Quote of the Day
“A father is supposed to protect you and mine was scaring the hell out of me.”
Despite my father leaving our family in 1969 (I was five years old) oftentimes the bum would come around and shack up in our apartment on 9th avenue.
A few years later, when I was around 12 there was one particular night he showed up; it was a night where he scared the living shit out of me.
Let me take you back, back into time…
It was a warm July evening; I was sitting alone at our kitchen table.
In front of me was a plate filled with uninviting food and a glass of soda; I think the drink was a generic brand, maybe from Key Food or possibly Associated? I do know it tasted like shit.
It was flat.
Chalk it up to me never tightening the cap on the bottle I guess.
Most nights we sat together as a family for dinner but that night things were a bit different.
I had an older brother and a younger sister. My sister was in her bedroom, I had no idea where my brother was. My mother was standing just a few feet away washing dishes at the sink.
Occasionally I would show up late for supper. Like most 12 year old kids, I’d lose track of time. Playing basketball with friends in the boys schoolyard would do that to you; thus having to eat alone.
Blame it on poor time management.
On the menu that night was pork chops (not my favorite) corn on the cob and some soggy salad (lettuce, cucumber & tomato) drenched with oil and vinegar. The chops and corn were cold. That was the drawback for being late; cold supper. Keep in mind it was 1976, we didn’t have a microwave.
The windows were wide open throughout our railroad apartment. You could hear the sounds of people talking out on 9th avenue and the engines of the cars and busses. We had a small window in the kitchen with a really cool fire escape. On hot summer nights I would bring a blanket and pillow outside and sleep on the fire escape when it was too hot inside the apartment.
No microwave, no A.C. either.
Glancing up at the clock on the wall the big hand was on the 12, the little hand on the six. I realized it was about the time that the Gooch would be arriving.
Who’s the Gooch you ask? He was my father; his real name was ‘Cono’. It actually leaves a sour taste in my mouth as I type those letters, F-A-T-H-E-R.
All of a sudden, the front door of our apartment swung open, banging against the wall. Our door had a broken lock which made it accessible for anyone to enter. Check this out, downstairs, on the ground level, the lock would be busted too. So here you have two families living in an apartment building with broken locks on both doors.
The footsteps through the living room sounded like someone setting off three blockbusters in a row on 4th of July.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The Gooch, despite being a skinny man, was a heavy walker.
Holding a fork in my right hand, I became nervous; so scared that I started to shake. Whenever the Gooch was around, he made me nervous. I even stuttered when I would talk to him, that is if I talked to him.
Mom didn’t make a move. Maybe it was because of the running water and the sounds of the drinking glasses, dishes and silverware being washed, the loud, heavy footsteps were drowned out.
“WHERE’S MY DINNER?” the Gooch screamed.
On cue I dropped my fork on the table.
Turning my head slowly I looked over my right shoulder peeking at the Gooch who was now standing next to me. He was so close I could smell the cigarettes and booze all over him.
I was numb all over. I couldn’t feel my pencil thin legs.
Gooch’s presence scared the shit out of me.
“PICK UP THAT GODDAM FORK AND HOLD IT RIGHT!” the Gooch shouted.
I did as I was told, grabbing hold of the silver utensil and holding it by my side.
“AND SIT UP STRAIGHT!” he added as he pushed my chair in closer to the table.
I wanted to disappear.
I wished I could just blink my eyes like ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and be gone.
Shit, I’d settle for Casper the Friendly Ghost and be gone!
Walking towards mom at the sink I noticed his construction boots, khaki pants and flannel shirt, The Gooch was an ironworker.
Within seconds and without warning the Gooch reached out with an open hand and smacked the side of mom’s head.
The poor, defenseless petite woman never saw the slap coming. It happened so fast. Next thing I know she was on the kitchen floor.
I was never so scared in my life; I started to eat at a rapid pace. It didn’t matter if the food was cold, I was eating quickly so I could get out of the kitchen.
“GET UP AND MAKE MY DINNER!” he shouted at her standing over her like a prize-fighter who just knocked out their opponent.
I was too scared to look at my fallen mother so I got up from my chair and made a dash for the front door.
“GET YOUR ASS BACK HERE AND EAT YOUR SUPPER!” Gooch screamed at me.
Flying down the wooden stairs in the hallway three steps at a time, I bolted out of the front door out onto the sidewalk.
Fuck him, I wasn’t going back into that kitchen. If I turned around and went back, I was probably the next opponent on his fight card.
Standing on the corner of Windsor and ninth and not waiting for the red light to turn green, I sprinted across the busy avenue, just missing being hit by the B 75 bus.
Jogging down Windsor Place I made a sharp right turn on Howard Place. There were a few people out on the their stoops sitting and talking. My pace slowed a bit as I got closer to the entrance of the Boy’s schoolyard. Every few yards I’d look back over my shoulder like Franco Harris, former running back of the Pittsburgh Steelers running in the open field trying to avoid would be tacklers.
As I made my way through the entrance of the yard I glanced back one last time to make sure the Gooch wasn’t trailing. Who was I kidding, there was no way he would chase after me, I knew deep down he could care less about me and where I was headed.
There were kids spread out on each court shooting baskets. Over by the Prospect avenue side of the yard there were a few hispanic kids playing handball against the wall.
Out of breath, feeling like I had just run a meet for Holy Name Cross-Country, I took a seat against the chain-linked fence and looked out towards the three courts. The summer basketball league games would be starting soon, there’d be neighborhood people lined up along the sidelines of the middle court taking in the action.
I knew I was safe.