Monday, May 30, 2011

This is a chapter from my book "Just Hangin' Out, Ma." Click on cover on the right of this page for more information

Brother Conrad

Brother Conrad was, in my opinion, one of the worst instructors ever at Central Catholic High School. But yet I have never forgotten the man. I had him for “Home Room” and for “World History.”

Brother Conrad was the size of a midget. One of his antics was to crawl up on top of his desk at the front of the room and peek down on somebody who was sitting up front, maybe eating their lunch or doing something inappropriate. He would belly-flop across his desk, his head propped up by his elbows with his chin in his palms. His feet would be in the air behind him, like a little kid lying across his bed at home. Everybody in the class would go into hysterics.

No matter what class he was teaching, he always drifted over into Lawrence, its politics or people. He was very concerned about the canals. He felt that they were dysfunctional and useless. He wanted them to be drained and paved or used for a subway or something.

He was brutally sarcastic. I’ll never forget the day that he walked into the classroom holding a copy of the Eagle Tribune high over his head.
“Lookie, lookie, lookie,” he squealed. “Did you see last night’s paper? We got two more.”

The front page of the Tribune had a picture of a car wrapped around a telephone pole. The car was estimated to have been traveling at over 100 miles per hour. Two teenagers had been killed instantly. The vehicle was hardly recognizable as an auto.
Brother Conrad thought that teenagers were violent and suicidal. He proposed a solution. He often suggested that all teenagers should be shuttled off to an island somewhere. Periodically a boat could be sent to the island and extract all of those who managed to survive to the age of 21 and return them to civilization.

In World History class he had one routine that went on and on. There was a student in the class by the name of Harcourt.

“Harcourt, would you please stand up.”
Harcourt (not his real name) was probably eating his lunch, looking out the window or grab-assing with someone around him.

“Tell me Mr. Harcourt, what do you intend to be when you grow up?”

“I’m goin’ to be an engineer, Bruddah”

“Really? I don’t really think so, Harcourt. Engineers have to know a lot of math. Are you good at math, Harcourt?”

“Not very, Bruddah. But why do you have to know a lot of math to drive a train? All you have to do is follow the tracks.”

“Oh, you what to be that kind of an engineer. And you have the boots for it don’t you?”

“Yes Bruddah, I got these engineer boots for Christmas.”

“How nice. And you feel that you can drive a train by just following the tracks. I suppose that is how you get to school each day. You are from up the river aren’t you?”

“I live in Haverhill, Bruddah. But I don’t follow the railroad tracks to get to school. I take the bus.”

“Well, since you ride on a bus everyday to get to school, why don’t you want to become a bus driver?”

“Bus drivers don’t have no tracks to follow, Bruddah. I figure driving a train should be easier and I think it pays more money.”

“Harcourt, you must know by now that you are never going to graduate from this school or go to college. Here it is only January. Do you realize that if you quit school right now and beat the June rush, you could get in line ahead of all the other kids over at the mill employment office and maybe get a job?”

“I want to drive a train. I don’t want to work at a mill.”

“Okay, okay, quit now and get your fanny down to a train station. If you wait until June, there will probably be a whole bunch of your fellow classmates ahead of you down at the train station. If you quit right now the line will be a lot shorter.”

“I’m goin’ to go to college, Bruddah.”

“You are? And what college is that, may I ask?”


“Harvard? That is a very good choice. Why did you pick Harvard?”

“Because there is a train from Haverhill that goes right to Harvard Square.”

“Oh yes, I forgot. You like trains.”

This comedy routine sometimes went on for the whole period. It depended on Harcourt’s answers. If Harcourt’s answers were creative enough, Brother Conrad couldn’t resist asking more silly questions.

Our entire class flunked the World History exam. For some reason Brother Conrad just couldn’t believe it. When he asked for an explanation, Harcourt raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Harcourt. You have an explanation of why this entire class flunked their World History exam?”

“I think so, Bruddah.”

“Well, by all means share your insight with me because I am at a total loss.”

“Well Bruddah, there wasn’t one question on that exam about the canals, the Merrimack River, the water works, Lawrence, or even Mayor Buckley.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Old Is Where It’s At

But It Takes Getting Used To

By Richard E. Noble

All of the music that I listen to, I started collecting from the Columbia Record Club back up in Lawrence in the 50’s. It was written, sung and played by dead people - Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Erroll Garner, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, etc., and now even Ray Charles. All of these people are now dead.

All the books that I read were written by dead people, and most of them died a long, long, time ago. Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Plato, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Aristotle, Mark Twain, O’Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, Upton Sinclair, Henry S. Comminger, Thomas Jefferson; they’re all dead. Just about every book on my bookshelf or on my up-and-coming reading list was written by a person who is now dead. William Manchester was one of the few who I have been reading who was still alive, but now, he is dead also.

My very life and experiences are now the subject matter of history books. My books are in the history section at the Lawrence Library. Some of them are at the Heritage History Museum even.

Now most of my big decisions are concerned with pain and longevity. Should I bend or should I squat? Should I risk buying bananas that are still green? Yes, I know it is cancer but how long will it take to develop and mature? If it takes more 15 or 20 years to get serious, leave it there. Who cares? So what if I don’t get my cataracts removed and I will be blind in the year 2063. I ain’t going to be here anyway. Go right ahead and dissolve Medicare by 2050. See if I care.

Everywhere I go today the world seems to be filled with people, who, like myself, are very old or almost dead.

The grocery store, even, is being staffed by people who are almost dead. I think that all the young people today are either so whacked-out on drugs that they can’t pass a pee test or they are off in some foreign country fighting for somebody’s freedom and are now unable to deliver my newspaper or ring up my groceries at Demoulas’ Market or Butcher Boy’s.

The guy checking out my groceries at the store the other day, along with the bagboy, were both older than me. Now that’s scary.

I put my groceries on the automatic sliding shelf and the old man starts running them across the magic price reading thing-a-ma-gig. Everything is going fine until this chicken won’t beep. He swishes it across the magic window three of four more times at varying rates of speed – but not a beep out of the chicken. He shakes the chicken two or three times, as if there must be something wrong with whatever is inside of the chicken that makes the beeper beep – but, no response from the chicken. He then presses the chicken into the magic window and puts his body weight on top of it to try and get it closer to the magic window reading whosey that is inside somewhere. (Personally I think there is an illegal alien in there with a key pad.) Nothing happens. The gray haired, partially bald clerk holds the chicken up in front of him and shakes his head negatively. “What is wrong with this chicken?” he mumbles. “I guess that I will have to ring it up by the code numbers.”

He stretches his arms out in front of him as far as they will extend; he tilts his head up, squints a little and makes an attempt to read the code numbers on the price tag of the chicken through one of the sections on his trifocals. “My god” he says. “Ted Williams, who could see the threads on a curve ball coming at him at one hundred and ten miles an hour, couldn’t read this damn thing.”

He lowers the chicken down towards his waist, turns his head slightly to one side and tries to read the numbers from out the corner of his glasses. No luck. He holds the chicken in one hand and then tries to adjust his glasses on his face, up and down, with his other hand. No go. He takes his glasses off, momentarily and tries to scan the chicken bare-eyed – no help. He raises and lowers the chicken – still at arms length – while he nods his head up and down in an opposite sequence from the movement of the chicken. It could be a focusing problem. Doesn’t work.

He takes his glasses off his head and runs them back and forth between his eyes and the chicken – nothing. Finally he lays the chicken down on the counter and attempts to read the code numbers by placing his glasses down on top of the price tag on the chicken, as if his trifocals are a magnifying glass. This doesn’t work.

“Let me see that chicken; maybe I can read it,” After examining the chicken closely, I say, “I think that it is three dollars and twenty-five cents.”

“I know that,” he says, with a frustrated sarcasm. “It is not the price I need. I need all of them little numbers there on the bottom of the price tag, next to all those squiggly lines.”

“Oh, here you mean ... okay, let’s see – four, six, nine, seven, seven, three, one, two, eight, eight, eight, four, one, two, three, eight, nine, one, two, one. That’s it. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ring up the price?”

“Oh god! Don’t even talk about that. That’s a book in itself. So, is that it?”

“No. I don’t think that you got my tomato there.”

“Okay, that will be $149.52.”

“Did you get my tomato?”

The man doesn’t look at me and repeats the total bill once again. I notice that he has a buzzer in his ear. My wife has a buzzer for each ear.

When you see a person with a buzzer in their ear that means that they only read lips. The buzzer in a person’s ear doesn’t really do anything. It is, more or less, a symbol or a sign of deafness. It is only there to let other people know that this person can’t hear a damn thing. It is like a pair of sunglasses on a blind person. But because I have experience living with a person with buzzers in her ears, I know how to handle this situation. I tap the clerk on the shoulder – when he turns and looks at me, I say very slowly and in a loud voice; “Did ... you ... get ... my ... tomato?”

“You got a potato?”

“No, did ... you ... get ... my ... tomato?”

“You don’t have to yell at me, I ain’t deaf for god’s sake.”

“I’m sorry.” I reach down and pick up the tomato that is lying on the conveyor belt. I hold it up and roll it around in front of the man’s face.

“That is not a potato,” he criticizes.

“I know. It’s a tomato. Did you ring it up?”

“Is it yours?”

“Not yet, but I would like it to be one day.”

“You want me to ring that up?”

“Would you please?”

“No problem.”

The man puts the tomato on a special scale. The computer identifies the tomato as a tomato and suggests a starting price or bid. The optimum possible price appears on the price screen after a series of bids from e-bay have been calculated into the final quote.

“How much is that tomato?”

“Twelve dollars and nineteen cents.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No, that’s what the machine says. I think that they had a blizzard in Paraguay this month or something. All the tomatoes got killed.”

“All except that one.”

“I guess. You want it or not?”

“Yeah, I’ve been planning on having a tomato all this year. I already bought some bacon, white bread, mayonnaise and lettuce. It wouldn’t really be a BLT without the tomato.”

“Okay ... got the tomato; now where are those potatoes that you said you had?”

“I don’t have any potatoes. I can only afford so many vegetables in one year. This year it’s that tomato.”

“I get ya.”

“Would you like me to take this out to your car?” asked the bagboy who looked old enough to be Mark Twain’s grandfather. I watch the old man bagboy as he struggles to lift the bag off the counter and place it into my shopping cart. As he lowers the bag into the cart the upper half of his body follows the bag into the cart and his feet come off the ground behind him.

“Nuewww. I think I can handle that myself, but thank-you anyway, sonny,” I say.
As we exit the store, I say to my wife: “Did you see the price of that tomato?”

“We forgot to get a potato?”

No," I said. "Did ... you ... see ... the ... price ... of ... that … tomato?”

She rushes her thumb up to her ear and begins spinning things around on her buzzer. “Holy Cow! What are you trying to do, blow my brains out! Just speak to me in a normal voice. Don’t yell!”

“Honey, I simply said, Did you see the price of that tomato? That’s all I said.”

“Okay! My goodness, you are such a baby. If you want potatoes, let’s just go back inside and get some.”

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Hobo Philosopher


By Richard E Noble

Paganism, and its notion, that the universe and the affairs of mankind were controlled by a multitude of equally powerful and sometimes competitive Gods, was the curse of ignorant, superstitious primitive people, I was taught as a young boy. As I read history it seems, as usual, it is the exact opposite that is the truth. In the world of the polytheist just about anybody’s God was O.K. It is in the world of the monotheist that everybody else’s God becomes a problem.

It seems that the Jews were the first to present, in no uncertain terms, this horror story, that there is only one God. It is suspected that Moses picked up the idea while spending some time in Egypt. A guy named Akhenaton, here yesterday – gone today, was really the first serious monotheist. He created quite an uproar in Egypt. Contrary to common knowledge Abraham was not a monotheist. He is alleged to have proclaimed his God as above all other Gods but did not deny the validity of other Gods.

“There is only one true God and that God’s name is Yahweh,” the Jews proclaimed to all of their neighbors, and even to their Roman rulers. The Romans said, that’s fine, let’s put a statue of Yahweh in the Temple next to Jupiter. The Jews then flipped out. They told the Romans that one day a great Jewish general was coming, sent to them by Yahweh, and with this new General’s help they would not only whip Roman butt, but they would run them off the planet earth and into the fires of Hell. (You have to remember when you listen to talk like this, that the Jews, at their root, are really Arabs.)

The Jew spawned the Christians. The Christians had basically the same story as the Jews with a few variations and a couple of twists. The big difference sociologically speaking between the Jews and the Christians was that the Christians allowed even gentiles and even Romans to become Jews. (You have to remember that the Christians at their root are really Jews.) The Jews said that they were the chosen people and that nobody else could become a Jew and that a Jew shouldn’t even marry anyone who wasn’t already a Jew. But the Christian Jews said that anybody could become a Jew so long as they took the right attitude. So to make a long story short the international Christian Jews and their One God, eventually take over the whole Roman Empire, under Constantine (debatable). The Christians and their international One True God, Jewish idea end up murdering, torturing, and killing one another for the next thousand years in a manner that makes the Roman Tyrants look like pikers.
During this period the Christians spawn the Muslims. The Muslims have the same basic One God story, and the our god can beat up your god idea; but they change the One True God’s name from Yahweh to Allah. (You have got to remember that Muslims are, at their root, Arab Jews.)

So here we are today and all of the – there is only One True God and his name is whatever people – are still killing one another. They have been killing one another for about two thousand years now. This alone should be proof to any of us that there is not One True God no matter what name you give to him.

The Greeks and Romans were obviously closer to the truth and had a much better idea in a whole bunch of, take them or leave them, not entirely true and not entirely false, Gods. With their program you could just pick one that you liked or make one up on your own, and as long as you paid your taxes, bought your permits and licenses nobody knew who was going to Hell or who wasn’t. We could all have our suspicions, and make our guesses but only the Gods knew for sure.

Oh for the simple days of Polytheist Paganism where everybody could be loved by their own God and nobody had to petition for the affections of yours.