In the spring of 1961 when I was in the 9th grade two of my classmates disappeared. They stopped showing up for school and at first no one really noticed as they were bad kids and poor students and they were not really missed by anyone especially by me. These two little pricks were small time Brooklyn bullies and they made my 9th grade year a feast of misery. For the life of me I could not figure out why Richard Nilsen and Gary Tiedeman had it in for me but they did and they made my senior year at Pershing Junior High School hell. Each day was a new day of humiliation and anger for me. I hated myself for not fighting back or at least showing the hostility that I felt towards these two miserable sons of bitches, but I didn’t and I took my red hot anger out on myself. I skipped school, I couldn’t eat or sleep and my grades, which were never anything to write home about, really went downhill. I was depressed all the time, for in fact I was also dealing with my lousy home life. I was in a battle most of the time with my father who when he wasn’t ignoring me was more than happy to belittle and hurt me whenever he could. He was by this time hooked on painkillers and my mother’s diet pills, which of course he didn’t need, as he was thin as a rail to begin with. He was also addicted to gambling and playing the horses. Every night when he would get home, he would quickly chow down the dinner that my mother left for him before she left for our luncheonette to take over the night shift from him. With cigarettes burning and ashes dropping all over the place he would turn the TV. on and crazily scan the racing forms for tomorrow’s races and then order me or my uncle to run over to the neighborhood bookie with his bet. He never won and he was getting seriously in debt with Rio the legally blind bookie and loan shark. I kept hoping that Rio would have him bumped off or at least break both his legs, but he was protected because Rio was fond of my mother and this kept him safe from harm, much to my disappointment. Richard Nilsen or Ricky as he was called was a cute Scanadavian guy, and yes I had a crush on him at first, and we actually got along until something happened. I didn’t know what, but later on I thought that maybe he was having a case of homosexual dread or fear of the sexual feelings he was having at 14. Or maybe someone told him a lie about me. The other fuck Gary just went along with whatever Ricky told him to do. Gary was a skinny little nothing who wore tight pants and who might have also been gay. I told no one about this nightmare I was going through, not Marco or Freddy or Howard. I think they just thought I was depressed more than I usually was because of my bad family situation. I should have learned how to fight of course, but I just wanted to draw, read my books and comics, laugh with Marco and go to the movies. What did I know from fighting? Some years later my two young nephews found themselves being bullied, and my tough as nails sister in law would not accept this and enrolled both of them in karate school so they could learn to take care of themselves. Smart lady. One morning my mother surprised me by asking who Ricky and Gary were. “How do you know about them?” I asked. “Well you were screaming out their names in your sleep last night and nearly scared me half to death.” I broke down and told her what I was going through in school. She just listened but didn’t say anything. Predictable I thought to myself, I’m left to my own devices once more. A week or so later, my mother asked me to bring my recently issued junior high yearbook to the luncheonette that evening. “Why?” “Well Louie and Charlie are going to come by, and I thought you would want them to sign it.” Louie the liar and Charlie Egg Cream were two of my mother’s oldest friends. She met them during the war when she worked in a neighborhood pizzeria, and they were home on leave from the army. Even though she was Jewish she looked Italian and the customers all just loved her, especially Louie and Charlie. Both were good-looking Italian made men, and members so to speak of an extended family. Both of them were in love with my mom and both had wanted to marry her, but of course this was out of the question because A. she was already married to my father who was serving in the Navy on an air craft carrier and B. she was Jewish. Even after all these years they still carried the torch for my mother and remained loyal and dedicated to her even though they had married and had families of their own. They would often come into the luncheonette and hang out and have dinner. Louie had a son Vito who was older than me who I worshipped because he could draw, and he was the first “artist” that I knew. He was also very handsome. Vito would sit for hours with me in a booth in the luncheonette and draw stuff for me. “Draw Little Lulu, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny for me Vito.” And he would. I hung the drawings on the wall of my room and I was determined to become an artist myself. I had a yellow rain slicker and Vito asked me if I would like him to paint my favorite cartoon characters on it. Of course I said yes, and soon I had this wonderful yellow raincoat with colorful paintings of Porky Pig, Nancy and Slugo, Superman and all the rest of my favorites that was the envy of all my friends. I carried this raincoat with me right through to my 20’s when it finally fell apart and I had to throw it out. I cried for hours over this thing that meant so much to me as a boy of nine. Every Christmas me and my mom would drive out to Dyker Heights or Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst to spend Christmas with mother’s close Italian friends and their families. It would be a wonderful evening with everyone all dressed up and the houses decorated to the hilt with lights and the most marvelous decorations and the biggest most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen. Every Christmas Eve we would leave my father at home and have a huge Italian feast with Charlie or Louie’s extended family who would welcome us with lots of hugs and kisses and presents. For many years my mother and me would spend every Christmas Eve with them. My mom was always invited to their weddings and christenings, to the showers and anniversaries and to the funerals. Of course we never spoke of what Louie, Charlie and all the rest did for a living.
I was sitting in my favorite booth in the back of the luncheonette eating my dinner when Louie and Charlie slipped in and sat down opposite me. “Hey kido how y doin.?” “Your mom told us you were goin to graduate soon and me and Charlie wanted to put our names down in your yearbook, did you bring it.” “Yeah here it is.” Charlie picked it up and started to look for my class picture. I was standing next to of all people Ricky in the picture and Charlie looked at the photo carefully. “You look handsome Ira, and who is that blonde kid that you’re standing next to?” “Oh that’s this big pain in the neck guy named Ricky,” I said. “And I notice that there is a guy in your class named Gary Tiedeman. I think I went to school with a guy named Tiedeman, I wonder if they’re related?” “Hey Charlie they look like a couple of fruits if you ask me.” Piped up Louie. “Jesus Louie watch your mouth, can’t you see your embarrassing the kid.” “Well they do.” I was turning red, because I thought even at that age that I might be an orange or apple myself. “Some nice looking girls here Ira, any of them girlfriends of yours?” I shrugged my shoulders; my mouth full of mashed potatoes and took a sip of coke. “ No they mostly like high school guys, and besides I’m too young to be going out on dates.” “Well wait until next year, boychick when you’re in New Utrecht, the goils will be all over ya.” Louie said. Charlie took out his fountain pen that he had since he was my age, and signed the yearbook. “To Ira in the years to come don’t forget your good pal Charlie.” Then Louie signed and they picked themselves up and went to chat with my mom. Things were much better for me at school now that Ricky and Gary were gone, and soon graduation day came and I was all dressed up beaming happiness and relief that I would finally be out of Pershing. My brother and sister gave me a movie camera made out of plastic that I still have, and my mother gave me a watch. Charlie and Louie gave me a de-luxe set of oil paints and my father gave me nothing.
My mom at a "family" function. Shes 5th from the front row.
Top photo. My mom and the owners of the pizzeria she worked at. Shes on the right.
My class photo. I'm in the 2nd row right. Ricky is next to me. Gary is in the same row, 2nd from the left.