Sunday, December 30, 2007

From Pool Shooter to Private

I was seventeen, had flunked every subject in the eleventh grade, and was wondering about the rest of my life. I decided that my biggest problem - apart from the fact that I was just a natural born jerk - was that I was running with a bad crowd. Now I hasten to add that I don't mean an evil crowd, just a crowd consisting of guys my age and older who had no ambition, had no desire to learn or get ahead, and were content to hang around the pool room and drink beer when they could get it. And I liked these people. I enjoyed hanging around the pool room. But what was I going to do? Try to get a job at Parker Brothers for twenty dollars a week? No, I had to break loose somehow.

The "somehow" turned out to be the Army. I decided to enlist. For reasons still unknown to me, I had always wanted to go to Germany, and I visited the local Army recruiting office to explore that possibility. I was told that the only way I could be guaranteed an assignment in Germany was to enlist for "Armor, Europe," and I opted in, at least in my mind.

My mother had to give written consent and getting that was like pulling teeth. However, with some nudging from my father and my vow to enlist anyway four months later, when I would be eighteen and would not need her consent, she surrendered.

I went to Boston for the required physical and several days later got a phone call from the recruiting NCO. He said that in order to enter any of the combat arms for the first time, a "class A" physical profile was required.

"And you have a crooked spine, flat feet, bad lungs, and a heart murmur, and you wear glasses."

"So I can't enlist 'Armor, Europe?'"


"Okay, draft me when I'm twenty-three."

After a moment's silence: "Let's not be hasty. Let me see what I can do."


Now this was just a bluff on my part, but it had no downside. I would still join the Army, but I really wanted to go to Germany.

A day or two later he called me again and told me that I now had a class A physical profile.

So . . . at seventeen years of age, five feet seven inches in height, and weighing one hundred fifteen pounds, I entered the military. I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for eight weeks of basic infantry training. When I completed that despite a stint in the hospital due to pneumonia, I was five feet eight and a half inches tall and weighed one hundred fifty five pounds. Except for the gradual addition of another ten pounds, that's pretty much where I stayed for the next ten years. We're not gonna talk about now.

I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for eight weeks of training on tanks. It was November, cold, damp, and muddy. I got pneumonia again, spent too long in the hospital, and was recycled into a second training company because I had missed so much training.

Eventually, I completed my training and three of us from my company were sent to Fort Dix, to a "holding company," a company to billet and manage large numbers of transients awaiting orders and shipment to Europe. About two weeks later we got orders - Headquarters Company, Seventh Army Training Center, in Vilseck, Germany.

Came the big day and we boarded a large plane, type unknown to me now but a propeller driven plane - jets were not in use for passenger service yet. We flew up to Gander, Newfoundland, over to Shannon, Ireland, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany. During the trip across the Atlantic, I noticed that the wings were actually darkening. I asked the stewardess (for that's what they were called in those days) about it and she told me that the silver paint on the plane's exterior was rusting. I asked her what they did about that and she told me, "Oh, we'll repaint it before we go back."

The three of us caught another plane to Nuremburg, then a train to Vilseck or somewhere very close to it, and joined our new outfit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sorry, Wrong Number

In the early 1970s I moved to South Boston for a year. (If you haven't tried this, I don't recommend it. Of course things may have changed since then, but they would have to have changed a lot.)

I was assigned a telephone number that had once been used for ships docking temporarily in Boston. Some people hang onto information forever, and this may have been the case with one sailor, because . . .

One night I was sound asleep when the phone rang. I looked at the clock - a little after 2:30 A.M. I crawled out of bed and groped my way to the phone.


"Hi. Is this the U.S.S. Whatsit?"

"No. You have the wrong number. This is a private residence."


"'S OK."

I went back to bed and nearly back to sleep, and the phone rang again. Up and at 'em, Donnie boy.


"Hi. Is this the U.S.S. Whatsit?"

"No. This is a private residence."

"Oh." Click.

OK. His voice was slurred, it was after 2:30 in the morning, and he wanted a Navy ship. Clearly, I had a drunken sailor on my hands and this little PITA situation wasn't going away of its own accord.

I waited by the phone for a couple of minutes, and once again it rang.

"U.S.S. Whatsit."

"U.S.S. Whatsit?"


"This is Williams. Will you tell Chief Peterson that I'll be a couple of hours late in the morning?"

"Yes, I will."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Goodnight."

And so to bed.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Customer Service Rants - I


From Illinois Bell, May 15, 1980:

Dear Mr. Richards:

Periodically we make a routine test of the telephone equipment associated with each telephone number.

A recent test indicates a discrepancy exists between our billing records and the actual equipment connected on your premises. This possibly could be due to an error on our part.

We would like to discuss this with you and arrange for a physical check of the equipment at your premises, if necessary.

We have tried unsuccessfully on several different occasions to contact you. Will you please contact us . . . yada yada yada.


I called the toll-free number and was asked how many telephones I had in my apartment. Two. Who owns them? Illinois Bell owns one, I own the other. An Illinois Bell employee installed both of them. Will you call us again tomorrow (I was at work) and give us the 14 character identifier on the bottom of the one you own? Sure. What's the problem?

IBT monitoring shows that you have three telephones and you're being billed for one.

(As an aside, the "other phone," the one I owned, was a modern replica of an old "candlestick" phone.)

The next day I called and provided the 14 character identifier. I was asked to schedule an appointment for a representative to check my telephones. I said that I lived alone and asked if we could schedule it for an evening or a weekend. No, IBT doesn't schedule such activities for those times. We agreed on Tuesday, May 27, between 8:00 and 10:00.

I stayed home for that period and no one showed up.

On June 2 I received a call from IBT and was told that someone had come on May 27 but couldn't get into the apartment. I replied that well, that was because they had not come between the agreed hours of eight and ten, after which I went to work. He asked if we could schedule another appointment. I said we could but I would take no more time off from work. We settled on Saturday, June 7, between 8:00 A.M. and noon.

I stayed home for that period and no one showed up.

Several days later I received a call from a male IBT employee. He wanted to schedule another appointment. I told him I would not, but that IBT could take their chances and send someone during an evening or weekend and if he caught me at home we could deal with it then. He threatened me with the possiblity of having my phone disconnected and told me that IBT had the right to do that if a customer was not reasonably cooperative.

I told him that if my phone was disconnected I would see IBT in court and we would let a judge decide who was reasonably cooperative and who was not, based on our recent history.


From Illinois Bell, June 9, 1980:

Dear Mr. Richards:

This letter concerns our need to make an appointment to inspect our equipment and check our wiring.

Yada yada yada.

Unless we hear from you within ten (10) days from the date of this letter, it will be necessary to interrupt your service on June 19, 1980. If such interruption occurs and there is a subsequent restoral of your service, a restoral charge will apply.


K. Williams


I called the number provided and asked for K. Williams. I was told that she was busy but would call me later that day. I explained the situation and asked that K. Williams be told that there would be no more appointments until and unless I received a letter guaranteeing that someone would show up. Ms. Williams did not call.

Several days later I called and asked for Ms. Williams and was told that she worked in a different office(!). I was given a different number for her, called it, and was told that she was not in at the moment, but would call me back. It's been twenty-seven and a half years, and I still have not heard from Ms. Williams.

But . . . a Ms. Lancaster called and said that she was supposed to have called me. The reason that no one showed up for my appointments was that the wrong forms were being filled out and subsequently thrown away. She promised me it would not happen again. We scheduled a third appointment, contingent on my receiving a letter guaranteeing that someone would show up.

I received that letter, signed by Ms. Hernandez, on June 19, confirming that someone from IBT would be at my apartment between 8:00 A.M. and noon on June 23.

I stayed home for that period and no one showed up.

When I went into the office, one of my employees said, "You know what's happening, don't you? Right now, a bunch of them are sitting in a lunch room saying, "How can we get him to fall for this again?"


From me to the manager of the local IBT office, June 24, 1980:

Dear Sir:

(A two page recap of the above, followed by . . .)

Question 1: Why was I told at first that weekends and evenings could not be scheduled?

Question 2: Why was I told on June 2 that someone had come on May 27, and on June 15 that no one had come on May 27?

Question 3: Does Illinois Bell realize that it will take a court order to get me to schedule another appointment?

Question 4: Does Illinois Bell realize that if they interrupt my service, I will have them in court as soon as is humanly possible, seeking

      a. Price free restoration of service,
      b. Compensation, and
      c. Punitive damages.


Contemporaneous note in my handwriting:

On Monday, June 30, 1980, I returned a (Friday, June 27) call from
M------ V----, who apologized for the poor service, informed me that my service would not be interrupted, said she was going to investigate the whole affair, thanked me for my letter, and said that I should consider the problem resolved and the case closed.

And so I do (barring the long awaited call from Ms. Williams).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Pool Room

In my high school years I'd skip school and go to the local pool room. Entering it for the first time was a rite of passage that occurred when I was fifteen. The minimum age was supposed to be sixteen, but as long as you were not a troublemaker, that was pretty much ignored. I was too small to be a troublemaker. When I reached seventeen I was 5'7" and 115 pounds.

I saw young men and some boys I knew to be two or three years older than I, learned to attach to faces names I had only heard in conversations at school, and was largely ignored by everyone except those I already knew, until . . . one day I entered wearing a shirt with thin black and orange vertical stripes. Immediately, one of the older boys addressed me as "Tiger," and the nickname stuck. After that, I was known and accepted by everyone there.

The pool room had five pool tables and one billiards table. For some reason the owner, a man in his sixties, took an interest in me and offered to teach me to play billiards - on one condition: I would not play pool during this learning period. I agreed and got some invaluable lessons. If you play billiards you can skip the next three paragraphs - you can skip them if you don't play billiards too, but you'll lose a little perspective.

In this game the table had no pockets and there were three balls: a white ball, a white ball with a black dot, and a red ball. Each of us would have one of the white balls as our own "cue ball" and the object was to make a point by making your cue ball hit both the other white ball and the red ball in either order. To make your first point, you had to hit them both without your cueball touching a cushion (you could hit a cushion, but not until after your cue ball had hit both the other balls); to make your second point your cue ball had to hit one and only one cushion before hitting the second ball. Thus, you could hit one ball, then a cushion, then the other ball, or you could hit a cushion and then the two balls.

If you made the point it was your shot again, and now you had to hit two cushions before hitting the second ball. We played to fifteen, which meant that to win you had to make a shot involving hitting fourteen cushions before hitting the second ball. I've only done that a couple of times and I never did beat my instructor, but I did lead him at as high a score as eleven (ten cushions) once or twice.

That was the game we played while he taught me, but there are other variations, and the most commonly played there was three-cushion billiards.

Finally, he said I could play pool again. What I had learned on the billiard table was transferable to the pool table. That is, I had learned to play position, which involves not only knowing where your cue ball is going to wind up when you make a shot, but making it wind up where you want it to. It also involves knowing where other balls are going to wind up and sometimes it involves making them end up where you want them.

I was never the best pool player there, but I was in the top quartile instead of the third or even fourth quartile, where I would certainly have remained without the benefit of schooling in billiards. Since all games were played with side bets, this saved me quite a bit of money, both there and in later years in bars with pool tables.

(In those later years, a happy coincidence made a great deal of money for me in bars. During my years in Germany, bumper pool tables were commonly found in bars, and I learned to play there. A few years later, after I was out of the Army, bumper pool experienced a boom in US bars, and there were fish everywhere. We'll discuss that in a later post or two.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Memories of My Father - II

  • I was perhaps in my fifties when I asked my father, "It always seemed to me that you teased me more than you teased Billy. Is that true?"



    "Because you got so much more bent out of shape."

    And it was true. I think my sense of humor must have been slow to develop, for when I was young if someone was not actually smiling or laughing when they said something to me then I took it quite literally.

    Somewhere around the third grade I began to take an interest in watching boxing on television. Dad began teaching me what to watch for and how to score the rounds. We would compare scorecards and discuss the reasons for our choices, and if a fight went the distance we compared our totals to the totals of the officials.

    One day Dad said to me, "You know, I used to box professionally."

    Donnie: "You did not."

    Dad: "Yes I did. And I became a world champion."

    Now by that age I knew how to use a World Almanac, and I knew that it contained the names of all the boxing champions in all the weight classes. I headed straight for it and returned a moment later.

    Donnie, waving the Almanac: "See? Here are all the champions and you're not in here."

    Dad: "Oh, I didn't fight under my own name. Lots of fighters don't fight under their own names."

    Donnie, skeptically: "What name did you fight under?"

    Dad: "Kid Sash, the windowweight."

    Donnie: "Daddeeeeee!"

    Dad: "No, wait. It was Kid Quire, the paperweight."

  • Year later, on the phone, Dad pronounced a word rather strangely, it seemed to me. I questioned him about it and he told me to wait while he got his dictionary. A moment later he read the entry aloud, giving the primary and secondary pronunciations, the latter being the one he had used. He concluded emphatically, "It's acceptable."

    Donnie: "Hmm. This might be a good time to remind you of something you said to me years ago, when the situation was reversed."

    Dad: "Shut up."

    Donnie: "You asked me, 'Why would you want to use a secondary pronunciation?'"

    Dad: "Goddamn kid."

  • For the last few years of his life, Dad and I talked on the phone several times a week. Along with whatever else might be of interest, many conversations included a request for help with some crossword puzzle he was working on. Usually, these were questions of a type similar to "What's a seven letter word meaning 'advent?' Blank-blank-blank-i-v-a-blank."¹

    During one conversation he mentioned that he was about to get new glasses. "I doubt that my prescription has changed, but the lenses are all scratched from my clip-on sunglasses."

    Donnie: "Dad, get the transition sunglasses, like mine. They only darken in bright light and revert to normal as soon as you're out of it."

    Dad: "Oh, I don't think so, Donnie. They've got new clip-ons that won't scratch the lenses."

    Donnie: "Yeah, but Dad, why mess with clip-ons when you don't have to?"

    Dad: "Well, we'll see."

    For more than a hundred years, "We'll see" from a parent has meant "No," and a week or two later he had new glasses and new clip-ons.

    A few days after that we were chatting and he brought up a problem he was having with a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. This one was not so easily resolved (which usually meant that he had entered an incorrect answer), and we resorted to a process which we occasionally used as a last resort. I would get a pencil and paper and try to recreate the image of a small portion of the puzzle as he was seeing it, filling in dark squares, word numbers, and the letters he had entered, as well as writing the definitions off to the side. As you can imagine, this occasionally led to some confusion and laughter.

    At some point I asked him for the puzzle's definition of a particular word, and there was a silence of perhaps twenty seconds.

    Donnie, slightly impatiently: "Dad?"

    Dad, more impatiently: "Wait a minute. These letters are small and I'm having a hard time finding the definition."

    Donnie, pseudo-helpfully: "Lift up your clip-ons."

    Dad, outraged: "Yooooouuuuuu prick!"

    (Clearly, "Goddamn kid" was inadequate for an offense so great.)

    ¹ Arrival

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

First Girlfriend

I met Polly in church. I was fifteen and her first boyfriend, and she was thirteen and my first girlfriend. It was in church (and during a sermon) that I asked her to go steady with me. I was a little surprised - and pleased, of course - by the enthusiasm with which she said yes. We held hands during the rest of the sermon, at the end of which half the congregation was looking at us and smiling.

Our relationship lasted about three years, and let me say right up front that it was entirely innocent, never going beyond hugging and kissing.

Our families were friends, also due to the church connection. Things were a little rocky for me at home because my mother considered Polly "boy crazy," and was afraid that I might get her "in trouble." I suppose this was natural, but the fact is that our relationship was entirely chaste. However, my mother's attitude was so extreme that I had to decline to have a family-hosted sixteenth birthday party, as I had been told that Polly could not be invited.

It occurs to me now that I don't know whether Polly or her family were aware of this problem. It was certainly not anything we ever discussed.

A month or two after we became a couple I carved her name into my left arm with a jackknife. I don't know, don't ask, it's just something that some of us did back then. There are only traces of it visible now, as a stove did a number on that area several years later.

I went into the Army at seventeen and was sent to Germany ten days after my eighteenth birthday. I really liked it and before long I knew that I would reenlist and spend the maximum allowable time over there, which was then five years. Within the year I had written Polly to tell her this and to say that I thought she would be better off with someone else.

Thirty or so years later, I saw her (and her two daughters, twenty and eighteen) at my maternal grandmother's funeral. That was a trip!

A number of us went back to the church from the cemetery, and early on Polly and I naturally migrated toward each other. My favorite line: "You know, Don, I think of you every day. A girl's first relationship is important to her all her life, even if it's a bad one."

Thirty years later I find out I was in a bad relationship! Well, to be fair, I suppose she was referring to the ending.

I met and chatted with her daughters, whose names I no longer recall. They were bright, funny, and cute. Most amusing was the complaint that every time "Little Darling" by the Diamonds was played on the radio, Polly would remind them, "That was our song."

The older daughter told me there were only two things she wanted when her mother died - an opal ring and Elvis Presley's autograph, both items that I had sent Polly from Germany.

Years later I learned that my mother was miffed that I hadn't sent her an Elvis autograph too, but I'd had no idea she would be interested. I am of that generation that fought the battle with parents during the transition from big band to rock and roll. I do recall that she liked Elvis' ballads, but I don't know whether this was something I knew when I met Elvis or something I learned after I got out of the Army.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

What Did You Do Wrong?

I met Dee Dee at work. She was a department secretary, 24 years old, cute as a button, and all heart.

Programmers know that it is not unusual for programmers to work late, and on one of those nights I finished at about 9:00 PM. Headed for the elevator, I met Dee Dee, who had also just finished some overtime work. On a whim I asked her if she felt like having some Chinese food. She accepted and we walked the several blocks to Boston's Chinatown.

Things went well and we made a date for the following Saturday night. This was the beginning of a long (six or seven years off and on) and sometimes tempestuous relationship. That was about thirty-five years ago and let me say right now that I still love Dee Dee, although not romantically, and we are better friends now than we ever were when we were seeing each other. She has been married twenty-five years or more and our communication consists of Christmas cards and a telephone call once every several years, but I still feel close to her. On the increasingly rare occasions when I am in the Boston area, we have lunch together.

Dee Dee loved everybody and everybody loved Dee Dee. However, something in her personality absolutely compelled her to be hypercritical of two men in her life - her father and me. This was a given, and in my case at least, a constant. In all those years there were probably not a half dozen times that we saw each other during which she did not pick at me about something, often more than one thing. She was just driven to it, I know not why.

Of course, I was an easy target. I liked to tease, I was somewhat arrogant and always too sure of myself, and she was my opposite in these respects. She stayed on my case whether we were alone or with others, and my family often marveled at my patience with her, not that I was a saint or anything but because I was an impatient man by habit. I can only say that I knew she was driven to be this way with me, and although I did not know why I did know that she couldn't help it, and when she was truly angry with me it was out of some sort of frustration, not malice.

The turning point came after I had moved to Chicago, and I remember it very clearly. I was in Boston and I met her for lunch. We had a quick "hello" hug and we were walking across a parking lot to my car when she started in on me about something just as if we hadn't missed a beat. I said, "Get off my case, Grace," she laughed, and she hasn't been that way since.

There will be more, possibly many more Dee Dee stories, but I'll leave you with a bit for now, just to give you the flavor of things.
  • We were driving north on the expressway in Boston (many years before the Big Dig). This was an elevated expressway, four or five lanes in each direction, with twenty or thirty feet of empty space between the northbound and southbound lanes. I was driving. Someone in the southbound lanes honked his horn and she turned to me and asked, "What did you do wrong?"

  • Driving somewhere perhaps a couple of years after we started seeing each other, I saw her lean forward and take something invisible to me from the dashboard.

    Dee, shrieking: Whose hair is this?

    Donnie, pensively: I dunno. Nobody else has been in the car lately. What color is it?

    Dee: BLONDE!

    Donnie: Then it's yours.

    Dee: Oh.

  • She lived in a third floor walk-up and I had arrived about mid-day on a Saturday to pick her up. As she let me in she began picking at me about something, I can't remember what. We had been seeing each other for several years and I must have reached my limit, at least temporarily.

    I turned back toward the door, said "Fuck it. I deserve better than this," and left.

    Back on the street, I was unlocking my car door when I heard her voice, although not the words. She had stuck her head out the window and was shouting something, not, for a change, in a critical voice.


    "I'm sorry. Please come back up."

    I locked the door, climbed the wretched stairs again, walked into the apartment, and was greeted by a tirade for making her say "I'm sorry" twice.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Broken Window

When I was in the eighth grade, the two junior high schools in the city hosted the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. One day (or night) someone broke a window at the school I attended.

For some reason, the Principal - a real jerk in a number of respects, by the way, the type who, if you asked him if he knew the time, would look at his watch, say "Yes," and keep walking - decided either that someone in the eighth grade did it or that someone in the eighth grade knew who did it. A class trip to the Museum of Science in Boston was scheduled for the near future, and it was announced that there would be no trip unless someone from the eighth grade either confessed or told him who broke the window.

Well, among the eighth graders there was much indignation over that. As far as we knew, none of us had done it and none of us knew who had done it. That was the position we all took, and to this day I don't know who did it or even whether the Principal ever learned who did it. It is of course possible that it was an eighth grader, just as it is possible that it wasn't even one of the school's students.

Three of us, a girl, another boy, and I, decided to do something about this unreasonable approach by the Principal - punishing an entire class for something done by one individual, an unidentified individual, and one who might not even be in that class. We decided to see the city's Mayor. We waited a week or so to see if the window-breaker would be identified or if the punishment would be rescinded, but nothing changed.

Memory says that school ended at 2:00 or 2:30 PM, and one afternoon the three of us gathered at that time and walked the five or six blocks to City Hall. We found the office of the Mayor, approached his secretary, and informed her that we wished to see the Mayor. She asked who we were and the nature of our intended discussion, seated us, and went into the Mayor's office. A moment later she invited us into his office.

He offered us seats and asked what he could do for us. We explained the situation and expressed our opinion that the whole thing was unfair and unreasonable, and he promised to look into it. We thanked him and made our exit. Although he and his secretary were probably privately amused, my recollection is that they were both kind without being condescending.

On the next school day, the three of us were called to the Principal's office during the first hour. We walked there together, and although we knew what the subject would be I don't think any of us were particularly worried about it. We were kept waiting outside his office for perhaps ten minutes, a flaunting of authority that I found transparent and amusing. My colleagues must have found it so as well, as neither showed any signs of worry or nervousness. Righteousness is a great bulwark, even against the bullying of thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds by school principals.

He called us into his office, informed us of his displeasure in the matter of our seeing the Mayor, and we were dismissed. I no longer remember any of the words at all, not any reasons given for his displeasure, nor any positions taken about what we "should have" done, nor any other aspects of his monologue. But I do remember that it was a monologue: he spoke and we were dismissed.

That day, without the formal announcements that had advised us that the class trip was in jeopardy, word was spread that the trip was on again. Of course the whole school knew why. I don't know how the word got around, but it certainly did.

I can only speculate about events after our meeting with the Mayor. I imagine that he called the Superintendent of Schools and that the latter called the Principal.

Looking back, I think that we were a peculiar trio in that I have no idea why we were the ones who took this on ourselves. We were not leaders in what passed for the social pecking order of the class, and we were not particularly close to each other: we were friendly but not actually friends. We moved in different social circles (due more to geographical reasons than any other, but still, we were not close). However, we did band together for that moment and I'll always remember them.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Home Town

After one year in the armpit of Massachusetts - that is to say, Newburyport - we moved to yet another city, this one my mother's birthplace and mine, although I knew nothing about it beyond that.

Immediately, my brother and I made new friends. I was about to enter the eighth grade, and some of the new friends would be friends right through high school, or as much of it as I attended, and some would drift away after a year or two.

For the first seven years of school I had made pretty much straight A's in the academic subjects, B's and C's in such things as "Singing" and "Drawing" in the early grades. It was in the eighth or ninth year that my grades began to slip due to a combination of boredom and attitude.

I was very bright - I found out later that my IQ is in the top 1/1000 of a percent, but not in the top 1/10000 of a percent - and very well read. I'd been sickly as a baby and young child. I was a forceps baby, born with a twisted spine and a heart murmur. (I still have indentations in my temples from the forceps and I still have the heart murmur. A chiropractor did wonders for my spine and the only lingering symptom is that I am a little stoop-shouldered.) My parents had been told that I wouldn't live long.

I fooled the doctors, but had virtually every childhood disease known to man - croup, measles, mumps, bronchitis, chicken pox, yada yada yada, and even a ruptured appendix at three or four years of age. All this was in the 1940s, and television was not yet in homes. There was a lot of indoor time and even confinement to bed, and I became an avid reader.

(I still remember the first book I read that was unconnected with school. One Saturday, my father announced that he was going to the library. I was six years old and familiar with the concept of a library, although I'd never been in one. I asked him if he would bring home a book for me.

"What do you want?"

"I don't know."

In the event, he chose Peter Pan. I was enthralled by it. There were a lot of words I didn't know, but I knew how to use a dictionary. Sometimes I divined, or thought I divined the meaning of a word from its context, a practice fraught with pitfalls.)

I became such a compulsive reader that it was my first priority. I began reading the newspaper when I was perhaps seven, and read every book, magazine, and comic book I could get my hands on. Occasionally, my mother would tell me "For Christ's sake, Donnie, go outdoors and air the stink off yourself!"

Hmm, I've lost my thread here. Oh, yes - the point of all that is that almost nothing in my first few years in school was new to me when I encountered it in the classroom. Eventually, algebra, science, and biology began to present challenges, but history, English, and literature were boring, boring, boring. I'd read it all.

Enter the attitude. I began to get much more homework than I got in grammar school, and this was my downfall. I resented the time it took, and began not doing it as well as I could have. The result was - "A's" in tests and schoolwork, lower grades for homework, resulting in report card grades that were a little lower than they had been.

This slide continued until the eleventh grade, when I flunked every subject. My parents didn't know it, as I had begun forging a report card in the tenth grade. Flunking was a result of not doing homework and skipping school. One streak involved skipping for twenty-two straight days before getting caught. All Hell broke loose at home on that occasion.