One fine day a family moved into the house next door to Jimmy’s that had been vacated by the family of the younger John. It wasn’t exactly a normal family. There was a mother, son and daughter but no father. I found out this was the result of a divorce. The new boy of the neighborhood was outgoing and popular. His name was Mike Holly.
He had an air of confidence in everything he did. Although he was popular with Jimmy, myself and my brothers he was a public school boy who soon became friends with Keith, the boy who lived across the street from Jimmy. Keith was the boy who Jimmy said was ba-a-a-ad.
At first there was the sheer pleasure of meeting Mike Holly. Besides the fact that he was very likeable it was exciting that he went to one of the public junior high schools that was legendary among the Catholic school boys for being a very dangerous school. The boys at my school would have debates as to whether Wakefield or Utterback was the toughest of the schools. Mike went to Wakefield.
Mike once said something to me of great interest. He said that the previous year he had lived with his father. He said his father was Mexican. His father bought him two pairs of jeans and a package of white, cotton undershirts for clothes to wear that year. He said he was the most unpopular boy in school that year. The next year he lived with his mother and everything changed. This was something new to me. In Catholic school we wore uniforms. Clothes was not an issue.
Mike often went to dances for junior high school kids at the YMCA. In Catholic school boys and girls were often separated and there was no such thing as dances. I started to get glimpses of Mike’s younger sister. She had short, blonde hair and was very cute. I wondered why if Mike’s father was Mexican that he had an Anglo last name. I assumed this had something to do with his mother and father being divorced.
It wasn’t long before I met Keith, the bad boy from across the street. Jimmy told me that he cussed a lot and so did his father. Jimmy said his father got drunk a lot. Keith’s family, also, kept a German shepherd who barked viciously from behind the low, chain link fence in their front yard. All this contributed to the general notoriety of Keith’s family.
Keith was a freckle faced kid who was just a little pudgy. He grinned and laughed a lot. He had a younger sister with long, thick, red hair. Even though I didn’t approve of Keith’s cussing we got along well. I think I liked his sense of adventure.
Mike Holly continued to gain in popularity. I remember one day visiting with him in his front yard. Although his yard was dirt and a few tufts of dry grass it was all underneath the shade of lines of trees, each of which was thick with dark leaves. We knew there was no man in his house and realized that his mother was a divorcee struggling to support her family. It was cool and a little dark under the shade of these trees as we sat in lawn chairs in front of his house. Mike confided with me that his mother had told him that he should hang out with me and my older brother, Daniel, rather than the other boys in the neighborhood because we were good boys from a good family and that the other boys were sort of rough.
This sort of made me feel happy because Mike was very popular and popularity seemed to be the name of the game at the time. Becoming close friends with him would have enhanced our image on McArthur Street. I felt however that Mike was really saying that goody two shoes guys like us were less interesting and exciting than bad boys like Keith and that he was prepared to spend his time more with Keith.
During the course of the conversation while I was relating a past experience I felt it necessary to spell out a swear word because I wasn’t actually allowed to say the swear word. Mike admonished me because we were in front of the windows of his home. He felt that his mother might overhear. I said that I was only spelling it out, not saying it. He said it didn’t matter. His mother thought it was just as bad to spell it as say it. This I found a little odd because once Mike had shown me a message pad with a caricature of a topless waitress holding one of her breasts and underneath was a caption that read, “We also serve these”. He said it came from the place where his mother worked. I wondered why if his mother worked at a topless bar she would be so strict about swearing but I figured she was doing what she had to as a result of the divorce to support her family. That didn’t mean that she didn’t want to raise her children decently.
I had been becoming nearsighted and I finally got a pair of glasses. I chose a style of horn rimmed glasses with frames that were dark gray on top and clear on the bottom because Jimmy had a pair that were similar but brown on top. He rarely wore them. He was very vain and not so nearsighted as I was. I needed my glasses. I had a hard time playing baseball without them. I never knew where the ball was because I couldn’t see where it went. Once at school we had been playing baseball in the dirt field at lunchtime and I hit the ball straight and far into left field. I ran around the bases all the way to third but when I looked around to see where the ball was I couldn’t see where it was. Some boys were shouting at me to stay and some were shouting at me to run for home. I couldn’t see which boys were telling me to stay or run and which ones were on my team. I decided to be safe and stay. In school the boys made a big deal that I had hit a triple off of Brown who was considered to be a good pitcher. They said I could have had a grand slam if I had ran for home. I explained that I couldn’t see where the ball was and wasn’t sure who was telling me to stay and who was telling me to run. For awhile I wasn’t one of the last or almost last to be picked for one of the teams. Later when they saw I couldn’t always hit that well I went back to being one of the last picked.
What a shock it was when I wore those new glasses! Suddenly I could see clearly. No more squinting to read the chalkboard at school. The world now was so sharply defined and fully of clarity as I had never known. What a change from the dim view I had before!
One day I visited in Jimmy’s house with my new glasses. There was the dingy living room with the brown yellow, cigarette smoke stains on the ceiling, the carpet that needed vacuuming and picking up. I then was alone with Jimmy’s mother in the kitchen. She was asking me how I liked my new glasses. I was trying to communicate to her the amazing difference in perception when I said, “I can see every grain of dirt on the floor!” She said, “Well, gee, thanks a lot!” I tried to apologize. I didn’t mean it the way she thought it sounded. It was something I had noticed when looking at her kitchen floor that had seemed amazing to me. I felt bad but she didn’t really seem to be upset.
Later I thought how different Jimmy’s house was from ours. I could picture his mother in her shorts with laundry baskets on the couch, folding clothes in the middle of the room filled with debris that needed picking up. It was a feeling of disorder.