Lawrence – My hometown
By Richard E. Noble
Down in the “Catacombs” of St. Rita’s grammar school, between the little boy’s room and the little girl’s room there was an open area which was used for many different things. I think it served, primarily, as an eating area for the kids who rode the bus to school and who couldn’t go home for lunch. But my greatest recollection was its use as a dance floor. The good nuns were the chaperones and the janitor, Mr. Bill Fitzgibbons was the DJ.
Now why the good nuns were indoctrinating all us little angels into the perils of the “Dance Hall” mentality was, to say the least, suspicious. I just didn’t get it. Mr. Fitzgibbons needed a job and was getting paid, so what could the poor man do but go along with the ladies in black. [I would like to point out that the good nuns, the brothers and the priests were dressed in black, long before Johnny Cash came along cash-ing in on the idea.]
There were all these nuns standing up in front of me in their super protective, multi-layered, suits of black armor on a day-in and day-out basis – everything “female” in their natures being covered from head to toe in “black.” And, of course, I knew why. They were ashamed. And rightfully so. After all, how many times had we all been told the story of Adam and Eve?
It was a simple enough story to understand. There was Adam, happy as a lark up in the Garden of Eden. Everything was okeydokey until you-know-who came along and then everything went to hell. Clearly the whole mess was the fault of Eve who lured poor, innocent Adam into sin – and we all know how she did it, don’t we?
This lesson was very clear to me. Just take a look around the neighborhood. There was a barroom on every corner. And who filled these barrooms – not women … men, of course. They had all fallen for the tricks of their individual Eves and now look at them. They were miserable and piling into barrooms to drown their sorrows.
Look at my own house! My dad had fallen for my mother’s tricks, and now look at him! My god, could the story of Adam and Eve be any clearer?
In the light of such revelation why on earth would the good nuns be encouraging young innocent boys to get up close and personal to a bunch of little corrupting Eves? This was insanity … or was it?
Well, maybe not. Under all those heavy penitent black gowns there was really another naked woman, wasn’t there. Ah huh! Yes, it was all a part of the “plan” wasn’t it?
Well, they can fool some of the people most of the time and most of the people some of the time but they weren’t fooling Dickey boy any of the time. I was way ahead of them. While most of the other guys were out there sashaying around on the dance floor, getting sucked into the curse, I would be in the little boy’s room smoking cigarettes and trying to develop cancer.
Beside this biblical house of horrors, I remember this experience being rather a tragedy for many of the little girls also. I didn’t have to be all that sharp to notice that some of the little girls never got asked to dance. Old Bill and the good nuns tried everything. They even had a dance where the girls were allowed to go and ask one of the boys. During these dances, the little boy’s room was mobbed with more future cancer victims.
The biggest tragedy that I remember was the throw-a-shoe-out-onto-the-floor dance. I’ll never forget this one little girl. She had a bad case of acne. My brother had a similar problem so I knew how serious a problem it could be. Every boy did his best to avoid picking up the little acne girl’s shoe. A friend of mine picked her shoe up by accident. When he realized who the shoe belonged to, we both ran into the little boy’s room. Bill Fitzgibbons was sent into the bathroom to drag us out but before he came to get us we ditched the shoe.
Back out in the ballroom, us two clowns sat in our wooden folding chairs staring through the crowded dance floor at two little girls sitting in their wooden folding chairs across the hall. One of the little girls was holding one shoe in her lap. She had obviously retrieved her shoe from the center of the dance floor before it got lost in the shuffle.
She stared at me.
From the look on her face, I felt that I knew exactly what she wanted to do with that shoe.
The other little girl, the one with the acne problem, was sitting there trying to hide her shoeless foot behind the rungs of her chair. She was looking down at the floor too ashamed to look at anybody.
I looked at “one shoe” across the hall and then at my buddy Johnny. He wasn’t looking at anybody. He mostly sat staring up at the ceiling.
“Johnny,” I said. “There is a girl over there with only one shoe who keeps looking over here at you. Don’t you think that you should go get her shoe and give it back to her?”
“Screw you,” he said. “You were the one who made me run into the bathroom and hide it.”
“I did not. I went to have a cigarette and you followed me. I didn’t even know you had her shoe.”
“You did too.”
“I did not!”
After the shoe dance finally ended, the girl with only one shoe got up from her chair and one-shoed her way out of the dance hall. Johnny and I watched as she hobbled up and down, like Chester from Gun Smoke, to the little girl’s room.
“She should take off her other shoe,” I said. “Then maybe she wouldn’t look so bad. It really looks weird for her to be walking around with only one shoe like that. What do you think?”
“Screw you,” Johnny said.
“What? I ain’t saying anything. I just think she looks dumb hopping around with just one shoe. Don’t you? I wonder what her mother is going to think when she comes home with one clean sock and one dirty sock?”
I looked at Johnny.
He glared at me. I decided to shut up.
Another dance or two went by before the girl with one shoe returned to the ballroom. We both watched her as she limped along all the way from the doorway to her seat at the far end of the hall. It seemed to take her an awfully long time.
“God, it’s like she’s turning into a cripple. What’s so hard about walking with one shoe? There are people in China who don’t have any shoes – no socks either,” I said, trying to make Johnny feel a little better.
Johnny jumped from his seat and headed for the boy’s room. Cigarette break, I thought. Good idea, so I followed.
When I got to the bathroom door, Johnny came bursting out with the little girl’s shoe in his hand. He pushed me aside, like I had done something. What was he mad at me for? I went to the ballroom door and watched.
He walked across the floor over to the girl with only one shoe. She saw him coming but kept looking down at the floor. When he got in front of her, he stuck the shoe under her nose. She took her shoe without looking up at him and put it on her foot. The bottom of her sock was really black. Then suddenly she looked up. She was pale and her eyes exhibited a sort of shock. Johnny had obviously said something to her.
She got up from her seat and walked to the center of the dance floor with Johnny following. Then she turned and the two of them started dancing.
Oh my god, I couldn’t believe it. Giving the girl her shoe would have been atonement enough in my book. Johnny had completely flipped out. What had gotten into him?
Then it came to me. It was as clear as could be. Johnny had gotten sucked in. It was the old Eve with acne trick – Another “Adam” bites the dust.
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published 16 books. Some of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry partly inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle and Noble Notes on Famous Folks is history with a bit of humor.