Authors: Anthony Bruno
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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Copyright Â© 2009 by Anthony Bruno
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition March 2014
April 10, 1970
The warm breeze coming in through the open passenger-side window hit seventeen-year-old Frank Grimaldi in the face, whipping the hair off his forehead and fluttering his tie over his shoulder. He looked at his reflection in the side mirrorâdark eyes behind black Clark Kent glasses, big head because he was a big guy, too-big nose, grim mouth over a strong chinâand he could see the feelings of devastation in his expression. He couldn't fucking believe it. He wasn't totally surprisedâit was a long time comingâbut he still couldn't believe it. It was official now. The Beatles had broken up.
Frank's best friend since grammar school, Dom Nunziato, a Guido who actually thought the Four Seasons were better than the Beatles, drove his father's Cadillac along Ferry Street in Newark, New Jersey. The radio was on loud, Paul and John singing “Hey Jude,” the endless “nah-nah-nah-nah-hey-Jude” part at the end. WABC had been playing Beatles songs all day.
Dom drove with his elbow out the window, just like his old man, flicking the ash off a Marlborough with his thumb. Mr. Nunziato's Caddy was two-tone greenâa light dusty green body with a dark spruce vinyl topâsame colors as a Gretsch 6118 archtop. George Harrison used to play a Gretsch when the Beatles first came to America but not that color. Frank just couldn't stop thinking about them, about them breaking up. He felt heavy, like he was made of lead. He couldn't believe it. He didn't
to believe it. Christ, if the Beatles could break up,
could happen. Or
happen. That's what frightened Frank.
The big car sailed past the red-brick Rheingold brewery and the city park with the big pool where all the black kids swam in the summer. The yellow forsythia bushes that grew along the wrought-iron fence around the park were in full bloom. This part of Ferry Street was a jumble of factories, warehouses, and sad-looking residential houses. Dom's father had grown up in this neighborhood, but Frank couldn't imagine living in Newark now, not after the race riots three years ago. The riots that kept him from seeing Jimi Hendrix at the Mosque Theater the night they started. Frank still had the unused ticket stuck in the mirror over his bureau in his room.
Dom steered the Caddy onto the truck-route bridge that crossed Newark Bay, tons of ancient black steel girders, like Godzilla's charred skeleton, the tail in Newark, the nose in Jersey City. It was so ugly it was beautiful.
“Hey Jude” ended, and Dan Ingram, the afternoon deejay, came back on. “There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The end of an era. If you haven't already heard, a spokesman at Apple Corp made it official today. The Beatles have broken upâ¦”
Frank tuned him out and reached down into his navy-blue book bag, which looked like an oversized bowling-bowl case. He pulled out a thick spiral notebook with the St. Anselm's Preparatory School crest printed on the cover and turned to the last page, which looked like the tattooed lady's back. It was full of doodles and caricatures of teachers and students from St. A'sâincluding Michael “Vaseline Boy” Vasily, the smartest kid in school, as a greasy-haired groundhog with glasses; Larry Vitale, the class clown, as a mosquito; Mr. Whalley, the disciplinarian, as a fat-ass, harpoon-wielding walrus with a pipe in his mouth and a crown cocked on his head; and Monsignor Fitzgerald, the headmaster, as the Grand Inquisitor with a Satanic goatee and a pointy tail dangling over his shoulder. There was also an assortment of naked and semi-naked girls with big tits and great hair. Interspersed with his artwork were abbreviated listsâguitars he'd like to own, rock stars he'd like to be, movie and TV stars he'd like to fuck.
But in a box at the top of the page was the crucial list,
3. BU ?
4. Am. ?
5. Mont. St. *
6. Rut. *
This was the list of colleges he had applied to. Dartmouth had rejected him early, back when there was still snow on the ground. He knew he didn't have a snowball's chance to get into Dartmouth, but his Uncle Rick, his mother's brother who lived in New Hampshire, had insisted that he at least try and even offered to pay the application fee. Frank went along with it, but Frank really didn't want to go there. Dartmouth wasn't coed, and it was in the middle of nowhere. Bad enough that St. A's was all boys. Frank had come to the conclusion that four years of hanging out with just guys was unnatural and unhealthy, and with all the religious indoctrination and having to wear a blazer and a tie everyday, Frank was ready for some freedom. Still, the Dartmouth rejection letter had stung when he read it. He didn't want to go there, but he secretly wanted to get in. Just to prove that he could.
But Syracuse has rejected him, too. He had never been there, but the catalogue looked good and they had a journalism school. Frank wanted to be a writer. It was the one thing he did wellâhis English teachers all praised him for it, and he liked doing it. After he got the Syracuse rejection letter, someone told him it was just as well because the winters in upstate New York are brutal and all the freshmen get so depressed they end up seeing shrinks. Frank convinced himself that Syracuse probably wasn't the place for him. But it was still a rejection, and a rejection is a rejection.
He'd been accepted to Rutgers and Montclair State, his “safety schools.” Montclair State was nothing to get excited about, everybody got in there. All you had to do was apply, and the application was only two pages long. It was supposed to be the best community college in New Jersey, but it was still a community college. Worse than that, it was too close to home. If he went there, he'd have to commute and live with his parents. A slow painful death would be better.
Same problem with Rutgers. It was in the middle of the state, and his fatherâwho wasn't all that keen on him going to college anywayâhad already made it clear that Frank could commute to New Brunswick. It wasn't
far, he kept saying. Living at home with a long commute to schoolâa slow painful death with traffic.
So his hopes were riding on American University and Boston University, still waiting to hear. American was in D.C., and B.U. was in Boston, both far enough away that he would have to live there. If he really believed in all that Catholic bullshit, he'd be praying âround the clock. The way he saw it, anything could happen. Or not happen. He was standing on the diving board of life, and he could either dive in or not dive in. Either he went away to school and started living his life, or he stayed home and lived like a prisoner. Or like some oppressed person behind the Berlin Wall, constantly under surveillance, repressed, put down, and discouraged from having a thought of his own.
He looked out the window at the sunlight shimmering off the dirty bay. There was always the third option. He could just run off and seek his fortune the way characters in novels did. Huck Finn, Gulliver, Sal Paradise, Ishmael. Call me fucking Frank.
But at the bottom of the page Frank had another list, a tiny one in small distended psychedelic print that hardly looked like writing at all. The list was camouflaged inside a series of three-dimensional, infinitely joined cubes, a doodle he drew all the time. It was a very important list, a personal to-do list, so personal he didn't want anyone else to discover it. He stared at it from time to time just so he could savor the joyous possibility of completing it.
The first item was obviousâcollege. He had to get into college, an
The second was something he'd been wanting to do since he was in sixth grade when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. He wanted to start a band. He and Dom had been talking about it seriously since Christmas. Dom had gotten some decent equipment, and they'd been shitting around on their guitars together, but this summer they were really gonna do it. Dom said he knew a kid from his school who was getting a drum kit for graduation, so all they needed was a bass player and they'd have a band.
Which lead to the third item on the listâG.L., get laid. Frank had made out with girls, felt one up, and even fingered another one, but he hadn't gotten a hole in one yet, and he felt like a pussy. Meeting girls wasn't easy when you went to an all-boys school, but he was determined, and he had a plan. He and Dom would start a band, they'd play at parties, and Frank would meet girls. Girls who dug guys in bands. The band was the key.
Unless, of course, he got lucky and made it with some girl without having a band. It could happen. It could actually happen with Yolanda. It was possible. That's why they were driving to Jersey City. Frank was hoping for a miracle.
Dom took the last drag off his cigarette and flicked it out the window. “I don't know why you Catholic school kids have to travel so goddamn far just to go to school. This girlfriend of yours must have to get up at the fuckin' crack of dawn to get to Mother of Peace every day.”
Frank didn't say anything. Dom kept referring to Yolanda as his “girlfriend,” and Frank didn't like it. If it ever got to the point where she
his girlfriend, he wouldn't mind Dom saying that, but saying it now could just jinx things.
Frank stared out at the chalky gray water below the bridge as the Caddy slid through Godzilla's ribcage, moving with the flow of gear-grinding trailer trucks. The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center were up ahead in the distance, left and right. Frank spotted the golden onion-dome of an Eastern Orthodox Church near a cemetery just on the other side of the bridge. He wondered if that was Yolanda's church.
“That must be the Ukrainian section over there,” he said.
“I know where that fuckin' neighborhood is,” Dom said, acting like the boss as usual. “I've been there before.”
Frank had a pretty good idea why Dom knew where the Ukrainian neighborhood was. Probably had something to do with his father's “work.”
Dom took the first exit off the bridge and cloverleafed down to Routes 1&9, heading north toward the Pulaski Skyway, another charred steel skeleton but more like a giant python. Dom gunned the engine to pass an Esso tanker truck and a little beat-up red Toyota crammed with Hispanic guys. He swerved in front of the Toyota and took the next right without signaling, tires squealing. The Hispanic guys honked their nasally little horn at him.
“Go fuck your mothers,” Dom shouted.
Frank just looked at him, and Dom caught him looking. “Oh, excuse me,” Dom said. “You think spics and niggers are okay. I forgot.”
“What if that was Santana?” Frank said.
“Oh, you mean what if they were, like, âgood' spics? Because they play in a cool band?”
Dom shook his head and smirked. “You're so fucking dumb, I can't believe it. You just don't get it.”
“No, I get it,” Frank said. “Youâ“
The Rascals came on the radio, and they both stopped to listen. “Everybody's Got to Be Free.” Great song. Frank glanced at Dom, waiting for him to say something nasty about what a fucking shame it was that a bunch of straight-up Italian guys from Garfieldâwell, three of them at least because the guitar player didn't have an Italian last nameâended up getting into “that hippie shit,” singing about “peace and love and all that crap.” Dom loved rock'n'roll as much as Frank did, but he hated the psychedelic stuff. Frank waited for Dom to make some crack about the Rascals, but he didn't say a word, which made Frank happy. That band was too good to badmouth.
Dom slowed down as they drove into a residential neighborhood. The houses here were all old and kind of haphazard, no two alike, but they looked cared for. The cars parked along the street were mostly dark-colored American sedans and cheap-o compacts. No Camaros, no Firebirds, no Barracudas, no muscle cars at all. You could tell Italians didn't live here.
As Dom drove farther into the neighborhood, they passed more of the same kind of houses. Frank was a little disappointed that Yolanda came from a place that was so plain and worn around the edges.
“So where's she live?” Dom said, an unlit cigarette bobbing between his lips as he pressed the Caddy's cigarette lighter.
“How the fuck am I supposed to know where she lives?”
“She's your fuckin' girlfriend.”
“She's not my girlfriend. I keep telling you that.”
“Yeah, right.” The lighter popped, and Dom pulled it out, holding it to the tip of his cigarette. “So what're we supposed to do now?”
“What're you asking
for? Coming down here was
idea. Not mine.”
“Well, you gotta talk to her if you want something to happen, numbnuts. You said you can't do it at school because her girlfriends are always around. Okay, fine. So you just happen to run into her down here. Neutral territory. No interference.”
Dom's confidence irritated Frank. He had a plan for everything, no problem. Frank, on the other hand, saw problems everywhere.
As Dom braked for a stop sign, Frank spotted a gang of people standing by a cyclone fence a block away. “I wonder what's going on over there.”
Dom looked. “I dunno. Let's go find out.” He hit the gas and hung a left, driving toward the gathering.
“Maybe they're protesting the war,” Frank said.
“Here? Not fuckin' likely. These people love America. Apple pie, baseball, all that shit. They came here to get away from the Commies.”
Like I don't know that, Frank thought.
Up ahead he could see about thirty people facing the landfill on the other side of the fence, a huge field of uneven soil dotted with mounds bigger than houses for as far as he could see. Dump trucks rolled over the terrain like prehistoric wooly mammoths. Thin trails of smoke drifted across the forbidding landscape, but Frank couldn't see anything burning.