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I Sat This One Out

I didn’t vote. Plain and simple. I abstained willfully and without prejudice. I chose to sit this one out. I don’t have to dance if I don’t like the music. And this music sucked.

Some people who do vote, don’t have enough information to pass a smell test. They go off of wild, visceral reactions to people they’ve never met and actually think they’re voting their conscience. Maybe they are.

Lots of folks vote their W.I.F.M. (what's in it for me?) Some folks actually vote one way because they hate the other way. Their choice.

When I was a kid, I remember all the fanfare about the Kennedys and that Camelot thing. Most of the talk about JFK from the women voters at the time was how nice looking he was. There's command of the issues for you. It still goes on today.

We find out later he was a drug addicted, serial philanderer who almost got the world blown up.

His father made a deal with the mob, JFK and his little brother betrayed them and history will tell you the rest.

I once asked my father during the conventions at the time if we were Republicans or Democrats. He said “Democrats, we’re working people.” See? Let’s all get in line and vote the straight party ticket. No thanks. I voted for Obama in 2008. He never did me any harm.

When people tell me it’s my duty to vote, I’m thinking, really? You could fill a state with what I don’t know about the issues. Most of those are above my pay grade anyway. I’m too busy enjoying my freedom from dictators and religious zealots to burrow in on pork subsidies.

Fifty years ago I put on a uniform, grabbed a rifle and headed off to some third world stink hole. That was my duty. My only duty. If I choose to sit one out because I ran out of clothespins, good on me. I make excuses to no one.

Though I will not hide my schadenfreude at the demise of the Clintons. They can shuffle off to Buffalo or wherever with my blessing.

The comedian Flip Wilson had a skit, years ago, about performers “staying on to long.” High time for them, I’m thinking.

Yes, democracy sucks. But if we all really want to vote responsibly, I’m thinking there ought to be a test. One I surely won't pass.


In The System

It’s 5:00 pm, Tuesday, July, 23, 1963. This morning I was surrendered to the custody of the Division of Youth Services, State of Massachusetts, by the dishonorable Judge Robert DeMarco. He was a crook.

My head is newly shaven, I have a fat lip, black eye and the familiar smell of dried blood is clogging up my snot locker. I am sore all over from the drubbing my father gave me out of sight of onlookers at the Somerville Court House. I have had better days.

There are about 15 of us newly committed kids on this particular day in the recreation hall and we’re all sizing each other up. I smell a mix of chlorine and rotten meatloaf. The setting sun is trying desperately to get past the filthy smudges on the wire braced windows to light up the room.

I was here earlier in the year in the detention section because I couldn’t afford bail on another charge. I swore I would never be back. I was back.

We hear a gym whistle go off down the hall but no one knows what to make of it. We would shortly. Then, we hear sneakers, lots of them, sounding like a chopper landing in the distance. Boom! They were on us like stink on shit. Six big men wearing t-shirts, khakis and white sneakers. The routine was, punch you in the face, pick you up by your neck, head butt you, drop you and move on.

I hope one of them, Mr. Chandler, the expert at this technique, died of blunt force trauma.

Oh my God, what the hell is this? This was way overkill. I had arrived pre-crippled already thanks to my father. "Hey, I’m good over here."

What it was, was a welcome to the system and to let you know who the boss was. Three years later, I would receive a similar welcome by drill sergeants at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as a newly minted draftee. But that was nowhere near as brutal as this.

I cried myself to sleep for weeks as my tough guy veneer started wearing off.

Here is a description of the place from the book: Abominable Firebug, written by Richard B. Johnson,

"The large room was called the “dayroom” because that was where the inmates spent their days. The sleeping quarters consisted of a small concrete room containing two iron bed-frames embedded in concrete. These had been fashioned out of welded angle-iron and steel plate. A thin mattress with no inner-springs was placed on this frame. Each boy was given a single blanket, no sheets, and no pillow. Although designed for two boys, these rooms often contained more than two, with the extra boys sleeping on the floor.

The entrance to the room was guarded by a thick oaken door with an industrial strength observation window containing embedded wire mesh. It had a lock that required a massive key which the "sirs" often used as torture devices as well. Each room also had a *window to the outside that consisted of an iron frame with embedded mesh glass. The windows would only open a small distance so escape was impossible. Toilet facilities were not provided in the rooms, so boys who needed to urinate, would try to aim their stream out the partially-opened window which was shoulder high.

Passerby may observe the rusty urine stains on the outside walls formed from the corners of the windows. If the "sirs" would unlock the doors, boys could be escorted to the toilet facilities. *Unfortunately, in the nighttime, the "sirs" were usually otherwise occupied."

*Editor's note: He fails to mention the smell in these rooms in the midday sun and the fate of any kid foolish enough to bang on the door to use the toilet in the middle of the night. Terrifying.

I was there for almost four months as they compiled a home report on me to use as sentencing guidelines for my next phase of incarceration. As luck would have it, I copped a spot at the State Police Barracks in Middleboro, Mass. Easy time I thought, but life had other plans.

On October 4, 1963, my parole officer, Robert Fitzgerald, took me to the now defunct, Robert Hall Men's Clothing Store, to shine me up for my upcoming formal introduction to Captain George Luciano, who rolled right out of central casting.

This is where I met State Trooper Marvin Pratt, who took the worst kind of liking to me. This guy would teach my stomach to bleed. He attempted things on me that would make the front pages today. He never got me.

Later in life, I heard he got himself surrounded by his fellow troopers while in a motel with a 9 year old boy. Hope he's with Mr. Chandler today. But that’s another story.



Off The Streets

I love watching police interrogations because they start every one with an open-ended question. “What happened?” Sales people know the value of casting a wide net and use it to home in on the customer’s WIFM, the "What's In It For Me?"

Police use this tactic to open floodgates of wide-ranging information.

In 1963, I was accused of stealing a car. I didn’t. Johnny Silva, my Eddie Haskell-like neighbor did it and accused me to spare himself some jail time. At 18, he was considered an adult, and Johnny-boy thought as a still-juvenile, I could do the time standing on my head. I would have preferred doing the time standing on his head.

In those days, an O’Hearn conviction was promotion-worthy at Union Square Police headquarters.

So they grab me off the street and run me down to the oft-visited station. They tell me the jig’s up because Silva spilled the beans. I laugh in their face. They threaten to bring Johnny up from the holding cell to confront me. I’m laughing again. Bring-it-on!

So the rat bastard comes into the room and he’s shackled hand and foot. He had other charges to deal with. This sniveling piece of shit picks up his cowering head and says, “C’mon Bobby, admit it, you stole that car.” I lose it. Only in the movies would someone have the balls to do that.

I’m up and out of the chair and pounced on immediately by my friends in blue. This was almost laughable. They take him out and I’m left there sobbing tears of outrage. My friend, my buddy, my confidante. I didn’t do it. They must have wanted me really bad. I make a mental note to break both his kneecaps or worse. I gotta get out of this mess first.

Now I’m inconsolable. Earlier that month I was held for a week at the facility I was sure to be heading back to pending a court date. What I saw there cured of my Cagney-esque machinations. No, thank you.

So now I’m in full denial mode. Some of these cops really hated Silva and this last performance of his did nothing to endear him to them. They smelled the rat too.

In deep depression, I’m sticking with my story. The memory of my last visit to "Youthie" is etched upon my mind. I could still smell that place.

These cops are getting nowhere fast with me, so they bring in this dashing young lieutenant in a blinding white shirt and an impeccably tied tie. He looks at me and says “get in to my office.” Now we’re getting somewhere.

He reads the complaint against me, exhales deeply and says, “You should have better friends.” I agree wholeheartedly but leave out the part where I kill Johnny and burn his fucking house down.

He drops the file, leans forward and stares deeply into my eyes. He says, “I’m only going to ask you this once. Did you steal that car?” No sir, I said with the conviction only an innocent man could muster.

He says, “OK, sign this and go home to your family.” Oh, there is a God. I can put off killing Silva for a couple of weeks and still enjoy the summer.

Ah, not so fast Bucko. Mr. White Shirt didn’t get to be a lieutenant directing traffic. It turns out he didn’t believe me. At all. In my haste, I signed a full confession. When the summons came to the house, I thought it might be for me to be a witness against my nemesis. Surely, I could manage that.

So the day comes. It’s Tuesday, July, 23, 1963. As usual, my mother doesn’t tell my father. They could go years without speaking. She throws the summons on his chest just as he wakes up. It’s a work day day for a cash strapped father of ten. When I left the house, it was still dark. I’m no fool. He left the house in a murderous rage. At the Somerville Court House, I end up late for my appearance and they issue a warrant for me.

When I did make it and started heading upstairs for the juvenile session, guess who I run in to? Between floors, where we can be intimate? The radiator and both my Daddy’s fists, in that order. When they dragged what was left of me in front of the judge, all the cops were in denial, “It wasn’t us, your honor.”

Johnny Silva wasn’t there. He copped a plea and walked. Me? I was off the street for almost a year. The illusion that my life and all of its challenges would merely be suspended was way off. The fun was just beginning. If I knew what was waiting for me while I was a ward of the state, I would have gone on the run. But that’s another story.


Starting Over, At The End Of The Line

Take me to the pilot.

The panorama of life holds everything. There's nothing, then there's everything. There's zero to a hundred and everything in between. Nutty to try and control it. I call all the watershed moments in my life, bookmarks, touch-points on a journey. If I deliberately try to go backwards or forwards I get stumped. I feel isolated and withdrawn.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that we are in control. Or supposed to be. Or the entity, or the deity. Too heavy, can't go there. That's where trouble starts.

My mother used to say, "God helps those that help themselves." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Does he want the job or not? So the conundrum still exists, Is I is, or is I ain't?"



Baby Bloomers!

What the new "70" looks like.

I am loving this "turning seventy" thing. Like the man falling from a fifty story building and half way down says, "so far so good."

As one of the first boomers to cross the finish line into their seventies, I'm finding some of the things I thought would go out on me, didn't. What to do with all this life experience in a durable mind and body? Having outlived my closest parent by thirteen years, which was my mother, and four of her years, were bedridden.

As Eubie Blake an American composer, lyricist, and pianist once said, "If I'd a known I was gonna live this long, I would have taken better care of myself." Well I did, despite a couple of bouts of needless self destruction. It seems the body can handle what the mind dishes out, if I'm any example.

Getting to this moment in my life has been a pleasant surprise to say the least. Everything still works and pretty well, I might add. Now what do I do with that wheelchair in the garage? No joke, I was using it for camera work and thinking it might serve me later. I entertain no such thoughts now.

We live in a world today, where if I get hit by a car, the news will report me as "elderly" and whatever death I experience will most likely be attributed to "natural causes." What do you expect? He was old." This is new for all of us in the boomer category.

Most likely you won't pass away sipping lemonade on your paid off front porch. You'll be hustling to keep up the lifestyle you've grown accustomed to right to the end. Twenty years of bonus existence. Yikes!

Get thy shit together :)