16: “Ooooh, You Make Me Live”
Making friends was never an easy thing for me. In fact, I’m just as picky about the friends I make as I am about the women I date. Most people get on my nerves, but sometimes I’ll meet someone who doesn’t bore me. I had a few friends in military school, and sure that group grew over the years that I was there, but growing up in a world without cell phones or the internet, made staying in touch with them impossibility after my expulsion.
I still had Aaron and his brothers, but throughout my teens I would meet 4 friends whose influence would change me a profound way. The times we spent together made me feel like a part of a family that I never had. I don’t know what impact if any, I made on their lives but it was their humor, their realism, and their families that kept me grounded and sane in world of an unavailable single mother. I may talk some shit about them from time to time, and I may even talk some shit about them here. But I think that they all know me well enough to see that it’s with the respect of a brother that I do it.
These four friends made up the core of a larger group that I would come to know, an extended family if you will. I only wanted to know people who could mesh with my existing friends. And when I would meet someone new, I always felt like I accomplished something when they would become fast friends with the original four, and I felt a sense of pride when they would hang out with them individually without me around. I had, not only made a friend, but I had MADE friends. I put people in the path of one another who might not have met otherwise.
Even though we’re all older now, and have gone our separate ways, the fact that I know these people makes each day a gift. If I had never known Steve, Grey Jim, Pete, and Brian this book would have been a whole different story. They make me remember a past that could have been filled with heartbreak and turmoil, with reverence and humility. They are the pillars upon which this life was built and I love them all deeply.
Now, let’s get on with the funny.
17: Looking Back
As I started writing ‘The Life and Times of a Jaded Loser: Part the 3rd’, I quickly realized just how old I am. While I was writing the outline for this third part of my life story, I could remember all of the events from my past, however, I couldn’t quite remember the order they happened in.
As I said in The Life and Times Part the 2nd, I used to be pretty good at drawing. All of those drawings are in a worn down briefcase with broken latches on my closet shelf right now. My regret is that I didn’t keep the memories of youth in a similar time capsule. I suggest to the younger generation out there reading this to write shit down. Keep a Hello Kitty diary, leather bound journal, or a fucking captain’s log…SOMETHING to help you remember your youth when the fulcrum of life starts to teeter in the opposite direction. You never know how things that have happened to you will translate into the written word, and relying on other people to help you remember later in life…can be a fucking chore.
I knew that before I started writing all this shit down that I’d have to contact the friends that were there with me as these events unfolded. I tried to reach my best friend Steve to ask him if I could come by his place and interview him for about a half hour, but he was busy with his kids. I tried to get in touch with my old crony Grey Jim to ask him some questions about our youth, but he was sleeping because he works nights. I was GOING to try Scott…but then I remembered that Scott has neither a phone, NOR a car. In today’s world that makes it seem as though Scott is still trying to figure out the fucking wheel. My last hope? Pete.
Pete is one of my oldest friends and I had lost touch with him about 15 years ago. What I’ve heard from him recently is that he’s bounced back and forth from Florida for the past year due to difficulties with his wife. His phone is shut off due to non pay more than it’s on so when I dialed his number I wasn’t really expecting much, however…and I LOVE when life does this…I got more than I expected.
Pete answered and to my surprise, he was living back home with his mother a few miles away from my apartment. I asked him if I could come by and chat with him a bit about our youth and he said that it would be great to see me.
I pulled up to Pete’s house and rang the door bell. A young man of 14 answered the door and begrudgingly let me in. I didn’t know who this kid was, but it seems that I interrupted his Wii game. He told me, without looking up from the TV, that Pete was in the kitchen.
I walked to the back of the house and Pete came out of the Laundry room. Other than a bit of a pot belly, he looked almost exactly the same as he did some fifteen years before. Same Harley Davidson bandana, same fucking go-tee, and that same handsome Italian face that women always fell for. I shook his hand and asked him if he’d like to come over to my apartment. I told him that I’d cook us some breakfast and then I’d interview him about some things I wanted to use in the book.
As we left his mother’s house, Pete introduced me to the boy playing video games in the living room. He was Pete’s fourteen year old son Tyler. FUCK, did that blow me away. Pete, the kid that I spent some of the best and worst times of my life with, had a FOURTEEN year old son. THAT made me feel old as hell.
For the next several hours Pete told me about his marriage, his kids, and all of the problems he was having. I made us biscuits and gravy with sausage and bacon for breakfast and then I tried to interview him. Pete’s memory was not only wholly inaccurate, but much of it was just made up. When we were teenagers, we always had to take whatever Pete told us with a grain of salt. But after the tale of bullshit and woe he had just unfolded about how fucked up his life was and that NONE of it was HIS fault…I realized that I had maybe asked the wrong person for answers to the past. It was like Bill Curtis trying to interview Paris Hilton about the middle ages.
After a few hours of shooting the shit, I drove Pete home. I was glad to see that his mother was there, because she played an intricate role in my early years and I had some questions for her as well. Much like she was in my youth however…Nancy was less than forthcoming and only wanted money from me when I told her I was writing a book. Then Pete’s brother Danny came out of his bedroom with the SAME fucking girlfriend he had when I had last seen him 15 years ago. Apparently they had broken up about 14 years before my visit, and had just rekindled their relationship recently. Oofa. The circle was complete. It seemed that NOTHING in Pete’s life had changed from when we were teenagers.
He and his brother, BOTH nearly forty now, were living with his mother. Pete’s mother was like the queen bee of their clan. There was nothing that Pete or Danny could do that their mother couldn’t forgive, or ignore, so they always came crawling back to her. Danny not only made me glad that I’m single for the simple reason that I never settled, but he also made me IMMEDIATELY call my dentists office after I left to schedule an appointment.
His girlfriend has scoliosis so she’s all twisted up like a tree in a J.R. Tolkien novel. She walks with a disgusting limp and her face looks like a retarded person carved it on a pumpkin head with a sharpened rock. As she came stumbling out of Danny’s bedroom behind him, I almost thought that she was a monster about to attack us all. Then Danny came over to give me a hug and when he smiled, the top row of his teeth was missing. It gave him that look on his face where his upper lip just kind of hangs there and dangles, and his lower lip is puffed out making it seem as though he’s constantly pouting. He had the sunken face of a toothless old man.
The thing that amazed me the MOST was that all of these people had fucking children. Pete had 3, the oldest of which was 14. Danny, who himself is a slow adult has one that’s now 17 and living in a ‘special needs’ home because he stabbed Nancy with a knife. Misty, the monster with scoliosis has a 17 year old as well who lives in Georgia. Do the math; that means that not ONLY did Danny settle for this thing 17 years ago, but it cheated on him as well.
What the FUCK? This band of CARNIES has children spread out all over the god damned country, and I can’t even find a woman to go on a SECOND date with me! Bullshit! I call ‘shenanigans’ on life. I haven’t felt this ripped off since the series finale of The Sopranos.
The point is that although Nancy, Pete and Danny are still great people whom I love (you’ll find out in the following chapters that Nancy is ACTUALLY my LEGAL mother), no matter how bad life may have treated THEM, in comparison it’s STILL treated me worse. Why? Simple, because THEY get to find a semblance of happiness in the shit pile, and I still just get shit. They have each other and all I have is my fucking dog.
As I drove home, riddled with jealousy over the Wilson clan’s togetherness like a trailer park version of Family Ties, it dawned on me that maybe fate had put Pete in my path once again. Although they couldn’t help me with my timeline concerns, just seeing them brought back so many old memories that I DO have a better grasp of the past now. Although this third part of my life’s story turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated, at least I can go to bed at night knowing that I didn’t leave anything out. So thank you Pete, thank you Nancy, and thank you Danny (even if you ARE going to come after me now for talking shit about your girlfriend.)
18: The Glenwood Aftermath
After my mother informed me, rather obtrusively, that I was kicked out of military school, she told me that she had to go back to the campus to collect my effects. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to say my farewells to the only people that I knew for so many years. However, this was not meant to be. My mother told me that even though the school year was only half over, because of my high grades, they decided to let me pass eighth grade…but I wasn’t allowed to come back on campus, even for the graduation ceremony.
This was a huge regret in my life because I never got to give a tearful goodbye to the few Glenwood souls that I DID consider my very close friends. It was the first in a long line of disappointments and under dramatic ‘endings’ which led me to be the thoughtless ape that I am now. I can walk away from any situation with neither regret nor nostalgia. I’m sure this isn’t healthy at all, but I’ve just lost so much in my life that I know dwelling on it, won’t bring it back. When you let yourself get attached to anything or anyone it can only lead to disappointment. I’ve become the very opposite of a stalker.
One of my true strengths, AND my greatest weakness is my ability to adapt to any situation. Nothing surprises me anymore. In my hubris, I’ve often thought that if the end of the world were to come, and I was somehow able to survive it, I would become one of the people that band others together through an inherent ability to simply not look back. It’s a skill I’ve acquired through years of practice. I’ve learned that one simply does not have a choice but to trudge on in this cruel world and take things as they come. Sure, you can listen to Anthony Robbins, and preachers, and poets, and romantics, and they’ll tell you that everything is going to be alright. Every time life throws shit at you, it’s just an opportunity. It’s all a big ‘Hang in there Kitty’ poster to them. Well fuck them.
Sometimes shit is just shit, YOUR part in it is simply trying to keep your head above the shit so that when the next shit wave crests and drags you down, you don’t come up sucking shit. Blows, don’t it? Damn right it blows, but there’s still happiness to be found out there. Just don’t drown in the shit. How do you do that? Ignore it. Don’t look back. Move on. Get a ‘Dave Matthews’ surf board and hang 10 on that shit.
The time I spent at home and abroad, so to speak, after military school was a mixed blessing. I met new friends, had new adventures, slept in new cars and got the occasional handy. The funny thing is that it all seems like it took place over such a long time period of time…but it didn’t. So much happened to me between the ages of 14 and 20 that I find it hard to believe that it was only 6 years. Maybe that’s youth though? You spend your early years wasting time and your older years hoarding what you can of it.
As I continue my tale of losery here, I’m going to introduce you to heroes, to villains, and tales that are sure to astonish. Some of this you’ll be able to relate to, some of it you won’t, but I think we can all agree on one thing and it’s a lesson I learned in my teens…nothing lasts forever…hell, most things don’t last more than a few years.
Except Steve. Aaron introduced Steve and I on Halloween of ’86 and several weeks later I was kicked out of Glenwood. Because I had 8 months until I was to start High School, I had plenty of time to get to know Steve. Steve introduced me to a ton of things that I didn’t have access to in Military School. He introduced me to music like The Police and Billy Joel, and showed me how to get to Pharmore, where we could buy music cheap. He showed me where we could rent video games, and even got me a membership card at the mom and pop video store by his house. As my budding interest in Television sprouted, Steve was there with me for some landmark TV events. I can remember us both laughing our asses off together on the Sunday night that The Simpsons and Married with Children premiered.
Steve was a tall awkward looking boy, and even in our youth, he was the hairiest fucker I’d ever seen. Whenever we played baseball with his friends, he would take his shirt off to the astonishment of the crowd. Later in life, Cous’n Hemp’n gave him the nickname: ‘The Steve Pelt Rug’ because you just wanted to lay him down in front of a fireplace. His attention to detail and adherence to schedules always bordered on O.C.D. He was and still is the most responsible man I’ve ever known. Even as children I would have to give Steve a 2 day notice before I came to his house because he was always working on something: A bird house, a picnic bench, or a haunted house for his garage.
Steve had the most impeccable hand writing I’d ever seen and I would often ask him to make me mix tapes JUST for the hand written play list that would accompany them. His speech pattern was slow and deep, as if he were always thinking about what he was going to say before he said it. Another nickname we were fond of calling Steve was ‘Snuffalufagus’ because he sounded like that character from Sesame Street. Don’t get me wrong here, although this description might be one given of a ‘slow adult’, Steve was most certainly not that.
He was very smart, and very witty. He would grow out of his awkward look soon after I met him and as I became enamored of photography later in life it became apparent that Steve was one handsome mother fucker on film.
Unfortunately for Steve, he was never a ladies’ man. In my opinion, women missed out on one of the best bachelors ever available. As is often the case though, because Steve was smart and responsible, instead of dumb and tough…women would often over look him. In our twenties I always hoped that Steve would ‘hook up’ with some girl at one of the bars we frequented, and although it never happened quite the way I expected, he DID eventually meet his wife at a bar because she was with a girl that I wanted to bang. Lucky woman, her.
I spent a lot of my youth staying over at my friend’s places and Steve was no exception. And when he, Aaron, and I would sleep over together there was pizza and video games galore.
One of the earliest things I learned about Steve was his family dynamic. As I became a member of the Lipkie clan, I was fascinated by their interactions. I had never had a proper family, so it was all new to me.
Steve’s family was very Irish catholic, and I as I was a practicing catholic at the time, I used to go to church with them on Sundays. Steve went to Grammar School at the local Church ‘Our Lady of the Ridge’, so most of the friends that he introduced me to were Irish Catholic as well. Although the beliefs of their youth stuck with many of them, you find yourself growing more and more distant from the church as you get older, because you realize that faith has hardly anything to do with the normal concerns of life.
Steve had 2 sisters. Trish, the oldest was a fiery redhead who listened to classic rock and was out all the time partying with her friends. Sue was the youngest, and had posters of ‘The New Kids’, and other cute young boys she’d cut out of ‘Teen Beat’ magazine or some such all over her wall. As I grew up, I learned that this was a VERY typical family dynamic…except for one thing.
Steve and his sister’s didn’t refer to their parents as ‘mom’ or ‘dad’. They were called ‘THE mother’ and ‘THE father’. Steve referred to his sisters as ‘The Sister’, and they referred to Steve as ‘The Brother’. Every family member from ‘The Grandmother’ to ‘The dog’ was tagged with the definite article ‘The’. I fuckin’ liked it, and STILL do to this day. I refer to Steve’s daughter as ‘The kid’, and his wife as ‘The Bitch’. (Kidding Laura, take a joke)
Steve’s father, Fred was and IS a very nice, quiet, and hard working man. An American everyman and a perfect role model for a young boy. I see a lot of Fred in Steve, and I don’t think that any man could be more proud of his son.
Steve’s mother? Well…that’s another story. Steve’s mother, or ‘The mother’, when I first met her was a typical doting Irish mom. She liked me because I went to church with them, and she was always very pleasant to me. She even gave me my own Lipkie family title: ‘The boy who smiles a lot’
However, as I started to hang out with ‘The Family’ more and more, I became privy to the Lipkie family secret. It seemed that the mother had a chemical imbalance, not unlike Jeffery Dahmer, and she would have ‘good weeks’, and ‘bad weeks’. The first time I came across one of her ‘bad weeks’ freaked me the fuck out.
One weekend, while I was spending the night at Steve’s, we were up all night playing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the Nintendo. Steve would make ‘mix tapes’ to blast on his boom box as we played through each level of a Nintendo game . We had realized that the accompanying score of any given video game sucked, so whenever we got a new one, we’d play if for a little bit to get the feel for what kind of music SHOULD go with it. For Indy? It was Running down a Dream by Tom Petty. We eventually learned that song could go with ANY video game: Mega Man, Punch Out, Contra, and Castlevania to name a few.
On this particular night, at around 9PM, I had to use the bathroom. I asked Steve if it was OK, and he said that I didn’t need to ask. The bathroom was right across the hall from Steve’s room and as I walked into the hallway, I could see that the door was slightly ajar and the light was off, so I knew that it wasn’t occupied by one of Steve’s sisters as it often was. The toilet in the bathroom was right next to the door, and as I pushed the door open to go in, someone shrieked a defiant ‘WAAAAAAAA!” and slammed the door shut. Scared the shit out of me.
I went back into Steve’s room and said “what the fuck was that?” in a frightened tone. Steve told me without looking up from his game in that Snufulufugus voice “Well, y’knooooow, that’s just the mother…she get’s like that sometimes, just ignore her and you’ll be fine” I didn’t know what to think, and Steve offered no other explanation, so I went out and used the bathroom by the kitchen.
A few hours passed and I asked Steve if he could get me a glass of ice water. Steve told me to go ahead and get it myself. I told him that I wasn’t comfortable going into his freezer to get ice, and he assured me that I shouldn’t worry about it. I went out into the kitchen and passed by the mother watching TV in the living room. I said ‘hi’ to her, and she grumbled something under her breath. I thought nothing of it.
I went into the kitchen, grabbed a glass from the counter top, and opened the freezer to get ice. When I closed the freezer door, the mother’s face loomed out of the dark from where the freezer door had been. Her look of stark hatred filled my vision and she snatched the glass from my hand. She began yelling at me “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE MISTER? GOING INTO OTHER PEOPLE’S FREEZERS? WAHHHHHHH!”
I cautiously stepped back and started to call out for Steve, I tried to explain to her that Steve had TOLD me to get the ice, but she wouldn’t listen. I was frightened out of my mind as she inched closer to me in the dark kitchen; I kept calling out for Steve, without YELLING for him as I didn’t want to invoke MORE hatred from her.
As I backed up against the sink, the mother SLAMMED the glass she took from me down on the counter and Steve appeared behind her. Steve, even then, has NEVER been ‘over emotional’. He calmly said “Well, y’knoooooow, just ignore her and come on”. I slinked around the mother and went back to the room with Steve.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked him. He told me “Y’knooooow , The mother gets like that sometimes, we’re all used to it, just ignore her until she goes back to normal”. OK, what the fuck did I know? Even when she was in a GOOD mood after that night, the mother never liked me again. Instead of ‘The boy who smiles a lot”, I was called ‘The bold one’.
Whenever I slept over at Steve’s, I would sleep on the floor next to his bed. I would bring a pillow from home, and Steve would give me a blanket. In youth, we have no sense of embarrassment about our bodies, so I would sleep in my underwear. One night I was awoken to the sound of Steve’s bedroom door being kicked open and the lights suddenly coming on. As my vision cleared, I could see Steve’s mother standing in the doorway staring at me with cold dead eyes like a shark. I furiously whispered for Steve, but as I looked over at his bed he was lying on his side facing the wall. No movement.
The mother stalked into the room, never taking her eyes off of me, and ripped the blanket I was under off of me. “STEVE, STEVE”, I yelled in a frightened whisper. The mother just stood over me staring at my underwear clad body. I felt trapped and exposed. “STEEEEVE”.
Finally without moving or turning over, I heard Steve’s voice. “Well, y’knooooow, she does this sometimes, just ignore her and she’ll go away”. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? This was the line. I could handle the ‘sitting in the dark in the bathroom’, I could handle her ‘flying off the cuff’ because I got ice, but now she was looming over my exposed body and just staring at me. I didn’t know what frightened me more, the mother, or Steve’s indifference towards this situation. After 10 minutes had passed, the mother gave a defiant ‘WAAAAAA!’ and slunk out of Steve’s room. It was three o’clock in the morning and I just lied there staring at the ceiling in fright until the sun came up.
Over the next several years I would have creepier and creepier run ins with the mother, but it always turned out that Steve was right. If you just ignored her, you were fine. She was never violent, so even though you’d get a scare from time to time, you’d be ok. My fear, however grew as we got older. What if it DID turn violent one day? But the family always tried to get the mother psychiatric help over the years and when she refused time after time; Steve even took psychology classes at the local community college. That’s one of the things I’ve always respected and loved about Steve; his commitment to his family.
As time passed, I grew to love the mother more and more. I watched as her children grew into fine, responsible, decent adults and leave her house one by one. It always made me feel bad for her because she and the father had done such a good job raising them. The children have always taken care of the parents and often return home for dinners and birthday parties. The family is truly the best family I know of, and although I get a tad jealous from time to time, it warms my heart that they STILL include me in their events and I love them all from the core of the family, to the extended family of in-laws and cousins.
20: Brian Marinko
Steve and I grew closer in the months I had to wait between eighth grade and high school, but when I was thrust into the public school system as a freshman, we found out to our dismay that we would not be attending the same school.
All I’d known for 5 fucking years was boys and although I masturbated furiously at the thought of girls in military school, I had no experience with them. Going from a situation with NO girls and being placed into a world full of women, strangers, and high school clicks that I didn’t belong to was something of a culture shock to me.
Since Steve was going to a different school, I literally knew NO body in my neighborhood other than Aaron and his brothers who ALSO went to a different high school. There was a dividing line which separated school districts, and apparently I lived JUST on the other side of the street from that line.
I don’t quite know when it happened, but as I became more comfortable outside of the world of Glenwood, I started to come out of my shell. Maybe it was because I no longer felt oppressed, or maybe it was because I lived with the same people for so long. I now had an opportunity to give people I met an impression of me. I was a kid they never heard of. I wasn’t ‘that fat kid that blew the male nurse at camp Glenwood’, I wasn’t that troublemaker who was on restriction all time, and I was no longer The Shit Master General who drowned a cottage in poop. I was just Mike.
The first friend I made in high school was Brian Marinko. Brian was that good looking kid with long hair who played lead guitar in a band. He looked like Bon Jovi and the high school chicks fucking loved him. In an era of glam rock and guitar solos, he was on the top of the Billboard most popular kid’s chart. This was way before homos like Justin Beiber and Robert Pattison, Brian was a true man in a young man’s body. It took actual talent and charisma back then to be popular, actual good looks and a natural way with women…not one created by a P.R. firm.
I first met Brian in the cafeteria at H.L. Richards Community High School. It was my first or second day and I had just been wondering from class to class in a daze of confusion and fear. I watched all of my fellow students laughing about inside jokes and discussing plans with each other for the weekend because they had all gone to junior high together. I was a complete outsider and it showed. That Doors song People are Strange kept playing over in my head, which I tried to keep facing the ground for fear of making eye contact.
I had been given so many beatings in military school that my natural assumption was to think THESE new kids would just beat the shit out of me if I made any waves, so my intention was to get through 4 years of high school with my head down. Even now my intention is always to stay off the radar. At my current job I try to never be the best OR the worst…if you stay right in the middle, nobody fucks with you.
Brian was sitting by himself at a table waiting for his friends to arrive, when I asked him if I could sit with him because all the other tables in the cafeteria were full. Classic story, right? All he had to do was say ‘fuck off’ and my high school days may have gone much differently. But Brian was one of those rare good looking guys who doesn’t ACT like he’s a good looking guy, and he invited me to join him. We struck up a conversation and became fast friends. It turned out that Brian only lived 2 buildings away from my mother’s condo with his mom, her husband, and his brother Scott. I’ll get into Scott in a bit.
I think that Brian and I got along so well at first simply because I didn’t treat him like he was hot shit. I don’t know when I got that conversational gift, but even now I have an ability to make people feel instantly comfortable with me. I try to treat everyone the same because hell, unless you’re immortal we all have the same fucking weakness…we’re gonna die eventually. I don’t care how powerful you are, how much money you have, or how popular you are…death is the great equalizer, so unless you’re 500 years old, there’s not much you can say to impress or surprise me.
After school I would often go to Brian’s place to watch him practice guitar, play video games, and sometimes he’d even try to hook my awkward ass up with chicks. The problem was that although his heart was in the right place…the chicks dug HIM, not me. But it was always nice of him to try and it felt good to have a popular kid have my back in a way that nobody ever got my back in military school.
Many would say that Brian was a bad influence on me, and I’m sure that when I’m dying of lung cancer finally…I’ll say the same thing. But Brian introduced me to my first alcoholic beverage, cigarettes, and my first earring…given to me by a girl in Brian’s bedroom. She put a potato behind my ear and shoved a needle through my lobe. Ouch.
We lived near railroad tracks which were the gateway to pretty much everything in our town. We’d often hop on a stopped train, wait for it to start, and then jump off in designated huge piles of hay that we had set up on the side of the tracks for our various destinations. Sometimes it was the mall, sometimes it was by our high school, and sometimes it was by the park. But our favorite place along the tracks? We called it ‘The Green Grasshopper’.
To this day I’m still not sure of the purpose of the Green Grasshopper, but it was some type of big green thing with a conveyer belt on it that led up about 3 stories. We’d hop a fence to gain access to the property it sat on, and then we’d climb to the top on either the conveyer belt if we were feeling froggy, or the staircase which surrounded it. Once at the peak, we would proceed to drink copious amounts of Southern Comfort, which Brian had his brother Scott get for us, smoke cigarettes, and talk of our dreams for the future.
Brian worked at a banquet hall as a bus boy on the weekends and he eventually got me a job there as well. He told me to meet him there at 7AM on Saturday morning and as the owner walked up to the door to let the staff in to set up, Brian just said ‘This is Mike, he needs a job’ and I was hired on the spot. I loved working at that place and I would eventually get my new friends jobs there as well, much the same way that Brian did for me.
21: James DeStafano Jr.
A few months after I met Brian, I was walking through a hallway at Richards to my locker. At the row of lockers across the hall from mine, I noticed a couple of the thick necked football dicks giving someone shit. The kid that was getting the business end of a bullying was a bit of an oddball. Hell, in the grand scheme of high school douchebaggery, he probably deserved it for being different. But being picked on myself for many years, I felt obligated to step in.
As I approached the situation, I noticed that the boy they were picking on had grey hair. He wore an army coat and was kind of built, he looked like he could take care of himself, but as they kept calling him ‘old man’, and ‘grampa’, he shied away and just went about his business in his locker. Just as I was about to say something, the football kids walked away. NOT because they were afraid of me, hell, they probably didn’t even notice me, but because they were done and moving on, probably to bolster their egos by making someone else feel less than.
I asked the grey haired kid if he was O.K., to which he replied ‘I don’t let that shit get to me, I’m used to it by now.’ I introduced myself to the kid that would become one of my closest and most adored friends: Grey Jim. We didn’t call him that then, back then he was just Jim. He eventually earned that title in my circle of friends, when it became clear that there were TOO many Jim’s in it.
Jim lived with his mother, her husband (not his father), and his 2 half brothers. He lived right across the street from H.L. Richard High school. I learned that his grey hair was a genetic trait that he earned from his father who also had grey hair as a kid. One time, in an effort to fit in more, Jim dyed his hair brown…it looked ridiculous and we all learned that Jim just looked better with grey hair. It was uniquely him.
I also came to find out that Jim was a workout nut. He’d spend hours a day pumping iron in an effort to look like the guys on the cover of muscle magazines. Over the years Jim would try to turn me over to the dark side of health, but I always managed to avoid its grasp and just have a fucking Twinkie.
One year when we were in our twenties, for my birthday, Jim bought me a membership to his gym, which has since been turned into our neighborhood titty bar called Polkatz. I would meet Jim there at 4 A.M. every morning for months, and I actually liked it. This wasn’t one of those ‘Bally’s’ where people go to get ‘toned’, this was a place filled with huge muscle bound Schwarzenegger types and I was completely intimidated that first week. However, as Jim introduced me around, I found that all of these huge guys were very nice and helpful. They took me in like a mascot and helped me form a workout routine that I could endure. I would listen to Howard Stern on my walkman as I used the treadmill, and I would bask in the steam room with Jim for an hour before we showered and left for our jobs. I think I enjoyed the routine more than the actual working out, but eventually Jim moved away and I stopped going. It just wasn’t the same without him.
Unlike Steve’s mother, Jim’s mom was as sane and down to earth a lady as you could find. Sweet, polite, caring, and you could just tell that she was good at raising kids. Two years later in ‘89, Jim’s mom convinced MY mother to let me go to Florida with him and stay at his father’s place for the summer. I’d never been out of Illinois, much less on a plane, so I was stoked. I don’t know what she SAID to my mother to get her to agree to this, but later I learned that it didn’t take much to convince ma Hempen to get me to go away.
I felt a bond between Jim and I that I didn’t share with Steve or Brian. Sure those two were like brothers to me, but Jim was more of a ‘doer’, and I fucking liked doing things. Steve had to be given a three week written request in triplicate before he would agree to go to a fucking movie, and Brian liked to sit around his bedroom, play guitar and smoke weed. So having a friend to just go outdoors with was nice.
Jim was Italian, and his father was a chef. His father was also a body builder with grey hair named Jim. Looking at Jim’s dad was like looking into the future…or the past depending on which way you looked at it. This man was Jim in 30 years. The two of them were very much into the whole ‘Italian honor’ thing, and if the Jim’s weren’t the most honest men I knew…they would have made great mobsters.
It was from them that I gained my love of fine dining over the years. Jim and his dad taught me the various nuances to eating at nice places, and I love having that knowledge. In that episode of ‘The Sopranos’, when Tony goes up to the kid in the restaurant and tells him to ‘take his fucking hat off’, all I could think was that was TOTALLY something Jim’s dad would do.
Most people know the basic rule of ‘tipping’ when going out to eat. 15% of the bill or you double the tax. I learned from the Jims that there are a LOT of variations on that rule. One time, Jim and I went to ‘Pizzeria Uno’ in downtown Chicago. It’s a small place, but it’s the BEST pizza in Illinois. Now, Jim and I were young, so it wasn’t like we were wearing fancy suits or anything, I can imagine how a waitress must feel when two guys like us walk in.
However, we had every intention of leaving a decent tip after we ate, never judge a book and all that. This waitress just completely ignored us for about 40 minutes. We kept going to the bar to get our drinks, and eventually she took our order. After that, we STILL had to go to the bar for drinks and when she haphazardly dropped off our pizza, she didn’t stick around long enough for us to ask for tobasco or anything else.
After we were done eating, the waitress came by and threw our bill on the table without even looking at us. Jim and I put money down for the bill, and then Jim did something odd. He threw about 37 cents of change on the table. We had talked earlier about the service and decided to NOT leave a tip of any kind. Jim explained to me that if the service is THAT shitty, you always leave some change on the table, because if you leave NOTHING, the waitress can think that you just forgot. If you leave change, she KNOWS you just fucked her. Then, as we left, Jim went to the bar and leaned over to have a private conversation with the bar tender. As we walked out, I asked him what he had said. He told me that when you have bad service, you ALWAYS tell the bartender, NOT the manager because the waitress just might be having a bad night. That is some AWSOME shit to know.
Over the years I would come to know Jim’s half brothers very well. Jim’s step dad wasn’t the greatest role model for those kids, so even after Jim moved out on his own, he would take his brothers, Danny and Jeff in on the weekends and try his best to instill that sense of honor in them that he grew up with. Even to this day, I still maintain that those kids were the BEST behaved children I’ve ever met. It wasn’t through fear and intimidation either, it was because Jim’s mother was a kind and caring woman, and because Jim WAS a perfect role model for any kid. When I see his own children now, it brings a tear to my eye knowing that I’ll never have that sense of pride that Jim must feel, because even if I DID have kids, I could never be half the father that he is.
22: Pete Wilson
And then there was Pete. A few weeks after I started hanging out with Grey Jim, he introduced me to another Italian kid, but one with a very different set of moral values than himself…Pete. Pete was a very handsome kid with full, black hair and an average build. Whenever Pete smiled, the ladies swooned.
The problem with Pete was that as beautiful as he was on the outside, he was the reverse of that on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pete, and I’m not saying that Pete was a bad guy…It’s just that Pete? He wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box.
Everyone I’ve ever met is motivated by something. There is something that they are all about. When I first met Steve? His motivations were family, and the outdoors. Brian? Pot and guitar. Grey Jim? Working out. Pete’s motivations were cigarettes, lying, and pussy. There is NO lie that Pete wouldn’t tell in furtherance of the other two. DUMB lies too. I mean this kid would just say anything, and because he was cute? Chicks would more often than not believe that shit. And because the women would buy it? He’d try it on us. The effect was a little different.
Over the next several years Pete would spin yarns as fantastical as they were stupid. He told us that he went to grammar school in Egypt where he found a mummies treasure, he told us that his mother had put 5 million dollars into a trust fund that he couldn’t touch until he was 21, and he told us that he was the prince of a country in Europe. First of all, as rich as Pete always claimed to be…our first salvo against this lie was “Then why don’t you have money to buy your own fucking cigarettes?”
Even though WE knew Pete was full of shit, we still kept him around because he wasn’t an inherently bad guy, just dumb as a box of rocks. He made us laugh and he was a great guy to have around. Pete may have been a liar, but I’ll give him this…he was a consistent fucking liar. This kid NEVER backed down from a story, no matter HOW full of shit we told him he was. When Pete turned 21, we asked him about his 5 million dollar trust fund. His reply? Its 10 million now, but I have to wait until I’m 22 to claim it. The next year? We’d ask him again, and he’d say there was a stipulation in a clause that sais he has to wait until his 23rd b-day. I think that Pete hoped we would just forget that one, but EVERY year we asked him and EVERY year he’d say ‘Oh, no…I’ll get it next year now’.
In those first 4 years that I knew Pete, I don’t think I ever saw him pay for a single pack of cigarettes. And because Steve, and Grey Jim didn’t smoke? Guess who supported his habit? It got to the point where I would actually be able to spontaneously quit smoking whenever I knew I would be around Pete. I would leave my smoke’s at home, and go out Jonesing. Then when he’d come up to me and say ‘can I bum a smoke?’ I’d just lie and tell him that I’d quit.
Another thing I tried in order to get him to stop asking that insufferable question was ‘Cigarette Loads’. I used to go to a place called ‘Riley’s Trick Shop’, which was the local Halloween costume and magic store, and I’d buy these things that looked like little match tips. You put one in the tip of a cigarette, and when the other person would go to light it, it would explode. Funny shit, but as always, to prove my point I took it to the extreme.
I would hollow out a cigarette completely, and put a load at the bottom, I’d put some tobacco back in, and drop in another load, more tobacco, another load, I’d repeat this until the cigarette had six loads in it at various points. I would do this to about 6 cigarettes’ and then place them back in the pack. Pete would ask for a smoke, and it would explode upon his lighting it. THEN, he’d light it again, and again, and again. This is how dumb Pete could be. He would just keep taking a few drags, the cigarette would explode, and then he’d relight it, after ‘borrowing’ a lighter of course.
Pete’s family was on the ‘motorcycle’ gang side of the Italian thing. They represented the exact OPPOSITE of Grey Jim and his brood in my eyes, but to a young man like myself, I always admired the way they stuck together. I found less admiration for them as I grew older, but when I first met them, I found them more exciting than sad and ignorant.
Pete’s mother was a short fat woman who was caustic and reflexive to say the fucking least. She looked like a female Danny Devito with the personality of Carla from Cheers…only not funny. Even though she was at least 2 feet shorter than Pete, she would constantly berate him and hit him in front of anybody who was around. I think she had a female Napoleonic Complex.
Nancy was the kind of woman who adorned the walls of her apartment with Wolf blankets, Harley Davidson bandanas, and eagles and American flags everywhere else. She drove a van, and always wore black spandex while shopping at the local flea market every weekend. Pete and his brother never really stood a chance in life with this monstrously over nurturing whack job of a mother.
Pete’s mom was so money hungry that she would let strange truck drivers sleep on the floor in her living room for cash. Like a low-rent leather vest bed and breakfast. She used Pete and Danny’s social security numbers on her bills until things were going to be shut off and then put them in someone else’s name.
Although Nancy was meaner than a rattlesnake and yelled at her boys constantly, it seemed that there was nothing they could do wrong in her eyes. Every time Pete or his brother Danny got in any kind of trouble, Nancy would spit and kick dirt at the person blaming them until the problem went away, and then she’d beat the shit out of Pete and Danny afterwards. This dynamic made Pete and Danny the biggest mama’s boys since Elvis and I doubt they could ever survive in a universe without Nancy, as you read in part 16 of The Life and Times.
Pete’s brother Danny was also a good looking kid, but Danny had a whole other problem…Danny was a slow adult. Pete tried explaining to me once when I asked him why Danny was the way that he is, that Danny suffers from seizures. It’s hard for me to buy that.
Where Pete is just plain stupid, Danny is just slow and violent. After the film came out, Danny reminded me of Sloth from ‘The Goonies’ only handsome. A big dim witted oaf who did his mother’s bidding, but turned out to be a sweet gentle person in the end. MY interactions with Danny were always brief, as he wasn’t in my circle of friends, but every time Pete brought him up it was to tell us how Danny had just stabbed someone in a fit of rage, or punched a hole in a wall of their apartment, or tipped over a car while saying ‘HULK MAD!’. Frankly, when you MEET Danny, you don’t get that vibe from him. Talking to him, you KNOW you’re talking to a slow adult, but he was always very child like.
Even so, I was afraid to have Danny around in case he hulked out on us. From what we’d heard, Danny had that retard strength and an inability to know when enough was enough. A bad combination in any human being. Luckily for us, Danny had his own unique band of whack packers that he hung around with, so we were never guilted into making him one of our own.
When I first brought Pete and Grey Jim around Steve and Brian, they instantly bonded. We all got along perfectly, and even though over the years we’ve all gone our separate ways, or even had tiffs…we still get together every once in a while to talk about old times. The past might not have been dull, but it was never as bright as our future’s would become.
To Be Continued…