As a kid, I attended St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Hubbard, Ohio. My uniform was sharp-creased navy blue dress pants with a crisp white shirt and clip-on tie. We had ‘lay teachers’ (ordinary civilians), but we were also taught by ruler-wielding nuns who smacked palms into submission. The pain told the brain and body to obey.
One tormentor-in-habit used to give me an open-hand whack across the chops because she thought I was tormenting her on purpose with my ignorance in math. I wasn’t– I really was that stupid with the ‘new math’, and her instilling fear in me certainly didn’t help matters. I’d laugh at her slaps (being class clown, I had to save face) which only get her angrier. But at least she’d let me sit back down again with one cheek out of four stinging.
I was subjected to some pretty inventive disciplinary actions by nuns: holding erasers with arms outstretched for long stretches of time or kneeling on the floor and placing my nose into a small circle that the nun had drawn on the blackboard. Gitmo had nothing on the good Sisters.
'Sister Smile' sang, and I swooned.
Regardless of my dark nun memories, I have fond memories of my angelic, idyllic nun: The Singing Nun, Sœur Sourire (Sister Smile), AKA: Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers, a Belgian woman of the beads who recorded an international hit song “Dominique” in the teeth of Beatlemania. She appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show (I remember it and was captivated– it would be years later when nuns would subject me to their disciplinarian ways). They made a movie of her life where a younger, prettier woman played the good Sister–Debbie Reynolds.
The real Sœur Sourire had a guitar, a song and an angelic voice. The song “Dominique” would occupy a warm cubbyhole in the corridors of my consciousness. Years later, when the real nuns disciplined me, I would hear the joyful song of The Singing Nun and feel comforted. I believed She of the guitar would never have subjected me to pain. But I could have been wrong in my assumption, after all, she never had to teach me math.
Enjoy the song from the movie and let it take residence in your psyche. If you have a nun tale to tell, do tell. I harbor no ill will at the good nuns, they’re all saints to me. Some of the saints had a mean right cross to the head.
He chased the snakes, now in honor of him, we chase the blues with green beer.
I got my under-under-under graduate degree from St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Hubbard, Ohio. It was back in the days when nuns scoured classrooms in search of children under the influence of Satan. They wielded rulers of punishment and itched to dispense swift corrective discipline to evil wrongdoers. I still have the red palms to prove their mighty swings.
At St. Pat’s, St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal. Although the student population was probably 80% non-Irish kids, everyone wanted to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I was Irish on St. Paddy’s Day, and pretty much every day, and I resented these freeloaders hijacking ‘our’ holiday. All the Italian and Slavic kids sported lots of green on St. Patrick’s Day. In protest, I never wore green on the sainted day.
“Hey, Scullin,” Bobbie Vespucci would accost me dressed in green necktie and shamrock lapel pin, “you’re Irish, right? Where’s your green?”
“I don’t have to wear green,” I’d say coolly, wishing I had a shillelagh to clobber his skull, “I don’t have to pretend to be Irish–– I am Irish.” This would cheese off all the wannabes in their green. I’m sure they’d have liked to pummel me until I wore red dripping down my shirt. Let’s face it, nothing is more threatening to kids than the one who won’t succumb to peer pressure (“you’re all jumping off the cliff? No thanks, I’ll pass.”). Rebelling was a beautifully Irish thing to do.
St. Paddy's celebration is enough to make you vomit green.
Today I still rebel against St. Patrick’s Day. You won’t find me in some faux Irish pub trying to swim upstream through the sea of oppressive flesh to get my jar of Guinness. I shant drink the black love until the foam seeps up my gullet and back up my gob (your body’s subtle way of saying it’s “FULL”) and have my innards projectile onto some stranger’s Timberlands. It’s amateur hour, the whole St. Paddy’s Day bar-hopping-pub-crawling-beer-guzzling-puke-encrusted-shirt affair.
St. Patrick’s Day has grown in importance and popularity thanks to the marketing efforts of beer companies and booze distillers. The holiday is now an alcoholic tidal wave that the masses gladly surf. As an adman, I don’t begrudge these marketers anything (I do have contempt for the florists and greeting card people, though–– the shameless money-grubbing hucksters). St. Patrick’s Day has grown in popularity because adults just don’t seem to have much fun anymore. At least not sanctioned fun.
Like Halloween, St. Pat’s is a holiday where it’s fine for adults to get silly and let their inhibitions down (the liquid courage comes in handy). It’s Christmas without the presents. The growing popularity of St. Patrick’s Day proves that society is pretty uptight and could stand to let off some steam.
Maybe we need to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day year ‘round. This doesn’t mean we have to get blasted and stumble home. But perhaps we could loosen up, have a wee bit of the fun a wee bit more often, without beer companies telling us it’s time to do so.
Maybe we could not be so slavish to our Blackberries or iPhones. Perhaps we could try and resist being in a perpetual state of frantic pandemonium; dodging deadlines and covering our arses with voicemail and e-mail crumbs.
Imagine actually slowing down a tad, not living by a self-imposed over-scheduled schedule of kiddie activities and obligation to our TIVO as it gathers gobs of entertainment for our escape from reality.
Imagine stopping, for just a moment, breathing deeply and exhaling slowly. Maybe stretching, sitting and doing nothing but letting your mind wander (a free range brain is a beautiful thing).
Indulge, babes. Take a nap. Call an old friend. Write a letter and thank an old teacher, mentor, client or associate. Listen, actually listen to some of your favorite music. Re-live those moments of your life when you heard those songs for the very first time and let the movies of the past play inside your head. You don’t need popcorn or Junior Mints.
Visit the priceless vaults of your memories. They’re yours and they pay handsome dividends over time.
Rebelling against the norm-- what a beautifully Irish thing to do.
St. Patrick earned his chops for chasing the snakes out of Ireland. This St. Patrick’s Day, try to chase some of the snakes out of your hectic life. Enjoy your life more.
Stop running full bore trying to keep up with your life. Slow down and enjoy your life and all those in it who make it worth living. Try and celebrate with them more often, not just on the sanctioned holidays but every day.
That’s my message of good cheer–– given like a nun whacking your sweaty palm.
"The Rat Pack"? That's not what we called ourselves.
I first met him backstage at the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. I was involved in a hotsy-totsy, topsy-turvy lovefest with a little lady who went by the name of Joey Heatherton. Her real name was Jo E. Heatherton but I had wisely advised her to change her name to “Joey” since “Jo E.” sounded awfully funny rolling off the old tongue meat and I felt strongly she would have never made it with a moniker like that.
She was a perky blonde number. The sort of performer who gives 110% or nothing. Joey never fully understood the mathematical principles behind percentages, which was why she was able to give 110%. I tried explaining percentages to her once; she Stooge-slapped me, kneed me in the groin and pulled my eyelids with needle-nosed pliers. I decided then and there maybe she knew enough math to get by.
While she belted-out showtunes on stage, I’d be backstage in her dressing room trying on some of her outfits while no one was looking. I was wearing a black sequin backless number and bright pink pumps when he walked in.
“Well, well, well,” Frank said looking me up and down, “what are you all dolled-up for, kid?”
“None of your bee’s wax,” I retorted laying my feather boa aside. A garter strap cut deeply into my thigh bringing forth a little liquid I call “blood.”
“Hey, you’re quick with the comeback,” he said, “I like your spunk, kid-o, and the cut of your jib ain’t half bad, either!” Then the door flung open and in marched Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop and Dean Martin. And so it was that I, a kid all of 6 years old, would be recruited by Frank Sinatra himself to be a member of his infamous Rat Pack (or, as we liked to call ourselves “The Wanderlust Pioneer Explorers”).
The hurly burly times of the sixties looked pretty distorted from the bottom of a martini glass. Frank, me and the guys were rarely apart, and we were seldom far from the center of a tornado. When the world saw us coming, it took shelter in the root cellar and barred the door. After we’d passed, all that remained were the splinters of our martini toothpicks and spent pimentos.
Although I was only a young kid, I was already working on an adman’s liver. Dino used to shake his head in amazement at my endless capacity for gin ‘n grape Kool-Aids. “How can you drink that stuff, kid?” he’d blurt in his smooth bourbon baritone.
“Hell, Dino,” I’d say polishing off a tall tumbler of the stuff on the rocks, “you should see me workin’ a vodka ‘n Ovaltine.”
‘The Rat Pack’ was not all smiles and whistles though. The public may have thought we were tighter than a virgin’s nylons, but we were not without our petty bickering. In fact, me and Joey B. got into scraps on a fairly regular basis.
See, Joey had always been Frank’s ‘funny boy’–– his personal jester. When I entered the scene, all that changed. I had a wacky sense of humor that The Chairman called “friggin’ brilliant–– a laff riot!” The sounds I made with a cupped hand and armpit kept Frank laughing ‘til his baby blues were red.
Bishop was none too happy being upstaged by a young punk. He’d say, “Hey, Frank– we should pummel the kid’s face with our fists, chop him with a rusty machete into tiny chunks of adolescent flesh and scatter his entrails to hungry rabid dogs.”
Maybe I was over-reacting, but I sensed Joey wasn’t fond of me. I kept my distance from him, not out of fear for what he might do to me, but rather fear of my own rage. You see, the reason I was on the lam in Vegas is I had shot a man in Reno–– just to watch him die. Then, after he died, I figured Vegas might have more in the way of entertainment.
I was right.
In the desert, the greatest stars in the universe burned their brightest. And when it came to cats who were swinging entertainers, none topped Sammy D. Whether wringing every last drop of emotion out of a love ballad, or hoofing tap, Sammy didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit.’
“Sammy,” I’d explain to him, “Webster defines quit as tostop!”
“Can’t hear ya, babe!” he’d shout over his tap shoes rat-a-tat-tattin’ like Morse code announcing Armageddon. He had such an infectious happy-go-lucky nature, well, I’d just have to join him hoofing. And when we’d finish, ten or eleven hours later, Sammy would give me a soggy bear hug and say, “I love you, man, I love you!”
“Right back at ya, babe,” I’d say lighting a Lucky and flicking the burning match in the direction of Joey B.
I didn’t know Peter Lawford very well. Oh, we’d snap a towel at one another passing in the sauna, but I think it was Socrates who said you never truly know a man until you spend fourteen, sixteen years together in a squat Turkish prison cell. The old Greek sure knew people!
Lawford did introduce me to Marilyn, the Camelot crowd, and he pulled some strings and got me a gig mowing the White House lawn. Take it from me, that thing’s a lot bigger than it looks.
When I went to get paid, I was ushered into the Oval Office. JFK was in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis or something and seemed distracted. “You’ll, ah, have to excuse me,” he said in his chowder dialect, “I seem to have left my, ah, billfold in my, ah, other trousers.”
He left to go fetch the do ri mi, and I snooped around a bit. I opened a desk drawer and saw the ‘red button’, the one that would send nuclear missiles screaming to Havana. Being quite the joker, I had my finger poised to give the button a poke. “Put this in your cigar and smoke it, you bearded infidel, Fidel!” I said smugly. But my arm was snatched and held firm. I looked up and a tussled JFK said, “Please, ah, leave solving the, ah, world crisis to me.”
“Okee-dokee,” I said. He paid me ($15 was tall green for a kid back then!) and I had a story that tickled Frank and the boys no end.
Soon after that, the Rat Pack began to disband. Dino got belligerent with me when I told him I wouldn’t pair-up with him as a musical comedy duo.
“C’mon, Scoots,” he sobbed pitifully, “I’ll play the geeky spaz, you’ll be the smooth crooner who gets all the dames.” It just wasn’t my scene, I told him, maybe we’d talk after puberty. Dino was crushed. Dino drank. I split.
Joey B.’s jealousy spun out of control. He hired a couple goons to bust my legs, then had me hailed with sniper-fire. I took a couple slugs in the chest and head, but had some clean exit wounds. As the docs wheeled me through the hospital on a gurney, Frank was by my side crying like a baby slicing onions. “You’re gonna be all right, ain’t ya, kid?” he asked. I mustered what little strength I had and cupped my hand under an armpit, giving Frank a taste of his favorite sound in the world. Frank convulsed with laughter. Made me smile.
My parents finally tracked me down at the Vegas hospital and took me back to Ohio. They didn’t like their sweet son hanging around hard drinking entertainers.
Weeks after I returned to the motherland, I got a call from Frank. He and the boys wanted to have one last little bash. I told Frank I couldn’t get away, my parents had grounded me. But Frank had a plan.
And so it came to pass on a warm August night in Hubbard, Ohio, the Rat Pack had one final get together in a pup tent in my back yard. I told my parents I was sleeping out with Kevin Moran and Joey Riccitelli.
I did spend the night with a Joey (she brought some new slinky shear things for me to try on), and a group of guys who were about the best pals a kid could ever hope for.
The Wanderlust Pioneer Explorers would ride into the sunset of memories and opportunistic memoirs. Mine will come out sometime in the near future, if I can ever get off this damned gin and grape Kool-Aid bender.