I was a delinquent but I was a well educated delinquent. In my first three years at Boston Latin, I had a B plus average which was the equivalent of a straight A or A plus average at other high schools. I fit in easily in my classes at Somerville High and I never hooked school. The high school was a short walk from my house and I had only to attend a few classes that were mostly not challenging and walk out and back home free in the early afternoon. Phil Sadowski was at the high school then and he hooked but I did not. He continued being delinquent and as soon as he turned eighteen joined the army but the easy time I had with my studies turned me as soon as I settled into a routine at Somerville High into an average American boy. The sins I had committed during my time at the Latin School were forgiven overnight. Somerville High purified me. Of course I was supposed to feel bad that I had failed at the Latin School but with my way of floating through life I did not. At the end of my first year at Somerville High, I knew somewhere in my mind that at least 30 students in my class at Boston Latin had been accepted at Harvard. Around 30 Boston Latin students were accepted every year. The knowledge did not bother me at all and I also cared little about where I was headed after Somerville High. I was now just like all the other boys my age in Somerville. No one knew I was a delinquent.
When I was in the sixth grade at Saint Anne’s, I fantasized about possible love relationships with pretty girls in my class. The nearness of girls had opened up romantic areas of feeling in me that were thwarted by my years in an all-boys school. Phil Sadowski and I had concocted together adventures with girls but they were short-lived. At Somerville High, they put me in a homeroom with students who were doing general studies. At that time, they classed all students into either the college section or a general section. In the general section, the girls trained to become employees working machines at businesses like the telephone company or insurance companies. They put me in a seat in my homeroom beside a beautiful girl, Joan McDonald. She totally sent my imagination into wild romantic frolics she was so beautiful with the gentle slopes of her skin on her pretty face and her long brownish blond hair and her red lips that I would have given away anything to kiss. She was beside me every morning looking over pages in a book about business matters and I was silent beside her like a ghost inhabiting another world not knowing even one word to speak in a language that might say something real to the beautiful human person, Joan McDonald. She was the first of many girls and women that I never spoke to or touched and that I could have loved if I knew the words of love and how to speak them.
As time passed at Somerville High, I made four friends and one of them became over time my closest friend, Tom DiNitto. Vinny DeAngelis, Frank Calia, Joe Dellagrotte and Tom DiNitto were four top students in the college section that they assigned me to. Vinny DeAngelis became president of the class of 1954 and was a fellow student of mine in the most advanced Latin classes. Somerville High had a well developed Latin program. Everyone had to study Latin for five years at Boston Latin. Ironically, because of my delinquency and repeating a year, I ended up, adding my Latin studies at Somerville High, with a solid six years of high-school Latin. I learned more Latin than many Latin students at Boston Latin. Vinny deAngelis and I both excelled in Latin. In most of the other classes, I did well with around a B average except I easily got a straight A in French. Most students at Boston Latin breezed through French because we began the study in the ninth grade after two solid years of Latin which made French grammar simple in comparison.
In a geometry class that I was assigned to and that included the four boys who later became my friends, the teacher berated and even insulted our class. He was a tyrant. I was amazed sitting in the back of the class that my new fellow students sat in total, fearful silence waiting for Mr. Beaver to enter the class. He would always have something cross to say to the whole class before he began teaching. When I had been in the class twice, he discovered I had transferred from the Boston Latin School. He began using me as ammunition to shoot down my fellow students. He would talk about how I was a real student from a real school and how they were lowly Somerville High students. At the end of each geometry problem, when the proof was finished, the abbreviation Q.E.D. was always written. Mr Beaver, when I had been in the school and the class just a few days, suddenly, after extolling me as a Boston Latin student, asked me, with all the class listening, what Q.E.D. meant. Even though I had been delinquent, I knew Latin grammar. Q.E.D. is the abbreviation of the Latin, Quod erat demonstrandum. One of the most difficult grammatical problems in Latin is the use of the gerund and the gerundive. My teachers at the Latin School had been hammering the knowledge of the gerund and gerundive into our heads for years because it is essential knowledge in order to gain the skill necessary to read advanced classical Latin. Demonstrandum is a gerund. “It means,” I said as if it were the most natural thing in the world, because it was, “Quod erat demonstrandum”, “What had to be proved.” The words came out of me so naturally that I did not think that it might have been more diplomatic and helped me make friends if I had said I did not know. But I did know and there again was an example of knowledge being used as a means to hurt people. My four future friends were in the class. They all were intelligent motivated students preparing for college. They did not hold my support for Mr Beaver’s arguments against me. In fact, they admired my knowledge. One of them, Frank Calia, who was accepted at Harvard the following year, remarked to me more than once, “You learned everything you know at the Boston Latin School”. He was right. But I wanted nothing to do with most of the knowledge teachers dispensed at Boston Latin and I left them without regret.
I felt deeply alone at Somerville High. Luckily, I did have a friend, Jack McKinnon, who was a senior during my first year. I met Mac and another boy, Bob O’Conner, when I was a shoe salesman in Davis Square. I used to hang around after work in a combination pool room and bowling alley in the square on Day Street. The three of us smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey out of a bottle, and talked crazy talk together. Once cut off from hanging out in downtown Boston, Davis Square became for me the place to go to look for action. The three of us loved to hang around the square late at night and watch the drunken crowds that came out of the six bars in the square. Davis Square had a big triangular open space where six streets came together. A big crowd would come out of the bars when they closed and walk across the triangular space dodging the few cars that came through late at night. Many drinkers ended up at the Waldorf Cafeteria with three big windows looking out over the empty triangular space. The three of us would eat and drink coffee in the Waldorf and talk as crazily as we could late into the morning. The only thing we talked about with reason and logic was baseball which the three of us loved. Jack McKinnon was the most reasonable of us. I remember once Mac said after we had talked crazy talk, “We don’t believe anything of what we say.” That was why it was fun. Our wild thoughts about things helped us escape from the world that was preparing for us a fate. We were nowhere nights talking at the Waldorf Cafeteria and it was beautiful. At Somerville High, we students for lunch could leave school and walk across Highland Avenue to a store that served drinks and sandwiches. We ate and drank and smoked cigarettes free for a few moments from the regimentation in the High School. Mac and I went there for lunch. It was great to have someone to help me fight my loneliness.
Tom DiNitto was the first boy my age who thought real, serious, revolutionary thoughts. In my English class in my college section, we had intelligent discussions usually generated by whatever we were reading. But the political realities of those days in the first half of the 1950s sometimes influenced our discussions. I had myself absolutely no interest in politics. I heard like everyone the anticommunist talk on television at hearings where congressmen denounced suspected communists fiercely and also people they considered “fellow travellers” and “pinkos”. Cardinal Cushing, the spiritual leader of us Catholics, was forever condemning publically in his rasping, stentorian voice “atheistic communism”. For someone like myself forever floating along but always deadly serious about protecting my inner life from harsh intrusions from outside, anticommunist preaching was not much more than a lot of unnecessary noise. I later got to know many working-class people by hanging around Davis Square and by drinking in the bars. I can state with certainty that there were no communists in Davis Square and the people there were totally loyal patriotic Americans who were completely indifferent to the anticommunist harping that went on. However, Thomas DiNitto was a communist. I first heard him speak his ideas in one of our college section English classes. We had a very nice elderly Wasp teacher who loved to take time out from her regular curriculum for discussions on general subjects. Tom DiNitto sat at the back of the class assigned to it as a study period. One day our teacher asked Tom smiling what he thought of what we were discussing. I looked back at a boy with black hair and dark eyes with a big hooked nose. His expression was half a smile and half a look of contempt that clearly made me feel that he knew the truth about the matter and he was going to tell it regardless of the consequences. “What we need in Somerville High and in Somerville and in this corrupt fascist country,” he let out quickly in a loud, bold voice, “is a partisan movement like the Russians created behind the lines when they were invaded by the German fascist murders.” We were all of us turned looking at him. His face had now a determined, happy look as though he loved with his whole soul what he was saying. “That’s what we need,” said Frank Calia in a tone that was lightly humorous and not completely serious. He knew Tom DiNitto well and enjoyed his ideas without agreeing with them. “We should start a partisan movement right here in Somerville High.” Tom grabbed the floor from Frank and said in a booming voice with passion, “The German fascist murderers came to Stalingrad and my heroic brother Russians fought them to the death and surrounded and captured the whole of the German Fifth Army. They came to Stalingrad the fascists and now the fascists are in Washington collecting tax money for greedy politicians from poor exploited American workers.” I loved to think. In my loneliness with my feelings of fear I thought all the time about everything. That day I learned how powerfully thoughts could be expressed by someone who really believed in them.
I had a driver’s license and sometimes used my mother’s car. In my senior year at Somerville High, when I had gotten to know Frank Calia and Tom DiNitto better, I used to take our 195I Dodge to go to Sunday mass. Instead of going to mass, I picked up Frank and Tom as though to take them with me to church and instead we went to a brand new drive-in restaurant. It had big panes of glass wherever possible and blue and red paint and a girl would come to our car smiling in a uniform to take our order. We would talk jokingly about whatever happy to be for a while on our own. The two of them along with Joe Dellagrotte and Vinny DeAngelis were putting on a play at the high school and they got me to join the cast as the leading man. I was tall and thin with black hair and a handsome thin face that had a touch of girlish beauty to it. I had just a few lines in the play that I delivered nervously but for the first time I became the member of a youthful group. One of the girls in it that I did not know very well approached me one day and told me forcefully but with embarrassment that she was willing to be my girl friend. The beautiful Joan McDonald had made me speechless and with this girl I was calm and able to talk easily but I said nothing that could start a relationship with her. It might have been simply that I did not find her attractive. Also, in those days girls like her did not, as we used to say, “put out”. The movies we saw were all about romance with a lot of kissing but no sex. The big thing for boys our age was to get a car and go “parking” with a girl. A parking spot in Medford, the next town from Somerville, near the Mystic Lakes was a great place to go parking at night. Parking was allowed but sex for us somehow was not usually front and center in our minds. In my senior year, I got my own car, a 1938 Dodge, and Mac and Bob O'Connor, “Okie”, my friends from Davis Square, and I used it to ride around trying to pick up girls. That was allowed too. Girls would walk around with one another and were willing to be picked up as long as they were not alone. Once two or three of them were squeezed beside us in my car, fooling around and kisses were possible but there was no sex either in our movies or in my car.
One night we gave three girls a ride home from a roller-skating rink and a girl named Judy, who happened to sit beside me, immediately went after me and eventually captured me. She pressed close to me in the car and would not leave me at her house without writing out for me her phone number and making me promise to call her. I called and on our first date we went to a new restaurant with bright lights, booths with colored vinyl seat-covers, a jukebox and 27 kinds of donuts. She sat close to me in my car and we started kissing again and again in the parking lot before we went in the restaurant. After eating and listening to music, we kissed again in the parking lot and then went parking and kissed some more. She had a dark complexion and an attractive face with dark brown eyes and she was built, as the vulgar expression of those days went, “like a brick shithouse.” She told me that night on our first date she wanted to be my girlfriend and I said okay. We dated a few times and one night when I stopped at Davis Square before picking her up, I met up with Mac and Okie. They were all excited about a run-down bar they had discovered nearby in the city of Cambridge. The bar served anyone of any age. It was a problem for us trying to find bars to drink in. I went with them drinking and stood up Judy. When I called her she was furious and still furious when I hung up. I never called her again. I knew while I was dating her that I had an advantage over her because she had so insisted on being my girl friend. I kept after her to start doing more with me than kissing but she would not give way. I broke off with her but Judy made me feel confident about the girls in my future. I dreamed of a girl with Joan McDonald’s kind of beauty. I had loved kissing Judy but she did nothing to satisfy the deep longing in my heart and soul to unite my whole being with the divinely beautiful feelings in some beautiful girl’s soul that would fill my soul with both peace and ecstasy.
She was ordinary poor Judy and it was not her fault. She was like most people in the fifties. She accepted everything around her as natural and especially herself. She captured me and would not let me go like I was one of the new advanced washing machines. She picked me up, paid for me with her kisses and was all set to attach me to herself for a long, long time, as long as I lasted like some new machine. I never sensed there was anything deep within her and neither did she. People of the fifties accepted naturally every new product that the roaring economy offered and grabbed one and made it their own. I was all about what was inside me and they seemed after only what was outside. I stood Judy up that night because Mac and Okie, like I, were after something new but unordinary. They found a bar in an old building in Cambridge, a city bordering Somerville. They needed my car to get there. We drank beer after beer in glasses with narrow stems like wine glasses but with big wide goblets above that held lots of beer. We drank and talked among people dressed like they had just left some factory and were out to escape everything by getting drunk. We talked and talked until we barely knew what we were saying with the air clouded with smoke and the jukebox playing music and by that time we were so drunk we were happy saying anything. Alcohol loosened whatever was in my soul although I did not care whether I had a soul or not. When the bar closed, we made it back happy and drunk to Davis Square. We went in the Waldorf Cafeteria and talked our crazy talk late into the early morning. Judy was home stood up and furious. Something extraordinary had happened to her and she was furious. But I knew she would get over it. She was a strong person. She had her feet on the ground. She was sure soon to go on again accepting like everyone else that what was ordinary should be ordinary. Judy was sure to be ordinary again and I was sure to go on without her searching among very ordinary people for something beautiful and peaceful in my soul, if I had one.
Davis Square soothed my being. I loved the place. I never met anyone there who cared anything at all about the meaning of life or were worried about their lower-class condition or ever asked who they were. They seemed all of them to just drift along through life like me without any solid plans for the future or any worries about how to get there. They never thought they should take life one day at a time because that was how they took it and never thought about it. Okie had an older brother tall and slim like him with a big beer belly. He was wild and a great talker and drank beer in the bars in the square like it was water. He was always thirsty. A railroad track ran through the square passing along one edge of the open triangular space. It crossed Holland Street, which came into the square at the tip of the triangular space, and went by the Pine Tree Diner. The policemen who worked the square handcuffed Okie’s brother to the wooden barrier beside the track next to the diner one night and beat him with their fists. He came back from his stay in their jail still joyous and ready always for a good laugh and a happy night of drinking. He married a tall Italian-American girl. After the ceremony at church, Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans filled up a hall where they ate and drank and danced. Someone jumped up on the stage in front of the orchestra and screamed angrily, “Play an Irish song”, and that was it. A brawl. A wild mad time like the way the groom, Okie’s brother, and the people in the square lived. There were fist-fights regularly when the bars closed but I never felt fearful there or sensed when I came in contact with strangers that they were eager for a fight. Working-class people are repressed but the best of them do not give up living joyously because they have little money. Okie quit school as soon as he was sixteen and went to work. He dreamed of buying a new car but he never got together enough money because he was in and out of work through a carelessness about everything, especially work, that was natural to him. Mac graduated from Somerville High the first year I was there, but he had no interest in going to college and joined the army more or less because he had nothing else to do. Okie and Mac were Davis Square men. They did not care very much why they did this or that and did whatever came their way. They were happy doing things people in the square did even if they led nowhere.
My senior year I drove my car to a part-time job I found as a shoe salesman in Watertown. I usually stopped in Davis Square to hang out on my way home. Saturday nights Okie and I would drive into Boston and drink in bars with our fake identification papers that proved we were twenty-one. It was exciting going in a downtown bar with big lights flashing out front and joining inside a big crowd talking and drinking and on the make. We never knew what we would find in the bars or even why we were there but the darkness inside and the noise of the talk and the women sitting here and there filled us with the hope of some new unknown impossible happiness that might suddenly burst into our lives and fill our insides with joy. The liquor we drank fired us with impossible expectations. Something extraordinary did sometimes happen. One night a man pulled out a gun and pointed it at us in the men’s room. Another night sitting at the bar, I overheard a young man next to me dressed like us in suits telling his companion to his left that he was going to take his beer bottle and smash it in the face of a man sitting at the bar to his companion’s left. He got up from his seat and did it. I can still hear somewhere in my mind the smash of his bottle against a defenseless man’s face. Everywhere then the whole bar became completely without a sound in dreadful, fearful silence. Then there were confused movements and loud talk and shouts and a woman’s scream. Okie and I got what we wanted. We got action. Sometimes we talked to young women and drove them home to strange places like Roslindale and Hyde Park. We parked in front of their houses and they rewarded us with kisses for our gallantry. We felt far away from Davis Square at night in downtown Boston. It was another world.
Tufts University was also another world from Davis Square although it was located only about three miles from the square in the town of Medford. College Avenue was one of the six streets that entered Davis Square and when it ended a mile away at a rotary circle, you could see to the left green open fields beginning and beyond the fields at a good distance the dormitories and then the academic buildings of Tufts up on a hill. I had no real desire to attend Tufts University. Harvard University was also fairly close to Davis Square. You could walk down either of two streets that entered the square, Day Street or Dover Street, to a broad avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, and take a bus about three miles to Harvard Square and Harvard University. I had no real desire to go to Harvard either. I was a Davis Square man in my feelings and Tufts and Harvard really did exist for me as foreign places. On the other hand, by my senior year I often visited the substantial Somerville Library near my house and I had begun reading widely and freely works that fired my imagination and aroused thoughts in me that opened paths to deep and true sentiments. I remember finding in the stacks by chance, which is the way I liked to discover books, Tolstoy’s “What Is Art?”. It thrilled me that he judged great art as worthy only if it stimulated deep, worthy feelings in the soul. I loved that he rejected his own great novels, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” as being worthless. I admired the power of his person and of his mind as he unleashed tirades rejecting contemporary European art as decadent and worthless. He detested Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer, prominent in his time in English literature, as a decadent. It is evidence of my open mindedness that I remained an admirer of Tolstoy and grew to appreciate Oscar Wilde. I read whatever I wished. I loved the freedom to simply take a book by chance and go with it wherever it led my mind and soul. I discovered Ernest Hemingway and read, “A Farewell to Arms”. It aroused my imagination greatly and touched my emotions deeply. I was fired with the thought of visiting Italy and drinking a grappa like Hemingway’s hero in an Italian city like Milan at a zinc bar. In fact, I often visited Frank Calia in his house and drank a little wine with his father who was a hard-working laborer who was born in Italy. I learned as much Italian from him as I could, determined to someday go to Italy and drink a grappa at a zinc bar. I found out from Frank’s father with Frank’s help that grappa was a hard drink that was made from what was left of grapes after they had been turned into juice for wine. Frank loved to joke with me good naturedly about my crazy idea to drink grappa at a zinc bar. By chance, Frank’s house was on Ossipee Road just a short walk from Tufts University. I went there in January of my senior year for an interview. I acted at the interview as though I desired to be admitted. It was the only college that I applied to. I wanted to live in my imagination and studying at a college was a goal far from foremost in my mind.
I walked up one day the broad steep cement stairway that lead up around forty steps to the main entrance to Tufts. Tufts was at the top of the highest hill in Medford in the area that is known as Medford Hillside. The main campus that I entered at the top of the stairs had a long broad open area with green grass in the middle of several buildings at its edges. It was a well thought out beautiful space up on a hill. It had the shape of a typical New England village with a typical village green but it was ideally constructed and detached from regular life up on a hill. I liked the man who interviewed me. He was big and intelligent and cheery. I calmed down soon enough and we talked. When he looked through my high school record, he said that he saw that I had attended Boston Latin School before Somerville High. He did not come right out and say that I had failed at Boston Latin. He even said some complimentary things about my marks there. When he noted that I had transferred to Somerville High, however, I caught a nuance in his tone of voice that he was judging my transfer negatively. My confidence slipped away and I felt nervous. I no longer cared at all whether I would be accepted or not and just wanted the interview to be over. There was a pause in our talk and we looked at each other eye to eye. “I think you reach a point,” I said without being completely serious but with a steady voice, “where you have to decide who you are and where you want to go. I know I’ve finally reached that point.” My words got us past the shaky part of my high-school history. I was soon out of his office free again of all concern about my future walking past the green grass and then on the cement steps going downhill, very happy the interview was over. I did not know if Tufts would accept me or not but I was not worried about it one way or the other. I had my imagination. I had many books to read and I had my soul. I had everything I needed.
I walked every school day to the right down Medford Street and then at a short distance, at Walnut Street, up the cement path beside the Library building towards the high school. One morning Phil Sadowski and Neal Briggs, dressed in army uniforms, were sitting on a bench waiting for me. Phil was shorter than me at around five feet seven. He always had a live eager look in his dark eyes as if he had just discovered or was about to discover some daring thing to do. I saw his eyes beaming at me that morning. His friend Neal stood next to him smiling as I approached them. Phil told me excitedly that they had gone awol from the army and had run out of money. I gave them all the money I had. Later I met them at Davis Square with more money and we ate and drank. They surrendered to the army the next day and a few days later I drove in my car to visit them at the army prison at Fort Devens about 40 miles from Somerville. After they served time, Phil was sent to Korea but luckily by that time, 1954, the Korean War was over.
I had another adventure that year, my first fist-fight. Okie and I drank a lot and had a losing fight with three guys at an amusement park. One of them was a student in the high school. We confronted each other in a crowded corridor in the high school. I whacked him as hard as I could on the side of his head and he grabbed me and wrestled me down to the floor. A teacher broke up the short fight and we both were sent home. I earned the rest of the day off for my bravery and it did nothing to alter my good academic standing. It was a positive experience that taught me that even someone like myself who feared fighting could still fight.
Towards the end of my senior year the big thing was the senior prom. I had no girlfriend and was not dating anyone. As the day of the prom approached, the number of girls still undated for the big night thinned out. Vinny DeAngelis, the class president, had a brief list of who was available. He was concerned for me because he and Frank Calia and Tom DiNitto had dates and they wanted me and my date to be the fourth couple in their group. They planned to rent transportation to go to a nightclub in Boston. Vinny gave me the names of who were available and I observed at a good distance girls who were far from being paragons of beauty. By chance, I knew casually a girl who worked at the store where I worked in Watertown. She was a beauty with black hair and flashing dark eyes and a great figure. She was no longer working at the store around prom time but I knew her name and knew she went to Watertown High. I found her last name listed for Watertown and telephoned her. I figured that although she had no interest in me as a boy friend, she nonetheless might desire to display her extraordinary beauty in a brilliant gown at the Somerville prom. I talked to her over the phone. She remembered who I was and agreed to go to the prom with me. I picked her up at her house dressed in a white gown looking like the proverbial million dollars which seemed that night as her beauty flashed at me and made my heart sink like a billion dollars. I gave her a corsage that she pinned on her gown. I walked into the crowd of my fellow students at the Somerville High gymnasium with a goddess beside me. She looked like a goddess and if any poor human can look as beautiful as my date did that night, she is a goddess. The extraordinary can happen in life. Everything does not have to be always ordinary. If we take time to look closely, it is even possible to discover sometimes the extraordinary in what is most ordinary. Something divine sometimes peeks out of average human eyes and an ordinary girl as beautiful as a goddess glowed beside me that night divinely. We went to a nightclub in Boston and I drank, alone of us four boys, real liquor beside my goddess with my fake identification papers proving I was twenty-one. She allowed me later one kiss. I knew what it was like to kiss a goddess. I also knew by that night late in May that I had been accepted into the class of 1958 at Tufts University.
NOTE: The rest of his biological material has been fashioned by Daniel McNeill into the novel, "Whacks, Women and Wanderings in the Soul". Go to "Fiction" to read the beginning of this new novel. The rest of it willbe up soon.