order and we would bring it back. Simple, and no harm done. We always came back and that’s why Betty let us do this every day we weren’t trouble makers. We even had a secret knock worked out so she would know it was us and not let some other kids in by accident. We changed the knock twice a week for this reason and we didn’t wanna get Betty in trouble. She was Our Door Lady and she was The Best!

That summer was much like the rest just hangin’ around. I was actually excited for the next school year to start because I found out that my good friend Brendan would be going to Murrow in the fall. He was a year behind me in school but we could go back and forth together every day and also I could kinda show him around and help him get used to stuff. We had known each other since age five and always played and hung around together but I think going to high school together outside the neighborhood brought us even closer. We would be best friends for the rest of our lives. The crowd didn’t change much nor did the meeting places or activities, A few beers and a smoke here and there, usual harmless teenage bull shit. Even the local cops didn’t seem to mind too much. They would normally cut us a break. Tell us, “Hide ya beers better boys or don’t be here when I get back.” Sometimes it was just, “Get Outta Here!”

My mother seemed particularly happy that summer. I think she was happy that all three of us were doing pretty well. I know she was glad that I liked Murrow and had Brendan to go with in September. As for me, I was being more and more drawn toward music. I was a crappy guitarist but I enjoyed singing and didn’t have a half bad voice. I fed myself a steady diet of Guns n Roses, The Doors and The Stones and figured when I went back to school I would try to join or start up a band. I of course had no idea how to go about such a thing but so what? I had decided to try new things and not be afraid so that’s that my mind was made up. I was already friends with like five halfway decent guitar players from my music classes so that was a good start. The idea really grew on me as a possibility and something fun. It was an exciting prospect.

That year me and Brendan met up and went to school together every morning and rode home together every afternoon. I wound up starting my first band with my friend Vin who was in a couple classes with me and his friend Mike. So we had two guitars, I would sing and try my hand at playing bass. All we needed was a drummer but that in fact was the lineup for The Mighty Sexual Peanuts! No joke that was the name of this Power Punk/Thrash machine. We found a drummer who lived close to school and had a basement we could practice in. We were off to set about writing our own brand of Epic Metal!!! It was fun and I found writing lyrics to be fairly easy but also satisfying. I adopted a Johnny Rotten/fake accent singing style mostly from lack of confidence but also I liked the way it sounded. Admittedly the songs were simple and the lyrics were mostly silly and often stupid. At the same time it was fun and something different. We had created something all our own and it was cool. I don’t think that band lasted the full school year but there would be others and each would be a little different and a little better. I would become a better singer and writer but also just more confident and more comfortable in my own skin. I really needed that little kick in the ass. I think at some point we all do.

About halfway through sophomore year my grades started slipping. Not because I wasn’t smart but honestly I was bored and I didn’t care about most of the classes I was taking. Some of them were too easy like conversational spanish where you learned one word a day and had to be able to speak a full sentence in spanish by the end of the week. No kidding that’s all you had to do to pass. In consumer math we learned simple practical math skills and solved word problems. So, I coasted and did the bare minimum to get by. Can you blame me? I hung out and cut out a lot. My head just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t wait to get out, I had hit my limit! The idea of going to college or any further form of education was absurd and out of the question. All I wanted was to get out, go to work and live a life. I had no idea what that meant or how to go about it but I was becoming “That Kid.” The Sullen, Brooding, Chip on my Shoulder, “Nobody Understands Me” typical teen. Today I would tell teenage me to, “Shut Up and Listen!” God Forbid you should learn something or appreciate anything. What an Asshole!

That summer was all about keg parties and house parties. We also started venturing out more as some of the boys got driver’s licenses and could borrow cars. We would pool money and go on beer runs. A six pack was only about 5 bucks and Marlboros were about 3 dollars a pack. You only needed 10 bucks to hang out all night with all your friends. Not a bad deal. There was money to be made as well, if you were so inclined… Get a couple buddies and a car, put together some cash, get your hands on a Keg and spread the word. 5 bucks a cup at the gazebo in Prospect Park by the lake and you were in business. You would always make your money back and a tidy little proffit to split. Of course you would have to pay one of the older guys to buy the keg and obviously he drank for free. Pay another kid that you could trust to stay sober and collect money and you were all set. These gatherings hardly ever got busted and rarely was there a fight. Guaranteed good time money maker.

We also were on the lookout for any Bar we might be able to get into and there were a few. They were what were known as Kiddie bars, places that would knowingly allow teens in and serve them. These places were outside the neighborhood and that was a good thing since they were routinely raided and/or shut down by the cops. The police couldn’t be bothered chasing all the kids down. They were perfectly happy if we all just ran and scattered and that’s exactly what happened.

Junior year I auditioned for a new Band called Shadow Wash. They were all friends of mine so it was a formality. The school was having a battle of the bands for the first time ever! There were always concerts for chorus and jazz band but never a rock show. I got to sing 2 songs, Anarchy in the UK and Man in a Box. It was great to actually be part of an event and get up and perform in front of people. That band lasted for a bit but without me. They explained that they wanted to write originals that didn’t fit my voice or style. I understood and we all stayed friends. Hey, Shit Happens! School was otherwise boring and uneventful that year. Do what you have to just to get by and coast into summer. Not a very detailed or well thought out plan but it was more or less the way things went.

At home things were pretty quiet and stable. We all had our routines and went about our business with very little fuss. Same for me and my friends, beer runs, cruisin’ around and just hangin’ out. There was no real trouble or excitement to speak of. I think we were all perfectly happy to just float through the summer and why not? Isn’t that what you do with teenage summers? You waste them on things that seem important at the time like being able to get into clubs and dive bars to see live music by local original bands that seemed like they were big time and totally worth the 5 buck cover charge. I spent the summer in La'more, The Crazy Country Club, Lauterbach’s and Live at 315. That’s what was important and also impressive to me that summer before senior year.

Senior year I turned 18 in January of ‘93 and my mom’s worst fear was that I would sign myself out of school without graduating. I had to promise that I would tough it out and at least get my diploma. Anything after that would be up to me. So, we had a deal and I kept my word with a little help and a little luck.

I’ll explain, My Guidance Counselor since freshman year was a woman named Gladys Graham and for some reason she took a liking to me and for that I am still grateful. She new that I struggled and that I was a smart kid and basically a good kid as well but the best thing for me would be just to be out of school. After many conversations with both my mother and I some strings were pulled and I got into an internship program. This was the answer, the perfect solution! Honestly it was meant for students with much better grades and a pretty good idea of a field they wanted to work in and learn about. That wasn’t me but it worked for me for other, more practical reasons.

The deal was work 4 days a week at a job that the leaders of the program either arranged for you or approved of then get your hours documented and signed off on. You only had to go to school once a month for a progress meeting. You were off on Fridays and earned all the credits needed to graduate. I was all in! Immediately more motivated than I had been in years, I found my own job at the public school I went to before the Catholic Crossover. I became a teacher’s aide in a special Ed class and I Loved it! I actually did pretty well. The teacher I worked with and the kids seemed to like me.  From January til June I barely had to set foot in school and I was doing something that I found cool and interesting. For a brief minute I actually considered going into teaching but it was just too much additional schooling for me.

My graduating class was so large that the ceremony was held at the Madison Square Garden Theater. I didn’t go, to be honest it was more like not allowed to go. Something having to do with the transport and sale of cigarettes and alcohol on the class ski trip… Allegedly, Trumped up charges I say! Rubbish I tell you! Also didn’t go to the Prom either. We threw a keg party and made some quick cash instead. But I kept my word, I got the diploma and got out. That was all that mattered to my mother and I. We were both happy to put high school and move on. On to what? I wasn’t sure but I would spend the summer trying to figure it out.

That summer came and went, kind of just bumming around. Brendan worked at the neighborhood pizza joint and got me a job there 3 days a week. He was always good like that. Hooking up his friends and looking out for you. We worked different days and it was mostly washing dishes and wiping down the tables and counter but it was beer money. I think it was $150 bucks a week in cash and I had to give my mom 30 bucks a week. All 3 of us paid something and we didn’t mind. I’m sure it helped. It also felt good to contribute but, I would have to find something better with more money and benefits. Brendan still had another year in Murrow so he didn’t care. He wasn’t in any rush. I don’t think any of us were really. My next job was at a telemarketing firm, yeah I was one of those annoying people who called during dinner with some kind of sales pitch. That only lasted a few weeks, the pay sucked and I wasn’t very good at it. It just wasn’t my thing. So I moved on.

That fall my mother decided to rent out the upstairs apartment for the first time. She had bedrooms and a bathroom built in the basement for my sisters and her and I shared the first floor. It was nice, everyone had a little more space and a little more privacy. The new tenants were really cool. They were actually working musicians in a moderately successful band. Shane and Rob became big brothers to me. We hung out together a lot. Shane and I played hockey together and bonded over both being die hard Ranger fans. We didn’t have cable so Shane would invite me upstairs to watch the games with him. We saw the Rangers win the Cup in ‘94 together! Those two guys taught me a lot and shared some great experiences with me. The next band I was in was sort of a punk/hardcore thing made up of kids from the neighborhood who also happened to go to Murrow as well. We took it pretty seriously too, paying for rehearsal time at a studio on Flatbush ave. called Fastlane and even getting a few paying gigs. Lauterbach’s was a great place to play, a pre-prohibition era bar that looked like you were walking into someone’s house for a party in the basement. They had live bands on friday and Saturday nights. They charged a $5 cover and gave the bands 3 bucks a head. They usually had three bands all different styles from Rockabilly to Metal. All on one bill and cheap beer. Not bad for a fiver. The studio was also a cool place to hang. You could check out other bands and bring in beers and booze. It had a great vibe, there was always something going on and you met a lot of interesting people. Also my friend Shane worked there and would bring me along for recording sessions. I felt like I was starting to have some direction and a plan was taking shape.

I figured maybe I could learn and possibly make a living working in a studio or a club and continue writing and playing in bands at the same time. In September of ‘94 I found a trade school called the Institute of Audio Research. Nine months of hands on education for nine grand and you could learn everything you needed to be an audio engineer. Sounds good to me! I was in, I started at 19 and would be out with a certificate by the time I was 20. IAR was cool, two classes a day learning how and why all this cool gear with the shiny knobs, buttons and flashing lights worked. I was a bit ahead of the game too because of hanging around the studio I already knew some of this stuff. The studio became a sort of second home. Shane took me under his wing and taught me about working the equipment and Mike who owned the place would throw me a few bucks to set up the rooms for the bands or man the desk, clean up answer phones and make coffee. I was getting quite an education and my mom was happy that I was in school and had started making my own way. I was enjoying school and putting in effort and applying myself, maybe for the first time ever. The classes were interesting and the instructors all had backgrounds and real world experience in the music industry. Everybody teachers and students alike all smoked so, there were frequent breaks outside the building. We all stood around smoking and bullshitting. This was the mid ‘90’s smoking was not so frowned upon as it is now. There was even a break room/lounge where you could sit and smoke inside the building. This is where I met John, a guy my age from Jersey we hit it off right away and became fast friends. We are still very close today. He was a talented drummer and writer we would hang out in a diner on the corner next to school and write lyrics, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. It didn’t take long before we were cutting classes together and hanging outside of school. I started spending weekends in NJ and some of his friends became my friends. John would later tell me that he was almost afraid or intimidated to approach me because I would just stand there smoking and staring out the window. One day he was out of cigarettes and asked me for one and that was it. We started hanging and we had a lot of laughs, tons of funny stories and good times. Nine months goes very quickly and then time to find a job and get to work.

Fastlane couldn’t hire full time but I could always pick up some hours and quick cash. I got an internship at a studio in Chelsea it didn’t pay but I got ten bucks a week for transportation and five bucks a day for lunch. I saved as much of this money as I could to have some weekend spending cash. The internship only lasted a few months the owner had no interest in giving me a paid position and I had no interest in staying. Around this time I found my stride and my confidence. It was time to Hustle and that’s what I did. I worked a day or two a week at Fastlane and hung at Lauterbach’s on the weekends where I talked my way into a job working the sound board and collecting the cover charge which quickly turned into also bartending two days a week and shortly after I was booking the bands. That was easy because all the bands at the studio always wanted a place to play and I could put together nights and make money. It caught on and became a scene. For a little while anyway, I was the man! The owners of the bar, George and Alice Really liked and trusted me and pretty much let me run the place. They owned the building and the bar. They also owned another business renting storage lockers in some warehouse under the Prospect Expressway. George was smart and industrious too. If someone was more than three months behind on their rent for the storage space he would empty the locker and slap a price on the items which would then sit on metal racks in the bar where patrons could buy them. What a great idea! You could sit have a cold one and by a full set of dishes or pots and pans for like 10 bucks. When I was bartending if somebody bought something I would write down what I sold and for how much and put the cash from the sale in a separate lock box. Working behind the bar from noon til 2AM could be long and tedious but the old timers seemed to like me. I would always have the day’s newspapers at the end of the bar along with a pack of smokes. Remember when you could smoke in a bar? I would also keep a fresh pot of coffee going at all times for myself and whoever wanted it. I never charged for the coffee and George didn’t care. He didn’t really get in the way of me making money and I was always honest. I never shorted him and George and Alice were always good to me. They lived upstairs and had cameras and an intercom system so they could keep an eye on things. Mostly making sure I locked up, counted out and Never closed Early!

Friends would sometimes stop in and visit when I was working, have a few beers and help pass the time. One of them was my sister’s then boyfriend now husband Chris. Chris worked at another neighborhood bar and we often took turns stopping in to see each other. This one particular afternoon Chris was looking at the racks of stuff for sale, he had just gotten a new apartment and needed a few odds and ends. He found a VCR and I got George to let it go for twenty bucks. Chris called me a few days later and said he tried putting a movie in and something was stuck inside Turns out there was already a tape in there. Laughing over the phone he told me the VCR came with a free Porn tape. Ha! 20 bucks well spent!

Around this time I was in a new band called Jigsaw. They were going to the studio and had plenty of good original songs but no lyrics or singer. I took a chance and became the Frontman and singer of a band that would record, play bunches of gigs and build a solid following and a good buzz. We played Lauterbach’s a lot but also shows in the city and Jersey. John and I would always go see each other’s bands play and Brendan and the fellas also came to a good number of shows. Due to all the shows, rehearsing and recording I was taking a lot of time off from the bar. My time at Lauterbach’s came to an end. George and Alice wished me well and we parted ways on good terms. Work at the studio was slow and the business itself was changing, becoming more digitized and computerized, Kids needed studio time less and less. Computer programs made it possible to record tracks directly to a hard drive quickly and cheaply. Shane and Rob formed a new band heavy guitars, electronic/industrial stuff Like Nine Inch Nails. They made a record and were going on tour with Type-O-Negative and Life of Agony. The guys asked me to join them on tour as part of their road crew. I jumped at the chance and my mom thought it was a great idea and it was a truly Awesome and life changing experience! Travel across the country in an old Chevy conversion van, play shitty dives and clubs, load in, load out, sell merchandise and demos and drink for free. What a life! We would go out and play shows for like three weeks at a time in states and towns that I would have never otherwise seen and then be home for a week then on the road again. As band and crew we were a machine rockin’ every night and kickin’ ass. Work hard, play hard and when we were home for a week it was like being a celebrity. Lots of people to see in short spans of time. I got a hundred bucks a week plus a per diem for food and smokes. That kind of money can last forever on the road as there isn’t much to spend it on. This lifestyle lasted about a year and a half before coming to an end and took me to places like the Reptile House in Grand Rapids this place would come up again in a very weird way many years later. As I sit here now I’m 44 years old and at this point in the story I’m between 20 and 22. That seems like a good place to pause for now. Call it a chapter, call it part one, Call it whatever. It just seems like a natural point to take a break so I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an adult boundaries mean setting limits of what is acceptable behavior within society. As a kid growing up in the Brooklyn of the 70’s and 80’s it meant where you were allowed to go and how far you could venture in the neighborhood. Growing up in the working class Irish enclave of Windsor Terrace my whole world was defined and informed by the borders of Greenwood cemetery to east 5th street playground and from Caton avenue to Vanderbilt street. That was the village and I’m one of the many children it raised. Blue Collar to the bone, before hipsters or social media our parents hung out on the stoop together while us kids ran the streets like a roving gang of  pirates. I don’t live there anymore but my Mom is still there in the same house since 1969.  The only way she’s leaving is in a box. I’m not there anymore but it’s still “The Neighborhood” and there’s something comforting about that. Something warm and familiar like a worn out pair of jeans or an old, perfectly broken in pair of boots.

Growing up there it’s true that you had to be home for dinner when the street lights came on and on the weekend you had to be out of the house by ten AM. so your parents could have some peace and quiet. That was fine with us there were always other kids outside and we always had a roller hockey game or touch football going on. No  “play dates” just walk outside and find something to do. We never got in any real trouble and we solved our own problems. If you got in a fist fight on Friday you were playing wiffle ball together on the same team on Saturday. On occasion if things got out of hand one of the older guys would step in and settle any dispute. Back then a three or four year age difference seemed like a lot so we looked up to and listened to the older kids and they in turn looked out for us. Then we became the older kids and on it went. In the neighborhood you felt safe and protected. I mean we were little smart asses and everyone took their lumps and got picked on but we also stuck up for each other.

January 1975, that’s when I made my grand entrance into the world. I introduced myself three months ahead of schedule. Being an early arrival meant being born in the house and delivered by firemen. Thank you engine 240 and thanks as well to the neighbor kid who pulled the fire alarm box on the corner. Born premature and breach… meaning ass first with my grandmother charging up the stairs from her first floor apartment with a knife in her hand (she wasn’t gonna cut the cord.) she was making lunch and just forgot to put the knife down. It’s ok, the firemen stopped her at the top of the stairs. (Thanks again guys) My mother likes to say, “you made an ass of yourself from day one and you keep on going”. A few weeks in the hospital and then home with my parents, two sisters and my grandmother. Off to a great start.

My parents bought a two family house in the neighborhood. We lived on the second floor and my grandmother was on the first. They bought the house in 1969 for 18 Grand. Houses there now are going for a million plus. Hipsters and transplants have discovered the neighborhood now but there are still a good number of holdouts like my mom. Leftovers, Townies whatever. The point is that several young couples just starting out moved there all around the same time and raised kids together building friendships and a strong community that still endures today.

The great start I just mentioned came to an abrupt, screeching halt in February 1976 when my father died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of thirty eight. Leaving my mother to raise three kids all under the age of five by herself. Well, not entirely my grandmother helped out. It must have been scary to be a young widow with three kids and no job but she did it and I have no idea how. She was and still is a tough lady. As early as I can remember I always felt like we were going to be ok and we always had what we needed. The basics were covered and we knew and felt loved although it wasn’t said very often. We weren’t spoiled or overly indulged by any means. It wasn’t a very huggy/kissy upbringing but we learned to be tough and were taught respect, manners and responsibility. We had fun and laughed a lot but there were rules and expectations. If you got out of line or did something wrong you got slapped or punished or both depending on the situation. My mom had the quickest backhand in the business. She also had some colorful one liners to warn you when you were about to push her too far. “You’re gonna feel pretty stupid lookin’ up at me from the floor”. Was a good one. Or, “How bout I put your face through that wall?” Then there was “I’ll give you the back of my hand.” She wasn’t about to take any crap from the three of us. She didn’t have time to and we were no angels. We sure didn’t make it easy. She had to unleash us into the street to run around with our friends. She would’ve lost her mind if we didn’t get the hell out of the house.

My grandmother was very funny and quick witted. She liked to tease and joke with us. She loved to have a good laugh. She was also overtly racist and didn’t see anything wrong with sharing those views. None of us understood or agreed with her but looking back now I think that was all based on fear and the lack of diversity or exposure to other people and cultures when she was growing up. She used to talk to me about Ireland and she taught me many Irish folk songs that she would then ask me to sing for her. She always said I had a nice voice, she also always wanted me to become a priest. Sorry grandma, That was never gonna happen.

We used to have Sunday dinners downstairs with grandma every week which should have been nice except it never ended well for me. My grand mother believed that children should be seen and not heard. You were at the table to eat not to crack wise or interrupt the adults conversation. Doing so would result in being banished from the table. You wouldn’t be able to finish your meal and you would have to sit in the other room until dinner was finished. Can you guess what happened to me almost every Sunday? My sisters quite enjoyed me getting in trouble so they would kick or poke me under the table until i would yell at them to stop or they would make faces until I would bust out laughing. My grandmother would raise her arm and point to the door simply saying “Go!” So I went and sat on the edge of her bed until dinner was over. There was a creepy picture of Jesus hanging on her bedroom wall. I swear the eyes followed you. Needless to say I felt like I was being judged every Sunday for years by both grandma and Creepy Jesus. When dinner was over we would go upstairs and my mother would give me a bowl of cold cereal for dinner and beg me to keep my mouth shut next sunday, “For The Love Of Christ!” My mom was also fair so she would yell at my sisters to leave me alone so we could all eat in peace. I don’t recall that ever actually happening. I also never understood why every Irish Catholic household in America had the same three pictures hanging on the wall. It was J.F.K., Jesus and the Pope. It doesn’t matter or mean anything I just always found it funny.

My mom became good friends with five other ladies on the block they were all around the same age and so were all us kids. It was nice especially for my mother that they all had that in common. They would alternate sitting on each others stoops or go out for dinner or coffee and dessert. I think the other moms wanted to get away from their husbands for a bit and I’m sure my mother jumped at the chance to go out with them to feel like she still had a life and to get away from us for a few hours. Why not? Good for her, she deserved it. On these nights usually once every couple of weeks we would have to go downstairs so my grandmother could keep an eye on us until my mother came home. It wasn’t bad usually we would just have ice cream and watch tv. Grandma didn’t mind The only show she wouldn’t let us watch was called The Facts of Life. Her reasoning was that a show with that title had to be about sex and we were too young for such filth. She was funny about stuff like that and kinda hard for a little kid to figure out because we couldn’t watch The Facts of Life but she would let me watch the old Benny Hill show with her and she would laugh her ass off as this dirty old man from England chased these scantily clad young girls around. Her laughing made me laugh so we both sat there laughing and I had no idea what was so funny.

Things changed again and got a little more difficult somewhere in 1980. I was five years old and in kindergarten when both my mother and my teacher noticed I was having a hard time with certain things. I couldn’t hold a crayon or pencil and I was tripping and falling a lot. So what? I was an uncoordinated kid. Big deal, I was clumsy. Turns out it was a little more than that. After going to a few doctors and having some tests done at Long Island College Hospital in downtown Brooklyn My mother and I sit in an office and wait for this doctor to explain the test results to us. The things you can remember about a certain place or event can be both weird and/or amazing. I can almost see myself sitting on this big soft, brown leather chair that swivelled all the way around in a complete circle. I just kept turning and turning myself in that chair until I was dizzy. Then the doc came in and wanted me to go out in the hall so he could “Explain Things.” to my mom. She would have none of that, she responded by saying, “My son is sitting right there and this is his life. Explain it to him and whatever we need to do we’ll do it together.”  Well said mom.

We were informed that I have Cerebral Palsy. Big scary words that mean nothing to a five year old. That did explain the limp, hand tremors and lack of hand/eye coordination. So, professional hockey player was off the table as a career choice. My mother didn’t flinch. She just took a deep breath and asked what was next. The good doctor ran down a list of tests and treatment including physical and occupational therapies as well as wearing leg braces and special orthopedic shoes to help straighten out my legs. I’m not sure if I cried but I know mom and I talked in the car and she assured me that I would get help and everything would be ok and I believed her.

When we got home she had me tell my grandmother, explaining that I would have to get used to telling people because, “ it’s not a secret and nothing to be ashamed of.” Grandma asked how it went and I said, “OK, I just have Cerebral Palsy a little bit.” She hugged me and said, “ that’s ok.” Then as I left them to talk and started up the stairs I overheard my grandmother ask, “Does that mean he’s retarded?” My mom shushed her and said, “No! He just needs extra help and don’t ever say that again.” My sisters were very sweet and supportive. They both wanted to help and became extra, super protective of their little brother, even more so than before. The next few weeks we went about going to specialists and getting fitted for leg braces that they called “Twister Cables.” Good Times!”

Leg Braces Suck!!! I don’t care what you call them. They are permanently connected to ugly ass shoes that look like Herman Munster boots and you have to put them on and then put your pants on. They had a big ugly white belt that went around your waistband under your pants. Extremely uncomfortable and I had to wear them all the time. No sneakers for this kid. I also refused to wear shorts in the summer because kids would see them and make fun of me. Kids are mean and it was such an obvious thing to pick on especially in the schoolyard. I gotta say my friends in the neighborhood were pretty cool about it. Yeah, of course they had jokes and some of them were good ones. I must admit they made me laugh but these guys wouldn’t let anyone outside our crew of kids say anything or there would be a fight. The boys always had my back.

Physical therapy wasn’t bad. Mostly because I got out of school early to go. There was a lot of stretching and exercises to do and I had to do them at home as well. The therapists were very nice and mostly it was throwing a ball or jumping on a mat kinda like a playground. The one thing I hated was when they had to observe me walk it had to be in my underwear with the braces on. Up and down the hall then up and down the stairs several times all in my tighty whities. How Embarrassing! My mom was a trooper through all of this. She would sit on the floor with me every night to help me do my exercises and always encouraged me to keep trying and do my best even if It took me longer or I had to do things differently. I could still do them just like everybody else. Sometimes I would cry or get frustrated if something was hard to do or it was just a bad day and I felt different than the other kids but if I ever said “I Can’t” My mom would get upset and say, “Only dead people can’t and you’re not dead.” Sometimes you need a little kick in the ass. Thanks mom. I began to notice around the same time that other little kids there were in the same position, if not much worse off. During one session I noticed a little girl about three years old who I overheard had CP too. So It wasn’t just me. That made me feel kinda good. Then I realized, only because her parents and therapist were beating on the mat and calling to her over and over to get her to move the right way, she was also blind. That made me feel Supremely Bad! The kind of bad that never goes away. The kind that makes you feel Supremely Lucky because you only hurt a little and it could be so much worse. In the car on the way home I started crying. My mom told me to Stop! We already talked about this. I couldn’t stop so I explained, I was not crying for me. I was crying for that little girl who has what I have only she can’t walk and can’t see. My mom hugged me and we both cried a little. I know I was very young but I also know I felt for that little girl very deeply. I sometimes wonder where she is and how her life turned out. I have no complaints or no right to complain. Next time you hear me complain punch me in the face. I don’t have a single Goddamn reason to complain! Please remind me of that.

When I was eight we went on a family vacation. Mom, grandma me and my two sisters all piled into the old Pontiac and drove to a family resort in the Catskills. My mom driving, chain smoking Winstons with the window barely cracked open. Grandma riding shotgun not allowing the AC or radio to be on and us three kids in the back already annoying the crap out of each other 15 minutes into this vacation. Now we were all told to “GO” (use the bathroom) before leaving the house but I didn’t have to GO then. An hour into the ride in a hot, smoke filled car sitting in the middle of the back seat between my sisters Now I Gotta GO! I ask if we can stop and my grandmother tells me to “just hold it in!” apparently we’re on the nonstop express and the copilot is at the controls. A few minutes later my bladder is about to burst so I plead, “Ma, Please Stop!” No dice, we didn’t even have drinks in the car, just soggy foil wrapped sandwiches. Just pull over I’ll find a bush or a tree and then on the road again. How easy is that? Grandma had a better idea. Mom keeps driving and grandma rifles through her giant hand bag filled with napkins, sugar packets and God knows what else she’s pocketed from any number of diners and restaurants and she produces an empty Smucker’s jelly jar, passes it back to me and says “use this.” No stopping or even slowing down, I’m not joking I had to unzip and pee into a jar while sitting between my two sisters in a moving car. After some dribble and poor aim I felt relieved to say the least. Grandma took the full jar back and emptied and rinsed it out when we got there. Let the good times roll!

This place was very nice. There was a dining hall where you ate all your meals at tables with other families and they had live music after dinner and a bar for the adults. There were activities all day for the kids arranged by age group also a basketball court, playground and a pool. I loved the pool because I didn’t have to wear the stupid shoes and braces. It was great to swim and splash around with all the other kids. My sisters and I always got along pretty well but it was nice that we weren’t forced together and we could break off with kids our own age. I think my mom enjoyed just relaxing and having some time to herself. My grandmother would sit out in front of her room and read or listen to the radio content to watch everyone come and go.

There was a game room that had pinball and Donkey Kong, also Space Invaders. My after dinner ritual was to get a fistful of quarters from mom and go play video games. Outside the dining hall were vending machines. One had candy bars for a quarter and the other had glass bottles of soda for 50 cents. I would hold onto 75 cents from my game room money every night and get a soda and a candy bar to have while I watched tv back n our room. I don’t remember the brand of soda but there was cola, ginger ale, grape and orange. I liked the grape. I would get that and a pack of peanut chews to end the day with.

One night walking back to the room I saw my grandmother sitting out so I went to say hi. We sat and chatted about how much we were enjoying ourselves and how nice it was as I sipped my soda she asked what kind it was and I answered “Grape soda grandma.” she replied, “You shouldn’t be having that.” When I asked why feeling kind of like I’d done something wrong she motioned for me to come closer. She then whispered in my ear, “Grape soda is for black people.” Now we all know this is a racist stereotype but eight year old me took her words literally. I felt like I had somehow taken something that didn’t belong to me or taken something away from someone else. I drank regular cola for the rest of the week.  Aside from that it was a fun vacation.

The summer before fifth grade big changes were around the corner. My mother had transferred me to the Catholic school two blocks away so I wasn’t returning to the public school I had been in since first grade. This was because after sixth grade I would have to travel to a junior high by myself but Catholic school went up to eighth grade and I could walk back and forth with my friends and one of my sisters would be there a grade ahead of me. My oldest sister had already started high school. No big deal school is school and most of my friends went there. The only difference was I would have to wear a uniform. The other big development was that my mother was going back to work full time. She got a job at a market research company where a friend of hers worked. It was close enough that she could walk but she wanted us to help out more around the house and fend for ourselves a bit. No big deal. My grandmother was right downstairs if we needed anything. We were all old enough to help out and be unsupervised for a few hours.

First day of school a bunch of us walked down the block together. I walked into the schoolyard, lined up with my new class, brand new uniform, brand new school, brand new year. I instantly hated it! I hated every single thing about it. I didn’t know any of these kids. All my friends were either in the other fifth grade class or a grade ahead or behind me. I was the new kid and then in very short order I was the disabled kid more directly, the retarded kid. Welcome to the Jungle Baby! I swear there was a constant countdown clock in my head. Just get to lunch time. A lot of kids went home for lunch including me and my sister. My grandma would give us a sandwich and a snack and make sure I would “GO” before heading back. Then we had some time in the schoolyard so at least I could play and hang out with my friends before going back to my class. Then the countdown was just until 2:45 then I was FREE!! Back on the block. Get homework out of the way then grab the last hours of daylight before dinner. There was no Cyberbullying. There was no Cyber anything but when I tell you that at times the teachers were worse than the students, I’m not kidding. I had teachers who actually made fun of my handwriting in front of the whole class. Back then we still had Nuns. one kicked me out of the library for having handwriting like “Chicken Scratch.” Another slapped me because I was left handed, Surely the spawn of the Devil!

My friends and I played sports on Greenwood Avenue and never talked about school. We never let it get to us. My mom knew about the teachers and the Nuns and she felt bad but if she confronted them it would only be worse for me. At home we settled into mom working, grandma being crazy and us kids pitching in. I’ll explain, here’s the rundown… We all got home from school and had about two and a half hours before mom got home. The countdown clock is ticking. My mother was a heavy tea drinker with a 6 cup a day habit. There had to be milk and tea bags in the house. The dishes had to be done. Dishwasher Ha! You had two hands the dishwasher was you. Plus my grandmother always liked to send us to the store. My oldest sister would forget things at the store, she screwed up on purpose so she would never be asked to go again. Genius! My other sister would get it right because she wanted to be the favorite. Me? I saw an opening.

My sisters didn’t want to go to the store, make tea or wash dishes but they also wanted to avoid getting yelled at. I stepped in for a nominal fee, going to the store=$2, washing dishes=$1 plus setting the table and various other chores. I made about $25 a week just doing chores at eleven years old and it kept the peace.  My mom came home tired but also happy that everything was done and we didn’t annoy my grandmother. Grandma only wanted my younger sister to go to the store for her because my oldest sister, as I said would  screw up on purpose and if I went I would surely get things wrong, after all I was either “Slow or Retarded.” depending on the day. On and on, you get the picture. I didn’t mind though this was the start of me being industrious. More about that later.

Sixth grade was the start of a lot of things, from Hard Ons to Hockey. Twelve was a rough age. The only cool thing was that me and all my buddies discovered hokey. I learned to skate by the light of a lamp post and even though due to my CP I did not have the coordination  or balance to ride a bike I could skate well enough to go side to side and back and forward. Perfect Gollie! The urges of puberty were right on my heels and I had to beg my mother to tell my sisters not to walk through my room, as all the rooms in our apartment went in a circle.

I’m sure my mother felt bad for me because I was the only boy but I also felt for her. When she had to take me to buy a cup to protect my little baby junk neither of us knew what we were doing but a nice young kid surveyed the situation and helped me out. Thank you! New things were happening, hair sprouting, voice changing, endless erection kind of things and in Catholic school that was bad. I became an altar boy ha! I beat the system. Me and a friend of mine were in charge of the schedule. The weekday 9am mass got you out of class for an hour and weddings and funerals tipped you. Of course we worked it out in our favor, Industrious, remember?

Something else happened that year. Something amazing, after seven years of intense therapy and twister cables I go to therapy on a random Tuesday and I’m told I’m FREE!!!!!! I don’t need the braces anymore and as long as I stay active and keep up with my program I won’t have to come back. Yes…. I would have said yes to anything, Me and my mom walked out both feeling so good. One problem, the only shoes I have to wear are the “special, Herman Munster” ones. The next day my mom took off from work and I got to stay home from school. We went sneaker shopping for the first time! We didn’t have money and my mom did her best but on this day the gloves were off. Mom told me I could have any sneakers I wanted. This was the year that the Reebok pumps came out, they had a pump that you could inflate or deflate. I don’t know what they were supposed to do but they cost over a hundred bucks and they were mine! I got a pair in black and white, my first sneakers!!!! Then we went out for lunch. I think it was Burger King but it was a Victory lunch for both me and mom and I’ll never forget it.

When we got home and I Proudly displayed my new kicks my sisters were pissed. My mother never spent that kind of money on shoes for them, ever! They Bitched and she explained that she never spent money on sneakers for me and if they complained again i would get two more pairs! You tell ‘em Mom!

After that, school still sucked and I never saw the love and compassion that I thought Catholic school was supposed to be about. Mostly it was about going to church and giving them your weekly envelope. A cash donation to keep God’s love shining on you and your family. What a Scam!  My sisters and I had it beat, My oldest sister was 16 and smoking cigarettes at the time and we no longer wanted to go to church so on Ash wednesday when a priest is supposed to put a cross of ashes on your forehead we left the house through the front door  as if going to mass and went back in the basement door. We hung out in the basement for an hour or so and my sister blessed us with the ashes of a few Marlboro Lights and we were Golden walking back through the front door like three good little Catholic Angels.

Why not? It made our mother and grandmother happy to think that we were being good kids and we kind of were for the most part anyway. We were just having fun, nobody got hurt, well “Seriously Hurt” anyway it was all in good fun. Innocent childish fun. It was a good time.

My friends and I pulled many stunts like the show Jackass way before that show even existed. We had shopping cart races where one of us would get into a cart that we stole from the supermarket parking lot and get pushed down a hill into oncoming traffic. There was no brakes or steering so you would just throw yourself to one side and tip over before literally playing in traffic. We were stupid kids having harmless fun we always found ways to amuse ourselves. It didn’t take much and we never really got hurt or ended up in any serious trouble. Just the cuts and bruises that I think all kids should have by a certain age.

By seventh grade we were entering our teens and we started branching out from the neighborhood. We would jump on the train and venture to Coney Island To grab a hot dog at Nathan’s and ride the Cyclone or take the bus to Bay Ridge to go to the movies or a diner. Around this time we started  hanging out at night on the weekend either on Greenwood ave. or Fort Hamilton Parkway. It was usually a large mixed group of guys and girls not doing much or anything except being loud and stupid. What else were we supposed to do at that age? You would make one or two phone calls after dinner and just ask, “Are you hangin’ out?” followed by, “ok, later.” That was it. Then you went to the appointed meeting spot at the appointed time and there would be a dozen kids just hanging out.  Nothing exciting, if you were lucky the older guys would give you and your buddy each a beer to move across the street and leave them alone. Sometimes they would send us to the store for chips or cigarettes and they would give us a smoke and let us keep the change. Our parents didn’t mind us going out at night on weekends. They knew exactly where we were and who we were with, ( Most of the Time.) but we all had curfews and we all fought every weekend to get them increased even by just half an hour. My sisters were both older and got to come home later, I guess that was fair. Also there wery plenty of payphones around to call and say you were on your way but the bus broke down. The buses my sisters were on always seemed to breakdown. My mom wasn’t stupid but as long as they called she didn’t care all that much.

My oldest sister taught me a trick to stay out later. If you turn your watch back an hour you can stay out an hour later and mom won’t get mad because a broken watch isn’t your fault. Good advice but you can only use that trick once! My mother knew all the tricks and again, she didn’t really care. I was the youngest of three mostly she just wanted me to stay outta trouble and get home safe. So, after some intense negotiation the curfew was moved to 11pm and totally removed shortly after. What was the point?

Finally! Eighth grade, my last year at our lady of perpetual suffering. That wasn’t the real name of the school, just the way it made me feel. Time to apply to high schools and find out where I would spent the next four years. I’ll tell you one thing it wouldn’t be at the sacred bleeding heart of Jesus school. Again, not a school name just that I refuse to attend another fine institution of Catholic education. I applied to public schools because both of my sisters went to the Catholic school in the neighborhood and I didn’t want to be known as they’re “Little Brother.” for the next four years. I also figured if I went to a public school outside the neighborhood I could meet new people and make my own way without anybody looking over my shoulder. That was my plan. Just bide my time and keep my head down until we found out where we got accepted to.

At home my grandmother had started having mini strokes and also had Crohn's disease. She was in a hospital bed in her downstairs apartment and my mom found an attendant to stay with her while she was at work and we were at school. We all took turns sitting with grandma and talking to her. I think she enjoyed that. She was still sharp and seemed to have become a little more gentle and soft spoken. We had an intercom hooked up so when we were all upstairs for the night she could call us if she needed to. Sometimes it sounded kind of creepy you could hear her snoring and breathing… Until you couldn’t. She passed away that April. Yes, she was rough around the edges and maybe a little bit crazy too! At the same time she was funny and loving in her own way. She helped raise us and I just remember feeling a mix of sadness and anger. I was mad at God. I was mad that another person who loved and took care of me was gone. I was just mad in general.

In June I would graduate from The Sacred Bleeding Heart of Jesus School. No more uniforms for this kid. No more Nuns, no more sacraments, no more church or religion of any kind. I was out! I was on my way back to public school and a very prestigious and progressive school at that. Edward R. Murrow High School was top notch at the time with an innovative approach that focused on the individual student’s interest and experience. You got in by being chosen via lottery and then you got to choose your classes. You had to take math and science but you got to select which course you took and when. It was a well rounded program with lots of opportunities not only in academics but also the arts. They had an amazing music program where you didn’t have to play an instrument very well rather, just want to learn and participate. Imagine that… Being encouraged to do something just for pure enjoyment without getting yelled at or made fun of? No Way, Stop It!!! Murrow was in the Midwood section of Brooklyn which was cool because it was outta the neighborhood. Walk a few blocks, half hour bus ride along Coney Island Ave and it was like being in another world where difference and diversity were good things. Since It was new and I didn’t know anyone I could be whoever I wanted and at the end of the day be back in the Hood. This was the chance, meet new people, try new things and don’t be afraid! What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like you’ve never been laughed at or made fun of before. Right? Right.

It took about half of Freshman year to figure out where a lot of things were and there were no bells in between classes so you had to know when one ended and the next one began. My grades were mostly middle of the road but I had made some friends and I was really enjoying my music and creative writing classes. In Murrow you had freedom. You could hang out in the halls or the courtyard, if you knew how the system worked you could even dip out a side door for a smoke or a run to the bagel store and get let back in. It was awesome! Every group had their spot to hang. Drama kids, 2nd floor outside the crew room, Stoners and Goth kids had sections of the courtyard. Me and my friends took over a section of the music hall outside the practice rooms in front of the back door leading to the street. The music teachers were always cool to us. They let us hang out in the practice rooms and let us in and out for smokes. Sometimes even bumming off us kids. It didn’t even seem to matter if we were cutting class as long as we didn’t make any noise or any trouble and we didn’t.

Here’s how we got in and out all the time… There was a monitor posted at each door, not a security guard but a parent or school staffer who would sit in a chair by the door not letting you in or out. The doors couldn’t be locked for fire safety reasons so posting an adult at each of the side exits would prevent us from leaving and returning at will. We called these adult figures The Door Lady and our favorite was Betty. We were always nice to her, we would get her coffee and a bagel or a slice of pizza and she would let us back in. We would just ask, “Want anything from outside?” She would give us her order and we would bring it back. Simple, and no harm done. We always came back and that’s why Betty let us do this every day we weren’t trouble makers. We even had a secret knock worked out so she would know it was us and not let some other kids in by accident. We changed the knock twice a week for this reason and we didn’t wanna get Betty in trouble. She was Our Door Lady and she was The Best!

That summer was much like the rest just hangin’ around. I was actually excited for the next school year to start because I found out that my good friend Brendan would be going to Murrow in the fall. He was a year behind me in school but we could go back and forth together every day and also I could kinda show him around and help him get used to stuff. We had known each other since age five and always played and hung around together but I think going to high school together outside the neighborhood brought us even closer. We would be best friends for the rest of our lives. The crowd didn’t change much nor did the meeting places or activities, A few beers and a smoke here and there, usual harmless teenage bull shit. Even the local cops didn’t seem to mind too much. They would normally cut us a break. Tell us, “Hide ya beers better boys or don’t be here when I get back.” Sometimes it was just, “Get Outta Here!”

My mother seemed particularly happy that summer. I think she was happy that all three of us were doing pretty well. I know she was glad that I liked Murrow and had Brendan to go with in September. As for me, I was being more and more drawn toward music. I was a crappy guitarist but I enjoyed singing and didn’t have a half bad voice. I fed myself a steady diet of Guns n Roses, The Doors and The Stones and figured when I went back to school I would try to join or start up a band. I of course had no idea how to go about such a thing but so what? I had decided to try new things and not be afraid so that’s that my mind was made up. I was already friends with like five halfway decent guitar players from my music classes so that was a good start. The idea really grew on me as a possibility and something fun. It was an exciting prospect.

That year me and Brendan met up and went to school together every morning and rode home together every afternoon. I wound up starting my first band with my friend Vin who was in a couple classes with me and his friend Mike. So we had two guitars, I would sing and try my hand at playing bass. All we needed was a drummer but that in fact was the lineup for The Mighty Sexual Peanuts! No joke that was the name of this Power Punk/Thrash machine. We found a drummer who lived close to school and had a basement we could practice in. We were off to set about writing our own brand of Epic Metal!!! It was fun and I found writing lyrics to be fairly easy but also satisfying. I adopted a Johnny Rotten/fake accent singing style mostly from lack of confidence but also I liked the way it sounded. Admittedly the songs were simple and the lyrics were mostly silly and often stupid. At the same time it was fun and something different. We had created something all our own and it was cool. I don’t think that band lasted the full school year but there would be others and each would be a little different and a little better. I would become a better singer and writer but also just more confident and more comfortable in my own skin. I really needed that little kick in the ass. I think at some point we all do.

About halfway through sophomore year my grades started slipping. Not because I wasn’t smart but honestly I was bored and I didn’t care about most of the classes I was taking. Some of them were too easy like conversational spanish where you learned one word a day and had to be able to speak a full sentence in spanish by the end of the week. No kidding that’s all you had to do to pass. In consumer math we learned simple practical math skills and solved word problems. So, I coasted and did the bare minimum to get by. Can you blame me? I hung out and cut out a lot. My head just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t wait to get out, I had hit my limit! The idea of going to college or any further form of education was absurd and out of the question. All I wanted was to get out, go to work and live a life. I had no idea what that meant or how to go about it but I was becoming “That Kid.” The Sullen, Brooding, Chip on my Shoulder, “Nobody Understands Me” typical teen. Today I would tell teenage me to, “Shut Up and Listen!” God Forbid you should learn something or appreciate anything. What an Asshole!

That summer was all about keg parties and house parties. We also started venturing out more as some of the boys got driver’s licenses and could borrow cars. We would pool money and go on beer runs. A six pack was only about 5 bucks and Marlboros were about 3 dollars a pack. You only needed 10 bucks to hang out all night with all your friends. Not a bad deal. There was money to be made as well, if you were so inclined… Get a couple buddies and a car, put together some cash, get your hands on a Keg and spread the word. 5 bucks a cup at the gazebo in Prospect Park by the lake and you were in business. You would always make your money back and a tidy little proffit to split. Of course you would have to pay one of the older guys to buy the keg and obviously he drank for free. Pay another kid that you could trust to stay sober and collect money and you were all set. These gatherings hardly ever got busted and rarely was there a fight. Guaranteed good time money maker.

We also were on the lookout for any Bar we might be able to get into and there were a few. They were what were known as Kiddie bars, places that would knowingly allow teens in and serve them. These places were outside the neighborhood and that was a good thing since they were routinely raided and/or shut down by the cops. The police couldn’t be bothered chasing all the kids down. They were perfectly happy if we all just ran and scattered and that’s exactly what happened.

Junior year I auditioned for a new Band called Shadow Wash. They were all friends of mine so it was a formality. The school was having a battle of the bands for the first time ever! There were always concerts for chorus and jazz band but never a rock show. I got to sing 2 songs, Anarchy in the UK and Man in a Box. It was great to actually be part of an event and get up and perform in front of people. That band lasted for a bit but without me. They explained that they wanted to write originals that didn’t fit my voice or style. I understood and we all stayed friends. Hey, Shit Happens! School was otherwise boring and uneventful that year. Do what you have to just to get by and coast into summer. Not a very detailed or well thought out plan but it was more or less the way things went.

At home things were pretty quiet and stable. We all had our routines and went about our business with very little fuss. Same for me and my friends, beer runs, cruisin’ around and just hangin’ out. There was no real trouble or excitement to speak of. I think we were all perfectly happy to just float through the summer and why not? Isn’t that what you do with teenage summers? You waste them on things that seem important at the time like being able to get into clubs and dive bars to see live music by local original bands that seemed like they were big time and totally worth the 5 buck cover charge. I spent the summer in La'more, The Crazy Country Club, Lauterbach’s and Live at 315. That’s what was important and also impressive to me that summer before senior year.

Senior year I turned 18 in January of ‘93 and my mom’s worst fear was that I would sign myself out of school without graduating. I had to promise that I would tough it out and at least get my diploma. Anything after that would be up to me. So, we had a deal and I kept my word with a little help and a little luck.

I’ll explain, My Guidance Counselor since freshman year was a woman named Gladys Graham and for some reason she took a liking to me and for that I am still grateful. She new that I struggled and that I was a smart kid and basically a good kid as well but the best thing for me would be just to be out of school. After many conversations with both my mother and I some strings were pulled and I got into an internship program. This was the answer, the perfect solution! Honestly it was meant for students with much better grades and a pretty good idea of a field they wanted to work in and learn about. That wasn’t me but it worked for me for other, more practical reasons.

The deal was work 4 days a week at a job that the leaders of the program either arranged for you or approved of then get your hours documented and signed off on. You only had to go to school once a month for a progress meeting. You were off on Fridays and earned all the credits needed to graduate. I was all in! Immediately more motivated than I had been in years, I found my own job at the public school I went to before the Catholic Crossover. I became a teacher’s aide in a special Ed class and I Loved it! I actually did pretty well. The teacher I worked with and the kids seemed to like me.  From January til June I barely had to set foot in school and I was doing something that I found cool and interesting. For a brief minute I actually considered going into teaching but it was just too much additional schooling for me.

My graduating class was so large that the ceremony was held at the Madison Square Garden Theater. I didn’t go, to be honest it was more like not allowed to go. Something having to do with the transport and sale of cigarettes and alcohol on the class ski trip… Allegedly, Trumped up charges I say! Rubbish I tell you! Also didn’t go to the Prom either. We threw a keg party and made some quick cash instead. But I kept my word, I got the diploma and got out. That was all that mattered to my mother and I. We were both happy to put high school and move on. On to what? I wasn’t sure but I would spend the summer trying to figure it out.

That summer came and went, kind of just bumming around. Brendan worked at the neighborhood pizza joint and got me a job there 3 days a week. He was always good like that. Hooking up his friends and looking out for you. We worked different days and it was mostly washing dishes and wiping down the tables and counter but it was beer money. I think it was $150 bucks a week in cash and I had to give my mom 30 bucks a week. All 3 of us paid something and we didn’t mind. I’m sure it helped. It also felt good to contribute but, I would have to find something better with more money and benefits. Brendan still had another year in Murrow so he didn’t care. He wasn’t in any rush. I don’t think any of us were really. My next job was at a telemarketing firm, yeah I was one of those annoying people who called during dinner with some kind of sales pitch. That only lasted a few weeks, the pay sucked and I wasn’t very good at it. It just wasn’t my thing. So I moved on.

That fall my mother decided to rent out the upstairs apartment for the first time. She had bedrooms and a bathroom built in the basement for my sisters and her and I shared the first floor. It was nice, everyone had a little more space and a little more privacy. The new tenants were really cool. They were actually working musicians in a moderately successful band. Shane and Rob became big brothers to me. We hung out together a lot. Shane and I played hockey together and bonded over both being die hard Ranger fans. We didn’t have cable so Shane would invite me upstairs to watch the games with him. We saw the Rangers win the Cup in ‘94 together! Those two guys taught me a lot and shared some great experiences with me. The next band I was in was sort of a punk/hardcore thing made up of kids from the neighborhood who also happened to go to Murrow as well. We took it pretty seriously too, paying for rehearsal time at a studio on Flatbush ave. called Fastlane and even getting a few paying gigs. Lauterbach’s was a great place to play, a pre-prohibition era bar that looked like you were walking into someone’s house for a party in the basement. They had live bands on friday and Saturday nights. They charged a $5 cover and gave the bands 3 bucks a head. They usually had three bands all different styles from Rockabilly to Metal. All on one bill and cheap beer. Not bad for a fiver. The studio was also a cool place to hang. You could check out other bands and bring in beers and booze. It had a great vibe, there was always something going on and you met a lot of interesting people. Also my friend Shane worked there and would bring me along for recording sessions. I felt like I was starting to have some direction and a plan was taking shape.

I figured maybe I could learn and possibly make a living working in a studio or a club and continue writing and playing in bands at the same time. In September of ‘94 I found a trade school called the Institute of Audio Research. Nine months of hands on education for nine grand and you could learn everything you needed to be an audio engineer. Sounds good to me! I was in, I started at 19 and would be out with a certificate by the time I was 20. IAR was cool, two classes a day learning how and why all this cool gear with the shiny knobs, buttons and flashing lights worked. I was a bit ahead of the game too because of hanging around the studio I already knew some of this stuff. The studio became a sort of second home. Shane took me under his wing and taught me about working the equipment and Mike who owned the place would throw me a few bucks to set up the rooms for the bands or man the desk, clean up answer phones and make coffee. I was getting quite an education and my mom was happy that I was in school and had started making my own way. I was enjoying school and putting in effort and applying myself, maybe for the first time ever. The classes were interesting and the instructors all had backgrounds and real world experience in the music industry. Everybody teachers and students alike all smoked so, there were frequent breaks outside the building. We all stood around smoking and bullshitting. This was the mid ‘90’s smoking was not so frowned upon as it is now. There was even a break room/lounge where you could sit and smoke inside the building. This is where I met John, a guy my age from Jersey we hit it off right away and became fast friends. We are still very close today. He was a talented drummer and writer we would hang out in a diner on the corner next to school and write lyrics, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. It didn’t take long before we were cutting classes together and hanging outside of school. I started spending weekends in NJ and some of his friends became my friends. John would later tell me that he was almost afraid or intimidated to approach me because I would just stand there smoking and staring out the window. One day he was out of cigarettes and asked me for one and that was it. We started hanging and we had a lot of laughs, tons of funny stories and good times. Nine months goes very quickly and then time to find a job and get to work.

Fastlane couldn’t hire full time but I could always pick up some hours and quick cash. I got an internship at a studio in Chelsea it didn’t pay but I got ten bucks a week for transportation and five bucks a day for lunch. I saved as much of this money as I could to have some weekend spending cash. The internship only lasted a few months the owner had no interest in giving me a paid position and I had no interest in staying. Around this time I found my stride and my confidence. It was time to Hustle and that’s what I did. I worked a day or two a week at Fastlane and hung at Lauterbach’s on the weekends where I talked my way into a job working the sound board and collecting the cover charge which quickly turned into also bartending two days a week and shortly after I was booking the bands. That was easy because all the bands at the studio always wanted a place to play and I could put together nights and make money. It caught on and became a scene. For a little while anyway, I was the man! The owners of the bar, George and Alice Really liked and trusted me and pretty much let me run the place. They owned the building and the bar. They also owned another business renting storage lockers in some warehouse under the Prospect Expressway. George was smart and industrious too. If someone was more than three months behind on their rent for the storage space he would empty the locker and slap a price on the items which would then sit on metal racks in the bar where patrons could buy them. What a great idea! You could sit have a cold one and by a full set of dishes or pots and pans for like 10 bucks. When I was bartending if somebody bought something I would write down what I sold and for how much and put the cash from the sale in a separate lock box. Working behind the bar from noon til 2AM could be long and tedious but the old timers seemed to like me. I would always have the day’s newspapers at the end of the bar along with a pack of smokes. Remember when you could smoke in a bar? I would also keep a fresh pot of coffee going at all times for myself and whoever wanted it. I never charged for the coffee and George didn’t care. He didn’t really get in the way of me making money and I was always honest. I never shorted him and George and Alice were always good to me. They lived upstairs and had cameras and an intercom system so they could keep an eye on things. Mostly making sure I locked up, counted out and Never closed Early!

Friends would sometimes stop in and visit when I was working, have a few beers and help pass the time. One of them was my sister’s then boyfriend now husband Chris. Chris worked at another neighborhood bar and we often took turns stopping in to see each other. This one particular afternoon Chris was looking at the racks of stuff for sale, he had just gotten a new apartment and needed a few odds and ends. He found a VCR and I got George to let it go for twenty bucks. Chris called me a few days later and said he tried putting a movie in and something was stuck inside Turns out there was already a tape in there. Laughing over the phone he told me the VCR came with a free Porn tape. Ha! 20 bucks well spent!

Around this time I was in a new band called Jigsaw. They were going to the studio and had plenty of good original songs but no lyrics or singer. I took a chance and became the Frontman and singer of a band that would record, play bunches of gigs and build a solid following and a good buzz. We played Lauterbach’s a lot but also shows in the city and Jersey. John and I would always go see each other’s bands play and Brendan and the fellas also came to a good number of shows. Due to all the shows, rehearsing and recording I was taking a lot of time off from the bar. My time at Lauterbach’s came to an end. George and Alice wished me well and we parted ways on good terms. Work at the studio was slow and the business itself was changing, becoming more digitized and computerized, Kids needed studio time less and less. Computer programs made it possible to record tracks directly to a hard drive quickly and cheaply. Shane and Rob formed a new band heavy guitars, electronic/industrial stuff Like Nine Inch Nails. They made a record and were going on tour with Type-O-Negative and Life of Agony. The guys asked me to join them on tour as part of their road crew. I jumped at the chance and my mom thought it was a great idea and it was a truly Awesome and life changing experience! Travel across the country in an old Chevy conversion van, play shitty dives and clubs, load in, load out, sell merchandise and demos and drink for free. What a life! We would go out and play shows for like three weeks at a time in states and towns that I would have never otherwise seen and then be home for a week then on the road again. As band and crew we were a machine rockin’ every night and kickin’ ass. Work hard, play hard and when we were home for a week it was like being a celebrity. Lots of people to see in short spans of time. I got a hundred bucks a week plus a per diem for food and smokes. That kind of money can last forever on the road as there isn’t much to spend it on. This lifestyle lasted about a year and a half before coming to an end and took me to places like the Reptile House in Grand Rapids this place would come up again in a very weird way many years later. As I sit here now I’m 44 years old and at this point in the story I’m between 20 and 22. That seems like a good place to pause for now. Call it a chapter, call it part one, Call it whatever. It just seems like a natural point to take a break so I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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