Saturday, September 05, 2009
Lawrence – My Hometown
By Richard E. Noble
So how long have I known John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr.? Well, I suppose there were a couple of years in the beginning of my life that I didn’t know Jack, but they were very few. The psychologists say that love is mutually compensating neuroses. Well in the love that constituted our life long friendship, I was certainly the neurotic and Jack did a lot of compensating. Jack was my sounding board. We talked and talked and talked. That is not exactly true. I talked and talked and talked and Jack listened and listened and listened.
My wife has been my sounding board for the last thirty years, but she has never been as good a sounding board as Jack. She talks back sometimes. Jack never talked back - most of the time he laughed. Occasionally he would say, F’em Nobes, if they can’t take a joke just F’em. He never questioned my motives. He knew where I was coming from and he knew that was a good place to be from. He had trust in my good spirit and my intensions – if not always in my judgments and decisions.
I made him laugh. I did so many right things for the wrong reasons and so many wrong things for the right reasons, that I was funny to him. I was often more funny in his eyes than when viewed from my own perspective. When I would relate my latest tragedy to him, I would even make me laugh.
I made his mother laugh too. I can remember sitting in the Sheehy’s little kitchen on Center St. As kids we used to stand out on the sidewalk and yell our buddy’s name up to the proper tenement floor. We would direct the volume of the yell by cupping our hands on each side of our mouth.
“Hey Jack-eee,” I’d scream. His mother would come out onto the porch and say, “Come on up, Richie.”
I liked Mrs. Sheehy. I would go bounding up the stairs trying to think of what stupid kind of a story I would make up for her this week. She loved to hear me talk about my mother. She was raised with my mother in Lawrence. They knew one another as kids. Mrs. Sheehy knew what a proper lady my mother was. So when she would ask what my mother was up to these days and I would tell her that mom had just got a job driving a forklift or running the crane at the city dump or driving a sixteen wheeler cross country, Mrs. Sheehy would crack up laughing.
“It is not the smell of the garbage from the dump that bothers the rest of us in the family so much, it’s those little stubby cigars she’s smoking now. You know those Italian rope things? Boy do they smell.”
I’d have Mrs. Sheehy rolling on the linoleum before I left. I’d still be hitting her with one liners as Jack would be pushing me along out the front door. “Come on Groucho, let’s move it.”
We went to grammar school together. We went to high school together. We went to college together. We hung on the Corner together – several Corners. We thumbed to the beach together. We went to the CCHS dances together. We rented cottages at the beach together. We sat in a hallway on Park St. on many a cold winter evening next to Erslow’s bakery eating Sicilian style pizza. We liked it because it was BIG and it sold for ten cents a slice. It was like good Italian sauce on a half a loaf of fresh Italian bread.
We would walk all the way over to the Immaculate Conception Church to get a homemade lemon slush. There was a guy on Park St. who had something similar but we liked the guy over by the church. Walking didn’t bother us. We walked everywhere. We had a game we played. We called it “flipping.” We would walk to an intersection then stop and flip a coin - heads we go left, tails we go right. We walked all over Lawrence and Methuen.
I have been a writer forever and when I started Jack got first crack at all my poems and short stories. His criticism was always the same, “You always write exactly what happened. You are hung up on the truth. You think you have to live everything before you can write about it. If you want to be a real writer you have to forget about the truth and learn to make things up.”
When Jack finally read my book A Summer with Charlie he said, “Nobes, I don’t know what is happening to your memory but you screwed everything up in this book. The only thing that is true and really happened is Chuckie was in the Navy and stayed with us one season at the beach and then he died. The rest is total fiction.”
I said, “Aren’t you proud of me. I finally wrote a story that I made up, just like you have been telling me to do all these years.” He laughed.
Me, Jack and Dutch grew into drinking companions. When we got old enough to get served and could drink “indoors” we would sit around at some club or bar after work each evening and talk all night. Well, me and Dutch would talk and Jack would listen. We did this for years. We were the three ‘old maids’. All the other guys had deserted the Corner and run off and gotten married.
One evening after about eleven or twelve years, Dutch and I realized that Jack never said anything. We said we have to get Jack into this talking business. Dutch and I decided that we would dedicate a special evening each week to conversation initiated by Jack.
The first week we tried it. Jack said, “Screw you two guys. You guys say the same thing every night and you think you’re having a new conversation. All you guys do is manipulate the letters a little and change the punctuation here and there and you think you said something new. It is the same old stuff every night – night after night after night.”
Dutch and I were rather shocked. We not only thought that we were having new and stimulating conversations every night, we thought that Jack was having a good time too. Now the first time we let Jack speak and he hits us with this.
“Well then,” I said. “How come when we call you every night – like we have been doing for the last forty years – you always come with us? We were both under the false impression that you were having a good time.”
“I am having a good time.”
“You are? Listening to us say the same thing over and over every damn night? How can that be fun?”
“I have fun if the people around me are having fun. As long as you two buttholes are happy, I’m happy.”
“All right! Did you hear that, Dutch? Jack is happy as long as we are happy. And if we are ever NOT happy, we will just carry Jack off to a nearby table with people sitting there who appear to be happy, set him down and then he will be happy.”
“Ok, you see now,” said Dutch. “You shared that with Rich and me and now we know how to make you happy. That’s great Jack. You did really well on your first time out of the garage with this conversation business. Now next Thursday we are going to let you talk again. You have a whole week to think of something ‘new’ to say. Now don’t give us this ‘I’m happy if your happy stuff’ next week. We want some NEW conversation. And don’t try just moving the letters around because, thanks to you, we are now onto that trick.”
“Oh F--- you guys,” Jack said, “Can we get another round of drinks over here. These two clowns are running out of conversation and they’re blaming me. They need something to jar their tongues loose and kill a few more brain cells.”
Over the years, I have had the good fortune to always be able to reach Jack via the telephone at the Pizza Pub and practice my latest routine on him or relate my latest tragedy.
One Friday evening when I needed a boost, I gave Jack a call. I had completely forgotten that it was Friday night – Jack’s busiest night at the Pub for call-in pizza orders. I had a few beers and was babbling away. We talked until 10 or 11 o’clock. Jack laughed and laughed and never said a word about his business. I found out later from one of the help that people were trying to call all night but every time he went over to Jack to remind him that he was in the business of selling pizzas, Jack would wave him off and say, “I’m talking to my buddy Nobes, don’t bother me.”
When Ray Dolan, one of the old gang, died they had a reception/party of sorts, I was told. Everything was free and paid for by the Dolan family. When it was over one of Ray Dolan’s kids came over to the table where Jack and the other Howard Associates were sitting. “We have a problem,” Dolan’s kid said. “We ran out of money before everybody got tired of drinking. We’re short seven or eight hundred dollars.” While the guys tried to figure out how much was in the treasury and where to find the treasurer, Jack got up from the table and went into the men’s room. When he returned, he handed Ray Dolan’s son the required number of hundred dollar bills. “That’s from the Howard Associates,” Jack told him. It seems Jack always kept a little cash money in his shoe to cover emergencies. When I was told that story, I was not the least bit surprised. It was just what I would have expected Jack to do – if he could.
He loved the town of Lawrence and its people. He wasn’t going to leave even if it meant making the Pizza Pub into a military style bunker with bars on the windows and bullet proof doors. Everyplace was Lawrence to Jack – simply buildings and people with a barroom here and there.
Jack grew up to be that little Irish Leprechaun that we chased around the corridors of St. Rita’s grammar school as kids every St. Paddy’s day. Catch that little elf and you got to share in his pot of gold. He had money for every cause and a little for anybody whenever he could – even if their cause was not all that heartbreaking or justified. He was my shamrock and good luck charm. He never stopped smiling or laughing. He was born under the astrological sign representing laughs, good times, and happy memories. He was the same for a lot of folks.
Jack died yesterday - Friday, August 14, 2009.
I know what is going to happen now. I’m going to get feeling low and my mind will say, Give your buddy Jack a call down at the Pizza Pub. By the time I get to the phone and start looking through my numbers, it will hit me that there is no more Jack and I can’t call him. I’m going to be sitting at the phone holding back the tears and trying to remember how his laugh sounded.
I hope you get a good table up there Mister Sheehy – Mister John Robert Michael McSheehy Sr. – and if the other people at your table are not all that funny, give me a call. I’ll think of something.