The first day of the fall semester of 1963 is the beginning of Joe Shaab’s senior year at Belmont High School. He parks his old Ford Woody a couple blocks from school and steps from his air-conditioned station wagon into Houston’s scorching morning heat and humidity. Beads of perspiration quickly appear on his face as he struggles to see in front of him.
Using his shirttail Joe wipes his foggy glasses and pats the sweat from his face. He walks past the endless line of cars parked along the curb until reaching the usual crowd of students waiting for the school’s locked doors to open at eight o’clock.
Joe stops at the flagpole where he and his three best friends meet every morning. After scanning the throng of teenagers he locates two of them: Dickey and Sam. They’ve stopped on the opposite side of the crowd to say hello to some girls.
Leaning against the other side of the flagpole is Patrick, a tall redheaded senior with a bad attitude. He and his mother relocated to Houston from Massachusetts at the beginning of the year. This will be his second semester at Belmont. He is talking to his only friend Trey, an equally surly senior and starting his first semester at the school. His family moved to Houston from Mississippi in the spring. He and Patrick met during summer school.
“When I lived in Meridian a cupala nigga’ families tried to enroll their boys in my high school but it didn’t go much further than the paperwork.” Trey laughs and puts his hand on Patrick’s shoulder. “We caught those two basta’ds on the way to school their first mornin’ and beat the shit out of ‘em. They went on back home and a few days later those boys and their families moved away.”
“Where I’m from they never would’ve even tried to enroll.”
“I thought all you Yankees were bleedin’ heart nigga’ lovers.”
“Shit! Around Boston if they don’t stay to themselves they end up bloody.”
Trey scans the crowd of students. “It don’t look like they got any niggas in this school.”
Patrick glances at the other students and nods. “Yeah all we’ve got here are Kikes.”
“And more than just a few of the fuckers!”
“No shit! Look around. There’s a hook nose on every other face.”
“Say you know why Jews have such big noses don’t you?”
“’Cause the air’s free!” They both howl with laughter.
Patrick turns to the crowd of students and says with a loud German accent, “If I’d known you were coming I would have baked a Kike!” Laughing even harder the boys lock arms and dance in a circle.
Joe couldn’t help hearing the exchange especially the “no niggas just Kikes” comment. He straightens up and his eyes open wide. Did they just say that? Joe slowly moves his stocky body around the flagpole and casts a cold stare at them.
“Guys why don’t you put a lid on it? People might think you’re not just stupid racists but crazy ones too.”
Both boys turn to face Joe and as the smiles leave their faces Trey says, “You gotta problem Jew boy?”
“Not other than you dickhead.”
Trey shoves Joe back against the flagpole and Patrick grabs him from behind locking his arms around Joe’s.
“Give this shithead something to think about Trey.”
He takes a step forward and slams his fist into Joe’s jaw. His glasses fly off. Trey then thrusts his knee into Joe’s groin. He slumps forward in pain. Nearby students take notice as Trey swings his right elbow into the side of Joe’s head. He struggles to remain conscious. More students become aware of what’s happening and word spreads through the crowd.
Dickey looks up and sees Joe being beaten. “Sam! Joe’s in trouble!” They take off running through the crowd.
Trey hits Joe again and blood runs down his face. “Now you got anythin’ else to say Jew boy?”
“I have one question,” Joe sputters while trying to regain his balance as Patrick tightens his hold on him. “Did you guys learn how to be assholes or do you come from a long line of ‘em?” He then spits in Trey’s face.
Trey goes into a rage. He draws back his fist just as Dickey tackles him. Sam pulls Patrick off Joe and hits him above his left cheekbone driving Patrick into a boy watching the fight. The boy slams into another spectator. The two begin swinging fists at each other. Patrick is now on his feet. He dives into Sam and is beginning to overpower him. Joe and Dickey go to help. Trey pulls Joe off Patrick and Joe throws his fist into Trey’s nose. Blood spurts everywhere. Trey falls into a student who shoves him into another. Within minutes it turns into a schoolyard brawl.
A spectator notices two teachers running toward the fight and shouts, “Kelley and Harding are coming!”
The fight starts to break up and the students drawn into it fade into the crowd before the teachers arrive. Trey and Patrick continue swinging at Joe, Dickey and Sam. They return the blows. When the teachers arrive they separate the five boys and Mr. Kelley examines Trey’s bloody nose and the wounds on the side of Joe’s head. He takes a pen and paper from his pocket and addresses Trey.
“What’s your name son?”
Trey wipes the blood from his face onto his shirtsleeve. “Trey Wilson . . . but sir we didn’t do any—”
Kelley interrupts while writing down his name. “Save it for Mr. Holland.” He turns to Joe. “And your name?”
“Joe Shaab sir.” He walks a few steps away, picks up his glasses and wipes its lenses with his shirttail while walking back to Mr. Kelley.
Kelley finishes writing and looks up as Joe returns.
“You two boys come with me to the nurse’s office and when she’s through with you go straight to Mr. Holland’s office.” He turns to Mr. Harding and hands him the paper with Joe’s and Trey’s names. “Bill would you take the other boys there and let Ivy’s secretary know these two will be coming?”
“Sure.” He turns to Dickey, Sam and Patrick. “Let’s go fellas.”
They walk to Mr. Holland’s office in silence and take seats in the reception area. Mr. Harding approaches the administrative secretary.
“Ms. Wentworth these boys were in a fight along with two others who are at the nurse’s office.” He hands her the paper with Joe’s and Trey’s names. “They’ll be along soon.”
She nods and glances at the boys with a disdainful expression as she picks up the telephone. “I’ll let Mr. Holland know.”
Ivy Holland is a large middle-aged man who has been at Belmont for one semester. He’d had a similar position in another school district where he had a reputation for not tolerating misbehavior by students. Originally from Hammond, Louisiana, Holland now lives in an area of Houston known for its racial bias where he is a deacon of his church.
The three boys had been waiting in the reception area outside Holland’s office for twenty minutes when Joe and Trey arrive. Joe has a bandage on his head and Trey’s nose is covered with gauze and tape. Mrs. Wentworth notifies Holland all the boys have arrived.
“Mr. Holland will be with you in a few minutes.” Patrick and Trey get permission to go to the bathroom and return just before Holland gets off the phone.
He comes out of his office and in a thick southern accent says to Trey and Patrick, “C’mon in boys.” Joe, Dickey and Sam wait.
After the office door closes Joe turns to his friends. “Guys thanks for getting me free from those assholes.”
“Forget it,” Sam said. “You’d have done the same thing for us . . . wouldn’t you?”
“Hell no! You gotta fight your own battles.” Joe grins at his friends. “You know I had things under control and was just about to turn it around.”
“Yeah?” Dickey said. “Was that when you took the elbow to your head or the knee to your nuts?” They chuckle but stop abruptly when noticing Mrs. Wentworth’s scowl.
“Have you guys seen Ron?” Joe asks.
“Jeanne told us his uncle died this morning,” Sam said. “He and his family are flying to Seattle for the funeral.”
Mr. Holland looks across his desk at Trey and Patrick who are sitting on high back wooden chairs facing him. “I wanna know your side of the story as to exactly what happened out there this mornin’. I’ll get to the other boys next.”
“All right,” Trey said. “We were standin’ on the street side of the flagpole and Joe was on the other side facin’ the school. Bein’ from different parts of the country an’ all, Patrick and I were talkin’ about what school was like where we come from. There were some boys between us and the street who yelled somethin’ but I really wasn’t payin’ any attention to ‘em.
“All of a sudden Joe comes over accusin’ us of bein’ racists and hits me in the nose! I fell down an’ he grabbed me by the throat and yanked me to my feet. Patrick was tryin’ to pull him off me when Sam and Dickey jump in an’ Patrick got hit in the face and hard! It jus’ spread from there sir. Fists were flyin’ from every direction. We were just tryin’ to protect ourselves and never threw a punch.”
Holland looks at Patrick. “Anything to add?”
“No sir that’s the way it was. It all happened so fast. Joe busted Trey’s nose and then his friends jumped in. There wasn’t much we could do but try to keep from getting hit.”
“If you boys never threw a punch how do ya’ explain the cuts and bruises on the other boys?”
“It became a big fight with lots of people involved,” Patrick said. “Somebody else must’ve hit them.” Holland pauses a moment before writing on a yellow pad.
“Either of you have anythin’ else to say?” They shake their heads.
“All right. You boys can go but check with Mrs. Wentworth before y’all go home today. She’ll tell ya’ how we’re gonna proceed.” Holland follows Trey and Patrick out of his office and motions to the others.
“You three boys c’mon in now and bring one a those chairs you’re sittin’ on with you.” They sit in Holland’s office and he picks up a pen. “What’re your names?”
Holland writes down their names before looking at them with an element of contempt on his face. “I want to know exactly what happened out there. No lyin’ or distortin’ the truth. Tell me exactly what happened.”
“Well sir,” Joe said, “I was standing by the flagpole looking for my friends when those guys started cussing and saying all kinds of racist and anti-Semitic stuff.”
“Do you want me to say the words?”
“Well how else would I know what they said?”
“. . . fucking kikes, niggers and things like that.”
“And what part upset you?”
“What part? All of it!”
Holland’s stern face intensifies. “So you felt it was enough reason to punch Trey in the nose? How would it be if every time somebody got pissed off at what another student said he punched him in the nose?”
“Mr. Holland that’s not how it happened. I confronted them about what they said. Then Trey shoved me against the flagpole and Patrick held me from behind. Trey hit me with his fist, kneed me in the balls and elbowed me in the side of my head,” Joe said pointing to his bandaged temple.
“Sam and Dickey came and pulled them off me.”
“Is that when you broke Trey’s nose?”
“That’s when I hit him but I wasn’t trying to break his nose. I was just fighting back like anyone would’ve done.”
“So you admit you’re responsible for the injury to his nose?”
“I did hit him in the nose but I was only—”
“It’s just that simple?” Holland interrupted. “They said some things, you told ‘em to shut up and they grabbed you and started beatin’ you up. Then these two boys come in like the cavalry. End of story.”
Joe didn’t understand where Mr. Holland was going with this or why he was being so sarcastic but he was becoming concerned. He glances at Dickey and Sam who look back with confused expressions.
“That’s how it happened sir and it would’ve been a lot worse if Dickey and Sam hadn’t come to help me.”
“Is that how you boys remember it?”
“That’s pretty much it sir,” Dickey said and Sam nodded.
Mr. Holland looks at the three teenagers and nods slowly. “I’m goin’ to have to make some calls and talk to some students about what they saw and heard and who did what to who. Trey and Patrick say you started it and they never threw a punch.”
Joe’s eyes open wide. “Well they’re lying sir.”
Holland glares at Joe. “Well somebody sure is aren’t they?” Holland writes again on his yellow pad and checks his appointment book. “I’m gonna be tied up for the next few days. Come back here at seven-thirty Monday mornin’ of next week and I’ll let y’all know how we’re gonna handle this.” The boys stand to leave.
“I’m not finished.” They sit back down. “Between now and Monday, I don’t want to hear ‘bout any trouble involvin’ any of you. If there’s so much as a dirty look between you and the other boys, all of you’ll be sorrier than you can imagine. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” they said in unison.
The boys walk out of Holland’s office expecting to see Trey and Patrick.
“Where are the Nazis?” Sam said.
“Probably off eating their young,” Joe replied.
Dickey looks at Joe. “What do you think will happen next Monday?”
“I don’t know but I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
Sam and Ron first met in lower school and have been buddies ever since. They became good friends with Dickey and Joe over the past year through their mutual love of tennis. It began in September of the previous year. The coaches’ mean and sinister looking secretary Ophelia Emig had instituted new rules requiring reservations for the use of the tennis courts after school. She referred to the types of games, singles and doubles, by the number of players: Two Play and Four Play. The boys were certain Ophelia—who they referred to as “Never-Feel-Ya”—had chosen to label them this way because Four Play was as close as she would ever get to foreplay.
On the day Ophelia renamed tennis games the boys played doubles on the only available court. They normally played singles but Four Play became their preference and they were on the courts almost every afternoon.
The friendships grew and they began spending most of their free time together. This included a four day Fourth of July vacation at the beach in Galveston. Thousands of teenagers go there for both the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. The beaches are filled with young people and parties are happening every night.
Tennis isn’t the only activity the boys enjoy doing together: another is poker. During a holiday weekend in Galveston it takes little effort to find a hotel room with guys sitting around a bed playing cards at any time of the day or night. Occasionally Sadi Joron would take over. Sadi Joron is an acronym made of letters from each of their names (SAm, DIckey, JOe, RON). The boys each contribute the same amount of money, one of them plays and when the game ends they split the winnings—if there are any.
They usually put in a total of twelve dollars which normally represented four times the amount required for the first buy-in. It’s fun, minimizes their downside and is another activity in which they’re involved together. On one particular night over this Fourth of July vacation the partnership finds itself tempted by something different.
. . . . .
There is a beach party the first night hosted by a University of Texas fraternity: Tau Delta Phi. The boys are looking forward to it as these parties are always great fun and include a lot of free beer. Not long after they arrive word starts spreading about some of the frat’s upper classmen having a big poker game. The buy-in is fifty dollars with additional chips being bought in amounts of ten dollars or more.
Sam looks at his friends. “What do ya’ think guys?”
“It’s way bigger than any game we’ve ever played in,” Ron said. “Let’s not.”
“I mean for Sadi Joron. Let’s do it!”
“I’m in,” Joe said.
Dickey nods. “Me too.”
Ron rolls his eyes. “You guys can throw your money away. I’m out.”
“Don’t be such a pussy,” Dickey said. “We’re talking Sadi Joron.”
Ron looks away for a few moments before turning back to his friends. “Okay but I think it’s a mistake. Who’s gonna be the one to lose our money?”
“I vote for Dickey,” Sam said. “He wins more often than the rest of us.”
Joe nods. “Yeah he’s the best choice.”
Sam puts his hand on Dickey’s shoulder. “I guess you’re our man Mr. Torrance. Make us proud.”
“How much do you guys want me to go there with?”
“What do you think you’ll need?” Sam said.
“Well since I’ve never played with these guys I’ve got to have enough to hang around a while . . . say eighty bucks?”
“Twenty each?” Joe said. “I can handle that.”
“Do you think they’ll mind if we watch?” Sam said.
“That’s gonna make me nervous. If nobody minds I’d rather y’all didn’t?”
“You’re the racehorse,” Joe said. “You gotta saddle up so it’s comfortable.”
Ron pulls twenty dollars from his wallet and shoves it toward Dickey. “Here’s my money. I’m going to get a beer.”
Joe watches Ron walk away. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Yeah,” Dickey said putting the money in his pocket, “he doesn’t seem too happy.”
“He’s just in a bad mood because Jeanne’s not going to be here,” Sam said. “He’ll be okay.”
At eleven o’clock Dickey knocks on the door of room four-seventy-two of the Galvez Hotel. A fellow he remembers seeing at the party opens it and looks through the space left by the safety chain.
“I’m Dickey Torrance. I was at the party and heard there was a game.”
After closing the door and removing the chain the boy inside reopens it.
Dickey enters. The boy closes and relocks the door before gesturing toward other boys sitting around a large folding table on the far side of the room. “Take any open seat.”
Dickey follows him while trying to calm his nerves. The game’s still poker. You just need to be careful.
Shortly after midnight Ron, Joe and Sam are walking through the party crowd talking to people they know. Ron points toward the bar.
Joe and Sam look up and see Dickey picking up a large cup of beer. Sam shakes his head. “This can’t be good. He hasn’t been gone that long and when he comes back he goes to get a beer before looking for us.”
Dickey sees the boys and approaches their three concerned faces with a solemn one of his own.
“Guys I did my best.” There is no response. “Well I did but these guys were really good and kept betting and raising like crazy. They made every hand so expensive to play.”
“Is there anything left?” Joe asked.
Dickey nods slowly and reaches into his pocket.
“The only thing I could do was to keep folding my cards until I got something decent to play. The betting was so stiff I just got scared and left early.”
“I told you!” Ron said.
“But not before I WON TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS!” Dickey takes out the money and hands seventy dollars to each of his partners.
Everyone congratulates Dickey. “Sorry I was acting like such a prick before,” Ron said. “I’m in the dumps about Jeanne going to her cousin’s wedding in Miami instead of coming here.”
Dickey smiles and shakes his head. “Forget it.”
Joe puts his arm around Ron and laughs. “Amazing how some extra money can change your mood isn’t it?”
Sam gently punches Ron’s shoulder. “I think the party’s about to become a lot more fun.”
Earlier in the evening Sam had noticed a beautiful Asian girl dancing. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She looked like she was his age, about five-feet-five and very slender. He watched her long straight black hair sway across her back as she danced. When she smiled her face radiated. He thought she was incredibly sexy in her white shorts and red and white striped sailor’s shirt. Its plunging neckline went just low enough to draw attention. Her tight shorts covered a firm behind and exposed a pair of magnificent legs.
Glancing around the party he sees her again. No male companion. Just talking to another girl. Sam motions toward them.
“Fellas who wants to go with me and meet the friend of that Asian doll over there?”
Dickey quickly steps forward. “I’ll go.”
They make their way to an area near the beer kegs and Sam slowly shakes his head. “I’ve always had a thing for Asian girls.”
When they reach the young ladies Sam smiles and extends his hand to the one who has enchanted him. “Hi my name’s Sam Cohen.”
She smiles and gently shakes his hand. “I’m Cindi. Cindi Lee. This is my friend Candy.”
Sam introduces Dickey and after some conversation between the four of them he steps to Cindi’s side to speak directly to her. Dickey does the same with Candy. She is cute, has a bubbly personality, pretty eyes and is also wearing a low-cut top which accentuates her ample cleavage.
“Cindi are you going to be here for all of the fourth?”
“No. I have to drive back tonight. My family and I are going to Dallas for a christening.”
“Too bad it’s happening during the holiday.”
“Yeah but we’re also going up to Lake Texoma to ski for a couple of days so it’ll be fun.”
“That’s cool. Where do you go to school?”
“I’ll be a freshman at Lon Morris College.”
Sam’s heart sinks. She is two years ahead of him. Even so he’s enormously attracted to her. How can I keep her from finding out I’m younger? She’s so beautiful. It’s probably best to steer the conversation away from school.
“Where are you from?”
“Houston. What about you?”
“Houston too. Do you come down here very much?”
“As often I can.”
“My friends and I do too.” Sam pauses and quickly tries to think of something else to say. “The band’s really good isn’t it?”
Other than Cindi laughing at a few of his comments it goes on this way for awhile.
“Sam do you plan on pledging Tau Delta in the fall or are you already a member?”
There it is. The subject he’s been dreading. Sam frantically tries to think of a nonchalant way to respond which won’t squash his chances. Before he can gather his thoughts everything on his mind suddenly spills out of his mouth.
“I’m a couple years younger than you Cindi. I turn seventeen in November and I’m about to go into the eleventh grade. I hope that’s not a problem.” Sam cringes. What’s the matter with you? You’ve just met the girl!
Cindi now understands why his mood had abruptly changed after her question. As he nervously waits for a response Cindi thinks about how flattered she’s been by his attention. Throughout their conversation she never thought of him as being younger.
He acts and talks like a boy in college. He’s too cute and nice to be bothered by age . . . especially in view of mine.
“Sam there’s not as much difference in our ages as you think. I started school a year early. I’ll be eighteen on Christmas day. We’re only eleven months apart.”
“Christmas day? That’s December twenty-fifth!”
Cindi smiles. “Yes it is every year.”
“My birthday’s November tenth. So we’re really more like ten-and-a-half months apart. I mean for all practical purposes we’re pretty much the same age . . . at least during the six or so weeks between our birthdays.”
They both laugh and Sam puts his arm around Cindi’s shoulders pulling her against him in a brief friendly hug. When he releases her she doesn’t pull away.
The two couples spend the next hour talking, flirting and dancing. They continue talking until Cindi glances at Candy and silently mouths, “We need to go.” She then turns to Sam and looks at him with disappointed eyes. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to head out now.”
“When will you be back from your trip? I’d like to see you again.”
“The rest of the summer’s really crazy. After the trip to Dallas I’m going to Lon Morris to take a summer drama course. I’ll be back in Houston for part of the Labor Day weekend and then off again for the start of school. I’d like to see you too if you can work around this crazy schedule of mine.”
“How can I reach you?”
Cindi takes a piece of paper from her purse and writes down her phone number. Candy then borrows her pen and gives her number to Dickey.
“I’ll call you just before Labor Day weekend and we’ll get together.”
“That sounds great Sam.”
Sam and Dickey walk the girls to Cindi’s car: an orange and white Corvette.
“Wow!” Sam said. “What a fine car!”
“Thanks. It was a graduation present from my parents.”
“Would they like to adopt a son?”
Cindi laughs and they sit on the hood of her car and talk for a few more minutes. “I’d like to stay longer Sam but I really need to get on the road before it gets any later.”
The boys open the girls’ car doors and help them inside. It takes all Sam’s self control to keep from trying to kiss Cindi goodbye.
She looks up at him. “It was nice meeting you. Enjoy the rest of the Fourth.”
“Thanks and you do the same in Dallas. Drive carefully.”
The girls drive off and Sam turns to Dickey “Are you going to call Candy? She seemed to like you.”
“I don’t know. She’s definitely good looking and all but she really talks a lot. I think that constant chatter would get on my nerves after awhile.”
Sam smiles to himself. That’s Dickey. He meets a fine girl, she makes it obvious that she likes him, volunteers her phone number and he’s assessing whether their personalities have any long term compatibility.
“It’s just a date. You don’t have to marry her. Besides you might get lucky.”
“I guess you’ll be calling Cindi?”
“Like a big dog.”
. . . . .
Time passes quickly and the beginning of the school year approaches. Labor Day is the last day of summer vacation and only ten days away. The boys want to go to Galveston for the holiday weekend but none of them have much money so the idea is nixed.
The start of the fall semester marks the beginning of senior year for Ron, Joe and Dickey. They spend most of the next week-and-a-half talking about different universities and major fields of study. For Sam the rest of the summer is about making more money to go toward buying a car. He works in the meat and fish department of his cousin’s grocery store and is saving as much as he can.
One day while warming up for a game of tennis Sam suddenly stops in the middle of a practice rally making no attempt to hit Ron’s ball.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ron calls out.
“Do you guys realize this will be our last school year together? You’re all going off to college next year and I’ll be left here playing tennis with strangers.”
“I hope you don’t embarrass us,” Dickey said.
“Look at the bright side Sam,” Joe said. “You’ve got another whole year with Never-Feel-Ya you lucky dawg.”
Sam’s comment resonates with each of them. The boys know they’ll always be close friends but once they leave for college things will never be quite the same again.
. . . . .
Sam calls Cindi just before the Labor Day weekend and is told she’ll be coming in late Friday night. Saturday morning he gets up, takes a shower and catches the bus to work. All the way downtown he thinks about Cindi and plans to call her during his lunch hour. At twelve-thirty he goes to a phone and dials her number.
“Hello,” says a man with a Chinese accent.
“Hi may I speak to Cindi please?”
“My name is Sam Cohen.”
“Sam Cohen . . . you Jew? I have customer Marvin Cohen who is Jew. Very nice man.”
Sam is stunned yet somewhat amused. “Yes I’m Jewish and Marvin is my cousin.”
“You Marvin Cohen cousin?” the man says excitedly. “You must be very nice man too. Wait I get Cindi.”
“Hello,” says a tentative voice unmistakably Cindi’s.
“Cindy hi! It’s Sam. Welcome back.”
“Hi! Thanks it’s good to be home. So you’re the very nice man on the phone.”
“Who was that?”
“My grandfather. What did you say to him?”
“It seems that my cousin is one of his customers. What does he do?”
“He’s in the wholesale fish business. How did he put together that you were the cousin of a customer?’
“When I told him my last name he wanted to know two things. Was I a Jew and was I related to his customer Marvin Cohen?”
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry.”
“No it’s okay. He was just checking for references.”
“He’s very frank and says whatever’s on his mind but he means well. He and my dad have a lot of Jewish customers. He’s probably never met your cousin and only knows him by name. My dad’s been running things for a long time ever since the doctor told Pops to slow down. He mainly opens the mail and gripes about how much everything costs.”
“He seems to like Marvin.”
“He must pay his invoices on time. Pops likes everyone who pays on time.”
“Ha-ha! That’s hysterical. I hope I get to meet him which brings me to the purpose of my call. Would you like to go out tonight?”
“Well what’d you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. Maybe go to the drug store and eat ice cream . . . play the jukebox.”
“No I did that last New Year’s Eve. You’ll have to do better.”
“Ha-ha! How about going to a club to dance?”
“Now you’re talkin’. Where?”
“Have you been to The Top of the Mark?”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s a great little club on the top floor of a building and overlooks the city. They have a terrific band. I think you’ll like it.”
“Sounds lovely and it’s only our first date.”
“Well since you’re leaving town again so soon I wanted to make a good impression. I don’t want you to forget me.”
“I couldn’t possibly do that. You’re the only person who ever volunteered to be my brother.”
That evening they have a wonderful time talking, dancing close and stealing kisses on the club’s patio. Cindi sits very close to Sam on the drive home and they both hope there will be more nights like this.
It’s the Saturday before the boys’ meeting with Mr. Holland. Sam comes home from work and finds a note saying Ron and Joe have called. He goes to his room and dials Ron’s phone number.
“Hey Ron. Sorry about your uncle. When’d you get back?”
“Thanks. We got back yesterday but I haven’t had time to call anyone before today. What the hell happened at school? I talked to Joe and he said y’all were in a big fight?”
“Yeah,” Sam chuckled. “They’re calling it the Jewish Rumble. I’m sure Joe filled you in on the details. It could have been a lot worse if they hadn’t separated everybody as quickly as they did.”
“You mean it could have involved even more people? Joe said it was spreading through the crowd pretty fast.”
“Hell no! I mean it could have been a lot worse for me! What the fuck do I know about fighting? I’m a lover not a fighter. I was there for Joe and shaking inside the whole time.”
“He said you guys really saved his ass.”
“Let me tell you something. Joe doesn’t need much ass-saving. I didn’t realize what a tough son-of-a-bitch he is. He’s not all that big but you know he’s strong as shit and can really throw a punch. He broke Trey Cunningham’s nose?”
“I heard. Amazing. Joe’s such as low-keyed gentle guy.”
“That anti-Semitic shit woke the beast in him.”
“Joe also said you gave Patrick a black eye. How about Dickey? Did he get in some licks?”
“He’s fucking fearless. He rushed in like Wyatt Earp in a bar fight. I’ve never seen either of them like that.”
“Who’d-a-thunk-it? You’ll find out the verdict Monday?”
“Yeah. Holland’s going to talk to people to see who’s telling the truth. I’d say Trey and Patrick are gonna fry . . . probably get suspended. They not only started the fight but were yelling all kinds of racist shit.”
“Last semester I had Spanish with Trey. What a prick. Nobody’s going to mind that asshole being gone for three days.”
“So what’s up for tonight?” Sam asked.
“I’m going with Jeanne to her parents’ anniversary party.”
“How long’s it been for you guys? A year?”
“More than a year. Since the summer before eleventh grade.”
“Ain’t love grand. Well I need to call Joe back. Have fun tonight and tell Jeanne hello.”
Jeanne Rosen is a tall pretty girl with beautiful eyes and a sweet smile. She has the reputation of being very quiet, a bit shy, and a prude. In spite of this she’s very popular. Ron’s secret crush on her began in middle school where he spent every moment between classes scanning the halls in hopes of a glimpse of her.
It would be during the summer prior to their junior year before Ron would allow himself to consider the possibility she might like him too. Jeanne’s parents had allowed her to begin car dating and Ron got in the line of boys who all wanted to take her out.
They’d been on two dates and Jeanne had lived up to her reputation. She was very quiet and regardless of how hard Ron tried conversation was rare. He makes a third date with her hoping it will finally break the ice. He’s going to take her to see the new James Bond movie “From Russia With Love” and then to a restaurant for pizza.
Jeanne and Ron love the movie and talk about it all the way to one of Houston’s favorite teen hangouts: Valian’s. This is great! Regular conversation. I just hope when we’ve finished talking about the movie we still have something to talk about.
They are waiting for a table when Ron notices his old tennis partner Steve walk-in with Jeanne’s good friend Beth. Ron sees them as conversation savers.
“Steve,” Ron calls out waving. “Why don’t y’all join us?”
Ron motions to the hostess. “Make that a table for four please.”
The pressure is now off Ron. He’s no longer solely responsible for making small talk. They’re seated and the girls talk with each other as do the boys and everyone has a good time.
Long after finishing their pizza and drinks Jeanne looks at her watch. “Ron it’s almost midnight I need to be home soon.”
“Me too,” Beth says. Ron and Steve pay the check and the two couples say goodnight.
With the exception of the music on the radio Ron drives Jeanne home in silence. He so wants to kiss her. What do I do when we get there? She’s got that move into her house perfected. Maybe I should try to kiss her in the car . . . probably not a good idea.
They arrived at Jeanne’s house and Ron follows her along the narrow walkway, up the steps, and onto the front porch. Standing by the front door Ron swats away moths and June bugs hovering around the porch light. His heart is pounding. After unlocking the front door Jeanne turns around and smiles. “Thank you Ron. I had a really good time.”
Unlike their last two dates she doesn’t immediately scoot into the house. In fact she doesn’t move at all. Ron stares at her trying to muster the courage to kiss her. Jeanne looks at him while pushing her long brown hair away from her eyes. Standing in silence she continues to smile as her eyes remain locked on his as if to say, “It’s okay.” Ron cautiously leans forward and to his surprise she meets him halfway with a peck on the lips.
Jeanne then makes her retreat as she turns and goes inside. Closing the door slowly, she leans her head against its edge and gives him a smile and a wink.
“Good night and call me again.” Before Ron can speak she’s gone.
He stands frozen for a few moments until the porch light goes off and jolts him back to the present. Feeling dizzy he puts his hand against the brick wall of the porch and steadies himself.
“Oh my God!” he whispers. “She kissed me!”
It’s Sunday. The day before the boys find out Mr. Holland’s decision. Still in bed Sam reaches out to answer the telephone.
“Hey,” Joe said, “what’re you doin’?”
“Nothing. I’m just getting up. How ‘bout you?”
“Pee Wee’s having a poker game this afternoon. Wanna play?”
“Are the others going?”
“No. Ron’ll be with Jeanne, and Dickey’s got plans with his folks. Pee Wee’s not sure there’ll be enough players so he asked me to help him find some. Right now it’s just him and me. You’ll make three.”
“Sure I’ll play. What time?”
“Two-thirty. So are you ready for Holland on Monday?”
“What’s there to be ready for? All we did was protect ourselves.”
“I know but I didn’t like the way he was acting when we were in his office.”
“I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it,” Sam said trying to mask his concern. “Right always prevails.”
Sam parks in front of Pee Wee’s house and walks up the driveway to the front door. He is glad to have something to do so he can get his mind off his problems at school. After the comments and teasing die down the game keeps him distracted for a few hours. It breaks up at six o’clock and Sam and Joe walk out together.
“Joe, how do you think we should play this tomorrow?”
“I thought you weren’t worried about it?”
“Maybe a little.”
“I’ve been mulling it over and I guess we’re just gonna have to roll with it ‘til we can see what Holland has on his mind. I was thinking we’d all meet at the flagpole at seven-fifteen and go together.”
“Yeah let’s do that. I keep going back to the fact that we didn’t do anything wrong. They threw the first punches. We came to help you and all of us have a right to defend ourselves. Have you talked to Dickey?”
“He’s out-of-pocket until tonight. I’ll call him later and let him know when we’re gonna meet.”
“In the morning then.”
When Sam gets home his mother is in the kitchen preparing dinner and his
father is on his second scotch and water watching a baseball game.
“Mother how long ‘til dinner?”
“About half an hour.”
Sam goes up to his room, picks up the telephone, and lays down on the bed. Glancing at the paper with Cindi’s phone number he places a call.
“Cindi hi. It’s Sam.”
“Cindi’s not here. I’m her roommate Karen. She’s at the library.”
“Oh . . . well would you please tell her that I called?”
There is a moment of silence. “Do you want to leave your number?”
“Oh yeah. That would help wouldn’t it? It’s 713-555-4949.”
“I’ll tell her.”
“Thanks a lot and nice meeting Cindi’s roommate Karen.”
“And nice meeting Cindi’s Sam. B-bye.”
Cindi’s Sam? Hubba hubba! I wonder what she’s told her. He felt a thrill that a girl in college liked him especially one so beautiful. If she doesn’t call back tonight I’ll call again tomorrow night. Lots of college kids make alternating calls to each other to spread the expense. I hope her parents will be okay with it.
He smiled. Of course they will. I’m Marvin Cohen’s cousin.
After dinner Sam went to his room to do his homework and try to keep his mind off the next morning. Just as he was finishing the phone rang.
“Hi it’s Cindi. Am I calling too late?”
“No I’m usually up ‘til 10:30 or so. Thanks for calling back. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Just tired from studying. Why did you thank me for calling back? Don’t girls usually return your calls?”
“I didn’t know if your parents would let you make long distance calls.”
“As long as I don’t abuse it they’re okay. How about yours?”
“Kind of the same thing but a little different. As long as I don’t abuse it they won’t notice it on the bill. If it’s not much different than the usual bill my mom just pays the total and doesn’t look at the rest of it.”
“And if she notices?”
“I’ll have to pay it.”
“I guess both of us have a reason not to talk too long.”
“Right. Your roommate sounds nice.”
“Karen’s great. She and I have known each other since we were little girls. Her family move to San Antonio a few years ago and during that time we didn’t see much of each other. We moved in here together and it was like we’ve never been apart.”
“Nothing like good friends. You’re always there for each other.”
“Is Dickey your best friend?”
“One of them. There are four of us who run around together. The other two are Joe and Ron. We’re all very close.”
“Am I going to get to meet them?”
“Absolutely. Probably the next time you’re in town.”
“I’d like that.”
They talk about their date and what a good time they both had. Cindi tells Sam about her classes and the drama tryouts. Throughout the conversation he agonizes over whether or not to tell her about his situation at school. He knows he should but just as he is about to do so she spares him the pain.
“We probably should try to keep this call short so we can talk more often.”
“Right. I’ll call you in a few days.”
“Okay. Talk to you then.”
Sam hopes he’ll be able to sleep in view of what is coming his way at school. Even though he believes what he said to Joe about right prevailing his concern is growing. It is too late to call Joe but Dickey has his own phone line. He needs to talk about tomorrow.
“Hey Dickey. Have you talked to Joe?”
“Yeah. Meet at the flagpole at seven-fifteen.”
“Are you worried?”
“I don’t know. We can’t get in trouble for starting the fight but I guess we could for being in it.”
“Surely we’re allowed to protect ourselves.”
“But you and I weren’t threatened or even nearby when it started,” Dickey said. “I just hope we aren’t penalized for coming to the aid of a friend. I think anybody would’ve done the same thing.”
“That’s what I think. Have you said anything to your parents?”
“No. How ‘bout you?”
“No way! I’m hoping when I do everything’ll have been straightened out. Anytime there’s even the slightest possibility of my doing something wrong my mom immediately assumes I’m guilty. So I’m not telling them until I have to. I don’t want to listen to her lecture me.”
“I guess we can only hope for the best. Well I gotta go. I’ll see you in the morning.”
After hanging up the phone Sam tries to come up with sensible scenarios under which they might be able to come out unscathed. Surely Holland believes that anti-Semitic and racist remarks can’t be allowed. Joe had a reason to fight back and we were justified in coming to help him.
He decides to suggest this to Joe and Dickey in the morning. We probably ought to keep that as our focus when we meet with Holland. It’s a reasonable argument. I just hope Holland’s a reasonable man.
Leni Allen sees her son Ron off to school. She closes the front door behind him and walks into her kitchen for a second cup of coffee before leaving for work. Sitting at the breakfast table her thoughts painfully travel to memories of her parents and two brothers who were killed during the Holocaust. Every time Ron or his brother Jerry leave the house she remembers that terrible day.
Leni’s attention is drawn to flickering sunlight reflected from a small framed drawing on a nearby wall. Ron had sketched it years ago when only a small child. The distration replaced her sadness with happier moments and memories of his childhood.
“Look what Ronnie drew today,” she had said to her husband Jack when he came home from work. He studied the drawing of the pony she’d handed him. Jack looked down at his six-year-old son who stood smiling proudly as he awaited his father’s response.
Jack leaned down and picked him up so they could look at his art together. “Ronnie this is beautiful . . . just beautiful.” Kissing his cheek Jack hugged him close. “My son the artist!”
This was the first of what would become common occurrences in Ron’s life. His early talent to draw progressed to painting which would prove to be his calling. Ron’s ability to transpose images to canvas amazed his family, teachers, and friends. It was a gift for which he received constant praise.
“Dad you have to hear his music,” Jerry told Jack one Saturday night when Ron was at a friend’s Bar Mitzvah party. “He plays the banjo and guitar almost as well as he paints.”
“I knew he was trying to teach himself to play but I didn’t realize he had actually done it.”
“It’s amazing. He plays by ear. How come he got all the good genes?”
Ron’s dream of one day going to a top art school meant he had to excel. When he was about to enter the tenth grade his parents made a proposal to him.
“Most boys in high school,” Jack said, “get parttime jobs for extra money just like Jerry did. Your mother and I are willing to provide you with enough of an allowance so that you won’t have to work but there’s a condition that comes with it.”
“What’s the condition?”
“Instead of your periodic classes at the art studio we’ll arrange for an instructor to come to the house and work with you on a regular basis.”
“That’s it? That’s the condition?”
“You have to commit to spending the necessary time painting on your own so your skills will improve. Then you’ll stand the best chance of getting into a first-class art school for college.”
“We don’t want you to spend all your free time every week painting,” Leni said, “but no less than what you’d spend at a part time job after school and on weekends.”
“I will. I promise!”
“And this all has to be done without neglecting any of your schoolwork.”
“Deal!” Ron hugged his parents. “Thank you! Thank you so much.”
He blossomed as an artist. The numerous award-winning paintings he would produce throughout the balance of his high school years were testaments to his unique talent.
Six-thirty Monday morning Mr. Holland is in his office preparing for the day which includes his seven-thirty meeting. Ron meets his friends at the flagpole at seven-fifteen. Sam briefly discusses his recommended strategy and they agree to try to move Holland in that direction.
Dickey looks at his watch. “It’s that time guys.”
Joe nods. “Let’s go do this.”
Ron walks with his friends to the school door. “Good luck guys.”
The hall monitor opens the heavy door. Joe, Dickey, and Sam walk inside and turn to walk up the hall. All three flinch at the loud sound of the door slamming shut behind them. They make their way to the administration office. Trey and Patrick aren’t there yet.
“Have a seat,” Mrs. Wentworth said. “Mr. Holland will see you when everyone is here.”
At seven-forty Trey and Patrick arrive and a few minutes later Mr. Holland comes out of his office. He leads the five boys to a room off the library where they all sit at a large wooden table.
Mr. Holland sits at the head of the table. Trey and Patrick are to his left; Joe, Dickey, and Sam to his right. He looks through the file he’d brought with him and glances at Trey and Patrick. He then focuses his stare to his right moving from Joe to Dickey to Sam and back again.
“I’ve completed an investigation into last week’s ruckus and I’ve talked to a lot of students who saw what happened.”
He again looks at Joe, Dickey, and Sam.
“Your version of the events don’t seem to match up with what most students said happened. Most of the ones I talked to said the racist and anti-Semitic comments were comin’ from people between the flagpole and the street. With Joe’s back to the street this’d suggest he thought it was Trey and Patrick and just took matters into his own hands. By your own admission,” he said to Joe, “you were the one who busted Trey’s nose.”
“Mr. Holland it was Trey and Patrick who said those things. At one point Trey looked straight at me and said it. I did hit Trey but only after he and Patrick had pounded on me and split the side of my head open.”
“Well Trey and Patrick tell it differently and most of the students agree with their version.”
“I’m telling the truth sir! You didn’t find any people who saw it like I said it happened?”
“Did you not hear me? MOST of the students saw it like Trey and Patrick said. There were two who told me some of what you said but neither of ‘em saw anything ‘til your friends moved in to help you whup-up on these two boys. When I pressed ‘em they weren’t absolutely certain Joe was bein’ held.”
“Mr. Holland wouldn’t you want to help a friend that was getting beat up?” Sam said.
“That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Like I told you most people saw it as y’all just jumpin’ on Trey and Patrick.”
Sam looked into Mr. Holland’s eyes. “May I please go over the events with you?”
“I know what you’re gonna say. Y’all covered ‘em when we met last week. There’s no point in wastin’ time with that again.”
“But sir if you’ll just listen to reason—”
“Listen to reason?” Holland angrily interrupted. “Is the only source of reason what you say? I talked to eyewitnesses and their versions trump yours.”
Dickey was dumbfounded. “Why do you believe the ones who agreed with their story and dismiss the ones who agreed with ours?”
“How many times do I have to say it? There were a lot more who told it like Trey and Patrick said and no one saw Patrick holdin’ Joe while Trey supposedly hit him.”
“But that’s what happened,” Joe said curtly.
“Boy don’t use that tone with me! Even your two partners didn’t see who threw the first punch and the kids I talked to didn’t even know there was a fight ‘til they saw Patrick tryin’ to pull you off of Trey.”
“Mr. Holland we went to help because Patrick was holding Joe and Trey was slugging him!” Dickey said firmly.
“Shut up!” The room went silent. Holland took a deep breath trying to control his temper.
“I can’t prove it but the two students who saw it your way sounded like they’d been coached. I was told by more than one person that Joe was itchin’ for a fight. They said you walked over to Trey and punched him in the nose. After he fell you pulled him up to punch him again while Patrick was tryin’ to pull you off.” Holland motions toward Trey and Patrick, “That’s the same version these two boys told.”
Joe’s eyes opened wide and he shook his head in disbelief.
“And then your two friends pulled Patrick off you so you could keep hittin’ Trey!”
“Mr. Holland,” Sam said, “if you talk to more people you’ll find plenty who saw it as we’ve said.”
“I’ve conducted my investigation and I’m satisfied that it was adequate to reach a decision.”
Dickey glances at Patrick and Trey who are looking down at the table smirking. “Mr. Holland you have it all wrong.”
“All wrong?” Holland said angrily. “You three are right and all the others who saw it are wrong?”
Dickey hesitates and Sam said, “Yes if that’s what they told you.”
“Don’t sass me boy!”
“I’m not sir I’m just trying to offer the truth about what happened.”
“The truth? The truth as you’d have me believe it to be. Let me tell you the truth. The truth is that this school will not tolerate bullies and ruffians.”
He turns to Trey and Patrick. “You boys are excused and I’m closin’ the file on your involvement. Now I don’t want to find out that you’ve been in any other kind of mischief. Unda’stand?”
“Yes sir,” they said.
“You can go.”
They leave the table making no effort to hide their grinning scowls from Joe, Sam, and Dickey.
After the door closes Mr. Holland looks at the three boys.
“I’ve given a lot of thought to this matter. After a great deal of investigation and assessin’ the facts I find you three guilty of bein’ in violation of the Code of Behavior that we and the school district demand at this school.” He pauses and clears his throat.
“Joe and Sam by both personal admission and the testimony of others not only engaged in unacceptable behavior but inflicted pain and sufferin’ on other students. You’re both suspended for three days beginnin’ now and won’t be allowed to make up any tests you might miss.”
Holland holds up his hand as Joe and Sam begin to speak and continues, “Dickey you were definitely involved but there’s been no evidence of you throwin’ any punches. You’ll spend fifteen hours a week for the next two weeks helpin’ the janitors. Two hours everyday after school and five hours on Saturday mornings startin’ at nine o’clock.” He closes his file. “Have I made myself clear?”
“Sir,” Joe said, “I’m applying to colleges this year and with a suspension on my record I might not be accepted.”
“Yeah you might not.”
“Won’t you reconsider?”
“No. The facts are the facts. You made your bed now lie in it.”
The boys are shocked by what they’ve heard but know they’re fighting a losing battle. Holland picks up his file from the table and stands to leave.
“Just one thing Mr. Holland,” Dickey said. “You’re judging Joe as being wrong for defending himself against a racist anti-Semitic attack. Then you fault Sam and me for coming to the aid of a friend in danger. Sam did no more than I did that day. If you’re going to hand out this ridiculous punishment to them you should give the same to me.”
Dickey’s decision to receive the same punishment came easily to him. His entire life his mother had told him to stand up to injustice and always do the right thing. There was nothing right in allowing a friend to be punished more severely for doing the same as he had done.
“Ridiculous? Son you’re within a gnat’s ass of gettin’ what you’re askin’ for. Are you sure you want to do this? You heard what your friend said about a suspension on your record keepin’ you out of a lot of colleges didn’t you?”
“Yes sir I did. This isn’t about me and unlike your decision this is about what’s right.”
“As you wish.” Holland sits down and reopens the file. He reads as he writes on the left side of the folder. “All three receive three-day suspensions.”
He leads the boys back to the administration office where he tells Mrs. Wentworth to give Joe and Sam the letters she had prepared and to type one for Dickey too.
“These are letters to your folks explainin’ what you did and your punishment. I’ll be callin’ ‘em this mornin’. After Mrs. Wentworth’s through typin’ that letter y’all got fifteen minutes to leave campus.”
Mr. Holland walks to the door of his office but stops before going inside. Turning back he looks disgustedly at Dickey. “It’s like my daddy used to say. ‘Ya’ ain’t no better than the company ya’ keep.’”
After he closes his office door the boys go to the bathroom while Dickey’s letter is being typed.
“Can you believe this?” Sam said. “And Dickey have you lost your mind? Why did you ask for the suspension?”
“Yeah Dickey,” Joe said. “You didn’t need to do that.”
“I did need to. That cocksucker!”
They walk back to the office and Dickey picks up his letter. “Guys I gotta go by my chemistry class and find out what Thursday’s test is on. I’ll talk to you later.”
As he walks away Sam asks Joe, “Why do you think Dickey asked for the same punishment?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to make a point.”
“What kind of point?”
“That he was going to stand by his friends even if it meant hurting himself. He’s a real stand-up guy who always comes down on the side of what’s right.” Joe smiles. “He’s also a hard-headed son-of-a-bitch and even if it goes hard on him he won’t give in.”
Joe and Sam walk in silence to their lockers and get their books. They walk together down the stairs and through the exit before saying goodbye and heading in different directions home.
They hadn’t taken three steps when Joe turns around. “Hey Sam. Let me ask you something.”
Sam looks back.
“Why do you think Holland wanted to go easier on Dickey than on us?”
“He said it was because no one saw him throw a punch.”
Joe shook his head. “That’s what he said but I think it’s because Dickey’s not Jewish. I bet Dickey thought so too.”
Ron is shocked when he hears the news of the three-day suspensions. After school dismissal he drives home but can’t call his friends until he’s taken care of a very time-sensitive matter.
Today is the last day to complete and mail the paperwork for his application and the portfolio of his artwork to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Due to the enormous number of applicants each year the submission date is earlier than other schools.
Ron’s family can’t afford to send him to the Art Institute so he is also applying for a scholarship. He knows everything he sends must be perfect. The previous night he’d slowly transposed everything from the rough draft of the application onto the original. He checked and rechecked making certain of every detail. His stress level is at the max.
Ron walks into his house and sits down at his desk for one last look at his portfolio choices and those suggested by his parents. With decisive certainty he makes his selections. Once doing so he places them and the application into the package addressed to the school’s Admissions Office and seals it with packing tape. The application for student aid is placed neatly into its specially marked envelope. His father had brought home the postage scale from his clothing store and Ron attached the correct amount of postage to each item. They must be postmarked today.
Ron drives downtown to the main post office. He doesn’t want to take a chance something might happen between the pickup at a mailbox and its arrival downtown for transporting to Chicago. He won’t even chance the post office’s drive-up mail drop. He parks and takes the items inside to mail.
He feels relieved knowing he’s finished with his side of the process. Relief immediately changes to anxiety when he remembers it will be next semester before he gets a response.
The moment Sam walks into his house he knows Mr. Holland has already called. His mother is furious. Before he’s closes the door she begins screaming, slapping his face, crying, and spewing guilt.
“THIS IS THE KIND OF SON I HAVE? THIS IS HOW YOU BEHAVE? WHAT ARE YOU A CRIMINAL?”
He tries to tell her what happened but she won’t listen. She goes to the phone and calls Sam’s father Nate. Dorothy’s husband doesn’t like being brought into problems at home when he is at work but she doesn’t care.
“Finger Furniture Company,” the store operator answers.
“Mr. Cohen please.”
“Yes ma’am. I’ll connect you now.”
“Nate! Sammy’s been kicked out of school for fighting!”
“What did you say?”
“He was kicked out of school for fighting! He and his friends beat up two boys.”
“I don’t understand. When was this? What happened?”
“The Assistant Principal called and told me Sammy, Joe, and Dickey beat up two boys and they’re all suspended for three days.”
“Is that all he said? Why did they do it?”
“THAT’S WHAT THE MAN SAID! Why did they do it? Because they’re all good-for-nothings!”
“I can’t talk about this now. We’ll deal with it when I get home.”
Her anger begins to soar. “Nate your son has been THROWN OUT OF SCHOOL!”
He struggles to control himself. “I’m at work Dorothy. I can’t talk about this now.”
Without saying anything more she hangs up. “Sammy go to your room and don’t come out!”
“Mother try to understand—”
“Shut your mouth! Get to your room right now and don’t you dare use the phone!”
Once back home Ron begins making calls.
“Hi Mrs. Cohen it’s Ron. Can I speak to Sam please?”
“I’m sorry Ron but Sam isn’t allowed to use the phone. I’ll tell him you called and if he’s ever allowed to go out of the house again you might someday see him. Excuse me but I’ve got to go now. Goodbye.”
Well it looks like Sam’s day went from bad to worse.
He then calls Joe who answers in a voice only slightly above a whisper.
“Joe I heard what happened. What a crock of shit.”
“It’s a mess.” Joe quickly tells Ron about the meeting, what Dickey had done, and why he thought he had.
“Listen I’ve gotta get off the phone. My people are on the warpath. I’ll call you later.”
Ron calls Dickey’s number but no answer. He calls the house phone.
“Hi Mrs. Cannon it’s Ron,” he says cautiously. “Is Dickey around?”
“Hi Ron. Just a second he’s in the playroom.” There isn’t a hint of agitation in her voice. “Dickey! Ron’s on the phone.”
“Hey,” Dickey said when picking up the extension phone.
“How ya’ doin’?”
“Bummed out. That Holland’s such an asshole.”
They talked about everything that happened and Ron asks why he insisted on the suspension.
“I had to. It wouldn’t be right for me to get off easy. It was all such bullshit.”
Though he wasn’t saying it Ron knew there was more to Dickey’s action than just making things right. He agreed with Joe. Dickey likely felt Holland’s decision on the punishment was motivated by anti-Semitism.
“It sounds like it’s pretty calm over there.”
“They weren’t happy about it but they understand why I did what I did. You know what my mom said when I told her the whole story? She said she’d have been disappointed in me if I hadn’t jumped in to help Joe.”
“She’s so cool. That’s not exactly the reaction of the Sam and Joe’s parents.”
“I know. They’re gettin’ hell.”
“Sam can’t even come to the phone. The word around school is that Trey and Patrick started it. So how come Holland laid it all on you guys?”
“Those fuckers lied and told Holland somebody else yelled the shit that set Joe off. They claimed Joe just walked over and punched Trey in the nose and then grabbed him by the throat. All innocent little Patrick said he did was try to pull Joe off Trey. Then we came in to help Joe and held Trey so Joe could continue to wail on him.”
“Why did he buy it?”
“Holland claims that most of the kids he talked to agreed with Trey and Patrick. Supposedly there were two others who saw it like it really happened but didn’t tune in ‘til they saw Sam and me running through the crowd to get to Joe. He said they told him they couldn’t say if Joe was being held or not so he put it on us. It’s a pile of shit.”
“Dickey that’s not what I’ve heard at all. Who the hell did he talk to? Six or seven people told me they saw it from the beginning. They not only heard Trey and Patrick yelling but watched as Trey told Joe he was a ‘piece of kike shit!’ They also saw Patrick grab him from behind and Trey swinging at him and kneeing him in the balls.”
“Yeah and I’ll bet there are more,” Ron said. “Who wouldn’t turn around to see who was yelling crap like that?”
“That dickhead! Holland just took the first answers he got.”
“Or asked until he found the answers he wanted.”
“You think he was trying to put this on us?”
“I don’t know but from everything you told me about the fight and what I heard from so many people at school how could he decide you guys were the only ones at fault? Joe said he thought Holland was acting weird when you met with him after the fight. Something’s not right.”
“We’ve got to do something about this,” Dickey said. “Do you remember the people you heard this from?”
“There was Harry Bassett . . . Susan Sheldon . . . uh, uh, oh who else was there? I’ll remember.”
“Why don’t you make a list of everyone you can think of and I’ll call Joe and Sam and beg their parents to let me speak to them.”
“It’s worth a try. Otherwise you’ll have to wait ‘til you come back to school on Thursday.”
“If they won’t let me talk to them I’ll go to their houses and tell them what you told me. Hey would you come with me?”
“I wonder if we have any legal rights with this. Isn’t there some kind of wrongful conviction crap we could claim?”
“I can find out. My cousin Andy’s a lawyer. You know it seems like I remember he went to work for some firm that does those kinds of cases or something close to it. I’ll ask him what he thinks.”
“Ron that would be great. We need to save our asses and get that shit off our transcripts.”
“I’ll call him right now and let you know what I find out”
Ron calls Andy’s mother for his office phone number.
“Darling I’m playing Mah-jongg. Can I call you back later?”
“Aunt Rose, I’d really like to call him before he leaves the office.”
“Just a minute.”
Thank God she’s got company and won’t keep me on the phone going on and on about nothing.
She returns to the phone with Andy’s number. Ron calls him right away.
“Houston office of the ACLU,” said the voice answering the phone.
“Andy Allen please.”
“Mr. Allen’s office.”
“Andy Allen please.”
“May I tell him who’s calling?”
“One moment and I’ll see if he’s available.”
After a brief hold Andy answers. “Hi Ron! How ya’ doin’?”
“Too bad about Uncle Saul huh?
“Yeah he was a character wasn’t he?
“So what’s up?”
“Some friends of mine are in trouble at school. I told them I’d call you to see if legally there’s anything they can do?”
“Tell me about it.”
Ron tells him all the events, Holland’s decision, and the suspensions. He relates who the parties are and what the people who saw it had told him confirming his friends’ version.
“Ron we have very limited resources here and get so many cases to review that we really have to pick our battles. This is not the kind of thing we’d pursue.
“Now putting that aside, if the facts used to render punishment were gathered unfairly or with bias they may have an argument which would support reopening the investigation. This assumes that the school district will concur.”
“Should we start with the principal?”
“Let me check and see what I can find out. Maybe I can give you an inexpensive way for them to protest the decision.”
Andy pauses for a moment. “I don’t know why but that name Ivy Holland sounds familiar . . . Well anyway continue to ask around and find as many people as you can who saw it as your friends said. You can’t have too many eyewitnesses.”
“Thanks Andy. I really appreciate it.”
Ron leans back in his chair unsure if he’s sad or glad he’d been out of town last Monday. He is sorry he wasn’t there to help his friends but at the same time he’s glad a suspension won’t be on the transcript sent to the Art Institute.
After calling Dickey to tell him what Andy had said, Ron takes a scratch pad from his desk drawer. He writes down the names of the people who told him what they had seen of the fight. It is a list of eight names. The next day at school he finds three more people who had seen the fight from the beginning and just like Joe had said. The eyewitness list is now at eleven.
When Nate Cohen gets home he knows it’s going to be a miserable night. He walks in the door and Dorothy greets him yelling.
“It’s eight-thirty and finally you get home! Your son’s been thrown out of school and you couldn’t leave early?” This leads to a loud exchange between them which sets a familiar tone for what will follow.
“SAMMY GET DOWN HERE YOUR FATHER WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!”
Sam shakes his head and sighs. He walks downstairs and sits on the far end of the sofa away from his mother. Nate fixes a cocktail and sits in the cushioned chair facing them.
“Tell me what happened.”
After Dorothy tells him what Mr. Holland told her Nate turns his attention to Sam. He tells his father everything he had tried to tell his mother. Nate is unhappy with him but is also interested in the anti-Semitic comments that had been made. Sam goes into great detail on the subject being careful not to leave out anything. This is not only to respond to what he’d been asked but also because he recognizes it has slightly shifted his father’s focus away from him.
They spend an hour talking–mostly yelling–about the entire event. Sam is insistent what his mother had been told was different from what actually happened. Ultimately Nate and Dorothy decide to table the conversation until she calls Mr. Holland the next morning to discuss it further.
They eat dinner in silence. Sam is forbidden from watching television or using the phone indefinitely. Other than going to school, coming downstairs to eat his meals, and using the bathroom he is confined to his bedroom.
After school the next day Ron walks into his house to the sound of the telephone ringing.
“Hey Ron, Dickey. We’re going to have a meeting at my house with Joe, Sam, and their parents at seven o’clock. Can you come?”
“Sure. Do my parents need to come?”
“No you’re not in any trouble. I thought if you told everybody what you found out at school they might feel more like helping us do something to get this straightened out . . . and lighten up on Joe and Sam.”
“I’ll be there and I’ve got the names of eleven people who saw it all just like you guys said.”
“Super. See you at seven.”
“Dickey! Before you hang up what did Joe and Sam have to say?”
“I never spoke to them. My mom called their moms and arranged everything. I’ll see you tonight.”
Ron hasn’t told his parents what had occurred at school while they were out of town. He is afraid the violent anti-Semitic nature of how it began will upset his mother. He tells them at dinner and that he’s going to Dickey’s at seven o’clock.
Leni’s reaction is as Ron had feared. Her eyes open wide and she slumps forward with her arms wrapped around herself softly moaning. She does not want him to go to Dickey’s house or get involved in any way. Jack moves his chair next to hers and comforts her.
“Darling the war is over and we’re in America. I know this brings up bad memories and frightens you but it’ll be all right. I think Ronnie should help the boys. We can’t be silent about this. We must do our part and stand up to it.”
Joe’s father Herman comes home from work after Mr. Holland’s call. His wife Jennie tells him what Holland had said while at the same time Joe is trying to interject what had really happened. His father is furious and won’t listen. He yells at Joe and slaps him with the back of his hand. Had Jennie not been there to stop him he’d have done so again.
“Joseph,” Jennie says, “go to your room while your father and I talk.”
Joe does so terrified of what else his father might do.
“I’m going to whip him till his tuckos bleeds!”
“No you’re not!” Jennie calms him down and reiterates the points Joe had tried to tell him. “Let’s decide tomorrow what to do. You’re too angry to discuss this now.”
The next afternoon Herman comes home and Jennie tells him they’re going to the Cannon’s at seven o’clock. He refuses to go.
“I don’t need other people to look down at me because of my stupid son’s behavior and I certainly don’t need them to tell me how to handle him!”
“Hermie their sons are in the same trouble as Joseph. They aren’t going to tell us what to do. The boys did what was natural and the punishment is too severe. If the school wants to punish them for fighting that’s okay. But not by keeping them out of good colleges so it affects them for the rest of their lives.
“We’re going to talk about how to handle this so we’re united in helping the boys. Mrs. Cannon thinks we can accomplish more if we do it together than by ourselves and I think she’s right.”
“What’s there to handle? The school said they’re guilty, they were suspended, it’s over!”
“I just told you they shouldn’t have been suspended. She says there’s new information that maybe the school didn’t do such a good job of looking into everything. Maybe the boys’ story is how it happened.”
“I need to think about it.”
“There is nothing to think about! We’re eating now and leaving in forty-five minutes.”
“I may not be through thinking about it in forty-five minutes!”
Jennie put a sweet smile on her face and batted her eyelashes. “Hermie it’s enough time for a smart man like you.”
“I hope you’re prepared to go alone,” he said as he goes into the bedroom to hang up his coat. “Too bad you have a problem with night vision.”
“The boys are going to be there too. Joseph can drive me.”
Joe is listening from his bedroom and hopes his father will go to the meeting. Maybe if he sees how much calmer the Cannons are he might cool off.
Dressed to go to Dickey’s, Joe walks quietly to the dinner table taking his chair to the right of his father. His mother has made borscht and boiled beef for dinner which she normally prepared only on Sundays. It is one of his father’s favorites. When Jennie makes it on a night other than Sunday it was usually to get Herman in an agreeable mood. She knows what to do when she wants something.
Joe is a first generation American. Herman and Jennie are Syrian-Jewish immigrants who settled in Brooklyn where Joe was born. Unable to tolerate the harsh winters the family seeks a warmer climate and makes their way to the bustling city of Houston.
Herman immediately finds a job in construction and works long hours to provide for his family. During their second year in Houston, Herman and Jennie begin looking at houses.
“You know,” Herman said one evening at dinner, “the houses we’re seeing are all pretty much the same except the ones with the schmaltz are more money.”
“Then how are they pretty much the same?”
“I’m talking the bones of the houses are a lot alike. Pull away all the fancy counters, cabinets, carpets, dishwashers, and stuff and you can’t tell them apart.”
“But nobody wants them without all the schmaltz. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that we should buy one of the houses that’s plain and dull and cheap. I’ll add the schmaltz and we’ll end up with the same house as the expensive ones but for less money.”
“All right . . . but don’t forget the schmaltz!”
They buy a solid inexpensive house and Herman adds all the schmaltz Jennie wants. When he’s through the house is worth almost ten-thousand-dollars more than they spent to buy and fix it up.
They had looked at a lot of houses and there were several more Herman thought they could make money on but in a different way.
“I talked to the bank today,” Hermie said one night. “I’m going to buy another house that needs a lot of work. We’ll get it cheap and this one I’ll make into a duplex and rent out both sides. The rent will pay for all our monthly costs plus another three or four-hundred-dollars a month!”
“It pays that after you buy the house and add the schmaltz?”
“This one will just have a little schmaltz.”
Herman’s plan works and he begin looking for more old houses to buy.
A few years later Jennie gives birth to Joe’s younger brother Jacob. Before Jacob’s first birthday Herman, now earning a handsome income from his many rental properties, quits his construction job to focus on real estate. He continues investing and is living the American dream.
In spite of the wealth Herman is accumulating, the Shaab’s continue living modestly in the small home they’d bought and fixed up for the family.
“Daddy,” ten-year-old Joe said, “Can I have an allowance? Mikey gets one.”
“What kind of allowance does Mikey get?”
“Twenty-five cents a week.”
“And what does Mikey do for his twenty-five cents?”
“Nothing. It’s an allowance. Your parents give it to you every week.”
“Joseph what would you do with twenty-five cents a week?”
“I don’t know . . . buy candy and gum.”
“Candy and gum. I see. Joseph I buy you with everything you need. If there’s more you want like candy and gum you should look around the neighborhood to see if you can find a job.”
“But Daddy,” Joe said in a loud whine, “I don’t want a job. I want an allowance.”
“Joseph! That’s enough!”
Joe’s pouting lips quiver as he holds back his tears and runs out of the room. In the distance Herman can hear him crying. A few minutes later Jennie comes into the room.
“Hermie why won’t you give the boy an allowance?”
“Because he’s got to learn that things are not just handed to you in life.”
“It’s only a quarter.”
“It doesn’t matter. It begins with a quarter and becomes more. He can find a job.”
“Hermie! He’s ten years old!”
“I had a job when I was ten.”
“That was in the old country! This is America. It’s different here.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s better! I pay for a roof over his head, clothes on his back, food in his stomach, his school supplies, and his doctor bills. If he wants more he needs to earn it.”
“Herman you’re being too hard on him. He’s only a boy.”
“I’m not discussing it further. That is my final word on the subject!”
Joe knocked on the door of their next door neighbor Mrs. Arnold.
“Hi Mrs. Arnold.”
“Mrs. Arnold I’m looking for a job. Do you have a job for me?”
“Well,” she said smiling, impressed with his industriousness, “I could use some help with my trash cans on trash days. I tell you what. If you carry the cans out to the curb every Monday and Thursday evening, and bring them back behind the house when you get home from school on Tuesdays and Fridays I’ll pay you fifty-cents a week.”
“Yes Ma’am! I will. Thank you!”
Word spread and soon he was doing the same thing for two other neighbors and earning a total of a dollar-fifty a week.
At eleven Joe became interested in electronics after finding an old television a neighbor had set out for the trash truck. He put it on his wagon and pulled it into the Shaab’s garage determined to make it work again. With a TV repair guide from the library and two months’ worth of money from odd jobs for parts he tinkered with it until it worked almost as clearly as the television in his home.
Joe began throwing a paper route at thirteen and at fourteen he ran his first “TV and Radio Repair” ad in a small weekly newspaper: The Jewish Herald Voice. When he turned sixteen his father told him he had to pay fifteen-dollars a month for room and board.
Most everything Joe did or had came from the money he earned.
The next day Dorothy receives a call from Olivia Cannon about a meeting at her house. Nate is working late so Dorothy and Sam will go without him.
She begins preparing dinner and is yet to hear back from an earlier call to Mr. Holland. When the meal is ready Dorothy walks to the bottom of the stairs.
“Come down and eat dinner you shtig drek.”
Sam races down the stairs. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Don’t think you’re going to charm your way out of this one. You may never go out of this house again.”
“I’m just trying to be helpful. How was your day today?”
“All of a sudden you’re interested in my day?”
“You’re my mother why wouldn’t I be interested?”
“Bullshit. You’re looking for an angle and it’s not going to work.”
Dickey is seventeen and has been close to six feet tall for over a year. His
slender muscular build coupled with his pleasing features project an image giving no hint of the pain lingering within him since childhood. He was ten years old when his father was killed in an automobile accident. A few months after the funeral he and his mother Olivia relocate from Jacksonville, Florida to her hometown of Houston.
A year later she goes on a blind date with Leon Cannon who along with his
brother owns a successful jewelry store in Houston’s downtown business district. They continue dating and marry ten months later.
Olivia is a beautiful woman with long blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and a youthful figure. Though the daughter of a Baptist minister she drinks vodka and tonic whenever the occasion presents itself and sometimes when it doesn’t. She has a great sense of humor and is different from any of Dickey’s friends’ mothers both in appearance as well as actions.
Olivia has just finished putting out cheese and fruit for her guests when the doorbell rings. Leon goes to the door.
“Hi Mr. Cannon,” Joe said, “these are my parents Herman and Jennie Shaab.”
“Hello my name is Leon Cannon. How are you?” he said extending his hand to Herman and smiling at Jennie. “Please come in.”
Herman shakes his hand and is impressed with the firm handshake. “It’s nice meeting you.”
“It’s a pleasure Mr. Cannon,” Joe’s mother said. “Dickey is such a fine boy.”
“The pleasure’s entirely mine and thank you. We feel the same way about Joe. Please call me Leon.” He turns to Joe. “How are you doing?”
“I’ve been better.”
He puts his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “We’re going to see what we can do about that.”
Dickey comes out to greet Joe and his parents. “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Shaab. Joe.” He turns to Joe’s parents. My mom’s in the other room putting out some snacks. Let’s go in there. She’s looking forward to meeting you.”
They go into the dining room and Olivia walks over to greet them. After introductions are made she turns her attention to Joe and gives him a gentle hug.
“Hello Joe. It’s been quite a couple of days hasn’t it?”
The doorbell rings again and Olivia turns to her husband. “Leon why don’t get Herman and Jennie something to drink and I’ll get the door.”
She opens it and sees Sam and his mother. “Hi Sam.” She then turns to Dorothy and offers her hand. “Hello I’m Olivia Cannon.”
Dorothy immediately notices Olivia’s expensive jewelry. “Hello I’m Dorothy Cohen. My husband is working late so it’s just Sammy and me.” She quickly glances around the Cannon’s beautiful home and knows she’ll like Olivia. She had what Dorothy thinks are the two essentials of life: beauty and money.
Olivia puts her arm around Sam’s waist and looks up at him. “This has been a mess hasn’t it?”
“Yes ma’am.” Sam is keenly aware of Olivia’s closeness and her perfume. He’s had a crush on her ever since their first meeting.
As she’s about to close the door a voice calls out. “Hey everyone!” They turn to see Ron hurrying up the driveway. “Hi Mrs. Cannon, Mrs. Cohen. Hey Sam.”
Olivia takes Ron’s arm as they all walk through the house toward the dining room. “Ron I’m glad you came.”
“Thank you. I hope I can help.”
They join the others and after having something to eat and drink everyone sits in the adjoining living room to have their meeting.
“Olivia and I want to welcome each of you,” Leon said, “and we’re glad to finally meet everyone. We’re just sorry it’s under these circumstances. Olivia arranged this meeting but neither of us is trying to be the leader of whatever we all decide to do. We know that you’re just as upset as we are about what happened. If the boys’ version is accurate it seems they weren’t treated fairly. In fact they were treated very unfairly.”
“If I may sir,” Herman said, “I’d like to ask Dickey and Sam to tell us how they remember it.”
Dickey recounts what had happened from the point he saw the other boys holding and beating Joe through the meeting with Mr. Holland. Sam concurs. Though neither of them was there when the fight began Dickey’s story matches what Joe and Sam had told their parents.
“You didn’t hear the anti-Semitic remarks?” Sam’s mother asked.
“No ma’am. At that time I was too far away.”
“But,” Ron said holding up the list of witnesses, “I’ve talked to eleven people who saw the fight and some of them heard those racist anti-Semitic remarks.” He passes the paper around for everyone to read. “My cousin’s an attorney and he said their rights may have been violated. He’s checking into whether something can be done with the principal or the school board.”
“When do you expect to hear from him?” Herman asked.
“I hope in the next day or two.”
“If this is the way it happened we need to do something,” Joe’s mother said. “It will go on their high school records and hurt them when applying to colleges.”
“I agree with Jennie,” Olivia said. “We should find out what the lawyer has to say and what we can do.”
“We do need a legal opinion,” Leon said, “and Ron’s cousin is a good place to start. If that’s the direction we want to go we need to think about which law firm is best to represent the boys and how much we want to commit for their fee?”
“What law firm does your cousin work for?” Herman asked, “and did he mention the cost?”
Ron pauses. “I’m not really sure of the name.” He pauses again trying to remember the way Andy’s office answered the telephone. “It’s not a person’s name. It’s four letters . . . I can’t remember them. Andy didn’t say anything about cost. He also didn’t necessarily say they could handle it but he’s going to let me know about other choices. The name is something like AC something something.”
“ACLU?” Sam’s mother said.
“This is right up their alley,” Leon said, “and I think when the ACLU takes a case they don’t charge anything.”
All the parents are familiar with the American Civil Liberties Union and are in agreement the ACLU will probably know the best way to handle the boys’ problem. They spend another thirty minutes talking about the events and agree to talk by phone when Ron’s cousin replies. They also concur on acting together.
“Before we go,” Joe’s mother said, “I want to tell Dickey and Sam how much Herman and I appreciate you coming to help Joe that day.”
“And Dickey,” Herman said, “what an admirable and brave thing it was to insist on the same punishment.”
“Yes. Nate and I were very impressed with that too Dickey.”
Dickey’s face grows flushed. “Thank you.”
“I guess the next step will come after Ron hears from his cousin,” Leon said.
“Yes sir. As soon as I hear anything I’ll call right away.”