Johnny went to his first day of school in Burywater, having
already done six months of kindergarten in The Bronx at the school Julie
Garfinkle, later to become John Garfield, would attend. His relatives sent him
away from the tough gangs of Brownsville where he learned to fight well. He
used his slightly awkward moves in the fight movie where he would use his soul
to make his body win over the sell outs of the world.
Left off at the bottom of the steep hill, his father said he did
not want to kill his clutch, Johnny climbed upward and was approached by a big
blond blue-eyed boy who told him he wanted his new book bag, but since Johnny
was holding it firmly in his grip; the frustrated third grader, named Bulldog
Horrigan, said it wasn't fair that a wop should have such a nice thing.
Johnny would hear the word "fair" often in Burywater and
finally realize that when that word was used the opposite would more often
"So why can't I have your shitty bag?" Bulldog said using the
dirtiest word his "race" used when disgusted with all of humanity.
If the boy had asked for it in a nice way, Johnny would have
gladly given it to him; thinking when his mother gave him the bag that morning
- which in a way was a little miracle since pennies for his mother were like
dollar bills seldom seeing the light of day - that it was sissified to be
carrying one; instead, he said: "Because it's fucking mine!" His oldest brother
Leny One N had taught him to fight as a three year and by four Leny had Johnny
fighting older kids from "aroun the cawna" to make bigger odds. Johnny had
never lost a fight
Running away with a shocked expression, Bulldog plunged up the
hill toward the wooden structure, that housed eight grades of unholy saints,
called Saint Anthony. Johnny followed him.
"Class look bright like the saint who said war was a good
thing. We have a new pupil with us today and his name is John Santi." the nun
saying capturing the insanity of war that was going on against dictators, who
would be replaced by home grown ones called "Deciders", which was being
marshaled with great vigor in all the military music she heard on her hidden
radio before she came to school ready to produce more killers against those who
wanted to strip her country of dignity and freedom.
"No Sister Kathleen of the Holy Miseries - it's Sanque.
Not hearing him, manifesting a certain air of indifference, the
Sister turned to the blackboard and began to write the alphabet along its wide
width; copulating capital and lower case one above the other.
Till lunch all the pupils wrote them combining a memorization
along with a practice of meticulous penmanship that often flew off the paper
that produced frowns and a few slaps on heads of pupils who refused to correct
their sinning ways. In one case she hit the one Black pupil so hard on the head
she she fell over the desk.
With a point of her big ruler, after they ate their sandwiches
brought from home, she ordered the class to go out to recess.
There were two large groups of boys facing each other - ready
to do mighty charges.
Johnny was among the "Roosevelt's" whom Johnny liked despite
his maternal uncle named after Mozart who would babble on about how the
crippled president had forced the gentle Japanese to bomb "Pel Ob" and
fortunate for him the Federal Bureau of Incompetence agents investigating him,
thinking he was a spy for Mussolini, could not figure out the two words were
his pronunciations of Pearl Harbor.
The "Deweys" prevailed having in their ranks some seventh and
Bruised and disheveled, Johnny sat half-way on his chair
following Sister's wish that they allow room for their guardian angel.
An hour before they would be released, Sister's catechizing
began as she whispered the page they were to go to which forced the boy next to
Johnny to ask him the page number.
"Did you speak just now, Mister Santi?"
He nodded not even thinking of correcting her.
"That's not a fair thing to do, Jerry. Why did you speak in my
He would not say for the code of his East Bronx streets
prevented him from doing so - sensing the first talker would be in trouble as
he seemed to be. In a very few days he would marvel at how easily and quickly
his classmates would tell on each other in the name of patriotism.
"Do you know where Father Flanagan's office is?"
He nodded again; having been there with his mother and older
sister just a week before when enrolling in the school: "That made saints".
"Go see him now!" she said helping up by the ear.
Johnny walked past statues of sad-faced saints; recalling how
his father would say his phrase after someone sneezed that a new saint had
grown into being and a painting of Christ and his wife - the Holy Grail.
"Come in," a gentle voice instructed the soft knock.
"Yes James, what can I do you for?" Father Flanagan had the
same kind demeanor as the priest in the movie Johnny had seen that weekend.
"I talked in class, Fodder." Johnny would call one of his new
friends "Oil' and the motor oil in his father's car "earl".
"Did you have permission to speak, Tony?"
Johnny shook his head.
"You do see that's unfair. Please put your hand out, son", the
smiling Father said as he brought out the long black leather strap from his
desk drawer to begin ten hits on Johnny's slightly trembling hands.
Fully spent, Father Flanagan asked: "Are you sorry, miscreant?"
The Father thought the word was a synonym for the evilest word evacuated from
the dirty little mouths in his little village called Saint Anthony.
Not only did Johnny fire his guardian angel that day - never
allowing him or her to sit on his chair by not leaving a large space as
instructed by all the nuns. He would talk to no more priests nor to Sisters for
within a few months after leaving "niggertown"; the name Burywater natives
affectionately called the neighborhood once populated mostly by
hyphenated-Americans who came just before the others who were going to take
away their low paying jobs -
Johnny would tell his parents after they moved
to the peel-less side of Burywater called "The Hill" that if "they" didn't let
him go to "the leave no child behind" public school, he would change religions
and, being the father's favorite, he was allowed to go to a school named after
a founding father whom the principal Miss Moriarity eerily resembled.