Years ago, when I was a wee lad, my grandfather, Alexander Ignatius Connolly, used to sit me on his knee and teach me “ditties”.
In my family, a ditty is a crude variation of a commonly known song, with lots of word interchange and improvisation.
Around this time of year he was keen on getting me to sing “The Night Before the Fourth”.
He would clap his hands, and move his index finger up and down in time with the singing. I think he had grand dreams of being the famous Alexander of the Ragtime Band.
The best part for me, was watching him laugh like hell when he got myself or my sister to repeat off-colored lyrics. It was a great victory for him, and from my experience, there is nothing cuter or funnier than a kid dropping some profanity without knowing that they are being naughty.
So, for Alexander Ignatius Connolly, this one’s for you.
Please sing the BOLDED words to yourself, using the “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” jingle.
The night before the fourth.
The night before the fourth.
The cat shit in the shavings.
The cat shit in the shavings.
The cat shit in the shavings, the night before the fourth.
This was usually followed up with a quick question/answer poem:
Rolling doobies with surprises is a sinister way to get a rise out of someone.
Somewhere in the darkness of me, resides a penchant for mischief. Not the type of mischief that irreparably harms, but the kind that grossly inconveniences or causes the people affected by it, to endlessly puzzle out the motivation behind it.
When I’m out in public, among you, that’s where my randomly ill-timed and peculiarly inappropriate giggles find their genesis.
Over the years, it’s run the gamut; from stealing bread trucks from arrogant bread truck drivers, to swimming in the Charles River while wearing whitey-tighties to the accompaniment of the 1812 Overture, to the much too exuberant and competitive naked wheelbarrow races on the fifth floor hallway of the Montreal Radison Hotel.
My mischief resume would make Fred and George Weasley proud.
But, let’s take a singular moment in my life, where my compulsion for mischief ran straight into my Mother’s chagrin.
Back in the high school days, I was enrolled at Don Bosco Technical High School.
Located on Tremont Street in Downtown Boston, Bosco abutted Boston proper, and Chinatown. Not far off from the theater district, and the mysterious “red light” district.
When I wasn’t staring out the windows during trigonometry (trying to figure out the obscene neck angles of Combat Zone Fellatioteers), I was plotting tricks I could pull on family and friends alike.
Not far from Don Bosco, there was a shop that dealt with all things novelty and joke related: Jack’s Joke Shop (JJS)
It’s also worth noting that JJS was a familiar haunt of The Walsh Brothers, before it closed its doors.
You could get rubber chickens, hand buzzers, elastisnots, stink bombs, fake vomit, fake pooh, peanut cans full of spring-snakes, and my favorite: cigarette loads.
During my Junior year at Don Bosco, I made many after school trips to JJS, to procure more wares for my bag of tricks.
I’m more than certain that on several occasions I broke tiny vials of JJS stink bombs on their crowded afternoon MBTA Orange Line Trains.
Awful! If you haven’t had the pleasure, sulfur, eggs, and roast beef farts; all rolled into one overpowering smell.
The reactions were worth the inconvenience caused. Each person falling in line to over dramatize their take on the smell. People furiously waving halved Boston Heralds under their noses as if that would mitigate the onslaught.
There was always one soul who would sit at ground zero and act as if the smell wasn’t actually real. Eventually, these sorts would have to breathe and wound relent.
I would giggle with my cronies.
But, I digress…
Where was I?
Ahhh, yes, mischief. So another aspect of mischief I enjoy, is the mischief surrounding the smoking being made fun of in cigarette humor.
I love watching people squat in doorways and smoke ciggabutts, and this comes from a fascination of watching my mother smoke for years.
My Mother was a lifelong smoker. In fact, she both beat and survived throat cancer, and still kept right on puffing.
Well, when we were kids, my sister and I, learned about all the badness associated with cigarettes through school health fairs, and public service announcements. We were known on occasion to take cigarettes from our Mother’s leather cigarette case and break them in half, out of a sense that we were doing her a solid. All we really did, was inconvenience my Mother, and send her out for more cigs.
This sense of self-righteousness never left me. Inevitably, my sister became a smoker herself, but I bucked the familial trend and chided and scorned all those that partook of the habitual suck.
Place misdirected self-righteousness together with mischief, well, you can probably guess where this is going.
Now placing cigarette snappers inside of a cigarette seems like a great idea, but not until you experience that kind of surprise, or engineer that kind of mischief, can you truly appreciate all of the things that unfold when a cigarette popsplodes in someone’s face.
My Mother loved her menthol puffahs. Newport was her brand. The design of the pack, the lettering, the colors, the iconography; were all things that I inherently knew visually and olfactorily long before the concepts of those things were able to be articulated by me.
Cartons of Newports were kept in my refrigerator all throughout my childhood, beside the Hi-C drinks and American Chop-Suey leftovahs. My Mother insisted that it kept the cigarettes “fresha”. I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of such a claim. I can only note that she did this until she stopped smoking. Which in the course of events was when she died.
Now death is the appropriate segue to move this tale forward, because my mischief masterpiece had a foot in cigarette cessation and a foot in the death ritual of waking a deceased person.
My childhood home was a second floor apartment on top of Bunker Hill Street. We lived at 6 North Mead Street, beside St. Francis De Sales Convent, St. Francis De Sales Church, and the John H. Sawyer Funeral Home. All three assisted with my understanding and the integration of death as a concept of life.
Well, the mischief I managed on a 1990’s night, so many years ago, lives in infamy within the family’s stable of tales. You take my Mother + cigarettes + cigarette loads + an awkward and uncomfortable situation, and you have all the makings of a classic prank.
During the time period of the 1990’s prior to my parents divorcing, my Mother worked nights at Massachusetts General Hospital as an admissions officer. She was the lady you met in the Emergency Room that helped to get you a bed if you needed to stay for whatever reason. So due to working nights and trying to keep up the house and care for adolescents, my poor Mother was always running at a deficit of sleep.
My teen years were not full of angst, but rather a series of activities spread out and terribly executed in trying to mimic the fiction of 1980’s cinema high jinx and hilarity. I didn’t have a great grasp on the dividing line between fiction and reality, and tried my level best to improve upon what I saw depicted in film as the golden standard of pranking. So naturally, I believed that I could do it without getting caught.
So, it happened that my Mother had the misfortune of knowing someone that was related to someone that died. This meant that she needed to go to the Wake, in order to “Pay her respects”.
This death coincided with the week I happened upon Jack’s Joke Shop. It coincided with my picking up cigarette loads at Jack’s Joke Shop. It coincided with a sleep deprivation jag in my Mother’s schedule. It coincided with me being a little bastid and concluded with me deciding to teach my Mother a lesson about smoking. I enjoy that my sister had knowledge of the mischief and went along for the ride. This was prior to her smoking of course.
Well, we came home from school that fated afternoon with my newly acquired smoke loads, and we got right down to business. I removed multiple cigarettes from my Mother’s pack (she kept them by her when she slept in case she woke up and wanted to smoke). It was easy access, I planted the loads in the cigarettes, 3 to be specific. Then placed them back in the pack. I counted 10 cigarettes in total. I felt that we had a very good chance of her first cigarette being the winner.We lingered about and watched late afternoon cartoons, hoping our Mother would wake up and give us a cigarette show the likes of which we had never seen before.
As we watched a variety of cartoons, she began to stir and eventually woke up. Now my sister and I could hardly contain ourselves with the anticipation of knowing what our poor Mother didn’t know. She reached for her puffahs, pulled one out held the Bic flame to the butt, and pulled in her first haul. We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for the duration of the cigarette. Nothing happened. She dabbed out the butt in the overpopulated glass tray on the coffee table.
Foiled, but we were patient and confident that we would prevail.
My Mother announced that she had to go to a wake up Sawyer’s Funeral Home for so-and-so, and that she had to take a shower first. So she showered and then came back for her post shower smoke. Again, we waited, and waited, and waited for the duration of the cigarette.
Dammit! I began to think the joke was on me for buying faulty cigarette loads.
However, in my thoroughness and madness in placing the the loads, I had reasoned that in order to get the maximum effect, that I had to remove much of the tobacco from the tip of the cigarettes, insert the loads, and then replace the tobacco. So when she initially lit the cigarette it wouldn’t blow up, but only after a few relaxed stress relieving hauls. I had believed that in my cleverness I somehow screwed them up.
So, as time moved on she was picked up by a mutual friend of the departed, and brought to the Funeral Home for the viewing Wake service.
This is where we were left in the utmost of suspense. Not only had she left, but she brought her smokes. She had smoked 2 out of 10. so she had 8 left, and three of those had loads. Barring operator error, the chances that one of her next smokes was going to be “THE ONE” had increased greatly.
So the following is the best I can report, as I got this information second-hand, after the fact, and wasn’t at the Wake Service. This is of course pieced together by what my Mother and her friend had told me occurred.
So they arrived at John H. Sawyer Funeral Home. Got in the viewing queue, moved through the line, paid their respects to the family and then retreated downstairs to the basement smoking room.
Now, my Mother was a great purveyor of mortality gossip. When she got the newspaper, she would first turn to the “Irish Sports Page” in order to see who died, how they died, when the services were, and how well the obituary memorialized the deceased. Before, the internet, my Mother could be depended upon for knowing the Who’s Who of death in our town. She had a knack for it, but when it came to the awkwardness associated with the specifics of “going through the line” her anxiety kicked in.
Naturally, after having “gone through the line” and then descending the stairs to a basement smoking room; it is of no surprise that my Mother and her friend would commiserate about the prior discomfort over a nice relaxing smoke.
In truth, I had no idea that she was going to a Wake that evening, until after she had woken up and told us. Also, it never occurred to me to warn her of the mischief that could conceivably and likely unfold when she awayed to the Funeral Home.
This is of import, because I would never have done what I did, had I known she would be in the crosshairs of my mischief masterpiece in a public location.
Soooooooooooooooooo……….after a period of discomfort in expressing sympathy to others, my Mother grabbed the familiar leather carrying case that held her puffahs, pulled out 1 of the 8 remaining cigarettes. Let out an audible sigh of relief, slipped the butt in between her pursed lips, lit the damn thing, pulled in multiple hauls, and then…
The cigarette blew up in her face, and turned a moment of coming down, into an awkward WTF type situation, in which she had to explain herself and the mystery of what happened to the others congregating about her looking for the same escape from the reality upstairs.
To be sure, this scare pre-dated her “Massive Heaht-Attack” that occurred in March of 2000.
Suffice it to say, I am glad she didn’t have the heart attack right there.
She was bullshit, about the whole thing, of course. Explanations abounded the next day, and yet, I can’t remember any real consequence from doing it. Just this story.
I know I was a shit for doing it, but there is a piece of me that still to this day giggles with delight over the events of that day, and the imagined expression that must have come over my Mother’s face.
In the Fall of 1991, I met many colorful characters at Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a result, I return there quite regularly, hoping to recapture the magic of those days. One character sticks out in my mind. However, I never got his name. I simply call him the Angry Bible Thumper. Every Saturday night, he would convene just outside the Harvard Red Line T Stop, across from the Harvard Coop, and start to preach at precisely 8 o’clock PM. In addition, he would have several of his deacon warriors repeat his phrases in cadence, in hopes that it would enervate the crowd.
Whatever he did to prepare for his preaching was beyond me. He would get so whipped up in the moment while speaking, that he would jump up and down, with spittle coming out of the corners of his mouth. He gesticulated wildly, and would make violent gestures toward the general crowd. In addition, he would verbally lambaste the crowd by chiding them with the phrase “Open your bibles, you heathen!” He also had a case of the crazy-eyes. For all intents and purposes, he spoke as a man possessed of a spirit. Oddly, after his diatribe completed, he would put on his jacket, place his hat on his head, and hand out literature to any and all takers.
Throughout his professing, he would be derided by non-believers. Atheists, skeptics, and general naysayers threw their proverbial hats into the ring to contest this man’s faith. In addition, they would leer, mock, and get intimidatingly close in hopes of riling him up even more.
In retrospect, it seems that they needed each other. They validated his energy because they embodied the worst of what he had come to expect. Conversely, he validated their energy, because he embodied the worst of what they had come to expect.
The only certainty I derived, was that I enjoyed seeing the human tragedy play out among these characters, and that I enjoyed the theater of crazy. Especially, when someone jumps up and down, with spittle coming out of their mouth, all while saying “Open your bibles, you heathen!”
Today marks a truly special day for Atticus and our family. It was our first trip to, as Atty calls it, “the hockey store”. After a lazy Sunday morning, from which we awoke with quite a chill, we unwrapped ourselves from a series of quilts, sweaters and woolen socks, to try on the day and some skates at the Pure Hockey store in Medford Square.
It is a day of which I’ve been dreaming ever since Lissette and I had the ultrasound that showed that we had a bun in the oven. Atty is the first, and Lenore will follow, and any others that might come our way might join in the procession of giving hockey a go.
Atty is at a great age right now. His light speed jump from toddler to little boy, came with self-awareness, full blown conversations, and articulations of his own desires. It came on too fast and certain. He turned four in September, and assures me that “four year old boys, are big boys, and that they aren’t afraid of the big inflatable bouncy houses at Monkey Joe’s anymore.” So I ask him a few weeks ago, “would you like to try hockey” and he says “yeah, yeah sure, I think so I would like hockey.” Everything he prefers comes with the disclaimer “I think so…” It is the cutest.
Knowing from Atty’s response, and past experience, the fact that he would like to try it is a good indicator that he might enjoy it. So, Lissette and I decide to support him in this new journey. Luckily for us, the first series or session from October through December is a learn to skate session. So we can hedge our bets a little bit, just in case he doesn’t like it, or comes away from it with a little bit of ambivalence. In all honesty, he’ll tell you that almost everything is his “favorite” right now: macaroni and cheese, The Avengers, Kellogg’s Apple Jacks, etc. So we’ll have to wait and see if this blossoms into a firmer commitment. We are happy that Malden-East Boston provides an opportunity for him to learn this new activity and we hope that Atty gets the sense of community, sportsmanship, and inclusiveness that comes of the best parts of organized youth sports.
I started this journey myself over 33 years ago. One fall night, I think it a Tuesday. My father, mother, and uncles hopped in our family station wagon (AMC wagon circa late 1970’s) which affectionately became known in the annals of our family history as the Grey Ghost.
We were a hand me down car family. We got cars based on the opportunities provided by a friend of a friend of a friend selling their ol’ jaloppies. We had a series of these throughout the 80’s until my Dad became a company man at B.L. Makepeace, and got to take home the company car for the remainder of the decade (this is another story for another time).
So on a similar feeling day to this one, more towards the evening, we got in the Grey Ghost, and traveled from Charlestown to Medford where I got my first pair of skates. Back then, the store was known as the Medford Sporting Goods Store, and the consensus seemed to be that this is where you went to get skates and hockey equipment if you were in the market for such.
I’ve been past this location a few hundred times in the course of my life, and I always felt the gravity of it pulling me. I always believed that someday, I’d bring my children here to get their first pair of skates.
Today was the day.
I don’t know who was more excited about the trip, Atty or I. When we walked through the door, we were both kids in the hockey store. Although, I can’t say for certain, I’d like to think that the smell of the place was the same as when I visited it all those years ago. The smell of fresh equipment, hockey pucks, and the hint of the slightest burning as skates were being sharpened in the background.
Atty was bouncing off the walls with sensory overload, as we were greeted with a young woman who asked us if we needed help. I said “yes, I’d like to get my son outfitted for his upcoming learning to skate session.” She was immediately helpful, and brought us from station to station so that we could get Atty set up with the correctly sized equipment and protective gear. He was awash in delight, as each piece of equipment brought another comparison to Iron Man’s Gear, or Darth Vader’s.
“What color helmet would you like?” said the saleswoman. “Yellow and Red!” said Atty, just as Iron Man would have. “We only have Black, White or Blue” she said. I interject: “How about Black, buddy? Darth Vader’s mask is black” “Yes, yes, I think so I want black” And so it was. Black helmet, black gloves, and black elbow pads.
As we progressed around the store, and with the proper safety gear in hand, the focus turned to skates. This is the moment I had been waiting for a very long time. I told the sales woman which skates I wanted for him, and discussed his size. She brought out two pairs so we could try each and decided which felt best.
He parked his little ass up on the bench and couldn’t get his shoes off fast enough. As the sales woman slipped the first skate on his foot, he had a hard time getting his foot into it.
But then, as he pushed a little bit more, his foot slid right into the skate, and then a smile to light up the room came about his face.
A perfect moment. A moment of his own. A moment of mine. A moment of ours. And a moment that will see to it that he brings his kids back to this same place many years from now to try on their first skates when the time arrives.
I thought about my family, and how special the trip was for me, and having the experience with my son today, allowed me to understand how they must have felt back then when I slipped my very first skates on all those years ago.
This is a rite of passage in our family. Although, my hockey career never amounted to much, I felt so positive about my first trip to the hockey store, that it left an impression that has since guided me back.
I do hope that Atty enjoyed this experience. I also hope that he enjoys learning to skate, and that regardless of the outcome, that today leaves an impression on his young mind and heart. I so love being there for him, with him, and am so excited to see how he skates through this life now that he has his first pair of skates.