Hard Boiled Dicks...when I read fiction very young, was no Red Lobster. I had no talent, grammar or spelling...and terrible left-handed penmanship. I was right handed playing left from before I could talk. It drove them bonkers, so I stuck with it. Hence the pecking. Bad writing is far worse than bad pecking to work through, I mean, who bothers? Not my first grade teacher, who steadily berated me for my slow and sloppy opposite hand work. I was screaming silently for any form of attention...or food. We were kept half starved for good looks, or just plain old poverty...pre food stamps. I’d walk miles home from a fed friends house just to have a hamburger after school. 

    I had five siblings to compete with for  attention and sparse resources on the estuary, which was the storm battered east end called West Park, where poor people took over storm ravaged summer homes and lived in them year round at their own risk. 

    There could be blood, and was...boiled live lobsters too, but not often, and not for me. I was full of hamburger, and not doing homework. I was washing dishes for all eight. It took me a long time, unsupervised, but it was only one week a month. The others were clear, dry, or off.  As there were four of us in the rotation. I started in at eight. This was decided by the older siblings, not the parents, who let the older kids run the operation. Marine Corps style. I had no chance, being three years smaller than my sister, who was battle ready ahead of her two older brothers; with them,her pixie and Girl Scout uniform...no one gave her a rough time. She was the dealer of pain...and the alpha to be, after all it was a matriarchy, is it not still? 

     Only her mother knew I had emulated or genetically received my father’s reading and dietary habits, which was not her Rhode Islandish bland cold shoulder loveless angry fare, but urban, Latin, Aisian...and detective stories. Not war stories. She was shocked to see me reading Hard Boiled Dicks, and getting fed elsewhere, just like my father, who could not stand her cooking but said nothing, ever.

      Conroy was a spoiled brat, but I loved reading him anyway, Irving too, and everything else my brothers stole from the high school library. What kid would steal books? I knew two of them...the same ones that had been beating the hell into me since before I could talk. 

      Which is how I came to emulate my father, who suffered from PTSD and idealism, before alcoholism. He never beat me, and the older brothers never did when he was in hearing range. There was no telling him...he was like a drunken bear. It was just enough staying hidden between him and his sons, to keep the bruising down. 

       The Razor’s edge. Crime novels, low tide smells, survival skills...what brings a teen to Signal Corps? What makes commissary food taste good, ever? How do you weaponize a child? If you have a girl my love, you bounce her on your knee, but if the bastard should be a boy, well, you send him out to see.

        License. Rank, low tide, privilege, twisted into command and control components, transistorized...deployed, scott free of oversight. Revved up like a deuce...born to run, in orbit. Beaming signals back for digestion, and some. Sick stories sell, but Howell, well, it was hard to tell...John D. gave it dimes out dimes when he got off the train there, on his way to Lakewood. 

         Before Ragtime, there was SOONJ, big oil. Everyone got stained, and then there was Marconi...ship to shore, and Fascism, all wrapped up in one little place. Coal House Walker, Mother’s Younger Brother...serviced as art form for more than one thin dime, but well sold...in print and on film, nonetheless. 


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Comment by Tom Cordle on February 18, 2019 at 5:51pm

Yet again, our commonality. I was the first born of six, so the pecking order was different, but in many other ways ...

. Dad was not brutal, but once we reached a certain age, boys were not to be shown any affection, rather they were to be disciplined. The guide was the OT "spare the rod and spoil the child". Dad would say, almost proudly, my children may not love me, but they'll damn sure respect me. He got neither love nor respect from me, until I was in my fifties, and I realized he was doing the best he knew how. Now I'm mature enough to make allowances.

As for Conroy, I cried when I saw the movie The Great Santini, and then I wept when I read the book. I am way too strong to be afraid of my own tears.

Comment by Robert B. James on February 18, 2019 at 10:57pm

Thanks Brother Tom! It is a luxury to look back and finally understand, with all the puzzle parts on the table...and put them in place. Things were not what they seemed. I struggled to collect them, no one else thought it worth the effort.  

If nothing else, I will leave a trail...perhaps some kid might decide to press on and roll the stone further done the road because of it. Perhaps not. 

Conroy’s father’s were not mine. Mine was a mystery, mostly silent. A King of tides, in Conroy’s lexicon. He died alive, and lived for decades, dead, unable or unwilling to share the weight, that he carried. The night terrors, alcoholism... Hemingway inspired lifestyle, downwardly mobile existence, a true man of letters, who wrote nothing at all...left no trail, just six kids who never knew a thing about him, really. Except what he wanted them to. 

    We saw him as he wanted us to see him, but I saw through that. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 19, 2019 at 6:30am

Jesus H  – your comment has an unnerving familiarity, but it breeds no contempt

Comment by Robert B. James on February 19, 2019 at 3:33pm

I’m a field guy...reports are not novels, but when written too soon they are legal documents. Too soon was on site, and eventually damming for those who ignored them. Now, I wish but not often,  I could read what I know, not what I peck out.  

Still, I took all my father’s silence in, and escaped with the treasure. He saw it as a boy , at happy tables filled with poor hungry kids, not his own. He experienced hunger only vicariously, suffered his mother’s smothering  and his father’s underworld enterprise. 

He joined the Marines to die heroically, and they let him, only they never told anyone...not even him. Such is the way with volunteers, who would at seventeen, kill on command...after too many afternoons watching propaganda. Wise guys, all of them...believed. And so did I, at thirteen...but by seventeen I knew, in part  because he had taught me himself without saying a word. 

To his last day, he was faithful to the ideal, his flag, his family...that despised him,  each believing that  they earned economic prosperity on their own. Things were not what they seemed, and he made damn sure of it. 

The difference between a conman and a con artist, is art. Service is an art form. An artist can school you, and leave you thinking you were self taught. An artist can make you and leave you thinking you were self made.

Five out of six ain’t bad;  me I saw through it, and got the MA in HI, not at 24, but at 54. Am I a self made man...hell no. A made guy, is a guy who makes it...who survived  the process of becoming made. I learned the blues first and killed them. I put down my harp to carry on the work of unsung heroes...players played. I played, lost, and played again...and lost, but lived...survived. Late across to masters level, but across...bad spelling, poor  grammar and all. 

I saw through the play because I was too slow, and too hungry, and too stupid to be afraid. I could read expressions, and discover tells. This takes time. It’s not a gift, it’s a painful process to survive. Good spelling and grammar? A tell. Bad table manners? A tell.  Brown shoes? Brother Tom, I tell. 

Craft is craft, and art is art. Writers write, and I peck history...but only after the field work is done. I will never be a writer, but I am pecking the hell out of history. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 19, 2019 at 10:14pm

My take?  The self-made man has a fool for a maker


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