Apr 27

Day 27: I ran with a rougher crowd than you might think

Yesterday in Las Vegas my childhood friend killed his wife, and then lead the police on a high-speed pursuit that ended in his suicide. I have nothing witty to say about this tragedy. We hadn’t stayed in touch but we had been friends in early grade school.images

Our school practiced a track system for lumping children of equal academic skills together. I was an anomaly as my grades were always barely passing, but I was reading an a twelfth -grade level by fourth grade and retained almost everything I read.  Indeed, if homework had been taken out of grading I would have been a straight A student. Homework was clearly part of Catholic School grading, so I suffered for it.

Every year I would begin in the second track with the promise I would go to the first track if I did all my homework. By the second quarter of every year, I ended up on the third track.  By the start of the winter semester, I was in the fourth track.  Also in the Fourth Track were a lot of juvenile delinquents. It was 1973 when I was in Thrid Grade, and I was closer to greaser street gangs and “The Cross and the Switch Blade” than I was to Nirvana and Grunge.

The kids I was friends there in the Fourth Track were actually accepting, but they were kids heading towards disaster.  There was Billy who would be incarcerated a good deal of his adult life. There was John who would die in a wreck on Highway (while being chased by police).  There was the kid who would lose a hand with a pipe bomb.  And there was Vinnie who died yesterday.

They were called, without any irony or entendre, hard guys.

This is not “There But For the Grace Of God” post.  These are kids who hung out with me when I was a pariah. These are kids who valued my friendship and humor.  Billy used to joke about having a criminal gang where I would be “the brains of the operation.”  These are kids I liked. And as far as I know, they liked me.

In fourth grade I made a transformative friendship with a nerd with the same name as me, we would become life-long buddies. We read comics together and fish together. My life turned to pseudo-intellectual pretense and support. Meanwhile, my faith became more and more important to me. For the next four years, I would finally have a relationship with my father.  Things got much better. I didn’t hang out with the hard guys as much, but I didn’t avoid them.

In seventh grade, I would supply them with snack cakes and candies I was stealing from convenience stores. My crime spree lasted only a few weeks, ending when I was caught shoplifting a copy of a Doonesbury Paperback. Because I was a dork.

I had a photograph album of St Cecelia’s School.  It mostly had pictures of 8th Grade. One of my favorites was of Vinne, his tie around his head like an Indian headband.  He was making a growling face and raising his arms in the air with his feet taking monstrous steps. I have no memory of what he was doing when the picture was taken but this was him to me for years. A skinny kid who had not yet grown into his larger nose.

The tragedy of his life is real. His song is over.


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